Author's Note: I'm not dead! Hope you enjoy the chapter!

Ash couldn't help but gasp when he emerged into the wasteland of Greenfield. In his memories it'd been nothing less than a veritable paradise of green, rolling hills absolutely covered in endless fields of blossoming flowers. He'd spent hours exploring the endless labyrinth of the Hale Mansion that watched over it all, eager to set his eyes on every nook and canny in the place. Just a few years ago he and his mother had been strolling right here, bathed in warm sunlight and eager to take in all this peaceful town had to offer.

What was once soft stalks of grass and velvet petals had been shaped into hard, glistening crystal. It shimmered and shone underneath the afternoon sun, though Ash eyed it nervously as he saw it move across the land, crawling and devouring everything it touched. Flowers, grass, and shrubs were all sealed forever underneath a sea of purple flowing ice…despite its shiny appearance, the crystal sucked in every bit of light that touched it, casting the land in low, hazy shadows. Strange, alien mists crawled between frozen trees and wounds its way across the (formerly) vast stretches of orchids, obscuring the finest details from view.

His keen eyes picked out dozens of humans and pokemon encircling the crystal field in a massive circle. Each group was spaced out about a hundred feet. Their forms rippled and wavered erratically, and shadows licked at the crawling crystal. Wherever the darkness touched the unnatural material wound away, seemingly dissolving at the brush…

Ash stared, fixed upon the flowing corruption. It had devoured nearly a mile of the land around the unrecognizable form of the Hale Mansion. Ash's mouth twisted into an ugly frown. This was just wrong.

A lump formed in his throat. He stared distraught at the massive mansion he'd spent so much time exploring. This wasn't right. The Hale Mansion was a peaceful place. It sat on the highest hill of Greenfield like a silent, watchful protector. Uncle Spencer's home was unassailable. It was proud and regal and comfortable.

What it had become was anything but.

Gigantic blossoms of crystal swallowed the Hale Mansion's spires whole. They were a deeper, darker purple than the pale rose that had engulfed the center of the mansion. All of the blossoms were absolutely enormous and utterly unnatural…born more of a manic fantasy than anything of this world. The petals all rose out in jagged curves that met together in a sharp tip. It was such a massive structure he felt like it could scrape low-hanging clouds.

If he didn't know what the Hale Mansion was before he could have called this beautiful, at least in a nightmarish, beautiful way. But all Ash could see now was horror – he'd take the plain, gentle hills of Greenfield a thousand times over this abomination.

If you're done wallowing, I think I will take my leave.

Ash shook himself out of his stupor and looked at Bob. He'd forgotten the Alakazam was there, to be honest. He ignored the sudden flare of Fire – this wasn't the time. "What's going on, Bob?" Ash demanded. His voice cracked, but he ignored it and pointed out at the wasteland. "What am I supposed to do with that?!"

How should I know? I'm no – not your mother. Stupid human.

Bob practically slurred into Ash's mind. He looked oddly at the psychic. This wasn't like Bob at all. To be honest it was a little low brow for the snarky Alakazam. Ash expected him to drop snide and arrogant comments, not outright insulting ones.

No I'm not. You are!

"Just tell me what the League knows!" Ash hissed. He lurched closer to Bob, growling as the Feather seared into his flesh. Ice sharpened within him as he stared at his personal teleporter. His breath left him in a great misty cloud, flaring from his mouth and nostrils as though he were one of Lance's dragons. He hardly found it in himself to care for the ice that crusted over the grass beneath his feet. "We don't have times for your stupid games, Bob!"

The Alakazam's mustache bristled. His dark eyes were glazed and droopy, and even his treasured spoons were held lax. Ash's eyes narrowed. Was everything going to be weird today? "What's wrong with you?"

This place is affecting me badly. It's…imam – immaterial. Mutable. Difficult to focus. I'd like to think that th – this is what it's like to be a dumb human all the time.

Was this what drunk people were like? If so, he was glad Lance kept it under wraps. "Bob…"

Fine. The Elite Four just engaged in a battle. Champion Lance, Elite Four Bruno, Elite Four Koga, and Elite Four Will pursued their opponent when it suddenly left in the direction of Goldenrod.

His heart skipped a beat. Fire heated his blood and his skin burned hot. For a moment Ash feared he'd simply ignite.

His mother was in Goldenrod.

"What're they fighting?!" Ash rushed at the Alakazam. His demand was wild and raw – Bob's glassy eyes and short pause didn't help his patience. "Hurry up and tell me, Bob! Now!"

An extremely powerful creature we have reason to believe is Entei.

Just saying that seemed to sober Bob up. His eyes lost some of their glaze. Ash's chest constricted. One of the Beasts? They were some of the Legends the League had counted on to help them. If the Legendary Beasts of Johto had turned against them…

Ash hissed in pain as the Feather seared him again. The crystal flowed forward another few feet. The teams working to jail the unnatural crawl scattered back lest they be taken by the flow as well.

Why would Entei do this? He hadn't expected this from the Beast of Fire. And how did Entei relate to this crystal?

No, it just didn't make any sense. Ash had grown up with Entei's legends. Entei was a guardian. It shielded the small from those would crush them beneath their feet. It sought out those in danger from eminent eruptions and roused them from their ignorance. It stood in defense of sacred places and protected them with volcanic fury.

Ash stared into the crystal, lost in thought. Nothing made sense. Even his eyes, which were better than most at picking out scorches and signs of fires thanks to Infernus, could see nothing that attested to the Indigo Elite Four facing down a Legendary embodying Fire.

The Feather pulsed in agreement. Ash glanced to Bob. "How long ago was that?" He asked quietly, his words sharp as a razor. His fingers danced across the pokeballs on his belt…he felt naked without them. Ash needed them right now.

Approximately ten minutes ago. Champion Lance called you as they chased the Beast. It was waiting for them here when they first responded to the emergency – Lady Sabrina prepared him earlier this day.

The SPECTERs are setting up a Distortion Field. It seals the area off from teleportation and seems to have a degenerative effect on the crystal. It doesn't stop its growth, but it does slow its advance. Elite Four Karen is leading the effort.

He looked up and picked out a slim woman standing behind a horde of dark-type pokemon. She looked…well, animated was the kindest way to put it. Furious, aggressive, and demanding were more accurate.

Ash had never understood Karen so well.

All of a sudden Bob began to tremble. His moustache twitched wildly as convulsions wracked his skeletal frame. The Alakazam looked wildly at the Hale Mansion (or what was left of it, Ash thought bitterly) and squeezed his eyes shut. A spike of concern went through Ash, just enough to distract him from his dark thoughts. "Are you okay?"

For now. I must leave! I –

The Alakazam's mustache bristled one last time before his spoons twisted in his hands and he vanished. Ash stared dumbly at the spot Bob had just vacated before he shook it off. Now wasn't the time.

He took one last look at the Hale Mansion before his focus settled instead on Karen. She was the one who was in charge. She would know what to do…or at least be able to point him in the right direction.

Ash grit his teeth and tensed his aching body. Even that much hurt. He hadn't recovered fully from the battle with the Rockets. Walking around all day hadn't helped whatsoever. Despite it all he leapt into a sprint. His legs screamed in protest and his breath was short and choppy but he pushed on. Steven's physical training was good for something, at least…

He crossed the fields pretty fast, but it still felt like he was hardly making any progress. Every second felt like it was his last. Ash sorely wished he'd just released Plume and ridden on her back, but it would be a waste of effort for this short of a distance.

It was too bad that Bob teleported him so far away from the action. It was a good vantage point, he knew, but still. Ash would rather have just gotten the news –

FireIceLightningFireIceLightningFireIceLightningFireIceLightning

"C'mon you stupid brat! Wake up!"

Ash's bleary eyes cracked open at a Slugma's pace. His limbs trembled – what was that? He couldn't remember anything. Just teleporting in with Bob, running, pain, and then a yell.

"Karen?" He wheezed. Ash's arms shook weakly as he slowly wrenched himself into a sitting position. If he were anyone else he'd have quailed at the ferocious snarl on the Dark Master's familiar face, though even he had to hold back a flinch. "What –"

"Not now!" She hauled him up with a quick yank. Ash staggered and barely held his footing – the ground was firm and green (he relished that more than he thought possible) but his body refused to work. "Up!"

Her hand grabbed his forearm and hauled Ash up with ease. She was a lot stronger than her willowy frame suggested, Ash noted. He snuck a look behind them.

Ash blanched. The crystal surged. It reared up a hundred feet behind them and flooded closer like a tidal wave, splashing forward and greedily crusting every inch of unspoiled land in violet glass.

His breath hitched as the Feather seared again. It nearly crippled him – his blood froze to Ice, his heart burned with Fire, and his muscles twitched with Lightning and it was driving him mad! It hurt and three different forces warred within him, pulling at everything he was –

They melted away in the span of an instant. One second he could hardly function and the next he was laying on a patch of flowers. The beautiful white and black of an Absol watched him warily.

The Absol looked at him softly. Its eyes knew far too much. Absol pulled its scythe-like horn away from his chest and stared mournfully at the crystal. Ash followed its gaze and relief flooded him. The tide had been stemmed again by the League – the sea had nearly stilled.

"It won't stay like that for long. It never does," Karen said in usual cheery manner. Ash nodded and wrenched his head to looked at her. Every muscle strained to support his failing body. It took a moment for him to realize just how beaten the Dark Master was.

"You look like crap!" Ash blurted out. She glared at him but there was no heat in it. He grimaced and stammered out an apology. "The crystal slowing down is something, at least," he offered. Ash couldn't look away from Karen – and not for the same reasons as Brock. Even after the League's battle with Mewtwo in Viridian she hadn't appeared so defeated. She was exhausted and anything but pristine. Her pale silver hair was messy and unkempt and some had curled up from the rest of the mane like it was seared with fire. Her proud face was twisted and wrinkled on one side from a light burn.

It was nothing a day or two of medical attention couldn't fix.

But it was the small flecks of crystal that concerned him. He leaned closer to look. They shimmered and crawled in the crevices of the gnarled, burnt skin. It was like they were alive!

Karen was quick to notice. "Entei got me when it knocked out Houndoom," she said humorlessly. Absol drooped. Ash noted that the rest of her team wasn't around. They must have been at the crystal tide doing their best to hold back the surge. "Entei certainly lives up to its name of Legendary Beast…"

The Dark Master trailed off as she put some of her weight on Absol. Her pants were ripped and on the right side a steady stream of blood seeped. It wasn't too bad but Ash knew that any hindrance could end them.

He struggled to his feet for the second time. Karen pulled him up. Ash had to fight a stare as the crystal embedded in Karen's face squirmed and a hiss of pain escaped her chapped lips. It wasn't right seeing the proud Master brought so low.

Ash looked away. "What's going on?" He croaked. It was time to focus on the matter at hand. The whole of Greenfield was ruined. It was one of the ugliest things he'd ever seen.

Karen chuckled. "We were actually hoping you'd know," she spat. There was no real venom in her words. Karen sighed and looked at a group of dark-types fighting the tide. They fought valiantly but Ash could tell they were exhausted – the shadows crawling from their limbs just wasn't enough to hold back the crystal. "There was no warning. Absol's been twitchy for weeks but we didn't have anything concrete until Sabrina pointed us this way."

Absol stood silent. Karen's fingers stroked the solemn creature's thick mane as she watched the Disaster Pokemon. She was clearly worried.

Ash fought back a snarl. He didn't like being ignorant either…he should have been able to sense the disaster coming! Even Mewtwo didn't seem to feel it until it was too late. "I'm as lost as you are," Ash admitted.

You must be as blind as the rest of your worthless species.

He ignored the snide comment and looked to Karen.

"Whatever…it doesn't really matter," Karen shook her head. He couldn't help but notice her silvery mane (the unburnt part, anyway) bounced with the motion. Karen stared at Ash. She looked about as warm and kind as Articuno. "Don't collapse on me again, Ash. I don't have time to babysit you."

"You won't," Ash said flatly. He was more annoyed at the Feather than Karen. He knew he couldn't afford to be at anything but his best! Who knew how badly this would spiral out of control if he couldn't help stop it?

She seemed satisfied by his answer, but an ugly snarl marred her face. Ash whirled around to see what Karen was pointing at and paled – a news van had just pulled up on the road leading to the mansion.

They were too close. If the crystal surged again they wouldn't escape.

Karen's words were sharp as a whip. "Get those damn reporters out of hear!" She howled. "It's not safe for them here! I'll hold the line. You clear the area!"

"Got it!" Ash didn't hesitate. Karen rushed back to her team and he rushed in the direction of the reporters. Karen could take care of herself. She was just rattled.

He wished the reporters wouldn't work so fast. They'd already unpacked most of their equipment – nobody needed to get footage of this disaster. Ash hesitated as he jogged in their direction. Even if they did recognize him he doubted they'd take him seriously.

It would be better if he had some muscle at his back.

Bruiser appeared at his side a moment later. Ash didn't have to say a word to him. The Machoke just caught up with him and ran at his side.

Ash tried not to think about the possibility of collapsing on the way to the van. His teeth gnashed and Ash's fingers curled claws as another pang ripped through the Feather. It took everything he had not to scream! How could he stop the crystal when he couldn't even trust his own body?

He stumbled, but a strong hand curled around his shoulder. It dwarfed Ash with its sheer size. Ash's only solace was the peaceful cords of the Song, but he jerked out of his trance and looked at the reptilian face of Bruiser. His friend was still totally calm.

"Thank you," Ash gasped, breathing hard like he'd just clawed his way out of the ocean depths. Bruiser simply nodded. The Machoke became more and more troubled as he finally looked around and saw the unnatural sea of glassy crystal emanating from the Hale Mansion.

"Yeah, everything's gone," Ash said flatly. He repressed any kind of emotion that would slow him down. His mother's face flashed through his mind, followed by Uncle Spencer's and Molly's. No, he could worry about them later. Right now they needed to end this.

Bruiser frowned as Ash nodded in the media crew's direction. It was a small crew of a cameraman and female reporter. "We have to get them out of here. They're in danger right now. C - can you help?" He stuttered as the Feather burned again, dropping him to his knees.

Normally he would've flushed at appearing so weak. But he didn't care about asking his team for help. It was the opposite, honestly. Wasn't a family's duty to support each other?

He just wasn't used to taking that quite so literally.

Ash straightened his back and ignored his body's protests. Coiled Lightning ran through his nerves and raised the hair on his arms. It didn't bother him, though. Unlike Fire and Ice's violent surges, Lightning was a cool, steady current.

Some of the pain vanished as Bruiser supported him with one massive arm. Ash looked gratefully at the Machoke as they started their run. It wouldn't be long before they got to the van.

He couldn't let Karen down. Not right now.

Despite himself, Ash looked to the Hale Mansion…no, he really couldn't call it that anymore. This was just a shade of the grand home he knew. This was just a twisted shade of what once was.

That bothered him. He hadn't thought about why this was happening here. What could have spawned this catastrophe? Ash had never heard of anything that could create crystal and alter the landscape in such a way.

Bruiser grunted and gingerly tapped the side of his head. Ash relented and looked away from the sight. It wouldn't help the horror and anxiety that weighed heavy in his gut or the white-hot anger pounding just below the surface.

The Machoke squeezed his shoulder. Ash barely noticed as he leaned more heavily on his friend. Bruiser probably didn't even register one boy's weight. He could lift a thousand pounds with ease.

Ash looked across Greenfield and stole another glimpse at Karen as they neared their objective. She held the line agains the crystal, but it looked like it drew closer every moment. The Dark Master was in a frenzy as she barked out orders to human and pokemon alike, demanding they work harder and faster unless they wanted to drown in the unnatural crystal.

What could they even do if Karen and her SPECTERs failed? Sneasel couldn't staunch the tide at his level. They'd all fall.

The reporter's voice trilled through the eerily quiet hills. "Here we are today in what used to be Greenfield!" She announced. Ash didn't miss how pale her face was. If she stayed around much longer it would be a heart attack that got her, not the crystal. "There appears to be a strange substance growing from the Hale Mansion, home of the renowned Professor Spencer Hale! League forces are working to keep it at bay, but it looks like they'll break any minute now! If you haven't already evacuated, then please do so now!"

Her cameraman (who seemed just as nervous as the reporter) frowned as Ash hobbled across some of the last unspoiled flowers of Greenfield. A quick jerk of the camera sent the reporter's attention Ash's way. "Hello? Who are you?"

Ash came to a stop. He really hoped the Feather was covered up properly – it wouldn't be good if it flared up right now. There was a telltale glow behind his shirt, but as long as he didn't get hit by another flare he'd be fine.

Bruiser straightened his back and folded his arms. His muscles bulged with the movement and Ash couldn't blame the reporters for taking a step back.

"I'm Ash Ketchum. But that's not important – you need to get out of here!" Ash ordered. Fire flickered and colored his voice – didn't they realize how stupid it was to be in a place like this? "It's too dangerous here. Let the League handle this!"

The woman cocked an eyebrow. "Sorry kid, but we aren't leaving. Look at this!" She waved at the crystallized corpse of Greenfield. "The people have to know what's happening!"

"The League will take care of it. You're going to get hurt if you stay here," he scowled.

"Don't lecture us, kid! We know the risks!" She said pointedly. The reporter looked over at the cameraman. "Hank, are you getting this?"

Something in Ash snapped. "I'm not lecturing you, you idiot!" Frost crusted the soft green stalks beneath his shoes. Ash very intentionally stared at the sculpted crystal sea that had started to move at them more quickly…it would be here in a minute or two. "Get out of here or you'll get taken like everything else!"

The cameraman tugged at the reporter's sleeve. "C'mon, he's right!" He blanched as the crystal tide rolled forward another feet, forcing the SPECTERs to retreat again. Ash clutched at his heart as the Feather exploded again, desperately hoping the camera wouldn't catch this. He couldn't even see through the pain…

"But the people need to know!" The reporter protested. Her hands shook to the point she nearly dropped the mic.

"And they do!" Ash grimaced as the Feather tried to burn him from the inside out…some of his hairs started to smoke and the rancid scent of burning hair wafted into his nose. All the Feather's pain made his words absolutely venomous. Only Bruiser's calming presence kept him from screaming at them. "I'm an agent of the League and you will get out of here! Do you understand?"

The two reporters took a step back. Something about Ash must have reached them. Their faces were both white and the cameraman looked like he was about to take off. "Okay, we'll leave. But we need some questions answered first, alright? What caused –"

"Get out of here!" Ash hissed. One hand clasped to his chest as a bright glow spilled out from beneath – the heat and cold and pressure grew more and more and he went blind – he couldn't breathe, let alone talk, and he couldn't do this right now why couldn't they just leave and let the Feather stop and –

The sky and earth shook. A terrible roar, like the rumble of Mt. Ember when he and Lance had challenged Moltres, rent the atmosphere. Every thought in his head vanished. He couldn't pay any heed to the reporters as they scurried into the van and took off.

Ash felt the crystal reach toward him, a yearning tide that wanted to draw him into its cold embrace. It lunged another few feet.

But to be honest he didn't give a damn about the crystal right now.

Ash and Bruiser spun to identify whatever monster had arrived. In his heart he already knew what was waiting…

A huge brown blur sprinted past to his left, just a few hundred feet away. A billowing cloud of smoke and embers trailed behind it, so vast and dark that it blotted out the sky and hills alike with its heavy black veil.

The blur didn't hesitate to leap through the Distortion Field binding Greenfield as it arrived. It didn't slow whatsoever as it tore through the shimmering wall of darkness with contemptuous ease – every single SPECTER and pokemon supporting the Field fell like puppets with their strings cut…all in all a hundred of the SPECTERs must have been cut down in an instant, overwhelmed by this thing's sheer might.

The Feather pulsed again, though not with Fire. All three elements recoiled from the newcomer, as though they couldn't even stand the sight of it. Ash had no doubt what this dark blur was: Entei. The creature's great leap had carried it several hundred feet with ease and placed it on the farthest reaches of the crystalline fields. It landed with preternatural grace that should have been impossible for such a huge creature. It was so smooth and effortless that it must have been silent.

Entei moved quick as lightning to face the direction it had arrived from. Despite himself, his breath hitched. For just a second he could forget what this monster had done to Greenfield. He had to pause and admire the sight. Words couldn't do the Beast justice.

The Beast dominated. Its presence made the pale glass sea dull and lifeless in comparison. Raw power radiated from Entei, a great force that subtly warped the air around it. Even the crystal was invigorated by Entei's strength – it desperately reached and crawled about the Beast's great paws.

But Entei's size struck Ash the most. On all fours it stood at eight feet high and towered over all but the largest of pokemon. The power it embodied was clear as day in the heavy musculature that shifted with every movement. Each of its paws were as large as Nidoking's head – no doubt a single swipe would tear most creatures asunder. Entei had to be at least fifteen feet long from nose to smoky "tail". Embers (violet rather than orange, Ash noted) rained constantly from its fur onto the ground, sprouting new growths of crystal wherever it landed.

The Beast's heavy pelt was mostly a rich brown that billowed in every direction, carried by gusts of wind. A cloud of smoke erupted constantly from its collection of grey, craggy spikes that erupted from the Beast's spine like a mountain range. It trailed behind Entei like a tail, though it didn't billow half as fiercely as it had during the Beast's arrival. Fur the color of cream ran in a streak from its chin to its underbelly, a sharp contrast to the rest of its coat.

A second jagged plate hung beneath the light streak. It was in a position to protect Entei's sensitive belly from any sort of attack. Its paws were larger than Ash's head and appeared an ashen grey, caked in the remnants of the flames it carried. Black shackles (not unlike Infernus') clasped around its legs.

Though the Beast cut quite an impressive figure, he paid the most attention to its face. Something about it seemed uncannily human. He neglected Entei's body in favor of the brilliant scarlet faceplates that angled to shield its cheeks. A three-pointed crest seemingly made of gold weighed on Entei's brow like a king's crown, granting the Beast an air of wisdom. It also warned of the danger of angering the Beast of Fire. The last he could make out was a sharp, pointed plate that hung past Entei's chin like massive grey fangs.

Its heavy pelt was mostly a rich brown. The dark coat billowed in every direction, carried by an invisible wind. A cloud of smoke erupted constantly from the collection of dark, craggy spikes that appeared almost like a mountain range erupted from the Beast's spine. It trailed behind Entei like a tail, though it billowed more gently than during Entei's arrival. Pale, creamy fur ran in a streak from its chin to its underbelly, a sharp contrast compared to the rest of its coat.

There were plenty of people that referred to Entei as a canine or feline. Ash didn't think it could be labeled so easily – it held traits of both and traits of neither. Entei really reminded him of an Arcanine, though with a strong, stocky build that would make an Ursaring jealous. Beast was the only word that fit.

He squinted. There was something off about Entei, a strange shadow that clung to its neck. Was that a person mounted on its back? Who could that possibly –

"Mom?!" Ash cried, a raw ugly noise that ripped out of his throat. He forgot his injuries and tore away from Bruiser. In his haste he ignored Bruiser's distressed grunt and rushed ahead, propelled by Lightning – the world blurred and a Fire lit in his eyes as he ran at the only thing in the world that mattered right now.

Entei didn't even twitch. It only paid attention to the haunting call of a Dragonite choir – they sang from miles away, but Ash knew better than anyone (except Lance) how close that was for the golden dragons. Even in his frenzy he slowed. They'd be here in just a –

Three brilliant blurs sped across the sky like comets. They slowed as they sighted their prey, but still moved to quickly for Ash to track easily. They were so quick he could just barely recognize Saph. She'd finally grown most of the pale blue out of her scales.

His sprint became a jog. Ash hesitated. Every bit of him screamed to rush in and pull his mother from the Beast's back…that was stupid, though. Ash knew better. Reason finally reared its head as memories of Lance's team ran through his mind.

It nearly made him sick, but he finally stopped. Ash clasped his legs and wheezed violently as his body's broken state caught up with him.

He'd die if he ran in now. The Dragonite trio were too destructive for him to play stupid games. Their attacks weren't on Entei's level, but they could scourge Greenfield clean over time. All it would take was a sustained assault – he'd just get in the way and probably die.

"Agh!" Ash cried as Fire burnt within him with his thoughts – the Feather started to melt and sink deeper into his chest, sending its tendrils of obsidian through his muscle and bone. He clutched at it frantically, desperate to pull it away, but it seemed upset with him and just burnt all the brighter.

It finally dimmed for just a moment. That was just a long enough break to spot Lance as the Indigo Champion appeared in a blinding flash some distance away, though close enough to make his gut sink as he actually saw the Champion.

Lance had seen better days. His combat suit was in tatters and strips of glimmering, writhing crystal crawled all over the expanses of exposed skin. Wherever it oozed it left a thin layer of crystal, seemingly doing its best to engulf the Champion whole. Lance would have glittered like a diamond if it weren't for the shade and darkness engulfing the wasteland.

The Champion looked haggard and exhausted. His face was pinched tight and there was a manic look in Lance's eyes as he stared daggers at Entei. Ash could only just hear Lance's hoarse commands as the rest of his team materialized around him. Magnus and Aerodactyl were the first to arrive – they launched into the darkening sky with an obvious haste. Magnus' brilliant tail flame left streaks of light behind him as he shot through the atmosphere, marking his ascent.

Aerodactyl's savage nature had never been more obvious to Ash. She didn't fly as quickly as the others (though she could give any flier a run for their money) and instead she circled patiently above Lance as his bodyguard. Her teeth were bared in an awful snarl and each looked longer than a steak knife.

Ash squinted at the ancient pokemon. Did Aerodactyl look different? He was too far away to tell, but she looked a few shades darker. There were also an assortment of jagged, pointed stones weighing on her wings, though he wasn't entirely sure that wasn't just crystal that had latched onto her. If it was she wouldn't be able to fly for long. It was all over her – there were even a few stones on her head and an especially large one on her chin.

He was distracted by the rest of Lance's team appearing soon after. The Kingdra, Mael, materialized next to his trainer and immediately stared Entei down with sharp scarlet eyes. Lev erupted from nothingness before them all, the absolutely monstrous Gyarados curled up to protect the team. The fifty foot sea serpent gnashed its saber-like fangs with fury and reared up like an angry Arbok.

Entei just waited. It was eerily still and possessed an impressive patience. If Ash didn't know better he'd say the Beast wasn't even breathing. But that didn't matter, he realized as the most important thing in the world shifted on Entei's back –

"Lance!" He shouted. Lance's eyes flitted to Ash for a moment, but his teacher shook his head. "Lance! My mom – she's on the Entei! You can't attack yet!"

An incomprehensible flurry of emotions ran through Lance. His sharp gaze settled on Entei and Lance paled as he caught sight of the slim woman on the Legendary's back. He whistled once and his team backed off, though the army of dragons watched Entei like a Rattata facing down a Persian.

Ash finally exhaled. He'd bought his mother some time to escape…though he still had no idea how to get her away!

With the crisis over, Ash remembered the white-hot fury from before. Ash took a few steps forward and Entei finally looked at him – their eyes met, and Ash realized that Entei's were as human as his own. The Beast's nostrils flared at the unspoken challenge.

"Let her go!" Ash howled. The rasp carried across the sudden silence of the battlefield. All he could hear was his own heartbeat and the flapping of Dragonite's wings. Entei cocked its great head. "My mom hasn't done anything to hurt you, Entei! Let her go!"

Something changed at his declaration. The world froze. The wind stilled. The crystal stopped. Even the storm clouds swirling in from the east slowed. Ash's eyes narrowed as some of his rage (and so many other emotions he couldn't describe…) dimmed. What was this?

The crystal licking at Entei's paws shattered with the sound of shattering glass. A boom sundered the earth and split the air and the Feather screamed! Ash fell to his knees, clutching at his heart like it had exploded in his chest, but still heard a strangely familiar voice boom. "She is not your mother! She is Molly's! You will not take her away!"

Bruiser hauled him to his feet. Ash couldn't thank him – his mind was a rush. Where had he heard that voice before?

Then he realized what had just happen.

Entei had spoken. And more than that, the Beast of Fire had spoken of Molly. Why would it even know a little girl?

Why would it care?

There weren't words to voice the whirlwind of thoughts and impressions and feelings swirling within – what did he say to the Beast's proclamation? How did it know Molly and why did it care? Nothing about this situation made any sense and he couldn't understand this! It was frustrating and he didn't have time to waste on this while his mom was in danger!

"Mom!" He shouted. Entei's growl made the crystal roil angrily like a stormy sea but Ash just didn't care. Lightning seared his veins and threaded into every thought, a constant pain that focused him to a fine point. All he wanted to do was tear the Beast apart and get his mom out of here…she wouldn't be taken, Legendary or no! "Mom, can you hear me?"

Relief flooded through him a moment later: his mother's brown head peeked out from behind Entei's thick neck, seemingly unharmed. Her small hands were wrapped around dark locks of Entei's mane, like she was holding his reigns.

His mother looked right at him.

Something inside him withered and died. His mother was unharmed, but she didn't know him. She might as well have been looking at a stranger for all the recognition she showed. His mother leaned and whispered something into Entei's ear. After a moment she shook her head, though Ash couldn't hear whatever the Beast had said.

Delia Ketchum frowned at Ash. "You aren't my son."

She said it so easily. The conviction in her words nearly brought him to his knees again. There wasn't distaste or fear or hate – his mother wasn't capable of that. She was just disinterested. Apathetic.

Ash's eyes stung.. This couldn't be real! Bruiser squeezed his shoulder tightly.

"You're wrong!" He finally croaked. Delia heard them somehow.

"My son and daughter are in the mansion playing," Delia brushed a few strands of hair out of her eyes. She frowned at him. "I don't know who you are, but we aren't taking visitors right now. My children and I just want to be left alone."

Ash recoiled as though he'd been slapped. The reality he'd walked into – no, the nightmare – set in for real. Hot tears welled up in his eyes and everything blurred until he was practically blind. His nails carved into his palms and streaks of blood seeped from the wounds.

The crushing weight of Delia's claim snapped something. Ash snarled like a rabid Growlithe and stared at Entei through the tears. Nothing was going to take his mom from him! He'd fix this!

Fire, Ice, and Lightning sang in a terrible chorus. The flames heated his blood and fanned his anger to the point of murder. The Song tried to embrace him – tried to calm him and restrain him and he didn't want that right now! He cast it aside, ignoring the frantic tunes, and embraced another power instead.

A fiery blue haze settled over the world, casting everything in shadow. Unimaginable power filled him, threatened to destroy him…would destroy him if he didn't use it to destroy the pathetic creature that had killed his mother's mind and stolen her!

Bruiser's touch went unheeded. Ash's eyes flashed with icy blue light and he clasped the Feather in his hand. Fire and Ice and Lightning flooded his body, unrestrained and eager to be released. And he would release them. He would unleash every speck of power held within the Feather to destroy his enemy and wipe this place free of its corruption!

Everything tugged at him in five different directions. Power wavered and leapt, seeking direction, and everything encroached and pulled and –

His mother vanished from Entei's back. A single worm of crystal brushed against her leg, then a smooth coat of pale purple glass washed over her from head-to-toe. She was frozen in the crystal for just a second, then melted into the wasteland as if she'd never existed at all.

He stopped. The power receded without his hate. His heart skipped a beat. He stared, open-mouthed, and then –

"Go!" Lance roared, terrible as a true dragon. As soon as the command left his lips the world became a cacophony of light and sound and heat as his entire team released their legendary strength at Entei. Ash's wild scream – the last vestiges of the great power that had been at his fingertips just a moment ago – ripped loose alongside theirs, laced with cinders and splinters of ice and stream of lightning as a terrible monster sunk its claws into his mind.

Ash couldn't think. He was blinded by the lights and deafened by the blood pounding in his ears. He grasped for Nidoking's pokeball and triggered the mechanism by instinct. His friend manifested in a burst of red. Nidoking took only a second to take in the ruins of Greenfield before he manifested. The poison-type laid a single claw against Ash's arm.

His breath calmed.

"Nidoking?" Ash began. It was brittle as glass. Hard but fragile. He looked to his brother. Nidoking's ears twitched. "I can't command right now. You need to lead the team."

His friend leaned closer. Nidoking could tell how affected Ash was better than anyone.

Ash just continued. If he stopped he'd break. "Entei is underneath all the Hyper Beams and explosions right now," Ash said too calmly. "You see it?"

Nidoking's lips pulled back in a grimace. He saw the army of dragons hammering Entei…that much firepower would obliterate a town. Ash just looked past the explosions and roars and crackle of fire to see the shadow of the Beast.

He slipped.

"We're going to kill it," Ash hissed. He didn't take his eyes off of Entei for a moment, though it was hard to see the Beast past the smoke and dirt and splinters of crystal flying through the air.

Nidoking looked at Ash hesitantly, but nodded. A weight lifted off Ash's chest. He still felt like this wasn't real. His mother wasn't really gone, was she?

He numbly released the rest of his team (excepting Seeker and Aron). It didn't take long for them to acclimate, and a soft vine from Tangrowth was quick to wind around his arm. Ash accepted it without comment. Tangrowth gurgled, anxious. All of his vines wriggled nervously as he examined the devastation around them.

Ash wished he could have brought Tangrowth to Greenfield before this disaster. He would've loved it.

"Kill Entei."

The team sent him the same sort of look Nidoking had. Ash didn't let it get to him. Most accepted his command, but others looked to the blazing Feather on his chest. Dazed was especially concerned, but she knew better than to brush her mind against Ash's right now.

…Infernus, on the other hand, couldn't have looked happier. His claws shifted into cannons and everything about the Magmortar screamed satisfaction. The thrill of the hunt had sent adrenaline pumping through his blood.

Normally Ash would feel the exact same thing.

"Wait until…" Ash trailed off as the dust cleared. He looked hopefully at the site. With any luck Entei (who hadn't dodged) would at least be hurt. His gut twisted as the crystal shards twisting in the air fell to the ground. A shining film instantly regenerated over the vast swathe of land wiped clean of the corruption.

Entei stood exactly as he had before, not a hair out of place. A great tsunami of crystal wrapped around its massive frame protectively. It had absorbed every attack with minimal effort.

His eyes narrowed. That would be troublesome. They'd have to get Entei out of the crystal somehow if they wanted to do real damage. "Everyone, get ready! On my mark –"

Lance beat them to it. His dragons did everything they could to obliterate Entei's shield: great cones of white-hot fire bathed liberally over the barrier, so hot that Ash's face burned from hundreds of feet away. Hyper Beams flashed like the sun from every direction, tearing at the crystal just as fast as it could regenerate, and ethereal Dragon Pulses drilled past the shield relentlessly.

It was beautiful, devastating, and accomplished absolutely nothing.

The crystal flowered and blossomed over Entei's bulk as quickly as Lance could tear it away. Nothing could slow its regeneration, though it seemed Lance's assault did have its perks: the SPECTER forces that had been shattered by Entei were slowly rousing, though it seemed like they were in complete retreat. They'd have to recoup their losses and organize again.

Ash's teeth grit. The Birds weren't this annoying. At least they actually took action. He sneered and held off on the command that would have his team join Lance's. Instead he turned away from the veritable elemental storm the Champion rained down on Entei. The Hale Mansion was more important right now.

His mother (his heart panged) said that her son and daughter were in there. What did that mean? Maybe she'd come to think of Molly as a daughter but who was the son? One of Molly's friends, maybe? It just didn't make sense with the information he had.

Despite that he knew he had to get in there. The crystal had its source in the mansion, so that was where he needed to focus.

It went without saying that hit mother – his real mother, not the woman on Entei's back – would want him to make sure Molly and Uncle Spencer were safe. He'd respect her wishes.

"Plume!" He shouted. Ash ignored the burning of his vocal cords as the Feather began to heat again, though it was slower and steadier this time. It felt like he'd just breathed lungfuls of volcanic smoke…but right now he just cared about actually being heard over the din of the Hyper Beams and roar of the flames enshrouding Entei.

His friend cocked her as she turned away from the battle. Ash painfully limped over to her. "Fly me to the mansion!" He wheezed, wracked by another surge of red-hot Fire. He leaned heavily on Nidoking. The Pidgeot nodded and lowered her body – normally he'd use the saddle but there wasn't enough time.

An impossibly strong hand caught his shoulder as Bruiser tried to help him onto her back. "Ash, stop!" Bruno boomed. Ash whirled around, blood boiling, and snarled at the first Master he'd trained with. They didn't have time for this! Who knew what was happening in the mansion right now?

"I have to get into that mansion!" Ash shook Bruno's hand off. He glared at the Master, who just watched Ash implacably. The Black Belt's Machamp cracked its knuckles menacingly. In any other situation Ash might have given a damn. "If you don't let me get to it, I'll –"

Bruno shook his head mournfully and cast his dark eyes at the Hale Mansion as small droplets of rain fell from the heavens. "Do nothing," he said as the beads rolled down the Master's bronze face. "You can't sense what I can, Ash. Entei is not the true threat. It's a symptom of a greater sickness. There is something great and terrible lying within the mansion. The Indigo Elite Four aren't equipped to deal with it, no matter how badly we wish otherwise."

He couldn't believe this. "You're giving up?!" Ash's fists curled into balls. His nails carved into his palms and even the Song just irritated him now! "No! I'm not stopping here. Not when my mom –"

"I never said we're giving up," the Black Belt said sagely. "Just that the Elite Four are not prepared for this calamity. We can't stop this…" Bruno looked almost heartbroken at that admission. "…but you can."

Bruno looked at Ash knowingly. He froze. What?

"Just wait here a minute, Ash, and prepare your team. When Will," Bruno nodded to the ornately dressed man who wasn't there a moment ago, "and I engage Entei and lead it away you must head to the mansion. Ignore everything else. Do you understand?"

The overwhelming fury that dominated his mind slipped away a fraction. "I – yes," he said. His brown eyes landed on his target. His team gathered around him in an instant as his body was suddenly reminded of how damaged it was. The explosions tearing apart Greenfield actually hurt his sore muscles from their intensity. Even his vision suddenly shook with fatigue as Lightning retreated.

Bruno stood up straight. The shirtless man's eyes shut tight and Ash swore that something shifted in the air. Machamp, a bipedal canine that must be a Lucario, and Hitmonlee all tensed, ready to follow their master. All three bore battle scars and strange burns that glistened with chips of crystal, though none seemed too badly hurt. If anything they seemed better off than Lance or Karen.

But then he realized what that meant. Only three remained? Bruno had at least six teammates. Entei must've made quick work of the rest.

Bruno breathe deeply. "Don't move until we draw the Beast away," his former teacher reminded. When Ash nodded Bruno smiled. "We will meet again, Ash, though you bear the greatest burden of us all."

With that cryptic comment the Master and his remaining teammates vanished into a sprint. The Master himself led the team as he dashed forward with inhuman speed and agility. He was nearly a blur to Ash's eyes and in a matter of seconds had crossed the plain of crystal that separated Ash from the raging battle with Entei.

"My friend!" Will slurred as he toyed with his cane haphazardly. He tried to balance it on a fingertip but it promptly fell to the ground. The psychic stared at it dumbly. His eyes flickered purple. "My apologies, Ash! I am normally much more grace – gracefully than that, yes?"

Despite himself Ash found his attention torn from Bruno. "Are you okay to teleport?"

"Yes! Of course!" The Psychic Master gestured wildly. His arms flailed in a way that didn't inspire much confidence. His cane was consumed in fiery purple and shot back into his hand, though Will grunted as the instrument's momentum carried it straight into his nose and knocked his mask askew. "Now I am. You remember the plan, yeah?"

Ash nodded, though he was more than a tad concerned. Will was acting just like Bob had. Was he even qualified to battle like this? He'd be as much a hazard to the Elite Four as he was to Entei. Actually, considering how durable Entei was it stood to reason that Will literally wouldn't help at all.

"Farewell, my friend!" Will twirled his cane elegantly. Seven psychics were immediately release from their pokeballs with the motion and arrayed around Will in a circle. Ash glanced around and took in Will's team for the first team. It was a solid group (not that he was surprised). A peculiar creature he knew to be a Bronzong, a relatively small Jynx, Grumpig, Gardevoir, and an Exeggutor. One other materialized several seconds late: Xatu.

Xatu trembled. Ash watched it, alarmed. Both eyes were filled with a wild purple light and every single one of its feathers was outlined in the same, casting an eerie glow about it. Its wings flapped to and fro wildly, and even the eye markings on its chest burst with vast psychic power, like it was real. Then the psychic bird looked at Ash, shrieked, and –

"You should return Xatu," he said slowly. Ash looked pointedly at the twitching psychic. It had been more than a year since psychics reacted well to him, but this was something else. Something on Xatu's level should be able to ignore the Brands. The pokemon must've been taxed terribly by the presence of the crystal. "Now!"

"Hmm?" Will looked oddly at Xatu, like he hadn't even noticed its state. The psychic frowned and tapped his cane. Xatu instantly returned to its pokeball. "Ah, thank you, Ash! Old girl doesn't seem to handle Legendaries very well!"

Ash sighed and looked over at the battle numbly. Even the random bursts from the Feather didn't shake him out of his stupor, though they nearly brought him to his knees. Bruno had nearly reached Entei with his team. "Shouldn't you be helping Lance and – Koga?" Ash muttered as the ninja emerged from behind the Indigo Champion. Most of his team must have been taken out earlier. Only a Toxicroak, Venemoth, and Crobat rushed out to join the battle. "Where did he come from?"

"From behind the good Champion Lance, of course!" Will chirped as he leaned heavily on his cane. Most of his team looked about as drunk on the power saturating this area as Will. Ash wasn't sure any of them should join the fight. But if they could harness some of this energy for themselves… "But yes, I suppose I should be off. Farewell, my friend!"

Ash waved the Elite Four member off and looked on as Will and his team materialized just off the battlefield. They were removed from the rest of the fights circling Entei. They were there to be support, though considering how hard half of them had fallen into the crystal after teleporting that might be a struggle.

That concern was quickly proven unnecessary. Despite their questionable state of mind Will and his team were perfectly capable of combat. Even from this distance Ash's breath hitched at the sheer volume of power summoned by Will and his mostly intact team – it was breathtaking. They were each surrounded in a vivid nimbus of psychic energy and were wreathed in a brilliant aura that banished the murky mist that crawled through the sea of crystal.

Their power flooded together, guided by each teammate, and coalesced at the tip of Will's cane. The Psychic Master grinned with vivid purple eyes beneath his mask, and pointed the wooden instrument directly at Entei. In a single moment the compressed energy loosed itself at the Beast in a spear of raw, unadulterated power.

The spear lanced into Entei and the Beast's crystal shield shattered like a flimsy pane of glass. Entei actually stumbled underneath the onslaught, its glassy armor finally giving way as the combined psychic assault lashed at the Beast.

Bruno, who had just arrived at the scene, took advantage of the distraction and shot forth like a cannonball. He reared his meaty fist back and with a shout landed the first blow against the Beast of Fire.

Ash's eyes couldn't have gotten any wider. Bruno was the first to make a real strike against the Beast? He'd seen the Black Belt's superhuman abilities before but this was…unexpected. He gaped at the sight.

Entei stood strong despite the powerful attack. It didn't really hurt Entei. That was expected (though the attack itself wasn't). The Beast barely twitched underneath the force. It seemed more surprised than anything.

A myriad of emotions flickered across Entei's dark eyes. Confusion, surprise, shock, and rage.

The Beast reared back on its hind legs and Ash was struck again at just how massive it was. It rose up to more than twice Nidoking's height and loosed a violent, rumbling roar that shook his bones. Cracks threaded through the crystal beneath Ash's feet and every living thing in the air clutched at their ears and quailed beneath the force. Bruno was hurled away by the roar, though Ash knew a lesser man would've been killed by its intensity.

Bruno fell back, stunned. Entei lunged forward too quick for something that size. Purple cinders flowed like water from its savage maw and Entei raised a mighty paw to crush the Black Belt. Ash couldn't think, let alone act, but watched in horror as Entei's black claws neared –

Aerodactyl saved Bruno's life. She dove down to rake Entei with long curled talons and emerged with a few clumps of dark fur. Ash watched curiously as the fur dissolved into writhing purple crystal that snaked around her legs. That wasn't right…

Entei stumbled slowly. It eyed the newcomer with deathly calm. Aerodactyl wasn't blinded enough by her blood-rage to stick around with that looking at her. She took to the skies with a shriek like grinding stone and soared hundreds of feet in a matter of moments.

Although the Beast didn't bear any visible damage, its reaction at least proved it wasn't invincible. Ash watched oddly. The Beast was powerful, no doubt, but it didn't seem to be on the level of the Birds. Any other Legend couldn't even be approached by an enemy – their power was such that any attempt to get close would kill their foe.

That wasn't the case for the Beast of Fire. Their attacks might not do anything, but the fact that they could land a hit was encouraging. Ash still didn't feel good about this, though. Something wasn't right.

He started to shake himself out of the battle haze. Entei seemed properly distracted. It was time to leave.

Despite himself he couldn't help but watch as he started to climb onto Plume's back. Bruno looked to have finally recovered and had put some distance between himself and Entei. As soon as the Black Belt was safe a veritable storm of white beams, billowing flames, and psychic blasts flashed its way.

For a moment it seemed like Entei would be struck by the attack. Instead Entei burst into a dizzyingly quick motion and wove between every single attack that came near. How could something so massive be so nimble?

Entei slipped through the volley of attacks, leapt past Machamp and Lucario's lightning-quick jabs, and landed with grace befitting a Ninetales. It landed delicately on its heavy paws and glared up at Aerodactlyl. The Beast's gaze tracked her aerial maneuvers with ease.

Ash grit his teeth as the Beast opened its massive jaws and roared once more. He fell to his knees beneath the terrible power, but Dazed was quick to support him and shield their ears this time. Even with the volume muted the roar made his eardrums tremble like they would burst.

The pain of Entei's roar was quickly overshadowed. A dark violet glow shone from deep inside Entei's throat, brightened, then manifested directly into a swirling sphere of unnatural purple flame. It hung above Entei's maw for less than a second before it exploded and launched a cone of dark inferno nearly five hundred feet long. Aerodactyl and Dov screeched, hardly able to avoid the assault, but had just begun to curve to attack the Beast again when Entei made its second move.

Something in Ash's gut sank when Entei tensed, then exploded hundreds of feet into the air with a single push of its monstrously powerful body. The smoky trail behind it obscured the Beast's shape. He still caught a hint of a dark shadow as it lunged through the sky as quick as Plume.

Aerodactyl never had a chance. Entei had calculated its path perfectly. The rock-type cried, surprised, as Entei smashed into it. The Beast dwarfed her massive body and locked its fangs around Aerodactyl's neck. A cry ripped from Lance. Ash's eyes locked on helplessly as Entei and Aerodactyl descended at a dizzying rate.

She was crushed beneath Entei's bulk but Ash felt a brief hope as the ferocious fossil's jaws latched around Entei's mane and – the impact was literally earthshattering. He could field it through the crystal and couldn't look away.

Dust and crystal lingered in the air where they'd landed, smashed beyond recognition with the sheer force carried by Entei and its prey. Lance cried out again, heartbroken, and a chorus of shrieks and howls and roars joined him. The Indigo Champion looked terrible: Pale and shaken by the fate of his companion.

The shock didn't last long. A vicious snarl appeared on the Champion's face and Lance blazed with anger. "Kill it!"

Bruno and all the pokemon shot into action. The Dragonite trio descended as fast as they could. Lev uncoiled from around Lance and wound his way across the wasteland. The Gyarados' movements left huge furrows behind it. Mael didn't bother getting closer. Instead the Kingdra just fired a volley of quick, precise Hydro Pumps at Entei.

Entei didn't give its crushed, broken prey a second glance. It just wove its way through the attacks at a blinding speed. Ash didn't miss that it always stayed close to Aerodactyl's body. It knew that none of its foes would use destructive attacks for fear of finishing her off.

He wanted to order his team to join in so badly. Maybe they could make a difference. Entei almost looked like it was struggling as Bruno and his team closed in. It was distracted by the onslaught, but even though it could handle the Black Belt, Ash thought it would be overwhelmed for a time once Koga's team got there. His keen eyes caught a few Psybeams that struck Entei. They slowed it for just a few seconds, but that was enough.

Now was the time. He looked to Karen, who still managed the few SPECTERs that hadn't fallen yet. Her own team fought valiantly, though they had begun to flag. He couldn't imagine how exhausted they must be.

Ash recalled every member of his team except for Plume, then hesitated. The image of Entei's interception of Aerodactyl was painfully vivid. Aerodactyl wasn't much slower than Plume and the Beast had caught her so easily. Was it worth the risk?

Karen stumbled. Fire roared in his heart as she fell and collapsed upon some of the flowers that had been reclaimed from the crystal. What happened? She wasn't injured except for –

His heart skipped a beat. The crystal. He squinted and looked at the burnt side of Karen's face. Well, it had been burnt. Now it was just a shiny, mirror-like surface of fused crystal. It crawled over her skin and slowly expanded at a Slugma's pace.

Could Sneasel handle that? The crystals seemed to melt when they were exposed to dark-type and ghostly energy. Ash hesitated. Did he even have the time to help her? He stole a glance at the battle and felt something heavy weigh in his gut. Ash already knew the answer to his question. Entei wasn't exactly tearing the Elite Four apart but it wouldn't be long before it overcame their combined might.

Something tapped behind him. Something crawled up his spine – he was being watched. Ash turned, wary, and froze. A relieved smile appeared on his face that belied his surprise.

"The poor girl," the newcomer cackled. She rhythmically tapped her gnarled wooden cane to the crystal that crawled beneath their feet to a beat only she could hear. His sharp eyes didn't miss that the crystal melted away wherever her cane landed. "Don't worry too much, boy. She'll be just fine."

"Agatha?" Ash breathed. He stared the old woman, aged far beyond her fifty years. Her blue eye winked at him.

She smirked, "The one and only." Agatha cast a considerate glance at the wild melee that raged between the Elite Four and Entei – Ash didn't dare take his eyes off of her. "Goodness, I leave for a few months and the whole world falls apart. I can't say I'm surprised."

He leaned heavily on Plume. Ash's exhaustion weighed heavily on his shoulders but he could put up with it for now. The Feather pulsed with Ice this time, freezing him to the core. All he could do was grimace and bear the pain. "What are you doing here?"

"A little birdy told me I should be in the area," the Revenant Crone tutted. Agatha paused to brush her cane against the crystal. She watched it flee from her with a wry smile. "I'd hoped to enjoy my vacation in Orre, you know. Unfortunately it seems you lot couldn't last a year without me around to clean up your messes."

He could do little but nod dumbly at that. Who retired to Orre of all places?

"Go take care of that," Agatha pointed her cane to the Hale Mansion with a sneer. Smoky black wisps dripped from the gnarled wood at the motion. The noxious substance, ethereal and otherworldly, fell upon the earth and coalesced into a dozen terribly powerful ghosts. Each leered and writhed beneath his gaze, eager to play with their prey. "I can handle this mess."

Ash nodded. "Understood," he breathed. He couldn't say he was especially broken up about his escape from the ghosts. They looked…hungry. Plume's chirp said that she felt the same.

"I wouldn't," Agatha said as Ash glanced at Plume. He blinked, always taken unawares by the woman. She shuffled to stand beside him. Her ghosts followed loyally like a horde of Growlithe puppies. "That thing," the Crone sneered, "nearly picked off Dov at full speed earlier. It focuses on anything that gets near the mansion. If you fly you'll be an easy target – and likely dead."

He and Plume shared a grim look. That was bad. Plume could cut this journey down to a matter of seconds. Unfortunately he couldn't take that risk – if Entei pulled off the maneuver it had used on Aerodactyl then Plume would be killed instantly. She wasn't half as durable as the huge rock-type.

Entei might be distracted now but he knew it had some degree of control over the crystal. What if it could fire spears of the ethereal material to track them, or even melt into the crystal and reappear elsewhere? There were too many unknowns already to take a risk.

There was only one other choice he liked. "Dazed?" He asked as she materialized beside him. Agatha seemed to feel her job was done. She hobbled away as she ordered her ghosts with simple waves of her cane. They followed her directions immediately.

His friend blinked. Ash eyed her as her pendulum danced and trembled, suffused by an ominous icy blue fire. The blaze drawn from Mewtwo grew ten times as intense before she finally felt secure enough to make contact with his mind.

I think I can. To a point, Friend-Trainer. The power is…odd. The world is not as it should be. Another rules this place. Though my abilities are amplified I fear that there may be interference. If the master of this world-within-a-world chooses to stop me I will be unable to fight back.

The svelte voice was trouble. Hazy and erratic, though he could hear her words crisply enough. He was proud that she didn't have the issues Bob did – Dazed possessed a mental fortitude that most couldn't imagine. Her mind was her sharpest sword and staunchest shield. It would never splinter so easily.

"Okay," he rasped, wincing as his soot-burnt throat screamed in protest. "Do you think you could get us to the mansion? Or could Entei just stop us in our tracks?" Ash glared at the Beast, which was hardly visible as it danced around the Elite Four. He'd much rather fight the Rockets now…at least he could face them instead of skulking around while the Elite Four fought his battle.

Dazed clasped her pendulum in a shaky hand. The yanks and tugs on it were forceful enough to jerk her entire arm around. At last she spoke, more than a tad hesitant.

I could not risk it, Friend-Trainer. I can't risk your safety in such a way. The Beast is innately tied to this place. Its mind has been bound within the Crystal and the Crystal is bound within the Beast. They are inseparable, albeit distinct. I do not know its capabilities.

He could only stare at the Hale Mansion's remnants. This just confirmed something was wrong with Entei. Had it somehow been corrupted? What was this crystal? It didn't match any Legend he'd heard of. Was it just a byproduct?

I believe so. It's not natural. It marks the domain of another. Psychic power in physical form – I did not know it was possible. We are standing on the mind of something much greater than either of us.

"That doesn't matter," Ash interrupted. They were running out of time – who knew how long they could hold out? And more importantly, how long could Molly survive in there? He looked darkly at the wasteland. The crystal's crawl wasn't as quick but he felt sick every time he looked at it. "We can't talk any more. We have to get into that mansion before the Elite Four fall."

Agreed.

They sat there for another few seconds. His mind was a veritable whirlwind of raw information, half-plans, and need. Whatever had done this to his mother was in that mansion. He would destroy it.

He gnashed his teeth. His fingers curled. Fire and Lightning pulsed. But Ice –

Ice. That was it!

He released Sneasel. The dark-type hissed a low, ugly growl that spoke to Ash's most primal parts, and protectively curled around his leg. His hackles raised and Ash nearly smiled.

Friend-Trainer, what – meaning – why –

"The same reason we can't communicate right now," he said brusquely. Ash brushed Sneasel's fluffy head. He took some measure of comfort from the dark-type's presence. "The same reason why ghosts and dark-types can hold back the crystal," Ash shared a nod with Dazed as she began to understand. "Be ready to coordinate the others when I release you next. I'll need you."

Lightning ran down his spine. There was no time to waste.

He would never overpower or outrun Entei. That didn't mean he couldn't outsmart it.

"Sneasel, pour as much dark-type energy into me as you can," he directed. Sneasel whined and rubbed anxiously at his leg, but Ash didn't waver. "I can take the pain. We need this camouflage or we'll never get through."

The dark-type growled. He was frustrated, but after a bit of deliberation Sneasel relented. His lithe, strong body scaled Ash in seconds and settled comfortable around his shoulders.

He only had a moment of peace before Sneasel unsheathed his claws.

Sneasel didn't give Ash a chance to second guess his decision. Ash barely quashed an agonized scream as twin daggers stabbed into his shoulders and into the soft muscle. Fire and Ice and Lightning overcame the Song's calming chords and screamed! Ash found himself lost within the frantic tunes. He was finally freed of the human element binding him to the earth and submerged in –

It died.

Ash exhaled and his bleary vision refocused. Hot red and orange, laced with frozen threads of white and jagged gold, faded. A pale, squirming nightmare of purple and violet replaced it.

For a second he was relieved. He was free. Free of the Legendaries and Concepts hiding in his core. Free of having his mind tugged several different ways with only the Song and his willpower to hold them in check.

That feeling was short lived. The Concepts might be banished, but they were quickly replaced by a sickeningly cold, corrosive energy that wounds its way through every cell and thought and gnawed at him. It crawled through his broken body and ripped at everything. It degraded everything it touched by virtue of being alien to this world...it despised structure and order and reality and would do its part in returning such things to the writhing nexus it should be.

When he came to there was a puddle of acrid vomit sitting in front of him. Ash looked up, dazed. The sharp, bitter smell cut at his nose and he winced. At least the dark-type energy had already dissipated…only a little bit of the vile stuff still wriggled in his gut, though he still wanted to throw up all over again. All he could do was struggle onto his shaky legs.

No, he needed it back. He was the only one who could do this – his friends were too valuable to waste on this. Ash didn't need a strong body to get through the walk, just a strong mind.

This was his sacrifice.

"Sneasel," he slurred. All he cared about was the soft black fur hugged around his neck and the sandpaper tongue licking at his ears. It hurt but he embraced the pain of the claws in his back and the tongue. Right now he just wanted to feel.

"Again," Ash shuddered. His mind raced. The energy still lay coiled inside, but otherworldly venom wasn't getting pumped in by Sneasel. Every few moments his whole body shuddered and he shook uncontrollably. His fingers quivered and his heart pumped at random, skipping some beats and pounding twice as fast at other times. "Please. I'm okay, Sneasel. Again."

Sneasel whined – no, that was a cry. His head was burrowed tightly into Ash's shoulder, like he couldn't bear to look at him. "Please!"

The dark-type whined but Ash felt the entropic touch of his power stirring at the tips of his claws. It was so, so cold but Ash was ready for it this time. He grit his teeth but steeled himself nonetheless. "Don't stop until we're at the mansion."

He went numb. Everything was wrong and hurting and he –

He took a step forward. Ash had thought the Feather had hurt him. That was nothing. At least he could understand it. It was familiar. Real. This was just indescribable.

It ate at every cell, laced every atom. Twisted and tortured. Dug its claws deeper than Sneasel ever would. Everything that was wasn't. Bent and ripped apart.

It cut the Feather. Fire couldn't heat his blood. Ice couldn't harden his thoughts. Lightning didn't sharpen his focus. The Song had finally left him. Even Mewtwo's shadowy presence flitted away.

For once he was on his own. All he had was his own strength.

Ash – yes, he was Ash, wasn't he? – took a step. Then another and another. His muscles were already failing him. The beat of his heart was an unbearable strain. If he relied on his body he'd collapse. Anger. Body was weak, annoying, fragile.

The steps were from habit now. It wasn't walking. More of an inevitable fall. Stumbling.

Every now and then the lick of a tongue would distract him. He embraced the feeling. It was better than the pain. Determination born of anger and agony would burn out in time.

It filled him. He couldn't see anymore. Time and Space were irrelevant now. Meaningless. Nonexistent. Cast aside. His goal was all that mattered.

He embraced the blankness. He couldn't ignore the pain. It wasn't his body it tore at. It was something deeper. All that mattered was that he never stop.

And –

The veil lifted. He collapsed. His chest rose and fell faster than he'd ever felt. His heart pumped furiously as it did its best to recover what had been lost. Even his limbs twitched as he fell onto the crystals for the first time.

His first thought was that it was warm. Its texture was like glass, but it pulsed with life. Small tendrils of the crystal flowed away. A brilliant orange flower was revealed where it had laid. The crystal kept a healthy distance and retreated from the boy, and as it fled he found himself in a bed of soft grass.

Ash stared blankly into the black sky, numb to the explosions that came steadily closer. He could see nothing but the pale shadows that had swallowed Greenfield and the glittering spires of the corrupted Hale Mansion. The light of the sun had been purged. That was a shame. His mother had always loved sitting here with him on lazy afternoons.

The writhing tendrils of dark-type energy that saturated his body wriggled suddenly, and he was wracked with spasms. He rode it out, though blood filled his mouth as he bit his tongue. It was such a minor pain that he barely noticed.

He willed the Feather to aid him. It had hurt him so, so terribly before but he needed it now. His body had failed him, subjected as it was to an otherworldly power. His muscles might as well have been cut from his body. They wouldn't listen to him.

Right now he needed the Feather. He needed it to heat his blood, to wire him with the energy to push onward. To focus him.

Not even a spark flared. For the first time in months, Fire, Ice, and Lightning were sundered. The Song had died and even the steady, terrible presence of Mewtwo didn't register.

He laughed, but it was more of a croak. Hadn't he wanted to have his mind to himself again?

His wish couldn't have been fulfilled at a worse time. He spent more effort than he'd ever felt to raise his body up. Right now his muscles weren't sore, but limp and dead. They could collapse at any moment.

He finally managed to pull his shirt down and stared. The Feather was lifeless.

Oh, he knew it wasn't gone for good. Somewhere within its delicate obsidian frame a cinder was burning, ready to reignite as soon as it could. The Concepts at the edge of his consciousness had been extinguished but not destroyed. Never destroyed.

After a few moments of effort he released Bruiser. That was the brother he needed right now. The one who could help him the most. Nidoking wouldn't this well. Ash wasn't handling it well.

His arm fell to his side once Bruiser materialized. The Machoke's keen eyes were sharp and in an instant Ash was cradled in arms thicker than his torso. It was interesting to feel the blood pulsing beneath the hard, leathery skin.

Bruiser grunted. Ash shook his head. "I – I don't know what happened," he wheezed. It felt like he'd been shot up with morphine. "Sneasel?" He cried, but couldn't see anything but Bruiser's grey skin.

Dread filled his heart when Bruiser's reptilian face flickered with concern. The dark-type energy writhed again. Ash seized, his eyes squeezed tightly shut. Where was Sneasel?

A small body was deposited on top of him. It was breathing and its paws kneaded at him slowly, though Ash could tell it was exhausted. "What happened?"

The Machoke shrugged noncommittally, though Ash wasn't half as dismissive. He scowled at the sight of a glittering sheen of crystal laced in Sneasel's coat. How?!

"Ah, that would be my fault, I'm afraid," Will chirped. He swayed away from Bruiser's reflexive punch with uncanny grace. It was less a dodge and more of a shrug that just so happened to move him out of the fist's path. His mask peered down at Ash. "You don't look so good."

He blinked. "Will?" Ash muttered. Something lurched in his gut at the sight of the glassy substance that squirmed and flowed across Will's face. Only his eyes (which burned with a pale, fiery lavender that shone brightly in the shadow cast by the Hale Mansion) and mouth were left bare. "What're you doing?"

The Psychic Master cocked his head. Even underneath the mask of crystal he seemed flummoxed. "Just protecting someone dear to me," Will said cheerfully, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Ash looked at him oddly. "Thanks, I guess," he said uncertainly. This was different. Maybe it was just the trauma from those dark-type energies…he could still feel it crawling underneath his skin like some vile worm. "Why aren't you fighting with the others?"

He couldn't see the battle but he could hear it. Draconic roars, crashes like thunder and splintering crystal filled his ears. Every now and then Entei would roar or a violent purple flame would light up the sky but it was distant enough that he wasn't too concerned.

"Are you okay?" Ash asked when Will just stared at him from behind the crystalline mask. Everything inside Ash twitched. They didn't have time for this! Then he froze. "Wait, what are you protecting me from? Entei isn't even in the area!"

Will's lips curved into a frown and he brandished his cane theatrically. It balanced delicately on one finger. Thin, delicate crystal laced across his hands line glistening veins and flowed gracefully onto the cane. It snaked up the length of polished wood and metal in an instant.

The worms of dark-type energy wriggling in his gut surged, and it took everything he had not to scream. As the crystal collected at the tip and the cane itself was layered in the unnatural sheen Will graced him with words.

"Why on earth would I be protecting you?" Will exclaimed. He was cheerful as ever, but there was something deep within his eyes that shaped a ball of dread in Ash's gut. It just grew heavier as Will pointed his cane at Bruiser. The man frowned. "Though I suppose you could look at it that way!" He mused. His eyes never strayed from the Machoke. "I am keeping you from making a terrible mistake, after all!"

"What."

Bruiser's arms tightened around Ash and Sneasel. If his charges weren't there he would've already attacked. As it was, Ash's fingers strayed past Sneasel's body to the pokeballs at his waist.

"None of that!" Will chirped. Ash's hands were instantly locked into place by a shimmering layer of fiery purple, though he caught sight of sparkling crystal shards swirling within. It was painless, though the restriction was almost as bad as a Psybeam in Ash's eyes. "Honestly, my friend, you should know better. You can't trick a psychic!"

Will laughed at that. Ash didn't. "What're you trying to stop me from doing?" The boy said as calmly as he could. His mind swirled with information and ideas and theories that all tried desperately to explain what had happened. It had to be the crystal…

His captor shook his head. "You can't go into the mansion," Will said with complete seriousness. His cane flicked up and pointed at the Hale Mansion's remains. They were so, so close to the doors. If he could just make it a hundred feet they would reach the encrusted gate. "She doesn't want to be disturbed. You'd just scare her, Ash. I'm sure you'll understand soon enough. Everyone will."

Ash had had enough. "Let me go!" He snarled. His patience was as good as gone. He didn't have time for this! What was happening in the mansion had to stop! Right now he didn't even know what had actually happened with his mom! All he'd seen was his mother dissolving into the crystal earlier, so –

"Oh, don't worry overmuch about her!" The psychic chuckled. Ash had never wanted to hurt someone so badly. "Dear Delia is quite fine!" Will's mouth twisted into a line. He honestly looked confused beneath the crystal mask. "But why do you think of her as your mother? That's just ridiculous."

His calm façade shattered. A spike of rage pierced what little self-control he retained and he surged upward in a single quick motion, followed by Bruiser. Ash embraced the squirming dark-type energy within his gut and allowed it free reign through his body. The darkness delighted in gnawing away the psychic bonds. Before his stamina burned itself out he released the one member of his team who could fix this.

Will shouted and swept his cane at them. Fierce purple flames identical to Entei's was conjured from the tip, spiraling at the group in a terrible roar, but Dazed was faster. Even in the haze induced by the vile power that coursed through him Ash heard a defiant No! and felt the hairs on his arms raise as a tremendous hammer of force shot from Dazed's pendulum. Will was caught unawares and was hurled away.

Bruiser rushed them all away, though he never left Will unattended. The psychic caught himself easily. All it took was a wave of his cane to stop him from tumbling over and right himself. But he scowled (the sight was more than a bit disturbing on Will) and pointed his cane directly at Dazed.

Then Will melted into the crystal. It engulfed him almost instantaneously before he slipped into the source. Dazed stopped, confused, but simply closed her eyes to focus.

Their enemy emerged behind her too quickly to see. He solidified behind her with terrible speed. A lance of psychic power, shaped and honed with lethal expertise, shot at Dazed's neck. Ash couldn't even cry out a warning before Dazed batted it away with a flick of her pendulum.

Another second passed and a bright curved shield manifested itself a moment before another spear would have impaled her stocky body. Dazed's features couldn't be made out beneath the enormity of the flickering azure aura that wreathed the Hypno. She was a dark shadow in the brilliant blue fires.

Will didn't let the failure stop him. He melted away again and again – they repeated the game several times. Will would strike, Dazed would deflect, and Ash just grew more and more frustrated. Dazed could seemingly defend for an eternity, but Will's power waxed constantly as more and more crystal covered his skin like armor…

"I believe it time to end this!" Will declared. The Psychic Master dipped into a low, formal bow. Ash actually agreed with his friend on that – it was time for this to end. It was time for some answers too. His finger twitched across his belt as Will stood across from them, separated by thirty feet of roiling crystal. "See, Dazed, you are truly a mighty opponent! You have come so far in such a short time. It is marvelous! Both you and your trainer deserve credit. But I cannot afford to play silly games while other threats need to be taken care of."

Will pointed his cane. This time the crystal that adorned it burned with the Elite Four's psychic power as well. It rippled smoothly, as though it enjoyed the brush of power. Even the crystal beneath Will's feet sprang to life and crawled up his legs like Tangrowth's vines.

Ash saw it clearly. Dazed's power blazed around her like a psychic storm, desperate to protect her from whatever Will was about to do. It was a fiery nimbus that brought light to the darkness of Greenfield.

And it vanished.

There was no anticipation. One moment the power collected and wielded expertly, ready to be unleashed, and then it was gone.

Dazed's eyes went wide. Her pendulum laid dead and still in her hand. It was just a trinket now.

Will smiled sadly. "Do you see, dear Dazed? You cannot defeat me. You never could. This was just a –"

The crystal that shielded Will moved to protect him, but it wasn't enough to completely protect its master from the Hydro Pump that slammed into his back. Ash grinned as Torrent, who he'd released as Will had gone into his monologue, actually did real damage to the psychic. Will stumbled forward, a curse on his lips, as Ash cried out a warning to Dazed, "Use your Shadow Balls!"

Dazed's hands clasped together as Will slipped into the crystal again. She shaped the ghostly power into a chaotic, roiling sphere that just barely maintained its shape. The crystal she stood on twitched away.

Ash grimaced as he twisted to look at Bruiser. "Put me down. You need to be able to move, alright?"

Bruiser was hesitant, but Ash's pleading eyes convinced him. Ash fought back a groan as Bruiser laid him gingerly down on the crystal. He'd expected it to be hard and brittle but it was warm and soft like some sort of slime. It molded around his body and slowly inched up his sides, but lurched away as soon as he cradled Sneasel's body in his arms.

His eyes narrowed as Will was helpfully pulled away from Bruiser's strike by a whip-like loop of crystal. Another caught Bruiser's arm, though the Machoke easily ripped away from its grip. The movement left him open, however, and Will didn't miss the opportunity.

Ash called out but Bruiser had already reacted. He'd braced himself as the cane jabbed straight into his chest and a boom shook the air and earth as a concussive blast erupted from the cane's tip. Bruiser staggered, eyes shut in pain, but weathered the blow. Will was quick to melt into the crystal and manifested twenty feet away. He raised his cane, collected another sphere of violet flame, and cocked his head as he prepared to bathe Ash's friend in a stream of superheated plasma.

"Now!" Ash roared, though his throat screamed in protest. He only had eyes for the release of Dazed's Shadow Ball. By now it was as large as she was. The crystal had receded nearly feet around her. It desperately wanted to escape the ghostly power.

Will turned. His eyes widened behind his mask and Ash flashed the man a smug grin as Dazed's Shadow Ball ripped through Will's armor as though it were a paper. He was hurled away. Arcs of shadowy energy danced about him and severed his connection to his powers. Despite the setback Will snarled and reared his cane back – the crystal dissolved into an immense blaze of psychic energy that lit the world like a second sun. It swirled and danced above his head, terrifyingly potent, and stood ready to be unleashed.

A jet of water smashed into his back. Will stood strong for just a moment, but collapsed. Dazed's eyes flashed before the psychic storm he'd gathered could detonate and her pendulum trembled as she directed it into the sky. It would have destroyed them all otherwise. Despite the situation Ash had to admire the beautiful sight of the violet beam as it parted the clouds and bathed the entire landscape in an eerie glow.

Ash began to struggle to his feet. It was time to move on. Will wouldn't be going anywhere. His team had already returned to him – Bruiser was quick to offer an arm up. Torrent was sure to keep an eye on Will, though.

He had to fight down the urge to wake the man up and shake him. What was wrong with him? Ash glared over at the still body. There was something else at work, sure, but he'd expected the psychic to fight it off. Weren't they supposed to have extraordinary willpower or something?

Friend-Trainer…

An image flashed into his mind. Ash looked up at the sudden intuition. The movement was a bit slower than he'd like thanks to the pain. His whole body tensed at the sight. Bruiser and Torrent squared themselves for a fight. Bruiser's massive veins went taut and nearly glowed red with the blood that pumped. Darkness poured from Dazed's hands and shaped into yet another Shadow Ball.

"I hope you're not looking for a fight," Ash rasped. Normally he'd welcome the challenge, but today he was just fed up. He didn't think he could take on the Gardevoir and Jynx in front of him easily, of course. But they had numbers on their side.

He examined the newcomers closely. Both examined their master's convulsing body with something inscrutable. Ash didn't see any crystal on them but he wasn't going to bank his chances on that. Gardevoir were fanatically loyal at best – he couldn't forget the cold, calculated nature of Daisy's. They would fight for their master whether it was right or wrong.

Gardevoir elegantly waved its hand. Ash grit his teeth and darted for Infernus' pokeball, but it proved to be unnecessary. All the movement did was shroud Will's body in a soothing blue cloak.

Ash still kept ahold of Infernus.

No. We are not here for such crude matters. Nor would we stand in your path, Storm-Tamer. Distorted though you may be, you are our best hope to bring this Alteration to an end – in fact, it is because you have Distorted yourself that I believe you will prevail. Master Will believed that as well. It is why he came to stop you.

The Gardevoir's voice was unmistakably male. It admittedly took Ash by surprise, though he supposed it was just pure chance that he'd only met females up to this point. But it didn't keep him off for long. There were more pressing issues. "Why'd he fight me? He should have helped me!"

Gardevoir shook his proud head and levitated Will closer. The graceful creature glanced fondly at his unconscious master. A spindly limb reached out to brush long, pale fingers across Will's mask. The man's shaking stopped and Will appeared to fade into a peaceful sleep.

It is what we came to do. Master Will was steadfast in his desire to provide support. He is more…sensitive than most, I'm afraid. His mind reaches out to the universe. In most circumstances it is a boon. In this case, unfortunately, the Void looked back.

Ash's eyes narrowed. His team wasn't much more trusting. They were wary of these newcomers. "Do you know what's going on here?"

Normally he wouldn't waste time with these questions. But he needed knowledge before he could fix whatever was going on here. Going into the Hale Mansion blind was as good as not going in at all. Right now he didn't have a single answer.

And who better to ask than psychics?

He glanced back at the battle with Entei. Well, he couldn't actually see it. The spires of the Hale Mansion blocked his view. But he could hear the screams of Dragonite, the roars of rushing flame, and the terrible cries of Entei's fury. The sounds of the Elite Four were getting quieter…

They were coming this way. He didn't have much time.

I cannot profess to know. In fact, I do not care. The Beast of Fire is not as it should be, however. There is something else driving it. It is that same force that has dominated the minds of our comrades and turned them against us. We are all that remains of Master Will's team.

"Okay," Ash breathed. His mind was practically aflame with questions, but the implications of Gardevoir's words didn't go unheeded. Entei – or rather the force controlling it – was converting the Elite Four and their teams into allies.

That was bad.

"Teleport me in!" Ash and Bruiser took a shaky step forward. Gardevoir paused. Will drifted closer to the psychic. At long last the psychic shook his head. Ash's vision went white with rage. "Why not?! I need this! Dazed can't do it on her own!"

We can't. We can't even teleport ourselves in this place. You have our thanks for purging the Will of another from his soul, but we cannot risk Master Will being dominated once more. He is terribly susceptible to the force. When he awakens he will be devoured again and we will be taken with him. We have to leave and assist in evacuations.

Ash clenched his fists and looked away. Futile anger bubbled but he couldn't even find it in him to fault the Gardevoir. "Fine." Things could never be easy, could they? Gardevoir and Jynx watched for a moment before they began to glide away.

Gardevoir turned back.

I am sorry we cannot stay. But our strength is broken. The Champion Lance and Dragonite succumbed to the corruption. It took all of our might to pacify him. You should hurry into the Mansion before he takes flight again – I fear that there are none capable of stopping those two. Hurry, Storm-Tamer. The Beast will not be long.

Ash paled at the warning. Lance had fallen? Even if the rest of his team weren't subverted, the Indigo Champion and his Dragonite were a terrible threat. With the psychic abilities and protection the crystal bestowed he'd be too dangerous to handle safely on their own.

I grant you one last boon, Storm-Tamer. May it serve you well.

Gardevoir raised a willowy arm. His eyes flashed scarlet, but Ash paid more attention to the gentle rainbow wave of light that emanated from his hand. Before he could react the light touched him, wrapping around his body and knitting all of his wounds together. Even the deep gashes left by Sneasel healed, though not fully – it was enough to get him by, though.

"Thank you," Ash said gratefully. Gardevoir simply nodded and glided away with his Master and ally. He watched them go for a moment before he turned to his friends.

"Come on!" Ash grimaced. Bruiser was quick to pick Ash and Sneasel up again. He grimaced at how light Sneasel's unconscious body was. It was so hard to remember how tiny Sneasel was. Normally he was all claws and attitude…

A yellow-furred hand yanked Sneasel off. Ash blinked as Dazed physically hauled (and how wrong that was) the dark-type away and put him in Bruiser's hand. The fighting-type looked disgusted and held Sneasel as far away as he could.

Ash couldn't remember the last time she'd actually moved something with her hands. Hypno lost most of their dexterity and strength as their ancestors evolved psychic powers.

I can do it. We can teleport past the gate. Recall the others.

He didn't waste any time. Bruiser, Torrent, and Sneasel were back in their pokeballs within an instant. Ash groaned as Bruiser's supportive hand vanished, but managed to stay standing through a miracle. Dazed easily caught him with a psychic grip and he sent a grateful smile her way.

It vanished as a monstrous roar shook their bones. Dazed's psychic hold shattered as the Beast of Fire appeared a few hundred feet away from them, just at the end of the long, narrow pathway that was hidden by the gigantic diamond blossoms that had encrusted the Hale Mansion.

Ash saw the Beast's furious eyes past the shadows and gloom. "Dazed, now!"

Dazed's pendulum shone and he fell to his knees as they appeared…farther away from the Hale Mansion? Ash would have paid it more attention if he didn't have to fight down the urge to vomit again. He felt sick, like he'd just teleported with Will – though he really didn't want to think of the man right now.

Somehow he didn't care about the rough teleportation, or the fact that they'd actually gotten farther away from their target. No, Ash was concerned with the fact that the narrow lane (so close to the gates) where they had faced down Will was gone.

Not just destroyed, but barren ground. His blood was cold in a way that had nothing to do with the lifeless Feather. Ash felt sick as a jagged forest of crystal sprouted up behind the remnants of Entei's black and violet fires, as though they'd been fertilized by the blast.

They were cut off from the gates. Entei had sealed the entrance to the Hale Mansion away and crushed their only hopes.

His spirits fell. There had been so little time already…

I'm sorry, Friend-Trainer! I couldn't get us in! I had to take us out –

"It's okay," he said numbly. They both knew it wasn't. Ash's hands drifted to his waist. He didn't dare take his eyes off Entei. Right now the Beast seemed to be admiring its handiwork, but who knew how long that would last? "Why couldn't you teleport in?"

Something stopped me. I'm sorry, Friend-Trainer.

Entei finally looked back. Its crest flashed brilliantly in the scant hint of the sun's light that pierced the black clouds billowing above Greenfield. The Beast's heavy coat and the trailing smoke glinted purple thanks to the splintered crystal clinging desperately to it.

Their eyes met. Ash knew that it could cross the five hundred feet between them in an instant. All it would take was a single breath to engulf the hill Dazed and Ash stood on in an inferno.

Ash didn't even twitch. He knew what Entei was trying to tell him: If he moved another inch toward the Hale Mansion, Ash and all of his team would be obliterated. Right now he wasn't willing to test that.

Not directly, at least.

"Are we the only ones it hasn't beaten?" He whispered to his friend. Ash's vocal cords felt like they would tear with every syllable. He clung to Dazed's shoulder for support. His hands shook as the dwindling remnants of the dark-type energy clawed at his veins.

Dazed paused. It felt like an eternity.

No.

A flash of intuition struck him, courtesy of the Hypno. Ash looked to his left and balked. On another hill stood Bruno. The Black Belt was shirtless but miraculously untouched by the crystal corruption. He wasn't unharmed, however. His muscular chest was covered in light burns and his left bicep bled heavily – Entei must have scratched him.

But he was still ready to fight. They weren't alone.

Unfortunately, Bruno's only ally was Lucario. Ash had no doubt the fighting-type was incredibly skilled and powerful, but they needed more than one pokemon to face down Entei. Right now they had no choice but to try and overpower it. Entei might not be attacking them but each and every one of them knew how this would end.

"Dazed, can you mentally connect me to Bruno?" Ash began slowly. An idea began to take root in his head. She blinked, but nodded slowly. He trusted her. They'd never tried something like this but they literally had nothing to lose right now.

Her familiar touch was the only comfort he had right now. Dazed's mind brushed against his own. It was just enough to distract him from the lightning that surged through the sky some miles away, barely visible through the thick haze that sprung from the crystal like a miasma. Raindrops began to fall.

He froze as he felt Dazed's "touch" guide him against another mind. It was brilliant. Sturdy, raw, disciplined, and immaculately strong. The contact was like laying his palm against a mountainside. Ash closed his eyes and felt.

There was no doubt that this was Bruno's mind. He couldn't see the man. This was a very rudimentary form of communication. It was just a wild series of sights and thoughts and feelings. Dazed wasn't experienced enough to facilitate a proper dialogue.

They didn't need one. A grin that felt like the first since he'd arrived spread across his face. Ash focused and felt the connection sharpen. Bruno's own experience was enough to push a single thought – a single memory – through their bond. It was a relic of the brief time they'd spent training together.

"I didn't come here just to train Tyrogue and Riolu," He stated as he looked over the proud landscape. It was terribly beautiful, he thought. Hardened and shaped by ancient lords who knew no master. Humans were almost foreign in this noblest of hideaways. "There is a gigantic Onix who lives around these parts."

He felt the boy's befuddlement. Always so dry, that one. It was always interesting to sense Ash's reactions.

He turned back to look fully at Ash. The boy watched with the same rapt attention as he always did. There was no doubt in his mind that his young student would brand each and every word he said into his memories.

"The locals call it the King Under the Mountain," his eyes glinted. He recalled the tales he'd gathered from the rugged men and women who braved these lands. Some of their stories were unbelievable to most. It was fortunate that he embraced the unknown. "It is said to be centuries old, but hasn't evolved. I am seeking it out. Even if it will not join me, I would be honored to battle it. The experience would be a reward in itself."

Ash returned to reality and stared as Bruno raised a strange pokeball unlike any he'd ever seen. Its top was a deep purple and two pink circles were raised on either side. A white "m" was inscribed just above the release button. Something about it looked familiar…

Bruno released the pokeball's inhabitant. A vast stretch of light exploded from the capsule and filled the entire world around them on a scale Ash couldn't even imagine. He was blinded instantly by the glow, but could just barely make out the vaguest sort of shape as the energy calmed and settled into something resembling a vast serpent that wound its way through several hills.

It took longer for the energy to settle than it did for Ash's entire team to solidify. Another ten seconds rolled by before the beast actually started to materialize. Something impossibly huge finally appeared and it dwarfed anything Ash had ever seen.

Bruno had done so much more than battle the King Under the Mountain.

To call it an Onix was an injustice. It was as to those worms tunneling through the earth as a Metagross was to a Beldum. The King lived up to his name.

The King's endless body was forged of boulders like any other Onix. But these weren't just stone. They were black as the darkest night, honed over centuries of life to be harder than diamond and absolutely invulnerable. Elements would wash over its black carapace harmlessly. Physical strikes couldn't hope to crack it. Psychic powers could never shatter its armor.

He couldn't make a measure of its size. Not until it reared up. Lightning struck miles off, but the thunder he heard was just the simple movement of the King. It shifted easily, despite its great size. The boulders ground together and sounded reminiscent of a rock slide. The King's tail flicked errantly and carved one of Greenfield's many hills in twain.

It just kept rising and rising in a single smooth movement. The King's body seemed to go on forever in the darkness of Greenfield, too dark to be easily differentiated. Lightning struck again and lit up the night sky to reveal the King in full as the top half of his body rose to stare down at Entei, who stood perfectly still as it watched its challenger appear.

The top of the King's crest brushed against one of the "petals" that shielded the Hale Mansion and cut it apart, though the crystal regenerated immediately. The King towered above everything but the encrusted spires of the corrupted home, and the massive head rested at a comfortable hundred feet high. His crest pierced another ten feet. Half of his body was devoted to stabilizing his immensity.

Ash couldn't look away. Everything that had happened today fell away for a moment as the King revealed himself. This was on Bruno's team? Each of his boulders were at least fifteen feet in diameter. The King had to be two hundred feet long from crest to tail!

And it was on their side.

Another lightning bolt. Everything was thrown into sharp contrast as the white arcs lit the darkening sky with a flash and a bone-rumbling boom. Bruno and Lucario were impossibly tiny compared to the King, but it was they who made the first move. Ash could hardly track them as the atmosphere darkened more and more under the weight of the storm clouds. Their speed was spectacular – Bruno and Lucario loped along at an awesome pace, unhindered by the rainfall that pattered down on Greenfield.

Entei did not wait for them. The Beast howled a savage note that tore through the burgeoning storm, casting aside wind and rain – the gale birthed by the cry whipped against Ash's face and Dazed was forced to lock them in place lest they be hurled down.

"Wait for them to distract Entei!" Ash roared over the winds. Dazed nodded, though her eyes were squeezed shut with concentration. Her pendulum swayed to and fro, though it wasn't half as violent as it was just minutes earlier.

Friend-Trainer…

Dazed's whisper nearly went unheard in Ash's mind, as his attention was dragged down to the glazed hills of Greenfield. The crystal suffocating the meadows and orchids pulsed blindingly in a mesmerizing display of fiery purple, expanding in and out and in and out as though it had started to take breath.

Entei's heavy coat billowed wildly. The giant fangs of the face plate gleamed and the Beast's black eyes shone a violent purple. Around the Legend, crystal flowed into its body like water into a sponge. Every second that went by allowed the Beast to glow brighter and brighter until it very nearly blinded him.

In that moment the true size of the King was made clear. The great Onix stood so tall it seemed that its great crest might scrape the clouds. Its body was black as night and fit in seamlessly with the shadows of the black sky. The King's eyes stood out in stark contrast to its dark body and glared down at Entei.

The King raised his head high. Thunder and the sound of a rock slide shuddered the landscape and another hill was carved apart as the King's tail blade sliced it apart. Grinding stone attacked Ash's ears and he grimaced at the pain as the King opened his great maw in a silent roar, the pitch much, much too low for Ash to hear. His ears ached terribly as the shockwave from the cry reached him and he grimaced, though he didn't take his eyes away lest he miss his chance.

Entei lowered itself, seemingly ready to pounce at the one true threat it had faced today. It was cloaked in a nimbus of purple cinders, though the fiery aura looked to have dimmed steadily, like it was being absorbed directly by the Beast.

But the King wasn't Entei's opponent. Not yet. Bruno and Lucario had crossed the fields of crystal between them and their foe. Though it was a fool's attempt, they had made their choice.

Ash didn't move. He just watched. Bruno and Lucario worked seamlessly – Entei wasn't quite caught by surprise, but it took longer to react than he'd have expected. Bruno's heavy fist smashed into the Beast's face and carved through the purple flames unharmed, though Ash had no idea how.

Lucario was just as swift. As Entei reared up and revealed its true size, Lucario manifested a swirling sphere of white in his palm and smashed it into the Beast's sensitive underbelly. Entei weathered the concussive blast well, but was still hurled upward by the strike. It snarled and batted at the Aura Pokemon with deceptive speed, but Lucario had danced away from the attack before it had even begun.

Ash wasn't sure what had changed, but it seemed that Bruno and Lucario actually had the upper hand…for a time, at least. They couldn't hurt Entei but they could stymie it for now. Their teamwork was enough to hold it off. They worked together as a single fighter, weaving between one another to harass and slow the Legendary Beast with every precious second that went by.

Meanwhile, the King had turned his heavy gaze to the Hale Mansion. The monstrously huge Onix slithered his way across the crystal with ease. Every second moved it across hundreds of feet, carving crystal and earth and frozen grass apart with its lightest movements.

Entei roared and moved to engage the King, but Bruno did…something. Ash squinted at the sight of Bruno's fist engulfed in a blaze of pure white as it smashed into Entei's belly.

Everything stopped. The silence was deafening. Even the pitter patter of the rain seemed to stop, as did the thunderous booms off in the distance. All Ash could hear was the crack of the blow – even Entei seemed surprised by the force behind the attack. Entei's huge bulk soared several feet in the air, away from the crystalline tendrils grasping helplessly for their master. The purple glow that engulfed every strand of its thick fur dimmed and died, and the crystal that guarded its body from every strike shuddered and fell from its fur in a rain of diamond.

Lucario surged into the air, an Aura Sphere in hand. It moved in a blinding blur, too quick to track, and smashed the orb of controlled energy into Entei. The impact warped the air, and Entei's cry of pain was very, very real – and unexpected.

The Beast fell to the earth in a great heap. It laid, stunned, on the crystal for just a second, but it leapt to its feet fast as lightning. Entei stared at Bruno and Lucario numbly. It bared its fangs, reared back, and pounced. Wicked claws that could likely rend steel with ease extended towards the fighters, who just barely blurred out of Entei's way, though Lucario howled in agony as the very tip of a claw scraped his shoulder. Blood gushed from the wound, though Lucario steeled himself and landed as nimbly as –

A sound Ash had never heard before screamed through the air, something between the roar of a mountain crumbling and the shattering of glass. He grinned and looked to the Hale Mansion – what was once a solid wall of dark violet crystal was now nothing but shards of swirling diamond.

The King had plowed through the wall with just a hint of effort. Ash looked with awe as the great stone serpent reared his mighty head and opened his jaws in a silent cry – the air literally shuddered beneath the force.

Ash saw the doors of the Hale Mansion. They were still covered in the heavy crust of the crystal but he could actually reach them now. The King had played his part to perfection.

But they didn't have long. Even now the crystal was shining and crawling about, doing its utmost to regenerate itself. It would take time, however. And with Entei seemingly frozen by the sudden destruction of the crystalline walls (it had seized, as though paralyzed by a Thunder Wave) they had a window to exploit this.

"Teleport us!" He cried. Dazed was ready. There was a tug at his body, a whirlwind of white and purple and black and was that an eye staring at him?

Before he could ponder it he crashed to the ground just outside the Hale Mansion, as though cast from a whirlwind. Dazed followed suit, though she was a tad more prepared. At least she stayed on her feet.

There was no time to waste. Ash released the rest of his team in a frenzy even as Dazed turned to the sound of a furious roar and a great storm of smoke in the distance. He could hear the rumbling of the King's path of devastation as the Onix rushed to Bruno's aid. It was drowned out by the sudden explosion – the whole sky flashed purple, and it took everything he had to avoid turning to watch the epic clash between the Legendary Beast and the only mortal that could challenge it.

The sounds of the battle faded away, replaced by a deafness that drowned out everything but his own thoughts.

So you may focus, Friend-Trainer.

Ash nodded.

His team appeared around him in a flash. Ash felt the world slow and focus – everything felt sharpened as the adrenaline pumped through his veins. It was now or never. They wouldn't get another chance like this.

He took less than a second to examine the daunting task before him. The great doors to the Hale Mansion were absolutely dominated in the thick, heavy crystal that would take a huge amount of punishment to crack. The doors seemingly mocked him from behind their prison – the crystal was just clear enough to show the faint outlines of the wood.

Nidoking stood beside him, resolute as always. His eyes were narrowed to slits and venom dripped down his horn. Plume's talons hung precariously on the slick crystal, but Dazed was quick to stabilize her.

The rest of his team stood to his right. Torrent, Bruiser, Tangrowth, and Oz were all primed and ready. Each looked worn already, though most hadn't even been released yet. It was clear they hadn't expected to be in such a situation just days after they had faced down Team Rocket. But they wouldn't back down.

Infernus was the last to be released. The Magmortar brought a warmth to Greenfield that it desperately needed – the rain, which had begun to pick up in earnest, turned to steam as soon as it touched him. Ash craved the heat his friend released. Now that he thought about it, he felt rather cold without Fire warming his blood…not a physical chill, but something deeper.

Dazed's psychic power faded from his ears just enough for him to speak with his team. "Nidoking, Dazed," he began. They snapped to attention. "Use the strongest Shadow Balls you can. We can't waste your strength on something that will just regenerate. The rest of you, keep up a focused attack on the crystal. Use whatever you have to, but don't let up," Ash stressed. After a flurry of nods he took a step back.

Better safe than sorry.

An instant later the darkness twisting in his every cell greedily surged up to the surface, invigored by the Shadow Balls suddenly hurled by Nidoking and Dazed. Ash refused to fall to his knees – instead he used the pain. It made him sharper.

The crystal wall shuddered and crawled away from where the Shadow Balls landed. Rather than the ordinary explosion, it was like the Shadow Balls' mere touch emanated throughout the crystal and melted it away. Ash looked away – it was a good decision, as if he'd looked upon the Flamethrower and Thunderbolts and Hyper Beams and shining silver rocks hurled by his team he would've seen stars.

"Keep it up!" He shouted over the din of thunder and the crackling of fire. Darkness gnawed at him and he grimaced – though that was in part due to Dazed's mind brushing against his own. She felt exhausted, but there was more to it than that…she felt nothing but dread.

Watch.

Ash glanced to her, curious as to what she meant, and found himself observing a vicious battle from afar.

He fell to one knee, his shoulder bleeding heavily from the wounds inflicted by the Aberration. The power within him faded away with his focus, though if he needed it the energies would come to his call. But it was not yet time. For now he simply had to recover. It would be useless to face down the Aberration now – Master and King-Reigning-Beneath would stymie the creature long enough for the Storm-Tamer and his allies to break through.

For now he watched. Master was lost somewhere within the great clouds of dirt and purple-tinged dust kicked up by King-Reigning-Beneath's movements. But the luminous force of Master's Aura burned like a beacon. He felt the Master poking and prodding at the Aberration with heavy blows that would have shattered his own guard with ease. The Aberration simply took them, so huge that the only genuine threat to it was King-Reigning-Beneath.

But Master was instrumental. The giants fought with terrible fury, each unnaturally powerful. King-Reigning-Beneath was seemingly invincible as he thrashed his long body toward the Aberration, though their foe moved up and down and around the gigantic coils of King-Reigning-Beneath with astounding elegance and speed. He envied its agility and the swiftness with which it ran – though a dread creature, the Aberration was something to aspire to in terms of physical prowess.

The Aberration leapt hundreds of feet from hill to hill, abandoning the security of the crystal that fed it in exchange for the freedom to avoid King-Reigning-Beneath's attacks more easily. It was a battle of raw, unstoppable strength (on both sides) but the Aberration had the advantage of mobility. King-Reigning-Beneath had yet to land a blow, though his might was sufficient to keep the Aberration on the run.

He grimaced as the Aura of this place flexed. It was distinctly unnatural. The world found itself overwritten as the Aberration flexed its power. Crystal flowed from the hill it stood on into its body, and a violently purple flame-that-was-not billowed deeply within its throat. The world flashed purple – so bright it drowned out even the lightning crackling several miles away – and a gout of swirling, screaming fire laden with squirming crystal flecks erupted from the Aberration and swallowed the hills, the sky, and King-Reigning-Beneath whole. Everything was covered in a heavy crust that crawled happily, seeking to spread over every surface it could.

The Aberration stayed where it was. It was empty of any emotion save a burning loyalty. There was no hatred or anger or satisfaction. All it cared for was stopping King-Reigning-Beneath.

It would be disappointed. King-Reigning-Beneath twitched beneath his prison. Cracks threaded throughout the heavy coating of violet glass – three to four feet thick in most places – and after a few more seconds the armor shattered into hundreds of tiny fragments.

King-Reigning-Beneath glared balefully down at the Aberration. A flicker of shock stabbed through its Aura, but it quickly recovered. But that moment of surprise cost it dearly. The mighty tail of King-Reigning-Beneath swept across the landscape, free of its prison, and destroyed tons and tons of crystal as it rent it from the earth. Dust and grass and shards were all cast asunder, barely visible beneath the black sky, and then the tail blade struck the hill the Aberration stood upon.

The hill ceased to exist. An explosion of earth rained debris down all across the sky – some landed upon his dark fur. If he relied upon physical sight it would be debilitating. Thankfully he and Master were beyond such limitations.

Unfortunately it was not enough to slay the Aberration. A heavy barrier of crystal shaped in the moment before impact, protecting the Aberration in a hard purple cocoon. He felt the shell break, however, and it utterly shattered on impact. The Aberration laid upon the earth, stunned, and for the first time they had an opening.

Master struck first. His shining fist hammered into the base of the Aberration's neck, though the crystal shielded it from his attack. The Aberration snarled and rose, only for Master to slam an elbow into its ribs. Although the crystal yearned to protect its master, it was insufficient. The Aberration shuddered and stumbled away, though its claws were swift enough to slash Master across the chest – were it any closer Master would have been torn apart. As it was he simply retreated. His wounds would heal soon.

The Aberration snarled, its fur crusted with healing crystal, and smoke billowed furiously about it. A dread fury fell about this place's Aura – a tangible weight settled upon his shoulders. Master stumbled. King-Reigning-Beneath stood undaunted, however, his unparalleled strength allowed him to hold his body as high as ever. He towered above everything but the corrupted home. With every flash of nearing lightning he seemed to grow larger and larger.

King-Reigning-Beneath opened his maw in a roar – but this time he shut his eyes. He shuddered as King-Reigning-Beneath projected his ancient will upon the world. The entire earth twitched.

As the Aberration prepared to unleash another inferno-that-was-not upon the world and King-Reigning-Beneath, the hills and earth of Greenfield rose. Tons and tons of material (some still covered in the glassy corruption wielded by the Aberration) rose with minimal effort. Great heaps of earth, clumped together by King-Reigning-Beneath's will, circled about the mighty Onix like planets orbiting a star. The Aberration shot away, well-aware that the crystal would not be sufficient to safeguard him from the veritable mountain that King-Reigning-Beneath just ripped from the earth.

The Aberration was not fast enough.

He felt rather than heard the shockwave that erupted from the ten balls of earth and stone and grass that were hurled into the Aberration with enough force to splinter a house. He didn't know of any creature that could survive such an attack save King-Reigning-Beneath.

For a time there was silence. He could feel the Aberration, however. Its body was ravaged. Whatever protection was offered by the crystal was insufficient. It laid still for the first time since it had appeared to route them at Goldenrod.

King-Reigning-Beneath roared his mighty, silent roar that caused the earth to shake in turn. It was as though a small earthquake had just ripped through the area.

He knew they did not have long. The Aberration would recover quickly. Its durability was extremely impressive.

He was right.

There was only a single moment of recognition before he realized the Aberration's Aura had moved far, far away from the mountain King-Reigning-Beneath had buried it under.

The Aberration emerged from the crystal still surrounding King-Reigning-Beneath with a vicious, ragged snarl and leapt upon its foe with a savagery he hadn't seen before. Although the Aberration was massive compared to most anything else, it was hardly visible aside from the purple glow of the crystal repairing its wounds. King-Reigning-Beneath was just too massive for the Aberration to register as anything but a dull itch.

Its paws carried it up the smooth, polished armor of King-Reigning-Beneath in mere moments. The Aberration's injuries had made it far less gentle. King-Reigning-Beneath had scarcely a second before the Aberration had climbed his entire body and rested at the base of his skull.

He cried out a warning with both body and soul, but it wasn't quick enough. The Aberration's throat burned a fiery purple, and a cone of flame that engulfed the entire sky and rained little shards of crystal down upon Greenfield swallowed King-Reigning-Beneath's entire head.

The Aberration leapt away with ease, though it landed heavier than it would have otherwise as it reached one of the few remaining hills several hundred feet away. It watched warily as King-Reigning-Beneath locked in place, his entire skull absolutely covered in a heavy block of crystal. He swayed, still conscious, but lost his battle.

He braced himself as the mighty Onix toppled to the ground, so large that he seemed to fall in slow motion. He was thrown several feet when King-Reigning-Beneath's body landed – it caved in a huge area of land, collapsing it and partially entombing himself. Everything shuddered and toppled – even the crystal splintered easily beneath the sheer force carried by the great of the Onix. King-Reigning-Beneath still squirmed, doing his utmost to slash apart the crystal on his skull with his tail, but he was too disoriented.

The Aberration had won, though it would not recover easily. Perhaps it would be brought down to a manageable level.

He rose. He did not nurse his wounded shoulder as he locked eyes on Master. He had to heal Master – it was the only way they could buy enough time for Storm-Tamer to enter the sanctum where this all began.

Hurry, Storm-Tamer. It comes for you.

Ash snapped back to consciousness, the sudden disorientation almost enough to make him vomit. His vision blurred and he shuddered, but he stayed on his feet. There was no time to lose. "Get ready!" He screamed to his team, who had managed to clear most of the crystal guarding the entrance to the mansion while he'd been "away".

"It's coming!"

That got their attention. His entire team wheeled around, though Nidoking paused long enough to hurl another Shadow Ball at the doors. It would stymie the crystal for a time. Another slowly took shape on his horn – Ash applauded his forethought. Maybe that would disrupt the crystal that protected Entei.

"Where is it?" Ash muttered as he stared down the lane cleared by King-Reigning-Beneath – the King, he corrected mentally. It was always disorienting after being in the mind of another.

This wasn't right. With how quick it was, Ash would have expected the Beast to be bearing down on him already. It wouldn't waste time with how determined it was to keep him from accessing the Mansion.

He would've just pressed through, but he knew that the Beast would just follow them in. At least this way he could possibly have Bruno and Lucario reinforce them and slip away with his team in the chaos.

Then a terrible thought popped into his head. Ash turned as quickly as he could – right into the awful sight of a veritable mountain of thick brown fur, a golden crest, billowing smoke, and savage fangs. He slammed back into the ground heavily, barely cushioned by a quick shield from Dazed, but it still made his head crack and stars explode before his eyes.

A heavy paw gingerly held him down. There was a clear promise that if he struggled it would cave in his chest with minimum effort. He blearily looked up at the face of Entei. It wasn't amused in the least. The golden crest shone with an inner light that cast the Beast's face in a terrible way – its eyes burned purple with rage and it looked like it wanted to bite his head off.

It paused for a second and appeared to focus. Ash groaned as his friends screamed in pain – every inch of the crystal they'd been standing on had simply exploded with a tinkling sound like shattering glass, casting them aside with incredible force and hurling them into the sides of the corrupted mansion. Each appeared bruised and bloodied by the attack, but unbeaten…he would have been warned by Dazed if they had fallen. He could still hear them shifting and standing (or levitating), looking on.

They had recovered easily, but it was unspoken by all of them that Entei could easily do again. That had been a warning and it had still done some serious damage.

"Submit, boy!" Entei's oddly familiar voice boomed. It was deep, incredibly so, and practically rang through his bones. Ash just glared upwards. He hadn't come so far to submit. The Beast glared back. The pressure on his chest increased. For some reason he noted that Entei's chest didn't seem to rise and fall with breath like he'd have expected…after all this exertion it should have been panting.

Then again, what did he really know about Legendaries?

Ash hissed as several of his ribs cracked. The blinding pain nearly made him cry out, but he bit down on his tongue to hold back the pain. Thunder boomed, nearer now. His vision went white as lightning shot across the sky. He didn't submit.

Entei's claws were cold against his chest. That seemed wrong somehow. A heavy odor, like musk blended with soot, wafted through the air. Eyes black as coal met his own and Ash felt the pressure increase twice over. A breath escaped from his lips and his eyes squeezed shut.

The pressure relented.

The Beast looked up, intending to force the rest of his friends submit in the same way, only to be struck point blank by the Shadow Ball prepared by Nidoking. Ash's eyes snapped open at the sound – and the reinvigorated dark-type energy inside him – but frowned, puzzled, as Entei's entire body warped underneath the attack. The huge creature bent and trembled at the edges, but it showed nothing except fury. It was like he was looking at Entei through hot, hot air.

It was cold outside. The crystal that tried to crawl to Entei's aid trembled and writhed, upset, and the Beast was stunned by the dark-type attack. Every bit of the ethereal material still trying to heal Entei's wounds shook and dripped from its gigantic body (so large that Ash's entire team looked tiny next to it) like thick, viscous blood.

Entei's surprising pause gave his team an opportunity. Bruiser was the first to act.

The Machoke roared – a wild, savage cry that was nothing like the disciplined warrior he'd become – and slammed his heavy fist into Entei's furry side. Ash squinted. It almost looked like Bruiser's blow had penetrated Entei.

But that was impossible…even the King hadn't done that. And there wasn't any blood. Just liquid crystal flowing and falling like molten glass.

Tangrowth was quick to snatch Ash up – several of his vines pulled Ash to safety across the smooth, roiling crystal sea while the rest slammed into the seizing Entei. His saucer-like eyes narrowed furiously and he threw Entei's body twenty feet into the air with all his might. Ash blearily stared as Entei kept blurring in and out of reality underneath the influence of the Shadow Ball.

What had happened?

It wasn't his concern. Ash watched eagerly as Dazed and Tangrowth both worked to keep Entei aloft – at least the Beast couldn't be healed by the crystal when it was up in the air. It was as defenseless as a monster like that could be.

Torrent's incredible accuracy came into play. His snout trained on Entei as soon as he realized the opportunity literally dangling before him. The regal Kingdra rumbled as a jet of water (one that was thin but so fast and high-pressure that it could shoot through rock) shot right into Entei's skull. The Hydro Pump left a clear, round hole with purple crystal ringed around the edges. He could literally see through Entei's massive head right now into the thunderclouds above.

Ash's heart nearly stopped as well. Had they done it? Something didn't feel right, though…that seemed too easy.

Infernus seemed eager to put his fears to rest. He materialized directly above Entei, a wild grin on his face. His cannons were revealed with a deathly white glow deep within. There was just a moment where everything went still and quiet and cold, the only sound a booming thunder that sounded hardly a mile away. Lightning split the sky from the east.

Then the sky flashed white. Not from lightning this time, but from twin Hyper Beams shot form Infernus' two cannons. Ash saw stars and cursed as he was nearly blinded, but he could see just enough of Entei's silhouette to see…

Oh.

He squinted as what was left of Entei's body collapsed to the earth just a few feet away in a great heap of fur and craggy plates. The Beast's front half was simply gone. All that was left was the cloudy tail (it laid flat and lifeless, smoking uselessly), the back plates, and the legs. Much of the main body had been vaporized – the heat from Infernus' ruthless Hyper Beams had completely cauterized the wound. There wasn't even blood staining the ground.

Infernus landed heavily by his side. He grinned savagely, eying Entei's carcass with more than a little pride. His body warped and wavered with heat as he turned his head upward and loosed a great roar – the display was promptly joined by great cones of fire that erupted brilliantly from his cannons. The rippling, roaring streams shot a hundred feet high before they finally dispersed in a flagrant shower of cinders.

Smoke filled the air, but Plume cleared it away with a quick flap of her wings. Ash just stared – this was impossible. They'd killed a Legendary? He knew it was only possible because it was practically crippled by the efforts of the Elite Four and the King, but this was insane!

He left Infernus to his celebration and found himself lost in the sight of Entei's massive body laying before him. Ash didn't know how to feel about this. In a sense he was proud – even if Entei was handicapped. Nobody else should have been able to do this. They shouldn't have been able to do it.

Uneasy dread reared its easy head. "Shadow Ball the body!" Ash barked. Dazed and Nidoking snapped out of their own introspection. "Both of you! Now!"

Their discipline didn't take long to show itself. Before more than a few seconds had passed they'd both prepared fairly large Shadow Balls. Another second went by and both ghostly attacks were slammed into Entei's glazed carcass – the crystal had already tried to work its magic on him.

It didn't matter. The Shadow Balls melted into the crystal easily, the grey explosion simply sliding into the crust and searing it away.

Ash frowned as Entei's body melted away with it, disappearing entirely into the crystalline sea that still engulfed Greenfield. Then the crystal shone, emanating a dark violet he'd learnt to hate over the past hour, and something shifted. A weight settled down on his shoulders, yet also forced him up. His heart labored to pump as more and more psychic energy emanated through the world, distorting everything and scattering his thoughts and –

The sky went black. Even the crystal darkened to a purple so dark it was like he was standing in space. No sound could be heard, other than his own breath. His team froze – even Infernus' hot blood cooled and he lowered his cannons.

Something terrible that spoke to the deepest parts of his psyche attacked his eardrums. Not a roar. It was the great rumble of a rock slide, the earth-shattering explosion of a volcanic eruption, and the scream of an inferno.

It all hit him at once, surrounding him in a cacophony of noise. He nearly fell to his knees, but that would be certain death.

Burning violet eyes stared at him from above. He looked up at the Hale Mansion's spires, driven by some sort of intuition, and blanched. The Beast looked at him with such a hatred it nearly chilled his bones. There was something terrible in that stare. It was human.

Entei shot down from the great flowers of the Hale Mansion like a rocket. Crystalline embers, burning purple, trailed behind him. The Beast landed elegantly just a hundred feet away from them in the lane leading to the fields. There was no escape this time.

Ash could see just by looking at the Beast that it was returned to its full power. There was a confidence in its strides now. It no longer bore the wounds inflicted by the King or the slight hits of the Elite Four. It was restored.

And he was dead.

The trainer grit his teeth. They'd come so far…it wasn't time for their story to end. Not yet. "Tangrowth, get ready. As soon as it moves –"

Entei seemed to sense his attentions. It shot into action in a blur, barely visible in the absolute darkness that had shrouded Greenfield. Tangrowth's vines had barely twitched before Entei descended upon them like a comet.

The Beast would not be merciful this time. Ash barely had time to react as it tensed mid-stride, every muscle preparing to launch their master at them. Just as its legs exploded into action something happened. Thunderbolts rained from the skies in the east, lighting the darkness like day and a great roar shook him to his knees.

"What is this?" Raged the Beast. It paused and looked to the source of the sound – Ash and his team followed. Oz whirred, a noise that was somewhere between awed and terrified.

A monstrous shape had climbed atop the Hale Mansion's closest tower. Ash squinted – it shone so fiercely in the night that it nearly burned his eyes.

It was difficult to describe. He couldn't see much beyond a glow. Colors were mostly lost, though the lightning raining from the skies like rain gave him just the barest opportunities to catch sight of the newcomer.

Most of what he could see was the shape. It was hard to estimate its size from here but he estimated it to be even longer and taller than Entei, though far slimmer. The legs, which clung easily to the crystal with long, sharp claws, were much longer and lankier, built for speed rather than brute force.

It looked like it had some sort of pattern on its bright golden fur – in some ways it reminded Ash of an Arcanine's stripes. A black, angular crest adorned its forehead and a jagged plate rested on its face, guarding it from danger. The newcomer was shrouded somewhat in a cloudy mane that billowed about it wildly, shedding bolts of lightning like Entei did sparks.

What caught his attention the most were its eyes. They were a vivid, burning red-orange that shone like miniature suns – he could almost believe that they were tiny images of the sun reflected in its eyes.

His eyes narrowed at the "tail". It was a wild, erratic thing that swung back and forth with no sort of pattern, clapping loudly with thunder every second. The tail was nothing more than a caged stream of vivid blue lightning that arced and danced and raged in a way impossible for Ash to describe.

How could he? It didn't even remotely resemble anything he'd ever seen before. Only Zapdos compared.

The creature snarled, fully baring deadly fangs as long as his forearm.

Ash would say he couldn't believe his eyes, but that would be a lie. He knew what this was.

Raikou had entered the fray.

Entei roared, furious at the sight of its sibling. The Beast made a display of rearing back, confident enough to expose its vulnerable underbelly. Cinders and little showers of glowing purple sparks burst from its maw…with an explosion of force that conjured up sweeping winds and roiling crystal a sphere of Entei's strange purple flame began to coalesce and collect into its mighty maw.

A flash of light.

A boom of thunder.

A feral scream.

A savage roar.

Ash stared, stunned, as Raikou leapt fast as a bolt of lightning. Sparks and arcs of blue electricity ignited in the air, raising the hair on his arms, and Raikou's vicious growl made even Oz (who stared at the Beast with something like worship) flinch away.

Raikou's fangs plunged into Entei's heavy mane like daggers. The Beast of Thunder glowed with electrical charge, so bright that it easily pierced the utter blackness of its mane. All he could make out was the brilliant form of Raikou and the dull purple glow of Entei's as more and more crystal rushed to its aid – it didn't matter, not against an opponent of Raikou's caliber. The furious creature wouldn't let go, despite Entei's bucks and snarls, and the Beast of Fire seemed locked into place by the sheer amount of electricity being pumped into him.

The air grew heavy and fierce gusts whipped as lightning arced and spat and leap all around the area – miraculously not a single bolt struck him, though some came dangerously close to his team. Dazed was quick to protect each of them with a thin film of psychic power. It hurt his vision thanks to the blue glow, but at least he wasn't blinded by the ferocity of Raikou' assault.

And what an assault it was – even Entei was helpless underneath the sheer speed and power held within Raikou's electrical bite. It was like all the power of a thunderstorm had been concentrated in that one tiny area…namely, Raikou's gigantic, dagger-like fangs.

Then Raikou ripped away with a quick jerk of its heavy head, tearing a great piece of Entei's neck away with it. A wriggling flood of crystal poured from Entei's gaping wound, squirming uselessly as it tried to crawl back to its master and repair the damage. The Beast itself wavered, though it was quick to leap away and stumble back – Ash felt a little sick seeing the crystal practically falling out of the Beast's neck and its huge head nearly torn off by Raikou, though he knew that kind of savagery was necessary.

Entei roared, but the sound was little more than a wheeze. Crystal bubbled uselessly, frothing like blood from its severed windpipe. Ash was glad he couldn't see any details beneath the purple ooze seeping from the wound – the glassy substance was already solidifying, however, and it wouldn't be long before Entei was ready to fight again.

What would it take to put the Beast down? It could take lethal wounds easily. The only thing that seemed to slow it down was dark-type and ghostly techniques, though it seemed wary of them by now. Physical damage could only stymie it for a time.

Raikou hissed up at its sibling, lightning-bolt tail whipping erratically, but didn't attack. It seemed interested in seeing Entei's limits for itself. Ash wished the visibility would be better so he could actually see Raikou. The Beast of Thunder was mesmerizing.

He squinted as a dull orange glow rose from the west. It cast aside the darkness of the crystal and even Raikou's thunderclouds – the glow was still a ways off, but it promised to restore light to the shadows.

Dozens of possibilities ran through Ash's mind, but in the end he settled on the one that set a wild grin across his face. Moltres.

A great, terrible rumble shook the world for the hundredth time that day. It spoke of the roar of a wildfire, the inferno at the heart of a volcano, and the shuddering of every foe that had ever challenged it. Entei froze and stiffened where it stood even as the crystal pulsed and beat like a heart across Greenfield – the source of Entei's durability seemed insistent on pumping every bit of power it could into the Beast. Entei glowed purple now, though in some bizarre way it seemed to suck the light out of everything around them.

Raikou waited. If Ash didn't know better he'd have said the Beast of Thunder looked happy.

Everything was still. Entei seemed on guard. It was wary of the oncoming Moltres…as it should have been. Entei was durable, but it seemed to be far less powerful than any of the Birds. Raikou was more impressive. Ash got the feeling that Raikou would have eliminated the Elite Four and the League forces with ease. Entei had struggled at every turn, though it ultimately proved powerful enough to defeat all challengers.

It couldn't possibly defeat Raikou and Moltres. Not with its current performance. Even Ash and his team had managed to deal serious damage to it. The only issue they would have was keeping it down.

The glow grew ever brighter until it seemed like there was a great inferno a mere mile away – the wildfire that would come closer and closer until its creator arrived. Raikou's tail stilled. Entei tensed.

Ash waited for the fiery wings of Moltres. He waited for the obsidian frame and beak and the living star that would burn the corruption of Greenfield away with ease. He waited for the one who would set his Feather aflame again.

He never received it. The Feather laid still and lifeless on his chest. There was only the barest twinge of its awakening, one that had been building up since it had been extinguished.

Instead he saw a familiar creature perched atop the nearest spire. It looked down on them all with narrowed black eyes, though they softened a tad at the sight of Raikou. The creature glared at Entei, who stared back with its disturbingly human eyes.

The newcomer roared. Heat washed over them all, so heavy and oppressive it was like every drop of moisture in the air was instantly sucked away. The air Ash pulled into his lungs was painfully dry and it felt like he nearly burnt his throat with every breath. A quick glance showed that most of his friends weren't faring much better – Torrent and Tangrowth looked especially uncomfortable.

It snarled, baring long fangs (though not as long as Raikou's sabers) and gripped the crystalline spire tightly with its dull black claws. The crystal shattered easily, then burned away with the newcomer's mere touch. Huge clouds of smoke billowed behind it, obscuring the glow left by its movements, and its dark mahogany coat (coated with ash and soot so that it was almost black) was alit with little fires that burned, winked out of existence, then burned again.

Both Entei stared at each other.

Ash looked between them, confused. Two Entei? How was that possible? What he'd gotten from Lugia was that there were only one of each Legend…there were only multiple Birds because Lugia had forcibly torn the original Bird apart.

Had Entei been split in a similar manner? Had part of it somehow been corrupted by whatever force dwelt within the mansion?

He took a moment (and did his best to ignore the literally burning tension between the twin Entei) to examine the new Entei. It was different…somehow it was even bulkier than the corrupted Entei. Fire rained from its every movement. Overall it looked quite similar, though its fur was darker, the plates on its back were more jagged, and the smoke was far, far blacker. But the new Entei seemed far more connected to genuine orange fire rather than the heatless purple flame of the corrupted Entei.

What struck him most was its eyes – they were identical to Raikou's. They burned brilliantly even in the sudden brightness, lit with a fire from within.

The real difference was in its size and build. This new Entei was slightly larger than the corrupted Entei and Raikou – it was a veritable giant. It was probably sixteen or seventeen feet long and seven or eight feet high at the shoulder. Although it was only slightly longer and taller than the corrupted Entei it was noticeably more powerfully built…and Ash had already thought the corrupted Entei was the strongest creature he'd ever seen.

Every slight shift of its body revealed bulging muscles beneath the thick coat of fur that would stop even Raikou's sharp fangs. A casual swat from Entei's paw would rip Ash's frail human body apart. Its legs were so corded with thick muscle that it could leap just as easily as the corrupted Entei – whatever it landed on would crumble and splinter beneath its mass.

Ash had seen many beastly pokemon. Ursaring, Arcanine, and even the Patriarch and Matriarch of Mt. Moon. All were perfectly suited to their roles. Each were powerfully built, made to weather blows and deal even more powerful ones in turn.

None compared to this new Entei. It didn't even need its fires to crush its opponents. The raw might it practically shone with would be enough to defeat the Matriarch and Patriarch with ease…it was no doubt just as strong and swift and intelligent as the corrupted Entei, and likely more so. The only mortal opponents that could ever require its elemental power to defeat were those pokemon who had risen above all others: the Clefable of Mt. Moon, the ancient Chinatsu and Mamoru, and the King Under the Mountain.

Even they might not warrant a single spark from the new Entei.

The tension stilled his thoughts…a greater pressure. Both Entei looked at one another, each observing with fury. But he could sense a sort of hesitance from the corrupted Entei – it was wary. All it was doing was sucking up as much power from the crystal as it possibly could – the pulsing drumbeat of the crystalline field was growing harder and harder, nearly shaking him off his feet, and he could feel every shudder of the earth.

At the same time the new Entei was growing hotter. His skin was slick with sweat and his eyes teared up to protect them from dehydration as the air began to burn. It wouldn't be long before both titans unleashed their attacks. Neither wanted to be the first to make their move.

Ash had no idea how they would survive either attacks. The psychic power wielded by the corrupted Entei would be unrestrained in its attempts to force the new Entei and Raikou away from the mansion. It would likely send some of it Ash's way just to kill him and his team and safeguard its master within the mansion.

It was what Ash would do in its place.

The new Entei wouldn't desire their deaths, but Ash had the funniest feeling that it wasn't very practiced at exercising restraint. It couldn't tightly control its force, unlike Raikou. It looked like every second spent not burning and destroying the corrupted Entei was a serious burden. When it finally allowed its power to be unleashed there would be no stopping.

He sighed in relief as a crisp, cold gale blew in from the north, funneled down past the Hale Mansion and into the thin lane where Beast and man and pokemon all stood. The rain from Raikou's thunderclouds fell heavier and more swiftly, finally able to pierce Entei's hot veil. Ash and his team welcomed the cooling rain drops – the bite of the new Entei's heat was dulled and the crystal seemed to recoil away from the droplets.

Even the thunderbolts dropping from the skies seemed to slow, as though tamed by this new storm. Ash wanted to fall to his knees and rest in the cool water quickly shaping into puddles, but that was a fool's dream. It was just a trick of the mind. He had to focus…but the peace brought on by the wind brushing gently against his skin and ruffling his hair was almost addicting.

The north wind howled from behind him. Ash fought the gale's chill and focused. The corrupted Entei had finally broken the tension and had begun to pace like a caged beast, walking to and fro with its eyes never leaving the new Entei's. Purple cinders blazed within its furs in a mimicry of the fire glowing within the new Entei's. Every bit of its power was fueled by the crystal getting sucked into its feet, enhancing it more and more until it might be able to put up a fight.

Each were ready to attack. The corrupted Entei had to realize that the odds weren't in its favor. Even with this new power gained from the crystal it couldn't possibly compete with the twin Beasts arrayed against it. Its only hope would be to lead them on a race around Greenfield (or Johto) and whittle them down. But if it left Greenfield there would be no recovery for it…it relied heavily on the protection and rejuvenation allowed by the crystal fields. It had to remain here. And if the new Entei and Raikou could destroy enough of the crystal it might be starved of any new fuel.

There wasn't a possible victory for the corrupted Entei. It wasn't strong enough to duel both of the Beasts at once. All it could hope for was a chance to immediately destroy (or cripple) either the new Entei or Raikou and focus the majority of its efforts on the other. With both arrayed against it there was no way for the corrupted Entei to succeed.

Ash glanced to the gate that would take them inside the Hale Mansion. It hadn't recovered completely from their previous efforts – it looked like the corrupted Entei was demanding most of the crystal's strength. If the corrupted Entei fell there was nothing to prevent Ash, his team, and the other two Beasts from entering the sanctum.

It was a necessary sacrifice for the corrupted Entei's master. The options it had were to sacrifice the corrupted Entei and allow the Beasts to blast their way in, or to simply allow Ash and his team into the sanctum.

He knew which of those he would choose. Ash was a much easier target than the Beasts of Fire and Thunder.

Just as he felt the scene was about to explode into battle, the north wind howled, louder this time. He shivered as a chill ran up his spine, and breathed easier for a time. The pain of his wounds and even the last remnants of the dark-type energy gnawing on his spirit seemed to have been brushed away. Ash even felt invigorated for the first time since he'd arrived (at least in a way that didn't rely on Lightning or Fire flooding his body).

The corrupted Entei snarled, then turned towards Ash. He braced himself, words of command on his lips, but was cut off by a haunting howl that came from above. Ash froze as a terrible gale flooded the lane, nearly hurling him to his hands and knees, and a torrent of rain followed it.

He heard a terrible roar of agony, felt a blast of icy cold wind, and smelled cool, crisp air. It was the same smell that came before and after a rainstorm. Ash breathed easier for a time, drawn back to memories of easier days, but sharpened as he finally saw.

Another creature, unmistakably a Beast, stood before him. With the sudden burst of heavy rain he couldn't make out many details for a moment – all he could see were slim, graceful hind legs that led up to a much thinner, more elegant body than either the new Entei or Raikou could boast. A purple cloud billowed proudly behind this new Beast's body and rain fell from it, pure and clear as crystal. White ribbons, barely visible in the white rain, blew toward the south as they were carried by the northern wind.

The body itself was coated in thin blue fur, though the underbelly was white. Ash could catch a few glimpses of a few diamond-shaped patches on its sides and legs that were also pure white, though he couldn't make out much more.

Then the Beast turned its head to look at its siblings. Their eyes were all identical: each and every one a perfect image of the sun burning within their sockets. As their eyes met they all flashed brighter for a moment.

The Beast of the North Wind turned its regal head to look at him. Ash couldn't help but stare into the ancient Beast's eyes. Though they shone with the fury of the sun they did not burn his retinas and he felt a sort of respect in them. He admired the Beast's lupine face for a moment.

Suicune dipped its head to Ash. His breath hitched – Suicune's action felt wrong, somehow. Something that ancient and regal should never bow to a human, let alone one as young as Ash. But he bowed back, and only then did he see what had been obscured to him before by rain and wind.

The corrupted Entei lay limp and lifeless upon Suicune's brilliant crest, a diamond-shaped horn that appeared to have been sculpted from perfectly clear ice. Suicune had impaled the Beast with its coming – every time the corrupted Entei so much as twitched, Suicune impaled it further. The crystal yearning and grasping for the corrupted Entei could not touch Suicune. In fact, it seemed to fall apart every time any of the Beasts brushed against it.

Ash straightened his back and looked at his team. The minor injuries they'd sustained throughout the day were slowly vanishing underneath the pure rain…even Sneasel, collapsed on the earth, stirred a bit. Infernus seemed a bit annoyed, but Ash could see the crystal shards that had been imbedded in him and the rest of the team slide off easily underneath Suicune's influence.

Suicune glanced at the new Entei and tossed its head over to the gate, which was rapidly being covered by more and more layers of crystal, each thicker than the last. The Beast of Fire bared its fangs and opened its maw – a huge cone of fire, white and so hot it warped the air to the point everything in the sky was blurred and distorted, erupted from Entei and speared through the air. It devoured everything before it: the crystal, the earth, and even the physical gateway until there was a gaping hole in the side of the Hale Mansion. Despite everything it still hurt to see the Hale Mansion destroyed like that.

"Let's go!" Ash shouted, immediately breaking into a sprint. His legs didn't even hurt anymore. He hadn't felt this good in…ever. But he didn't have time to ponder. The crystal was already starting to rebuild the Hale Mansion from scratch and it would be little more than a minute before it was as durable as ever.

Ash couldn't actually see within it. It looked like the same narrow corridor as he'd seen the last time since he was in the Hale Mansion, but at the same time there was a strange sort of murky darkness that made it impossible to know for sure. The crystal didn't appear to be present, but it might just be focused on reworking the damage done by Entei.

His team plodded along beside him. Ash cursed and fumbled with the pokeballs on his belt. Any of his team who couldn't keep up with him in a sprint were recalled immediately – Nidoking, Dazed, Torrent, Tangrowth, Sneasel, and Oz all vanished in a flash of red light. Plume coasted along just behind him, though it was probably harder for her to stay slow than to just shoot ahead. Bruiser kept pace with Ash, and Infernus sprinted just a tad ahead. He had his cannons out. If the crystal tried blocking them he'd annihilate it.

Ash was left with nothing but tunnel vision and the heavy beat of his heart as he sprinted closer and closer to the goal that had eluded him all day. He didn't even hurt that bad, though he knew if he kept it up for too long he'd be winded. For the first time he was actually a bit grateful for the runs he'd went on with Steven – he'd manage this run even if he was out of shape, but this made it easier.

He tossed his head back for just a moment to look at the Beast – they were all arrayed just as they had been before, though they seemed a tad more relaxed. Then, even as he passed the threshold that would take him into the Hale Mansion, Raikou leapt upon the lifeless body of Entei and tore its head off with the sort of savagery he'd seen before. The head was held in Raikou's mouth like a trophy, empty purple eyes staring back at Ash with rage. The Beast of Thunder was careful never to let the head touch the ground, and instead paced around just like Sneasel would have – it seemed like Raikou was showing off its trophy to Entei, who sniffed it curiously.

Ash shook his head and raced forward. He hoped that was the end of it…with the Beasts standing guard he could at least be confident that there wouldn't be anything else to disturb him.

Utter darkness swallowed him for a moment. Ash hesitated, but kept sprinting. He tried to look back but the Beasts were gone. So was everything else. There was nothing in this new world within the Hale Mansion. No light, no sound, no smells…nothing.

But he kept moving forward. Ash would not stop. He couldn't see or hear his friends, but he knew that they were with him. They were all he needed to get justice on whatever monster had stolen his mother from him.

And that was what he was here for, wasn't it? He was here for justice. He'd kill whatever had wiped his mom's mind and corrupted this place. It had kidnapped his mother from her happy life in Goldenrod, possibly killed Uncle Spencer and Molly (or tainted them as well), and turned even his best friends in the League against them.

He would brave the unknown Legend for them all.

And he would destroy it.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This has been a long time coming, hasn't it? This is the longest gap I've ever had in Traveler. Nine months is way too long and I'm so sorry for the wait. I won't go into details but I've had a pretty crappy 2017 so far and I've only just now been in a position to be writing frequently again. I hope all of you can forgive me for taking so long. I'm sorry I wasn't able to deliver the full chapter to you but I think the whole thing is a bit too much for one.

But despite the wait I hope everyone enjoyed this chapter! It's brushing on some new themes and showing new information, although the bulk of the new stuff will be next chapter while Ash explores the inside of the mansion. Next chapter will be like nothing I've ever written before and I really, really hope that I'll be up for the challenge! This will be the first time I've ever split a chapter up before and I think that alone should tell you something.

Thank you all for your support and patience as I've written this chapter. I sincerely appreciate it, and I especially appreciate everyone who's sent me a PM inquiring if I was okay or not! I haven't had any health issues and I ultimately chose not to respond to anyone recently while I buckled down on finishing this chapter and editing it. I thought the release of a chapter would be a good way to show that I'm alive. Disclaimer: I got about halfway through completely editing/rewriting it before I gave up and just skimmed for any obvious errors. The last half might be a little sloppy but I think it turned out fine. I just wanted to update!

I know this chapter is a bit different, but I hope you've enjoyed it! Please leave a review with any questions, comments, or thoughts! Thank you again!