Disclaimer: I don't own Pokémon or have any rights to it.

Note: For anyone who thought the chapter title would be 'Into the Fire', I'm saving that one for later.

Lampent faded into a nearby tree trunk just as three rocket grunts entered the clearing. From there he watched as the humans threw poké balls at his fallen minions. Had he been at full strength Lampent would have burned those humans alive. At his current level it was a challenge just to stay intangible.

"And that's the last of them," said a male grunt. "Between these and those zubat we really made killing."

A lead female grunt crossed her arms. "We've still lost the big ones. Do you remember how angry Proton was on the phone?" She crossed her arms "My ears are still feeling it."

"I hope he cools down before he gets back," said the other male grunt.

The three rockets then walked out of the clearing.

It was safe for Lampent to emerge. He floated out of the tree's trunk and drifted back among the trees. The flame in his head started overflowing his body. Lampent's thoughts fixated on Vander. That boy had killed his mother, and now cost him his drowsee. "I'll kill him," Lampent thought to himself. "I'll-" His strength was suddenly gone and a sharp pain started up in his core. Everything went dark.

The figure behind Lampent withdrew its dark wing from his body. It let the ghost drop and then flapped away. A black feather broke off its wing and landed next to Lampent's corpse.


"Fan out!" Proton barked while standing akimbo. "We're gonna be systematic about this! I want every rock overturned! Do not report back until you reach the ten mile mark!" There was a spark in his eyes as he paced about the rocket's campsite. He was grinding his teeth together while watching his crew search slowly. Had his throat been less sore he would've yelled again. Insults, threat, and reprimands flicked into his mind while he observed the ponderous pace at which his crew searched.

Each rocket had their ratata out and moved in a straight line. As they got farther, their search pattern widened. The farther they got, the further they had to search and more cut off they were from their fellows.

One of the grumbling teens plodded past a large tree. He looked left and right before sighing. His team mates where nowhere in sight. How wide would his angle be now? With a groan, he hobbled left towards a tree. Part of him fixated on the aches in his feet. The thought of Proton's voice was all that kept him moving.

The tree's trunk was huge, giving plenty of room for Vander to hide. Rounding the trunk, he shuffled as silently as he could manage. It worked to a point, keeping him out of the grunt's view.

There was a hiss. The grunt's ratata leapt at Vander and latched onto his pant.

Vander shook his leg. He was holding an unconscious Luxio and his backpack jiggled as he tried to shake the rodent off.

Cosmo emerged from a nearby bush and screeched. His blast knocked out the ratata, forcing it to let go.

As he stumbled back, Vander felt something behind him. Then he couldn't move as a relatively strong arm clamped around his neck. He tried to kick back and the grunt's legs blocked his strike. He threw his head back, but it smacked harmlessly against the grunt's chest.

"I think I found him!" The grunt's heart raced as held Vander still. "Don't you dare attack," he told Cosmo, holding Vander tighter to make his point.

Luxio's whiskers twitched. He squirmed a little in Vander's grip.

There were voices all around as other grunts stumbled through the trees towards them.

Vander's eyes drifted down and he saw Luxio looking up at him. He discreetly relaxed his grip, allowing to Luxio to slip down to the ground. Then Vander rocked his body left and right. He couldn't squirm free. In fact he felt his captor's grip getting stronger.

"You're not getting away," said the grunt.

Cosmo heard other grunts approaching fired off sonic blasts in their direction.

A male grunt stumbled into view. There were dark circles under his eyes. His ratata bounded ahead of him and leapt at Cosmo.

A powerful sonic blast knocked out the fragile rodent. Cosmo spewed out another, knocking the grunt back.

Luxio had slipped into a bush with Cosmo's attacks masking the sound of his movements. He slipped out behind the grunt that held Vander and sank his teeth into the boy's heal. Electricity flowed out of his teeth and his body trembled as it left him.

The grunt screamed. His body shuddered.

Vander flinched from the shock. He felt the grunt's grip relax and elbowed his captor in the gut. Once free he spun around and kicked up into the teen's groin. Vander took an extra moment to kick the downed grunt before running further into the woods. His lungs were soon burning and he could hear the other rocket's getting closer. As he moved deeper into the forest it became harder to see as the canopy blocked more of the moon's light.

Cosmo had little trouble keeping up, but Luxio felt like he had extra weight strapped on.

Then Vander suddenly tripped over a tree's root, tumbled down a small ledge and fell into a river. He clawed his way up the opposite bank. The water made everything heavier. His muscles ached in protest as he tried to keep moving. At first he couldn't even stand up properly.

Luxio also struggled up the bank, but he collapsed upon reached the top of the slope.

Ratata leapt down the slope towards the river.

Cosmo stopped when heard them splashing into the water. He turned around and fired off more sound waves. His throat burned in protest, yet he spewed one blast after another.

The most of the frail rodents crumpled after just a few blasts, but one made it to the opposite bank and scrambled up the ledge. It leapt above Cosmo, fangs bared. A clump of dirt smacked into its face and it fell short. The ratata rolled back into the river where it tried to wash the dirt from its eyes.

"Come on!" Vander rubbed the dirt off on his pants. He saw Luxio collapsed and picked him up. Then he turned and ran off, his bag bouncing uncomfortably with each stride. His breathing had gotten so loud. There was no way he could hide from the rockets and his legs had started burning with fatigue. The thought of being caught by the rockets was all that kept him moving.

Cosmo ran ahead of Vander took the lead. That river had looked familiar and he was leading Vander on a parallel path.

Further back five other grunts, three boys and two girls, reached the river. They called back their fallen ratata and stopped to catch their breath.

A taller figure leapt out of the bushes. Proton showed little sign of fatigue. His eyes narrowed at the muddy trench on the opposite bank. "You guys take a breather." He unclipped a poké ball from his belt and threw it onto the other bank.

A large dark canine appeared in a white flash.

"Houndoom! I need you to track down that boy! He's sure to have left a trail for you to follow!" Proton stepped back and then ran down the bank. He vaulted over the river, landing gracefully on the opposite bank. "I expect all five of you to be on this side of the river in five minutes! Understood?"

The grunts nodded and saluted Proton.

Further ahead, Cosmo was now leading Vander by significant margin. His nose had started picking up familiar scents and his eyes soon picked out a familiar landmark. With a quick chirp he veered back towards the river.

Vander was too tired to realize he been this way before. When the ground ended abruptly he fell headlong into the river. Fortunately it was shallow enough for him to stand.

Cosmo leapt down onto the log that connected the drowsee's cave to the opposing riverbank. He barked at Vander to climb on.

Vander placed Luxio on the log and then hoisted climbed onto the log. He crawled after Cosmo, who was helping Luxio into the cave. Once inside, he removed his backpack and then turned to see if he could dislodge the log. He dug into the ground near the entrance. The log was far too thick and deeply entrenched for him to do anything.

"This way?"

Vander held his breath and crawled deeper into the cave. He could hear Proton and the houndoom getting closer. Then he heard them stop. Proton said something that he couldn't make out.

"Yes sir…off course. Right away." Proton nodded to his houndoom. They began retracing their steps and soon met up with the five grunts they had left at the riverbank upstream. "We're needed back at the base. The boss asked me to head up another mission and I'm sure the horde of zubats and drowsee we found will be a sufficient quarry."

One of the female grunts, an older teen with pink hair, stepped forward. "What about that boy and his rare pokémon?"

"They are important, but not as important as following orders." Proton folded his arms behind his back and stood up straight. "Giovanni asked that I bring us back to base immediately. His spies have found Intergang's hideout in Goldenrod. If we can eliminate them, our boss will control that city's black market. Then we can come back here and scour this entire forest to heart's content." Proton strode past the grunts with his houndoom in tow.


Sunlight filtered into the cave. The bugs had gone quiet. Now the birds were making noise. Pidgey and spearow chirped, cawed and flitted about among the foliage. Many of them landed at the river's bank to drink. Ratata crawled out of the bushes to join them.

Cosmo walked out onto the log and watched the wild pokémon. He could probably handle them. As if on cue his stomach grumbled and he felt slightly weaker. Remembering Vander's backpack, he crept back into the cave and opened its main compartment.

Though wet on the outside, the bag's interior was waterproof with the zippers being the only weak point. Inside it was only slightly damp.

Cosmo quickly emptied it in his quest to get at the cooking pot. He flipped open the pot's lid and pulled out a random berry. It tasted bitter to Cosmo, but he yielded to his grumbling stomach. After downing the first berry he pulled out another one, and then another. By the time Vander woke up he had eaten his fill.

Vander groaned as he sat up. He kicked the air with his legs and stretched his arms. Even the slightest movements made his muscles feel sore. "Cosmo? Was there any sign of the drowsee while I was out?"

Cosmo shook his head.

"That's good," Vander said through his yawn. He sat up and started twisting his torso. Spying a prone Luxio and he crawled over. "Hey...how are you feeling?" His hand trembled a little when he reached out to touch Luxio. "Wha...he's cold! I can feel its heart, but...we have to get to a Pokémon Center!"

Cosmo nodded and went out of the cave to stand on the log.

Vander hastily packed his supplies and then squirmed into his backpack. He grabbed Luxio and held him close. Using a poké ball occurred to him, but Vander shook his head. Not like that, he told himself. He would never get a pokémon like that...like him.

Cosmo bounded across the log and looked around. The sun was bright and he could see far, even under the canopy. He moved back and forth along the bank, thinking about which way they could go.

At last Vander finished his arduous crawl across the log. Setting Luxio down on the bank, he then pulled out his map. "There's a center about ten miles that way." He pointed back across the river, in a direction that would take them near where they had seen Giratina. "We could take the road, but" he looked at Luxio "we need to get there as fast as possible."

Cosmo nodded and started leading Vander along the bank.

They were backtracking to where they had crossed the river earlier. When the bank dropped low enough, they crossed back over and Vander checked their map again. Then they trekked back the way they had come.

Vander kept a constant pace in spite of his aching legs. He thought about speeding up several times, but knew he could never sustain anything beyond a normal walk. He would keep checking Luxio's pulse and would also think about his pokémon. Firebrand, Ironhide, and Shell were in an unknown condition. There had been little chance for him to check on them. The center could treat all on them, Vander told himself. He just had to get there.

As he led the way, Cosmo realized that he was the only active pokémon out of their group. His teammates and Luxio were spent. Vander clearly couldn't fight. It made his heart race. They had to get to the center fast! Spending more time in woods invited danger.

They kept a steady pace for a couple hours. By then Vander had started slowing down. After another thirty minutes, they stopped so Vander could rest.

Vander set Luxio on the soft ground and then slung off his backpack. He plopped down on a fallen log and yawned. His hand moved to his map's belt pouch. "Nah," Vander withdrew his hand, "I don't think we can use the map yet. Cosmo? Could you scout around to see if there are any landmarks nearby?"

Cosmo nodded slunk off into the bush. The walk hadn't tired him at all.

Vander started stretching his aching legs. He glanced at Luxio to make sure nothing was out of place.

The feline's chest heaved with each breath. It was like he was panting in his sleep.

Lampent's image popped into his mind. Vander's eyes widened. "Oh…oh no." With a burst of energy he stood up and looked around. He was about to sling on his backpack.

A lone black feather floated down to the backpack. It was too large to belong to a common bird.

Vander frowned and picked it up. His eyes narrowed as he turned it over in his hand. He looked up, but there was nothing in sight. He heard something rustling the leaves all around him. Vander turned in a circle, his breath hitched. Something was circling him. Fingering his knife, he moved to the center of the glade. "Where are you?" Vander almost dizzied himself as he spun around. "Where are you?" He tracked the sound upwards. It was definitely a flying type.

A few more black feathers trickled down to center of the glade. Then a thick haze spewed down on the center. As Vander coughed, the creature swooped to a lower point and fired another blast that furthered darkened the area.

Swallowing a lump in his throat, Vander drew his knife. His arms held high and he turned about so that his back wasn't facing anything too long. Then something smacked into his gut. Vander doubled over and fell to his knees. That felt familiar. He stood up only get knocked face-first into the ground as his attacker swooped in from behind. In the fall he had lost grip of his knife and it fell from his grasp. This time Vander stayed down.

The haze slowly settled revealing a large dark figure perched on the fallen log. It glared down at Vander through the gloom.

When Vander clearly saw the attacker he couldn't help sighing. "You? Really? Come on!" He slowly pushed up to his feet, never taking his eyes from the dark glowering bird. "So...you've the worst timing." Once on his feet Vander took on a boxer's stance. "So where's your flock? Did they abandon you?'

A fire lit up in Honchkrow's eyes. He leapt at Vander. His strike missed.

Vander had ducked. He turned on a dime and stood back up.

On his second pass, Honchkrow brought down his talons. They caught Vander in the arm and threw the boy back. Honchkrow landed almost immediately.

Vander rolled to evade the first peck. He rolled again and into a crouch. A blast of dust forced him to cover his eyes.

Honchkrow ran at Vander and started pecking again. His neck was like a piston, pushing and pulling his beak in an almost robotic way. The sharp edge cut into Vander's sleeves, scraping his forearms.

His arms were starting to ache, but Vander couldn't afford to stop. He blocked and deflected Honchkrow's strikes at hysteric speeds. There was no time to think.

Honchkrow's beak withdrew and he brought his wings forward. They smacked against Vander's shoulders.

The blows almost forced him out of his guard. Vander's arms quivered in pain and felt like a struck funny bone. He bared his teeth in a vain attempt to pass his panting off as anger. It felt like his arms could go limp at the slightest touch.

As he hung back, Honchkrow started circling Vander. There was a cheeky glint in his eyes as he watched Vander struggle to turn while keeping the boxer's stance. Then he charged without warning. He pinned one of Vander's arms under his foot and kicked with the other.

Vander managed to catch the foot and gripped it as tight as he could.

Honchkrow flapped his wings, but couldn't break free.

Gritting his teeth, Vander felt a burst of energy. He stood up and with a mighty yell he threw Honchkrow into nearby tree. Then his energy vanished. Vander fell to his knees.

Honchkrow rolled onto his feet and leapt back into the air. He swooped towards Vander. A shrill sound smacked into his face. He veered off course and crashed into a tree. Rolling back onto his feet, Honchkrow glowered at his new challenger.

Cosmo's breath was shallow as he locked eyes with Honchkrow. He glanced at his prone trainer and began carefully inching towards him.

"C-Cosmo…" Vander managed a small smile. "I'm sorry, but it look's you'll have to fight." He turned ponderously to look at Honchkrow. "It'll kill us if we can't stop it." Clenching his fists and flexing his arms, he felt control slowly returning to them. As he watched Honchkrow an unsettling feeling entered the pit of his stomach. That bird shouldn't have been a threat. Did the universe want to kill him? Why had everything lined up so perfectly to put them here?

Cosmo sensed his trainer's mood. As he stared into Honchkrow's eyes it felt like everything around him was growing. His ears drooped and he almost held his breath when Honchkrow started moving.

After looking over Cosmo for a minute Honchkrow started preening one of his wings, always keeping one eye on Vander.

"Cosmo…I know that you-"

Honchkrow lunged without warning. His wing smacked into Cosmo's face.

The blow stung Cosmo's face. His body rolled back and smacked into something soft. Cosmo shook his head and stood back up. He glanced back and saw Luxio's unconscious form. Then he felt something in the wind and ducked. He shuddered as Honchkrow's talons grazed the top of his head.

A white glow spread over Honchkrow's beak as he rebounded off a tree.

Cosmo rolled aside to evade.

Honchkrow landed, spun on a dime, and then sprayed Cosmo with a dark haze.

The dark vapor blinded the feline and made him cough. Cosmo was helpless as Honchkrow rushed into him. He felt dizzy as the blow sent him tumbling back.

Honchkrow stepped over Luxio's seemingly unconscious form and strode towards Cosmo. He stopped, standing over the Cosmo's prone form, and had a smug glint in his eyes. Then he cocked his neck back, primed to drive his beak into the feline's skull. A sharp pain suddenly shot through his ankle.

Luxio clamped on as hard as he could. He would've shocked Honchkrow if he had the power.

Shaking his leg back and forth, Honchkrow ragdolled Luxio. He flapped into the air and flew low, dragging Luxio along the forest floor before slamming the feline into a tree. When he felt Luxio's grip release, Honchkrow circled back to attack.

Vander found his strength and scrambled to his feet. He grabbed a nearby stick and threw it, catching Honchkrow's wing.

Honchkrow barely felt the blow, but swerved up and looped back down to attack Vander. He brought his legs down as Vander ducked to evade his beak. His talons dug into Vander's shirt. Having landed he pinned Vander to the ground. Then he looked around to make sure the other two wouldn't interfere. Luxio was down, but Cosmo had gotten back up. Honchkrow glowered at the smaller feline.

The look made Cosmo shivered. His body was shaking both from the blow and his own feelings. He glanced at Vander's backpack and then at Luxio. They all needed medical attention and as things were they wouldn't get it.

"C-Cosmo…" Vander gasped as Honchkrow's talons pierced the fabric of his shirt and dig into his back. "Cosmo! You have to-" He let out a pained grunt and felt blood starting to dampen his shirt.

Honchkrow chuckled sadistically while grabbing Vander's hair under one of his feet. He started pushing the child's face into the ground.

Cosmo wanted to attack, but his one move would hit Vander as well. He stood transfixed wondering what he could do, weighing his options and dreading the consequences.

Vander fought Honchkrow's push as hard as he could. Though his arms had starting feeling like jelly, he pushed up with them. He tried turning his head sideways in preparation for when his strength would give out. "C-Cosmo!" That was all he could think to say. No commands came to mind. "Cosmo!"

Cosmo pursed his lips. He took a deep breath. First he glanced at Luxio, and then he looked at Vander's backpack, which held everyone's poké balls. A desperate wail from Vander startled him. He looked back and saw his trainer's faced pressed against the ground. They were in the middle of the woods. No one was coming to save them. Cosmo's legs trembled. If they couldn't stop Honchkrow… He looked back at the backpack.

Honchkrow had spread his wings wide. Now he was almost jumping as he continued to press Vander's head into the ground. Memories of their past battle, the feeling of mud in feathers, the preening he had to go through, and the rejection by his former flock, bolstered his attack. He was so focused on Vander that Cosmo caught him off guard.

Cosmo's body smacked Honchkrow in the head. His body shuddered at the feeling of contact.

The blow staggered Honchkrow. He stumbled off Vander, but quickly regained balance. Then he flinched as Cosmo unleashed a barrage of echoing sonic blasts. At close range it made his ears ring. It almost felt like there was a strong wind punching him back. Honchkrow dug his talons into the dirt.

Cosmo paused, quickly inhaled, and then spewed out another sonic blast. His lungs felt like they were shriveling, but he had to keep it up.

Honchkrow noticed Cosmo's pause and stepped forward during the next one. He took another step at the next one, though dizziness had set in from his ringing ears.

Cosmo took another deep breath. He was too slow.

Honchkrow lunged and rammed his beak into Cosmo's chest. He leapt over Vander and started pecking. His beak cracked the soil as it smacked into the ground.

Steadily backing up, Cosmo focused fully on Honchkrow's beak He could barely evade the bird's strikes. Then he backed up and felt something soft against his feet. It was Luxio!

Honchkrow slapped a startled Cosmo across the face with his wing. He leapt and landed on top of the feline. Pinning his prey with one foot, he slashed with the other.

Cosmo cried out as Honchkrow's claws dug into fur around his neck. He cringed as Honchkrow's talons ripped out a small clump of fur to the root.

Vander gave out a loud and angry yell. His fist smacked into the side of Honchkrow's head. Then he grabbed Cosmo, cradling the body as he crouched and then collapsed. Another burst of strength had passed and now his muscles were protesting. His legs were knotting up and his arms could barely hold Cosmo to him.

Cosmo buried his face in Vander's body. He could feel his trainer trembling.

Honchkrow had stumbled to his feet, but Vander's attack still left him a bit dizzy. He tottered and stumbled about.

"Cosmo…I just…I just want you to know…" Vander felt a lump forming in his throat. "I'm proud…you stepped up a lot today. We were just unlucky." His lips quivered and his eyes moistened. Fighting back tears he struggled back to his feet.

Honchkrow jumped and landed hard on his feet. The jolt straightened him out, but now his feet hurt.

Vander stumbled over and collapsed against a tree. He set Cosmo down near it. "Get out of here. You know where the Pokémon Center is. Go there an lead someone back here." He pulled his body off the tree. "Run!"

Honchkrow turned to glare at Vander. He flapped back into the air and swooped towards him.

Vander tensed up, anticipating a world of pain. His arms refused to budge much as he forced them in front of his face. He felt something leap onto his shoulder. Then it was on his head. A bright light made him squint and the weight started increasing. Then a loud and high-pitched sound made his ears ring.

The sonic blast disrupted Honchkrow's strike and knocked him back. He swerved to avoid Vander and circled back up to land on a higher branch. Honchkrow glowered down at his two opponents.

Cosmo cease his attack. He could feel new energy coursing through him. He leapt off Vander's head and stood up straight with his head held high. His new lilac fur was considerable shorter and it helped his feel very slight wind currents around him. In fact it felt like all his senses had sharpened and another had awakened within him. Cosmo's long tail lashed back and forth, anticipating the upcoming battle.

Vander gaped and shut his mouth to grin. He slowly sank to his knees. Cosmo looked so much stronger now. Maybe they could win.

Honchkrow's eyes narrowed. He slid off the branch and glided towards Cosmo. When he saw Cosmo inhale, Honchkrow turned sharply and disappeared among the trees.

Cosmo looked back and forth.

"He's circling us," Vander said. "Use your ears."

A dark haze seeped in around them a second later. It had soon enveloped them in darkness.

Shutting his eyes, Cosmo felt the wind shifting. His ears twitched and he heard Honchkrow's wingflaps. Cosmo turned and kicked dirt into the haze. He heard Honchkrow's surprised squawk and turned back around to fire off a sonic blast. The increased force blew away the haze.

Honchkrow flinched and landed roughly. He eyed the Cosmo, noting how tensed and focused the feline looked. Sneaking around did him no good. Honchkrow went with a direct charge. He wasn't fully airborne, opting to hop like a kangaroo towards his enemy.

Cosmo fired another sonic blast, but misjudged Honchkrow's speed.

Powering through the shrill noise, Honchkrow swung his left wing as if it were a fist. It started glowing with dark energy. He felt a rush as Cosmo crumpled against his attack.

Vander's eyes widened when he saw Cosmo sail across the clearing and land in a heap. The type matchup hadn't occurred to him! "Cosmo! Use you psychic powers! You can fly now!"

Cosmo felt the new power in him. Yet it was hard to focus on it with Honchkrow pecking at him. He had recovered from the first hit, but his body felt just a little slower. It had become a little harder to evade Honchkrow's pecks and wing swipes.

Leaping at his enemy, Honchkrow moved almost like a boxer. There was no defense. His beak struck out and pulled back like a piston. He mixed in wing swipes, jabs, and the occasional wing clap. Cosmo had his sole focus and he could sense the feline's new strength dwindling.

Cosmo leapt back and onto the fallen long. He lost his footing and started slipping back. Then his eyes started glowing and everything suddenly felt weightless. His body had floated up and was now hovering. After that had sunk in Cosmo tried moving, but he could only go up. When he tried moving sideways, his body ended up tumbling in a circle. Cosmo was soon flailing his limbs helplessly two stories above the forest floor.

Honchkrow watched Cosmo's fumbling for a minute before his eyes creased with something resembling a grin. With a single wingflap he launched at Cosmo and hit with his beak. Circling back, he knocked Cosmo into a tree trunk.

Though his telekinesis stayed in effect Cosmo had almost no control. He bounced from one tree to another like a pinball. Each hit stung and he was soon curled into the fetal position.

Vander's body protested as he dragged it towards the battle. He stumbled and then fell to his knees, gritting his teeth. Then he caught something glinting in the corner of his eyes.

Honchkrow flew above Cosmo and spiked him down with his wing. He slammed down on Cosmo. Then Honchkrow grabbed Cosmo's limp form in one foot and hurled it across the forest floor. He saw Cosmo trying to stand and humored the attempt for a second before pinning Cosmo under his foot. His ears were still ringing and dulled, but he shut it out. Honchkrow began pressing Cosmo's face into the ground, reveling in the feline's pained cries.

Something snapped inside Vander when he heard Cosmo's scream. He looked over and saw Honchkrow smothering his pokémon. "No…not another one," Vander muttered.

For Honchkrow the entire world became Cosmo's suffering. He would press the feline's face into the ground only to release the pressure moments before asphyxiation. After a few rounds he held Cosmo's head up, digging his talons into his prey's skull. His neck cocked back. The tip of his beak pointed directly at the gem on Cosmo's forehead.

Vander's hand clasped Honchkrow's shoulder, his nails dug deep as he wrenched it back. With hysteric strength, he threw Honchkrow away.

Honchkrow relinquished his hold under the sudden shock. A wave of dizziness took hold as he tumbled through the air and landed with thud. He was going to stand, but was forcibly flipped onto his back. Instincts told him to kick, but then his eyes caught the look on Vander's face. The world suddenly darkened and Honchkrow felt a chill slithering into his chest.

Vander's eyes were manically wide. His hand gripped Honchkrow's neck and squeezed. "I will not lose any more," he said with a dark hiss to his voice. The left hand worked like a machine, tightening whenever Honchkrow exhaled. Vander then raised his right arm. "No more…"

Honchkrow's eyes fixed on the gleaming blade.

Vander brought the knife down, unfazed by Honchkrow's spasms. He pulled it up and stabbed it into another spot. The squirting blood, and scraping talons did nothing to slow him down. Victory was at hand. He stabbed and stabbed like a machine until his enemy stopped moving. Then Vander stood up and wiped Honchkrow's blood from his face. The tension suddenly flowed out of him. His body felt heavy. Dropping the knife, he collapsed. A waved of dizziness took hold and he was soon out cold.

Cosmo groaned and opened his eyes. Everything looked fuzzy for a few seconds. Then he saw Vander and Honchkrow lying nearby. Neither seemed to be moving, though he could somehow sense life in Vander. He glanced over at Luxio. If Vander's life were a campfire, Luxio's would've been a matchstick. The realization pulled him to his feet and he looked around.

The forest was mostly silent. Wild pokémon had likely fled from their battle. There was still plenty of light filtering through the canopy. Nothing had disturbed Vander's backpack.

An intense pain paralyzed Cosmo as he tried to walk. This brought more aches and pain out of the woodwork. Gritting his teeth, Cosmo managed to hobble over to Vander. He sighed upon realizing the blood wasn't Vander's. Then his pulse picked up. He looked over at the backpack where all his teammate lay helpless. He looked at Luxio who was slowly slipping away. Finally, he looked back at Vander. The boy had saved him, but would now be out for hours. Cosmo's eyes glowed. He tried to levitate Vander's backpack, but only succeeded in throwing himself into the air. A jolt of pain broke his psychic hold as he knocked against a tree. Cosmo barely regained control, stopping a few inches from the ground. There he floated for a few seconds.

If memory served, the Pokémon Center was only a few miles away.

Cosmo couldn't carry his friends, but he could try to fly over there and get help. After promising to return. He used his new powers to tumble through the trees. He knocked into several obstacles on the way and could only pray that he was heading the right way. As time passed he got a sense for how much power he was using. His tumbling soon turned into bouncing. He would rebound off the trees, letting his psychic powers bridge the gap to the next one.

Wild pokémon steered clear of his erratic movements. Several pidgey took flight as Cosmo rattled past them. Ratata looked up and then shrank back to their burrows as he passed overhead.

The forest seemed endless, until it abruptly opened out. Cosmo's eyes widened as he tumbled into a grassy field and then rolled out onto the adjacent dirt road. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to stand and looked around. He spied a familiar red-roofed building and teared up. There was still hope. Pain yielded to excitement as he bounded towards the Pokémon Center's front entrance.


"You are strong…but not strong enough…" The voice sounded smooth, deep, and otherworldly. "You need more training…" There was a purring sound after each sentence. "Luck never lasts."

That last sentence echoed Vander's mind as his eyes shot open. He sat up in his bed. His body complained immediately, but he forced it out so he could look around. This place was clearly a Pokémon Center. How had gotten there? Had someone found him passed out? After a second look around, Vander spied his backpack leaning against the wall opposite the foot of his bed.

There were two doors to his right, and a large window to his left. One of the doors swung opened.

"Oh good! You're awake." The nurse moved to Vander's side. "Your pokémon are going to be fine. It's a good thing your espeon made it to us. We never would have found you otherwise."

Vander's jaws went slack as everything started to fit together. He smiled and his eyes moistened up a little. "When can I see them?"

"As soon as you feel ready to. You were exhausted, but that's nothing that can't be fixed with food and rest. Why don't you wait a bit and I'll get a hearty breakfast. You can see your pokémon after that."

"Sounds good," Vander replied with a nod. As the nurse left, he let himself lie back and relaxed against the soft mattress. He had contented smile until he remembered the words from his dream. What if that gang hadn't abandoned their hunt for him? What Cosmo hadn't evolved? What if he had been just a little weaker? What if that strange pokémon had decided to punish him? Memories of the Spirit World filled his mind. He thought about the foreboding dreams, the mysterious help he had received, and Vega's death in spite of that help.

The nurse returned with a tray of food. She set it across Vander's lap. "Will you be okay for now?"

Vander nodded. "Thank you. By the way, was there a honchkrow nearby when you found me?"

She stared at him for a moment and then silently nodded. "You…did quite a number on it. I've brought the body here, but after talking to your espeon, I can safely say that you were…justified." Her eyes shifted uncomfortably. "I decided not to contact the authorities about it. That would just make a big mess of things. However, when you're ready to leave I expect you to take that body with you or see to its disposal."

"I will," Vander replied. It was good that she had kept the body. He was already thinking about what he could do with it. The bird's hat came to mind, and those feathers. Perhaps their dark type properties would remain even after death. "I think I'll be okay for now. I'll try to get out of bed when I'm done eating."

The nurse gave him a sweet smile. "Just push the button on this device," she set what looked like a small remote control on Vander's nightstand, "if you need my help."

As he started eating, Vander thought about his next move. Obviously he'd have to check in with Molly and return home. Then he remembered the ninja school. That business card was probably still in one of his belt pouches. He glanced at a nearby chair where his utility belt lay. Everything was clear now. Vander started creating a mental list that ended with him joining that academy. It could be dangerous though. Molly wouldn't let him go. "Just until…until you beat me in a battle." Vander grinned and nodded. It was finally time to try.

The adult Vander is starting to take shape. The first first of a few time skips will be coming up soon. I hope it was worth the wait.