DISCLAIMER: pokemon and all of its trademarked products and characters are owned by Nintendo, Game Freak and their affiliates, not me. If they were owned by me, I’d be filthy rich, and certainly wouldn’t have to resort to doing all the house work for the occasional FullMetal Alchemist or Burst Angel DVD. (I know I really should save my money, but dammit, anime is so addictive!)
PREFACE: uh, yeah, no update for quite a while. I actually finished this quite some time ago, but never managed to load it up due to some random malfunction. In my computer. Not me.
Anyhoo, goriness abounds. And Ash and Misty seem to be having some sort of relationship, even though I never intended it to happen like that... hmm. More of that in the next part.
Any May bashing is fully intentional. (evil grin)
And on with the show!
Blood On Her Hands
The horizon glowed dirty orange.
The clouds were bruised and rain-swollen, yet the sun hovered above the mountains, hot and angry.
In the distance, smoke feathered upwards, accompanied by the smell of burning leaves.
The air tasted of ashes.
This wasn’t good.
“Max, turn on the TV,” he called into the lounge, drawing curtains across the bolted kitchen windows.
Perhaps on some level, he anticipated the trouble that was to come.
“-urning since four o’clock this morning. Fire-fighters are unsure as to what has caused the blaze, but some pokemon specialists claim it is the result of an unchecked rise in the breeding of wild fire pokemon.”
Brock scoffed; wild pokemon weren’t stupid enough to do that to their own habitat. Humans were the ones that went in for wild destruction.
Pokemon had common sense.
Of course, that did leave feeders out of the equation...
“-iridian City Fire Department
have been combating the blaze, but so far no progress has been made. Chief
Inspector John Hawkins hopes that with the help of the League, the fire can be
stopped. However, even were this to occur,
“D’you think we’ll be asked to pick up the slack?”
May’s question shattered Brock’s thoughts.
“Probably,” he grunted, heading towards the back. “Give me a hand securing the pens, will you? I get the feeling something bad’s going to happen tonight.”
May glanced at the older man. For the first time in more than- no, he’d been afraid constantly for over a month now. No, this night, she saw something more than fear in that handsome, dark face.
Mud squelched under Misty’s boots as she walked through the area of Saffron that was colloquially referred to as the Dirt Pit, but she didn’t care.
Unlike her old self, who probably would’ve complained about a $70 pair of sturdy leather boots being ruined, this one didn’t give a damn over anything remotely fashion-related.
The only thing that bothered her was the lingering scent of blood that draped the air like dust in a museum: permeating, old and rich.
She mightn’t be a feeder, but she wasn’t human either, and that scent did strange things to her.
It didn’t make her hungry, exactly; nor did it cause her disgust. It merely left her with an echo of longing, but it was enough to set her teeth on edge.
Marill didn’t seem bothered, and disappeared into the gloom, blue tail bobbing after her.
Evidently, she’d found something.
That was strange. Whilst Indigo belonged to the feeders, and feeder attacks were becoming much more common in all parts of the world, she hadn’t thought their influence had spread this far...
There have been a lot of outbreaks of blood-sickness here lately, though... at least, that’s what the doctors are calling it. Damn fools don’t have a clue what they’re dealing with...
The panic in Marill’s tone –something strange for a feeder-pokemon- told her she’d better run.
She did, leather boots splattering through mud and puddles.
He resisted the urge to suck the blood off his fingers.
Killing the doctor had not been such a good idea- there was the small matter of the warm, fresh, wet blood that had splattered over him, the scent of it flooding his nostrils, saliva spurting into his mouth at the thought of that hot, coppery ambrosia-
He had resisted; his self control reigned supreme over any baser urges.
However, this was not a guaranteed state of affairs.
Any more blood, whether his, a by-standers or that of someone dead at his hands, would be enough to send him over the edge.
The halls of the hospital were empty now, doctors and nurses turned tail and fled the moment the woman met concrete.
He stepped over her small, mangled body now; white lab-coat stained dark and sticky.
A small twinge of regret curdled in his stomach.
Just another sorrow to add to my collection.
Where had that thought come from?
Somewhere, a baby cried. Memories, dark and terrible clouded and clung, like cobwebs in the recesses of his mind. He brushed them away and continued on.
The smashed windows of the maternity ward lay scattered over the floor, glass pricking at his feet.
Blood dotted the tiles, but he ignored it.
In the distance, a woman screamed, and was quickly silenced.
The elite of the Saffron City Police stormed the building.
They would not exit it.
Blood. Human, hot and newly spilt. Eastwards.
Disinfectant did little to mask the smell as she neared it, slipping past the armoured trucks and suited men with surprising ease.
Perhaps it was the ice in her eyes; perhaps it was the Marill’s toothy, bloody grin.
Either way, the building was soon hers, sterile white hallways coloured with ruby splashes.
The crunch of glass echoed as another hit squad policeman ran for his life.
Marill’s nose wrinkled.
She could smell the urine soaking the man’s pants.
“Well, girl, what do we think it is? Our murderer, or something different?”
Marill grunted, nose to the –now dirty- ground.
A snort confirmed Misty’s suspicions.
“Not our murderer, then? Whatever killed those women wasn’t feeder. Wasn’t human or pokemon either.”
Kinda like me, thought Misty with a wry twist of her mouth.
Marill trotted ahead, little paws deftly skipping over broken glass, following the scent trail.
In the distance more sirens. This time the distinctive wail of ambulances, rather than police.
The high-pitched shriek of a baby’s cry suddenly cut off.
The remains of the human woman inside her shuddered with rage.
“C’mon Marill,” she spat, teeth gritted.
Marill, who smelt something rather intriguing agreed, running after her trainer’s pounding footsteps.
Pikachu sniffed the concrete roof. Even from this distance, even through solid concrete and steel, he could smell the blood his trainer had spilt and the new, fresh blood that wound through his veins.
He could also smell Marill.
If I can smell her, she can smell me. Misty’s here.
Something akin to a grin, but far darker in nature, split over the small pokémon’s toothy maw.
I want to see this.
The ventilation duct rang with the sound of his claws as he slid down it.
The baby was dead.
He could smell it.
The small creature had died when he’d covered its mouth.
He hadn’t known why he’d killed the pitiful thing; not to avoid alerting any human to his presence –he was pretty damn sure they already knew.
And certainly not out of any sense of pity.
Perhaps because the cry grated on his nerves like a saw blade; sharp, jagged, painful.
A shiver passed over him as he removed his hand from the dead flesh.
Memories –his, for who else could they belong to?- crowded at the edge of his thoughts.
With them came the awful recollection of his name, how he’d come to be here, and what he’d done.
He would’ve sunk to his knees were it not for the cold steel currently digging into his back.
“Don’t move, you bastard.”
That voice only triggered other memories, thoughts of broken promises and –strangely- the taste of a woman’s flesh, warm and yielding underneath his mouth.
Behind him, a Marill snarled and a ventilation grate clattered to the floor.
He smelt Pikachu.
How did she sneak up on me? No human can-
The thought cut itself off as Misty raised the gun and shot him in the back of the head.
He had been right.
Something did happen.
Something in the form of the woman that walked up the driveway, a bloody and naked figure draped over her shoulders, a Marill and a Pikachu trotting behind her.
Brock slammed the deadbolts open, took the proffered body, and slammed the door shut as soon as she and the two pokemon were inside.
Max dropped his coffee mug, mocha soaking into the white carpet of the lounge.
“Put the kettle back on, Max,” said Brock as he lowered the body onto the lounge. Blood immediately soaked into the towels laid there specifically for that purpose, and beaded on the plastic cover he’d pulled over it mere minutes before. “And get me the first aid kit.”
May stared at the figure –now clothed in more then just bandages and skin- as the man’s face reconstructed itself.
His nose –which had been smeared across his cheeks- came together with the reverse of a crunch as cartilage slithered out of the nasal cavity.
The bone of the left eye socket –horribly warped by the gunshot- twisted and straightened, bloody eye sinking back into the socket and eyelid slamming mercifully closed.
Teeth sprouted from bloody gums like demented saplings.
The shattered temporal bone pieced itself together like some visceral jigsaw puzzle, and the singed hair on the back on the man’s head –which was now more than the bloody hole it had been half an hour ago- fell out to be replaced by new and unburnt pelt.
It was, she had to admit, morbidly fascinating, even if her stomach was threatening to revolt.
Max ran out to the bathroom after the man’s new nose voided blood, mucus, and then a thin trickle of cerebrospinal fluid before dribbling to a halt.
“Good thing I already spread out a tarp on the floor,” mused Brock as he dabbed at the coffee stains on the carpet with a wet cloth.
Misty seemed unfazed by both the gruesome spectacle in front of her and the distant sound of Max retching as she sipped at her coffee.
“Still, was it really necessary to shoot him?” Brock asked as he straightened, cloth in hand.
Misty thought for a moment.
The finality in her tone warned against further questions.
May shuddered as the man’s skin pulled tighter against him, stores of body fat melting away to fuel the healing process.
Cheekbones stood gaunt as the fat on the man’s face simply disappeared.
Nerves twitched and veins stood out on the man’s skin as he convulsed, limbs flailing out to smack into a startled May.
“Why’s he twitching?”
“Systems check.” Misty swallowed another mouthful of the hot, strong coffee. “His body’s testing all nervous functions to check if everything’s in order. Either that or it’s his death throes.”
May blinked, horrified at the blankness in Misty’s eyes.
Max emerged from the bathroom hall, pale and shaking.
“Has he stopped oozing yet?”
Misty ignored the pale-faced younger man.
A thin, keening wail burst from the recumbent figure’s partially open mouth, falling octaves as his lips and mouth twitched.
His voice box bobbed frantically in his throat.
Pikachu, preoccupied with grooming himself, took no notice of the death glares from Marill on Misty’s lap, or the body-arching convulsions of his partner.
Abruptly the wailing stopped, and the figure on the couch appeared to sleep.
Misty stood, draining the dregs of her cup, passing it to a woozy Max.
“I suppose you want to know what happened, then.”
Brock eyed her hesitantly. Outwardly, she appeared the same.
Inside, however... she wasn’t the Misty he knew.
“That might be a good idea.”
Brock knew what feeders were.
He had, after all, been the one to find a half-starved, half-naked, blood-smeared Misty on his doorstep three days after the collapse of the Diglett tunnel, which the authorities had blamed on mining ground-pokemon.
Her story had been terrific- goosebumps had broken over his tanned skin in waves.
He’d believed her- if only because of the chafe marks on her wrists and ankles from the manacles, the heavy, ornate dress –now in tatters- that clung to her, and because of the madness in Marill’s eyes.
He hadn’t told the others.
They’d found out.
May knew, because although her expression was that of a friendly, concussed Hoppip, she was actually quite bright under that bandanna.
Max knew, because Max had stumbled upon Marill tearing a Rattata to shreds, and demanded an explanation, even as the blue pokemon sucked the life out of the wretched, furry corpse.
They’d all known about this other, more dangerous side of the world, and had on Misty’s advice purchased iron bars for their windows, and stainless steel pens for the pokemon in the breeding centre.
But although they all knew, none of them had believed.
And now the incontrovertible proof was sleeping on Brock’s couch.
“How could he have survived being shot in the head?” asked May, still morbidly fascinated, much to her brother’s disgust.
“Because feeders are damn hard to kill. Even being shot point blank won’t hurt ‘em.” Misty yawned lazily, flinging her legs over the side of the plump, towel-coated armchair she was perched on. “Case in point,” she added, indicating the supine figure with a toss of her head. “He was shot point-blank in the back of the head, and as such, got pretty fucked up. He died. However, ten or so hours later, and he’s alive again. Unconscious, and a helluva lot thinner, but alive.”
Pikachu stretched also, golden fur standing briefly on end before settling down again.
Marill eyed him carefully, then went back to sleep.
“Still doesn’t explain why you shot him in the first place if you knew it wasn’t going to kill him.” Rumbled Brock.
“Because the bastard killed a baby. Smothered it. Watched it turn blue. And besides,” added Misty thoughtfully, “I felt like it.”
Max blinked, edging carefully back into the kitchen. Misty was insane...
As though he’d caught the snippet of Max’s thoughts, Brock voiced an opinion eerily alike.
“You’ve gone mad.”
“Afraid not. Things’d be a lot simpler if I was. Unfortunately, this isn’t madness. I’m just... sick.”
“Feeder sickness,” rasped a voice.
Misty grinned, but it wasn’t pleasant.
“Welcome back, Ash.” The last word was spat with such venom Brock physically recoiled.
“But... he’s dead...” whispered May.
“So she did not tell you who I was even as she delivered me here? I would have thought you would have wanted to revel in my downfall, Misty.”
“I mightn’t be human anymore, but I’m not a feeder. I’m not cruel.”
Ash groaned as he sat up, and the creak of bones echoed off the walls.
“Not all of us are capricious.”
Brock’s voice was low and dangerous when he spoke next.
“I don’t know who I’m angrier at. Misty for bringing a feeder into my house, or you for being the one responsible for her capture.”
Ash’s voice was flat, just like his black eyes.
“I did not want to bring her to my Lady; I could no more disobey her orders than an Onix could fly.”
Brock stared at him for a moment, taking in the sunken cheeks, the faded-coffee skin, the mad, miserable eyes.
“Why’d you kill the baby, Ash?”
Misty’s eyes were chips of ice; her voice colder than arctic.
“I... don’t know.”
Because that soft, grating cry caused me more pain than you ever could.
“And before you start, I wasn’t looking for you. I thought you were dead. I was looking for the thing that’s been killing women in Saffron.”
Ash blinked again.
“You’ve missed out on a lot in the past three months. I gather that it was Pikachu that saved you from the cavern? I thought I saw a Pikachu running while I was in Viridian forest.”
Pikachu yawned, exposing pearlescent teeth that glowed in the light of the setting sun.
“I do not remember. I was... indisposed at the time.”
“You mean dead.”
“Dead, alive... it is the same to me. Although death is infinitely more restful. Just darkness.”
“At any rate, feeders are everywhere. The public still doesn’t know what they are –they seem to think there’s a new epidemic of a blood-borne disease breaking out in Saffron- and people –women- are dying. And it’s by something new.”
“Not feeder, else I assume you would have blamed me for these killings, yes? And no doubt you would have done much more than shoot me in the head.”
Misty nodded, and Ash was struck by the mad light in her eyes.
“Whatever it is, it isn’t human or feeder or pokemon. Which begs the question- what is it?”
Ash said nothing.
A cold, foreboding memory curled in the back of his mind like an Arbok, but even so he said nothing.
He didn’t want there to be any more hate than there already was in her eyes.
In the alley, a woman screamed and screamed and screa-
The crunch of bone.
The splatter of blood –musical, visceral to his ears.
Her warm flesh in his teeth.
The spasms of her, thrashing, arching, resembling a woman caught in the throes of pleasure rather than death.
Except she was missing half her face.
The creature grinned.
He liked this city.
“The forest burnt down yesterday,” said Max, in reply to Misty’s lazy curiosity as she gazed out the window.
“The fire-fighters still don’t know what did it.”
Marill sniffed the air that filtered through the screened windows. Smoke, burnt leaf litter, the scent of pokemon dying... and something other.
The same thing she’d smelt on the bodies of the dead women. If you could call them bodies. Normal human corpses, even ones attacked by feeders, usually had more flesh, more bones, more shape...
“Hmm. I don’t think it was fire pokemon.” Misty turned away from the ashes of Viridian forest, and back to the kitchen table.
May was seated across from Ash, looking very uneasy.
Something about those dark, hooded eyes.
“You got any raw meat, Brock?”
“What for, Misty? I’ve got the stuff I feed to the Carvahna, but that’s about it...” Brock briefly disappeared inside the cavernous refrigerator, “Miltank steak. Why’d you ask?”
“Marill’s hungry, and I’m pretty sure Pikachu is too.”
Pikachu, who’d been eyeing the Magikarp swimming in one of the centre’s many tanks, nodded.
“Give them both about three pieces each. That should be enough till morning.”
“You know,” remarked Brock as he watched the two small pokemon divide the meat between them evenly, then lick the semi-congealed blood from the bowl, “most pokemon would fight over food. And most pokemon need to be fed only once a day.”
“Feeder pokemon are different. They are to normal pokemon as I am to you.”
Ash’s voice, as always, was low, husky and pain-filled.
“They are more vicious, more powerful... more everything than normal pokemon. And more bloodthirsty. Although Pikachu might control his baser instincts when around humans, this is not because I will it, nor because he is somehow noble. Merely because he is biding his time. The madness in Marill’s eyes, however, suggests that she is not used to such control. I surmise that the only reason any of you are still alive is because Misty wishes it so, and Marill still obeys her.”
His blank eyes met the horror-filled ones of May and Max.
“Remember this: Pikachu will do what I bid him. However, it has been a long time since I saw myself fit to order him. He does his own bidding now.”
Something akin to a smile, but infinitely sadder, spread over his dry, cracked lips.
“If he wishes to eat you, I will not stop him.”
“He wouldn’t dare. He mightn’t be able to die, but I can make him wish he was.”
The unspoken addition to her statement was that the same applied to Ash.
“No one’s eating anyone else. If Pikachu tried anything, he can see how he’ll fare against my Onix. And there’ll be no buckets of water to help this time,” added Brock firmly. “And the same goes for you, Ash: you try anything, you’re out.”
“I do not feed. And even were I to choose to do so –which I will not- you could not stop me.”
“As noble as you claim to be, you still look very... plump for a non-feeder,” hissed Misty.
“Not my choice.”
Misty rolled her eyes.
“So you say.”
Ash said nothing.
another body found in the alleys of
The news presenter shuffled her papers.
“Channel Seventeen wishes to alert viewers that the images about to be shown are of a graphically disturbing nature, and suggests that small children be prevented from watching.”
The pictures that flicked across the screen were of bodies.
Emphasis on the multiple.
Dozens, all missing at least one limb, body part and most of their skin.
Some appeared to be little more than bloody smears until one looked closely, upon which what seemed to be red jelly suddenly became something more sinister...
“Anyone who has information about these gruesome murders is requested to talk to the nearest Officer Jenny. Confidentiality is absolute and rewards will be offered.”
Once more the papers were shuffled.
“And now onto the sport news. In a decisive match, the Goldenrod Stantlers defeated the Cerulean Seakings twenty-seven to thirte-”
“Turn that off. Some of us are trying to eat.”
Ash did as Brock bid, clicking the small television off.
“I’m suddenly not hungry...” murmured Max, pushing away the dish in front of him.
May said nothing, eyes locked on Marill, who was watching her with a gaze she’d only seen on a wild Persian contemplating Magikarp.
Tendrils of saliva splattered onto the tablecloth.
Hands shaking, the girl brought a trembling glass of water to her lips, yelping and slopping most of it down her shirt when Marill grinned, exposing needle-thin, semi-translucent teeth.
Misty didn’t seem to notice, resting her arms on the empty space –apart from Marill- in front of her. As appetising as Brock’s food smelt, she couldn’t bring herself to eat any of it.
“Is there a particular reason behind you wanting to stop this killer, or is this part of your continued grudge against all feeders?”
Misty ignored him; Ash was not surprised.
“Not answering me gives me little information on which I can help you.”
“Why would you help me, Ketchum?” she asked, facing him, ablaze with anger. Once more, his name was spat out as though it left a bad taste in her mouth.
Good question. Is it because of guilt? Because of the half-hearted hope I hold that you will make good on your promise? Or is it because of the memory of who you once were to me?
Remembrance tingled up his spine.
Once I would have done anything to help you. Once I would have laid myself at your feet. Once I would have died for you, killed for you, gone to hell for you without a second thought. And now I can only do one of the three.
“Because I know who you used to be. Because you know who I used to be. Because of that memory, you made a promise you never fulfilled. Because of who I am, I broke a promise I made a long time ago. Because promises should not be forgotten. Because I am responsible.”
Misty didn’t gasp, didn’t reel back in shock.
Her eyes did narrow.
Her first thought was that although he was feeder, he was still claiming responsibility for others problems, like the old Ash Ketchum.
Her second thought remembered the misery in those dark, silent eyes- and the guilt. She’d barely noticed it; nothing more than a flicker amongst that darkness.
Her third thought understood.
He did this because of obligation. Because of promises. Because of words, whispered long ago in the darkness of a Zubat-littered cave.
-“I promise I won’t leave you in here. I promise you’ll never be scared when you’re with me.”
She snorted through her fear.
“Yeah, like you can stop whatever it is making that noise.” Amber eyes met blue.
“Still... I believe you Ash.”
“Well, Ketchum, you’d better start from the beginning. Judging by the lost looks on everybody else’s faces, they have no idea what’s going on.”
Feeders were made, not born.
They were made through murder, through blood spilt and unwillingly shared in darkness, by the clotting of copper ambrosia on another’s tongue.
Some were made by the bonding of blood, a kiss perverted by its use, but still a kiss...
No feeder was ever born.
NIR was spread by blood to blood contact, and any child born of a feeder would certainly be infected.
However, feeders did not have children.
NIR destroyed the reproductive capabilities of the infected individual, amongst other things; no feeder female could ever bear a child, no male feeder could ever sire one.
Unless certain, unseen conditions had been met in the turning of such a feeder.
In such a case, where the feeder had been turned in the exact cellular moment that they as a human would have become capable of producing offspring, creates a feeder that is fertile.
The Lady had, by some chance of fate, done so by accident. And never a fool, she soon put such a creature to good use.
There was a reason for feeder sterility; one that went beyond the purely scientific reasoning of the infection that caused feeder tendencies in pokemon and human alike.
When any resulting pregnancies –forced upon captive human women- came to fruition, something other was born:
Not human. Not pokemon. Not feeder.
“What do you mean ‘worse’?” asked May.
“Vicious. Bloodthirsty. Undead.”
“Sounds like any other feeder to me.”
Ash ignored her and continued. “Unbeatable. Unstoppable.”
“That’s not good,” murmured Max.
“No, it is not. A creature borne of feeder blood is not just a feeder; they are something more. They are stronger, tougher, faster, and they grow at an accelerated rate. A feeder-spawned creature ages at eight times the normal rate of a human being.”
The blank looks around the table forced him to elaborate further.
“They are capable of reaching maturity in less than two years. And they can reproduce.”
“So,” said Misty with a falsely bright tone, “you mean we have a demon-like creature running around Saffron that is capable of reaching sexual maturity in less than two years since it was born? Just great,” hissed Misty. “Got any other good news, Ketchum?”
“It is more than two years old.”
Ash’s tone was flat, bland, masking whatever emotions he surely felt.
Misty drew in a hiss of a breath.
“Well, at least there’s only one. It can’t reproduce by itself.”
Ash sighed despairingly; an emotion so alien to a creature such as him the others took notice.
“There is more.”
Misty closed her eyes, waiting for what she knew would come.
“‘It’ is not an it; there were more than one.”
Misty winced. The flatness in his tone could only mean there was still more.
The resulting silence weighed on him heavily, but he pressed on, knowing that the next words would earn him nothing but damnation.
I wonder if she will kill me quickly, or drag it out...
“And I sired them.”
The Lady had used her prize stud well.
Seventy-two women had been used; of those, thirty-six had been impregnated; of those twelve had carried to full term.
Four feeder-spawn were born dead; three smothered by their mothers before the Lady’s hand maidens could take them away; two died shortly after birth.
Two females, one male.
All three escaped the clutches of the Lady upon her death; her court –what little that had survived of it- had fallen to shambles, cages in the depths of their nightclub emptied into the streets.
The feeder-spawn had fled into the sewers, made their way to the sprawling metropolis of Saffron; twice as large as Indigo and twice as crime-ridden.
And, as the creatures had not eaten anything other than their mothers’ corpses and the occasional scraps they had been thrown by the Lady’s followers, they began to hunt.
And to feed.
“She kept them in cages. Fed them every now and then. A metabolism like theirs... they needed more food then they were given. So they were always hungry. And... I think they got loose.”
“How? They were in cages-”
“When the Lady died, the court would have fallen to shambles. This I know. Chaos would have descended, and those fool-feeders that had not died would have set them free.”
Ash closed his eyes.
“That would have been quite some time ago... months, maybe? And as fast as those things grow...”
“They’ve reached maturity now, haven’t they.”
Misty’s voice clenched hard to the statement she delivered and rang like steel.
They’re fertile, aren’t they?”
Again, the same defeated answer: “Yes.”
“How many, what genders?”
“Two female. One male. And with feeders, interbreeding does not matter.”
The others had fallen silent long ago. This conversation was just between them now, a warring that none of them understood or could prevent.
Even the feeder-pokemon had lost interest, Pikachu still curled up on the couch, Marill still lazing on the table, occasionally sending hungry glances at May.
Distantly, the clock chimed eleven-thirty.
“We –that is, humanity in general- are fucked. Royally and utterly.”
“I don’t suppose you know of a way to stop those things?”
Ash shook his head, ragged hair sliding over his shoulders, loosely clad in an old shirt of Brock’s that was far too big.
“That does not mean there is not a way. I am sure that they were created for a purpose.”
“So what if they were made for a reason? The Lady was homicidal. Any reason she had was psychopathic.”
“If they were created for a purpose, upon completion of that purpose, they would be destroyed. I know- knew The Lady. I know how her mind worked.”
Pikachu, up until now still, sprang into a half-crouch, hissing at the barred, bolted and curtained windows.
Marill jerked off the table, screeching silently at the window, fur erect and rippling with shivers.
The window, for its part, did not move; not a whisper of air disturbed the curtain.
Ash froze, head jerking upright and nostrils flaring. His eyes flooded with shadow, akin to ink spilling through water.
“Feeder,” he breathed, eyes heavily dilated and breath rasping past semi-parted lips.
It was a rather eerie sight.
Misty closed her eyes, letting other senses besides vision take over.
Nothing but the quiet rasp of Ash’s breathing, and the kneading of May’s hands in the tablecloth could be heard.
The air stank of feeder; Ash, herself, the two pokemon were all wreathed in that bitter, sickly cloying scent of burning sugar...
And a thin trickle of it seeped through the crack where the window joined the sill, soaking into the curtain like blood on gauze...
An explosion of movement and sound, and the hot spice of blood in the air.
Brock dragged Max and May under the table as Ash slammed the chair back, ripped his hand through curtain and window, bars and bolts bending with unwilling groans, and tore the throat of the feeder outside with fingernails chipped, short but impossibly sharp.
Glass tinkled to the floor, splashing into the growing puddle at Ash’s feet.
Bloody to the wrists, he dragged the thin, ragged corpse inside, watched it thrash, and smiled in grim satisfaction.
“Spy,” he grunted. “Sent after you, most likely. No doubt you stepped on one too many feeder toes.”
“Spy or assassin?” asked Misty, drawing Max and May out from under the table. Brock clambered out, wrapping his strong arms around a shaking May. Max just looked nauseous at the blood on the carpet, the walls, the window...
“Both. Pikachu, clean it up.”
It wasn’t a pretty sight.
The curtains were torn and fluttered raggedly. Brock was already musing over the price of new ones, plus new glass plating for the windows, new bars and bolts, and the dry cleaning bill for the carpet, which thanks to Pikachu and Marill’s combined efforts was now a faded muddy brown.
“I would not worry about the furnishings. If they know she is here, they know who you are and that you are all human. Easy pickings.”
Brock’s eyes narrowed further, insofar as they were able to.
“Meaning...” there was a dangerous rumble to his tone, much like the growl of a volcano shortly before it became ex-dormant.
“If they know where you live, you are a target. And believe me, you would not last long against a feeder. You might manage to knock it out, but it will wake eventually, and it will follow you, strike when you not only least suspect, but when you do not suspect at all and there is nothing you can do to prevent your death.”
Ash scuffed broken glass with a bare foot, heedless of the new wounds on his feet.
“I suggest you run. Not hide, because you cannot hide from them. And you cannot hope to fight back.”
Misty glanced over at Brock.
“Sorry, Brocko. Didn’t realise they’d follow me.”
“Whatever. You two, go pack.” He added, nodding at Max and May.
“No time,” murmured Ash, staring out the hole where the window had once been. “They are already here.”
May had only seen a few horror movies, mostly when Brock or her brother wanted to give her a scare. They’d specialised in zombie movies, legions of undead stalking, screeching, storming buildings and devouring their victims on screen...
Even so, nothing she had seen prepared her for this.
For starters, the feeders crowded on their lawn did not shamble, or rock from side to side, or even twitch. They were perfectly still; macabre garden gnomes lining the grass, the driveway, the sidewalk.
Secondly, they made not a sound. No moans, no groans, not a single murmur.
Lastly, they did not bother to hide, but stood watching them with malice lining their toothy maws.
She shivered and backed away from the window.
Even though Ash had explained they had little time, she’d still packed the bare essentials: a coat, some clean underwear, a first-aid kit, some rations and her pokéballs. She wasn’t facing masses of the undead without her Blaziken.
“If we go out the front, they will swarm us. If we leave through the back, I guarantee those who have surrounded the centre will attack. They do nothing now because we amuse them, because we –or you- are little more than toys.”
“‘you’?” quoted Max, “what do they think you are?” Fear lent a sneer to his words.
“I am a threat. To be removed as soon as possible.”
He turned back to the window, ignoring the shivers that broke over Max at the sight of those cold, implacable, insatiable eyes.
“I am the feeder that feeds on his own. I am the one that laps at the blood of my brethren. I am the bringer of lightning, the one who wanders in the sun of my own free choice. I am The Lady’s pet, her toy, her tool.”
Max felt sweat trickle down his temples. Was it just him, or were his shoes damp?
A faint mewl of terror escaped trembling lips as he realised his shoes were wet not because of his lack of bladder control, but because he was standing in a puddle of Marill’s drool as she regarded the masses spread before them.
“Pika,” he whispered, and sparks earthed themselves at Ash’s feet.
“How do we escape if they’ve got us surrounded?” asked Brock, a lot calmer than he felt, and still ignoring the words Ash had spoken in that soft-as-death voice.
“We go up and out,” explained Misty, hefting a satchel onto her shoulders. “Through the roof, and onto the next one.”
“What about the neighbours?” asked May, trembling. “Shouldn’t we warn the-”
“They’re probably already dead May.” Said Misty quietly, climbing onto the table, and swinging a chair to send plaster raining down.
Brock gave a pained sigh as the home he had lived in for more than five years was torn apart by Misty’s questing fingers, as she tore layer upon layer of insulation.
Dust rained down, staining orange hair grey, but Misty ignored it.
“Ash? I don’t suppose you could give me a hand?” sarcasm laced her tone like venom in honey.
“They are focusing their attention on me. If I move, they will attack. Best I stay here until I have to move.”
“Makes sense... alrighty, I’ll go first. Max, you next, then May, then Brock. Pikachu and Ash, you bring up the rear.”
Marill scrambled into the hole in the roof through to the tiles, and smashed them apart with an ice beam. Chunks of frozen masonry rained down, thumping onto the table and smashing plates.
Brock could not help but protest.
“Those were handmade!”
Even so, the older man boosted Max into the ceiling, and onto the roof. Misty caught him by the collar, dragging him onto the remaining tiles.
He shivered in the crisp night air, even in one of Brock’s old jackets.
Misty didn’t appear to notice the chill- her skin was as smooth as ever, even clad as she was in singlet and jeans.
May thumped onto the tiles next, trembling from something other than the cold.
Brock hauled himself up, ignoring the chill bite of the stone roof, and scanned the view in front of him.
The nearest house was a few metres away, a distance easily jumped, but feeders swarmed the ground.
“I thought they were all in Indigo and Saffron,” whispered Ash.
Max jumped, and almost fell off the roof. Quick reflexes on Misty’s part preventing him from becoming feeder-chow, and the much-abused collar was once more dragged back, bringing the rest of Max with it.
“Hold this,” said Misty, slamming the boy into Brock’s arms.
“If you’re up here, who’s down-” she began, turning to Ash.
Misty flinched as she felt light sear into her retinas, blinding her and turning everything grey.
The sizzle of electricity scorched the air and she heard screams- animalistic and guttural.
“Oh, gods, Max...” muttered Brock and pushed the boy away from him.
The reason his shoes were wet this time had nothing to do with Marill.
Pikachu was having a ball.
It was rare that he got the chance to attack with abandon these days; the last time he’d shocked someone had been weeks ago.
All that pent up energy had to go somewhere; lightning bolts earthing themselves on the corpses in front of him.
Breathing corpses, but corpses none the less.
Blood splattered his fur as another feeder streaked towards him and into the waiting net of electricity.
A sound like a steak thrown into an electric shredder was made, and tiny fragments of bone and flesh sprayed the driveway.
Pikachu ran, blurring into a furred, crackling cannon ball.
Feeder bodies toppled as he slammed into them, burrowed through such weak barriers as bone and flesh, and burst out in a haze of blood.
A few landed blows, fur flew and patches of raw skin were exposed as feeder claws raked the small pokemon. Pikachu grinned through the pain, and felt the sizzle and burn as another bolt exploded from him.
This was fun...
Run. Leap. Thump.
“What about Pikachu?” hissed Misty as they landed.
Run. Leap. Thump.
“He will be fine,” murmured Ash, once more launching himself into the air.
The roar of lightning behind Misty more than sated what little fears she’d had.
Run. Leap. Thump. Crackle.
A wooden beam, half-rotted with age, gave way under his sudden weight, and would’ve sent him spiralling into the dark of yet another deserted home had not Misty snatched his flailing hand.
“Don’t waste your breath. You’re the best chance I have of protecting them,” she added, jerking her head back to the following figures of Max, May and Brock, “and if I lose you, we’re done for.”
Run. Leap. Thump.
Run. Leap. Thump.
Run. Leap. Thump.
Lightning split the sky, and footsteps echoed with the crackle of electricity as Pikachu –shaking the blood of fallen foes out of his fur- streaked ahead of them.
Marill grinned. She’d seen the fireworks, and thought they were rather pretty.
May, who’d been struggling to keep up, risked a glance backwards, and immediately wished she hadn’t.
If she hadn’t, she mightn’t have fainted at the sight of her once-home, now a scorched mess, littered with the bodies –which slowly pieced themselves together- of feeders, and the driveways and streets strewn with the corpses of the townsfolk.
Knees buckling, the girl slid sideways with the same slow gravity of a train wreck.
“May!” cried Max.
Ash grunted, leapt and turned in mid-air, skidded over the tiles, scooped up the falling body, and hefted the unconscious human onto his back in a brief flurry of movement.
“You two keep running. Do not slow; do not stop. I will take her. Follow Misty- if you lose her, head to the mountains.”
Brock nodded, gritted his teeth at the sight of his hometown, and ran, slipping on wet tiles, but chasing the figure ahead which rapidly disappeared into the late-night haze.
And so they did now, cold precipices casting deep shadows as the small group reached them, running as though the demons of hell snapped at their heels.
Which they did, in a sense.
Misty was panting, breath coming in jagged gasps, which meant the others behind her fared worse.
Max had long since passed out, sinking to his knees before being slung over Brock’s shoulder.
The older man was soaked in sweat; adrenaline and fear had lent him speed, but had drained him of energy.
“No more,” he rasped, slumping against the cool stone of the mountain, “no more. I can’t go any further, and Max’s out cold. We gotta stop, Misty, and give Ash and May a chance to catch up.”
Unwillingly Misty stopped, frantic footsteps ceasing for now.
Somewhere in the mist that cloaked them, Ash ran- she could hear his footsteps, and the whistled rasp of his breath.
A faint, inappropriate smirk tweaked her lips.
Even at full strength, even as a full-blooded feeder, she’d managed to outrun him. The fact that he was laboured with a passenger meant nothing.
Marill, skidding out of the mist ahead, chirruped.
She’d found a cave, small, secluded- the perfect place to lick their wounds.
“Just a little further, Brock. A little further, then we can stop.”
Lower in the valley, she could hear the faint howls of the feeders.
But here, cloaked as they were in the mist, the mountains, and the permeable scent of the ashes of Viridian forest, they would not be found.
Ash laid May down gently onto the stone floor, surprising Misty with his tenderness.
“I do not like hurting people.” He explained to her questing look. “Just because I am good at it does not mean that I enjoy it.”
This was mostly true.
The child Ash Ketchum had been gentle, and although prone to anger, his quick temper dissipated soon after flaring into life. He wished no harm to anyone, bar those that he felt deserved it.
A righteous child, Ash Ketchum.
And now, Ash Ketchum the monster, still righteous even though his honour was slightly twisted and dark, stained by his tortured teens.
Brock, slumped in the corner, raised his head from the cool stone of the wall, cheeks sticky with sweat.
“Is she hurt?” he rasped, throat parched.
“No. I cannot smell blood. She is fine. Tired, scared, overwhelmed, but fine.”
Brock closed his eyes.
“Good,” he mumbled, and slipped into sleep.
Max was already snoring on the floor beside him.
Although the cave –more of a niche within the mountain side- was cold and damp, it was well lit by the glow emanating from a snoozing Pikachu, who rested with ears in disarray and one paw slung lazily over a distended belly. Obviously he’d eaten too much and needed to sleep it off.
Marill snorted at the ridiculousness of the other pokémon’s situation, and curled up next to him.
“Don’t get too comfy, Marill,” muttered Misty, not exactly liking this affection that had sprung up between the pair.
“He’s going to die, eventually.”
Ash flinched at that.
“Pikachu has done nothing to harm you. You owe me my death, but leave him alone.”
“I owe you nothing,” hissed Misty, itching to fight even though her limbs ached and sweat trickled down her spine.
Ash sighed, loose strands of sable hair fluttering in the sudden gust.
“As you wish. But you broke your promise.”
“So did you.” she spat, eyes iridescent with the promise of violence.
Ash looked away. He did not like seeing her as she was now; some small part of him wondered if it would’ve been better for her to have died at The Lady’s hands, rather than continue existence as this not-human not-feeder creature, gifted with the malice of both.
Another fragment of his psyche, buried, weakened and forgotten but still there, thrust the idea away before it could sprout and take root.
There were some things that Ash Ketchum, feeder or not, could just not do.
Harming her was one of them.
“That is true; here is your chance to mete out whatever justice you feel I deserve. I will not stop you.”
She looked away; not the reaction he expected.
“I can’t,” she muttered. “I need you to help me with them.” She jerked her head at the three sleeping figures.
“I couldn’t live with myself if they got into more trouble then they already are,” She whispered, and the tenderness in her tone sent... something... shivering down his spine, “especially if it was because of me. They’re all I have left.”
They’re my last ties to the girl I once was was an unspoken addition.
The blandness in his tone jerked her out of her reverie; his eyes were blank charcoal.
A quiet moment passed, stretched and grew uncomfortable.
“We need a fire. I will get wood.”
He slid into the mist-streaked night, not glancing back.
He didn’t trust himself to.
The air smelt like fire.
May twitched, opening gummed eyes slowly.
Beside her, Max stirred but did not wake. Brock did not move at all, continuing to slumber.
She sniffed again.
No, not fire. Smoke. And... fish?
“Tell me, where did you get fish in the mountains?” she asked, sleep smudging her voice.
Misty shrugged, lifted one of the many staked fillets from the glowing fire, and passed it to her.
“Ask him. He was the one that found them.”
She jerked her head to the seated figure at the back of the cave, lurking in shadows.
“How typical. A vampire in shadows,” she muttered, even as she took the proffered morsel.
“I dislike the sun. And I am not a vampire. And to answer your question, there was a small stream in a valley not far from here.”
His sentences came out fast and smooth, like an Ekans tongue.
May shuddered reflexively. Something about that soft-as-ashes voice freaked her out...
She could only see the shadows of his face from here. his eyes appeared to be closed. Neither he nor Misty appeared to be eating any of the sizzling morsels that lined the small fire, staked on fragments of wood.
“You aren’t eating?” she asked, regretting the words as soon as she said them.
He’s a feeder. What do you
think he eats?
“No. I cannot digest human food.”
“Oh.” She took a tentative bite of the fish. It was slightly burnt, and small bones poked her tongue. “Why not you, Misty?”
“I’m not eating, May, because I’m not hungry.”
This was true; she hadn’t been hungry for some time now. This worried her a little; with all the energy she was using, shouldn’t she feel hungry?
But nonetheless, she could not bring herself to raise food to her mouth; she knew she would
not swallow, and what taste she derived from such a thing was nothing but dust.
She started from her thoughts when she felt May brush past her.
“It’s morning, right?” said May, not noticing Misty’s eyes following her.
“You could call it that, yes,” said Ash dryly. “It is a quarter past nine.”
May blinked, turning to fix him with startled eyes.
“D’you have an internal clock or something? How the hell d’you know that?”
Ash jerked his head in the direction of her sleeping brother, and the glowing watch that adorned his wrist.
Ash rolled his eyes; a gesture so human Misty felt something twist in her chest.
May, who’d been staring out into the inky, mist-cloaked darkness, was struck by another thought.
“If it’s morning...” she began slowly, “...then why is it dark out?”
A wave of foreboding passed over Misty.
Behind her, Pikachu battled a night-terror, furred ears twitching and sharp teeth bared.
“This isn’t good,” she whispered, seized by genuine fear for the first time since she had half-turned.
Silently, Ash agreed with her.
Darkness flowed over the valley like ink through water- staining everything it touched.
As well acquainted with the dark as Ash was, even the deepest shadow held no fear for him.
This unnatural night, however...
“What’s making it so dark?” whispered Max, tone curbed by fear. Brock couldn’t answer, and scowled down at the slightly burnt fish kebab clenched in his brown fist.
“I dunno. It’s been like this since early morning. Misty slunk off into it with Marill, and we haven’t seen her since.”
“She’d better come back. I don’t want to be alone with that thing,” hissed Brock, jerking a spiky-haired head in Ash’s direction.
The feeder ignored him.
Pikachu had disappeared into the shadows also; no doubt loathe to loose sight of Marill, his enemy/ally/emergency snack/potential mate.
No stars dotted the sky. No clouds blanketed the sun.
In fact, neither sky nor sun could be seen.
Just heavy, blanketing shadow.
His children –for lack of a better word- were behind this; that Ash was sure of.
How, why or what was needed to stop them were thoughts less certain.
“You said you ‘sired’ those things.”
Brock’s eyes, already narrow, deepened into slits.
“Why?” emphasis was added by his jabbing at the air with a wooden skewer.
“Because I had no choice,” sighed Ash. “The Lady’s prize stud I was, and she used me well.”
“You can’t rape a man, Ash.” Snorted Brock.
“Actually, yes, you can. Trust me on this, human.”
His voice started out bitterly cheerful, descending into a snarl.
“I was her plaything, her toy, her pet.” Ash spat the word, and growled at the taste left in his mouth. “I was used to warm her bed, and when she grew tired of me, used as other things- assassin, spy, hunter... I was her tool. And then she realised my potential, she forced me to do more, things I had no wish to do. But to argue was to be broken. And I broke.”
Something alien flashed in those dark eyes.
Anger. Despair. Disgust.
His voice cracked.
“I tried to stop, wanted control, to wrest it away from her... and all the while they bled beneath me. Nails scraping away at my skin. Screaming... and then woeful silence. I could not stop.”
May’s third fish-kebab slid off its skewer and into the dust of the cave floor as she stared, agape.
Ash’s words descended into broken fragments, maddeningly significant to the others in their sudden, gleaned understanding of the feeder-not-feeder who stood before them.
“Three days chained to a wall. Rattata poison in water. Thankful smiles laced with poisoned sorrow. Pikachu beaten, bleeding. Disgraced. Four weeks in the dungeon. Painted with their blood. Then sunlight. A new task- and then an alley way. A woman screaming. Her. I could not not help...”
Silence, oppressive as the dark, hung in the air.
Ash turned back to the cave entrance, seated himself on a boulder.
The fire crackled.
No one said anything, because, in truth, nothing could be said.
She could hear them, even if she couldn’t see them.
Not to mention the foul stink of them, carried to her by the wind. They were heading away from the mountains, to the ocean.
It mightn’t be her city anymore, but sure as hell she wouldn’t let it die like Pewter.
“C’mon, you two. We gotta move.”
Marill chirruped an agreement, Pikachu nodded.
She didn’t know why it’d left Ash to follow her, but most likely it had something to do with Marill.
“And you can keep your lecherous paws to yourself.”
The look of injured innocence given to her by the small, golden pokemon was perfect, were it not for the toothy, grinning maw.
“Why Cerulean? You haven’t been there in years, Misty.”
“I was there last week, May. Seems the wharves have been taken over. Found a nest of feeders living there.”
She smiled at Marill, cleaning the blood off her fur.
“At least, they were living there.”
Pikachu nudged Ash’s bare foot, and the feeder stood with a groan of aching muscles.
“You’ll lead the way. You’ve got better vision than I have. I won’t bother to threaten you, because you know you’re standing on thin ice already.”
Ash gave no sign he’d heard her, but tore the sleeves from his oversized shirt. The denim of his borrowed jeans ripped easily, strips of fabric fluttering to the ground, leaving Ash more than half-naked.
Misty seemed less perturbed than curious.
A blur of dirty gold, and the sound of rending flesh.
Blood soaking into fabric.
“And the point of that self-mutilation was...?” she asked dryly.
“My blood is pure feeder. The scent is strong. There are four strips.”
“I get it!” said Max, leaping off the ground with a little too much enthusiasm and cracking his head on a stalactite. “We wear one, and we’ll smell like a feeder. If any of those things come across us, it’ll fool ‘em.”
Ash winced slightly as the skin on his arm closed over the tooth marks.
“No. feeder-spawn will not be fooled. Feeders, on the other hand, will be.”
“But why one for Misty? Isn’t she a...” Max’s voice trailed off at the look in Misty’s eyes. It spoke, very loudly, of slow, painful death if the one who was talking continued that sentence.
“No. She smells... other. Not human, not feeder. Too noticeable in the strangeness of it. Best she masks herself.” Answered Ash, not at all intimidated by the woman’s murderous gaze.
Pikachu sniffed at the air, agreeing with its one-time trainer.
“We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t leave soon.”
Misty snatched at the cloth, and headed for the velvet dark of the world outside.
“You and Pikachu better lead the way.”
May fought down the urge to claw at Brock’s hand.
The older man’s grip was too tight, but for now she put up with it, aware that to let go of him was to break the chain and to loose both herself and Max into the cloying darkness.
Gone was the mist that had clung to rocky crevices; gone was the faintly phosphorous glow of the seams of moonstone in the mountain walls.
Still present, though, was the tumbling rattle of small pebbles as they skidded into the canyon they now bordered.
The faint glow Pikachu gave off, perched as he was on Ash’s shoulders, only made the dark around them thicker, stronger.
In May’s mind, it already reached tendrils out to her, searching, seeping blackness that only sought to drag her into the abyss her sneakered feet so narrowly avoided...
A reassuring squeeze to her hand from Max chased away the nameless fear that gripped her, and once more she continued on, taking step after blind step into the mountains.
The unnatural night lifted imperceptibly, fading into the dying light of an afternoon.
Neither May, Max nor Brock dared look behind them.
Misty did so once, and saw nothing.
Not a dark barrier, not the mountains, not the corpse of Pewter city.
She shivered despite herself.
“Misty feeder-killer afraid? That is new,” murmured Ash, his grip still tight and hot on her hand.
“If it wouldn’t ruin the only chance of survival they had, I’d push you into the valley behind us.”
“Only if you could find your way in the dark.”
That was true; only Ash had been able to see more than three feet ahead of him in the cloaked mountains. This peculiarity led Misty to believe that the darkness had been placed with him in mind- both a lure and a trap.
But how had the feeder-spawn known she would follow to Cerulean also?
“They did not. They sort to trap you in the knowledge I would follow. If anything, you were the bait, not the mystery of the dark or the impending destruction of Cerulean. I could care less for the deaths of humans.”
This statement was untrue; Misty could feel the lie in Ash’s words even as he spoke them.
Ash Ketchum could never let an innocent suffer.
For now though, she let him believe it.
The thought that she was his bait would not occur to her much, much later.
Pikachu chuffed happily. He hadn’t liked that cloying, grabbing dark; it stank of feeder-spawn and human flesh, and left a bitter aftertaste with every breath.
Marill skittered to the ground, claws careful not to dig into her trainer’s skin, and padded ahead to the cliff ledge.
A forlorn whine split the measured silence.
The sea, even from this distance and in this dim light, glowed silver-blue. Impossibly alluring to Marill, who hadn’t been near it for so long...
“Rill!” she chirped, skidding down the rocky slope with carefree abandon, heedless of the dark behind them and the danger in front of them, the humans watching her with puzzled faces, the laughter of Pikachu, or the admonishment in her trainer’s tone.
Ash smiled warily. The expression seemed so out of place on that mouth.
“Well, Marill’s chosen the way down for us. C’mon.”
Slowly, they picked their way down the slope.
Not one noticed the bloody gleam on the far-off seas surface as the dying sun sank into its cold embrace.
The feeder-spawn, the eldest by mere hours, grinned.
The old gym stank of algae, rot and disrepair, but that was not what had caused such a maniacal, capricious grin.
Rather, it was the yelp-whine-squeal of the first of his descendants dragging in a breath that cheered him.
The blood that heralded the birth of its first nephew-son splashed onto the dirty, chipped tiles, lapping at the feet of his sister-mate, who howled in pain as another contraction coiled her abdomen like barbed wire.
Another wet, struggling form slithered to the floor, this a daughter-niece, her lusty cries as loud as her brother-cousins.
In the shadows of the shuttered windows, the feeders fell silent as the ones that would replace them as mankind’s most potent predator screamed for blood.
For many among them, the fear that swept through them was a new sensation, and an unwelcome one at that.
The eldest laughed.
“Let him come,” he whispered. “Let him come.”
END PART ONE
END NOTE: part two should be up some time soon, assuming I finish it. Any suggestions are welcome.
Reviews are always appreciated.