=Chapter 5=

By Sylph Knight
Back to Introduction

Duplica swallowed. “Kill us b-? What!?” She began to back away from the netherworld creatures. “Me, too? Why!?”

     The demon that had once been Rainer moved to the front of the advance, serrated maw spread in a wide, malicious grin. “Why?” He returned her query, an ironic edge coming through his husky tone, “Why not!” A small sliver of acidic drool laced its way down his lower lip and fell to the floor, sizzling on the hard pavement. “You’re here, all alone, with only yourself to protect you.”

     “You’re a fool, Mimique,” The fiery-maned chimera hissed gleefully. “Did you actually think The Shadow would allow you to come away from this…alive?”

     Duplica held her gun level and pulled the trigger, but an instant before the mechanism made contact with essential components, a beam of green laser sliced her pistol in half. She screamed, in surprise and anger, dropping the smoldering weapon to the floor.

     “You should have known better than that by now!” The re-animated body of Commander Hawk chided scornfully. His Jaguar’s barrel was still smoking.

     “And now you will share the fate you thought you would escape.” The Pyro chimera growled. His grinning maw drooled profusely in anticipation.

     Sparky shambled casually at Rainer’s side, “I admit, I have always admired women with your qualities. It will be a pleasure to devour your soul!”

     “No!” Duplica shrieked, “Get away from me! Damn you! We had a deal!”

     Rainer snorted his indifference. “The Shadow never keeps its promises…not to the living!”
     And with that, they all converged upon her, claws extended and teeth bared.

     Duplica instantly darted to the right, trying to get around her betrayers via a small opening in their ranks. She shot forward, a streak of silver, barely perceptible as she sped up the wall. But something dark and solid met her advance, catching Duplica by complete surprise as she plowed obliviously into it. Winded, Mimique lost her focus and went hurtling back the way she’d come. Her stricken form catapulted into the door beside Griffin, a deluge of icy salt water following after. Duplica hit the barrier with a metallic thud and a chorus of painfully audible crunches.

     “Heh. Nice try.” Rainer scoffed.

     The Mistress of Disguise lay where she’d fallen, immobilized as both broken cybernetic and organic components failed inside her busted, sea-soaked frame. She tried to move, but her body wouldn’t respond. She stared blankly at the ceiling, winsome face lanced with shock. It’s over, she heard a voice say, you’ve lost!

     “Ditto!” Duplica’s Pokèmon cried in rage as it flung itself at its mistress’ assailants.
     A torrent of fire and lightning lanced into its adroit, pink form. It screamed, a distressing wail that made the hallway shudder as it fell back upon the floor, an oozing, whimpering mass of charred jelly.

“So,” Sparky quipped, returning his attention to their original prey. He rubbed his massive, clawed hands together briskly. “Do we penetrate her body before or after it dies?”

     “I say…” Rainer scratched his jutting chin thoughtfully for a moment, “Ah, what the hell! Let’s just do it all at the same time!”

     “Orgy buffet!” Sparky roared.

     “I call ribs!” Pyro chimed with malicious glee.

     Rainer smirked. “Tough luck, hecklers! Seniority first!” He shoved the other two creatures to the side, “Let someone who’s been around show you amateurs how it’s done!”
     With slow, deliberate movements, he leaned over Duplica’s fallen body. “This has been a long time coming!” the chimera growled in her ear.

     “Go to Hell!” Duplica whispered back weakly.

     Rainer nuzzled one of the proportionate mounds on her chest. “Not today!” he answered with cruel glee. His jaws spread wide to devour her right shoulder.

     Before he could take a bite, however, something wet and sticky hurtled into him, leaving a green and red smear across his coal-black face.

* * * * * * *

Samurai and Giselle ran for dear life. Ahead of them, the tunneled passage they had previously been traversing in the opposite direction stretched on before them, a seemingly endless stretch of metal and concrete. Close behind, they could hear the raspy breathing of their pursuers.

     Shinji redrew his side arm and pumped a few blind rounds over his shoulder. Diabolical screams echoed through the hollow passage, followed by shrieks of rage. The sound of massive claws scraping on stone intensified. Together, he and Giselle emptied their sheet-metal cartridges, true shots in the dark that somehow managed to meet their mark. The sounds of pursuit ceased as dying shrieks subsided into bloody gurgles. Drawing their alternative weapons, they stopped and turned, spent pistols ejecting expended cylinder caps.

     Samurai adjusted the night vision on his Elite issue shades (now he understood why all the agents wore a pair). A few feet away, the torn bodies of two black, reptilian-like creatures lay in a tangle of grotesquely twisted limbs and dark oozing fluid. One was nearly shredded to ribbons, its smoldering flesh exposed to the bone where the hail of metal shards had eaten away its scaly hide. Its head and wings were completely sawn off. The other was missing its whole left side, but was otherwise intact. Its voice gurgled in its throat, limbs twitching weakly.
     Re-sheathing his sword, and loading another ammunition cylinder into his gun, Samurai cautiously approached the fallen demon. Its spike-studded jaws hung open to reveal rows of needle-like teeth, coated with clear green liquid. Looking down upon the defeated creature, Shinji peered into its vacant, milky eyes.
     The false membranes suddenly slid back, revealing a bright pair of heavily veined, crimson orbs. The demon hissed and began to roll onto its side.
     Stepping back, Samurai expended his gun's fresh cartridge, ventilating the rising demon's cranium through the backside. Satisfied, he returned to Giselle, loading his third tube.
     Despite what Ashura or anyone else thought, he could feel the energy of living things, and he could determine the nature of their chi. These creatures did not possess anything at all.
     Samurai shuddered. They had never lived.
     "We must leave this place." He said gravely.

     Giselle nodded. "I think I agree."

     Turning, they both continued their hasty flight. There would be no need to look for survivors. Shinji already knew they would not find any. Gypsum Hall was a tomb.

* * * * * * *

"Hellfire barrage, now!" Ash barked, snapping another cartridge into his own sheet-dispensing gun and bringing it swiftly to bear.

     "I don't know what that means!" Misty barked back.

     "Just shoot!" Ash wailed, exasperated. His plea was immediately rewarded as beside him, Misty’s gun crackled noisily to life.

     Several glowing rounds of plasmatic discharge went hurtling by in a series of well-aimed shots. The first few firebombs soundly dispatched demon number one, who took the brunt of the attack, full charge, and was reduced to all but a pile of soggy, smoldering ruins. Three others immediately leapt around its fallen form, darting away from the deadly fireflies with relative ease. They advanced, quicker than Misty could follow.
     “Ash!” She cried.

     “I got’em! Pikachu! Light the candles!” Ketchum relayed, sending a wide stream of nails into the demons’ midst.

     “Pika-CHUU!!” The mouse Pokèmon cried as he let loose a deadly Thunder attack. Without fail, the current found its way into the dark horde, guided by the flying shards of steel that buried themselves in the grotesque, black flesh.
     Pikachu continued his volley until, with a final shriek, the netherworld beings erupted into a shower of smoking cinders, and died.

     Misty and Ash stood by each other, Pikachu between them as they all surveyed the carnage. The smell death hung heavy in the air, mixed with the aroma of burnt meat.

     “Well, that was pretty freaky.” Misty concluded dryly.

     “I don’t think ‘freaky’ is enough to describe this,” Ash retorted, “This place is dead; Hell on Earth.”

     They both turned as the door they’d jammed took a sharp blow from the other side. Several dents protruded from the steel barrier, and then the frame itself began to fail.
     “Great. Time for round two.” Ash muttered sarcastically.

     He and Misty made a dash for their rifles. Taking hold of the heavier artillery, they backed away again, barrels leveled at the banging door.

     “I don’t think this situation is salvageable.” Ash called above the clamor.

     “Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, does it,” Misty replied archly, “Let’s just torch this place and get thu’eck out!”

     Ash smiled in spite of himself. “Just what I was hoping to hear!” Leaning over the rail, he switched his plasma cannon to life and then set the charge for overload. “Pikachu, help Misty hold the fort while I buy us a ticket outta here!”


     “What are you doing?” Misty yelled.

     “I’m going to feed this hunk a’ junk a napalm jelly sandwich!” He pointed into the chasm, alternately holding his weapon securely as its muzzle began to glow. “Hopefully, it’ll hit something vital and give this musty old den the best ventilation it’s had in half a century!”

     “Sounds pretty good! This place reeks!”

     “Pika-chu!” the Pokèmon agreed heartily, wrinkling his tiny nose.

     “Yeah! Just make sure someone doesn’t try to put a slug through my head again! I don’t have anything on it!”

     “Ha! And I thought you were going to protect me!”

     Ash shrugged. “I’ve got our only ‘Ol Betsy!” he remarked pointedly, patting his weapon, “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours!”

     “Friendship on condition, eh!”

     “Sometimes, that’s the best arrangement you can hope for!”

     “Ash,” Misty paused for moment. The banging on the door continued. She was surprised it hadn’t given way yet.

     Ash looked over his shoulder, “Yes!?”

     Misty whirled around. Sure enough, creeping silently along the dilapidating rail, several dark shapes were making their way around from the other side of the generators. “Ash!” She turned to face the other half of the balcony. She went pale. Another group of dark shapes was making its way along that side too! “Ash, look out!”

     Ash glanced up and cursed. “Pikachu!” he roared, “Take out the little black-riding-hoods over there! Misty, pop the flying monkeys over that way!”

     She didn’t need to be told twice. Misty brought her rifle back around and took aim at the first dark shape on the railing. Her gun was long and slender, with a like-styled scope perched on top. It held and could fire regular strip ammunition or it could use its alternative, automated homing drones. She flipped the switch, activating the latter option. As she pulled the trigger, the gun’s barrel extended and then recoiled back into itself, taking some of the enormous shock out of the discharge. A dense, black sphere exited the chamber and hurled toward the creeping Swarm.
     Dark shapes lifted into the air, lazily avoiding the small dot as it passed harmlessly by. As they resettled on the rail, the appropriately named homing drone came up behind them and exploded in a massive ball of fire. The entire chamber shook with the impact, dark ash and small fragments scattering in a spherical radius.

     “Hey! What is this, Heroshima?! Spare the nukes!” Ash glared over his shoulder as he swayed with the rocking balcony. The front of his rifle glowed searing white. “I’m trying to destroy this hole, not fall into it, okay!”

     “Just saving your butt, Ketchum!” Misty countered, loading another homer, “As usual!”

     “I’m eternally grateful!” Ash rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help an ironic grin (just like old times), “Remind me to return the favor sometime!”

     Free hand on her hip, Misty replied sardonically, “I watch your back, like you said, and this is the thanks I get from you?”

     “What? My gosh!” Ash chuckled lightly, “Take a course in basic humor already! Jeez!”

     “I don’t find that very funny, Ash!” She retorted, launching another smart missile into a second group of advancing demons. The bomb exploded, sending charred debris in all directions.

     “Ah! For heaven’s sake! Put that thing away!” Ash yelled as the whole room rocked violently. Pieces of the balcony began to fall away into the depthless void.

     Misty grinned. “Keep yer mouth shut and I’ll think about it!” she winked, chambering another Drone.


     Ash and Misty both turned in time to see Ketchum’s Pokèmon dive for cover as a series of green lances traced their way through the smoking gloom. Pikachu was leaping frantically from body to debris to rail and back again, narrowly dodging the streamers of mystic fire.
     “Pika!” He cried again, more urgently. Beads of sweat ran down his small yellow brow as the mouse tried desperately to stay one step ahead of death.

     Misty leveled and fired. Another ballistic orb shot forth, but this time, green fire raced to meet it. The water trainer dove for cover as tracers laced their way over her head. She followed the black ball as it dodged on its own accord, increased its speed and then hit the ground and detonated, right in the middle of a company of black-robed figures. Fire and brimstone exploded in an enormous ball of blinding light. Heat and pressure immediately washed the entire chamber, sending luminous pyroclastics high into the air. She shuddered. Ahead of her, Ash and Pikachu were struggling to hold him and his glowing rifle aloft.
     Without thinking twice, Misty tossed her own weapon aside and rushed to their aid. Together, the three of them righted Ash upon his swaying perch. To either side, massive portions of the balcony began to fall away, leaving long, serrated scars in the walls to which they’d been anchored. The plasma cannon was vibrating profusely, threatening to dislodge itself from Ketchum’s numb fingers at any minute. Blinding white light gushed forth, revealing every crease and crack in the gun’s design as it amassed toward to weapon’s fore. When it seemed they could hold it no longer, Ash pulled the trigger.

     All three were hurled backward, still holding onto the plasma canon and each other as they sailed through the air. A single beam of intensely hot energy matter exploded from the volatile weapon and plowed deep into the core generator’s main infrastructure.

* * * * * * *

Griffin melted out of his cloaking and fixed an iron grip on the closest thing in front of him—the walking dead body of his former colleague and friend, Commander Hawk Phillips. Before the netherworld creature could respond, Clay lifted it off its feet and gave the dead tendons in its dead neck a violent twist. Beneath the dead flesh, the dead vertebra cracked neatly in two.

     Internal engines burning with cold, unrelenting fury, Clay ripped the detached cranium from its shoulders and hurled the sodden mass at the lead chimera. It struck the demon square on the jaw, soaking one side of his face in a deluge of fluid and gray matter. He roared, surprised and angered.

     A melancholy moan rose from within the decapitated body, green mist seeping through the gaping chasm between its shoulders. A harsh and sudden gust of wind screamed its way down the length of the passage as a translucent pale form lifted from within the broken shell of what had once been a man and melted into the ceiling above. A long, agonized howl followed in its wake. Then there was silence.

     Griffin let the body fall to the ground. Now a true corpse, it did not stir.

     "So," Rainer began, rising to his full monstrous height, "you are the one our Master spoke of." With a slow, conscious movement, he wiped the mess of human tissue from the side of his head. He held it up before him, letting the fluids run through his clawed hand, "Tonight, you burn in Hell, Commander Clay Griffin!"

     With an easy, fluid movement, Griffin assumed a sturdy Jujitsu fighting stance and tossed his perpetual shades to the side.
     "You first." The Elite replied darkly as waves of bright blue voltage began to course their way along his muscled forearms.

* * * * * * *

Brock glanced about dazedly, “Where? What?”

     Then he remembered.

     Painfully, he rose to a sitting position. His chest was killing him (presently, he had no idea how true that was). Several yards away, his Onix lay on its side, eyes crossed and tongue hanging out in an a pleasantly unconscious stupor. A long, charred scar can the length of his stony forehead.
     Man, Brock thought dismally to himself, we’ve really taken a beating.

     And then he remembered April.

     With a sadness and despair he had not known since his father died, Brock Stone slammed his fists into the concrete wall, threw his head back, and screamed.

* * * * * * *

Samurai came to a screeching halt, barely stopping in time to avoid barreling into a pack of advancing undead. Nevertheless, they were already too close. In one motion he drew his katana and took the head off the first would-be assailant.
     The collection of walking corpses actually looked surprised to see him. Their headless bodies fell to the ground, even as they groped awkwardly for their weapons. Giselle was instantly by his side, a pair of long-barreled laser pistols in her hands. Together, they made short work of the small company of walking cadavers.

     “This is not good,” Samurai evaluated, wiping his sword blade on a fold of clothing he’d shredded of the last batch of undead they’d met, “if we keep running into these creatures, we may never make it out of here in time.”

     “In time for what, love?” Giselle replied, breathing hard, glancing about tentatively.

     They both started running down the corridor again.

     “I do not know for sure!” he panted, “but this place… feels of a trap! And I have a bad feeling it was intended…especially for us…our team!”

     “What…should we do?”

     “We should find the others!”

     Giselle practically shrieked, “No! Are you…out of you mind!? We’ll be killed!”

     Samurai glanced over at his partner, a grave look in his deep eyes, “You may do as you wish, love, I want no harm to befall you.” He paused to catch his breath, “But I… cannot abandon them.”

     “Why…do we need them? They’ve only slowed us down! If we go looking for them now…they’ll slow us down even more!”

     The pair slackened their pace.

     “I…am aware of that.” Samurai replied.

     “Then why?” Giselle countered, “This is foolish, love! Please, don’t throw you life away!”

     “I am sorry. If they still live, I must try.”


     “Will you come with me?”


     “Look…let us make a compromise. I think we are still headed in the right direction. If that is so, we will be running along Gypsum’s perimeter. If any of our comrades…manages to escape…they will probably come out somewhere around here and meet again at our drop-off point.” He paused to evaluate a conjunction in their path before resuming. “We…will continue our present course,” he replied, taking them down a narrower tunnel on their left, “pick up anyone we find and then wait at our rendezvous point for the rest.”

     “That’s still too…risky!”

     “Giselle…” Shinji panted wearily, “We must at least try.”

     The two finally came to a complete stop, temporarily exhausted from the extra strain of conversing while hustling at a run. They perched next to each other, leaning against the tunnel’s stone-walled sides. Giselle shoved her pair of long, slender JX-900s back into the holsters strapped to her thighs. Samurai re-sheathed his sword. The only noise came from their labored breathing.
     Giselle allowed herself to sag to a sitting position on the concrete floor. Absently, she rested her head against Shinji’s leg. Reaching down, he ran his hand across its braided surface. She snuggled against him in return.

     Giselle let her consciousness meander with the tide of her own mind. It came to rest on Samurai. What was it that attracted her to Shoto Shinji? He wasn’t rich, politically powerful, or even all that famous really, and he didn’t operate the same way she did. He was honest, loyal, noble, and true—not merely a gentleman, but a real nobleman of real honor.
     Honor. That was what Samurai always lived for. He was always seeking to live up to some lofty standard, the logic of which perpetually escaped her, but the results, it seemed, had created a man unlike any other she’d met. Oh, he wasn’t socially illiterate, nor did he stumble in the political arena—she knew from personal experience that this was far from true. The thing was he refused to play the game the way it was always played. He showed deference to poor and rich alike, and only held disdain for those who were true back-stabbers and cheats.
     This made Giselle wonder why he was associating with the likes of her.

     “Are you rested?” Samurai asked, stroking Giselle’s head.

     “Yeah,” she took his hand, “let’s go find our friends.”

     Shinji’s eyebrow cocked, “I see. You continue to surprise me, Giselle Narcissa.”

     She smiled dazzlingly, “Just call me ‘love’, love.”

     “Very well. I am glad you-”

     From down an adjacent tunnel, a loud, hard thud, followed by an equally powerful, angry, male scream resonated off the stone walls.

     Samurai held a finger to his lips and listened. A muffled sobbing could also be heard. The voice that made it was deep but still retained a youthful overtone.

     Giselle cocked her head to one side, “That sounds like….”

     A series of loud, sorrowful curses followed.

     There could be no mistake.

     “Brock Stone!” With new hope in his eyes, Samurai leapt to his feet, taking Giselle up with him. Reaching to his waist, he removed one of the red and white spheres. “Arcanine! I summon you!”

     “Arf!” The great, rugged canine burst forth from the storage device and shook his shaggy mane. “Arf?”

     “Listen…” Samurai replied.


     “Find the one making that sound. Kneel my friend.”

     The massive Pokèmon let Samurai and Giselle swing onto his back before loping speedily away, sniffing out its principle’s trail.

* * * * * *

For a moment, all four combatants simply regarded each other in silence, the elements they wielded the only sounds of life within the dead enclosure (save an occasional moan from Duplica and Ditto). Rainer and his chimera brethren glared balefully at the man before them, and Griffin scowled coldly back. Fire, lightning and ice manes shifted restlessly as the three regarded the one, his hands shrouded in luminous blue orbs.

     Rainer’s azure eyes narrowed coldly. “Let’s finish it, human!” he hissed.

     Before Griffin could blink, three dark, howling shadows converged upon him.

* * * * * *

Brock sobbed. The tears came in torrents that rolled down his face in hot, wet sheets. He wept bitterly and was not ashamed. He knelt, fists planted in the wall he faced. Blood ran from open cuts in his knuckles and the wound in his chest, but he paid it no heed. The world about him became an impenetrable haze as he lost himself to his grief.

     For the second time, he had really failed.

     Yet there was nothing he could have done. It had been different with his father. He had been dealing with humans—smart, resourceful, extremely dangerous humans to be sure, but mere men nonetheless. The creatures he faced now were the work of Hell. He was alone and woefully outmatched. Before immortal odds, defeat was inevitable.

     “NO!” He heard himself scream, “No…!” he lifted his sorrow-laden eyes skyward, “there is always a way…always. I could’ve done more…”

     The pain finally seized him. It shot from his chest, then into his aching limbs, spreading through his busted knuckles and sweltering head. He turned his back to the wall again, leaning against it for support. His eardrums suddenly began to ring profusely and his visual impression of the world to dim.
     He felt his heart skip a beat and reeled in horror. He was dying.

* * * * * *

The Arcanine bounded out into the larger passageway, a massive, hurtling crimson streak. On his back, its trainer carried a small, black hand-held device, its pale green screen hovering above the object’s surface.

     Samurai studied the projected map of Gypsum’s perimeter. “Alright, we’re almost out of here!” he reported over his shoulder.

     “Wonderful, love!” Giselle replied above the rush of wind, “How far till Brock?”

     In answer to her question, Samurai brought their fiery mount to a progressive halt. Before them, a large, elongated pile of boulders stretched the length of the passage.

     “Arf…” Samurai’s Arcanine cautiously approached Brock’s Onix and sniffed. “Arf!”

     “We found him.” Samurai confirmed. He swung his legs easily over his Pokèmon’s head and dismounted off one side.
     Turning, he assisted Giselle from her perch.

     “Where is he?” she asked, trying to peer around the unconscious pile of rocks. It filled a little more than half the tunnel’s volume, obstructing her view.

     From somewhere further on down, she heard a low, painful groan.

     “Arf!” Samurai’s Arcanine immediately padded off along the tunnel’s wall, scrambling over the Onix where its bulk left a space too narrow for the large dog to pass through. “Arf!” he barked from the other side.

     “There!” Samurai cried.
     He and Giselle ran around the massive Onix and out onto the other side. They came to a stop. Back to the wall, broad shoulders slummed, Brock Stone leaned heavily, chin on his thick chest, his suit burned there and bleeding.

     Samurai’s Arcanine stood a few feet from the fallen man, whimpering. “Arf?” He looked questioningly at his trainer.

     Samurai beckoned and the Pokèmon returned to his side. “Brock…” he called experimentally.

Brock heard the voice echo in his throbbing head. “Brock…” it called his name. Was that his name? For a moment, he didn’t know. It must be, he decided. Painfully, he forced himself to look up, every muscle in his body protesting violently. A wall of pain and haze met him and he screamed in agony.


     He started. The voice was clearer. Through his clouding vision, Brock barely discerned the outline of his rescuers. Were there three of them, or just two? One was very close, leaning over him perhaps. The vague impression of a hand waved in front of his eyes. He tried to follow its movement, tried to respond. Nausea suddenly swept through him. Leaning over to one side, he wretched.

“Ew!” Giselle squealed. Brock had just puked a puddle of blood. “We’ve got to get him out of here or he’ll die!”

     “Yes,” Samurai was at Brock’s side, steadying the rock trainer. The injured man’s face had gone deathly pale and his breathing was becoming irregular.
     Searching for a moment, Shinji found and unclipped Brock’s empty Pokèball and tossed it at the Onix. The rock Pokèmon disappeared in a flash of light, the red and white storage device bouncing lightly on the concrete in his place.
     The samurai’s Arcanine padded over, retrieved the round object and deposited it back into his trainer’s hand. Shinji reattached it to Brock’s belt.
     He glanced back at Giselle. “Do you have anything to help?” he noticed the greenish tint to Brock’s cheeks, “I fear he is poisoned in some manner.”

     Giselle nodded, detaching a Pokèball from her waist. “Blissey,” she called, releasing the orb.

     A jubilant, cream-colored ball of ecstatic delight exploded forth. “Blissey!!” the Pokèmon squealed happily, beside herself that she’d been chosen.

     Instinctively, the animated creature sensed the wounded trainer and glanced in his direction. “BLISSEY!” she squealed again, in alarm. Without hesitation, she bounced hastily over and planted her minute, stubbed paws on the man’s burnt chest. Pink light began to emanate from the Pokèmon’s small appendages.

Brock threw his head back and roared in pain. The searing in his pectorals lasted only a few seconds longer before it ceased, but it felt like an eternity. Immediately, everything plummeted into a deep green haze. Emerald mist shrouded his vision, swirling before his eyes as they burned in his throbbing head. Eventually, his body started going numb. Panic began to seize his fatigued mind. He tried to cry out again, but his vocal cords would not respond, and his jaws were locked shut. Slowly, he felt himself falling into unconsciousness. Then, as suddenly as they had taken him, the green mists vanished.

     With a sudden gasp, Brock Stone came fully awoke.
     “Ah!” he cried, spotting a large pair of liquid eyes staring into his.


     “Huh?” Brock blinked. Sure enough, a petite, rotund Pokèmon with a kind, cream-colored face regarded him curiously. “Who-?”

     “Stone, thank God!” someone cut him off. Their voice was masculine and uncannily familiar.

     Brock held his hand in front of him as the Pokèmon disappeared in a flash of bright light (he could’ve sworn it waved before it went). When he removed his improvised shield, two figures in black jumpsuits were looking down at him, expressions of relief on their faces.
     At first, Brock simply noted that one was a woman—a very attractive one at that (apparently, some things never quit functioning)—the other was male, and it was this one, Brock assumed, that had spoken. In addition to other pieces of assorted hardware, which included some odd sort of light assault rifle, the man had a Japanese katana, strapped across his back.
     Brock started as amnesia gave way to recognition, “Samurai!”

     The short warrior smiled heartily. “Welcome back to the land of the living, Mr. Stone."

     “Land of the living? Ha! Not yet boys!”

     “Giselle.” Brock noted the Pokèmon storage device in her hand. “So, that was your Blissey.” He examined his chest. It was burned, but the incisions had effectively clotted, forming a criss-crossed scab formation on his chest. He noted the pain was gone.
     He gave the tall, striking woman a quizzical look. “Did she do this?”

     “Yes she did.”

     Brock’s brow furrowed. “Why?”

     Giselle avoided his gaze, shoving a section of loosened bangs from her eyes. “You were injured. ‘Couldn’t just let you die, I guess.

     Brock considered pursuing the matter then decided against it. He tried to stand. Stiffly, rose to his feet and gazed dizzily about. “We’re still in this hell-trap, aren’t we.”

     Samurai nodded. “We are still in Gypsum Hall.”

     “My Onix?”

     “At your side.”

     Brock checked his arsenal of Pokèballs. Sure enough, TS-03 was occupied, and according to the readout, BTM-03 was inside. “Thanks. I owe you one.” He took stock of his weapons. He found his rifle lying a few feet away; his handguns were still strapped to his thighs.
     Walking carefully over, he retrieved his primary firearm. He distastefully remembered how inefficient he’d been with it. “Where are the others?”

     Samurai and Giselle exchanged glances.

     “That,” Samurai replied, “is a good question. So far, you’re the only other one we’ve seen.”

     “Okay, that’s not particularly odd. But we have to get out of this place. I was with Griffin before I ended up here. The mission’s been canceled.”

     “I think that is fairly obvious now.” Samurai nodded.

     “Right. Let’s move.” Brock started off before he drew up short and turned around again. Samurai, Giselle and Samurai’s Arcanine were still there. “Uh, which way out of here?”

     Samurai calmly examined his map. “Our rendezvous point is approximately fifteen meters away.” He climbed aboard his Arcanine, beckoning Giselle to join him. He gave Brock a nod. “You have your own, I assume?”

     Stone plucked a sphere and casually tossed it. “Rhyhorn, I choose you!” A hulking, mono-horned rhinoceros creature appeared beside him.
     Brock clambered aboard the Pokèmon, settling himself amid the familiar arsenal of ridged, stone protrusions along the rocky creature’s back. Looking up, he gave the couple a wry smile. “Rock-steady and ready to roll.”

     “Very good!” Samurai nodded approvingly.

     Together, they all hurtled down the cavernous passageway.

* * * * *

“Starmie! Light screen!”

     Misty, Ash and Pikachu were instantly engulfed in a sphere of psychic energy as Misty’s double star Pokèmon emerged at the fore of their flight path.

     “Harden and Rapid Spin!”

     The water Pokèmon’s grainy hide became like rock as it simultaneously started to rotate into a deadly, spinning, star-shaped propeller. A fraction of a second later, it made contact with the wall.

The four exploded from the other side of the enclosure and landed squarely back in the long passage they’d taken to get into the now imploding generator tower. And imploding it was. The ground rumbled and the walls about them began to bulge inward.

     Ash sprang up from inside their all-encompassing shield. “Starmie! Drop the lights! We need to get out of here!”

     Instantly, the pink aura faded.

     “Hey!” Misty piped irritably, “What’s the big idea ordering my Pokèmon around!?”

     Ash threw his free hand up. “Fine!” He extracted a Pokèball from his waist. “Go Taurus!”

     The bull Pokèmon burst energetically from the confining sphere. “Taurr!” he roared, tossing his massive, horned crown.

     Ash stroked the bone-studded head, running his hand along the deep, shaggy mane as he quietly explained what was happening. The Pokèmon grunted and kneeled as Ash climbed aboard. Pikachu hopped lightly on the Taurus’ head, settling himself behind the great horns.

     “Sayonara, you pile of rubble!” Ash cried over his shoulder at the collapsing generators behind their exploding barriers. He turned to Misty. “Hop on! Let’s go!”

     Misty recalled her star Pokèmon and swung in behind Ash, putting her arms about his waist. “Joy-riding on the job, eh?” She whispered in his ear.

     Ash flashed a roguish smile. “Just like old times! Giddy’up!”

     The great Taurus and his passengers bolted down the tunnel. Behind them, the tunnel’s walls expanded and finally cracked and broke. The barrier exploded, sending a cloud of fiery dust and ashes billowing into the length of the corridor.

* * * * * * *

Clay sprang back, throwing up a shield of dense, pulsating magnetic energy. Electricity cracked like a whip across its surface, lancing out into the dark. His attackers immediately broke off their assault. An instant later, however, a wall of water, fronted by interchanging bands of fire and lightning came hurtling toward him.

     Head lowered in concentration, Griffin brought both hand up. The glowing shield expanded, stretching from ceiling to floor and sealing him on his side of the tunnel. He brought his hands together and opened his tight fists.

     Rainer was in a rage. “Drown and fry this insolent mortal!” he screamed. The man had command of an element, and one that the dark water-wielding chimera did not particularly like. He smiled in spite of himself. These Elite were always surprising him. This would be the best fight he’d had in his short life. He would enjoy reaping his hard-earned reward.

     The demon’s brothers were thinking similar thoughts. Together, they hurled a combined attack at the Elite, filling the passage’s height and breadth with a deluge of raw elemental power. They felt it collide with the man’s shield (still so weak, they chortled scornfully). For a moment, the barrier held against the surge. Then, it abruptly gave way.
     The chimera roared with glee and put more effort behind the onslaught.

     “Now,” Rainer screamed, “you DIE!”

     Clay gritted his teeth as the integrity of the magnetic wall began to falter. He ran a few calculations. In a matter of seconds, his superficial barrier would fall—on purpose.
     Blue voltage gathered in the Elite’s open palms, collecting into an expanding sphere of burning energy. Simultaneously, another magnetic shield began to form a protective sphere around his body. He moved to one side, away from where the current would be strongest when it broke.
     Griffin held on for a moment longer, then cut the power to his wall and tightened the magnetic bind of his new shield, going down on one knee to brace against the surging assault. He let the barrier disintegrate first on the far side opposite his position. As elements gushed forth, he released the portion holding back the immediate center. The two currents collided and took each other down the tunnel.
     As his section of the magnetic wall imploded, Griffin discharged the glowing ball of pent-up energy in his hands, sending a steady stream lashing out into the oncoming tide. It cut through the dispersed elements and circled back around, reconnecting itself with its source. Water, fire and jagged streaks of yellow lightning screamed around Griffin’s spherical enclosure as his own focused wire of blue magnetic energy cut through the surge, a hot knife through butter. Stray shards of fire and lighting splintered from the main deluge, flaring through his magnetic shield and cutting him, but the stream’s main body thundered on around the translucent barrier, careening through the tunnel beyond as it took the least path of resistance. Griffin allowed himself a wry, ironic smile—he hadn’t slept through geology and physics.

     Power surging and re-circuiting itself, the Elite came to his feet, still crouching. He found and hung close to the tunnel wall. If he had done this right, he would pass through the onslaught without detection, emerging on his enemies’ left. What he’d do then, he did not know. Clay knew what demon hybrid-chimera were, and he was fighting three of them. One wrong move and he was dead.
     Every bio-tech enhanced muscle in his body straining, he pushed his painful way forward.

     Rainer sent a final, devastating surge of water and chunks of rolling ice down the passage before he called a stop to the assault. “Cut the juice, boys! Let’s see what we’ve got now!”

     Reluctantly, the other two released a final volley, then let their onslaught still.

     Griffin wasted no time. Scowling, he cut his shield and withdrew all outgoing currents, directing his energy instead to the hologram projectors. The Elite’s broad-shouldered frame disappeared behind a façade of the tunnel wall.

     “Which way did he go?” Sparky frowned, blackened head swinging about in search of their prey. The entire length of the tunnel looked like a blasted out sandbar but there was not sign of the agent.

     All three demon’s sniffed the air.

     Something tapped Sparky lightly on the shoulder.

     Pyro suddenly cried out. Clay’s dark, hulking image materialized next to Sparky, glowing hand raised to deliver a head-shot. Without hesitation, Pyro sent a massive, smoldering plume of fire lancing across the room.

     Sparky was just about to sink his claws into Clay when the cone of fire hit him. The lance of searing flames struck the demon full in the side of the head, the rest of the blast smashing into his blackened body, lifting the stunned chimera off his feet and hammering him into the tunnel wall. With a final wail, he exploded in a sodden mass of charred, broken black flesh.

     Rainer glared in astonishment at the blasted remains of his younger brother. Slowly, he turned to face Pyro. “You!” He roared at the stupefied fire-chimera, “Idiot! What the hell are you thinking!?”

     Pyro stuttered dumbly before he found his tongue. “B-but…the Elite! He was there!” the demon shrieked.

     “You were tricked, you fool!” Rainer screamed.

     “Yes, tricked,” a low voice growled. Rainer watched in astonishment as Pyro’s body transformed into the dark Elite agent himself. Clay’s image pointed a glowing finger at the lead demon.
     “And now, it’s your turn.”

     “I think not!” the water demon roared. With all his might, he launched a massive blast of ocean and ice into Griffin’s image. He dug his clawed feet into the concrete as the pressure from the deluge began to shove even him back. “DIE! This is vengeance for my brother!”

     Pyro turned to face Griffin. Snarling, he was about to lunge into the man when the blast of water hit him and pinned him to the wall. The last thing he remembered before his life-flame extinguished was Griffin darting like liquid silver out of the way.

     Rainer screamed in grief and rage. His glowing azure eyes burned with hatred for himself and the Elite who’d outwitted him and his team. The charred, smoldering remains of Sparky oozed down one wall, the drowned, crumpled form of Pyro graced the other. He leapt into the air and brought his weight down with a thunderous crunch. The ground cracked and heaved. “Coward!” he roared, “show yourself.”

     “Here, demon.”

     Rainer whirled around, snarling, claws and fangs bared. A few feet away, Clay Griffin stood, stoically observing the enraged demon. “Fool!” Rainer roared, “Using cheap tricks to defeat the mighty ones of The Shadow!?” He turned to fully face his adversary. His nostrils flared, inhaling the other’s scent. “You cannot hide this time! Come! Fight me now, coward!!”

     The two began to circle each other.

     Clay eased into his Jujitsu fighting stance. He scowled disdainfully at the demon, “You hell-spawn shouldn’t underestimate technology.”

     Rainer’s jaws spread maliciously. He threw his head back and laughed. “Fool! You are still no match for me!”

     Blue waves of voltage coursed through Clay's arms. “Let’s find out, demon.”

* * * * * * *

The two parties fairly collided as they burst from their tunnel exits. Brock, Samurai and Ashura pulled in hard on their mounts, the Pokèmon digging their heels into the concrete. All three skidded onto their sides, dumping their cargo out of harm’s way as they stumbled into each other, the horned ones turning their deadly protrusions away.

     “What thu’ell?” Ash released Misty from their protective embrace and sprang to his feet. Their Taurus’s head pocked piteously from underneath a great Arcanine, who in turn had a large Rhyhorn piled on top of his shaggy back.
     The bull stamped his front hooves on the floor, bellowing retributions in his own tongue at the Arcanine above, who answered with an irritable bark and gruffly shook his mane at the Rhyhorn who simply shrugged and took his time finding a way to get off the pile without landing on his serrated back.
     Despite his present state, Ash found the scene extremely comical.
     He sighed and shook his head. “Taurus, return!”

     At the same time, two other voices echoed his.

     “Rhyhorn, return!”

     “Arcanine, return!”

     The dazed Pokèmon vanished in a flash of light.



     “Brock! Sammy?”

     The three men picked up their fallen weapons, women, and met at the collision point.

     Ash leaned casually on his rifle, Misty still looking dazed beside him, “What are you guys doing here?”

     Brock glanced down the passage his friend had just barreled through. “I could ask you the same question, but I don’t think we have time for it. We’ve gotta jump this crazy train. Mission’s compromised. Griffin’s orders.”

     “Indeed,” Samurai nodded, supporting a disoriented Giselle, “we can escape through that narrow tunnel over there,” he indicated a minute cleft mounted above a low flight of stairs, “and probably be able to strong-arm our way out the west exit.”

     “Strong-arm our way?” Misty’s eyebrow arched.

     Ash nodded. “That’ll have to do. Where’re Duplica and Clay?”

     “No idea,” Brock loaded another cylinder in his rifle (and silently blessed it to ventilate the next demon it was discharged upon), “But we can’t wait. We were told to just get out of here.”

     “No complaints about that!” Ash replied, inspecting his own weapon. “Let’s go!”

Together, the five made for the door.

* * * * * * *

The hallway shook as the Elite did battle with the Shadow demon. Powdered concrete hung in chalky clouds. Shrapnel and debris were ripped from the walls, floor and ceiling, set in deadly flight as the two traversed their crumbling surface. Florescent lights hung dangerously from their suspensions. Flickering, they threatened to cast everything into darkness.
     But the combatants fought on, oblivious to and sparsely affected by obstacles of terrain. The world about them hung in a state of delayed motion, natural time of second consequence as they traveled beyond its parameters.
     For several blurred passes, the two shifting forms seemed to hold their conflict in some sort of equilibrium, neither overpowering nor outmaneuvering the other as they exchanged tactical combinations.
     Then The Shadow gained the upper hand.

     It was only a small slip, and maybe not even that, but it was all Rainer needed. The Elite ducked to avoid what was supposed to be a reckless forehand thrust from the demon’s massive claws. The chimera let himself fall forward with the motion of his mock line of assault, and when Griffin advanced to deliver a power-shot to his ribcage, the demon brought his thick knee into the Elite’s face. Clay backed away in response, his effort concentrated on redirecting his movement.
     Wrapped in a hurricane of darkness, Rainer brought his stout leg around in a reverse spin kick, caught the Elite full in the chest and sent him catapulting toward the wall. Howling madly with triumph, the demon lunged after him.
     Clay roared in mortal agony as Rainer brought him to the floor and buried his left hand’s fore-claws in the Elite’s unguarded shoulder.

     The chimera perpetuated Clay’s forward momentum, dragging his impaled body across the torn floor as they hurtled at impossible speeds into the wall. The concrete cracked and broke around them as Rainer lifted Clay from the ground just before impact and slammed his bleeding back into the rocky barrier, pinning him securely with his hand’s long claws. Griffin’s head spun, the world about him plummeting into a realm of stabbing pain and flashing lights. With everything he could muster, the Elite braced himself against the violent collision as he and the demon that now held his fate came hurling out of their ascended state.

     Rainer glowered at his hapless opponent. For all his cunning, Griffin had finally been outdone. The Elite’s face was twisted in pain, legs braced against the wall, free hand grasping the demon’s burly left arm, trying in vain to dislodge the creature’s malevolent claws.
     “So, fool,” the chimera grinned wickedly, “how does it feel to finally be…defeated?”

     Griffin spat blood. “I’m not done yet, demon,” he growled stubbornly.

     “Aren’t you?” he dug his claw deeper, tearing the wall as he lifted the Elite higher up its rent surface. The man’s blood trickled down in red streams.

     Griffin forced a tight smile, painstakingly turning his head about to face Rainer’s mocking glare. “You should’ve used your other claw, demon.”

     Rainer lifted his right appendage and examined it casually. “Oh, this one?” He drew it back, “Well, my mistake. Here. Allow me to correct the oversight!” and with that, he thrust it forward, intent on vacating the Elite’s bowels.

     Griffin was instantly back in overdrive, right hand blocking Rainer’s stabbing blow. He caught the demon by the claw and twisted his dark-fleshed hand around, pulled it to his side, and whipped his legs around the thick appendage in a tight leg-lock.
     Ignoring the pain, the Elite brought his left hand up, digging his fingers into the hand that pinned him.
     “Thanks.” He growled.

     Rainer had a fraction of a second to realize what was happening, and by then it was too late. Thunderbolts coursed their way through his body, emanating from Griffin’s forearm generators and traveling through the water demon’s system, breaking him down from the inside out. His hide stood out like a flustered Cyndaquil.

     The shadow chimera threw up his last defenses, blasting his attacker with a deluge of seawater fronted by jagged ice as he tried to stay the fatal tide of voltage. Griffin was instantly encased in his magnetic shield, but not before the first shard of ice impaled his other shoulder. With all his strength, the Elite tightened his grip and willed his generators to full power. Massive bolts of electricity streamed from the Elite, plowing through Rainer and burning into the walls beyond. Both combatants cried in pain as they were engulfed a sphere of searing light.

Lying on the ground, Duplica covered her emerald head, shielding her eyes from the explosion as charred, concrete powder flew everywhere. Dust and ash filled the atmosphere, lightning bolts coursed their way overhead; Mimique heard both fighters scream.
     The demon screamed louder.

Black, smoldering mush lay everywhere, radiating from where Griffin stood, alone. The Elite fell to his knees, exhausted. He bled freely from his back and both shoulders, the top of his black attire torn complete off, his muscled body covered in sweat, ash, and his own blood. It was over. He had won. At what price however, he had jet to assess.

     Griffin’s magnetic shield flickered out. He could feel his wounds closing themselves up. The external bleeding stopped. His generators began recharging. Work on his internal injuries initiated, but system analysis told him it would take at least five days before he was functional again—twice that to be completely restored. Both his arms were broken at the shoulder, and he didn’t have enough energy to bring his enhanced combat features online.
     Griffin slumped against the wall.

     In other words, I will still effectively die.

     If your enemies find you, then yes, the system responded.

     Griffin closed his eyes. So be it. He’d avenged Hawk. That was enough.

     Clay was about to drift into hibernation when something warm and soft pressed against him.

“Clay.” Duplica whispered gently in the fallen Elite’s ear. She wrapped her slender arms around his waist, knowing he was too worn to resist, and pressed her lips to his. “Wake up, Clay.”

     Griffin stirred, opening his crystal-gray optic receivers. A pair of sparkling brown eyes met his.
     He groaned.

     “Hey there,” she smiled down at him, “you look worse than I do, and I still feel like a broken clock.”

     Clay scowled. “You said something about my people giving you enhancements?”

     Duplica shuddered. “Not anything like that.” She ran a hand along Griffin’s ash-encrusted forearm. “I guess I only got the junior package.”

     “Get off of me.”

     Duplica straddled Griffin’s legs, defiantly placing her curved bottom square in his lap. She smiled disarmingly. “Nothing doing, big boy.”

     “Then just shoot me through the head and get it over with.”

     “Not doing that, either.”

     Griffin closed his eyes again. “Then what do you want?”

     Duplica traced a finger across his cheek. She smiled. “To be honest with you, Clay, I don’t really know anymore.”

     Griffin resisted the urge to slam his forehead into the other’s lithe mouth. “There’s an original answer,” he whispered dryly.

     “Ironic, isn’t it,” Duplica continued thoughtfully. Propping her elbows on the Elite agent’s chest, she rested her chin in the cradle between her knuckles, casually inspecting his streaked face. “I came here to blow your brains out, and instead,” she brushed her lips against his nose, “My god. I think I love you.”

     Griffin wanted to puke. This was turning into the biggest load of melodramatic bull he’d ever been forced to sit through. What did this conniving female want from him? Some sick, basal gratification? Fat chance! He would have ordered the system to shut down some of his indigenous bodily functions—if he could.
     “Oh God,” Clay groaned, “Just let me die!”

     Duplica frowned. “You don’t believe me, do you.”

     Griffin’s eyes grudgingly opened. He glared at Mimique. “I’d like to ventilate your sick head.”

     “I’ll leave your big joy-stick alone, if that’s what you’re so worried about.”

     “Then stop sitting on it!”

     Duplica stared defiantly at him, arms akimbo. “You have got to be the most neurotic male I have ever met. What is wrong with you?”

     “Maybe I don’t like being used.”

     “Maybe you don’t have a choice.”

     “Don’t I? Look, I know what you’re all about, okay. Don’t give me this anal crap. If you’re not going to finish me right now, I’m going to yell, and I’m going to keep yelling until some stray demon hears me and devours us both or you get tired of hearing it and put a bullet through my titanium head!”

     Duplica grinned. “I’ll just tape your mouth shut.”

     Clay spat indignantly. “With what?”

     “My skank butt.” Duplica replied winsomely.

     “Oh God!” Griffin closed his eyes, shutting out the sight of his tormentor. “Jesus Christ, just let me die already!”

     Duplica leaned against him again. “So religious all of a sudden.”

     “…and before you kill me, send some messenger of death to smite this confounded woman!”

     “Do you believe in an afterlife?” Duplica coked her head to one side, ignoring Griffin’s seething appeals.


     “Is there a better place to look forward to when we die? I’ve always wondered about that.”

     “Shoot me and I’ll go find out for you.”

     Duplica lifted herself off Griffin’s chest and glanced around. “If we stay here we may both be taking a one-way trip to the astral plain.” She thought for a moment. “I’d better just turn you in, big boy. Ironically, you’ll have a better chance in Lawrence’s dungeons than you will trying to high-tail it back to The Elite.”

     Griffin’s eyes slid open again. “Who’s Lawrence?”

     Duplica spat in the dust. “The Shadow’s horny Catalyst.”

     “Really. And what makes you think he won’t just vacate me and knock you up?”

     Duplica shuddered. “I’d sooner die than spread for that bastard! But to answer your question, no, he won’t kill you—he actually wants you alive.”

     “You know this how?”

     “Because I was told so. The plan was to bring you into Gypsum, capture you, nab someone else to turn into The Shadow’s PBJ, and then-“

     Clay leaned forward an inch, suddenly attentive. “An exclusive abduction? What for?”

     “I don’t really know, but Lawrence was adamant that you be taken alive.”

     Griffin let the thought sink in for a moment before asking the obvious, “So, why’d you want me dead?”

     Settling snuggly back into Clay’s lap, Duplica pressed herself hard against him, drawing the Elite’s face into a long, passionate kiss. Her eyes danced as she released him. “Because you spurned me.”

     Exhausted, Clay grudgingly gave in. His eyes closed, and the world without began to fade. “I’m still spurning you,” he whispered through clenched teeth and tight lips.

     Duplica eased herself away. “I know, but at least you’re not trying to break me in half,” she whispered back, smiling, “That’s a very good start.”

     So the Mistress of Disguise saddled the Iron Griffin, stroking his light hair.

     “Sleep, Clay,” she purred soothingly, “Until I call you again.”

==To Be Continued==
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