=Chapter 6=

By Ironkite and Waterviper

Back to Introduction

The phone call came sooner than he expected--or sooner, that is, if he'd been expecting a call at all. He had not, and so he was surprised when one of his agents walked into his spacious office with a private message from an unknown messenger. The nature of the missive was quite grave, he was told. The caller was still on the line.

     Ferdinand Carlos cautiously picked up his receiver. The videophone would be useless. Whoever was calling was not using an image-supported connection. He keyed briskly through the machine's menu of options, selected the desired settings, activating security protocols and then put the slender, polished black device to his ear.

     "Ferdinand Carlos."

     There was static on the other side.

     ".... Hello?"

     A feminine voice finally came through. "Carlos?"

     "This is he. Who-?"

     "Carlos, the mission failed. Gypsum Hall is lost."

     For a moment, Carlos just stared into empty space, shocked by this sudden and unexpected news. Quickly, he regained his wits.

     "Who is this?"

     "The team you sent is gone. Your men are all dead. We've lost, Ferdinand"

     "Lost? What do you mean? Who are you!?"

     "Good-bye, Ferdy."

     The line went dead.

For the remainder of the morning and on into early evening, Ferdinand Carlos, Chairman of The Elite refused to see anyone or travel outside the confines of his private quarters. That was not only odd but also slightly detrimental to the brisk pace of Elite business. He was the steam behind the engine. Without him playing a continuously active role, many doubted things would continue to run at all, and for the most part, that was very true. Nevertheless, Carlos ordered his entire day cleared of all its scheduled activities. Meetings were canceled, international negotiations and like appointments put on indefinite hold. Many of his regular tasks were allocated to colleagues who could handle them, the rest were simply dropped. Though the machine chugged on, it felt like the entire workings of The Elite had come to a grinding halt. News of the infamous call was quickly circulated and everyone wanted to know what the Chairman and Head intended to do about it. Every Elite knew what was guarded in Gypsum, and also what would happen if The Shadow got a hold of the forbidden talismans.

     No contact could be made with Gypsum Hall or the team that had been sent in to retrieve the Dreadfire Crescents. It had to be assumed that the fortress had indeed fallen into enemy hands and that Griffin and his team had also failed in their mission. That being the case, it was also logical to conclude that The Shadow also had the Crescents in its possession.

Carlos sat alone in his office, high-backed chair turned away from the door, facing the enormous screen that made the backdrop of his executive enclosure. It currently displayed the setting sun as it sunk behind the horizon outside Elite Head Quarters.

     He had arrived, aboard the Nautilus, shortly after dispatching Griffin and their team of new operatives. Carlos shook his head in despair. Such novelties of technology would not bring his colleagues back to him. Griffin was gone, but so were other close friends of his--Commander Phillips, Glade, Muhammad, just to name a few (good men, he reminisced darkly)--as well as Ashura Ketchum, Brock Stone, and the others whom he had just initiated. He felt especially remorseful over these new Elite. He had recruited them. Yes, they were recommended to him by the Elite Head, but he had still been the one who brought them into this mess--had done so gladly, so confident in their potential that he hadn't even considered the possibility that they might not ultimately survive. And now they were dead, all of them, all because of him.

     He leaned back in his chair and watched the dying rays of sunlight as they were swallowed by the horizon and the coming shades of night--much like his own condition at the moment, he mused.

     Darkness engulfed Ferdinand’s side of the world. One by one, minute pinpricks of white light dotted the inky blackness overhead, stars and galaxies, millions upon millions of miles away.

     Carlos stood in the center of his spacious office. Beneath him, the ground began to move, depressing as a circular section detached itself from the rest of the flooring. Slowly, the Chairman of The Elite descended through the opening, gliding downward on a floating saucer. Above him, the portal closed.

     Several hundred feet later, the disk emerged from its shaft, entering a brightly-lit tunnel. It settled into a circular, formfitting cavity in the floor, and there it came to a halt. Carlos disembarked and began walking briskly down the corridor, its aluminum walls dimly reflecting his stout image.

     He emerged into a long, high-vaulted hall of glittering black granite. Independent panels, their creases so well hidden they were barely perceptible, graced the hallway, filing its length in evenly spaced rows. Carlos passed them without a glance. Finally, he came to the end of his lengthy traverse.

     A wall of sparkling black rock faced him, the passage stopping at a dead end. Or so it seemed. Un-gloving both hands, Carlos pressed their metal palms against the dark barrier. Bright light suddenly exploded from the wall, passing over and through the Elite Chairman. Then it ceased, and when Carlos opened his eyes again, the wall was gone. In its place, a long, narrow bridge of floating black plates stretched away above a massive chasm. Cautiously, Carlos ventured forth across the void.

     Molten rock churned far below, rumbling in the bowels of The Elite’s grandest fortress. It glowed ominously, casting a harsh, crimson radiance into the upper reaches of the cylindrical cavern. At the end of the treacherous walk, a large circular platform floated above the groaning abyss. Ferdinand crossed the plates without faltering or hesitation, but he also did so with noted deliberation, taking his steps at a mere moderate pace. Below, the magma churned away.

     As he stepped out into the void, a pair of floating balls of light detached themselves from the walls, tagging along, one on each side of him as he made the perilous traverse. It was a good, ten-minute walk, but he soon came to the end of the suspended bridge. Gingerly, he stepped onto the floating platform. The fireflies winked out and settled into spherical cavities in the floating disk’s black underside.

     Alone, Carlos waited.

     Presently, a movement at the floating platform's center caught his attention. An obsidian column silently rose out of the dark saucer's apex. Carlos observed it impassively. For the most part, it was plain, a simple Dorian pedestal made of cloudy, semi-translucent igneous glass. But cradled within its dark center, it held an even darker orb of lustrous, gleaming metal. The black sphere’s mirror-like surface seemed to glow, shunning all light via its ornately polished and flawlessly smooth exterior, concealing the measure of its depthless void. Without haste, it lifted from its seat and began to revolve slowly in the air above the dark, glassy throne.

     The Elite shook his head in wonder. He always did before this relic. This was The Dune’s Pull, the very heart and soul of The Elite. The global organization that was presently known had actually existed for well over a millennia, had been perpetuating itself throughout the ages with this seemingly minute object. It was through the Dune’s Pull that the first Elite had been sworn into being; it was through The Dune’s Pull that it had come back in Carlos’ lifetime, first through his colleague, and now through him. For a long time, he had not fully understood the nature of this rare but mysterious item. It was a simple sphere of reflective, black steel; beautiful, perfect even, but with nothing else about its external qualities to lend any clue as to what it was for. This was one of the only mystical items The Shadow would not tamper with. In its inky void, The Dune's Pull held command over one of the seven formidable Portals of Light. It was aware, a living thing, and it did not take kindly to those of evil intent, neither mortal nor demon. For one black of heart to wield The Dune's Pull was to effective end their life in the portals--heaven to those redeemed, but a fiery hell to those who were not.

     Carlos allowed himself a faint, ironic smile. For all their massive technological feats, it all came down to this—an archaic artifact; magic from the distant past. Time, it seemed, had no effect on such things. They grew old with each passing day, but instead of decaying, they simply endured.

     He wondered now if that trend was about to come to an end.

     Carefully, Ferdinand approached the glassy pedestal. As he neared, the ball began to shimmer and then faintly glow a soft, pale phosphorescence. When he finally stood before it, the orb had transformed itself from a dark specter into a brilliant star of shining ivory radiance.

     In the silence, a still voice whispered.


     Carlos came to a stop as The Dune's Pull lifted high above him, its light intensifying with each new level of altitude.

     *Who are you, and why have you come*

     The Elite Chairman knelt before the empty dais, eyes closed as every beam of piercing light projected itself on his humble frame. In the glare, he shone completely white.

     "I am Ferdinand Carlos, servant to humanity and a vassal of Light," he lifted his face into the pale glare, "Please, I must speak with the Dune of The Elite."

     *Show your token, Elite*

     Carlos removed his insignia ring and laid the golden ornament upon the pedestal. Streamers of light coursed their way down to examine it. Warmth spread through him as they alternately passed over and through him.

     *Your heart is heavy*

     "I know." he replied lamely. "I'm loosing our battle."

     The voice seemed to be everywhere, filling the massive cavern with its omnipresence. *This is true, Elite* Its ethereal substance seemed to brush by Carlos, lingering tendrils of warmth that fastened about his limbs and pulled the Elite to his feet. *You have much to answer for, Ferdinand Carlos* it stated simply, passing through him once again. *but most of what has transpired* it continued, lifting away and back into itself, *is not your fault*

     Carlos continued to gaze into the unearthly brilliance. "What must I do?"

     The orb began to descend, its intense light piercing even through Carlos's enhanced retina. *Seek* it replied hauntingly *and you will find*

     A classic line, Carlos noted involuntarily.

     He frowned.

     Where had he heard those words before?


     Carlos backed away, shielding his eyes as the brilliant orb became level with him. "What does that mean?" he asked, his frown deepening. The Dune's Pull always demonstrated a propensity to speak in mysteries. "May I speak with The Head, please? Time grows short for us all!"

     For a moment the whole room seemed awash in blinding light. *Time grows short* it replied *only for you* And then Carlo's world plunged into a spinning vortex of mist, shadow and light.

     The Elite went to his knees again, trying to regain a sense of equilibrium by bracing against the relatively stable surface of the floor. Blinding clouds of mist swirled about him, drawing him up, up, higher and higher into their enchanting brilliance. Cold tendrils brushed his face, wisps of moist, half-frozen cloud particles. He winced but continued on. Even if he had wanted to, he could not stop. Carlos was within The Dune's Pull's sway now and he would not be released until the talisman decided it was time for his journey to come to a close. Finally, the surging vortex began to open at some distant point far above him, widening with each subsequent moment until it was suddenly upon him.

     With a harsh gasp, Carlos re-emerged into the dark central cavern, on hands and knees before the obsidian pedestal, dripping with cold moisture.

     "Well, that was quite harrowing!" A jovial voice exclaimed from the other side of the dark column.

     Carlos lifted his head. Above him, The Dune's Pull was re-seated upon its glassy throne, black and silent. Slowly, the mystical object, along with its raised projection, began to sink ethereally back into the flying deck's dark surface. With equal deliberation, The Elite Chairman clambered to his feet, wiping the latent moisture from his cherubic face. He noted his insignia ring was back in its place.

     The Elite glanced about, still in a semi-daze from his traverse through the bright clouds. The whole room looked horribly dark now compared to what he'd just been through, and even for his technologically advanced eyesight, it would take a second for his vision to readjust. So, it was about a second before he saw the radiant figure standing before him, a warm smile on his shining face.

     "Ferdinand Carlos." The man greeting the Elite with a good-natured clap on the shoulders. "You look well, my friend."

     Carlos grasped the other's shoulders in turn. "Do I now?" he returned with equal radiance. "Well Preston, you look like a messenger from God!

     The other smiled, his face radiant with white phosphorescence. "For man was made a little lower than the angels."

     Carlos rubbed his gotee thoughtfully. "Amusing. Which Greek philosopher wrote that?"

     "Actually," The shining man replied, inspecting his white-gloved hands, "I imagine the author was Hebrew."

     Carlos brow furrowed, but he shrugged it off indifferently. "You've been busy I see, since you left the mortal realm."

     Preston Sable nodded gravely. "True enough, my old friend. Who was the fool that said we're set free when we die? Well, maybe that's the case for some, but for the Head of The Elite, passing eternally from the physical realm only entails higher responsibilities in the spiritual. It's a strange irony though, one I enjoy very much. I was killed because my enemies thought I did my worst damage while alive." The trademark smile reappeared on his exalted countenance. "Who would've thought I'd be more notorious beyond the grave? From the land of the white and fluffy I've foiled more global sedition than any of us ever did here."

     "A good thing you're still this organization's Head then." Carlos concluded with a wry smile.

     "Indeed." The other inspected his colleague more thoroughly. He noted the fatigued look; dark shadows under and around the eyes, stubble about the jaw, a notable sagging of the shoulders, a posture he knew his colleague avoided if he could help it. Ferdinand Carlos had always been strong. The man that stood before him now appeared...defeated? "The years have not been so kind to you, I fear. What troubles my old friend?"

     Carlos ran an ebony-clad hand through his raven hair. A few strands fell across his haggard face. "Yeah, my troubles," he began quietly, "I'll cut to the chase Preston. The Elite's kind of got itself between a rock and a hard place. I'm sure you and your exalted peerage have already heard. The Shadow reclaimed the Crescents of Dreadfire. If they have all the other items, too-"

     "They do." Preston finished dryly.

     Carlos looked somewhat incredulously at the Elite Head before letting his hands drop limply at his sides. He shook his regal head.

     "I thought as much," He muttered dejectedly.

     The Elite Head regarded the Elite Chairman with a neutral face that afforded no clues about the nature of his inner thoughts.

     "Well, now they have all of Gypsum Hall, too, the rotten hell scum," Carlos continued bitterly, "They've enough mystical weapons in there to light up The District of Columbia like the forth of July--seven times over!" He spat over the edge of the floating platform. "I can't believe we've been so completely done over like this! This is stupid, Preston! We had everything under our control, and then 'poof', out the window it all goes! How? Why!? Why us!? We're The Elite! No one beats us, especially not them! Hell no! Too many of my people have died to insure this would never happen! I can still see their faces, Preston. They use to give me some sort of comfort, those angels who sacrificed their lives to throw a wrench in Death's machine. But now...they only come back to haunt me."

     Staring out over the chasm, Carlos chuckled ironically. "How silly we must look to whatever gods reside in your realm, Preston. You're one of them now, for all I know. Tell me, why? Why do good men fail? Were we not good enough? Is this how it always ends? Is Death always the last one left standing?"

     The man in white ran an ivory hand through his snowy hair. "Death left standing? Death never stands. Death is a cowardly spirit, preying on those too weak to hold on to Life. It has a name in the realm of the living only because most of those who still live are afraid to die."

     “And rightly so, I should think.”

     “Really? Are you afraid of Death, Carlos?”

     Carlos rubbed the back of his head. “I don’t know. I’ve never met him.”

     “But you presume to die is inherently a bad thing.”

     “I presume, yes, because I feel most of us still have something left to live for. To die then would be a great tragedy.”

     “But who says there is something left to live for?”

     Carlos’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

     Preston leaned forward, like one imparting a secret only a few are to hear. “We assume there is a purpose for our lives, and rightly so. However, we also assume that it is we who ultimately define that purpose.”

     “Don’t we?”

     The other straightened once again. He held his index and thumb in front of him, barely a fraction of an inch apart. “Only a little.”

     Carlos resisted the urge to burst out laughing. “I think you’ve partaken more fruit of the vine than is heavenly recommended.”

     The other chuckled. “And I think you’ve taken less than is essential. Show some faith.”

     “In what?” Carlos replied glumly. “Look around. I’ve very little left to put my faith in. Some of my best men are dead and missing, and Gypsum Hall is obviously taken.”

     “Hmmm. The Hall of Misers, I always wanted to call that dank old hive. Good riddance, I should say.”

     Carlos seemed exasperated. “That was our last stand against The Shadow, Preston. We essentially have nothing now. Oh, sure, we could nuke the place,” he continued, putting on a hard sarcastic edge. “The fallout would only hang around for the next hundred years, after all. Yeah, how about it? Maybe that’s the plan now. Oh, and by the way, Gypsum’s built on a raised plateau, with about fifty percent of the fortress under the surface. We’d have to blast the whole thing out of its rock. The best way to do that would be to target Gypsum’s nuclear fusion reactor, and when that thing blows, the whole cliff’s going to come pouring down into the inhabited valley below. Great way to wipe out an indigenous population of forest killing suburbians, if you ask me. Hey! It’s the holiday season! Why don’t we just invite everyone up to Hell’s halls peak and have them watch the whole spectacle; charge’em five bucks a seat, kids go free.”

     Preston Sable paused for a moment and considered his colleague’s sardonic ranting. “Alright, look.” He finally said, scrapping his hardy tone for a more business-like demeanor. “You’re not too chipper, that much is obvious, but would you mind being objective, just long enough to get across what you want me to do about this?”

     Carlos sighed heavily, moisture from his cloudy trip still dripping off his stout frame. “Look at me.” He replied caustically. “My most esteemed colleague, I’ve become a man who lives with the reality that almost nothing I say, intend or do is objective. I would like very much to be objective, but for now, all I can do is promise to be professional. But I apologize for my behavior. This whole thing is my fiasco, not yours.”

     “Nevertheless, every time you’ve called me, it was ultimately for my guidance or assistance.”

     Carlos nodded. “That is the case now.”

     “Ironic, considering the conversation as of a few minutes ago,” Preston observed. “What can I do for you?”

     “Tell me how to stop The Shadow.”

     Carlos waited expectantly.

     Preston seemed to mull the request over in his mind, his eyebrows knit together with intense contemplation. The radiance that emanated from him intensified a little and then died. In the moment after, he grimaced once and then glanced up at Carlos. He sighed heavily. He did not look quite so chipper himself now. “There is nothing I can do.” He replied simply.

     Carlos was incredulous. “Nothing? Nothing at all!?”

     Preston shook his head. “I’m afraid not. They have all the items they need—I have just seen it myself—and presently, there is no one stopping them. You could send the Elite fleet, I suppose—doubt they’d get there in time. Our adversary has created a dense energy shield surrounding Gypsum. Only a small force can penetrate this barrier without it resisting them. But of course, once inside, they have a great host of demonic swarm to contend with. And The Shadow is expecting a retaliation, of any sort.” Preston sighed. “This has gotten beyond even my own personal ability to control.”

     Carlos straightened himself. “So, you can offer me no better advice?”

     Preston calmly shook his head. “If it were simply up to us.”

     Carlos looked perplexed. “It is up to us.”

     “You take a great deal of personal responsibility for something that is only partly yours to worry about.”

     “Only partly mine?” Carlos raised a critical brow. “Preston, if The Elite can’t stop this, there’s no one left who can.”

     “That, my dear boy,” Preston replied with a cryptic smile, “is where you are quite mistaken.”

     Carlos looked incredulous. “Who is there besides The Elite?”

     Preston crossed his shining arms. “Surely you did not think we were the only force of ‘good’ left in the world.”

     “The only one of consequence? Yes, that was my impression of things.” Carlos’ brows knitted. “You imply there is…another? Like The Elite?”

     “Several others, Carlos.” Preston replied curtly. “But their nature is not like that of The Elite. They are not an organization but rather a coalition; a network; an alliance. I dare say they’re still the most powerful force in the world, even compared to The Elite.”

     Carlos leaned forward, intensity in his dark gaze. “Who?”

     Preston held a white-gloved hand before himself. “Who instigated The Elite?”

     Carlos frowned, confused. “You and I did.”

     “No,” Preston replied. He snapped his fingers.

     The room seemed to flash and disappear, replaced by an enormous passage filled with light. Carlos squinted, trying to get a visual fix on his surroundings. Beside him, Preston continued.

     “You and I founded the organization that exists today, but you know from The Dune’s Pull that there has been an ‘Elite’ for well over a millenium.”

     They began to walk through the luminous mists. They were in a hall, Carlos realized, made completely of some cloud-like substance, its ceiling vaulted some fifty feet above them with multicolored transparencies floating overhead, like suspended domes of stained glass. Colored light rained down on them at these regular intervals, funneled through their brightly cast filters. It felt like the vestibule to an unimaginably large cathedral. Lighted mists danced at their feet.

     “Of course,” Carlos grasped at Preston’s words, “How could I forget that?”

     “It is quite easy to do, when the remnants of the last Elite have all but disappeared. Until the global organization we have now, there hasn’t been an ‘Elite’ to speak of for over three hundred years. The last one had its central command somewhere in Asia.”

     “Asia? I would’ve thought Europe.”

     “Surprise, surprise. The Chinese still have some of their artifacts from that era, as do the Japanese and private historians from India. I remember trying to buy some of those relics back from them, when I was alive. Most would have nothing to do with such a notion. Pity. Such an invaluable collection that would have been...”

     “So," Carlos pressed, unable to suppress his urgency, "who started The Elite?”

     Preston pointed a white satin finger down the hall they were traversing. “In there, my friend. In there.”

     Carlos swallowed hard as they entered a room of such magnitude it made the adjoining hallway they’d just traversed seem congested and small by comparison. Walls embellished with billowing formations fanned out to either side of the high arched doorway, stretching away into the distance. Stairs descended into what appeared to be a massive arena, many thousands of feet below.

     Carlos caught himself in that thought. Could it be? His enhanced retina dilated to compensate for an overabundance of light. He squinted, staring hard, trying to decipher something of the grounds that stretched away far below. The illusion was complete. He had the distinct impression that he was staring at an impossibly huge stadium, whose misted ring lay some considerable distance away—two miles maybe. But that wasn’t possible; surely not. Even The Elite did not have something so large…

     “Where are we?” He finally asked.

     “Where it all began, my friend,” Preston answered simply. “Come. We are expected.”

     Carlos glanced uneasily about. “Expected? By whom?”

     Preston began to descend. “You wanted to know who started our prestigious organization?”

     Carlos inhaled deeply. The air was cool, crisp, clean. He hesitated. “I did not know they could still be…alive.”

     Preston laughed, a musical sound that seemed to take itself everywhere before bouncing merrily into the valley below. Carlos went stiff. In the misted arena, something moved.

     Preston caught his colleague’s agonized stare. “Yes, they are still very much alive. But why the long face? This is a heavenly place. You look as though something utterly morbid were about happen.”

     Carlos did not hear him. He stood, wide-eyed and staring, completely transfixed. From within the swirling clouds, two pinpricks of steely blue stared back.

     “Preston…” Carlos whispered harshly.


     Carlos held the ethereal being’s cold gaze.

     “Something’s down there.”

     Without any hint of caution, the shining Elite Head swung about to face the arena below.

     “Well, so there is!” He exclaimed jubilantly. “Come, we’re right on-“

     Click. Click.

     Preston stared incredulously at the twin plasma decimators Carlos held before himself. “What are you doing?”

     Carlos’s sharp eyes dilated. “I’m not setting a foot in that fog pit until I know exactly what the devil lives in there.”

     Preston crossed his arms and cocked an amused look. “Were we always this paranoid back in the agency?”

     “No,” Carlos replied archly, still keeping both firearms aimed at the enigma below, “you were worse.”

     “An ironic role reversal,” the shining man mused. “But there’s no need for this. Please, put your weapons away.”

     Carlos motioned with one of his oversized pistols. “Tell them to come up here.”

     Preston arched an eyebrow. “Our appointment is down there. I think it is we who should be moving.”

     “‘Our’ appointment? I knew nothing of this. Now if you don’t mind, call one of them here. I’m a man of procedures and protocols, which I will follow to a fault, and right now, you’re asking me to throw away every sound facet of judgement to waltz blindly into a bank of floating pea soup to meet Nessie the Locness monster for all I know. Forgive me if that doesn’t go over well with whoever down there, but I’m not budging till I see something that’s not hiding behind a haze of light.”

     “Well, this is unprecedented.” Preston scratched his snowy head. “Can I possibly persuade you to do otherwise?”


     “Look,” The Elite Head held up both hands, “Take my word, there is no danger to you here. Please, put the guns away; you don’t need them.”

     Carlos’ chuckled in spite of himself. “You sound like a duty officer trying to negotiate terms of release with a hostage taker.”

     “I’m a bit urgent, yes. Do you think a celestial being will take kindly to a stranger parading about his realm holding everything at gunpoint?”

     “Don’t you think the stranger ought to have his say about that? I was more than a little apprehensive to begin with, but now I’m not even here on my own accord. I hope you’ll understand, but I don’t go another step until I get some answers!”

     From far below, there was a loud, resounding cough. The phosphorous mists seemed to ripple like water, emanating from the center of disturbance. Miles of rolling white fog and light glittered like waves of liquid silver, their heavenly vapor cascading over the sides of the arena and ascending halfway up the steep incline that led into its bright interior. The blue eyes were gone.

     “I think you’ll get your answers then,” Preston concluded dryly.

     Carlos was instantly back on full alert, decimators at the ready.

     The fog erupted like a volcano, sending beams of radiance everywhere. Swirls of cloud geysered skyward as a dark singularity rose from within their midst. The light seemed to be absorbed by its bulk.

     Carlos held his breath. The object was huge, the only semblance of a shadow he’d seen in this wonderland of cloud and light. He involuntarily shielded his eyes as a column of pure brilliance blasted him from within the barrier of displaced mists, but not before getting a vague impression of the flying enigma. It was long, broad, with the bulk of that length and breadth divided between two elongated planes that spread like wings from a hulking body mass. Or so it seemed. He couldn’t be sure now. Whatever the devil it was had just lit up like a massive, extraterrestrial firefly.

     A hurricane gust suddenly blew Carlos off his feet. Instinctively, he rolled onto his back, bringing his weapons to bear. Light was everywhere now, rising like a wall of cold fire. It hurt too much to actually see anything, but Carlos forced himself to peer into the glare. From out of the mind-burning haze, two enormous orbs of blue light erupted into view, directly above him. They narrowed, fixing the Elite with their haunting stare. Carlos gasped as the spinning vortex of wind and light and cloud bore him into the ground.

     Abruptly, it ceased, and when Ferdinand Carlos clambered to his feet, he found himself face to face with what was easily one of the strangest creatures he'd ever seen--and also the biggest. A long, thick tail, covered in slick, silver skin drifted lazily from its posterior, floating above the ground like a phantom, tree trunk-sized bullwhip. Twin black protrusions jutted from its end. Two immense, wing-like arms spread from great, muscled shoulders, spanning at least a hundred and fifty feet in length from end to end, at which the appendages split into five finger-like formations. It’s rounded abdomen and deep pectorals were stained sapphire blue. Sleek, silver hide covered the rest of its bulk, stretching like a water-tight slicker over stocky barrel legs, its wing arms, and a long, brachiosaur neck and sharply curved head, which it cocked to one side, allowing a single sapphire orb to observe its awestruck beholder. Standing at fifty or so feet, and encompassing twice that, it filled the whole of Carlos' vision with its vast bulk. It hovered just above the misted stairs, a feat that seemed impossible for the massive being, regarding Carlos with a solemn blue eye. And that eye. It was filled with an intensity and sense of purpose that astonished the Elite. This was surely some mystical beast, but an animal, no less. Yet Carlos perceived a mind behind that gleaming blue sphere, a subtle intelligence that would put even an Alakazam to shame. A coldness seized him. All Pokèmon were sentient, yes--for surely that was what this was--but none could equal a human. Yet this creature. . . it overwhelmed him with its mere presence. . . it was beyond him.

     “Goddess…” Carlos breathed, "what in the blue hell is this?" Before him, a pair of decimators chirped and beeped as automated homing systems came online. The word “Lugia” did not register immediately in his head, for cultured as he was, the Chairman of The Elite had never seen one before.

     "I think," said Preston dryly, "that a formal introduction is in order." He turned to Carlos, issuing a hand in the direction of the floating leviathan. "My colleague, I present to you one High Guardian, and might I add, the King of this lofty realm."

     The Lugia cocked one of the black protrusions that shielded each luminous blue eye. "So," his telepathic voice boomed, "This is our Chairman of The Elite?"

     Carlos's jaw went to the floor. That did it. His nerves pushed past their breaking point, Ferdinand turned tail and bolted.



     Darkness was everywhere. It blotted out everything, obscuring not only vision but also any sense of movement. She was floating, floating in a vast black sea of nothing in the netherworld realms of nowhere. The substancelessness of the place held her fast, invisible shackles that pulled her slowly, down. . . down. . . down. . . down. Deeper and deeper she sank, unable to stop it, unable even to struggle against the irresistible force that bound her in chains of unimaginable despair. The weight of it pressed down upon her, threatening to crush the life from her small body.

     How funny, she thought briefly, to be squashed by nothing at all.

     A pillar of red suddenly flared before her. It erupted from far below, sending an unending tide of crimson lancing into the blanket of obscurity. Grudgingly, the darkness receded, pulling back to the edges of her vision. She blinked. She could see. But now she could also feel. . .


     Pain was everywhere. The sound of screaming and wailing and pure, unending agony resounded in her throbbing head. Heat, sweltering emissaries of Hell itself rose in unending waves, searing everything in its path. She screamed and it was multiplied by a thousand times in her own ears, a primal wail that reverberated through her small eardrums and threatened to tear whatever shred of sanity remained hers from its facets and hurl it away. Down she sank. Her shackles were hot now. They burned into her small arms and legs and waist, tearing through her until there was only. . .


     As quickly as it had come, it was gone and she felt nothing. The red light vanished, taking the heat, the screams and the pain with it. A shadow fell over her, cloaking her world again in. . .


     Where am I?

     April Waterflower glanced about her. Gingerly, she reached down. Something hard, cold, and smooth met her touch. Stone maybe? At least it was solid. She stood, then crouched and felt herself; the ruffle of the clothes she wore, the swish of her ebony hair and the feel of her own hands as they carefully insured that everything was where it should be. Satisfied, she stood again. There were no shackles about her wrists or arms or legs or waist--she was free. But the darkness. She could see nothing.

     Where am I?

     Cautiously, she took a step forward. Then another, and another, and then she walked freely. Her shoes clicked on the invisible floor, echoing hollowly in the emptiness that surrounded her. Nothing obstructed her progress. Was there anything here at all?

     For the third time, she wondered aloud, Where am I?

     She had no voice. Only the sound of her mind echoed in the stillness. Yet, somehow, it did not bother her. On she traveled, wondering blindly about in a realm of black limbo, with the echo of her own presence the only thing to keep her company. She walked for a long time, or so she thought--how could anyone tell in this place? In the stillness, her mind began to wonder. She was alone now, but where were the others? What had happened to them? She remembered the last thing that had happened to her before she appeared here. Where was Brock? Was he. . . okay? She remembered the smoldering black mark on his chest and the look on his face.

     In the darkness, something stirred.

     April felt it more than she did actually see it, but whatever the disturbance had been, it was there and gone again, leaving no further trace of its existence. Then, ahead of her, a shaft of light suddenly lighted a circular section of the floor. Instinctively, she ran for it.

     The enclosure of light was larger than she'd expected, encompassing an area within a twenty-foot radius, or so she judged. Without the little yellow tape measure he mom always let her borrow, it was impossible to tell for sure. She glanced down experimentally. Yep, she was all there.

     And something else was, too.

     She gasped. Lying on his back, in the middle of the lighted floor, was Brock Stone. His rifle was cast randomly a foot or so away, its barrel broken and smoking. Several spent cylinder caps lay haphazardly about and around the fallen man. His face was turned toward her, slit eyes still and unblinking. Several long gashes ran the length of his arms and legs and his chest was burnt black. It was still smoking.

     For a moment, April just stared at the body. It was completely logical she knew; back in reality, Brock Stone was just like this, cold and dead. She approached, her shoes still clicking hollowly on the hard floor. Gingerly, she knelt beside Brock's fallen form and pressed a finger to his wrist. It was cold to the touch; nothing.


     She felt the tears fill her eyes and spill onto her lap, hot with the intensity of her boiling emotions. She remembered the last significant thought she'd had about his man. She was sitting on Ash's bed again, kicking her little heels stubbornly on its sides, "He could be! He could be, he could be, he could be..."

     Not anymore.

     NOOOO! her mind screamed into the emptiness without. No. . . she cried, . . .It's. . . It's not. . .

     "I know."

     April started as a cold hand wiped away her tears. She saw one of hers still holding its wrist.

     "It's not fair, is it."

     April was almost ecstatic. Mr. Brock! She gasped. A small flame of hope lit itself within her mind’s dying embers.

     The tanned face smiled warmly--as warmly as a dead man's face could--as it lifted stiffly from the floor. "Hey there kid."

     Her small brow furrowed with doubt. But you're. . . how?

     Brock chuckled. "It's a dream. Anything's possible in here." Slowly, he rose to a sitting position. He inspected himself. "Gosh. I guess I'm a little worse off than I thought. Wasn't exactly the way I'd planned to go, either." He sighed. "It's a real shame, ain't it." He glanced about. "Well, guess I'd better be on my way kid."

     Please don't go, Mr. Brock! April sniffed. She clung to his cold hand. Please stay here!

     Brock looked grim. "Kid, I can't stay, I'm sorry. I've a very important appointment to make. . ." he stared off into the distance. He shook his head. "I'm sorry, April. I wanted to protect you, I really did, and I tried as hard as I could. It wasn't enough. I failed, I paid, but it still doesn't help you. And now," he sighed again, his slit eyes fixing once more on the shining, tear-filled ones of the heartbroken little girl in front of him, "I can't even stay to give you a shred of comfort in this dark world. I'm sorry kid."

     Stiffly, he rose and began to walk away.

     "Goodbye, April." He waved and was about to disappear into the darkness when a small hand clutched him.


     He drew up short and turned to face the little girl that held tenaciously to his pants leg.

     Before you go, please, April pleaded desperately, trying hard to choke back sobs and tears, Tell me, are you. . . are you. . . my father?

     The dead man paused for a moment, then, slowly, he knelt and took one of April's small hands. Carefully, he balled it into a fist and pressed it, knuckle to knuckle, against his own. The skin tones contrasted sharply, deep tan against a light peach, and the build of the hands themselves, one broad and thick-skinned, the other, though still chubby with childhood, comparatively slender and thin, made the obvious unmistakable. Brock shook his head.

     "I'm sorry, kid," The slit eyes lifted to meet hers.

     April just stared back. You already knew, didn't you.

     Brock nodded. "It was never that way between your mother and I. We were always just friends. I would've been proud to be your dad, April, but I'm sorry, I'm not."

     April's head sank. Then who? Who is he? She glanced about hopelessly. Where is he now?

     Brock gave her a wry smile. "I don't know, but I've a feeling he's closer than you think." He rose again and backed away, half of him in the shadows but half still in the light. "Look for him. He'll be the one you least suspect." And with that, Brock Stone slipped out of view and disappeared, lost forever in the shadows beyond.

     Goodbye, Mr. Brock, April sniffed, I’ll miss you. You were really nice to me. Above her, the light suddenly began to fade and go dim. An instant later, it was gone. Coldness brushed against April’s skin.

     Hugging herself, April sank to her knees. Now I really am all alone, aren’t I.

     It was a few minutes later when something in the darkness again stirred.


Preston's voice called pleadingly after him, but on the Elite Chairman ran. An irresistible panic seized his fatigued mind, and his body responded with a surge of adrenaline, giving Carlos more fuel to burn in his biometric limbs. He ran, and felt a coward for it, but was unable to stop himself. Down the misted pathway he fled, passing under and through the intervals of colored light, through that high-vaulted vestibule, past its ethereal columns of cloud and relentless sunshine. Their ornate, sculpted features only vaguely registered in Carlos' churning mind. Faster he ran, almost blindly as he gave vent to the overwhelming madness that so completely gripped him to the core. For a moment, it became the essence of who he was. Speed was power; flight a newly found friend. He took refuge in the constant movement of body and limb. The rhythm of it drove him, on and on, until it threatened to consume him whole. Forward was the only motion that existed, and forward was to flee the faceless dreads of a life that had gotten too big for its mortal owner to control. It made no sense and he was aware of the fact, but Carlos no longer cared. The fire of a nameless horror burned through him and he let himself be carried away on its phantom wings. Feel the purge; forget the pain. To flee was his only hope of salvation, so he ran; out of fear; out of need.

     In the end, he ran simply because that motion was the last thing he could control.

Preston stared after the departing streak of his colleague. It took all he had to keep a straight face.

     "Now that," he concluded with a cocked eyebrow, "was one bloody quick exit."

     The King did not seem humored.

     "Stay here," The regal being's psychic voice echoed through the room, "I'm going after him."

Gradually, some semblance of reason began to penetrate Carlos' chaotic state of mind. What are you doing, man? His own mental voice questioned him chastisingly. Look around. Who's chasing you?

     Feeling excruciatingly foolish, he nevertheless cast a furtive glance over his shoulder. Only a faint trail of disturbed light-infused mists greeted his vigilant gaze.

     What's back there that you're so afraid to face?

     Carlos checked his headlong speed and considered his own question.

     What was he afraid to face? Until this moment, he'd dealt with things quite adequately.

     He'd faced the Mafia.

     He'd faced Team Rocket.

     He'd faced drug rings and triads.

     He'd faced ruthless politicians and cutthroat lawyers.

     He'd faced terrorists, warlords, serial killers, slippery con artists and vicious assassins.

     He'd faced every conceivable evil man was capable of, and most of the time the confrontation took place on the malignant infestation's own turf.

     He'd faced the Shadow and its demon spawn.

     And he'd faced the worse trial of all; Elite board meetings, with a full agenda and no coffee break.

     He'd faced down everything dark and rotten in the world.

     Why now could he not also make himself stand before a high Guardian from the realms of Light? Was that so hard to do?


     Antagonized by the direction of his own soul-searching, Carlos groped for a simple, dismissive answer. Yes, he could explain. He was worn, exhausted; it was all just too much. The strain of being the highest living official of an organization that demanded perfection and nothing less had finally gotten to him. Stress wasn't enough to describe being Chairman of The Elite; more like Hell on Earth. It was not a job that many aspired to fulfill, even the most ambitious among Carlos' agents, but fill it he had and better than anyone before. Even Griffin, in his most cynical, pessimistic state would have to admit that. He got the job done, and he had to power to do it. To cross Ferdinand Carlos was unarguably a poor mistake to make. He might be a compassionate man, but he was not afraid, not of anyone, not of anything. The opposition, of course, would like to think otherwise. For them, to be a thorn in Carlos' side was to be a bane to The Elite. Yet most of the world's most notorious lords of crime, if they were honest with themselves, would have to confess that it was they who were scared to death of this imposing man.

     So, why was one who commanded so much fear now afraid? For that was why he ran now, was it not? Why else did anyone flee?

     With no small effort, Carlos at last forced himself to stop. To his astonishment, he found himself only marginally warm and completely sweatless.

     Then he felt the presence.

     "You've run far."

     It was that voice again. Now he did sweat.

     Still breathing hard from the impromptu flight, Carlos nonetheless whirled around to face the speaker, decimators at the ready. Sure enough, "it" hovered before him, that ethereal creature of light.

     The Pokèmon towered high above the man, who was still armed with his minute weapons, little black tubes that boasted instant death.

     Carlos glanced incredulously at his two decimators. They seemed useless now. Somehow, Carlos knew that nothing he had could stop this being. This was it, there would be no escape.

     For perhaps the first time in his life, the Chairman of The Elite was completely helpless--and he was aware of it.

     Slowly, Carlos let the twin decimators fall to his sides.

     "That is good, Elite," The Lugia acknowledged Carlos' surrender, though he did not even trouble a glance at the Elite's set of minute weapons--little more than handheld poptart toasters. "Would you really fire upon me?"

     Ferdinand swallowed bile and whatever fear he still had and forced himself to find his voice. "No," he replied evenly, despite himself, "No, I could not."

     "A good answer," The divine being spoke in return.

     With a heave, he allowed himself to settle upon the floor.

     The misted ground quaked and Carlos fell reflexively to one knee.

     Spreading his massive wings, the King of the Lugia continued. "Do you know why you are here?"

     A pause.

     Expectant silence.

     "No," Carlos answered at length.

     The silver head lowered until its serrated beak was but a few feet above the Elite's ebony crown. "I will tell you then," the Lugia replied, his psychic voice taking a firm edge. Light exploded again from his celestial body; Carlos shielded his eyes. "For nearly two thousand years, there has been an Elite; and for many thousands of years more, there will continue to be. I will see to it. I was there when the first was brought into being. It was I that made it so; I who gave those first men and women of the order their power and authority. Elite Chairman, Ferdinand, my son, you have been brought here to make an account of yourself."

     Carlos forced himself to stare into the radiance of the face that hovered above his. The light burned, causing his eyes to water. The tears flowed freely down his cheeks. "Who are you?" he breathed.

     "I," the Lugia answered with his real voice, a shock wave of sonic energy that made the ground tremble, "Am King!" The light intensified, forcing Carlos to again avert his gaze and shield his pained face. "Lord of the Sky, the Land and the Sea, I am ruler, highest in authority of Earth's Guardians! Fear, mortal," The Lugia boomed, "For you stand in the presence and behold the glory of one elected by God himself, His Emissary, a testament to His might!" The ground quaked and heaved, throwing Carlos to his knees. Light cut through him in searing waves, its radiance passing through the Elite's body like a needle through paper. Wind hammered him into the ground, roaring in his ears. He tried to cry out, but his voice was lost in the vortex of elements. Deeper and deeper he felt himself being pressed, pounded, crushed. "The forces of Life and Death I wield! Power and authority to judge are mine!" Yes! I understand! You are god already! Carlos wanted to scream. Then, abruptly, it all ceased, and he was standing again, like it had never happened. Dubiously, he glanced about and blinked. "And," The Lugia chuckled lightly above him, his deep, guttural voice now no more than a slight rumble, "I have the power and authority to grant mercy."

     Carlos gasped. They were back in the great, misted arena, but this time, they were down inside. Bright haze floated overhead, obscuring everything above the stadium’s perimeter from sight. The Elite stood in the ring’s center, with the great Lugia. A wall of pearly columns, nearly two hundred feet high, surrounded them on all sides. Massive pillars of ornate white brilliance, they rose into the lighted mists, their tops obscured. A floor of clear, smooth crystal spread itself like a titanic mirror, stretching the entire length, breadth and width of the stadium, the columns and sky reflected in its glassy surface, making the place feel as though it were twice its actual size. Behind the initial row of pillars, Carlos could see more, row upon row, going so far back into the distance the end of it was barred from his sight. The space between each was large enough to drive a pack of Abrams tanks through. It was through one of these massive openings that Preston Sable sauntered in, nonchalant as ever.

     “Ah, you’re back,” he smiled, extending a hand to Carlos as he approached, “I take it everything went well, considering you’re still in one piece.” He winked at the Lugia.

     Carlos took the other’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Yes, excellent, never felt more alive!” He agreed, showing a deliberately forced grin. In an instant, he let it all drop and simply grabbed the other man by his white coat’s lapels. “Now, esteemed colleague of mine,” Carlos seethed through clenched teeth, “If you don’t mind, what the hell is going on!” Sable released Carlos’ grip with a wave of his hand. Astonished, the Elite Chairman stumbled and fell back on his rear.

     “Well now, I would think our esteemed host would’ve told you that.” Preston glanced briefly up at the Lugia. Leaning over, he again extended a hand to his exasperated second-in-command. With no apparent effort, he hauled Carlos back to his feet.

     “This leviathan,” Carlos waved incredulously at the Lugia King, “How am I to remember a word he says? I found it hard enough to stay on two feet!”

     “You could accord a reasonable measure of respect in here,” Preston replied without humor, “Your authority on Earth does not carry into this place.”

     Carlos rubbed his temples. “Preston, I don’t even know where the hell I am, much less how I should behave! Why am I here, who is this creature, what is the point of this whole business? God almighty, I need help man! Not for me alone but for a whole damned race! You’re secure up here, where everything is calm and peaceful and in control. I’m nothing in this place, I understand that; so be it; fine. But for the love of everything we stand for, please give me some assurance! Tell me there’s a reason for this, all this…insanity, this chaos! Heaven forgive me, but I don’t want a tour of her glory and might! I just want an answer, a remedy, a cure; help for all the billions of helpless people that live on my demoralized world!” Carlos ran a hand through his disheveling ebony hair. He turned a half circle, taking in the vast splendor that surrounded him and yet finding he was unable to appreciate any it. Somehow, it only intensified his sense of impending doom. Hell consumed his planet; was he being given a preview of his new home? Was it really going to end like this, with him being whisked away to the happily-ever-after while The Shadow destroyed everything he’d fought so hard to preserve? Why he did not know, but he turned to the Lugia. “You,” he pleaded, an imploring hand outstretched as he fell to one knee, “Have you seen my world? God, we’re all about to die! I must not let that happen! Please, can you help me!?”

     There was a long pause before The King finally spoke.

     “At last,” he rumbled softly, “You begin to understand who I am.” With a great clap of his wings, he roared into the great arena, “Let the Lords of the Realms be gathered unto me! All of you, come forth!”

     The ground quivered, rumbling as though under a great stampede. Carlos glanced tentatively about. Out of habit and training, he redrew his black side arms, though of what use they could be, he did not know.

     The sky suddenly became dim, its radiant clouds turning a dark, silver-lined gray. From the crevices between their rolling under surface, several great shafts of light cut through the gloom, dotting the glassy floor below with a myriad of luminous circles. For a moment, they hung there, immense solitary pillars of white. Then the whole sky seemed to explode, riveted with hundreds of shining portals. Shafts of brilliance followed in their wake and the entire arena became filled with them, a veritable stage enraptured with hundreds of great spotlights.

     Through each heavenly perforation, riding down the length of its shaft of light, a host of varied and exotic beings began to slowly descend. Birds, beasts, creatures animal in shape and some humanoid, all of them encased in their own sphere of colored light, token of their elemental power, approached the arena floor. Supernatural bodies rippling with sinewy muscles, jutting protrusions, great wings, long, flowing plumage, their heads were held high, eyes burning white with exalted power and unassailable might. Into the vast ring they descended, gods of old, Guardians of Light.

     “Hail, lords!” The Lugia roared, causing the earth to shake.

     Fisted appendages raised, the multitude returned the thunderous cry, and it multiplied by a million fold.


     “Goddess!” Carlos swore as he went down with the earthquake. He winced. There was something to be said about the un-paddedness of titanium knees.


How long will you be gone, mommy? Aaryanna clung possessively to Ki’s jacket, hugging close to her mother, refusing to let go.

     It’s not fair! Brianna sniffed, hugging Ki’s leg. Why can’t we come, too? Who’s going to watch over you and daddy?

     Ki almost burst out in melodious laughter, but she restrained herself. I’m sorry, dear. It’s just the way things have worked out. Your father has some…important business to attend to.

     She thought darkly back to the moment she’d read through The Elite’s letter. How could they! She’d thought, angry that the powerful international organization would dare to disturb her peaceful life. And they’d called her mate to attend their initiation, no less. The nerve! What could they possible want from Mewtwo? His power, probably; that’s the reason Giovanni had him created, after all. But how did they find us? That was the part that troubled her the most. No one outside the circle of Pokèmon lords, save powerful psychics like Sabrina perhaps (and a few others), knew anything about Lord Mewtwo’s existence, and no humans at all were suppose to know where Perraldra was.

     Ki, love, a pair of strong arms lifted Ki’s protesting daughters up and away, It’s time to go. Mewtwo winced as Brianna and Aaryanna now clung to him. Hey, easy there, kittens! He chuckled good-naturedly, placing them both up on his shoulders. We’ll be back before you have a chance to really miss us.

     Slowly, grudgingly, Ki rose to her feet. Her mind was so preoccupied, she almost tripped over Morgan as he floated over to say goodbye. Ah!

     Sorry, momma!

     Morgan, Gingerly, she reached down and scooped him up, What is it, dear?

     How long will you and daddy be gone?

     Well, not too long, she replied, looking out over the horizon. The Sun’s golden rays were just beginning to crest the blue mountain border. We’ll come home as soon as we’re done.

     When will that be?

     Ki frowned. I…I don’t know. She set Morgan down and knelt in front of him. I don’t want to make you worry, Morgan dear, but I have to be honest. This is serious stuff your dad and I have to attend to. I don’t know what will happen; I don’t know how long we’ll be gone or when we’ll get back. It’ll be a few days at least. Maybe more. But whatever happens, Morgan,” she clasped his hands in hers, “I need you to be strong. Can you do that for me?

     Morgan blinked the welling tears away from his cerulean eyes. I’ll try, momma.

     She hugged him. For all she knew, it might be the last time. She forced a reassuring smile. Thank you, dear. Go say goodbye to you father now.


     She watched him float away. Something wet slipped down her cheek. Angrily, she swatted the salty droplet from her face. Another tear took its place, streaking her other cheek. Ki sighed in surrender. Why do we have to be human? Rising, she gently wiped away this new messenger of grief. Taking a deep breath to steady her own nerves, she went to look for Anika and Damian.

     Can you really protect us? Anika looked at her brother doubtfully. He was big for his age, and strong, she knew—but mommy and daddy were still bigger! And now, they were going away.

     Damian puffed his chest out. Using his psychic power to hover above the veranda that overlooked the Eastern Hemisphere of Perraldra, he crossed his arms and assumed a stern, commanding look. Oh, I’ll protect us alright—all of us. No bad guy’s gonna come lollygaging into this place! I’ll blow’em clear to-

     Mew will be here, Anika piped, interrupting her brother’s little speech, Won’t she protect us?

     Damian looked flustered. Mew? She’s not even as tall as you are! What’s she going to do if some real powerful evil shows up here?

     Anika was sitting on a plush indigo cushion, which she’d pulled from one of the sunning chairs that dotted the broad veranda under its wide awning. Using her own psychic abilities, the little Mewtwo had turned the velvety pillow into a floating carriage. She rode it to her brother’s side. Size doesn’t matter much, she mused, looking out over the horizon. The sun’s first rays were beginning to peek through. Mommy said Mew’s lived for a really long time. Maybe she’ll know what to do if something goes wrong.

     Yeah, that’s possible, Damian allowed, though the doubt in his voice didn’t leave. But I still say it’s up to us.

     Especially you?

     Especially me.

     Will you miss mommy and daddy?

     Damian’s confident pose evaporated into a blank stare. He realized he hadn’t thought much about that…he hadn’t really allowed himself to. Shoulders slumping back to their normal height, he looked over at his sister. Anika’s big, luminous eyes stared back. They were brimming with moisture. He quickly turned away.

     Damian, Anika’s trembling voice demanded his attention, You haven’t said anything about any of this since we were told they were going away. You’re always trying to be so strong, but, she sniffed, Don’t you ever care?

     Well, I…sure I care! Damian countered irritably. It’s just that…well, look; some things need to be taken care of sis, and well, I have to take care of them. He again assumed his regal pose; shoulders, chest and chin high, arms crossed, eyes dark and imposing. It’s okay if you don’t understand. I don’t expect you to.

     Anika’s frown only deepened. You’re not very good at acting grown-up, she remarked flatly.

     Ah, but it’s the intentions that count, Damian replied, assuming now a scholarly air, To be is to be. It’s a choice we make. When things get tough, you just hafta be tougher.

     But I don’t wanna be tougher! Anika protested. I just want things to stay the same! She buried her face between her knees. Why do they have to leave? Mommy won’t say so, but she’s worried. And daddy, she shivered, daddy looks so dark…so… she choked back a sob.

     A massive pair of violet arms embraced her. So Angry?

     Daddy! Abandoning her floating pallet, she flung herself into Mewtwo’s arms.

     I’m sorry, baby, He soothed, This has been a real bad time for me, but listen honey, Gently, he lifted her quivering chin, It’s not your fault.

     Daddy, don’t go! Anika tearfully pleaded.

     I don’t want to, He admitted, stroking her smooth head, But I have to. If I don’t, you, your mother, your brothers and sisters—all of us—will be in greater danger. I’m not going to let that happen.

     That’s right! Damian piped enthusiastically, Dad’s going to take care of it, so don’t worry. He checked himself, suddenly not quite so sure of his own assertions. You will be okay, won’t you?

     Mewtwo gave him a wry smile. With you here to hold down the fort? Yeah, I’ll be just fine. He put his free hand on Damian’s forehead. His face was serious now. You and Mew take care of things for me, okay? Don’t boss your brother and sisters around. Handle everything with patients, and be compassionate.

     Damian met the stern gaze. I will.

     I want you all to continue your exercises in the gymnasium. Reeves will be there if you need him, but until I come back, no one enters the Stadium, He was speaking now to Anika as much as we was Damian, Is that clear?

     They nodded in unison.

     Good. Gingerly, he set Anika down. Kneeling, he placed both hands on Damian’s bowed head. Until I return, son. They glowed with pale blue light, creating a psychic aura about the young Mewtwo’s crown.

     Until you return.

     I will miss you all.

     We’ll miss you, too.



     Mewtwo rose, hugged Anika and kissed her gently on the forehead. I wish you and your sisters pleasant dreams while we’re away. Dream something for your mom and I, okay?

     Through her tears, Aaryanna managed a smile. I thought dreams were Aaryanna's job.

     Mewtwo laughed. I gave that gift to all three of you.

     Okay, She breathed, I will.

     A gentle breeze whispered through the veranda’s hollow concave. When Anika and Damian looked up again, they were alone. Mewtwo was gone.

     'Ready to go? Mewtwo asked Ki as she reappeared from wherever in the palace she’d been.

     Yes. Thanks for waiting. She fiddled with her leather gloves for a moment before commenting, Anika and Damian didn’t take very long. They said you already said goodbye.

     So I did. Mewtwo replied. But I would think they’d have more to say to their mother.

     Ki shook her head. No. They seemed like they were accepting this. I guess that’s a good thing. The others need all the assurance they can. She smiled nostalgically. I barely made it past Brianna and Aaryanna in one piece.

     Yeah! Mewtwo chuckled. Those two are chaos!

     I’m a little worried about Morgan, though. I left him sitting at the kitchen table last, and that’s still where he is. He looks spaced out.

     Hmmm. I think he’ll be okay. There’s a first time for everything, you know. Gently, he placed both arms around Ki’s waist, resting his hands on the small of her back. It’s never easy, He kissed her lightly on the mouth, But it’s always worth the trouble.

     Ki leaned into the embrace. ‘Couldn’t agree more. Still in love then?

     Forever and always.

     Well good! Another psychic voice declared from out of nowhere. ‘Cause things would sure suck otherwise!

     Startled, Mewtwo and Ki went back-to-back, sending a ring of dust into the air as they shoved off the ground. Hands and eyes glowing bright with pale-blue psychic fire, they were a pretty scary sight.

     Ah! Mercy! Their would-be assailant immediately threw up both her little pink paws in surrender. I’m too young to die!

     “Mew!” Ki and Mewtwo exclaimed aloud in unison. “What are you doing here!?”

     I’m sorry! Mew wailed from where she'd made a dive for the ground, pink paws covering her head. I was just coming to say goodbye and, well, here you were! She opened an eye experimentally and glanced tentatively about. Seeing the psychic masters back to normal, she floated back into the air. Goddess, She swore, wiping a sheen of sweat from her small brow, I thought you were going to shred me to ribbons!

     Yeah, do that again and I just might! Mewtwo retorted.

     Next time, we'll string you up by your ears and tickle you till you beg to die. Ki synchronized, turning up the goddess reverb on her psychic voice's mental equalizer.

     They both seemed more humored now than offended. Everybody just laughed.

     Well, so this is it then? Mew said nostalgically. She glanced about, taking in the moment. I’m sure going miss you guys, what with me being the only adult and all. Jeez! I’ll be lucky if I make it through this nightmare in one piece!

     Mewtwo chuckled. My kids aren’t that bad, Mew. There’s intelligence behind the power, you just have to learn how to bring it out.

     Yeah, and try to stay alive at the same time! Oh goddess, I swear, I’m going to have my paws full. If this whole business turns out to be nothing, I’m also going to personally kick livin’ hell outta The Elite!

     I feel like doing that right now. Ki rejoined spitefully.

     A very unwise notion, love. Mewtwo’s calm, reassuring voice passed through them both as he put his arms around the two and hugged them close. Mother and daughter. He mused. Strange how life arranges our circumstances.

     Well, I’m not her ‘real’ mother y’know. Mew piped.

     Ki patted the little pink head. Well, you are now.

     Damn right, Mew returned, Hey, you’d better get moving! Sun’s already up!

     Mewtwo glanced at the morning sky. So it is. Let’s be off then, my love. Bending down a little, he scooped Ki up in his arms. He exchanged a kiss with her before turning again to Mew. Take care. You have been a mother to me in many ways, and you are certainly a good friend. I know you’ll be just fine with the kids. It’s not like you’ve never done this before.

     Yeah, well, cynicism’s always been part of my routine. Off you two get now! G’on!

     Ki smiled. Goodbye, mother-Mew!

     Lord have mercy, child! Mew exclaimed, hugging Ki one last time. You’re going to make me cry! Go now!

     Mewtwo, with Ki, began to rise off the ground. Until we return, then.

     There’ll be a hot tub for two waiting and a weekend pass to that spicy lovers’ operation down on Shady street! Mew retorted unceremoniously.

     Ki giggled. Goodbye, Mew!

     Some ten feet into the air, Mewtwo and Ki became encased in a dense ball of psychic energy. It crackled and hissed, pulsing bright blue before shooting off like a rocket into the cheery morning air.

     Well, there they go. Mew sighed, speaking telepathically to no one in particular. Her luminous blue eyes followed the tiny azure dot in the sky as it changed course, slowing its upward movement and then turning due west. If only they knew they’ve been called to save the world.


Carlos glanced uneasily about at the varied menagerie that surrounded him. Creatures of every size, shape, and figment of the imagination were in here. Some were quite small, but most of them were large—impossibly large for any of the particular species they seemed to take after—and all of them definitely exuded that same overwhelming aura of god-like power, which he’d first felt when the Lugia had confronted him. For the second time, he re-holstered his weapons. Once again, there would be no fighting this; he had to get that through his head now. For better or for worse, this was simply what he had to do, had to go through in order to accomplish the end he wanted. Carlos let his empty hands fall to his sides. Sometimes, the best way to get anything was to just play along.

     “Tough crowed out there, wouldn’t you say?” Preston quipped lightly at Carlos’ shoulder.

     “Indeed.” The Elite Chairman frowned. “Couldn’t have asked for one tougher.”


Who’s there?

     April turned a full circle in the darkness, but there of was nothing there to greet her searching gaze. She frowned. It was odd, but she found herself more annoyed at the inconvenience of having no light than she was frightened that she was in total dark.

     She heard the noise again—or rather, she felt a presence. It was no more than a vague whisper, but it caught her attention and she followed it, small heels clicking on the cold stone pavement beneath her shoed feet as she trotted after the feelings that beckoned her. A few minutes later, her vigilant pursuit was rewarded as another column of pale light blinked into view, only a few feet ahead.

     This light was a little brighter than the one before. It covered a much bigger area and she felt warmth surrounding her. April found she was standing in a grassy meadow, filled with due and the first touches of morning sunshine. A dazzling array of wild flowers greeted her approach, swaying lazily to a cool, gentle breeze. In the distance, she heard a pidgy call, and another answered it. A pair of jumpluff floated by and they waved cheerily at the young stranger before drifting farther away. April waved back and continued on into the lighted clearing.

     In the center of the whole dream-cast spectacle sat two willows, their bows leaning into each other to create a hanging canopy over a relatively secluded patch of ground. Beneath the gently swaying overhang sat a small bench of smooth black granite, its cut and polished angles gleaming as though the whole thing were covered with a veneer of pure glass. It sat squarely between the two trees, perfectly symmetrical and darkly beautiful.

     April drew up short. Something about the black object bothered her. She looked hard at it. Everything seemed okay, except that…well, the last time she’d seen a bench like that, it had been at a cemetery, not a garden.

     She glanced tentatively about. Yep, no headstones. This was all wrong.

     Then she saw the ghost.

     Well, again, to be more accurate, she felt it before she actually saw it. The clearing was pretty well lit, so it took her awhile before the barely visible outline of a slender, female figure, sitting casually on the black stone bench finally registered.

     April’s eyes went wide with fright and shock. Then she looked harder at the faded apparition. It was looking directly at her.

     Is that why I felt it? She wondered to herself.

     She continued to just stand there and stare, unsure of what to do next.

     The human shade’s cerulean eyes glowed and stared back. A pair of dark, luxurious lashes obscured them for a moment in a slow, deliberate blink.

     April gasped. The ghost had long tresses of cascading raven hair. Despite its supposed lack of substance, the wavy locks seemed to gleam, like springs of water running off dark, smooth rocks.

     It stood, rising from its hard seat like the phantom it was, yet also seeming to gain support from the granite bench’s dense mass, as if the apparition was not quite unreal. It’s lashes batted again, just before it threw its head back, sweeping its gleaming locks dramatically over its slim shoulders. A million droplets of crystalline moisture tumbled through the air, their flight slowed to a elegant prismatic waltz as the light caught them up and hurtled through their midst, leaving behind a misted trail of vivid color. April watched, frozen, suspended in time as the ghost left its place under the trees and began to slowly approach. Through the rainbow mists it floated, a supernatural creature who’s ethereal beauty left the beholder awestruck, yet who’s foreboding link to the netherworld also brought an immense and terrible dread. So April watched with a mix of fascination and terror, but as her phantom came nearer, it began to change its translucent form. The color in its body began to become more opaque, more solid and less see-through. First its flowing locks of raven hair shimmered abruptly into clarity, then its lightly tanned, peach skin. Mauve lips parted in a dazzling smile, and a flush of indigo and deep blue revealed the material of the formfitting gown April now saw the ghost—which was looking less like one now—was wearing. It came on, slippered feet floating just inches above the ground as it drew closer, becoming progressively more “real” until it finally stood before the young girl, completely whole.

     As the woman tilted her head to regard the girl, only her eyes retained their phantom presence, emitting a haunting, ethereal sapphire glow.

     Welcome, April, she greeted with a warm smile.

     April smiled back. Hi.

     The young woman held out her hand and brushed a raven lock from the girl’s face. Do you know who I am? She asked.

     I know you, April beamed, You’re me, aren’chu!

     I am. The woman replied, then checked herself. Or, will be. The dazzling smile faded and she looked sad. Your future—our future—is in serious question right now. That’s why I appeared to you as I first did.

     Am I…OK? April swallowed the lump in her throat. Where am I?

     You're in limbo, a half-state, floating somewhere between life and the netherworld.

     April's tiny brows knitted in concern. Some of the terminology didn't make sense, but it sounded dark and foreboding. Is that bad? She asked.

     No, the older April shook her elegant head, not necessarily. But it also means you’re not out of the woods yet either.

     April gave herself a moment to contemplate all that, but it still made no sense. She again looked in wonder at the beautiful figure kneeling in front of her. Would she really be this grown-up someday?

     You were wondering why you're here, weren't you?

     April snapped out of her trance. Oh, yes, I was, am--what exactly's going on in here? I talked to Brock earlier. He said this was a dream. Is that all this is? And if it is... She paused again, remembering what the departing rock trainer had said ...is what he said...real?

     The grown up April took the younger one's hand and began to walk them back toward the entwined willows. You mean, about him being your father?

     The younger April nodded vigorously.

     The woman brushed a stray lock out of her eyes. Yes, what he told you is true. He is not.

     The girl was quiet again.

     Are you disappointed, then?

     No...just sad.

     Yeah. Absently, the grown April stroked the younger one's head. I understand.

     What is my life like; I mean, with you being me, just older and in the future?

     The woman smiled. What do you want to know about yourself?

     The girl was almost beside herself with anticipation. Do I get to know who my father is; my real one?

     The woman pursed her lips, amused. I thought you would ask.

     The girl persisted. Please, who is he?

     Why do you want to know so bad? The older April asked seriously, not avoiding the question but demanding that the one who asked it was really willing to know the full truth.

     The younger April didn't seem to catch this, though. Wouldn't you want to know, too? She asked stubbornly. And if you're really me, then do you?

     The woman smiled again. Perhaps.


"Oh, shit! Not this again!" Ash cried as several dark, hunkered forms came streaking along the tunnel walls, coming at them from both directions. "Brock, hellfire barrage!"

     Standing back to back, the two men faced off against both ends of the closing trap. The others quickly got the drift and hit the floor, bringing their own weapons to bear.

     "Everyone," Ash held up his left hand, brandishing his re-drawn sidearm. He held his plasma rifle in the other hand, hugging its back end between his arm and ribcage for balance. The demons drew closer. "FIRE!!"

     The dark hounds of hell didn't even have a fraction of a second to respond as a storm of molten steel and plasmatic discharge met their overconfident advance. They screamed in surprise, then horror, then pain as the glowing shards cut their black hide to smoldering ribbons. Their torn members hit the cold concrete floor, inky fluids spraying everything midnight black behind them. By then, they were already dead.

     "Oh yeah!" Ash crowed triumphantly as he reloaded his cylinder gun. He, Brock and Samurai exchanged spirited high-fives. "Now that's what I'm talkin' about!"

     Misty tapped her foot impatiently. "If you boys are quite finished already," she began.

     "Damn it, let's go!" Giselle finished.

     "For once," Ash stated, giving the heiress a tributary nod, "I think I agree with you. Everybody," he addressed them, detaching a Pokèball from his belt, "If you've got something fast, pull it out now!"

     It took a minute to get everything together--mainly because Misty and Ash couldn't initially agree on who got to drive and who got to shoot. Like the Taurus really cared, Brock finally pointed out. The bull Pokèmon bellowed his agreement and stamped impatiently, nostrils flaring as he caught the scent of something he didn't altogether find to his liking. Seeing the two humans fail to respond, the big Pokèmon just trotted over, headbutted them into the air and onto his back. As luck would have it, Ash ended up in front.

     Grudgingly, Ketchum passed the plasma rifle back to a smirking Misty who, when Ash wasn't looking, scratched her head and began to fiddle with the gun's control array, wondering how the heck to operate the powerful incinerator.

     "Okay guys," Ash instructed in his no-nonsense tone, "If it's not human or Pokèmon, we don't stop for it! Got that?"

     Samurai patted his Arcanine's head. "Affirmative, Ashura."

     "Crystal." Brock piped from further behind. His Rhyhorn bellowed in a warning tone, causing the other two Pokèmon to pull urgently on their trainer's reigns.

     Up ahead, they could all see several pairs of crimson eyes and black shapes beginning to materialize again. Brandishing his sidearm, Ash pointed its muzzle down the tunnel's dark length. "Forward, charge!!"


Please, if you know, tell me! April pleaded again, tugging on her elder alter-ego's hand. I just have to know!

     Within the shade of the willows, they took a seat on each end of the black granite bench.

     Do you remember what your mother said about him? The woman replied . What did she say?

     April thought for a moment. She said he was strong, handsome, and very brave.

     What else? The older April pressed.

     Well, she also said... April's tiny brow furrowed as she tried hard to think, to remember.

     What was he like? The woman offered calmly. What did he do?

     ...She said he was always helping others.

     That's right. The woman straightened, looking past their canopy's lithe tendrils and out into the lighted gardens beyond. He was hopelessly committed to doing the deeds of the hero he nevertheless refused to ultimately become.

     What does that mean?

     He was a rescuer. When someone was in trouble, he'd go help them. It was his nature. But he'd never allow anyone to label him a "hero". He insisted he was just an ordinary Joe put in an extraordinary circumstance and somehow everything just worked out right.

     Wow. April's eyes became a dreamy, cerulean haze. That sounds really great!

     It was a big part of why your mother loved him.

     Why didn't she stay with him then?

     Ironically, it was probably because of that same innate nature of his which so attracted her to him in the first place.

     That doesn't sound right. If she loved him because he helped people, how would that also make her want to leave?

     The woman's own cerulean eyes clouded over slightly. That's were it gets complicated. You see, the problem was really two-fold. On the one hand there was your mother, Misty Waterflower, who desperately loved this man, but was also deathly afraid to admit it. She, like most of us, was uncertain about changing the focus of their relationship. Your father was much the same way, though I don't think he looked at it in quite the same light. But that's debatable. Anyway, neither was willing to admit their true feelings to the other.

     Why? April asked before the other could continue.

     Why? The older April thought about that for a moment. Well, they were both also very proud. You probably didn't know, but they were just as much rivals as they were friends, and many times, they simply took each other for granted.

     Oh. That's sad.

     Yes, but that's how it was with them, and believe it or not, that's the relationship they were both afraid to change.

     And they loved each other? That must've been really strange.

     It's not what we'd typically think of, but for them, it only worked to prime the two for what came next.

     What was that?

     They had you.

     In the distance, April heard the sound of thunder. Looking into the sky, she gasped. It was completely overcast with dark rain clouds. They rolled swiftly overhead, tumbling over each other like gray surf.

     She felt the other gently take her hand again. I don't have much time now. The older April was also looking into the troubled skies. I'm sorry. There's still so much to tell you.

     If I know who my father is, it will be enough.

     I wish that were so.

     What do you mean?

     Knowing who he is will not answer your questions, April; it will only bring more. You've lived a life deprived of his constant love and presence. I wanted to break this to you as smoothly as possible, but now, she turned to look into the young girl's blue eyes, now you'll have to do most of that for yourself.

     Overhead, a bolt of lightning streaked the heavens, a wave of thunder following in its wake. The whole garden seemed to shake. A strong wind blew through the lighted enclosure, howling mournfully.

     The older April had to yell to be heard. You wanted to know who your father is?!

     Yes! The younger April replied.

     Suddenly, the two willows were ripped from the ground, pulled clean from their roots. April screamed as they were sucked into the sky.

     What's happening?! The girl cried.

     He's here! The other replied.


     The other suddenly gasped and clutched her throat, falling off the bench and onto her knees.

     The girl cried out and ran to assists her alter-ego. She struggled but finally managed to pull the other to a sitting position beside the ebony bench. All about them, the rainless storm continued to rage. Lightning bolts dropped from the heavens, burning sizable craters in the ground. The howling wind continued to tear trees, bushes, flowers, and everything else from the face of the earth and suck it into the rolling sky above. Together, the two elements were quickly turning the once beautiful and serene clearing into an ash heap.

     What happened?! April cried in the other's ear. Her beloved older self was struggling to breath. What's happening to you?! Who's coming?! She wailed, tears falling down her flush cheeks.

     The two pairs of cerulean eyes met once more before the older April breathed her last; Your father.

     April watched in horror as the image of the woman she was destined to one day become began to fade, turning back into the transparency it had originally been. A coldness passed through her and the ghost rose from its resting place, haunting, luminous eyes searching. Slowly, it sank into the granite bench and disappeared.

     No! She threw her head back and screamed.

     And that's when she saw him.

     Through the gloom, he descended, oblivious to and unaffected by the elements that raged uncontrollably around him. He was cloaked completely in black, his face hooded and a long cape billowing out behind him. Dark-gloved hands gripped the reigns of his mount, a large, black bull that had slits of fire for eyes. On the man's right shoulder sat a Pikachu, its pelt deathly white. They rode a blanket of dark clouds, floating down to the stricken earth below.

     April drew back as the black rider galloped up to her, the bull's snorting face reigning in only a few inches from her own. Too terrified to cry out, she just stood there and cringed.

     A strong, commanding voice rang out from behind the massive creature. "Taurus, return!"

     April blinked in astonishment as the demon bull disappeared, its body pulled and compacted into a small, palm-sized black sphere. Casually, the dark stranger plucked it from the air and placed it on his belt, where she saw he had several others.

     Something small and warm brushed her leg. Looking down, she saw the pale Pikachu completing a circle around her. April held her breath. The electric mouse sniffed at her then, gingerly, it extended one of its paws and poked experimentally at her shin.

     It tickled.

     April giggled.

     With a delighted "Pika!" the Pokèmon leapt up onto her shoulder and then settled comfortably on her head. "Pikachu!" it said. "Pikachu?"

     "Well, I think he likes you."

     April's gaze returned to the dark-clad man standing before her. He was tall, but not so tall as she'd first imagined. His arms were crossed, and the black hood still hid his face from her sight. Even so, there was something vaguely familiar about him.

     W-who are you? She ventured cautiously. The winds continued to howl about them, but somehow, they weren't so strong when the stranger was there.

     "Who do you think?" The elemental man's phantom voice rumbled.

     April cringed.

     "I'm sorry," the dark man apologized, holding up both gloved hands, "I don't mean to scare you." He gestured to the storm. "You see, I happen to be angry right now. It's always like this when I'm angry. I don't know why, and I don't really like it either. I wish I could stop it sometimes. But my anger gives me power," He sighed, "And power let's me do the things I want to do. You'll find this hard to believe, I'm sure, but I like to help people, I really do. I'd say that's what I'm all about. But it's hard. You don't always know what they really need, and many times, they're either ungrateful for your efforts or they simply get themselves stuck in the same hole all over again. Still, I do a lot of good. Many people call me a hero, but they're wrong." His voice became hard and deadly, and heaven and earth alike seemed to rumble with the force of its indignation. Whatever barrier he'd provided before evaporated and the full power of the storm came roaring through. He seemed to gloat over the destruction he wielded, "Yes, if only they really knew!" he roared. "Look at me! Oh God, I'm so angry! Feel my rage, the unholy self-righteousness of its fiery purge!" Thunder seemed to explode from everywhere. "And God, I'm so sad!" Lightning streaked the sky. The bolts came from the dark man's own outstretched fingers. Lifting off the ground, he hovered in the air, laughing hysterically as the deadly electricity coursed through and out from him.

     "Pikachu!!" The mouse darted from April's head and leapt into the air, grabbing hold of its trainer's pants leg. "Pika!!" It screamed, unmistakable grief in its liquid eyes as it pleaded with him.

     "No, NO! Don't stop me, not now!" He roared. "HA, HA, HA!! DIE, YOU CURSED WORLD!!"

     From out of the wind, another pained voice screamed. "ASH, STOP!!"

     As suddenly as the storm had come, it abruptly faded away.

     The dark man hovered for a moment longer, eyes glowing white within his hood. Then, slowly, he descended to the earth. "I suffer so much. I try to help ease the sufferings of others," he whispered, "Not to save them, but to save me. I can't stand injustice, so I try to be just. I can't stand dishonesty, so I try to reveal the truth. I can't stand tyrants, so I try to overthrow them. But, look at me! Everything I love," he sobbed, "I unwittingly destroy!"

     April just stood there, speechless.

     "I," The dark man cried, "Am your father!"

     April slowly shook her head. No.

     "Yes, you are mine. Forgive me, I didn't mean to bring you into such a painful world!"

     No. April repeated. Not you. You could never be.

     The dark man fell to his knees before her and clutched her hands in his. "Please, you can do or think or say whatever you want!" he sobbed piteously, "Anything you want! Just please, don't blame me!" April peered into the hood, but only blackness met her searching gaze.

     Repulsion surged through her and she tore her hands away. You, She seethed, are a monster! Get a way from me! I don't want you!

     "But you tried so hard!" He cried, "So hard to find me! Here I am! What do you want?!"

     Someone who'll take care of me, like my momma, like Mr. Brock, she paused for a moment, And especially like Ash.

     "Oh," the stranger chuckled ironically.

     He threw back the hood.

     April gasped in horror.

     Ash stared sadly back at her. "You mean, like me?"



     Darkness was everywhere...


     Pulling her down, down, down...

     IT'S NOT TRUE!!!

"Time to wake up, little girl!"

April's eyes came slowly open. She tried to move, but found she could not. Groggily, she glanced about her. "Where...where am I?" She had her voice again. "I must be awake now."

     "Yes, indeed!"

     April turned toward the voice. Someone was standing in front of her. She blinked. It was a man, in a light gray suit and he was holding a large, round, golden necklace thing out in front of him.

     "Ha, ha! Behold, the Medallion of Shrivir Ivha!" Pocketing the exotic piece, he sauntered merrily over to where April was imprisoned. He smiled.

     The man looked pleasant enough, so April smiled back.

     "It's a truly remarkable talisman, isn't it?" He cocked his eyebrows, glancing at her side-long. "'Have pleasant dreams?"

     "Well, no, not really," April ventured, yawning the last of the sleep from herself. "But where am I? And who are you?"

     "Oh, yes, of course! How rude of me!" He chuckled good-naturedly, then cleared his throat. "My name, is Lawrence," he winked, "Lawrence the Third. I'm a man of nobility, you see."

     "Are you a king, or maybe a prince--something like that? I hear they don't really wear crowns anymore."

     Lawrence slapped his thigh. "Oh, that's a good one! But no, I'm no king, little girl," The air about him suddenly became dark and heavy, "I'm just his messenger."

     Green fire erupted from the ground and engulfed Lawrence. When the licking flames evaporated, Lawrence was no longer there. In his place stood a tall, imposing figure, cloaked completely in black. April gasped.

     "Oh no!" She cried.

     "Yyyesss," A deep, but hollow voice tumbled like thick fog from the dark specter.

     It threw back its hood.

     For a moment, April was relieved not to see Ash's face staring back at her. But she soon found that staring at Lawrence's, with a sinister smirk on his pale countenance was no better.

     "Oh, yyess," He grinned maliciously, his dead voice ringing like phantom bells in her ears, "One thing more I forgot to mention," He leaned in close and the weight of his presence threatened to crush the life from her. Lawrence's eyes suddenly turned to crimson fire. "You see," The stench of death poured from him, "I happen to be completely evil!"

     The Shadow's Catalyst threw his head back and roared with maniacal, demonic laughter.

     April fainted.

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