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Misty looked on in complete horror. One Ash was standing to the side, smirking; the other was poised to ventilate himself. Something in the latter’s despairing eyes told her he was for real.
“Ash, don’t-!” She cried starting to make a desperate lunge in his direction. She stopped suddenly when he swung the weapon’s sights on her.
“Not a step closer.” Ash warned stoically, his voice without affect despite the tears that still flowed freely over their broken molecular dams.
“Oh God!” The disconsolate redhead choked back a sob, unsteadily lifting her own weapon in response. “Please, God, not this!”
Ash locked his gun’s dovetail on her. “Misty,” he looked into her glistening eyes, “We’ve got one shot at this.”
“Yes?” She sniffed.
“Do you trust me?”
Misty couldn’t have sounded more incredulous. “What!?”
Ash didn’t skip a beat. “When I say ‘go’, Misty, I want you to shot me, okay?”
“Ash!” she yelled in disbelief. “Have you lost your mind!?”
“No!” He replied confidently. “Misty, do you trust me!”
“Ash-!” she started to protest.
“Do you?!” he persisted.
She just stared at him, refusing to answer.
Ash risked a small step forward. “Misty-”
Misty took two steps back. “Ash, I am not going to kill you!”
“You won’t.” he replied without hesitation.
“How!?” she lifted her gun’s muzzle, menacingly, almost defiantly, aiming it directly at his unguarded chest. “How,” she challenged, furious tears continuing to stream down her plush face, “do you know I won’t?!”
Ash grinned. “Do you trust me?”
“If I blow off your empty head-”
For an eternity she just looked at him, hot tears streaming down her rosy cheeks. She shook her head, trying to make sense of the moment, unsure, but wanting desperately to believe.
“But believe in what? This lunatic?”
…Haven’t I always before?
The Necromancer’s brows twitched; for some reason, he could find nothing to say to that. He watched his female victim as, finally, she held her gun steady, a look of crushed resignation on her emotionally worn countenance.
“Okay.” Misty sniffed. “Yes, I trust you.”
Ash smiled reassuringly back, one final tear rolling viscously down a symmetrical cheek. There it was! For a moment, the dam between them was breached. Oh God, if you’re there, just one more time; let it be enough! His finger set itself firmly on the trigger. “Alright…” He breathed, locking eyes with his partner.
So, the two humans were going to mutually agree to just kill each other?
The Chameleon Necromancer looked on in total bewilderment. His instincts pricked, yet he was paralyzed with helplessness; something was about to go horribly wrong and he couldn’t for his life discern what it was.
* * * * * *
“And the winning team is…Oak and Ketchum!” The announcer shouted, his enthused voice ringing pristinely through the arena. The whole stadium rattled to the core of its foundations as the crowds came roaring to their feet, chanting the immortal duo’s names and screaming in complete ecstatic hysteria.
Gary shook his head. Dude, you’ve got to quit wasting your time on that! He scolded himself. It’s over, okay? You screwed it all up and its over. Get on with things. He sighed, reluctantly turning the wheel to avoid plummeting into the abyss below. A part of him wanted nothing better, but another part…another part kept hoping… Oh God, he groaned, more to himself than to any implied divinity, what am I suppose to do already?! Don’t tell me there’s hope if there isn’t! He remembered all those years, long past; the days he’d dream about being the world’s most powerful Pokèmon Master, top of the wrung, the greatest thing since sliced bread and Swiss cheese. He remembered how he shoved his stupid, snotty arrogance down everyone’s throat. He couldn’t help chuckling at his younger self’s futility. Boy, what an insecure little jerk he’d been; what a big joke! And of all the people, it had been his worst rival that first had the heart to forgive him; how ironic. All the best things in his life kept coming in the wrong packages.
His GPS emitted a warning beep. Gary glanced quickly at its display screen, then turned his attention back on the perilous highway. Ahead, it was about to abruptly fork. He glanced again at the map; he’d need to take the left turn, a sharp, back-curving stretch of road that would lead him through a tunnel cut in the rock face. He looked ahead again. The road seemed to continue straight on. Maybe this wasn’t…No! There it was! Almost obscured by dense covering of low-hanging pine, his trained eyes nevertheless managed to catch the subtle outline of the tunnel, cut cleverly in the cliff side. He screeched to a stop beside it, opened his car door and got out. Taking a sizeable Mag light, he inspected the large opening, then the stand of massive pines that obscured it. He grinned. Bingo! The tress were fake.
Something still puzzled him, however. The branches seemed to be made of some kind of taught metal cable and vertebrae system—very advanced technology, to be sure. Still, if Gypsum Hall was just some old obscure museum out in the middle of nowhere, like the federal bureaucracy wanted everyone to believe, yet actually a top secret operation protected by the United States Special Ops, then where were all the other telltale signs of occupation? Where were the guards, the spotlights on the cliffs, the helicopter patrols, the tanks, the radar towers, the snipers—you know, all the freaking hardware that always accompanied and gave testament to the US Military’s unassailable might? Even the secretive Special Forces weren’t free of the “my gun’s bigger than your gun” syndrome. He glanced around again, incredulous; Come on! where was all that mauling firepower? That everything would be hidden made sense; that someone like Gary Oak, trained and equipped to detect it all, had simply found nothing was just plain disturbing. And he had found nothing, at all, and no one had stopped him from getting even this far. Just on the other side of this tunnel was the old state mansion itself, with all its vast, priceless tokens of history long past, and the only thing in his way were a couple of synthetic trees?
Gary scratched his head. Something wasn’t right.
Walking back to the car, he opened the trunk and rummaged through its contents before pulling out a large utility belt decked with spare clips of ammo and compressed tear gas grenades. It also had two high-powered magnums, still in their hip holster annexes, their silencers, and several different bandit tools, secured within padded pouches. He himself was already dressed for infiltration, with his Marine-issue black combat boots, trousers and pullover turtleneck top. The clothing was soft and light, but exceptionally strong, and highly weather resistant; the footwear had the latest in military design, with excellent traction, but minimal “clomp”, allowing one to move more silently. Gary checked himself before swinging the utility belt into place. He strapped the assembly around his waist, tightened it securely, and then strapped the hip holsters to his left and right thighs. He bounced up and down for a minute. Nothing clanked or jingled. Satisfied, he reached inside the trunk again, this time retrieving the shoulder strap attachments that had his handheld computer/satellite-positioning unit, his car’s communicator device, a black tube (across his back) which contained a special melee weapon, and his team of Pokèmon.
With everything fastened securely in place, Oak spoke softly into the communicator, then turned his attention back to the tunnel as his Jaguar parked itself and shut its own engine off. Only his Mag’s pristine beacon lighted the way.
The dark passage was large enough to let a Mac truck pass easily through—albeit, the Mac truck alone. Gary nodded; One-way traffic only; very good. The whole tunnel entrance was blockaded with the false pines. Pushing past them, he moved inside. It was dark, but from what his floodlight could show him, the road continued on for another thirty or so feet before banking down and to the left.
Turning off his Mag, Gary set it down just outside the tunnel’s entrance. He reached into a slim container at his waist and withdrew a pair of slender, dark goggles. He strapped them on, giving the night vision device a second to detect his body heat and activate before mulling over his other options. He stared down the tunnel’s length, now lit bright as day to his own eyes; Jolteon would be the fastest ride, he knew, but he needed extrasensory as well as speed. Plucking a Pokèball from its clip, Gary hit the release. A lithe sphere of radiant energy exploded forth, flooding the room for just an instant with an overwhelming deluge of white light.
The glowing ball uncurled itself, increasing in size, turning a dark violet hue, and a minute later, a large Espeon stood on her delicate looking paws. She fixed Gary with her luminous teal eyes, awaiting his command.
He lowered his head to hers, pressing the bright jewel on her forehead.
Hey, big boy. The shimmering creature’s smooth, slightly accented psychic voice replied. Her ears pricked attentively. What’s the game tonight?
Gary allowed a tight, rueful smile. “Same thing as every night, Prussia: find the bad guys; haul their butts off to jail.”
Hey, the Espeon purred amiably, I’m all down with that.
“Good girl. Saddle up.”
The last thing he did before mounting the psychic cat’s back and streaking off into the distance was make sure he had his badge on and his cellphone off.
* * * * * * *
Eternity seemed to pass the poised pair by as they just stood there and stared at one another, Ash and Misty, like two long-time comrades, parted by unreconcilable differences, driven into enmity, now forced to confront one another in a final but unwanted showdown.
It’s now or never. Misty mouthed.
Ash nodded grimly. “…Go!”
He saw it.
“No…” The Necromancer had just a fraction of a second to realize what was happening before he finally saw it, and the knowledge only filled him with mortal dread. “They were only human…How!?” the demon screamed into the void of eternal silence he had watched them from. Vainly he reached, trying to withdraw the projections of himself. “NOOOOOOOOO!!”
But it was already too late.
The blinding phosphorescence seemed to explode from them, launching nearly a hundred burning emissaries of death screaming through the atmosphere as Ash and Misty’s world erupted in a bright halo of searing white light. They could only watch, their tears and emotions and arguments spent, completely numb now as the bullets left the other’s lethal weapon and came for each of them, furiously tearing every unfortunate molecule of air. They could only stand, helpless as their lives flashed before them—how that happens in such a relatively sparse amount of time, no one knows—and then it was all gone, leaving them to be devoured by the other’s fatal projectiles.
…Or so it seemed?
A part of Ash still rebelled against his better half’s resolve, still insisted he was delusional and completely insane. And now you’re dead! It screamed.
The part in control just grinned back. Watch this! It replied.
Misty watched, nothing short of astonished as her deadly firebombs altered their flight path, streaking harmlessly around Ash’s shoulders.
Behind him, something shrieked abhorrently, bursting into flame as the redirected missiles stuck it instead.
“MMMRRRAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!” The demon sorcerer let out one long, bloody scream, his ethereal body wracked with mortal agony as both his would-be victims’ bullets missed their logical mark. Instead, they incinerated his twin alter egos, turning the projections into a dazzling inferno that would’ve put the producers of the Independence Day spectacle down in Washington DC on their knees, groveling in shame.
For a moment, Giselle’s winsome assailant took her eyes off the miserable woman. Alternately, Samurai’s brutal marauder stopped mocking the fallen swordsman. They both stared in silent awe.
Ash and Misty were thrown into the other’s arms, hurled across the breach by the force of the atmospheric rupture behind each of them. Desperately, they clung to one another. All around them, a blinding vortex of wind and fire raged maliciously, still howling with their fallen foes’ last bitter screams. Dazzling explosions of crimson and green brilliance tore the air, the grand finale ending in a shower of fine sparkling dust that spread itself everywhere, covering the ground in glowing particles of verdant lint.
The bone-chilling screech still hung poignantly in the air. Slowly, painfully, he rose to his feet again, supporting himself with the aid of his long sorcerer’s staff. The Chameleon Necromancer’s robes were tattered and smoking, ripped in several places where his blackened flesh had been raked and seared. The demon’s crimson eyes burned bright with rising enmity, a grinding hatred so strong it threatened to consume him and override his rationale.
From across the room, the Siren and Talwar Minotaur exchanged a bewildered glance. They looked again at the two humans their captain was supposed to destroy, both of whom were currently locked in the other’s sheltering embrace, still very much alive.
The demons’ brows furrowed. Something had gone wrong.
The fiery slits narrowed dangerously. So, his first emissaries of deception had somehow failed. The demon’s lips parted in a cruel smile, and a low, rumbling chuckle rolled all through his wrecked shade. No matter; his living illusions were destroyed but he wasn’t dead; not in the least! The humans had yet to feel the worst of the suffering he could put them through. He was coming himself now. No more games played from a safe distance; no chance to escape. He would make them feel just how worthless they really were.
The aerospace about him suddenly exploded in a ball of crimson conflagration, engulfing the demon master in a sphere of malevolent hellfire. He let the burning manifestation of is own bitter, excoriating hostility consume his broken form as the killing flames tore the destroyed tissue from his tall, lean frame. Through the cruel tongues he emerged again, a shade renewed, his dark splendor reinstated to its grand abhorrence. Slowly, he pulled back the large cowl that hid his face. His nefarious crown of jutting, calcified protrusions slid free of their cranial sheaths, coming through the head and snapping into place with a resounding, ominous click.
He returned to the scene that had spelled his earlier defeat. Hefting his long staff, the Necromancer griped the dark implement firmly in both hands, pointing one of its skull-tipped ends before him. From the ebony pole’s tapered summit, an eerie ball of crimson light crackled to life. This time, there would be no illusions. This time, he would bring only himself, child of the accuser, death, cold and wrought with despair, and this time, the blows would be dealt by his hand.
“Die humans,” He uttered, his voice devoid of feeling, “Now I come.”
Ash and Misty had only a moment to look into the other’s eyes again and realize Ketchum’s hair-brained notion had actually worked and they were both still alive when they were suddenly torn from each other’s grasp. Crimson light exploded between them; blinding strands of saffron voltage coursed through their bodies, numbing their limbs, breaking their fingers’ grip, hurling the bewildered pair back across their respective halves of the room when they couldn’t hold on. The two both collapsed in a heap, coughing blood, black clothing further charred and smoking.
From the smoldering ground, he rose, slowly, deliberately, his void-black garb fluttering loosely about his large, angular frame. The night, he could feel, was still young and fraught yet with much promise for games of gut-wrenching torture and diabolical pleasure. It was not often he himself faced his victims; seldom did they require his actual presence. This would be a soul-feast to remember; he would savor this; he would not be rushed.
Slowly, the dark necromancer studied his principal subjects, considering how best to make an end of them.
Ash wiped his mouth, staring incredulously at his crimson-stained hand. Painfully, hefted his weapon and rose to his feet.
Approximately twenty feet away stood the most foreboding creature he’d yet laid eyes on. It was humanoid, its left side facing him, looking forever like some freak collision between Darth Maul, Phantom of the Opera, and one of those muscled scarecrows from the NBA. Its long staff was held perpendicular to the floor, the gleaming, black steel shaft’s tip still smoking from where it had apparently struck the now blasted concrete. The enigmatic being gripped the weapon tightly in both gloved hands, one dark appendage inverted, holding the staff at its midsection, the other lingering halfway between that and the nefarious pike’s summit. Slowly, almost mechanically, it lifted its bowed head from within the multiple folds of midnight cloak and robes that clung to its lean frame, billowing silently out behind it on an unfelt breeze. Its smooth cranium glinted chrome in the sparse light, the fluidity broken only by the crown of jutting horns that ringed the front and sides of its head.
Abruptly, a pair of massive, raven wings exploded into existence from its back and it turned its face to its human observer. Their eyes locked, and Ash fell trembling to his knees, his countenance twisted in repulsion. The left half of the necromancer’s face was completely masked in gleaming silver, horns smooth and polished, its features flawless and stunning. The right partition was nothing but bare, gutted bone; a grinning, bloodstained death’s head with a single, distant pinprick of red light burning malevolently in its empty eye socket. The sparse remains of gored tendons hung from its portion of the horned crown.
For a brief moment, the two regarded one another; poised; waiting for the other to make the first move.
* * * * * * *
“There have been many wars,” The Chief Guardian lowered his strong voice, almost to a whisper, “in the troubled history of mankind; some small; some great; all exacting blood as their price. So was it when the Kings finally arrived to drive the hordes of the Forbidden back through the hadean breach and into the limbo world from whence they came.” He paused, head cocked attentively to one side. “It was discovered,” he continued, eyeing the surrounding stand of snowy pillars, “That a small remnant of the old empire still remained; capable men and women who were making a very desperate last stand against the forces that sought to eliminate them. They were brought to me, and I, sensing repentance in their hearts from the evil of their predecessors, gave them power to wield against the darkness. So it was that The Elite, guardians from among the human race, were sanctioned and given their sacred charge. It was man who opened the gates Abaddon; it was man who sealed it shut again. We gave to them talismans with which to lock the Forbidden away…” his senses pricked. Through the towering colonnade, someone was approaching. “…Yet even on this verge of triumph, their forces were betrayed. One among them still harbored greed in his heart, a fatal lust for power. He succumbed to his own selfish will, and with the power invested in him, created talismans that gave their wielder greater abilities—speed, foresight, strength, even power to reanimate the diseased—yet exacted a toll of their mind, body, spirit and soul. When combined, these could be used to fully reopen the breach of the Forbidden.
“When his treachery was discovered, we seized the items, entrusting them to his remaining ex-comrades—seven, after he was dismissed—and so the task of guarding these talismans was given solely to The Elite. Each forged a Rheinkar scimitar, a demon slayer’s sword of power, to aid them in protecting this bane from coming into the wrong hands. These were weapons tempered in the waters of Mt. Dreadfire, the ancient portal into the nether world of the Forbidden; thus they became the Dreadfire Crescents, the last and final keys to unlocking Hell on Earth. Because of the betrayal however, several potent demons were released again from their dark prison.”
Through the deep rows of massive, cylindrical cloud buttresses she came, slender form glowing with soft, pale light, her head crowned with a golden halo. She locked eyes with the mammoth Lugia, her lavender gaze intent.
He returned her look, and the urgency in her demeanor told him something was wrong.
“The escaped Forbidden were hunted down and imprisoned once more, this time within the Demon Stones. The Dune’s Pull was given to The Elite. With it, the Head of their order could pass into our realm and hear our council; and by its properties, he himself would be preserved if somehow his physical life was taken before his appointed time of service was reached. The portals between the forces of Earth and Earth’s heavens were thus linked.”
She floated, unhindered through the ranks of the mighty Pokèmon as they stood respectfully to one side, leaving an open isle in her passing wake. Voluntarily, they knelt, the entire assembly collectively falling to their knees as the slender figure approached the dais.
The Lugia King finally took permanent pause. Unfolding his wings, he bowed with his head to the ground, Preston, and even the dumfounded Carlos automatically following suit.
She was tall and elegant, her whimsical trailing of glittering robes fluttering out behind her as she smiled on the silver-winged Guardian, a cool breeze pulsing languidly through the entire arena. She stroked his head gently. “Rise,” she commanded.
The King folded his wings and lifted his regal countenance. “Welcome, angel guardian of our mortal kind, to our humble realm.”
* * * * * * *
Gypsum Hall, in all its haunting glory loomed above them, casting its gloomy shadow under the full moon shining eerily in the sky overhead. Cautiously, Gary and his Espeon approached the towering mansion, eyes and ears peeled for a disturbance of any kind. Only silence met their expectant senses.
Sliding free of the surrounding woods, the intruding pair crouched low, wading through the swaying field of long grass that grew abundantly on the ascending slope to Gypsum’s perimeter. Gary noted the grounds, within an approximate range of twenty feet out from the dark, multi-sectioned building complex, were neatly mowed.
Good, he thought, glancing about again, expectantly, Someone’s still home.
But he saw no one.
Again, he had that strange sense of foreboding. He’d been to secretly occupied places before (usually on some urban narcotics bust) and experience had taught him that there was a distinct sensation, a peculiar but palpable air to a place when it housed some hidden operations. Yet there was nothing coming from the dark complex, not even the smallest telltale signs of life. It was like staring at a tomb.
He made it across the open ground without any trouble at all, crawling along on his bellow, approaching from the more shaded side of the complex. He jogged silently along its perimeter, looking for some way in other than the front door. Finally, he came to a low hatch lying open on the building’s side. After pausing to look around again, he was about to enter when some sixth sense warned him not to.
Gary looked down at his partner; Prussia’s hair was standing on end as she began to back away from the dark opening, her teeth bared and her teal eyes on fire with gathering psychic energy.
Within the gaping hole, something stirred.
Oak had just under a second to draw both pistols, falling on his back, opening fire on the dark assailant as it sprang from the black portal, all fiery eyes, tooth and claw. The creature screamed as the high-powered firearm’s hot lead tore a path up its front, finally blowing its head clean off its outstretched neck.
The severed cranium flew back, bouncing along the turf. Gary hit the ground and rolled quickly out of the way as the demon’s writhing remains fell where he’d been, gushing viscous, black fluid. For a moment, he just lay where he was, eyes wide with horror, his heart pounding into his throat. Rising again, Gary covered the fallen enigma with both magnums. He stared incredulously at the netherworld creature he’d just downed. It resembled a small Aerodactyl, but black from tail to angular snout, like it’d been dragged through an oil spill. The severed head had landed several feet behind it. The jaws snapped once, then hung open and went still, drooling acid as its eyes rolled into the back of its cranium and the wicked crimson glow extinguished.
“Holy Moses…” Gary breathed. “What on God’s green Earth?…”
I don’t think he liked us barging in on his evening walk, Prussia quipped, padding lightly to her trainer’s side. She sniffed the slain, prodding it with a cautious forepaw to make sure it was really as dead as it looked. She immediately wiped her paw on the grass, turning her nose away in disgust at the oozing bag of putrid stench.
Gary waved a hand across his face. “Jeez!” he whispered harshly, “What is that thing?”
He glanced tentatively about. For a moment, all was static; then from the hole, the sound of many approaching footsteps echoed with ominous premonition.
Ten, fifteen maybe! Prussia hissed at his side, waving a paw at the gaping hatch. Time to beat it!
“Roger that!” Gary nodded, reloading his guns. “Damn! I should’a brought some serious firepower!”
The Espeon cocked her head to the side. Excuse me? Her luminous eyes flashed menacingly.
“Oh, right,” Gary sardonically smacked his forehead, “No offense.”
We’ve gotta run! Prussia cast about for a moment before sitting up on her haunches and jabbing a paw out in front of her. There! On the other side of that wall!
“Right!” Gary agreed over his shoulder, already moving. “Les’go!”
They sprinted for the barrier, rounding its corner just as whatever approached from behind them shuffled unsteadily up to the surface. So urgent were they in fact that the duo almost barreled into the patrol of security personnel that suddenly came marching around the other corner.
Gary whipped out his badge. “Stop right there!” He commanded, flashing the authoritative emblem. “This is the law; I demand to know what’s going on around-!” He stopped in mid-sentence, “Oh shit!” backpedaling furiously as the half-decayed, skeletal hands groped for him. He cast about, on the verge of panic. From the spot he’d originally fled from, he could hear other things steadily approaching.
Enclosed from both sides, Gary put his back to the wall. “Prussia! Sunny Day!” he commanded, shoving his useless badge back inside his pullover, drawing his other gun again.
The psychic cat reared back on her hind legs, levitating several inches above the turf, golden energy gathering into a bright ball at her forepaws. Hissing menacingly, she released the radiant sphere. It shot into the air, hovering thirty feet over them, casting its warm phosphorescence in a wide semicircle on the ground below and flooding everything in range with summer sunshine. Squinting in the fresh illumination, Gary looked out across the lighted field. He staggered back in sickened horror.
Nearly fifty standing, rotting carcasses teetered and swayed stiffly, falling to their knees, moaning and shrieking abhorrently as they shielded their glazed-over eyes from the light. Torn flesh hung from their bony, bloodied limbs, entrails and bodily fluids, green with decay and crawling with maggots, some on two legs, others a chimera arrangement of multiple members. The stench of death filled the air, emanating in overpowering waves from the diabolical horde. It was something pulled straight out of horror fiction; one’s worst nightmares come staggering to life.
Holstering his firearms, Gary reached over his shoulder, flipped the lid off his melee weapon’s case and drew the black stick out, hitting its switch and extending it to a full-sized bo staff. “Prussia!” he ordered, his voice coming out just a little shrill and unsteady, “Hidden Power!”
Again, the lithe Espeon reared back, energy gathering in her velvety forepaws.
The entire space was further illuminated by the massive pillar of searing flames. It exploded from the floating Espeon’s outstretched appendages, rushing its blinded targets with a squelching roar, consuming the first stand of undead like they were made of half-melted toffee. Aided by the fire-boosting power orb overhead, Prussia continued to pump the attack, sweeping her column of searing destruction methodically across the lighted clearing and incinerating everything that stood in the way.
In a matter of seconds, the decaying mob was completely reduced to smoldering piles of charcoal.
“Yeah,” Gary continued to stare at the blasted remains, even as the transient sphere overhead began to fade. His hands trembled; he absently shifted his expanding baton nervously from one to the other. “Yeah,” he repeated, his footing unsteady as he pulled his sweaty back from its concrete crutch, “T-that oughta do it!”
Listen! The Espeon landed squarely on her four paws, turning her head to one side, ears pricked.
Gary managed to keep his teeth from rattling in his head long enough to make out the faint scraping noise coming from somewhere directly above them.
“Prussia,” he hissed, “Light this place up!”
The psychic cat’s sparkling eyes gleamed brightly. Go’cha!
The winged fiends screamed in mortal agony, reeling as the Espeon’s Flash blasted their bloodshot retina. They cringed piteously, tumbling from their perches, just as they were about to strike.
* * * * * * *
Quick as thought, Ash whipped his sidearm around and pulled the trigger, intent on turning his new opponent’s grisly caricature into Swiss cheese.
“What!?” Ash’s hand flew to his ammunition cache, “Oh God…” only to find it was completely empty.
Stubbornly, he pumped the treasonous gun’s trigger, willing the dead machine to come racketing to life.
Click! Click, click, click!
He frowned. Across from him, the silver mask’s lips parted in a dazzlingly beautiful, utterly cruel smile.
* * * * * *
Gary lifted his head, just as Prussia psycho-blasted the last of their newly downed adversaries to brainless, dead heaps.
“Oh, God!” He wailed. “Don’t do this to me!”
Howling balefully, a snarling pack of nearly twenty sinewy, ponyta-sized Houndoom were closing from the far right, coming around from where Oak and his Espeon had originally sneaked—undetected, he’d thought—onto Gypsum’s front lawn.
Vaulting onto Prussia’s back, Gary and the swift Espeon catapulted off again. Behind them, the demonic hellhounds barked with ravenous glee.
They were only about two hundred yards form the front door.
Gary set his jaw; the chase was on.
* * * * * * *
“What brings you here?” Solemnly, the King regarded his superior.
She lifted her flawless complexion to meet his. “Things,” she began hauntingly, “have become a touch more grave down below.”
“Yes?” Preston Sable also came forward, his typically radiant countenance now hard and grim. He leaned forward a touch, something reminiscent of anxiety actually coming onto his finely chiseled features.
Languidly, she held up a fair, slender hand, commanding calm back into the apprehensive Elite Head. “Things,” she continued, “are still occurring as we foresaw. However, I have been required to orchestrate an intervention unplanned for you, if things are to remain under your control.”
The Lugia’s crested brows seemed to furrow. “Could not Elyon have prevented such?” he asked.
The angelic emissary smiled serenely back. “It pleases him to do things this way.”
“Very well,” he nodded, “continue.”
She looked out into the exalted throng, her lavender eyes searching. “I want you to conduct a rescue.” She stated simply.
* * * * * * *
Growling menacingly, Ash whipped out a shining Pokèball. He smirked back at his opponent, expanding the ball to full size.
“Charizard!” he roared, amber eyes dancing with anticipation.
He tapped the release port.
“What!?” Ash stared incredulously at the red and white contraption. He tried again, and then again, finally hurling the storage device into the air. It landed between him and his nefarious opponent, rolled once, and then went still.
Incredulous, he just stared at it. “What the hell…”
The Necromancer, still struck in his dramatic pose, slowly shook his head.
“Oh yeah!” Ash barked defiantly, grabbing the other five Pokèmon spheres. “Eat this, bastard!” Rearing back, he tossed them all. “Everyone! ATTACK!” He watched in horrified bewilderment as each and every Pokèball fell harmless to the ground, rolling around at his opponent’s feet. None of them so much as stirred, not even expanding to full size.
* * * * * * *
She turned back to the silver guardian. “Where is Galadrius Maxim, the Dragon champion?”
The Lugia paused for a moment. “If I’m not mistaken,” he replied uncertainly, “Maxim chose a while back to train with the humans’ current League Champion.”
The celestial being raised a critical brow. “Gary Oak?”
The Lugia shrugged. “I assume that’s still where he is.”
“Hmmm.” She paced once across the dais and back again. “Alright, who’s responsible for watching over this human?”
The Lugia chuckled. “Maxim is.”
“Oh,” she flashed a dazzling smile, “Well, good! Call them out then.”
The Lugia paused again, closing his eyes, concentrating. Pale luminescence seeped through the junction between his upper and lower lids as his psychic mind searched. For a moment, he was silent, then a wry smile crossed his face. “How coincidental,” he mused aloud.
The others looked up at him quizzically.
“Our champion,” he confirmed, “Is already where he should be.”
Throwing his wings wide, The King cast a massive ball of white phosphorescence into the air above. It hovered over the whole assembly, unfolding itself, expanding into an enormous, pulsing screen. On its glowing surface, a crisp image suddenly appeared.
“Gyah!” Carlos exclaimed, pointing incredulously at the hologram Lightscreen. “Preston!” He grabbed the other’s shoulder, shaking him excitedly. “Look at this, man!”
“Hey! What!?” Sable broke the other’s vice-like grip. “I see it!”
“I can’t believe this!” Carlos exclaimed again, hazel eyes transfixed to the floating image. “That’s Gypsum Hall!”
* * * * * * *
Too young to die! Too young to die! Too young—Oh, great Pokègoddess! Gary’s distraught Espeon wailed. I HATE DOGS! Intuitively, Prussia lunged to the side, barely dodging the first searing firebomb as it came hurtling out of the night, tearing the ground just behind her.
“C’mon, girl!” Gary urged encouragingly, “We’re almost there!”
Yeah! Great! Run…harder! Gotta…get…wait a minute!
Gary’s brows knitted. “What!?”
Why’re we going in the front door!?
“Why else? To get inside!”
Won’t there be more of these guys in there!?
Gary sweatdropped. “Uh…”
In the background, one of the hellhounds howled.
Thanks! The Espeon returned dourly . Any other brilliant thoughts to share?
“Yeah!” Gary retorted. “Keep running!”
Prussia darted left and right, weaving in, out, around and sometimes leaping frantically over the barrage of Flamethrower attacks that came roaring out of the darkness behind her.
Gary risked a quick peek over his shoulder. He growled, his face creased with rising frustration. The canine marauders were actually gaining on them, each and every ball of fire they chucked slowing his Espeon down as she tried to avoid getting roasted. He decidedly abandoned any notions of getting into Gypsum Hall; even if it was safer in there, there was no way they could pick the locks, open a door, get their butts inside and close the thing up before their pursuers were all over them. At his prompting command, they veered sharply to the right, away from the sprawling complex, headed back down the grassy rise.
“We should be able to outdistance them on the open straightaway!” He yelled, glancing over his shoulder. He was just in time to see Gypsum’s front doors blow clean off their hinges, exploding open and collapsing in a torrent of flame. He mentally patted himself on the back; sure glad we weren’t there! He tucked his head into Prussia’s shoulders and out of the wind. “We’ll try to loose them in the surrounding woods!”
Peachy! I like that plan! She returned half-agreeably. Everything, except for those!
“Huh!?” Gary lifted his head again. “Aw man!”
From the tall, grassy plains below, another company of dark hellhounds came charging for the slope, bloody murder gleaming in their eyes. They bared their fangs; grotesque, yellowed toothpicks that glinted wickedly in the full moonlight. One of them spouted a firebomb, launching the column of flame high into the night sky.
Probably a signal, Gary thought suddenly, turning his Espeon grudgingly back on their original course of flight. Unclipping a few tear gas capsules, he hurled them over his shoulder. They burst with a satisfying crack, instigating several angry snarls and yelps, but otherwise doing nothing. Frowning, he looked ahead, squinting into the distance, irritably wiping a sheen of dripping sweat from his nightvision strap-ons. Frantically, he searched the horizon for opposition, but the way ahead only seemed to beckon him on, wide and devoid of enemies.
Hopeful, he commanded the Espeon to full speed. Accelerating by leaps and bounds, they temporarily left their pursuers in the dust. “Sayonara, suck'uz!” Gary crowed.
At the edge of the far rise, clear on the other side of Gypsum Hall’s front field, Gary brought his mount to a screeching halt. “Oh no…” Just below them and approaching steadily through the open field, two more packs of Houndoom came determinedly on.
He backed away from the summit, swerving to the left, but along the building complex’s lateral extension, yet another dark knot of snarling carnivores advanced.
Desperately, he turned the other way, but through the distant woods on their right, still one more unsightly mob emerged from the shadows, their eyes glinting like crimson fireflies.
With the first two companies closing from the rear, Gary and Prussia were totally boxed in.
“This,” Gary declared emphatically, “is bad!”
Oh, you think? The Espeon replied sarcastically, her fur bristling, I was wondering when you were going to say that!
“Well, actually,” He quipped, “I was originally just going to drop my pants, shake my bare butt at at’em and yell obscenities, but that always takes too long.”
Prussia just groaned, burying her face in her forepaws. On second thought, just let me die already!
* * * * * * *
Carlos looked on helplessly, beside himself with trepidation as he watched the man on the screen recall his massive Espeon and turn around in an aimless half-circle.
“Come on!” The Elite Chairman clenched his fists. “Don’t just stand there, you fool! Run! Fight! Do something!”
* * * * * * *
Gary plucked another golden Pokèball from its clip, expanded the custom storage device to full size and dropped it on the ground. All around him, his pursuers were closing.
The nearest Houndoom came to a screeching halt, while their other rabid brethren, bloodlust still in their crimson eyes, barreled obliviously into them. Snarling and snapping at each other, the whole diabolical mob fell hastily back as coil after massive, 268-inch jade-scaled coil erupted from under their intended quarry, lifting him high into the night sky atop the head of a grinning, one-hundred-seventy foot long Rayquaza. The dragon’s elongated body, unlike the “ideal” for his species, was thick with dense, corded muscle, the characteristically spindly region about the arms massive and heavily built. He tapered, like a monstrous green bullwhip.
With a thunderous roar, Galadrius Maxim shot gracefully into the air, leaving behind a brilliant shower of ground-level pyrotechnics. The giant spheres of glowing, multicolored energy exploded everywhere, raining live sparks of white-hot energy shards into the Forbidden hellhound army. Severely blinded and marginally seared, they tumbled head over heals, whimpering balefully as they milled about in total confusion, spouting random firebombs and colliding into each other.
Above the chaotic disorder, Gary sat himself comfortably behind the green dragon-snake’s jutting, angular head. “Nice fireworks!” He observed casually.
The High Champion of all dragon kind laughed heartily, snaking his way fluidly through the air. “Come now, Master Oak,” He replied, the characteristic, contagious enthusiasm resonating brazenly in his rumbling, throaty voice, “Just tell me how you want’em finished off!” On brusque impulse, he made a screaming dive at the disconcerted Houndoom. They fled, tails tucked between their sinewy legs, yelping miserably as the dragon flashed boogieman faces at them, passing without leaving a scratch over their heads. He chortled profusely, rocketing back into the sky, out of their reach. “Great scotch ale!” the dragon roared with merry, scathing laughter. “Listen to those filthy little beggars blubber! I swear, by my twenty-foot gizzard-!”
“Alright,” Gary waved dismissively at his Pokèmon’s raucous antics, “Play time’s over!”
“Eh? Oh, sorry!” the dragon replied, snapping back to attention. “’Ready to take yer order, sir; what’ll it be?”
Gary grinned, falling in tow with his partner’s incessant facetiousness. “What’s on the menu?”
Maxim clicked his claws together. “Hmmm; well, let me see; we’ve got Houndoom, mostly. I recommend Dinner Special # 7; very a la mode.”
Gary pretended to mull the advice over. “Okay,” he consented, “Can I make that order to go?”
The Rayquaza’s serpentine jaws spread in a wide, almost fiendish grin. “One number seven to go,” He rumbled, “Coming right up.” Rearing his head back, the dragon’s eyes narrowed dangerously, glowing bright with intense frosty light. “Say yer prayers, poodles,” he intoned forebodingly, a million incandescent shards of pure elemental power gathering before him, coalescing into a single, massive sphere of blinding-white energy, held perilously between his outstretched appendages.
“Time to finish this!” Gary declared, the aura of over a thousand League battles coming back into his commanding demeanor. “DRAGON CLAW!”
Sinking his enormous talons into the brilliant sphere, Galadrius reshaped the crackling energy into two massive crescents, drawing the blinding cutlasses from out of one another. Crossing his arms, he cocked the double cleavers behind himself, then, with a thunderous roar, hurled them to the earth below.
* * * * * * *
“Alright, punk,” Ash growled, wincing a little as he rolled his sleeves back and cracked his knuckles, “’Looks like we’ll have to do this the old fashion way!” He raised his fists at the dark, silent enigma, cocking a brow archly. “Anything else you wanna say?”
Slowly, the demon, with that sensually despicable smirk still plastered to the silver half of his face, released his left hand’s hold on his staff, bringing the appendage languidly before himself.
Ash braced himself, anticipating some other unexpected mischief. However, his opponent merely extended its open hand, palm to the ceiling as it flexed its fingers once, out and then in again.
The Necromancer’s lips parted, finally uttering something his quarry could understand; “Just bring it.”
And Ash brought it.
Charging across the gap, he catapulted off the ground, launching into a vicious, flying sidekick…
…Which did absolutely nothing at all.
Ash flew clean through the shadow-wrought apparition, eyes wide with astonishment as he crash-landed, head over heals, on the other side, rolling to a ragged stop by an unconscious Misty.
Jack-springing unsteadily back to his feet, he took a moment to resize his opponent before rallying himself for another dead-on charge. This time, he came in low, tackling its legs. The distance closed between them, and as Ash flew in for the takedown, he could feel his arms taking hold….
…Taking hold of nothing.
He hit the pavement hard, crying out in surprise and pain, his left side fulfilling an unexpected appointment with the floor. He rolled dizzily over the stony parterre again, scraping across the debris-strewn surface before coming to another ragged stop on the brutal concrete.
Flopping onto his back, Ash stared blankly at the ceiling. Blood ran down his head, draining slowly from his mouth and a freshly opened gash on the side of his throbbing cranium; his left arm lay pinned under his body, its shoulder soundly dislocated and wracked with sharp, rending pain. His mind seemed to stagger, its thoughts coming in sporadic, half-coherent synaptic discharges that struggled to make sense of themselves. He hadn’t just missed and hit the ground; he’d been flung into it, hurled mercilessly into a dead-on collision course.
Spots danced across his vision as he stood again, as he screamed again, his displaced joint snapping painfully back into place with a vicious, self-induced twist. His body reeled, threatening to pass out for good. He fell to his knees, leaned over to one side and wretched violently.
Clutching his aching gut, Ash rose to his feet, wavering unsteadily. Dark shadows fell across his crimson-streaked face. He didn’t even bother to lift his head.
A powerful hand, clad in black steel, clamped itself around his jugular area, locking right under his mandible and hoisting him off the ground.
Ash clung desperately to his assailant’s thickly robed arm, trying to gain, but slowly loosing leverage as the life was methodically strangulated from him. Tucking his chin in, he kicked out, but his boots only rent thin air, and the movement ultimately cost him more of his diminishing hold.
“Do you believe me now, mortal?”
Ash felt the connection between his atlas and skull begin to slowly, painfully give.
“I told you she didn’t care. None of them do.”
His vision began to blur, his esophagus to swell.
“Where are they now, these you called friends? You are spent; they want nothing more of you.”
He gasped, crimson draining out the corners of his gaping mouth as he began to choke on his own accumulating blood.
“And even if they did, they couldn’t save you, Ashura Ketchum. No.”
He could barely make out the skull and its gleaming, silver counterpart, two sides to the face of the death that was now laying final claim to him.
For a moment, the pressure was somewhat reduced as he was partially lowered, his head coming on a horizontal plane with the demonic harlequin’s.
Slowly, deliberately, the Necromancer brought his dying quarry’s face level to his. “Let me give it to you like it is,” he continued dryly. “When you were born, you were already abandoned by your maker, forced to live out your miserable existence as best you could in a cold, heartless, and hopelessly cruel world. For years, you strove to abase that pain, but to no avail. Look around you; what is the point of you? What have you done that anyone really cares about? What difference have you made? Your mother and your father forsake you now; your friends are all gone. Where are those who said they would be there for you?” The demon tightened his grip, putting his victim back down on his knees. “Who will save you from me?” He spread his free hand, beckoning to the surrounding room. “Who?” He asked mockingly, “Who appeals on this man’s behalf? Who speaks for him?” Nothing but dead silence answered the dark sorcerer. Smirking he hauled the indicted back into the air. “What good are you; you, the son of a rake and his wench? You are excrement, born of excrement, and so shall you die as such. I hate you, everyone else hates you, and you know what? You hate you, too. What is anyone else worth to you? You treat those you love with bitterness and contempt. You are willful and selfish, arrogant, proud, and because of your faults, you have committed irreversible wrongs. Everything good about you, you yourself have undone. Look at the woman behind you,” He gestured toward the incapacitated Misty. Slowly, green mists surrounded her body, lifting the unconscious woman off the ground. She floated, rotating methodically above the gray floor, a beauty asleep, beckoning her throttled prince to rescue her. “What happened?” The demon accused. “Where is your promise now? You were supposed to be there for her.”
Tears graced Ash’s cheeks, hot and rueful. Suffocating on his own vital fluid, his eyes were now the only facet left to speak for him, and they spoke of deep shame. Once, they had looked down on those broken, and with self-righteous contempt, had cast them aside. The losers, the bigots, the trash of this world; what was he now? Those eyes, once lit with an internal, fiery resolve, now could only constrict with pain. Was this. . .his justice?
“You” the Necromancer declared, “Have failed. You are forsaken. You are not good enough to stand before the one who created you.” He cocked Ash back, “You are worthless.” and hurled him across the room.
Sailing over several pieces of broken furniture, Ash finally landed, rolling to a stop on the gravel walkway outside, several yards past the front door.
* * * * * * *
The ground was rent clean by the dragon’s massive attack, his twin blades of searing energy routing the Houndoom battalion, cleaving their combined forces neatly into two packs of yelping, hastily retreating canines.
Flying low, Maxim caught his binding scythes as they emerged again from out of the torn earth, reappearing several yards away from their initial point of entry. Pulling them back, he recoiled once more, this time casting the so-called dragon claws in a wide circle, each flying in a direction opposite the other. They hummed through the air, sailing over the turf like a pair of boomerang, slicing and dicing everything that got in the way. With deadly precision, the dragon champion used his power to guide both razing blades, first corralling the dark hounds, then methodically tightening their rink, cutting them down from the outside in.
The night was filled with the hellhounds’ final, dying cries, and in a matter of minutes, it was all over. The two kinetic cleaves finally met each other, exploding in a ball of white fire. Total destruction was left in their wake; nearly a hundred demon hounds lay dead on the ground, their oily black carcasses dismembered and steaming.
None had escaped.
* * * * * * *
The shock of the crash continued to vibrate through him, even after it had stopped moving him. He was barely conscious now, the ground-side half of his face immersed in a growing puddle of red. His chest heaved, throbbing with random, violent spasms that shook him to the core of his being as steaming, salty droplets continued to flow down his cheeks like water through a broken dam. Bitterly, he wept, ashamed, hearing his own pained voice as if from a distance, as though it were not really coming from himself. His body convulsed of its own accord and he could do nothing to stop it.
Ash seemed to float in a state of limbo, his physical self stuck in its current physical suffering while his heart and soul were put through the rigors of a more destructive torment.
The body has many defenses against pain, and the mind can cooperate with the body’s systems. But to be wounded in spirit, for that there are few true defenses.
The pain of loss and ultimate failure burned themselves deep into Ash Ketchum and left him dried and empty. His body was severely beaten, near fatally even, but it was not this thing now that was killing him. One by one, the images of his friends, battered and completely helpless, floating in the air before him and he was powerless to save them; that picture continued to play itself over and over again in his mind, singing the anthem of his guilt like a broken record player.
Misty’s unconscious body was suddenly dropped on top of him, her head striking the ground in front of Ash’s, bouncing with a sickening, gravelly thud. A second later, five spherical, red and white metal objects also rained down on him, striking the beaten man sharply on the unguarded temple and cheekbone. His Elite firearm was last to follow, skidding raggedly across the granule-strewn walkway, sending pebbles flying in its reckless wake.
* * * * * * *
Grimly, the Rayquaza inspected his work. “Hmmm…grisly.” He concluded dryly. “I hope you like your orders well-done.”
Gary shook his head. “What the hell were those things? No Houndoom ever get that big!”
“Not normal ones, anyway.” Maxim leaned his head in (or brought his body up) and scratched an itch under his chin. “And these weren’t normal, I can tell you that right now; didn’t at all smell right.”
“Yeah…” Gary continued to just stare at the morbid scene below. The entire patch of ground was stained with thick, black licorice, Forbidden fuel that seeped stickily into the torn earth. The stench of death wafted up from it. Gary’s stomach lurched. “I’ve had enough of this.” He said finally, looking away, barely stifling the nausea that suddenly gripped his innards. “Let’s get outta here.”
Maxim was about to agree when his keen eyes spotted something.
“Hmm? What’s this?”
Incessantly curious, the dragon began to fly back toward Gypsum’s main complex.
“Oh no.” Gary turned his head back around, “G-Max, what the hell are you-!” The rebuke abruptly died in this throat.
* * * * * * *
Brock sat behind his broken down barricade, rifle stock resting languidly against his shoulder and between that and the floor as he stoically observed the grueling scene that unfolded violently before him. One by one, he saw his friends (well, okay, he allowed, Giselle wasn’t exactly a “friend”), the members of this Elite company go down.
Beside him, his Sandslash also watched.
The massive ground rodent’s Pokèball currently held Narcissa’s Zapdos.
“Maybe I should’ve been more like him.” Brock mused ruefully. He’d locked Spardos away when the thunderbird became to irate to reason with. Obviously, the Zapdos was still a very young Pokèmon, despite being a legendary, and tact and strategy were nowhere to be found in his reckless, impulsive combat theory. Nevertheless, between the two of them, who’d wanted to actually do something about this? Spoiled as he was, Spardos still had a sense of what was right.
Brock hung his head, refusing to watch as Ash was hurled and Misty drug out of Gypsum Hall. What was wrong with him? Why didn’t he do something sooner? Now it was too late. His friends would die, and in all practical regards, so would he. Together, he realized, they’d been strong, but their enemies had somehow found a way to separate them from each other, picking their alliance apart, one individual at a time.
“Slur?” Timidly, Brock’s Pokèmon prodded his trainer’s shoulder with one of his long claws. “Slash!” He urged.
Brock’s face was flushed with shame. “Buddy, I wanna,” he affirmed, “but I just can’t!” He waved emphatically at the three nether world creatures standing across the room. “What am I suppose to do? It’s not like I can just sneak up and take a pot shot! Look at ‘em!”
Sullenly, Brock reviewed the path that had brought him to paralyzed inaction. It had taken only one fraction of a second at a time, watching, cringing, trying to come up with a plan, watching some more, cringing some more, hesitating, till at last, the final blows were struck and it was just…
“…Man, I suck!” Brock spat contemptuously.
Some friend he was being.
But what if he had just barreled into battle, brash, unheeding, but making that brave, if also reckless attempt to be the hero? Wasn’t that better than just sitting on his butt? So what if he didn’t have a “plan”; when had he ever followed one anyway? Cool and calculated was the least of his qualities, he knew, often giving way to the tug of his heart strings. Oh, sure; he wasn’t irrational; absolutely not. You didn’t stay alive in this rescue business very long without a good measure of cunning and hard common sense. But being logically correct in all circumstances was baloney; by the time you came up with your fail-proof plan, it would be too late for your principal. No, there was a balance to maintain. You needed to be smart, but you also had to have a heart. And Brock knew he had both.
So what was wrong with him?
Absentmindedly, Stone stroked his rifle’s barrel stock, letting his hand trace the weapon’s length, from sight to scope. He hefted it up, caught it and checked the gun’s ammunition. The led display responded with an affirmative “full”. One cylinder still in the dock, he checked his backup. His hands counted twelve caps—half the ammunition belt’s max capacity. Brock frowned, alternately looking back across the spacious lobby, grimly studying the waiting company of undead Elite standing at attention several yards behind the bull monster that had taken down Shoto. He drummed his fingers on his knees, thinking hard.
His brows shot up. Maybe there was still a chance to turn things around…
* * * * * * *
“Your reward, Elite.” The demon spoke with harsh irony, letting the last of Ash’s Pokèballs drop on the fallen trainer’s head. “For all the evil you have done, and punishment from us for all the evil you failed to do.” He leaned over him, bending down low to whisper in his ear. “That’s the worst of it, human. You could have allied yourself with us, been one with our power and our plans. All your dreams, your desires; we could’ve given you everything. Oh, we waited for you; gave you plenty of opportunities to join freely with the force that will inevitably rule this planet anyway. Your quest for the better good is meaningless, Ashura Ketchum; it has always been so. Who has listened to you? Perhaps you realize this now, even at the end of your own futility. I won’t lie on this; we will burn someday, for there is no turning back from the darkness we have chosen. But did you really think that by being ‘better’ than the crooks, liars and outright hypocrites of your putrid race, you would somehow achieve a deserving status? Do you think ultimate perfection is really going to take something less than itself into its glory? You fool; you will never be good enough. Even now, you suffer for nothing, because when you die, you will still belong to The Shadow…to us. ”
Rising again, the Chameleon Necromancer looked down upon his foe. He saw a broken shell of a man; defeated, helpless and utterly vanquished.
“Farewell, damned mortal,” He bade, “I will see you again in Hell.”
With that, the demon turned his back and headed for Gypsum’s scorched entrance, his midnight cloak billowing out behind him.
He was almost through the blackened portal when the first energy blast knocked him off his feet.
* * * * * * *
“Maxim! Return!” Gary held on for dear life as his mount took them both plummeting in a methodic spiral to the earth below, the dragon charging another kinetic orb in his claws.
“Return!?” Maxim roared over his eyebrows. “Done already!?”
“C’mon, buddy,” Gary yelled back.
“Oh!” The Rayquaza chuckled. “That Return! Why didn’t you just say so!?” His eyes narrowed, sighting his target. He snarled, recognition coming into his glowing slits. “Take this hellspawn!” Twenty feet from the ground, he locked his focus and unleashed the charged energy bomb.
The Necromancer whirled around...
...Just in time to take the full force of Maxim’s twenty-foot wide power blast. White fire engulfed the demon sorcerer, plucking him off the ground and sending the stricken fiend back through Gypsum’s open doorway, alternately widening the gaping portal by five-to-seven feet all the way around.
Setting his monstrous, coiled body against the turf, Maxim landed, continuing to pump his attack. “I’m not finished with you yet!” He roared, every muscle straining and inflated to capacity as he increased the Return’s diameter, then narrowed it again, concentrating the energy. “GRRRAAHHH!!”
Gary shielded his eyes as everything in front of him was reduced to a field of blinding white light.
Brock tumbled behind his shambled barricade, spots of brilliant color still dancing in his head as he and his Pokèmon dropped to the ground, covering their faces. He felt the whole room shudder, the seismic shock rippling from somewhere in the room’s furthermost anterior.
The Talwar Minotaur ducked, pulling his wings about himself protectively, shielding his crimson eyes from the light. Pulverized concrete began to rain down all over him, a few jagged shards imbedding themselves in his dark bat wings’ thick epidermis.
The Siren screamed, a harsh, despairing wail that rose from the depths of the hellish creature that dwelt within the striking, humanoid façade. Trembling with the quake, she dropped to her knees, turning away from the celestial radiance.
The demon master was hurled all the way across the lobby, the Guardian Fire methodically burning his raven flesh to ashes. He hit the far wall and it caved like a paper bag, crumbling in on itself and spewing a shower of powderized concrete from all points of the circular hole being drilled into it. Half a second and twenty feet later, he was hurled across the next void of open space beyond, before being hammered into the next wall, and half a second later—after this one, too, broke—the next. He screamed, lashing out with shrill curses and satanic incantations against the righteous purge, but he was unable to summon the power needed quickly enough to block this new assailant’s blinding attack.
The light; he felt it tear into him, searing his eyes, his mouth, his whole body. The light condemned him, coming through all his darkness like a hot knife through melting butter and destroying him, piece by agonizing piece, until it finally surged against the barred gates to his innermost core. His doom was near, yet still he fought.
Then her heard the words, the one sentence all demons most fear:
…It is finished…
“Lucifer, Lord of Abaddon! I beseech you!” He screamed, lifting his ebony, skeletal hands before himself, “DELIVER ME!!”
With a single, reverberating crack, walls four, five and six gave way.
When the remnants of his shredded frame hit the seventh barrier, the Chameleon Necromancer exploded in one final, massive ball of immense and truly glorious verdant brilliance.
The room turned black with thick, choking smoke, the single pillar of destructive white energy coursing through its center, the only light. The whole of the demon’s satanic power was unleashed, burning the entire cylindrical chamber from floor to ceiling, wall to wall to wall to wall, his last dying shriek echoing and reverberating until the enclosure shook with it, the vertical concrete faces cracking as their molecular integrity began to give. The light disappeared and the ground quaked.
And then it was over.
Just like that; where there had once been a high master of the power of darkness, there was nothing but a small pile of gray ashes, a withered reed, two death-head knobs, and an empty, half-melted silver mask. The soot-stained façade’s horns were broken off and the face, once flawlessly beautiful and a testament to its wearer’s might, was now twisted into the essence of horror, frozen forever in a despairing, mournful wail.
…It is finished…
Maxim hung low to the ground, panting, his body glistening with perspiration as the heavenly glow slowly faded from his heavily built frame. “That,” he concluded with a satisfied huff, “ought to do it.”
“Did you really need to use that much power?” Gary chided, sliding off the dragon’s neck and landing on the ground just behind the beast’s luminous right eye.
Maxim grinned down at his trainer. “You…” he chuckled between breaths, “…command a lot of loyalty!”
“Ah, come off it,” Gary waved dismissively.
From across the lawn, someone moaned.
“Take ten buddy; I’ll be right back.”
The Rayquaza raised his arched brows curiously, but he made no attempt to follow. “Alright,” he yawned, alternately turning his head to one side, adjusting his neck, “I’m right behind ya.”
His telescopic baton long ago replaced, Gary redrew his magnums, swinging their sights left and right, doing his best to cover the open field in front and to the sides as he jogged quickly over its broken turf. He glanced ahead.
Something was lying on the road leading to Gypsum Hall’s entrance; something human? The enemy they’d just dispatched perhaps—though he doubted much of anything would’ve survived the Rayquaza’s blast. Cautiously, he looked up and down the complex and continued to approach.
Fifteen feet from his destination, he paused, taking another golden storage device form his chest and tapping its port. “Hoist, Bulk Up.”
The Pokèball released its contents, livid energy quickly taking definition as it shot from its protective sphere. A seven-foot tall, four-armed mountain of muscle appeared about five feet away from Gary, and even then, the trainer felt inclined to back up a step as the towering Machamp landed soundly on the balls of his feet, flexing his considerable upper physique.
Shifting quickly, the fighting Pokèmon took up a ready fighting stance, all four arms posed to tackle, mangle, crush and destroy. “Hrah! Champ!” he growled menacingly, his body flashing with harsh, golden light. Every muscle on the brawny bruiser expended an inch or so and hardened over, giving the Machamp a smooth, granite-like façade. One Bulk Up stronger, Hoist now stood at around seven-foot-two. His keen eyes shifted from left to right, looking for any signs of challenge. There’d been a battle here; he could sense it. Yet only a thin mist, torn up turf, and a dark, shadowy stand of large buildings met his searching gaze. “Hrh?” eyes still shifting suspiciously, he raised his primary forearms, expecting…
“Uh-uh.” Gary shook his head, moving a little ahead of the befuddled fighting Pokèmon. He pointed forward and slightly groundward with one of his drawn guns. “Down there.”
“Eer?” The Machamp followed his trainer’s hand, moving his own massive fists just slightly aside for a better view. “Champ!” He gasped, and before Gary could command otherwise, Hoist darted for the two fallen forms, both lying still upon the pebbly path, in a puddle of red.
Slowly, the world of light and color and life began to fade from Ash, his esophagus and chest simultaneously and progressively imploding, sealing him within himself, devoid of oxygen, dying. His entire body ached, from head to foot. He tried to force himself up, but everything refused to move. In a last desperate attempt, he finally managed to push up with his shoulders.
“Dammit, Misty!” He wheezed “Get off my air hole!”
The redhead didn’t budge; she was still out cold.
Ash groaned. So, this was really it then? This was how he was going to go; strangled under the dead weight of his former significant other? Why didn’t that dark guy with his stick just kill him already and be done with it!? Then he remembered the light, and the scream; what had that been? Maybe he wasn’t there anymore?
Something inside Ash beat with the hope of that one possibility; that someone else was out there, someone that might help. Struggling some more—and loosing still more breathing room as he did—Ash craned his neck, trying to squirm free, but his efforts only worked to further fatigue his knotting muscles, many of the important ones, he could tell, either were sprained or badly bruised. Still he fought, slowly forcing himself off his face, finally managing to partially jack Misty up on one shoulder, just enough to let him take a much needed breath of fresh air. And then his muscles gave out and he flopped face down again, shoving his mouth and nose into the bloody gravel. Misty rolled right back where she’d been, her shoulder landing squarely on the dorsal side of Ash’s neck.
Defeated at last, he gave up. No one was coming; he’d just imagined things. The light began to fade again; his breathing became ragged and sporadic, coming in short, extremely painful gasps.
This was it. It had taken nearly thirty years of hard, slow, and progressively bitter trial, but he was finally through with it—all of it. Where he went from here made little difference at this moment. As Ash’s oxygen intake faded, so too did his pain.
For a fraction of a second, he faded into unconscious bliss.
Then he gasped, air suddenly rushing into his starved lungs as something hoisted Misty off of him.
Propping himself on his elbows, Ash wheezed heavily, coughing up congestive fluid. In the distance, he could hear someone’s urgent footsteps rapidly approaching.
“Hoist!” Gary marched up to the Machamp, his demeanor reminiscent to a highschool football coach right after his quarterback looses a pass to a runner on the other team. “Hoist, how many times do I have to say this? You don’t freakin’ do anything until I tell ya!” He holstered his sidearms, shaking his head at the towering Pokèmon. “Sometimes, buddy, I’m amazed you haven’t had a bullet or somethin’ put through your dense head yet!”
The Machamp shrugged, cocking a critical brow at his shorter trainer.
“Yeah, fine,” Gary allowed grudgingly, “I guess you’re still alive, aren’t you.” He noticed the slight, humanoid form Hoist cradled. Standing beside the Machamp, all he could see were its lace-booted shins. “So, what’ve we got here? Someone’s lost drill sergeant?”
In answer, Hoist dumped his cargo in Gary’s arms.
“You really should work out more.” Maxim chided, hovering over Gary’s shoulder. His physical metabolism restored, he’d floated over to join the investigation."
“Hey,” Gary retorted, turning to face the dragon, “he’s heavy!”
The Rayquaza exchanged a funny look with the Machamp, who’d buried his face in one hand, snickering. “That, my good man,” Maxim corrected with excessive tact, “would be a ‘she’.”
“Huh?” Gary looked down at the elegantly sculpted feminine figure resting languidly in his arms, “Ah!” emitting a short cry of surprise.
Gingerly, he set the unconscious woman on the ground, propping her up against Hoist’s burly leg. Removing a glove, he placed two fingers lightly against the left side of her esophagus, trying to detect a pulse.
Gary frowned. Holding his breath, He pushed a little harder, and got a weak, but consistent beat.
“She’s alive,” he announced, relieved.
Curiously, he pushed back the strands of loose, carrot-hued hair that hung in front of her face, staring hard at the plush, rosy-cheeked countenance beneath. His eyes traced the smooth, rouge lips; the delicate, finely curved eyebrows and generous lashes; the upturned, pug nose that added a sense of playfulness to the face’s mature, flawless features.
Gary’s brows furrowed. Something about this person was uncannily familiar. Had he seen her before?
Gently, he lifted her head, letting the sparse light radiating from within Gypsum’s blasted lobby fall on its slumbering countenance. “Misty Waterflower!?” Gary whispered hoarsely, incredulous shock registering on his own finely chiseled features. He shook his head in disbelief.
“Hey.” Maxim leaned over the small party. “Er-hem! Gary!”
“…I know this person…” the dragon’s trainer answered distantly.
“Eh? Not in the biblical sense of the word, I hope!” he chuckled, gently nudging the transfixed human in the back. “Hey, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s one more pretty face to rescue over here.”
“What? Oh, right!” Carefully, Gary lifted Misty and placed her back in Hoists arms. He shook his head. She looked so small and fragile, cradled by the enormous Machamp…what was she doing here anyway? Then he took a look at the other human, who was still lying on the ground, propped on his elbows, his forehead (he could tell this one was most definitely male) resting on his closed fists. The man’s unruly, raven hair jutted out from several places on his head, giving him an almost boyish aura.
Cautiously, Gary knelt beside him, again having that odd sense of déjà vu. “Hey,” gingerly, he put his gloved hand on the man’s shoulder, “you alright there, buddy?” The prostrate figure remained comatose.
For a minute, Gary hesitated; then, gripping the man firmly by both shoulders, he turned him over.
“Ahh!” Ash cried out, his eyes and mouth wide with pained shock.
“Whoa!” Gary’s face twisted into a distasteful cringe. “Man, somebody really tore you up!” Silently, he cursed himself for not bringing any first aid equipment.
The fuzzy outline and colored patches of a face hovered above him, slowly coming into focus. Through the moisture still clinging to his baggy eyes, Ash squinted hard, trying to discern something recognizable. Pain welled up in his chest. He coughed.
Quickly Gary hoisted him up, “Alright, take it easy!” He put an arm under the other’s shoulders, alternately draping one of the other man’s arms over his own traps. “We’re going to get you outta here, okay!”
“No, wait…*cough!*” Ash found his voice again, struggling to stand. “The…*cough!*…the others!”
“Others?” Gary’s brows furrowed. He glanced around; was this guy seeing things?
“Yeah…still inside!” Ash wheezed violently, every muscle in his body protesting his movement. “Gotta get’em all!”
“Oh God…” Gary glanced over his shoulder at Gypsum’s gaping entrance, still smoking around its newly defined parameters. After all that had happened this night, through there was the last place he wanted to go. “Okay, we’ll do what we can,” he promised anyway. “For now, we’re gonna get you and the lady outta here.”
Ash nodded weakly. “Yeah…*cough, cough!*…Thanks from The Elite,” he rolled his eyes at that last addition, incredulous that he’d even thought of throwing it in. He shook his head, shoving the rotten feelings away. Instead, he turned his attention back to his mysterious Good Samaritan. “What’s your name?”
“Oak,” He replied suavely, “Gary Oak.”
Ash came to an abrupt halt. “…What?”
Gary’s brow furrowed. He released the battered man, who was now standing on his own, albeit unsteadily. Dubiously, he looked into the blood-streaked face. “Gary Oak,” He repeated, offering his ungloved hand, “Have we…met before?”
“Ketchum,” The battle worn trainer replied, taking his former partner’s bare appendage in a firm handshake, “Ash Ketchum.” He saw the other clearly now, and the look of shock on Gary’s face was easily worth a million. A broad smile spread across Ash’s own countenance, tears of relief coming to his eyes, “Damn, Gar,” he beamed, pumping the other’s hand, “You’re the last person I expected to see! What the hell are you doing here!?”
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