Sylph Knight and Waterviper
Back to Introduction
First, there was nothing.
Then there was something.
A big, paaaaaiiiiiiinfuul something.
As a darkened room slowly dissolved into existence around Clay Griffin, he became aware of just how much his body hurt. A soft moan escaped his lips as he tried to raise his arm to rub at his eyes. He was only a little surprised to discover that he couldn’t move his arm. After a quick test, he found he couldn’t move anything below his neck, no matter how hard he strained or ordered or screamed for his body to obey. Nothing. Nada. The Big Ziparoonie.
“Well, this is just peachy,” he grunted. With nothing else to do, he settled for examining his surroundings; they were as bleak as the situation at hand. It took him a moment to recognize the room as one of Gypsum Hall’s repair stations. The facility was almost unrecognizable, with components and equipment torn from their housings and thrown about carelessly, and a thick black secretion sprayed across the walls, probably from the Shadow-weaver’s chimera lackeys. Absently, Griffin wondered exactly how he had come to be in the room, and why he was in a standing position despite the total lack of-
Wait a minute.
Two things immediately clicked inside of Griffin’s befuddled mind. Number one; he was standing. Number two; he wasn’t dead (something which confused the hell out of him, despite Duplica’s assurances to the contrary). And number three; he was in the repair station. Standard Elite repair stations always kept several regeneration pods for the organization’s cybernetically enhanced agents in case of extreme injury or power loss…Regeneration pods that stood upright, and that shut down outgoing impulses from the agent’s brain to minimize risk of injury during repair.
With a dawning sense of hope, Griffin blinked hard and activated a mental trigger. An HUD was immediately overlaid on his vision. His attention immediately focused in on a scrolling damaged systems list…a list that had grown considerably shorter since the last time he had checked. He blinked again, calling up a systems’ status report: Most functions were on-line or being repaired, and power levels were at fifty-three percent, and climbing. He was getting fixed!
He was getting fixed?
“Sir, you’re awake,” an echoing voice called from across the room. “How excellent!”
A third blink chased the HUD away as Griffin glared into the darkness. Now that he knew it worked, he activated his night-vision. The blackened room became as bright as day, revealing a minimal heat source clinging to the wall directly across from him. He squinted, trying to focus on the object; though he was getting better, he still felt like a can of diet that had gotten pulverized by a steamroller. After another few precious seconds, the voice clicked into familiarity at the bottom of his mind. “See Nine?”
Suspended three feet off of the floor by the inky black secretion wrapped around his torso, the humanoid automaton waved his three remaining limbs in greeting to his master and commander. “It is most good to see you awake, sir,” the droid called cheerfully. “I had feared you dead for quite some time, despite Ms. Mimiqué’s assurances.”
In the space of an instant, Griffin’s mood brightened and then sunk. On the one hand, he wasn’t alone. That was good. But on the other three hands, he was still a prisoner, he was a prisoner of that bitch, and his only company was a babbling, useless, inane utility droid who was too dense to match wits with a ten-year-old girl. All things considered, he wasn’t so sure he wouldn’t have been better off dead. Pushing aside the more useless questions that came to mind, Griffin asked, “Can you get free?”
“I’m afraid not, sir.” Now the droid’s tones were mournful. Griffin thought he saw a tear form in See Nine’s perfect replica of a human face. When the tear turned into a steady stream of purple liquid, he realized it was just leaking hydraulic fluid. “The creatures attempted to consume me at first.” He waggled his stump of a right arm. “It appears that they did not have a taste for me once they had a taste of me, and so they secured me to this wall.”
Griffin frowned. “That’s odd…Why wouldn’t they just tear you apart?”
“It is a mystery to me as well, Sir.”
“Quiet. That was rhetorical.” There was a long moment of silence between them as Griffin mused further. “Wait. You said Mimiqué put me in here?”
“Yes sir.” See Nine tried to nod, but the secretion held fast. The best he could manage was a little waggle of his head. “You were unconscious at the time, and she requested that I keep an eye on you. I failed to see the point in such a task, as I am unable to-“
“Quiet,” Griffin shot again. There wasn’t anything he liked about the situation, and his outlook was growing steadily worse with each fact he became aware of. “Why would that psycho slut lock me up in a fix tube?”
“Because maybe that psycho slut has a passing fancy in you.”
Griffin’s eyes strolled in the direction of the repair station’s door, where a shadowy and sensual silhouette stood stylishly. The figure leaned casually against the hatch’s frame, shrouded in darkness save for a pair of glimmering amber eyes. Slowly, the silhouette strutted forward, coming to rest beneath one of the flickering emergency lights. Her waves of emerald hair bounced playfully against a tight body wrapped in clinging black and red material that left little to the imagination. With a hand rakishly placed on her hip, the sultry figure smiled devilishly.
A defeatist groan blew between Griffin’s cracked lips as his artificial eyes rolled skyward. If there was any doubt before, it was gone; he was certain that death was better than where he was now. “Great. Just what I need.”
“That’s some attitude you’ve got there,” Duplica smirked. “And even after I saved your life. You could be dead, you know.”
“Something we agree on. Who’d’ve thought.” he growled.
Duplica’s heels clicked ominously against the filthy, broken floor as she approached the helpless Cyborg with her smirk still in place. Griffin redoubled his efforts to make his body move as she stopped just a few inches in front of him, her face level with his broad chest as she looked up at his scowling demeanor. If it was the last thing he ever did (and it grew increasingly likely that it would be), he would choke the life from her with his bare hands.
As she gazed upon his helpless struggles, Duplica’s face lost all of its manufactured smugness. “You really do hate me, don’t you?” she asked in a whisper.
“You threw in with the Shadow, whore.” Griffin grunted, still commanding his arms to reach out and pop her head from her perfectly proportioned body. “The minute you betrayed us, your life became mine.” His eyes seethed and burned as he glared down at the traitor. “And I plan on snuffing it out. Count on it.”
Griffin had been expecting any number of responses; haughty laughter, blind hatred (followed by a quick and merciful release from this mortal coil), or even bitter Croconaw tears. But Duplica did none of this. Instead, she merely laid her head upon his chest and breathed deeply of his scent. And as the delicate emerald fibers of her hair brushed against bare skin, Griffin finally realized that he was completely naked. “Oh, Clay,” she murmured, caressing the smooth skin that housed powerful mechanical muscles.
“You…undressed me?!” he managed to spit out.
“Seemed like the thing to do at the time.” He could feel her smiling as her lips brushed against his chest. Her touch was delicate at first, hesitant, but soon grew with a sense of urgency. Griffin shuddered as her kisses explored the hard lines of his torso while her hands roamed, mapping out the rest of his body. She slid one leg up against his and rested her thigh against his hip. Her other leg soon followed, until her entire weight straddled his body, bringing her face even with his.
“Get. Off.” He put as much ire and silent threat into his voice as he could possibly muster, narrowing his eyes into mere slits. “Now.”
Duplica ignored him, and instead focused her attention on his neck. “Bodies are a funny thing, Clay,” she whispered in his ear before nibbling on its lobe. “Thoughts and emotions can be swept aside with a few physical stimuli, creating the desired effect no matter how much the person tries otherwise.”
As Duplica continued her administrations, Clay began to understand what she was talking about. For the first time in close to a decade, he felt his cheeks growing hot with embarrassment and shame. “So that’s it?” he choked on his own snarl. “You’re just going to rape me?”
Her tongue traced along his hard jaw line as it clenched and trembled in fury. “I want you to remember this moment, Clay,” she murmured sensually. She paused to look him in the eye, grasping either side of his face. Her legs tightened against his body as she pushed up, holding her face against his, noses touching and hot breath rolling against his mouth. “I want you to remember how utterly helpless you are right now. That you were once totally at the mercy of the slightest whim of my heart.”
“Because…” And this time, total surprise rocked Clay Griffin as he saw a true tear escape the mistress of disguise. “Because that’s how you make me feel.”
There was a poignant pause as Griffin blinked. He took a moment to choose his words carefully: “You have got to be shitting me.”
“You are the single most powerful man I have ever known.” Tension released as she loosened her vise grip on him and slid off, dropping to the floor. “You saved my life. You threaten to kill me. And you spurn me at every turn.” Once again, she placed her hands on his chest. “I have never wanted another man more in my entire life.”
He couldn’t believe it. “You’re serious.”
The sincerity pouring from her eyes was both refreshing and alien. “I’ve never been more so.”
“And you’re helpless.” She placed one last, long, wet kiss against his chest, letting her lips linger and her tongue tease playfully. “I could have you right now if I wanted. But I won’t.” Duplica took a few steps back so she could once again look him in the eye. That arrogant look of superiority and assuredness returned to her delicate features. “One day, I’ll have you willingly. You’ll beg me for it, Clay. And you know what else?”
“I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” he sighed.
“I’ll give it to you. Without,” she added with a wink, “Any ‘I told you so’s.” And with that, Duplica sauntered toward the door with a sexy sway of her hips. “Oh,” she added as an afterthought, “Your uniform’s in a storage locker over there.” She pointed quickly, then blew Griffin a kiss. “Repair cycle should be complete in about six hours. Don’t be late, hero,” she called as she disappeared through the darkened doorway.
A long, cold silence permeated the room as Griffin simply stood there, helplessly. He cursed his helplessness, and he cursed that foul temptress. But most of all, he cursed the one, tiny, screaming corner of humanity in his bio-mechanical soul that actually found Duplica’s offer not only appealing, but practically irresistible. It had been a long time since anyone had made him feel helpless, and it disturbed him to discover that he found the notion very appealing when Duplica was doling it out.
“That was a rather interesting conversation…” See Nine quipped from his gooey prison. “I do believe the young lady fancies you, sir.”
“Put a sock in it.” Griffin muttered.
See Nine cocked his head quizzically as best he could. “I am afraid that my socks are currently inaccessible, sir. Furthermore, I would need clarification as to what ‘it’ you-“
Griffin forced his thoughts away from the memory of a perfect body wrapped in black leather and back onto the situation at hand. Double-checking his own repair status, he found that Duplica had been right; in less than six hours, he would be up and running again. But to what end? The repairs would get him moving, and put some of his basic offensive systems back into operation, but that was about it. With a Hall full of Shadow demons and goddess only knew what else, he didn’t have a prayer. If only they had some sort of back-up…
A metallic clang scattered Griffin’s tactical planning as a square of grimy metal fell from the ceiling and bounced against the floor. A tiny yellow blur quickly followed, landing on four tiny paws and whirling its long-eared head around, searching for danger.
The Elite agent gaped for a moment as Ketchum’s Pikachu relaxed and rose onto its hind legs. Pikachu hopped forward, examining first Griffin and his proactive prison, then the cemented See Nine. “Pi!” he exclaimed. “Pika, pi pikachu.”
A soft moan rumbled in Griffin’s chest as he looked down at the tiny rodent. “Oh great,” he mumbled snidely, “I guess we’re saved, now.”
“We are?” See Nine brightened inside his gooey shackles. “How marvelous!”
* * *
“Where…are we?” Samurai pushed against a cool, flat surface and forced himself onto his knees. Sprawled out before him was a field of pure white. Quite the change from Gypsum Hall’s confined quarters and the fearsome Minotaur, but far from what he had expected. There was nothing to obscure the horizon. There was no horizon to obscure. No sky, no ground…nothing. Just white.
For a moment, the warrior thought he had gone blind until a familiar and feminine form revealed itself amidst a swirling curtain of mist. His hand brushed against her hip and gently shook her until she stirred.
A glorious head of flowing brown hair rose slowly with a groan. “What hit us…” Giselle muttered, shaking the cobwebs free from her mind.
“Several demons, if memory serves,” Samurai replied dryly. Despite his levity, his eyes searched over Giselle’s body for signs of injury. He was shocked to discover none; though her jumpsuit hung in virtual tatters, the skin beneath was pristine. On a hunch, he examined his own body and found it to be in the same boat. Their equipment was gone, save for Samurai’s blade, but they were unharmed. “We seem to be alive, at any rate.”
Giselle didn’t appear to be listening. She rubbed unconsciously at her wrists as she stared out into the yawing plane. A glimmer of recognition flickered across her eyes, and a sharp breath rushed past her lips. “It can’t be…” Her feet pushed against the unseen ground as she leapt to her feet and staggered forward. “I never thought…Shinji, do you realize what this means?”
She turned with an excited smile to her lover, but that smile came crashing down when she turned to face nothing where he once stood. Only a wisp of sallow smoke flittered where he had been, and that quickly vanished as well.
“Shinji?” she called out foolishly. The only answer was her own echo impotently calling back to her. “Samurai? Where are you?” A sense of panic assaulted her nerves as she clutched at her own arms. She felt afraid and very lonely without Samurai at her side.
Suddenly she heard a sound. Holding her breath, Giselle strained her ears and listened to the dead silence, hoping to hear it again. And she did: It was soft at first, but soon grew to audible levels. It sounded like…humming. Yes. Yes, someone was humming.
With nothing to lose, Giselle began walking forward, following the haunting melody into the depths of the ethereal mist. She only hoped it would lead her to her beloved Samurai and a way out of this place.
* * *
“Giselle?” Samurai called out as he ran forward to the spot where she had disappeared. “Love, where are you? Where did you go?” He had watched with his own eyes as a curtain of white fog had descended on his darling. Even as he now ran to where she stood, he knew he wouldn’t find her. He was alone now.
The sound of running water invaded the silence of the plane, temporarily distracting Samurai from his woes. He turned slowly, then stopped in shock. Where once there was nothing, there was now a babbling brook running through the middle of a small clearing. In the distance was a tall, majestic mountain, rising high into a clear sapphire sky and disappearing into clouds far above. Foothills rolled out from the base of the mountain, stopping just before the brook where Samurai now found himself. He turned around in his awe, and discovered more mountains and foothills behind him, curtaining his view of the rest of the world.
“It…It cannot be.” he whispered to himself. He knew this place, though it had been decades since he had last been there. Not since…
“It has been a long time, Shinji.”
That voice. Samurai knew that voice all too well. He whirled again to face the brook, and before he even saw, he knew who would be standing there. The owner of the voice smiled wanly, shuffling the folds of his robes as he folded his arms in front of him. Mousy wisps of grey-black hair fluttered atop his balding head in the gentle Japanese breeze as he stared down Samurai with a pleasant, unreadable expression.
“Father.” Samurai uttered the word uncertainly. He stepped forward, cautious and aware of his surroundings. He still was not convinced that this wasn’t a demon trick of some kind. Still, their surroundings were authentic, right down to the smell of the brook and the blossoming cherry trees. “How have I come to be here?”
Samurai stopped in front of his father, who smiled and reached out to grasp his son’s shoulder. “You have come here,” the old man told him patiently, “Because here is where you need to be.”
“No,” Samurai shook his head, backing away. “I told you, I would not follow in your footsteps. My destiny lies elsewhere, and-”
“Peace,” his father held his hands out to calm the young warrior. “Silence, my son. Your ki is in such turmoil, you cannot listen. Such has it always been, I fear.”
“I listen!” protested Samurai. “I listened to every one of your foolish lessons about honor, dignity, courage, and a thousand other topics you felt the need to drill into all of your children!”
The old man’s demeanor grew patronizing, and a little sad. “But you did not hear any of them,” he said mournfully.
Samurai’s self-righteous anger deflated as his father took him gently by the arm and led him over to a pair of familiar stones next to the babbling brook. Samurai had spent what seemed like years at a time sitting on those rocks with his father, listening to the lessons the old man wanted him to take to heart. Yet the only things he truly felt he had learned from his father were the ways of the sword, and the honor of a warrior.
“Father, what is the meaning of this?”
Crossing his legs, Samurai’s father sat comfortably atop one of the rounded boulders and waited patiently for his son to do the same. When Samurai did so, albeit not nearly as easily as his father (he remembered the stones being much larger when he was younger), only then did the old man continue.
“We are here to discuss your failure in battle, my son.” His father said. His tone was even and calm, even as Samurai prepared for another outburst. An upraised palm quelled the indignation of his son as he continued, “You were beaten and humiliated by the demon-kind, Shinji. Such a defeat shames us all.”
Samurai couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “How can you say such a thing?” he demanded. “I fought as you taught me! I fought with honor, and was defeated by a superior foe!”
“You fought with honor.” The old man repeated his son’s words carefully. “Yet your opponent did not.”
“Just listen, my son.” his father insisted. At this, Samurai at last quelled his fussing and resigned himself to letting his father speak his mind. “In your youth, I preached to you the importance of honor. I am pleased that you learned at least one of my lessons so well.” When Samurai did not speak, the old man allotted himself a brief smile before carrying on. “But you must realize that there was more at stake in that battle than honor.”
Samurai’s eyes became narrow slits as he glared at his father. “There is nothing more important than honor. You taught me that yourself, ‘Sensei’.”
“Even the life of your beloved?”
The question stopped Samurai short. His breath fled from his lungs as he tried mightily to deny his father’s accusation, tried to come up with some way to counter the devastating point. “I…You…She…”
“This is a lesson in honor, my son,” his father chided him gently, “Not in pronouns.”
“Giselle was locked in her own battle, as was I,” Samurai insisted weakly.
“And that would have stopped you from helping her once your battle was finished?” The old man shook his head and closed his eyes, trying to hide the shame that Samurai read so clearly in his demeanor. “My son, the Minotaur used every weapon he had in his arsenal against you. Fear. Strength. Power. The Blade. But you used only one.”
His hand brushed briefly against the hilt of his blade. “I know no weapon better than this.” said Samurai.
“But you had many other weapons. Your guns, inelegant as they were, might have blinded the beast. Explosives might have penetrated his armor. Your Pokémon-”
“My Pokémon are not weapons!” Samurai spat angrily. Old wounds burned on his soul as the disagreement that had driven him from his father’s dojo rose once more to the surface. “You never seemed to understand that, did you? They are my allies!”
“Then why did you not trust them to aid you?”
For the second time in the conversation, Samurai was rendered speechless. He felt his father’s words searing in his mind. Suddenly, a wave of shame overcame him. “But…but what of my honor?”
“There is no greater honor,” his father said somberly, “Than that found in protecting loved ones. Remember that always, my son, and you shall know only victory, and honor.”
* * *
The humming echoed from all around, and yet Giselle could feel its source as clearly as if she could see it. Her steps had been uncertain at first against a ground she couldn’t see beneath a layer of white mist, but she soon grew confidence in her gait, and was now all but running toward the sound. A desperate need for some sign, any sign at all, of another living being in this limbo fueled her weary bones.
At long last, the mists parted, revealing the source of the haunting melody. It was a silvery oval suspended in the nothingness, unmoving, unsupported, and alone. Giselle approached the object cautiously as she wished with all her might that her weapons had made the journey to this bizarre place with her. But as she drew near, she found no ill will waiting for her. There was nothing but the round, metallic object hanging in the air. Curious, Giselle, circled the object-
-and found her reflection waiting for her on the other side.
She jumped back with a gasp, surprised to see anything else alive in this place before she realized that the person within the confines of the oval mimicked her movements. Her hand reached out and brushed against the smooth and reflective surface. Naturally, her double did the same, only in reverse.
“Heh,” she chuckled dourly. “Don’t suppose you’ve seen a short, devilishly handsome foreigner anywhere around here, have you?”
Her reflection shrugged. “Not really. But I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you.”
Giselle tumbled back with a shriek as her reflection sneered at her antics. Crashing down onto her butt, the beauty stared up in horror at the smug face waiting for her within the mirror. “What the hell…?” she choked.
“What? Don’t be so dramatic, sweetie. I’m just you.” The other Giselle flipped her hair over her shoulder, beaming the original with a dazzling smile. “Though I can’t say I blame you…I am awfully gorgeous. Even more than you are, I’d wager.”
Her mouth hung open in shock as the doppelganger snickered derisively. The mirror before her seemed to stretch and bend, growing until it spanned the alternate Giselle’s entire height. Now the women were on equal footing, and Giselle’s double seemed pleased by this.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?” the other Giselle laughed, running a hand across the perfect curves of her body. “Don’t you like the way I look?”
“What the hell’s wrong with you? We’re exactly the same!” Giselle spat. “How could you possibly be prettier than me?” It seemed like a stupid point to argue to one’s one reflection, but Giselle wasn’t thinking too clearly at the moment. All she knew was that some arrogant little collection of bounced-back photons was claiming to be better than her, and that wasn’t something she was about to let pass. “You said you were me!”
The doppelganger sounded bored. “I changed my mind. I want to be someone else.”
Her brown hair suddenly pooled over, even longer than Giselle’s. Golden yellow began to replace the chestnut color as her body changed, expanding at the bustline and shrinking even further at the hips. The scraps of clothing that retained her dignity fell away, revealing a flawless field of ivory skin and a figure that mortals could only dream of. Giselle knew that body only too well; she had fought, and lost, to this person what seemed like only minutes before.
“There,” the Siren winked at her, “That’s much better, don’t you think?”
“You bitch,” Giselle seethed. She reached toward a pedestal that hadn’t been there a moment ago, taking up a pair of gleaming sais that had materialized from the ether. She didn’t know how or when they had come into existence, and she didn’t give a damn. “I’ll fuck up that pretty face of yours for what you did to me.”
The Siren reached outside of the mirror’s field, drawing back with her own pronged weapons. “You’re all talk, fat-ass.” the ethereal beauty chuckled. “Why don’t you come over here and prove it?”
“Just watch me, slut.” Giselle reached forward, touching the mirror experimentally. The silvery surface bent at her touch, then broke, encompassing her weapon-filled hand as she pushed through. She pulled back in a moment of panic, all-too-aware of the Siren’s mirth at her hesitation. Furious, Giselle stared down at the spot where her hand had pushed through, intent on doing it again.
Her hand… For just an instant, Giselle froze. She gazed down at her own hands and ignored the taunting as the Siren coaxed, ordered, and screamed for her to come through the mirror and fight. Though there was no wound, no scar, Giselle could still feel the sting of the Siren’s sais where they had impaled her, effectively crucifying her to the walls of Gypsum Hall. She had fought the Siren as an equal, but the Siren had proved herself to be the better with supernatural grace and speed.
Her entire life had been about proving that she was the best. When Ketchum was found to be the Chosen One, it had burned shame and hatred into the prima donna, leaving a lasting scar that no one but she could see. That scar had grown over the years, never marring her beauty but always hurting, always seething just beneath the surface. And in the end, what good had it done? Ketchum had pulled through, like he always did (or at least, she assumed, he had gotten away), and she had been left to die.
Giselle looked up into the mirror once more. Standing behind the furious demon was another reflection of Giselle. This one was identical to her, as the first one had been, save for a vicious streak of puffy pink flesh that lanced across her delicate features. Even from here, Giselle could tell that her other self suffered from the scar. She looked to Giselle with pleading eyes, even as the Siren called her a coward.
The sais dropped from Giselle’s hands, disappearing into the swirling mists at her feet. She derived a small sense of satisfaction as the Siren finally shut up, staring at her hated enemy. “What are you doing?” the demon demanded. “Fight me!”
“I plan to,” Giselle assured her calmly. “But on my terms…not yours.” Reaching out, Giselle gripped the sides of the mirror. She could have sworn she saw a look of gratitude cross her distant reflection’s marred features before she stepped aside. Gathering all of her might, Giselle heaved the mirror to the ground. It easily slipped from its unseen support and crashed down into the mist, shattering into a thousand pieces amidst the feral, final shriek of the beautiful Siren.
“I don’t have to prove anything to you,” Giselle spat on the shattered remains of the Siren’s prison. “I don’t have anything to prove to anyone.”
* * *
Tony’s Diner was a quiet, out-of-the-way truck stop situated along Route 12, near a highway that was frequented by Silph shipments, but far enough from any major cities to be in a good location. Truckers all across the island knew Tony’s for their twenty-four hour service, their decent coffee, and above all, their clean, fresh-smelling bathrooms. As the first rays of dawn licked at the horizon, only a handful of trucks were parked there. Their keepers sat in the small, rectangular building, enjoying an early breakfast and a quick, caffeinated pick-me-up.
The door to the diner jingled merrily, allowing three soldiers and one part-time detective/trainer entrance. They stumbled wearily into the building, covered in blood and black ichor as the jukebox played an old country favorite, the one about the man who lost his wife, his truck, and his dog. Somehow, it seemed aptly appropriate.
Truckers and wait staff alike turned as the brawniest of the bunch, a man in his early thirties with impossibly spiked hair approached the front counter. An enormous rifle was slung thoughtlessly over his back by a shoulder strap and hung forgotten as he said, “Four coffees, please.”
The waitress at the counter eyeballed the four uneasily. Her gaze lingered on the brawny one’s rifle, and she tossed a knowing glance at another waiter standing near the phone. He nodded imperceptibly and picked up the receiver as she wordlessly produced a pot of coffee and four chipped, ancient mugs.
Brock accepted his drink gratefully and sat down next to one of the regulars, a large man that dwarfed even Brock’s muscular might. As he sat on the stool, Brock’s face twisted with discomfort. He reached down into his unzipped jumpsuit (or what remained of it) and pulled out a small pistol, slamming it down on the counter before proceeding to take a long, gratifying sip of his coffee.
The beefy regular took one look at Brock and his arsenal, and silently shifted several seats over.
“So let me get this straight,” Gary asked, sitting down next to Brock with a loud groan that covered up the panicked waiter’s call to the police. “You guys have to save the world.”
“That’s right.” Brock grunted, taking another sip of his still-too-hot coffee.
Gary paused a moment. “Again.” he added.
Ash sat down next to Gary, offering the last seat to his left for Misty. The redhead decided not to put up a fight, and slipped in next to her former lover, accepting the coffee he offered her. With everyone situated, Ash quipped, “It does seem to fall to us a lot of the time, doesn’t it?”
“Becoming a habit,” Brock sighed.
There was a long moment of silence as the four of them drank their coffee, oblivious to the uncomfortable stares of the rest of the diner. Besides the unnatural stench of demon blood, the quartet had brought with them an atmosphere of gloom and misery that was almost physically palpable to everyone present. Finally, Misty looked across the counter at her comrades, voicing the one thought they all had. “So what do we do now?”
Ash’s mug plunked down onto the counter, slopping over and scalding his hand. He didn’t even feel it. “We took some pretty heavy losses back there…” he said flatly. Griffin. Giselle. Samurai. Duplica.
“Well, we can’t just sit around and do nothing!” Gary insisted.
Brock glanced over at the recent addition with a flicker of amusement in his weary features. “We?” he asked. “Since when does our ‘we’ include you?”
“Hey,” Gary flashed with indignation. “I don’t know if you remember at all, but I was kicking some demon ass back there!”
“You would have gone down eventually, just like the rest of us.” Misty informed him tonelessly. “Those…things, they don’t have limits. They just keep coming, and coming, until…”
The general mope-fest was interrupted as Ash’s watch began beeping insistently. Frowning curiously, Ash flipped the glossy faceplate up, revealing a myriad of controls and gauges that had previously been hidden. “Uh…hello?” he asked hesitantly into his Pokédex. Not many people had the frequency to his private communicator. Certainly no one he had been expecting a call from.
“Ash! Thank the Goddess, we’ve been trying to locate you for the last two hours!” a feminine voice squalled with relief. It took a moment for Ash to place the voice’s owner. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Rhydmie?” Ash couldn’t hide his bewilderment, and neither could the others, save for Gary, who was merely confused. “How the hell-”
“Never mind that!” her electronic voice snapped. “Listen, we’ve got some big trouble brewing. Where’s Griffin?”
The waitress behind the counter leaned over to her companion, who had just finished his call to the authorities. “That one feller’s a’talkin’ to his watch,” she murmured.
Listening for a moment, the waiter was forced to counter, “An’ it sounds lahk that thar watch is a’talkin’ back…”
“Casualty,” Ash muttered darkly, scrunching his shoulders as Brock, Misty and Gary scooted closer to hear what Rhydmie was saying. “Along with Duplica, Giselle and Sammy. It’s just Brock, Misty and me.”
“What about April?”
Those three words chilled Ash Ketchum’s marrow right in his bones. He risked a glance over at Misty; the redhead’s face had blanched into a milky white facsimile of what it had been as her eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. “What are you talking about?” Ash swallowed hard, trying to work the lump in his throat down so he could speak normally. Off to the side, he could hear Brock groaning to himself and muttering under his breath, catching words like ‘stupid’ and ‘forgot’. “Isn’t she with you?”
“When I got back to base, she wasn’t aboard the plane.” Rhydmie’s voice sounded sincerely apologetic. “The See model droid was gone too. I can only assume they dropped in after you, before I could-”
“Rhydmie, are you trying to tell me that she’s still back there?” Ash demanded.
There was a long pause, and then a sigh. “Keep your channel open. I’ll home in on your signal and pick you up. The shit’s really hit the fan this time, guys. Ferdinand has called up the big guns.”
“He’ll explain back at base. Just stay put. Rhydmie out.” With that, Rhydmie’s tenor tones cut out.
A quick glance at the disguised Pokégear’s controls confirmed that her signal was still interfacing with Ash’s. He pressed a few controls and then flipped the watch plate closed once again. “Okay guys…” Ash’s voice sounded hollow, even to himself, but he tried to maintain his composure. “We just need to-”
Misty’s coffee cup flew through the air, spraying hot brown liquid everywhere as it struck the caterwauling jukebox. The ancient machine warbled a moment, then sputtered up a few sparks and fell silent as a howl of ultimate loss heaved from Misty’s lungs and filled the tiny diner. She screamed and fell to her knees, sobbing piteously as she clutched at the hair at her temples. Everyone in the diner that had been staring at the group while trying to appear like they weren’t staring at them gave up the empty gesture, and gaped openly at the wreck of a woman.
Ash tried to rest a comforting hand on Misty’s shoulder. He, too, felt a scream welling up in his soul, but stuffed it down for her sake. All he felt was cold and empty inside, but he tried his best to be strong for her. “Misty, I-”
“She’s my daughter, Ash,” Misty moaned without looking up. On her hands and knees now, it was all she could do to force words between her wracking sobs. “Don’t any of you understand that? She’s all I have…She’s everything to me. And now she’s…”
“W-We don’t know th-that, Misty.” Brock stammered guiltily as he stared down into his mug.
“Misty,” Ash whispered, bending down to rub her back. “Misty, I promise you, we’ll get her back. We’ll-”
She threw his comforting arm away and ran for the exit, leaving a trail of wet tears on the tile. The door’s bell jangled cheerfully as she threw it open, then slammed it shut behind her, running out into the parking lot and collapsing halfway to its edge.
Gary blinked, more confused than ever. “Misty has a daughter?”
Ash could only shake his head. He glanced back at his partner, who had not looked up from the counter. Brock’s sudden behavior was confusing, but Ash didn’t have time to psychoanalyze his old friend. “Brock, keep a lookout here. I’m going after her.”
“Sure,” he muttered, resting his head against the lip of his coffee mug.
As Ash turned to leave, Gary stopped him with a hand on the shoulder. Ash forced a flash of anger at the delay back down as he turned to face his former rival and former partner with a look of contempt. “What is it, Gary? I don’t have time-”
“Look, I just wanted to say…” It seemed as though Gary was truly wrestling with an inner demon, one that had kept him awake for many a night. “I just wanted to…I’m sorry.”
It took a full minute for Ash to realize what Gary was talking about as the trainer babbled on about this and that. Finally, Ash waved him off and broke his grip. “Forget about it, okay? Ancient history. Besides, we have bigger fish to fry.”
An enormous smile broke Gary’s sullen features. “Really?” he asked in a small voice. “I mean, yeah. You’re absolutely right. Bigger fish.”
He began turning away when Ash’s voice called him back. “And Gary?” Gary turned...
Ash’s fist caught him right on the chin, snapping his head back and slamming his spine into the counter edge with an explosion of pain. There was a shriek from one of the waitresses as Gary crashed into a display of Tauros jerky, knocking it down and sending preserved meat scattering every which way. Gary’s eyes spun in his head as his fists cocked unconsciously, until finally he regained his equilibrium.
Now Ash was the one with the enormous smile. “Now we’re square.” was all he said before turning and following Misty out of the diner.
Gary gratefully accepted a napkin from Brock and dabbed at the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. He stared incredulously at Ash’s retreating frame through the dirty windows of the diner, shaking his head. “That was a little weird,” he admitted.
“Truthfully,” Brock quipped, taking another sip of his coffee, “I don’t think this day could get any more screwed up…”
The air of the diner split open with a terrific crack and a burst of wind, blowing papers and trucker hats every which way. The patrons and staff of the diner shrieked in terror as the rend in the very fabric of reality widened into a glimmering portal of pure white. Slowly, the ferocious winds died down, leaving only the shimmering illumination of the portal that hung in mid-air.
Brock and Gary watched in awe as a large silhouette formed in the portal, defining itself into a figure with two slumped shapes slung under each arm. Brock’s sharp eye examined, then appreciated, the flawless beauty that carried two clearly unconscious passengers through the portal, gliding on an unseen force and touching down gracefully as if all three weighed nothing.
Glorious raven hair flowed down her shoulders and spilled across her translucent white gown as she smiled upon the pair of warriors with perfect teeth. Her gown could not conceal the graceful, flawless curves that did not so much move as they did flow in perfect harmony as she glided forward, lifting the pair she held as if they weighed nothing.
“Your comrades,” her musical voice lilted. She gestured, and the pair lifted from her grasp and floated through the air, coming to rest on the stools next to Brock. “I bid you good luck.” And with that, she lifted into the air once more. The bluster returned, billowing through her sheer gown and tossing her hair about as she graced them with one last smile before returning through the portal. As the wind reached its climax, the spatial tear collapsed on itself, ending the gale in a crescendo of force and noise, and leaving no trace of itself behind.
As Gary stammered speechlessly, Brock tossed a glance at the slowly stirring pair seated beside him. He smiled as Samurai and Giselle slowly blinked their eyes open and lifted their heads from the counter. Brock raised his hand and gestured to the terrified waitress, waggling his finger.
“Miss, could we get two more cups over here?”
* * *
Lawrence sat in a darkened room with his legs crossed and his eyes closed, listening to the voices that could not be heard. They came to him more clearly now, becoming louder with each passing moment he embraced the growing power of the Shadow. His skin had become sallow and sunken from the effort, but it would all be worth it.
Through the eyes of the shadows, Lawrence watched their young guest struggle and scream and sob and simper against the invisible bonds that held her fast to the crucifix. The irony was so delicious, he had to laugh, and he did; a soft, sickening bray that had atrophied from disuse over his decades of service to the Dark Ones. The Dreadfire Crescents, which now bound the little one, had been created to stop him and his kind. Now they would prove to be the undoing of the do-gooders and their filthy ilk.
Once, the voice of the Despised One, the Departed One, He-Whose-Name-Must-Not-Be-Spoken, had been painful to Lawrence. But that was before he had completely embraced the Shadow. Before he had abandoned his worries for his pathetic mortal shell, and opened his soul fully to the one true power. “Yes, my Master,” Lawrence drew upon his power to send his voice across the barriers of space and time to the distant prison where his master dwelt. “I hear, and obey.”
*THE GIRL STILL RESISTS?*
Still watching April through his unseen eyes, Lawrence couldn’t help but smile. “She does, my Master.”
*GOOD. THEN SHE TRULY IS THE ONE. I SHALL SOON BE FREE.*
*IT IS TIME. PREPARE HER FOR THE CEREMONY, THAT I MIGHT BE FREE TO BRING MY BENEVOLENT TOUCH TO THE WORLD FROM WHICH I HAVE BEEN DENIED.*
The twisted smile on Lawrence’s horrible features split even wider, threatening to tear apart his paper skin. “As you command, Master,” he said obsequiously, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. “So shall it be done.”
* * *
Misty sat huddled on the dusty parking lot, seated upon a concrete block as she watched the sun crawl tirelessly over the horizon and begin its climb into the pinkish sky. She could recall sitting in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wilderness, and watching a hundred sunrises just like this one. The only thing missing was the comforting arm of the boy, now a man, who she had called her friend, her best friend…her secret love.
She heard his footsteps approaching from behind, and did nothing to greet or dissuade them. Even without looking, she knew it would be him. Part of her was grateful, but the bitterness buried in her soul wouldn’t let go of its grudge, and forced her voice into a twisted grunt of the soothing, loving tones she longed to utter. “What do you want?” she whispered.
Without a sound, Ash sat down next to her, remaining a comfortable distance away as he faced the sunrise with the same sense of bitter irony that she did. With a slight shuffle, he brought his knees to his chest and rested his chin upon them, gazing out at the brilliant myriad of colors painted across the morning sky. His jet-black hair rustled gently in the breeze as Misty looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time since their reunion.
“I feel it too, you know,” he said at last.
“Empty. Afraid. Sick.” He turned to her, and just one look into his eyes was enough for Misty to know that he spoke directly from the heart. “The moment I knew she was back at that hellhole, I felt a part of me slip away, just like you did. And I’ve been trying to figure out why.”
A hint of panic fluttered in Misty’s stomach. “She’s not your-”
“It doesn’t matter who she is, or who I am.” Ash insisted gently, turning away to look at the sunrise once again. His expression was unreadable, and his voice betrayed nothing, but Misty could see the pain pouring out of his eyes. “I don’t know why, I don’t know how, and I don’t care either way. I love her. And I would die to protect her. I will, if I have to…because we’re going back for her. Shadow be damned, Elite be damned…we’re going to get April back.”
Misty couldn’t bear to look at Ash, so she too kept her eyes glued to the sunrise. The emotion threatened to overwhelm the stone walls erected around her heart as she reinforced them as best she could against Ash’s sudden assault. “How could you love something you just met?” she asked with a bitter laugh.
“I feel it.” Ash tapped his chest. “Right here. I can feel her. She’s still alive, and I won’t stop until she’s safe.”
“Now you’re just being stupid.” Misty forced another laugh to mask the choking sob that escaped her throat.
“I’m good at that.” Ash agreed with a tiny nod. He let his legs go, leaning back against the concrete as he sprawled out, supported by his elbows. “I’ve been so stupid, searching for meaning in my life the past ten years in all the wrong places. All I needed were three words, and my life could have turned out different. Really different.”
Misty glared at him, narrowing her cerulean eyes filled with tears. “What’re you babbling about?”
“I love you.” Ash heard Misty gasp, and decided it was best to continue talking before something stopped him. He felt all his courage flee his body, and yet he couldn’t stop. It was as if a well of hurt was pouring out of the open wound in his heart as the words flowed with the natural grace that only a decade of unconscious rehearsal could produce. “I tried to show you, but I guess I just didn’t know how. I should have just told you. Instead, I’ve spent the last ten years of my life running around, searching for some kind of meaning. And damned if I didn’t have the answer all along.”
Misty watched a wry smile cross his lips. She watched as tears began forming in his amber eyes, dropping down his cheeks one by one. There were no words that could even begin to express what she felt, so she remained silent as a tomb, watching him for some sign of trickery or deception.
Ash turned to face her, and his smile grew. “I don’t expect an answer, Misty,” he told her as if reading her thoughts. “I don’t expect anything from you. I just…I mean it. I feel it. So I’m saying it. I love you, and I love April just as much. All this time, and I don’t care what happened between us.” The grin on his lips faltered. “I know there can’t be anything between us anymore, Misty…not after all this time. And I’ll find a way to live with that. But…It would mean the world to me if you’d let me be a part of your lives.” The lump in his throat tripled as he forced the rest from his soul. “After everything we’ve been through…I just don’t want you to disappear from my life again. It’d destroy me.”
A new despair washed over Ash’s features as Misty turned her head away, refusing to even look at him. He thought about pleading his case further, but then thought better of it, and instead simply stood up and brushed the dirt from his clothes. “I understand,” he said, and began walking away.
Misty heard him leaving and gave silent thanks that he could not see the silent shake of her shoulders or the rivers of pain that poured from her eyes.
* * *
“No, no, you stupid rat!” Griffin howled from the regeneration pod, craning his neck to try and see better. “Blue wire to RED wire! Not blue to yellow!”
Pikachu looked up from the conglomeration of circuit boards and components he had gathered from the remains of the repair station and snarled at Griffin. “Pika! Pi, chu chu pi pika pikachu!”
“You’d better have been agreeing with me,” the cyborg growled in warning. He longed for some ability to move, as the last half hour had been infuriating for him. With no options left, he had been forced to let Ketchum’s pet be his hands, and they were very clumsy hands at best. “Now try it again.”
Pikachu heaved a sigh, then reached out and grasped the two appropriate wires. Slowly, delicately, the thunderous mouse touched the leads together…
A sharp bang sent Pikachu scampering as the loose association of parts he had been fiddling with suddenly spat up a hail of sparks. The Pokémon shrieked and skidded on his claws, coming to rest near Griffin’s immobile feet as together, they watched their hard work began to smolder and glow a dull orange-red. Pikachu lifted his head up and sneered at Griffin silently.
“Well, how was I supposed to know the damn thing was wired wrong?” he roared indignantly even as he silently wondered if he had been wrong.
“Um, sirs…” See Nine called timidly from his far wall.
“I know I am just a lowly utility droid and all, but…may I inquire as to what you’re doing?” The artificial being seemed abashed at having to ask, but the demons’ secretion had gunked up one of his eyes, and his vision wasn’t functioning at full potential.
As Pikachu approached the mess, Griffin snarled, “Since the Rat already used his other homing beacon, we have to construct one, then amp it up until it has enough power to break through Gypsum’s structural interference and contact headquarters.” At Pikachu’s insistent bleating, he turned his mechanical eyes downward. The mouse held a small data card, or what was left of it, in his claw. The wafer-thin board smoked and sizzled, prompting Pikachu to toss it aside disgustedly. “And now...” Griffin just shook his head at the rodent--who glared back with equal exasperation.
Bitterly, the Elite agent tilted his head toward the ruined component. “That was our only datadyne processor card. It might take days to locate a new one in this mess, and by then, we’ll be long dead.”
See Nine considered Griffin’s words for a moment as his two companions sighed in disgusted defeat. Then, with a sickening gurgle, he began to cough and choke. Griffin and Pikachu both regarded the automaton curiously as See Nine hacked violently, straining the confines of his messy shackles. After long minutes of painful retching, he at last coughed up a small, thin, green board, clutching it between his lips. “Mmm-mmm!” he hummed triumphantly.
Griffin’s jaw dropped as Pikachu rushed over to stand beneath the automaton. “Why you jammy bastard!” Griffin crowed as See Nine spat the processor card into Pikachu’s waiting claws. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
“Neither did I, sir…” See Nine admitted dizzily. “Perhaps it wasn’t such a wise move…my processing power has down gone by thirty-twelve percents…”
A new admiration for the underappreciated droid swelled in Griffin’s steely heart, and was promptly lost as See Nine began muttering nonsensically to himself, adrift in a sea of confusion without the integral part of his processor. “All right, mouse,” he called to Pikachu as the Pokémon rushed back over to the haphazard transmitter. “Let’s see if we can do this right this time, huh? I don’t think we’re going to get another processor out of Nine.”
“Beedrill-wax…” See Nine agreed loopily.
“Okay, so red wire to blue wire-“
Shaking his head, Griffin forced himself to concentrate. “Right, right…try the yellow one, then.”
Pikachu just rolled his eyes.
“And ditch the attitude. We’ve got a world to save.”
* * *
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