The Blood Tamers I : Fall From Grace (PG-13 for violence)

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Thread: The Blood Tamers I : Fall From Grace (PG-13 for violence)

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    Goronda Type Vice-Webmaster Evil Figment's Avatar Vice-Webmaster
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    Default The Blood Tamers (R. Very definitely so.)

    Well, here's my new dark epic, or rather the prologue of it. After much work on getting it just right, I think it's ready to be posted.

    A few very rapid note :

    -Timeline, about ten years past the start of the anime. Ash, Misty (and Yoshi and Dani) are now all about 20. That's for the prologue, the rest of the fic is set (quite) a few years later.
    -Yoshi, Jackson and Dani for those who do not know (ie did not see the relevant Silver Convention episode) are Kenta, Junichi and Marina from the Raikou special, in that order.
    -This is a dark fic which means the characters are about to go through hell. Yes, half of the prologue deals with how the whole hell thing started. The other half introduces (in many sense) a character whose part in the later stories will be non-negligeable.

    These details covered...

    Prologue : Life and Death

    Kanto was a land of mountains, and would always be so. To the north the snow-caped reaches of the titan men called Mount Moon dominated the land, extanding its rocky arms west and east in a series of foothills making travel to the north nearly impossible. To the east, the majestic canyons and bluffs of the Rocky range were like a wall between Cerulean and Lavender. To the south, the land between Vermillion and Fuschia was covered in mountains.

    To the west, amidst the sharp peaks of the Indigo range, stood the tallest mountains of them all. In the shadows of that titan, a vast plateau expanded, home to perhaps the most fabled organization of the lands of Kanto and Johto : the Pokémon League.

    Many of the richest families of Kanto and Johto made their home in Indigo, or at least had some form of mansion there where they could live and entertain guests each summer for the duration of the National Cup, the great pokémon tournament which gathered trainers from Kanto, Johto and lands beyond. For these three weeks, the entire city would be abuzz with activities, and few of the city's numerous mansions saw no celebration during these days.

    Among these mansions there was one which outshone them all in splendor and luxury. Standing under the very shadow of Mount Silver, the mansion home of the Silph family was just as fabled as the very league which made its home in Indigo City. The floors of the mansion were made of the purest white marble. Beautiful as the marble wall, however, few saw it. Covering the floors were great rugs, woven by hand in faraway lands for the Silph family alone, and bearing the family's coat of arms in shades of azure and gold.

    When the sun rose, the mansion seemed as if it had been born from the very legends of Kanto. Golden rays of light filtered through a thousand panels of tinted glass, breaking down in a cascade of reds and blues, as if the house itself as if the house itself stood at the edge of some eternal rainbow.

    To protect its riches, the Silph family had hired a vast force of professional guards who stood around the home, armed and ready, with orders to take action against any suspicious figures. The orders had been reinforced in recent months, after the League's attacks against the nefarious Team Rockets.

    By the pool of blood now forming about the fallen body of one of the guards, one could easily conclude the orders had not been enough. He had tried to defend the door, true, but his attempts had simply not been enough, and his face remained frozen in shock even as his body fell to the ground.

    A heavy leather boot kicked his body to the side, away from the door. Its owner strode forward in the doorway, readjusting his heavy iron mask with a hand while the other pointed the way inside to a force of men behind him. They stepped in the home, their jet-black uniform dark in the night. It could not be seen, but few in Kanto would doubt that the men now before them bore crimson R on their uniforms.

    "Block all the doors," the masked man commanded, his eyes burning with insane fury. "If she escapes, I'll make myself a leather outfit from your skins."

    It was not the menace itself that was horrible to the men standing around. It was the empty, emotionless tone in which it was delivered. The words were in no way empty, and the men who heard them knew it.

    "Yes sir!" one of them replied at once, turning toward his comrades and crisply giving them their orders. They wasted no time in spreading through the house. Without a miracle, there would be no escape for those within the house.

    "If the ice bitch escapes…" the masked man growled again all the same. The Rocket agents about him ignored the threats. They knew it was the Marauder's way to obtain what he wanted by violence, and they knew just as well that they would give him exactly what he desired, or die trying.
    ____________________

    The Viridian city hospital was no exception to the general trend with hospitals : it was a drab, bleak, utilitarian building. The walls were grey, the floors were white and the covers on operating rooms beds were a pale green. There was no warmth, no humanity to be found anywhere.

    Most of the hospital's waiting rooms were filled to the brim with the wounded and sick, but one of them was rather empty. A few men sat around waiting, some of them with children on their knees. They said little, did little, and as a general rule none of them seemed to mind the young man pacing at one of the room's entrance, or his friend leaning against the wall with a relaxed smile.

    "Why aren't you with her, anyway?" the one leaning back against the all asked, pushing back a rebel strand of pale brown hair, then calmly adjusting his pale blue shirt. "Now of all time…" there was a certain edge to his voice, regrets perhaps.

    "I can't see her like that…" the other breathed, stopping for only the briefest moment in his pacing, his dark ponytail whipping about as he turned his head. He pulled his black cloak tighter about himself as if unable to feel the warmth of the hospital room. "You didn't hear her when we were getting here. I'm not getting in there."

    "Always the same weak point to your courage uh Yoshi?" his friend smiled thinly. "You're ready to do anything about anyone…but you can't swallow people hurting her."

    "Just shut up." Yoshi growled, shaking his head. "You just don't know…"

    "Oh, of course I don't know how much pain she's in," his friend grinned somewhat. "I'm sure you have far more experience with that kind of things, being the great League Master that you are…"

    "I'd almost think you're jealous Jackson," his friend snapped back, then shook his head.

    Jackson looked back at Yoshi for a long moment. He said nothing, but his eyes spokes volume.

    "You're jealous aren't you?" Yoshi asked, his tone suddenly calmer. "You wish you were in my place…"

    "Of course I do!" Jackson exclaimed, throwing both hands upward. "There you are, the great pokémon master, one of the top members of the National League and married with Dani, and there I am, the nobody trainer who still hasn't even managed to beat a single league. Some days I wish you weren't my friend."

    "So that you could try to get her to cheat on me?" Yoshi smiled weakly.

    "Nah, I wouldn't do that. Just so that I wouldn't feel so bad envying you," Jackson smiled confidently. "But even if I'm repeating myself, you should go see her."

    "You know me better than that," Yoshi sighed. "You were right earlier. I can't see her in pain."

    Behind them, the doors to the waiting room opened.
    ___________________

    "She's going to pay…" the masked man growled again as he strode through the halls, purposefully dragging his blood-dipped booths across the precious rugs.

    "Of course sir," the agent closest to him nodded, more out of normal reflexes than for any other reason. Most of the agents had learned a long time ago not to contradict him, at least not if they valued their continuing survival.

    Their intended victim had yet to learn that lesson. She and her friends of the pokémon league somehow had gotten the idea that they should be able to have the leader of Team Rocket arrested and sentenced. Giovanni's execution had been a fell blow to the team, and it was now his task to rebuild it. Part of that rebuilding necessarily involved scaring the league in leaving the organization alone.

    "We've found her!" another agent yelled further in the house, to the cheers of anyone near enough to hear. The Marauder let out a growl of frustration if only for a moment – the point of a strike like this one was not to yell out like that. Some heads would roll once the operation was over, he promised himself.

    "Good…" he still forced himself to acknowledge. "Get her here," he commanded in his portable radio. His underlings might be unprofessional, but he was not, and would not be.

    It barely took seconds them to drag the woman out of her bedroom and into the hallway where he waited for her. She kicked and screamed, but neither availed her.

    "Let me go you bastards!" she yelled out, shrieking as she tried to pull free. She spit in one of the rocket's face, and all the while the man watched with an amused smile.

    She must have been asleep, or barely awake and changing when they found her, judging by her state of undress, her body revealed for all to see. He smiled, enjoying the sights for one short moment – too short – then forced his mind back to more pressing matters. Slowly, deliberately, he drew his gun and aimed straight for her head.

    She went limp almost immediately.

    "What…what do you want?" she asked, fear of death obvious in her words. Most men showed such a fear once you had them on the wrong end of a weapon, or at least so the man the whole Team Rocket simply called the Marauder had noticed.

    "Your life," he growled, releasing the safety of the gun and aiming at her head.
    _________________

    Through the opening doors a pair of trainers stepped into the waiting room.

    The first was much like Yoshi, with shoulder-length dark hair and a long, flowing black cloak. He was slightly shorter, but had an air of confidence that Yoshi now seemed to be sorely missing. The other was a young woman, perhaps the same age as them all. She had red-gold hair cascading lose over a long blue shirt, and aqua eyes which surveyed the room rapidly as she stepped in before settling on Yoshi.

    "Ash?" Yoshi raised an eyebrow as the two of them made their way straight for him.

    "What are the two of you doing here?" Jackson questioned, turning toward them as they stepped in. He had not seen either of them much except on television broadcasts since the days of the Silver Convention, so many years ago.

    "I was still at the League's Viridian office when Yoshi called in to say he wouldn't be at the dinner tonight because Dani had just entered labor," Ash explained, removing his cloak and dropping it unceremoniously on one of the chair. "I thought I'd come visit him. Fellow pokémon master, co-worker and all that."

    "Thanks man," Yoshi smiled weakly. They had not known each other very long, but the combination of being officially acknowledged as master on the same day and working together on most League projects had led to a rapidly developing friendship. "Sorry I couldn't be at that dinner. I know how important it was."

    "More important than the birth of your baby?" the young woman frowned. "Ash, I'd better never hear that kind of nonsense from you," she turned halfway toward the young man.

    "Of course Misty," Ash acknowledged quickly. He had learned there were better things to do than argue with her – things that usually did not involve his sleeping on the couch, for example. "And don't worry about the dinner Yosh. You missed nothing – I think Lance just wanted to show his new cooking skills."

    "Just like him," Misty agreed, shaking her head. "An official league dinner just to show that he can cook."

    "You'd better not say that near Dani…" Yoshi trailed off, his eyes worried again.
    _____________

    "Your little league shouldn't have taken on Giovanni like it did," the Marauder growled, waving his gun inch away from Lorelei's face. "You're so going to pay for it…"

    She was no longer held by the agents. They had tied her, her pack to one of the pillars supporting the main stairway. There would be no escape at all for her – she would die there, and her death would leave no doubt as to why she had fallen.

    "I…" Lorelei began saying something, but stopped, perhaps realizing nothing she could say at this point would save her. She closed her eyes and let her lips move on their own, as if in prayer.

    "Yeah, call to your gods," the Marauder snickered. "You'll find out they don't exist soon enough."

    Lorelei opened his eyes, a mixture of scorn and pity on them as they fell on the Marauder, as if she felt his life was somehow empty because he did not believe in some god above.

    "Perhaps I should just leave you like that for a while…" he grinned malevolently. He would not do that, of course – not that he had any qualm with the notion of doing it. Simply, there was no time to waste on having her raped. The police would be there soon enough already.

    Lorelei, of course, did not know that, and she renewed her struggles against the coarse rope binding her to the column.

    "My knife," the Marauder asked of one of the agents nearby. Soon, the long-bladed dagger was in his hands, allowing him to admire its serrated edge once again. He slowly moved it across Lorelei's shoulder, applying no pressure at all, simply letting a trickle of blood flow on it.

    "So, how does the pain feel, bitch?" he asked, slowly licking the blood off the blade.

    It took little time before she was dead.
    _____________________

    "I…I'll go see her," Yoshi finally decided himself. Misty nodded in approval while Ash just shook his head, bemused. Jackson said nothing.

    The young man stepped into the small delivery room, watching quietly the nurse and the doctor standing next to his wife.

    "The head's out!" the doctor was yelling encouragingly. For a moment, Yoshi tried to remember what he had been told about the whole process, but the thought of Dani's pain constantly came back to foil all of his attempts.

    Try though he might, he could not remember either how Dani and him had finally decided that they wanted to have a baby. What was happening now was certainly not the result of any accident, or a spur of the moment thing. They had talked about it a long time before deciding on it. Remembering Dani's screams and now hearing her labored breathing, he wondered again how they had managed to come up with that decision, how he could even had considered making her suffer this much.

    By the time the nurse turned toward him again, he could have sworn a year or more hand passed since he had stepped in the room. Only his watch told him it had been barely a minute or so.
    ______________________

    "That'll teach you," the Marauder growled, although it was obvious to anyone Lorelei's limp body would not hear him anymore. Some few in the room had thrown up; others were silently praying that her death had been swift, that she had not lived to feel all that their leader had done. Thankfully, most of the wounds were now hidden by the blood that had flowed from them.

    Slowly, almost lovingly, the Marauder drew his hand through Lorelei's blood, smearing it. He brought it to his lips, tasting it again, then to his nose, smelling it with a smile.

    "I think they'll know who's done this, wouldn't you agree?" he asked gleefully of the man standing near him.

    The man looked at him in a mix of fear and disgust. The disgust, the Marauder did not mind. The fear, he desired. If they feared him, they would obey him.

    "I think so, sir…" he tried hard not to look at Lorelei's belly, at the gaping wound that had been carved there in the shape of a R, now covered in crimson blood.

    "Of course they'll know. Let's get out of here," he commanded, throwing a last glance at the body before leaving.
    ____________________

    "Sir, please come over here," the nurse motioned to Yoshi with a smile.

    Fearful of what he would find, Yoshi stepped forward, his heart almost stopping as he finally saw past the doctor, his eyes meeting with Dani's. There was a great tiredness in her eyes, and pain still, but above it all there was contentment.

    And in her arms something moved, a small arm reaching out toward the world.

    Dani smiled at him, and for a moment, he wondered if perhaps she was not secretly laughing at him. He looked at her again and decided that she must be, but also that he did not care. He stepped closer to the bed, where the nurse had motioned him to come at first.

    "Look at him," she smiled weakly. "Our son."

    Yoshi nodded, unable to find anything to say. Slowly, he reached out with both hands, one to softly caress his wife's cheek, and the other to delicately take a hold of his son's hand, feeling for the first time the new life he and his wife had just brought to the world.

    For a long, silent moment he felt perfectly content with the world.
    Last edited by Evil Figment; 10th March 2004 at 04:52 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mintaka and Hurristat
    He's an evil director / He'll give out infractions / Do something wrong / And he takes direct actions
    Then what'll he do?/ He'll permaban you / You find your name slashed / With a message, 'Adieu'
    Sooooo...watch out!
    "It is said that the federal government, if it was in charge of the Sahara, would run out of sand in five years. Private enterprise, being more efficient, would do it in half the time - and they'd make money off the bridges." - me.
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world." - Jack Layton's last letter. Rest in peace, Jack.

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    A black and white world Blackjack Gabbiani's Avatar
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    This makes me want to write for Bishasu again. Not that I don't on a regular basis, but I mean *now*.

    Or at least watch movie 4. Except I only have it in Japanese and his 'psycho laugh' sounds like he's choking on something.

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    Nice work, Damian! I love how you make TR a credible threat! I want to read more! Please give us more! You got me hooked! Can't wait to see more of this story!

    -Chris

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    Goronda Type Vice-Webmaster Evil Figment's Avatar Vice-Webmaster
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    Here's more - the real chapter 1, completely rewritten after I realized the earlier one, while it fits my mood at the time of the writing, was not ideal for starting the story. It's nearly half again the size of the older chapter 1 too ^^;

    Chapter 1 : Twilight

    From the top floor of the Silph tower, one could see the entirety of Kanto's central plain spread out before him, ranging from mountains to mountains. With great windows in all directions and no traces of separating walls, it was possible by simply spinning around in the middle of the room to see everything. The tower had once been the heart of a great economic empire that had spanned across continents, and it had reflected its pride. That empire had died eight years ago along with its founder's daughter, and now the office building was the property of a completely different organization: the Indigo Pokémon League.

    For the last three years, the office building had been the location of strategy sessions, the place where plans had been hatched to bring the trainers of Kanto and Johto victory in the unrelenting war against Team Rocket that had begun with the murder of Lorelei Silph.

    But now, there was no more planning. The people gathered on the top floor of the tower knew the war was over, and they knew it was won. Some were toasting, drinking in honor of their triumph or of those who had given their life to achieve it. Others were simply talking together, perhaps enjoying the feeling that peace had finally returned to them.

    In the back of the room was one of the groups the least interested in the ongoing festivities. The mood among them was far darker than it was elsewhere in the room.

    "Peace?" Dani mocked sarcastically. "For how long?"

    The others looked at her, some sighing, other shaking their heads. Yoshi reached out to put an arm on her shoulder, the other arm holding his drink. He knew just how she felt, just what she meant. The same thought had spent too much time haunting him for things to be any different.

    "What do you mean?" Sabrina Stevens lifted an eyebrow, both showing curiosity and the fact that her eyes were empty of the telltale glow that came when she used her tremendous psychic powers. Some years ago they wouldn't have been – she would not have bothered to ask the questions, instead simply sifting through Dani's thought until she knew what she wanted to know.

    It was, as far as Yoshi was concerned, a good change. The further Sabrina seemed to distance herself from her powers, the better he would feel especially after all the rumors he had heard from Ash and other trainers of how she had once been.

    "Look at how much everyone suffered during the war," Dani explained with a weary shrug. "The civilians, mostly."

    Yoshi, taking a look at her, sighed. The combined load of leading the League's forces in war and raising a son at the same time had taken more of a toll on both of them than they would care to tell anyone. He knew many other trainers had shouldered similar loads over the last few years. It certainly didn't make his own load easier, far from it.

    "As if it was our fault." Rudy Tyler, one of the Orange League gym leaders who had come to help in the war, snorted.
    "If their precious government had done its job instead of prancing about telling everyone to be nice, we wouldn't have needed to fight the war ourselves."

    Yoshi took a deep sigh, getting ready to argue the point, but someone else spoke before he could say anything.

    "Wouldn't have so many people missing here tonight, either," Jackson shook his head. "Lots of people we knew got killed because their government wouldn't do a thing, to. I don't see what right they have to act like we owed them something. They should be thankful we got them rid of Team Rocket."

    Yoshi bit his lips thoughtfully. Part of him wanted to simply support his friend – he had lost friends in the war, and there was truth to what Jackson said – if the government had done its job, there would have been no need for the war to begin with. That so many people were willing to blame their suffering on the trainers had never struck him as fair in any way, but…

    "Do you honestly think that kind of attitude is going to solve any problem?" Sabrina reproached quietly with only the faintest hints of sadness in her eyes, a sadness Yoshi felt echoing throughout his entire self. There had been so much fighting, so much hate – why more? "They just want to live in peace. Can you blame them for that?"

    "For being useless cowards, you mean?" Jackson bit back, and for a moment Yoshi wondered if there was anything left of his friend in the young man standing in front of him. The Jackson he had known during his journey would never have said that.

    Then again, the trainer he had been back then would have never led others to their death in a war, and he had long since stopped trying to deny that. It had been necessary, and if he had not done it someone else would have. But it didn't make the weight of their dead souls easier to be.

    "We're not getting anywhere with that kind of discussion," he finally said, raising his hand. There was no need for more fighting. The others fell silent, perhaps instinctively obeying the pokémon master he was. "We'll have to be careful for a few years, at the very least, that much is obvious."

    "Why? The government is all talk and no fight," Rudy smiled back, shaking a stand of brown hair off his face. That he could still smile while talking of war and fighting was only a bitter reminder to Yoshi of how late the Orange league had finally intervened to support Johto and Kanto. The most horrible parts of the wars had been over by then. "They won't make any trouble."

    "What do you think Lance will do, Yoshi?" Sabrina questioned, ignoring Rudy entirely, something Yoshi bitterly wished he could do. "He doesn't seem to be very interested in what the civil population wants."

    Yoshi glanced back toward the stand where Lance was making his newest victory speech to whoever would listen to him. He was too far to hear clearly, but Yoshi was pretty sure what he did hear reflected rather well what Rudy and Jackson had been saying. The League had stood on its own instead of the government; it deserved recognition and not shunning and so forth. The fact that it was the League champion saying it made it no easier to hear. But at least he didn't smile taking about fighting and death.

    "I wish there was something good to say about him," Yoshi finally shook his head.

    "You're all such pessimists," Rudy shook his head. "We finally have peace! What's there to be down about?"

    "Count the number of gym leaders Kanto and Johto had when the war began. Count the number of them still alive now," Dani snapped back. "You'll see what's there to be down about pretty easily."

    She turned away, a lone tear coursing down her cheek. Yoshi reached with his hand to wipe it, keeping his eyes on Rudy. No, decidedly the man had no idea how much the war had cost Johto and Kanto. By the latest count he had heard, seven hundreds and thirty two trainers had gone missing or been found dead since the beginning of the war, not counting those trainers who had been found dead in ways that could not be related to the war.

    "I count three for Kanto," Sabrina was shaking her head, doing, he guessed, much the same thing he was doing. "Brock went missing in action two years ago. Erika was killed during the Celadon attacks, and Koga took a bullet to the chest five months ago."

    "We don't know that Brock's dead though…" Dani objected, an objection she had brought up more than once in recent months. Yoshi knew just who was behind that particular objection, and as much as he wanted to believe it, he just couldn't bring himself to do it. "There really was nothing left to say what happened…"

    "Oh for Mew's sake!" Rudy shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Don't tell me Misty got you on that notion of hers! Slate's dead. So's Ash. Else they would have reappeared by now."

    Yoshi raised an eyebrow at the vehement objection. He had never quite managed to get to the bottom of why Rudy was so vehemently opposed to the notion of anyone putting any faith whatsoever in Misty's theory. Dani had claimed there was a love matter involved in it, and listening to Rudy it wasn't hard to believe.

    "He's right I think Dani," Jackson nodded first, speaking gently. "Ash vanished three years ago. Do you honestly think he wouldn't have found his way back by now if there were any way he could come back? There's only one thing that could keep Ash from returning to Misty's side."

    "Not quite true," Yoshi remarked with a brief smile. Here he had the advantage from having heard Ash's many tales of his journeys. "They were separated for a few years while Ash competed in Hoenn and Misty returned to administrate the Cascade gym."

    "He would not leave her without news unless he was dead," Rudy insisted. "He's not that kind of guy. He wouldn't leave her like that. He wouldn't want her a wreck…" the last was mumbled.

    "What do we know? There's no way to tell what happened to Ash," Dani stated firmly. "Or to all those other trainers. You really think it was just random happenstance?"

    "I'll believe it was more than coincidence when someone gives me definite proof it was," Jackson laughed. "Come on guys, you don't really believe that a few trainers…"

    The air in the room seemed to freeze as Sabrina turned toward Jackson. This time, her eyes blazed with the telltale glow of psychic powers. The blue aura spread all about her as she leveled a deadly glance toward the trainer. "I find your boundless faith in coincidence rather disturbing," she commented dryly.

    Yoshi chuckled, if only for a single too rare moment. Of all the people he knew, Sabrina would have been the last one he would have expected to hear quoting popular movies, except perhaps Agatha of the Elite Four. It simply didn't seem like her. Then again, he reflected, perhaps she hadn't even realized she was doing it – perhaps she had never heard the movie quote itself, for that matter.

    "I wouldn't do that!" Jackson screamed, throwing panicked glances left and right. "Let me go! I…" he looked to the floor this time, his cheek a deep red, tears coursing down them. "Please stop. Please just stop."

    "You know it's true," Sabrina hissed, barely loud enough for even Yoshi to hear. "You want it to be true…" the last was barely above a whisper.

    Yoshi looked for a moment at his friend before deciding he had better intervene, but he was saved from having to do so when Sabrina turned away from Jackson, her eyes coming to rest straight on his own, thoughtful still but now without their deadly aura.

    "Is Misty still in the archive room?" she asked as Jackson slumped against the wall.

    Swallowing hard, Yoshi nodded. As far as he knew, the gym leader had almost never left the room except to collect a few hours of sleep here and there or to eat in the last few months. Virtually everyone who knew her had tried to drag her out of her researches but with no success.

    Silence reigned over the small group for a while. Jackson was still leaning against the wall, oblivious to anything about him, and Rudy had gone to get another drink. Sabrina eyed both Dani and Yoshi in turn.

    "I think we should go see her, don't you agree?" she finally suggested. Her tone, however, left no doubt that the suggestion had best be taken very seriously.

    There was no need for the tone, Yoshi decided. Visiting Misty sounded like a good idea enough on its own, without any commands from Sabrina or anyone else. She was, after all, something of a friends and the closest link Yoshi had left with Ash, who had definitely been his friend in the years they had known each other.

    "Let's go," Dani approved without even waiting for his own answer.
    ___________________

    "Nothing still…" Misty muttered, closing the browser window with a frown. She wondered not for the first time if she could have had the strength to do any of the researches she was working on if the entire archive of Kanto and Johto newspapers for the last twenty-three years had not been turned in fully searchable computer format. Likely, she would have given up on the third or fourth old newspaper.

    The archive room of the new League offices was nothing like the musty old rooms spy movies were so proud of. It was well lit, the books were kept safe and secure, and all the information except for perhaps a few pieces from years ago was available straight on any of the numerous computers to be found inside.

    One of them, she had heard the archivists whispers behind her back, had pretty much become her personal workspace. She doubted anyone else had even come close to touching the keyboard in the last few months – they knew who sat there, and whose researches were ongoing. No one had tried to stop her so far.

    Once again, she looked at all the documents she had printed so far. There was little in the way of news, most of them were police reports about missing trainers, or league battle reports concerning members of the league missing in action. They had little enough in common between each other, except that they all had happened within the space of two months, and perhaps the fact that virtually all the disappearances were people who at one time had been close to Ash.

    Coincidences, other said. She couldn't even begin to agree with them, even though some part of her insisted that she was simply letting wishful thinking run wild. There had been a war, and Ash had gone missing in the middle of it. What else could have happened to keep him away?

    "I sound like Rudy," she said out loud, shaking her head without a care for her now shoulder-length fiery hair.

    With a sigh, she readjusted the reading glasses that hours in front of the computer for months to no end had earned her and went back to her research, becoming so absorbed in them that she did not hear the footsteps coming up behind her.

    "Hello Misty," she recognized Dani's voice as soon as the younger woman spoke. Dani had spent a lot of time with her since Ash's disappearance, trying to comfort her. She turned with a sigh, pushing back her material. She had hoped to get some work done in the absolute quietness that had resulted from everyone leaving for the various parties all over the building once the news of Team Rocket's final defeat had broken through. Obviously, she conceded, that would not be.

    "Hi…" she replied resignedly, turning to face the handful approaching, then blinked. Dani and Yoshi she had of course expected, but Sabrina's presence was more of a surprise. The psychic gym leader had not shown much interest in her theories so far as far as she was aware. "Why aren't you all at the party?"

    "Why would we be at a party when we have a friend in need?" Dani smiled gently. "I think you said something along those lines back when I was busy getting Van out. Seriously, we thought we'd keep you company."

    Misty smiled weakly at the memory, seemingly so distant now. Van was a growing young man now, and now that the war was over chances where he would leave on his own journey in two years or so. His birth was part of a world far away, back before the war, back before Ash had vanished.

    "I see you're finally done searching through the MIA reports," Yoshi noted, pointing at the desk. "Did you find anything worth it?"

    "Plenty. See for yourself," she drew a list from the top of the stack. On it, finely set atop each other were a series of names with dates. From the earliest date – circled in red and with Ash's name next to it – to the last there was less than six weeks.

    "Quite the list. All Ash's friends?"

    "Virtually every noteworthy friend Ash made on his journeys, yes. Not counting people he just met once then forgot about, just those he met quite a few times and counted as friends, or those with whom he did something exceptional. The only one like that Ash knew who's not on that list is me," she reported blandly.

    That, perhaps, had been the shocking part of it. If Ash was setting up the disappearances as she had first thought – he had grown rather concerned with the way the war was going after all – why would he leave her of all people behind? She had thought they would be closer than that.

    "You're the whole reason this is rather hard to believe, you realize," Yoshi nodded. "If you had vanished I would have no problem with it," he admitted with a thoughtful sigh."

    Dani nodded quietly, then shook her head. "Maybe Ash was going in something dangerous and he wanted friends with him, but he didn't want to involve you?"

    Misty hesitated for a moment. Ash had been one to try to protect her in the past, true. Not as much as some other men acted around their girlfriends, but still enough to make her cringe at time. But would he really abandon her to go face some danger without even saying goodbye?

    "I don't see Ash doing that," Yoshi shook his head. "He would have known how much that would hurt you."

    Misty shook her head glumly. Of course Ash would have known that. Or maybe he should have known? He had been one to take rash decisions in the past, and that as far as Misty knew had never changed. He could simply have failed to realize the truth of the matter, he could…

    "I don't think all those disappearances is a coincidence, though…" Dani hesitated, looking over at the list. "Hell, most of them didn't even happen in the war zone – Orange, Pokémon Island, even all the way in Hoenn for Max and May Whyte. Sorry but that doesn't feel like a normal result of the war to me. Just because a few of them were on dangerous missions when they vanished…"

    "I'll grant you that," Yoshi nodded thoughtfully. Misty looked at her friend with a smile, wondering for a moment how she had managed to miss that. "But just who are we talking about exactly, anyway?"

    "Outside Ash and Brock, Gary Oak, Tracey Sketchit, Todd Klaus, Richie Leonhart, Duplica Copperfield, Melody Davids, May and Max Whyte, Jessie Bearge, James Morgan, Sakura Yue, Casey Williams…"

    "Plenty of names and few of them amounting to much," Yoshi shook his head. "Which is another point in favor of Misty's theory really. If they all had been known people I could have gone along with the notion that Team Rocket had somehow pulled some trick on them, but…"

    "Revenge against Ash?" Sabrina asked, making Misty jump in her seat with the reminder that Dani, Yoshi and herself were not alone in the room.

    "The only Rockets who would have known most of these were linked with Ash are Jessie and James, and they turned against the Team years ago. In fact they're on the list of disappearance," Misty shook her head. She had thought of it too – killing all of Ash's close friends would certainly be a way to make him suffer. But then…

    "If they were going for that, they would have gone for you Misty," Dani raised the very objection Misty had been considering.

    The entire group remained silent for another long moment. Misty ran again through everything she had found in her mind.

    "I keep thinking something else happened in March of that year…" Sabrina shook her head, clearly trying to put together puzzle pieces…

    "Wait!" Yoshi suddenly yelled. "I think I have it! Misty, can you open up the Pokémon Science Gazette archive for April the year Ash vanished?

    Misty blinked. What did the foremost magazine on pokémon science have to do with Ash? He had never been much interested in scientific research on pokémon, outside the discovery of new species…

    Her thoughts froze as the first page of the magazine appeared on the screen. There, written in bold letters at the very top of the page where everyone could see it was just the answer she had been looking for – the link between the magazine and Ash.

    "That would be it," Sabrina agreed, reading on screen. "On March 7, professor Samuel Oak announced that after some recent discoveries had left him deeply troubled, he would be putting an effective end to any and all research on pokémon and retire…"

    "A week before Gary, Brock and Tracey vanished," Misty shook her head. How had she missed it, especially with all four early disappearances tied to professor Oak and research in some way or another? Ash, who had always regarded Oak as some kind of father. Gary, who had been the professor's grandson. Tracey, who had regarded him as an idol, and Brock who had spent months in Pallet helping the professor while she and Ash were in the Orange Islands.

    "It fits, doesn't it?" Yoshi asked quietly. "What now?"

    Misty did not hesitate a moment, rising from her chair. She would need to go by her room and find some means of transportation, but if she hurried she could be in Pallet within a few hours…

    "I'm going to have a long talk with one Samuel Oak," she hissed. "If any of you wants to come, be my guest. If you want to arrange for transportations while I get my things, that would be nice too…" she added the last. If she could save any time at all…

    Yoshi shook his head before she was even finished speaking. "I have to stay here to keep an eye on league things."

    "And there's Van to take care of," Dani added with a sigh. "Keep us posted, ok?"

    Misty nodded as her only answer. She had not expected much help from them to tell the truth – had known their responsibilities would keep them in Saffron for a while yet. Truth to be told, she should probably stay as well, but there simply wasn't a chance she would now that she finally had a trail to follow. Even if it proved to be a dead end, it would beat just sitting around by a large margin.

    "I don't think you will need to find transportation," Sabrina said quietly just as Misty made to leave the room, forgetting once more the presence of the psychic gym leader. "We will be in Pallet as soon as we are ready to leave."

    Misty blinked, "Why?" the only thought racing through her mind. She had long since gotten over being transformed in a puppet in the Saffron gym, of course – the Sabrina who had done that was an entirely different person from the gym leader who had emerged in the wake of Ash's conquest of her badge – but still, she had never expected to find her so helpful.

    Sabrina's eyes blazed for a moment before she nodded. "You remember how I was before Ash got his badge." That had been a statement, not a question. "I owe him my soul."

    The answer was simple, but it really was everything Misty needed to hear.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mintaka and Hurristat
    He's an evil director / He'll give out infractions / Do something wrong / And he takes direct actions
    Then what'll he do?/ He'll permaban you / You find your name slashed / With a message, 'Adieu'
    Sooooo...watch out!
    "It is said that the federal government, if it was in charge of the Sahara, would run out of sand in five years. Private enterprise, being more efficient, would do it in half the time - and they'd make money off the bridges." - me.
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world." - Jack Layton's last letter. Rest in peace, Jack.

  5. #5
    A black and white world Blackjack Gabbiani's Avatar
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    Iiiiinteresting...

    One thing, though...it was rather implied that Koga was dead, but it never said for sure (the only concrete thing I found was that he'd been shot in the chest, but that's a fairly easy thing to survive, depending on where the shot is). Perhaps I missed something, though...

  6. #6
    Goronda Type Vice-Webmaster Evil Figment's Avatar Vice-Webmaster
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    Koga's dead. I think. It doesn't really have much of an impact on how the story will develop.

    Chapter II : Shadows Dawning

    The first few rays of sunlight touched Saffron, finding the scared town slowly awakening. Most of the citizens gazed at the sun, wondering if perhaps the news of peace that had come the night before had only been a dream.

    The Silph tower was more than simply the headquarter of the League; is also served as a home or a secondary home to most of the League's staff. Many of the floors had been converted into living space, and nearly all the members of the elite four and pokémon masters of the league had moved along with their families to the new home.

    Yoshi, Dani and Van of course were among those. They had moved to the League's office the day the League had installed itself in the tower, and over the years it had not only become a refuge for the duration of the war, but their home.

    "Yoshi dear?" Dani whispered softly, reaching to caress her husband's cheek as they lay side by side in their bed.

    "Yes Dani-chan?" Yoshi replied, taking her hand gently.

    His wife chuckled softly, smiling. "I love it when you do that."

    "Do what?" Yoshi lifted an eyebrow.

    "Speak Japanese," Dani smiled, caressing his cheek ever so softly. "You barely ever do it anymore. I like the sound of Dani-chan." She brushed her lips against his.

    "Oh," Yoshi sighed contentedly, wrapping his arms about her. "I suppose I could make an effort to do that more, then."

    The truth was, he had been consciously trying to stay away from his mother tongue since becoming a master. Most of the other members of the league were not overly fond of Japanese, and he had been trying to oblige them.

    "Yes, you could," she trailed a finger down his nose, giggling ever so softly. "But there are plenty of other things you could do, too."

    She moved closer to him, resting both of her hands against his shoulders, softly trailing kisses along his jaw line. Yoshi cupped her head in his hands, locking his lips against hers for a long moment.

    "I love you," she whispered.

    "I love you more," he replied. Their eyes met for a long moment of silence. There were many things Yoshi could have told her, but he did not. The words would have been empty in the end when actions could speak louder.

    It was then, of course, that Yoshi's cell phone rang, loudly interrupting them. Sighing – a sigh mirrored by Dani's – he reached for it, switching it on.

    "Yoshi Myoujin," he identified himself to whoever was on the other end. Of course, they would most likely know already, but better to identify himself.

    "Yoshi, it's Lance. How quickly can you be at the tower's entrance?" the League's head questioned.

    Yoshi sighed, rising from the bed. "Lance needs me downstairs dear," he told Dani trying to smile. "I'll be back as soon as I can." He began dressing before turning back to the phone. "What's the matter Lance?"

    "We found a wounded girl near the entrance. She claims to have information we might want to hear," Yoshi's boss told him.

    "Right. I'm here in a few minutes." Yoshi closed down the phone, putting it back in the pocket of the black pants he had just slipped on. Dani, still ever so slightly downcast, handed him one of his shirts.

    "I hope it's nothing too serious. The war's just over," she shook her head. "I want some time with my husband, thank you very much." There was an edge to the last, the frustration of eight years of war bubbling to the surface.

    "Trust me dear, that sounds like the best idea anyone mentioned since I decided to propose to you," he laughed. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

    "I just hope Van's sleepy this morning," Dani smiled, her eyes glittering for a moment. "See you soon."

    Yoshi did not answer, quietly leaving the room, closing the door as silently as he could behind him, making a note to himself to keep a few choice words for Lance. Chances were, the League champion had just panicked over something that was not nearly as important as he made it out to be.

    After all, Yoshi reflected as he made his way to the tower's main elevator, Lance wouldn't know what it felt like to be constantly drawn away from one's loved one. At thirty-seven now, the red-haired champion was still alone. There had been rumor, eight or nine years ago, of a romance between him and Lorelei Silph, but of course the murder had cut that short.

    "Lance called you too?" a rich voice welcomed him as he stepped in the elevator, its owner hidden under a dark cloak and hood, only a strand of pale blonde hair falling on her shoulders.

    "Yeah," he replied, then blinking. "Didn't realize you were back in Saffron already."

    The last had been said with as much of an edge as he could manage. Of all the gym leaders, elite members and pokémon masters of Kanto, Johto, Hoenn and Orange he had to run in the only one that gave him a permanent headache. It wasn't that Karen Blake was in any way disagreeable. The problem, in fact, was quite the reverse.

    She chuckled. "There are many things you don't know, my dear Master," she moved closer to him. "Many things…" she reached out with a hand to touch his cheek.

    Perhaps it was practice, knowledge earned through long years of dodging her unwanted attention, or perhaps it was simply the homed reflexes of a pokémon master used to battle. Either way, her hand only found the cold wall of the elevator as Yoshi sidestepped it.

    "I'm married Karen," he growled. "And quite in love with Dani, thank you very much. Try to find some other man."

    "I don't want another man," she whispered in his ear. "I know them. All they see is what I show them," she pushed her cloak aside ever so slightly, revealing the less than decent shirt she wore. "But you…" she looked at him quizzically, pushing back the hood of her cloak. "You are quite something else. You rarely even spare me a second look."

    "Loyalty, I think it's called," Yoshi sighed, looking straight in her eyes. "I'm not interested Karen. Deal with it."

    The young woman chuckled softly. "We'll see how strong that loyalty of yours really is. I like challenges," she reached out again with her hand, but just as she did the doors of the elevator opened, allowing Yoshi to step outside.

    "Hey! Yoshi!" a great voice bellowed throughout the main lobby of the tower. "Over here!"

    The owner of the voice was just as large as his booming voice seemed to announce. Standing close to seven feet tall, the entire upper half of his body left bare revealing ripened muscles, Bruno Sanchez was one of the most unmistakable sights of the pokémon league.

    "Bruno," Yoshi greeted the man, nodding slightly as he made his way to him. "What's the matter exactly?"

    "No clue man," Bruno shrugged. "Lance just said we'd wait for you guys to show up and…"

    Yoshi made his way as quickly as he could to the leader of the League, who knelt near what appeared at first sight to be a woman's dead body in a corner of the main lobby.

    "Master Gray," Yoshi bowed formally. They used each other's personal names in private but in public there were appearances to be kept. "Mistress Higgins," he bowed again to the aged woman standing next to Lance, if slightly less than he had to Lance.

    "Master Myoujin," both of them greeted him almost as one.

    "What's the problem?" he asked them both. It had better be good, part of him thought again, thoughts of Dani waiting upstairs for him coming unbidden.

    "Her," Agatha Higgins pointed at the young woman, her silver hair dancing about her head as she moved it. "She claims to be an old Rocket agent. She also claims to have important information for us all,"

    She claimed? With a start, Yoshi realized for the first time that the woman's chest was moving up and down ever so slightly, revealing her to be alive. Her face, now pale from the loss of blood, was framed in blonde hair, a red and white hat not all that different from an official League one lying besides her. She seemed tired but otherwise unhurt.

    "Frankly I don't see how her looks are more interesting than mines," Karen whispered in his ear. Rolling his eyes, Yoshi stepped away from her, maneuvering so that Bruno was between them.

    "Perhaps we could proceed?" Lance asked, throwing a sharp glance at both Karen and him. Why exactly he was being blamed for Karen's obsession with him, Yoshi wasn't particularly interested in finding out. There probably was a reason, and he would probably think it profoundly unjust. "What do you claim, Rocket?"

    "I'm no longer with the team," she corrected. "I left when the Marauder took over. I never really trusted him…"

    "Right," Bruno shrugged again. "Get to the point, will you?"

    "My name's Domino Ferraiolo," she started again. She then halted, as if knowing there would be an interruption.

    The name, of course, was familiar to them all. It was the name of a man whose death, eight years ago, had led in turn to the murder of Lorelei and then to the war.

    "Giovanni's daughter?" Lance questioned, his voice taking a hard edge.

    "Adopted," she corrected him again. "I have important things to say about my father," her voice grew stronger. "Before he was executed, my father ordered the Rocket research department to investigate a creature rumored to exist only in legends…"

    "Mew?" Bruno hazarded the guess, but the Rocket shook her head.

    "We researched Mew a long time ago. The creature he turned his attention one didn't have name, at least not a real name. That, I was given to understand, was supposed to be part of its strength. It is said to be a shapeless, nameless being, able to be anything it so desire to be, or anything a human force it to be. In legends, it is always called Living Shadow or Nameless One or such, and…"

    She trailed off, looking wildly about, her face noticeably paling. Yoshi glanced about, noticing the others doing the same except for Agatha whose eyes turned to a single point in space.

    "I'm sorry…I thought I felt…" Domino began again, but Yoshi lifted a hand, turning to the league's oldest trainer.

    "Agatha, what do you see?" he asked tensely. If there was one thing he had learned in his years with the league, it was to trust her when it came to perceiving hidden menaces.

    "I do not see, Master Myoujin. I feel a dark presence," she held her cane up, pointing all around them. "Something is here."

    "Something?" Karen questioned. "Or someone?" she threw a glance at Domino, who had drawn back to the wall.

    "I know not," Agatha hissed, drawing one of her pokéball. Yoshi reached for one of his own in turn. "Haunter, go!" Agatha commanded, releasing the pokémon, which was soon joined by Yoshi's noctowl.

    "Noctowl, do you see anything or anyone…unusual here?" Yoshi asked the pokémon, letting his hand fall to his belt again. If there was a need for other pokémon…He gripped Typhlosion's ball tightly, just as Karen released her umbreon and Lance and Bruno both reached to grip pokéball of their own.

    The owl pokémon turned its head about, looking at everything within the rooms. Its eyes fell finally on a shadow cloaked in white.

    Yoshi had no need to wait for the pokémon's shrill cry to understand the message – this was who they were after. A flicker of his hand, and Typhlosion was out, her eyes surveying the lobby, burning with a desire to fight.

    "Typhlosion, fire blast on that…thing!" he commanded. The giant echidna stepped forward its neck and tail flame roaring with a renewed energy. She opened her mouth, white-hot flames garnering between her jaws before coalescing into a cascade of pure inferno that leapt forward, striking the white cloak.

    Even as it did, the cloak drifted down, empty, and the shadows in the lobby seemed to darken.
    ___________________

    The Oak laboratory, in Pallet town, was a legendary location to many trainers and scientists alike. There many of them had received their first pokémon, and many more had stored them for the duration of their journeys. There also, some of the most recent discoveries in such domains as pokémon care and new species had appeared.

    Until, of course, the source of all these miraculous discoveries had suddenly vanished when Samuel Oak had announced he would be retiring as a researcher.

    Even now, three years later, Samuel Oak did not regret that one simple lie. Better for the world to think him retired from all researching than to have them wonder about what he could possibly be up to. But there were some few from whom the truth could not be held back.

    Ash Ketchum had been one such. So was his mother Delilah, who now stood besides Samuel. And so was one of the two women now standing at the door of his office, having just rung the bell.

    "You knew you would have to tell her one day," Delilah remembered him, putting a weary hand on his shoulder. Samuel stole a glance at her, at her now lined face, her graying hair, her worried eyes. Delilah Ketchum had always been too loving a mother to raise a pokémon master, and that perhaps was why he had always felt so obliged to help him.

    "Yes," he nodded. Of course he had known, as Ash had known they couldn't keep anything secret from her forever. Ash had known it just as much when he had originally decided to not tell her, to keep her safe and sound with the League, as protected as she could ever be.

    On the security screen, the door opened, admitting the two women inside. It barely took seconds before they were in front of him.

    "Professor," Misty smiled at him. "Mrs. Ketchum. It's been too long."

    "Yes it has," Delilah sighed wearily. "I suppose neither of us wanted reminded of the last time we met."

    Samuel shook his head sadly. That, too, had been part of the deception, the sober ceremony they had held to honor Ash's supposedly departed soul. Of course, Ash had never really died, there had been no body, but the league had insisted after too many months had gone by on holding the ceremony.

    At the time Samuel had been amused at the fact Ash would be one of the blessed few allowed to be alive and present at their own funeral. Ash, as far as he remembered, had liked the irony, although he had been far too worried about Misty's feelings to appreciate it as much as he could have.

    Misty quickly went through the process of presenting Ash's mother and Sabrina to each other. The women barely even looked at each other, both their minds obviously elsewhere. From his place, Samuel thought he could observe a knowing smile on Sabrina's lips.

    "What can I do for you Misty?" he asked. He knew what she was going to ask, but better not to let her know that.

    "Professor, why did you abandon your research?" she asked pointedly. "And how did Ash react to it?"

    Samuel sighed, feeling Delilah's hand tightly squeezing his. She had been an ever-present source of comfort in the years of doubt his new discoveries had sparked. He prayed that she would remain so for many years yet.

    "I abandoned my research to keep my discoveries a secret forever," he answered, weighing each word. Could he even afford to tell her? There were no guarantee the league would not learn what he had found from her mouth. And if they did, they would not hesitate to use it, breaking any secrecy he had hoped to maintain around the discovery. Without secrecy, the discovery could never become useful against those now talking of banning pokémon training.

    "What discoveries, if it's not too much to ask for?" Misty asked. Of course, she would be the one to ask – none of the others had any reason to. And with Sabrina involved…

    "I suppose I might as well tell you," he finally decided, feeling Delilah's hand tightening about his. "First off Misty, what do you know of how pokéballs work?"

    "Well, they are able to convert pokémon in energy and…" the gym leader began.

    "Close, but not quite," he interrupted already. "You see, the ability of pokémon to transform in pure energy is their own. They have no need for a pokéball to perform such a transformation – only of a suitable container to hold their energy form for a time after they take it, since they cannot take their physical shape back immediately and unless they do, the energy disperse and they effectively die."

    "Right," Misty nodded. So far she seemed to find nothing wrong with his explanations. Of course, most of the surprising parts were yet to come.

    "Today, of course, we primarily use pokéball as containers," he went on. "But this was not always so. Up until perhaps the renaissance, there were neither pokéballs nor other such containers. They were invented then, but before…"

    "There were no trainers?" she asked incredulously. "Pokémon were just wild and roaming free?" she didn't seem to want to believe it. Of course, most trainers simply assumed that their art as they called it had always existed, not even stopping to think how illogical an idea that was.

    "No trainers as we know them. But texts of the era refers to something that was then called a 'tamer'," Samuel took back his line of thought, explaining further. "They were never too clear about what was meant by it, and most people simply assumed that it was another term for trainers. In some way, I think it was, but for trainers as they knew them then."

    "As they knew them then?" Misty lifted an eyebrow, repeating his own words. For a moment, Samuel considered a prayer of thanksgiving that only she needed to be told – to have both her and Sabrina asking questions would have been extenuating.

    "Yes, as they knew them then. You see, I have reasons to believe there were no equivalent to pokéball until the renaissance or so, as I told you before. What I suspected from the way texts described the actions of these tamers was that they had no need for pokéball, and…"

    "The pokémon stayed beside them?" Misty interrupted yet again, and Samuel wondered if he would ever be allowed to reach the end of his explanation. "You mean, like Ash's pikachu?" the last had been said with a sudden twinge of pain in her eyes, and he decided to hurry his explanations along to get to her true reason for visiting him as fast as he could.

    "No, not at all. What I found is that somehow, certain humans have a genetic…capacity, I suppose would be the term…that allow their body to store the energy produced by the pokémon within themselves. They are, essentially, living and conscious pokéballs able to store any number of pokémon."

    He waited for an interruption that did not come, Misty staring at him with her eyes wide, disbelieving.

    "You are so much like Ash," Delilah chuckled softly at the sight. "He looked a lot like that when he first heard Samuel's theory."
    _______________________

    Misty sighed. "Right. The theory's very interesting professor, thanks for sharing it." It was a lie, really. As groundbreaking as the idea was, she simply couldn't really bother to pay attention to it. Had she not asked and felt obliged to listen politely until he was done, she would have skipped to the point long ago. "Does it have anything to do with Ash's disappearance? Or any of the other that happened at the same time?"

    "Not directly, no," he shook his head. "Ash was here visiting in secret at first, true, but it wasn't what prompted him to vanish more permanently."

    Vanish more permanently? A part of her mind wanted to cry out at the word. If he had vanished of his own free will, then he was alive, then he…

    Then again, he had chosen to go. And, more importantly, he had chosen to leave her behind.

    "So it was his choice," she whispered, feeling her voice breaking. A tear formed at the edge of her eyes, one she did not brush away, letting it run its course down her cheek.

    How could he break her heart like that?

    "Wait Misty," Ash's mother told her, her voice an oasis of soothing warmth. "Will you please listen to the whole story?"

    She nodded, struggling to keep her face straight, to hold the tears back.

    Oak hesitated for a moment, doubt plainly written all over his features. Ash's mother let her hand rest on his shoulder, whispering something to him alone. He nodded.

    "It began while Ash was visiting to hear Samuel's explanation about his research," she explained. "That was about when Gary and the others vanished in the Orange islands."

    "Right," Misty nodded, trying to keep her wits about her. She had to understand now. If she did not…if there was not enough to understand…

    If that were the case, there would be nothing to stop her fall in the bleak chasm of a broken mind, nothing to keep her from wandering, soulless and hopeless in the gray plains of a lonely heart.

    "When Ash heard the reports of the disappearance, he said it reminded me of some creature he claimed he had fought years ago – something he called a 'Hunter'. He said it was perhaps the deadliest opponent he had ever faced, and that if it really was that, he would have to face this one too."

    Misty's heart froze, the words washing over her. She had heard Ash's tale of his encounter with what he had called the Hunter on his way back from Hoenn. It had been Ash's favorite horror tale, a nightmare that according to Ash himself he had only survived thanks to the help of a mysterious stranger.

    And now he had gone to face one of them alone? The slight glimmer of hope she had been nurturing all these long months slowly began shriveling in nothingness.

    "Why didn't he tell me?" she asked, shaking her head, closing her eyes against the bitter tears. "Why didn't he…" Now he would die, or was already dead, and she hadn't been able to do anything for him. "Why didn't he tell me!?" She yelled the last, rising to her feet, gripping the edge of the table with both her hands. "Why…"

    "Would you have let him go on alone?" Mrs. Ketchum replied with a sigh. "It was hard enough for me, and you're worse."

    Misty shook her head. Of course, Ash's mother was right. Why would she have let Ash go on along? Why wouldn't she have kept him safe, protected him from…

    And why, a small voice deep in her own mind asked, wouldn't he do the same?

    "I know," she nodded finally, sighing wearily. "I…" she tried to find something to say, but what words could there be? Understanding made acceptance no easier.

    "He wanted to keep you safe," the older woman went on. "He wanted to know you were safe and sound searching for clues to his disappearance in the League's archive…"

    "Wait!" Misty's eyebrows rose at once, her once more open eyes letting a few tears they had been holding back trickle out. "How did he know I'd do that?"

    "I promised him I would make sure you did," a voice, silent until then, intervened.

    Misty turned, disbelief painted all over her face. How could…

    "You knew all along," she whispered, her eyes falling on Sabrina's face. Her voice was neither bitter nor angry. She simply stated the fact. Why did she even care anymore, when it seemed everyone knew but her? And Sabrina had said often enough how much she owed Ash after all. "You knew…"

    She collapsed back on her chair, holding her head in both hands, and let all the tears she could find flow free.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mintaka and Hurristat
    He's an evil director / He'll give out infractions / Do something wrong / And he takes direct actions
    Then what'll he do?/ He'll permaban you / You find your name slashed / With a message, 'Adieu'
    Sooooo...watch out!
    "It is said that the federal government, if it was in charge of the Sahara, would run out of sand in five years. Private enterprise, being more efficient, would do it in half the time - and they'd make money off the bridges." - me.
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world." - Jack Layton's last letter. Rest in peace, Jack.

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    Goronda Type Vice-Webmaster Evil Figment's Avatar Vice-Webmaster
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    Author's note : Sorry it took me so long to get this new chapter done all. I ran in solid writers block early in it and ran through many ideas of how to handle this one before actually getting it done.

    Anyway, here's the third chapter – hope you enjoy.

    Chapter 3 : Seeds of War

    "You lied to me," Misty shook her head, closing her hands on the arms of her chair to steady herself.

    Sabrina had known.

    Sabrina had known everything about Ash, and had told her nothing. How dared she do that? With her powers, there would have been simply no way for her not to understand the pain left in Misty's soul. There was no way she could have failed to understand just how devastated Misty had been.

    Of course she had never been much of a friend, certainly not someone Misty considered close in any way. She had been nothing more than an acquaintance, and yet the betrayal sent a serrated blade driving through her heart, leaving nothing behind but thorn ruins. It was the same pain she had felt in the past when abandoned by her friends.

    "I told you," Sabrina looked at her sternly. How dared she take that kind of sententious attitude? How could she, after what she had done? "I owe him my life. If I have to watch you suffer to keep a promise to him, then so be it."

    Misty glared at her, trying to hold back the fires coursing through her whole being. This was no time to lash out at anyone. Not yet. She tried to speak, but could find no words that did justice to her emotions without turning in a scathing assault.

    "I'm sorry," Sabrina added, and for a moment – a mere moment – her face appeared truly apologetic.

    She didn't have to be sorry, of course. Misty would have done the same had Ash asked – why not? She would have lied to her friends and would have betrayed them without a second thought for Ash.

    Then again, she was Ash's girlfriend. Who did Sabrina think she was, claiming the right to react to Ash's needs just as Misty would have?

    Of course, the answer to that was obvious. She was the girl whose soul Ash had saved. Misty had never stopped to consider really what that could mean – perhaps because part of her had been afraid of the answers? Ash had saved Sabrina's soul – and Misty could not claim he had ever done such a thing for her.

    Why wouldn't Sabrina want to do as much for Ash as Misty did?

    Why wouldn't Sabrina have for Ash the same feeling she did?

    A shiver ran down her spine, echoing back in her legs and arms. It was not the competition in itself – she was a gym leader and a trainer, and one could not both be a trainer and unused to competing. But to compete for Ash's heart was another thing, one she saw no reason to take any pleasure in. Ash was hers, and if he left her any choice of the matter, he would always be hers and never shared.

    If Sabrina really intended to compete with her…

    No, the thought in itself was wrong. Sabrina and romance simply did not go together, no matter how much she tried to fit them. Then there was the matter of Ash himself – if there was one person in the world she knew wouldn't betray her, it was him. He knew just how much he meant to her, he knew just how little she would have left without him.

    Except, of course, that it had not in any way stopped him from leaving her alone. In the end, there was only one possible thing to do.

    "Do you love him?" she asked pointedly, cursing herself half a second later as she realized they were not, in fact, alone. Delilah and the professor looked at her in surprise, although from their eyes they obviously knew whom the question had been asked to.

    Sabrina sighed, looking at Misty with her eyes still unreadable.

    "I don't think love comes close to convening it," she finally shook her head. "It's not that, not in the way you think it anyway," she tried to explain. "He reminded me what it was like to be human."

    "I don't get it," Misty accused. Why couldn't the psychic just use plain words that everyone would understand?

    "I think she means that she sees Ash much in the same way Ash sees Samuel, dear." Delilah rose from her chair, smiling patiently. "Someone who taught her most of what she values the most."

    "Who taught me the one thing I value the most," Sabrina corrected her. "Humanity."

    Misty nodded. Part of her didn't want to understand or maybe to accept the explanation. But that part was alone and swiftly silenced – the words were perfectly sensible and they were everything Misty had needed to hear. Everything she had wanted to hear, too.

    Which only left one question to be asked. She sighed, readying herself for an answer she only could fear. A gust of wind reached her back as if someone had just opened the door; she ignored it.

    "If Ash didn't want me to find out because it was too dangerous," she began, swallowing hard. "Why are you telling me all of it now? Why did you even take me here – hell, why did you clue me in to all those answers back in the Tower?"

    Sabrina looked at her for a long moment, saying nothing. Her eyes seemed to look past Misty, to something behind her.

    There was something behind her. That much she was now sure of – the door hadn't opened at random, that much was for sure. And if she just focused on the sounds about her for a moment she could just hear soft breaths, or at least she thought she did.

    Then there was the simple feel of a presence – even without psychic powers, she simply knew someone – or something – was coming closer to her.

    Which did not keep her from having to bit back a shriek when a hand came to rest on her shoulder.

    "I told her to get you out of the League," a familiar, so very familiar voice said.

    She turned slowly, quietly. It could yet be a memory, a figment of her imagination that would vanish if she came to face it too quickly.

    Figment or not, he had changed. His hair, unkempt and dirty, now reached past his shoulders. His face bore scars she had not seen before, mute testimony of what he must have passed through in the long months she had searched for him. On his chin, the shadows of a beard grew where he had kept his face shaven in all the years they had been together. His eyes had grown dark, retaining no shreds of the hope and innocence that had been there so long ago, on the day she had fished him out of a lake.

    But the voice…it was his voice, and for all the changes his face bore, it was still the face of the man she had shared so many years of her life with.

    There were many questions to ask, many things she so wanted to say. Words she had dreamed of whispering to him, words she had hoped against hope he would one day hear from her.

    She tried to say them, to ask the questions that came to mind.

    "How…" she began, unsure herself what would follow. Her throat seemed to thicken with each syllable out of her mouth. Her hands, without conscious commands, went to the one that still rested on her shoulder, gripping it tightly, bringing it in front of her. "How are you?"

    Ash smiled, although a pained smile. For a moment, Misty almost thought he was going to laugh at him, but he did not. Perhaps she would have deserved it – what kind of question was that to ask when he had made her think him dead for all those months?

    She let go of his hand, reassured perhaps at last that he was there and not a dream. His eyes met hers, and she suddenly found herself in his arms, trying as best as she could to avoid sobbing. She would not cry; she would not waste time with something as silly as crying. Not when she had Ash back at last and ought to be happy.

    He closed his arms about her, holding her in his embrace as he had so often done. Misty felt a single tear trickling down her cheek; she closed her eyes to hold back any others that might come. She had shed enough tears for him when he had gone, she would not shed more now that she had him back at last.

    "I'm fine, I think," he hesitated before smiling. "Awfully glad to see you, of course." The last was added almost as an afterthought, a slight embarrassed blush coloring Ash's features.

    Misty smiled slightly, perhaps too small a smile for anyone to see. Whatever he might have gone through during the war and since his disappearance, there was still something of the Ash she had fallen for so many years ago left.

    "You think you're fine?" Part of her wanted an answer to that; part of her just wanted to slap him. After all he had done to her, what right did he have to pretend to be the suffering one? He should be overjoyed they were reunited, and that was it.

    He looked at her, his eyes for the briefest of instant filled with a pain Misty simply could not believe any human being could bear. In that instant, she silenced the part of her that wanted nothing more than to pay Ash back for her months alone.

    "Maybe we should leave the two of you alone," Ash's mother suggested. Misty didn't need to turn to imagine the smile that must be on the older woman's lips.

    Ash sighed, gently taking a strand of Misty's hair in his hands and playing with it for a moment. There was something about him, as if he was troubled.

    "I don't think we've got time right now," he finally sighed. "I'll make it up to you," he added, a handful of whispered words in her ears. Misty did not answer – there was nothing she could think of saying now. She simply pulled closer to him, resting her head against his shoulders, reassuring herself again he was no mirage. She couldn't be sure, but she though his arms had tightened about her, pulling her closer.

    "Are you sure?" Sabrina asked.

    Misty sighed. Had she really suspected the psychic of trying to take Ash away from her just moments ago? Had she really even given more than half a second of though to the notion that anyone would manage to take Ash from her? She closed her eyes. It didn't matter what she had thought, whatever figment her imaginations had conjured up.

    "We don't have any time left," Ash sighed. "The protesters will be here any minute."

    Misty blinked, drawing back in surprise and taking a better look at Ash's face. It was set, hard – the face of someone readying himself to weather a storm they knew would come.

    "Protesters?" she asked, her voice small. She had an idea what it could be about. She had one, and didn't like it in the slightest. "Against the league?" she shivered.

    They had suspected it would come, of course – no one except perhaps Lance had been blind to the way the trainers were turning further away with each day from what the everyday people of Johto and Kanto wanted. No one had been blind either to the growing hatred between the commoners, the League and the government. There had been too much blood spilled as a result of the trainers' war on Team Rocket, too many dead for forgiveness.

    "Yes," the professor confirmed. Misty turned her head slightly to look at him, seeing in a glance the pain in his features. He had been one of the main movers in the creation of the original league from what she had been told – she couldn't begin to imagine what it would be like to see the world turn against it for him.

    "Though I believe the term 'protesters' might be somewhat of an understatement." Sabrina's gaze turned to the window. "Revolutionaries might be closer to the truth. They do not intend to leave anything standing."

    "They aren't even the worst part," Ash shook his head, and Misty slowly began to understand the pain in his eyes. If there was worse than the protesters…

    It could only really mean one thing.

    "The government's sending the army, aren't they?"

    Ash only nodded.
    _______________________

    "Was that Giovanni?" Yoshi asked, trying to steady his trembling hand.

    Ghost pokémon were one thing. Dani had her Misdreavus, and besides even that if one was going to be a top trainer, on had to learn to deal with the unnerving spirits.

    Ghost pokémon were one thing, but nameless shadows that vanished into thin air were something else entirely.

    "Is it still around?" Bruno asked Agatha, turning toward the older woman.

    "No," the League's elder shook her head, her eyes narrowing. "I do not know what it was. "

    Yoshi slowly looked around the room, taking everything in. The trainers who were there, stunned perhaps for a moment, had slowly begun recovering, eyeing warily the charred remnants of the white cloak.

    Whatever the thing had been, it would be talked about for days if not months to come among the trainers. Whatever it had been, most of them would remember it for the rest of their days, and Yoshi first of them. There was no way he could ever forget the horrible sensation that had come over him when the thing had appeared.

    He took a deep breath, trying to steer his mind to less depressing topics. They had successfully pushed back the specter. There was no need to worry anymore – he could now let Lance and Agatha come up with some plan regarding the young woman and return to Dani.

    Of course, he had no sooner made as if to turn for the stairways that the Headquarters' alarm system began sending its high-pitched wail throughout the enormous building.

    "What the?" it was Domino who spoke, rising to her feet and glancing about.

    "The war's over, isn't it?" Karen suddenly drew closer to him. She was trembling; her eyes closed but too late to keep the first tear from rolling down her cheek.

    For the briefest of moments, Yoshi thought he could hear Karen's siblings screaming, just as he had heard them on that day, two years back when Team Rocket had last stormed the League's headquarters – screaming, then one by one becoming silent as they were killed.

    And he had been too late to save any of them, any of the other children who had been there on that day.

    "It's not Team Rocket," he stated, his voice wavering as he did so. Why wouldn't the scream stop? He had done all that he could back then. They all had.

    But the screams didn't stop. For two years now they had left him alone, allowed him to go on his own – and now they were back, as if they had never stopped echoing through his mind.

    "Whatever it is," Bruno agreed, "it's not them."

    "What then?" Domino glanced about still.

    They were all silent for a moment. Lance drew out his cell phone, moved away from them. His lips were moving, but against the wail of the alarm and the cry of the children still echoing in his mind, he heard nothing of the League champion's words.

    "I fear it is far worse than Team Rocket," Agatha shook her head glumly.

    What could it be then? What could be worse than Team Rocket, all the death they had caused over the last few years?

    "The army?" Bruno hazarded the guess slowly, his eyes widening even as he did so.

    "The souls of those our war killed have come back to demand justice," Agatha nodded shortly. "The blood that was spilled for our pride must be paid back in our own blood."

    Yoshi shrank back. The blood that had been spilled for their pride. The blood of the children they had failed to save. The blood of the civilians killed in the endless cycle of retaliation Team Rocket had lived by for all those years of conflict…

    "We deserve it, don't we?" he asked softly, his hand shakily reaching for his pokéball all the same. Deserved or not, they had gone too far now to die kneeling.

    "Do you really believe more blood spilled will atone for all we have done?" Agatha questioned quietly.

    Yoshi shook his head, knowing the answer even before the question was finished. More blood would atone for nothing, regardless of whether the blood was his or anyone else's. The only thing more blood spilled would mean was more suffering, more pain…

    More screams.

    "It's them," Lance confirmed, closing up his cell phone and turning to face them, his eyes grim. "We are surrounded already."

    "How bad is it?" Bruno reached for his pokéballs even as he spoke.

    He was not alone in doing so. Karen and Agatha moved to his side, each drawing their own pokéball. Yoshi made as if to join them – then drew back. They were alone, left without families, without obligations, without loyalties other than to the League. He could never begin to claim the same – not with the solemn promises he had made so long ago, on the day Dani had become his wife.

    "Their orders are to make prisoners only as far as it's convenient."

    How could it come to that? Didn't the government realize how much more blood that would leave? How much more pain and suffering all of Kanto would go through?

    "Why?" Karen breathed even as she released her houndoom.

    "It's what the people want. They aren't interested in peace – they want payback for everyone they lost. Since you took care of Team Rocket, that leaves you as the only people they can pay back," Domino explained. "That's the thing with democracy. It's all about putting power in the hands of the idiots."

    Karen nodded slowly and then turned to face him, instantly sending his senses on the highest alert. What did she want now?

    "You aren't going to fight with us, are you?" she asked, her voice soft. There was no trace of hope left in her face, no traces of any emotion.

    "I can't," he confirmed, as simply as he could. More words would have been too much for him.

    She sighed, averting her eyes for a moment.

    "You were a fun game," she whispered. "Go to her."

    Yoshi drew back in surprise. Was that really the same Karen who had been trying to seduce him mere minutes ago? Why would she say that now of all times?

    "Why?" he whispered. Had she remembered how he had failed to save her siblings? Perhaps the cries had reached her, too.

    She did not answer, not at first, looking deep into his eyes and seizing her hand. "As I said – you were a fun game. The time for playing is over."

    A shiver went down his spine at the last. Judging by the way her lips shook, she liked it no more than he did. Reluctantly, one of her hands rose to point at the stairways.

    "Go save your wife Yoshi. You didn't let her down all the time I was trying to get you. Don't start it now."

    He nodded reluctantly, trying to bring his mind back to what truly mattered. Dani was somewhere above, and if he died now, there would be no one to get her out. They would take her, brand her a criminal, perhaps jail her for a time, or worse…

    "I'm going," he turned, making his way to the stairways, barely hearing the footsteps behind him. He didn't turn, didn't care. Dani needed him, and he dared not look back – not when his friends were about to throw their lives in a last fight.

    The doors to the lobby crashed open in a shower of glass.

    "Attention trainers!" a voice bellowed. "Surrender now, and you will be spared!"

    He couldn't look back. Whatever was behind him, it was the past. There would never be any going back to it. Friends or no friends….

    "Dragonite! Hyper beam!" Lance commanded.

    The room brightened for a moment, and it was all that Yoshi could do to keep his eyes on the stairways, shielding them with one hand for the briefest of moment. Perhaps if he did they wouldn't look back of their own accord. Perhaps if he did, he would avoid the sight of his friends…

    With one last hesitation, he flew up the stairs. Someone behind him cried – Karen, he thought – and he ignored her. It would, after all, be nothing more than another cry to haunt him forever.

    Shouts of surprise and pain echoed behind him, and his hand faltered on the railing, his eyes drawn to the floor below no matter how much he tried to hold them back. His friends were fighting there. His friends would die there.

    Why wasn't he with them? Dani could save herself, she was strong, she…She could, but would she?

    Another scream rose, but this one came from above.

    "They probably landed helicopters on the top floor," someone said, racing past him in a flash of blonde air. "Hurry!"

    He blinked. Why was she of all people helping him? If there was anyone in the League's headquarters without the slightest reasons to want any of them to survive…

    "What do you want?" he asked her as he caught up with her. Friends or not, his wife was there, and she would always come first.

    "A way out!" Domino shouted. "You're about the only one with any reason to get out of this deathtrap!"

    He nodded darkly. A reason to get out…He had one, didn't he?

    "I'm coming Dani…" he hissed through clenched teeth,
    _______________________

    "The army?" Sabrina asked, and for the first time that Ash could remember, her voice sounded weak, even faint. "Have things really gone this far?"

    Ash sighed. How far had things gone? He couldn't even begin to say for himself. Too far was the only possible way to describe it.

    "It isn't even the worst part Sabrina," he began. How could he – how could anyone – say what he had to tell them? They had been his friends, his family for too many years. He knew just what they valued, what mattered to them.

    He knew they were on the verge of losing one thing that counted at the heart of each of their lives. How could he ever tell them that?

    "They can't be…" Misty began, her eyes widening. How she had found, he had no idea but a single look in her eyes was enough to realize that she now knew, too.

    As they would all know – as they all needed to.

    "As of tomorrow…" he began, trying to remember all the details he could, at the same time hoping no one would question his knowledge. Perhaps he would tell Misty one day, but even that he was not sure was a good idea. The questions it could lead her to ask…

    No, they were questions better left unanswered.

    "Yes?" the professor asked, his eyes flashing about nervously.

    "They'll ban training altogether," Ash finally let out, trying to ignore the icy hand caressing its way down his spine. "No more pokéballs to be sold, and people who own any of them are to surrender them outright."

    Misty's head fell on his shoulder, her body shaking, though he could not tell whether it was from anger or sorrow. His mother shook her head, her eyes closed as her lips traced the words of a silent prayer. The professor said nothing, his eyes staring blankly ahead as his hands shook. Sabrina's hands fell to her side, and the glass she had been levitating toward her outstretched hand fell to the floor as well, shattering in a thousand shards just as he knew the dreams of so many young trainers would in a few hours at most.

    "I hope you're not planning to fight the law, young man," his mother was the first to speak. Her words were in no way surprising – she had always be the one to look to his own safety first.

    "As far as the government cares mom, I'm dead," he reminded her gently. It had been odd in too many ways standing in the back of the small temple, disguised while his own funeral took place. Odd, and less than pleasant – how could it have been otherwise when he had been forced to stand there, watching Misty's tears rolling to the ground?

    It had been all that he could do to hold back and keep his secret.

    "That still doesn't allow you to run around with pokéballs," his mother threw him a level look, her dark eyes glinting.

    Ash smiled slightly. Pokéballs, he did still carry. They were a reminder of days pasts and long gone. They had been at his side for too many adventures for him to abandon them, even if he had no longer any need for them.

    Faintly, from beyond the walls, the first echoes of a shouting mob rose.

    "Actually Delilah, I believe that's already taken care of," The professor's tone sounded calm enough, as if he had recovered from the shock. His trembling hands, however, told a different story. "I…"

    "Oh, yes," his mother's eyes suddenly widened as if she realized what she had been saying.

    "You're a tamer aren't you?" Misty asked simply, still holding close to him.

    He nodded. Saying any more in answer would require hours of explanations, hours they could not afford. Later, perhaps.

    He looked at Misty, holding back a sigh. There were so many things he wanted to tell her, so many things he wanted to do with her, and so little guarantee there would ever be the time for any of it.

    Outside, the cries grew closer.

    "Professor, are you ready to leave?" he asked.

    There was no more time for emotions really. If they were to leave, to survive, they would have to do so now. There could be no more waiting, not with the mob drawing ever closer.

    His old mentor only nodded, his age suddenly showing in his every feature. He was too old for the war, no matter which Ash looked at it. Why couldn't he do more for him?

    "Mom?" he asked then. She too was beginning to show sign of the many years of worry life had thrown her way. If there was any justice to the world, she would be able to enjoy some calm now.

    She nodded as well. "I…I'm ready Ash. Please be careful!" she added the last, just as she had every other time they had been about to become separated.

    He said nothing, only giving a slight nod in answer.

    Sabrina stepped forward, her eyes blazing, extending her hand. Ash's arms reached to hold Misty tightly next to him. There were so many stories about teleportations gone wrong and people separated in them…

    The world about them seemed to freeze for a moment. Slowly, the colors drained out of it leaving only outlines of shadow and light. Then even the outlines were gone, and the world faded to a silvery gray.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mintaka and Hurristat
    He's an evil director / He'll give out infractions / Do something wrong / And he takes direct actions
    Then what'll he do?/ He'll permaban you / You find your name slashed / With a message, 'Adieu'
    Sooooo...watch out!
    "It is said that the federal government, if it was in charge of the Sahara, would run out of sand in five years. Private enterprise, being more efficient, would do it in half the time - and they'd make money off the bridges." - me.
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world." - Jack Layton's last letter. Rest in peace, Jack.

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