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Old December 29th, 2013 (06:41 AM).
The Prince of Sweet Sorrow's Avatar
The Prince of Sweet Sorrow
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Chapter 16: Love and War, All in One





"That was quite the speech," Hector said after Shango had gotten off the rock he was standing; they were now walking downhill towards the tent of the King. The whole army was preparing for their final march around them, but Shango paid them no mind.

"Ah, bunch of lies, I'm afraid," Shango replied quietly.

"What do you mean, lies?" Tristana asked; she was invisible, flying between the two Zangooses in the golden armors.

"Lies, Tristy," Hector whispered, looking at her sideways, "we can't be honest if we want this to work."

"I don't like being dishonest..."

"You don't have to talk at all, just leave it up to us," Shango said in a great, teasing smile. He was feeling better, relieved of the tension of the last speech. This tiring King business would soon come to an end.

"How's the army gonna get into the city?" Hector asked and Shango put his hand on his friend's mouth, looking around worriedly. Then, he stared at him down.

"That's not the attitude of a General!" he said in a demanding manner. After a while of quiet and staring at some soldiers who were watching them curiously, he spoke in a low whisper. "Leave that up to me..." he looked to the left, not to Hector, but in the air, where Tristana supposedly were. "And Tristana."

"Oh, you're such a mystery," Hector said mockingly, mimicking Crystal's voice and pretending to be excited. Shango's lips shifted as he looked at him, tilting his head. He wasn't smiling, rather, his expression made Hector uncomfortable, and he wasn't feeling like that often.

"Is that how she acts?"

"I guess..."

"Are you jealous?"

"No."

They reached the small tent; the clean, green plains in front of them were a wonderful sight, even by night, but it was only noticed by Tristana; nobody could see her, but her eyes reflected the moon that was falling to the side of the sky, soon to be replaced by Karnos, and then by the sun. The two Zangoose sat on the ground outside the tent quietly, without removing their armors; they were getting used to them, anyway.

"So how did it go with Crystal, yesterday?" Shango inquired, laying back and using his hands as a pillow, as he always did.

"I've got a kid with Rosa, what you did was wrong."

"No, what you did was wrong," Shango countered with a tricky smile.

"I'm just kidding, man! Nothing happened."

"For real, nothing?"

"What are you two talking about?" Tristana asked naughtily, and Shango pushed her head away playfully.

"Nothing you need to know about!"

"Oh, before I forget," Hector said, "the rumors were confirmed."

"What rumors?" Shango asked first, but then he remembered. "Oh, so the corpse of Kingfisher truly wasn't found amongst those in Fort Leaf..."

"Heh, that's something to look forward."

"What do you mean?"

"I wanted to fight the guy. I need to prove myself worthy of being General."

A Gardevoir was walking through the soldiers, down the hill towards them two. Shango knelt and pushed himself up to greet the Pokemon that had drawn their attention properly. Hector did the same, although a bit too late.

"Ah, here's my teleporter." Shango said, smiling calmly, observing the approaching Pokemon. She had deep, distinct blue eyes and an eerie, though serene feeling about her.

"Hello..." the Gardevoir said shyly; she had trouble looking straight at Shango. "Did you want to see me, your Grace?"

"Yes, I want you to take me to Faro Isle. And keep everything between us."

The Gardevoir looked at him slightly confused. "But... will you not be accompanying the army to Ionia?"

Shango's warm smile disappeared; the psychic-type quickly looked down to avoid the intense look that was almost scary. "Wait here," he ordered and he left inside the tent. When he returned, he was free of any armor; instead, he was wearing the Phantom Dancer's cloak, but he hadn't put on his hood or mask yet. He offered his hand to the Gardevoir and she grabbed it with both of her hands; Tristana landed softly on his shoulder, the psychic completely unaware of her powerful yet subtle presence. Shango and Hector exchanged friendly and sad looks.

"Good luck on the battlefield, Hector."

They nodded at each other in a serious manner. "You too, brother."

"And with that, I bid you farewell." He threw a look at the Gardevoir, who nodded and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they were aboard the Hollow's End. The ship was docked to Faro Isle, a lone island with no grass, only rocks; a big rock served as its biggest peak.

"Wonderboy!" the now well known voice of Tylor boomed. Shango looked around to see Tylor and his crew minus the Gravellers, Zorthan, Zaunix and Crystal. The Gardevoir let out a shriek when her eyes fell on Zaunix; Zorthan's body glowed blue in a burst of telekinetic energy and the teleporter was imprisoned in a blue cell of light. She gasped, out of breath, looking at Shango, who returned the look apologetically.

"It's best that you ask questions later, or rather, not at all," Shango said, without having lost the King's attitude, convincing the teleporter. "But what is seen, cannot be unseen, right?" He gestured his head towards Zaunix.

"What is going on?" she asked feebly, as if she was about to faint.

"Oh, nothing, lassy!" Tylor shouted, raising his arms in the air. "Just do as we say and everything will be alright."

Shango left Zorthan and Tylor to deal with the frightened teleporter and headed to Crystal and Zaunix.

"Crystal, you'll come with me," he said, looking at his cousin intently, "you, Zaunix, find out where Jericho and Dominique are."

The black Scyther nodded his monstrous head quietly and flew away, vanishing in the night sky. Shango and Crystal looked at each other.

"It's our time," Shango said, patting her furry shoulder. She had a grim expression on. "We might face the Hashashin... but don't be afraid. Now," he said, turning to look at Tylor, "is the ship free of Gravellers?"

"Aye," Nautilus answered for him. "She's light now!"

"'She?'" Crystal questioned.

"'She', as in the ship," Shango whispered quickly.

"... really... what are you up to, Shango?"

"I like to call it 'unexpected invasion tactic'."

"Before dawn?"

"Yes."

"So, Wonderboy," Tylor said, jumping over in front of him. "Shall we get this done?"

"Without delay."

Zorthan turned to them, his permanent frown always attached to his face. The Gardevoir behind him had fallen to the bottom of her prison, and she seemed as limp as dead, but everyone knew she wasn't - the psychic link between her and the Reuniclus was strong and glowing.

"Bring Lucy up," Tylor ordered Thomas, who looked at his Captain in dismay.

"I have to catch her first..."

"Shiver me timbers, Tommie, the Mime be but a Mime!"

"Yes, right..."


***


The long room was decorated with a blue carpet with golden lining, a golden table and massive columns on each side; the chandelier that was hanging from the ceiling had a golden skeleton and many crystals with burning candles inside. Around the table, there were twenty seats and a majestic, platinum throne in the far end. Plates and glasses were set accordingly to each chair that had no handles, as to help all species of Pokemon to be seated. The room was empty of guests right now; only its host was sitting on his throne, an old Armaldo that looked all worn out and ready to fall apart; yet, he was smiling, yes, because right in front of him, a crystal was floating at the height of his eyes, a crystal much different than those of the chandelier. The darkstar was reflecting anything on the room but Jericho's image, for a strange reason he could not explain; in fact, he couldn't explain many things about that dark gem. It seemed to work in the strangest of ways, in ways that didn't allow him to use it openly to conquer Hesperia, no, the whole world even, and call himself King of All. His attempts to decode the gem had proven critical to his health, which seemed to fade away quickly like a candle after each of the little adventures he was having when touching it. But undoubtedly, he was holding the key to world domination, figuratively speaking of course, because every time he touched it... the world around him changed dramatically. It wasn't anything like King Eoleo's description of when Shango touched the darkstar, that description based on Rosa's report... the darkstar merged with Shango's hand, while on Jericho... it didn't work that way. Perhaps it worked differently, based on the person wielding it. Eoleo couldn't use it at all, but he knew that reason was hidden inside the memories of the gem. Oh yes, the gem did have memories. He could see them every time he entered it, but he'd forgotten all of them when he exited it. They were there, but they weren't, at the same time - it seemed like the darkstar hadn't come to trust him yet. How come it had trusted Sigmund Blados, then? And what about Shango? Shango... Jericho would have to take care of him some time. If only he knew where he was... first he had to deal with this menace of a King, Angelo Imperatore. Such a pest, don't you think? Forts Stone and Leaf were utterly destroyed by his pestering army. But, they were all safe behind the walls of Ionia - these were truly impenetrable.

"What about Telaar..." Jericho whispered to himself, lost in thought. The darkstar flashed black for a moment, reflecting absolutely nothing and showing the ultimate darkness; Jericho's eyes met with it, and the image he saw struck him like lightning: a hood in the darkness, a single left eye staring back at him. Someone was there, just for a blink of the eye. Then, the figure vanished to nothing.

The darkest of feelings Jericho experienced that moment, a chill running up his aged spine, as he truly felt that green eye were as menacing as the shadow of the Hashashin themselves... because that Pokemon was an Hashashin, surely. That white cloak was the symbol of that annoying brotherhood - what other kind of weird Pokemon wore cloaks, anyhow? Yet, how come he hadn't seen that Pokemon inside the darkstar before? The vision he had just experienced seemed to have triggered with his thoughts. His heart was pounding and the desire to touch the darkstar again to search and learn who it was was irresistible.

Then, he remembered that his henchmen had informed him that Telaar's massacre had been committed by an Hashashin of secret identity. Poor Ignacio... his people, and his love, dead, by one of his own. Actually, Jericho wasn't sorry at all for the Master of the Hashashin. And, he also knew who it was, but he wouldn't tell him. Who else wore a black cloak, except Ignacio himself? The Phantom Dancer. Also known as Shango Maverick.

Suddenly, steps were heard outside the room and a voice was heard, making Jericho smirk in annoyance.

"I want to see the Chancellor!" the voice demanded, and without the sounds of the steps stopping, the doors broke open without the two guards being able to do anything. The leader of the Verdict, Dominique Kingfisher was walking quickly towards the platinum throne, where he was sitting; the Sceptile's expression was truly angry, but Jericho wasn't afraid. Others could not possibly see the crystal that was floating in front of him.

"Why did you do this?" Dominique attacked the Chancellor with a question and an angry look.

"Do what," Jericho said.

"You teleported me away from battle!" the piercing blue eyes of the leader of the Verdict shone as he locked them on Jericho. "I should have died! I should have died with the rest of my soldiers. You cannot deprive me of that right!"

The Armaldo looked at him, tilting his head and leaning on his pincher. "Dominique, listen to reason," he spoke after a moment of consideration, "you are more useful alive than dead."

"Oh, so that's what this is about! You only care of how useful I can be, instead of our pride and honor! Now history will know me as the coward who ran away from the most critical battle in the history of Ionia!" he threw his bladed arms up in the air, having an astounded expression on.

"I can help it," Jericho said, rolling his eyes, as if he was ever going to waste time on some fool's pride.

"Apart from my reputation," Dominique continued, a little bit calmed down, "I want to see the city saved. I need a favor. Bring me the Hashashin, and we should be able to wipe the King and their Generals with their contribution."

"I'm afraid that is not possible. The Hashashin do not help us," Jericho replied bluntly, his cold, examining stare fixed on the Sceptile.

"What?! You said the Hashashin were on our side!"

Jericho looked down, thinking of Ignacio Phylax. Perhaps the brotherhood had betrayed the Endarkened Ones after all.

"Not anymore. They have forsaken us."

"Then... then request reinforcements from the Dark Cult!" It was clear Dominique did not quite like this idea, but his look was desparate.

"I already have..."

"And?"

"They're on their way, as if."

"Good... how many?"

"Ask the Prophet yourself. I wasn't exactly in the position to make negotiations."

Dominique seemed to be lost in thought for a moment.

"I will head out now..." he said after a while, avoiding to look at the Chancellor. "Make ready for one final effort."



***


"I suggest you hold tightly," Shango said to Crystal with his welcoming smile. She looked at him with widened eyes, but he ignored her; he was staring at the psychic link between the three psychics. The Gardevoir, Lucy and Zorthan. With those three, the Hollow's End had gained all the aspects it needed to invade Ionia all by itself. Shango needed a way in, but it was impossible, through all those caution measures Jericho had taken. There was a way, as Shango eventually found out.

"Go, go!" Tylor shouted. The three psychics glowed blue and purple, the light forcing everyone on the ship to cover their eyes. The same light engulfed the whole ship and everyone held tightly as it shook violently at first, then it stabilized; the psychics had gotten hold of it, and the waves of the lake didn't seem to affect it at all - the Hollow's End was as stable as the ground. It was a weird feeling, Shango thought, standing on a perfectly stable ship. Soon, the ship left the waters of the lake, starting to levitate above them. Tylor ran to the edge to look down.

"It's working!" he shouted, excited.

"Let us be off, then," Shango shouted and motioned at the glowing Zorthan, who blinked as the slightest of response. The ship begun moving upwards through the psychic power.

"Hahaha!" Tylor crackled in laughter, soon to be followed by Nautilus, who had clutched the deck with the wide opening of his arms. Thomas had hid inside a barrel, and Crystal was clutching Shango tightly, peering down at the waters of the lake every now and then; Shango followed her to look to those waters, illuminated by the moonlight. The wind was getting stronger, blowing his facial hair backwards. As the ship flew higher and higher above the lake, Crystal was clutching him even tighter, until she was too afraid to look down. He was forced to grab the mast of the ship as not to fall.

"Man, this is awesome!" Tylor shouted throughout the wind, "I should try this at home."

"Cap'n, we outta do this more often!" Nautilus begun laughing, clutching the other side of the mast. "Yeeeeha!"

"Thomas! The sails are slowing us down!"

"B-but Captain, I c-can't climb up there..." he stuttered.

"No worries," Lucy spoke in a voice that certainly wasn't her own. The cords that held the sails snapped and they folded up by themselves, being held up by psychic energy.

"Think I just found new uses for our Mime," Tylor muttered, but he was heard by none other than Damon, who shook his head disapprovingly.

Shango could see the open fields around Ionia and the series of hills to its southwest, where the army had camped; behind those hills, to the south, was the ravaged Fort Leaf, now deserted by the King's command. As the wind whipped his face, he thought of the King he was impersonating this whole time, Angelo. Was he truly right in his actions? Then again, there were no right or wrong beliefs, only people bearing different kinds of them. Still... would his father be proud of him? Tristana popped on the tip of the bow, clutching it and smiling at him. She nodded, and he smiled back.

"I'm sure Alexander would be proud of you," Tristana said. "I mean, whoever invades a city aboard a flying ship?"

There was no response from him. He couldn't have known for sure, as he'd never met his father. Ascendio, his step father, however, he was sure of how he would feel. His intense thoughts were instantly transferred to the spirit, who lost her smile.

"Ascendio doesn't count, Shango, he was an Ionian... of course he wouldn't like you doing this."

"Right... still, I want to visit his grave. Ask him myself. You know... sometimes, I think of Claire. Such a mystery of a Pokemon, a beautiful and captivating one... it's a pity I never had the chance to solve her."

Tristana's eyes lowered to the bow's spear, ignoring the fact that she was probably more than two thousand feet up in the air. She seemed sad, and Shango regretted speaking his mind. He didn't want to be seeing her like this, especially for his personal problems. But Tristana never minded him... sweet Tristana.

"From how little I got to know her... I could tell she was special, but I..." she sounded hesitant, avoiding his look, "I was jealous, of how you... gave her more attention than me."

He looked at her, surprised she was that straightforward; he usually needed to guess what she was thinking and feeling. She returned his look, smiling weakly, absolutely disarming him. His eyes drifted to the distant lights coming from the streets of the nearing Ionia, experiencing sadness he hadn't felt in years. He couldn't apologize for something that couldn't happen, and he couldn't comfort his friend anyhow.

"She is gone now," Shango managed to whisper, his words carried away by the strong wind, but Tristana understood their meaning. The sky behind them was illuminated by the grim, red light of the planet that was rising quickly; the lake seemed like a massive pool of blood now, a disgusting sight.

"I don't want us to be sad, Shango," she said, letting herself off the bow and flying to straight to Shango's arms.

"Sadness fits me not," he agreed, stroking her cheek as he looked deeply in her blue eyes. He was seeing his own in them, green and round emerald gems. A certain thought of his that was troubling him for a long time popped into his mind. "You know... we never got around to learning your origins."

"Why should that ever concern you?" Tristana asked, seemingly worried. "We went back to the Scorching Land and we found nothing..."

"Our efforts in the search didn't suffice, apparently. I found you there, under your own statue. There's got to be a reason behind that. And I don't even remember why and how you ended up following me wherever I go," Shango said with a generous, thankful smile; he brought her close to his heart, fondling her wings. She looked at him sleepily, overwhelmed by his grasp. "Once this is done," Shango nodded towards Ionia, "I promise I will find out about you."

She kept quiet, leaning her head against his chest. Tylor's shouts suddenly drew his attention and he turned his head away from the warm spirit that had curled up in his arms.

"Wonderboy! Ionia is near!" the Sableye reached him with a single leap that surely crossed the rules of gravity.

"Watch out for the Ionian Air Guard," Shango warned the ghost, both looking down at the citadel.

"Can't Zorthan take care of them?"

"I assume he is too busy flying the ship."

"I will take care of them!" Tristana shouted jauntily and flew from Shango's hands to the front of the ship, becoming a flare of a weak, pulsing light. The ship suddenly started losing height and the Pokemon on board needed to hold tightly as not to fall forward. The citadel of Ionia was coming straight at Shango; he could now see all of the features he was familiar with: the river that crossed the city in half, all the way up to the north, the square with the massive, forever locked lighthouse where the murders often happened, Jericho's palace to the southwest side, right on the river's delta; on the eastern side of the city, he could now see a new building, a big one, that was on top of a hill which was surrounded by a wall and a circle of water. It looked like a castle, from what Shango was able to see. The red light made it look menacing and overwhelming, unlike the rest of the buildings of the city.

Before Shango could evaluate it further, the horizon sunk and he found himself looking straight at the houses below him. He jerked his head towards Zorthan, to see Lucy fainted and the psychic link broken. The light of the psychic energy that had engulfed the ship, now had faded, but Zorthan and the Gardevoir were still glowing. The Mime started falling forward, but Nautilus caught her abruptly and threw her in the hatch, which had opened by itself. Crystal let out a shriek and held tighter onto the mast; Shango did the same with the bow, and Tristana jumped right into his cloak. Tylor, being a ghost, was the only one who didn't need to hold on to anything, though he still couldn't fly; he slapped the Reuniclus' gel in an attempt to bring the psychic back to reality.

Shango looked down, to see the houses of the southwest side of the city growing bigger and bigger; seconds before impact, the two psychics that remained on deck started glowing again, and their light covered the ship once again. The ship abruptly changed course and the sound of wood cracking from below reached their ears, though they hadn't collided anywhere... yet. Before the Hollow's End stabilized, it hit a house; the impact made the whole ship shake as if hit by an earthquake. As it was flung sideways, Shango hugged the bow's spear; everyone behind him was screaming, except Zorthan, who was levitating in the same spot with his whole body brimming blue, the Gardevoir and Tylor, who was laughing and cheering. Nautilus had sunk his claws right into the deck and he was clutching the barrel in which Thomas was screaming in with his jaws. The Gardevoir's prison had broken and she had flown to the door of the hall, which opened a second later, swallowing her in.

The ship continued to fly above the streets, its sides hitting the second floor of the houses, destroying each one with a terrible sound of wood cracking. The light that engulfed it faded once more and it lost speed as it was reaching the grassy slope and the river on its bottom; as the Hollow's End lost height, it landed on the road and a barrel that had rolled to the side of the deck exploded from impact, launching Shango out of the ship that had caught on fire. He rolled to the grass but shot himself up to watch the ship crash on the grassy slope of the other side of the river; it tipped with the slope's gradient and finally stopped moving. Tylor's laughs were still echoing in the night, despite the mast that cracked in half and fell on the river. Another, powerful and constant sound was heard and the fire on the deck was put out quickly by the stream of water Nautilus' shot out of his mouth; when he was done, Tylor was still laughing as if he'd heard the best joke in the world.

"Crystal!" Shango exclaimed worriedly running towards the river.

"She's fine... missin' a leg or two, but fine," Tylor managed to say between his laughter, then continued it mercilessly. Tristana flew off of Shango's cloak as he dove into the river, hurrying for the ship with his heart pounding with worry. The flaming spirit reached the deck and soared towards Crystal, who was laying unconscious next to the mast; Shango checked her neck for her pulse, made sure it was normal, before turning to Tylor, who'd just stopped with his crackling laughter.

"What's so funny?"

"This gotta be the best 'venture I've been in! Right, Nautilus?!"

"Aye, cap'n!" Nautilus kicked the barrel Thomas was hiding in to force him to get out, which hit Zorthan's gel, repelling it and sending it at the destroyed base of the fallen mast. Thomas started screaming as the impact destroyed the barrel and made the ship slide further into the slope, closer to the river. Shango stared at them sternly.

"S-sorry," the Machop stuttered, even if it wasn't his fault.

"Where's our prisoner?" Tylor questioned abruptly and ran to the hall of the ship. "Ah, here she is! Zorthan, do your trick before she gets away!"

Shango looked inside the hall to see the Gardevoir laying unconscious in front of the hall's table. She didn't look like she would get up any time soon, like the Hollow's End. He took a look around the destroyed ship; his eyes had caught a hole on its side, which meant it was impossible for it to sail on water again without being repaired. To say nothing of the broken mast and the black, burned off foredeck that would break down under the slightest additional weight.

"I thought you'd be sad for your ship," Shango said to Tylor, still looking at the destruction around him.

"Ah, mate, the experience was far more worthy than a damned piece of wood that can be fixed!"

"I see reason in your logic," Shango said with a slight, hidden smile. Tristana exclaimed as Crystal opened her eyes and clutched the spirit; Shango helped her get up and she punched his shoulder playfully with a smile.

"We need to get going," Shango told her.

"Well, we ain't going anywhere till the ship's been repaired."

Shango turned to look at Zorthan, who was staying immovable this whole time as if nothing had happened around him and he was in a plain, white room. Perhaps he was. The only sign that he was still with them was the blue light that was coming from the prison around the Gardevoir.

"Zorthan... I do hope you'll help them with the repairs, your powers should speed things up. When and if you are done... keep an eye out for me."

"A'ight," shouted Nautilus, patting Shango's back strongly and expecting him to fall forward under the weight and force of his hand, but Shango proved to be immovable like a rock, or like Zorthan.

"What if they come looking for us?" Thomas raised the first reasonable question in a long time.

"Hm," Shango thought for a bit, then turned to Crystal. "You'll have to hide the ship."

She gave him a worried and angry at the same time look, but Shango wouldn't take no for an answer. Tristana sat on his shoulder, her hearty smile brimming with happiness and energy. He nodded at everyone and leaped off the ship and glanced behind him to see the grassy slope.

"Ugh," Tristana exclaimed, "we'll have to cross the river again?"

"You can fly," Shango said simply and threw her up before he dove to the water again. The current wasn't too strong and the water not too cold, thankfully; though his black cloak had gotten even more dark from the amount of water it had drawn inside, he could still float with ease. Once in the other coast, he put on the hood of his soaking wet cloak and drew out the mask from the inner pocket. Looking at the empty mask of the Phantom Dancer, a feeling of dread overcame him - the steel was reflecting the crimson light, which made it come alive. Shango had the slightest of impressions that the mask was truly alive right then. Another source of light, a bright one this time, hit the mask from the horizon, and Shango turned to see the sun rising slowly but steadily.

"Dawn's here," Tristana announced, quite worriedly. "Your army will be here anytime soon, my King," she added in a mocking tone. Shango ignored her and wore the mask quickly, which latched onto his face as if it was part of it. He started running up the grassy slope and hearing the cries of the Pokemon from the street, he leaped into the shadows of the opposite side of the road, quietly as ever. His flaming spirit had vanished along with him.


***


"Shango, what are we doing here?"

The wind was fierce and it was almost too hard to listen to Tristana. Atop the walls that surrounded western Ionia, Shango was running full speed in the shadows that were slowly fading away as the sun rose higher into the sky. The guards he got passed didn't even notice him, and those who did hear the shifting sound of his cape, weren't able to tell who was there, in the thick shadows.

"How come there is no Air Guard?" Shango muttered, more to himself than Tristana. He was looking upwards for any sign of flying Pokemon, but he could see none, only friendly clouds. He kept running towards the gates, the only entrance to the whole citadel, which was on its far west side. For ten straight minutes he ran, until his left eye caught the marching army crossing the plains. It was massive, as far as the eye could see, thousands of soldiers appearing between the series of hills in the south. He would be scared if he was an Ionian, but he reminded himself Jericho had the ultimate ace up his sleeve: the darkstar, but still, not if Shango could help it.

He kept running restlessly, synchronizing his breath with Tristana's heartbeats, feeling for the first time that she was sharing her power and will with him, but he didn't fully realize it as he had his eyes focused on the guards that had signaled alert. The whole city would be up in no time. As Shango predicted, Jericho would soon be on top of the gates, greeting the army, possibly with the darkstar in hand.

Shango stopped, seeing that the gates were right under him. Stairs made of stone could be seen down the street; the guards were all gone to inform the Chancellor. Shango looked around for a hiding spot, thinking this would be alot easier if Crystal was with him. He finally found the spot: he clutched the edge of the outside of the walls and looked back at the army that was marching. As he was hoping, Hector was in the front, walking proudly with his cocky grin and his shining armor. His eyes were instantly locked questioningly at him, and he nodded to tell him everything was alright. Hector turned to the Praetorians and showed him the cloaked figure, most possibly telling them he was with them. The message traveled around quickly and Shango grinned for Hector's insight. He suddenly felt a certain presence with certain sound of footsteps and breath, along with many other sounds of footsteps and breathes: Jericho's. He was surely being accompanied by elite Verdict members.

Hector stopped in front of the gates and crossed his arms, looking up with his mocking expression; Shango admitted his friend looked mighty, even though he wasn't much of a General. Jericho's voice echoed first around the plains, and Shango was shot by a dart of hatred; Tristana clutched tightly onto his chest.

"Come to challenge us, have you?"

"Challenge?" Hector asked and chuckled. "I hardly call it a challenge! The King hasn't even come to see you and your little town burned to the ground!"

Some mocking grins formed in the soldiers around Hector, but none of them laughed.

"I'll show you a challenge..." Jericho said angrily and Shango peeked over the edge of the wall; he wasn't holding anything, nor the soldiers around him, but he did mean the darkstar. Hector didn't lose his overwhelming pose, although he was aware of the power the Chancellor had under his possession.

"Hah! We'll crush you like bugs!"

"I'll be waiting... you better camp out here!"

Jericho and his soldiers shared a laugh, making Shango smirk. He decided he would use his time planning his next move rather than listening to his enemy blab about. He looked at the gates; they were heavy doors made of tristanite and iron, surely indestructible by any direct attack.

There's gotta be a switch or a lever, Tristana spoke to his mind and he nodded. He heard more sounds of footsteps as the soldiers were leaving. Shango... you could kill him here.

Not here... not now.

But why?

We don't know where the darkstar is, yet, and we may never know if I take his life.

I thought that's what you wanted most...

What I want most... no, that wouldn't be it.

The darkstar, then?

No... not that either.

Then what?

The footsteps were fading as the soldiers were walking through the main street, further into Ionia. Shango looked up to see guards were left behind on the walls, but the sight within was elsewhere. I want many things, Shango said simply, scolding himself for fantasizing about them. He snapped out of it quickly, leaping up to the top of the walls and immediately evaluated his opponents. A Linoone in front of him; he leaped onto her sideways, stabbing her back with his nether blades and landing behind her. Another Linoone turned around, much too late, as his blades sliced through her belly. The two Watchogs behind him launched supersonic waves and he was forced to tumble to the right to avoid them; Tristana's searing shot appeared from nowhere, exploding on impact at the unaware Watchogs; the insignia of the Verdict on their chests melted away from the heat instantly. A Toxicroak climbed the stairs to see what's going on, and seeing Shango he turned around to run, but he kicked his leg, throwing him down on the stone floor. The next moment, his nether blades were risen in the air, along with his hands, to land right through the Pokemon's throat and shift into deadlier blades with spikes. Shango pulled them out without mercy and jumped on the edge of the walls on the side of the city, looking down. Two members of the Verdict that had heard something out of the silent fight looked up at him, but they were shot down to the ground by an immense blast of fire from Tristana. Shango leaped down the road, from fifty feet high.

He landed in the middle of the road, the massive door right behind him. The lever was right next to him, to the side wall, above the burned soldiers; his eye caught a blue Pokemon on the other side of the road, a Marill, then he noticed more Pokemon that had gathered, citizens that probably had come to listen to Jericho. They all looked at him in awe, unable to see under the hood. They were sent running with Tristana's burst of flames, giving Shango the chance to jump to the lever and pull it down with all of his strength. The heavy door that guarded Ionia, their last stand between them and the might army of Hesperia, was pulled up slowly by the chains inside the walls. Tristana let out a cry, but flames continued to be shot, keeping the citizens away; the nearby wooden houses caught on fire, before Shango pulled the spirit abruptly and cutting out her wide stream of fire. He pulled to the side, behind the nearest house, hearing the army's battle cries as they charged inside Ionia.

Shango leaned against the wall, peering at the golden shine of Hector and the Praetorian's armors; the gathered citizens started screaming as the merciless slaughter begun.

"Show no quarter!" Hector barked, releasing his fury. Shango wouldn't stay and listen to much more of the screams and the sound of death - all this unsettled him, although he had carefully planned for it. His homeland was now being invaded, and he didn't feel as sad as he was for the innocent Pokemon inside. But there was something he wanted to do before Ionia was destroyed: visit Ascendio's grave and properly bid him farewell. Tristana weakly looked up at him from his arms and nodded. He disappeared into the last shadows of the night, heading to the north part of the city.


***


Where once lay the palace of the nobleman Ascendio Nome, now was an open, grassy field with a single grave in the middle. Shango had no idea what became of the palace or his step father's fortune; probably transferred to Ionia's wealth, to Jericho eventually. He didn't care. He'd only locked his eyes on the gravestone, that was surrounded by red flowers. As he walked towards it, he could read the letters clearly, and the feelings of rage and sadness flared up inside him.

Here lies Ascendio Nome, a noble and kind Scizor
That helped our city grow, but also raised a killer

Shango knelt, touching the ground in front of the gravestone. He'd waited for this moment in years, but the sadness of the past faded all away. He had mourned Ascendio's death a long time ago. Now all that was left were the last words he never got to tell him.

"I'm not who you thought I was," Shango whispered plainly, his hands on the ground. "I apologize in account of those who lied to you... had I not failed to kill Jericho that day, perhaps you would still live... I hoped. Now I hope you are well, wherever you are, if you are..."

He sat on the ground, with his hands still in front of the gravestone. There was nothing left to say, to explain. He felt Tristana close to him, on the verge of crying.

"Tristy," he called out to her quietly, looking to the side. "Go keep an eye on Hector. I need some time alone."

The Victini let out a small cry and a single tear fell on the fur of his right hand, before she flew away. Her warmth all flew away with her, and Shango removed his mask and hood, leaning his head towards the stone. He remained there, he didn't know how much time, as he slipped a state of meditation. During that time, he set his objectives in an order: the darkstar and his meeting with Zaunix, who probably had news of it, and the taking of Jericho's life. Revenge for Ascendio. The Hashashin hadn't appeared yet... that was strange, he thought, as they were favoring the Endarkened Ones, with or without their consent.

Suddenly, his eyes broke open as a remarkably sweet and familiar voice reached his ears from behind.

"I figured I'd find you here, eventually."

It felt as if his heart jumped out of his chest; he slowly turned around, his eyes drunken with dizziness. He was looking at a Ninetails, the gorgeous Ninetails that was none other than Claire. There was no mistaking it - her brimming red eyes, her shiny, clean fur and the graceful shape of her snout and legs, all this as if it hadn't been a day since she died.

"It can't be... you're dead..." Shango muttered with his green eyes enlarged under the sight of her, and the feeling of her shining, welcoming presence. He took two steps towards her, seeing a grand smile on a sad expression mixed with melancholy. Her wonderful smell had sneaked into his nostrils, further confirming her presence amidst the plain. He found himself next to her, raising his hand slowly. He touched her furry cheek, overwhelmed by strange, mixed feelings as she was. His black claw was swallowed by her rich fur as he brought it down to her chest, still looking inside her red eyes.

"No, you are not dead..." he whispered, realizing she was real. "But I saw... I saw what... he did to you..."

Claire nodded slightly, still smiling beautifully; he was dazed by her smile, like every time he saw it in the past. It brought back memories from the past, his younger years. It had been a long time, but the strong feeling was still there, she was the same, right here in front of him.

"Shango, Shango..." she whispered, giving him a slightly disappointed look. "You didn't ever think I was well aware of the tricks Desmondius could do... and the way to counter them."

Shango was shocked to realize he doubted Claire's wits. She was always clever... how could he have not thought of her countering the destiny bond Desmondius used to her? But, there were still some questions that needed to be answered.

"You countered his destiny bond..." Shango spoke slowly his thoughts, trying to clear up his mind. He was still afraid to touch her, as she seemed so fragile and he didn't want to lose her again... he felt he was being paranoid. "How did you disappear, then?"

"I had to... fight his grasp in his level of existence. It took me a while... when I came back, you were long gone..."

"I don't understand..."

"No matter. I am here, you are here..." Claire said, leaning her head forward to his own cheek; he felt her wet nose against it and he hugged her tightly, noticing each of her tails had blue bows tied onto them, like back in Myriapolis. They both shook with sobs of sadness, but soon, the tears became tears of joy. He couldn't think of any other reason that him crying would be appropriate, and the same went for Claire... she seemed too strong spirited to cry, but here she was. He ran his hands through the fur of her back as he loved to, absorbing more of her godlike essence into his spirit. The world with its wars around had faded, and there was only him and Claire - in front of Ascendio's grave.

When Shango let go of her, they threw each other the look they both knew so well from the time they spend together, a single week; it was a lustful look, but the circumstances were stopping both of them. She was smiling greatly instead, examining him from head to boot.

"I looked for you," she whispered after a while of mutual, comfortable silence. "But you were gone."

"What about Hector and the others? You could find them..."

"No. I couldn't..." she looked down in disappointment that made Shango feel bad for all those years lost. "I heard of this notorious Phantom Dancer in the Black Citadel... so I went, looking for you..."

Shango stayed silent; he wiped a tear off his eye and looked back at her with renewed joy. "You never found me, as my enemies never did."

"Exactly..."

"But why me, Claire? Why not start over?"

She looked at him playfully, subtly biting her lips. "When you removed the hood, in that alley, when you were being chased by the Cult... I sensed you are the man I've always wanted."

"Oh?" Shango raised his brow playfully as well, scratching her cheek and smiling with meaning. "I think I've proven that already, too."

Her melodic, feminine giggle sounded, dazing him with the immense feeling of joy; he wondered if this was all a dream. If it truly was, it seemed nice enough to be trapped forever in it.

"Multiple times," Claire said, smiling in the exact same way. "Ah, but there is more to it... I will tell you, but not now. And... you are different, Shango."

"You are just as different..." Shango said in a more serious tone. He sat down in front of her. Grasping her furry foot, he started stroking it. Everything felt nicer: the feel of the grass, the gentle wind, and the sight of the cloudy sky that blocked most of the sun away in the familiar, beautiful weather of his homeland. The sadness of the past seemed all gone, and the tension of his mission had all faded away. He didn't have to impersonate the King of Hesperia anymore. But there were some things left to do.

"Tell me, Shango... it was truly you, who became the King of Hesperia, wasn't it?"

Shango avoided her look and simply nodded, keeping on stroking her foot.

"Why?" she asked. And he explained. He explained everything, from how he helped Hector kill his brother Angelo Imperatore and put Shango in his place, then how he married Rosa and killed Eoleo. From there, she knew of the war... but the reason, she didn't know the reason. So he explained that as well. He told her all about the Endarkened Ones and that Ionia was their base of operations and meetings after all. He told her of how Jericho had now gotten hold of the darkstar and his desire for revenge, as well as his intention to cleanse the brotherhood of the Hashashin with the power of the legendary gem. All of which, she quietly took in and understood.

"I see now... then, you have quite a few things to do."

"Can I get you to stay here?"

"Perhaps... I, too, have somewhere to attend to."

"Where?"

She giggled playfully, throwing him a curious look. "I'll tell you... later. For now..." she touched the white fur of his chest that exceeded his cloak, her expression suddenly getting serious, "go, Shango. Destroy them."

I knew you would understand me. Shango grabbed her foot and gave her a look full of determination, then nodded and walked past her; as he put on his hood, one of Claire's tails brushed in front of his face and he smiled in remembrance of that particular thing she always used to do. This wasn't a dream.


***


Hector and the Praetorian Guard moved through the city. The vanguard slaughtered any citizen they could find, and the ranged fire-type Pokemon in the middle of the wings of the General's formation shot fire at both sides of the road, the houses instantly catching on fire. Flying Pokemon scouts were flying high above the team, observing the city and the enemy movement and informing Hector's henchmen around him. A Swellow broke away from the team of flying Pokemon, diving towards the middle of the formation.

"The Verdict has blocked the bridge!" he shrieked so he could be heard through the noise.

"Keep moving," Hector shouted and the marching army moved further into Ionia; Hector had in mind Charlie, who was going to lead a second team throughout the city with the single purpose of destroying everything he came across. As much as Hector would want to have that role, he was required to move to the Chancellor's palace by the King. And their plan was just that: to siege the palace. They needed to cross the river in order to reach its delta and the palace.

When they reached the bridge, they saw a wall of soldiers, Aggron Needlers, protecting the bridge and the area around the other side of the bridge. Psychic-types were standing on the roofs of the nearby houses, and fire-types could be seen, lifted above the Aggrons with levitational powers. The members of the Verdict didn't look a bit scared, though they knew this was going to be the end. They were going to fight till the last soldier, it seemed. Dominique Kingfisher was there too, amongst them, staring at Hector who was in lead of the Praetorian Guard.

"Fire!" Dominique's shout was heard, and multiple streams of fire were releashed towards the Hesperians.

"Cover!" Hector shouted back and water streams met the fire, causing explosions of steam. But they didn't suffice, and the flames hit the army; screams were heard, before the flames stopped. Their fire-types shot their own streams of fire, but they were blocked by the shields the psychic created, and some of them were even shot back.

"Damn," Hector cussed at himself, "they won't give up!"

"Sir," a Machamp from the Guard said to him, "I strongly suggest building a bulwark in front of the bridge - they can't hold onto it forever."

Hector smirked at the sound of defensive tactics, as they didn't suit him, but he conceded. "Do whatever it takes," he said and the Machamp nodded, giving the orders to his subordinates. The Pokemon of the army were shielded by their psychics, while they carried rubble from the destroyed houses and rocks from the ground, putting them in front of the bridge with surprising speed. It was clear that those Pokemon were trained to do this as well, besides fight; Hector grinned at the skills his trained army showed when pulling off that tactical maneuvre. Now, he felt truly invincible and looked over at his opponents like they were nothing but Wurmples on the ground for him to stomp and then piss on.



***


If it was hard taking his eyes off of her, it was much harder walking away from Claire. He never wanted to leave her, as it could be the last time he was seeing her; but she did say the word: destroy them. There was no room for good byes here. He had come in Ionia with a purpose, and he wasn't going to leave Hector and Zaunix do it alone. He had crossed the river, in search for Tylor's ship; he had found the spot where it had crashed, but it wasn't there. It surely wasn't an illusion, as he had stepped right into the area and nobody had called for him. Now, he was walking on a roof with his eyes fixed on the line the Aggrons had formed in front of the bridge and the surrounding area; the Verdict was behind them, countless Needlers and Keepers waiting to die. He was now in the center of the southeastern side of Ionia, where all the Verdict had seemingly gathered. The streets around the overwhelming castle nearby were swarming with soldiers; no citizens could be seen, as the Verdict had evacuated. Distant screams and rumbling sounds were coming from the direction of the bridge, where the most soldiers had gathered, but he payed them no mind.

Shango tightened his fist, feeling the wind blow through his cape as he stared at the end of the river, where Jericho's palace was built. He adjusted his vambraces to his arms thinking his time was close. Not his, the Phantom Dancer's, and after this was done, he would be one step closer to the completion of the Pledge of Death: the Endarkened Ones would be pushed into a corner without Jericho Santaros, and when the assassin struck each of them, nobody on this world would have knowledge over the darkstar. Except the Hashashin, of course.

He leaped from roof to roof, unseen by the soldiers down the street; headed right to the tall palace, where he was first assigned with this mission, the mission to go to the Scorched Lands and save the R.O.F.L.S. It was a ridiculous name, now that he was thinking about it. Stopping on the edge of a roof, he'd locked his eyes on the black Scyther that had suddenly appeared on the next roof.

"Where's Jericho?" Shango inquired quickly, though he already knew the answer.

"Inside his palace," Zaunix replied calmly. Shango jumped with ease next to him. "There's more, though. He has a meeting with the Endarkened Ones."

"What? Now?"

"Yes, so we ought to hurry," Zaunix spread his wings wide and started flying, Shango following him from the roofs.

"Why now? The citadel is at war, what's the reason of all them coming here? Have they forgotten caution?"

"That I don't know the answer for. Jericho, Ingvar, Angstrom and the Prophet were there..."

"What about their missing member?"

"Still missing."

"That's strange! We've no clue of who that one might be, and if they all die here, we might never know..." Erasing them will be much more difficult if I don't know who they are.

"We will learn, eventually," Zaunix said darkly, but Shango didn't hear him through the screams that were closing in.

They stopped on one of the last houses in front of the streets that led to the bridge that crossed the delta. The Chancellor's palace had high protective walls like the rest of Ionia, which seemed impenetrable. All sorts of flying Pokemon were soaring the skies around the palace, and they all had the insignia of the Verdict tuckered on their feathers. The entrance to the garden of the palace was also heavily guarded, as well as the bridge that took you to it.

"So that's where the Air Guard was," Shango muttered, evaluating the defenses. The black Scyther stepped forward, looking to the palace.

"Do you know of a way in?"

"Perhaps."


***


The bulwark was built and the vanguard had hid behind it; the Verdict had started throwing chunks of flaming rocks, but they were repelled by the ranged attackers. The two opposing sides exchanged fire for about thirty minutes, before the appearance of Crystal in front of Hector, in the middle of the Praetorians; Hector ordered them to let her be.

"Crystey!" he shouted, grabbing her shoulder and her waist and bringing her close, "what're you doing here? Is Shango alright?"

"Last I saw him, he was," she replied, smiling. "He's gone somewhere to the inner city."

Hector's lips became a firm line of fury; he truly looked wild now. "We need to get past these Wurmples here to reach him."

"I see those psychics are holding your army up."

"Silence them, Crystey."

"Right away, sir," she said sarcastically and headed to the top of the bulwark; she was apparently invisible for the eyes of their enemies. Peering to the bridge, he saw her walking to the other side of the bridge, where the Aggrons were standing; it was a strange sight, seeing them not react to the Zoroark that was approaching them. Hector came to admire Crystal for her abilities. He saw her jump on a column, and then on a house where a Grumpig was standing with his arms raised; the Pokemon didn't see her before she sunk her claws on his fat throat and grabbed him to prevent him from falling. The nearby Pokemon saw nothing, except a convincing replica of the Grumpig, standing with his arms raised. The same happened to all the psychic Pokemon on that roof. They were all dead, and nobody knew a thing. That's why Chantalai Ancelotti was such a skilled assassin, Hector thought, because she was a Zoroark.

The psyshic-types on the roofs had fallen one by one by Crystal, and Hector deemed this the right time to attack. The Ionians didn't even know their shield was missing, as they were fooled by the convincing illusions of the psychic types.

"Full frontal attack!" Hector barked, and his soldiers looked at him questioningly.

"But sir..." the Machamp tried to talk him out of it.

"Do as I say!"

The soldiers exited the bulwark quickly, bypassing it and charging in the bridge. Hector could see Dominique's grin atop a roof, which faded once they were through the shield's radius of effect. Streams of water were shot at the Aggrons and Drapions and Machamps fell onto the Ionian defenses like rocks, piercing through them. Heh, so much for your tactics, coward, Hector thought mockingly as he faced Dominique in the middle of the bridge.

Look out, Tristana's voice sounded in his mind, don't take him lightly!

Zangoose and Sceptile clashed in a dance of deadly claws, each dodging the other's strikes with extreme speed. Dominique seemed to be ready for Hector's flurry of attacks and he managed to hurt him in his chest and fall onto him, but he was hit by Tristana's flames and was forced to back off. Hector leaped onto him, letting out a mighty roar as he sunk his claws on the Sceptile's shoulder. Dominique threw him away with his strong leaf blades and Hector tumbled to the ground; the fight around them had become a blur, and only him and Dominique were there. He faced his opponent, showing his fangs and growling like a wild Pokemon.

"You aren't prepared for this," Hector snarled and black covered his eyes, his claws becoming sources of thundering black energy; his grin was unnatural and made him look monstrous.

"Voidborn scum!" Dominique gasped and charged in to attack Hector with a leaf blade, using his good left arm because his right one bled uncontrollably. Hector let out a different roar that chilled Dominique's blood, as he could tell it wasn't from this world. The Zangoose leaped onto him, locking his jaws on the arm the Sceptile had extended and slashing his face at the same time. Dominique tried to back off, but he only managed to hurt his arm further; once Hector let go of him, his bloodied grin was terrifying, even for a mighty warrior like Dominique; he was blinded by pain momentarily and Hector stabbed his belly, and his throat before throwing him backwards and falling onto him.

"Any last words, pray?" Hector sneered and licked his bottom lip, his whole mouth stained with blood, his black eyes as deep and dark as the darkstar. Dominique had his eyes half shut, trying not to look at the monster on top of him and resist the immense pain from the wounds he had taken. His look was drawn by a ball of fire that was steadily flying above Hector; then, the flames suddenly faded and a cage made of psychic energy engulfed the Pokemon that appeared inside it.

He recognized ir as Victini, and then he suddenly knew why Jericho was not concerned about the outcome of this war.

A Bronzong appeared behind the screaming spirit, the Bronzong that was known as Tahan.

"Your luck has just ended," Dominique said with a weak grin. Just then, another, massive Pokemon bashed Hector away from the Sceptile with great force: it was a Meganium of the Verdict.

Tahan turned around levitated away quickly, the prison cage with Tristana following him.

"No! Hector!" she shouted desperately, rattling her prison, unable to do anything. She saw the bloodied Zangoose trying to get on his feet and fight the Meganium, who was towering above him. But just behind him, there was another massive Pokemon: an Excadrill, who brought his pincher down on the Zangoose, cutting him open from shoulder to belly; the Hesperian General fell on his knees. He spat blood, grasping the ground. The spark of life leaving his dark eyes, which became the deep green they never were during his life. Tristana's scream wasn't heard in the battle that raged.
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Old January 4th, 2014 (01:55 AM).
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Chapter 17: Darkstar

Shango kicked the tile of the ceiling open as quietly as he could. As it turned out, he ended up in the throne's room, where Jericho was sitting, waiting for something apparently. And there it was, the darkstar floating in front of him; Shango's pupils widened in the sight of it. He noticed that the crystal chandelier of the room was right below him - and he could grab the golden chain that it was hanging from the ceiling. He climbed down the chandelier, balancing himself carefully as to not make it move, or worse, break. He found a solid step on the skeleton of the chandelier, and he sat there with his eyes fixed on the Armaldo below, who was oblivious of his presence.

Jericho was leaning backwards, looking up. The wait was almost unbearable for both of them, assassin in the victim, a drama developed in the same room, but only with one side aware of it. The Chancellor hadn't suspected Shango's presence, as he most likely thought his palace was as impenetrable as it looked. Yet here the assassin was, observing him and the darkstar closely. Shango was trying to determine the kind of bond them two had, Pokemon and gem. After a good five minutes of silence, multiple footsteps were heard from outside and the doors opened wide for three Pokemon to enter, three Pokemon whose faces Shango knew so well... and they did not know his face. At least without his hood.

The mighty General of the Illinkar, Ingvar, walked in with the pride the Beartics always showed, followed by the pirate leader Heil of the Axe, the scarred Haxorus that looked as much a tyrant as Ingvar. And of course, behind them, the mysterious and elusive silhouette of the cloaked Prophet appeared. The mysterious Pokemon was walking through the room with the grace of a feline creature... he paused for just a moment, raising his hooded head up to the chandelier. Shango met the darkness of the Prophet's hood eye to eye - the Prophet of the Dark Cult knew he was there. Typical Ali, Shango thought with a blank expression. Yet the Prophet did not inform the others of the assassin sitting on the chandelier, once again proving a friend of Shango's. Though, Shango himself felt fearful - his goals aligned with the Prophet's, but what was he going to do, should they ever crossed? If he ever got that chance, that was. His greatest opponents, the Endarkened Ones, were now in the room, taking their seats on the long golden table with twenty chairs.


The darkstar had gone with the appearance of other Pokemon in the room. They were all silent, no formal greetings or courtesies; the Endarkened Ones didn't seem to be into the moronic religious customs Kings and Empires followed. Every one of them was sitting on that table to look after himself, not to grace the others with his presence. The Endarkened Ones were working as a team, but each member was selfish and had right to be. But Shango had a feeling Jericho wouldn't remain passive with a darkstar in hand - nobody could. Angstrom sat next to Jericho's platinum throne, along with Ingvar.

But the Prophet sat quietly alone on the exact other end of the table, multiple seats away from the others, as if he wanted to sit as far away as he could from Jericho.


"Ali, join us," Jericho spoke, his voice echoing in the walls and between the columns of the room. Shango could tell that he was disturbed by the Prophet's choice of seat.

"I will have to refuse," the Prophet spoke in a sweet tone that gave away his smile; Shango would bet all the gold in the world that this smile was charming in its own way, despite the dark persona of the one wielding it.

"But, why sit so far away from us?"

"I sense the breeze is quite... strong, over there," the Prophet said in a slightly facetious tone. It was strange, but not unexplainable: Shango assumed the Prophet had felt the darkstar, just as he was feeling it from where he was. The rest of the Endarkened Ones, Angstrom and Ingvar, appeared to be oblivious to its spiritual power, so oblivious that they ignored its presence entirely.

"Well," Jericho said, deciding to ignoring the Prophet's attitude, "I welcome you to my palace, once again, gentlemen."

They all nodded quietly, almost religiously. "As you can see, we have grown quite a small group... haven't we?" They all let out a formal, biased laugh, as if that was what was considered appropriate, but Shango could tell the Prophet's laugh was real. Of course. The Prophet wanted them to be a small group. In fact, he probably wanted them to be as small as they could be... until only he was left. Strange assumptions.

"And as you can see..." Jericho continued in a dark tone, looking to the spot next to Angstrom, "we are still missing a member. It's quite a pity... I deemed this member as an ally to Ionia, yet this has been disproved so many times..."

[FONT=Calibri]A tense silence ensued in the room, a silence that was broken by the sudden sound of the doors opening. Shango had trouble turning around on top of the chandelier, but he could hear the dreadfully familiar footsteps of a certain Pokemon; when he turned, he saw the Pokemon he was afraid to see: a tall figure in black cloak, similar to the Prophet's cloak, but with no runes on it. Instead, a white belt held it together, but it was the shape of the insignia that belt bore that caught his eye: a platinum H, similar to a bat.

The insignia of the Hashashin shone as the tall, cloaked Pokemon walked towards the table with slow, heavy steps. Look at that, he thought, watching as his former Master took his seat with the other Endarkened Ones, who were silent, watching him intently. That explains everything. The head of the Brotherhood... a traitor.

The Master of the Hashashin had taken his seat next to the platinum throne, against Ingvar, who had raised his furry eyebrows in surprise to see him. Shango had done just about the same. As he looked at the silent, hooded figure, he felt utter disgust overcoming his being, and he fought to resist the urge to leap at him and kill him on the spot, kill all of them. But that was impossible, right now. With a darkstar on the opposition, he had no choice but to stay hidden for the moment.

"Ah, Ignacio Phylax," Jericho finally exclaimed, his voice a bit changed under the presence of the Master. Perhaps Ignacio held influence equal to that of the Prophet's over the Endarkened Ones. "Here you are, at last."

"I decided to pay a visit to Ionia." before it is destroyed, Shango continued his sentence with his mind; he could sense the Master's mocking spirit. He had done nothing to help Ionia's fall. Perhaps the Hashashin had changed sides, for reasons unknown to him.

"Where are the Hashashin, Ignacio?" Jericho inquired in a slight stern tone that made the Master chuckle; the Prophet laughed as well, but none heard him as he was much too far away.

"Allow me to formally greet my brother, before we move into politics," the Master said and extened his arm over the table, towards Angstrom, black claws visible at the end of the cloak. Shango gripped the chandelier's chain so tightly that it made a slight screeching sound that nobody noticed. The Heil of the Axe extended his own arm, his claws braiding with Ignacio's in a handshake. It was to be expected: two Haxoruses in the room, they had to be relatives. If these two weren't brothers, they would be related in some other way - all the dragons were related to each other, one way or another...

"Brother," Angstrom Phylax said with a sly grin. They broke the handshake and fell silent, as if sharing a secret they couldn't share in front of the others. Jericho rudely cleared his throat, the sound echoing terribly.

"Can we start now?"

"By all means," the Master said, looking down at his empty wine.

"Ignacio. Where were you all this time?"

"Let us agree that I had my own business to attend to."

"Agree? I think not. I smell cospiracy. I'll have to remind you of the oath you took once you entered our order."

"Funny," the Prophet shouted in a calm, hypnotizing tone that had nothing to do with his words, "it's funny, you saying that. Heh-heh. Yet you seem to have forgotten that we, as an order, are obliged to share all of our secrets with each other..."

"Whatever do you mean?"

"Mmm... nothing, openly. You understand."

The Armaldo stared down at the Prophet with a thunderous look. Then, he turned to look at Master Ignacio once again, who had made himself too comfortable in the chair.

"I asked a question before, Ignacio. Where are your men? The Hesperians are right outside my doorstep and you have done nothing about it!" Then he turned to the Prophet again. "And you, where are the troops the Dark Cult would send to my aid?"

The Prophet looked up to the ceiling, directly at Shango. "I'm afraid they... got lost in the way," the Prophet muttered, only for Shango to hear; a smile of mild entertainment was formed in Shango's lips, behind his mask, despite the tension of the situation.

"Hah? What did you say?" Jericho leaned in, turning his head so he could hear better.

"Well, you see, the College of Cardinals decided against sending any troops to aid Ionia," the Prophet said in a dark tone; Shango could normally tell when people were lying, usually by the tone and height of their voice, but now he was unable to determine the nature of the Prophet's words. Jericho seemed upset; he was surely getting angry at the behaviour of the Endarkened Ones.

"I thought you had full control over those Cardinals! For Arceus's sake, Ali, you created the Dark Cult, you can't possibly let others decide for its affairs."

"It turns out I can," the Prophet said coldly, his tone menacing enough to chill Shango's heart. He said it in a repelling way, as if the no reinforcements for you should have been clear to Jericho right from the start. The old Armaldo suddenly stood up, breathing heavily.

"How do you think I will win this war, then?" Jericho asked; Shango could tell it was more of a rhethorical question, rather than him asking for their advice - that would seem pathetic.

"When you have been proven such a weak adversary to Angelo Imperatore," Angstrom spoke, "you have lost every right to be in our order. That's what this meeting is about, I reckon-"

"Kicking you out," Ingvar continued. "Saving Ionia's a doomed cause."

"And without Ionia..." Master Ignacio whispered, "I would not think you are of any further use to us."

Jericho stared at him intently, his eyes brimming dangerously. "So be it," he whispered. The doors opened once again and two Pokemon walked in this time; Baron Marcus, the Excadrill whom Shango had rescued from the Scorching Lands, and Tahan, the skilled Bronzong Keeper that had accompanied them. Shango didn't have much time to evaluate the two individuals he knew from a truly long time ago, because his eyes were fixed on the cage where the Victini was held, above the Bronzong; he fixed his eyes on Tristana, his heart pounding wildly and with fury, but with fear at the same time: if Tristana was captured, then what had become of Hector?

The two newcomers walked quietly all over the room and stood humbly in front of Jericho; the rest of the Endarkened Ones seemed to ignore their presence. Only the Prophet was staring at them intently, until he subtly got up on his feet to observe the scene. The cage with Tristana was handed to Jericho, who had a wicked smile on his face.

"You thought, gentlemen..." he started, waving for Marcus and Tahan to leave, "that you could come here and claim that I am not part of the Endarkened Ones anymore... and leave Ionia unscathed?"

Anstrom, Ingvar and Ignacio shot themselves from their chairs, knocking them back and stepping away from Jericho; suddenly, a black light blinded Shango for a moment, then when he looked back at the Armaldo, he was holding the darkstar in his left scythe. The crystal showered everything around it in sparks of black energy, and it made Jericho's eyes glow with vibrant black fire. With the darkstar in left scythe and Tristana's cage on the other, he stared at the Endarkened Ones, who were stepping back, towards the Prophet, who was standing in the end of the room as immovable and calm as ever. Jericho crossed the room towards them, the darkstar glowing and expulsing power at a quicker pace.

"You fool." The Prophet said calmly, though having lost his bemused-like tone. "And did you think," the Prophet started, once the remaining Endarkened Ones were by his side, "that we weren't aware of the little treasure you found and stole from Eoleo?" his words were pronounced cold and audible through the sound of the sparks, "and that we would come here, in the eye of the storm of this war... without an escape route?"

Jericho started laughing, a high pitched and terrible laugh that echoed not only in the room, but inside the black gem as well - it was a strange sound, like a bell. Shango glanced at Tristana in the psychic cage; she had become a flare, but she didn't appear to be conscious... Why imprison her? he thought. What's Jericho's business with Tristana?

"I can vanquish all of you with a single thought of mine! Zap, all of you are dead! Such is the power of the crystal we have been seeking," he shouted, turning his head to look at the dark crystal on his scythe with a loving, admiring expression. The Prophet fearlessly stepped towards him; Jericho's black eyes were widened in surprise to see the Prophet patting the Armaldo's shoulders, like a mother would. The Prophet's movements were tender and free of fear, as if he was oblivious to the power of the crystal.

"Believe me, Jericho," he whispered, yet his whisper was audible all around the room as if he shouted, "I have foreseen the future. That's why I am the Prophet, after all. And I see you will be utterly destroyed by the Phantom Dancer. The power you hold in each of your scythes... it doesn't suit the likes of you."

Jericho stared at him angrily, raising Tristana's cage up, making her flip abruptly in the air. "Do you know what power this is?! With these two, I am invincible!"

The Prophet stepped back subtly and silently. "I will not try to stop you, if that is what you truly believe. Words are meaningless when you are blinded by power. I will say this, however: you do not know what kind of forces you are meddling with here."

"I can see you all destroyed right here and now," Jericho threatened again, the dark gem throwing black lightnings that torn the ground and burned the blue carpet. "For your insults to me... and for your insolence!"

The Prophet suddenly raised his arm and a blinding, white light engulfed the room; the force of it blinded Shango and made him lose his balance and loosen his grip over the chain of the chandelier. He fell backwards, right onto the floor and rolled to the side, clutching his head from the intense pain the force that ran through his eyes caused. Jericho's screams were piercing his ears mercilessly. Then, his full consciousness returned, as suddenly as the light had appeared. He shot himself up from the blue carpet, seeing that the Endarkened Ones were nowhere to be found and Jericho was standing where they were a moment ago, with the darkstar throwing lightnings around, as if following its wielder's temper. Jericho noticed his presence and turned around slowly.

"Give her back," Shango said, his teeth gritted as he pointed at the cage. Tristana was laying still in it, still unconscious.

"Shango! You, here... ah..."

Shango remained silent as he stared at him, the crystal chandelier throwing its light on his steel mask from above.

"It was you, that Angelo Imperatore... it was you, all along," the Armaldo spoke and walked to the table, the dark gem calming down suddenly; Jericho's eyes were still glowing with a black fire. He was now a monster of evil, Shango could sense it, but he hadn't come here to back down now. "You know, when I learnt what made you so strong... the secret of your power, the element that gave you such luck, such confidence and such talent... what made you win in every challenge that you came across, the thing that made you truly invincible... I had to claim it for myself."

Jericho shook the scythe with the Victini in it.

"You don't know what she is?" Jericho whispered, after a long moment of silence. "She's the spirit of victory! That's what she is! Hah, you did not know! Fool! That's why you've been so disgustingly successful in everything you did, because she followed everywhere you went!"

Shango couldn't believe in his ears - was this talk of a symbolism of his friendship with Tristana? Or was it just true? It couldn't be. He had experienced failures in his life as well.

"Speak some sense," Shango said angrily, "has the crystal knocked some of your brains out? Damn! Maybe it's made you senile. That must be it. Have you forgotten? Back in Myriapolis, I never managed to kill you, when I deemed you my next target," Shango pointed out, his mask slightly muffling his voice. He was thinking of the fiasco back in Myriapolis; Nightingale had even sentenced him to death for failing to kill the Chancellor in his palace.

"Ah, but then this Victini wasn't with you."

"She had faded..." Shango suddenly remembered. "That proves nothing," he claimed, still.

Shango brought the memory of Tristana's flare tranquilizing every guard of Jericho's in the room of the hall, until her powers had ran out and she faded. He then recalled every moment of failure he had experienced in his life after finding Tristana... and was shocked to realize that in none of them, Tristana was present... and the moments in which he had failed and she had been tagging along, those moments had in the end helped him become who he was: the Phantom Dancer. So, this legendary being, Tristana... she held the power of victory inside her. Did that mean he wasn't truly skilfull? One thing it meant for sure: Jericho would win in every challenge he'd come across, whilst holding the spirit. And with the darkstar in the other hand... Jericho was right - he was invincible, now. Nothing could go wrong for him, absolutely nothing. Yet, the words of the Prophet remained. He'd said Jericho would be destroyed by the Phantom Dancer, him. He couldn't fail now. He locked eyes with Jericho, who was grinning victoriously, then looked at the darkstar between his scythe; for a single moment, he thought he had seen a face, or rather, a head, with a hood... a white hood like the Hashashin. He recognized the single green eye - it was the Spirit of the Hashashin. But how? How much he wanted to examine the wonderful gem with its captivating glow and pulsing power and presence... Perhaps he could steal it. He remembered the trick he was using to make the darkstar fly out of Eoleo's hands, years ago when the King had assigned him with the mission of finding out how it worked.

"Curious of how it works?" Jericho asked and raised his scythe in the air. "I'll show you. Too bad it'll be your last show - you'll be dead afterwards!"

Jericho closed his eyes, but the black fire engulfed them still, now flowing to the darkstar, which glowed black, starting to pulse with extreme power and throw lightnings with immense power all around it, sending the whole table flying aside and breaking a column in half; the whole room started shaking under Jericho's high pitched, cruel laugh. Shango raised his hand and thought of holding the darkstar intensely, but nothing happened. A moment later, the black gem threw a black lightning to him with extreme speed, one he couldn't avoid - it hit him right in his chest, right through his cloak, forcing him to kneel. The lightning held him in place for about three seconds, then it faded, leaving the room in silence.

Although he had kneeled under the intense power that had ran through him, Shango had felt nothing else, surprisingly. No pain. No shock. Only black sparks flew from his chest, without hurting him. Slowly getting up and cracking his knuckles, he looked at Jericho, who was staring at him appaled.


"You... you should be dead..."

"You heard the Prophet. The darkstar is not suited for the likes of you."

"Nonsense! If that was not enough, some more power will totally devastate you..."

The darkstar started brimming with black energy, a rumbling sound started expulsing from its inner depths. Objects around Jericho started levitating, and then they were burned to ash, the whole room started shaking once again as if sonic waves hit it; Shango could feel the whole palace shake, and he was worried that it would crumble to the ground if the shaking continued. It was a miracle how the ceiling was still in its place.

Suddenly, a black figure appeared next to Jericho, one Shango knew so well: it was Zaunix, the black Scyther, who looked overcome and in awe right then as he stared deeply into the dark gem. Jericho screamed and backed off at his presence.

"So... beautiful..." Zaunix' buzz was heard, just a moment before the darkstar fired a massive black lightning at him. Shango's feet were rooted to the ground from the surprise and disgust, as he saw his friend... changing, after being hit. His buzz was constant and almost monotonous, but soon... he was mutated so much, he wasn't a Scyther. Under a pulse of black light, he now grew bigger - he wasn't a Scyther anymore, but an enormous Scizor with four spiky pinchers and massive wings, spikes everywhere... Shango covered his eyes to protect them from the powerful pulses of the darkstar. The buzz stopped along with the pulses. The deep black eyes Zaunix once had became a colour out of the light's plane, an otherwordly colour he couldn't explain, but he could tell his logics were shaken. There was no ounce of sense in those eyes.

"He's mine," Jericho announced, realizing his words were true. Zaunix turned his monstrous head to Jericho and his darkstar, as if listening carefully to the constant rumble of the darkstar. "Kill him," he ordered the monster, and the black Scizor was instantly shot at Shango with unnatural speed. The lethal, spiked pincher was closed at the air, where Shango's waist was a split second ago; he slashed Zaunix' side without hesitation, deeming as the only weak spot the monster had. The massive pincher was swirled around towards him and he managed to dodge it, but Zaunix let out an ear piercing roar, a buzz of a unnatural and otherwordly power that forced Shango and Jericho to cover their ears; Shango was hit by the incoming pincher. He was thrown backwards, rolling on the carpet.

His head was spinning, but he spent a second thinking of a way to counter Zaunix. He couldn't tell how the darkstar could've done something like that to his friend - maybe his transformation occured through the connection such a voidborn had with the darkstar, but none could be sure... now, he would have to fight back. He got up, seeing Zaunix charging at him relentlessly with his wings spread wide and his feet floating right above the floor. The moment was now, the opportunity was there for him to grab.

He tumbled to the ground, slashing the Scizor's hurt side, then as if he had foreseen the incoming pincher, after the unnatural buzz, he dodged it and stabbed the Pokemon's belly multiple times; streams of black blood stained the carpet and the buzz kept coming out of the being's mouth, in a hurt tone this time. The two of them locked eyes for a second, but Shango slipped past him like a shadow and Zaunix tried to follow him, but Shango had already gotten on his back, slicing his wings.

"No! No! Get him!" Jericho was shouting, clutching the darkstar tighter, as if it was going to help in any way. The dark gem had stopped glowing, as it had seemingly spent the power on the transformation.

Zaunix shook his whole body, buzzing terribly as he tried to get rid of Shango, whose nether blades sliced through his steel wings. Shango threw them aside and made his way to the monster's head, slicing his neck; Zaunix roared once again and shot him at a column with his pincher. Shango fell down on the floor and instantly clutched his knee to get up. He looked at Zaunix, who was stained with black blood, all over his body - not much of a difference showed, but the sight was disgusting - a Scizor without wings and his belly stabbed horribly. Yet, he was still standing, under the command of the darkstar. Zaunix leaped onto him one last time, throwing him back and bringing his horrible face close to Shango's mask, saliva dropping down his fangs, out of his mouth. Amongst the face of the monster, Shango recognized the form of a Scizor, an otherwise friendly one. He remembered Ascendio, his step father - Zaunix and him were both Scizors... what a coincidence.

Throughout the buzz of the monster, Shango's whisper sounded. "I'm sorry, friend." He raised both of his arms, his nether blades shredding their way through the Scizor's head and shifting into more lethal blades that torn Zaunix' head apart from the inside. Shango rolled away before the massive weight fell onto him, but he remained laying down and looking at the ceiling. His breath was out, his whole body was aching, and he was sure to have wounds he wasn't even aware of right now. The pain he had surpressed this whole time was coming right back at him, to strike mercilessly like a thunder, leaving him unable to move. He shook with pain, his blood staining his own cloak. His ears picked up the sound of footsteps, or so he thought... Jericho was towering above him with a malicious smile on his face.

"Was that your friend? Oh, I'm sorry," he said sarcastically, "it seems the power of the darkstar drew him here."

Shango breathed quickly to relieve himself from the pain, but he coughed up blood instead, staining his mask as well. He gasped and struggled to get up, but Jericho stepped on his wounded chest; the immense weight of the Armaldo made him lose his breath and voice.

Tristana had woken up, slipping from her flare form to her normal one. Her big blue eyes were teary, watered and reflecting the sight of her fallen friend. "No," she whispered, her mouth trembling, "S-Shango," she uttered, grasping the bars of her psychic prison.

"Hmm," the Armaldo mused, "let's see the face of the Phantom Dancer who was so utterly defeated by... me."

With Tristana's cage to the side, his scythe was brought to Shango's chin, pinching the tip of his mask. But as much as Jericho tried to remove it, the mask seemed to be stuck on his face. Getting it off proved impossible; Jericho soon gave up his tries with a grunt of frustration.

"It doesn't matter!" he shouted and looked at the darkstar. The sound had faded, no sparks were thrown out of it and it didn't pulse with power. It was absolutely silent and dark. It looked like a simple gem like those women put on to be pretty, but it also was as black as it could be. "Hmm... This gem won't work any other way... it seems stabbing you with it will do. I can't think of a better way to kill you."

Ah... Shango's green eyes widened as he breathed heavily, overcome with pain. He was staring inside the darkstar. There were two hoods there now, facing each other. Two grey hoods, who now turned to face him. One had a single, green eye, and the other had two red ones. The red ones were familiar, somehow... Crystal? He slowly turned his head to look at Tristana and give her a smile that was twisted with pain. She shook her head, no, multiple times, crying. He couldn't hear her.

Right then, Jericho forcefully brought down the scythe he was holding the darkstar with. The pointy edge of the crystal pierced through Shango's chest, where his heart was. The gem pulsed, suddenly awake in his crimson red blood and Shango let out a gasp as he felt life slip away from him. That was what dying felt like, then. Black was all he could see now.
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