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Old August 10th, 2013 (6:44 AM).
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Knightfall Knightfall is offline
Unforeseen Consequences
    Join Date: Apr 2013
    Location: Sawgrass Town
    Gender: Male
    Nature: Modest
    Posts: 31
    Chapter Thirteen: Interception

    “We wished to create a weapon to end the conflict before it started, a weapon more powerful than anything we could have dreamed of ... And by Arceus’s jewel, did we succeed. The results were more horrifying than I could ever imagine. Despite their best efforts, the containment teams have failed to quarantine the incident ,and the death toll is still rising... I am stepping down from my position. I cannot live with this guilt."

    --- Martor Serperior: Project Supervisor for[REDACTED], two hours before taking his own life

    She was a monster. The epitome of evil and at the very heart of corruption, greed, and malice. Some called her criminally insane, others spread rumors of her insatiable lust for killing, and even more plead to their Legendary of choice to remove her from the realm of the living with divine fire and lightning.

    She heard every one of their calls. What other choice did she have but to remove them? They called her an anathema of the world, so she lived up to their rumors by psychically imploding their children.

    Was it too much? She knew the answer, but the lust drove her to do it again and again. She delighted when the peasants screamed curses at her name, when they had called her a scourge upon the earth. The held the province under her sway for months, yet there was nothing the Kingdom or their Federation could do to remove her.

    Where had it all gone wrong? In her spare time, she had pondered this question. She knew that she was a moral abomination, but she was never one to ‘color inside the lines’ with morals, anyways. Sure, they were good in idea, but she found that doing the complete opposite was far more rewarding. And she craved the reward, even if it was soaked through with crimson blood.

    She suspected it was when she had evolved, though even her advanced mind could not figure out the exact root of the problem. The Legends saw fit to make her misaligned, so what could she to do except fulfill her purpose in this world? And if that purpose dictated that she systematically slaughter every creature on four legs in her territory, then so be it.

    She was the most advanced being in the entire world, and she knew it. They had called her a monster. And she loved the title.

    It had been a fluke that the incident happened. Her brilliant plan to obtain unlimited power backfired to give her the bane of her existence. She was able to control him like a puppet and she took full advantage of him. She abandoned her usual killing fields and, like any patriot, her immense hatred of the enemy drove her to devote herself to the Colonies and their directives.
    It didn’t take long for everything to fall apart on that fated mission. The amount of things that went wrong was much too high to be a mere coincidence. She was nothing now--a shred of consciousness held together by raw hatred that drifted on the very fringes of the corporeal world. She knew exactly who had done this to her, and she spent every available joule of energy she came by thinking of exactly how she would dismember him piece by wonderfully bloody piece.

    “I know who you are, Charmeleon. You and I are quite the same, deep down. We don’t trust anyone, do we? We don’t belong here. I saw what it was you kept secret. Right before everything went wrong, I got a glimpse of it. I will find you one day, human. And make no mistake, the pressure will crush you this time.”

    “It’s for the best, honestly,” she sneered as she swatted aside Wire’s battered conscience with a mere flick of her will. He groaned as he tried to get up again, but it was no use. His psyche sunk to the floor of his mind in defeat.

    “Traitors have a special place down there. Have fun in hell,” she screeched as the entire room went dark and fire shot up from the floor, illuminating Nexus’s twisted form in a demonic haze.

    Wire’s entire body jolted awake as he opened his eyes. Artificially produced gasps wracked his system, trying to regain order in his mind. It was a nightmare. Nothing more, he tried to reassure himself, but even now, his body couldn’t cope with the fact that he was free.

    His ocular lenses dilated and focused themselves as they adjusted to the dim morning light. Shifting his great pylons of legs slightly, he pushed himself up into the air where he quickly took stock of his surroundings: the granite stone walls, the smells of damp straw and sweat, the small acropolis of predominantly wood buildings that rose above the rest of the camp like an island in the sea, the sounds of the two hundred and six inmates that resided uncomfortably within the thick stone enclosure. He initiated the audio recording equivalent of a deep breath --completely arbitrary as his body did not require air in the slightest, but the noise was comforting in an odd way.

    He was still at the prison. Still honoring the agreement that she signed while in control. Still under the rule of the Colonial government. Free from her, but at times he wondered if it was entirely worth it.

    Stop that! Of course it was worth it! You are free of her! his rational thoughts yelled at him from across the remaining void that had isolated him for years on end.

    Her piercing metallic laugh lingered in his ears even though it had been several days since his blessed forced severance. Wire shook his head in an attempt to get the thought out of his head, though nothing seemed to work. Not matter what he did, they always came back, the crimes he committed under her control.

    Wire rotated his body and moved his legs to warm up the stiff joints. He had only returned to the Colonies three days prior, and his superiors were not pleased with his report of the loss of Nexus and the failure to kill his target. Outwardly, he expressed his own disapproval of the situation and continued to promise his services to the Colonist’s cause, but on the inside, the only thing that kept him from leaving was the threat of being reunited with Nexus. The Mismagius drove a hard bargain, but he knew it was well worth it.

    “Hey! You! Metagross!” Wire’s attention was turned from his thoughts as he heard a voice call to him. He halted his patrol of the wall and looked over the inner side to the ground below. A small purple creature hailed from the bottom of the wall. Probably yet another prisoner looking to try and bribe me to set them free, Wire thought to himself as he began to continue his walk away from the prisoner.

    “W-Wait! I saw you! You fought Salient, didn’t you? You brought them back to the Square! Didn’t you?” the desperate Pokémon shouted from the ground below. Wire froze mid-step as the smaller Pokémon doubled over in a coughing fit.

    His body moved instinctively, tightening like coiled springs, releasing, and flinging his heavy body off the wall. His four steel legs slammed into the dirt inches away from the inmate, sending earth and other particulates spraying into the air. Wire lowered his head so he could see the inquiring Pokémon up close.

    “What do you know of them? Tell me,” he commanded, barely avoiding having his voice channel glitch and cause a stammer. The wheezing inmate in question looked in no state to be answering any questions: his frame seemed to be much thinner than a normal Sableye’s --according to Wire’s database. He was matted with dried blood, and the creature had a single dirty rag wrapped around his head covering his left eye.

    “A-allow me to introduce myself, please. My name is Aleck, I was a merchant in Loyalty Square before being rudely carted off to this interment sconce. I knew the members of Salient, and I heard what you did to them. News travels fast, especially in this prison,” Aleck said as a smaller coughing spell overtook him. Wire was intrigued, to say the least and decided to indulge the Sableye with an answer.

    “I was under the influence of … a nightmare. I was forced to hurt them among other things, but I tried to save them afterwards. You said you knew them; what happened to them?” the Metagross implored from the sickly Sableye. He quickly glanced around, Too many other Pokémon around to remain unnoticed, he judged. “Why don’t we take this somewhere more secluded? I need to know what happened,” he told Aleck.

    Before waiting for an agreement from the former merchant, he summoned forth the psychic energy that composed his being. His red eyes glowed bright yellow and in a flash of brilliant white, both he and the startled Sableye were in the middle of a stone room deep within the bowels of the center of the camp. Wire focused another psychic pulse and aimed it at the Luminous Orb that hung in an iron fixture from the ceiling. The glassy sphere immediately burst into light and illuminated the place.

    Wire cringed a bit at the room once it was revealed: several demented-looking, iron instruments were arranged carefully on shelves, a metal chair complete with numerous rusted, metal chains and clamps sprouted from it like a flower bloom from Erebus, and the formerly grey stone of the floor was stained a dull red from a substance Wire could only assume was blood. He looked at the Sableye. Both of his small claws were held close to his face and his small body trembled in terror. Wire immediately cursed his choice of secluded places in the camp.

    “Please, relax. I am not here to harm you. I just want information. Please, tell me what happened to the Charmeleon, the Jolteon, and the Riolu,” Wire ordered while trying to appear as non-threatening as he could, though, as he was a steel tank in a room full of torture devices, that attempt failed miserably. Aleck shot backwards and tried to pry open the thick metal door that sealed the room shut.

    “The door is locked on both sides. Also, this room is completely sealed, so the oxygen levels will swiftly deplete unless you cooperate with me, please.” Wire informed him as he slowly tapped the stone floor with one of his massive metal legs. Gasping from his attempt to claw the door open, Aleck slowly turned around to face the giant blue automaton. Wire noticed that the eye that was showing glinted with something that he registered as anger. The Sableye walked up to the Metagross and tapped a single claw on his face plate.

    “Listen here, I don’t know who you think you are, but I’ve been beaten and taken against my will too many times. I’m drawing the line here! I was hoping to simply talk to you, but now I’m not feeling so inclined to do so,” Aleck retorted. Wire merely brushed his claw off his face, nearly gouging out Aleck’s remaining eye with his spiked foot.

    “Please, I just want to know what happened to them. Are they alright? Did the Charmeleon survive?” Aleck simply scowled.

    “Well, I guess I don’t have a say in the matter, do I? Let me start. Leo, the Charmeleon, and his two friends were suddenly teleported into the middle of the town square a few days ago. By you, I suppose? Anyways, they were taken into custody by … our officer. They were cleared to leave the next day, apparently completely healed,” Aleck answered at last, his breath becoming slightly more drawn out than usual.

    Wire tried to process all of what the Sableye was saying. If this statement is true, then it means that … my liberator held up his side of deal. Th-- Thank, Arceus that they are alive.

    The crushing weight of guilt that had consumed him over the past few days was lifted slightly. He swiftly teleported himself and Aleck back to the courtyard. He had to prepare. He would find them, and he would help them out in any way he could.

    “You know, if I had just used a Water Pulse before you kicked my legs out, I would have had you!” Noah yelled boisterously at Jay as they dined on the rough tables outside the mess tent at dinner the next day. The Riolu looked up from his bowl of steaming broth that seemed to swim with unidentifiable ingredients --Ramses refused to divulge the contents when they had asked.

    “Sure, sure. You just can’t admit that I finally beat you in a fair battle, can you?” Jay asked, a wide grin forming on his face as Noah slammed both of his fists down on the table.

    “That was not a fair battle! I had already been through two battles before I faced you. I’d hardly call that fair!” Noah snapped. Leo watched with a slight bemusement over his own bowl of the potentially hazardous meal as the two Pokémon kept up their argument over the legitimacy of Jay’s victory.

    Noah had woken up early that morning and, much to their dismay, was excited as ever to begin the day and seemed not to suffer any fatigue from his knockout during the match yesterday. Leo had been reluctant to leave his hammock. He wasn’t stuck in a pleasant dream; in fact, he hadn’t had a single dream at all, and he wanted to enjoy every minute of the uninterrupted sleep.

    Neither the Dewott nor Torrent were going to let him relish the pleasure of beneficial rest. By the time the sun was cresting the horizon, he --along with Jay, Noah, and Kelly-- were given training work moving filled crates across the camp. Leo was certain that he’d be sweating if he had the ability to do so.

    The muscles in his arms and legs burned with a dull, aching pain in protest of the strain they had been subjected to. Leo knew that it was good for him to put some training on his new body, but it didn't help the horrible feelings that came with it.

    Jay seemed to share his feelings, but did not voice them as he continued his banter with Noah. Leo summoned courage and gulped down the watery substance in his bowl as he tried to ignore the chilling feeling that accompanied it. Leo looked to the opposite side of the table where the three members of Team Emerald were conversing among themselves. The team had been sticking near them ever since they arrived at Camp New Rain, training with or near them, eating at their table at meal times. It was as if they were determined to become their friends by association alone.

    Leo couldn’t help but feel slightly unnerved by their constant presence. Sonic was nice enough; he was always the least talkative of the trio. But when he did, he seemed to connect the most with them. Leo had only talked to the guy a few times, but he could almost count him as a friend after those conversations.

    However, Blade and Elliot were a different story. The Grovyle and Absol seemed to have some sort of psychic connection between them, always nodding silently to each other, whispering conversations behind crates or tents and always hushing their voices as soon as he approached them. They tried their hardest to put on a friendly facade, as when Blade ran into him yesterday, but Leo couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling about those two.

    You have absolutely no basis for your distrust of them, his thoughts scolded, but yet the feelings remained and only seemed to intensify with every passing hour. If he hadn’t been preoccupied with his ailing sanity, he might have taken the initiative to investigate his gut feeling of unease.

    Jay and Noah continued to argue; they now seemed to be shouting at each other from across the table. Leo had tuned them out several minutes ago. The last few days had been torture. There was no other way he could phrase it. It all started when I saw that ... thing, in the cafe. It had all gone downhill from there. Nearly killed, hallucinations, run out of town, burned, exploded, ambushed, beaten. How the hell am I still alive? An interesting question, but not one he had an answer for. Just how had he survived?

    He put his claw to his chin and closed his eyes. What has happened to me? He opened his eyes once again and looked down at the dull white claws. He moved them one after the other. Nothing in the past few days alarmed him as much as this. He vaguely noticed it during some of the quiet times back in their base at Loyalty but had never paid it too much heed until now. He was certain that he would always remember, but the memories had grown foggy.

    He couldn’t remember what human hands felt like. Hands were not the only thing that had undergone this memory dump. Leo was almost clueless as to what hair felt like anymore, but the horn and scales he was currently fitted with almost seemed --dare he even think it-- natural. The sense of being tall at some point, the feel of human skin, wearing clothes. With every passing day these memories seemed more like distant figments of his imagination.

    Oh God, what if ... What if I imagined it all? The thought was chillingly horrifying. And what was worse was that he had plenty of evidence to back it up. His mind obviously wasn’t in a position to argue for the memories’ validity, and even if it was, Leo doubted he would believe it. And, besides that, the only other thing that had specifically told him he was human was the Mismagius.

    What if ... What if it was all-- His thoughts were rudely interrupted as Noah’s voice cut across them like a sharp knife.

    “Earth to Leo! Come on, man! We gotta go!” The thoughts of uncertainty faded away to be sorted out at a later time as Noah waved a black paw in front of his face. “Let’s go! Get up!”

    “Wait a moment!” Leo shouted as he slowly hopped off the log stump at the table, wincing slightly as the tip of his tail thumped against the wood. “What’s happening? Where is everyone else?” he asked as he noted that every soul other than Noah seemed to have disappeared from the mess area. Even Kelly and Jay were gone.

    The Dewott shrugged. “There’s been some news. Apparently, someone’s here at the camp. Looks like a government guy --real stuck up Pokémon. Torrent called an assembly a few minutes ago. I’m not sure how you didn’t hear it,” he reported as suddenly he grabbed Leo’s wrist. Without waiting for a further reply or comment from the Charmeleon, Noah ran through the narrow alleyways between the tents dragging Leo behind him.

    The front gate of the camp was a madhouse in the loosest sense of the word. The crowd surrounding the entrance was so thick that Leo couldn’t see past the first row of Pokémon. It was the first time he had seen the entirety of the camp assembled in one place.

    Noah was not deterred by the seemingly impregnable mob and, still dragging Leo by the wrist, he wormed his way through the mass. Leo could only apologize tersely as he was forced to step on the feet of several Pokémon as well as the unexpected branding more than few of them received from his tail. Noah continued to push past the Pokémon, somehow managing to shove an Aggron out of his way without being crushed.

    Soon enough, they were in the front row of the scene and Noah finally released his iron grip on Leo’s wrist. Kelly and Jay both watched the scene directly to his right, while Noah winged his left. Torrent stood scowling in the front of the crowd, Quark at his side with an equally sour expression. Now that he was at the front himself, he could see exactly why.

    There was a Magnemite floating just inside the camp. From his tone and the amount of buzzing that interrupted his dialogue, Leo could tell that the machine was immensely irritated.

    “ZBT! General! Why are you being so uncooperative? ZT! Need I say again that I have a warrant from Governor Richelieu? ZT!” he exclaimed as he waved a sealed letter held in his right magnet.

    “You’ve already told us that quite a few times, Officer Rho,” Torrent hissed. The Magnemite muttered something darkly to itself.

    “General, I have to search the camp. ZZT! We have suspicions that a few of your recruits might be fugitives. SZT!” he said with a harsh burst of static. He tried to move forward into the camp, but Leo felt the crowd thicken and form a wall against the officer.

    “I see no reason why to doubt the sincerity of any of my recruits,” the Feraligatr said tersely, his patience seemingly at an end.

    “ZBT! But, the warrant! I have a legal right to search this establishment! ZZT!” the officer, Rho, whined.

    “Tough luck. Now leave, before I have my boys here escort you,” the general growled as two monsters seemingly made entirely out of red and dark blue stone on either side of Torrent took a menacing step forward.

    Rho apparently took the hint and, much to Leo’s satisfaction, turned around and started floating back towards the exit. As he passed, Rho’s central eye locked onto Leo.

    The Charmeleon wasn’t entirely sure what happened in the next few instances, but he found himself laying on his back and his scales emitting an oddly delicious cooked smell as thin, black smoke slowly wafted from his body. He cautiously lifted his neck up, a sudden numbness in his muscles making it difficult to move at all. He closed his eyes and memories from seemingly long ago in Loyalty prison came back to him in earnest --he had been electrified, again. Luckily, his body seemed to be developing a slight resistance to it, but not nearly as much as he’d like.

    “Leo! Are you alright?” Kelly yelled from above him over the vast chorus of other loud voices. Leo reopened his eyes and saw her standing over him along with several other recruits he hadn’t met, a look of genuine concern spread across her face. He managed a clumsy nod and tried once more to elevate his neck to see what was happening in the crowd before him.

    The Magnemite seemed to be buried under the muscular arms of Torrent, who kept picking up the small, steel Pokémon and threw him into the rocky ground. Quark hovered just outside the range of Torrent’s rage as he produced a weak, purple, psychic field that kept the throng of soldiers from joining in on the beat down.

    “Treason! Traitors! BZZT! I’ll send you all to Sawgrass Town for this! ZT!” Rho screeched as Torrent threw another punch on his central eye, the general ignoring the sparks the officer was shooting off.

    “I’d like to see you try, you piece of scrap metal,” the Feraligatr growled as he dented the front of the screaming officer. Dull, metalic, gonging noises resonated from the fight with each blow Torrent landed.

    “I’ll watch them BZT! eat you alive! ZZT! You are all damned!” Rho cursed as Torrent decided to take a new approach to the brawl. He lifted the weakly-sparking Magnemite in his hand and raised the damaged Pokémon close to his face.

    “If you ever come here again, I will rip you in half. And, if you even look at any of my recruits the wrong way, I will make sure you never see again. Understand?” Torrent asked, his voice dropped to a chilling whisper. The entire mob around Leo seemed to have the sound sucked out of it as they awaited the Magnemite’s response. Rho said nothing as he meekly hovered off of Torrent’s hand towards the gate of the base.

    Based on his previous experiences with the species, Leo was hardly surprised when halfway to the camp entrance, Officer Rho decided to turn around and fire a pulse of electricity from his twisted magnets. Torrent spun around as soon as he heard the tell-tale cackle of energy. He raised his arm and caught the full brunt of the blast with his limb.

    The yellow beam of energy forced Torrent back about three feet before dissipating. Torrent, to the apparent horror of the quaking guard, simply shook off the attack and faced him. He let out an almost primal roar as he pounced on the Pokémon. The entire crowd started cheering as Leo was suddenly hoisted on top of the mob, one of the Pokémon below must have sat him on their shoulders.

    “BZZzT! They’ll slaughter you BZT! and your families! BZZT!” Rho cried as Torrent’s claws tore into his casing. Bolts of electricity jumped between the two fighters, though the Feraligatr did not seem phased by it in the slightest.

    “No. They. Won’t!” Torrent yelled. With each grunt, he tore another piece off of the screaming officer. Leo couldn’t look away at the savage display. Even though a small part of his mind wanted to go in and stop the fighting, the majority of his head cheered along with the crowd. Leo forgot about the damage he had received and tried to lean forward on the Pokèmon’s shoulders he sat on to get a better look at the Magnemite’s brutal dismantlement.

    The corrupt officer gave one final, ear-splitting screech as Torrent rended him in two. Sparks and wires flew across the clearing as the general flung the broken pieces of Rho’s core to the ground. The whirling mechanisms inside the core spun and sputtered smoke and sparks as they tried in vain to preserve themselves. Leo saw thin, blue streams of data stream out of the broken processor and fade into the air. Thick black smoke poured from the split core as the erratic movement gradually subsided.

    “Now ... Everyone. Pack up camp. Not a drill this time ... Orders came in from Silver. We’re moving out. Tonight,” the blue reptile breathed heavily as faint lines of electricity continued to trace across his heaving body. With a groan, he slowly limped back into the camp. The crowd stood completely still for a moment before dispersing like frightened bugs exposed in a light.

    Leo found himself plopped on the ground inches away from Rho’s still-sparking brain. Only the three Pokémon he knew in this world remained behind with him. Jay went up to the shattered hemisphere and kicked it with his foot.

    “You know? I’m starting to like it here. How about you, two?” the Riolu asked casually as he examined a bit of sparking wire. “I mean, it’s been only three days and Torrent’s already killed a Magnemite that was hunting us.”

    “I don’t understand how you think that’s a good thing. It’s still murder, even if they were hunting us,” Kelly whispered, her voice almost emotionless. She nudged the broken fragments of Rho away from Jay’s feet and further desecration.

    Leo didn’t answer him immediately. Sure, he was completely ecstatic that a Magnemite was dead, but something with that didn’t entirely sit right with him. It might have been the final shred of his morality crying out to him that murder was wrong, but Leo pushed the feeling back into the back of his mind. I am happy about this, right? I should be happy. But, why do I not feel that way?

    “I ... I don’t know what to think. Torrent ... he honestly scares me ... I’ll keep my distance from him,” Leo said slowly as he circumvented the debris of the Magnemite. “Is he usually like this, Noah?” The Dewott worked alongside Kelly to shift away the Magnemite fragments into a single pile near the dirt wall of the encampment.

    “No.” The Dewott crossed his arms. “He has a bit of a temper, but never this bad. It’s because of what happened with Gear, I’m sure of it,” Noah explained, his normally cheery personality wavering for a few split seconds. Sounds of moving crates and collapsing cloth tents filled the air.

    “It’s not a good sign,” he told them shortly before turning away towards the center of the camp. “Now let’s go. We have to pack up. Nightfall will be here sooner then you’d believe.”

    Again, Leo wondered how time could possibly move so fast. The half of the day that had gone by seemed like an endless cycle of moving crates onto a series of wooden sleighs and packing every shred of personal belongings into backpacks.

    By the time the sun had begun its descent into the western horizon, Camp New Rain as he had known it was no more. The orderly rows of faded tents were dismantled and carefully folded into tight rolls. He had assisted with the movement of every essential crate onto a fleet of wide wooden sleds. The mess tent was no more and the crude tables made from stumps shoved into the grassy thicket, as was anything else not considered vital to sustain a battalion of Pokémon until they reached their undisclosed destination.

    Back at the site of Noah’s tent, they all swept the area, making sure there was nothing left behind. Jay used a spare bag Noah had swiped from somewhere to stow the odds and ends that had survived the flight from Loyalty. An orb, a small length of rope, a couple badly bruised apples and nearly smashed berries, and the worn map Jay kept with him at all times. Both he and Kelly had nothing except her Pecha Scarf -still covered with faint blood stains from Leo’s wound-and his key.

    While Kelly and Jay sorted through the meager item pool, Leo took a moment to examine the artifact again. It had been some time since he had last paid a good deal of attention to it. The blue crystal appeared unchanged --although it was a bit dirty-- a small comfort to the Charmeleon. The smooth-cut key still hung as it always did from the gold band it was attached to. He slipped the key around his neck again, its reassuring weight on his chest bringing him an even greater degree of comfort.

    “You’re always wearing that thing. What exactly is it?” Noah asked as he used his sharp shells to slice through a length of twine that held up the tent.

    “It’s … a personal item. It was the first thing I found after waking up without my memories,” Leo replied as he slung his satchel over his shoulder and grabbed hold of the tent material. Together the two Pokémon tugged as the cloth came sliding off the frame.

    “Hmm …Interesting. I don’t have any mementos like that, but if I had something as nice as that thing, I’d keep it under lock and key. Try to ignore the bad pun,” Noah said with a chuckle. “Never noticed that scar on you. What’s that from? Looks like it hurt like hell.”

    “Actually, I didn’t feel it all too much,” he said with a small smile. Technically, it was not a lie. “You remember that Metagross Jay told you about? That’s where I got it.” Leo gave one final tug on the cloth as it lifted off the framework completely. Noah immediately went to work folding it into a series of increasingly smaller rectangles.

    “Oh yeah, I remember. That entire story does seem a little far-fetched. But I believe it after seeing that scar. It’s surprising how much they can tell about a person. I’ve got one right here,” he said while pointing to a discolored line in the blue skin in the middle of his chest. “Would you believe me if I told you that I got this sucker fighting in a gladiatorial pit against members of the Cult of the Second Mew?”

    “Umm … No?” Leo answered, unsure of what the Dewott was expecting from him.

    “Good.” That was all Noah said with a wink as he suddenly picked up the rolled up tent canvas and walked off. Leo simply stood there as he tried to process the cryptic, nonsensical answer. It’s probably a matter best left alone. He’s so far off the deep end he might as well be in an oceanic trench, his thoughts told him comfortingly.

    To say Leo was tired would be a massive understatement. Leo was dead tired. His feet ached from walking over the worn trail through the grassland, his muscles hurt from loading the crates earlier, and his shoulders were killing him due to the heavy backpack he was carrying. The hell did Noah pack in this thing? Rocks?

    Despite Torrent’s order to leave at night, they had departed from the settlement several hours ahead of schedule, mostly due to the general’s urging them along throughout the day. Noah told them it was probably because of the Magnemite.

    “Trust me, no one wants to be around when a body is found,” he had said as they began their trek. It definitely makes sense. The law enforcement is corrupt, and I’d hate to see how bad it is in the judicial system.

    The general had the battalion’s bird Pokémon fly ahead to survey the path, Icarus somehow at their lead. While Leo had always found his lengthy ramblings annoying, he couldn’t help but view him as a friend. The Pidgeotto, despite his duties around the camp, had always taken the time to drop down and say hello. When Kelly tried to tell him how grateful they all were to him for guiding them towards the camp, Leo could almost see his blush through his feathers.

    “Aww. It was nothin’, love. After what you all did for me, it’s the least I could do to pay you lot back,” he had said while rubbing a wing awkwardly on the back of his head. “N-now, I really must be going. Errands and messages and all that, you know?” The bird had darted off after that, but it became clear that he truly felt the need to repay his debt for saving him from Jumpluff.

    Now, Icarus was a dot in the northern horizon along with five other birds and Leo was still stuck on the ground. He would have given anything to have a pair of wings right then, if only so that he could get out of carrying the heavy pack.

    Dry grass, nearly bleached by the summer sun, cracked under his clawed feet as he walked among the other Pokémon from the encampment. He tried his best not to stumble on the multiple sets of furrows in the ground left by the sleds’ runners. Despite having to avoid tripping, Leo was slightly amazed at the sheer strength of some of the Pokémon present.

    Each of the five wooden sleds were piled with several hundred pounds of cargo, yet it only took one or two of the stronger soldiers to pull them along. The Aggron from the crowd earlier was single-handedly tugging a sled and hardly seemed to be breaking a sweat. Forget wings. Some good ol’ strength would be wonderful.

    Torrent and Quark walked near the center of the group. Despite the wishes of Noah and Kelly, Leo had practically begged them to stay to the fringe of the exodus. He took Quark at his word and refused to come within the twenty-foot boundary. He had taken a great risk in getting near the Alakazam —Kelly having briefed him on the proper name of the species last night— during the confrontation between Torrent and the officer.

    Leo took a quick look behind him. Noah was walking in between Kelly and Jay, happily chatting away even though both the Jolteon and the Riolu appeared to be doing their best to ignore the Dewott. Even being knocked out cold by Jay yesterday had no effect on Noah’s personality. To Leo, it looked as if the Dewott was stuck in his own world half the time, and he didn’t seem to care which ‘world’ he was stuck in at any particular moment.

    That last observation got Leo thinking as he marched on the trampled grass stalks. The matter of his apparent humanity was still unresolved. He tried to line up the small amount of evidence he had going for him. There was the dream from a few nights ago, small bits and pieces of human terminology, and the Mismagius’s word. So, again, absolutely nothing that proves that it’s not some fever dream.

    On the other hand, there was an argument stacked against him. No one trustworthy had confirmed his humanity --the Mismagius had already proved his ability with hallucinations—and there was the undeniable factor of his own declining sanity. Leo could feel his mind slipping from time to time, each episode would send him into a quiet state of absolute paranoia and panic. Yesterday during the day-nightmare had been the worst of his ‘attacks’ so far. Whatever the Mismagius had done to him, the effects were synergistic with each other and the lapses in sanity becoming increasingly worse.

    He began to think it just might be easier on his psyche to simply accept the fact that he might not be a human after all. He didn’t like the idea of possibly throwing out the single conviction he had been certain of since he woke up in Tranquility Fields, but he felt like his back was up against a proverbial spike wall and there was only the choice of finding the least painful route to take.

    Maybe … I’m not human at all. Maybe, I was always a Charmeleon... Again, it almost made a bit of sense to Leo. He couldn’t trust his mind to come up with valid answers for the moment. Getting rid of a conflict would only clear up space for more important things to worry about. Like the nightmarish message he had received.

    That thing said I wasn’t supposed to be here. In this world. Was it right? So far, the answer seemed to be pointing towards ‘yes’. His experiences here had been less than optimal, that was true. Nearly killing himself getting out of the Field, being arrested by Gear, getting poisoned by Jumpluff, the terrifying hallucinations from the Mismagius, nearly murdered by Nexus, run out of town, and now that nightmare.

    Seriously, how am I still alive? That figure in the nightmare had been wrong. There had to be something working in his favor keeping him alive through all that. No, there’s no sense in giving up ye— His train of thought was broken as his foot suddenly dropped several inches into one of the sled ruts. He tried flailing his arms in a vain attempt to regain his balance, but the combined forces of the heavy pack he was saddled with and gravity easily overpowered him. He fell face first into the mixture of crushed grass and powderized dirt.

    Maybe this is a sign. Stupid universe, he thought grimly as he tried to force his arms to obey and lift himself off the ground. His arms, still sore from the physical labor earlier, took a long time to comply. Too long.

    “Come on, Leo. No time for napping!” Noah’s voice called from above him as he felt the Dewott’s paws grip his left arm and viciously yank him to his feet.

    Shaking his head to reorient himself, Leo grumbled a thanks to the Dewott and continued his march along the trail.

    “Torrent! Ahead! About two minutes!” Leo –and everyone else in the battalion—looked up in surprise as Icarus shouted down to the Feraligatr. “Distortion ahead!”

    That was all the general needed. “Alright! Everyone into groups of four! Protect the sleds and get to the rendezvous at the end of the dungeon. We’ve all done this before. Just make it through to the exit!” Torrent yelled, his voice somehow amplified so everyone could hear it.

    Every Pokémon sprung into action as they started gathering in clusters of no more than four. Leo was suddenly pulled backwards, the backpack choking him for a moment as his forward movement ceased. He quickly turned around, wheezing slightly, as Jay let go of him.
    Noah was busy trying to tell them advice about what to do when the distortion hit. “Listen up. Whatever you do: Do not move. I’ve been through this before, trust me. Just stay still,” he said quickly as what looked like a giant dust cloud appeared on the horizon. The giant mass of billowing dirt and debris sped towards them, whipping up wind as it approached.

    It became largely apparent that Icarus could not judge time or distance at all. Scarcely thirty seconds had passed when the cloud was upon the battalion, a far cry from the two minutes the bird had promised. Luckily, the rest of the camp seemed to know this and had moved like lightning.

    The mass of swirling dust smashed into the traveling Pokémon; the mob of minute meteors managing to sting Leo’s eyes as they rushed past. Leo kept his eyes tightly shut as the storm continued to pelt him with small bits of dirt clods and a spray of dust that greatly irritated his tail flame. He reached around his back and took hold of the appendage, trying to protect it from the assault with his claws.

    And suddenly, it stopped. The storm ceased even quicker than it had come. By the time Leo had regained the courage to open his eyes, he had to blink again to make sure what he was seeing was real.

    The sprawling, thick grasslands that had surrounded him a brief moment ago were completely gone. Instead, they had been replaced with the skeletal remains of fallen trees, their gnarled roots clawing into the hills of jagged brown rock. Lush grass was substituted with dried shrubs and thorny vines that made up an impassible thicket. The sudden transformation of the field into a desolate badland was not the most surprising change. Leo looked up at the sky. It had gone from the warm orange and blue of the nearing sunset to an otherworldly black color with dark purple clouds. The sun had been shifted as well, going from its usual form to emitting a cold sky blue light that did little to illuminate the dark aura of the land.

    Mesmerized by the dramatic change of scenery, Leo took an unconscious step forward. He was snapped out of his stupor when he registered that his foot had not made contact with any form of solid ground. He felt his body begin its long fall into a bottomless abyss cushioned only by toxic looking clouds bursting with lightning.

    For the second time that day, he felt something grab hold of the backpack and quickly pull him backwards from the sudden ledge. As soon as he had two feet back on solid ground, Leo fell to the ground and scrambled back from the edge as quickly as he could.

    “And that’s why I said not to move!” Noah shouted as he took a hold of Leo’s shoulders and hauled the Charmeleon to his feet. “This dungeon has a nasty habit of putting teams near the edge. I’ve seen more than one Pokémon take a plunge and I don’t want you to be next.”

    The blue sun cast cold shadows across the team that made them all shiver in the pale light. Hidden crevasses and hollows in the hills seemed to scream with the voice of the shrill, haunted wind that tore through the brambles and sere plants. While the three members of Team Salient observed the almost-demented looking landscape, Noah took a deep breath.

    “Just like my first home! Except for the blue sun,” the Dewott said as he gestured to the expanse of wasteland. “Anyways,” he said as he turned back to them, “we have to get going. There’s not a lot of daylight left and we really don’t want to be out here at night.” He then took one of his shells and sliced through a thick bramble vine, revealing a pathway of sorts through one of the canyons.

    “Wait a minute, Noah. Just where are we? What just happened?” Jay demanded, crossing his arms as Kelly and Leo stopped beside him. Noah saw their lack of enthusiasm to follow and sighed.

    “Alright, alright. I’ll tell you what you want to know, just promise me you’ll keep moving. Come on,” he urged as he ducked under the remains of the vine and into the narrow gorge. Shooting a look over at Leo and Kelly, Jay shrugged and followed the Dewott. Leo had some misgivings about the entrance, but there was quite literally no other place to go on the outcropping besides down to a gruesome death.

    Somewhat reluctantly, Leo tightened the straps on the pack and followed Kelly into the canyon.
    He felt a cold chill run down his spine as his thoughts seemed to freeze with the knowledge of where he was. He was in one: a Mystery Dungeon. As the distortion of reality passed over his head, he remembered how his last two excursions into the weird realms had left him poisoned and technically dead.

    The dungeon was nothing like Leo had seen before. Numerous other thorn-choked canyons opened up in the clearing ahead. The rock formations around them glowed with the color of ice and the very air seemed to be filled with a thin, purple miasma.

    “Noah. Answers. Now. We’re moving, so now keep your end of the deal,” Jay demanded yet again as he hiked through the rocky soil, muttering a curse towards Celebi whenever the clinging vines caught in his fur.

    “Alright, alright. As you may have noticed from the glowing rocks, blue sun, and purple air, we are in a Mystery Dungeon. According to Torrent, it’s a shortcut through the entire Mid-Reach, and considering we only travel seven or so miles over a space of land that’s over two hundred miles long, I’d agree with him. You guys know what Links are, right?” Noah asked as he slammed his shells into a wall of a small wall of ice-blue stone in the middle of the path. He used the shells to hold his place as he climbed to the top of the barrier.

    He bent down to give Jay a paw up. Once the Riolu had scampered up the fractured surface they both helped Kelly get over the obstacle. After her, Leo managed to dig his claws into the numerous pockmarks in the surface and climb up the rock face.

    “Yes, we know what the Links are. You do remember the story of the Metagross, don’t you?” Jay asked as he gazed out over the wasteland. The vast mesa of pale blue light punctuated only by the occasional clump of bramble created an eerily ethereal scene that, to Leo, could have been pulled directly from a backdrop of a scene from the works of a demented playwright.

    “Ah, yes. I remember. Up until that point of the story, I was about to fall asleep. I think,” Noah replied with a wide grin on his face. The Dewott scanned over the otherworldly landscape. “There! That path is the one that leads towards it!” His paw pointed towards a thin, winding trail that lead through the crystalline rocks.

    “Noah. What does that have to do with the Links that appear in dungeons?” It was Kelly who inquired this of the Dewott this time, as the Pokémon in question began to dismount the rock barrier on the opposite side of path.

    “Well,” Noah grunted as he leaped to the ground and jarred his legs on the rocky soil. “In the far west corner, there’s a perpetual Link that serves as Torrent’s rendezvous point whenever we pass through here. It’s also the only way out of here, so it’s kinda important that we reach it,” the Dewott explained as Jay, Kelly, and Leo leaped down one-by-one from the rock edifice. “Before the sun goes down because--”

    He didn’t get a chance to finish as a ear-shattering screech pierced the air. Leo felt his blood turn to ice as the voice continued to scream as if it was being brutally murdered. The rocks around them began to shift in colors from a cool blue to a deep, blood-like crimson.

    Leo watched as Noah’s entire body went a paler shade of blue as he suddenly took off down one of the thorn-filled canyons. “Run! Dammit, run! She’s found us!” he shouted at them, not even looking back. Heeding his advice, the members of Team Salient began to sprint like the forces of hell were right behind them. And indeed they were.

    Kelly managed to catch up to the Dewott and stay by at his side as her paws flew across the dirt, Jay only a few strides behind her. Leo, however, was struggling to keep the three other Pokémon in his sight as the heavy pack on his back weighed him down. The screeches continued as the air around Leo chilled rapidly. The voice seemed to envelope his entire body as his vision began to grow hazy.

    “Invio Nex, quod sit ubi sitis,”

    In a last ditch effort to get away, Leo tore off the pack, slicing through the shoulder straps and letting it --and thus, most of their shelter-- drop to the dungeon floor. His rapid breaths converted into blasts of visible mist as soon as they made contact with the frigid air. He felt the presence on his back, his tail flame sputtering to remain lit against the embodiment of absolute zero.

    Out of instinct, when Leo saw the path ahead covered in jutting rocks, he pushed his claws into the surface of the first one and swiftly vaulted over it. His key swung wildly on its metallic strand as it bounced off his chest with every panicked movement he made in an attempt to preserve his life.

    The haze was all around him now; the others were out of his sight. He was running blind. Claws ripped through the rocky soil as he leaped over the rocks. The menace behind him screeched again.

    ”Quare venisti?” Leo felt like his ears were going to explode. He lunged forward, only to feel his knees smash into a low rock. Blood and scales smeared against the glowing red surface as he tumbled over the top of it. When he gained the courage to open his eyes, a demon floated before him.

    A pair of sunken, golden eyes embedded in a bed of purple, decaying flesh greeted him. Leo screamed. Terrified, he scrambled backwards only to have his spine smash against the jagged rock face. Leo tried to think of anything, force his body to use one of its magical skills, but like the air around him, his mind seemed to have been frozen in place as well. His ongoing scream was snatched from his mouth by a blast of bitterly cold air.

    “Quare venisti.... W-why... Why have you come?” Leo could only stare dumbfounded at the figure made from ice shards and paper-white skin stretched taut over a human-like body of frozen, violet flesh. A tattered, blood-red sash hung from her waist and jewels of solid ice jutted from her head.

    Ignis, quid hic agis? Fire -- Ignis, why have you come?” The ice demon’s gentle question passed over him, a far cry from the horrid shrieking from before. “Indica tribulation vestris ... Tell your tribulations, Ignis.” Her voice contained no malice, no hatred. Only a soft, genuine sincerity.

    “I- I don’t know why I’m here,” he said as the temperature around him dropped even more. Despite his flaming tail, he was unconsciously shivering in the below-freezing air. Small particles of snow formed from his exhaled breath as the siren gently caressed his cheek with one of her long, hair-like arms.

    ”Indica mihi iustum et oblivíscere. Just tell me and forget, mi cara, Ignis,” she whispered. The words wrapped around Leo like a silk blanket. He felt his mind loosening, his surroundings start to fade underneath a coating of oddly warm ice. Leo saw her hand rise to his chest and press against where his heart would be.

    “Cor tuum, cara Ignis. Where is your heart?” she inquired as a thin coating of ice spread across his body from her touch. He desperately tried to move, but forces beyond his control kept his muscles paralyzed. Even his eyes were forcibly fixated on the Froslass’s unnaturally yellow ones.

    She leaned in close to him and whispered something in his ear, yet he did not comprehend it in the slightest. Instantly, it felt as if a spear of ice stabbed his heart, foregoing piercing skin and bone and impacting the organ directly. At once, everything seemed to stop. His lungs couldn’t expand or contract, his veins were frozen solid as the blood within them chilled to below zero, his heart was gripped by a glaciated hand and only constricted tighter with every passing second.

    His tail dimmed to a fraction of an ember as the ice demon continued to claw its way through him. Darkness clouded his sight as ice wormed its way into his body. The wall of ice that encased him suddenly shuddered and warped. A voice shouted from beyond the clear barrier as a vague figure leaped into his fixed frame of decreasing vision.

    At once, the shadowy Pokémon extended its foot and slammed into the Froslass. In an instant, the icy hold over Leo melted, leaving him stunned and shivering in a puddle of cursed water as his body struggled to fight off the urge to go into hypothermic shock.

    “Hey! Kyurem’s bastard daughter! Over here!” Jay’s voice blasted into his sensitive eardrums as his senses of hearing, sight, and feeling slowly returned.

    Not thinking, Leo scrambled to his feet, though immediately failing in this endeavor as his legs collapsed beneath his body. He blindly reached forward with his claws and tried to drag himself out of the line of fire between the ice demoness and Jay.

    “Nulla, Ignis! Non discedis! Vos mei, Ignis! Cupio vivere!” the Froslass shouted from somewhere above him as a blast of frigid air slashed over him. Jay swore as he dashed through the wind at the ice maiden. The Riolu’s fist swung and crunched into the ice-coated flesh, cracking the smooth, curved surface of her face with a jagged fissure along her forehead.

    Leo felt her presence hover over his crawling form as he desperately whispered prayers that she wouldn’t notice him pressed against the ground. Unfortunately, there was no such luck planned for him. She hissed angrily, her form writhing with rage as she looked down on him.

    “Incendium meum, quo vadis? Quo vadis?!” she spat, the words sharp and laced with a cool sting as she darted to the side, dodging the most recent of Jay’s attacks. In one fluid movement, she twirled around in the air, a flurry of snow dancing about her body, shot several biting gusts of wind at the attacking Riolu, and immediately swooped down onto Leo.

    Her right arm wrapped around Leo’s neck as she held the sharpened ice portion against his neck. Leo begged and pleaded, yet his body refused to cooperate. He had the abilities to free himself, but not a single nerve of his Pokémon form would obey his commands.

    “Cease. Or else, Ignis is ... extinguished,” she breathed, her anger causing her to speak in the common tongue, as Jay suddenly halted in the middle of winding up another glowing punch. The Riolu slowly took a step backwards as the two Pokemon continued to stare each other down in the middle of the red-tinted space between the small mesas of glowing rock.

    “Leo, just stay calm. We’ll get you out of this!” he shouted, yet his words had little impact besides using up a bit more air than normal breathing. I’m not an idiot, Jay. I’m not going to get myself killed if I can help it, Leo thought, not wanting to talk and risk losing his head in the process.

    It remained that way for several seconds: Jay and the Froslass exchanging death glares as Leo helplessly floundered in the near-choking hold of the demoness. Leo’s breathing gradually turned into a series of guttural gasps as he tried to sink his claws into the hardened ice of the creature’s forearm.

    The lack of air finally started numbing his body just before a surge of electricity coursed through him and his captor from behind. The energy simply passed over his unfeeling nerves as a slight wave of nausea rushed towards his head. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Pokémon that kept him hostage let out a screech that seemed to rock the entire wasteland.

    The Froslass immediately dropped him on the rocky ground as she darted towards the opposite side of the clearing. Leo felt the skin on his arms and legs break as blood dripped from his lacerations onto the dry soil.

    “Leo! Talk to me! Are you alright?” Leo was fairly certain it was Kelly yelling down at him, but neither his vision, nor his hearing had returned to optimal levels, leaving his surroundings a mess of red and black and his hearing muffled.

    “Move it!” another voice --possibly Noah-- barked as he shoved Kelly away. The Dewott becoming slightly more focused in Leo’s line of sight as his mind readjusted to having proper amounts of oxygen. Noah placed his paws on Leo’s shoulders and hefted him up to his feet.

    “Leo, answer this question as fast as you can: how many half-miles are in the Royal Highway?” the Dewott inquired, as he swiftly delivered a sharp slap to the side of Leo’s face. The sudden impact accelerated the reconnection of his senses. With a muttered curse he held the stinging area with his claws.

    “Answer!” Noah screamed as his black paw swiftly smacked the opposite side of Leo’s face. The fact that his skin was coated in scales did nothing to shield him from the hit.

    “I don’t know, Noah! I don’t know! Touch me again and I’ll make you wish you hadn’t,” Leo snapped, shaking his head as he finally saw the scene around him. The Froslass seemed to be curled on the ground, hidden behind a wall of ice while Jay continued to try and chip it away with each punch and kick.

    “Good! You’re not possessed. Any demon knows it’s exactly two-hundred and eight half-miles long. Now, we leave. As quickly as possible would be nice,” Noah replied as he let go of his iron grip. Leo stumbled as he summoned the strength to stand under his own power. “Also, Leo, you owe me ten silver Poké for that backpack,” the Dewott quickly added before darting across the canyon floor towards Jay.

    I hate him so much, Leo thought as Kelly returned to his side, giving him support as his blood warmed up and restarted circulation in his legs. His initial steps hurt as if someone had drilled holes in the bottoms of his feet, but after a few paces and many nearly shed tears, the pain began to subside slightly.

    Noah was grappling the Riolu in an attempt to pull him away from the seemingly dormant ice Pokémon, but Jay was not about to display any signs of walking away from the fight. Noah let loose a colorful array of curses and pulled out one of his scallops; holding the razor-sharp blade threateningly towards the battle-ready Riolu.

    "I'm not going to tell you again, Jay. Get your tail away from her! It never ends well with her!" Noah yelled as the ground began quaking, the epicenter directly under the thick ice dome that protected the ice demon.

    Jay broke free of the Dewott and lunged forward, his fist glowing white with energy. Despite Noah's protests, the attack hit the ice shield. Instead of behaving like normal frozen water, this solid glowed a sinister orange as Jay's fist rebounded. The Riolu screamed as a blast of energy knocked him off his feet and sent him flying through the air.

    Jay flew in a thin arc across the blue sunlit sky and slammed into the dirt, skidding several meters through the gravel until he came to a stop in front of Leo and Kelly. He remained as he was for several seconds, groaning weakly as he tried to force himself up. Despite his own injuries, Leo --with Kelly’s assistance-- attempted to offer his aching arm and claw to the fallen Riolu.

    Attempted, as in, tried to, but failed as the air was shattered like glass as an ear-piercing wail shot through the wastelands and made the four Pokemon freeze as they simultaneously cringed. The defense barrier about the Froslass exploded in a shimmering flash of lethal ice shards and ghostly wisps of demonic energy. Leo raised his arms to his face as the icy shrapnel sliced through the air and the topmost layer of his skin, penetrating his layer of thin scales.

    Ignoring the potentially hundreds of ice-splinters embedded in his arms, Leo looked to his teammates scattered around the clearing. Through the blue glare of the oversized setting sun, he saw that both Noah and Kelly had joined Jay pressed flat against the ground as the ice settled over them like a fine blue snow. The strange weather phenomenon filled the air as the Froslass continued to taunt him.

    “Ignis. You. If I can’t have you, then. Then. Then... “ her voice dropped to a sinister whisper. Despite being huddled in a ball on the ground on the opposite side of the clearing, Leo heard her voice as if she was talking into his ear. “Fáciem musica. Dicere vale ut tonitrui tui! ”

    Leo took three steps forward, putting Kelly and Jay behind him as the Froslass shot up from the ground. With speeds befitting a blizzard, she instantly appeared in front of him. He could feel her chilling exhales on his face. Snow fell from the blue sun, breaking the remaining laws of nature in this twisted wasteland. The powder coated the canyon and hissed angrily on his tail flame as it drifted down from the falsely-colored sky.

    Noah carefully raised his head off the ground and frantically began excitedly mouthing something that Leo couldn’t decipher. Kelly struggled with Jay’s wounds on the ground, the Jolteon attempting to ease Jay’s suffering. He curled his claws into a tight fist.

    “No. Shut up. We’re done with you. I’ve had enough near-death experiences in the last few days, thank you.” Leo replied, his voice quivering slightly with a growing rage as he heard Jay’s pained moan. From ahead of him, Noah was panickingly shaking his head and swiftly drawing his hand across his throat.

    “Leo, please, don’t,” Kelly’s strained voice fluttered through the air, alighting in his ears as he slowly shook his head. This was his time to prove them all wrong, to make a stand against the supposedly superior forces bent on dictating his every thought.

    The hellish Froslass opened her mouth a fraction as Leo felt something switch inside of him. With a single, fluid movement uncommon for most of his actions, Leo pulled back his arm and slammed his fist into the side of the Pokémon’s head.

    Her frozen skin cracked as a spiderweb of fractures spread across the left side of her face. A dark smoke hissed from her wound as the ice melted. For an instant, she looked at him, her gaze betraying no emotions as the decaying, purple flesh underneath the white ice became visible. Her icy skin then refroze as if nothing had happened.

    Just as fast, she swung back towards him, her icy appendages arcing low to the ground. Leo felt his legs take the impact of what seemed to be a heavy log. His world instantly flipped upside down as he landed on his back, staring up at the icy monster that was wildly smiling down at him.

    “Cover your ears! Now!” Noah screamed at the top of his lungs, his voice cracking sharply at the last word. Leo barely had enough sense and motor control to press his palms over the sides of his head, immediately muffling any noise that might have occurred around him. It was at that point, that the Froslass began singing the most twisted, vile string of notes and tones Leo had ever heard, and he couldn’t even hear them.

    The hellish chorus spewed from the jagged edges of her mouth, each note a sentient monster bent on destruction as they climbed out into the world and bombarded his claws like a battering ram. They made the rocks on the ground vibrate violently as they slammed into his body. The beats and tone shifts attempting to tear through the scales on his chest with their sharp claws and fangs in search of his heart.

    He could feel them prying at his claws, desperately trying to enter his head. Leo shook them away with an unheard yell as he squirmed and kicked under the unending swarm of music notes. Leo resisted the overwhelming temptation to use his claws to swat away the maniac, miniature, musical monsters that were intent on sinking their small fangs into every available inch of exposed skin.

    Just as Leo was going to give up and let the music have its way with him, it stopped. Everything ceased at once. The song, the pain, the evil, all evaporated like storm clouds in the sun. The canyon walls flickered and lost their hellish, red glow. Soft blue melted away from the snow and crept back into the dungeon infrastructure, restoring the gentle glow that had lit their path before the Froslass arrived .

    Rolling over onto his stomach, Leo pushed himself up with his arms, and got his legs to obey him once again. Pain still nipped at his skin from the many, tiny bites and scratches of the music notes, but now they felt like little more than irritated mosquito bites than fire searing into his scales.

    Jay grumbled something about “stupid dungeon Pokémon” as Leo clasped his outstretched paw and helped his leader to his feet. The Riolu seemed no worse for the wear. A few cuts were visible through his blue fur, the once bright azure color dulled with ground-in dust and blood, but he looked like he was functioning properly.

    “What the hell was that?” Jay said with a cough. Leo didn’t know how to answer him. He didn’t rightly know how to explain the string of events that had transpired in the last few moments. “Is everyone okay?” Jay inquired, brushing himself off as the Riolu blinked in the blue sunlight.

    “I think so,” Leo replied. Looking around, he saw Noah getting up from the crater he had hunkered down in during the assault of the music, Jay was still getting oriented with his feet and limbs, and the monster was nowhere in sight. She had vanished. Though, there was something missing from this scene of aftermath.

    “Kelly?” Leo blurted out when he did not see the yellow and white furred Jolteon at all. Jay ceased his complaints as he found he could not find his friend as well. “Kelly? Kelly!” Leo yelled with increasing volume as he took a few steps in each direction looking for his teammate.

    There was no sign of the Jolteon, despite her being literally a foot away from him before the Froslass’s song. Both he and Jay fell dead silent as they tried to listen for any sound from her, though only the canyon walls screeched as wind tore through them, making his tail flame flicker. His blood turned to ice once again as the demented dungeon seemed to mock him, tempting him to venture deeper in search of his friend.

    “Kelly!” Leo screamed to the passage, his voice straining as sheer panic took over. It was then that Noah jogged up beside both Pokémon. The Dewott put a paw on both of their shoulders.

    “She’s gone.” Leo felt something inside him collapse. Whether it was his soul or a lung from the Froslass’s attack, he couldn’t tell.

    “Gone? What do you mean ... gone?” The Charmeleon’s voice barely broke a hushed whisper as the cold wind blasted from the passage. The instinctively tightened muscles in his legs kept him from collapsing to the ground while his mind managed to keep a rein on his emotions to suppress his urge to sob.

    “Noah, wh-where is Kelly right now?” Jay asked, the Riolu trying in vain to mask his own emotions with a near monotone voice. The wind ceased, allowing the oppressive silence to once again rule this domain of altered sun and stone.

    Noah only shook his head in apparent defeat. “She’s with Her now, probably about to be frozen alive. If I remember right, we have about ten minutes before she is added to Her ... collection.” The Dewott looked up at the two remaining members of Salient, his face betraying no inner feelings or thoughts. “There’s nothing we can do now. If we’re lucky, we can still get out of here while she’s busy with Kelly.”

    “N-nothing? What do you mean, ‘there’s nothing we can do’, Noah?” Leo demanded, his voice rising in volume. He knew perfectly well what it might mean. The Froslass had wanted me and I refused. And so she took the next best thing... His thoughts plainly told him, and for once, he knew he could trust them. It’s all... He felt his heart drop again. It’s all my fault she was taken.

    The Dewott crossed his arms as he leaned against a pillar of glowing blue rock. “It’s exactly what it means. We can’t do anything. She doesn’t usually bother us when we travel through here, but on occasion, she will take one Pokémon to her lair and freeze them solid,” Noah answered nonchalantly as he tightened the strap on his shoulder.

    “How do you know this? Huh? How?” Jay spoke up, his paws curling into fists as energy began to flow into them. Noah moved his paw down Jay’s arm and pushed it down.

    “I’ve seen it happen. Seven times. Watched them all freeze while Torrent ordered us to run for the exit. Trust me, seeing a Arcanine frozen alive oversteps the boundary of mentally scarring ten times over,” he explained as Leo saw an involuntary shudder run down the Dewott’s spine.

    Leo wasn’t sure if it was the combined effects of everything that had happened to him over the last week, or his mind finally slipping past his damaged rational, but he felt a burning force of anger rise from his chest where his heart fell.

    He had gone through too much: waking up, arrest, near death, hallucinations, exile, he could handle, but the notion of losing what was perhaps the only other being on this planet that could sympathise with him, it was impossible. He wouldn’t let it happen.

    “No.” Both Noah and Jay looked up from their argument at him. “I’ve gone too far with her, Jay, and even you, Noah, to lose any of you. My head may not be clear right now, but that is the one thing I am damn sure of. Noah, where is She, because I am going to tear Her to shreds,” Leo snarled, a low, primal growl accompanying the statement.

    “Leo, you don’t understand: She will kill all of us if we don’t leave. Kelly’s probably already dead anyways, so let’s just--” Noah replied shortly before being cut off as Leo lunged at him. His reptillian body tackled the otter to the ground, shoving his head into the small, sharp rocks. Leo held the sharp edges of his claws against the Dewott’s neck and pressed forward enough so that Noah would feel the pain. Jay crouched down next to the two, though didn’t make any attempt to stop Leo’s assault.

    Leo’s chest was heaving, anger leaving a red mist in his eyes. He huffed a hot jet of steam from his nostrils as he leaned close to the pinned Dewott’s face. His red scales glinting almost evilly in the stark, blue sunlight.

    “Shut up! Kelly will survive! She’s strong enough! I know she will! Now, you are going to lead us to her, and then, you, Jay, and I are going to march right in there, burn Her goddamned liar to oblivion, and then rescue Kelly. Do you understand?” Leo yelled, every thought of his bent suddenly on the destruction of the Froslass.

    “You know? For once, I actually agree with one of your horrible ideas, Leo. Let’s do this, “ Jay added as Noah gave a sigh of defeat.

    “You two are the most stupid, stubborn Pokémon I’ve ever met, and that’s coming from me. I’ll go, but I hope you know we’re all going to die. Her ‘pet’ will make sure of that... “ Both Leo and Jay shot him confused looks as they wondered what he meant by his last sentence. Their questions were answered as a deep, feral-sounding roar shook the blue-stoned dungeon. Leo released his grip on the Dewott and climbed off of him, letting him get back to his feet with an annoyed huff.

    Kelly, don’t worry. We’re on our way, he thought to her as the glowing blue ground thumped in rhythm to the steady footsteps of the monster’s personal monster.

    End Chapter Thirteen

    Knightfall signing off...
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