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TEEN: After Dusk Falls

P1.01 – Second Chance
  • Because code
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    After Dusk Falls


    P1.01 – Second Chance

    The lights flickered throughout the off-white hall. The underground facility had no windows to let in the moonlight, so when the lights went out again, it became impossible to see anything.

    "Figures," a gruff, female voice said. "That didn't last long."

    "No, it didn't," replied a raspy whisper. "I don't know why I even bothered with the backup generator."

    In a moment, a soft glow begins to emanate from one of them, revealing the silhouette of a Malamar. Eclipse, like all Malamars, looked a bit like a large, upside-down squid with a glossy black body. His head had several blue tentacles coming out of it, which, unlike normal Malamars, Eclipse kept his tentacles down behind his head. He had two large, dominant tentacles which served as arms. He also had a pair of fins he could use as legs, but he spent most of his time levitating. He had a crude satchel slung over his "shoulder."

    As his glow became gradually stronger, it illuminated an ermine-like Mienshao. The two of them continued on, with Eclipse in the lead. Despite the weight and awkward size of the fossils she cradled in her arms, Lin hardly slouched. She was frightfully strong for a Mienshao, after all. Eclipse lead them to another flight of stairs. As they descended deeper underground, her large whiskers bounced with each step; they helped her maintain her balance, which was useful on these stairs, but even more so in the heat of combat.

    Once they came to the bottom of the stairs, the two of them continued through the halls. Their footsteps echoed around blind turns and through yawning doorways. The Malamar would give a few of these unlit passages a glance, but he hardly slowed for any of them. His accomplice, on the other hand, was more concerned with stepping over the chunks of ceiling and the cracks in the concrete floor. Dropping one of these brittle fossils would be a disaster.

    Lin wished Eclipse would find the so-called "Fossil Restoration Lab" soon. She was starting to get a little sore from hauling the rocks all day. And something about this place was giving her the creeps.

    Eclipse came to a stop in front of a closed door. He used one of his tentacle-arms to push the door open. Satisfied with what he saw, he floated through the door. Lin sighed with relief; they found something.

    The Malamar created a ball of light and suspended it in the middle of the square room. In the corner across from the door – the right-hand corner – a metal table and a few chairs were set up. A large device was pushed up against the left wall, running the length of the room. On the far end of the device, there was a large, metal box with a glass door. The rest of the machine was bristling with levers and buttons. A flat monitor was attached to the wall above the machine. As she looked over the strange machine, Lin noticed a pale shape behind the machine's glass door.

    "This one appears to be in good condition," Eclipse said as he rubbed his two dominant tentacles together. "Much better than the last one. I think this'll get the job done."

    "Uh-huh," the Mienshao said. "But what's that thing, behind the glass?"

    "Hm? Let's see." He moved over to it, unlatched it, and swung the door open. A bony arm flopped out and its hand dropped to the floor. It landed with a clatter, and its fingers flew apart, scattering across the floor.

    Eclipse flinched at the sudden sound. Lin's eyes widened. "What's a skeleton doing in there?"

    "Good question, but not one we care about. Lin, get those bones out of there. I'll get the machine ready." He moved over to the side of the machine opposite to the box. Eclipse produced a square battery from the satchel and put it on top of the machine.

    While he searched for the machine's cord and grumbled about faulty backup generators, Lin carefully set the rocks next to the table. Finally free from their heavy weight, she took a moment to stretch her stiff muscles. As she did so, her fire stone on her choker glistened in the light.

    She grabbed one of her dangling, sleeve-like whips and began wrapping it around her arm. These whips that grew from her wrists were great in a fight, but they'd only get in the way here. Then she did the same for the other, making sure it wouldn't come loose on its own.

    Then she got to work, scooping the bones out by the handful and placing them in a pile on the floor. As she groped around in the dark chamber, she found a large, round bone. This feels like a skull, she thought to herself. Once she pulled it out, she turned it to face her, hoping she might be able to figure out what this creature was. As she stared into the skull's hollow eyes, she let out a terrified gasp. "S-sir," she said with a quiver in her voice. "Look..."

    The Malamar turned toward her, with a power cable in his grip. "Oh?! What an amazing find!"

    "'Amazing'? Are you nuts?"

    "Hmph, you're letting a skull bother you?"

    "This isn't just 'a skull.' This is a human skull!"

    "Yes, that's obvious."

    "Haven't you heard the stories? 'He who disturbs the resting place of a human shall surely perish in the same hour,' or something like that."

    "That's just a myth to keep children in check."

    "No, it's more than... You know what? Fine. But you're cursed, too; it's your fault that its hand is on the floor."

    "Quit complaining and get back to work." He turned back to the machine, picked up the battery, and plugged the cable into it. The machine's display immediately came to life, and a low hum began to fill the room. Messages came and went on the monitor faster than Eclipse could read them.

    Lin turned back to the skull in her hands. She didn't want to continue piling these bones on the floor. Maybe, if she put the bones in a better resting place, her punishment would be less harsh. Maybe she'd just lose an arm or something. She found a cardboard box sitting under the table and started placing the bones in the box. She worked more carefully now, not letting the bones drop. It was tedious, slow work.

    "Alright, it's ready," Eclipse said. He looked over at Lin. "How are you not finished yet?"

    "Sorry, sir. There's a lot of small bones in here."

    "At the rate you're going, our battery won't hold out. Hurry it up!"

    "Yessir," she said. She started scooping up bones by the handful laying them in the box. Her cold sweat felt even colder in the frigid air.

    A minute later, and the grim deed was done. She wiped her paws on the box and carefully nudged it back under the table. Then she picked up one of the fossils and slowly laid it inside the machine's chamber. It crushed one of her digits as she did so. She bit her lip as she yanked her paw free. Then she gently shut the glass door and closed the latch. She looked at Eclipse and nodded.

    He turned back toward the console and began pecking at the keys with his tentacles. Several indicators appeared on the screen. Eclipse turned a few dials and watched as the indicators updated accordingly. Once he was satisfied, he typed a little more on the keyboard, and then stepped back.

    Lin didn't understand anything Eclipse was doing, as she could not read the ancient, human language. But maybe that was a good thing. Resurrecting a fossilized Pokémon felt a little like black magic. Eclipse could deal with the gory details; she was just there to help carry the fossils.

    At first, nothing seemed to change. Lines of text kept scrolling by on the monitor. Then the low humming got louder, and the fossil chamber began to glow with a bluish light. Then, with a sudden flash, the fossil vanished.

    "Wha-?" Lin said, as her vision recovered. "Where did it go?"

    "This isn't normal," Eclipse said. He quickly moved to the controls of the machine. He was about to start typing on the keyboard, but something he saw on the screen made him stop. "It's… fine? The books never mentioned this."

    A few moments later, a red light flooded out from the chamber. It was hard to notice at first, but something strange began to happen: the red light began to fold in on itself, taking a shape of its own. At first, its shape shifted and was an irregular mass. As the light grew brighter, the shape started to establish itself. A shape with a head, a pair of wings, and a pair of legs.

    Then everything went dark. Totally dark. The machine's display was off. The red light was gone. The machine’s hum disappeared.

    "The battery!" Eclipse shouted. "It's out of power!"

    At that moment, a shriek pounded the room. A loud clang followed.

    "What? Who's there?" Lin called out.

    "Hang on," Eclipse said. Eclipse's previous ball of light had faded, so he shaped another one and released it into the air. What the light revealed surprised them both.

    Within that chamber wasn't a dead fossil, but a living bird. Eclipse’s light caused it to turn about and stare at its revivers. Lin thought it was a rather strange looking bird; its face was covered in scales, not feathers, and it had a few teeth protruding out of its round snout. From its neck down, it was covered in sand-colored feathers.

    "It lives!" Eclipse said ecstatically. "The Archen lives!"

    The Archen let out another loud squawk. It tried walking out of the chamber, but it walked head-first into the glass door. It had a puzzled look on its face, and began to thump its head against the door, trying to break through.

    Eclipse and Lin chuckled. Lin moved towards the creature. "I'll let it out."

    "Wait, we should... no, never mind. Go ahead."

    As she reached for the handle, the Archen let out a continuous, ear-piercing squawk. Lin put her paws to her ears, and it immediately stopped. It went back to thumping its head against the door. As Lin reached out again, it shrieked again, and then stopped again when she backed away.

    "Hey, I'm trying to help you! Stop being a little twit!"

    Eclipse smirked. "It thinks it can break free of its egg. We'd better get it out before it damages the machine. Or itself, for that matter."

    "I think you're right." She tried again, this time ignoring its protests. But as it started squawk intensified, its cry was replaced with a grating cough. It hacked up a large amount of blood.

    The sight made Lin freeze. That was the last thing she was expecting. "Crap!" Eclipse shouted. He rushed over. "Open the door! Now!"

    Lin did as she was told. The Archen tumbled out of the chamber, and Eclipse caught it within his tentacles. As he cradled the bird, it coughed up more blood, which got all over its feathers and Eclipse's chest. The Malamar didn't pay attention as he ran one of his tentacles across the bird's chest.

    "Its vital organs are collapsing."

    "What? Why?"

    "When the power was cut, the machine hadn't fully formed the creature. See, it’s also missing some feathers, and I think it should have bigger feet. But, more importantly, its lungs aren't working right." It coughed up more blood. "It doesn't have much time."

    "Can't we help it somehow?"

    "No."

    She frowned. She hated to admit it, but this was mostly her fault. If she had been faster...

    Eclipse handed the dying bird to Lin. "Put it somewhere out of the way. We can still try the other fossil." He turned back to the machine.

    Lin looked down at its frail body. It was shuddering and breathing irregularly. It tried to squawk again, but only more blood came up.

    "Hush," she said. "You have to calm down." She held it close, and it instinctively snuggled up against her body. Though it smeared its blood all over her fur, she didn't pay attention to that. Its frantic, irregular breathing slowed a little as it stared into her eyes.

    "That's right. Focus." Its breathing continued to steady. She hated feeling so helpless, but what else could she do?

    Eclipse sighed. "Part of the machine’s chamber broke when the Archen was trying to get free. I'll need to find some replacement parts. I'll be back." He moved for the door.

    He was leaving the bird with her? "Wait a second!" Her outburst caused the Archen to panic and start coughing again. As Eclipse left the room, his light faded and vanished, leaving Lin in total darkness with the panicked Archen in her arms. She tried to shush it, but it wouldn't calm down.

    She saw a glow coming against the hallway. Lin gave a relieved sigh. So he wasn't just going to leave her in the dark after all. But instead of a Malamar, she saw the four-legged silhouette of a Sylveon. He was emitting a soft light, making it easy for Lin to recognize his many ribbons and his long, pink ears. His water stone necklace sparkled against the backdrop of its glowing owner.

    "Lang!?" she said in disbelief. "Why are you here?"

    Instead of answering, Lang bounded up in front of her. "What's wrong with it?" he asked, looking at the Archen with his bright blue eyes.

    "It... Eclipse said something about a collapsed, err, lungs?"

    "Let me see it." By this, he meant for Lin to bring it lower. Though Lin was a little short for a Mienshao, she was holding the Archen about level with Lang's face.

    She got down onto her knees, trying to contain the struggling bird. He placed one of his ribbon-like feelers over its chest, and another on its head. The ribbons emanated a soft light, calming the bird instantly. Lang frowned. "Yeah, the guy's not doing so hot. I can only make him more comfortable." As he spoke, the Archen took a deep breath at long last.

    "What are you doing here?" Lin asked, turning her attention back toward Lang. "How did you even find us?"

    "Well... I knew something was up when you and Eclipse left with those fossils. So I followed you."

    "You followed us? For two weeks?"

    "Two weeks? Has it been that long?"

    Lin took a closer look at Lang. It was hard to be sure, but she noticed he was thinner than normal. "Are you alright?"

    "Yeah," he said as he looked down at the Archen.

    That response was so halfhearted that Lin knew something else was up. "Lang," she said, "If you're hungry, I have—"

    "No thanks."

    "What? You look like you haven't eaten for days!"

    "How am I supposed to!? I've been worried sick!" Tears filled his blue eyes. "I thought you wouldn't go this far. How can you agree to this?"

    "What? What are you talking about?"

    "This!" he jerked his head towards the Archen in her arms. The bird stirred at the noise. Lin shushed it.

    Lang continued in a quiet, hurried tone. "This child was resting peacefully, and you've just woken him from his slumber so that… so that he can die again. How are you okay with this?"

    "You think I wanted this to happen? If everything had gone right, he would be alive and well! You got a problem with bringing someone back to life?"

    "Yeah, if it means they'll be enslaved the whole time!"

    "Enslaved? what are you talking about?!"

    "You know exactly what Eclipse is planning! He wants to put these Archens in the coliseum. He wants to make them fight, just so those stupid spectators cough up more money!"

    "That's not... Lang, stop. It's not like that."

    "Of course it is! If Eclipse has been working so hard to bring these Archens back, and I don't think he's going to ask them what they want to do for the rest of their lives. After all the time and energy Eclipse put into this, is he really going to give them a say?"

    "Do you really think we have a choice? A lot is riding on this! If we don't do something to bring those viewers back, there's not even going to be a coliseum!"

    "Maybe that's not such a bad thing!"

    The Archen wailed, but its cry was interrupted by more bloody coughing. Lang put his ribbons back on the bird, but its coughing continued. After one particularly violent cough, it lay limp and still, eyes glazed over.

    "His life force..." Lang said after some time. He removed his ribbons from the creature. "It's gone."

    They sat in silence. Lin felt a sickening mix of anger and regret. She knew that the Archen should have been alive right now. It was her fault that it was dead. Or, maybe if she hadn't been fighting with Lang, it might have been able to hang in there until they made it back to a full-fledged healer.

    At the same time, she wanted to slap Lang. How could he say such a thing? After all this time, how could he not know how important Eclipse's coliseum was to her?

    "I... this is my fault." Lin looked up, surprised. She saw more tears in his eyes.

    You bet it is! "No, Lang, it isn't."

    "I'm the one who shouted. And I'm the one who didn't confront you two before you got here. I..."

    "Hold on," she said as she stood up. "We need to find a better place for the bird. We'll figure this out after that, alright?"

    "Yeah," Lang said, using his ribbons to wipe the tears from his eyes. "Alright."

    ~~~

    Though they wanted to bury the Archen outside of the facility, neither wanted to risk getting lost in the nearly identical hallways. So, for the time, they settled on placing the bird's remains in a box they found a few rooms down. An actual burial would come later.

    They walked back to the Fossil Restoration Lab in silence. Lin crossed her arms to keep herself warm, but it only reminded her of the dried blood encrusted in her chest fur. She glanced down at Lang, whose white and pink coat was still spotless. His glow was the only thing that kept them from total darkness.

    She had no idea he would be so upset by all of this. And why did he follow them all this way? Eclipse hadn't told anyone else what they were going to do, right? Did Lang know that they were going to try resurrecting the Archens? And if not, then why did he follow them in the first place? Did he doubt... no, there wasn't any point in making wild guesses.

    "You know we've tried everything else, right?" she asked as they approached the lab.

    "Yes, but... is it worth that much? So much that we have to resort to this?"

    "Lang, please stop. This... I don't know what I would do with myself if the coliseum were to go under. I thought you understood how much it means to me."

    "But there's gotta be something else out there! Some other way you can keep working on your skills. Like maybe—"

    She could tell what he was going to suggest. "We've been through this already. You're not sparring material."

    "Wha— I wasn't going to suggest that!" he snapped. "Just hear me out!"

    "Alright, alright, what is it?"

    "What if you became an arbiter?"

    "Ugh, what? And teach children how to stop crying? No."

    "What!? But I could handle the younger ones, and you'd take on the older ones. Come on, how bad could it be?"

    "You? Ha! A softie like you would give all the trainees a free pass." He turned a little red at this, but she continued before he could respond. "Sorry, but I don't want to. I just don't, alright?"

    He opened his mouth to speak, but, out of words, he simply sighed and lowered his head. Silence filled the room. Lang's sadness was palpable. Was there something more behind this whole 'arbiter' idea that Lang hadn't said?

    Lin knelt in front of him and put her hand on his cheek. "I'm touched that you care so much. But I'm not ready to just leave everything behind. Not yet. Alright?"

    Lang sighed again. Lin pulled him in for a hug. He wrapped his ribbons around her, returning the hug. But she could sense that he was still gloomy.

    She tried to think of something to say. Maybe something to do. She knew he was right. Eclipse wouldn't be kind to the other Archen. He'd force it into the ring. He'd take advantage of its novelty. He wouldn't let it leave his sight for a moment or give it an ounce of freedom.

    "We could be there for it," she said, almost thinking aloud. Lang pulled away, confusion on his face. "Maybe we could make sure the Archen feels like it's important. We could raise the little guy."

    "Raise him? This is sounding… almost like you want to adopt him."

    "Does that bother you?"

    "Of course not! It's a great idea!" He hugged her again, this time with an energetic warmth coming off his ribbons. "I just didn't think you'd suggest something like that." After pulling away again, she could see that he was glowing, and not just literally. "I can see it now. You can pass along all of the tricks you've come up with, and I'll help make sure it stays healthy and ready for anything."

    He walked over to the fossil. "We can cheer it through the highs and lows. We can be there when it needs help. And maybe, one day, we convince Eclipse to give it its freedom. It's almost like… almost like a family of our own."

    "Yeah," Lin said. As she rose to her feet, she couldn’t help but chuckle. Lang's enthusiasm was a nice change. "I just hope they'll get along." Her heart jumped. She didn't mean to let that slip.

    "'They'?" He turned toward Lin.

    Lin's ears flattened. "Uhh, I was planning on telling you when I got back, but I might as well tell you now, since you're here."

    Lang tilted his head to the side.

    "Let's just say that I-" No, no, she wanted to let him figure it out. "We'll have more than just an Archen to look after."

    "'More than just...'" He trailed off, his brow furrowed. Then his eyes widened. "Wait, are you saying that we... that that..."

    She smiled and nodded.

    "S-so... I'll be a dad? As in, an actual dad?" She nodded again. He was silent, staring at her in a wordless amazement.

    She smiled back. "We'll pick up the egg on the way back. Won't be much longer now before it hatches."

    "I-I'm not sure what to say..." He was about to say something else, but his eyes were drawn to something behind Lin. He gasped and stumbled back.

    Lin whirled around and saw a small, bipedal figure in the doorway. It wore a hooded cloak, and a candlelight danced behind the figure. However, the light was too dim and it was impossible to make out its features.

    "Who the heck are you?" Lin asked as she shifted into a battle stance.

    The candlelight held still and became brighter. The figure shifted their weight forward and down. Claws glistened in the dim light.
     
    Last edited:
    P1.02 – Heroes Don't Die
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    P1.02 – Heroes Don't Die

    No one moved. Lin focused, ready for any quick movement. She considered striking now. Putting on pressure would prevent this opponent from doing whatever they planned. But that would be a risky move. No telling what this thing was... what it was capable of. What it was thinking.

    Lang stepped forward, bringing him alongside Lin. "What do you want from us?" he asked. "Can... you even understand us? Can you speak?"

    The figure responded in a small and young voice, "I am a sword for the swordless. A shield for the shieldless."

    Lin felt her body relax and her mouth sneer. "You? A hatchling like you makes a lousy shield."

    "Lin!" Lang hissed. "She's not alone."

    Lin tensed up again. "Would you just tell us what you want?" She wasn't used to dealing with something like this. Was she a threat or not?

    "Leave," the figure ordered. "And take your other friend. Never come back. Never tell anyone about this place."

    A thought struck Lin. "Are you trying to resurrect this fossil for yourself?"

    "Of course not! I'd rather smash it, if I had to!"

    "S-smash it?" Lang asked. "Why?"

    "I won't let anyone disturb it. It's been dead for millions of years. Are you really going to wake it up? Are you really going to desecrate the dead?"

    "We're giving it a second chance!" Lin shouted back.

    "That's exactly what Eclipse told you. You seriously believe that monster's lie?"

    "How did you know that's what he–?"

    "Be quiet!" The candlelight behind the figure grew brighter and sunk to the ground. "You won't back down? Then fine!" In a flash of steel, the figure drew a long sword. Its blade was wreathed in a light-consuming smog. "We'll stop you!"

    "Reflect! Now!" Lin shouted. Her eye caught a glimmer of light as the figure leapt and swung the blade downward. Her hands moved to catch the blade, distributing the force across her hardened palms. Once the blade was adequately slowed, she channeled inner strength, throwing the blade back with a blast of aura.

    The figure was launched back. She twisted away from the blade to avoid getting sliced, but this evasive maneuver left her unable to brace for impact, and she slammed into the wall at full speed. Both blade and body fell to the floor.

    "You're hurt!" Lang shouted. Lin felt blood running down her paws. Using Force Palm immediately after having her palms sliced was a definite risk, as it forced extra blood into her hands.

    "Where's my reflect!?" Lin shouted as she threw herself at her downed opponent. As the small figure lifted herself to her hands and knees, Lin's eyes fixed on the figure's hood. Lin planted one foot in front of the figure, and then unleashed a savage kick with the other.

    Her foot flew through the air, crashing into the figure's head with a skull-crushing force. The figure's body crashed through the wall, tearing through in a flurry of dust.

    Her foot flew through the air, sending Lin forward and causing her to stomp hard into the unbroken wall. "What the—" she gasped. What just happened? Where did that runt go?

    She heard Lang gasp. Pain shot through her right leg. She looked down to see that sword protruding through the leg. Before she could react, the blade removed itself and flew back into the figure's hand. The intense surge of pain forced a gasp out of Lin. She leapt away from the figure, but the maneuver hurt even worse.

    "Lin!" Lang shouted, even though he was right behind her. "Hold on!" Lin could feel Lang's ribbons wrapping around her leg, taking the edge off the pain. At the same time, she felt his light envelop her body; this would reflect the brunt of most attacks, making her far more durable.

    A little late for that, she thought.

    She expected the figure to be bearing down on them by now, but Lin realized the figure had problems of her own. Her hood was down, revealing the face of a Charmander. Her free hand was clutching the back of her neck, and she tottered slightly, pain clearly visible on her face.

    "What just happened?" Lin asked, her eyes trained on the blade-wielding child.

    "She jumped away," Lang said, "and then she threw her sword."

    "N-no, she just sat still, and I..." Was her mind playing tricks on her? She really did kick the Charmander! Her mind replayed that kick… she didn't miss!

    "Now do you see?" the Charmander said. She tried to lift her sword, but the motion further aggravated her neck. She groaned and staggered under the pain, her head tilted back towards the ceiling.

    Lin blinked. "You shouldn't be standing. Not… not after that!"

    The Charmander grinned through the pain, still with her head back. "Time is on my side. I can't lose. I can't die."

    "But..." Lin glanced at the wall. "What just happened?"

    "You've already lost," the Charmander continued. "I won't let you go through with–" she gasped as a new surge of pain hit her.

    "No, you're the one who's lost! Give up!" Lin broke away from Lang and charged again. She didn't care how many kicks it took. She'd pay for attacking them like that.

    "Stop!" Lang's ribbons wrapped around Lin's wrist. Lin skidded to a stop. What was he doing?

    He rushed in between them. Before she could protest, he continued. "I'll admit I have no idea what you two are talking about. But listen to yourself!" He was looking at the Charmander. "You're in no condition to carry on!"

    As he walked up to the Charmander, Lin noticed that Lang had put a reflective layer on himself as well… at least he was keeping his guard up.

    After the brief pause, he continued, "I'm touched that you care about this Archen. Really. But we'll take good care of it. We'll make sure everything works out."

    "How can you be so certain? I thought… I thought you were opposed to bringing it back. I thought you'd agree with me, and–" She let out a pained gasp and tightened her grip on her neck.

    "Let me fix that," Lang asked as he placed one of his ribbons on her neck, soothing the pain. "And you're right, I don't really like it. I wish there was another way. But Lin really believes that this is the only way, and when she really believes in something, I want to back her up. We'll make a way."

    She stared quietly at him, her tail swaying slightly. "You know, when you put it like that, it doesn't sound so bad. But, still…"

    Lin saw an inky, black tendril coil around Lang's neck. All at once, Lang stopped glowing and his ribbons fell to the floor. The Charmander yanked to the side, causing Lang to flop over. The tendril retracted to her sword, returning to its original shade of blue in the process.

    It happened so quickly and quietly that it took Lin a moment to process it.

    Barely lit by her tail, Lin could see a grin on the Charmander's face. "We're still going to stop you."

    "What did you do to him!?" Lin shouted. Her aura flared, and she could feel the power balling up in each of her paws. "What the heck did you do!?"

    But she wasn't about to wait for an answer. She leaned back and then pitched an aura sphere. Before she could even see the result of the first one, she hurled the second one.

    Her rage burned. She focused, channeling her rage into one of her arms. Not for another aura sphere, though. No, this time, she'd crush that filthy lizard's skull with her own fist.

    But now that she tried to look at the Charmander, she wasn't there anymore. Where did the twerp go? No way she avoided those aura spheres! That was impossible!

    Something erupted from her chest. She looked down, catching a glimpse of the blade before it vanished just as quickly as it appeared.

    She sank to her knees. Blood ran down her chest. Her energy was fading fast.

    "You little cheat," she said, though she could hardly lift her voice. "I kicked you. You should be…"

    "Dead?" the Charmander said, as she walked around in front of Lin. "Yeah, you're right, I probably should be. But if I didn't have Dusk, I would have died a long, long time ago." As she said this, she returned the sword to the sheath strapped to her back.

    "To think that, after all this time, we'd be killed… by a twerp like…" She looked up at Lang's still form, barely visible in the darkness. "Sorry…" she muttered.

    "Killed? It's nothing. You'll be fine."

    "What?" She placed a paw over the wound. "Is this some sick joke?" Was this kid just that naive?

    "No, it's just a flesh wound. That was just a false stab we hit you with."

    "A… what?"

    "It's a… so Dusk is actually a…" She stopped and thought. "Dusk can stab or slice… without really stabbing or slicing… all the way?" Then she shrugged her shoulders. "We do it all the time. After all, what kind of heroes would we be if we killed everyone? That's something the bad guys do."

    "Heroes?" Give me a break. Her mind went to Lang. She tried to lean forward and drag herself over to him, but dizziness forced her onto her bleeding paws. Chucking those aura spheres certainly didn't do her palms any favors.

    "Here, I'll get you to the wall," the Charmander said. She slung Lin's arm over her shoulder and proceeded to drag her.

    Lin tried to struggle, but she was too drained to do so. "Let go of me."

    "Look, we don't hate you." Once at the wall, the Charmander attempted to roll Lin into a sitting position. That was rather difficult, considering she was only half as tall as Lin.

    Lin's eyes went back to the Sylveon, who was just in arm's reach. "What about Lang?"

    "Oh, him? He'll be out for… Dusk, how long?" After a brief pause, she went on, "Maybe a couple of hours?"

    "You jerk. He healed you." Anger stirred up her aura again. With her newfound energy, she pushed the Charmander aside. Then she pulled herself over to him and collapsed on top of his cold body. He was hardly moving, but he was alive.

    "What? He gave us an opening. I bet you'd do the same thing."

    "Don't downplay this!" she shouted, pushing herself up and staring at the little creature. "He was protecting you!"

    "Geez, it was Dusk's idea, not mine."

    "Dusk? Dusk!? Who the heck are you even talking about? Your imaginary friend? A small voice in your head?"

    "He's the sword." Lin noticed the sword's sash, which was usually wrapped around the Charmander's wrist, unwound a bit. It gave a little wave, before returning to its normal position.

    Lin blinked a couple of times.

    The Charmander placed her hand on her chest. "And my name's Dawn. We save Pokémon who need help! Now, uh… we should go talk to your boss." She turned towards the exit.

    "You're leaving? Hey!" She reached after Dawn, but she saw the blood run down her arm. Even if her wounds weren't fatal, bleeding this much was a problem.

    Dawn stopped. "Yeeah, I guess you're right, Dusk." She turned and removed her cloak. "We can't just leave her like this." She grabbed one part in her teeth and tore a lopsided strip off. Then she tore it again, leaving her with three strips.

    Dawn grabbed one of Lin's wrists and started wrapping one of the strips around her palm. After making sure it was secured, she asked to see the other paw.

    "If you think this is going to make me stop hating you," Lin said as she presented the other paw, "you're wrong."

    Dawn shrugged. "Can't please everybody. That's what Dusk tells me." As she finished, she held up the last strip and paused. "I think your leg is probably worse off; that was a real stab." She started wrapping the last of the strips around her leg. "Anyway, I don't even care what either of you think. This is for everyone's good, after all. If that's not a good enough reason for you, then… I don't know what to say. We'll just stop you again, if we have to. Good ends don't justify bad means, or however it goes. So…"

    Lin stopped listening. This was utterly humiliating. Not only did she lose to a child, she was being lectured? If only Lang hadn't tried to reason with her…

    "Ok, all set!" Dawn stood up. She was a bit of a bloody mess from when she dragged Lin, but otherwise, she was unscathed. "You wouldn't happen to know where Eclipse went, would you?"

    Lin glared.

    Dawn chuckled. "Right, never mind. I'll figure it out." She ran out of the room, taking her little flame with her. The room went absolutely dark.

    What would happen to Eclipse? Would he lose too? She had never seen him in a fight. He had his psychic powers, yes, but how well could he use them in the heat of combat?

    Lin sighed. She wasn't used to being helpless like this. She could hardly move, let alone stand up. She couldn't even channel her aura, because that might accelerate the bleeding.

    She called out to Lang and tried to shake him, but it was no good; he was totally out. He didn't have any visible wounds. Still, she wished she could know if he was alright. Dawn did say that he'd be fine, but she didn't trust that Charmander as far as she could throw… well, she could probably throw a Charmander pretty far.

    With nothing better to do, she laid her head on Lang's shoulder, waiting for something to happen.

    ~~~

    Lin wasn't sure how long she stayed like that before she finally saw a familiar glow.

    "Eclipse!" she called. "You're ok!"

    "What's that supposed to–" He stopped mid-sentence. Before he even made it into the room, his psychic vision must have told him something was wrong. He quickly floated through the door.

    "We were attacked," she explained. "The kid said she was coming after you. You were gone for so long, that I was beginning to wonder…"

    As she spoke, he drifted over and placed a tentacle over the wound in her chest, assessing the damage. As he started to check Lang, he asked, "Kid? What kind of kid?"

    "Charmander. Annoying little twit. Thought she was a hero or something."

    "A… what? You mean the kind with claws and fire? How did she suck his life out? And your wounds look like stabs, not scratches."

    "Yeah, she has this creepy sword."

    His eyes widened. "Creepy sword? Did it have a blue sash? Could it move?"

    "Uh… yeah, it did."

    "A Honedge." He stared at the wall in thought. "Did she say anything about it? What did it do?"

    "Well… I think she used it to knock Lang out. She said he'd be ok, but I'm not sure I trust her."

    "Yes, he'll be alright. It stole his energy… well, you call it aura. It ate his aura. He'll wake up hungry, but he'll be ok." He sighed. "Serves him right for disobeying orders. Still, I should have sent him back as soon as I noticed him following us."

    "You knew!? Why didn't you say anything?"

    "Never mind that. More importantly, about this Charmander… what did she do to beat you two like this? Did she get the jump on you?"

    "That's the thing," Lin said. She placed her chin on her bandaged paw. "I think I beat her, but… then I didn't? I mean, I kicked her, but then it was like we went back and redid the kick, just so that it wouldn't hit her."

    "You're sure? You mean she turned back time? Did she say anything about this?"

    "Um… yeah, something about time being on her side? And that she couldn't die? I don't–"

    Eclipse whirled and, with a flick of his tentacle, launched a wave of light. When the light subsided, Lin spotted the Charmander, who had just ducked the wave.

    "Darn! We almost had you," she said. As she stood up, she went on, "You see what we did to your lackeys, right? You're next, unless you give up now." Her blade was dripping with a dark substance.

    After they stared at each other in silence, he finally said, "Yield? To a puppet like you?"

    "Puppet? What are you talking about?"

    "You're just a puppet. A vessel without any free will."

    "Ehh… you hearing this nonsense, Dusk?"

    "Ah, right, it's nonsense. All of it." As he said these last words, the glow from his body swelled up into a sudden flash, followed by a soft, red glow. Lin felt a heaviness enter the room. The air became oppressive. Invasive. Lin felt as if there were observers, staring in. Except she wasn't the center of attention.

    Dawn, however, seemed entirely entranced. She was staring unblinkingly at the pattern of lights. "Yeah," she said, her voice sounding absent. Her form began to relax. "I can't argue with that."

    Her eyes became wide. She opened her mouth to speak, but a strained sound was all that came out. Dawn dropped to her knees, as if someone had forced her down. She looked as though she was trying to fight back, but Lin knew that there was nothing that the little Charmander could do now. Now Eclipse was in control.

    Eclipse's quiet voice sounded, breaching the silence: "So you like stabbing others in the chest? Then you'll find this interesting: She who lives by the sword... do you know what comes next?" Then the silence returned.

    At first, nothing seemed to happen. Dawn sat there, staring unblinkingly at the Malamar, sword still in hand. Eclipse stood equally motionless. Lin watched with her arms around Lang's neck, waiting for whatever would happen next. It was some time before he muttered it again, as if coaxing a response out of Dawn.

    "She who lives by the sword..."

    Eclipse's words echoed in Lin's head. Though they were just a soft whisper, they bothered Lin. She tried to push that out of her head. But doing so made them come back, a little louder this time.

    She who lives by the sword...

    Dawn, still mesmerized by Eclipse's lights, began to lift her blade. Was she... pointing it at Eclipse? Something here wasn't making sense to Lin. Eclipse's words became a nagging riddle. Lin played them back in her head again, determined to figure out the meaning.

    She who lives by the sword...

    Dawn's other hand rose to take the sword, to reorient it. Now it faced backwards, towards its owner. The pieces were starting to come together.

    She who lives by the sword...

    Now the blade was in place, pointing at its owner's heart. Ah, now it made sense! Lin was convinced. There was only one possible solution to this riddle. She unraveled it! She lifted her fist triumphantly and shouted the answer she had so expertly deduced.

    "...dies by the sword!"

    The tension vanished instantly. For a brief moment, Dawn sat motionless. Then, with a thud, she fell to her side. The flame on her tail sputtered and vanished.
     
    Last edited:
    P1.03 – Double Edge
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    P1.03 – Double Edge

    Her heart was pounding. She gagged and collapsed. She couldn't get enough air. Her chest killed her, even though she shouldn't feel pain while in this place.

    That voice. Those thoughts. The pressure. Those eyes. Oh, those hideous, burning eyes.

    She opened her eyes, but the light was too intense. Yet when she closed her eyes again, all she could see was red.

    "Dawn!" Dusk's familiar voice called. She heard him running toward her. She tried to respond, but she couldn't form any coherent words.

    She felt herself being picked up and held tightly. As the initial shock began to wear off, she started sobbing. She had never been so terrified. Nothing she had been through could have prepared her for this.

    "Shh, you're going to be ok." The deep voice said reassuringly. "You're safe now." Being curled up in Dusk's lap helped a little. But one question hounded her.

    "Am I dead?" She managed to ask between the sobs.

    "No, you'll be fine."

    "W-what?" Was Dusk lying? Was he just trying to get her to stop worrying? "But I thought–"

    "Remember, this sword doesn't have to always be solid. Just like with Lin, you haven't really been stabbed. You're fine."

    "But it hurt! It still hurts so bad..." She curled up tighter.

    "I had to make it convincing. They think you're dead, so they're leaving you alone, at least for now."

    "But... why? Why not just make it pass through me entirely? Or why couldn't you just turn back time, like you always do?" She finally uncurled a bit and looked up at his face. When they were inside the sword like this, Dusk assumed his human form. His face was unusually calm, given the circumstances.

    "While you were being controlled like that, there was nothing we could do. I don't know what would happen to you if I turned back time as he was in your head like that. It might really mess you up."

    "But those lights, I..." She shivered and buried her face in his lap again.

    He sighed. "I'm sorry. I had a feeling that he was bad news. I knew we were biting off more than we could chew. I should have warned you, but..."

    He fell silent. After a while, she turned on her side and looked up at the clockwork that hung overhead, suspended in the endless white expanse. The massive gears kept turning, on and on. Dawn remembered the first time when she saw them, being afraid that they might fall and crush her. Yet, she was also amazed something like that could exist. She remembered lying down and staring at those things for hours, listening to them churn steadily.

    Not that these gears were actually real; this was all inside Dusk's mind. But he said that, long ago, there were clock towers with gears that were even bigger. She could only imagine what that looked like. What she wouldn't give to see one of those in person.

    The little flame on Dawn's tail caught her attention. Was she really alive? Would she be stuck inside the sword now, just like Dusk?

    "Ahh! My tail!" Dawn sat up.

    "Wh-what? What about it?"

    "You said they think I'm dead, right? But if I'm still alive, then my tail will give it away! I need to get back out there, before they get suspicious!" She jumped out of Dusk's lap and turned to face him. "You gotta..." The thought of facing those eyes again was terrifying, but staying asleep wasn't much better. "...send me back..."

    "You're not ready to go back yet." He stood up, towering way above her. "And besides, you don't need to worry about your tail."

    "I don't? But I thought you said..."

    "I guess I never told you, did I? When I bring you in here, you go to sleep. Well, not like you take a nap. I mean your entire body sleeps. It just shuts off."

    "It does? Are you telling me, that... so, for all this time, my tail's been going out!?"

    "Well, I don't know about that. It still gives off a little smoke, so it's not totally out." He straightened his dark-red uniform. "Don't look at me like that! You've been fine all this time, so I never bothered to bring it up."

    "I guess it's just a little strange." She let out a sigh. "But what can we do? If I don't get up, what if they try doing something to us? And if I do get up..." She shuddered.

    Dusk knelt down and put his hand on her shoulder. "Then we'll just have to keep Eclipse from controlling you again."

    "Huh? We can do that?"

    Dusk shrugged.

    "That doesn't help..."

    "Hey, what do I say about giving up?"

    "I know, I know, 'giving up only gets you down.'" As she repeated his cheesy mantra, she pushed his hand off her shoulder. "But how do you beat mind control? Dusk, we've stopped thieves. We've stopped hunters. Heck, we stopped a Zapdos! But none of them could… I don't know, Dusk. Mind control? This feels unbeatable!"

    "I know it's hard to think straight, especially after what you've been through, but…" He stood up and put his hand to his chin. "I'm sorry to ask this, but it's important. Did you notice anything strange right before Eclipse began to control you?"

    "Well, it's hard to say... it started so quickly. I suddenly felt like... a whole bunch of hands were grabbing me and they were... keeping me from moving."

    "You mentioned lights. Anything strange with them?"

    "O-oh... err..." She crossed her arms and felt very cold again.

    "Sorry, I guess we should focus on something else."

    "No, wait." She took a deep breath. "Well, at first, the lights on his body were yellow. And… then I think they flickered for a moment. And then they all became..."

    "Red, right?"

    "Y-yeah... like a bunch of eyes..."

    "When did it feel like you were being grabbed?"

    "Right after the flashing lights, when they changed..."

    "Then it's easy!" The outburst caught Dawn off guard. Dusk hardly seemed to notice as he continued, "When a psychic Pokémon wants to control someone, they have to get through their victim's mental defense. Normally, only a very powerful Pokémon break through."

    "Are you saying that... Eclipse is very powerful?"

    "Not quite. There are ways to sneak past the defenses and shut them off. Once that's done, there's nothing you can do."

    "I don't see what flashing lights have to do with this."

    "It's been hundreds of years, but if memory serves, certain light patterns confuse the brain, causing it to briefly lower its guard. That's how Eclipse was able to take over."

    "So are you telling me he only can control me if I'm looking at him?"

    Dusk nodded.

    "So as long as I don't look at him, I'm fine? W-wait, but in that case… how can I do anything!? Things are hard enough even when I can see what I'm doing!"

    "Well, instead of wrapping the sash around your wrist, I could put it around your head, like a blindfold. And even if you can't see, I can guide you."

    "I suppose..."

    "Should be enough to let us escape. Even if they notice you, I don't think they'll be too interested in chasing us."

    Dawn looked up at the clockworks. Yes, this plan would probably work. They could get away. They would be safe. Maybe running was the best choice. Maybe she wasn't strong enough this time.

    But the things she saw... she couldn't shake them.

    "I can't," she said. Dusk looked at her with confusion. "We can't just leave."

    He sighed. "I know you're worried about this leading to another Era of Sleep, but the odds of that are low. Remember, Eclipse is in this for himself. He's not going to tell anyone how he brought back an extinct Pokémon. He will keep this place a secret."

    "But he can't keep it a secret forever. And what if something happens to the Archen? Won't he come back with more fossils? Word's going to get out there, and–"

    "Even then, remember that it took a lot of scientific research to make the Era of Sleep possible. And with no humans around, there should be no more Shadow Pokémon, either."

    "But still… we can't just let this happen!" She balled up her fists. "You said it yourself! These ancient Pokémon went extinct because they couldn't adapt. The only reason they could survive after being restored was thanks to humans. Your kind kept them going, right?"

    "You heard those two talking, though. They're going to help make sure it does alright. We don't need to worry about it."

    "Sure, maybe this one will be alright. But what about all the rest of them?" As she said this, she swung her arms out emphatically. "Once the world learns about this Archen, there's going to be more. And not just Archens, all sorts of species."

    "Dawn, you're overthinking this."

    "First, that Sylveon defends Eclipse, and now you, too? But don't you see? If we just leave, there's nothing we can do. We can't just confront him later. It's now or never!"

    "Then what do you want to do? What can we even do?"

    Dawn turned away and stared into the vast white emptiness. She had to stop Eclipse, but that wasn't going to be easy. Clearly, she couldn't talk him out of this. Maybe she could destroy the fossil restoration machine, but there were many other machines. She could ask Dusk to suck the energy out of Eclipse, but that was only a temporary solution.

    There was one other way. It went beyond anything they had ever done before, but it felt like the only way. But what would Dusk think of it? Of her, for suggesting it?

    Dawn took a deep breath. "We can't let him leave alive."

    "D-Dawn?"

    She swung around to face him. "I know it's crazy, but this might be our only chance! We have to stop him before anyone else gets hurt!"

    "Dawn, listen to yourself! That's going too far! We protect, not kill!"

    "But this is protecting! Eclipse is worse than any hunter we've ever faced! There's nothing good about him! He's… he's just as bad as Giovanni and Lysandre! Eclipse is a monster!"

    "Dawn!" he snapped. "Enough!"

    Her blood was boiling with rage, pushing her on. "It's not like he goes around, tracking Pokémon for himself because he's hungry. He gets Pokémon to kill each other! And then he sells what's left of them!"

    "Most who enter his deathmatches, they do so willingly. And he hosts other kinds of fights, too!"

    "So!? He's still organizing the whole thing! If we just let him live, more Pokémon are going to get hurt! But you're just a human, so of course you wouldn't understand! Of course it doesn't bother you!"

    Dusk was too taken aback to reply. Regret hit Dawn like a bucket of water, leaving her chilled. She had never attacked him like this before.

    "Dawn… is that really how I've acted? Is that how you see me?"

    She couldn't look at him in the face, and instead looked down at her feet. She had no idea where that came from. "I… I… no, I didn't mean..."

    She could hear Dusk walking up to her.

    Dawn clenched her fists. "You probably hate me."

    To her surprise, Dusk picked her up. "No, of course not," Dusk replied, cradling her. "I'm just sorry I can't fight him for you."

    Dawn looked up, confused.

    "If one of your parents saw you back there, getting mind controlled like that, they would've held nothing back. They would tear that Malamar to shreds. Then they would pick you up and take you somewhere safe. And I would do nothing less, if I could.

    "But I can't. I'm just a human locked in a Honedge. And I'm not even a very good Honedge... I can't float. Can't speak. I'm just a stupid piece of metal."

    "That's not true, Dusk. You're able to control time, and… and…"

    He shook his head. "Eclipse tried to murder you. You should be wanting to run away. You should be terrified."

    Actually, she was terrified, but she didn't want to admit it.

    "He didn't even stop to hear what you had to say. He saw you as an obstacle and a threat. He tried to remove you. Someone heartless like him... maybe you're not wrong. Stopping him here might be best."

    "But," Dawn said, "I thought you didn't want us to..."

    "I don't. And that's why it's ok to back down. There's no shame in running. Don't feel like you have to carry this burden."

    Dusk was asking her to choose? Now that he was leaving it up to her, it was a terrifying choice. What if she made the wrong choice? If she ran, what if things got even worse? Or what if they fought Eclipse and lost?

    "Dusk, do you think the heroes you told me about... were they afraid of making mistakes?"

    "Absolutely."

    She jumped out of his arms. "Then I won't run. I'm going to try."

    "Just be aware that, even if I can take us back in time, certain things cannot be undone. If someone near us dies, I can't go back to the point before they died. And if Eclipse manages to get a hold of us again, then we lose for real."

    "Heroes... like Wes and N and Serena and... all of the others, they didn't back down. I won't, either!"

    Dusk sighed wearily. "Why did I have to fill your head with all of those stories?" He thought for a moment. "Alright, then! We don't have much time left. I think I've got a plan."

    ~~~

    Dawn opened her eyes. There was a faint blue light, but in her current position, Dawn couldn't see much.

    Focus, Dusk said, his voice echoing through Dawn's mind. Though Dusk was unable to speak aloud, he could talk to her directly through the sash.

    Dawn took a deep breath. She could feel her inner flame swelling back up. Whenever she woke up after talking to Dusk, she needed a few seconds before she could move again. Now she finally understood why.

    While she was still inside the sword, Dusk said that no one was looking at them. Eclipse had started restoring the second fossil, so he had his back to Dawn and Dusk. Lang was still asleep. Lin, on the other hand, was awake, but she was still drained. There was a chance she–

    "Wha– The Charmander, she's...!"

    Dawn pulled herself up. As she did so, Dusk's sash came off her arm and then wrapped itself around her face. Dusk would have to be her eyes.

    You got their attention. They're behind you.

    Dawn gripped the sword's handle. It felt strange for the phantom blade to be lodged inside her chest, but she imagined it looked even stranger than it felt. "I already told you..." She pulled the blade out slowly. "I can't die." She could feel the blood flowing from both the front and back cuts.

    Keep talking.

    "I'll let your friends go. But you? Your sun…" Dawn made a quarter turn and pointed the Honedge toward Eclipse before she continued. "…sets here!"

    He's to the left a little. Go.

    Dawn charged, sword in hand. Chills ran down her spine. Eclipse was up to something. Even if she couldn't see him, she could feel his overwhelming presence. It was so clear that she hardly needed Dusk to find him.

    From his tentacles... almost... jump, then swing!

    Before Dawn could react, something crashed into her legs, knocking her off her feet. But before she could even hit the ground, she could feel the world warp. Dusk was giving her a second chance.

    Again!

    This time, she got off the ground before she got hit. She swung the blade overhead with all of her might. The blade bounced off something with a thunk. Dawn smashed her face into something very hard. Again, the world went back in time.

    A shield! Jump off and slice below!

    This time, when she jumped, she twisted as she did so. She could feel herself land on a smooth 'wall.' She pushed off immediately and sliced towards the floor. She stumbled forward as she landed, but she managed to avoid falling.

    "Sir!" Lin shouted.

    You got one of his tentacles!

    "It'll grow back," he said. "Listen, you! Like I said before, that sword is using you as a puppet. You're being possessed!"

    "Sorry to disappoint you," Dawn said, turning towards the voice, "But he told me to run away. I didn't listen." Dawn was glad to get a moment to breathe. When Dusk rewound time, the effects of the discarded timeline lingered, so her legs and face still hurt.

    "It's reverse psychology. It wants you to kill me. It wants to steal my power, just like it did with all of its other victims!"

    He's afraid of you. He's trying to get in your head.

    "Why should I listen to the monster who almost killed me?"

    "As long as you live, that parasite will use you. I was setting you free!"

    Get back!

    Dawn leapt backwards. Something landed with a crackle, inches from her feet.

    Psybeams. With one tentacle left, he can't attack and defend at the same time. Keep up the pressure!

    "Right!" She charged again. A second beam came, scoring a hit on her stomach. She lurched forward, consumed by an intense burning, both in her body and in her mind.

    Dusk rewound to the moment before the attack landed. She dove to the side, slowing down briefly. Once she got her footing back, she continued to run. Her body still stung from the original hit, but adrenaline kept her moving.

    We've got him in a corner. Don't hold back!

    She could feel Dusk drawing power from her, using it to envelop the blade in shadows. She swung hard. The sharp sound of blade against barrier rang through the room. The blade seemed to get lodged in the barrier this time. Eclipse let out a pained gasp, and then emitted a force that threw Dawn back. She leaned forward, digging her free claw into the ground, keeping herself from toppling over as she skidded to a stop.

    Almost there! One more—attacker on your left!

    Dawn whirled and swung the blade. She could feel it slice through something, but she wasn't sure what. She heard a gurgling sound followed by a thud.

    Dawn, no!

    She could feel Dusk bending time, but just for a brief moment. And then again, and again.

    "What?" she asked, feeling a bit disoriented.

    Incoming! As Dawn ducked to the side, she could feel a psybeam wiz past her head. Never mind, just finish what you've started!

    Dawn leapt towards the source of the beams, sword arm ready. Dusk channeled her energy into the blade.

    Now.

    Dawn swung. There was no barrier to stop the blow this time, and the blade carved through effortlessly. A moment later, she heard a thud. She could feel the ominous presence lift from the air. With the weight lifted, she could finally get her breath back.

    She stepped back. "Is… it over?" she asked between breaths. "Did we win?"

    Des...... bond...

    "What? You sound really far away."

    ...awn! ...sorry......live...

    "What's happening? Dusk!? You're so quiet!"

    ...back......own.......unknown...time.......

    "Dusk?"

    .....................................

    "Dusk!"

    The Dusk's sash became limp and slipped off her face. She looked down at the Honedge. Blood dripped off the steel blade. She held up the sash in her free hand. It was unusually cold.

    "...Dusk?"

    She looked up. It was dark, but she could faintly make out Eclipse's black, glossy remains.

    "We… did that? Dusk?"

    As she stepped away, her foot came down on a puddle of something wet and sticky.

    "Blood?"

    She turned and saw another body. This one was white and slender.

    She turned pale. "No... not you too! This wasn't how things were supposed to go! Dusk, why didn't you tell me? Dusk!?"

    She clung to the cold, bloody blade. But the silence was colder and bloodier.

    So she ran.
     
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    P2.01 – Morning
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    Hehe, almost missed the first update... that'd be kind of a bad sign if I can't stick to the plan in the first week.

    P2.01 – Morning

    Rain pelted the roof of branches and leaves. In some spots, the water leaked through, falling into mud puddles on the floor of the small, ancient shack. Dawn lay curled up in the driest corner, bothered by the cold, but not enough to do anything about it.

    She lost track of the days since Dusk went silent. The Honedge lay in front of her, inside his sheath. She clung to his sash, hoping that he might still be in there, somewhere. That maybe one morning, she'd find it wrapped around her arm again. She could hear him scolding her for thinking he was gone.

    No, he'd scold her for messing up. This was her fault. There was no going back. Eclipse was gone, but so was the other one. Dawn didn't even remember her name. But now Dusk wasn't around to help pick up the pieces.

    She sighed. What was she supposed to do now? Dawn could hardly remember the time before she found Dusk. She only remembered that she was cold. Very cold. But Dusk kept her mind off that snowy day by telling her stories. Oh, so many stories.

    She sighed again. All she could do was wait. Wait, and hope. As her mind wandered aimlessly, she started to doze off, falling back into a fitful slumber.

    ~~~

    Dawn hurled Dusk at them. The eyes. The eyes and their crushing gaze.

    She was gasping for breath. It was that nightmare. Just like last time, and the time before that. She hardly dared to get to sleep, but couldn't help but doze off sometimes.

    The first few times, she buried her face in her arms and cried. Though the dream was still just as terrifying, she was becoming numb, in a way. Still, her heart pounded and her hands shook.

    She noticed that Dusk was sitting in the mud after she threw him like that. Got up and walked over. "Sorry about that!" she said as she scooped him up. "I had this bad dream, and– oh..." He was still silent.

    Dawn sighed. She looked up and, through the gaps in the roof, saw the stars. The rain clouds were gone, which was fortunate. Being a Charmander, rain was uncomfortable at best, deadly at worst.

    Her stomach growled. When did she last eat? A few days? A week? However long it had been, she needed food, and her throat was painfully dry.

    Using the strap which she attached to Dusk's sheath, she slung the blade around her shoulder. Dawn immediately felt something was missing. Normally, when they moved around in the cold, Dusk would wrap his sash around her like a scarf. It felt weird to do it herself, but she wrapped the sash around her neck.

    "You're so cold!" Dawn said. Normally, Dusk's sash was pleasantly warm. "I don't know if you can hear me, but... maybe I can warm you up. Would that help?"

    No response, of course.

    She eyed the doorway, which was veiled by an old piece of cloth. Going outside without Dusk made her nervous. Except she wasn't going without him. He was right here, with her. "Well... let's go, then."

    She pushed through. She found herself looking up at the starry expanse overhead. The thousands of points of light dotted the moonless sky. Dusk told her that each one was a massive ball of fire. He said they only looked small because they were really, really far away. Dawn still had a hard time believing him... they were such small little twinkles up there! How could they be that big? And if they were that far away, how could she see them?

    She caught herself sighing again. She tore her attention away from the sky and back down to her surroundings. Their shack was in the middle of the forest, half a day's walk from the nearest town. It was rare that anyone would pass by the shack, and rarer still that anyone would investigate it. That's what made it a good place to stay, at least temporarily.

    Dawn tightened the sash around her neck, trying to ward off the nipping cold.

    ~~~

    She leaned back against the tree, holding an oran fruit in her hands. It had a sour peel that protected the bitter-sweet juices inside. Though she could take a bite, she didn't like it raw. Instead, she held the flame of her tail up to it. Roasting the fruit caused the peel to become soft and sweet, and the juices became even sweeter. Dusk thought it was weird that she always ate oran fruit like this. Sometimes, she'd burn it a little just to get a reaction out of him. He'd always complain that burnt food was unhealthy, but she'd just laugh him off.

    After it was thoroughly roasted, she took a bite. It was good. Real good. She found herself scarfing it down. It was gone before she really got to enjoy it.

    She was still hungry. She needed more. And she needed a faster way to cook them.

    ~~~

    Finding dry wood was tough, but she found enough to get a fire going. Did she need to bother building a fire? No, but it helped get her mind off things, and she definitely appreciated the warmth. She picked up one of the fruits and held it in the fire. Though the fire stung her hands a little, she didn't mind.

    Dawn bit into the fruit. Though the peel was soft, she didn't give the rest of it time to cook, leaving the innards mostly uncooked. She spluttered at the unexpected bitterness.

    "I don't know how anyone can stand 'em like this. I just don't know..."

    No response.

    How could she sit here, thinking about how fruit tasted? Dusk was gone, and she was complaining about something being too bitter. Dusk's sash was just as cold as before, even though she was quite warm now.

    She took Dusk and his sheath off her shoulder and laid him across her lap. She stared down at the strange pattern on the sheath. It almost looked like a face, but not quite.

    "Why?" she whispered. "Why did you leave me? Why can't you talk to me? Why do I have to clean this up by myself? Why didn't you stop me!?"

    No response.

    She began to cry. "Why? Where did you go? When will you come back?"

    She put her face in her arms and continued sobbing. What if Dusk never came back? What if he never spoke again? The thought was terrifying.

    ~~~

    By the time she was done crying, the fire had been out for some time. She looked up at the sky and saw that it was starting to get a little brighter... morning was on its way.

    Before Dusk went silent, Dawn felt like a hero who could protect others. But now she felt more like a monster. She was always trying to make things right, but this time, she just ruined everything. All those other times… was she really helping then, either? Maybe, all along, she was just bringing more hurt into the world.

    "Maybe Eclipse was right about Dusk... was I just a puppet?"

    She shook her head. "No, that's just a stupid lie. He was just trying to get into my head. I'm the one who's made all of these decisions. I'm the one who was trying to be a hero. Dusk was just there… backing me up."

    She sighed, thinking how nice it would be to talk to Dusk. Even if he was furious with her, that would be better than silence. He always knew what to do. He had a plan for everything and seemed to know everything.

    Now she needed to think for herself. She needed to figure out what to do and how to fix things. She needed to know what was wrong with Dusk. That would help her find a way to bring him back.

    But where could she start? Up until now, she relied on Dusk for everything. Now she had nothing to go on, nor anyone to ask. How did he get so smart in the first place? She tried to think back to anything he might have said.

    Her mind went to the time they were skulking around a Pokémon town in the middle of the night. They were there because Dusk was curious, but they had to avoid getting spotted, since everyone believed ghost Pokémon were dangerous.

    As they wondered about the town, they passed by a building that looked different from the rest. Whereas most buildings were made out of wood or hardened clay, this one was made out of concrete and had glass windows. It stood out, so Dusk wanted to investigate it further.

    They peeked through a window and saw that it was filled with, to Dawn's surprise, countless books. Dusk thought this was rather odd; Pokémon hadn't figured out how to print books. He guessed that the ones in that building must have been quite old. There had to be all sorts of interesting things in there, he said.

    Coincidentally, Dawn did know how to read. She and Dusk were lucky enough to find a few tattered books during their adventures. Using those, Dusk showed her how to understand the words in the pages. Being able to read gave her a certain pride; many Pokémon were illiterate, and the few who could read only understood modern writing, not ancient books.

    It wasn't much, but maybe she could try looking in that "library," or whatever Dusk had called it. Going there was better than trying to ask around; no Pokémon would be willing to help her if they learned she was trying to help a ghost-type Pokémon. And there were a lot of hunters who'd like to get even with her… best not to draw attention to herself right now.

    As the sun's glow began to peek over the horizon, Dawn stood up. "Whatever happened to you," she said as she slung Dusk over her shoulder, "I'm going to fix this. If there's a way through this, I'll find it. Just... hang in there."

    She said the last part to herself more than to Dusk.

    ~~~

    It took her a better part of the day to make it to the town, and now it was just after noon. Though the journey was uneventful, being without Dusk made Dawn feel vulnerable. No one would trust her if they saw her carrying him around, so she would just have to make do without him.

    Now she faced a bigger problem. Whereas the road was empty, the town was full of activity. As she walked down a street, she passed by all sorts of Pokémon, mostly ones that were bigger than her. They were of all sorts of colors and shapes. Some of them walked on four legs, others on two, and a few had no legs at all. Most of them were busy chatting, haggling, counting money, hauling things, fixing things, and so on.

    She tried to keep her gaze down, but she would occasionally glance around. She noticed that many of the other Pokémon were looking at her. Some of them lowered their voices as she walked past them.

    Do I look strange? she thought. Do they know I've done something?

    She tried to not think about that. Her real issue was that she couldn't find the library. The town wasn't that large compared to some of the cities Dawn had visited, but she felt particularly small today. Before, her and Dusk were running around at night, jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Now the buildings surrounded her and penned her in with all of those staring faces.

    "Hold it right there!"

    She let out a little shriek and stiffened. She resisted the urge to run, and instead turned to face the voice. She saw a pair of Pawniards, which looked like little people in black and red armor. They bristled with blades; each one had blades on their chests, axe-blades coming out of their 'helmets,' and swords for hands.

    "This has to be the one," one of them said.

    Dawn sensed something moving behind her. She glanced back, seeing that it was a third Pawniard. The first two spread out a little. "W-what? Me?" was all she managed to say in response. She was being surrounded. Though they were shorter than her, she didn't stand a chance in an all-out fight. Other than making smokescreens, her fire capabilities were sorely lacking.

    "Now!" One of the Pawniards swung her arms, catching Dawn's attention. "Drop 'er!" she shouted.

    With Dawn's attention focused on the Pawniard who gave the order, she didn't notice the one behind her run up. He slammed the flats of his swords against her shoulders, delivering a jolt of electricity. The zap caused her body to seize up, and she crumpled onto the dusty street. Before she could recover, one of the Pawniards kicked her side, causing her to roll onto her back. In moments, there was a foot on her chest and a sword at her throat.

    "She's down! Get the captain!" one of them said.

    "There's no need," thundered a new voice. Dawn didn't take her eyes off the Pawniard who was pinning her down, but she could tell he wasn't too far off. "Did she fight back?" the newcomer asked.

    "No, sir. Dropped like a fly, sir."

    She could hear his heavy footsteps coming closer. "Get off her. I want to take a good look."

    The Pawniard stepped off her and backed away. But even though she wasn't being threatened at sword point, she had a much bigger problem: a Bisharp. He was much taller than the Pawniards… maybe almost as tall as Dusk. He looked similar to the Pawniards, but his blades were even larger. Instead of having simple swords coming from his wrists, he had metal gauntlets. They, too, were wickedly sharp, and he had a blade coming out of each wrist.

    Even without pointing any of his blades at Dawn, he was far more intimidating than any of the Pawniards. He only needed his cold gaze to keep her pinned down.

    "What was she doing when you found her?" he asked, not taking his eyes off Dawn.

    "Not much. She was walking, sir."

    "No attempts to stay out of sight? Just walking?"

    "She looked nervous, but she was making no efforts to hide, sir."

    "Is that so?" He glanced at one of his troops, before offering his hand to Dawn. "Get up. I need to see something."

    She hesitated for a moment, but then decided she had no other choice. She took his hand, careful not to grip those serrated fingers too tightly. As he pulled her up to her feet, she saw that several Pawniards had formed a ring around her and the Bisharp… definitely no chance of running now.

    The Bisharp walked around her slowly, getting a good look at Dawn. He stopped in front of her and got down on one knee. "Tell me..." He motioned towards the cut in her chest. "...how did this get here?"

    Dawn swallowed. "I… I was attacked."

    "Oh? By whom?"

    "Uh…" What could she say? They were talking about the stab wound. Technically, she had stabbed herself. "By… by a Charmander."

    She heard the Pawniards whisper among themselves before the Bisharp motioned for them to be silent.

    "Truly? But you have a similar wound on your back. These don't look like claw marks. Tell me, then, what are they?"

    Dawn's heart was racing. "No, the Charmander stabbed me with a sword."

    Everyone, including the Bisharp, were taken aback by this. In a moment, the ring of Pawniards erupted into total chaos. "There's a second one?" "That's impossible!" "How can there be another one?" "This is too convenient!" "She's the one!" "Get off my foot!" "Pin her down!" They started to close in around her. All she could do was put her arms over her face and prepare for the worst.

    "Silence!" the Bisharp's voice rang out among the racket, and everything went silent. The Pawniards resumed their watch of the Charmander.

    He walked in front of them and spoke down at them. "When did I give you permission to speak? Do you think you may chatter whenever you please!? Have we been training a gang of Mankeys!?"

    None of them took their eyes off their captive, despite the Bisharp's challenges.

    "This is disgraceful! Exhibiting this shameful behavior for all to see! And just after assaulting an innocent traveler, none-the-less! You'd better pray to Arceus that our king is merciful!"

    They continued to watch Dawn unflinchingly. Straying from their duty now would just put them in even hotter water. It wasn't until the Bisharp waved them off that they left, returning to their various duties. Now that she wasn't quite so surrounded, Dawn noticed that a crowd townsfolk had gathered to watch the spectacle. Fortunately, the crowd also started to disperse.

    Dawn was still trying to put the pieces together. They were looking for her, that was clear. But they didn't have a full picture. They thought she was someone else. She had to play along. Maybe then she could get out. Yes, she had to play dumb. She was "attacked," but she couldn't let on that she knew anything else. She had to ask questions.

    "I apologize for their rudeness," the Bisharp said, interrupting Dawn's train of thought. The Bisharp had returned to his calm, collected tone. "They're too eager to please."

    "Why? W-what's going on?" She was still very intimidated by the Bisharp, which caused her to stutter a bit. One wrong word, and she'd be dead.

    "Hmm… normally I would be surprised at your ignorance, but you don't seem like you're from around here." She nodded. "Just a few days ago, we had an incident involving a Charmander with a sword. I take it you've seen her?"

    "Only a bit…" Dawn said. She was trying to fabricate something, but it was tough when on the spot. "It was kind of dark. I couldn't see much before I got stabbed." She crossed her arms and looked away, focusing on how to put things together.

    "Hmm… I see. Where were you when this happened? And when was this?"

    "It was a few days ago." It was raining, right? Yes, it was raining on that day. "I was trying to get out of the rain. I… took shelter in this creepy old building. I thought it was empty."

    "How long were you there before you got stabbed? Was your attacker coming or going?"

    "Um…" She tried to act as though she was remembering, just to buy a little time. "I… I was only there for a few minutes, I think. I was watching the entrance, waiting for it to stop raining. Then I heard someone inside the building. I turned, and… then I got attacked."

    The Bisharp stroked his chin. "So, at the time you saw the killer, she was fleeing."

    "K-killer!?" Dawn did her best to act surprised.

    "Yes. We're dealing with someone very dangerous. You're lucky you're still alive."

    This was good! She could figure out what they knew! "What happened?"

    "On that night you got attacked, three Pokémon were also in that building. They were conducting some kind of experiment with technology from the ancients, but they were attacked by a Charmander with a sword. As you've probably guessed, this sword wasn't any average sword; a stab like that," he pointed at Dawn's chest, "would normally be fatal. We noticed a similar wound on one of the victims. But exactly what kind of sword caused these wounds, we aren't sure.

    "Two of the three victims were killed. The third was knocked unconscious, but he was largely unscathed. He reported the incident to us." He shook his head. "I've never seen someone so rattled. Anyway, one of the victims was a rather high-profile member of a guild in Eveport, so we can't simply leave him unavenged. We've been searching for the killer, but we haven't found much yet."

    "Ah…" Dawn said. "So that's why you attacked me…"

    "I hope you can forgive us for that," the Bisharp said. "There aren't many Charmanders around here. My troops jumped to an incorrect conclusion."

    "I… I see." A thought occurred to her. "Do you know where the library is?"

    "The library? You want to go there?" He crossed his arms. "Why there? Do you even know what that is?"

    "Of course I do!" That came off with a little more sass than she meant it to, and she immediately regretted it. "I'm sorry, these last few days have been hard. There's something I need to find out."

    "I see. It's not far. I'll take you there."

    They started on their way in silence. The town seemed to have returned to its normal, relaxed state. They reached the library without any more interruptions. The Bisharp apologized again for the rudeness and went on his way.

    It was a relief to finally be left alone. She hoped she wouldn't be bothered by any more Pawniards or Bisharps; she already had enough problems.

    But on the bright side, that encounter brought her straight to the library. Compared to the rest of the sand-colored buildings, the library's grey concrete walls definitely stood out. The library had a single story, with windows at regular intervals. Most of the windows had been filled in with clay, but a few still contained glass panes. Immediately in front of Dawn were a pair of wooden doors, which also felt rather out of place in this town; Pokémon normally didn't bother with doors. At most, they'd block doorways with curtains or veils.

    Dawn took a deep breath. Her stomach was in a knot, but after all of that, it would be silly to back out now. She reached up for the door's handle and pushed.
     
    Last edited:
    P2.02 – Paper Lantern
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    P2.02 – Paper Lantern

    Dawn pushed the door open just enough so that she could poke her head through. It was very dark on the inside, making it impossible for her to see anything. She hesitated, not sure if she should step inside or wait until her eyes could adjust a bit.

    "Welcome," said a hushed, birdish voice. "Come on in. No need to be shy, little one."

    She pushed herself through the opening, still unable to see much. She held her tail up, hoping to get a better view.

    A piercing shriek startled her. "Stop, stop! You little brute you, get out! Out!!"

    Before Dawn could ask what was going on, she was assaulted by a flurry of talons and feathers. She hid her face behind her arms as she backed through the doors. She lost her footing and ended up on her back.

    "Put it out! Oh, the beastly little fire! It'll ruin everything! Oh, oh!"

    She felt numb and breathless and dizzy all at once. As she realized what was happening, panic set in. She pulled her tail away and rolled on her side. She tried to get up or say something, but she was too weak. All she could manage to do was curl up, trying to protect her flame.

    "Cut it out, idiot!" said another voice. "You're killing him!"

    The assault stopped. "B-but sir! He was going to burn my books! I had to stop him!"

    "So that justifies murder? Or are you trying to tell me you've never heard of a Charmander?"

    "A... what?"

    Satisfied that she wasn't in immediate danger, Dawn focused on breathing. In a few moments, she could feel the fire regaining its strength, and the numbness became a bit less pronounced.

    Her attention went back to the voices. "...I'll grant you that, but you still owe him an apology," she heard the newcomer say.

    She slowly sat up and finally got a look at the two of them. The one who attacked her was a black bird. The feathers on his head almost looked like a little hat, and his tail feathers were straight and stiff. He seemed a bit out of breath, and wouldn't take his eyes off Dawn's tail.

    The other one was a long, blue snake with a white underbelly. He wore a pair of goggles that were held on via a strap, and had a couple of fin-like ears. At the moment, he held his head above the rest of his coiled body.

    The snake turned towards Dawn. "Hey, you doing alright?" he asked. "Sorry about the librarian. You freaked him out a little."

    "'A little'!?" The bird started hopping angrily. "Why, he made my heart jump into my gizzard, you–"

    "'He'?" Dawn repeated. "I'm a girl..."

    The snake blushed. "Sorry, I didn't..." He looked as though he was trying to hide his face behind his coils.

    "I don't care who or what she is," the bird said. "You're not getting that burning tail of yours anywhere near my books."

    Somehow, Dawn had entirely forgotten that books burn easily. Of course that'd be a problem! She felt like kicking herself.

    No, she couldn't give up yet. "But... not even if I'm careful?"

    "Absolutely not! One wrong move, and phwosh!" He threw his wings up for emphasis. "Irreplaceable ancient knowledge, gone!"

    "Is… Is there another place I could go, then?"

    "What, another library? Heavens, are you mad!? Do you even know what a book is? There's no way a child like you can even read!"

    Dawn's stomach was clenching up. Why did she come here? "But... but I can read. I know how."

    "What? Oh, never mind that. You're not getting into any library, anywhere. You're too dangerous!"

    "Unless… unless she isn't!" the snake shouted, exploding from his coils. "Wait here, kid! I'll be right back!" With that, he slithered down the dusty road, leaving Dawn with the bird.

    "What a pain," the bird grumbled. "Well, if you're going to wait, you're going to wait OUTSIDE, got it?"

    Dawn nodded. As the bird retreated back inside the library, Dawn turned and realized that a crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle. All their eyes were trained on her. Something about being watched made the blood drain from her cheeks.

    Fortunately, now that the snake and bird were gone, the crowd started to disperse. Still, it left Dawn feeling very uncomfortable. More than anything, she wanted to hide.

    She heard the door click behind her. "Wait!" She scrambled to her feet and pushed the door back open. The bird stood in the door, scowling up at her. She hesitated, trying to put together a sentence.

    "Now what?" he finally asked.

    "I was hoping, err... is there any way I could actually... wait inside?"

    He slammed the door in her face.

    She sighed and hung her head. There was no telling how long that snake would take. What was his idea, anyway? Would it even work? Maybe she should just give up. This idea was stupid anyway.

    As she turned to leave, the door opened again. "Alright, alright," the bird said. "But you're going to stay right next to the door, understand?"

    She nodded and followed him inside. He made her sit against the wall next to the entrance, and insisted that she kept her tail in front of her at all times. Then he fluttered behind a desk that faced Dawn. The desk was right next to the door, set up such that anyone who wanted to enter or leave would have to walk in front of it. The desk was also next one of the few glass windows, allowing the bird to see outside. From his post at the desk, he could monitor Dawn constantly. He didn't take his eyes off her for a moment.

    As she sat there, with her arms around her knees and her tail curled in front of her, her eyes were having a hard time adjusting. Unlike Dusk, Dawn had poor night vision, typically relying on her fire to see things in the dark.

    Still, she began to make out the aisles of shelves, each one lined with various sizes and shapes of books. Though the library was far from deserted, it was very quiet. Sunlight snuck in through some of the windows, but the bookshelves blocked her direct view of the windows themselves.

    The bird cleared his throat, grabbing Dawn's attention. "Would you mind telling me why you're here?" he asked. "And keep your voice down."

    "Oh, alright," she replied. She wasn't exactly sure how to answer the question. She couldn't be too specific, but refusing to answer was also a bad idea. "A... a friend asked me to find something."

    "Oh? This friend better not also have a fire problem."

    "No. No, nothing like that. Besides, he won't be coming here." Her heart sank. She initially meant that she couldn't bring a ghost-sword like Dusk, but now that he had gone silent…

    "I see. How did you learn to read?"

    "My friend taught me."

    "Fascinating. So your friend can also read? Yet he doesn't want to come here? Why's that?"

    "Uhh..." She didn't like where this was going, but she wasn't sure how to change the subject. She glanced around, trying to think of something else to bring up. The long silence started to get awkward.

    "Something the matter, kid?"

    "No, I just..." She glanced over at the bird. "...I was wondering... what kind of Pokémon are you?"

    "Me? To think, that dragon lectures me about not knowing your species, but you don't even know a Murkrow when you see one? Haw!" He held his wing over his crooked beak, embarrassed by his sudden outburst.

    "Dragon? What dragon?"

    "Oh, heavens! And you claim to read." He shook his head. "That snakish bloke is a Dratini. I wish he'd just leave us alone."

    "Why?"

    "Don't you know anything? Or have you made like a Dwebble and hid under a rock all your life?" The Murkrow shook his head again. "Oh well. You see, since he's a dragon, he's royalty. And like all dragons, he's as royal as he is a pain.

    "I'm going to save you a lot of trouble right now: always be careful around dragons. They live a long, long time. Much longer than most of us. I've heard stories of dragons holding grudges against Pokémon who offended them, and then taking it out on their offspring, possibly even generations later."

    "Oh... that's..." She made a mental note to bring this up when Dusk finally came around. They could do a thing or two about those angry dragons.

    The bird stretched. "Just be careful. Always watch what you say around him. And make sure you address him as 'sir,' alright?"

    She nodded. To her relief, the Murkrow seemed to be done talking. She thought he seemed a little more relaxed, as he stared with more boredom than intensity now. After some time, he started gazing out the window. Dawn breathed a sigh of relief.

    ~~~

    The door opened, and the Dratini slithered through the opening. He held a metal and glass box in his mouth, which he laid next to Dawn.

    "There," he said. "This should help!"

    She picked it up and turned it around in her hands. Two of the box's sides were square and made of metal. The other four sides were elongated and made of glass. One of the metal ends had a handle, and the other had a hole in it.

    "What is it?" she finally asked.

    "Oh, it's a lantern. A really long time ago, people would use it to hold... I'm not sure, candles? I think they were candles."

    Dawn tilted her head. "Candles?"

    "It's some old human tech. And I mean really old, even for them. It's a miracle this thing is in such good shape. I found it when I was digging through some ruins."

    "So... how does this help me?"

    "Ah, simple! You just put your tail inside. I found someone who could punch a hole in the bottom, so you can put it in there."

    "That's your plan? Haw!" the Murkrow said as he hopped over the desk and next to the two of them. "What stops it from breaking? How can we be sure that it contains the heat? And what about those claws of hers? Or, goodness, those fangs?"

    "Stop fussing," the dragon said. "Or maybe I should leave, too?" As the Murkrow was about to respond, the Dratini suddenly gasped. "Oh no, what if I crush one of the books in my nasty, nasty coils? Or maybe I might get hungry and start eating the pages? Or maybe, maybe… perish the thought! I might even–!"

    "You've made your point, sir," the Murkrow retorted. "But you're sure this is going to work?"

    "Absolutely. You have my word."

    While they were bickering, Dawn managed to get the lantern on. It was a little strange, seeing her familiar little flame in a glass box. The glass diffused the light, making her flame look blurry. But the heat was being contained well enough, so it looked like it would do the job.

    "Like this?" she asked.

    "Yes, yes!" the Dratini said. "Ah, it fits perfectly."

    "Actually, it pinches a little, but it'll be alright."

    "I see. Well, feel free to get that fixed. It's yours now."

    "What? Really?" She was supposed to be polite, wasn't she? "Thank you, sir."

    "'Sir'?" He chuckled. "Please, don't be so formal. I'm Algol. And your name is?"

    "I'm Dawn, sir." When she realized she let another 'sir' slip, she fumbled with her words, trying to form an apology.

    He laughed. "It's ok! Well, I should get back to my research." As he turned to leave, he glanced back. "If you have any more trouble with featherhead, just let me know." Then he slithered off.

    When she looked back at the Murkrow, he had his face in his wing. "Give me a break." With an exasperated sigh, he turned to face Dawn. "Alright, kid. I suppose I have no choice but to let you in."

    As Dawn was about to thank him, he got in her face. "But if I see so much as one singe, one ripped page, or even the tiniest of scratches, you're gone. Understand?"

    Dawn nodded vigorously.

    "Good," he said. In a flutter of wings, he withdrew to the desk. "It's nothing personal. I'll have you know that this town only exists because of this library. When it was discovered, more than a century ago, the Elite Arbiters ordered that it be maintained. So, it's no exaggeration when I say that I," he puffed out his chest, "Rodney Penumbra, am carrying out their will."

    Sensing he was done, she finally got up. She wandered through the shelves of books, dragging her new lantern along. After all of that trouble, she realized that she wasn't even sure where to find what she was looking for. She couldn't even see many of the higher books, nor did she have the courage to ask anyone for help getting them.

    She decided to try learning more about ghost Pokémon. Maybe knowing more Dusk and how Honedges worked would be a good place to start. Eventually, she found a shelf with some relevant books. She couldn't decide which one to read first, so she piled up five of the most promising books in her arms.

    Then she waddled around with the awkward stack, trying to find a place to read. She made her way over towards the side of the library with the most light. There was a single table next to each of the open windows. Most of the tables were taken, but she spotted an empty table. Her face lit up and she took a step towards it.

    However, Dawn wasn't paying attention and slipped on her tail lantern. As she threw up her arms to catch herself, she sent her stack of books everywhere. Dawn grimaced, sensing a few amused glances being shot her way. She scrambled to her feet and gathered the books together again.

    When she finally turned back towards the empty table, a flash of light almost startled her into dropping the books again. A Kadabra had just teleported to the table. She was already sitting on her bushy tail and using her telekinesis to hold up several open books. She glanced down at Dawn. "Table's taken," the Kadabra mumbled before returning to her work.

    Dawn felt crestfallen. What now? As she looked down at her tail, she suddenly felt like an idiot. She was a source of light! Why was she bothering with the windows? She could go anywhere she wanted!

    She waddled over to the darkest corner she could find. There weren't any chairs, and the floor was dusty, but she didn't mind. She set the books down and flopped onto the floor. Then she grabbed the most promising book out of the stack, carefully opened it to the first page. After everything she had been through, something about that solitary corner was exactly what she needed.
     
    P2.03 – A Reality to Outrun
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    P2.03 – A Reality to Outrun

    Something stirs. I don't hear it. I don't see it. But I know it's there.

    I open my eyes, but I still don't see anything. Is it that dark? Have I lost my eyes?

    I try to say something, but I'm quiet. Am I missing my mouth, too?

    Do I even exist? What happened?

    My aura... it's still here. It's so weak, but I'm still here. That is certain.

    Maybe I can do something. I need to keep myself whole, but if I focus...

    My name? Who am I? I remember a voice. Warmth.

    Can't forget. Don't want to forget. Focus. I must focus.

    ~~~

    "Dawn?"

    She gasped and sat up straight. Had she dozed off?

    "Sorry, were you asleep?"

    She turned and saw that snake with the weird goggles again. What was his name?

    "Never mind," he said, "I guess it's pretty obvious, huh?"

    She turned back toward the book that was in front of her. This felt pointless. There was a lot of stuff here, but so much of it felt wrong. They were about ghosts abducting children, desecrating graves, nonsense like that. None of these things sounded anything like Dusk.

    "Hey, uh..."

    Oh, he's still here? What did he even want?

    "Are you alright?"

    "Hm?"

    "It's just that... ever since you got here a few days ago, it seems like you've been at this almost nonstop. I always see you here, sitting in this corner..."

    "Oh. Why? Does that bother you?"

    "Uhh, well... I just thought you might be..." he looked away. "Aren't you lonely?"

    Of course she was lonely. But she only really wanted to talk to Dusk again, not this... snake. How could she make him go away?

    "In a little while, do you want to grab something to eat?"

    What was that? She looked up at him. "You're annoying," she thought aloud.

    He recoiled and stammered something.

    She didn't mean to say that. He started to turn away. She felt she could have handled that better, but at least he was leaving her alone.

    She looked back down and noticed the lantern on her tail. "Wait," she said. "Why did you give me this?"

    "Give you what?" He looked back. "Oh, that? Didn't I tell you? I found it, but I didn't have any use for it. And..." He trailed off.

    "Hm?"

    "Well, there aren't many dragons around here." He came back around. "And, well... you're not technically a dragon, but still, I thought you might be kind of cool. So I wanted to help you."

    'Might be kind of cool'? What did that mean? Whatever the case, she did feel a bit guilty. He went through all that trouble and she wasn't even giving him the time of day? But she had to be careful; she couldn't let him know why she was here. Still...

    "Fine. I'm kind of hungry, anyway."

    The dragon let out a sigh of relief. "Alright. Just let me know when you're ready." With that, he slithered off.

    Dawn crossed her arms. Maybe this was a mistake. She'd have to come up with a story to explain why she was here. Ideally, it would be something close to the truth, but she had to hide the fact that Dusk was a Honedge. Or that Dusk was ghostly at all, for that matter.

    She shuddered. Nor did she want him to know what happened, about Eclipse and that lackey of his. Other than Dusk, no one could know about that. If that Bisharp and his squad caught wind of the truth…

    She needed to come up with something fast.

    ~~~

    Standing some distance from the river's bank, Dawn looked down at the shimmering water. Some would say it looked nice, but so much water made her tense. She could see herself slipping down the muddy bank and taking a fatal plunge.

    "Why are we here?" she asked.

    "All of the tasty fruit grows here," he said. The Dratini stopped and looked back. "Well, this close to the town, most of the trees are picked clean, so it'll be a little while before we get to the fruit."

    She caught up to him. As they headed up the river, Dawn's glanced at all of the trees that lined the river. It was definitely different from the rest of the area around the town, which was more on the arid side.

    Eventually, he started talking again. "If we pass by some fruit on the other side of the river, I can get it for you. I'm faster in water than on land. Whenever I come up here, I usually swim up the river anyway."

    "Sounds convenient," she said. Being able to swim certainly would be nice. Too bad she'd never be able to do it.

    "Hey," he said. "I noticed you seem really into ghosts. Why is that?"

    "Ah, uh..." She wasn't expecting him to jump on that so fast. She ran through the story. What species was Dusk 'going to be,' again? She needed to buy some time. "It's for a friend," she finally said.

    "Oh. What possessed your friend to make them want to know about that? A ghost?" He laughed. Was that supposed to be funny?

    "Sorry," he said, when he noticed she didn't laugh too. "Don't tell me... is that what happened?"

    "No, nothing like that," she said. Actually, this sounded like a convenient reason. "Well, maybe it is. I'm not quite sure yet. I just know that he's been asleep, and he hasn't woken up for a while."

    "Ah," he replied. "So that's why you've been at this non-stop, huh?"

    She nodded.

    "Have you taken him to a healer yet?"

    Uh oh. Why wouldn't she have done that? What reason could she give? Some of their treatments were pricey, right? She never actually had gone herself, but she heard someone complain about that once.

    That was as good an excuse as any. "We don't have enough money to cover the cost."

    "Huh? Don't you know? Most healers do it just to help others. You still should ask one."

    "Ahh, well, it's... complicated." That was the best she could come up with?

    He shook his head. "I don't get it."

    "He, uh... always kept to himself. He was embarrassed to be around others, and I know he'd be upset if he knew I brought someone to him while he was asleep."

    "So? What if it's the only way to save him?"

    "No, he'll be alright, because..." No. She had nothing. She needed something else. She needed to change the story, but what was the reason? She stopped walking. "I lied," she said, earning her a puzzled look. "He's not asleep, he's... gone."

    "Huh!? Gone? What?"

    "I don't know where he went. And, and..." This was getting too close to the truth. He was gone. She didn't know where he went. The sword was there, but Dusk was a human, not a sword. He would always say he was 'sealed' inside the sword.

    Dawn clenched her fists. Why did she have to ignore her gut? Coming out here with the Dratini was a huge mistake. "N-nevermind… I should head back."

    "Wait, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to... I was just..." He went silent.

    Why did she even agree to this? What was the point? It was a risk. It was torture. It was a waste of time. And what was he even trying to do? Were all dragons this nosy?

    He slithered up to her. "I won't ask about it anymore, okay? A-and… and I'll keep the things you told me a secret, okay?"

    She let out a begrudging sigh. "Fine." She started walking along the riverbank again.

    They moved in silence for a while, but the Dratini eventually decided to ask another question. "So… you're not from around here, huh?"

    "Hm? N-not really... I've traveled a lot."

    "Did you see any other dragons?"

    "No..."

    "That makes sense," he said with a sigh. "With how slowly we dragons grow, there's a lot of time between generations, and so there's not a lot of us. Back when humans were around, there were a lot more of us, since they could make us grow much faster than normal."

    She remembered Dusk saying something about this. Many humans were obsessed with strength, so they figured out all sorts of tricks to make Pokémon become unnaturally powerful. Dusk said the most common way this was done was by making them fight to evolve faster, shortening a process that should take years. "Wouldn't that mean they'd get old sooner? Wouldn't they die sooner?"

    "Based on what I've read, I don't think so. But it meant there was less time between generations. And with humans taking care of the hatchlings, many more dragons survived into adulthood. I can only imagine what it'd be like... to be around other dragons." But then he sighed. "What I wouldn't give to be alive back then."

    "You make it sound like some utopia."

    "Hm?" He glanced back. "Of course not. There were plenty of bad humans and Pokémon. Some people tried to destroy continents. Some accounts mention artificial plagues. And that's not to mention all of the abuse Pokémon were put through.

    "But at the same time, humans did a lot of amazing things. They figured out ways to push Pokémon past their limits. They brought together species that otherwise would never have gotten along. They healed fatal injuries and diseases. Heck, they resurrected several extinct species of Pokémon."

    "What?" Dawn tensed up. That was the last thing she wanted to think about.

    "I know! It sounds crazy, but they had ways of doing it."

    This seemed like a good time to change the subject. "You... know a lot about humans, huh?"

    "Yep! I want to know everything about them. What they did, how they did it. They're just so... fantastical." He sighed. "I wonder what happened to them."

    "You don't know?"

    "No, no one really does," he said, shaking his head. "It's strange. There were records for a long time, but then... suddenly, nothing. Silence. No more new books. No more towns. No more... anything."

    Now that she thought about it, Dawn didn't really know either. Dusk said that, when he was sealed away in the sword, things were pretty dire. But there were a lot of things he missed, too. But maybe he—

    "YOU!"

    Dawn whirled around, eyes wide. For a moment, she saw a blur of white and pink. Then her vision went white. Her skin crawled and stung at the same time. Blinded, she did what her instincts told her: she exhaled a blast of smoke, creating a smokescreen. As she did so, she jumped to the side, away from the Dratini and, hopefully, their attacker.

    As her vision came back, she saw another flash in the smoke, betraying the silhouette of a Sylveon. "Stop hiding!" Lang whipped up the air with his ribbons, clearing the smoke away. When he caught a glimpse of Dawn, he reached for her with his ribbons.

    They wrapped around Dawn's forearms. She planted her feet and resisted the pull. But she could feel herself slipping. She had to break free and run.

    No, sometimes you have to get closer to get away.

    She stopped resisting and jumped at him. For a moment, she saw the Sylveon's eyes widen. Her claws raked across his face, leaving gashes in his eye and cheek. He staggered and gasped, but didn't let go of her. Before he could recover, she swung with her other arm, delivering an uppercut to his chin.

    Feeling the grip on her wrists relax, Dawn jumped back. In his panic, Lang started shimmering again. The shimmer escalated into another dazzling flash. Dawn held her arm over her eyes, keeping herself from being blinded.

    She heard a scream. No, it wasn't from Lang, it was from the Dratini behind him. She saw the snake writhing on the ground. What was his problem? Were those flashes really hurting him that much?

    Her eyes went back to the Sylveon. He ran his ribbons across his face, wiping the scratch-marks off his face the same way someone might wipe off mud. He blinked a few times, letting his newly repaired eye focus. The sight of Dawn made him bristle.

    Right, he's a healer.

    She had to get away. Not just for her sake, but for... his name doesn't matter, just run!

    Dawn breathed out another smokescreen. As she did so, she turned and ran, trailing the smoke behind.

    "You think you can run!?" She could feel more wind kicking up from behind her. As the smoke started to blow past, she jumped into the thick of the trees. Maybe putting the trees between them and the dragon would allow him to get away.

    Though Dawn was already out of breath, she blew out another blast of smoke and ran into it. Just as she finished exhaling, she veered to the side. As she had hoped, Lang careened past, stopping just short of a tree. Though it only took him a moment to spot her, it gave her the time and distance she desperately needed. Spewing out all that smoke made her lightheaded. It was already hard enough to come up with a plan.

    As she ran, She mustered another smokescreen. This time, she kept running. Unfortunately, Lang didn't hesitate to rush straight through the cloud of smoke. She could hear him getting closer. He was bigger and faster, after all. She only had time for one more smokescreen. If her trick didn't work, that was it.

    She let out the smoke, then skidded to an abrupt stop and ducked behind a tree. As she hoped, Lang charged through, giving Dawn precious seconds. But this time, she wouldn't run. That was pointless; he'd just see her. She needed to make the most of his confusion.

    Dawn dug her claws into the tree and started to climb. She kept her tail tucked close and out of sight. She did her best to stay as quiet as possible. More than anything, her aching lungs needed air. But she kept her breaths shallow and quiet. She absolutely couldn't let her cover be blown. Not now.

    Lang frantically looked around, realizing that she had given him the slip. He started weaving through the trees. As he passed by each tree, he didn't even look. He just slammed a ribbon against the tree trunks. If she was there, he'd know.

    "Where... where are you!?" he yelled. "Monster. Demon!" He emitted another flash of light. And then another. "You can't hide forever! I know you're here!"

    Dawn was thankful he wasn't looking up. She was perched atop a branch now, her tail tucked in under her chin. He already passed beneath her hiding spot twice.

    "Why!? Is this a game for you?" he shouted. "Is this a thing demons like you do? You kill her and leave me to suffer!?" As he said this last word, he let out a particularly powerful flash. "I'll find you. I'll find you and... and I'll snap your little neck!"

    This wouldn't last forever. Maybe he'd give up eventually, but she couldn't count on it. He didn't stray far from her tree. Even in his rage, he seemed to have a general idea of where she could be hiding. She needed a plan before he happened to look up.

    She noticed a shiny film that coated his body. Dusk said that Sylveons could reflect physical blows using this film. Maybe he wasn't using it on the riverbank, but he definitely was using it now. Clawing his face would be pointless.

    He slowed down, panting from exhaustion. "Why... why did you just put me out?" he said with a tremble in his voice. "Why did you take her? Why did you leave me? Why..."

    'Put him out?' Oh right, Dusk had siphoned his energy! That meant he was asleep for the entire fight with Eclipse. He missed what happened! Maybe she could use this!

    Lang froze. Did she make a noise?

    With a sudden turn of his head, he looked up. Their eyes locked. Dawn's heart stopped. Neither moved.

    It was fight or flight, and fighting wouldn't work.

    Dawn jumped down, away from the Sylveon. She landed with a thud and stumbled forward. As she lifted her leg to break into a run, she felt something wrap around her foot. Her face slammed into the dirt.

    She tried to get up, but two more ribbons wrapped around her arms and dragged her through the dirt. She was flipped onto her back. A fourth one wrapped around her neck.

    She was face to face with Lang. He planted a foot on her chest, forcing the air out of her already exhausted lungs.

    He was seething through his clenched teeth. Tears still ran down his cheeks.

    "I see fear," he said. "You're afraid. You don't want to die."

    Dawn continued to struggle, trying to reach for her neck, but unable to break free of his ribbons.

    "Then tell me!" he shouted in her face. "Give me one reason I should feel bad about crushing a demon like you!"

    She stared back, hardly able to fight anymore.
     
    P2.04 – Flametaker
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    P2.04 – Flametaker

    "It… wasn't..."

    Lang's grip tightened. "Am I supposed to believe that!?"

    Without air to keep her fire going, she started to get numb. There was nothing she could do. But she couldn't give up.

    Air rushed back into her lungs. She gasped and coughed up feeble, pale smoke. His grip... had relaxed? As her vision cleared, he still stood over her, keeping her arms pinned down. He was also out of breath.

    "Why?" he said with a tremble. "Why can't I kill you!?" As he shouted, he swung her overhead with his ribbons. The trees spun around Dawn before she plummeted back down to the ground. She tumbled some distance before sliding to a stop.

    Despite the pain, she focused on regulating her breathing. She felt dangerously cold. It was all she could do to avoid blacking out.

    "Do you know how much it hurts?" he said. "Do you know how lost I feel? Do you know what it's like? It hurts!"

    She could feel him coming nearer. "Losing Lin... I lived for her. She made me into who I am. Without her, I... I..." He started to choke up. "And I know that, somewhere out there, there's an egg. Or maybe it's already hatched. Or maybe it will never hatch. But I don't know where..."

    Dawn remembered hearing something about an egg, but her memory was blurry. And it didn't help that her flame was so weak.

    "All I know is that I've been looking. And looking. And looking. And... I can't give up. Because if I do, then... I'll have nothing left.

    "Instead, I find you." She could hear a renewed anger in his voice. "Going for a stroll, chatting with your bud as if nothing happened!" His ribbons wrapped around her shoulders. "You make me sick!" He threw her into the air before slamming her back into the base of a tree. He pinned her there with his ribbons, leaving her sitting up in a daze.

    "So tell me," he said in her face. "Give me a reason. Why!?" Dawn was too dazed and numb to say anything. "Explain yourself, dang it!" He shook her, slamming her against the tree again.

    ~~~

    Air floods my lungs. My body is whole.

    I spring to my feet. I can't see a thing, but there's not much I can do about that. There doesn't seem to be anyone else around. I'd sense their aura.

    I grope around a bit, but this place... seems entirely boring. There's no walls. How big is it?

    Where am I, anyway? How'd I get here?

    I try to remember, but I get the sense that I've forgotten something else. Something very important. No no... someone? They're waiting for me, aren't they? But who?

    Is this place making me forget? That must be it. I need to get out.

    I put my paws together and focus. Let's try…

    Where is it?

    "What the heck?" My aura? "Where is it!?"

    I'm blind! I can't sense it! It's gone!

    No, there's something. It's stirring. It feels so far and faint, but it's something. This is enough. I put my paws together again. I can feel the stir of a feeble aura sphere.

    I need more. I strain my body, drawing out my every drop of aura that I can muster. A warmth tickles my paws. I open my eyes and see a feeble crimson fireball, held together by my palms. I've never made one this weak. What if it disintegrates when I throw it?

    Only one way to find out.

    I lean back, and pitch the sphere with all my might. The little flame manages to hold together as it soars. It gets pretty far before it lands with a little burst.

    It flew much farther than I expected. How big is this place? Or am I outside? But then where are the stars? Where's the grass? Or sand? Or… what is this stuff, anyway? I tap the smooth floor with my foot. It's cold and unyielding.

    My head throbs. I try to press my paws against my head, but I can't seem to lift my arms anymore. I'm falling again. The floor is gone. Or maybe I am.

    I'm slipping. Forgetting.

    ~~~

    Dawn found herself curled up on the grass. She hardly even realized she had blacked out. A lingering numbness clung to her limbs, but her flame seemed to be doing alright. The rest of her body was horribly sore, though. She was in no condition to do much of anything.

    She sat up with a groan. Her head was throbbing. Wasn't it just throbbing a few seconds ago? No, of course not. Yet she felt a bizarre sense of déjà vu.

    She was suddenly aware of Lang. He was sitting with his back to her. "Tell me why," the Sylveon said without turning his head. "Why did Lin have to go?"

    "I don't know why." She said, slowly. "I didn't see what happened." Strictly speaking, this was true. She wasn't able to see what happened, since Dusk was preventing herself from looking at Eclipse.

    "That... how? What happened? I have to know." A moment passed. "No, wait. Not yet." He took a deep breath and wiped the tears from his eyes. He stood up and turned to face her. Now that she wasn't running for her life, she noticed that he had bags under his eyes. His fur was ruffled and unkempt. It was clear to her that he wasn't doing so well.

    But, having a moment to compose himself, he took on a dignified air that Dawn found quite intimidating. "I don't want to hurt you. Well, maybe I can't make myself hurt you. But depending on what happened, I might have no choice. So… could you please tell me everything? I need..."

    He shook his head. "What am I saying? You WILL tell me what happened! And if you're thinking of making something up, don't!" He lifted his ribbons up off the ground. They began glowing with a soft light. "If you tell any lies, I'll see right through them."

    Dawn pressed back up against the tree behind her and swallowed nervously. Even if he wasn't much taller than her, she felt very small. Maybe she'd just have to say what happened. But... even if she didn't want to hurt Lin, would that be enough for him? No, probably not.

    She eyed the grass poking up between her claws. "After you blacked out, Lin continued to fight. I managed to disable her, but… she was going to be alright. I only weakened her."

    She glanced up at Lang before continuing on. "After that, I left the two of you, since Eclipse was the one I wanted to stop. I couldn't get either of you on my side, so I just needed to make sure neither of you would get in the way. I mean, if I had to fight Eclipse.

    "But that didn't go very well. I think he mind controlled me, and made me..." She tapped a claw next to the scar on her chest. "He made me do this..."

    Lang's eyes widened. "With that sword you were using? How are you even alive!?"

    "I don't know." His eyes narrowed and he pressed closer. "I mean, I do! I actually do! But it's not something I usually..." He probably didn't know about Honedges. She had to be careful not to tell him too much. "That sword is special. He has a mind of its own. He can injure without killing."

    "What? That's ridiculous!" After a moment, his jaw unclenched. "But I don't think you're lying... or at least, not about that."

    Dawn's heart jumped into her throat.

    Fortunately, if Dawn reacted visibly, Lang didn't seem to notice. Instead, he kept talking. "It just… sounds kind of strange. I've never heard of anything like that before."

    She nodded. "I keep him a secret. But you mentioned it before, when I walked in the room. I remember you said that I wasn't alone. You must have noticed the sword."

    "I guess you're right." He looked to the side, trying to remember. "I don't know what else it could have been." Then he turned his attention back to Dawn. "Alright, then… what happened after that? You ran into Eclipse. Then what?"

    "I blacked out. Even if getting stabbed didn't kill me, it hurt a lot and made me black out. And, then…" She couldn't mess this up. "All three of them were gone."

    "'Three of them'? There was a third?"

    "Yeah. Eclipse, Lin, and..." She tucked her legs in and wrapped her arms around her knees. For this to work, she couldn't let on that it was 'the sword' who took the fall; then it might be obvious what role she played. "My friend."

    "Your friend? I didn't see anyone else. Unless… do you mean the sword?"

    "No, not the sword." The sword is still here. It's the person in the sword that's gone. "I think he came to protect me. When I came to, he was there, but he was cold and… I carried him out with me. I was hopeful, but..." she buried her face in her arms and quietly added, "he's gone."

    They were silent. For Dawn, the tension was replaced with a very real aching. All this time, she had forced herself to hope that Dusk might be alright. It was a way to keep herself from thinking too much about it. But she had been running from the idea that he was truly gone. She had been keeping busy to shut it out.

    "I bet you just want to see him again, huh?" he asked. "You don't want to say goodbye, but at least that would be better than nothing. Because then you could... thank him... for everything. And apologize for all of the mistakes. For all of the messes. And...

    "...get to hear her voice again." He sank back into a sitting position, his ears draped over the back of his head.

    'Her'? It took Dawn a moment to realize that he started talking about himself. No, before, he was describing himself, too. Yet he was right, that's exactly how she felt. It struck her that maybe they weren't so different. She suddenly felt very guilty for lying to him.

    But telling the truth would only have gotten her killed. She lied because she had to survive. She had to bring Dusk back. She couldn't give that up yet. She couldn't ever give up!

    No, she was a coward. "I'm sorry." She turned to the side, unable to look at him anymore. Huh? what was–

    "No, you were only looking out for that bird," Lang said. "And you've been hurt... in the same way I have."

    Someone's there, behind the tree! "Hey, uh…"

    "And yet, here I am, accusing you. I see now. You're innocent. It's wrong for me to take this out on you. You didn't–"

    A Scyther's blade hooked itself against the tree Dawn was eyeing. The oversized mantis pulled himself around the tree and pushed himself off it, launching himself right at the two of them. Working on instinct, Dawn threw herself in front of Lang. She tightened her grip on–

    Dusk? She didn't have Dusk! What am I doing!?

    The Scyther was almost in reach. He was a moment from swinging his gleaming scythe at her. Dawn tried to jump back, but something tightened around her neck. Lang!?

    The scythe hit her neck with a thud. The Scyther's eyes widened as the blade rebounded.

    Dawn's heart was racing, too stunned to blink. I'm alive? Did Lang just...?

    "Hey, what's your deal!?" the Scyther protested as he tottered back. As Lang's ribbons relaxed, Dawn noticed that the Scyther was missing an arm, shoulder-down. "If you're not going to kill her, at least let me do it!" he said.

    "What!? What do you have against her?" Lang frowned and tugged Dawn back, dragging her to his side. "Don't tell me you killed someone else!"

    Dawn was about to answer, but the one-armed Scyther was faster to reply. "No, but that punk ruined me all the same!"

    "What do you mean? What'd she do to you?"

    "I should be the leader of my pack. I was the leader of my pack! And then she shows up one day with that sword of hers and disgraces me in front of my entire pack. You know what they do when that happens!?"

    Lang frowned. "Pack? You're a hunter?"

    "Yes, of course! So was the rest of 'em! But now I've been exiled! They don't want me anymore because I lost to that punk with the sword!"

    Yes, Dawn remembered that well. The Scyther lost his arm during her fight with him. But something bothered her. "How did you find me?"

    "Easy! The Royal Blades was going around, saying that there was some dangerous Charmander on the loose. That was obviously you!"

    Uh oh. If that was the case, then there could be others prowling around, looking for revenge. She hadn't even considered that.

    But one problem at a time. "You obviously had your eye on that caravan," she said. "Of course I fought you!"

    "Caravan?" Lang echoed. He glanced at Dawn. "Looks like I misjudged you, kid."

    "Really!?" the Scyther shouted. "And here I was, thinking you was going to get rid of her for me. Instead, you side with her!"

    "Sorry, but I don't side with hunters. Only monsters can call Pokémon food."

    "Don't give me that enlightened crap!" The Scyther kicked off towards Lang, scythe raised. "Food is food!"

    Lang jumped at him, reaching his ribbons up to catch the blade before he could swing it. The Scyther strained to bring the blade down. He growled as realized he couldn't. He thrust his knee at Lang's face. Though Lang had a shield, the blunt force still threw his head to the side.

    The Scyther tugged on his scythe, trying to yank it free. He pulled his leg back for a kick, but before he could swing his foot, Lang released the scythe. The Scyther wasn't ready for this, since he had been pulling on it as he readied his kick.

    Before the Scyther could regain his balance, Lang pounced at the bug's other leg and chomped, all while shoving him away with his ribbons. The Scyther howled and leaned back. Then Lang yanked on his leg, bringing the Scyther crashing down. Lang backed away, bristling.

    The smell of burnt flesh filled the air. The Scyther sat up and looked at the burn marks on his bleeding leg. "How!? That bite! You're not supposed to…"

    Lang spat out the Scyther's blood. "It's been a long time since I had to do that." As his four ribbons floated around him, four little wicks of flame appeared at their ends. "I'll roast you alive if you don't back off."

    The Scyther's eyes widened. "That's… how are you doing that? Who are you!?"

    "I am Lang Flametaker," he said with a smile. "But if I hadn't met Lin, I'd still be with the Tokeletesh clan."

    "Tokeletesh!?" The Scyther scrambled to his feet. "You… you can't be serious! Y-you hunt other hunters!?"

    "Don't get the wrong idea. I've renounced hunting. The last thing I'd do is eat you." Lang frowned. "But I've still got plenty of Flareon blood in me. Enough to roast you, if you give me a good reason."

    "Dang you," the Scyther growled. "This is just my luck! What's it to you if I settle a grudge? Why do you care!?"

    Lang sighed. He eyed the Scyther sympathetically. "You don't need to be trapped like this."

    "Whaa? What's that mean? I'm not trapped!"

    "But you are," he said. "You can't get away from who you are. You're a hunter. A killer. Your pack rejects you because you lost. Everyone else rejects you because they're afraid. That's why you're alone, with no one left to back you up."

    "Shut up! I'm only like this because I lost to– hey, where did she go!?"

    Lang turned his head, wide-eyed. He was so focused on the Scyther that the Charmander was able to slip away. That little sneak!

    But maybe that was just as well. He was done with her, and he didn't have time to worry about her while he tangled with the Scyther.

    ~~~

    Dawn sprinted through the forest, trying to get as far away as possible. She saw a chance to escape, so she took it.

    She felt bad for running, but there really wasn't much she could have done. Without Dusk, she couldn't help Lang fight against a Scyther. And after all, he was protecting her. Sticking around would only make things harder for Lang. Now Lang could also run if he needed to. She just hoped he'd be alright.

    No, that wasn't why she ran. She just couldn't bring herself to lie to Lang like that. It was easier if she just stayed away.

    She stopped to catch her breath. She was sticking within the trees, but she knew she was far from safe. The thicker treeline only followed the river. If she got further from the river, the trees would be fewer and smaller. She would be easier to spot.

    There was no telling how much time she had left. She made herself keep running.

    ~~~

    By the time she finally made it home, it had been dark for a few hours. The sliver of the moon didn't give much light, forcing Dawn to rely on her tail to see where she was going.

    She pushed through the curtained-doorway and she fell to her knees. She was famished, but far too exhausted to go deal with it.

    "Dusk…" She picked the blade up and ran his cold sash through her claws. This was the first time she ever had to lie like that. This wasn't who she wanted to be. This wasn't who Dusk taught her to be. Dusk would have been so upset with her.

    She sighed. "Are you in there? Or are you gone? What am I supposed to do? Is there really no way to fix this?"

    Without really thinking, she had wound the sash around her wrist. She gripped the rest of the sash with her other hand. "Is there really nothing I can do? How can I know for sure?

    "Oh, who am I kidding? Lin's gone, and it's all because of me. This is… this is only fair, right? That you're also…" Tears began to well up. She clenched her fists. Where could she turn? Who did she have? Who was she even, without Dusk?

    "No." Her fire leapt inside of her. "No! I won't…" She ran her arm across her face, smearing the tears away. "I can't want to give up! There's no way you're gone!"

    She squeezed the sash. "And... and when you're back, maybe you'll know of a way to bring Lin back. Even if it's almost impossible, I have to try to fix my mistake. We have to try, for Lang's sake."

    The sash became tighter around her wrist. At first, Dawn thought she pulled it, but she moved her hand away, and yet...

    "It's moving? You're moving! Dusk? Dusk!?"

    The sash's grip tightened around her wrist. Dawn yelped in pain. She tried to pull it off with her other hand, but her attempts to get her claws under the sash just caused her arm to bleed. She could feel the blade rip the heat out of her body.

    "Dusk, stop! It's me!"

    She fell to her side, her energy sapped. She dragged her tail into sight, and saw that the flame was nothing but a feeble candle. She tried to inhale, but it didn't do any good; as soon as her flame started to get stronger, the new energy was sucked into the blade.

    Her vision blurred. Her body tingled and started to go numb. Yet she didn't fade out entirely. Her focus ebbed and flowed. She felt her consciousness diverge. One half stayed with her cold, tingling body.

    The other half went...

    P ▶ A – 4' 4

    ? ???? ? ???? ?? ?? ????????

    A voice s??? the ?a??. ????'s name. ????'s ??? I was trying to r?????er.

    I grab this memory and hold it tight. I ???? let that slip ?????.

    As I cling tighter, I feel myself being woven back into my correct shape. I'm whole again. As I fill my lungs with air, I can feel my aura surge to life. I leap up off the ground. I'm back!

    But how long will this last? I need to move quickly. But which way do I go? I look around, still surrounded by darkness. Still no walls, just empty expanse over a hard, murky floor.

    Ah, maybe that's it. Instead of going forward, what about down? I tap the floor with my foot. Feels solid, but something's odd about it.

    I draw out my inner strength. Something's off. My aura… it's much warmer than normal.

    Hmm, maybe not. This place is just cold. Whatever.

    I focus my aura into my arms and the whips that dangle from them. I bend back before swinging them. They slam into the floor with a low thud.

    I straighten up, listening to the dead silence. Not even an echo? I kneel and run my paw over the impact area. It takes a moment, but I find a small chink in the surface.

    That's disappointing. But then again... what is this stuff, anyway? Maybe if I can break off a chunk, it might tell me something. So I whip at it again. And then again. I fall into a steady rhythm.

    After one final slam, I stop to get my breath back. I spot a bit of light coming through the crack, creating a shaft of light that pierces the sky.

    I must be on the right track! I try to peek through the crack, but it's so bright down there compared to up here. I'll need to make the hole larger.

    Channeling my aura into my right leg, I lift it straight up. Then I bring it down, putting both my strength and my spirit into the drop kick. The impact causes a low, glassy thud that reverberates through the floor.

    I try to put some distance between myself and the growing crack, but it's no good. The fracture spreads throughout the ground, dividing it up into thousands of tiny fragments, as far as I can see. It seems as though the entire floor is ready to shatter. Oops.

    I have no idea what is below this floor yet. Is it safe to drop down?

    I slowly lean forward, trying to get another peak into the light coming through the initial crack. But then the entire floor shatters all at once. I plummet, blinded by the light. I brace for an unseen landing. I don't fall far, crumpling onto my hands and knees as I hit the ground.

    I slowly push myself into a kneeling position. It takes some time, but my eyes adjust to the bright light. All around, I see massive gears hanging above me, seemingly suspended by nothing. They're perfectly still. For the most part, the rest of this place is an endless expanse of light.

    I'm on top of an elevated floor made of blue and black glass. It's in the shape of a rectangle, with my end having two square edges. All the way at the other end, the edges bend inward, coming to a point.

    Is… there something there, at the point? I squint, trying to get a better look at it. I can only manage to make out a black mass. Its red eyes tea? ?nt? ?? ?ec? ?????

    Is… there something there, at the point? I squint, trying to get a better look at it. I feel something wet running down my lap. I look down and— what?

    "Blood?" My palms are bleeding. They're bleeding a lot. These cuts… did this happen when I broke through the black floor? I check my legs, but they seem alright. How did the shards only slice my palms?

    I turn my attention back to the shape, but there's nothing there. I eye the spot as I wrap my wrist-whip around one of my paws. I can't help but feel like something's off… I just… get the sense that I'm about to get attacked at any moment. I glance around as I tend to my other paw.

    Other than the gears and the glassy floor, there's not much to look at. Just like before, there are no obvious walls, though this place is lit up. There are black shards from the upper floor scattered everywhere, covering the gears, the ground, and myself.

    "Is this some twisted joke?" I've heard of psychic Pokémon being able to conjure up bizarre trick rooms, and some of those can get pretty crazy. Ugh, some of the shards got in my whiskers, too. They're stubborn little... "Is there someone there?! You have some explaining to do!"

    I stand up and start brushing my legs off. "Look, buster, I hope you've had your laugh. Now let me go!"

    Nothing happens. I shake my head. "Maybe there's more layers to this. Maybe I have to keep going... hmm… down?"

    I step off the stained-glass floor and onto the pure white stuff. I lift my leg and channel my aura, and then slam it down on the floor with a shout. Only this time, the stuff kicks back, sending my foot back up. I end up on my rump.

    "What the–" I get up and check the surface of the floor. No mark at all. I'll need to try something else, huh?

    Is this some sort of puzzle? I step back onto the glass… maybe I should kick this? But what about the gears? I could jump onto them if I needed to, but would they fall if I did that? Actually, that's not a bad idea. Maybe the force would break through?

    Another aura stirs, toward the pointed end of the glass rectangle. No one's there.

    No, that's right, someone was there. A chill runs down my spine.

    I walk towards the pointed end of the glass shape. As I get closer, the initial aura I felt flickers. It's very faint, but there is someone else here. I keep my eyes on the spot where I saw that shape before, but... nothing.

    I make it to the other end. There's a small bloodstain at the pointed end of the glass shape. At the moment, I can't feel any aura. I'm the only one here.

    Why am I so nervous? I feel as if there's something I'm afraid to find out. Something that I must see, but at the same time…

    No, this is irrational nonsense. It's all part just the trick. I turn my back on the spot and take a few steps. I just have to focus… that'll help me calm down. I put my paws together, envisioning my power collecting between my palms. Only, instead of feeling calmer, these feelings of terror get stronger. I shut my eyes. Focus my breathing.

    I feel a burning sensation. I open my eyes. My paws are on fire!?

    I beat my paws against the floor. I managed to smother the flames. Somehow, I'm unhurt. What's wrong with my aura? Why would it set me on fire? This isn't right. This isn't right at all!

    I feel the other aura stirring again, much more steadily this time. I turn and see... a human's corpse? I turn my face away. I feel light headed.

    "Not another one. Arceus knows nothing good came from the last one."

    'The last one'? What happened? There was another one? Crud, there was someone who's name was important. Who was it? It's important. I clutch my head. It's not coming back to me. I just had it… where did it all go? What's wrong with me?

    I glance back at the body. To my disappointment, it's still there. It's clothed in black cloth. And that face… that face is unmistakable. I've seen it before. The body is laying on its back, with its head on the glass and its chest above the point where the glass shape ends.

    It looks very much dead. Its eyes are open, staring up into the white light. This was the source of the bloodstain, no doubt about it.

    Yet, it wasn't quite dead. No... its aura is there. At times, it seems to flicker and vanish. When this happens, the body itself fades. But after ebbing like this, it always comes back again. But could this thing… really still be alive?

    How is this possible? By all appearances, it's dead. Yet...

    "Ah wait, if it's a trick room, then... maybe this is something else?"

    It's unsettling, to say the least. I turn my back to it and try to walk away, but my feet won't move. I feel impelled to investigate this… thing. I walk up and get on my knees. Not really sure why.

    "Hey," I whisper. No response, of course. "Is anyone in there?" This is stupid. What am I doing?

    I gingerly place my paw on the corpse's shoulder. The aura in my body surges. "Dusk? Dusk!" I hear my voice shout. "What happened to you?"

    I tear my paw away. I gasp for air. What just happened? Who's Dusk? How do I know his name? I don't know him! I don't!

    I jump away from the corpse. I want to get away from it. I have to get out of this place. I shouldn't be here!

    No, I need to calm myself and regroup my aura. I focus, but doing this only heightens the panic, and my entire body feels as if it will catch fire at any moment. So I stop, but my heart hammers away in my chest. I can't think straight. I try to inhale, but something stops me from getting any air. I try harder, but instead I start to cough. I'm choking.

    I fall to my knees and hack up blood. What's happening to me? Why can't I control my aura properly? Why can't I remember the one name that I want to remember? Why can I shout this perfect stranger's name? And thinking ab??? ??ng makes me feel sick with worry... why? Nothing is making any sense! How did I even get here in the first place!?

    My head is spinning. I fall on my side. It just doesn't make any sense...

    I try to channel just a small amount of aura. It feels warm. Uncontrolled. This isn't me. This isn't my aura. Have I become someone else? Do I have someone else's aura? I can feel someone scratching around in my head, trying to will me back over to the corpse.

    Maybe I should stop trying to control it. Bit by bit, I start to let go of this aura. Power trickles from my body. As it drains out, I feel weaker and weaker. I consider trying to hold onto some of it, but no, that's silly. It isn't my aura. I don't want it.

    The light fades. Before ??ng, I'm ?om??????? sapped. Yet I ???? unravel. I'm empty, ??? ?? still here.

    Sleep never comes. I lie here. In a p??? of ?? ??n ?????. S???i?g off in?? ?pace.

    ? ?us? ???? as dead as L?n?'s co???? ???? ?here.

    Ugch, ?? ??? hurt? ?? ???.
     
    P2.06 – Eggs and Bonds
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    P2.06 – Eggs and Bonds

    Slowly, Dawn could feel herself warming up. As Dusk's grip on her wrist relaxed, she stretched her numb hand. Every time he inhaled, her chest felt stiff and sore. Her wrist stung.

    What had she just seen? Was Dusk dead? Was he truly dead?

    No, that was impossible... how else could he have drawn her in like that? He was trying to reach out. He had to be alive. She breathed a sigh of relief. He was still here.

    But for how much longer? He was seriously injured, but how did that happen to him? What would she need to do to help him recover? Could she even do anything?

    As she pushed herself upright, the strain on her wrist made it burn with a new pain. This was when she finally noticed the black burn marks, not just on her wrist, but also in the palm and her fingers. Anywhere the sash had wrapped itself was charred.

    And it stung. Really stung. Her first instinct was to grip it with her uninjured hand, but that only made it worse.

    She carefully stood up, making sure not to touch the burns against anything. She felt that leaving her burn to heal on its own was a bad idea. There was a healer in the town, right? Maybe that was the best option.

    Dawn's gaze fell on the sword at her feet. What was going on in there? Could something like this happen again?

    She shook her head. No point in standing around and worrying about it. It would take some time to get to town, and even then, she had no idea where the healer could be. She'd have plenty of time to think along the way.

    ~~~

    The trip was a painful one. Not only did the burns sting, they started to get itchy. So itchy that she scratched at them once or twice. Being someone with fairly sharp claws, it wasn't long before she made herself bleed.

    After awkwardly asking a few of the town's night-dwellers for directions, she eventually found herself in front of a clay house. Other than a faded sign that depicted an egg, it looked like all of the other buildings.

    The healer was probably asleep, as it was well past midnight. She considered sitting outside the curtained doorway until morning. But as blood ran down her blackened hand, maybe getting help was more important than manners right now.

    She poked her head, and then her tail, through the door. The front room spanned the width of the building, and was filled with all sorts of tools and containers. It had a strong, herbal smell that made her want to gag.

    Unsurprisingly, no one in this room. There was a hall opposite to the entryway with a few doors on each side. Maybe the healer was in one of those rooms?

    After pushing past the curtain in the entryway, she made her way into the hall. "Hello?" she said. "...healer?"

    This was dumb. Was she really going to wake them up in the middle of the night like this? How was she planning to wake them up, anyway? What if someone else was here? What if she was at the wrong house, and—

    "Dawn?"

    She startled and turned toward the doorway. She saw a snake-ish silhouette in the room. The figure slithered closer to Dawn's light, revealing the Dratini from before. He was missing his signature goggles, forcing him to squint.

    "You? You're here?" Dawn asked. What was his name? ...wait, don't tell me... "You're the healer?"

    "What, me?" He laughed. "Of course not! That Sylveon really did a number on me." He reached over to a nearby table and grabbed his goggles using his teeth. As he put them on using the end of his tail, Dawn noticed that his skin was peeling in places, revealing raw, pink flesh underneath. Lang's light did this to him? Why didn't it have the same effect on her?

    As soon as he had his goggles on, he gasped. "Your hand! What the heck happened?" He frowned. "That lunatic did this to you?"

    "What? No! Uh..." She realized she hadn't come up with a reasonable story. No, that could wait. "Where's the healer? It hurts."

    "I bet it does! She's asleep right now, but give me a sec." He lifted his head up and looked towards a room at the end of the hall. "Hey, Rumina!"

    Silence.

    "There's someone here to see you! Quick, she's bleeding all over your floor!"

    "I'm what? Argh, never mind that! Are you sure we should be bothering her at this hour?"

    "Huh? You're worried about that!? You need help! That looks really bad!"

    "Yeah, I know, but—"

    She sensed someone next to her. She turned and gasped, finding herself staring up at a massive, pink creature. The creature was round, and she had a bulging pouch with an egg in it. She looked down at Dawn with a smile on her face.

    The creature spoke in a surprisingly small voice, given her size. "Don't worry, little one. I can help you, even no matter what time of day."

    "What are you?"

    She laughed. "I'm a Chansey! Rumina the Chansey! Come this way, little one, to the reception room. I can help you there."

    Dawn headed into the main room, with Rumina following after her. The Chansey waddled over to the corner of the room to light a lamp. "Tell me, what's your name and species?"

    "I'm Dawn. I-I'm a Charmander."

    "Alright, little Dawn. Could you sit on that table for me? With these short arms of mine, we can't have you on the floor, can we?"

    ~~~

    By the time Rumina was done bandaging the burns, Dawn's wrist was throbbing.

    "It's a good thing your scales are so tough," Rumina said. "Most would have passed out with a burn like that."

    Dawn rubbed the bulky bandage. "How long do you think I'll need this?"

    "Not very long, maybe just a few days. You're young and attuned to fire, so you shouldn't need much time. ...oh, that reminds me! Are you hungry?"

    "Huh? No, I'm—" Dawn's stomach growled at the thought of food. It occurred to her that she hadn't eaten since yesterday morning.

    "Good!" Rumina said. "You should have no problem eating this, then." She pulled the egg out of her pouch. "It'll help with the pain, and you'll also recover faster."

    "W-wait, you're giving me your egg? I can't… I can't do that!"

    Rumina laughed. "Don't be shocked! It's part of the treatment we Chansey give some of our clients. This is perfectly normal!"

    "But... isn't that like eating a Pokémon?"

    "What? No no, don't be silly." Rumina shook her head and smiled. "These eggs can't hatch. They're all yolk and white."

    "Oh-okay, I… I guess so." Rumina dropped the egg in Dawn's lap. It was almost the size of Dawn's body. She had to wrap her arms around it to keep it from rolling off. "I'm supposed to eat this? All of it?"

    "Oh no, silly. Someone as little as you wouldn't be able to do that. Just eat what you can."

    "Isn't that a waste? And how do I even eat this thing?"

    The Dratini poked his head around the corner. "Excuse me, but if you don't want the whole thing, would you mind sharing?"

    "Ah, great idea!" Rumina took the egg from Dawn. "You must be hungry as well, mister Algol." She walked over to another table. "It will be less messy if you two have something to eat out of. Give me a minute."

    Algol! That's his name! Dawn hopped off the table. It felt strange to have her hand all bandaged up like this. She could hardly move her fingers or bend her wrist. That being said, her claws still poked out of the bandage, so she could still use them.

    Algol slithered up to her. "Hey, you okay?"

    "It still hurts, but yeah. What happened to you? How'd you get here?"

    "Oh, it was kind of strange. After that Sylveon used his dazzling gleam a few times, I blacked out. When I woke up, there was no one around. I managed to get into the river, but I was totally out of it. Someone saw me drifting, so they fished me out and brought me here." He pulled off his goggles and wiped them off with the end of his tail.

    "But I should be asking you the same question," he said as he struggled to get the goggles' strap over his head. "You were gone! I had no idea where you went or what happened to you. Or why that Sylveon was after us, for that matter. I was worried he got you!"

    "No, I... He grabbed me, but I managed to break free and escape."

    "Woah, really? Do you know why he went after us?"

    "No." She looked away. "I have no idea."

    "Oh, it's alright. At least you're ok!"

    Rumina came up to them with a bowl in each hand. "Here you go!" She handed one bowl to Dawn and laid the other in front of Algol. "Just let me know if either of you want seconds. I'll be cleaning up the floor." With that, she went back into the hallway.

    Dawn eyed the thick, yellow liquid in her bowl. Despite Rumina's reassurance, Dawn was still hesitant to drink any of the stuff. Was this really ok? Dusk always told her to stay away from eggs. Maybe this was different, but...

    After taking a sip from his bowl, Algol straightened back up. "So did he cause the burn on your hand, then?"

    "He had nothing to do with that."

    "He didn't? Then where'd it come from?"

    "It's a bit hard to explain. I had a strange dream, and I think I did it to myself, in my sleep."

    "You did that to yourself!? That must have been quite a nightmare!" After taking another sip, he asked, "So you went to sleep? Wasn't the Sylveon after you?"

    "Well..." It took her a moment to concoct the rest of the story. "He chased me for a while. I managed to hide, and he lost track of me. I managed to sneak away, and then I ran for a few hours. By the time I was sure he was no longer after me, I was pretty exhausted, and it was getting late."

    "Ah, that makes sense." He picked up the bowl and drank the rest of the egg. "That hit then spot! Chansey eggs are the best, right? Er… Dawn?"

    She looked down at the bowl in her hands. It was still full to the brim.

    "Errm... is something wrong?"

    "No! It's fine! It tastes... good!"

    "Eh... what? You obviously haven't had any. Are you sure you're alright?"

    "No! I mean yes!" She sighed out of frustration. What was she doing? It felt wrong to waste Rumina's generosity like this.

    She ran a finger through the liquid and popped it in her mouth. She froze, her eyes wide. It was delicious. It was extremely creamy, and had a sweet flavor, but was also slightly... rubbery? It was the best thing she ever tasted, that was for sure.

    She began gulping down the stuff. And when most of it was gone, she started savagely licking the bowl clean. It wasn't until she heard Algol laughing that she got a hold of herself. She had egg all over her face, and spilled a fair amount on her lap and the floor.

    Dawn felt her face turn red. "It's, urph..." She covered her mouth as she burped, but wisps of smoke escaped through her fingers. "It's really tasty."

    "I can see that," he said with a chuckle.

    Dawn eyed the large bowl on the table. "She said something about seconds, right?" She clambered up onto the table and looked in the bowl, seeing that it had the rest of the egg in it. A wooden spoon was poking out of the yellow liquid.

    "Hey, could'ya get me some more, too?" Algol asked, holding up his bowl. "It hurts to move around much."

    After refilling Algol's bowl, she proceeded to refill her own. Then she had a third serving. And then she polished off the large bowl. It beat anything Dawn had ever eaten before, hands down. It was also very rich; she couldn't remember the last time she felt so full.

    ~~~

    After cleaning herself up and thanking Rumina, Dawn left the healer's house. Algol still couldn't move too well, so Rumina wanted him to stay a bit longer.

    As Dawn went on her way, the stars were already fading. She felt satisfied, and though the air was cool and crisp, her inner fire kept her nice and warm.

    Dawn's mind went back to what happened earlier that night. What was going on with Dusk? Maybe it was something that Eclipse did? She didn't even know what Malamars were fully capable of. What if the library had something about them? She hadn't found anything about Dusk, anyway. Maybe it was time to try a new approach.

    By now, she had made it back to the library. She pulled at the door, but it resisted. She yanked a few times, but it would just rattle. Was it jammed? She got up on one of the doors' handles so she could pull on the other handle more easily. But this didn't work either, and she nearly fell in the process.

    Just as she was thinking about more drastic measures, she heard a sound from inside the door. Then it swung open, just like that. She found herself face to face with a very tired Murkrow. He let out a huge yawn.

    "Hey, you fixed the door!" Dawn said.

    He tilted his head. "Fixed the— what? What are you talking about?" He yawned again.

    "The door was jammed. I was trying to pull it open, but it wouldn't move."

    "That wasn't a jam, you numbskull! I locked it!"

    "Locked it? Why?"

    "I need my sleep! Or did you think I was always up? Why are you even here at this crazy hour? Go back to bed!"

    "Wait!" She grabbed the door before he could close it. "Please, can't you let me in this one time? I promise I won't mess anything up. I haven't messed anything up so far, have I?"

    He let out a long, begrudging sigh. "I suppose you haven't. Alright, come on." He stepped aside, allowing her in. "But I'll be locking the door after you. I've hardly slept a wink."

    "You mean you were up all night? Why?" Dawn asked as she grabbed her lantern. She had left it at the door the previous day, when she left with Algol.

    "Because I always do that? Everyone else in my clan does. It's a Murkrow thing, kid."

    "Your clan? Do they also help with the library?"

    "Who, those layabouts?" he said with a sneer. "We're supposed to take turns, but... well, none of them care, frankly. They don't seem to quite understand the weight of this position. The Elite Arbiters appointed our clan to steward this place, and by golly I'm going to do it, even if I have to do it by myself!"

    "They aren't doing anything at all?"

    "No! And they make fun of me! They're the ones who're layabouts, not me!"

    "Can't you find someone else to help?"

    He shook his head. "This is our clan's responsibility until the Elite Arbiters say otherwise."

    She didn't see why that mattered. Couldn't he still find someone? But she decided to drop the issue. He sounded pretty adamant.

    If he knew this place so well, maybe he could help her. "Hey, I need to know something about a specific Pokémon. You wouldn't have a list or something like that, would you?"

    "You mean a pokédex? We have one. Those were really popular with humans. All of their libraries had at least one, usually more. Give me a moment." The Murkrow fluttered behind the front desk and pulled out a couple of 'gloves.' He started pulling them over his feet, to Dawn's surprise. He explained that this was to keep his talons from scratching the books.

    She followed him down one of the aisles. He hopped up to one of the higher shelves that Dawn couldn't see. "Careful with this one," he said as he tugged on it with one of his feet. "It's really popular."

    After some struggling, he managed to pull it out and fly the heavy tome into Dawn's arms. It read "Gary Oak's International Pokédex" on its hardcover.

    "'Oak,'" Dawn said to herself. "I think I've heard that name before."

    "I'm not surprised!" the Murkrow said as he pulled off one of the 'gloves.' "The Oaks were some of the top researchers, back in their day. I'm sure you'll find whatever it is you're looking for in there." He yawned. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some sleep to catch up on." He started to walk away.

    "Oh, uh... I think you said it before, but what was your name?"

    He turned back around. "Rodney, of the Penumbra clan."

    She ran the name through her head, trying to not forget It again. "Ok Rodney, thanks for the help." He nodded and left with another yawn.

    She went to her corner and opened the large book. In the front cover, it said this:

    "In memory of my grandfather, Dr. Samuel Oak. May his contributions to the field never be forgotten."

    Using her good hand, she flipped through the pages until she found the table of contents. The full list was rather overwhelming, and it was sorted by an arbitrary ID, rather than alphabetically. To her surprise, Charmanders were fourth in the list, followed by Charmeleons and then Charizards.

    She considered looking up her own species, but she didn't want to get sidetracked. It took some amount of searching, she finally found the entry she was looking for: #687, Malamar.

    She flipped through pages until she eventually had the right one. The sight of the creature's black-and-white image made her a little pale. Her mind went back to those eyes. For a moment, she could feel them, digging into the back of her skull.

    Dawn shook her head, trying to not get distracted. But the unsettling description didn't help. According to the book, a Malamar has some of the most powerful hypnosis of all known species. One Malamar could force others into doing just about anything, it said, which was useful for hunting prey. Several times, malicious trainers had relied on Malamars to further their own nefarious plots. Other times, Malamars would turn on their trainers, mind controlling them and making them into their puppets. Sickening.

    The book made it clear to her: Malamars were monsters, and Eclipse was no different. She suspected that Eclipse had abused his mind control to force Pokémon into his arena. And even if he didn't, the way he profited from others' pain was unforgivable. No matter how much it cost, it was a good thing she stopped Eclipse. Dawn felt like the world was safer without that killer on the loose.

    But none of this helped her. What else could a Malamar do? On the next page she found a list of so-called 'moves.' These techniques were simply named, but they lacked any descriptions. It cited a 'movedex,' which was another reference book. After some searching in the library, she found the book in question, and it gave more detailed descriptions.

    After about an hour of searching, she finally got to something relevant: occasionally, Malamars learned a move called "destiny bond." This move, according to the movedex, was a "Ghost-type move which links the user to a target. If the user is knocked out, their target also faints."

    Dusk's last words came back to her. "Was this... what he was trying to tell me?" She remembered him saying something that sounded vaguely like 'destiny bond.' If that was the case, then Eclipse had tried to take her down with him. But Dusk must have taken the hit for her. That might explain his silence.

    She read on. There were various uninteresting things about which species learned it, variations of the move, and so on. However, one of the footnotes grabbed her attention: "According to some reports, this technique doesn't just pass on fainting to the target. If the user is killed, the target dies as well."

    Dawn suddenly felt very cold.
     
    P2.07 – The Missing Pieces
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    P2.07 – The Missing Pieces

    Dawn kept searching for a few hours before she finally found something relevant to Honedges. According to the pokédex, a Honedge is occasionally formed when a 'person' (a human, most likely) is killed by a sword. Apparently, their spirit then inhabits the sword that killed them. The book also had references to a Honedge's ability to drain someone's life force using the blade's sash. After a Honedge had seen enough combat, they could get a second sword, becoming a Doublade.

    There was no mention of Dusk's other abilities, though. She couldn't find anything about a Honedge that could manipulate time, nor were there any references to Honedges that weren't able to levitate. How was Dusk different, then? Was the pokédex entry missing something?

    She looked at the entry again. It said, "Honedge's soul once belonged to a person who was killed a long time ago by the sword that makes up Honedge's body."

    "But what about someone who's killed by a Honedge?" she asked herself aloud. "What happens to them? Do they get sucked into the sword as well?" The book didn't say anything about this, but she couldn't rule it out. And did this only work on humans? Or did it work on Pokémon as well?

    And what about time travel? Were there any Pokémon with that kind ability? What if Dusk had been used to kill a Pokémon like that?

    She started flipping around. If it existed, she would find it.

    ...eventually...

    ~~~

    I sneak up the stairs, trying my best to be quiet. I can't get too close, but if they get too far ahead, I might lose track of them. That would be just as bad.

    I hear a whisper in the darkness. It makes me pause. I stand still, waiting to see if I hear it again. I shake my head. I must have been

    "She who lives by the sword..."

    I tense up. I know what's coming. I drop Dusk, but he won't let go of my wrist. I try to dig my claws under his sash. Argh, it's no good!

    "She who lives by the sword..."

    I feel the invisible speaker inching closer. I run as fast as my legs can carry me. The halls are dark, but I can see well enough. I vault over a shattered bookshelf and turn a corner.

    "She who lives by the sword..."

    My mind runs through the process of pointing the sword at myself and—I wince and push the thought out of my head. Why am I even thinking of doing something like that? I continue running. I can't let it catch up. I can't—

    Something coils around my neck. I yelp as I'm yanked onto my back. I look up and see a Charmander pointing a Honedge at my heart.

    "She who lives by the sword," she says with my voice.

    I try to get away, but a force is holding me down.

    "Dawn!" I hear someone say. I continue to struggle.

    Dusk grabs my wrist. "Dawn, wake up!"

    The restraining force vanishes, and I bolt upright. The other Charmander was gone. Dawn's heart pounded in her chest. Where did the other one...?

    She heard a sigh of relief. She turned to see Algol next to her, removing his coils from her wrist. "Some nightmare, huh?"

    "Wha— nightmare?"

    "Yeah, that was quite a scream! Made everyone jump pretty good," he said. She saw Rodney and a couple of other Pokémon giving her confused and annoyed looks. Seeing that she was done freaking out, they went back to whatever they were doing.

    "Did... did I say anything?"

    "Hmm... no, I don't think so. You struggled a fair amount though. I was a little afraid you'd bang up the lantern." Dawn grabbed the lantern and frantically inspected it. She was relieved to see that it was undamaged.

    As she tried to steady her thumping heart, she felt something was missing. "Where did the pokédex go?"

    "Oh, someone must have taken it while you were sleeping. I'm not too surprised... that one's pretty popular, and it's the only copy this place has."

    Dawn stood up and stretched. How long had she been asleep? Judging by the light from the windows, maybe it had been a few hours? It was a bit after noon, at this point. She noticed claw marks on her arm, just next to the bandage.

    "Ugh, I need to stop dozing off."

    "But you were up really early. It's not that surprising."

    "Yeah, I guess." She wished she could figure this out soon. If Dusk was able to suck her consciousness into the blade like he always could before, she could get the sleep she needed without the nightmares. She bit her lip. Maybe he was actually gone. That couldn't be right, yet... if the book was right...

    "Well, I... I'll leave you alone," Algol said. "Let me know if you need anything."

    What was she even doing before she fell asleep? Oh, right!

    "You wouldn't happen to know about any Pokemon that can time travel, would you?"

    "Time travel?" He pulled his head back in surprise. "Yeah, but why?"

    "It's... it's important."

    "Well, I know of a couple, but I'm not sure they're even real."

    What did he mean by that? Were they mythical Pokemon? Dusk mentioned those at some point... he said that they were so rare that most humans never saw them. Some doubted their existence, but Dusk assured her that they were certainly very real. "I don't care. Where can I find out about them?"

    "Oak's Pokédex might say something about them, but it's probably being used." He adjusted his goggles absent-mindedly. "I know another source. This place might have a copy..."

    ~~~

    "Ah, here it is," he said from the top shelf. He used the end of his tail to tilt it forward, and then used his mouth to grab it by the binder.

    "Hey, be careful!" Dawn hissed. She glanced around, checking for any witnesses. "What if you mess it up?"

    He dropped the small book in her hands. "What? I do this all the time. It doesn't hurt 'em. No one in my city's library ever caught me doing it, either."

    "Your city?" she asked as he descended onto the floor. "What city?"

    "I guess I haven't told you about that yet, huh?" She followed him as he continued his explanation. "I'm from Eveport. It's a lot bigger than this place. And..."

    Eveport!? She was just there! That's where Eclipse's coliseum was. Dawn was lurking around Eveport before she started tailing Lin and Eclipse. So Algol was from there as well?

    Her thoughts distracted her, causing her to miss most of what Algol was saying. She tuned back in to hear him say, "...and the library there is waaay bigger than this one."

    "Oh, it is? I see, yeah," she said, trying to act as though she'd been listening. "Why are you here, then?"

    "They're missing a few books I've been looking for. And they don't like moving books between libraries. They might get damaged en route. So... I guess you could say that I brought myself to the books."

    At this point, they had made it to the window. Unlike Dawn's dusty corner, this place had a table and a few crude stools. They were a bit too short for Dawn, so she had to stand on it. Algol, on the other hand, hardly even needed the stool, but he used it for support anyway.

    "Alright, let's see." He took the book from Dawn and flipped through its pages. As he did so, she noticed a Kadabra sitting at the table across from theirs. The streaks of sunlight hit the Kadabra's yellow and brown fur. She was sitting on her large, bushy her tail instead of using a stool. Several books were orbiting around her, thanks to her telekinetic powers. She was intensely focusing on one book while writing something in another book.

    As Algol searched, he asked Dawn, "Have you ever heard of Dialga?" She shook her head. "Alright, then have a look at this," he said as he pushed the open book in front of her.

    The page had an illustration of a fearsome, four-legged creature. It wore a chest plate with a jewel embedded in it, and each of its feet were armed with vicious metal claws. She skimmed through the description. "This thing... made time? Is that even possible?"

    "According to the legends, yes. When Arceus created the world, he also created Dialga to rule over time. As the ruler of time, it's only natural for Dialga to be able to travel back and forth through time as well."

    Dawn eyed the illustration. If a Honedge were to kill this thing, would it take its power? Could this thing even be killed, for that matter?

    "What would happen if..." Dawn paused, unsure how to phrase the question so it didn't sound too crazy. "What if Dialga died?"

    "Died!?" Algol's loud reaction earned him an annoyed shush from the Kadabra. "How am I supposed to know?" he hissed. "Maybe time would halt? What kind of question is that, anyway?"

    "Uhh... I don't know? Oh, never mind. What's the other Pokémon?"

    "Give me a second." He took the book back, and then turned to the section which described a Pokemon named Celebi. Unlike Dialga, Celebi was small and fairy-like. It had a large, round head with large eyes. Its body was relatively small, and had a pair of bug wings coming out of its back. In the illustration, it had its hands over its mouth, almost as if it was giggling.

    "So what's this one do?" she asked as she glanced through the description. "They're a healer?"

    "Yes. Unlike Dialga, Celebi were often seen by humans. They can travel to whatever time they want to. They were often seen bringing plants to life. They also played a big role during the first outbreak of the shadow virus."

    "The shadow virus, huh? You mean the one Team Snagem caused?"

    "Yes, that one! I'm surprised you know about them."

    "I've heard a bit about them. Wes stopped them, didn't he?"

    He nodded. "It was thanks to a Celebi's power that Wes was able to cleanse the first wave of shadow Pokémon."

    "You think I could talk to a Celebi?" Maybe she could convince one of them to heal Dusk.

    Algol shook his head. "I don't know where they went. Maybe they haven't visited anyone in this era? Or maybe they've avoided this area for some reason?"

    "Darn." What if a Celebi was killed by a Honedge? "You think, maybe they... ya know... died?"

    "That again!? Well, no, that's... complicated. See, if you actually read the book," he flipped the page with the tip of his tail. "Well, see for yourself."

    Apparently, a Celebi had died. But just as that happened, many other Celebi appeared and resurrected the dead one. Some said this proved the existence of several Celebi. Others said that each Celebi was the same one, and they had all come from different time periods to resurrect their dead self.

    But if Celebi could be killed, then it would be possible for their power to be absorbed into a Honedge, right? Was that how Dusk acquired his time powers? But could a Honedge even absorb a Pokémon? Would that allow it to gain their power? There were so many things she didn't know!

    "Thanks, Algol." She closed the book. "I'm not sure this really gets me anywhere, but it might be useful later."

    "Useful? For what?"

    "Ehh... something," she said with a dismissive shrug.

    He groaned and dropped his head on the table. "I still have no clue what you're trying to do."

    What was she trying to do? Dusk needed her, and here she was, wasting all of her time. She felt like she hadn't gotten anywhere at all! Maybe it was time to explain her situation to someone. She needed someone to bounce ideas off of.

    She glanced at Algol. Not him. Not Rodney, either. Lang? No, definitely not. She needed Dusk. He was the only option... the only one who she could count on in a situation like this. But she needed to move forward without him. Still, what would he say if he were here?

    What are we trying to do? she could hear him asking. That was easy: get Dusk back. He was brought down by a destiny bond. If he was somehow alive, he was barely hanging on.

    What do we have to work with? Books, for the most part. No, Algol was also here. He knew a lot about human stuff, didn't he? Did he know much about their technology?

    It couldn't hurt to ask. "Humans had a way of healing Pokemon, didn't they?"

    "Oh yes, several ways," he said, perking up at the mention of humans. "They had Pokémon centers where humans could take their Pokémon to get healed. They had a lot of equipment and techniques that made them special. We've learned some amazing stuff, and I know healers today put this stuff into practice."

    His head sank back onto the table. "But there's a lot that's been lost to time." He let out a dejected sigh. "The world back then had so many neat things. It's kind of sad... knowing that it's all gone. There were so many things they figured out. They had ways of making us stronger, pushing us past our limits. They could show us things and help us evolve. And they didn't make a big fuss over—"

    "Hold on, 'evolve'?" Dawn cut in. "You mean the get-a-new-body kind of evolve, with the lights and everything?" If she could get Dusk to evolve, that would heal him, right? That's how it worked when she saw others evolving. As Algol started to reply, she hit him with more questions. "What did they do? Is there anything we might still be able to use?"

    "Hey, slow down!" he hissed. "They had a lot of tricks. Some Pokemon evolve faster or differently when raised certain ways. Others evolve when exposed to certain stones or environments. The pokédex you were looking at mentions some of this.

    "But, about what we can use now..." He tapped his chin with the end of his tail. "Well, they had all sorts of candy they made, but good luck finding any of that. Hmm... I'm not sure humans made them, but I've heard of these places called luminous chambers. I've heard of Pokémon stumbling into the places. Sometimes, it causes them to evolve."

    "Really? Where!?" The Kadabra shot an annoyed glare at Dawn, sending chills down Dawn's spine. She didn't move until the scowling Kadabra went back to her work. Dawn asked again in a hushed voice, "Where can I find one of these places? Do you know?"

    "I'm not sure. I've heard they tend to have Unown. Maybe we could look for those?"

    "Unknown? Unknown what?" Wait, didn't Dusk say something about something that was unknown while he was fading?

    "No, not... I mean the species of Pokémon. They're kind of like letters. They stick to walls."

    "Ah, that Unown." Dawn's face lit up. "That Unown!" Dawn said triumphantly, slapping the table as she did so. "That's it! That's what he was—"

    "Would you just SHUT UP!?" The Kadabra flipped her table towards them, scattering her books everywhere. The flying table crashed into Dawn and Algol's table, knocking them to the floor. The Kadabra shook her fist at them. "How am I supposed to translate ANYTHING when you two blabbermouths won't shut up?"

    "Hey, watch it!" Algol slithered onto the table and got up to the Kadabra's level. "What are you trying to do, kill us!?"

    "Oh, that's awful tempting!" In a flash of light, a large spoon appeared out of thin air above the Kadabra. She caught it and twirled it in her hand. Whatever she was planning to do with it, Dawn didn't want to know.

    The air around Algol began to swirl. "You've got a lot of nerve, threatening someone like me!"

    "What, just because you're a dragon? Should I be scared? Yeah right! I bet you're used to us 'plebeians' bowing down so you can slither all over us. Well, this gal isn't in the mood to—"

    "Hey, cut it out!" Dawn jumped on the table and grabbed Algol, yanking him away from the angry Kadabra. "We're sorry! We'll leave you alone!"

    "Let go of me!" Algol squirmed. Dawn dug her claws into his scales, keeping him from getting away.

    Rodney jumped onto the table and positioned himself between the dragon and the psychic. "Okay, break it up! No fighting around my books!"

    The Kadabra pointed her spoon at Dawn and Algol. "Those noisy little brats are ruining my focus!"

    "Ah hah! is that so?" Rodney turned towards the two of them.

    Algol continued struggling. "She tried to—let go!—she almost killed us!"

    Dawn finally let him free. While Algol gasped for air, she took the opportunity to apologize. "No, you're right. We were too loud." She bowed her head. "We're really sorry."

    "Eawk!" Rodney shrieked. "Fire!"

    Dawn looked around frantically, but she couldn't find it. As she swung around, Rodney flitted over to a book and pulled it away from her. Why would he do that? Unless... She winced when she realized that her tail fire was exposed. Her lantern came off when she was thrown to the floor!

    "It's ok! I can just... just let me–" She jumped off the table and grabbed the lantern. She hastily fit it onto her tail. "There! Now it's–" To her dismay, her flame was clearly visible. Every one of its glass panes had shattered from the fall!

    Suddenly feeling very exposed, Dawn wrapped her arms around the lantern's frame as if she could contain her fire that way. She gave Rodney a sideways glance. The bird's eyes narrowed.

    She knew what that meant.

    ~~~

    Dawn had just reached the town's outskirts when she heard Algol's voice.

    "Hey! Wait up!"

    She stopped, allowing him to catch up to her. As he got his breath back, she wondered why he followed her all this way. If he wanted to say something, why didn't he say it as she left the building?

    "Ok, the lantern's broken. No big deal," he said. "That doesn't mean you have to give up! There's gotta be something else we can use."

    Dawn shook her head. "It's alright. I know what I have to do now."

    "What? Is it something to do with Unown?"

    "Yeah. You said something about luminous chambers. I need to find one of those."

    "Why? Do you even know where to look?"

    "Um..." Dawn scratched the back of her head. "I'll just do some searching, I guess?"

    "What!? This isn't something you can just find! They're usually deep underground. What are you going to do, dig there?"

    "Well... I'll find a way. I got to try! What else am I supposed to do? Nothing!?"

    "Nothing? Why's that a problem? What are you even trying to do, save someone? Make them evolve? Make yourself evolve? How am I supposed to help you if you won't tell me anything!?"

    "That's bothering you? I never even asked for your help in the first place!"

    "Maybe you didn't ask, but you're obviously in trouble! I mean, look at you!" He motioned toward the scar on her chest. She crossed her arms to cover it, but now she was aware of her bandaged hand, too. "And the way that Sylveon attacked us! Attacked you!" He thumped the ground with his tail. "Something's going on!"

    "Well... so what!? What makes you think you have to do anything about it?"

    "What? You expect me to just sit around and... and do nothing? When my friend is in trouble?"

    What did he just call her? "Friend?" She shook her head. That wasn't something she could remember agreeing to. "I've got enough to worry about already! Just stay out of this!"

    Dawn turned and walked away. She was glad he didn't keep following her.
     
    P2.08 – Helping Hand
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    P2.08 – Helping Hand

    Dawn stood with her back against the oran tree, roasting one of its fruits. She knew she should eat her fill before she started her search. As she held her tail up to the fruit's skin, she was careful to keep her bandaged hand from being exposed to the fire.

    Going on this search without Dusk made her nervous, but she was a little afraid of him right now. After the previous night's incident, what if he did that again? She didn't want more bandages. Or maybe worse would happen... what if Dusk's sash had been around her neck last night? She grimaced at the thought. Until she brought Dusk back, she would need to be careful around him.

    That wasn't all. If that Scyther found her, others might be looking for her. If she wandered around with Dusk slung over her shoulder, that'd be a dead giveaway. When he was awake, his powers could protect her. But as long as he was silent, it was more dangerous to carry Dusk. She would need to find the luminous chamber first. Then she'd bring Dusk and turn him into a Doublade.

    Her mind went back to Algol. What was his problem? Why was he so obsessed with helping her? That made things so much harder! All he did was ask her what she was up to and what she was trying to do.

    "I'd tell you if you wouldn't call me a ghost's puppet," she said to herself.

    She chomped at the fruit. Its bitterness caught her off guard. As she ate it, she couldn't stop thinking about how pitiful it was. It paled in comparison to that Chansey's egg. If only she could taste that again.

    If Algol hadn't convinced her to try the egg, she would never know what it tasted like. And maybe she wouldn't have even gotten the Chansey's help without him calling for her.

    Dawn shook her head. If he stuck around her, he might get hurt again. This was her problem. Between her and Dusk, they fought for others and helped them out. They weren't the ones who needed help. They solved their own problems!

    Besides, Dusk instructed her never to eat eggs. It was Algol's fault that she went against that. Ok, maybe this wasn't quite what Dusk was worried about… the egg was never going to hatch. But still, Algol has pushed her to try it. It was his fault! If she kept hanging around him, he might try to get her to do other wrong things. Hiding the truth was bad enough!

    Dawn finished the fruit, peel and all. Then she scaled the tree and then shook one of its branches until some of its fruit fell. She picked up the plumpest fruit and started roasting it.

    Where would she look for one of these luminous places? She had seen Unown before, but that was a long, long time ago. That place was pretty far away, and she wasn't even sure that was where she needed to go.

    But did she have any better leads? Every day she spent looking was another day Dusk wasn't getting healed... what if she was running out of time? Or what if someone found her?

    And every extra day was also another day she had to put up with those nightmares. Maybe if Dusk was around, he could wake her up. But not even that...

    Algol woke her up from one of those nightmares, didn't he?

    "Get out of my head!" She threw the fruit to the ground, splattering its sizzling contents on the dirt. "I don't need your help!"

    She sighed and sat against the tree, with her knees tucked under her chin. Things felt so lonely without Dusk. Without him around, she had no one to talk to. For the last couple of days, Algol seemed to fill that gap.

    But he wasn't Dusk. She couldn't trust him in the same way. Yet, even when she refused to tell him what was going on, he still insisted on helping her. Why? Did he expect something from her? Did he pity her?

    She hated to admit it, but maybe she really did need his help. But could she trust him enough to tell him about Dusk?

    No, but she owed him an apology. After everything he did for her, she just pushed him away. He probably thought she didn't appreciate his help at all. But without his help, Rodney would have just turned her away. She wouldn't have learned anything about Malamars or Honedges. She at least owed him an apology.

    What, was she going to go back to that town? Just to say she was sorry? No way! She wasted too much time already. Besides, he was probably in the library. She wasn't allowed in there anymore.

    At that moment, something wet hit her head. She looked up and realized the sky was very overcast. "Rain? Now? Ugh, it was clear a minute ago!" She scrambled to her feet and ran. She had learned the hard way that hiding under a tree wouldn't keep her dry. For that, she needed to get to her shelter.

    ~~~

    Before long, she was holding her tail up to her chest in an attempt to keep it out of the rain. Even though it was just a light sprinkle, she could feel each drop smack against her body and slither down her back.

    Fortunately, she made it back to her shelter before it got any worse. Once inside, she sat down in her little corner. She'd just have to wait out the storm.

    "I should have brought my cloak, huh?" she said to Dusk. "Ah, I should use that to dry off!"

    Except she couldn't find it anywhere. It should have been easy to find; she didn't have a lot of stuff, after all. Did she lose it somewhere?

    "Oh, right, I gave it to Lin. Before we, er, I… oh..."

    She sighed. If only she had a way to fix that. Bringing Dusk back was hard enough.

    Dawn picked up the blade and put it on her lap. She ran her claws through the intricate design on the sheath. "I'm sorry. Why'd it have to end up like this? How'd we get here?

    "I wish I could tell you about everything that's going on. About the library... and Rodney." She chuckled. "I think he hates me. And... I wonder if you know about any if those time-traveling Pokemon Algol showed me. Oh, and there's Algol, too! He's this snake kid with these weird goggles. I bet he'd love to hear your stories."

    Out of habit, she put her good hand on the sash. She yanked her hand away, afraid the sash would cling to her wrist again. It didn't. She gingerly grabbed the cloth and laid it across the sheath. The sash was ice cold, just like it had been for the last few days.

    She didn't dare wrap the sash around her wrist, so she clutched the end of it instead. "Please... hang on. I'll find a way. I'll fix this."

    She could feel it warm up, just a little. Dawn let out a sigh of relief. Maybe she couldn't hear him talk, but he was definitely here. She wasn't too late.

    But if she wanted to go anywhere, she'd need to wait for the rain to stop. Then she would need to prepare for the search. For starters, she needed a new cloak, which would protect her from rain and make her harder to recognize. Unfortunately, the town was the best place to get one of those.

    ~~~

    Strength trickles back into my limbs. I can tell that it's not my aura, so I don't try to focus it this time. I simply accept it.

    I get to my feet. Yet I can hardly stay standing. I'm so exhausted... so dead. Dead on the inside. I feel like I haven't slept for a week, yet I've been lying here for... for how long? Ugh... I feel like throwing up.

    For the most part, time seems to hold still in this place. But whenever this strange aura comes back, it feels like the world unfreezes and time begins to flow again.

    I look at my feet and see a puddle of blood. My blood. It's streaming out of my chest. I'm a mess! If only he could heal me, just like he always does.

    Who does? I look over at Dusk's motionless body, not too far off. Now that I've been here a while, I've gotten more tuned into his aura. He's a healer, right? I take a lumbering step toward him. I can feel my legs quake as if they'll buckle at any moment.

    I press my palm against my head. No... no, it wasn't Dusk. Dusk is... is someone else. Someone... someone... why can't I remember him? What is wrong with me?

    I take a deep breath. I can't get too stressed right now, not on this borrowed aura. I turn away from Dusk and sink on the ground. I end up sitting on my knees. My chest is still bleeding, but now that I'm calmer, it seems to have slowed. That's good. There's not much I can do about it.

    I gaze up into the white void. Is there someone out there? Are they giving me their aura? Is it... him?

    No, of course not. If it was him, I'd be able to tell. This is someone else. Maybe... are they listening to me?

    "Hey, is anyone out there?" I'm surprised by the quiet raspiness of my voice. I clear my throat before trying again. "Are you listening? Do you know where I am?"

    I don't hear any answer, but the aura stirs. It's like I'm being wrapped in warmth. Like... a hug, maybe?

    "So you can hear me. Do you understand me? Um..." How do I test this? "Whatever it was you were doing just now, stop doing it!"

    The feeling doesn't go away. I'm a little disappointed, but I'm also relieved. This feeling is comforting... I don't want it to stop. I've been here for so long in this frozen world. Unnoticed. Forgotten. Left for dead, maybe. Yet something is still out there. Just that sense.

    Yikes, is this the kind of thing I'm grateful for? I'm that desperate? I've gotta get out.

    Still, I immerse myself in this warm sensation while it lasts. It makes me feel so much less… dead.

    ~~~

    Dawn strolled through the town, soaking in the warm sunlight. For the first time in forever, Dawn felt like things were going pretty well.

    For one thing, she actually slept through the night without any nightmares. She dozed off clutching with his warm sash in her arms. It was very comforting, even if she couldn't hear him speak. Maybe this helped ward off the nightmares? Whatever the case, she slept well past sunrise.

    She also had the cloak problem handled. There was this tailor Pokémon in town, and he was more than happy to help her out. In her travels, she found a little money here and there, and that was enough to cover the tailor's fees. Not only that, he said he'd use a fireproof dye, making it so that her tail wouldn't set it on fire.

    But even though the tailor had already started on her new cloak, Dawn would still need to wait. He said it would be ready by tomorrow morning. She traveled very light, so the rest of her preparations were already done. What could she do until the cloak was ready?

    She aimlessly strolled through the town's streets. This place felt much less intimidating now. Yes, she was more familiar with the layout of the town, but what made the biggest difference was the townsfolk. Instead of staring at her all the time, now they usually ignored her. That was much better, in her opinion.

    In her aimless wandering, she found herself in front of the library again. She turned her head away. No point in bothering with that place anymore.

    Yet her feet stopped. But... but apologizing felt so awkward! Couldn't it wait until later?

    But would there even be a later? She might never come back. Even if she did, wouldn't Algol go back to his home in Eveport? This could be her last chance to see him.

    She walked up to the door and reached up for the handle. But as she was about to turn the handle, she stopped. What would she even say? Sorry for being a jerk, but I still can't tell you anything and I don't want your help.

    To Dawn's surprise, the door came open on its own. "Back already?" A certain bird poked his head through the opening, squinting in the sunlight.

    "Rodney? How did you—"

    "I saw you through the window. Here to burn my books?"

    "Burn your—no! Actually... I'm leaving."

    He shrugged. "Ok." He started closing the door.

    "Hey, hold on!" She grabbed the door. "Is Algol there?"

    "Him!? Oooo." A mischievous grin crept across his face. "I knew it. You know, ever since you left, that bloke's been doing nothing but sulk."

    "What? Why?"

    He giggled. "Isn't it obvious?"

    "Uhh... no? Never mind that, could you just go get him already?"

    "Aright, just wait out here." He vanished into the darkness, not even bothering to close the door.

    That was weird. Dawn never saw Rodney acting like this. But more importantly, what was wrong with Algol? She leaned against the wall next to the door. How was she going to apologize to him? Since Rodney interrupted her thoughts earlier, so she still didn't know what to—

    "Dawn?" Algol poked his head through the open door. "Did she...?" When he noticed her, his face lit up, but just for a moment. "I thought you'd left."

    She crossed her arms and stared into the sky. Algol slithered closer, but kept his distance.

    Dawn sighed. Well, here goes. "I'm back because there's something I need to get, and... I also wanted to say I'm sorry."

    "What? I should be the one who needs to apologize!"

    "Huh?"

    "I'm the one who's been pushing you for answers, even though there's something you obviously don't want to talk about. I kept bothering you. I don't know what's going on, but I know you have your reasons for not telling me."

    "Ah..." This wasn't how Dawn imagined this would go. Not at all. She appreciated his change in attitude. That definitely made things easier.

    He continued talking. "Well, I guess I want to say that, if you want to talk about any of it, I'll be happy to listen. But don't feel like you have to. I think everyone has their own secrets that they can't tell anyone. At least, I know what that feels like...

    "And I guess I shouldn't have been trying to force myself into your problems. I just saw someone else who looked lonely and... wanted to help. I dunno."

    "Oh believe me, I've helped lots of random strangers." She eyed her swaying tail at her feet. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm grateful for all your help."

    "Ah. I'm glad. I hope you can fix... whatever it is."

    She nodded. The conversation lulled as they watched the townsfolk mill about. It was so nice not getting stared at all the time. She spotted a couple of Pawniards walk by, but they just glanced at her and kept going. They really didn't suspect her, did they?

    "So when are you leaving?" Algol finally asked.

    "Probably tomorrow morning."

    "Do you know where to look?"

    "Not really... I have an idea or two, but that's it."

    "Do you know about the one a few days from here?"

    "A few days? No, I don't. Where is it?"

    "It's a bit north of here. Main problem is that you have to go through this cave network to get there, but I think that it'll work."

    "Wow, really? Why didn't you tell me this yesterday?"

    "I didn't know about it yesterday. I was curious, so I started researching it after you left."

    This was great! This was a much better lead than before. "Wait, about this cave network... how big is it?"

    "That's the problem. It's really big. I think it'd be easy to get lost without using the map."

    "The map? Is it in a book?" She shook her head. "But Rodney would never let me take that."

    "Yeah, you're probably right. Unless..." He started running the end of his tail along his chin. "Can you give me a minute?"

    "Uh... sure? Why?"

    "Great!" He vanished through the door without bothering to close it.

    Well, that was abrupt. If she wanted to know what he was going on about, she'd just have to wait for him to come back.

    ~~~

    When Algol came back, Dawn was sitting next to the door. "Alright, I know what we can do."

    "What?" She got up off the floor. "What are you talking about?"

    "Ol' featherhead says you can take the book with you."

    "He said wha—!? Really? That's great!"

    "Wellll... there's a catch."

    Uh oh. Did he expect her to pay for it? She had almost no money left.

    "You see," he said. "He'll only let you take it if he's the one to carry it."

    "If he's the one to... what!?" Rodney seriously planned on going with her? Then he'd see her carrying Dusk around, wouldn't he? No. No way she could agree to this. Though maybe he didn't know what a Honedge was. It was possible...

    "Aaand... to make sure he doesn't drive you insane, I was hoping... maybe I could come along?"

    Him? That was even worse! She tried to hide her dismay. "Why?"

    "Because this is really exciting!" His eyes sparkled. "This is an ancient place we're talking about. Maybe humans made it! Who knows what we'll find there? You think I'd pass this up? Not a chance! Of course I'd want to—"

    He stopped when he noticed the horrified look on her face. "I'm doing it again, aren't I? I'm sorry... I should'a asked before I let myself get excited."

    Dawn let out a long sigh. "I wish you two could tag along, but, well," she looked away. "I need to think about it, alright?"

    "Okay... you're leaving tomorrow morning, right? We'll be ready, just in case."

    ~~~

    Dawn lay on her back, staring up at the stars. There were so many of them. Once or twice, Dawn tried to prove to Dusk that she could count them. She usually ended up falling asleep long before she finished.

    She held up the end of Dusk's sash so she could see it. If this worked, Dusk would be back! She was actually going to do it! She felt giddy, and she couldn't help smiling as she hugged the faded strip of cloth.

    After a lot of thought, she decided to bring Algol and Rodney along. She had smeared mud over Dusk's most defining features, hopefully making it harder to recognize him as a Honedge. And, with her new cloak, she could hide Dusk under that.

    Yes, it was a risk. Going alone was certainly safer, but she didn't want to wait anymore. She wanted to talk to Dusk again! If either Rodney or Algol got suspicious of her, she'd be far from town and all those Royal Blades.

    Once they got to the luminous chamber, she'd have to figure out how to make Dusk evolve without the others seeing. Once she managed that, Dusk could control time again. Even if Algol and Rodney ganged up, they were no match for Dusk's time-bending abilities.

    But what would she have to do? Would she have to talk to the Unown? Would they work with her? Would they want something from her?

    Was that even what Dusk was talking about? Dawn had asked him about the Unown a long time ago, but he acted strange and changed the subject. Maybe there was something he didn't want to tell her. Why, though? What could he possibly be trying to hide?

    "If only I could ask you." She smiled. "Won't be long now."

    How was she supposed to sleep when she was this excited? She needed to get up early, but she just couldn't stop thinking. Her mind kept running through questions for Dusk, and the ways she could explain the Honedge to Algol and Rodney, and what the Unown might be like. On, and on, and on.

    She let out a defeated sigh and rolled onto her back. There was no way she'd ever get to sleep like this. She stared up at the countless stars.

    But were they really countless? If she could count them, then they wouldn't be countless, right? Maybe she'd manage to do it this time, and then she could tell Dusk after he evolved.

    So she started counting.
     
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