AGNPH Stories

The Dimensional Balance Saga by Arcane_Reno


Story Notes:

Starts off clean, but later chapters get naughty. :P And no, this is not a Harry Potter crossover!

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Chapter 17: Scars of Betrayal

Chapter 17

Scars of Betrayal


The crashing roar of the waterfall filled Cheri's ears, the tufted lobes twitching in irritation at the cool mist beading up on her fur. She sighed, crisp, clean air rushing in with the deep exhalation, a small smile crossing her muzzle at the comforting weight of her mate leaning against her. They were together, they were safe.

The smile quickly vanished however, her emotions a whirlwind from the tumultuous events of the past few hours. Her emerald eyes blinked slowly as she glanced up at the sky, the palest hint of dawn just beginning to break in the distance. She felt Shawn shift slightly, bringing that delightfully shivery sensation of his bare skin sliding across her soft fur.

He continued to lie back and stare upwards without speaking, creating an invisible cloud of melancholy around them.

She also didn't speak for the time being, allowing him to sort himself out. Surely he would come around.

"It's over now. For good. That filthy traitor is…"

Just the thought of what he had tried to do made her blood boil. Her PUPS! How DARE he attack her pups! She suppressed a shudder, recalling that sheer terror" That helpless, impotent feeling as he" She couldn't even finish the thought. If he had managed to succeed" she wouldn't have been satisfied until the spawn of Darkrai had been-!

But" in the end" he had done it himself.

She refused to mourn him. After what he had done"

Still, just as the mist cooled her body, a trickle of pity blunted her anger. Such a sad, pathetic being, bound to serve Darkrai to his dying breath. It had been a shocking sight, to see him step willingly off into oblivion.

"What could drive someone to the point of…?"

Weakness, that's what. He hadn't been strong enough to live with what he had tried to do.

To the end, he had been weak. Too weak to fight her mate face to face, instead attacking those who were unable to defend themselves. Coward! Worming his way into their trust, then betraying them. Weak. Letting Dream Stealer control him like that... How terrifying and lonely that must be, to have Dream Stealer whispering in your ear, haunting your slumber.

It was sickening. Never again! NOTHING would touch her mate or her pups! Not even Darkrai himself! She would NOT be caught off guard again!

She would grow stronger. She would help her mate prevent evils like this. She would be strong for him!

Her heart felt like an inferno, her love for him stoking the blaze to a temperature that would surely immolate any that tried to put it out. Anything that sought to hurt him would make the attempt over her dead and cold body!

"Why didn't I stop him?" Shawn muttered, for seemingly the hundredth time.

Cheri firmly suppressed an annoyed response. How could he mourn the traitor? Marek had made his choice. Sad and terrible as that choice was, there was no reason for her mate to blame himself. She understood why he did, but that didn't mean he should.

Surprisingly, Jasmine put a voice to the thoughts that were running through Cheri's mind, the ghost breaking from her own reverie. …Master, does this line of self-doubt accomplish anything?"

He didn't look up, his tone soft as he answered. "I should have stopped him. I might as well have pushed him myself."

The statement drew a soft growl from Cheri. This self-flagellation needed to stop. Noble as it may be, it was unwarranted and unhealthy. Now he was simply being stubborn in his need to take responsibility for everything. "That isn't true! You didn't kill him."

"I let him die."

"He WANTED to die!"

"It's not that simple."

"Maybe not, but why should you be responsible for his choice?"

Shawn sighed in obvious frustration. "He didn't have to do it! He could've come back, no one is beyond hope!"

"Master," Jasmine said softly, …you must not blame yourself for this. It will only harm you. What you say may be true, but he did not believe it. He took what he thought was the only way out. Do you not believe there are no accidents?"

He remained silent for a moment, Cheri nodding in agreement with the ghost. If there was one good thing to come of this, Jasmine had at last proven herself worthy of trust. Fearlessly risking herself like that to save the others' She really would have to apologize to the Mismagius.

Shawn spoke finally, her ears perking to hear. …An accident" no. Not a true accident. The Lone One…" He trailed off, and she felt his muscles tense for a moment, a hint of anger colouring his voice and posture. …Marek made a terrible choice, one I could have stopped him from making. How can I not blame myself? I could've stopped him, brought him back…"

"You did what you could," Cheri rumbled, seeking the words to comfort him. Her mate was shaken. Marek had betrayed his trust, and she despised what it was doing to him. She would NOT let it tear him apart! …You have to accept that. He couldn't face the consequences of his actions, and that has nothing to do with you. Don't let this distract you from what's important! We're safe. Our PUPS are safe!" She growled angrily. …And we will make Darkrai pay by stopping his plan!"

"And Marek will no longer be forced to do that which he does not wish to do," Jasmine added, nodding affirmatively, her gems glowing slightly in the morning twilight. …Perhaps' Perhaps you could have stopped him, but, would imprisoning him have been better? He wished to be free of his bonds, and believed this was the only way he could. Would you have denied him his right to choose to pass on to the next plain?"

Another long silence passed, her heart spilling over with love for her mate, his compassion touching her deeply. Even if it was a compassion placed on the memory of a traitor. As gladly as she would throw herself in front of anything that would hurt him, she knew he was just as willing to do the same for her. For any of them.

She loved him so much"

"I" I suppose you're right," he said quietly. He sat up, the removal of his comforting weight feeling like a great loss. …I" We have to move on."

"Of course we are," she chuckled softly, attempting to lift him a little further out of his current mood. His face was turned away still as he stood up, she couldn't see his expression, but his slumped shoulders seemed to indicate acceptance at the very least. …Us females tend to be right rather often."

It failed to bring a laugh, but he did trail his hand across her shoulders briefly as she got to her feet as well, squeezing firmly. Although, whether it was meant for her comfort or his, she wasn't sure.

"Yes, the Lone One is responsible for this. Marek" At the very least, I can deny Darkrai the pleasure of his plan succeeding." He clenched a fist, gazing once more at the sky. …We can't let this stop us. For Marek's sake as well now. In spite of this, we have to move on. Nothing" nothing can be done for him now."

She supposed that would do. For now at least. She knew him well enough to know he wasn't going to let this go easily.

She would be strong for him!


No answers were apparent in the sky. He felt numb, in more ways than just the slight weariness from his exertions.

The sound of that waterfall... That sound would haunt him. It was another scar. An invisible one, yet it would hurt far more than the one he had so recently taken from Nash.

It would have been so simple... A wall of Air, preventing the fall. Why hadn't he done it? Had some beast of vengeance within reared its ugly head? Had he simply been in shock?

Maybe Jasmine and Cheri were right, maybe he had no right to deny Marek the freedom from the Lone One's touch that death would bring. But... what a waste. If Marek had pushed through... He could have broken free, and atoned for his sins by putting his talents to good use.

Tiredness crashed over him in waves, but there was not going to be any more sleep this night. Sleep was the last thing on his mind. The encroaching dawn seemed to mock his mood.

'Why Marek? Why would you listen to that One?'

He had been dark since his ordeal? Had he failed his ordeal? No, not failed. He couldn't have truly failed, he never would have been accepted into the DBW. But" what? Perhaps a facsimile of success? Some method of "tricking" the manual? That should be impossible though. Or perhaps' Maybe he had succeeded, in a way. If whatever plan of the Lone Power's Marek had been sent to stop had failed, it would have counted as a completed ordeal. Even if Marek had fallen.

Cheri nuzzled against him comfortingly. He closed his eyes for a moment, taking solace in the closeness of his mate. Yes, at least they were safe. All of them. The mere thought of losing any of his companions"

"No," he thought savagely. "Not to Nash, not to Marek, not to the Lone One." He WOULD protect them! He hated the fact that he had put them in grave danger once more. It was the curse that went with his occupation: peril followed him like a hungry shark scenting blood.

They knew though. They knew the risks of following him, and had stayed with him in spite of it. He could NOT afford to fail them again! If it hadn't been for Jasmine"

They trusted him completely, and he had failed them. He had failed, in almost every possible way. Failed to see the signs about Marek, failed to protect his poké mon, failed to convince Marek to come back.

Nina's voice echoed in his mind. "Failing is inevitable. But failing doesn't mean the Lone One wins. He only wins when we stop fighting."

He had to press onward. No matter what, his mission was too important to let a failure stop him from seeing it through" or even slow him down.

The knowledge of that fact didn't make accepting it any easier though. When failure could have deadly consequences'

This mission had become far more complicated and dangerous than he had anticipated. The Lone One wasn't playing games. Not that that One ever truly was, but" Marek going after his poké mon was WELL beyond a low blow. It simply meant he couldn't afford to let his guard down. He may not be able to fix the mistakes he had already made, but he would do EVERYTHING in his power to guard against further ones.

He would see this through. He would teach his poké mon to realize their full potential. And if the Lone One wanted to hurt his friends or his mate" Darkrai himself would have to ensure he was well on his way to Timeheart first!

Cheri rumbled something inaudible, sounding like the canine equivalent of clearing one's throat. She leaned against him as she turned to the ghost type, the soothing presence of his gorgeous lover radiating into him like a ray of sunlight.



She shifted her paws, looking at the ground for a moment, before meeting the Mismagius' eyes with a steady gaze. "I" I just wanted to say thank you. For what you did back there. You did what I couldn't, and you saved them. Thank you." She let out a huff, glancing away again and half muttering. "And I'm sorry for how I've been treating you. You didn't really deserve it."

Some form of deeply buried tension seemed to drain from Jasmine. It wasn't anything greatly noticeable, just a minute relaxing in her posture. "I am pleased to have been of assistance. It would have been" Most regrettable to not do whatever I could to help. And for the other, it is in the past."

Shawn laid a hand on Cheri's shoulder, feeling her muscles relaxing in response to the outright acceptance and forgiveness from the Mismagius. He gave her a reassuring squeeze, a lance of light spearing through the gloom inside of him. This was a pleasant improvement at least. Even if it had taken" this' to achieve it.

Cheri butted her head up under his hand, seeking more of the affection, which he was more than willing to give. "In the past or not, I'm sorry. And I'm glad that…" Her expression hardened for a moment, seeming to search for an appropriate term to apply. She glanced up at him, the flash of anger cooling, apparently choosing to soften her judgement for his benefit. "He" didn't hurt you badly. I think we really need you."

Jasmine bowed her head, responding with a tiny smile. "I suppose I am getting stronger. If not for Master's training…"

Shawn nodded in understanding. What Marek had done to her"

"Yes, thank you Jasmine. That was quick thinking. And…" He paused, swallowing hard. "I'm sorry too. Both of you."

Jasmine blinked twice, a hint of confusion entering her expression. "What reason do you have to apologize, Master?" Cheri also met his gaze with a question in her eyes, her ears twitching.

"It's my fault Marek hurt you. I failed in my job of protecting you, I-"

He stumbled back a step, pushed off balance by a sudden, forceful blow against his chest, bouncing off his shield. He stared incredulously at Cheri, her paw raised to strike again if need be.

"That, is quite ENOUGH," she growled, her ears flat against her skull, a dangerous gleam in her eyes. "It's very sweet, most of the time, but you're going too far. It's our job to protect YOU, my dear."


In a blink, he was on his back, pinned in place by two massive paws, grunting as he hit the grassy surface, his words stolen away.

Ironically, she was grinning wildly, fangs bared as she gazed into his eyes with a fierce passion. "You think I can't tell when you're about to argue? How many times do you need to hear it to believe it? It's. Not. Your. Fault."

He opened his mouth to speak again, only to be silenced once more, this time by an aggressive, sizzling kiss, her long canine tongue capturing his with ease and holding it hostage. He almost laughed aloud into the delightful intimacy. She was using the same tactic he had.

He relaxed as his astonishment faded, returning the gesture with vigour and hugging her tightly, drawing a pleased murr from the Arcanine as they renewed their knowledge of each other's palates.

She pulled back after a long moment, short of breath, nodding approvingly at his silence and reluctant smile. How could he argue with THAT logic? "Better." She allowed him to sit up, a smouldering look in her eyes, as if daring him to speak further on the subject.

Jasmine was chuckling softly. "Although I fear I cannot offer you the same reasoning your mate does, I must agree. You ascribe too much burden to yourself."

He drew a steadying breath, nodding slowly. Fair enough. He couldn't completely release himself from responsibility quite so easily, but if that was how they felt, then he was truly grateful. His poké mon" They were as important to him as his mission was. He would NOT let Darkrai touch them!

Cheri giggled. "Mmm, I don't know, I wouldn't be overly upset if you kissed him. Not if it was to shut him up when he's being silly."

Jasmine merely laughed at this, shaking her head. "I would not wish to ruin your fun."

He gave his mate another firm hug, delighting in her soft purring sounds as she pressed into the exchange, ardour flowing freely between them. "I love you too, dear."

By the time he released her, the sky seemed brighter than it had been. The Arcanine sighed as they broke apart, giving him a tender lick. "MUCH better."

A sudden thought struck him. "Cheri, what exactly was that you did, back there? It didn't look quite like anything you've done before."

She looked thoughtful, her brow arching as she considered the question. "I'm" not exactly sure, to be honest." Her left ear flicked, annoyance and disappointment entering her voice. "I was so angry" I didn't even think about what I was doing. I just acted. I don't know if I could do it again like that. I think it might have been Extremespeed!"

He nodded, thinking back, envisioning her blazing form bolting through the darkness. "It wasn't only that though, there was something else, something I'm not familiar with."

"Yes, I just don't know what." She bared her fangs in a fierce grin. "It was a pretty good one! It really tired me out though. I don't think I could do more than one or two of those in a battle, if I can even figure out what it was I did."

Jasmine spoke up. "I believe I have seen something like that once before. It is consistent with the move humans call Flare Blitz."

Shawn blinked, his memory perking at the phrase as he stood up again. Of course, that must have been it. "Flare Blitz and Extremespeed? Well my love, you certainly are becoming formidable, aren't you?" He chuckled as he ruffled her headfur, hoping it didn't sound too forced. "Pretty soon, I'm not going to have anything left to teach you!"

Cheri giggled softly, leaning into the scratching. "Don't get too excited, I still need to work out how to use them on purpose. I'm sure you can think of a few more things too. You're not getting away THAT easily!"

"Nor would I want to." He shook his head ruefully, grinning at the double entendre. Together, they would be able to work it out. That attack must have been quite the powerhouse, considering what it had done to Marek's shield.

He stared into the distance, absently continuing to stroke Cheri's fur as he thought, the brief period of light-heartedness fading into companionable silence, along with more sombre thoughts. His other hand ran lightly over the spheres nestled safely on his belt, the poké mon inside still sleeping peacefully, unaware of what had transpired.

"Now what are you thinking about?" Cheri asked, rumbling happily as he once more discovered that magical place behind her left ear. Jasmine's eyes had closed, the ghost type floating and resting, appearing quite weary from her ordeal.

Shawn sighed, pulling out one of the poké balls --Hina's, yellow rings shimmering and pulsing in the half light-- and contemplating it. "How exactly am I going to explain this to them?" he wondered aloud.

Cheri's gaze locked with his, her eyes narrowing. "You mean about" him, right?" Her gaze flicked towards the waterfall briefly, obviously once again not using the stronger words that must have been running through her mind.

"Yes. They'll wonder what happened to him, I can't avoid telling them."

The Arcanine let out a low growl. "Tell them anything you like, except the truth."

Shawn frowned, staring at her in surprise. "I don't want to lie to them, Cheri. I meant what I said about secrets."

Her rumble grew in volume. "Then don't lie, just please don't tell them exactly what happened. You think I like it? But, Hina doesn't need to hear what that murderous scum tried to do! She has enough to worry about. And Marty wouldn't understand either. Kirin might, but still…"

He sighed, continuing to turn the closed poké ball over in his hands. "True. Hina and Marty" I have to tell them Marek is' gone, though." A pang shot through him at the words. "And they WILL want an explanation."

"Tell them Marek fell. Say it was an accident or something. I don't care, just" don't tell them what he was trying to do!" Her voice softened. "Please, for Hina. For me. Don't." She met his eyes imploringly.

His lips compressed in a thin line, the image of Hina's frightened face flashing before him. She had night terrors as it was. Thoughts of assassins in the dark wouldn't help matters. "You're right, this IS a secret that should stay between us. If they ask though, I still don't know what I'm going to say. I can't just lie to them. Omission is one thing, but actually lying…"

He glanced over at the silent Mismagius. "Jasmine? What do you think?"

Her eyes only opened a crack. "Do whatever you think is best, Master," she said tiredly. "If you truly wish my counsel, I agree with your mate's words in this matter."

Shawn let out a frustrated huff. "I don't like this at all. I-"

Cheri cut him off, fire in her expression, pawing at the ground. "Nothing about this is likable! You-"

He waved his arm in a scything gesture, silencing her. "What I was GOING to say was, I'll do my best to keep it a secret. You're right, nothing about this is likable, but we have to make the best of it. I think Kirin could handle it, but telling Marty and Hina the full truth would frighten them. But, if they ask, I may have no choice. I refuse to lie to them. To any of you."

Cheri looked at him for a brief moment, blinking, her ears flicking, before leaning against him and licking his face, her agitation turning to a pleased purr. "Thank you, Master. I love you for keeping your promise, but I just think this is a time where discretion is best."

He smiled, meeting her tongue for a quick kiss. "I know my dear, and I would never want you to suppress your opinions. I need to think on what I'm going to tell them though." He paused, trailing his hand through her fluffy mane. "And" there's one more thing I need to take care of first."

"What's that?"

He looked towards the waterfall, feeling the tiredness pulling at him with fiendish fingers. "I need to bury him. I can't just leave him there, it's not right." He clipped Hina's ball back to his belt, and walked toward the edge. Cheri followed close behind, muttering something under her breath. Jasmine trailed after, silently. He belatedly gave himself a mental kick. He should have asked earlier. His bag was still at their camp too.

"Are you sure you're alright Jasmine? I'm sorry I don't have anything to heal you with at the moment, although I could probably find some berries or something. Would you rather wait up here and rest? When we get back, I can give you a proper potion."

She shook her head. "I would rather stay close by at the moment, so I shall follow. I shall be fine. Rest is sufficient, save your medicines for when we truly need them." A trace of a mischievous grin crossed her face. "You can always carry me again, if I find moving becomes too tiresome."

He suppressed a chuckle, nodding in response. "Sure thing, Jas."

She looked a little startled at the extra shortened form of her name, but then her smile widened. She seemed to understand it was a form of endearment. "Don't be too eager now. I may take you up on it." She paused, her expression smoothing into her more formal, neutral mask. "Thank you for your concern, Master."

He flashed a smile at her, then gripped his sword hilt and turned back towards the precipice. The breaking dawn sent glittering sparkles of brilliance from the rushing water, mist and dew slicking the grass near the edge as he peered down. Trills and cries of early morning risers were now sounding from the forest behind him, the wild poké mon of the area happily going about their business, unaware of the battle that had taken place inside their territory.

He avoided looking towards the base of the falls just yet, instead seeking out an ideal place to travel down to. A few scraggly trees and low bushes bunched up along the muddy banks, but most of it was clear.

Cheri crept up to the edge as well, leaning as far back as she could while peeking over. "How are you going to get us down there?"

"Like this."

Drawing deeply on pure Earth, he drove his blade into the ground. With a loud, grinding rumble, the cliff face shifted and morphed, spars and bulges of rock popping out in seemingly random fashion, to form a rough set of narrow stairs. Though they looked rather dubious, he knew they would be more than adequate. He could sense their solidness, feel their steady strength.

It had taken a good chunk of energy to pull it off, but the exertion felt good. Something to focus on. He didn't want to use up any more wizardry on an extra teleport, they still needed to make their way back.

The steps were just large enough for Cheri to traverse, leading back and forth in great swaths, down the side of the cliff to the ground below. Gesturing for the two poké mon to follow, he stepped onto the staircase, leaning back to keep his balance. Sliding down would be a fast ride with a hard landing. There were small spaces between the steps to watch out for too.

A plaintive whine from behind caught his attention, just as he reached the first turn in the steps. He looked up, seeing Cheri standing at the top peering down. Jasmine had already begun her descent, the ghost type floating easily down the pathway.

"I can't go down these, I'll fall!" Cheri called. "It's too narrow!" She poked the first step with her paw, brushing some loose pebbles away and watching them fall off the side of the stairs.

"Don't worry, I'll steady you. I won't let you fall. Consider it extra training." He reached out with a hand of Air, brushing the Arcanine with it and gently guiding her onto the steps. She stiffened at the touch, before relaxing and following cautiously, picking her way down the newly formed bulges and sculpted ledges of the rock face.

It was a tight fit, but he had judged accurately, and she made it to where he and Jasmine stood without incident. He hadn't even needed to correct her balance, the fire type moving her considerable size with uncanny grace.

He jumped down to the next swath, moving out of the way to allow Jasmine and Cheri space, then guiding Cheri to find her own purchase. Once again, she managed it on her own, just as he had expected. She seemed pleased with herself, though her ears still lay flat to her skull, her tail trailing low behind her.

Reaching the halfway point, Shawn decided against testing her further, instead merely lifting her down the rest of the way. The distance wasn't so far now as to be a huge strain. She let out a startled yelp as he picked her up with the hand. "You know, you COULD warn me when you do that!"

He shrugged apologetically. "Sorry dear, habit."

She huffed, but it had no real fire to it. She seemed grateful for the easier route, as he deposited her safely on the bank near the base of the falls. She looked up, barking. "I believe I prefer solid ground. Can we go up a different way?"

He chuckled, dropping lightly to the next layer of steps and continuing his own descent, Jasmine following silently. "We won't have to. Just trust me." Teleporting from here would make no real difference in their return trip. Saving the extra spell had been worth this longer route down though.

Soon enough, he and Jasmine joined Cheri, the Arcanine giving him a nuzzle of welcome. The cool mist was even thicker here than up above, rivulets of condensation running down his shield. Cheri shook, spraying little droplets everywhere. "Blech. Let's get this over with."

He merely nodded, sobered once more by the task ahead. He took a deep breath, the scent of pure, clean water, dropping at least five stories to a thunderous landing, felt cleansing. He wanted to dive into the flow, to lose himself in the chaotic rush, allow the liquid to assuage the painful images in his mind. It would do no good though. Water could not heal these wounds.

Striding to the edge of the bank, he shielded his eyes against the glare reflecting from the river, looking towards the centre, where the mist rose high.

There. Just under the crushing weight of the falls.

The phantom blade in his chest wrenched anew as he saw the shattered body, a limp, dark patch on the jagged stone teeth. A spar of one of the larger boulders jutted up, piercing the form. He shuddered, imagining the feel of tumbling down through the darkness, the fall halting abruptly with a sickening crunch. Small mercy; it had been quick.

Gritting his teeth, he seized the form with a fist of air, as gently as was possible with such a task, and pulled it up off the impaling spear of obsidian rock. Thankfully, the falls obliterated whatever sound it would have made. It was a bit of a strain to lift against the force of the flow, but he managed it well enough, the curtain of fluid parting around the magical fist.

He pulled Marek's lifeless body towards him, water pouring off in streams in place of blood, which had been completely washed away by the liquid. The limbs dangled disturbingly, trailing through the rushing water before he lifted it a little higher, to clear the rocks of the bank.

Supporting Marek on a floating stretcher of air, mindful that he didn't roll off, Shawn laid him down on the lone unmuddied spot, a resolute patch of grass near the stunted trees. The basin of the waterfall was actually rather cozy, the cliffs surrounding it in a semicircle, forming a bit of a bowl, before widening out into more forest.

He had no idea where he was, only that it had to be between the cycling road and route 204. They had moved almost due East. Wherever it was, it was a peaceful spot. It would make a good resting place.

He felt cold and rather detached, staring at the still form for a moment. He had seen plenty of bodies before, but it never got easier. Even after what Marek had done, seeing him like this put a block of ice in his belly. His knuckles whitened on his sword hilt. The Lone One would pay.

"No, this isn't Marek anymore. It's just a shell. Marek is gone." The thought did little to comfort him. Even with his betrayal, he felt no anger towards Marek. The other wizard had been a dupe, not truly evil in the sense of Nash or other dark wizards.

Cheri stepped beside him, only glancing at the body briefly, before giving him a loving nuzzle. "Let's get this over with and head back," she said.

Shaking his head, he once more reached out with Earth. "Right." He picked out a spot between two of the trees, stretching out into the soft soil. With a grunt, he levitated a sizable chunk from the ground, dropping the mass to the side with an unceremonious thump.

He stepped over to the body, gazing down at Marek's pockmarked face. It was pasty and pale as a wax figure, but the features were set in an almost peaceful expression. As if he was merely asleep, and at any moment would wake up and begin asking nattering questions.

"Perhaps he really is happier now." He felt morbid, thinking like that, but never once in life had Marek looked so relaxed, so unperturbed. If only he too could be so at ease about what had happened.

With a sigh, he lifted Marek once more, cradling him with the hardened air to keep his limbs from flopping, slowly floating him over to the freshly dug grave. His mouth set in a firm line as he lowered the body, fighting down the emotions that swirled deep within. He couldn't help thinking of Nina's death.

"Why Marek? Why would you turn to that One?" He would never know. At least, not until he was able to travel to Timeheart once again. It was impossible from here. Even then, that assumed Marek wanted to speak to him, would allow himself to be found. An answer would change nothing, but it would give him some sort of closure.

He stared down into the hole as he released the hand of air, allowing Marek to settle in place on the soft soil. It was a sombre act, one that, no matter how many times he saw it, never lost its profound gravity.

He sensed a presence behind him, and glanced over his shoulder to see Jasmine hovering there, looking on. Her face was a mask, devoid of any emotion. Cheri watched from a short distance away, her eyes fixed on him as she sat on her haunches. She let out a huff, nodding at him to continue. She clearly had no wish to hang around here.

"Will you speed his spirit's journey?" Jasmine asked, a flat, sombre quality in her voice, sounding like some kind of ghostly ritual.

He wasn't entirely sure how to respond to the question, but he nodded, and took a deep breath, recalling the traditional rite of passage spoken over a wizard who had moved on to Timeheart.

"May we meet again in the Heart of Time, where all our sundered times are one, and all our myriad worlds lie whole, in That from Which they proceeded, and may you reject entropy with the strength that flows from the One."

Just like in the speaking of a spell, the world around him seemed to still and quieten, leaning in close to listen to the words. Even the unending roar of the falls hushed, allowing his Speech to take precedence. The very fabric of the universe, ushering the departed one across the divide of life and death.

He stood, unmoving, allowing the words to hang in the air for a moment, not wishing to disperse the effect. "Marek, I'm sorry I didn't stop you. I hope you can forgive me. And I-"

He blinked, the flow of the world around seeming to return to normal. A light bulb had just flicked on in his head.

"Jasmine, is there any way you could…" He thought for a moment, trying to phrase it in her terminology. "Cross to the plain of light, and speak with Marek? I have more questions I wish to ask him."

She frowned, her crimson eyes looking troubled. "My kind is not permitted into the beyond. At least, not until our corporeal and ethereal ties are severed. At the most, we can seek glimpses beyond the curtain of Light."

"I see." He wasn't overly surprised. It had been a slim chance, but it was still disappointing. "So, there's no way then."

She didn't respond for a moment, an odd expression breaking her stoic mask. She seemed to be having an argument with herself. His curiosity grew. What thoughts raced behind those ruby orbs? He waited patiently, allowing her to sort it out.

"What" would you wish to know?" she asked finally, her mouth set in a thin line, her eyes flat. "There MAY be a way, but I will not grant you this secret for frivolous reason. Even for you, Master. I break all custom merely by telling you this much."

"I…" he trailed off, pursing his lips in thought. What did he want to know? There were other unanswered questions, to be sure, but what would she deem important enough to overcome her inhibitions?

"I appreciate your trust, Jasmine. I need to know why. I need to know what happened to him that made him swear to the Lone One. If he was forced somehow…" he let the words slide, not needing to explain. He wasn't even sure why this particular bit of knowledge seemed to tug at him so, but the desire to know why felt like a burning thorn in his flesh. What had made Marek succumb?

She pierced him with her gaze, speaking into his mind. "This knowledge must never be given to any other of the corporeal plain. Not even others of your order. If you can agree to this, I shall do my best to assist you."

He didn't even need to think about his response. "Agreed," he sent back.

She nodded gravely, a soft sigh emanating from deep within. "Very well. Listen then, and learn this secret. When one passes on, they leave" an impression, behind, for a brief period. A variety of essence that may be absorbed, much in the manner of my kind's union ceremonies. It is possible to experience Another through this impression. A way of reliving their experiences." Her mind voice was hushed, her eyes flicking back and forth, as if she feared others of her kind would overhear somehow.

"An impression? Interesting." The explanation was vague, but seemed simple enough. "And you can read these impressions?"

Her eyes closed, tiredness entering her voice. "It is no simple task. I fear that too much time has passed for the images to be clear. However, I shall attempt to find what you seek."

"Thank you." He did his best to project his gratitude with the thought. Even if it was unsuccessful, at least the attempt had been made.

She gave a small nod, before turning wordlessly, hovering overtop of Marek's body. His ear twitched, picking up a faint, nearly imperceptible humming, that was accompanied by a dim pulse in the heart of Jasmine's gems.

"What are you doing?" Cheri asked, padding up behind him.

"We are-" he paused, recalling the promise he had just made. "Attempting something. Something that may glean important information. Please, just a little patience, my dear."

She rumbled, finishing with a great huff of air, like a bellows heating a flame. "I'm sorry, I just really want to get back and be able to check on our pups."

He drew her into a one-armed hug. "I know. They will be fine sleeping a little while longer though. They're safe."

She leaned her head on his shoulder, snuffling his cheek. "Alright. Try to make it quick though, mmm?"

He didn't respond, save to lean into the contact, keeping his eyes on Jasmine. She was wobbling back and forth in midair, her gems pulsing erratically. He considered calling out to her, to ask if she was alright, but refrained. If there was any sort of danger in this, he doubted she would have agreed to try.

With a suddenness that made him start and let out a yell (and Cheri a startled bark), Jasmine whirled with a piecing shriek, her eyes wide and staring glassily at some place over their heads as her gems went nova. Shawn threw his hand up in front of his eyes against the pink tinged glare, turning his head to the side and squinting, vaguely noticing Cheri also flinching back from the blinding light.


As abruptly as it had come, the outburst faded, both shriek and brilliance dying away like a snowflake before a forge fire.

"I" I am alright, it is done," she said, as he took his hand away from his eyes, blinking as he stared at her incredulously. It felt as if she should somehow look different, changed by that impossible display. She was just as she had been though, save looking even more exhausted than before. She seemed to be fighting to stay upright, her head and "hat" drooping forward a bit.

"You" you got it?" he asked. Cheri was shaking her head, as if to clear away an annoying fly.

She hovered away from the grave, a shiver passing through her as she passed over its edge. "I believe so. After a fashion. It is' as I feared." She glanced at Cheri, then switched to telepathy. "The impression has faded, become tangled and opaque. These things do not linger long after death."

"What did you see?"

"I cannot interpret it. I shall transfer the" experience" to you, if you will allow me."

He could feel her mind presence nudging at him, attempting to guide him towards something. He didn't resist, allowing her to lead his consciousness along the link, falling into her own mind. It was a measure of his own trust, to allow her to do this. From this position, she would have full control of his body, should she wish.

Once again, she proved herself worthy of the trust, releasing his consciousness at a certain place inside her mind. A memory. A very specific, alien memory, that did not carry her mind's "signature." Marek's memory. He let it draw him in.

"Be warned, it is very unclear, chaotic," Jasmine's ethereal voice chimed, as the world faded away. He had no chance to respond, he was already falling.

Darkness surrounded him, broken by pinpricks of light. There was a sound, like pebbles dropping slowly into the water, one by one. With each tiny splash, one of the lights brightened, then vanished. How long this went on, he could not say. It could have been seconds, it could have been years. All he knew was that he had no power over either the lights or the noise.

Finally, only one light remained, and he could feel a gentle pushing between his shoulder blades. At least, that was what it felt like, but some part of him knew he hadn't moved, that he was still standing rooted to the spot. He felt a great wind rushing past, as if he were swooping down at an impossible speed toward the light, yet it did not appear to grow any closer.

The darkness gave way to colour. There was no transition. One moment: pitch black punctured only by a lonely star. Then: these blobs of blurry colour, moving in psychedelic patterns like a kaleidoscope.

He could hear voices, but they were so muffled and distorted, at best he could only pick out the odd word or two.

"Help!" There were more words, but they weren't clear enough to be understood. "…leave me!" The colours spun woozily. Something --he imagined it was lightning, but couldn't be sure-- flashed across the scene, splitting it in two before it once more resolved into vague melted shapes.

Someone shouted something indistinct. "…away from…!" That had sounded like Marek's voice! It was nearly impossible to make out, but he somehow knew that it was.

The lightning flashed again, and a pained cry cut through the muck of jumbled noise and images.

"You must make your choice." The voice was deep, rough, gravelly, inexorable. Though that voice took many different forms, it was unmistakable. Especially when it befouled the Speech with its tongue. The Lone One.

The other voices were clearer now too, but the images remained indistinct. "Please Mikel, don't-" The next bit was unintelligible. "…him! Help me!" He didn't recognize the speaker, but he -for it certainly was a he- sounded terrified. Wait" this person was talking to Marek? But why had he called him Mikel?

Another scream, one of great agony, sounded out, though who it emanated from, he could not say. "Be silent," the Lone One commanded. "You had your choice, boy. You chose poorly. Now, this one must choose."

A flash, different from the lightning, but seeming equally as potent, suddenly erupted, along with a yell that Shawn could not make out. The Lone Power chuckled. "Foolish, but I shall ignore that. You have one remaining chance. Do not waste it."

One of the more condensed masses of colour warped and shifted. "I…I can't!" It was Marek again, sounding out of breath. "It's no use." His voice quavered. "I'm s-sorry, Marek, b-but" I have no choice!" Even stranger. Now Marek was calling this other person Marek? What was going on here?

"No!" The other voice cried, trailing into a screech of pain.

The Lone One chuckled again, a sound that somehow darkened the images. "You will swear to me then." It was not a question. "I am pleased you value your own skin. There are far too many self-sacrificing fools in this world."

"Mikel! Don't leave…" the other voice pleaded.

A sob wrenched from what could only be Marek. "Forgive me, brother." A pause. "You won't…?" This seemed to be directed at the Lone One.

"You will find I keep my promises." The fallen Power responded. "Now, swear."

"MIKEL!" That part had been in the Speech! The other person was a wizard as well?

A sudden wall of grief, anger, and resignation struck Shawn. It carried the force of a tidal wave, bowling his ethereal body backwards, the colours and voices dwindling rapidly into the distance like a fading scream. His consciousness shot back out of the memory, out of Jasmine's mind, and back into his own.

A yell reached his ears, that he realized from the rawness of his throat, was his own.

"Shawn!" Cheri was shouting, once again doing her best to shake him out of whatever trance he had been in, his cry cutting off as he came back to his senses. He blinked at her, wondering why her face was framed by sky. He had fallen over?

She sighed in relief as he focused on her, reaching up to take hold of her shoulder and pull himself upright. "Oh, thank Arceus! Please" don't make a habit of that!"

He chuckled, a bit hoarsely. "I'll try not to, love."

Jasmine looked impassive, unperturbed by his display. He supposed it had been very similar to what she herself had gone through, though likely without the glowing. "You understand the vision?"

Cheri glanced at Jasmine, looking a bit puzzled. He thought it better she didn't know exactly what had transpired. Even with her apology to Jasmine, if she suspected that his collapse had happened while he was linked with the Mismagius, Cheri might forget about the promise she had made, and they would be back to square one. The recently forged bond of trust between Arcanine and Mismagius was still fragile.

He almost laughed at the irony. Here he was, withholding information again. However, Cheri was right. Sometimes, discretion took precedence over complete openness, and in this case, that discretion superseded his promise about secrets.

"I am not sure I understand it completely, but I have an idea," he replied to Jasmine, getting to his feet again.

She nodded, but did not ask him to explain. "That is well. I would be dismayed if the effort had been in vain. It was' taxing."

"Thank you, truly. It answered my question as well as I could have hoped," he replied. The memory had clearly been of Marek's ordeal. The point of his turn to the Lone One. The details may have been fuzzy, but at least now he knew.

With the opportunity to either kill a budding wizard or turn him, there was no question which the Lone One would find more favourable. Marek had chosen to save himself, the only way he thought he could, and from the sounds of it, save his brother as well. Or at least, save the unidentified person more pain. At such a price though"

Oddities abounded in the vision, however. Why were the names different? Were the two actually brothers? What exactly had happened to the one left behind? The other had been a wizard as well, or at least, someone who spoke the Speech. It was rare that human non-wizards learned the Speech though, so that seemed unlikely. What-

Something clicked into place in the back of his mind. Marek had not failed his ordeal, for it hadn't been Marek's ordeal at all. Or at least, not the Marek that he knew.

"Are you feeling better?" Cheri asked. He nodded absently, mind racing even through his tiredness.

The person he knew as Marek" was actually Mikel! The other person, presumably his brother, had been Marek! Either the two of them together, or the one named Marek, had been on ordeal, when they encountered the Lone Power. Nothing unusual there. Whenever a wizard was on ordeal, that One was bound to show up at some point, with the certainty of a mafia debt collector. In essence, that was the ordeal.

One way or another, the two of them had been put in a compromising position by the Lone One. In most cases, that would have resulted in death for both of them. Except, the Lone One had seen a weakness' and had preyed upon that weakness. In all likelihood, the other brother had died, and "Mikel" had taken his place somehow, had become Marek. It seemed impossible, yet it was the only explanation that made any kind of sense.

"Master?" Cheri was trying to get his attention again, looking at him with concern. "Are we finished here?"

He let out a long breath, still digesting the new pieces of information. If there was anything important hidden inside what he had learned, it eluded him. It was some comfort to know that the Lone One hadn't found some way of tricking the manual. At least, not to the extent it had first seemed, masking the fate of Marek's ordeal. If it were to manage that" No, it was something far simpler. A case of swapped identities. Subtle, effective, and dangerous. Exactly the Lone One's style.

He snapped himself out of his reverie. Enough shadows of the past. It was time to tend to other matters. "Yes, I'm sorry Cheri, I was just" thinking."

She snorted. "I could tell. You always chew your bottom lip when you're mulling something over. Is it important?"

He blinked. Did he really do that? He had never noticed. "Not to us, no. We're finished here, just one moment more." He glanced down into the grave a final time, wishing Marek" or, Mikel" a silent farewell. Perhaps this was a goodbye to both of them, a rite for the wizard he did not know.

Reaching once again through his blade, he drew upon the solid, timeless strength of Earth. Seizing the giant clod of loose soil, he lifted it without trouble, save a small grunt. With an air of finality, he lowered the earthen burial shroud into place, a small pile of overturned soil the only marker for Marek's (for it was impossible not to think of him by that name) resting place.

"It is finished," Jasmine said in a breathy sigh. He glanced over at her. She seemed a little relieved, yet also respectful and somewhat ceremonious about the whole affair. It was no surprise. Death was no stranger to her, and was in fact a part of her species' lives.

"Yes, it is. Come on, let's head back."



Kirin blinked in the brilliance of early morning sunlight, as the after effects of being summoned from her ball faded away. She shook off the sleepiness, which only half-heartedly attempted to cling. It seemed a bit earlier than usual, but she felt well rested and ready to face the day.

"Good morning Master," she said with a smile, looking around for him, noting that all the others had been released as well. "Breakfast time?"

"Yeah, breakfast sounds good! I'm beginning to feel hungry," Marty said from her left, looking down at himself and patting his considerable belly. A faint, gurgling growl made her giggle.

She let out an embarrassing squeak of surprise as a blur of orange and black filled her vision, Cheri's excited, white ruffed visage suddenly staring into her eyes with a gaze of emerald warmth. "Kirin!" Cheri cried, sounding overjoyed. "How are you feeling sweetie? Everything alright?" The large fire type proceeded to huddle protectively over her, bathing her with comforting warmth, nuzzling against her while sniffing and inspecting thoroughly, as if she expected to find some hidden injury.

"Er, just fine thanks," Kirin replied, returning the affection, but a little puzzled at the faint note of worry in Cheri's voice, and the exuberance of the greeting. She liked the motherly Arcanine too, but why was she acting so over protective all of a sudden? "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Oh, no reason dear, just checking. Your sister was a bit antsy too." She seemed satisfied with her inspection, giving her a last snuffling nuzzle between the ears, before pulling back with a grin. "Sorry, it's hard not to still treat you like a pup. I sometimes forget you're old enough to mate now."

Kirin felt heat rising to her ears at the mild reference, her thoughts flicking back to her musings of the previous evening. She nodded in response. "It's alright, I really don't mind." She returned the smile. "I'm glad to have you watching out for me and Hina."

Cheri looked pleased at the comment, but something in her eyes struck Kirin as odd. As if she had touched some hidden nerve. The Arcanine said nothing further on the subject however, instead giving her another loving cheek rub, her long, fluffy ruffs tickling along Kirin's face.

"If you're looking for Master, he's over there." She jerked her head, indicating back over Kirin's shoulder. "You might have to give him a little push to get you your breakfast though, and I think he's got something to talk about anyhow." She looked pointedly in the indicated direction, before turning back to Kirin with a wink, lowering her voice to a secretive whisper. "Don't be afraid to be firm with him. It gets good results."

Kirin giggled and nodded, thanking her for the advice. She did her best to keep her ears from quivering, as she thought of how twofold that statement was. If Cheri had meant it that way, although, knowing her, she probably had. The odd sensation she was picking up from this situation kept pricking at her though. What did Cheri mean, "he's got something to talk about…, and why hadn't Shawn said anything?

The Arcanine turned, clearly unwilling to explain, and padded back over to Hina, continuing her attentive grooming of the comparatively diminutive Eevee. "Hi sis!" Hina chimed in, even as Cheri gave her an affectionate nuzzle, apparently inspecting her even more thoroughly than she had Kirin.

"Hi to you too sis," she called, getting nothing but an ear twitch in response as the Eevee wriggled free from Cheri's ministrations, bounding over to tackle Marty with a laughing shriek, joined by the Swampert's deeper laughter. Kirin shook her head, smiling as Cheri barked at Hina to come back and let her finish.

She blinked as she turned, and finally caught sight of Shawn, seated on the ground in front of his tent, leaning back against it. He hadn't responded to any of their banter, which was strange in and of itself. His eyes were closed, and oddly, he was only half dressed, the pleasantly defined muscles of his chest standing out as he took in deep, heavy breaths.

Concern flashed through her, tossing aside any last remnant of sleepiness, as well as the tiny teeth of hunger that nipped at her. She padded closer, seeing Jasmine hovering closeby, her eyes closed as well and appearing to be asleep. "Master? Are you okay?"

He jolted, seeming to hear her for the first time, his eyes snapping open. "Oh" Sorry Kirin, I guess I kind of dozed for a second. Yes' I'm alright. Just tired."

"Tired is not the word!" she thought, gazing at him worriedly. There was something" weary" in his look, more than just physical fatigue. Arceus, he looked utterly exhausted! Almost as much as he had after the fight with Nash, only" this time, he wasn't wounded that she could see. What had happened?

"Something happened last night, didn't it?" she questioned, determined to get to the bottom of it. Behind her, the playful sounds coming from Marty and Hina died away, as the Swampert also clued into their trainer's state. Breakfast was now the last thing on everyone's mind, except perhaps for Hina's, who came skipping over happily, snuggling against Shawn in greeting.

"Master Shawn! What are we going to do today? Can I have milk for breakfast? Why aren't you wearing your clothe thingies?" She looked up at him, the barrage dying down as she finally noticed the tightness around his eyes, indicative of his lack of rest. "Master Shawn?"

He smiled at her, eliciting a purr as he scratched behind her floppy ears. Kirin briefly wished to trade places with her sister, but that thought quickly evaporated under her desire to find out what she had missed.

"Good morning Hina, and all of you. We'll get to those other things." He met Kirin's eyes again, briefly, a flash of" something" passing through his blue orbs. "Yes Kirin, you're right. Something did happen last night. Something" not good." She didn't like seeing this particular swirl of emotion in his eyes, which were normally so much happier, lighter. Sadness like this darkened his gaze, making him look older, more care-worn.

He closed his eyes again, cutting off that expression of buried sorrow for a moment. When he didn't continue, Kirin prompted him, wondering if he had fallen asleep again.

"What" what was it?" She couldn't shake a horrible foreboding. This wasn't easy for him to say, that much was clear. Wait, something else was wrong too. Where was Marek? Shouldn't he be here too? Was he still sleeping?

Shawn let out a heavy sigh, but when his eyes opened, the sadness had faded, glossed over by a kind of resolve. If she looked deeper though, the sadness was still there. He was simply hiding it better.

"It's Marek." He paused again, looking at each of them in turn, still absently petting Hina. Marty had come closer, standing beside Kirin, and she could also feel the warmth and presence of Cheri behind her, the larger poké mon saying nothing, but projecting a sense of" reassurance. At least, that's how it felt to her. She could see Shawn looking in her direction, seeming to draw on that silent encouragement.

"Marek is' gone." He said softly.

"Gone?" Marty said, looking around their campsite in puzzlement. "Gone where? His tent is still here, when is he coming back?"

Kirin felt a chill. "No" he doesn't mean it like that." Something about the way that word had been said, it's" finality… left her with no doubt. He didn't mean Marek had just left to buy some potions or something.

He simply nodded, confirming her statement. The hand that wasn't keeping Hina occupied clenched into a fist, and she could see his knuckles whiten with the force. She felt a little stunned, unfeeling. She had hardly known him, true, but he had been friendly enough. Shouldn't she feel more than just this' cold?

"What's wrong with me? He's" dead, and I don't feel anything?" Then, perhaps that icy lump in her belly was a sorrow of sorts. She disliked that she couldn't summon any kind of tangible sadness at the news, at how easily she had slipped into referring to Marek in the past tense, but perhaps she was merely in shock. Once again, she couldn't identify her own emotions. Why did it all have to be so confusing?!

Marty's eyes widened as he latched onto the meaning of the statement. "Y-you mean, not coming back gone? REALLY, gone?" Once again, Shawn merely nodded, his jaw setting firmly. Marty stared, his mouth hanging open. "Mister Marek? Gone? Was it the bad people?"

She shuddered. Marek had been a wizard like Master too, surely a powerful fighter. Not someone to be killed easily. Had Nash come back? Now that thought did invoke feeling, as she recalled her own run in with a dark wizard.

"It wasn't" Nash" was it?" she asked, trying to keep her voice from trembling. Hina jerked at the mention of the name, and she instantly regretted not being more discreet. Shawn quickly calmed her, cuddling her tight, but Hina's focus had clearly switched from the petting.

"Oh please Arceus, don't let it be that…" She never wanted to so much as smell that one ever again. Nash frightened her more than Darkrai did. Just the thought of that dark cloaked form made the fur on the back of her neck rise. Nash had shown himself, wicked and terrible, had marked her sister with his darkness, and nearly killed both of them. Darkrai still seemed like a far off, abstract evil. There, but not a palpable, present danger.

Shawn shook his head, bringing her runaway, fearful thoughts to a halt. "No" it wasn't Nash."

An intense wave of relief flooded through her, making her knees feel weak. Good, so he was still" She inwardly berated herself. "How selfish AM I?! Marek is dead, and all I can feel is relief that the scary guy isn't coming after me?"

She noticed Hina let out a soft sigh, relaxing again, though she snuggled into her trainer a bit more than before. Did she realize what Master Shawn had meant? Whatever the case, at least her carelessness hadn't brought on a fit of trembling from her sister. She opened her mouth to prompt Shawn to continue, but he beat her to it.

His voice began softly, but slowly gained strength as he spoke, at last returning to a reasonable semblance of his usual confidence, though the hesitance brought by the carefully concealed sadness remained. "Marek was' forced into doing something he didn't want to do. He was trapped, and only given one option."

His hand rested on Hina's shoulders, and even the little Eevee's ears had perked to listen. "Someone trapped him? That's mean!" She was frowning, as if she wanted to tell the mean person right then and there exactly what she thought.

Shawn let out a soft chuckle, though it sounded a little forced. "Not like that Hina, but you're right, it is mean." He took a deep breath, and Kirin thought he was going to pause again, but he didn't, continuing almost in a rush, as if the words burned on his tongue.

"Darkrai was using Marek. He forced Marek into working for him, to try and do something that" well" it wouldn't have been good. He was trying to stop us from finishing our mission. Cheri, Jasmine and I caught him in the act. Marek wasn't" himself. He was desperate, and wanted a way to be free of Darkrai." A flicker of anger darkened his expression, his eyes seeming to flash in the morning sun.

"We" we managed to stop him, but Marek" He wasn't thinking clearly. He had run away when we discovered him. When we caught up to him, we were on top of a cliff, and" he fell. He didn't make it." Shawn rubbed his eyes, put one hand on his forehead as if he had a headache, and leaned back. "That's" that's why he's gone."

"Arceus…" Kirin breathed, feeling numb at the terrible confirmation. "I'm sorry to hear that, Master. Poor Marek." The presence of the other wizard's tent seemed to loom behind her, silent, empty. "I can't imagine how terrible that would be, being forced into something you don't want."

"He's" gone like mommy?" Hina asked, staring up at Shawn.


Her ears drooped, and she licked Shawn's hand. "Awww…" she trailed off, with a bit of a sniffle. "I don't want them to be gone…" It sent a pang through Kirin. No matter how much time passed, thinking of their mother still hurt.

Shawn gave her a hug, pulling her tight to his chest. "I know Hina, I know. Neither do I."

"So" What are we gonna do now?" Marty asked, sounding a bit lost. "Mister Marek" you can't get him back?"

Shawn looked up, shaking his head. "No Marty. I'm not that powerful. No one is."

Even the Marshtomp's constant good mood seemed dampened, his wide mouth turned down at the corners. For him, that was like bursting into tears. "Poor Mister Marek. He was nice!" He lapsed into silence. The friendly water type didn't seem to know what else to say either.

The silence dragged for an endless moment, Cheri stepping forward to nuzzle Hina in Shawn's arms, who began softly purring again from the attention, even with the feeling of sobriety over the group. Kirin's mind raced, trying to think of what to say to break the quiet. Something bothered her. The way Cheri had acted, and the way Shawn had looked as he told the story" there was something else.

"Death" It always marks those it passes near," Jasmine's haunting voice rang out in the silence, the Mismagius hovering forward, still with her eyes closed.

Chills shivered down Kirin's spine. Never before had the ghost seemed so foreign, so other-worldly. "Yet, it sorrows the living more than the dead. There is no sorrow in death, there is no pain in death, only what lies beyond. Do not weep for the dead, for they have passed on from pain and sorrow. Mourn their absence for a time, but do not mourn their passing, for their passing is a part of life, and the pain of it is fleeting. Mourn their absence, then move on with their memory. Live for the living, not the dead."

Her crimson eyes opened a crack, and Kirin almost jumped as the ghost type looked straight at her. Had she known she had been thinking of her mother? She swallowed, feeling a lump in her throat. The words were so stark, so matter-of-fact. The speech seemed a bit" harsh" to her. Jasmine was telling them not to feel sad that he was gone?

The ghost let out a long breath, her eyes finally opening all the way as she turned towards Shawn. "His memory, Master. He shall not truly die, if his memory lives on."

"No," Kirin thought. "She means not to let it stop you. And that" being dead isn't the worst that can become of you." A shudder passed through her at the idea.

"Timeheart," Shawn said. "His memory lives. There's always Timeheart" Where not even the Lone One can touch." He glanced down at Hina, then looked at Kirin with a faint smile. "Your mother too. There are no accidents. Even" even in the hard things." He still didn't seem his old self yet, but it was a step. He appeared to draw strength from the phrase, as well as Jasmine's speech.

She remembered what he had told her, about the place where passed on loved ones could be spoken to, touched, loved anew. He had said that wizards were able to go there, sometimes. A place with no evil. If mother was there" And Marek too" perhaps there was little reason for her to feel sad. It was impossible not to miss her though, and she likely always would, but" she could live with that. Jasmine's words made sense in that context. She swallowed hard, and that little lump in her throat slid away.

She glanced toward the empty tent once more. Still" the iciness hadn't completely melted. She knew what it was now. No matter what Jasmine said, she felt pity, even though there was little pain. Poor Marek, to go out like that, trying to get free of whatever hold Darkrai had on him. She hoped he had.

Jasmine and Shawn had locked eyes for a moment, and something seemed to pass between them. More mind speech? Shawn looked a little surprised, then grateful, before he nodded, apparently breaking the inaudible connection, as Jasmine turned away.

The niggling in the back of her mind wouldn't go away, her curiosity piquing. What were Shawn, Cheri and Jasmine not telling them? She knew there had to be a good reason he hadn't mentioned it, but she couldn't let it drop. Cheri's advice rang in her ears. Maybe if she got him alone"

Shawn stood up, gently putting the purring Eevee down into Cheri's care. "I'm sorry everyone, I wish things were different, but we just have to keep moving on. Our goal hasn't changed." He paused, glancing at each of them. "I" I'll get your breakfast ready, then I suppose we'll keep moving. Travel day and all that." The statement, and the smile that followed, lacked the usual drive she expected from him, but she nodded in agreement. Normal, such as it was with their group, needed to continue.


Before long, heaping bowls were set out for each of them, and Hina, Marty and even Cheri were digging in with a voraciousness that surprised her. She still felt a little hungry, but after what they had just been told, didn't feel like eating much. Jasmine merely shook her head at Shawn's offer of something from his bag --exactly what, Kirin couldn't see, but she knew it wasn't food, for the ghost never ate-- and requested to return to her ball for contemplation.

Shawn stood up once the light of the return beam had faded, clipping Jasmine's poké ball carefully to his belt, then moving to step into his tent. Kirin abandoned her unappetizing bowl and darted in front of him, blocking his progress. "Master? Can I" talk to you for a minute?"

His eyebrows shot up, and he looked down at her with a half smile. He still looked incredibly weary, but some of the tension had drained away. One worry gone, a thousand more to take care of. "Of course, Kirin. You don't even have to ask."

She returned the wan smile. "Yes, I guess I'm already talking to you for a minute, aren't I?"

He chuckled, and this time, it was genuine. She felt her spirits lift that she could lighten his mood a bit. She loved the sound of his laugh. "That you are. So…?"

She glanced behind her, watching her sister and Marty. "Well, I'm guessing you didn't want to" Ah, let's just…" She fumbled for the words, and as they continued to slip away from her, much like her electricity sometimes did, she gave up and just jerked her head for him to follow, walking to the edge of the long grass.

"Kirin?" He asked, sounding puzzled. She glanced behind without speaking, seeing him shrug and move to join her. Cheri, she noticed, was watching them, and caught her eye. The Arcanine smiled at her, gave her a look that seemed to say, "Go on, it's fine," then went back to her food. She wondered what it meant, but shrugged it off.

She didn't know exactly what the relationship between Shawn and Marek had been, but he surely felt the loss more acutely than she did. She felt a little guilty about bringing up the subject again. She couldn't help herself though, she had to know.

She led him a few paces into the grass, stopping at a small clearing of cut stalks. Strange. Had that been there yesterday? She turned to face him, trying to think of how to ask her question without sounding too demanding.

Her gaze travelled up his body, involuntarily lingering on his chest, which was still bared to the morning sunlight, his hands casually in his pockets. He had likely been about to grab his shirt when she had stopped him. The thought sent heat rushing to her ears again.

He had one eyebrow raised questioningly, with a vaguely amused look on his face. What was he thinking about? She hoped he wasn't upset-

It suddenly hit her. This spot" this was the direction he and Cheri had come from the night before. This was where they had" done whatever they had done. Her facial fur was surely turning orange with her blush.

"So? What's on your mind, Kirin?" He sounded perfectly calm, which, oddly enough, made her embarrassment even more prominent. Why was she thinking like that? This wasn't the time!

After what seemed far too long opening and closing her mouth, she managed to rub two thoughts together. "Um, Master, I know you probably had a good reason for not saying it, and if you still don't want to, I understand." She faltered, scuffing the ground with a paw. Arceus! Why was this so difficult? Of their own accord, her eyes wandered.

She dragged her eyes back up to his face, her fur rising beyond its normal spikiness. "Stop that!" she chastised herself. Why did his bare chest fascinate her so much? She rushed her words to cover for her stumble. "There's more, isn't there? Ah, about last night?"

His amusement vanished, like a flame extinguished by the wind. Immediately, the guilt hit her, brushing aside thoughts of how nice his chest looked, and how much she wanted him to wrap her in a hug that squeezed the air out of her. "What makes you think that?"

His face was as unreadable as a stone, and dismay washed through her. "Idiot! How could you ask it like THAT? Stupid, stupid, stupid, all caught up in admiring how he looks!" That thought gave her pause. Had that really been what she was doing?

"I-I'm sorry Master. It was a stupid question." She stared at the ground, feeling chastised, even if he hadn't spoken a word of reprimand. She took half a step, preparing to abandon this disaster and head back. Some stubborn part of her spoke up before she could stop it. "I just wondered what he tried to do." She clamped her mouth shut, mentally shouting at herself. "What is WRONG with you!"

He let out a heavy sigh. "Kirin…"

"I know, I know," she said hurriedly. "It's okay-"

He cut off her rationalizations with a wave of his hand, her teeth clacking together at the gesture. "No Kirin, I understand. If…" he rubbed a hand through his hair, grimacing and seating himself in front of her, switching over to the wizard language. "I'm not going to lie to you. If you REALLY want to know the rest, I'll tell you." He looked as if he had bitten into an exceptionally bitter berry. "But, it may not be something you want to hear. That's why I left it out of the story."

Her mouth felt dry, her eyes now locked on his steady expression. The sweet smell of the grasses around them wafted through on a passing gentle breeze, making the moment seem longer somehow. Steeling herself, she gave a hesitant nod. No matter how bad it was, she had to know.

"Please" tell me."

"Alright. The full truth." He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. "Last night, Marek" What he tried to do…" He paused, opening his eyes and glancing up at the sky, then back at her, once more with that carefully hidden sadness. "Marek didn't just fall, Kirin. He jumped."

It felt like he had punched her between the eyes. "J-Jumped? Arceus, why would he do that?"

"He…" Shawn's hands clenched into fists, his face tightening. "Like I said, he wasn't himself. Not really. He" couldn't live with what he had tried to do. He couldn't forgive himself. He threw his life away, and I let him do it. That…" His stony expression broke, and he buried his face in his hands. "That's the worst part. I could have stopped him, and I didn't. I don't even know why." He looked up, expression blank once again. "It.. it feels like I killed him myself."

She stared, disbelieving. Jumped? Taken his own life? She could barely process what he was telling her, and latched onto one part of his explanation. "Couldn't" live" with what?" She felt like she was trying to think through a fog.

He met her stare, unidentifiable emotion in his eyes. "He tried to kill you. All of you."

She sat down, hard. The feeling of her rump hitting the ground barely registered. So" that was it.

He sighed heavily. "I'm sorry Kirin. I shouldn't have dumped all that on you. I just" I'm sorry." He looked lost for words, and she knew she should probably say something, but she simply couldn't.

"I-I understand, you're probably angry," he continued. "But" please, try and let go of it. It will only hurt you. Marek" what he did" It wasn't him. Not really. And when we caught him, he took it upon himself to" pay for his crimes."

"I'm not angry." She didn't know where she found the words, but the truth of them startled her. She really wasn't angry. Shocked, relieved that she had unknowingly survived another attempt on her life, and a little sad. Mostly now for Marek, oddly enough. "You said that" Darkrai" forced him to do it. Why would I be angry?"

He didn't speak, simply opened his arms. She took the invitation gladly, feeling that familiar thrill of his warm touch chasing out the shock, as he gave her the hug she had been wanting. It seemed to mean something different now though. "Kirin" thank you. I'm glad you understand."

Reluctantly, she squirmed back from the tight hug. He seemed just as reticent, but let her go, and she peered into his eyes from inches away. Something had clicked into place for her, and the words practically blazed in her mind. Now, she understood why he had looked so anguished. He really was too hard on himself.

"Master, you need to understand something too. I-I know I can't possibly know what it's like, but…" She blinked, trying to remove the hint of wetness that had suddenly invaded her eyes. "You shouldn't think you killed him. Master, were YOU angry?"

He blinked, looking thunderstruck. "I" no. Not then," he said simply, a bit automatically.

Once again, she didn't know how she found the words. …Well then, I think that answers it. If he" If he was trapped, maybe" maybe some part of you knew he wanted to be free. Maybe that's why you didn't stop him. You need to forgive yourself. Think of what Jasmine said."

He didn't respond, and for a horrible moment, she feared she had upset him. Then, he threw his arms around her again, and any words were lost as the air whooshed from her lungs in the most wonderful way possible.

"Oh Kirin" Kirin, Kirin," he repeated softly in her ear, sounding far more relaxed, with a hint of something else she couldn't identify.

It was strange, she barely knew how to handle her own emotions, and yet his seemed so obvious to her. Was she the same way for him? He certainly knew how to make her feel better. "Master…" she whispered, as she got her breath back. At the moment, the only emotion she could identify was contentment. A consuming inner warmth at being held like this.

"You are amazing, you know that?" He murmured, pulling back at last. His eyes were glistening, but a smile, a REAL smile, illuminated them. "Thank you, Kirin. I think I needed that."

She returned the smile. He would be alright. They all would.

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