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Gaiien Region: Gods and Demons: Chapter 26

by Keleri

Chapter 26

The Gang Fights the Devil Part II / She'll find you and she'll kill you

—Aug. 26th, 128 CR

Moriko watched the Gray Prince rise, tall and burned and ragged, a bandit king with filthy iron-gray hair and amethyst eyes. He surveyed the scene: a wasted island, a pokémon trainer with a hurt starter and melted shoes, and a fainted demon opponent.

He'd gotten away from Droit and Gauche, or driven them off. He couldn't be in good shape, but neither was she; Moriko felt all of yesterday's injuries, half-healed with potion. Russ's blows stung, and the ones she'd self-inflicted under the Spirit's influence burned hot and cold.

The Wandering Fire's energy remnant whisked toward the Prince and leapt into his hands. He cradled it briefly before it disappeared somewhere into his body.

"I've got you," the Gray Prince muttered. He turned his attention to her. "Not bad, Miss Moriko," he called out. "No one's fainted him in decades."

Moriko raised the mega stone and focus toward Rufus, not taking her eyes off the Prince. "Let's go, Rufus. One more time. We need to go."

"I can't," the oxhaust sobbed, speaking at last. "I can't again—"


Moriko recalled him, and she splashed into the surf.


Moriko, I can't—he's doing something—

She just stood there, uselessly.

"Looks like you're out of tricks," the Gray Prince purred behind her. "I'll take you to Russell."

"Fuck you."

"Please, I'm only trying to be gracious. I've gone over and above for you all, and what do I get in return? Scorn, and you side with my enemy. Russell has stolen something of mine. You might as well come watch me collect it."

"I'd never help you. Leave us alone!"

"Help me with what? I know where he is."

He gestured, and Moriko's stomach flipped in fear as she was hoisted out of the water into the air, limbs dangling.

"Much better. Shall we?"

They rose into the air above the island, and the Gray Prince took her hand as they levitated, like some absurd parody of a rooftop scene in a movie. He grinned at her, the utter shit; his hand was damp and freezing, like something dead at the tideline.

"Where did you find my blood, anyway?"

Moriko stared out at the horizon.

"Don't be so glum! You'll all live through this."

"Fuck you."

The Gray Prince dropped her.

Water forced its way up her nose as she struck the sea, and she fought for the surface—No! Run! was Vleridin's opinion, and she gathered seawater around herself to propel her away, anywhere—

Vleridin screamed as the Prince shoved her away, back into Moriko's body. He swiftly hauled Moriko back out of the water, her green hair plastered to her face and her boots sloshing.

"I'm not sure why you all are so combative!" the Prince said, continuing as if nothing had happened.

I will drink your blood, I will smash you to pieces and take my time doing it, I will leave your bones in a dry place that no one will ever see—

"It's such a mild inconvenience. You're advancing a noble goal, you know."

Even through her shock and rage and Vleridin's rage, she had to know. "What goal?"

"You don't know?"

She was already soaked. "I mean, I've just been assuming it's because you're a colossal asshole."

"Hah. It's to make me king."

"King of what?"


Gaiien's shore appeared and they rose, flying above the treetops. The Prince sped up, the wind whipping past. They came at last to the remains of the ranger camp.

"I thought they might leave him behind," the Gray Prince said, gesturing toward one of the tents. "That's their usual triage. The needs of the many. Let's go see him."

The Prince let her go again, and she fell to the ground, legs jelly after that long suspension above the ocean. He smirked at her as he landed delicately and strode off.

The trap sprang to life, electricity arcing and the bubble shield snapping closed around him. He turned to shadow as quick as a blink, darting out and hitting its confines.

"Light him up," Belladonna called.

Blue lightning flared as plasma and electron beams filled the trap, an energy level certain to force an ordinary pokémon to faint. The Gray Prince shimmered with reflect and light screen, with mirror coat, and the lightning ceased suddenly as the trap's failsafes were triggered.

Moriko thought of Liona's brother trying to escape his trap, a million years ago. There was no sound as the Prince struck the inside of the barrier. He dropped into his shadow and slid around the shielding, and finally subsided to stand at the center of the bubble and sneer knowingly.

"Gray target under containment," Belladonna said into her pokédex. "All units remain at highest alert."

Droit landed, supporting Gauche, who was covered in cuts and bruises; the smaller mewtwo didn't look much better. The two of them hobbled up to the bubble.

"Huh. Two for one," Droit said.

"Gotcha, bitch," Gauche said to the Prince. She mimed shooting a gun and bared her teeth, grinning. Droit drew her away toward the remaining healing machine, far from the clearing.

Belladonna and Matt left their bulwark with Atlitzin, who began to reinforce the containment for transport. Huge cables clanged into place on the shield platform as the suicune manipulated them, charging the shield with the blue glow of her energy.

Belladonna stretched, probably stiff from doing nothing this entire time. "Not bad, Moriko," she said. "Looks like I won't charge you interest for that mega stone."

Moriko shivered, looking for hand warmers in the supplies nearby. "Anytime," she said, teeth chattering. "I think it's broken, anyway. It was… I don't think Rufus liked it." She grimaced.

"It can take you that way sometimes." The gym leader shrugged. "So! This is the Gray Prince. Nice to meet you. I've heard so much."

"At last, someone with manners!" The Prince's voice was distorted through the energy shielding. "Belladonna of Porphyry City. An honor," he said, making a theatrical leg.

Belladonna leaned toward the bubble. "I can't wait to see what they do to you," she said. She licked her lips. "I hope it takes a long, long time."

"As the lady commands," the Prince said, mirroring her. "Ah—Matthew! Come here! I just wanted to see you again, you know."

Matt turned away, disgusted, but the Prince called after him.

"Matthew! All this could have been yours! It can still be, you know—just let me out. I know you can."

Matt whirled. "Fuck off. You don't have anything to give! I didn't want it! I never wanted it!"

"You did, or my curse would never have worked," the gray man sang.

"The curse is you," Matt said, that outrage from back in Port Brac creeping into his voice. "It was always you! Everything you ever told me was a lie!"

"Are you sure?"

"Fuck you!"

"Observe these ungrateful souls!" the Prince spread his arms, proclaiming to Belladonna as she bustled around the trap, adding fittings with Atlitzin. "I am but an instrument. I grant wishes, Matthew. And you were a fool, are a fool, ever a fool, to reject my gifts. But you are right about one thing. I tell lies." He looked over at Moriko. "I'm sorry, Miss Moriko. I lied to you."

The trap exploded.

Moriko hit the ground hard. She thought she saw something huge and metallic fly over her, but she also saw colored stars exploding on blackness for a while too. She finally sat up, head pounding, as the Prince sucker punched Droit so hard that he was hurled into the trees amidst a shockwave of purple ghost-type energy.

There was a wide crater surrounding where the trap had been. Trees had been knocked down, metal and poly-composite and wire driven deep into trunks and stones. A blue orb streaking away into the trees to hide might have been Atlitzin. Moriko couldn't see Matt or Belladonna or Gauche.

Where were the rangers?

Moriko tried to get behind a rock, some debris, anything, but as she tried to move she thought she might vomit.

The Prince rose out of the crater. He ignored her; he walked off toward the last few tents. Where Russ was.

Moriko! Just—relax for a moment—

Vleridin surrounded her gingerly, as if she was hot to the touch. That once-delicious green feeling was distant and insubstantial, but at last she could stand, her injuries far away.

Vleridin-Moriko picked down behind the Prince as stealthily as they could. A couple of healer pokémon saw him coming and debated, wavering, before making a run for it. The Prince ignored them too.

He pushed into the med tent where Russ was.

What can we do?

I don't—I can try to shield him—

The Prince took his time; he wandered around the tent, pocketing supplies. With a shrug he shed his half-burned tangzhuang and stole a ranger's jacket. He swiped energy bars and ate lunch leftovers indiscriminately, and he looked like he needed them.

At last he came to Russell's bedside. Russ was alone; Sylvia had been taken for intensive healing and the other pokémon with her.

"I wish we had met under better circumstances, dear Russell," the Prince murmured to him, "although you unfortunately lack your friends' talents and usefulness. I admit, I am quite upset with you for stealing my blood, but I'm sure you didn't really know what you were doing or who you were taking from. Please don't be alarmed. I'm doing you a favor, in fact. You'll feel better afterward. Probably."

The Gray Prince put his hand on Russ's chest. There was a moment of stillness before Russ's limbs went rigid, his back arching and his eyes opening wide to stare at nothing.

A terrible emptiness filled the room; it felt like gravity had shifted, pointing inward and down, and there was a sense of a yawning, ravenous hunger—


I know! I know! We—

"Come see, Miss Moriko," the Gray Prince said.

He crooked his finger, and Vleridin-Moriko jerked, forced to walk stiff-legged into the tent. After a moment he gestured and hurled the tent fabric away, letting the overcast, diffuse sunlight shine on them.

Black bubbles were beading on Russ's hands and arms, on his lips and at the corners of his eyes. They grew, floated upward, their opalescent soap-skins shining for a brief moment before coalescing. The Gray Prince's thin, ashen hand pressed harder on Russ, tendons standing out.

"Stop this," Vleridin-Moriko said. "Stop it!"

"I think you know what it feels like to be incomplete," the gray man said, confiding, the flamboyance suddenly missing from his voice. "That sense that something has been stolen from you, something unbelievably precious. Something worth dying for. Something worth killing for. Do you want to kill me, Moriko? Do you, mooskeg?"

"I would kill you and follow you to hell so I could kill you again there," they snarled. "Let him go!"

"In just a moment. I am not wasting time," he said, the black blood streaming toward him. "Something was stolen from me a long, long time ago. I was stolen from me. But I was patient. One by one the guards fell to ash and entropy and madness. Bit by bit I found myself. And now I am remembering myself. I am remembering them. I am remembering everyone. There are worlds beyond this one. Did you know? Can you imagine?"

The Gray Prince turned and froze Maia in the air in mid-leap, her mouth open and stretched in a grotesque snarl, and he let her fall to the ground on her rigid limbs. Matt staggered into view, dragged out.

"Bow to me," the Prince said, and he gestured and forced Matt to his knees. "You are unnecessary. But she took you away from me. No one shall take things from me. Not again. Not ever."

Matt gasped. Under soul-sight the gray webs were building on him, the Black Queen's shielding suddenly brittle, shattering away into dustmotes.

The Prince kept one hand outstretched at Russ, the black blood drawn into it faster and faster until the bubbles started to shrink, until there was just a thin stream of black pearls flying out of Russ's supine form.

All at once they stopped. The Prince relaxed, and so did Russ, pale and limp on the cot.

The gray man flexed his arms, and then he smiled widely and kicked Maia into the air, hundreds of pounds of tibyss hurled like a ragdoll.

"Did I not keep my promise, Matthew?" the gray man purred, his usual voice returned.

He glided over to where Matt kneeled, frozen, and he touched Matt's face and put his fingers under his chin to make him look the Prince in the eye.

Matt shuddered, a wave through his whole body.

"Didn't I?" the Prince said. "Are you not strong, a strong trainer with strong pokémon? I gave you the tools to be rich, to be famous, to be beloved on the tournament circuit—and this is how you repay me, ungrateful, with threats and excoriation? Have I not been a friend to you, Matthew?"

"Bring Sam back, you fuck, you chokeslime," Matt forced out, past the paralysis.

"I grant wishes, dear Matthew," the Gray Prince said. "They would not have been granted if they had not been your heart's desire."

"Sam was my heart's desire," Matt snarled.

"No, she wasn't."

The Prince shaped his hand into a claw, gray and long-taloned, and he stabbed Matt's shoulder. Amid Matt's choked screaming, he regarded the red blood for a moment, and then he moved his claws to Matt's neck.

And he froze. The long, mocking leer of his eyes faltered; he was looking into the distance at nothing. His limbs jerked, pulling at some invisible restraint.

Linden was behind him. In her outstretched hands was the paraslit, its eyes glowing and its tiny mandibles working.

It couldn't take the legendary's energy, but it could take the man's.

The Prince staggered away from Matt, taking weakening steps toward Linden. He slumped and fell to his knees, his eyelids drooping and limbs numb. He scrabbled in the dirt, trying to rise.

Matt got to his feet and ran into the forest after Maia. Vleridin-Moriko slid apart and stood together, watching the Prince writhe.

The paraslit was growing larger and larger, glowing with energy. Linden stared at the Prince, her expression triumphant. She watched the aura tick down on her pokédex.

"Belladonna! Now!" Linden said.

The mechanical hum of a generator filled the air; there was a pop and a whoosh, and an electrified net landed on the Gray Prince. A couple of armored rangers ran forward and dropped to one knee, raising guns that shot spiked leads, and he gave a warbling scream as they hit. After a moment beads of pale purple ghost-type energy were flowing along them.

"Gray target beta containment achieved," Belladonna's voice came from their pokédexes.

The Prince had nothing to say, spread-eagled, chest heaving.

"Gods," Moriko breathed. "Did it work? Is Russ okay?"

A medic and a healer pokémon were already checking on Russ. Senior rangers and ranger-pokémon, and PRED soldiers and soldier-pokémon were filling the clearing.

The paraslit had swelled larger and larger until it was nearly beachball size and making tired, squeaky noises, and finally Linden pulled it away. They watched the Prince for a moment, but there seemed to be no change in his containment. She trotted up to Moriko and patted it affectionately.

"See? What did I tell you?" she said cheerily. "Traps don't work on hybrids! But this guy does."

Moriko smiled despite the headache amplifying in the center of her forehead and her soaked boots. "You did it, bud."

Matt rejoined them, walking painfully. He looked like shit, his wounds seeping from a half-assed potion application, and his shirt hanging off in ribbons. "Are you two alright?" he said to her and Vleridin. "When Droit and Gauche had to abort, I—"

She wondered how bad she looked. "No, it's fine, it was like we thought—he wanted to mess with me first. Maia's okay?"

Matt grimaced and held up her pokéball. "Fainted. Broken bones. Rufus? Did he mega evolve?"

"Yeah, we fought the Fire. We were beating it, but it—did something and broke our ensoulment. That's when it went to shit." Moriko pressed on her eyes with the heels of her hands, her legs trembling as she remembered the Wandering Fire's terrible, hard look. "Holy fuck. Hooooly fuck I was scared."

Linden put her arm around her waist, and Matt hugged her shoulders; Vleridin didn't want to be left out and snugged up close behind them. She hugged them back; she felt like her heart was slowing down for the first time in days. She felt like she was going to cry.

"Holy fuck, you guys," Moriko breathed. "What even was this journey?"

"Team Did Not Die 1, Monster Murder Hoboes 0," Linden said. "Are we gonna gloat? I think we should gloat."

"Gloating or Russ?" Matt asked.

Moriko's stomach roiled; she looked at Russ's cot and the press of medics around him and felt it like a blow, like she would be sick.

"Let's let them work," Matt decided, watching her. "What do you think?"

She nodded mutely, and the four of them hobbled over closer to the Gray Prince in his second prison. Ranger-pokémon were adding to the imprisoning net with disable fields and paralysis, and other pokémon and techs were rapidly assembling a new bubble shield to transport him in. Rangers were having conversations Moriko couldn't follow about logistics and energy levels while PRED soldiers stood guard with their guns trained on the Prince, wide-barrelled for anti-pokémon rounds.

Through it the Prince was on the ground, limp and gasping. His mouth moved faintly.

"Numbers," Belladonna was saying.

"Huge hit to his aura," a tech said. "Within the scale as soon as the critter hit him and still dropping. He'll faint soon and we'll—"

"I don't…" the Prince muttered. "I don't…"

The ground lurched; a couple hastily-set-up monitors toppled, and everyone staggered, shouting.

"What the hell was that? The whiscash?" someone yelled.

The light in the campsite clearing dimmed; wind rushed through the trees, suddenly dark and looming. Leaves and twigs were whipped into the air. Moriko leaned on Vleridin, trying to stand, the wind slapping her salt-crusted hair into her face. Matt and Linden huddled together.

The net levitated off the Prince.

"Containment failure—"

He was limp, floating, as if he was a doll lifted by an unseen hand. Pokémon attacks ripped out and fizzled into nothing on an invisible barrier around him. A deafening report as a PRED soldier fired, only for the round to explode into burning metal fragments on impact. Rangers yelled; several ran or were told to run, and others tossed down pokéballs to reveal more elite-level pokémon.

"Clear target, re-containment commencing, Team Alpha engage on—"

"I don't need him," the Gray Prince's mouth said.

The Prince's expression collapsed and grew suddenly terrified and childlike, and he put his hands on his chest, curling around them.

Something seemed to peel off his back. Something huge; something as large as the sky, shining like steel and fresh blood. He fell to the ground, limp, like a shed skin; broken, like the fragments of an eggshell.

The thing boiled. There were flashes of ghost fire, of lightning and smoke; Moriko saw grinning faces, horns and skulls, writhing limbs. It looked like a doorway into hell.

Something stepped out of it.

It was enormous. It was the Gray Prince's pokémon form but larger, centauroid, long-necked and crowned with metal horns, its limbs girded with steel. Eyeless, it turned its gaze on them.

"You cannot hope to hold me. You cannot hope to withstand me. I am Ituras, first, strongest, lord of iron, lord of blood. Fight me, you worms, if you can."

They felt its voice in their bones; their teeth buzzed with it; it made the eyes tear up; it made the spine shoot spikes of numbness.

Cryptidex mode activated. Type: Unknown. Possible match: Unknown. Aura: Legendary+. EXTREME CAUTION. DO NOT APPROACH. DO NOT ENGAGE. REPORT TO RANGER AUTHORITY.

The rangers leapt into action, high-level and highly-trained pokémon working together to shield the humans, and to slow and bind the giant pokémon. The PRED soldiers joined them, anti-pokémon devices charging up.

"He's taken the legendary form!" Belladonna was yelling. "Elite-level pokémon only! The rest of you, run!"

Ituras stretched like a cat, chuckling darkly, and its skin twitched as a hexx and a malamar tried to bind it with crackling ice and blue disable fields. A dozen more pokémon were attacking: wind and water streaked in, thornvine shot out of the ground as it liquefied into an enormous sand tomb, and confuse rays and will-o-wisps made the air glitter.

It shook them all off, slashing with its clawed arms, and it reared, stabbing down with its front legs. The ground shattered, chunks of earth bursting into the air and trees toppling in groaning masses of roots and cracking branches. Reflect shields screeched, breaking under the wave of force and the dislodged boulders that followed. Pokémon were flipped onto the ground and buried, and rangers and soldiers fled on foot or pokémon-back, flying pokémon rising and fleeing in a confusion of wings.

Powerful sweepers flew in, aerodactyl and talonflame and others too fast to identify dropping chemical and energy bombs that exploded with fire and anti-pokémon electricity. Ituras growled, shaking the air, and it forced the acid and liquid oxygen far underground and away.

It looked at them all, contemptuous, and howled, the air whipping into a whirlwind. The attack exploded outward, scattering the remaining pokémon like toys. Dust and debris blocked their view of the demon for a moment, and then it strode out of the wreckage.

Moriko could only retreat with Matt and Linden, Vleridin and Abram covering the three of them. They were a liability after all, elite pokémon massed behind them and throwing up shields, hastily assembling pits and whirlpools, poison spikes and stealth rock, anything that would slow it down.

Rufus—I need you—

No answer. He was curled down in his pokéball.

"Moriko, what do we do now?" Linden asked. Abram walked backward behind them, supporting a glittering reflect-and-light-screen that protected their rear. Something exploded, making them stagger and sending a hail of debris skittering off the shield.

"The paraslit, can it—can it do anything—" Moriko gasped between paces.

"No, the type—"

Beam attacks whanged overhead, and more flying pokémon shot by, carrying charged anti-pokémon devices.

Atlitzin had fainted. The mewtwo had fainted. People and pokémon were dying behind them. Ituras roared, followed by a cacophony of pokémon screaming, and Moriko felt it in her chest.

They were losing.

"We need to go," she said.

Moriko threw down Liona's pokéball and helped Matt get on her back.

Matt looked at her, pained. "Moriko—"

"Take him away, Liona, we'll catch up with you."

"Moriko—" Vleridin said warningly.

"He can't walk. Come on!"

The nigriff shot into the air, flying low over the trees. Moriko and Linden trudged away desperately into the woods, the battle noises receding.

"Where are they, Abram?" Linden asked, waving her pokédex.

"Get on my back, Astrid," the metagross said. "Moriko, you—"

Ghost-type hands wrenched out of the ground, grabbing the metagross and hurling him across the forest like a toy.


They felt Ituras's presence like a weight. Somehow it had snuck up on them; it was towering, armored and smelling of copper and hot iron. Vleridin faced it, putting her body between it and the trainers.

"You fought well, gate-hopper, traveler's child," Ituras said. "Clever, to use my servant's strength against him. I can appreciate strength. There will be a place for the pious among my servants when I am fully restored. Help me and gain greater favor. What say you?"

"You'll have to speak to my lawyer," Linden said, her weavile's ultra ball in her hand.

"Mockery? Well, I may have use for fools. And let me see my poor soldier."

Ituras reached past Vleridin and flicked Linden away. The girl didn't scream, just grunted as she was flung into the air, dropping the paraslit.

"Linden!" Moriko yelled.

Ituras picked up the paraslit delicately between its enormous claws. Moriko ran for Linden, who was rubbing her back in the leaf litter. Her blaziken and weavile burst out, guarding her, and they snarled inarticulately, eyes wide and terrified. Vleridin summoned roots that the demon snapped to pieces as it advanced, heedless.

"You need not fear," Ituras was saying to the paraslit. "The master has returned. You will have a place with me, as you did at the beginning of time."

Moriko swore, cracking her last bottle of potion for Linden. In a moment the paraslit would hypnotize them, cut them, and it would make itself thin, impossibly thin—

The paraslit squeaked once. Something about it sounded doubtful.

The demon god looked at it for a long time, and it crushed it in its claws.

"No! Stop!" Linden screamed.

Moriko froze, disbelieving.

Ituras ate the fainted paraslit, peeling its energy body like an orange, flinging away the skin and eating the rest.

"Even fools have a use," Ituras said, its voice the slamming of dungeon doors. "You have a use. Run, humans. Entertain me."

Moriko felt the air change, and white, muscular arms enfolded her and Linden. Vleridin shot into her body; Linden's pokémon dissolved in light.

"Here we go," Gauche said, and they teleported.

They snapped back to the ranger fallback base, and Moriko promptly leaned over and vomited.

"First time?" the mewtwo asked.

"Uh huh. Thanks, Gauche." Moriko scrubbed her face with her arm and looked around, dizzy. "Holy fuck. We… we need to… Gauche, we probably beat Matt here. Can you get him and Liona? And Abram?"

"I'm grabbing who I can," Gauche said, and teleported away again with a pop.

A medic scanned the two of them, and a chansey took one look at Moriko and slammed a softboiled into her stomach. She grunted, the energy tingling through her body and making her see spots. She sat carefully beside Linden.

Linden Jr. was as pale as a corpse, staring at nothing, the tears leaking out of her eyes like an afterthought.

Moriko put an arm around her, and she leaned on Moriko's shoulder.

"I didn't…" Linden gulped.

"I'm sorry, kid," Moriko said, and just let her cry.


"What are we going to do?"

"You're going inland, as I've been trying to make happen for two days," Belladonna said. She'd pushed back her hair with a bloody hand, and it had dried like that. "The rest of us are going to wait for Champion Faraday and the other elites. And if that doesn't work, then we have to stay alive for the seventeen hours until Champions Dawn and Silver get here."

For once, Moriko wasn't arguing, and she sat meekly out of the way. The Pearl and the Argent Emperor-Proxies sounded like great choices as far as she was concerned. And a cold mixture of dread and shame was creeping over her. She'd persuaded Belladonna and the strongest rangers to stay.

People had died on her advice.

She'd shaken, gasping, her legs giving out. She was passed from medic to medic, sat down again, given a drink, given a drug that didn't end the terror but made it feel like it was somewhere outside of her body. Vleridin sat with her silently.

Russ had been safe for a few glorious hours, and now no one was. He'd been spirited away in the confusion, airlifted to Port Littoral where the aid from other regions would be converging. If he'd even be safe there.

The crying stopped eventually, and she and Vleridin wandered the camp, waiting for their turn on a jumpcraft. She found the woman in black resting in the dim sunlight with her pokémon, a scene so ordinary that she had to stare. Stranger still, she seemed to be healthy, and yet she wasn't immediately tearing off after the Prince.

Maybe that was the point. Where was the Prince? Did she have any quarrel with the demon calling itself Ituras?

The woman in black nodded at her as she approached. Moriko said nothing, but sat near to her. Vleridin stood by with her head relaxed.

"What happened, back there?"

"Millennia ago, a god was killed, but it did not die. It told stories in whispers: come with me, I will make you strong; come with me, I will make you whole. And it waited."

More stories. Well, she had time. "Who was the gray man? Who are you?"

The Black Queen raised and lowered her thin shoulders. "A problem. A solution."

"Our lady of cryptic bullshit."

The woman laughed. Her pokémon didn't stir or look around. "He siphoned out another measure of blood from Russell," she explained. "It put it over some critical level. Fifty percent. Sixty-six. I don't know. Not quite apotheosis, if only because we are all still here. This is not its full strength. "

"Are you saying we—are you saying the rangers have a chance? Are you going to help?"


"Why aren't you now?"

"I lost," the woman said. "It will only grow stronger. I cannot face it alone again. I wasted my chances. I betrayed their trust." She nodded at the pokémon: six of them, in the sunshine. Not nine, but not all pokémon liked the sun, or dry land.

"Are they ghosts? Someone told me they're dead, and you are too."

The woman laughed again, twice in one day, which was probably a record. "Someday."

Moriko blew out her breath. She could only dig in the dirt for so long. "Thanks for the mega focus. I don't think I used it properly, though. Do you want it back?"

Her pokémon had been healed, but Rufus was still in his pokéball, and he refused to come out. She didn't understand.

"I have several. I am sorry to have set you on that road without training," the woman said.

Moriko looked at her sidelong. "I'm surprised to hear you apologize for anything."

"It opens a door between the two of you. For some, little gets through, and they cannot use the stone. For others… there is too much. It can make you powerful. It can make you wild. And the comedown is hard."

"Who are you, many-soul?" Vleridin asked her.

"Ten times a fool, mooskeg, and old and tired."

"Are you going to fight alongside the elites?" Moriko asked.

"Yes. We will see if they have use for a fool. Leave, Moriko, with your friends. Leave and live."


The sun set, and the forest quieted aside from distant explosions and deep, booming bellows. More and more jumpcraft arrived to take people away, and others began to deliver troops and matériel: armed drones, elite PRED troops, more legendaries, Champion Faraday and her entourage.

Russ and his pokémon had already left. Celeste had failed to appear at the Gray Prince's capture; Moriko couldn't guess where she could be. Gauche had found Abram and Matt and Liona, and the three trainers were reunited without their fourth. They could see him soon in Port Littoral.

A part of her still wanted to fight, but Moriko knew she was dead weight. She'd been dead weight since the instant the Wandering Fire had done something to split her and Rufus apart. Ensouling had been the only thing that could have protected her from the demon, and mega evolution to stand at the same legendary-level strength. She hadn't done that right, either.

It was time to go.

Moriko heard more shouting and electronic screeching erupt from the tents, a now-familiar emergency sound. She forced herself to turn away from it, to look over the trees for the approaching lights of their transport. There was nothing she could do.

The ground shook. Gunfire, nearby; human and pokémon voices raised. Matt and Linden looked at her and each other uneasily, and they looked behind them.

Trees fell. A shadow eeled across the ground, blacker than black, darting and oily, impossibly fast.

It halted, boiling. Claws and ghost hands stabbed out of the shadow's surface, and then the armored head and long neck. Ituras hauled itself out of the void and stood under starlight.

Atlitzin appeared beside Moriko. "Cool, it can shadow-travel, too. Just what we needed."

"Here you were hiding," it said, looking over the camp and ignoring the PRED soldiers rapidly taking up defensive positions around it. "More humans and still more. I could not have guessed that there would be so many of you in the world. I shall never again hunger."

"Get on the ship," the suicune said, and her eyes glowed blue as the air turned cold and damp.

Moriko ran.

Matt and Linden turned when she did, and they pelted toward the jumpcraft. Rangers helped them board; some leapt on afterward and others turned to defend, flinging out pokéballs. A burst of cold wind blew out from behind them.

They thudded into their seats, pulling on the harnesses as the ship was already lifting off. The antigravity kicked in; Linden cheered as the craft jumped straight up.

"Seriously, Lin?"

"You jinxed it," Matt grunted.

"You cannot run, children," Ituras called, its pokémon's voice clearly audible over the noise of the craft.

The transport bucked, and Moriko grabbed at her restraints, as if that would do anything. The noise from the engines changed precipitously.

They were falling.

Abram burst out of his pokéball, phasing, half-in and half-out of seats and heads as he levitated. Moriko's vision turned silvery-bright; everything slowed to a crawl, and everything pulsed as if she could see electricity flowing like beads, stuttering and stopping as the craft's systems failed.

Moriko, Matthew, Abram said, please. Help us.

Matt, ice somewhere underneath the writhing animal of his fear: Of course.

Yes, Abram, Moriko said.

And I also, Vleridin said.

The metagross mega-evolved, and they poured their energy into it. They seized the craft, steel-type awareness sleeting through the metal of the ship and all its wires and printed boards, and it spoke to them: where it would fall, where it would hit, what would happen to it when it did. They saw its trajectory and rate of descent, as simple as blinking, and between heartbeats they calculated what had to change.

Other psychics joined them. They tilted the craft, telekinesis reaching out to set it falling just so, wreathing the calculated point of impact in reflect shields that they poured energy into. It was simple, it was—

The jumpcraft hit the ground, and their concentration faltered as their bodies hit their restraints, frail human flesh and bone snapped back and forth by ugly physics. Matt winked out. Linden was dazed. And—


Moriko drifted, watching the stars. She wasn't sure where she was; she had the distinct impression that she had something to do, some important appointment she had missed, but she couldn't remember what it was.

The view passed by, changing quickly, as if she was on the roof of a train. But it was so smooth; she was floating—

Moriko awoke by inches, her entire body radiating deep, bruisey pain. There was gray all around her: gray sky, gray trees, gray fur—

She saw the curving, clawed legs of the demon god. Fear stabbed through her like lightning, but it wasn't enough. Everything hurt. And as she lay there, she realized that Ituras wasn't moving either. Slowly, slowly, she sat up.

They were looking at the ocean. The sky was like a bowl of stars, and the moon shone down, its reflection like a road, a path to a distant white world.

"I had forgotten this," Ituras said quietly. "It is good to be flesh again."

Moriko looked for a place she could run to; she reached for Vleridin, who was hidden at her heart as hard as a stone, and the other pokémon in their pokéballs were too. Yes, she thought, stay there. Gods, help us, help us, help us.

She looked up at Ituras, its gaze still far out to sea.

"You may run, earth's daughter, but I will find you again. You are hurt. Rest now. We will begin anew."

Moriko sighed. She wasn't sure if she could stand.

"What are we doing here?"

"My standard-bearer had one thing aright: the glories of flesh are many, but it hungers, and sources are few. And though humans are a plague, all across the surface of the earth, only some make for more than a morsel. You will feed me for some time, you and he."

She followed its claw and saw Matt, prone, a few paces away. She could see the whites all around his eyes, but he stayed still, watching the demon and trembling with a prey animal's quick breathing.

The ground stopped a few more paces beyond Matt. She wasn't sure where they were, some kind of headland with the breeze fresh off the sea and the noise of the waves a faint susurrus. She could run, she could grab Matt, she could turn into Vleridin and fall and manipulate the water—

"I thought I might find you here," said Celeste.

The celestiule's voice was like music. She picked her way down a slope delicately, as if she had been spun from glass, and she came to rest beside the demon, her mane glimmering in the moonlight.

The demon watched her. "I knew you," it said, uncertain, wondering.

"It would be just like you," Celeste replied, "to forget me."

"They took everything from me. Even your name," Ituras said, and there was the echo of some terrible sorrow in the words.

"You did not deserve to know it," Celeste said. For an instant, she was as tall as the sky; afterward she shone on, as cold as starlight.

The demon's iron claws pierced the turf, carving huge furrows. Moriko crawled toward Matt, her limbs screaming.

"I will know it again. I will know all that there is to know. I will know all that you know," it said, and it slashed out at Celeste.

The double-team illusion disappeared.

Moriko helped Matt stand; there was a small noise as Droit teleported in behind them.

Droit put his hands on their shoulders. "One, two—"

A ghost hand ripped out of the ground, grabbing the mewtwo and flinging him away into the air.

"I tire of this," Ituras boomed. "Show yourselves!"

"It is only me," Celeste said, from a nearby hillock. "It has only ever been me."

"Lying," the demon said, but it rose and galloped after her. It wove suddenly, as agile as a panther despite its huge size, and dodged an anti-pokémon device that arced lightning. "This again?" it called, laughing, and it stabbed the ground with another earthquake attack that rippled the clearing like a tablecloth, and sent all the trees toppling like candlesticks.

Flying pokémon and mounted rangers scattered from their hidden positions. Faraday's white zapdos squawked and aimed an enormous ball lightning attack at Ituras that actually slowed it down briefly, its muscles twitching as it cried out. And then it was upon them, scattering hastily-assembled equipment and matériel, hurling unarmed bombs far into the woods and over the treetops. Moriko and Matt staggered away along the headland, supporting each other.

Another team struck, dragonite and borfang converging on Ituras with crisscrossing beam attacks and smaller pokémon flying fast and low to aim explosive charges at its feet. It snarled deafeningly as liquid oxygen seared its underbelly and mines cracked open in a burst of invisible radiation. Faraday's zapdos was back with a crackling blue-white thunder wave attack that made Ituras falter, and suddenly the champion's entire team had leapt onto it, attacking with practiced ease and coordination.

A magnezone levitated it as a farabattor leapt onto its back, sickle-claws slashing, and a fulgurant and a raichu lashed it with searing lightning. An ongoliad burst out of the ground, attacking Ituras's injured underbelly, and it snarled, roaring thunderously and pushing them all away with a wave of force.

When Ituras wound up the next earthquake the electric-types melted away, taking off or magnet-levitating and opening a path for the next round of flying ranger-pokémon and bombs. The black charizard appeared, trailed by the woman's other flying pokémon, screaming overhead in a rush of blue fire and hyper beams and then away out of reach. Captain Lark and his staraptor lobbed a capsule of acid that scored a direct hit; the demon yelped, canine and pitiful, and then it roared, outraged.

It glowed ghost-purple, and Moriko's pokédex lit up even from far away.


Thousands of ghost hands erupted from the ground, phasing through rocks and trees until they suddenly became solid in showers of splinters and the thunder of displaced air. They swiped at Ituras's many attackers, hauling flying pokémon out of the sky and herding them close to the demon where it could snap and lunge at them as they screamed. Faraday's pokémon were isolated, their organization breaking down as they dodged the ghost hands and then the flung wood and boulders.

Ituras laughed, advancing through the hands and swiping at cornered enemies, hurling them into the air like chaff. The rangers were falling back again, regrouping again. Belladonna had said they would have to last until the other champions got there.

Moriko wasn't sure if they would.

And it was her fault again—Ituras had chased them, carried them off, and the rangers had attempted a daring rescue.

Well… it had seemed to be weakening, there by the sea. Reminiscing.

It didn't look weak now.

"I am a god! I will remember this impiety," Ituras was saying. "You will serve me. You will all serve me. Or you will burn."

"We do not serve gods. Here we put them to work," said Celeste.

She was on top of another hill, or seemed to be—the illusion was wavering, making her appear larger and smaller than she should have been.

"You will serve us, or you will be left in deepest darkness, where no light of star nor sun nor moon's tear shall reach you, and you will be forever forgotten. Choose, Ituras, Demon of Blood and Iron, kinslayer, vampire, cannibal. Choose."

Ituras laughed. "Bold words! Empty threats! With what power, celestiule? With what army? See your humans falter!"

A broken voice croaked: "Stop. Stop!"

They all looked around for it; even the demon swung its huge head around.

It was the gray man, and Ituras laughed at him.

"How far did you crawl like this, worm? Fear not, I will put you back when all is done."

The gray man had always looked half-starved, sickly-shiny, on the edge of exhaustion, but now he looked truly ill, his stolen clothes flapping around him, and his skin sallow and dead.

"You need me," the man rasped. "You need to get back. Get back!"

"You need me, cruel old child," Ituras rumbled. "Save your strength and be silent. This will be over soon."

"Yes," Celeste said. "It will."

Ituras growled, annoyed, and advanced again on Celeste with a bound.

The team of psychic pokémon dropped the illusion, and the demon's claws touched the containment pad that had looked like earth and scrub seconds before. The shield snapped together around Ituras, and it bellowed, shocked and angry. Its claws scrabbled uselessly on the barrier.

"The hybrid form is strongest," Celeste said. She seemed to float closer. "Many of the elemental's strengths and few of their weaknesses. You have forgotten why you took it in the first place."

Limpet mines popped up off the floor of the containment pad, nano-hooks sticking instantly to the demon's fur. It was cramped, barely able to turn around, and its body glowed as it prepared some enormous attack to break the barrier as the gray man had done.

But this time the bubble had the attention of dozens of pokémon: light- and psychic-types reinforcing it, Faraday's electric-types feeding it power, steel- and virtual-types bracing the device and protecting its systems. Ituras's attack blasted back into its own face, and the limpet mines went off one by one, showering the barrier in black blood.

As the ground settled, the demon's ruined body was visible in the shield prison.

"You dare… you dare?" Ituras gasped out, belly blown open, sides heaving. "You cannot imagine… you cannot imagine what I will do… Cities will burn… Rivers will boil... Meteors will rain... I will laugh as winter starves and kills you..."

Moonlight streamed off Celeste; she glittered in the low light, her insubstantial body swirling with strange currents. "Our cities do not burn so easily. We learned. And we are learning now—as you have failed to do, in thousands of years."

Rangers and their pokémon streamed away from the pad. The black charizard appeared with its hydreigon teammate to help Moriko and Matt, and they leapt on their backs and joined the rush to get far, far away.

The trap was for more than just containment. It was how you executed a pokémon. And a legendary—a god—would need more than the usual course.

The pad powered up, its blue glow suddenly searing. Sand and rocks levitated around it.

"You did not learn, kinslayer. You will die."

Celeste's illusion winked out.

The gray man stood, and he ran like a zombie, with total disregard. He threw himself through the radiation onto the barrier. Shouts of dismay sounded over the rangers' communication channel; "Punch it! Punch it!" someone was screaming.

Moriko covered her eyes, but she was certain she felt every photon scream across her skin as the bomb silently exploded. The charizard covered itself with its wings, falling in a dive and then pulling back up, muscles working.

"Tell me they're dead," Moriko muttered.

They weren't.

They might have preferred to be.

The shield had failed. Man and the demon were warped together, flesh roiling and weeping black ichor that sizzled where it hit the ground. They staggered, fighting one another in a confusion of limbs and heads and wings, mouths opening and gasping and drawn in and disappearing.

Crude fists shot out and hit the ground, splintering it. Moriko could see the cliffs shedding stone from her perch on the charizard's back. Multiple pairs of the demon's long jaws came to the fore, and it snarled at them, at every direction, as it clawed its way forward, seeping blood onto the barren ground.

The blue energy of the execution tube still crackled over it; limbs withdrew as it seemed to decide what form to take, and it grew larger, grew shadowy wings. The black charizard flew higher, watching it advance to the land's edge.

"You are filth," it roared, its voice flanging and many-throated. "I am iron; I am the sword of retribution; I will bathe in a sea of blood for every drop of mine spilled, for all wrongs done to me lo these many long years. I will—"

Karaxil burst out of the water, shedding ice. Demon of Frost and Starlight, Nocturna's prisoner-jailer. It shone under moon and stars, ticked fur glittering on its long, long body and its many limbs, and for a moment it seemed as lonely and serene as a distant nebula.

Its pointed head whipped around, snakelike, and it clamped its jaws down on the Gray Prince's neck. It fell, and it dragged the Prince under the waves. The black slick of oily ichor stayed on the water for a long time.


"Did that just happen?" came Linden's voice.