Chapter Thirteen: A Change in Plans
They were close now. Cresselia’s sickly-sweet scent was burning in the snouts of Skullburn’s pack as they thundered under the cover of night. It both excited and vexed the hounds, since it masked the identity of the girl’s companions. For all they knew, she could have an entire army on her side. Though that might not be the case, Skullburn knew that he still had to plan his next moves carefully. The alpha skidded to an abrupt stop, stirring up white wisps of cotton in his wake. Obediently his pack halted, though some of the less disciplined Houndoom dropped to their haunches to pant heavily. The Hunters had been running for several days straight, only stopping once to investigate that old farmhouse back west.
“Weaklings,” the leader - his own breathing even and cool - growled under his breath. Doing his best to ignore the pups, he turned his nose to the south to drink in the scent. It tickled his sinuses and threatened to make him sneeze, but he held it in. Now he could just taste the success of his mission. Soon they would capture the girl, then turn her over to Ebenor and Bane . . .
“Skullburn,” one of the females turned to attention. He turned to see his second-in-command, Flareshade, address him. This sleek Houndoom was the part of the pack that consisted of his own elite soldiers that he knew he could count on.
“Scout ahead,” he ordered with a snarl, and without another word being said Flareshade and another Houndoom trotted away from them. He watched them go with satisfaction, and then allowed himself to rest. Whatever kind of an assault they were going to make, he and his pack would need all of their strength. The younger hounds were inexperienced, but he knew they were skilled in battle. Still . . .
Separating himself from the others, the alpha disappeared into the shadows of the undergrowth. Casting cautious glances over his shoulders, he made sure that he was completely alone. Then, taking in a deep breath, he relaxed his muscles and allowed his mind to expand. Suddenly, his scarred eye began to glow, and the forest around him faded away. He could feel a familiar sensation as the surrounding shadows seemed to close in on him. By now he was losing all sense of who he was, his being becoming a part of the emptiness of a dark void. Something, however, brushed up against his mind, bringing back his memories in a flash.
“Skullburn,” a voice drifted from nowhere. Hearing his own name brought him further back into self-awareness. He was able to find the words to reply with.
“Why have you called me?”
With his other eye, Skullburn saw a small beam of bright, blue light shining from the darkness around him. It focused on him like a great eye, its pupil contracting, to stare right into his mind.
“The girl is close at hand,” the Houndoom calmly replied, unaffected by the intensity of Darkrai’s stare. He was use to this method of communication, though it had taken a lot of effort to get that far. With every attempt a greater piece of the Dark Void’s hollowness lingered within him, and he wasn’t sure what would happen to him with time. He would not allow fear to stop him, though.
The light momentarily flashed off as Darkrai blinked.
“Finally,” the dark Legend replied. “You took your time.”
“I assure you that we made our flight as swift as possible. Within moments, she will be yours,” if the Houndoom could feel his lips, they would have curled into a small smirk. To his surprise, however, his master hesitated for a moment. The blue eye blinked once again, and seemed to drift to the side as if looking past Skullburn.
“No,” he finally said, his voice full of thought. “Perhaps not quite yet.”
“Pardon, my lord?”
“I do not want you to attack . . . Yet.” the beam of light once again fixed itself in Skullburn’s direction.
“B-but Master,” the hardened Houndoom now stuttered in bafflement. What on earth was Darkrai thinking? The whole purpose of sending out his hunters was to find and obtain the child. Why didn’t the Dark One want to fulfill this? Why would he suddenly change his mind?
“Listen closely,” the eye’s source interrupted, and Skullburn suddenly felt as if an unseen hand had brushed up against his snout. The touch sent chills running up his spine, but the Houndoom kept himself under control and did not recoil from it. Instead, he waited and listened. After a moment passed, he could hear it: a steady, rhythmic echo that reverberated in the hollow emptiness of the Dark Void.
“Do you know what that is?” Darkrai asked, letting his hand slide away.
“No, Master,” the Houndoom shook his head reverently. “What is it?”
“That is the footsteps of a Colossal Pokémon, marching across the land once more. Do you at least know who I’m talking about?” the eye became hooded, as if bored with speaking to the Houndoom.
“No, Master,” was Skullburn’s uneasy answer.
“Regigigas is on the move again, my servant. His footsteps are beginning to reawaken the continents. Very soon, they will begin to shift once more. As this happens, the Council of Legends will be gathered once more. No doubt, they will then rise against me. They will become as much of a problem as the girl is.”
“So why is it you don’t want us to get the girl, lord?”
“You have no idea what she is doing, don’t you?” Darkrai was beginning to sound irritated with him, and Skullburn wanted to swallow his last question. He longed to return to the real dimension, away from these enigmatic senses and weightlessness. But to his relief, Darkrai cooled his tone in his answer:
“Cresselia has given this girl on a pathetic and futile quest in hopes of saving herself. But, you see, this quest will bring her in contact with other Legends. What I want you to do instead of capture is to spy on her. When she finds a Legend, you will report it to me. Then we’ll shall rid ourselves of larger, more bothersome problems.”
Skullburn nodded obediently, but carefully guarded his thoughts against his Dark Master. He was never sure if the Legendary he served could read his mind, but there were times under that intense stare when he felt as though Darkrai could see straight into this soul. Yet, deep within, he couldn’t help the disappointment and outrage that he felt. He was a Hunter, after all, and not a spy. It seemed unfair to him to change his mission right when he was about to complete it.
“Do not fail me,” the Darkness Pokémon added bluntly, sounding bored once again.
“I will not. I swear that this girl will not escape us.”
“Such oaths do not faze me, mortal. Just do as you are commanded.”
The eye began to shrink away from him, and the darkness began closing in.
“Consider it done, Master,” Skullburn muttered before he felt a sharp tug, and soon he was carried away from the confines of that dark void. Within moments he was snapped back into his own body, listening to the chirr of the crickets and rustling of the leaves above his head. Experimentally, he flexed his back and feet, wondering how much of him had changed. To his relief, everything seemed routine, but the alpha couldn‘t help but wonder as he returned to his pack what damage had been done this time, and how much he could take before . . . Something happened.
Shaking it off, Skullburn trotted back to his pack just as Flareshade and her scout came into the clearing.
“Skullburn,” she dutifully began her report. “The girl has four companions with her. All Pokémon: Gallade, Medicham, Absol, and Celebi.”
The pack leader grumbled to himself, feeling the weight of the stares of his members. Now he’d have to break the news to them. He fixed them all with a snarling stare and began his explanation. “There’s been a change in plans . . .”
“Thyme,” Troy’s voice gently prodded through the Celebi’s dreams. “Wake up.”
The Forest Guardian struggled to retain unconsciousness, but as he felt Troy’s presence retreat from his mind, he felt himself being drawn along. Reluctantly, his senses were awakened. Birdsong filled his hearing, mixing with the early morning light and smells. Thyme kept his eyes stubbornly sealed against all of it as he complained audibly.
“Most beings don’t like being woken up like that - particularly Legendaries.”
His acute sense of hearing picked up the deep vibration of the Gallade’s chuckle. “Most beings do not realize what is happening to them this way. Come on. It’s time to move on.”
In response, Thyme moaned and rolled around in his hammock. Usually he enjoyed early mornings, but after all of yesterday’s excitement, he wanted to sleep for a century at least. On the other hand, Troy was persistent. After a sudden shing!
the hammock of twigs and leaves collapsed beneath him. Before he knew it, Thyme found himself on the cold ground.
“Fine! I’ll get up all ready!” he grumbled as he looked around, bleary eyed. He saw the Knight before him let a smile of satisfaction spread on his face as he retracted an elbow-blade.
With another chuckle, Troy bowed, “Thank you for joining us, Master Celebi. May I ask for your assistance in awakening our young charge?”
“Yeah, yeah,” mumbled Thyme, floating lazily up into the air. “I’ll wake her up. And I’ll do it the nice way, too.”
With a yawn and a stretch, he looked around their humble camp. To his surprise, he found that most everything had already been packed, excluding a lone tent in the middle of the clearing. Gunuru was covering up the remains of their fire, while Frostpaw was no where to be seen. She’s probably hunting
, he mused. He had seen plenty of rodents scurrying around the woods yesterday. Easy pickings for the carnivorous Knight. Flying over to Aislyn’s tent in a half-awake, he gently tapped on its green canvas.
“Aislyn? It’s time to get up,” he spoke out loud, though he knew she wouldn’t understand him. He was hoping that the voice of his cry would wake her up so that he wouldn’t have to revert to Troy’s irritating technique. Yet, there was no answer. With a sigh, he slipped through the flap at the entrance. Within, he noticed Aislyn still asleep on top of her sleeping bag, with her clothes still on from the other day. The young teen was deep within her sleep without showing any sign of disturbance. Cautiously, he floated over to her shoulder and gently nudged it.
“Hey, Aislyn?” he hissed a whisper. “Wakee, wakee! Eggs and Bac, er, ee.”
She muttered something incomprehensible in her sleep, and then shifted away from him. After she grew still, she didn’t show any signs of waking. Frowning, the Celebi tried once more. This time, he spoke louder and shook her with more force. This time, he was rewarded. Her arm swung back and knocked him across the tent. He didn’t land as softly as he wished, and his face stung where she had accidentally struck him. Sitting back up, he rubbed his face with a leafy hand and stared back at the her. Still, she slept on.
“That’s it!” growled Thyme in frustration as he used Troy’s tactics. He probed through her dream, looking deeply for her hidden consciousness. Colors flashed by with faces and places, but he didn’t pay attention to details. As soon as he found what he was looking for, he shouted as loud as he could.
Aislyn abruptly started from her bed with a startled cry, her eyes snapping wide open in shock. They stared around her surroundings wildly in panic, as if she couldn’t remember where she was. Soon, though, Thyme saw her relax and meet his eyes.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Thyme grinned sheepishly, enjoying the wave of annoyance that swept across her face. Her hair was all a tangled mess, and past her sleepy eyes she glared at him as disgruntled as she could be. All in all, she looked comical in her morning face.
“What’s the big idea?” she growled as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
“We got to get back on the road, silly!” Thyme jumped back into the air. “Come on! Get your things packed!”
“Okay,” she yawned, but didn’t make a move right away. Thyme just floated there expectantly with his wide grin. For a moment, they just stared at each other, until Aislyn finally swung her arm in questioning. “Well?”
“What?” His smile quickly faded and he looked genuinely confused.
“Get out!” She threw her pillow at him, but he dodged her terrible aim.
“Jeez! I get it!” With that he flew from the tent’s flap, all the time mumbling something about ‘getting no respect around here’. Aislyn rolled her eyes, but smiled in spite of herself. After another yawn or two, she reluctantly rolled up her sleeping bag. Already, she began regretting not changing last night. Her clothes clung to her uncomfortably, but she had had the sense to pack more outfits. When she was finally changed and packed, she slipped out of the tent.
She blinked as she came out into the morning light, and was shivered from a small hint of a nightly chill. Almost immediately she was greeted by two of her Knight guides.
“Good morning, Miss Bright,” Troy nodded as he piled up some equipment.
“Ready to continue our quest?” Gunuru suddenly appeared by her side, beginning to dismantle the tent.
“You guys are already done packing?” she managed after a smile and a yawn.
“Yes, Miss Bright,” the blue Medicham beamed. “We are only waiting for our Doduo.”
“Oh!” she let out a tiny gasp of realization. She had almost forgotten about their noble steeds. They had spent the night resting in a trio of Poké Balls her father had given her. She slipped her bag from her shoulder and dug though it, searching for the familiar red and white spheres. Finally, she found them and released the two-headed birds into the clearing. They shook their heads and stomped their feet, looking completely rejuvenated and eager for another day of travel. Dewy greeted her with the usual hair-tussling and squawking.
“There they are,” Troy’s voice came from within her mind. She turned to see the Gallade approach from behind with a bowl of what she assumed was breakfast.
“You ate already, too?” she suddenly felt left out.
Troy shrugged as he passed her the food. “We thought that you could use a little more sleep.”
“We’ll be fine. We can get the Doduo geared up while you eat.”
Her stomach growled louder than her hesitancy, so she relented. Breakfast turned out to be a simple meal of oatmeal and hot chocolate, kept warm just for her. It was nice enough, but she decided that she would rather have it fresher next time. She felt a bit awkward just sitting and watching the others work, wanting to hop and help. Maybe she would have just ended up getting in the way, but she still couldn’t help but feel guilty.
“Why?” Thyme’s voice suddenly interrupted her thoughts. She turned to see him floating idly by, arms crossed behind his head and feet kicked back.
“What?” she asked him, confused.
“Why do you feel like that? It’s all work to me,” he shrugged indifferently.
She felt her face grow hot with an angry blush. “Were you reading my thoughts?”
“Of course not!” he sat forward as if he were in a chair, looking ruffled. “That’s just rude!”
“How did you know, then?”
“For starters, your face is just like an open book. Anyone can read it. The way you are watching them gives away what you’re thinking. But secondly, it has to do with telepathy stuff. I can’t go and read your thoughts without your permission. That’s just impossible. I can, however, detect your mood by the psychic energy you emanate. Every creature releases some amount, even if they don’t know it. So don’t take it all personally. It’s just something I can do.”
“So you can tell how I feel?” all her embarrassment had been replaced by curiosity.
“Yeah, but mostly by looking at you. You’re feeling guilty, tired, and now annoyed, then curious . . . Stop! Jeez, do you have to change so much? Gosh, teens and their mood swings . . .”
Aislyn shook her head and looked away, but she told herself that she’d try to mask her emotions better from now on. She knew it wouldn’t be any good against Thyme’s abilities, but maybe she’d get some satisfaction of proving him wrong.
“I’ll tell you what,” the Celebi went on, returning to his lounging position. “This gift of mine is a great lie detector. I can see through every little fib and trick there is. Why I-”
“Thyme, you dropped something.”
“What? Where -- Hey!”
“Every trick?” she laughed, and even Thyme had to smile.
“Okay, maybe not every one,” he tried to redeem himself. “But I can see through most things. Even the Knights themselves. Troy’s acting all brave and optimistic, but I know how he’s really nervous and worried-”
Thyme suddenly clammed up, knowing that he had gone too far. Aislyn frowned as she looked back towards the working Knights. Gunuru was chuckling at something while Troy was smiling. Both seemed to be much more at ease this morning, and it hardly matched the word, nervous. But how could it be? Why would Troy be nervous? Was that why he had acted so different yesterday? She wondered what could make her brave Knight nervous, almost scared at the thought. If he was worried, then maybe she should be terrified.
Soon after she finished her breakfast, Aislyn, Thyme, and the Knights once again began their journey. They kept their Doduo aiming for the southwest, and before long they could no longer hear the distant roll of the ocean’s waves, only birdsong and the soft padding of their steed’s feet. As the hours past by Aislyn began to notice the scenery begin to change around her. The flat terrain they had been traveling on grew into hills and dips. Other trees began appearing between the crowns of the cottonwoods: aspens with their pearly white bark, and pines with their prickly boughs. Even with the appearance of these, the forest began to thin. Meadows and gaps were becoming more and more frequent with their calm, grassy slopes.
At one such opening in the forest, Aislyn caught a glimpse of tall, rugged mountains looming up ahead. Their snow-covered peaks dwarfed the lonely hill she had associated with her home, old Crescent Peak. The sight of these giants was disquieting, filling her with a nervousness that ate at her heart.
“Gunuru?” She asked the shiny Medicham, who was closest to her. “What are those?”
With a chuckle, he followed her gaze. “Those are the Gates of Kanto, Miss Bright.”
“Seriously?” she said as her jaw dropped, aghast. A new wave of discouragement washed over her. “How on earth are we going to cross those?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry,” Gunuru beamed, patting the side of the Doduo. “Sir Troy has been through those passes countless times. He knows exactly where to go.”
Of course you wouldn’t worry, Aislyn retorted in her thoughts glumly. You never worry. But she didn’t say anything else out loud. Instead, she pressed Dewy into a trot and continued to follow Troy farther from her family and home.
(Wow, it's been a while since I've posted a chapter. I had a little bit of writer's block, and I wasn't quite sure what direction I wanted Skullburn to take. But thanks to Purified, my other fic, I've gotten a little inspiration for this. P.S. Skullburn is turning out to be rather freaky . . .)