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Lavender Ghost Story


Lavender Ghost story
By

Nikolai Mirovich

Chapter I "Getting There Is Half The Fun..."

Route 8 became little more than two narrow parallel dirt paths separated by
three-foot high dying weeds as the two cyclists rode through a region known as
'The Haunted Woods'. Although the sun was still high in the late October sky,
the forest on either side of them held ominous pockets of deep shadow and the
unnerving sense of being watched was a constant factor. At times, the
inhabitants of the dark wood rustled the near by trees, and strange, all too
human screams would echo, some from safely far away, and others frighteningly
close.

But the most unnerving part of their journey towards Lavender Town wasn't the
occasion sound of a child's whimpering, or the strange lights that beckoned
unwary travelers into the depths of the forest, or even the ghostly call of
murkrows. It was the calm, blaise almost bored expression on the face of Miranda
Lilcamp as she peddled along the bumpy, treacherous path as though the whole
thing were a regular occurrence.

Misty glanced over at her lover from time to time, her sea-green eyes as wide as
dinner plates, her face so pale she almost seemed like a ghost herself. Upon the
handlebars of her mountain-bike, the thoroughly unnerved trainer's knuckles were
even whiter as she panted through gritted teeth. After nearly an hour of biking
at top speed, Misty's legs were about to give out, and she'd had to slow her
pace, but there was no way she was going to stop until they reached their
destination.

"I can't believe you don't find this the least bit unnerving!" she muttered,
wishing she could hold Miranda's hand for the a little reassurance it would
bring.

The courier shrugged, exhaling thoughtfully. "Sorry, dear," she said with a weak
smile, "I've lived here for most of my life, and I've been through these woods
dozens of times. Aunt Laurna says that the sounds are harmless. So long as you
don't actually try to follow them in at night that is. Oh, and don't loose sight
of the road."

"That's reassuring," Misty grumbled, nervously trying not to think about just
how Professor Laurna, the world's premier ecto-parazoologist, had come about
those findings, and just what happened to those who lost sight of the road,
"Just please promise me that when we get to your parent's place we can sit down
in a nice, normal room, with no scary noises, no dark freak forests, and NO
ghosts!" "Um, no offence to Wraith," she added hastily with a bit of a chuckle.

"I'm sure he'd understand, dear," replied Miranda with a smile, "But, yes.
Lavender is a surprisingly normal place most of the time. It's just these woods
and the Tower you have to be careful about. I'm sure you saw how boring it was
last time you were here."

Misty shrugged as she stood up on her pedals to see if the town was in sight
yet. "Actually we really didn't do very much site seeing," she explained half
sadly, "You know Ash, rush, rush, rush."

Miranda twitched a bit and quickly changed the subject, "You know, if you don't
let them scare you, ghosts really aren't that bad."

Her lover glanced over at her, sitting back down and giving a weak smile. "I
know," Misty replied, "And I'm mostly used to Wraith... Again. But strange
ghosts still unnerve me."

"Even after that incident in Saffron?" Miranda inquired, unable to hide the
involuntary look of helplessness that crossed her face at the thought of what
happened when she had challanged Sabrina.

Misty smirked, finding the incident vastly more amusing. "What?" she inquired
teasingly, noticing how uncomfortable it made Miranda, "You've said before that
ghosts occasionally behave in strange and unpredictable ways..."

"But... But they..." Miranda stammered, leaning back on her bike and peddling
handless as she looked imploringly at her lover, "They played rock, paper,
scissors to see who'd win!"

"Best two out of three!" laughed Misty, wishing all ghosts were as amusing as
Wraith or Sabrina's Rakshasha.

Miranda sighed heavily, shaking her head in utmost dismay. "Ya know," she
commented guiltily, "I really think I should have given that badge back."

Misty found it hard to stop laughing at the thought of Wraith and Rakshasha
facing off against one another. For several long dramatic moments, the two
haunters had stared one another down, exchanging ghostly threats and macho
posturing. But once they'd started trying to out do each other by seeing who
could do the most warped and condeluded things with their own ephemera, Miranda
finally lost patience and ordered Wraith to attack.

Wraith had responded quickly enough, both haunters suddenly glowing with a dark
purple light, ready to blast one another with nightshade, but that was when
Rakshasha suddenly realized he had the wrong hands. The two haunters spent
another five minutes trying to figure out who's floating disembodied hands were
who's and eventually just gave up the concept of dueling, and played rock, paper
scissors instead.

"But Sabrina apparently found it funny!" Misty chuckled, forgetting all about
the strange noises that followed them as the trees seemed to loom closer, their
dry, twisted branches slowly beginning to creep together above the traveler's
heads until they nearly blocked out the sun entirely.

Miranda sighed, deciding to give up. "Well, at least you got see what Umberlee
was really capable of," she added as a small bright light appeared in the
distance.

Misty nodded, a prideful smile crossing her face. "Yeah," she said proudly, "It
was certainly nice of some of the instructors at the school to give me some
advice on tapping into her true potential."

"Saves her learning from Wraith," Miranda chuckled teasingly, catching Misty's
sudden shudder.

"I think she picked up enough bad habits already. Living with my sisters all
that time couldn't have helped," the trainer said with a bit of shudder before
catching a glimpse of civilization not far ahead, "Hey! Isn't that Lavender
Town?"

Miranda turned to look, just as the two narrow paths began to merge with a
single lane gravel road. "Yeah," she replied a little distantly, noticing the
purple hued cobblestones of the road ahead, and making out the shapes of the
large, Victorian style houses of her home town, "it won't be long now."

"Hey," said Misty, her tone serious, "I just want you to know, I was serious
when I said I'd help you out when we got there, eh."

Miranda nodded. "I know," she said quietly as a cold breeze met them just as
they left the forest behind, "This Halloween's going to be different than any
other. I can feel it."

"In a good way?" inquired Misty hopefully, ignoring the Lavender Town population
sign that had what appeared to be a huge bite taken out of it where the actual
population number would have been.

The courier glanced at her with a weak smile, her cloudy gray eyes searching
Misty's. "In a good way," she promised, suddenly grabbing the handlebars as her
bike tires hit the cobblestones, "Just promise me you'll back me up if I need
it."

Misty gave her a curious look. "How so?" she inquired suspiciously.

Miranda glanced out across the field of half harvested corn to her right, trying
to make out the rooftop of the Lilcamp Trading Company's head office. "My mom's
always trying to get me to stay," she explained sullenly, "But I can't. It's
just too sad here. And besides, if I quit being courier crew and got a cushy
admin' job like she wants me to, we'd have never met, right?"

Her beloved gave the courier a concerned look. "That's true," she agreed with a
tight smile, "But you know that it's just because she misses you."

The woman nodded sadly. "I know, I know," she muttered, giving a short wave to
the group of children, all varying in age, who were helping their parents in the
next field over which was filled with wheat, "I don't mean to be a bad daughter
or anything, but she has Bob. She doesn't really need me there all the time,
right?"

Misty sighed heavily, breaking hard and causing her bike to skid dangerously
across the cobblestone road. "Miranda," she said in a serious tone, her eyes
seeming hard and unyielding as she gave her lover a look that broached no
argument, "Look, I don't mean to be harsh about this, but..."

"I should be thankful for what I have," Miranda finished for her, stopping her
bike a little ahead of Misty's before circling around to park beside her, "I'm
sorry, dear. I guess I just get caught up in my own selfish misery."

"That's okay," Misty assured her as they hugged awkwardly astride their mountain
bikes, "I don't expect you to be perfect."

"That's good," replied Miranda with a bit of a chuckle, "I'd hate to be on that
high a pedestal."

"Didn't know you were afraid of heights," Misty teased, leaning away and
laughing as she pushed down hard on her bike pedal to get a head start on the
final leg of their journey.

"As if!" laughed Miranda as she got her bike turned around, saving her next
comment for when she finally caught up with Misty, half way to the nearest major
intersection. "The only thing I'm really afraid of," she said breathlessly, "is
loosing you..."
Chapter II "Bob & The Frighteningly Large Marshmallow..."

The streets of Lavender town became crowded as they rode through the town square
and turned South, away from the omnipresent Tower. The old Victorian style homes
that the town's populace had dwelled in for the last five hundred years had been
decorated for the upcoming event. Carved Jack'o lanterns sat on their wide
verandah's, small bits of ragged white cloth had been done up to resemble
ghostly figures and hung from the branches of the twisting leafless trees, and
everywhere, strings of orange and black Christmas tree lights stood ready to
repel the coming darkness of the night.

It somehow seemed strange that the quiet cobblestone streets were filled with
curious tourists, wandering about expecting to see a ghost on every corner, but
quickly realizing that Lavender was indeed, just another town. But every year,
for the last twenty or so, Lavender Town hosted what some called "The Halloween
Party To End All Halloween Parties."

It would take place near the foot of the Lavender Tower. A five-story structure
that had stood for the last five centuries, and was known as the single most
haunted place in the entire world. It cast its long dark shadow over Lavender
like a monstrous sundial, an omnipresent reminder of the town's grim past. The
main celebrations, however, were to take place in a special field just north of
Lavender Town's graveyard. Every year the town's inhabitants brought in papier-
mch tombstones, and installed small hidden speakers to emit any eerie noises
that the Tower ghosts didn't feel like supplying, as well as no shortage of fog
machines to give it just the right feel. They then brought in the usual carnival
trappings like rides and stage performances, not to mention the impossible to
win carnival games, over priced food, and poorly made souvenirs.

In Lavender Town, Halloween wasn't just a day; it was a celebration that spanned
an entire week. Local residents observed a plethora of odd traditions during
that time, including setting an extra place at the dinner table and putting out
small baskets of food to appease the restless dead. Some either very brave, or
very stupid individuals even left the bedroom windows open wide at night, in
hopes that hungry ghosts would visit them and steal their nightmares. So it
wasn't unusual for the occasional duped tourist staying at the "Tiltin' Hilton
Hotel" to wake up in the morning to find himself in need of immediate medical
attention, for not all wild ghosts bothered to simply steal and devour the
dreams of their victims at their leisure. Many actually preferred drinking them
straight from the source.

At the South end of town, the Lilcamp Trading Company, amusingly enough, was
located at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, at the far end of the dead-end street, a short
distance from the jagged cliffs that overlooked the Eastern Ocean. It was made
up of several buildings, seemingly fused together at different points in time by
the many generations who'd lived within.

The main building, which was the first to be built, was a modestly sized two-
story house, done in the typical Lavender style. The bricks that made up its
walls carved from the same odd purple-hued stone that was mined from the
mountains and were all but covered in twisting vines in places. The front porch,
that also served the house's Eastern side, was covered by a slanted roof and
protected by a railing that looked as though the person who'd carved it was
trying to make some kind of artistic statement. And in keeping with the season,
small ceramic pumpkins sat in every window, soon to surely glow with the arrival
of night along with the large real one beside the front door.

The other attached buildings consisted of a large, squarely built
warehouse/garage made from painted white stone that connected directly with the
Lilcamp's place of residence. Near the roof, a large wooden banner that read
simply "The Lilcamp Trading Company" in large purple letters on a white
background, had far too much of the paint starting to peel. In of itself, the
warehouse was rather boring, except for the small, single story building that
was located directly in front of, and connected to it.

The small trading post/general store was like all the others like it, located in
nearly every major city on the continent. A small, unimposing shop, made to look
rustic with a wide wooden veranda, and walls that made from splitting logs in
half that made one wonder how behind in the time the little shop was. It was
only the large panes of glass in the windows, filled with products, and signs
advertising sales, not to mention the electric lights that lit it up at night
that assured one that the Lilcamp Trading Post's were not run by large hairy men
clad in animal skins who spoke in grunts.

At the farthest end of the short string of buildings was what appeared to be a
hastily constructed, single story establishment with a glowing neon sign
advertising its presence as 'The Courier Club'. Even this early in the day,
there were nearly a dozen mountain-bikes in varying stages of disrepair and
cleanliness parked outside, and the laughing tones of their riders echoed
through the two open windows on either side of the door in a gentle cacophony
that beckoned further patrons.

"So this is where you live," commented Misty rhetorically as they coasted down
the gentle incline of Mockingbird Lane, "What else can I say? Wow."

Miranda nodded, giving a short wave to the driver of the old, rusting pickup
that exited the warehouse and drove past them on the opposite side of the
cobblestoned street. "It's not much, but it's home," she sighed, leading Misty
up the driveway that wound around to the side of the house that faced the ocean
before taking the three steps up to the wooden front porch, equipped with an
aging front-porch swing, "I just hope someone's actually home."

Misty couldn't help chuckle as Miranda tried the door, found it locked, and had
to resort to ringing the doorbell. She even cringed slightly for half a second,
almost expecting the bell to be a scream or something, but it turned out to be a
simple chime.

"Forgot your key?" she teased as the sound of heavy footsteps echoed from
within.

"Just being polite," said Miranda with a shrug before glancing at Misty with a
bit of a worried look, "That and delaying the inevitable."

Misty sighed, and took Miranda's hand firmly as the main door was unlocked and
pulled open by a tall man who grinned happily as he spotted Miranda. "You're
here!" exclaimed Bob as though it were a miracle.

"'Fraid so," his step-daughter commented with a small smile as Bob pushed open
the screen door, "I haven't missed a Halloween yet, have I?"

"You'd better not!" laughed Bob, stepping out onto the porch without his shoes
on, "I think Vivian'd track you down herself and drag out here. Hey, you're
Misty, right?"

Misty was surprised to find herself blushing as Bob grabbed her hand and shook
it enthusiastically. "It's great to finally meet you," the man admitted before
adding, "Well, for 'real' I mean. Vid-phones don't count."

"So, um... Is mom around?" Miranda inquired, her tone careful.

"Ah, naw, sorry," replied Bob with a sad shake of his head, suddenly shivering
against the cold wind off the ocean and quickly doing up the top button on his
dress-shirt, "But you can come in anyway. I've got some tea on, and I can show
you the new transposition-array we had installed. It's collapsible! And besides,
now we don't have to use your Aunt's."

"That must have cost an arm and a leg," Miranda commented, half wondering what
the problem with using Professor Laurna's array was, seeing as it so seldom got
used by Lav'Brats, "But actually, I was thinking of dropping in on Joy and
getting my menagerie their yearly checkup."

"Oh, well that's okay, then," said Bob, his voice full of disappointment, his
expression looking glum, "Well, your mom should be back from the Council meeting
in about an hour or so, and I was thinking of having Frank and Laurna over for
dinner. I ran over to the market this morning and managed to grab a few things
before the tourists did."

"Frank's here?!" exclaimed Miranda, her subdued demeanor completely vanishing as
she now stared wide eyed at her stepfather, her glasses slipping down her nose,
"He actually came back to Lavender? Please tell me he made up with Aunt Laurna."

Bob chuckled to himself for a moment, a sound that seemed capable bringing a
smile to the face of a stone statue. "Miranda, you really have to call home to
just to talk more often," he chided amicably as he stole a second glance at
Misty, "You keep missing all the good family gossip."

Miranda found herself unable to keep from chuckling. "Alright," she said, "We'll
certainly be there. But when mom gets back, tell her we're at the Club. I want
to see who's in town this year. Besides, I owe Zack a favor."

It was Misty's turn to blush as she recalled the arrangement Miranda had made
with her fellow courier. Having him use his abra to teleport her old bed out of
her room at the Cerulean City Gym, and teleport a new on in, in its place. Misty
had never bothered to inquire how much it cost Miranda, but she was certain that
their first night upon it had more than paid the courier back for the expense.

"Oh, alright then," said Bob, looking disappointed, "I'll give Viv a call right
now. Just don't you two go running off or anything!"

"I can't," laughed Miranda as Bob stepped back into the house, "I'd never hear
the end of it from Wraith!"

Her stepfather cringed a little at the thought of the ghost, but managed to
smile happily as he waved goodbye.

"He's not from here, is he?" commented Misty as they brought their bikes up onto
the porch and walked back down the street.

"Oh? How can you tell?" Miranda inquired, having never really thought about it
much before. She knew Bob was native to Maiden's Peak, a tourist town not far to
the South where her father had taken the family many times when she was a child,
but it had never occurred to her that Bob was "different".

Misty chuckled. "You don't see it, do you?" she asked rhetorically as they
crossed the street hand-in-hand and took the next left. "I've noticed a few
things about you Lav'Brats," she explained slyly, "For one, you don't cringe
whenever someone mentions the word 'ghost'. And for another, all the native
Lavender Towner's seem to have the most peculiar eyes."

"Peculiar?" inquired Miranda curiously, stopping as they stepped up onto the
sidewalk, "How so?"

Misty smiled loving, her free hand taking a moment to caress the side of her
lover's face. "At first," she said, "I thought it was just a family trait. You
have the most intensely expressive, beautiful gray eyes I've ever seen. And the
time's I've been there when you've spoken to your mom on the phone, I noticed
that she has these very peculiar magenta coloured eyes."

"Actually," corrected Miranda with a sly smile, leading Misty back down the
street, "Mom's from Neon Town. But I see what you mean. Zack's eyes have this
peculiar habit of reflecting light when it's dark. I guess it's something in the
air."

"And I've never seen a Lav'Brat who could tan," continued Misty, her tone
suddenly curious, "Maybe it IS something in the air."

"Negative Chi," Miranda replied as the Lavender Town pokemon center loomed into
view, "That's what my Aunt says. Apparently the Tower was built on two really
big negatively charged ley-lines. And since the energy is negative, it attracts
ghosts. Apparently this place was barely habitable before the Tower was built."

"Professor Laurna must certainly know a lot about ghost-types," commented misty,
suppressing an involuntary shudder.

"She'd better," laughed Miranda pausing before a set of impressive marble steps,
"She's the only person in three hundred years to survive a night in the Tower.
When it comes to ghosts, if Aunt Laurna doesn't know about it, it's a lie."

"She, she spent a night in there," stammered Misty, glancing over her shoulder
to where the Tower was a far off, hazy image over the rooftops of smaller
buildings.

Miranda nodded as she lead the way up the steps of the Lavender Town Pokemon
Center, past the twin statues of hungry-looking murkrows that guarded the
staircase so ominously. "Yeah, but I haven't gotten the whole story yet," she
explained, "Laurna says it's a secret. Just like most of the stuff that happened
before I was born. Neither her or my mom like to talk about that part of their
lives and mom won't let me have the key to my father's diary, even though she
reads it herself from time to time."

"That's too bad-" came Misty's sympathetic reply before the large wooden double
doors swung open of their own accord in response to their presence, causing
Misty to nearly jump out of her skin.

"Um, Miri," she said weakly, going paler than a Lav'Brat for a moment, "Can we
please stop talking about ghosts for a while?"

"Yes, dear," Miranda chuckled, raising their joined hands and giving her lover a
reassuring kiss on the knuckles, "Besides, there are scarier things in Lavender
then that."

"Such as?" inquired Misty carefully, knowing there was more to Miranda's comment
than there appeared to be. But the courier's reply was abruptly halted by the
presence of a of cloaked figure who seemed to meld out of the shadows as they
stepped over the threshold.

"Ah, Ms. Lilcamp!" exclaimed the Nurse Joy of Lavender Town, throwing the hood
off her long black, velvet cloak, "So sorry, I thought you were another
tourist."

Miranda chuckled at the thought, catching the irony in the woman's statement.
"No, ma'am. But my friend here sort of is..." she motioned to Misty with her
free hand, suddenly letting her words trail off as she suddenly remembered
something very important.

"Well then," said Joy in a peculiar tone that seemed both sinister and friendly
at the same time as something stirred the hem of her billowing cloak, and set
the ankh she wore over her uniform swinging, "Come on in and we'll have a nice
long chat as I see how your pokemon are doing. Any of them evolve yet?"

"Um, err, yeah..." replied Miranda, her stormy gray eyes going wide as she
remembered exactly what was concealed within the folds of Joy's cloak, "But um,
do you think we could just drop them off? We really need to get over to the
Courier Club. Like, now."

"Um, Miri," Misty inquired, suddenly finding the courier sidestepping in front
of her, blocking her view of the slightly eccentric looking parazoological-
veterinarian, "Is there something wrong?"

"Kinda..." Miranda replied, smiling nervously as she felt her stomach gurgle
unpleasantly in response to the movements of Joy's cloak.

"Yes, Ms. Lilcamp," inquired Joy with utmost curiosity, her head titled slightly
to one side as something beneath the velvet cloak rose up ominously, giving her
a slightly hunchbacked appearance, "Is there something wrong?"

Miranda glanced around the room helplessly for a moment as Misty started
becoming frustrated with Miranda's now continual sidestepping and frantic arm
flailing to block her view. "Yesss!" she hissed in a low, nearly panicked voice,
"It's with W-E-D-N-E-S-D-A-Y!"

"Wednesday?" inquired Nurse Joy in a puzzled tone as the creature she was
concealing extended a long, black and purple striped, hair leg from beneath the
folds of her cloak and placed it daintily upon its mistress's stomach, "What's
wrong with Wednesday?"

By this point, Miranda knew that it was far too late. In response to her name
being used, the three feet wide, nearly twenty-pound arachnid known as an
ariados uncoiled herself. Soon, all eight of Wednesday's long, creepy legs had
unfurled, as the chitinous, hairy hemovore prepared to greet her guests.

"Oh!" apologized Nurse Joy, suddenly cluing in far too late to recall Miranda's
reaction to arachnids, let alone Misty's reaction to bug-types in general, "I'm
so sorry," she said hurriedly, trying to coax the ariados back to sleep as the
other pokemon the physician owned came waddling into the room.

"Blissy?" inquired the tall, vaguely egg shaped figure, its extremely short coat
of dark pink fur looking mildly charred for some reason.

"Oh no!" came Joy's suddenly panicked exclamation as the pokemon's beady black
eyes caught a glimpse of Misty and Miranda before quickly determining that
Miranda needed help, "Morticia, nooo! Don't do it!"

"Do? Do what-?" inquired Misty and Miranda in unison as Nurse Joy ran towards
them at full tilt, her arms spread wide as her blissy merrily waved her stubby
arms back and worth muttering happily to herself.

"RUN!" the woman ordered, her cloak flaring out behind her and causing Wednesday
to flutter her vestigial wings in irritation as Morticia chanted' "Blissy,
blissy, blissy...", "Get out! NOW!!!

The two barely had time to protest as Joy caught them with both arms and half-
dragged, half-tackled them back through the still open doors, and down the
marble steps where she threw them and herself down on to the ground and covered
her head.

"What's wrong-?!" Miranda managed to say, a heartbeat before a thunderous
explosion erupted from within the Center, shaking the ground violently and
sending a huge cloud of gray smoke into the air.

"Well, that answers that," muttered Misty ruefully as Joy to her feet before
dusting herself off.

"Sorry about that," the woman said by way of explanation, her tone a touch on
the bitter side, "But that courier... Mr. Evans. He came through here the other
day and taught Wednesday what he claimed was the 'metronome' technique."

"Aren't the effects of that technique completely random?" inquired Misty
thoughtfully.

Joy sighed heavily and nodded. "Normally," she explained, holding her cloak
closed as the pokemon underneath tried desperately to reveal herself, "but I
think something went wrong. Every time Morticia uses it, she um... Well she
explodes."

Miranda blinked loudly. "Isn't that painful?" she inquired, feeling concerned
for the strange pokemon whose species were now raised specifically to assist
para-vets.

"Goodness no!" laughed Joy, reaching out and swatting a peculiar lump in her
cloak, "It just knocks her unconscious and destroys pretty much everything in
the room. That's all."

"Um... Yeah," the courier replied, looking a little confused, and feeling her
stomach turn every time the large arachnid threatened to make an appearance,
"Um, look. We gotta go, uh, we've got to meet Zack at the Courier Club."

"Well then tell Mr. Jones that I want to see him as soon as possible," the woman
said in a mildly annoyed tone, glancing back at her clinic in dismay, "Someone
needs to clean up this mess!"

"Definitely," Miranda said quickly, even now helping Misty to her feet before
rushing off, "Well, see you later! Bye!"

"What's wrong?" laughed Misty, glancing back to wave good-bye and hoping to
catch a glimpse at whatever "Wednesday" was.

Miranda took a deep, revitalizing breath as the two practically ran back up the
street. "A marshmallow," she said simply, trying not to laugh.

"A marshmallow?" her lover's tone was suddenly suspicious.

"That's what my parents called spinaraks and ariadoses when I was a child," she
explained, instantly feeling Misty's hand tighten around her own in revulsion.

"You mean, she...?" the trainer let the thought trail off as Miranda nodded
glumly.

"Sorry," she apologized, "I forgot about Joy's Wednesday. They are creepy
things, and she keeps getting bigger every year! I think Joy feeds her too
much."

"That's okay, dear," assured Misty with a sudden shiver, "At least that way we
know she's eating lots of bugs."

Miranda nodded, feeling her stomach still making dangerously unpleasant motions
in reaction to the presence of the huge arachnid. "Yeah," she agreed slowly,
clutching her abdomen and swallowing hard, "But what do you say we call a truce?
I won't mention ghosts, if you don't mention arachnids!"

Misty gave the courier a concerned look, and moved closer to hold her as they
walked. "You going to be alright?" she asked.

"I just need something to drink," her lover explained queasily, "I just don't
like those things!"

"Gee, I didn't know you were arachnophobic, dear."

"I'm not," replied Miranda with a shake of her head, causing her to need to
pause for a moment to make sure that the last ration bar she ate was remained in
its proper place, "It's just that they make me feel sick. Even the little tiny,
mundane ones do that to me."

Misty couldn't help but chuckle. "Another thing we have in common," she teased,
resting her head on Miranda's shoulder as they continued to walk.

"Hey," chuckled Miranda weakly, "I'm not 'afraid' of them. I'm just repulsed."

"I still think it's cute," she responded, causing Miranda to blush, and keep
relatively quiet the rest of the way to the Courier Club...

Chapter III "Vivian Wyght-Lilcamp-Kozlovski..."
The interior of the Courier Club was dimly lit in comparison to the sharp
brightness of the Sun's rays that morning, being lit solely by strategically
placed, low watt light bulbs, and the occasional candle. Near the front of the
Club, the owner had placed a collection of wide round tables with comfortable,
if not rickety wooden chairs.

Over the years, however, the five generations of couriers who'd frequented the
place since its inception had left their names and other graffiti scrawled
across the surface of all of them. This hardly bothered the current owner,
however. Daniel'd inherited the job from his Father, and he could still identify
many of the marks as his own.

Along the East wall, terminating in a small, but adequate dance floor, the
chairs were high-backed, made comfortable by aging, over-stuffed dark leather,
and the rectangular tables between them showed many scars as well.

Along the North wall, ran the length of the bar, terminating before it took up
too much of the already cramped dance floor. Only its dark oaken surface was
free of name and comment scrawling, instead it had its own catalogue of scars.
Mostly small claw marks and evidence of drink stains left for too long. Just
beyond it was a large ornate mirror that had apparently once resided within in
the Tower.

It was an eerie thing, bordered by a twisting silver frame that depicted the
three stages of ghost development, but the truly unnerving thing about it was
that the mirror did not reflect the living, or anything their auras directly
interfered with. It still reflected the inanimate objects in the room, the
tables, the chairs and the gently flickering candles. But it also reflected
ghosts. Even those that had chosen to remain invisible.

Daniel had no real answer as to where it had come from. All he knew was that his
great-great grandfather had been adventurous in his youth and had managed to
return alive from the Tower after two hours with only a cracked rib and a huge,
ornate mirror that the ghosts seemed rather reverent of.

As the door swung open, and the eyes of the club's many patrons adjusted to the
sudden burst of natural light, an immediate cheer rang out in unison. "Miranda!"
everyone yelled at the top of their lungs as the courier stopped in her tracks
and tried to hide her face while laughing.

The first person to run to her side was Zack. The red haired courier laughed as
he pulled her hands away and stared up at Miranda, his huge green eyes full of
wonder. "You made it!" he exclaimed in absolute amazement, "You're actually
here!"

"I'm here every year, Zachary," Miranda replied with a bit of a smirk as her old
friend cringed at the use of the name.

"And she's not alone," commented Misty, peering from behind Miranda and giving
Zack a short wave before looking about room.

"I didn't think she'd let you go," the psychic said with a chuckle as he looped
his arm through Miranda's and dragged her over to his table, "Come on, kid, I'll
buy ya drink!"

"Kid?" questioned Miranda, quickly snatching Misty's hand to drag her along as
well, "I'm not the one who's going around messing with Joy's pokemon."

"What?!" laughed Zack as they sat down at a table along the East-facing wall,
"It was just a joke! Besides, I was bored."

"I don't even want to know how you did it," sighed Miranda, leaning back in her
seat and shaking her head in dismay, "Just promise me you won't get bored at my
expense."

"Again..." the other courier said under his breath, suddenly whistling
innocently.

"Again?"

Zack smiled, his teeth visible as he chuckled to himself. "Most of us have been
sitting around bored this morning," he explained, motioning to the odd
assortment of couriers around them, "So I had everyone scream your name when you
walked in. But... That's not the only thing we arranged."

Miranda gave Zack a serious look that reminded him of her mother. "Well, it's
not really 'you', exactly," he explained sheepishly as Misty watched the two old
friends with amusement, "it involves your mom, actually."

A smile crossed Miranda's face as she looked into Zack's eyes a little smugly.
"It's your funeral, 'kid'," she teased, "Now then. About that drink you
promised?"

Zack nodded as he slid out of his seat. "Trust me!" he assured, waving his hands
dramatically, "You'll love it!"

"He's even more hyper than last time," commented Misty with amusement as Zack
wandered off to the long, dark wooden counter at the end of the room, "Does he
ever even sleep?"

"Nope," chuckled Miranda, grinning as a tall, dark figure stepped up to their
table. "Joshua," she said simply, her tone becoming serious, her eyes gleaming
with a certain reverence as the haggard figure removed his dark, wide brimmed
hat and smiled down at her grimly.

"I see that you have a new friend," Joshua said simply, his tone sounding heavy,
as thought he weight of many years were upon it. And judging by his thinning
gray hair, the long scar down the right side of his face, and of course his one
glass eye, it was entirely possible.

"Y-yes," Miranda replied, seeming a little nervous, "Please, have a seat, we'll
talk."

As the dark clothed man sat down in front of them, taking Zack's seat, he set
his hat down on the table with a hand that was missing a finger. "Misty," said
Miranda, "This is Joshua. He's been a courier for... What is it now? Forty-five
years?"

"Forty-seven," he corrected, flexing his remaining bony fingers as though to
make certain that they still functioned, "I was a courier when you're
grandparents were still alive, and let me tell ya, they're gonna have to pry the
last package I deliver out of my cold dead hand before I'll retire."

Misty gulped, feeling a little unnerved by the inky blackness of the man's deep
set remaining eye and the way his skin seemed stretched almost unwillingly
across his weather-beaten face.

"Um, hi..." she stammered reaching out her hand politely, somehow expecting the
worst.

The old courier glanced at her hand for a moment before chuckling quietly as
though at some private joke. When he did reach out to take it, his grip was firm
but not confining, although his skin seemed dry as bone. "Mighty pleased to meet
you, ma'am," replied Joshua with a half a smile that made it apparent that he
was hiding several missing teeth.

"Um, if you don't mind me asking, sir," stammered Misty impulsively, causing the
old man to eye her curiously, "How... What happened to your finger?"

Joshua leaned back in his seat, a tight smile crossing his haggard face as his
old bones creaked a little. "Ah," he said in nearly a whisper, but it seemed as
though everyone in the club had heard it, for as the old courier began to speak
the quiet sounds of other conversations died almost instantly, as all eyes
focused upon him, "She wants to hear 'the liver story'."

Miranda pursed her lips as Joshua glanced at her and gave a dry chuckle. "Very
well, then, miss," the dark courier replied as he linked his fingers together on
the scarred table, "It was about forty-five years ago. Heck, that's before all
of ya were even born!" Joshua took a moment to chuckle to himself "Back when we
had the worst snowstorm in last hundred. Why, the drifts alone could burry a
man! It was also the year that nearly every city on the continent was paralyzed
by the Winter's harshness, and the frozen wilderness between them were filled
with nothing but pokemon driven half mad with hunger. Even the one's who
normally would have avoided humans weren't too picky about attackin' that year.
Food was so scarce that a courier with a paper cut would have a pack of wild
growlithe on his trail before ya could blink. And they weren't the worst of it."

Joshua accepted the steaming mug of something that smelled of cinnamon from Zack
before the younger courier backed away respectfully and the old man continued
his story. "So there I was," he said dramatically, lifting his empty hand as
though to indicate the storm all around him, "four days outside of Saffron City.
I was young, brash, and foolish back then. I thought I was indestructible. So
when I was asked to deliver a fresh liver to some sick girl in Saffron, I jumped
at the chance. I guess I thought of myself as some kinda knight in shining armor
or somethin'.

"But anyway, as I was sayin', there I was, the middle of the night, the storm
raging all around me, when suddenly, I could hear it..." compete silence fell
over the room at this point, no one daring to even breath. The rapt fascination
of even those who'd heard the story a thousand times before was evidence enough
of the Courier Crew's respect for their oldest living member.

"It wasn't just hungry. It had gone beyond starving. No, the creature that now
stalked me had been driven mad by hunger. Some of you might say that a single,
lone houndour pup, barely two years old is hardly much of a challenge, even in
the dead of Winter. Well, let me tell ya all that it was so cold that year, that
the loss of feeling in my fingers was nothing compared to the fact that all my
poke balls were frozen shut. The mechanisms just wouldn't fire, and I couldn't
get any help from Nikademus, my raticate. I was on my own, days from
civilization, and I had a dark canine on my trail that'd nearly been eaten by
his other surviving pack mates in desperation a week before."

Joshua took a long sip of the steaming liquid, but didn't seem to notice that it
was scalding hot as those listening to his tale shivered involuntarily in the
imagined cold. "So, so what happened?" inquired Misty, her fingers tightening as
she held Miranda's hand, causing the old man to give a short, distant sigh.

"Well, since you asked, ma'am," he continued with smile and a short laugh that
revealed that he indeed was missing three of his worn looking teeth, "That
houndour followed me for days. I recon it was the scent of the liver I was
carrin', 'cause back in them days, we didn't have all them fancy medical
advances and all that. Anyway, I traveled non-stop for three days and three
nights without sleep, backtracking now and then, hoping the storm would throw
him off. But nothin' I did worked. He was a persistent mutt, let me tell ya!"

"But then, just a day out of Saffron, it happened," he paused, noting to his
amusement that Misty hadn't blinked in some time, "we met face to face just as
the storm was beginning to let up. I reached for my sword, and those days, we
had fewer laws. We couriers were aloud to carry actual, metal bladed swords! But
anyway, I couldn't even feel it in my hand as I drew it. Couldn't feel much of
anything at that point, except I knew some little lady was gonna die if I just
laid down and became lunch for a hungry houndour. So, I did the only thing I
could do..."

Joshua put his empty mug down and leaned back again, an amused, thin smile
crossing his face as he held up his injured hand. Between his index and middle
fingers, he held a minimized pokeball. The last finger on that hand, however,
were missing at the knuckle. "We came to an arrangement," he finished, his tone
sounding proud as a quiet chuckle that was echoed by several of the other
couriers escaped his lips.

"So, what happened to the girl who needed the transplant?" inquired Misty after
exhaling loudly and falling back into her seat, feeling mentally exhausted by
the experience.

Joshua smirked a bit before raising his other hand. "We came to an arrangement,"
he replied, showing off the ornate band of silver on his ring finger, "I told ya
I thought of myself as a knight in shining armor."

Miranda chuckled as the old man slid back out of the seat and picked up his hat.
"Thanks, Joshua," she said in a respectful, but still amused tone.

"Wow," muttered Misty, leaning her head on Miranda's shoulder as she assimilated
the courier's tale, "He's something else."

Miranda nodded in agreement. "Yeah, he was mentor when I first became a
courier," she explained a bit pridefully, "But I struck out on my own after a
few weeks. I guess I just wanted to be alone back then. Unlike now."

Misty smiled happily, her quiet sigh full of contentment. "Good," she said
softly, closing her eyes for a moment before someone at near the door suddenly
exclaimed in a hushed tone that was full of panic and amusement, "She's here!"

Miranda glanced suspiciously over at Zack, who was waving frantically at Daniel
behind the bar before rushing to the front of the room. "We'd better not miss
this," commented Miranda ruefully, suddenly regretting that she had her back to
the door.

The two slid out of the booth and went to sit upon two of the barstools in time
to see the dozen or so other couriers, even old Joshua, line-up in two parallel
lines on either side of the door. Then, as the proprietor grinned broadly and
flipped a switch under the counter, music blared through hidden speakers.

Above the noise, Zack could be heard, desperately trying to unsuccessfully
contain his laughter as the soft music changed, and became the distinctive blare
of "The Imperial March" as white smoke rolled in from beneath two strategically
placed tables.

"Oh dear," chuckled Miranda, finding herself caught up in the moment.

"Is this 'normal' for this place?" inquired Misty with a bemused grin.

"No," assured Miranda, shaking her head with a bit of a chuckle, "Usually it's
worse."

A moment later, someone's haunter materialized long enough to grab the door
handle and yank it open dramatically before fading from view as the assembled
couriers drew their surprising array of wooden swords.

Misty made a quick observation that each courier's weapon seemed to suit his or
her personality in some small way. Joshua's was longer than anyone else's, which
was unsurprising as he was at least half a head taller than everyone else. His
blade had been carved in such a way that it had two distinct edges to it, which
abruptly ended before coming into the lethal range. The weapon also flared out
near the end, and two sharp looking spines jutted out from either side near the
hilt that which designed to be held two handed.

Another, a woman with an amused smirk and a flamboyant cast about her as her
curly brown hair concealed part of her face, drew a sword that seemed almost too
thin to be feasibly possible, but Misty quickly remembered that the wooden
blades were lined with metal, giving them a strength they wouldn't normally
have.

But of the odd assortment of designs, Zack's stood out in its own peculiar way.
His sword was had a wide curved blade, and appeared to be more of child's toy
than an actual cutlass. But as the assembled group took half a step back in
unison and as one spun their swords over their hands before holding them up at
an angle, Misty could tell that the mischievous psychic knew how to use it.

As the door swung open, and a peculiar figure entered the club, the courier's
held their swords overhead, crossing them in an honor guard formation as the fog
rolled in and the Imperial March droned on.

The woman who quite literally glided into room had once had hair as black as
midnight, but now the wavy locks that tumbled well past her shoulders were
streaked with gray. Her stunning magenta coloured eyes, which now burned with
conflicting emotions, were set upon a face that still held a beauty that more
than four decades of life couldn't diminish. And as she glared reprovingly at
the assembly, the couriers withdrew their swords and knelt respectfully on
either side of her.

"You people are all crazy," she told them, trying to hide her smirk behind a
mask of stern disapproval.

"Yes, M'Lady!" the courier's all said in unison, most of them in laughing tones.

The woman sighed, shaking her head as she moved the small control unit on her
wheelchair's arm forward and moved beyond the precession as the proprietor shut
off the music and smiled humbly at her.

"What'll it be, Viv?" he inquired, fully aware that Vivian's eyes were locked
upon her daughter's as the woman came to a hault a short distance away.

"Nothing for now, Daniel," she said in a business like tone before giving her
daughter a small, tight smile. "Miranda, dear," she said in a knowing tone that
sent an unpleasant shiver down her daughters spine, "I'm glad you could make
it."

"A promise is a promise, Mother," she replied quietly, hopping off the stool
before leaning down to give her surviving parent a hug, "Besides, I don't want
you to feel totally abandoned."

Vivian raised an eyebrow at the comment before glancing at Misty and smiling
warmly as the rest of the patrons went about their business once more and the
music returned to the quiet background noise it had been previously. "Ah, Misty
is it?" she inquired, holding out her hand as the trainer hopped off her seat to
shake the woman's hand.

"Yes, Ms... Lilcamp?"

Vivian smiled at her seemingly helpless expression. "Wyght, Lilcamp, or
Kozlovski," she replied, her tone implying a private joke, "It's all the same
really. But I sign the checks 'Lilcamp'. Pleased to meet you, though."

Misty nodded as Vivian returned her gaze to her daughter. "I read your letters,
dear," she said in a softer tone, her hard gaze softening as Miranda sat back
down, looking uncomfortable, "please don't feel bad about letting 'her' get
away. It's not the first time, and I doubt that it will be the last-"

"The next time WILL be the last," interrupted Miranda through gritted teeth, her
tone suddenly angry, her head bowed and her fists clenched, "That woman's caused
enough pain and misery already."

Vivian sighed, a patient smile crossing her lips as she looked up at her
daughter with maternal concern. "You needn't be the soul barer of this pain, my
dear. I loved your father as well."

"I know," whispered Miranda, visibly upset, though she shed no tears, "It's just
hard. And I really need to get over it, but I just can't."

Vivian nodded knowingly. "Though you would deny it, you have his soft heart,"
she smiled loving for a moment, wishing there was more she could say to comfort
Miranda, but chose not to wander the path that lead only to old arguments.

"So?" she inquired briskly, her attention turning to Misty once more, "I trust
my daughter hasn't been driving you crazy the last several months?"

"Oh no!" assured Misty, her orangish hair swishing into her face as she shook
her head, "Everything's been great. It's just-" she glanced at her beloved,
reaching for her hand- "that I think we both still have a lot of old resentment
to work through. She's helped me a lot, and now I intend to help her."

Miranda looked up, and found Misty looking lovingly into her eyes. For a moment
she tried speak, but found the words catching in her throat as her heart felt
not unpleasantly heavy in her chest. "I promised that this year would be
different," said the courier, sparing her mother half a glance, nearly unable to
tear herself away from the caring look in Misty's eyes, "And it will be. This
year I'm not going to spend most of the time moping around in my room, or here.
I might even drop by the Cavern if I get the chance."

Vivian's eyes widened for a fraction of a second. "Will you also be taking your
meals with the rest of the family?" she inquired in a tone that was meant to
sound stern, but held a spark of amusement.

Miranda smiled, trying to hide her quiet chuckle. "Yes," she assured her Mother,
"We'll be there for supper. I already promised Bob we would."

The older woman gave a satisfied smile and nodded thoughtfully. "Do you have any
food allergies we should be aware of, dear?" she inquired of Misty, half
startling her.

"Oh, uh, just hot peppers," she replied, finding it somewhat difficult to look
into Vivian Lilcamp's eyes for any period of time. There was just something
about the woman that said that she could peer right into someone's soul, and
Misty found it a little unnerving.

"Very well, then," said the ruling matriarch of the Lilcamp Trading Company,
going back to her more business-like tone as her wheelchair slid backwards a
short distance before executing a tight turn, "See you both at dinner, then."

"We'll even do the dishes!" laughed Miranda once her mother was half way to the
door, causing her to stop abruptly and spin quickly around, her hand over her
heart in mock disbelief.

"Miranda!" she joked, causing the couriers in the room to chuckle boisterously,
"Don't do that! You'll give your poor old mother a heart attack!"

"Bye!" laughed Misty, noting the spark of true amazement in the woman's eyes
beyond the sarcasm.

"See you there, Mom," Miranda replied quietly as Misty pulled Miranda to her
feet.

"Come on," she said, feeling tense and energetic as she dragged her lover by the
hand to the open area, "you owe me a dance."

"I do?" the courier chuckled, suspiciously, "When did that happen?"

"Since I said so," her lover laughed in a teasing reply as they joined two other
couples who found the slow song that was currently playing too good pass up,
"Unless you dance as well as you cook?"

Miranda gave her a peculiar expression, and glanced around nervously. "Well, I
don't think my dancing'll burn the place down," she admitted, feeling suddenly
thankful for Misty's impulsiveness, "So I guess we won't have to worry too
much..."

"Oh come on, you!" Misty laughed, taking a firm hold of Miranda's right hand,
and sliding her arm about her waist, "It's easy, you don't even have to think
about it."

Miranda nodded compliantly, her smile looking wary. "You know that I can deny
you nothing," she said, pulling her beloved closer and kissing her gently as she
tried not to trip over Misty's feet.

Misty nodded, letting go of Miranda's hand and putting both arms around the
courier as she searched for the right words. "Miri, about your mom," she said
carefully, waiting for a reaction but receiving only Miranda's patient look, "Is
there any thing you wanted to talk about? You seemed rather... Tense."

The courier shrugged thoughtfully. "Oh, it's just the same old thing," she
explained half dismissively, "She wants me to stay here. And, I dunno; get an
admin job or something. But, you know..."

"Everything here reminds you of your Father," said Misty, completing the
thought as she now so often did.

Miranda nodded. "I would, you know," she confessed, stumbling over her own words
for a moment as a sudden sadness crept up on her, "But I'm just not ready. Not
until I've settled this. Not until my dad can rest in peace."

"Shh, I know," Misty whispered sympathetically, holding a finger to Miranda's
lips, "It's alright. You don't have to justify this to me. I'm on your side, and
I'm here to help you."

"I've never doubted that," Miranda sighed, finding their slow movements across
the floor becoming more natural, "And I've long since added it to the reasons
that I love you. Say, it's almost lunch time, but what do you say I show you
something first?"

"What? Here? Now?!" teased Misty with mock surprise, finding it amusing how
easily it was to make Miranda blush lately, "On the dance floor? With all these
people wa-!?"

Miranda quickly covered Misty's mouth with her own, looking around nervously
Zack leaned over from his seat and laughed, just before a gastly materialized in
the center of the room and gave a quick warning sound.

"Its Alex!" exclaimed one of the other dancing courier's as he and his partner
suddenly began riffling through their pockets.

"What now?" inquired Misty, finding the continuingly changing gag amusing, even
as people began slumping over tables and lying on the floor after breaking small
capsules of fake-blood on themselves in strategic places.

Even Daniel, the owner, smashed an empty bottle on the counter before squishing
a small red capsule on the back of his head and slumping over the bar, making it
seem as though he'd been hit with the bottle.

"Shall we?" inquired Miranda in an amused, yet wary tone.

"Yes. Let's," Misty replied in good humor, finally identifing the feelings she
felt as they both carefully laid down on the floor. 'These people are like a
family,' she mused as they lay on their backs, their fingers linked together as
she tried not to laugh, 'And I guess I'm part of that now...'

The door suddenly banged open and someone screamed. "Oh no!" came the suddenly
cracking voice of Alex, the youngest courier on staff, "What happened?!"

The young courier immediately ran into the room, glancing around helplessly as
several older couriers began making low, frightful moans. Alex's crystal-clear
blue eyes then went wide as everyone began to rise from their often somewhat
awkward positions.

"Aaaaaallllex," came Zack, his voice sounding as though he'd been dead a long
time, the gastly who'd given the warning started weaving small illusions that
made him seem a little more gaunt as someone else muttered, "Braiiiins."

"What do you want?!" exclaimed Alex, drawing his wooden sword in a bit of a
panic as someone suddenly gripped his shoulders from behind, causing him to jump
and drop the weapon.

"To wish you a happy birthday!" exclaimed Zack as everyone started laughing and
the gastly made several small illusions of simple red fireworks above his head.

"Uh! You guys are all crazy!" exclaimed Alex, nearly pulling out twin clumps of
his pale yellow hair, before calming down enough to laugh about it.

"This is a factor you had not considered?" inquired Joshua in a dark tone as he
released the frightened and now amused courier's shoulders, "A courier's life
isn't as easy at it seems. Thus a little insanity now and then, helps to keep us
all the more sane."

As Alex nodded, Misty glanced at Miranda who was even now helping her off the
floor. "Um, there aren't any 'real' zombies, are there?" she inquired carefully.

"Oh, not exactly," Miranda replied with equal caution, "But that was a long time
ago, and my Aunt tells the story better. Infact, that's one of the events going
on later tonight."

"You're unleashing zombies into the world?" laughed Misty nervously.

"Goodness no!" laughed Miranda, giving her lover's hand a reassuring squeeze,
"It's just my Aunt telling the history of the Tower. Well, the children's
version, anyway. Tomorrow's the version that actually tells you everything you
wanted to know but were afraid to ask."

"Even about zombies?"

Miranda nodded grimly. "Oh, and they don't actually eat brains."

"They don't?" inquired Misty nervously, almost sounding hopeful.

"Of course not!" exclaimed Zack, popping up out of seemingly nowhere with a
disgusted look upon his face and a poorly faked upper class British accent, "We
don't want to eat your brains. That's disgusting! We just want to eat your
skin!"

Miranda glowered at him as Misty cringed before reaching out her hand and
flicking the end of his nose as hard as she could with her index finger. "'Be
gone evil spirit'," she quoted as Zack fell to the ground feigning extreme pain.

"Ahh! It burns! It burns!" he called after them, getting at least a few laughs.

"See you tomorrow night!" called Miranda in a general sense, waving to the
assembled courier's before heading out and leaving the ambient craziness behind.
Chapter IV "Style, finesse, and of course... A REALLY cool car..."

The musty room had stood devoid of life for more than a decade now. Only the
faded footsteps in the dust proved that once a year, a human presence made
itself known in the almost perpetually dark garage. Many of the tools that hung
on the wall above the simple workbench were by now old and rusted. And as
technology advanced most were left somewhat archaic. The few that were missing,
had been requisitioned many years ago, and now only dust and the odd cobweb
marked their passing.

In the center of the room stood a large, almost ominous shape. hidden beneath an
orange tarp and several inches of dust, the car waited with the patience of the
inanimate. Beside it, a smaller tarp covered a lesser, but no less meaningful
vehicle. The mountain bike's owner would never ride it again. Infact, neither of
the machines owner's were likely to return to them. But such is the fate of toys
left by children who have outgrown them...

Sunlight spilled into the room, chasing away the shadows that had lingered there
for a year, undisturbed by human passage. But the loud, grinding protest of the
old rusting door was ignored by the two figures who stood silhouetted in the
doorway, their own shadows falling across the enormous tarp covered vehicle in
the center of the room.

"This is it," commented Miranda with a sad smile, her tone distant as she walked
up to the car and ran her hand idly over the tarp-covered hood, "my father's
favorite toy."

Misty stepped carefully up behind her, half wondering if she should be careful
to only stand in Miranda's footprints lest she upset the layer of dust on the
floor. "Can I see it?" she inquired, her curiosity lingering more upon learning
a little more about the man her lover put on such a high pedestal than on the
vehicle itself. Cars were a rare thing outside of the larger cities, and were
seldom interesting devices. "Form equals function" was something of an adage
when it came to the small, cramped boxes on wheals commuters used.

The courier nodded, leaning down before the car almost reverently as she reached
beneath the front bumper and untied the rope that held the tarp in place. As she
stood up, Miranda pealed the plastic material back like a shed skin, revealing a
vehicle that would have caused her Uncle Frank's growlithe to have a small,
pleasant seizure.

The car was huge by any standards, but not dangerously so. It would still
squeeze between the lines on any paved road, but its intimidation value alone
would have made it a force to be reckoned with. It was also nearly twice as long
as most cars, with two huge fins at the back that seemed to serve no true
purpose other than style.

Its collapsible roof stood out, a duller shade against the shiny midnight-black
of its exterior, and the car's trunk seemed enormous until one saw the amount of
space within the vehicle.

"My father saw something like it in a movie when he was kid," explained Miranda,
walking around the vehicle, caressing its surface with her fingertips almost
affectionately as she went, "And he decided he wanted one. He saved every credit
he had for five years, before started construction. Uncle Frank even helped out
a bit when they met about a year later, and when it was done they used to drive
around Lavender like a couple of kids with a new toy, showing it off and causing
trouble until they nearly got arrested."

Misty snickered at the irony as Miranda glanced up and caught her eye. "And
later on, it was in this car that he took that little trip my grandparents sent
him on," the courier continued with a reminiscent smile, "They were looking to
retire in a few years, and wanted him to get to know our clients and stuff.
Little did they know he'd bring home his fiance."

Misty found herself smiling at the thought. "I guess that's kinda romantic," she
offered with meaningful look.

"I dunno," Miranda confessed sadly with a shrug, "I've never been given the
whole story. My father just sorta alluded to some kind of problem with mom and
her family. But I remember him saying once that it was bad. There was a
certain... I don't know. Conviction? To his words that told me there's more to
my maternal grandparents than I care to know.

"Anyway, they apparently met when mom was working in a restaurant, and my Aunt
was studying under some professor of parazoology. He once muttered something
about it angering him that anyone would treat their children that way. I
dunno..."

Misty had moved to Miranda's side, and was now clutching the courier's arm as
she leaned against her. "It sounds a bit like he was trying to save her," she
said sadly, a tinge of anger entering her voice, "It would seem that you're
justified in your feelings for him."

Miranda nodded slowly. "He apparently loved my mom from the first time he saw
her," she said in a slow, careful tone, moving to embrace her beloved, "And for
the record, in our time together, I never saw him get angry. I never heard him
raise his voice. No matter how much of a brat I was. But you could tell that he
hated my maternal grandparents almost as much as he loved me and my mom..."

Misty glanced up as she heard Miranda choke on her words, and felt her beloved's
body shake. "I wish I could have met him," she in honest sympathy, reaching up
to wipe the tear from her lover's eye, "He sounds almost as noble and wonderful
as his daughter."

"He, he also said," continued Miranda, her head on Misty's shoulder, breathing
in the scent of her skin and feeling thankful to finally have someone who cared
about her so much, "That the only revenge that he would take up them, was to
raise a child better than they did. Better than they could! To be the very
antithesis of them..."

"I think that he succeeded," whispered Misty, holding her closer and feeling her
own eyes well up with tears, "for you to love him so much."

Miranda smiled, in spite of herself, fighting the urge to laugh. "You're right
of course," she both sobbed and chuckled, hugging her lover a little closer for
a moment, "But I don't think he can claim all the credit. My mom did a pretty
good job too."

"I'm sure she'd like to hear that-" offered Misty, quickly biting off her
impulsive comment.

"No," assured Miranda, running her fingers affectionately through Misty's hair,
"you're right, dearest. I don't tell her that enough. And I really should. I
just find it so hard to talk to her sometimes."

"Why?"

Miranda shrugged, taking a deep breath. "My father," she explained after letting
Misty's question hang in the air for a moment, "Was the most open handed,
honest, approachable person you could imagine. Even more so than you!"

Misty laughed, giving Miranda quick kiss on the neck. "I'm not that honest," she
confessed, "Do you know how often I've lied to my sisters?"

Her lover's chuckled response was reassuring. "Yeah, but if you were absolutely
perfect, you'd be boring," replied Miranda, finding it hard to stay sad within
Misty's arms, "But seriously, my dad is... Was. Like you. An extrovert, I guess.
But my mom's the complete opposite. And she has this way of looking at you, like
she can see right into your soul and know exactly what you're thinking."

"Of course she can," chuckled Misty, "She's a mom!"

Miranda laughed again, amazed at her lover's ability to say just the right
things to put her in a better mood. "I won't argue that one, but it's hard to
talk to her, you know? I always get the feeling like she's judging me. Like if I
come right out and tell her what I'm feeling, she'll somehow think less of me...
Does this make any sense at all?"

Misty sighed thoughtfully, wishing she'd had more time to spend with her own
mother so that her words could be of more help. "Well, you're father got past
that, right?" she inquired half rhetorically, "He obviously wasn't sacred off by
her when they first met... Was he?"

"No, of course not," laughed Miranda, lifting her head and staring reminiscently
at the ceiling, "He used to say that he found her eyes dark and mysterious. Like
a locked treasure chest, deep in the heart of a dungeon, beneath the forgotten
keep of a long dead king. Holding treasures so fast, so beyond the comprehension
of mortal men, that it was his duty to bring them into the light once more, to
show the world the beauty that it longed for. Or something like that."

Misty gave her a quizzical look as Miranda leaned back with an amused smile and
gave defeated shrug. "I take it you get your poetic ability from him then," she
inquired slyly.

"Well, with my dad, it came and went from time to time," explained Miranda
thoughtfully, "His first love invention. This car would be more than proof of
that if you knew what it was really capable of. Same with my mom, actually. It's
one of the things that really drew them together. Although my mom's inspiration
tends to be more in the area of defensives measures than large, bulky
expressions of pent-up testosterone."

Miranda chuckled at the look Misty gave her. "Don't worry," she assured, "the
car's the only thing he's really ever 'guyed out' about. Mostly he just made odd
things... Like the alarm clock I still have in my room."

"What's it do?"

"Instead of ringing, it smells like bacon cooking." A slightly embarrassed smile
crept across Miranda's lips.

"What gave him THAT inspiration?" laughed Misty.

"Well..." explained Miranda far too carefully, looking around nervously the
entire time, "There was this one morning when I younger when I came down stairs,
and when he asked me what I wanted for breakfast, I got in kinda a huff and
said. 'All I want is the SMELL of bacon cooking, and a tall glass of orange
juice.' Ah, kids!"

Miranda could only smile as Misty gave he a look that said she wasn't sure
whether to laugh of be disturbed. She eventually chose to laugh. "I guess he
took me literally," she continued, "Same with that one Spring when I got upset
because the bridge to Maiden's Peak was out."

"What happened then?"

Miranda glanced at the car a little nervously. "You wouldn't believe me unless I
showed you," she responded, walking over to the vehicle and opening the door.

"Don't tell me it flies," commented Misty with a bit of smirk.

"Okay," chuckled Miranda, trying to sound serious, but not succeeding as she
reached under the dashboard, "I won't."

There was a loud -click!- followed by several other odd mechanical and vaguely
hydraulic sounding noises from beneath the car. "Stand back!" Miranda warned
hopping out of the car and backing quickly away as the vehicle rose slightly,
followed by the sound of out rushing air.

A moment later, there was an ominous -thunk!- as the wheals turned inward, and
folded up, yet the car remained the same distance off the concrete floor. A
second later, and Misty saw partly why. An enormous black balloon made of a
thick, rubbery material inflated its way out from beneath the car as a
mechanical humming droned on for nearly a minute. By the time it stopped, with
the rather clunky sound of the compressor powering down, the car had become
something of a hovercraft.

"Th- That's really something else!" stammered Misty, at a loss for words.

Miranda chuckled, a feeling of pride washing over her for a moment. "And you
should see what mom did to it," she added, "Once he let her near the thing, that
is..."

"It has a missile launcher in the trunk that clears traffic for you on the way
to work?" offered Misty.

"No," laughed Miranda as she walked around to the huge trunk and popped it open,
"She just... 'Enhanced' it a little."

Misty gasped in sudden panic as Miranda drew a sledgehammer from the storage
compartment and slammed the lid down. "You- You would-!" she gasped as Miranda
gave her a teasing smile and slammed the hammer down on the trunk with a mighty
two-handed swing.

"See," she said beaming as the hammer bounced off without leaving a scratch, the
sound of the impact still ringing in their ears, "It's made of the same stuff
that courier swords are lined with. And the paint's actually this weird organic
compound Aunt Laurna cooked up. It regenerates!"

Misty blinked loudly as she came around to the back of the car, running her hand
over the impact point and feeling the heat generated by the impact, but finding
no other evidence. "Amazing," she commented as Miranda leaned the hammer against
the far wall.

"But its hard to find mithril in large quantities these days," admitted Miranda
with a shrug, "apparently there was quite a bit of it in the mountains above
Lavender when our ancestors came here. It was one of the reasons the town was
founded. The ghosts were a problem, though."

"And thus the Tower," muttered Misty with a shiver, quickly chastising herself
for the instinctive reaction. "So," she said, quickly changing the subject, "You
mentioned going to Maiden's Peak?"

Miranda nodded with a sad smile. "Every Spring for their festival," she
explained, "well, except for the year that tsunami took out all of Route 12, of
course. My Father'd drive us down there, and every year Mom'd be leaning as far
away from the passenger side window as possible the whole way there and back.
The bridge was smaller back then, and really rickety. She didn't really trust it
very much, even after they rebuilt most of it Apparently that wave is a fairly
regular thing, so I don't see why they just didn't just build Route 12 a bit
better."

"Once every forty years or so," muttered Misty under her breath, quickly
banishing her own memories of that time. 'I so young and foolish,' she sighed
inwardly, glancing up into Miranda's smiling face and suddenly feeling better.

Miranda opened her mouth to speak, but her smile became a scowl as her watch
chimed suddenly. "What now?" she muttered, glancing at it to see who'd had the
audacity to page her at that moment. "Oh," the courier said with a small, amused
smile as she read the number, "It's mom. Bob must have lunch ready. Shall
we...?"
Chapter V 'If You Can't Take The Kitchen...'

Although the interior of the Lilcamp residence had a feeling of warmth and
comfort to it, the courier still felt nervous crossing the threshold. The slight
"old house" smell that lingered in the air brought with it far too many
memories.

The pictures along the walls of the long hallway that lead past his parents
offices and the living room still portrayed images of her father, only now there
were new pictures, mixed in with the gaggle of other relatives. Here and there,
between pictures of Miranda's paternal grandparents and pictures of her in
school were pictures of Vivian and Bob together.

It gave the courier a mixed feeling to see a picture of her mother with her real
father so close to the ones with Bob in them. They were sitting, arms around
each other on the hood of her father's car, with him looking as though he'd been
caught doing something wrong, and Miranda's mother looking on with her often
used expression that combined annoyance with amusement.

"You okay?" inquired Misty, feeling Miranda's fingers squeeze her hand a little
more firmly for a moment.

"Just thinking," Miranda quietly replied, glancing into the living room as they
past by.

"Well, if you need to talk, you know what to do."

Miranda smiled sadly. "Thank you," she said simply, hearing her mother's
murmured voice a short distance away, followed by Bob's chuckle, "But I think
we'd better get in there. Whatever he's making is starting to smell good!"

Near the end of the hall they reached the kitchen where the sound of boiling
water met their ears and the pleasant smell of stew cooking made their stomachs
react in anticipation.

Once the two had crossed the threshold, they found Bob standing behind a wooden
counter that had been constructed like an island to give him more room to work.
With one hand he was reaching over to the stove, gently stirring a huge pot with
a wooden spoon, and in his other, the man was quickly and efficiently chopping
vegetables with an accuracy that was almost frightening.

Behind him, the main countertop stretched from the door out onto the porch to
the wall, before taking the sharp left turn and going the short distance to the
gas powered stove. Above the clutter of half filled mixing bowls, jars of
strange ingredients and other chefly paraphernalia, Bob had most of the
cupboards at least half way open in his quest to create the perfect meal.

"Hey, guys!" he called without looking up from the huge tomb that rested next to
the cutting board on the counter-island, "It'll just be taros stew for lunch,
I'm afraid. But I'll be making lasagna for supper. Hope you don't mind!"

"After two weeks of granola bars how can we so no?" laughed Misty, exaggerating
their plight and causing Bob close his eyes and chuckle as he somehow continued
to slice the celery into perfectly even pieces.

"I keep telling her to take a cooking course," commented Vivian from the large,
round wooden table at the opposite end of the room near the entrance to the
kitchen.

"I tried once," Miranda replied a little dejectedly as her mother sipped her
tea, eyeing the courier with a piercing gaze, "I just keep forgetting how long
to cook things for."

"I saw her burn water once!" called Bob from the orderly chaos he seemed to be
orchestrating.

"Did not," muttered Miranda shaking her head, giving her stepfather a look of
mock wary annoyance as Misty tried not to laugh.

"Well you did melt the pot to the stove, dear," concluded her mother, motioning
for them to sit with her.

"And that's why I'm not aloud in a kitchen anymore," sighed Miranda, pulling out
two of the chairs and sitting down warily with her back to the wall.

"But at least I can count on you to do some shopping, right?" inquired Bob,
suddenly scurrying from behind the counter over to where a number of dried herbs
hung from the ceiling. He then glanced over at Miranda, who smiled and gave a
nod as he carefully cut a few pieces off several of them, "Good! Cause we'll
have quite a few guests this evening, and at least two have yet to taste my
cooking..."

"And you just want everything to be perfect," finished Vivian, casting her
husband a small smile, "You needn't worry so much. Frank will eat anything, and
Miranda and her friend probably can't remember what real food is. And of course
Laurna's far too polite to say anything, so even if you totally botch,
everything will be fine."

"Perish the thought, Vivian!" exclaimed Bob, his icy blue eyes going wide with
sudden fear.

"Not that you would," his wife finished with a quiet chuckle, hiding her smile
behind her teacup. "So, dear," she said, her all knowing magenta eyes turning to
her daughter, "Last time we talked you were in Saffron City. How'd it go?"

Miranda glanced around a little nervously. "Well, we had a little trouble with
the deliveries we had to do, but-"

"No, dear," Vivian chuckled sagely, "I know you've been frequenting Gyms lately.
Strange thing for a girl who once proclaimed that the entire Indigo League was a
stupid joke and a waste of time."

The courier flinched, quickly forming a response that wouldn't hurt her
beloved's feelings too much. "I said that when I was nine, mother," she replied
in a level tone, trying to seem interested in the colourful snowflake shaped
glass ornament her grandmother had once made and hung in the far window, "I
hadn't truly 'found myself' yet and I was just lashing out at the world."

"So now you're off collecting badges," Vivian inquired rhetorically, her tone
coming dangerously close to condescension, "Quite a turn around, don't you
think?"

Miranda glanced over at her mother, and quickly pushed down the annoyance
brewing inside her. "I'm only doing it as a hobby," she explained, hoping her
eyes didn't betray her inner turmoil, "It's something that both myself and Misty
can do together. That's all. The badges are still just pretty souvenirs to me.
It's like grandmother and her spoon collection."

Vivian glanced over her daughter's head to the five dark blue velvet lined
wooden racks that her father-in-law had made, filled with gleaming souvenir
spoons from all over the world. Some were simple, with a cheesy plastic flag
glued onto the handle, and could be used to spoon feed a baby if necessary, but
others defied logic and reason. The one that had always baffled Vivian was the
one with the sharply square ladle, and the block of green jade on the handle
that had been carved into a coiling serpent. There was even a small notch taken
out of it where a much younger Miranda had dropped in on the floor.

"I know, dear," Vivian replied with a hint of a smile as Bob set down several
large bowls of steaming stew, "I was only teasing. So long as you don't tell me
you've started collecting more pokemon."

"Um... Actually," stammered Miranda, suddenly leaving her spoon standing
straight up on its own in Bob's ultra thick stew, "I kinda acquired a bulbasaur.
Sorry. I forgot to mention her..."

Bob chuckled as he finally sat down next to Vivian. "Gee Miranda," he said
facetiously with a smile and a sideways glance at his stepdaughter, "you better
be careful or next you'll become one of those trainers who wanders around with a
glazed look in her eyes muttering, 'gotta catch'em all... gotta catch'em
all...'"

"Over my dead body," muttered Miranda in a far too serious a tone, causing every
one present to chuckle, "It's just that I felt sorry for Ivy... Besides, she was
adorable. I couldn't say no."

Vivian gave her husband a sideways glance that caused him to raise an eyebrow.
"Did you say adorable?" she asked simply.

Miranda nodded, carefully chewing the solid portion of Bob's stew. Most likely
the broth.

"I believe she said something about 'mind-bendingly cute'," replied Misty with a
laugh before Miranda could swallow.

"I see," replied Vivian simply, looking thoughtful as she returned to her meal.

"So, is it okay?" inquired Bob, suddenly looking insecure.

"It's great!" admitted Misty, reminding herself to slow down and enjoy it, "It's
too bad we can't have this as travel rations."

"Oh, you'd get sick of it eventually," Bob replied humbly, "Besides, it's really
only good once the weather gets cooler. Trust me, in the Summer, this is the
last thing you want."

"She's right, though," added Miranda, savoring the warm sensation that spread
through her as she ate, "You're cooking gets better every year."

Vivian gave Miranda quick glance as Bob blushed and tried to brush off the
compliment. "Oh!" the man exclaimed suddenly catching Miranda with a spoon in
her mouth, "Do you two have any plans for this afternoon?"

Miranda shrugged. "I was thinking of continuing our tour," she replied, "And
maybe stopping by the Cavern at some point."

Bob paused for a moment, giving his stepdaughter an alarmed look. "Really?" he
pondered, glancing at Vivian again, causing the woman to give a noncommittal
shrug, "Well, if you're not too busy, and preferably before you go 'there',
would you two mind dropping by the market? There's a few more ingredients I need
for tonight."

"Sure thing," assured Misty impulsively as Miranda nodded and finally slid the
spoon out of her mouth, "It'll just be another part of the tour."

"Oh, and one more thing," added Vivian giving, causing her daughter to glance up
from her now empty bowl, dispelling Miranda's contemplation of how best to get
away with licking the it clean at the table.

"Yes?" she inquired, keeping the defensive tone from her voice as an alarm went
off in her head.

Vivian glanced at Misty with a polite, maternal smile. "I was wondering if I
might have a chance to talk to you alone," her tone was politely ominous,
causing Misty to suppress a sudden shiver as she suddenly felt like a bug under
a microscope.

"S-sure," she stammered, pushing her empty bowl away.

"Actually, my sister will be there as well," clarified Vivian thoughtfully
before sending Bob a sideways glance, "And I believe you wanted to speak with
Miranda tomorrow?"

"Uh, I- Err, yeah!" agreed Bob, suddenly caught off guard as Miranda felt her
heart sink.

"No problem, mother," she said simply, pretending to contemplate the lines the
wood grain of the table as Misty reached for her hand underneath it.

"Well, now that that's settled, I still have some work to do," commented Vivian
briskly in a businesslike tone, her wheelchair suddenly sliding quietly
backwards before turning slightly and moving past Bob, "Lovely meal, dear. Thank
you."

"No problem, boss," he chuckled, suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable as his
wife paused long enough to kiss his cheek before motoring off out of the
kitchen.

"So?" he inquired a moment later to break the sullen silence, "Anyone up for
seconds...?"
Chapter VI "Welcome To My World..."

Miranda made gritted her teeth, making an angry/pained sound as her fist
ploughed into the wooden pillar that held the front porch's roof up. "Sorry..."
she said quietly, bowing her head as Misty's arms wrapped around her from
behind, holding her protectively, "I just find her infuriating at times."

"It's alright, dear. I understand," her lover replied sympathetically.

"I just wish I did," Miranda replied with a bit of a laugh at the irony as she
raised her head and glanced at the purple colour her knuckles had become.

Misty sighed, shaking her head in dismay before taking Miranda's uninjured and
leading her over to the ancient looking front porch swing. "Look, I'm sure
everything will be fine," she said, sitting Miranda down next to her, "You're
mom cares about you, and she just wants to find out a little about me before she
submits her approval. I'm not worried."

"Oh, it's not that," Miranda replied, leaning back against the seat and pushing
against the floor with her feet, "I know you, dear. You're tougher than all our
pokemon combined. So even if my mother does find some reason to disapprove of
you, which I'm confident she won't, I'm sure you can handle her."

Misty smiled, giving Miranda's left hand a squeeze as she rested her head on the
courier's shoulder. "Then you're worried about your talk with Bob, then?" she
inferred, chuckling at how harmless the man seemed.

Miranda sighed heavily. "It's the same thing every single year," she explained
warily, "They sit me down and have their little discussion about why don't I
stay here? Why don't transfer over to admin? Or if I like being courier crew so
much, why don't I just become Lavender's city-bound? Oh, Misty, I'm just so sick
of it..."

"Is it really so bad here?" Misty inquired, closing her eyes for a moment as the
wooden swing-seat moved back and forth, creaking on it's hinges as some distance
behind her, the ocean waves crashed upon the rocky cliffs.

"I'll show you why it's bad," Miranda replied sadly, taking several deep breaths
as Misty opened her eyes and immediately put her arms around her, "I was meaning
to show you the place anyway, just as a point of interest. But I think it will
prove my point. I think it'll explain everything."

"The 'Cavern'?"

Miranda nodded. "It's where Umi was born. Where Undine and Selece raised her
until I was mature enough to handle having a pokemon, and she was no longer
dependant on her parents. The place where my parents were married, and the place
where my father died... I haven't been there since before I left home."

"I see."

Miranda glanced over at Misty, her eyes feeling dry despite sadness. "Sorry,
dearest," the courier apologized, "I don't mean to depress you."

"No, no, no," whispered Misty with a warm smile as her hand caressed Miranda's
cheek, "It's alright. I want to see this place. I know it's upsetting, and I
know you're probably going to have a rough time of it when we get there. So, as
promised, I want to be there for you. You're not alone, Miri. Not anymore. I've
chosen to share my life with you, and that includes sadness as well as laughter.
Now come on, let's face the past together, shall we?"

Miranda's smile was sad, and her heart felt as though it would burst as she
looked into her lover's eyes and kissed her hand affectionately. "Yes, let's,"
the courier replied in a quiet tone as their feet halted the gentle creaking of
the swing's motion, "It'll do me good to put a few metaphorical ghosts to rest."

"So long as they're only metaphorical," teased Misty as they made their way down
off the porch.

"They wouldn't dare enter the Cavern," assured Miranda with a sudden bemused
smile.

"Oh? Why's that?"

"Two reasons, actually. First of all, the cliffs have a halfway decent mithril
content, which repels ghosts, and the second is the same reason why Wraith's
never messed with my father's car," she explained, "Their all afraid of my
mom...!"
Chapter VII "With The Tears Of Dragons..."

At the South end of Lavender Town, the high cliffs were met by rickety wooden
bridge that stretched off into the hazy distance over the ocean far below.
Occasionally connecting with the mainland for extra support, and slowly slanting
downward, Route 12 served as the most direct path from Lavender to Maiden's
Peak.

To the left of the old bridge, however, were a set of wooden stairs that hugged
the rough curves of the sea battered cliff face, winding their way down to a
long wooden walkway at about the midway point, as well as the rocky beach below.

It was to the walkway that Miranda lead Misty, the old staircase protesting
their passage with loud creaking sounds as the sound of the surf battered the
unpleasant looking beach below.

"When the tide's high," the courier explained, "the water comes up to within a
few feet of here."

"Ever have any problem with flooding?" Misty inquired, running her hand along
the guardrail as she watched the sea below.

"Not really," Miranda replied with a shrug, her voice growing distant as they
drew closer to an area where the wall of rock gave way to an enormous, yet
shallow cave, "Hm. Okay, we're here. Watch your step..."

It wasn't long before Misty could see why the sea wasn't a problem. The walkway
terminated at the mouth of the cave, and a set of stone steps, carved straight
from the rock lead them up an incline to where the darkness of the cave
dispelled most of the natural light.

"That's strange," commented Misty, shivering against the cold and trying to make
out the odd markings on the wall before her as Miranda fiddled with a
flashlight.

"My grandfather did those," Miranda replied quietly, her voice echoing slightly
as the enormous set of double doors before them were illuminated in all their
splendor.

They stood nearly twelve feet in height, made of the same dark mithril that was
found in the Lavender Mountains. As Miranda had said, her paternal grandfather
had done a great deal of work on the doors in his time. The main focus was of
the two dragonites who stood facing one another with blissful expressions of
love upon their faces as a swarm of their dratini children slithered and coiled
about, forming decorative patterns.

"He worked on this nearly everyday after he retired," Miranda continued as
Misty's eyes followed the patterns, observing the small shapes of fish leaping
from unseen waters as the young dragons chased them.

"It must have taken him forever," she commented as Miranda pulled an enormous
skeleton key out of her coat pocket and held it before her as she walked
forward.

"He never finished it," the courier said sadly as the circle of light shifted,
causing the edges of the door to became more apparent, their depicted scenes
left incomplete, yet still compelling, "My father said that it's better this
way-" she slotted the key into the ornate lock near the feet of the two dragons
"-it makes it seem as though his father's coming back one day to finish it..."

Miranda took a deep breath before turning the heavy key. Within the doors, the
mechanism made awful grinding noises of protest, but after a moment they were
followed by a loud, almost booming -clunk- as the lock settled into place.

"They're still beautiful," assured Misty as the courier put away the key before
sliding her hand behind one of the intricate carvings and giving the door a
sharp pull.

"I know," grunted Miranda as the door swung open with surprising ease, "And the
hinges my dad made aren't too bad either!"

Misty chuckled as the courier dragged the door most of the way open, but had to
quickly hold her nose as the dank smell of decay and neglect issued forth from
the interior.

"Give it a minute," commented Miranda, her arms suddenly going around Misty and
holding her protectively.

"This was a happy place once, right?" Misty inquired after a moment of standing
in the dear darkness, "You didn't always keep the doors sealed and unvisited,
did you?"

"Goodness no," chuckled Miranda sadly, "when Selece and Undine lived here, we
didn't need to lock it. Generally speaking a twelve-foot tall, five hundred plus
pound dragons tend to deter thieves. And with two of them guarding their eggs,
you'd have to be crazy to burst in and try anything."

"But they'd make a tempting target for 'you know who'," Misty muttered bitterly,
immediately regretting the comment as Miranda stiffened, "Oh! I'm sorry-!"

"No, no," the woman assured her, "It's true. A mated pare of dragonites living
so close to humans, laying a clutch of eggs every five years or so does make a
tempting target. And that's what started all this..."

"So, um, what did you do with the other dratini's that were born here?" Misty
inquired, changing the subject before Miranda became to upset.

"Oh, for the most part we let them go," the courier replied with a shrug, "We
gave away two or three here and there, but the others we let leave when they
were old enough. They're an endangered species by any standards, and we wanted
to do your part to make sure they didn't become extinct. I suppose the group
that hatched before Umi's clutch have all evolved by now. And the ones before
them will probably be laying their eggs in the Spring."

"That's a nice thought," smiled Misty, thinking about the swarms of dratini that
would one day populate the coastal waters of some far off island, away from
humans and their problems.

Miranda nodded, shining her flashlight beyond the doors and giving the air a
careful sniff. "Okay," she said, steeling herself against what was to come, "It
should be alright now.

Her lover glanced over, anxious to catch a glimpse into the private lives of the
creatures that once dwelt beyond the doors. "I don't know if the lights'll still
work though," Miranda added, taking Misty by the hand and leading to the
threshold, "But if not, there should still be some torches I can light."

"I'm not worried," replied Misty, her curiosity becoming overwhelming as Miranda
stepped carefully from the rock-strewn floor, and out onto soft, cool sands
within the room.

Miranda nodded, taking a deep breath as she found a large lever on the wall near
the door. "Just be sure to get out of here if the lighting system explodes," she
chuckled nervously, and yanked the lever up before pushing it into place.

For a moment, nothing happened, but then, as the low hum of electricity filled
the echoing cavern, several well placed, but dim lights flared to life, with
only a few exploding with loud popping sounds in protest.

"That should do it," Miranda said quietly as the cavern was filled with an
eerie, yet almost natural looking light, revealing its expansive sand covered
floor, and high vaulted ceiling that could have contained Miranda's entire
house.

"It's huge!" commented Misty, her voice echoing loudly as she walked deeper into
the cave, suddenly noticing the peculiar patterns in sand. The trails of
footprints that staggered about, the long stretch where the sand parted, blown
to either side, reviling the stone floor beneath. The splatterings of dried
blood that still clung darkly and ominously to the sand, the peculiar patch
where it had been turned to glass, "Oh... Oh, Miri!"

Miranda didn't hear her, the courier's senses felt clouded as a numbness
suddenly overcame her and she slumped to her knees, her vision blurring with
tears. "I- I can see it..." she choked, not really feeling Misty's arms around
her, nearly unaware of her beloved's suddenly worried tone, "I can see it all
now. The patterns of their footprints. The broken egg shells. Those little holes
in the far wall... All the blood. I can see it here, Misty. I can see how it all
happened..."

***

The sun was setting as they stood at the top of the stairs, their arms about
each other, watching the sky change from blue to a combination of orange and
violet on the horizon. "It won't be long now," said Vivian, sighing heavily as
her head rested against her husband's chest, her eyes tracking the movements of
a distant flock of sea birds.

The tall man smiled, hugging his beloved a little closer at the thought of the
controlled chaos of a half dozen new born dratini's slithering about the cavern
below, driving their parents crazy yet again.

"It'll be a learning experience for Miri, I suppose," Nicholas said
thoughtfully, "If she wants to carry on after us, she'd best learn everything
she can about dragons."

Vivian glanced up at her husband, smiling mysteriously. "Oh?" she inquired, her
tone sounding slightly disappointed, "I thought you were planning on living
forever? I know I am."

Laughter had always come easily to her husband, and now was no exception. "I
would," he said at last, leaning in closer so that their lips almost touched,
"But I have this horrible feeling that eternity isn't long enough to show you
how much I love you."

Vivian sighed contentedly, giving him a gentle kiss. "We'll see then, now won't
we?" she chuckled, taking her husband's hand and beginning to lead him away.

"Viv, wait!" Nicholas whispered, his voice loosing all levity as the woman
turned around to face him, her long dark hair spinning about her as she magenta
eyes went from joyful to serious.

"What is it?" she inquired suspiciously as her husband closed his eyes and
listened carefully, trying to hear something over the sound of the sea as the
tide came in.

Nicholas raised his index finger to signal that he needed a moment, but the
noise that met both their ears needed no concentration to be heard. The shrill
tones of bellowed warnings suddenly echoed from the cavern below them, sending
unpleasant chills down their spines.

"Undine!" Vivian exclaimed, letting go of Nicholas's hand and sprinting over to
where they'd parked the car before hitting the concealed latch that would spring
the trunk open.

"Hold on!" her husband called as loud as he could, leaning over the guardrail
and bellowing for all he was worth, only to have his call be answered by a loud
angry sound.

"They're in trouble!" he called back to Vivian as she ran up to him, his cloudy
gray eyes full of panic, "They need us!"

"I know," replied Vivian, trying to both remain in control and sound reassuring
as she checked the sword she'd grabbed from the trunk, "Now let's go!"

Nicholas nodded, feeling half helpless as he followed his wife down the rickety
wooden steps two at a time.

But as they neared the walkway, with the rising tide only a meter or so below
it, a raised human voice rang out as a warning to others. "They're here!" it
shouted, just before a peculiar rush of air sound filled their ears, and a
silvery blur raced towards them.

"Nicholas!" exclaimed Vivian, turning on her heel without thinking as she
grabbed her oncoming husband and threw them both off the staircase towards the
ocean below.

He had little time to argue, for as they fell, the staircase behind them
exploded into splinters along with a portion of the cliff face. "I missed!" the
voice called again as the Lilcamps hit the water and struggled against the
rising water back toward the walkway.

"Hold on!" sputtered Vivian, as they treaded the icy cold water and waited for a
large enough wave.

"Viv!" exclaimed Nicholas, grabbing wife's hand and pulling her out of the way
just as something tore a hole through the walkway with something that splashed
down near where her head had been, "Gun!"

Vivian cursed under her breath, pulling Nicholas under the walkway as the sound
of the assailant's booted feet stomped above them and the loud click of his
revolver sounded once more.

They both jumped involuntarily as the gun fired, ripping a second hole in the
wood, and ricocheting off the rocky wall. "That's two..." Vivian muttered under
her voice as they swam away from their current position and waited.

"Three..." she muttered nervously as a bullet hit the water two meters away and
Nicholas pulled a pokeball from his coat pocket. "Nick!" she whispered harshly,
"What are doing?!"

"Shh..." he cautioned, certain that his plan would work before whipping the ball
as hard as he could, sending it hurtling through the air to where it hit for
what was them, the roof.

Instantly, the assailant fired his gun, thrice.

"Come on..." Nicholas muttered through gritted teeth, the cold salt water
causing him to shiver as he hoped his aim was true.

But as the ball hit the water, he realized that luck was on his side. With a
click, it sprang open, sending its crimson wave of light straight up, through
the openings between the wooden slats before rematerializing its occupant.

"Treant!" Nicholas exclaimed, "he's trying to kill us!"

"What the heck is that-?!" the assailant exclaimed as the sound of a speed
loader clicked above them, followed by repeated gunfire and the shrill shrieking
of a victreebel.

"He's a plant, he'll be fine!" assured Nicholas as he and Vivian swam further
out to catch the large wave that was even now barreling towards them.

The sounds of gunfire were suddenly cut short by a man's panicked screams,
suddenly silenced before being thrown over the edge some distance away. As the
wave caught them, Nicholas noticed the way the man in the dark three-piece suit
and dark sunglasses' body seemed dangerously emaciated and pale. The pained
expression on his face making him seem forty years older, and the near complete
lack of colour to his skin and hair made Nicholas question whether he was even
still alive.

Treant turned as the huge wave washed up behind him, awkwardly depositing the
two humans, and shrieked a warning, all eight of his tendrils flailing
dangerously, hungry for a fresh victim.

"It's just us!" his trainer called, eliciting a happy cry from the plant as he
bounded over to the two humans and hugged them both with his vines.

"We don't have time for this!" growled Vivian, her attention focused on the
dragon's cave.

"Get help!" ordered Nicholas, "Get Frank! Get Laurna!"

The carnivorous pitcher-shaped plant nodded a confirmation, quickly letting the
two humans go before attaching himself to the rock wall and climbing swiftly
upwards using his tendrils like strong arms.

"Let's go!" replied Vivian, not waiting for back up as she drew her long, metal
blade and ran full out towards the cavern.

Nicholas's eyes went wide for a moment as adrenaline filtered through his system
when he realized that his wife had every intention of using the weapon. It
wasn't simply the metal reinforced, sturdy wooden swords their couriers carried.
It was an actual sword. A double-edged blade, forged from the mithril mined from
the Lavender Mountains, meant for slaying Vivian's enemies, not simply stunning
them into submission.

Just ahead of him, Vivian gripped the hilt of her sword a little tighter as she
skidded to a halt and stared down the length of the short tunnel that lead to
where they're dragons nested. To her surprise and intense anger, she could see
three figures moving about the room. Two were distracting the dragons, moving
about with what must have been well practiced leaps and dodges as Selece and
Undine filled the room with focused bursts of searing flames. All the while, the
third had succeeded in reaching the eggs, and was carefully loading them into a
large metal crate.

"How dare you?!" exclaimed Vivian, rushing into the room without a second
thought, running straight towards the thin woman in the dark suit who was
quickly stealing the dragonite's eggs.

"Don't even think about it!" the woman laughed, her dark eyes gleaming with
malevolence as she picked up a peculiar looking rifle with a wide nozzle and a
huge metal canister atop it, pointing it at the clutch of eggs.

Vivian cursed angrily, stopping in her tracks as a jet of liquid nitrogen flew
past her, followed by a scream of pain from her dragonite. "Undine!" the woman
exclaimed as she stared in horror at her wounded pokemon, "Don't move!"

"Not a bad shot, if I do say so myself!" laughed the tall, handsome man who'd
fired the blast as Selece angrily transposed himself between the human and
Undine, his jaw clenched as flames licked at his bared razor sharp teeth.

"It'll be your last!" promised Vivian running towards the gunman and only half
hearing her husband's exclamation as he tackled the third thief to the ground
from behind.

"It's the-! The eggs!" called Nicholas, quickly realizing that what he thought
was simply an extremely short human, was actually a machop dressed in an Armani
suit, "They won't use their big techniques because of-!"

Nicholas's words were suddenly cut off as the wiry reptile beneath him laughed
and somehow managed to propel them both backwards off the ground, causing the
human to land on his back before flipping over and grabbing Nicholas by the
face.

"I-! Ah-!" he stammered, trying to bite the creature's scaly hand, distracting
the machop long enough to take twin handfuls of sand and throw them into the
pokemon's eyes.

Vivian heard the machop shriek in pain as she took a double-handed swing at the
muscular grinning man with the ice-thrower. The weapon made a satisfying -
clunk!- as her sword cut it in half when he tried to parry with it, sending a
spray of liquid nitrogen into the air.

She then heard a string of curses as she leaped out of the way while the man
threw down the weapon and shielded his face. "How do you like it?!" Vivian
exclaimed, coming to her feet as Selece took to the air and swooped forward,
hissing angrily and preparing to add to the list of casualties.

"Victor!" the haggard-looking woman with the eggs screamed as she snapped the
lid shut on the crate, a look of sudden panic crossing her face as the gigantic
blur that was Selece chomped down hard on the man's right arm before coming to
an sudden and abrupt halt the way only a dragonite in flight could.

Victor staggered backwards, collapsing on the ground and holding the stump of
his arm. "Oh man," he muttered, "this is REALLY going to hurt in the morning!"

"Now as for you!" Vivian exclaimed angrily, both her and Selece turning towards
the woman with angry glares.

"Hm. Not so fast, missy," the woman chuckled, pointing her index finger subtly
in Victor's direction.

It was with the utmost of astonishment that Vivian turned to victor and saw not
a wounded man quickly bleeding to death on the sandy floor, but a wounded man
who was calmly watching as a new hand sprouted from the stump the dragon's bite
had left.

"Neat trick, eh?" he said with a wide grin, before punching Vivian as hard as he
could in the jaw with his off hand...

Nicholas meanwhile, managed to throw off the machop, and had barely managed to
struggle to his feet before the creature had kippupped and began racing blindly
towards him once again.

"You don't give up easily, do you?!" commented Nicholas rhetorically, turning
and running towards his wife's dragonite. "Undine!" he called out, noting the
frozen wing and gritting his teeth angrily, "I need a hand!"

The dragonite nodded, the pained expression upon her face becoming one of anger
despite the tears in her sharp of her crimson glowing eyes as she inhaled
sharply through her nostrils and expelled a sudden volt of electricity from the
end of her open snout that arched over Nicholas's head before catching the
machop in the chest.

The bipedal reptile didn't have a chance to dodge. The blast of electricity that
caught him flowed through his body for several moments as it ground itself out,
turning the sand around him to glass before sending the scaly lizard flying
backwards through the air.

"Way to go, babe!" Nicholas laughed, stopping himself a few feet away from the
dragonite as she growled at the still conscious machop, "Now finish him off...!"

Vivian, meanwhile, staggered back. The blow she'd received nearly knocking her
jaw out of alignment as she staggered back and instinctively touched the wound.
"Oh yeah?" she growled with a bit of a laugh, noting the blood upon her fingers,
"Then try regenerating from this!"

The woman took an angry one-handed swing with her sword, fully intending to lop
the man's head from his shoulders, only to have him leap into the air, his legs
kicking forward as the sword caught him across the stomach.

Victor made an unpleasant gurgling sound as his kick missed his opponent
completely and he crumpled to the ground. "Uhg," he replied, holding in several
vital organs as Vivian turned her attention to the woman, "This'll take a
while...! Ow! Kathy? A little help here!"

"Oh, you'll be fine!" laughed Kathy with a casual almost callous tone; already
wielding her ice-thrower, "Just give it a few minutes, dear."

"So?" inquired Vivian, spitting out one of her teeth, "Can I see if you
regenerate too?"

Kathy glanced at the woman and the snarling dragonite beside her with a
confident grin. "Unfortunately, I don't," she assured them, glancing past Vivian
to the open doorway, "Victor may have been a successful experiment, but seeing
as 99% of the test subjects died, I'm not about to try the FEV serum out on
myself. Besides, our ride's here!"

From the doorway, a sudden burst of peculiar sounding gunfire filled the room,
followed by a second scream from Undine and Nicholas's panicked exclamation.

Vivian turned around in time to see several more people in dark suits, wielding
strangely modified Tommy guns running into the cavern, firing shards of high
velocity ice at Undine.

"Selece!" Nicholas exclaimed angrily as he ran across the sand expanse, covering
his head as he ran forward amongst the strange gunfire, "Protect Undine! Fire
ball them into oblivion if you have to!"

Vivian glanced at her husband in sudden shock. She'd seen him angry only once in
her life, and that had been protecting her. Now his anger had returned, not only
to save her life, but the lives of their dragonites and their unhatched children
as well.

Without hesitation, his dragonite turned around, stomping the ground angrily as
he moved to face the attackers. With a growling roar, he let loose with a jet of
flame that crossed the room before exploding in mid-air in front of the oncoming
assailants.

There was a collective scream as the small group of dark suited men flew in all
direction, their bodies scorched by the flames. Selece then bellowed in
challenge at them as he lifted off the ground again, his seemingly small wings
twitching slightly to achieve the effect before flying towards the survivors at
his maximum velocity.

"Viv!" exclaimed Nicholas, immediately throwing himself to the ground and
blocking his ears, as the huge dragon once more became a blur.

His wife needed no further prompting, without hesitation she followed suit and
was pleased to see the baffled look upon Kathy's face as the unexpected sonic
boom shook the entire cavern.

The deafening thunder was quickly followed by a wall of sand that blinded
everyone, and those that could still hear vaguely heard the sound of Selece
extracting a terrible vengeance on anyone he could find in the cloud of dust and
smoke.

"Vivian!" came Nicholas's voice through the haze a short time later.

"Nick?" she called back, coughing and casting her free arm about to dispel the
dust, "Where are you?"

"Over here-!" he tried to reply, his voice suddenly becoming a terrible gurgling
sound, followed by a dull thud.

"Nicholas!" Vivian exclaimed, rushing forward, ready to cut anyone who got in
the way in half.

"Machop!" came an angry exclamation from behind her, causing Vivian to turn in
mid-stride, intent on running the annoying reptile through.

Instead however, she felt something impact hard against her back. There was a
sickening -crack!- the woman was flung forward, landing face first in the sand
as a blinding pain flooded her senses and Vivian felt as though her spine was on
fire, and a thousand searing pins were driven into her vertebrae.

"Victor!" she half heard Kathy shout over the renewed sound of gunfire and
Selece's angry retorts. "Help me with the eggs!"

"No..." gasped Vivian, struggling just to open her eyes and catching a blurry
glimpse of Victor hauling the crate into the air above his head like it was
nothing.

"Maaa..." commented the machop as his scaly feet suddenly stomped down, blocking
Vivian's view.

"Forget it, Tashiro!" came Kathy's angrily shouted order. "Help them with the
dragonites! They're tougher than we anticipated!"

The scaly pokemon glanced at his trainer with an angry glare for spoiling his
fun, but quickly raced off nonetheless, allowing Vivian a glimpse of what she
desperately hoped wasn't her husband.

Lying not far away was Nicholas. He too had been struck from behind, only as he
lie there, his body shaking every so often from the exertion of breathing, a
long bladed dagger sprouted from his back.

"No..." whispered Vivian, unable raise her voice over the pain that flooded her
mind, "Nicholas, my love... No..."

Somewhere behind her, she half heard Kathy curse as an explosion rocked the cave
and Selece bellow angrily in sudden deep sorrow. "You fool!" the woman yelled
angrily at her minions, "You've killed the female! We needed that one most of
all-! Noooo!"

Kathy's words were cut short, as the sound of grinding metal filled the air,
followed by Selece's cry of anguish as he stomped down hard upon the crate that
held the eggs rather than let the human thieves take them.

Vivian smiled in spite of the pain as she reached her hand out towards her
fallen husband. "You... You won't have them," she managed mutter in grim
satisfaction, her fingers digging into the sand before pulling herself a painful
inch closer to Nicholas.

"You monster!" exclaimed Kathy, ignoring the man beside her who suddenly found
Selece's clawed foot propelling him backwards out the cavern entrance, "How dare
you destroy those eggs?!"

Selece pivoted his head, glaring down at the woman with eyes that burned with
the red and orange of anger. "We needed those!" Kathy continued, stomping her
foot as several men in dark suits ran past her with a huge net, intent on
encircling the dragonite, "But now, now that your master is dead, I own you! Do
you understand, you dumb beast?!"

The dragonite merely snarled his reply before expelling another jet of flame
down towards Kathy, only to have it met half way by a blast of liquid nitrogen.
"Obey me, monster!" the woman yelled angrily, "You are MY pokemon now! You are
MY dragonite! Do you understand me?!"

Selece bellowed out a defiant response, bracing himself as his relatively small
wings flipped backward before flapping once, sending a hurricane force blast of
wind forwards.

Kathy shrieked as she and her minions were all but blown out of the cave, and
Selece's fire melted the sand where she had been before the enraged dragonite
flew forward after them, still hungry for vengeance even as his last victim's
tattered remnants hung wedged between his darkly stained teeth. Once outside,
however, Vivian could hear Kathy's voice give one last terrible order.

"Fine!" the woman yelled, ignoring the protests of her minions, "If he won't
listen to me, then take him down!"

Vivian closed here eyes, gritting her teeth and clenching fists as she heard
Selece's dying screams amidst of the cacophony of automatic weapons fire and
explosions.

"You- You'll pay for this..." she promised, barely hearing the soft words spoken
to her from several meters away.

"Viv... Vivian..." came her husband's pained voice.

Even as she opened her eyes again, Vivian could hear him crying. Not from the
physical pain he felt, but because he'd failed Selece. "Nick..." his wife called
out weakly as the sound of motorboats signaled that the surviving attackers were
cutting their losses and fleeing before help arrived.

Nicholas looked up, his gray eyes full of tears, and smiled at his beloved
weakly. "Viv?" he asked, trying unsuccessfully not to sound sad, "Are we... Are
we still going to live forever?"

"Shh, don't- Don't try to talk," Vivian replied, gritting her teeth and
desperately pushing down the pain as she reached out with both hands to drag
herself across the ground towards him, "Just- Ow! Lie still..."

All she could hear now was the sound of the man's ragged breathing as it began
to slow, giving Vivian the desperate strength she needed to continue as the pain
along her spine grew worse.

"Viv..." came his quite reply once more as Nicholas lifted his head and watched
Vivian drag herself forward, painfully making her spinal injuries worse as she
did so in a desperate attempt to reach him, to hold him one last time, "Please.
Don't move..."

"No!" she cried defiantly, the pain focusing her mind as Vivian gritted her
teeth and forced herself to cover the remaining distance more quickly before
collapsing once again, "I... I love you too much..."

Vivian closed her eyes, about ready to accept defeat when she felt the light
touch of her beloved's fingers upon her hand. "Vivian," he called out weakly,
causing the woman to look up in time to see Nicholas looking back at her
adoringly, "I- I love you too..."

"I said don't talk," she whispered back, smiling sadly through clenched teeth as
tears burned in her eyes, "Don't you ever listen?"

"Never," he chuckled, only to have his reply cut short by a coughing fit that
made his wife's heart nearly break. "Vivian," he said at last, the gleam in his
cloudy grey eyes fading, "Promise... Promise me something."

Vivian held his gaze for a moment; half noticing as the pain in her lower back
began to be replaced by a dull numbness. "Anything," she promised sincerely,
"Anything, my love!"

Nicholas smiled at her one last time and said, "Please. Please just be happy,
Vivian... That's all that ask of you, my love..."

"No!" Vivian pleaded, dragging herself further towards him and shaking his
suddenly lifeless shoulder, "Nicholas, no! Don't you dare die on me..."

Vivian dropped her head onto the sand, crying as she stared numbly at her
husband, listening dispassionately to the sound of approaching footsteps. "Very
well, my love," she whispered as she heard her sister's startled cry from across
the cavern followed Frank's sudden angry exclamation, "I shall do as you ask...
farewell, my dearest love..."

***

Miranda opened her eyes, looking out at the blurry image of the empty cavern
with its peculiar blend of footprints and scorch marks. For a moment, she felt
numb all over. But soon the feeling of her tears on her face and Misty's arms
around her brought the courier back to reality.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, leaning into her beloved's embrace, "I- I just
didn't know how bad this place really was..."

"No, it's alright," replied Misty, her quiet voice soothing as she ran her
fingers affectionately through Miranda's hair to calm her, "You've been carrying
a lot of tears around for a long time, and eventually you had to let them go.
Don't worry, worry, Miri. I'm here for you."

Miranda nodded slowly, wishing her stomach would stop tying itself in knots.
"Tha-thank you," she breathed, feeling as though all the moisture in her entire
body had leaked out her eyes, "I- I guess that I wasn't as prepared for this as
I'd thought. I haven't been here since before the incident, and I thought I
could handle it. Oh well. I guess not..."

"You handled it as well as anyone could have expected you to," Misty replied,
her fingers slipping under Miranda's chin to turn her head to make eye contact,
"I don't expect you to be a rock. I knew when we came to Lavender that you'd get
a little upset now and then. It's okay. You wouldn't be human otherwise."

The courier smiled weakly. "Thank you," she said, struggling to her feet as
Misty handed her back her glasses, "But what do you say we try and spend the
rest of today happy? I think I've had enough sadness for one lifetime."

"That's what I'm here for," chuckled Misty, her arm linking through Miranda's.

"To make me sad, or make me happy?" Miranda teased, wiping her eyes clear before
donning her glasses.

"To make you as miserable as humanly possible!" Mist laughed, nearly falling
over as Miranda flung her arms about her, laughing as well.

"Oh good," continued Miranda, her mood brightening, "I could use some misery,
I've had far too much of this 'love and happiness' business!"

"Alright then," chuckled Misty, winding her way out of her lover's embrace and
taking the courier's hand, "Let's go shop for some unhappy flour, and miserable
eggs, and um... I think Bob said he needed tomatoes?"

"Are they angst-ridden tomatoes?"

Misty gave her beloved a bemused look, trying for a moment to think of a
suitable response, but quickly gave up. "That's it, let's go!" she ordered,
grabbing Miranda by both hands and all but dragging her out of the cavern as the
courier's laughter echoed off the vaulted ceiling...
Chapter VIII "Vegetables With Issues..."

The market square was located near the where the land sloped downward towards
the ocean at a somewhat abrupt angle. Not far beyond the dozens of small stalls
set up by merchants were the docks, visible mainly due to the tall masts of the
sailing vessels that went out daily to harvest fish from the sea, and above the
noise of venders attempting to harvest credits from tourists, the sound of an
approaching plane could be heard.

"I can't believe that thing still flies," sighed Miranda, shielding her eyes
from the pale yellow orb of the sun and trying to make out the logo on the side
of the plane as it tipped from side to side in its all too fast descent.

"It must be older than Joshua," chuckled Misty as the plane circled overhead,
its propeller smoking dangerously as it prepared to make a water landing on
pontoons that didn't seem seaworthy.

"Not much else is," agreed Miranda with equal mirth as a group of people ran by
with fire extinguishers, heading down the long slope to the pier, "Still, it's
the fastest way to get anything to Porta Vista, I suppose."

"I've been there," her lover commented, suddenly very interested in the little
candy skulls one of the venders was selling, "Nice place so long as you avoid
the reef."

"So it is true then?"

"The giant tentacruel? Yup. It's true," Misty chuckled as Miranda got the
salesman's attention and paid for a handful of the bizarre candies.

"Hm. Strawberry," she commented, popping one into her mouth and offering a few
to Misty, "Anyway, I guess it's true what my aunt was saying last Halloween.
Apparently the Earth's ambient mana level's gone up 3% over the last five years
or so. It's supposed to cause all sorts of bizarre things to happen if it keeps
up, and I guess giant octopi would count."

"Err, pass," said Misty, cringing a little at the thought of actually having to
eat one of the multi-coloured, little grinning skulls, "But hey, since when do
Lav'Brats think something's strange?"

Miranda glanced at the top few floors of the Tower, visible as a dark looming
shape just over the low rooftops of the ramshackle buildings that all but
cluttered the street. "Okay I admit it," she conceded with a wry grin, ignoring
the peculiar red glow in one of the Tower's distant windows, "I'm a hypocrite.
But hey, I'm used to ghosts and dragons, and living next to a forest that people
don't go into at night. Gigantic tentacled monstrosities from the deep are your
department, dear."

"Hey!" laughed Misty as they navigated the maze of stalls, finally coming to the
area where the farmers sold their goods, "Lavender's closer to the ocean than
Cerulean City is. And I'll have you know that he's the only real sea monster
I've ever encountered."

"Just teasing, dear," assured Miranda, her tone thoughtful, "But as long as
we're on the topic, there's something I should really ask you in advance..."

The water-trainer took pause as she caught the pensive tone to Miranda's voice.
"Ask away, dear," said Misty, her tone going serious as they moved closer
together to allow an old woman with a whicker basket full of squawking birds
pass them on the narrow street with its light purple cobblestones.

"Well, it's about tomorrow night..." Miranda replied nervously yet willing
herself to hold her lover's gaze, "As I said, tonight Aunt Laurna's doing that
whole 'History Of Lavender' thing for the kids, but tomorrow she's doing a more
serious one for the adults. Now I know you don't like ghosts, so I'm not going
to ask you to accompany me, but I really enjoy the show she and Viper put on and
all, so-"

"Shh," chuckled Misty, placing her index finger over Miranda's lips, amused by
the nervous tone in lover's voice, "You worry too much. Look when we first met,
you told me that the League badges you have are just trinkets, pretty souvenirs
of your travels. You've no intention on challenging the League, yet you've
followed me to what...? Three gyms so far?"

"Four if you count Cerulean," added Miranda with a bit of a smirk, sliding her
arms around Misty's waist.

"Okay," the trainer agreed, returning the embrace, "Four. That's pretty good for
Miss 'I don't take this seriously the way some people do'. So basically, you've
done this all for me. And, well, I think it's my turn to do something that's
just for you. You want to go to the thing tomorrow night, then I'm coming too.
You'd just better promise me that you'll hold my hand the entire time!"

Miranda sighed heavily, half wondering how many times it was possible to fall in
love with the same person. "Well then," she promised melodramatically, "on that
night, the only force upon this Earth that could possibly hope pry my hand from
yours would be your telling me to let go."

Misty sighed contentedly, half wondering how she survived so many unpleasant
years without Miranda's kind words. "You spoil me," she replied, smiling as
Miranda's arms held her a little closer.

"I'm just retuning a favor to a friend," the courier replied reminiscently, "To
make certain that all those I hold dear don't suffer from low self-esteem."

"That's an interesting promise. But I think I can live with it," said Misty
before adding teasingly, "So? Is there a story behind that? Or did you loose a
bet?"

"'I only gamble with my life'," Miranda quoted with a nervous laugh, "But no,
seriously, the first time I was in Celadon City, and I had a delivery to the gym
there. And back then, I wasn't quite the person I am now, but Erika helped me
out a bit. A couple of her students even managed to get the tangles out of my
hair..."

"Really?!" inquired Misty with a tone of false astonishment as she pushed
Miranda back a bit before staring up at her mock amazement, "Wow... They must
have had carpel tunnel syndrome for weeks afterwards!"

"Hey!" laughed Miranda, pulling a lock of her dark hair down between her eyes
and staring at it, "It's not that bad is it?"

"I know," her lover chuckled, reaching up with both hands to ruffle the
courier's hair, which had a life of its own on a good day, "Just making sure you
don't get too conceited with all that self-esteem you picked up before you met
me."

"Hm, I think your right," Miranda replied in mock worry, at last turning to see
which vender had the best prices on the ingredients they needed to pick up,
"With someone as wonderful as you in my life, I'll probably be an ego-maniac by
the time I'm twenty-five!"

"No... I think one of those in my life is quite enough," laughed Misty, taking
Miranda's hand, as much for comfort as to not get separated.

Her lover nodded in agreement, deciding that it was better to not have that
conversation due to an old Lavender Town superstition. "To speak the name is to
invoke the power."

"So do you think these tomatoes look angsty enough?" she asked instead, picking
up one from a large display of varied produce, "Or is simply sullen and morose?"

"Actually, I think that they're just kinda depressed," the merchant commented
with a bored shrug, accepting the handful of plastic credit coins Miranda handed
him without further comment.

"I keep forgetting this is Lavender Town," replied Misty as they walked away and
headed directly towards the stall that held stacks of small wooden cages
containing a few dozen clucking mundane chickens, "People just accept weird
stuff, don't they?"

Miranda nodded. "You either learn to ignore it or like it," she replied in a
tone that was both happy and sad, "Sure, some people leave and never look back
once they're done school, but most of us Lav'Brats never completely leave home."

An old woman with one milky white eye glanced up at them and smiled with a
toothless grin as they approached. "Bob's making something special, I hear, eh,"
she cackled, setting down the enormously long, multicoloured scarf she was
knitting as she spoke.

"Yes, ma'am," replied Miranda with a nod, "we're just getting a few things for
him."

The old woman glanced at the two of them and chuckled as she indicated a small
stack of sturdy, yet mismatched egg cartons imported from elsewhere. "Well, just
be sure to return the container when you're done," she said simply, without
asking for payment, "Those aren't easy to come by, ya know!"

"I'll be sure to bring you a few next time I'm through here," said Miranda in
amusement as she chose a carton of twelve brown eggs, "And thanks!"

"If I'm alive to see you again!" the old woman laughed, going back to her
project as the stepped back into the flow of people.

"One of your relatives?" inquired Misty once they were out of earshot.

Miranda shook her head. "Nope, she's just the owner of that farm we saw on the
way into town," the courier explained, standing on her toes in an attempt to
find their third and final destination, "She was probably at the Council meeting
with mom this morning..."

Miranda's words trailed off for a moment as a sudden thought struck her. "Hey, I
wonder if Uncle Frank's transfer makes him Lavender's highest ranking Pokeforce
officer?" she mused, recalling that the town's previous police chief was
planning on retiring.

"Gee, I guess he'll have to change his name to Jenny," commented Misty,
receiving an amused yet alarmed look from Miranda.

"You know we don't actually have one of 'those'."

"No? Really?"

"Never did," replied Miranda with a noncommittal shrug, "I guess there's only so
many to go around or something. And Lavender's so small; that the most we've
ever had was three cops. Wow, if he is the highest ranking of the three, that
means he has a seat on the Council... Poor mom!"

"Poor Lavender Town," added Misty with a chuckle as they found a booth that sold
large burlap sacks of flour, "It'll never be the same."

Miranda nodded in agreement, smiling reminiscently as she handed her lover her
burden and hefted a bag of flour onto her shoulder after purchasing it. "Well,
he's from here so I don't think he'd do anything really bad," the courier said
thoughtfully, "Besides, if he tries anything funny the rest of the Council can
just out vote him. Or if he really does something stupid, say like NOT marry my
Aunt Laurna, I'm sure that between her and my mom they can convince the rest of
the Council to vote him out of town."

"You're not going to let him live that down, are you?"

"Not a chance," said Miranda in a serious tone as they headed for home, "it took
them forever to admit they liked each other in the first place, and then when
she finally has to propose to HIM, he panics and leaves town!"

"After meeting your mom, I'm actually surprised that he came back," Misty added.

"I'm surprised he's allowed back in the house," agreed Miranda, finding it hard
to stay mad at her favorite 'almost' uncle, despite his faults, "But I suppose
Aunt Laurna had a hand in that. I mean, if it wasn't for him, she'd probably be
one of those strange old women who lives alone in a big house full of meowths!"

Her lover cringed at the thought before adding, "Well, he does have a way of
getting other people caught up in his craziness."

Miranda nodded in amusement. "Yeah, so I can't fault him for that," she
explained, "My dad helped my mom, and Frank helped Laurna. In a way I suppose it
worked out reasonably well."

"And you've helped me," added Misty as the crowds began to thin once they
reached the main street, "And now I'm helping you. Must be a Lavender Town
tradition or something."

"I can deal with that," commented Miranda, setting down the burlap sack and
rubbing her shoulder, "But carrying this thing another four blocks, I can't."

"Want some help?"

"That's the idea," Miranda replied, snapping her fingers dramatically as she
flicked her wrist, somehow causing a small gray and black ball to appear in the
palm of her hand, "I just hope he can contain his excitement..."

Misty took a step back as the ball expanded in the courier's hand and
immediately popped open. For some reason, however, the ball didn't activate as
it should have, instead the pokemon inside rose up from the interior as a dark
fog that congealed to form Wraith.

"Haaa!" laughed the haunter in happy excitement, flinging his hands wide as he
turned to face the Tower.

"Not so fast, mister!" came Miranda's stern maternal tone, "You can play with
your friends after, right now you're the only one here with telekinesis, so I
need your help. Okay?"

Wraith turned to his trainer with a sad look, inflating the lower half of his
face to resemble a hugely pouting lip, but only succeeding in making the woman
laugh. "Terr..." he agreed as Miranda lifted the heavy sack again and the ghost
lightened the load with a small portion of his mental might.

"That's better," commented Miranda, smiling happily at the haunter, "Thanks
Wraith."

The haunter grinned toothily as Misty gave him a thoughtful look. "Do you
suppose he was a psychic type when he was alive?" she pondered, trying not to
react as Wraith popped out one eye and began playing with it like some kind of
morbid yo-yo.

"There's no way of knowing, really," Miranda replied, smiling inwardly as a
tourist dragged her child across the street by the arm, all the while the little
boy kicked and flailed in an attempt to run over and "pet the ghost", "Although
that's where the smart money is, I suppose. But don't ask me where his machine
affinity came from, though."

"Everyone needs a hobby," Misty chuckled as Wraith glanced at the little boy and
exclaimed something in pokespeak that made the mother scream and the boy laugh,
"What'd he say?"

Miranda shrugged. "Oh, something about 'Swallow your soul, swallow your soul.'"

"Again? He really needs a new catch phrase."

"You bet...!"

***

Bob ran out the kitchen the instant he heard the front door swing open, a huge
mixing bowl tucked under one arm as he frantically stirred the contents.
"Miranda!" he exclaimed in a rapid tone as the silhouette of his stepdaughter
appeared in the doorway, "You guys are just in time! I really need to get
started on supper, and I still have all these cookies to make to hand out to the
kids in a couple of days, and I-! Ah! Miranda Lilcamp, please tell me that's
YOUR haunter!"

"Um, yeah," Miranda replied quizzically as the door to her mother's office swung
open automatically and Vivian rolled out into the hall to see what the fuss was
about, "His name's Wraith. I thought you'd met him?"

"That was a year ago, dear," corrected Vivian with a partially amused smirk as
she caught Wraith's eye, "Back when he was a gastly."

The ghost tried his best to grin innocently as he floated off the sack of flour
and moved closer. "How to see that you've evolved," said Vivian in a dry tone as
the haunter neared, the fingers of his three fingered hands flexing as he
chuckled to himself.

"Um, what's he doing?" stammered Bob, making sure not to turn his back to the
ghost.

"He's going to spend the rest of All Hallows Eve in a pokeball is what he's
doing," his wife replied in a calm, yet authoritative tone as the haunter's
disembodied hands floated towards her bosom, still clenching and unclenching.

"That's enough, Wraith," warned Miranda, causing the pokemon to stop and turn
back to her with a sad look, "Mom already knows you have hands, and she doesn't
need you to embarrass her to prove it."

Misty couldn't help but laugh as the ghost made a long face. Literally. And
floated back to Miranda, who scratched him atop the head until his smile
returned. "Now look, Wraith," his trainer told him, her maternal tone making her
sound a bit like her mother, only less uncompromising, "You were a big help in
getting the groceries home, so why don't you go off and play with your friends
for now. Just be back by morning, I don't want some tourist trying to catch
you!"

The haunter's hands clasped together in delight as a wide grin spread across his
dark face and his eyes seemed to vibrate as though they were loose in their
sockets, "Haunt?" he inquired hopefully, moving so close to Miranda's face that
she could see the vague swirling of the dark ephemera that comprised Wraith.

"Really, I-!" the courier assured, only to be cut off guard as Wraith's hands
slapped down over her ears as the haunter moved so far forward that he phased
partway through Miranda's head. This was followed by a strange parody of what
was intended to be a sarcastic kissing sound and Wraith flying up through the
ceiling, leaving Miranda's face covered in a nearly transparent green film of
sticky ectoplasm.

"Be sure to clean up before dinner, dear," commented Vivian in a neutral tone as
her daughter breathed through her mouth and set down her burden before wiping
the goo from her eyes, and wheeled back into her office.

"Remind me to avoid catching a ghost," giggled Misty, taking the towel Bob
offered and using it to help clean the ectoplasm off Miranda's face.

"It's a little late for me, I'm afraid," commented Miranda, smiling despite her
situation as Bob looked on worriedly.

"Are you sure that stuff's safe?" he inquired, shaking his head in dismay as
Miranda tried to remove the goop from her hair, "I mean, it doesn't look very
pleasant."

"Oh it's fine," his stepdaughter assured him, handing back the towel, "What a
quick shower won't take care of'll dissolve on its own in an hour or so."

Bob sighed in dismay as he led them into the kitchen to relieve the two of their
burdens. "Well, I guess that's okay for you then," he said thoughtfully, "You
tow have a few hours to waste, but I, unfortunately, don't.

"So clear out while the master chef creates his masterpiece?" inquired Miranda
little sarcastically, causing Bob to grin, nodding in agreement, "Okay, we can
take a hint. We'll be upstairs if you need us."

"Alright," called Bob as the two headed down the hall and up the thinly carpeted
staircase, "I'll give you a shout when the other guests arrive!"

"You know," commented Misty, observing the pictures that lined the wall of the
steep incline, "Those two don't seem that much alike. But it's good to see they
can get along in their own way."

"Mom's just stressed out," said Miranda with a shrug, as they reached the
landing and she lead them to her bedroom, "It's like this every year. I wouldn't
worry too much about it. Ah, here we are."

"I suppose," her lover pondered as Miranda swung the dark wooden door inward and
rushed inside to open the window, "But it's a shame you two don't get along
better."

Miranda took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she leaned against the
windowsill, enjoying the breeze that cleared out the stale air. "We've never
really 'talked'," she confessed as Misty swung the door closed with the back of
her foot, "Mom's not exactly approachable, so it was always my dad I spoke to
about my problems and my thoughts in general. Don't worry, dear, we DO actually
get along."

Misty nodded, feeling a tinge of envy as she noticed that Miranda's room was at
least three times the size of the one she had back in Cerulean, and sat heavily
upon the equally enviable bed.

"You don't, you don't blame her do you?" she inquired, glancing at the little
table in the far corner that held a large picture of Miranda's father,
surrounded by mostly burnt out candles with a few scraps of mostly burned paper
half lodged in the melted wax that threatened to reach the floor.

"Who? My mom?" Miranda inquired, walking over and sitting next to her lover and
looking up at their mutual reflection in the large mirror across from her,
"Whatever for?"

"For surviving, I guess," Misty replied with a shrug, her fingers intertwining
with Miranda's, "I dunno, it's a stupid question, sorry."

"No, it's reasonable," replied the courier, her voice sounding heavy as she fell
back onto her bed and stared up at the swirls in the plaster above their heads,
"But no, I don't. I suppose once I did, back when I was nine or ten. And for a
while I guess that I resented Uncle Frank and Aunt Laurna for not getting there
in time, but we all do stupid things we regret later when we're children. Did
you blame anyone when your parents died?"

"No, not exactly," Misty replied, flopping down beside her and finding the large
bed to be even more comfortable than the one she'd received as a gift that
Summer, "The wreck of the ship was never found, so there's no evidence other
than the storm that sprang up shortly before it vanished... Say, what's this?"

Misty glanced over at the nightstand and reached out for the little leather
bound book she found there, causing Miranda's eyes to widen. "I, uh, wouldn't
read that," the courier warned a little nervously as Misty read the title.

"The Seven Year Diary of Miranda Lydia Lilcamp," read the fancy silvery script
across the black cover.

"Why not?" Misty teased, turning her head to face Miranda's sullen expression
even as her right hand kept the little book of secrets suspended in the air, "I
never got to keep one, not with MY siblings, so I'd like to see what a real
diary looks like."

Miranda searched her lover's eyes for a moment. "You can read my father's if we
ever get the key," she confided, "But I'm afraid of what you'll think of my if I
let you read mine."

"I- I'm sorry," whispered Misty sadly, her arm dropping down heavily upon the
bed, "I shouldn't have-"

"No, it's alright, dear," Miranda assured her with a weak smile, the courier's
hand moving to run gentle fingers across her lover's face, "It's just that there
are things I've done in my life that I'm not particularly proud of. You see,
before I left home, I had one other serious relationship. I know that I've
mentioned it before, but that book has all the details. All my silly thoughts,
and all the dreams I thought were about to come true.

"I was so young and foolish, and he was only interested in inheriting a piece of
my family's business. That moron actually believed we had a hoards of credits
stashed away somewhere, never realizing just how much time, effort and resources
go into making this company work as well as it does. And there was me, ready to
believe anything, ready to do anything, all because I thought I was in love...
In love with someone incapable of loving me back..."

Misty rolled onto her side, her eyes filling with hot tears as she watched
Miranda for a moment, her lover simply staring at the ceiling forlornly. "I
understand, Miri," she whispered, moving to lay her head upon the courier's
chest and hold her as best she could, "I know what it's like to love someone and
receive nothing in return. I know what it's like to make all kinds of plans for
the future in my head, only to one day wake up and realize I'm just an
accessory. Nothing better than a piece of furniture..."

Miranda's arms went around her, and Misty could feel her lover's reassuring
fingers moving slowly through her hair. "I-I'm sorry if I'm butting in on your
bad memories," she said softly, almost feeling the small smile that crept across
the courier's lips, "I hope you don't think that's selfish."

"With all the joy and happiness you exude, how can I deny you a little misery?"
she chuckled, leaning up to kiss Misty on the forehead, "But look, if you want
to read it, you can. Just please know that the Miranda Lilcamp who wrote those
words isn't the Miranda Lilcamp you know today."

"No, I'd disagree," Misty replied, leaning up to look into Miranda's eyes as she
spoke, "I'd say you're the same Miri. Just one who's had to grow up a lot faster
than she wanted to, that's all."

"'Never grow up anymore than you absolutely have to,'" Miranda quoted as Misty
kissed her softly.

"That's what you're Aunt Laurna says," Misty chuckled, kissing her again, and
noticing the peculiar scent in her lover's hair for the first time.

"It's the ectoplasm," Miranda replied with a shrug, easily reading the trainer's
expression, "You can tell how bad a ghost is by the scent apparently."

"Wraith's smells a little like garlic," commented Misty, taking a bundle of
Miranda's hair and holding it against her nose as she inhaled.

"That's probably Bob's cooking downstairs," commented Miranda with a quiet
giggle, hating the way the old house seemed so soundproof, yet so unsmellproof,
"He's superstitious, you know."

"Poor guy, living here," agreed Misty with an amused smile, "But I'm sure that
Lavender'll fully assimilate him one day!"

"I hope so," Miranda agreed, wiping a tear from her eye and taking off her
glasses, "He's only been living here for the last six years. But I guess it just
takes some people longer to accept things like ghosts and monsters under the
bed, and the true horror of my cooking..."

"Hey, I'm getting used to Wraith," replied Misty in an amused defensive tone
before her mind reacted fully to Miranda's words, "Monsters under the bed?
You're kidding right?"

Miranda nodded, unable to keep from laughing. "That's what we tell tourists,"
she explained, "A few years back one of the fishermen got fined for selling
'Monster Under The Bed Repellant' on Halloween."

"Did it work?"

Miranda laughed. "You don't see any monsters, do you? But actually, a couple of
gastlies did show up in one case. Apparently it was just out of spite, though."

Misty laughed, half wondering what did lurk under people's beds in Lavender Town
besides dust bunnies. "Anyway," continued Miranda, glancing at her watch, "I
think it might be a good idea to get cleaned up while we still have time. I
can't promise a bathtub on a raised dais, though."

"Does it at least have those little clawed feat?" Misty inquired, feeling a bit
silly.

"You bet," her lover assured with equal levity.

"Oooh!" replied Misty in a teasingly sensuous tone, "I'm sooo there...!"

***

Vivian ended the vid-phone conversation with the irate customer and closed the
window on her computer before leaning back and rubbing her wary eyes.
"Cheapskate," she muttered to herself, "oh well, he'll be sorry come Winter when
caravan prices jump 20 percent."

With a wary sigh, the president and co-owner of the Lilcamp Trading Company put
the annoying little man out of her mind and began searching her computer's hard
drive for a familiar directory.

A moment later, Vivian had accessed her computerized photo album. It held
pictures of her daughter when she was younger, and had pictures of her and
Nicholas from as far back as their first week in Lavender Town. The photo that
Vivian stopped on, however, was a picture of Frank and her sister Laurna,
standing with their arms around each other near the bridge to Maiden's Peak.

It took Vivian a moment to recall the day it was taken, but she was sure it had
been her husband who'd done it. It was the same week that Nicholas had died, and
it was two weeks before Frank had run off into the night, not to be seen again
for so long that Vivian's anger at him for leaving her sister had actually had
time to fade.

"Why did you leave her?" the woman muttered rhetorically to the picture of a
younger Frank, "She loved you, and she needed you, and you just took off..."

Vivian leaned forward, examining the look in her sibling's eyes. The softness to
their magenta hue spoke of the woman's complete willingness to love Frank. And
the way that Laurna had once hung on Frank's every word, been enraptured by his
every passing thought, and laughed at all his dumb jokes made Vivian wonder what
had happened to the overly shy, half-scared most of the time little sister she
and Nicholas had brought here from Neon town.

She laughed a little, a quiet sound she seldom let others hear, for it was a sad
laughter. "How do you do it, little one?" Vivian asked the picture of her
sister, thinking momentarily of how Laurna and Frank had managed to patch things
up so quickly, even after his decade's long absence, "What power do you have to
just give yourself over to someone so completely...?"

Vivian took a deep breath, and covered her nose and mouth to muffle the sound
she made. For a moment, Vivian felt as though she were going to cry, but her
tears had been suspiciously absent since the death of her first husband.

"How do you do it?" she asked again, regretting her inability to completely open
up to those she loved the way so many other people in her life could. The way
her first love and husband always did, and the way their daughter could when she
put her mind to it.

"Am I really that empty inside?" pondered Vivian, finding that the solace she'd
hoped to find in the old pictures was a fleeting one.

"'Be happy, my love...'" she quoted sadly, a feeling of guilt creeping into her
as Vivian realized just how little she really connected with Nicholas. Even when
he'd poured out his heart and soul for her, she'd always been guarded, even when
she said she loved him, it always felt strange to say the words.

"Very well then, my love," whispered Vivian, hearing the pipes in the walls jump
as hot water was forced through them, "I shall start with our daughter. If
nothing else, from now on, I endeavor to be a better mother..."
Chapter IX "To Those Who Wait..."

As promised, the upstairs bathroom of the Lilcamp household held an old tub,
supported by the all too real looking feet of some monster the toes of which in
wicked looking talons that held the whole thing up rather than threatened anyone
with any physical harm.

The rest of the bathroom, however, was fairly normal by most people's standards,
and would have been considered Spartan by the standards of Misty's three
siblings. Most of the brightly lit, tiled floored room looked as it had since
the house was built, with the only renovations being the installation of an
overhead shower with curtain and the modifications necessary to make the room
usable by Vivian.

The water in the tub was pleasantly warm as the couple stepped into it before
sitting down and letting themselves sink into the liquids soothing embrace.

"This is nice," mused Misty, stretching out her legs to entwine them with
Miranda's as she relaxed, her face looking flushed from the heat.

"It's gone beyond that," added Miranda, feeling a smile cross her lips as she
rested her head against a rolled up towel she'd put on the edge of the tub for
that purpose, "But you know, this is the first real, actual bath I've had since
we hit Cerulean. Showers are fine and all, but I've missed being able to truly
immerse myself."

"And this time I'm here, so no one's going just barge in and try to seduce you,
now are they?" commented Misty teasingly, her toe running up Miranda's side in
an attempt to tickle her before breaking the surface.

Miranda's body twitched instinctively in response to the sudden playful attack.
"Goodness, I hope not!" she laughed, her arms moving to protect her sides.

"Hm. I guess anyone else would have to stand in line, or something," her lover
chuckled, glancing at the closed and locked door half-suspiciously, "Only one
person at a time is aloud to seduce MY Miranda, I'm afraid."

"And even then, it's a very short list," the woman added, leaning forward to
dunk her head and thoroughly wet the mass of now sweaty tangles she referred to
as her hair.

"You know what this is like?" pondered Misty as the courier came up for air,
pushing her dark twisting locks back over her shoulders.

"Like the first time we met?" inferred Miranda slyly.

"Yeah, like that time you took me to the hot springs. Remember that?"

"Oh! How could I forget!" laughed Miranda, leaning her head back again and
sighing reminiscently, "I thought I was going to die..."

"Seriously?" replied Misty with amusement.

Miranda nodded. "It took a great deal of willpower and listening to my
conscience not to take advantage of you that day..." she confessed, glancing
away and looking a little embarrassed by the admission.

"Too bad you didn't," her lover teased.

"Well, it's not like a part of me didn't want to," continued Miranda, glancing
up as she felt Misty's legs slide against her own, the warm soapy water causing
a particularly pleasant friction, "But for one thing, I'd lulled you to sleep.
Not my intention, by they way. And if you'd known the things that I wanted to do
that day, you'd probably would have dropped me like a stone..."

"Perhaps," Misty pondered for a moment before sliding forward, "but if I knew
you then as well as I know you now, then no, I wouldn't have."

Miranda smiled as Misty turned herself around in the spacious bathtub and
carefully slid into Miranda's lap. "Was it like this?" she inquired, leaning
back just enough to touch Miranda's breasts and purposely shuffling a bit to
tease the woman before leaning back the rest of the way, "With your arms around
me, and I, thinking of nothing but how nice, and sweet you were to help out a
stranger in distress, so oblivious to your dark designs?"

For a moment, Miranda felt a little guilty, but as Misty leaned her head back
upon the courier's shoulder and ran her soft lips over Miranda's neck as she
spoke, the feeling quickly dissipated.

"I'd hardly call my feelings for you 'dark designs', my love," she chuckled,
closing her eyes and concentrating on the feeling of Misty's body against her
own, trying to recapture the moment, "It was just that I was so enthralled by
that quality you have. That beauty that transcends the physical, that even were
I blind I could still have see it."

"I think I sense some 'dark designs'," Misty teased as Miranda turned her head
to kiss her.

"On your part, perhaps," the courier teased, "But I think you know me well
enough to know my true intentions."

"Rather," replied Misty, her voice something of a purr as she teasingly kissed
Miranda's chin, "Infact, seeing as I do know you so well, why don't you tell me
about that time? About all those unspeakable deeds that you wanted to perform
upon your helpless victim, but were held back by your own morality and virtue."

Miranda felt a pleasant chill run down her spine as her body reacted of its own
volition to her lover's words, making her feel more than very alive for one long
moment. "You shouldn't tease me so, my love," replied Miranda once she'd
composed herself, "It's not polite..."

"Miri, my love, have I ever teased you?"

"Not intentionally," Miranda replied slyly.

"Then tell me," urged Misty, her voice taking on a pleading quality that caused
Miranda's heart to nearly melt as she saw the hunger in her lover's sea green
eyes, "Show me what you had in mind, let me feel you caress me as though it were
that day. Let me feel your lips upon my neck as though it were for the first
time... Make love to me, my dearest Miri. Please, show me what I missed out on
that day. Don't make me wait another half a year to find out..."

All that Miranda could do, was press her lips against Misty's as her arms went
about her beloved in a futile attempt to express her love, and to pour her
passion into her lover.

"Show me," whispered Misty breathlessly, her head leaning back against Miranda's
shoulder once more, her hands grasping Miranda's and moving them to her breasts
so that her lover might touch them, and her eyes reflecting a sudden need that
even Miranda's words would have difficulty expressing.

"There will never be a day, my love," whispered Miranda, playfully nibbling her
lover's ear as her fingers relieved the aching need of Misty's bosom, "when I
find myself able to deny you such a simple request."

Miranda sighed contentedly, closing her eyes and blocking out all but the sound
of Misty's voice and the feel of her lover's skin against her own as the warm,
soothing water surrounded them.

"That's good..." murmured Misty contentedly, stretching her legs out and sliding
down slightly.

"This?" giggled Miranda as her hands cupped her lover's breasts before moving
their widely spaced fingers teasingly towards Misty's nipples, "Or what I said?"

"Does it matter?" she inquired, inhaling slowly and purposefully through her
mouth as Miranda's lips traced their way down her neck.

"Kinda," the courier replied, gently holding Misty's nipples between two fingers
as the others touched the trainer's bosom carefully until she wished Miranda
wouldn't tease her so.

"Mmm, then both," Misty sighed, bringing her hands up to cover Miranda's just as
the woman slid them down, out of the way, chuckling to herself, "Oh! Miri-!"

"Yes?" inquired Miranda, the pleading sound in her lover's voice giving her
chills as she brought her hands up to cover Misty's in the same fashion.

"N-nothing..."

Miranda smiled as she opened her eyes, watching as her fingers directed Misty's
hands upon her beloved's bosom, causing Misty to gasp in surprise, and
immediately blush as her body quivered in reaction.

"Nothing, dear?" Miranda asked slyly, moving one of Misty's willing hands
downward across her stomach. "Is there something wrong? Something you'd like to
tell me?"

Misty laughed quietly, her breathing becoming ragged as she opened her eyes and
peered down beneath the water to where Miranda was guiding her hand lower. "No,"
she said simply, swallowing hard as her pulse raced and she found herself
bending up her knees in anticipation, "No, it's alright."

"Good," said Miranda, her tone mildly serious as her fingers linked through
Misty's before reaching their goal, "Because I don't want to do anything to you
that you don't like."

"You've yet to," admitted Misty, giving Miranda's fingers a reassuring squeeze
before pulling her lover's hand lower and switching hand places.

Miranda smiled as Misty moved her head to look up at her, the look of love and
affection in her lover's eyes making her body shiver. "You know," she said,
kissing Misty lightly upon the lips as she felt Misty's fingers coax her own
downward until Miranda's fingers were running lightly across the smooth, soft
skin of Misty's labia, "This place feels like home again when I hold you."

"Any place can feel like home to me when you do," finished Misty, her gaze a
little unfocused as the feeling of Miranda's wonderfully gentle fingers drawing
their way back and forth across her womanhood sent slow waves of sensation
through her, each seeming to crash gently against the walls of her mind, slowly
eroding her defenses until she found it difficult to concentrate on anything
else.

For her part, Miranda let Misty's hand guide her movements, preferring to savor
the moment. The feeling of her lover lying naked against her was both comforting
and enticing, and Miranda found it amusing that Misty continued to touch herself
as her hand left her breast, intent on simply holding her for time.

"Do you love me?" she whispered in a quiet, teasing tone into Misty's ear once
her body had begun shake, and Misty's hand no longer guided Miranda's but simply
clung to it almost desperately, as her breathing came in long ragged gasps.

"Huh? Wha-?" asked Misty, her mind only half grasping the words as her voice
went up an octave as it always did when she reached the brink of ecstasy.

"Do you love me?" Miranda repeated, middle finger carefully teasing the line
between Misty's labia as her lover opened her eyes and stared down at Miranda's
hand.

"Y-yes..." she panted, Misty's voice taking on a desperate tone as the unceasing
friction gave her a pleasant numbness.

"Yes what?" Miranda teased in amusement, kissing Misty's neck repeatedly as her
lover's grip tightened about her hand and she felt her own body's need asserting
itself in a most frustrating manner.

"Yes, Yes I..." began Misty, watching as Miranda lifted her hand slightly, and
moved her thumb to where it just rested above her clit, "I- I-!"

"You, you?" inquired Miranda, her voice full of mischief as she could almost
feel the anticipation radiating off her lover.

"I love you!" Misty all but squeaked as she gritted her teeth in and attempt to
keep her voice down as her lover's thumb moved slightly and touched her now
aching clit.

Miranda giggled in satisfaction as the slow rotations of her thumb against
Misty's clit sent Misty over the edge. With a half-startled and quickly cut off
exclamation, she arched her back as much as she could, holding the inviting pose
for several moments as her body shook from the exertion of not crying out.

"Right there?" Miranda teased, never growing wary of the ever-growing variety of
quiet exclamations her lover made at the point of ecstasy, especially when there
was a danger of being overheard.

Misty's response was incoherent as she collapsed back down upon Miranda,
splashing water everywhere, but not caring. Then, as the feeling subsided, and
she floated down through the beautiful layers of rapture she passed through only
to find Miranda's arms wrapped about her protectively, Misty smiled with renewed
desire.

Without a word, except for the surprised laugh Miranda made, Misty quickly
rolled over and straddled Miranda, her hands placed firmly upon the courier's
breasts as she pressed her lips against the Miranda's without invitation.

'So delightfully insatiable," the courier mused contentedly, as Misty's tongue
seemed intent on making Miranda's mouth its new home and her hands ran about her
body as though desperately seeking out a lost artifact.

It was then, as Miranda's arms moved to encircle her lover that she heard the
odd gurgling noise of the tub draining, and the unpleasant coolness of the air
touching her slowly exposed skin.

"Wha-?" she managed to stammer around Misty's hungry kisses.

"Can't hold my breath that long," her lover replied, sliding her body downward
over Miranda's as her lips descended, following the waterline with kisses until
Miranda felt Misty's hands push at her thighs and Misty's tongue suddenly buried
hungrily between them.

Miranda laughed, sliding up a little to give Misty more room as she tried to
find space in the suddenly crowded tub. "Hold on," the courier told her in an
amused tone, struggling to stand as Misty grabbed at her legs, kissing and
licking them teasingly as she tried to reach Miranda's womanhood, "This isn't
quite meant for that!"

"I... don't... care," Misty replied as Miranda managed to scramble out of the
tub, her tone almost predatory as she leaned over the edge, her soaking wet hair
falling over her face but not quite obscuring her almost feral smile.

"And I'm not exactly running," Miranda chuckled, sitting upon the large towel
they'd thrown down on the floor previously and motioning her lover forward with
her index finger.

"Good," Misty chuckled, going upon her hands and knees once she was out of the
tub and crawling towards Miranda with a predatory gait, "Because it'd be really
embarrassing to run through the house, naked and wet to finally chase you down
in the living room and have my way with you, only to find everyone watching..."

Miranda laughed, covering her face to hide the embarrassment of the thought.
"Yes," she agreed, feeling Misty purposefully sliding herself up the courier's
legs, "That would be embarrassing!"

"Quite," Misty replied kissing Miranda gently as her fingers slid across
Miranda's womanhood, testing her readiness.

The courier gasped as Misty slid her middle finger between Miranda's labia, and
her inner walls gave way, the need she felt while caressing her lover in the
bath flaring up as it came close to being quenched.

Miranda took a moment to catch her breath, leaning her head back to avoid
Misty's needy kisses, and feeling her lover move them down her neck as Misty's
thumb rubbed Miranda's clit in time with the motion of her finger.

"But I- I think you'd like that, wouldn't you?" Miranda teased, giggling in her
sudden euphoria as she saw her lover blush and take a moment to compose herself.

"Maybe," whispered Misty so quietly that Miranda barely heard it as Misty took
her nipple into her mouth, hoping to distract her.

Miranda's eyes widened, and she tried not to laugh, knowing that it would sound
disapproving, even as she felt a sudden rush of elation at she unlocking another
of her lover's secret desires.

"You know," she said in a conspirative tone as the air around Miranda didn't
seem quite as cool, "These old houses have strange ways of carrying sound."

"Oh?" Misty inquired, glancing up at Miranda as she withdrew her wetted fingers
before moving to lie on her side upon the towel.

"Yes," Miranda continued, her voice faltering slightly as she rolled onto her
side as well and watched as Misty drag her wetted fingers across her tongue
before drawing them into her mouth and making an approving sound, "it's- it's
the pipes you know. They carry sound quite well."

"They do?"

"Indeed," replied Miranda, smiling at the suddenly flushed appearance of Misty's
face as she moved closer, pressing herself against Miranda before reaching down
again, "Especially when you're near them. Like on the floor for instance."

Misty nodded, her fingers sliding back towards Miranda's wetness as the courier
obligingly bent her leg at the knee and put her arm around Misty. "Then if, if
we're too loud..." she pondered, watching as Miranda's eyes lost their focus for
a moment as she found a sensitive spot, "Then they could hear everything,
couldn't they?"

Miranda nodded, catching her breath before speaking. "Everything," she agreed,
running her hand up and down Misty's back and kissing her to save her beloved at
least some of her embarrassment.

"I see..." the water trainer replied after a moment, the battle between thrill
and embarrassment apparent in her eyes.

"Yes," Miranda encouraged, hoping she wasn't pushing her lover too hard, "Why
I'll bet, if we made too much noise, we'd be heard all over town..."

Misty gulped, her eyes widening as her cheeks flared red and she laughed to
cover her embarrassment. "I'm such a pervert," she muttered, forgetting about
sex for the moment, and simply flinging her arms around Miranda for the support
she knew that she'd find.

"Shh, it's okay," her lover whispered, rocking her gently as Misty's thoughts
conflicted, "You're allowed. It's perfectly alright to be that way."

"I know," Misty whimpered, suddenly feeling terribly vulnerable as she lay naked
on the floor, the warm fuzzy towel beneath them keeping the chill off the tiles
at bay, "But I- I'm afraid sometimes..."

"Of what?" Miranda inquired in quiet sympathy, taking a moment to roll onto her
back with Misty atop her so that she could hold her beloved more protectively.

"Of you thinking I'm strange, I guess."

"Dearest," Miranda replied sincerely, "If that small little fantasy is the
strangest, most perverse thing about you, I'd hardly call that grounds for me
calling you strange. I'm not exactly innocent either, you know."

Misty laughed a little at the thought before hugging Miranda closer. "I know,"
she agreed, appreciating the feeling of Miranda's fingers as they brushed her
wet hair.

"You don't have to worry quite so much," Miranda added, kissing Misty's forehead
lovingly, "Even if something you want to say, or do, or try embarrasses me I'm
not going to hold it against you."

"And what would embarrass you?" Misty inquired, a sudden smile crossing her
lips.

"More than you give me credit for," Miranda chuckled, vaguely registering her
body's disappointment at the lack of release but choosing to ignore it.

"Did my... My 'idea' embarrass you?" her lover inquired carefully, regretting
her choice to stop as she pondered the possibilities.

"A little. At first," the courier admitted, "but it's so nice to watch you when
you let go. It's beautiful in a way. Like looking past all the barriers and
seeing the secret Misty within!"

"Then, then you don't find my shyness problematic?"

Miranda stifled a chuckle, blushing a little herself. "Actually," she admitted,
"I think it's cute. Although it does amuse me that someone so fearless and
upfront about everything else could be so shy about sex."

"Lack of a decent roll model growing up, I suppose," Misty replied, wishing
she'd kept the bitterness from her tone, "But it's better late than never. At
least you have a better idea of what you like, and what's fun. That way you can
teach me."

"I'm still learning myself," said Miranda with a reminiscent shrug, "I was
really only with one lover who knew a great deal. Or was at least willing to
share that knowledge..."

"You'll have to tell me that story sometime," Misty teased, trying not to be
jealous of something that happened before they even met.

"Too bad I stopped writing in my diary a year and change before that," admitted
the courier slyly, "It might have made for an interesting bedtime story."

"Would you read it aloud on stage in front of hundreds of people, though?"
chuckled Misty, leaning her elbows against the floor as she smiled down at
Miranda.

"Not a chance!" the courier laughed, trying to hide her embarrassment, "It'd be
hard enough trying to explain it to you! But..."

"But?"

Miranda swallowed and took a deep breath before replying. "But that's just
because I love you," she said in a more serious, loving tone, "And I'd hate it
if I made you feel the least bit jealous."

"Is that why you don't want me to read your diary?" Misty inquired
sympathetically.

"Partially," her lover admitted with a shrug, "If you've taught me anything,
it's to live in the here and now, not in the past. We can't change it, but we
can change the future. And that's what I intend to do."

"Am I in that future?" Misty asked, only half rhetorically, finding Miranda's
never ending reassurances refreshing and addictive.

"Yes," the courier said sincerely, her gaze intense as she spoke the words; "My
future has no meaning without you by my side."
Misty sighed contentedly; laying her head down, knowing there was no way she
could compete with Miranda's often melodramatic method of expressing her love,
but hardly caring.

"Just, just one thing," said Miranda, shuffling uncomfortably.

"Yes?"

"Um, this floor is really uncomfortable, would you mind if we got up now?"

Misty laughed as she got to her feet and found herself an other large, fluffy
towel. "Well, I did notice that your bed's a whole lot more comfortable," she
commented, wrapping the towel around herself and enjoying the sudden reassuring
feel of the soft, fluffy fabric against her bare wet skin.

"Very," chuckled Miranda mischievously, dawning a towel as well before opening
the door and taking a quick look around.

"Um, I was just wondering something..." said Misty cautiously, causing Miranda
to close the door again and turn to face her with a more serious look.

"Go on," she urged, sliding her arms around Misty almost instinctively.

"I, I was just curious as to whether you've ever, um..." stammered Misty
nervously, changing the question at the last second, uncertain as to whether or
not she really wanted to know, "Just taken a date to the Festival before?"

"No one I was in love with," Miranda replied with a small smile, the assurance
sounding grim as Misty touched the side of the courier's face sympathetically
and gave her a sad look.

"But," said Miranda with a self-assured smile, "I don't intend to leave Lavender
Town until I do!"

Misty dealt with the sudden elated feeling she felt by kissing Miranda before
reaching past her for the door handle. "I'll be sure to tell you mom that," she
giggled as Miranda's eyes went wide and Misty headed out the door, "That way
you'll never leave home again!"

"You wouldn't!" the courier laughed, trying to dispel the sudden worry that
struck her as she reached out for the suddenly fleeing Misty and grabbing hold
of her towel instead.

"Miri!" her beloved exclaimed, suddenly finding herself completely naked,
standing in the upstairs hallway, three rooms away from Miranda's bedroom as a
the air around her seemed rather more chilly than it had been in the bathroom.
From somewhere downstairs she could hear Frank's chuckle and the murmur of Bob's
voice, as well as the almost musical laughter of a woman she didn't recognize.

For a moment, Misty stood there, her thoughts conflicted as her arms held her
modesty in place and Miranda stepped up behind her with the towel. "Sorry about
that," the courier whispered, intent on wrapping the towel around her beloved
protectively.

"No," whispered Misty, trying not to laugh as she stepped away and dropped her
arms, the strange feeling of freedom sending exhilarating chills through her as
she turned to face Miranda, "It's alright."

Miranda smiled admiringly as she hooked her finger through the knot in her own
towel, before letting it drop to the floor, to pool at her feet. "If you must
stand cold, wet and naked against the eternal void," she promised, moving into
Misty's waiting embrace, "then I shall stand with you. Unshielded, unclothed,
and completely without embarrassment or regret. Your love shall be my shield."

Misty sighed contentedly as she felt Miranda's naked body embrace her own before
they kissed, hardly caring that at any moment someone could come marching up the
stairs to see what was keeping them.

"I love you," Misty murmured into Miranda's hair, holding her a little closer as
the sound of heavy footsteps downstairs caught their attention and made them
both instinctively bolt for Miranda's bedroom.

"Dinner'll be ready in about fifteen minutes, guys!" called Bob from downstairs
as they both noticed the enticing smell of lasagna wafting from the kitchen. "So
don't be too long!" he added with a chuckle as Miranda slid her door closed,
being careful not to slam it.

"Oh yeah," she breathed in a laughing tone, leaning against the map of Lavender
Town on the back of her door, "he knows!"

"So what if he does?" inquired Misty with a chuckle, "At least he was polite
enough not to come up stairs to prove his theory."

"Actually," commented Miranda with an amused grin as she moved to hold Misty
once again, "I'm half surprised he didn't."

"Don't even think that!" her lover laughed nervously, the thought causing her
already flushed appearance to deepen.

"Don't worry, he knows better," assured Miranda, giving Misty a little hug, "But
he was checking you out this morning."

"No way," commented Misty, "wouldn't you're mom kill him for that?"

Miranda chuckled. "Actually, she encourages it," the courier explained, "Mom's a
lot more easygoing that she lets on. Or at least she used to be. Anyway, I
wouldn't worry about it. She trusts him not to do anything stupid, and if he
just happens to have a thing for stealing a harmless glance or two at a
beautiful woman, then that's fine with Mom. Bob's loyal and faithful, and my
mother knows that. I wouldn't worry about it."

"Do you ever 'steal glances' at other people?" Misty inquired, keeping her tone
teasing even as she chastised herself for her insecurity.

Miranda shrugged nonchalantly. "Just because I find someone aesthetically
pleasing," she explained, "does not mean that I 'have' to sleep with them.
Besides, if someone else gets me all hot and bothered, guess who I'm going to
take it out on?"

Misty smiled, unable to contain herself, and kissed Miranda...
Chapter X "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner..."

The kitchen seemed full of life as they entered, with Bob hurriedly making last
minute adjustments to the enormous lasagna he had resting on the island
countertop, and Frank telling some story or other about his travels as Vivian
looked on in vague amusement, and a second, shorter woman looked up at him,
hanging on the cop's every word. All the while the wondrous smell of Bob's still
congealing lasagna filled the air with it s pleasantly distracting quality, and
causing Frank's growlithe Bow, sitting politely at the threshold to the kitchen,
to look on in expectant dismay, whining pitifully every so often.

"Hey, Vivian said 'no'," Frank told her as Miranda and Misty walked up behind
the sad looking canine, "Oh! Miri!"

"Hi, Uncle," said the courier, her tone a little nervous as her long dark hair
fell damply across her face when she bent down to scratch Bow behind the ears,
"Glad to see you made it."

"As promised," her mother chuckled in a tone of mild amazement.

"Hey, have I ever broken a promise... To you?" Frank inquired, quickly adding
the last as literally everyone, even Bow, shot him a look.

"Not that I'm aware of," Miranda replied, carefully stepping over Bow as she
went back to staring hopefully at her trainer and looking pitiful.

"Maybe it'd be better just to 'return' her," offered Misty stepping around the
growlithe with a dismayed look that made the little canine wag her tail sadly.

"I left her ball back at Laurna's," replied Frank with a shrug, his stomach
growling as Bob hefted the lasagna with a bit of a grunt, "Oh, by they way, I
believe introductions are in order?"

The woman who sat next to him smiled in what started as a polite smile, but
became an embarrassed laugh as Frank did something under the table. "Hi, I- Oh!"
she exclaimed, smacking him playfully on the arm before extending her small hand
to Misty, "I'm Professor Laurna, Miri's Aunt, but you can just call me Laurna.
Everyone else does."

"It's good to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you," Misty replied
sincerely, taking the older woman's hand and marveling at how the two sisters
seemed alike in some ways and different in others. Where as they both had the
same once long dark hair, now streaked through the silvery gray of more than
four decades, and the same mysterious magenta coloured eyes, Laurna's were
softer, less world wary, almost as though she'd recently woken up for a
century's long sleep. And the large lensed glasses she wore made Laurna seem
somehow more friendly, or at least easier to talk to than her sister.

The Professor was also visibly shorter than her sibling by at least half a foot,
with a handshake that wasn't as firm or confident, but Laurna had an aura of
friendliness that her sister Vivian lacked. Still, the two shared the same
quality of seemingly being able to stare into a person's soul to discover their
secrets, a quality that seemed somehow less unnerving in Laurna.

The woman nodded with a bit of a shy smile. "Nothing good I hope?" she inquired
as Bob carefully set down his creation and Bow immediately leapt into the air
and yelped when she caught a glimpse of it.

"I said 'NO'!" warned Vivian, who'd taken her customary position at the far end
of the circular table, facing the door and fixing the fluffy growlithe with a
displeased look.

Bow looked the woman straight in the eye, a sudden glint of determination
shining in her own dark brown eyes as she gritted her sharp teeth. 'I didn't
want to do this, lady,' she muttered inwardly, 'but it looks like you leave me
NO choice!'

The little growlithe let out a long, pitiful whine, just long enough to get
everyone's attention. Once all eyes had fallen upon her, Bow activated an
ability she'd known since birth, a technique that released a cloud of pheromones
into the air, subtly altering the emotions of those in the room, and greatly
enhancing her own ability to look mind-bendingly cute to a new level that was
only attainable through the supernatural might of the awakened.

'Feel the power of my "Charm Attack"!' thought Bow as she slowly lowered her
tail, drooping her furrier than normal ears before looking up at the assembled
humans with huge brown eyes that looked for all the world to be filled with the
deepest sorrow as Bow tried her best to pout, filling the room with an almost
visible field of enhanced adorableness.

Everyone but Vivian glanced at the little growlithe, and immediately felt their
hearts break. With a collective "Aww..." they all held their hands out to the
pitiful creature in the doorway, somehow unable to hold any thought in their
minds that didn't involve helping out Bow in anyway they could.

"Don't make me say it again," came Vivian's harsh, warning tone, snapping
everyone back into reality as the smell of the food in front of them suddenly
overpowered the effect of the subliminal emotional attack.

Bow's deep brown eyes hardened as she glowered at the woman, and Vivian raised a
single eyebrow. For a moment the two stared each other down, Bow gritting her
teeth and silently snarling in her annoyance, and Vivian maintaining her look of
icy calm, unmoved by either Bow's cuteness, or intimidation abilities.

Finally, though, Bow tossed her head into the air with the assembled bits of her
pride. 'Hm!' she thought to herself as she walked away muttering bitterly in a
series of low growls. 'You've won this round, lady. But I'll be back in time for
dessert!"

"Don't worry," called Frank as Bow's tail disappeared from view with one last
defiant wave, "I'll be sure to save you some!"

"You're spoiling her you know," commented Vivian as Bob reached across the table
and picked up Misty's plate.

"Yes, that's very true," said Frank with a wary sigh as he rested his head upon
Laurna's shoulder, "but your sister's worth it."

Everyone but Vivian laughed, and as he shoveled out a square piece of the
lasagna onto the plate he glanced at Misty with an amused smile. "You get served
once in this house," he explained as his guest accepted the now heavily laden
plate with both hands, "And then your family."

Bob accentuated his point by serving himself, but no one else as Frank suddenly
tried to look innocent, causing Laurna to giggle like a woman half her age as
Vivian shook her head disapprovingly.

"Um, thanks. I think," Misty replied, suddenly lost in the enormity of the meal
placed before her. Although its innumerable layers, stuffed with more cheese,
vegetables and ground up meat than seemed possible, only towered an impressive
four inches off her plate, Misty had to wonder where she'd ever put it all.

"Don't worry," assured Miranda, taking her turn at the spatula Bob had provided
for serving, "We don't expect you to eat it all."

"Yeah, don't," commented Laurna wryly, avoiding her sister's suddenly warning
glance, "around her ewe don't force people to eat everything they're given.
Heck, you can even speak without being spoken to in THIS household!"

"Well actually, there was one thing I was sorta wondering," Misty replied giving
Vivian a quick glance as she smacked Bob lightly on the arm and Laurna suddenly
jumped as he kicked her lightly under the table.

"Ask away!" the woman assured with a laugh, pretending not to have noticed the
subtle message her sister had sent her, as she wasted no time devouring her
meal.

"It's about the Gym I heard you were opening," continued Misty, waiting a moment
for the lasagna to cool before trying it.

"Did open," corrected Frank with his mouth full, smiling in Laurna's direction.

"I'll be accepting challengers officially as of November 1st," the small woman
explained, pushing her glasses farther up her nose in the same way Miranda often
did, making them shimmer all the same, "But if your looking to get a jump on the
competition, I'm game."

Misty tried some of the lasagna as Laurna spoke, and almost felt bad that she
had to swallow it, it was so good. "Really?" she asked rhetorically, "that'd be
terrific. But um, isn't it kinda unusual for a poke'prof to be a Gym Leader as
well?"

Laurna shot a conspirative look at her niece, who'd been quietly eating and now
found herself trying not to choke. "Actually, no," she explained in an amused
tone as a small smile crept across Vivian's face, "There's also Erika of
Celadon. Did you know that she's a world-renowned para-horticulturalist? Isn't
that right, Miri dear?"

Miranda glanced at her aunt with eyes wide with sudden embarrassment as she
found herself covering her mouth and knocking her chest a few times to ensure
she didn't choke. "Yes, Auntie, that's correct," she said simply, reaching for
the tea pot and desperately looking for a change in topic, "but you were saying
that you'd accept an earlier challenger?"

"Oh yes," her aunt assured with a vigorous nod, seemingly satisfied with
Miranda's reaction, "As early as tomorrow if you'd like. Tonight's no good what
with me having to leave early so I can teach the little one's a thing or two
about the town, but I have most of the day tomorrow free. Until about seven,
anyway... Say, are you two going to be there?"

"For your lecture? Oh yes, definitely!" assured Misty, suddenly surprised to see
how much of Bob's lasagna she'd managed to put away without noticing.

"It's not a lecture," corrected Laurna, waggling her finger cautioningly, "It's
more like a performance! But early in the afternoon would be perfect! Oh, but
I'll need your help with a few things then, Miri."

"Sure, not a problem," the courier replied with interest, "I'm sure I can round
up Wraith by then if you need him."

Laurna shook her head and laughed. "Well, that too, I suppose," she explained in
a tone more befitting her age, "I meant in an official capacity. I want you to
be my second. Pulling double duty isn't as easy as it looks, Miri. I could use
some help around my place..."

Laurna's words trailed off Miranda dropped her fork with a suddenly loud clatter
that shattered the friendly atmosphere and made the kitchen seem somehow less
inviting.

"Is that what it is was all about?" she asked, her tone bordering on accusing as
Miranda's stormy gray eyes became just as hard and uncompromising as her
mother's, "Just another way to try to get me to stay here in Lavender? Look, I
told you, and I told Mother, I LIKE being a courier. I'm not ready to just sit
back and watch the world go by, I have to be out there doing something. I'm not
ready to spend the rest of my life behind a desk. I'm not cut out to be Admin.
Especially not now."

Laurna nodded as Frank seemed to be the only person still eating. "I
understand," she said simply, unable to meet Miranda's gaze, "But I'd still like
you to be there... Frank's going to be busy with all the tourists, and there's
still some arrangements that need to be made with the Guardian, so I could use
an extra hand if I'm going to be doing the Gym thing tomorrow."

"Not a problem," said Miranda simply, her tone not betraying the fact that her
pulse was racing, her heart feeling heavy in her chest.

"Um, if you don't mind me asking," inquired Misty, trying to carefully defuse
the situation, hoping the question would dispel the tension in the room, "But,
'The Guardian'?"

Laurna bowed her head and smiled, her cheeks reddening at the thought. "Yes,"
she said quietly as Frank gave her a quizzical look and Vivian pretended to be
completely enthralled by the fact that the silverware they were using actually
was made of silver, "He's the gengar who watches over the ghosts in the Tower.
He's been there since it was built, and he... He helped me out with a problem a
while back."

"You still haven't told us what happened to you that night," Frank chided
teasingly, causing Laurna to purse her lips and try to look innocent. A task she
was well suited to.

"The night you actually spent in the Tower, right?" came Misty's inevitable
deduction to which Laurna nodded.

"You should keep this one, Miri," said Laurna mysteriously to her niece, "She's
a smart one!"

"Well, you are famous for that incident," added Vivian, leaning back in her
chair, and empty plat before her, "And so's Viper."

Laurna nodded, answering the question before it came. "My ekans died when I was
young," she explained, her tone becoming sad, her gaze distant, "just before we
came to Lavender Town. I'm sure Miri's mentioned it to you, but he's the reason
I went into the Tower. I needed to find him. And I did. The Guardian even helped
him to recover his memories of his former life."

"But she still won't give us the details," replied Frank in amusement, giving
his fiance a sideways glance, as she blushed again.

"I guess some secrets are just worth keeping," Miranda added with a wary shrug
as Bob's lasagna felt heavy in her stomach.

"Yes," agreed her stepfather, "Secrets like who's going to carry me out of
here!"

There was a collective laugh as he leaned back in his seat and made a show of
holding his stomach. "It's not a good lasagna unless no one can get up from the
table afterwards," his wife agreed, smiling with a touch of irony as she backed
away from the table, her electric wheelchair giving her at least one small
advantage over everyone else.

"Was that a compliment, or not?" inquired Bob with half a smile as he warily
pushed himself away from the table.

"Well, this is!" replied Frank; suddenly belching so loudly he almost rattled
the dishes.

Bob took the partial bow his full stomach would allow him and smiled graciously.
"Thank you, thank you all!" he replied dramatically, pretending to cry as he
held up the spatula like an award, "I'm so unworthy of your kudos, and only one
thing could make this moment more complete."

"Oh? And what might that be?" Frank inquired, staggering to his feet in time to
pull out Laurna's chair for her.

"If someone else would do the dishes?" said Bob hopefully, clasping his hands
together and giving the others a pleading look.

"Done," sighed Miranda, giving him a wary smile as her stepfather beamed and
Frank feigned a heart attack, "It's the least I can do after such an amazing
meal."

"You think so?"

"Yes, absolutely!" replied both Misty and Miranda at the same time causing them
both to glance at each other with worried yet amused expressions.

"Oh, that reminds me," commented Vivian, catching Misty's eye as Laurna and
Frank walked arm and arm for the room and Bob put the rest of the lasagna in the
fridge, "Seeing as you two have the morning free, what do you say we have our
little 'chat' then."

Misty felt Miranda's hand give hers a reassuring squeeze under the table and
nodded. "Sure," she replied, managing to keep the nervousness from her voice,
"No problem.

Vivian nodded as Bob walked up behind her, his hands rubbing her shoulders
lightly. "She wants me to talk to you at the same time, eh," he added
rhetorically to Miranda as something of a friendly warning, and immediately
feeling guilty for the sense of dread that flashed through his stepdaughter's
eyes.

"No problem," Miranda replied, hearing Laurna call her goodbye from down the
hall.

"I'm off to entertain the brats!" she laughed as everyone called back their
farewells that were met by the sound of the Professor/Gym Leader's giggling as
Frank gave her his own version of goodbye.

"Stay out of trouble!" added Bob, guiding Vivian out of the kitchen, "And if you
can't do that be careful! And if you can't do that, name it after me!"

"Not without me she doesn't!" laughed Frank to hide his sadness at seeing her
go, even if only for an hour or so.

"I don't think you have much of a right to jealousy, Officer," Vivian chided
before the voices of the remaining trio faded as they went into the living room,
leaving Misty and Miranda alone in the kitchen with the pleasant smell of Bob's
lasagna still lingering into he air.

Misty leaned back in her chair and exhaled loudly before putting her head on
Miranda's shoulder. "I've never felt so full in my entire life," she commented,
hoping to hear the quiet sound of her lover's suppressed laughter, "I think my
eyes are actually aiding in digestion now... It's just too much for my stomach
to handle!"

After an awkward silence, broken only by Miranda's quiet chuckle, Misty lifted
her head and looked Miranda in eye. "Hey, you okay, dear?"

Miranda sighed heavily and nodded, her gaze looking out the window as the sun
went down and the sounds of muffled loud music from somewhere across town met
her ears. "I'll be fine," she replied, smiling sadly and turning to Misty, "It's
just that I'm sick of this whole make me stay here routine every year.
Especially now."

"You think that's why she wants to talk to me?" Misty inquired, her tone
sounding nervous as Miranda's sympathetic arm went around her, "You don't
suppose she sees me as a threat of some kind? Your mom's probably the last
person next to you I'd want hating me at this point..."

Miranda shook her head. "No," she assured in a quiet tone, conscious of the
quiet laughter that issued from the living room as her parents talked with Frank
and tried to recover from the meal, "My mother's not petty. She wouldn't hate
you for keeping me away from home. And I'm sure she just wants to see what
you're really like. Just to make sure of the things that I already know. And
even if, for some reason my mother disapproves of you, it doesn't matter. I love
you, and no even my mother can change that."

Misty nodded, feeling grateful for Miranda's loyalty despite her anxiety about
the coming day. "Well, at least you only have to talk to Bob tomorrow," she
teased, "I'm going to be out numbered."

Miranda chuckled, holding Misty closer for a moment. "Aunt Laura doesn't count
in that regard," she replied, receiving a peculiar look from her beloved, "She's
not the interrogation type. Most likely she'll just be there to make sure you
don't try to lie or anything. Not that you would."

"She's good at reading people then?"

The courier laughed, shaking her head in dismay at the distant memory that the
thought sparked. "She's better than that, I'm afraid. Aunt Laurna's a bit
psychic."

"How much is a bit?" Misty inquired, suddenly dreading the next day a little
more.

"Not enough that you need to worry or anything," assured Miranda dismissively,
"She can't do TK like Zack, and her mind reading abilities are weak in
compression to Wraith's, so you're in luck there. Precognition's actually her
specialty. Lavender Town's previous Poke'prof was all into astrology and what
not, but Aunt Laurna could actually 'see' things. So she'll probably just be
there to read your tealeaves or something. I wouldn't worry about it."

"What about your Mom, though?"

Miranda shook her head in dismay. "Just don't let her intimidate you," she
cautioned, soliciting a chuckle from Misty.

"The only things that intimidate me are bugs and ghosts," the trainer replied
with determination, "And I intend to get over the ghost thing before I leave
Lavender Town."

"Early New Years resolution?" teased Miranda.

"Just making sure you don't get bored of me," Misty replied with a wary smile.

"Never," assured Miranda, kissing her gently in the forehead, "But if you want
some practice fighting ghosts, I'll see if one of Laurna's crew can find Wraith
for me once she gets back."

"That'd be great," said Misty pensively, desperately trying to make herself
believe the words.

"Hey," laughed Miranda, "You have a fifteen foot long gyarados who hasn't
stopped growing yet on your side. One who's already kicked Wraith's butt once,
so I don't think you're the one who should be afraid."

Misty smiled at the thought. "That was before I caught him," she replied,
thinking fondly of the enormous scaly serpent, "And besides, if I were to use
him, I'd need a fairly large open area to let him out in."

"There's the greenhouse," replied Miranda with a shrug, "We don't use it for
anything since my grandfather died. Don't worry, natural causes. So it's just
kinda there, full of weeds and a few wild rattata's Aunt Laurna comes for from
time to time."

"For those budding Lav'Brats who want them," chuckled Misty, idly wondering if
Nezumi had been there as well.

"Err, that too," Miranda replied, her tone a little nervous as she moved out
from behind the table, finally able to stand without feeling weighed down.

"That too?" inquired Misty, wincing as she recalled that raticates had a dozen
or so children at a time.

Miranda nodded, leaving out the fact that many larger predators hunted rattata's
for food. And since trainers from Lavender occasionally left pokemon with her
Aunt, Laurna more often then not fed them what they'd eat in the wild, sharing
Miranda's distain for store bought, preprocessed pokemon food.

"So, um... Dishes?" she suggested briskly, causing Misty to perk up and smile
all too happily.

"Ah! Yes, good idea!" the trainer replied, thankful that her aquatic crew tended
towards eating mundane varieties of fish and plants for the most part, even if a
gyarados could eat anything organic, or at least would hold still long enough,
"Dibs on washing...!"

***

Frank chuckled as Bob stood and made a show of holding his stomach as he waddled
from the room. "I'll be back," he promised in a bad Austrian accent before
disappearing out of one of the two open doorways.

"You know, Viv," Frank commented, idly petting the snoozing growlithe in his lap
as he looked around the spacious, yet crowded living room, "It's amazing how
little this place has changed."

"I'm not big on turning my life upside-down just because the universe decrees
it," the woman replied, sipping her tea and glancing sadly at the rather
impressive collection metal swords displayed artfully upon one wall.

"Well, it's reassuring, is all," continued her guest who was sitting on an old,
but unbelievably comfortable blue/gray couch that was at least ten years his
senior, "After being gone for so long, it's good to be 'home'."

"About that," said Vivian, setting her tea down upon the scuffed coffee table
that had been nearly new when she'd first met Frank, "There's something I've
been meaning to ask you."

"Oh boy," he muttered, accepting the inevitable as he warily looked off into the
crackling fire in the fireplace, "I should have seen this coming."

"Indeed," Vivian agreed smugly, "Now then, Franklin, one simple question. Why?"

Frank cringed at the sound of his proper name, as the weight of the inevitable
pressed heavily upon his shoulders. "Why, what, Viv?" he inquired
conversationally, looking up at the portrait of the Lavender shipyard over the
mantle as opposed to meeting her piercing magenta eyes.

"You know perfectly well, Officer."

Frank shivered. Even before Miranda's birth, even before she'd so much as agreed
to marry his best friend Nicholas, Vivian had had a certain mother-like quality,
gained from too many years of trying to be a mom to her younger sibling. It was
a skill Vivian had honed to a hard edge, and Frank only regretted that she
wasn't more like Lydia, Miranda's paternal grandmother. A woman whose infectious
smile and kind demeanor let Frank and Nicholas get away with far more than
Vivian ever let Miranda get away with...

"Frank?" came Vivian's voice, her tone more of a statement than a question, "I'm
waiting."

Frank took a deep breath as Bow yawned widely, showing off her gleaming white
teeth before being lulled back to sleep by the unconscious motion of her
trainer's fingers through her soft reddish fur.

"Look," the cop said at last, his tone a far more serious one than he liked to
use, "I'm not going to mess around here. I'm not going to give you the same
brush off I gave Miri. You'd see right through that, 'cause you were there, Viv.
You know what happened, you saw it all. And you know where I was when you and
Nicholas were attacked..."

Vivian nodded thoughtfully. "I know," she said quietly, her fingers linked
together contemplatively as her elbows rested on the arms of her chair, "You
were with Laurna that day. But that's understandable. She'd sent Miranda off to
bed, and you came over, that was normal. That was why we weren't planning on
heading back home too quickly."

Frank nodded slowly, his mind racing as the memories of that evening returned to
him with frightening clarity. "Yeah," he replied, "We were right here, you know.
On the couch where we wouldn't wake Miri. Me and Laurna acting like we always
did, like a couple of newlyweds on our honeymoon... And that's why I didn't hear
it. Treant bangin' on the front door, practically bringing the house down around
us, and me too 'involved' with your sister to freakin' care..."

Vivian moved her chair closer, aligning it with the side of the couch before
reaching out and taking Frank's hand sympathetically. "Frag, Viv," he went on,
lowering his voice even as his eyes began welling up, his curling fingers into a
fist, "all I was paying attention to was Laurna. What if something bad would
have happened to Miri? I wouldn't have noticed that either, ya know? And while
I'm thankful every day that I draw breath that she was safe in her room that
day, I just can't get over the fact that it took me at least ten minutes to
realize there was someone at the door. That weird, high-pitched noise those
'bells make was Treant tryin' ta get my attention. Trying to tell me that a
bunch of freakin' Rocket goons were killing my best freakin' friend in the whole
world and I didn't care! All I cared about was fulfilling my own selfish need,
Viv...

"Do you know what that's like? To know that if you weren't so stubborn and
single minded you could have saved you someone you cared about? Sorry, Viv... I
know it's worse for you... I- I'm outta line."

Vivian shook her head slowly, her expression tightening as she contained the
emotions she felt, the old habit dying hard even as tears streamed down Frank's
face. "No," she replied, "It's alright. I understand. I have no right to deny
you your grief. My only consolation is that I did everything I could, I've gone
over it a thousand times in my head, and I don't think there's anything I could
really have done differently and actually made a difference."

Frank looked up at her as a strange smile crossed Vivian's lips. "That way, at
least I know you won't hate me," she glanced up and met Frank's gaze, causing
him a moment's confusion.

"M-me? H-hate you?" he inquired, a bit of a smile crossing his lips as well, "As
if. I'm the one who's worried that you'll hate me, Viv. Not the other way
around."

"No," assured Vivian, giving Frank's hand a squeeze, "I don't blame you for
showing up when you did. You got there as fast as was possible at the time.
Especially with what they did to the staircase. Heck, I'm amazed you got down at
all! No, never think I hate you for that, Frank. You did everything you could
that day. But I think I understand now why you left."

Frank nodded, feeling as though at least half the weight of the world had been
lifted off his heart. "Yeah," he explained carefully, "I know it's dumb and lame
and all that crap, but after the incident, it was just hard for me to look
Laurna in eye. And every time we were together, I kept feelin', ya know...
Guilty. Like somehow if I didn't pay attention to everything around me,
something bad was gonna happen. Especially since Miri still had her dratini.
Every time me and Laurna tried to make love, all I could think about was another
mob of men in black bustin' in here, looking to steal Umi, and not carin' who
they hurt to get at her.

"It was, uh... Kinda distracting if you know what I mean... But when Miri became
a courier, and left town, I kinda felt empty inside. Like somehow she didn't
need me to protect her anymore. And since every time I so much as kissed Laurna,
I kept getting these flashbacks to what I saw when we entered the cavern. I- it
just got to the point where I just couldn't take it anymore. I'm sorry, Viv, but
I had leave."

"But you came back, that's the main thing."

Frank nodded. "When I met Miri in Cerulean, I saw just now much of my life had
passed me by. I thought about Laurna, and how every morning I ranted to this
poor woman who owned a coffee shop about how much I still loved your sister, and
how great Laurna was and all that. And I realized that even if I couldn't ever
kiss her again, it didn't matter. All I wanted was to live in the same town as
her. Even if I got back here and Laurna hated me, it didn't matter. I just
wanted to see her at least one more time, cause if I didn't my entire life would
a been for nothin'...

"Look, Viv, I'm in love with your little sister, and there ain't nothin' that's
gonna change that. Not even if the Tower falls on me and sends me to an early
grave. And so long as she's willin', I'd like to keep my promise to marry her."

Vivian smiled with sudden amusement. "Are you asking my permission, Franklin?"
she teased, chuckling as he cringed.

"No, ma'am," he replied with a smile, "I'm tellin' ya. But seein' as you're the
closest thing she's got to a parent, I suppose I'd better..."

Vivian's chuckle was humorless. "How much has she told you about our parents?"
the woman asked, her tone becoming serious once more.

Frank shrugged. "Enough," he replied, "Enough to know that I'd die before I'd
let them at either her or you."

Vivian sighed warily. "My mother is long dead by now," she replied, looking
thoughtful for a moment, "and you know how my stepfather died."

"Viper," said Frank dryly, remembering what Laurna had told him with no small
degree of anger, "He died to save her, but he took that bastard with him. I'm
just glad that Laurna found that serpent again, even if he was a ghost haunting
the Tower. A friend like that's not the sort you just wanna leave behind. He's a
noble poke, I'll give Viper that."

Vivian nodded, finding some small solace in her tea once more. "Just promise me
one thing, Frank," she said after an uncomfortable silence that ended with the
sound of Bob staggering helplessly back from the bathroom.

"Anythin', Viv. Anything."

"Don't leave her again. If you do, I'll kill you myself..."
Chapter XI "Water, Water Everywhere..."

Misty stood before the sink, her sleeves rolled up as her hands lost themselves
in the still warm dirty water, obscured by the remaining bubbles from the
homemade dish soap. Beneath the water she searched for the last few knives and
forks that always seemed to remain stubbornly hidden within the now unpleasant
mixture.

As she glanced up at the small window before her, the darkness outside was so
complete, that it reflected her image with near perfect clarity, except for the
glare of the ceiling lamp. It was in the pseudo-mirror that she caught the image
of Miranda, who after quickly drying off her hands, stepped up behind Misty with
an amused glint in her eye.

Without saying a word, Miranda put her arms around Misty from behind, holding
her for a moment and resting her chin upon her lover's shoulder. "Feeling
better, dear?" Misty inquired, meeting Miranda's gaze in their shared
reflection.

"Yeah," Miranda replied with a slow nod, lifting her head to give Misty a gentle
kiss upon the neck before savoring the warmth of her lover's skin upon her lips
for just a moment, and breathing in her comforting scent, "I've just been on
this emotional roller-coaster ride all day, and it's just getting to me, 'tis
all."

Misty smiled, shivering slightly at the unexpected affection, but giggling at
the thought of how it would look if someone were to walk in. "Well, as I said,
I'm here to make sure you stay at the high end," she replied, glancing down as
Miranda's hands slid up underneath the loose fitting fabric of the light sweater
she'd thrown on before coming down stairs.

"Looking for something?" teased Misty, turning to accept a light kiss from
Miranda as the courier's fingers slid lightly across her stomach and up towards
her bosom.

"Just feeling playful," her lover mused, her fingers expertly lifting the front
of Misty's bra and simply bringing it up instead of undoing it before her hands
slid across Misty's breasts and held them almost protectively.

"Do you have a mysterious 'dishwashing' fetish that I should be aware of?"
teased Misty, shivering at the pleasant sensation, her voice quavering in a
pleasant manner as Miri's hands cradled her bosom the way one would a priceless
artifact.

"No, not really," Miranda replied, savoring the feel of the small, firm, and
very warm rises she'd cupped her hands over, gently fondling them as she moved
to nibble Misty's earlobe and whisper, "It must be the helpless victim thing."

"Helpless?" teased Misty, her hands rising from the water full of knives and
forks that dripped with soapy water.

"Oooh, even better," Miranda giggled, "you know, you're beautiful when you get
worked up."

"What do you mean?" Misty inquired, blushing a little as she set the utensils in
the dish rack.

"Any time you get angry, or determined, or get that adrenaline surge that comes
from a really intense battle," explained Miranda, lowering her voice and
suddenly sounding embarrassed, "It really, really... Well, let's just say that I
like it. A lot."

Misty couldn't help but laugh, quickly leaning back to kiss Miranda
reassuringly. "Sorry, dear, I shouldn't make fun of you," she replied
apologetically, feeling Miranda's hands slip away, and leaving her with a bit of
chill where once there was reassuring warmth, "But at least I know I'm not
scaring you away."

"Not much chance of that," assured Miranda, glancing out into the hall as Bob
staged back towards the living room, looking like he'd been shot in the stomach.

"Good," Misty replied, yanking at the plug and letting the sink drain before
turning to Miranda, holding her dripping hands before her, "'Cause I'm just
getting used to this being appreciated thing."

Miranda smiled sadly as she dropped a dishtowel over Misty's hands and began to
dry them for her. "I know, dear," she said quietly, taking a small pleasure from
spoiling her beloved so, "And if I have my way, one day you'll forget what it's
like not to be."

Misty sighed contentedly, grabbing the towel away and tossing it over a near by
chair before hugging Miranda tightly. "I love you," she said quietly, her voice
quavering.

"Something wrong?" Miranda inquired, holding Misty protectively and feeling
suddenly concerned.

"No," her lover replied, looking up at Miranda adoringly, "I'm just so happy
that I'm sad, that's all. Sometimes you're just too much for me."

"Too much?" the courier asked; feeling suddenly worried even as Misty shook her
head and laughed.

"No, no, Miri," she assured, "I mean that sometimes you show me so much love and
affection that I wonder where I'll put it all. Does that make any sense?"

Miranda nodded. "Yeah, it does," she replied carefully, "I guess I'm just making
up for lost time or something. Looking to erase both our bad memories... That
and I just never want there to be any doubt in your mind as to how I feel about
you."

"You haven't exactly been secretive about it," Misty chuckled, her hands moving
up to hold Miranda's face as she moved closer, "trust me, my love. I'm not going
anywhere without you, and I'm not going to think you suddenly hate me just
because you have other things on your mind."

"Am I really that insecure?" said Miranda rhetorically, glancing away as Misty
pulled her forward and gave her a reassuring kiss.

"Have I ever asked you to be an absolute pillar of strength?"

"No," laughed Miranda, looking into he depths of Misty's sea green eyes
searchingly for a moment, "Infact you've never asked anything of me. You've been
so completely unselfish that I almost feel guilty."

"Strange," Misty pondered, "I thought I'd been kind of demanding."

Miranda gave her a curious look. "Demanding? You?"

Misty nodded. "Dragging you from gym to gym, deriving self-esteem from your
love, having you pay our way for the last nearly half a year!"

"As I recall, most of that was my idea," replied Miranda slyly, "I think I'm the
demanding one here. I'm the one who's expecting you to be all my dreams made
manifest, making you listen to all my silly romantic notions, to put up with my
putting you upon a pillar so high that you're almost more of a legend than a
real person-"

Misty covered Miranda's lips with her index finger as she tried not to laugh.
"Enough, enough," she whispered, turning towards the sound of a low growling
that became a loud bark as someone opened the door, "I think Laurna's back."

"What was your first clue?" chuckled Miranda as her aunt laughed at the
growlithe's overreaction to her return.

"Gee, which one loves her more, Frank or Bow?" Misty pondered as they walked arm
in arm out into the hallway.

"I'm glad Nezumi's not that bad," Miranda added smiling at the haunter that flew
in over Laurna's shoulder and flew straight towards her.

"Wraaa!" exclaimed Wraith all too happily as Miranda held out her hand to her
approaching haunter.

"And where have YOU been," she inquired in a mock accusing tone.

"He showed up when I was doing my 'lecture' as you put it," Laurna explained as
she hung up her coat in time to happily accept Frank's suddenly almost desperate
embrace, "Don't worry, though, he actually helped out a bit. And he didn't scare
the children. Too much."

"Well that's good," Miranda replied, holding onto Wraith's hand and laughing as
he spun her around in a poorly executed pirouette, "And it's good that you're
back, Wraith. I need you for something."

"Haunt?" the ghost inquired, his ephemera seeming to ripple as he attempted to
hold in all the energy he'd consumed that day.

"Hold on," his trainer explained, we need to get permission first.

The haunter nodded as Miranda leaned in through one of the entrances to the
living room and caught sight of her mother. "Is it alright if we use the
greenhouse for a little while?" she inquired, causing Vivian to glance up at her
suspiciously, "Misty's crew need some practice if they're going up against Viper
tomorrow."

"And Nox, and Shadow," added Laurna, happily sitting down upon the ancient couch
with Frank as Bow immediately went into her 'I'm helpless and can't jump all the
way up there routine' irregardless of the fact that she could jump down on her
own just fine.

Miranda nodded, trying her best to look fearful as her mother calmly sipped her
tea and thought about it for a moment. "Only if you promise not to burn down the
rest of the house," Vivian said at last, covering her suddenly sad tone with a
smile, "I'm afraid that your grandfather was the last person in this house with
a 'green thumb', so I doubt we'll be needing it ever again anyway."

"Thanks mom!" called both Misty and Miranda as they both hurried off down the
hall, causing Frank to chuckle at Vivian's reaction.

"You know," he commented, sliding his arm about Laurna's shoulders and petting
Bow as she shot him a fiercely jealous look, "Even with her moodiness, I don't
think I've seen Miri this happy in a long time."

Vivian nodded contemplatively. "We'll see, Franklin," the courier's mother
replied, "We will see..."

***

At the opposite end of the Lilcamp residence was a spacious, two-story glass
structure with a pointed roof that was easily accessed by the nondescript door
that Miranda's paternal grandfather had installed. Though the greenhouse had
seen better days, many of its windows cracked and broken by the elements, both
natural and supernatural, and the quadruple row of tables that once supported
hundreds of clay pots had since collapsed to the equally cracked and broken
cement floor, life still flourished within its walls.

As Miranda hit the main switch, only half of the fluorescent bulbs that lit the
structure came to life, and then after a full minute of waiting, most of them
remained dim, with peculiar dark shapes floating about inside them as one of the
empty light sockets sparked dangerously.

In response to the sudden, unexpected light, several small shapes shrieked and
scurried into the dark safety of the thick underbrush created by decades of
untended weeds allowed to spring up between the cracks in the floor and erode it
further. At the same time, the sound of leathery wings was heard, as several
zubats made a panicked escape from the sudden intrusion, causing both human
intruders to jump and cover their heads as the blind pokemon flew out one of the
still open ventilation windows at the top of the peaked roof.

"This used to be a really nice place," Miranda explained sadly, breathing in the
sweet smell of decaying vegetable matter and the warm smell of the soil, freshly
tilled by various decomposers, "but once my grandparents moved down to Maiden's
Peak permanently, it only had my dad and his victreebel to look after it. And
since my father had something of a 'brown thumb', he just sorta let it go.
Treant lived here for a while, but after my Dad died, he took off into woods.
He's probably gone to seed by now..."

"Well," suggested Misty, uncertain as to the safety of the structure, let alone
its inhabitants, but unwilling to show fear of them, "They say that bulbasaurs
make the flowers grow, so why not let Ivy loose in here from time to time. With
Umi or Nezumi to look after her, of course."

Miranda nodded, a smile crossing her face. "She'd probably like it," she
confessed, "Especially in the Summer. It's like a sauna in here then!"

"Uh, more like a greenhouse," chuckled Misty, taking a step back as Miranda sent
her a sideways glance and smiled.

"Well, if that's the way you want to play," she replied with a wry grin, walking
down the narrow path that remained and separated the two of the major weed
infestations, "I guess I'll just have to quit playing fair."

"Well, just don't leave me here all alone," Misty replied, as Miranda turned to
face her, standing at the opposite end of the greenhouse, "That's definitely
against the League rules!"

"Oh, ha, ha," the courier teased, folding her arms across her chest and
beckoning Misty a little closer with her index finger, "Now then, any ideas what
pokes you're gonna use? Aunt Laurna has three, so she'll more than likely want
to use them all. Which means you're not in for an easy battle."

Misty nodded. "Do you suppose she'd let me use Leviathan?" the trainer inquired
skeptically, glancing nervously at the underbrush as she stepped closer, "I
mean, how much room do you suppose she has at her gym."

"Oh, she'll have the room," assured Miranda, glancing about the greenhouse
appraisingly, "That's one of those rules you have to abide by if you're going to
have a League sanctioned gym. I'm afraid though, that he'd tear the place down."

Misty nodded and held up a pokeball. "Then I'll go with the old stand-by for
now," she replied, squeezing the metal orb in just the right way, causing it to
pop open, sending forth it's crimson glow, "You're up Shadow!"

The enormous star shaped pokemon materialized, and immediately stood proudly,
facing Miranda with the round gem at his center gleaming dramatically in the
poor lighting.

"I see," Miranda replied, quickly reviewing Misty's roster as she pulled out a
black and gray pokeball, expanding it from its storage size as she spoke, "then
Umberlee's probably your next best bet. It's harder to scare her and Shadow, but
her weakness to ghost techniques could prove a problem. And Leviathan's not
likely to realize he's supposed to feel fear. Which'll be a real advantage
against a ghost specialist like my Aunt Laurna."

"Oh?" inquired Misty, suddenly regretting her hasty decision as she felt dozens
of curious eyes upon her, watching from the shadows.

Miranda nodded, wishing her beloved all the courage in the world as she met
Misty's gaze from across the room and said quietly, "Wraith, dear. It's time."

The surface of the colour-coded ball suddenly shimmered and was almost instantly
covered by a thin, translucent green film that gave it a peculiar sheen.

"Wha- what is that?" Misty stammered as Shadow levitated slightly in
anticipation.

"It's only ectoplasm," Miranda explained, feeling a little guilty at having to
purposely scare her beloved, "But it might only be an illusion. Did you see me
return Wraith before we came in here?"

Misty shook her head and Miranda nodded grimly.

"That's something you have to be careful of with ghosts," she explained as the
green ooze bubbled at the seam in the ball, almost as though air were escaping
through it. But a moment later, it became apparent that the closed opening was
the source of the goo, "They can disappear and reappear at will. Their natural
state is invisible after all. Also, the one thing you absolutely have to
remember when battling ghosts; is not to be afraid."

Misty pried her eyes off the ectoplasm that had now collected in Miranda's hand,
and was even now dripping in long sticky strands to the floor where it pooled at
her feet. "Th-that's a little harder than it looks," she replied nervously,
noting the way the green ooze sublimated loudly as it hit the concrete floor
with unpleasantly wet sounding splatters.

Miranda nodded solemnly, seemingly unaware of the cold, sticky goo that was
dripping off her hand and down her arm. "Yes," she agreed, "but it's important,
my love. Because ghosts feed on fear. They can gain sustenance from any emotion,
but fear is the sweetest. The best thing to do is not be the victim. Put the
ghost in its place. Show it who's stronger of will and who's in charge. I had to
do that with Wraith the first time we met, and now everything's fine. Remember,
fear is the greatest weapon in a ghost's arsenal, take that away, and you've won
half the battle."

Misty nodded, chastising herself for the involuntary shiver that passed through
her as a dark shape began to rise from the pokeball in Miranda's hand. It began
by flowing into air, a curling black smoke tinged with darkest purple that
slowly formed a wide malevolent grin, and filled the air with an ethereal
chuckling that sent unpleasant chills through Misty's body.

"But just remember, my love," Miranda added, her entire focus on Misty, "That
you can loose or win a battle even before it begins. You have Leviathan; you'll
have the same advantage as Aunt Laurna does tomorrow. He may not scare her
ghosts, but he may make her think twice."

Misty smiled nervously, the thought of the gigantic sea serpent looming over the
small forms of Laurna's ghosts and making the woman think twice, even for a
moment sending a reassuring feeling through her.

"Very well then," she replied, bravely meeting Wraith's baleful gaze as he fully
materialized and cackled menacingly, shall we begin?"

Miranda smiled, nodding slowly as Wraith's illusionary ectoplasm vanished. "You
know," she commented offhandedly, making Misty smile, "Ghosts only exude
ectoplasm when they pass through solid objects. Don't be fooled, my love."

"Got it!" called Misty, adrenaline suddenly surging through her the way it
always did before a battle, "Alright, Shadow! Let's show 'Fang Face' over there
what you're made of! Swiftness, now!"

Miranda stopped herself from commenting as the staryu's center gleamed and a
hail of tiny five pointed stars spun out in a wide cone, like a hail of glowing
golden shuriken as Wraith looked on, seemingly bored.

"Um, Misty-?" the courier began as Wraith made a show of yawning widely and
stretching as Miranda scrambled out of the way and the cloud of hardened kinetic
energy passed harmlessly through the haunter, and shattered their way through
several windows behind him.

"Now, Shadow!" the trainer ordered, leaping off the ground and flinging her arms
into the air in her excitement, "While he's distracted! Neptune's Might!"

But her staryu was way ahead of her, having long since learned to anticipate his
human's tactics. By the time his attack had reached Wraith, Shadow was already
spinning at top speed, his five arms already releasing a fine mist of water that
the surrounding plants surely appreciated. At Misty's command, however, Shadow
arched the ends of his arms forward and forced water through their ends with all
his might, sending forth a spiraling blast of hydrokinetic force.

"Don't underestimate me, my love!" Misty laughed as Wraith's eyes bulged and he
made a loud, unpleasant gargling noise in response to being hit in the open
mouth.

"I- I see," Miranda replied, taking several steps back into the waist high
assortment of wild plants, and stepping up onto one of the collapsed tables as
her haunter's body began to expand as he took in water.

"Wraith?" she called in a worried tone, as the haunter's body became an ever-
expanding enormous round ball with a pair of relatively small hands as he
floated, and Shadow continued his attack, "Are- Are you alight, dear?"

The haunter's now relatively beady eyes gave Miranda a sideways glance as his
hand gave her the thumb's up. "How 'bout you, Shadow?" Misty inquired, her voice
wavering a little as she watched in awe as Wraith's body swelled to a size that
would have made it impossible for him to fit in her bedroom at home.

The staryu gave a wary affirmative, but his pace began to slow, and the his
quintuple jets of focused water soon petered off to nothing, leaving a very
large, very strange looking ghost floating uncomfortably in the center of the
green house.

"Wraith?" inquired Miranda cautiously, stepping down onto the spongy ground and
walking around to the front of the haunter's bulk with a concerned look upon her
face, "You okay?"

That haunter made gestured to his mouth, his eyes looking frantic as his body
made unpleasant sloshing noises. "Just spit it out, dear," his trainer said in a
maternal tone that was full of sympathy, "You know it's not good for you."

Wraith caught Miranda's eye and made several panicked gestures as Misty crept up
nervously. "Is he okay?" she asked as the haunter tried desperately to
communicate his distress.

"Oh, it's just his pride," Miranda sighed warily, "Hold on, I think I know how
to fix this."

"You think?" Misty replied as the courier dashed for the exit and ran down the
hall, "You mean this has happened 'before'?!"

"No, no!" assured Miranda, running back into the greenhouse, slightly out of
breath as she smeared something green and gooey across her tattered looking
bokken and walked calmly up to Wraith, "It's just that he's trying to be funny.
Wraith can be kinda stubborn that way. Okay, stand back!"

Misty yelped as Miranda spun her sword counterclockwise over her wrist, sending
the ectoplasm she'd smeared across its length splattering in all directions, and
taking a step back as she focused on her pokemon. "Okay, Wraith," she warned, in
her best 'not taking any crap from you' tone, "Either spit it out, or we do this
the hard way!"

"Mmm, mmm! Mm! Mmm!" replied Wraith, pointing desperately at his mouth with both
hands, his eyes thrice as large as normal and full of alarm.

"Alright then!" Miranda exclaimed, raising her sword two handedly over her head,
just as Frank stepped into the room, "You asked for it!"

"Hey, guys," said the cop, just as Miranda's ectoplasm soaked sword swung down
and hit wraith between the eyes, "What's u-?! Ah! Nooo!!!"

The haunter exploded in a blast of dark purple ephemera, ectoplasm, and more
water than seemed possible, sending his trainer flying backwards into Frank who
found himself gripping the sides of the doorway as a torrent of strange water
blasted past him, down the hallway.

"Haun... Terrr..." muttered Wraith, now back to his normal proportions and
spinning slowly in mid-air, looking dazed, a meter or so off the ground.

"Oh dear!" laughed Misty; standing up from where she'd hid in the underbrush,
"Is everyone okay?"

"I'm getting too old for this..." Frank muttered, wiping ectoplasm out of his
eyes.

"Well, I think that's enough training for one night," Miranda replied with a
smile that quickly vanished as her mother wheeled her way down the hall and
looked disapprovingly down at her daughter who'd landed hard on her butt once
the torrent had subsided.

"Miranda, dear," Vivian said simply, "I thought I told you not to burn down the
rest of the house."

"D-does flooding count?" her daughter inquired weakly with a meek smile that
actually caused Vivian's stern expression to soften a little.

"Actually," offered Misty, "I'll just get Shadow to reabsorb the water before it
causes any permanent damage."

Vivian turned to her with a curious expression and nodded. "Please do, dear,"
she said simply, "I'd rather not have a flooded basement."

Shadow needed no coaxing, and levitated his way past Vivian, hydroplaning across
the hardwood floor as he sucked the water back into himself. "Useful trick," the
woman commented, shaking her head at Frank and backing up into the house as
Laurna stepped carefully out into the greenhouse.

"So?" she inquired brightly, catching Misty's gaze as Miranda wrung out the
front of her shirt, "Are you ready for tomorrow?"

"Yeah, but right now I think the best thing for me is to take a shower and go to
bed," she replied with wary amusement.

"The country air'll do that to you," Laurna agreed, "Oh, and I should ask before
I forget. How do you like your tea, dear?"

"Same as Mom, strangely enough," chuckled Miranda, slogging her way back down
the path as Misty gave Laurna a quizzical look.

"Good," the professor/gym leader replied with a nod, reaching into her back
pocket and giving Misty a bemused glance. "Oh, and here."

"What is it?" the trainer inquired, holding out her hand as Laurna deposited two
ancient copper coins into her palm.

"You'll need these tomorrow," Laurna explained, glancing at her niece
mischievously, "It's traditional..."

***

Miranda's room seemed even more invitingly cozy as Misty closed the door behind
them and Miranda turned on the small table lamp she'd had since she was a child,
looking a little embarrassed by the little plastic dragonite that stood amongst
the plastic trees at the base the lamp stood on, and lampshade that portrayed
excessively cute looking dratini's.

"You know," commented Misty, bouncing several times on Miranda's bed as she sat
down upon it, the fuzzy bathrobe she wore making her feel comfortable and safe,
"I think your mother was actually amused by what happened."

"That's good!" Miranda replied, sitting at her desk/dressing table and glancing
over at Misty's refection behind her, "I'd hate to have her giving me that
disapproving look the entire time for the next few days. But you're right; she
did seem to think it was funny, though she'd never admit it. It must be because
Frank's in town, and Aunt Laurna's all happy again."

"You don't suppose it's because of you, do you?" Misty inquired, a sly smile
crossing her lips as Miranda sent her back a quizzical look in the mirror and
went back to brushing out her still wet tangles.

"Me?" she inquired as Misty got up and took the brush from her.

"Yes, you!" laughed Misty, setting the brush down and dealing with the worst of
the tangles manually, "Tell me something, Miri. When was the last time you
laughed in this house?"

"I dunno," she replied with a shrug, gritting her teeth as Misty yanked her hair
a bit trying to undo what looked to be a knot that boy Scout could be proud of,
"Last year, I guess. Maybe..."

Misty sighed heavily, picking up the brush again and holding Miranda's hair out
as she brushed it from underneath. "I mean really laughed," she corrected, "Or
said or did something really silly, like run into the house for your bokken to
stop Wraith from doing something stupid. Or when faced with your mother's wrath,
just looking up at her and smiling like you did."

Miranda's stormy gray eyes looked up at Misty thoughtfully for moment as the
girl smiled back at her. "Not recently, I don't think," her lover replied,
"Miri, you've changed since last time you were here. Maybe you haven't noticed,
but I've seen the looks your mom and Bob exchange now and then. They're
surprised, their happy and they're just a tiny bit suspicious."

"That's my fault," Miranda said quickly, "Last time I started to get this way, I
was madly in love with the wrong person. Definitely NOT the other half of my
soul, I can say that for certain now. Mother's just concerned that it's going to
happen again, that's all."

"So what did happen?" Misty inquired, changing her angle of attack and brushing
Miranda's hair from the top, "You said he left you for someone else, but..."

"There's not much more to tell, really," Miranda replied solemnly, "You can read
my diary if you'd like, but the last parts are a little incoherent. You know, if
I hadn't found Wraith, I never would have returned home at all? Pretty scary,
eh?"

"Almost as scary as he is," teased Misty in agreement, giving Miranda a
reassuring hug that was as much for Miranda as it was for herself.

"And if it wasn't for Erika," Miranda added more than a little nervously, "I
very much doubt that I'd have had the courage to approach you. Let alone
remember how to fall in love with you."

"Erika?" Misty inquired, hoping her tone didn't sound suspicious, even as she
forced down the jealously she absolutely refused to feel, "I seem to recall you
mentioning her before."

"The Gym Leader in Celadon City," Miranda explained, looking a little nervous,
and feeling more than a little nervous about explaining it, "Aunt Laurna
mentioned her at dinner in an attempt to embarrass me, and probably gauge your
reaction."

"Oh, I see," Misty replied, wincing as she realized her tone sounded harsh, "I
met her once. Interesting woman."

"Um, yeah," chuckled Miranda nervously, glancing down at the pictures stuffed in
the corners of the mirror to hide how uncomfortable she suddenly felt, "I owe
her a lot. She helped me get rid of some of my bitterness, and helped me to move
on so I could love again. So as I said, if it wasn't for Erika, I wouldn't be
here with you right now."

Misty smiled a little as Miranda reached up and took her hands, finally meeting
her gaze in the mirror. "She was one of your other lovers, wasn't she?" Misty
inquired quietly, her tone sounding painfully neutral.

Miranda nodded. "Y-yes," she admitted, struggling to find just the right words,
"Her and another girl at the Gym, actually. But it was... 'Different', if that
makes any sense what so ever. I dunno, I think they did it to show me that
making love wasn't just a selfish, one-sided thing. That it could be a
beautiful, wondrous experience, and certainly more interesting than the same old
boring things my first love seemed to want all the time...

"They showed me things, and opened my mind, Misty. But you, you showed me that
my time there wasn't wasted. You showed me that I did recover, that I could love
again, and that there was someone out there who could love me back."

"Di- Did you love her?" Misty inquired quietly, bowing her head and feeling more
insecure than she had in months.

"Goodness no!" Miranda chuckled, pushing her seat back and guiding Misty into
her lap, "It wasn't like that. And it wasn't just a cheep fling either. It was a
learning experience. And it was part of something greater; everything we did
those few days was designed to give me back my self-esteem. Can you imagine me,
being nervous, and unsure of myself? Questioning every decision, especially when
it came to relationships? Thinking that everyone out there was just going to
hurt me in the end like he did? Not to mention always being on the defensives
and taking compliments like they were insults."

"No," whispered Misty in reply, shaking her head as she leaned into Miranda's
embrace, "You're a beautiful, confident woman who could stand up to any
challenge without fear. It's one of the things that I love about you."

"And it's also one of things I love about you," Miranda replied, causing Misty
to look up into her eyes, her expression so sad that Miranda's heart felt as
though it would shatter.

But when Misty smiled, Miranda couldn't help by cry. The beauty she saw before
her, the deep love and trust in Misty's eyes causing her mind to simply let go
as she held onto her lover as though her life depended in it.

"Miri, I-" Misty stammered, taken back by Miranda's sudden outburst, as she
clung to her and cried upon her shoulder.

"Misty..." Miranda sobbed quietly, "I'm so sorry..."

"Shh, it's okay, dearest," she soothed, running her fingers through Miranda's
damp tangles, "It's alright. I appreciate your honesty. I've never known someone
who loved me so much that they'd actually risk loosing me. Miranda, I love you.
What more... What more can I say?"

Miranda sniffled, and looked up into Misty's eyes, seeing that she too had
started to cry. "Nothing," she assured, running the backs of her fingers down
Misty's cheek lovingly, "Just know that I love you as well, and that I never
want to keep secrets from you. It's too important to me that you know the real
me. That you have no illusions about who I am, or what I'm capable of. I just
want to know that you'll be there on, the last day that I live. That on that day
your love for me will be as strong as it is now..."

"It'll be stronger," promised Misty, hugging Miranda as she rocked gently back
and forth, "And yes, I'll be there. And if Sylph Co develops an immortality
serum tomorrow, then I'll stand at the end of time, with you by my side.
Nothing's going to change that. I promise you, my dearest Miri, I love you, and
I always will."

"That's all that I ask," Miranda replied contentedly.

Misty smiled happily, and slid out of Miranda's lap. "You know, I do have one
more unanswered question," she added strengthening her resolve as she glanced
nervously at Miranda's bed as the nagging thought wore down Misty's defences.

"Now'd be the time," Miranda chuckled, shivering as Misty's warmth left her.

"Have you ever...? In this bed I mean...?"

The courier smiled, trying not to laugh at the sudden shyness in Misty's tone.
"No dear," Miranda assured her, sliding her arms around Misty's waist from
behind and hugging her affectionately before moving to turn down the blankets,
"Believe it or not, you'll be the first person I've shared this bed with. Well,
like this anyway."

"Lucky me," Misty teased, letting her bathrobe fall from her shoulders before
eagerly sliding between the sheets as Miranda followed suit, immediately seeking
out their shared warmth once again.

"Oh, don't be so surprised," Miranda giggled, feeling a little embarrassed by
the admission, "I was embarrassed more easily back then, so bringing someone
home like this was sorta out of the question. Not that anyone would have said
anything, but still..."

"Well, I'm glad you waited," replied Misty, playfully tapping Miranda on the
nose with her finger, before snuggling closer and looking thoughtful for a
moment. "Hey, is it just me," she asked, "Or is this bed more comfortable than
the one you got me?"

"Jealous?" Miranda chuckled, entwining her legs through Misty's, more for
comfort than warmth, as the heavy comforter above them blocking the lingering
chill in the room.

Misty laughed, giving Miranda a teasing kiss as she spoke. "Maybe a little," she
admitted, "But I suppose it makes sense that this one would be nicer. It's
homemade, right?"

"You noticed?"

Misty nodded, glancing up wooden headboard, carved with odd looping designs,
which formed interesting patterns that seemed different every time she looked at
them. "I recognize the artist's work," she explained with a smile, "I'm glad to
see creativity runs in your family."

"Gallops," Miranda agreed with a yawn.

"It's hard to argue with that," Misty agreed, shivering inadvertently as the
wind rattled the window pains, "Oh, and that reminds me. What's the plan for
this Winter?"

"I'll pick you up some snowshoes at the trading post," said Miranda with a
shrug, "You know, normally I don't like the Winter. But this year, I think it'll
be good."

"Oh? And why's that?" Misty inquired with a smile, knowing Miranda far too well
to think it was just a simple comment.

"Because," her beloved replied, trying to sound serious but not completely
succeeding, "It gives me an excuse to hold you more often."

"You need an excuse?!"

"Well, just so you don't think I'm clingy or anything..."

Misty laughed. "Until I met you, Miri," she explained wryly, hiding the sadness
in her tone as best she could, "I didn't know what affectionate was. Trust me,
I'm due."

"Then you've come to the right place," assured Miranda, giving her a kiss
goodnight, "Just always remember to speak up it if I ever go to far."

"As if," Misty laughed, snuggling closer as Miranda reached over to shutout her
mildly embarrassing bedside lamp, "Goodnight, Miri. I love you."

"I wish I could sum up my feelings that easily," the courier replied, setting
her glasses down and shutting out the darkness, "but for now, I love you will
just have to do."

"You'll find a better way," Misty chuckled before yawning, "It's what you do.
Sleep well my, love..."
Chapter XII "Chaotic Good Before 10:30am..."

Somewhere on the edge of her hearing, her watch's pager went off. The internal
randomizer chose something classical out of the fourteen different lyrical
selections it had at its disposal to get its owner's attention. A long stream of
insistent sounding chords that refused to be ignored for the minute and a half
they droned on for.

But being wedged haphazardly between a light sweater and a pair of polar fleece
lined jeans, the sound of the pager was muffled. Even the gentle green
luminescence of the watch's tiny screen, desperately flashing "Message Waiting"
under the large black LED that read "6:02am" was hidden, leaving the person
leaving the message little choice.

The painfully annoying ring filtered through Miranda's mind with all the
subtlety of a jackhammer. She'd chosen the high-pitched, incessantly whiney
chime for just this reason. The repeated, painfully annoying sound was one of
the only things that could pry her out of bed from the deep sleep she'd been
experiencing, and wished beyond anything else she could still enjoy.

Miranda waited for several moments, her not yet fully conscious mind forging a
shortly lived dream around the sound where she was eating breakfast and her
cereal kept making strange ringing noises. At last, however, Miranda remembered
where she was, and realized the origin of the sound.

"Cursed thing," she grumbled, trying to remember where the edge of the bed was,
despite there being ample space to stand on either side, "I'll get rid of it
yet.

By the fifth ring, Miranda was sitting on the edge of her bed, shivering naked
in the morning's chill and looking back over her shoulder at the still sleeping
form of Misty. Looking warm and content, still wrapped securely in the layers of
blankets, and somehow blissfully unaware of the cell phone's final piercing
ring.

"Lucky you," the courier said with a smile, reaching back to brush her lover's
hair from her eyes, envying her immensely.

Miranda turned back to where the sound had come from, and considered the
consequences of simply going back to bed. Of just wrapping herself in her
blankets again, of sharing Misty's warmth and feeling her lover's soft skin
against her own until sleep came to take her once more.

"This had better be good," she grumbled, leaning forward to dig her watch out of
pile of clothes she'd set aside for that day, "The world had better need saving
or I'm breaking someone's kneecaps..."

It took her a moment to recognize the number that scrolled by at her command.
But the little emergency icon that lit up above it jogged the courier's memory.
"Why would she need my help?" Miranda inquired of the little jumping rattata
icon before glaring at her backpack that held her cell phone, "Oh well,
whatever. I'm sure it's good."

Reluctantly, Miranda pried herself off the bed, staggering slightly and only now
noticing the unpleasant fuzzy taste in her mouth that only added to her dislike
for being up that early, as stepped halfheartedly into her Winter jeans and
gazed longingly at Misty one last time.

In the time they'd been together, sharing beds and joined sleeping bags alike,
the she had never snored, or ground her teeth, or flailed her arms dangerously
in her sleep. Misty had been, as she was at that moment, quite. Content to reach
out and hold onto Miranda with a slight smile crossing her face from time to
time. A still, unmoving monument to deep contentment and a beautiful reminder of
the love they both shared. Only now, she was alone. Her hand reaching out to
where her beloved had been, her fingers desperately gripping at one of Miranda's
overstuffed pillows, and looking so forlorn that it nearly broke Miranda's heart
to simply leave her there.

"I love you," whispered the courier, her hand clenched and held against her
naked chest as she looked down at Misty's sleeping form, wondering which she'd
feel guiltier for. Leaving her beloved behind, or ignoring whatever medical
emergency Lavender Town's Nurse Joy was calling her in to assist with.

"I'll regret this either way," she muttered after a moment, and quickly shuffled
into the rest of her clothes and grabbed the cursed artifact she called a cell
phone before quietly leaving the room and heading downstairs.

***

The kitchen was filled with dull gray light as she walked in, the cold linoleum
beneath her feet reminding Miranda that she needed a new pair of woolen socks.
And as she punched the numbers reluctantly into her cell, she spotted the large
wooden container Bob often kept full of his left over baked goods.

"Joy?" she asked into her phone, using only the right side of her brain, as the
left couldn't muster the will to be polite that early in the morning.

"Ms. Lilcamp?!" came the desperate, and all too loud voice of the para-
veterinarian, the sounds of the ocean intersplaced by other muttered voices that
sounded gruff yet equally worried, "Oh good! I'm so glad you're up. I need you
to bring your gastly down to the South Beach. There's been an accident."

"He's a haunter now," the courier corrected, wincing as she turned down the
volume and pulled open the small door hopefully, "Why, what's happened?"

"Um, I need someone who- Oh! Hold on!" Joy replied, her voice suddenly muffled
as she yelled at someone half incoherently before returning to Miranda, "I need
someone who can put pokemon to sleep."

"Gee, thanks," Miranda chuckled wryly, smiling happily as she yanked a
reasonably fresh crescent roll out and took a bite.

"No, I mean I need a pokemon with hypnosis!"

"What's wrong with Morticia?" Miranda asked, opening the fridge and shivering as
she held the phone between her shoulder and cheek in order to grab out the large
pitcher of orange juice she found.

"Um, the dewgong hit her pretty hard the moment she tried to 'sing'," Joy
explained, her tone becoming more worried, "I had to 'return' her, and she'll be
down for at least a few hours..."

"So why me?" Miranda asked, stuffing the rest of her crescent roll into her
mouth and chewing as quickly as she could, "Why not Zack or somebody? Or just
get a tranque-rifle brought over?"

"His injuries are quite extensive," Joy explained as Miranda tilted her head
back and poured the orange juice straight into her mouth, not caring as some of
it dribbled down her cheeks and landed on her gray woolen socks after dripping
off her chin, "The drug could kill him. Also, um... You're the only one who's
answered the call. Sorry."

"Eh, no problem," Miranda assured her, setting down the mostly empty container
on the counter and trying to belch as quietly as she could into her hand, "I can
be there in less than five."

"Great!" exclaimed Nurse Joy, unaware that the cell phone was already lying on
the island counter next to the orange juice, slowly spinning in place as Miranda
hurried out the front door...

***

It wasn't the first time Miranda had wished her glasses were photosensitive as
the wind stung her eyes into tearing up, but that morning ranked fairly high
upon the list. The sun above seemed as cold, and harsh as the stiff breeze off
of the water, yet its blinding rays of pale yellow light seemed far more
offensive than the icy chill that cut through her Fall courier jacket as she
rode her mountain bike recklessly down the front porch steps.

"I hate days like this," she muttered rhetorically, standing on her pedals to
make better time as she sped away from 1313 Mockingbird Lane, and cut through
her neighbor's yard to reach the road leading to Route 12 quicker, "Why can't
bright and sunny days be warm, and cold days be dark and dreary?"

There seemed no answer, even as she skidded to a halt before the winding
staircase and left her mountain bike to clatter noisily to the ground as she
took the stairs two at a time.

As she went, she glanced up at the mob of seabirds, both mundane and pokemon
circling overhead and wondered if she wasn't too late. But as Miranda reached
the halfway mark, a shouted warning broke Miranda from her reverie, causing her
to react without thinking.

With a panicked shout, the courier leapt over the side of staircase, gripping
the railing at the next landing as a cone of strange, multicoloured light
enveloped the entire flight of steps she'd been using. A second alter, and the
now shimmering wooden stairs shattered into splinters, having reached a
temperature that neared absolute zero.

"Aurora Beam?" Miranda pondered, glancing down below her dangling feet and out
across the beach to where a crowd of fisherman cowered behind a determined
looking woman in a long black cloak.

"Nurse Joy!" Miranda called from her precarious position, swinging her legs
forward and dropping down onto the next landing below, "What's with that
thing?!"

The para-vet glanced over her shoulder with a worried expression as Miranda
sprinted down the stairs and the wounded pokemon that rested several meters away
from her fired off another blast of unnatural cold.

"Run!" the woman called as Miranda ducked under the cone of prismatic light and
rolled painfully down the next flight of stairs, "We'll try and distract it!"

"I should be running back up!" Miranda muttered, staggering to her feet and
hoping the sharp pain in her ankle was nothing serious.

"Come on! Over here!" called the men down on the beach, suddenly running towards
the water waving his hands as the large aquatic mammal growled angrily and
targeted him with a crackling blue ice beam.

"Oh, my heroes," said Miranda wryly before slipping and taking the last flight
of steps sliding on her bottom until the cold sand of the beach stopped her.

"Just great," she grumbled as Joy ran over to her, the woman's heavy cloak
billowing, and thankfully arachnid free.

"Are you okay?" the para-veterinarian asked, grabbing Miranda's arm and pulling
her to her feet with surprising strength.

"I'll live," Miranda replied, eyeing the several canisters on Joy's utility belt
hopefully, "But if you have any of those left after we're done here, I think I
sprained my ankle."

Joy nodded sympathetically, and looked all the more worried as she helped
Miranda limp closer to the scene. "If not, I'll get you a new one myself," the
woman assured, helping Miranda to sit-down as she used a simple trick of
prestidigitation to summon Wraith's gray/black pokeball to her hand.

"Wraith," she whispered into it as the dewgong turned to face her, it's single
pointed horn glowing dangerously as several of the fishermen stood to block his
view, "Stealth mode."

There was a gentle hiss as the ball clicked open and Wraith materialized
invisibly a short distance away. 'You're hurt,' came his voice in Miranda's
mind, his tone sounding suspicious as he survived the scene.

"It's nothing," his trainer whispered, activating a second, purple/white ball
that released Nezumi, "Right now, we have a job to do."

The little rattata materialized out of the crimson glow yawning broadly and
rubbing his eyes with his free hand. As he stood upon his haunches, a loose
fitting white bathrobe about his tiny shoulders and a large mug of steaming
liquid in his right paw, Nezumi looked up at Miranda with the one eye he seemed
to be able to open and all but glared up at her.

"Eeesshcheeeetthhh," he replied dryly, and incomprehensively, his tone sounding
dry, hollow, and just a little pained.

"Sorry, dear," Miranda replied, petting his head affectionately as she spoke,
"But I need your help. You have a way with words, and I need you to distract
that thing over there long enough for Wraith to put him to sleep. Okay?"

Nezumi nodded warily, his whiskers drooping as he knocked back the rest of his
coffee and tossed the mug away, discarding the robe before scampering
compliantly off to assess the situation...

***

"Whoa!" the rattata exclaimed as he broke through the crowd and came to a
skidding halt before the wall of rubber booted feet, "What the heck happened to
you?!"

The nearly six-foot long, two hundred and sixty-five pounds of blubber, wrapped
in sleek white fur, and topped with a long, unicorn style horn upon it's
forehead, backed up by two eighteen inch long tusks that sprouted from its upper
jaw, turned his attention to Nezumi, and let out an angry yell.

"Stay back!" the dewgong roared, slamming his huge front flippers down upon the
sand as he tried to pull his bulk forward.

"Hey, uh, like, no problemo, guy!" assured Nezumi, sitting back on his haunches
and waving his forepaws dismissively, "I, uh, I'm just here ta talk."

"I- I have nothing to say to you, traitor!" the aquatic mammal spat, wincing as
the enormous tear in his side sent another wave of pain through him, and more of
his lifeblood stained the cold sand, "You- You have the stench of humans upon
you! Keep your distance or I'll blast you just like the other one!"

"Aw, come on now," laughed Nezumi, hoping that Wraith wasn't just standing
around siphoning off the dewgong's pain, "Human's ain't that bad. Heck, if it
weren't for the Boss Lady, I'd be lunch for some persian by now! And do you know
what the life expectancy of my kind is in the wild? Practically nil! And ya eat
a whole lot better with a human as your master, let me tell ya! Wow! Why'll
never forget that wheal of cheese I got for my birthday last year-!"

"Enough!" the wounded pokemon yelled, the end of his horn glowing brighter with
a swirling rainbow coloured light, "No more lies! Humans did this to me! And now
I'm taking as many of you down with me as I ca-!"

The light suddenly faded as the dewgong went slack jawed and his head dropped to
one side. A moment later, and Nurse Joy ran over to the loudly snoring dewgong
wielding a white cylinder with strange red markings that Nezumi half recognized.

"'Bout freakin' time Fang Face!" the rattata exclaimed, clutching his heart as
his pulse raced in his ears, "I thought I was done for!"

"Eh, death ain't THAT bad," replied the haunter with a shrug, "It's just the
actual 'dying' part that sucks..."

***

"Nanites do your thing," the para-vet muttered in a worried tone as she sprayed
the clear liquid over the wound, immediately causing the blood to clot and the
entire injury take on a peculiar sheen.

"Will he live?" Miranda inquired, limping over before sitting back down in front
of the beast and petting his head concernedly, "Misty'll have a fit if he
doesn't pull through."

Joy nodded before waving for the fishermen to disperse. "I wouldn't worry," she
replied, "I've seen motor boats do worse things to water-types and have them
live."

"A boat did this?" the courier pondered, noticing for the first time the way the
long gash was actually made of several unpleasant cuts along the dewgong's left
flank, each connecting in a gruesome spiraling pattern.

"Probably some tourist," Joy explained, "Some of the fishermen saw them, coming
up from Maiden's Peak in one of those boats they rent out for day trips. When
they hit the dewgong, they just laughed. Something about 'one more ghost for the
Tower' apparently... Must not be from around here."

"Psychos," Miranda muttered bitterly, shaking her head at the audacity of some
humans, "No respect for life."

"It happens," the para-vet replied, taking a second canister off her belt, "Now
if you could just roll up your pant leg...?"

***

"Home at last," Miranda sighed as she quietly turned the handle and opened her
bedroom door, smiling as she heard the slow, steady sounds of Misty's quiet
breathing.

'Miss me?' the courier thought to herself with a smile before sliding back out
of her clothes and sitting on the edge of the bed to examine her ankle.

'They do good work,' she pondered, rotating her foot experimentally, and
wondering how many treatments the dewgong would need before his injuries were
fully healed, 'I hope Uncle Frank finds those reckless tourists, though. I'd
hate to have to do that again!'

Miranda sighed, stretching out her wary limbs as she recalled having to climb
past the broken sections of stairwell to get back to her bike, and being
thankful that even though most people still had to get up to change the channel
on the TV, at least they could heal a sprained ankle in a matter of seconds.

"Miri...?" came Misty's quiet voice as her hand touched Miranda's arm, bringing
a smile to her lips.

"Right here, dearest," she assured, pulling back the covers as Misty opened her
eyes slightly, smiling back and holding open her arms as Miranda approached,
"You okay?"

Misty nodded. "I was just dreaming," she yawned, sighing contentedly as she felt
Miranda's arms encircle her once more, "That you were gone..."

"Duty calls now and then," Miranda replied, but Misty had already fallen asleep
again, her expression seeming somehow happier than when she had left.

"Alright then," the courier mused, slipping off her glasses and setting them on
the nightstand, before snuggling closer and shivering as her lover's warmth
chased away the chill of her skin, "I'll tell ya later. Goodnight again, my
love..."
Chapter XIII "We Have Ways Of Making You 'Stop' Talking..."

Her sleeping mind was struck by a sudden absence as her hand reached out but
found only emptiness, and vague warmth where once there had been a comforting
presence. 'Not again...' her mind muttered, and she pondered the thought for a
moment as a sound filtered its way in. The door was slowly creaking open.

"Miri?" Misty inquired, once again struck by a sense of dj... vu she couldn't
place as she opened her eyes partway and smiled as Miranda stood before her with
a tray.

"I thought you might be hungry," her lover explained, and Misty almost laughed
when she caught sight of what Miranda was wearing.

"Hey," she teased, sitting up and moving a pillow to support herself, "Isn't
that-?"

"The blouse your sister gave me?" Miranda finished Mirthfully, glancing down at
the all too feminine looking garment, whose soft white silk she had to admit
felt nice against her skin, "Yeah. And Bob said it too, eh."

"Said what?"

Miranda sighed, setting the tray down upon its metal legs so that it straddled
Misty. "'Miranda! You look like a girl! What happened?!'" she muttered
exasperatedly, "But I thought I might as well."

"Well you know it looks good on you," assured Misty, inhaling the pleasant scent
of the freshly baked crescent rolls Bob had cooked up, and wasting no time
taking a sip of the orange juice Miranda had made to replace the last batch
she'd all but gone through.

"Thanks," the courier replied shyly, feeling a little self-conscious as she sat
down beside Misty and took one of the rolls, "I thought, you know... It might be
nice to try something different."

"Well just don't cut your hair!" warned Misty with a laugh, teasingly ruffling
it as Miranda gave her a sheepish grin around the roll she was eating.

"I doubt they could make a pair of scissors that sharp," she mused, brushing the
flaky crumbs off her denim jeans and onto the floor, "So, um, are you ready for
today?"

"The challenge?" Misty inquired, trying some of her omelet and finding it almost
as good as Bob's lasagna.

"That too," Miranda replied pensively, "I meant with my Mom. She still wants to
talk to you."

Misty nodded, finding her breakfast far too distracting. "I'll admit your mom's
a little intimidating," she said between bites, "But hey, fear is a weapon,
right? And its best not to let yourself be its victim."

"My mom's not a ghost-type," Miranda laughed.

"Same principle," Misty shrugged, "I just have to be myself, and be confident.
I've noticed something else too."

"Oh?"

"You and your mother are alike in some ways. So if you like me, then chances
are, she will too."

"If she chooses to trust you," Miranda replied, glancing out the window as a
sudden nervous chill struck her.

"Why wouldn't she?" asked Misty, her tone sounding bewildered for a moment,
"I've never done anything to make her suspicious."

Miranda nodded. "I know," she explained with a wary sigh, "But she's cautious.
Too many people in her life have caused her problems, and I guess the stress of
running the Company just adds to that. A lot of clients try to take advantage of
her because of her disability. They seem to think she's weak minded because of
it, but she's used to putting them in their places. And as funny as it may
sound, my mother really didn't trust my father when they first met either, so
don't take it too personally."

Misty smiled at the thought. "Was he anything like you?" she inquired.

Miranda chuckled. "Actually," she replied reminiscently, "He was a bit like
you."

"Me?" Misty blinked.

"Yup," said Miranda with a slow nod and a bemused smile, "An extrovert. Full of
life, and a certain indiscernible quality that makes people like you for no
explainable reason. Something that goes beyond reason, and makes you believe in
things like love at first sight."

"Was it?" Misty inquired softly, her hunger sated as she looked into Miranda's
thoughtful gray eyes.

"He said so," Miranda teased, leaning over giving her beloved a playful kiss.

Misty sighed, shaking her head as she moved the empty tray down onto the floor
and turned onto her side as Miranda looked on adoringly. "That's not answering
my question, dear," she said, finally free of the distraction of Bob's cooking.

Miranda looked thoughtful for a moment, letting out a slow breath as she
searched her memories, and the lingering feelings of the day they'd first met.
"I don't know," she replied honestly, "I think that I was just overcome by the
need to get you out of a bad situation. That and, well... You're not exactly
unattractive, dear."

"Gee, thanks," Misty laughed, moving closer until their noses slid past each
other and Miranda's eyes took up nearly her entire field of view, "And you're
not exactly hideous either!"

Miranda smirked, glancing away as she blushed. "Sorry," she replied, "I just
don't want you thinking I'm completely superficial."

"Only a little?" Misty teased, kissing her playfully before leaning back and
giving her lover a thoughtful look, "Hey, you know, I just realized something."

"What's that?"

"That I've been sitting here completely naked for the last while, and here you
are fully clothed."

Miranda smiled, wetting her lips nervously as she met Misty's gaze. "I guess I
just have that quality," she confessed, "Of making people feel comfortable
around me. But if you'd like..." Miranda's tone changed subtly as she looked up
over the top of her glasses at Misty, her fingers slowly undoing the first
button of her blouse, "...I could always join you?"

"I- I don't think we'd have time," Misty whispered in amusement, her eyes going
wide and her pulse quickening as Miranda leaned forward, steadily undoing
buttons at a leisurely pace as she maintained eye contact.

"I'm sure we have at least a little while," Miranda replied, glancing down at
Misty's bare chest and wondering if the goose bumps along her skin had anything
to do with the light chill in the room as she herself felt uncomfortably warm in
her Winter jeans.

"Just a while?" her lover inquired, swallowing nervously in anticipation as
Miranda's blouse hung open except for the portion she'd tucked into her pants,
her breasts still bound by her bra, but seeming no less inviting.

"Just until my Aunt gets here," the courier continued, slowly moving forward and
reaching for the clasp at the front of her bra, "And I'm certain that she's
quite distracted at this moment. Just as we are..."

Misty nodded slowly, breathing through her mouth, and feeling a pleasant chill
run down her spine as Miranda undid the clasp with a simple movement of her
thumb and index finger, letting the garment fall against the insides of the
blouse.

"You know," she commented, looking up to meet Miranda's gaze, "White really is
your colour."

"That depends," chuckled Miranda, moving to straddle her lover, and letting her
long dark hair spill down over her shoulders, "Is it white for innocence, or
death?"

"'Petite mort'?" Misty breathed as her lover loomed over her, a far more
pleasant distraction than Bob's breakfast had been.

"Like in Shakespeare," agreed Miranda, as Misty ran her fingers through the
courier's dark, silky tresses, "Whenever a character said, 'I die', it was just
his own personal inside joke."

"Mmm, you bards are such delightful perverts," Misty purred, causing Miranda to
catch her breath as her tongue slid lightly across the courier's nipples.

"Misty, Misty, Misty..." she sighed bowing her head and panting into a pillow as
her lover gently nibbled her nipples and reached out to slowly pull down the fly
of Miranda's jeans, "Wha-? I-!"

Misty chuckled in reply, her fingers easily undoing the button of Miranda's
pants without having to look before her hand slid within, seeking out the warmth
of the courier's womanhood through her panties.

"Breakfast was nice, and I thank you for it," said Misty as Miranda shuffled
closer, making it easier for her lover's hand to touch her, and shivering as she
felt Misty's fingers slide down across her labia, "But you're what I'm really
hungry for..."

Miranda brought her head back in time for Misty to lean in and kiss her. "I- I
love you," she managed, lowering herself to be closer to Misty.

"I know," Misty replied teasingly, feeling Miranda's arms go about her shoulders
and lips press firmly against her own in response to Misty's hand sliding
beneath the protective layer of cotton to touch Miranda's skin directly, "And
now its my turn to return all those favors your forever doing me."

Miranda only nodded, resting her head against the pillow as Misty's free hand
slid the courier's jeans down over the rise of her bottom and Miranda became
suddenly very aware of just how vulnerable she felt. It hardly mattered, though;
her body didn't seem to mind the fact that anyone walking in would get an eye
full. Instead, Miranda concentrated on the feeling of her undergarments being
slid down as well before Misty's middle finger slowly moved back and forth
across her labia, seeking entry with a patient touch.

"Don't move," whispered Miranda, convulsing suddenly as Misty's finger slid
inside her all at once, her inner walls immediately tightening, trapping her
lover for a moment as a pleasant feeling spread through her.

"Is this okay?" Misty inquired, her voice sounding concerned.

"Yes," Miranda assured, laughing a little as she moved her hips down against her
lover's fingers, urging Misty to continue, "I- I'm just tense. Please, don't
stop..."

"As you wish," Misty assured, her fingers going through Miranda's hair as she
kissed her, slowly rocking her other hand back and forth so that her middle-
finger slid in and out as her palm and other fingers gently rubbed against her
lover's womanhood.

"I love you," came Miranda's shivering tone a moment later, giving Misty
desperate kisses along her neck before burying her face in the pillow to muffle
her cries of ecstasy, her whole body beginning to shake, as her knees felt as
though they'd give out.

Misty smiled; closing her eyes and basking in the odd thrill it gave her to make
her lover loose control. To have the power to bring such overwhelming joy to
someone she loved very much. Even when Miranda's arms wrapped around her
tightly, clinging to Misty almost desperately as her knees tightened about her
hips, Misty still felt in control. It was still by her hand, now sliding a
second finger to join the first, covered in Miranda's wetness as her lover moved
her hips to desperately meet the oncoming penetrations, that Miranda was
reaching the point of orgasm. Misty knew that she could stop at any time, and
Miranda would understand. It was a comforting feeling, knowing that she was
finally in control of her life, and that someone finally appreciated what she
could do for them.

Miranda made a loud, gasping cry into her pillow, a thunderous release that had
been a long time coming. Her hands gripped Misty's shoulders desperately, as she
literally bit her pillow to muffle the screams, her hips moving almost
independently of her will as Misty went from the slow, patient movement to a
faster, more frantic pace.

Misty soon found the tightening grasp of Miranda's inner walls practically
holding her fingers in place, and decided instead to reach back with her thumb,
making slow circles across her lover's clit as Miranda pulled her onto her side,
gritting her teeth and making incomprehensible noises that sounded wonderful to
Misty's ears.

"Don't hold back, my love," she whispered, refusing to halt her motion as
Miranda finally met her gaze.

The courier's stormy gray eyes seemed distant, her expression contorted yet
beautiful as she looked back at Misty as though she were the only thing that
mattered in the entire universe. Miranda leaned forward, awkwardly kissing Misty
as her arms scrambled for purchase, desperate to hold her lover closer as her
mind swam in the elation of small, but repeated orgasms that besieged her mental
defenses.

"Do you want me to stop?" Misty teased, smiling as the expression on Miranda's
face changed, her eyes looking on pleadingly as Misty kissed her, watching in
near fascination as Miranda writhed.

It was all the courier could to shake her head as she glanced down, watching
Misty's fingers for a moment and feeling strangely amused by the sight of them
sliding in and out of her before her mind gave in one final time.

Miranda's exclamation had little meaning in of itself, but the emotions behind
it came across to clearly to Misty who felt both embarrassed and secretly
excited as her lover's voice filled the room, and she had to wonder how
soundproof the walls really were.

"I- I love you..." Miranda whimpered as she felt little other than a pleasant
numbness where once there had been the wonderful friction of Misty's fingers
sliding in an out of her.

"I love you too," Misty replied happily as Miranda shivered next to her, moving
closer as Misty pulled her hand away and just held Miranda, "But, are you going
to okay?"

Miranda's reply sounded a bit like a laugh as she tried to collect her scattered
thoughts. "That was... That was..." she began, but the words refused to come to
her as the pleasant lightheadedness, and tingle that still clung to her body
like a second skin lingered.

"Your crying," commented Misty, her tone soft, sympathetic and happy as she
brushed the tear from her lover's eye, "Are you sad?"

Miranda smiled shyly before leaning her head forward and kissing Misty gently.
"I'm just so... Happy," she confessed, her voice sounding so vulnerable that all
Misty could do was hold Miranda closer and gently rock them both back and forth.

"I love you, Miri," she repeated, not knowing what else to say as she pondered
Miranda's nearly helpless condition, amazed and astounded at her own power.
'This is what "he" could have had,' she mused with satisfaction, 'But now this
pleasure I give belongs only to you, Miri... I just wish I had your eloquence so
I could tell you how much I really love you.'

"That's all that I ask," Miranda whispered, holding Misty closer as her fingers
moved affectionately through her lover's hair, "And yet, you always surpass my
expectations."

Misty smiled, gazing searchingly into Miranda's eyes and idly wondering how they
were ever going to collect themselves and be downstairs at the appointed time.
'Please don't interrupt,' she thought, willing the sudden knocking on the front
door downstairs to end, for Laurna to give them another hour. Another hour to
just lie in Miranda's bed, holding her and being held by her, speaking without
words of things that were far beyond them.

"We'd better get down there," said Miranda, her tone sad, but her smile still
happy as she reluctantly sat up, looking disheveled with her long dark hair all
over the place, and her blouse hanging loosely off one shoulder, undone to the
last button and only barely containing her modesty. But even with her clothing
in disarray, her eyes looking a little red, and the silly grin that refused to
leave the courier's lips, Misty still looked up at her beloved, seeing Miranda
as the most beautiful thing in all of Creation.

"Just tell me one thing, Miri."

"Yes?" the courier inquired, taking Misty's hand, holding her lover's gaze as
though Misty were the center of her universe.

"Was this a perfect moment?"

Miranda closed her eyes, chuckling mirthfully at her own thoughts as her mind
still stubbornly swam in the remnants of euphoria. "Yes, my love," she said
honestly, though she giggled at her own words, "But then, every moment with you
is perfect..."

***

Miranda lead Misty back downstairs to the dining room/kitchen with a touch of
apprehension. There was something intangible in the air that bothered her, but
she just couldn't place it, her mind still stubbornly refusing to think
logically. And as she rounded the corner and glanced into the room, the feeling
only grew stronger because of what she saw.

Vivian was seated next to her sister Laurna. The two were talking quietly over
tea, the same way they always did right before Laurna did a reading. The round
dining room table had only one more place setting, and was laden with a platter
of Bob's shortbread cookies; the ones that could halt entire armies with their
flavor.

"Good luck, dearest," whispered Miranda, squeezing Misty's hand as she leaned
close to her ear, "This could get messy."

Misty glanced at Miranda and smirked. "Think so?" she asked, feeling slightly
amused despite the seriousness of the situation, "Should I be worried?"

"Possibly," assured Vivian with a knowing smile, beckoning with a simple hand
gesture, "Come, sit with us. Miranda, you're excused. Oh, and Bob should be
waiting for you down by Route 12."

Miranda nodded, disliking the tone her mother was taking, but accepting it. She
gave Misty's hand a final, reassuring squeeze and kissed her lightly on the
cheek. "I'll probably be at the Courier Club by the time you're done. Meet me
there afterwards. Okay?"

"But-" began Misty, turning towards Miranda as the courier hurriedly walked down
the hall and grabbing her coat before leaving the house, everything about
Miranda echoing her nervous anxiety.

"Don't worry, deary," chuckled Laurna over her tea as the sound of the front
door closing echoed ominously through the house, "We don't bite."

Their guest gave a weak, nervous smile as she turned back to the sisters and
took the offered seat. "That's not what I'm afraid of," she chuckled, smiling to
hide her sudden feeling of sudden abandonment.

"Then perhaps you should be," chuckled Laurna, soliciting a stern glance from
her sibling.

"But seriously," continued Vivian, pushing her wheelchair back a bit before
making her way around the counter to the squealing pot on the low stove, "we
wanted to talk to you."

"A-about what?" inquired Misty, looking anywhere but Miranda's mother's
strangely coloured eyes.

"About my daughter, actually," continued Vivian setting the kettle down on the
edge of the table as she returned, "But I'm sure that you know that already."

"Why? Is there something I should know?"

"Perhaps a few things," replied Laurna, pouring hot water into a cup partially
filled with tealeaves, "For instance, what are your intentions with Miranda?"

"My- My intentions?" stammered Misty, disliking the feeling of being crossed
examined and scrutinized by anyone, even if they were Miranda's family.

"Yes," continued Vivian, as her sister slid the cup across the table to Misty,
"Cookie?"

Misty caught the teacup and stared up in surprise at the plate of homemade
shortbread cookies her hostess was suddenly offering her. "Um, sure."

"And?" inquired Vivian, raising an eyebrow as Misty took a cookie shaped like a
gastly from the plate.

"And I'd have to say that I'm quite happy," she admitted thoughtfully, "I can't
really say that I have 'intentions' beyond keeping things as they already are."

"I see," pondered Laurna, her elbows on the table so she could rest her small
chin on her entwined fingers, "So you're all right with everything then? No
complaints? Drink your tea dear, it's the blend you like."

Misty halted her reply for a moment, quickly realizing that the two were trying
to keep her off balance. With a contemplative look, the water-trainer leaned
back in her chair, munching her cookie and sipping her tea.

"Not really," she replied after a careful sip told her that the tea was just
like Miranda's special blend, the clock on the wall loudly ticking away the
seconds, "Miri's almost been a better friend to me than my pokemon. I really
like her."

The sisters exchanged a subtle glance as Misty tried to hide a blush behind her
teacup. "But do you love her?" asked Vivian, her dark magenta eyes seeming more
piercingly than usual, her tone deadly serious.

"And how's the tea, deary?" added Laurna with a mischievous smile.

Misty swallowed hard, putting the cup down and meeting Vivian's cold hard gaze
with all the courage she could muster. "Yes, ma'am," she replied with determined
conviction, "I am in love with your daughter."

The woman closed her eyes as a warm, hopeful smile crossed her lips and Laurna
glanced down at her tea thoughtfully before asking, "So you aren't going to
abandon her once you get bored then? Oh, and you never told us what you thought
of the cookies."

"They're delicious," assured Misty in all honesty, trying to both keep up, and
to control the flow of the conversation as best she could, "And no. I'm not just
'using' Miranda. She's the person I've chosen to give my heart to, and I don't
take that lightly. I know what it's like to be hurt by someone I care for, and
I'm not going to do that to her."

Vivian nodded, taking a thoughtful bite of a cookie, successfully decapitating a
eevee. "That's good. But has she ever mentioned her other lovers?" she asked,
looking up to meet Misty's gaze in time to catch their guest's reaction, "Oh,
and I'm glad you like them. Their actually a recipe from Miranda's paternal
grandmother Lydia's cookbook."

"She's mentioned them. And we've discussed her past, and I'm not worried about
it. Why do you ask?" Misty replied, feeling disquieted by the line of
questioning, but standing her ground nonetheless. "Oh! And you're quite
welcome..." she added hastily, finding the cookies rather addictive.

"Her first love was actually one of the Lilcamp Trading Company's former
employees," explained Laurna as her sister poured herself some more tea,
"However, he quit a short time later and moved down south to marry some
millionaire."

"I'd heard that his intentions weren't exactly pure," Misty agreed, taking a sip
of her strangely perfect tea.

"Quite," replied Laurna, her tone serious, "And Miranda didn't take it too well
in the end either."

"That's one reason why we want to make sure about you," finished Vivian, "Oh,
and please forgive a mother's foolish pride, but tell me. Have you ever heard
Miranda's poetry."

"Yes, many times," Misty replied with a nod and a contented sigh, "It's
beautiful. So fully of life and hope and love..."

Vivian glanced at her sister in time to notice the worried look that crossed her
face. "But not all of it is," she added, glancing back to catch Misty's curious
expression, "When her father died, Miranda wrote some rather dark things. That
was understandable. It didn't worry me. But after her breakup, it was worse. She
wrote of things I never want my daughter to feel again. Bottom line, Misty,
there is simply no way that I am allowing my daughter's heart to be broken ever
again."

"And I won't allow mine to be broken again either," replied Misty, her tone both
indignant and determined, meeting the woman's gaze with all the intensity she
could muster, half hoping Vivian would back off a bit.

"Good," said the ruling matriarch of the Lilcamp Trading Company with a smile,
taking note of how much tea Misty had left to drink, "Now finish up, my sister
needs to do a reading."

"A reading?" inquired Misty, swallowing the last of her tea, "What kind of
reading exactly?"

"Oh, just your tealeaves, deary," chuckled Laurna, glancing at the cup
expectantly, "Or didn't Miri tell you?"

Misty nodded slowly and began to slide the cup over, not totally certain whether
the woman was serious, only to be stopped by Vivian.

"No, dear," she said in a maternal tone, that reminded her of Miranda's when she
spoke to her pokemon, "turn it upside down and place it on the saucer."

Misty's gaze moved back to Miranda's mother. "Like this?" she inquired,
carefully inverting the cup and setting it down as instructed.

"Yes," continued Laurna, catching Misty a little off guard as the two women's
voices almost seemed to flow into one another, "Now turn it three times counter
clockwise, tap the bottom three times, and hand it back to me."

Misty's eyes crossed for a moment, and she had to give her head a shake, but she
complied. A short time later, she slid the cup across the table into Laurna's
waiting hands.

"What now?" she inquired as Laurna lifted the cup and pushed her rimless glasses
farther up her nose in a thoughtful gesture.

"Now you give her a moment," chuckled Vivian, offering Misty another cookie.

Misty nodded, taking one that resembled a victreebel and wondering if her
choices were being observed as Laurna carefully scrutinized the rim of the cup.
"Curious," the professor muttered to herself, carefully turning it in a slow
circle, her bright magenta eyes gleaming with interest, "Very interesting..."

"What?" Misty inquired, biting her tongue as a sudden aggravation flared within
her and she fought to both keep it down, and to keep her voice level.

"Oh, just you're past," Laurna replied, wetting her lips thoughtfully and
leaning back, holding the cup at arms length, "It's almost as interesting as
your future."

Across the table Vivian snickered, hiding her smirk behind her teacup as Misty
found herself gripping the edge of the table. "But it looks as thought things
could go any number of ways."

"Isn't that 'normal'?" Misty inquired with a smile, "we are all masters of our
own destinies, right?"

Laurna nodded slowly, setting the cup down with a degree of reverence as she met
Misty's gaze with a suddenly worried expression that actually hinted at her true
age.

"There are times in people's lives when we let other's make our decisions for
us," the woman replied, and Misty half noticed the look of sudden remorse in the
eyes of both sisters, "When its just easier to sit back and let other's be the
masters of our destinies. I see here that you're familiar with this phenomenon,
deary."

Misty cringed, suddenly unable to meet the small woman's gaze as the words
struck home. "I-I won't deny that," she confessed sadly, her heart sinking in
her chest. 'Miri? Have I failed you?' she pondered inwardly, waiting for the
other shoe to drop.

"But, in both cases you broke away," continued Laurna, "You had the courage, and
you had the strength to say, 'No more.' You took back control of your life-"

"And gave it away again," Misty interrupted bitterly, her eyes burning with
sudden tears as she hugged herself and stared hopelessly down at the table, "I
went from one controlling, manipulative relationship, right into another. I-"

"Eventually made the right decision," finished Vivian, causing Misty to glance
up at her, finding that the woman's gaze had somehow softened, "You met my
daughter, and you took a chance. You broke away a second time, and now your
looking break the cycle of abuse."

Laurna nodded, staring sadly off into space, lost in her own thoughts for a
moment. "It took me long enough," Misty added, moderately pleased to see that
nothing she said seemed able to frazzle the two sisters; instead their tones
were becoming quite sympathetic.

"There were others who tried to bring you into their lives," Laurna agreed,
making Misty wonder just how much the woman could see in her tealeaves, "But
hope held you back. And as Miri once said, 'Hope is a double edged sword.'"

"And also to quote, Miri," Misty added, "I was a different person back then."

Laurna nodded. "A love unrequited can become a terrible, all consuming thing,"
she replied, her eyes seeming all too knowing for someone who came across as so
innocent, "And when you give yourself so completely to someone who simply can't
feel the same way about you, bad things can happen. That person, though they
feel not love, can begin to grow dependant upon the actions of those who love
them. They can become obsessed with the idea of always having someone around who
pampers them. Puts them upon a pedestal, and treats them like royalty every day
of their lives despite their own emotional shortcomings. And when that person
leaves, gets sick of their cold hearts, they can snap. Becoming very dangerous
people."

Misty nodded, unwilling to speak her former companion's name as she remembered
the superstition about invoking names invoking power. Instead she nodded slowly
and replied, "Yes. I know that. It's become all too clear to me, I'm afraid."

"And his shadow still falls darkly across the path of your destiny," added
Laurna, her tone loosing its soft edge ever so slightly.

"So, is that what you're afraid of?" Misty inquired, finally meeting Vivian's
gaze, "That this is just my way of getting back at- At 'him'? That I'm just
going to do to Miranda what Ash did to me?"

Vivian glanced down at her tea as Misty bit her tongue and cursed herself
inwardly. "Abuse creates vicious cycles," she explained in a careful tone, one
Misty had heard Miranda use from time to time, "But those cycles can be broken.
To be honest, that doubt does linger in my mind, but if I... That is, I see a
strength in you that my daughter must truly adore. I have the feeling that
you're quite capable of overcoming many adversities, and retaining your sense of
self."

"But still," her sister added hastily, "we had to be sure. We had to be certain
beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love Miri, and that this isn't some silly
revenge ploy. That you're not just another one of those people who've replaced
love with greed and just want her so you can take control of the company, or
just use her for your own amusement..."

Misty laughed, unable to stop herself at the thought of such things. "I-I'm
sorry," she stammered, blushing at her outburst but receiving no disapproval
from the two siblings who seemed to place a very high value on honesty, "But
even if I was greedy, or evil, or conniving, I doubt that I could ever be that
Machiavellian about it."

Laurna chuckled, a little of her old self returning as she smiled at Vivian.
"You know," she commented with a bemused smile, "I do think I like this one.
Don't you agree?"

Vivian's smile was subtle as she gave her sibling a knowing glance before
leaning back in her seat, her dark magenta eyes looking hard, boring into
Misty's soul all too knowingly. "So, bottom line," said Vivian in her sternest,
most serious tone, "Can you promise my daughter forever?"

Misty met Vivian's gaze bravely. She pushed down her sudden nervousness, and
clung to the aggravation that the question sparked; the implication that things
could be otherwise seeming somehow absurd to her. "And eternity," Misty
responded without hesitation, without so much as blinking as she spoke in a
level, calm tone that failed to betray her true emotional state, "Not even death
itself shall end my love for Miri. Not the stars falling from the sky, not the
oceans swallowing our world whole, and with all due respect, not even your
objection would stop me from loving the wonderful, beautiful woman you've done
so well in raising."

The thin line of Vivian's mouth formed half a smile as she raised her cup again.
"Good," she said simply with a quiet chuckle, sipping her tea as Laurna gave
Misty a discerning look.

"She's rubbing off on you," commented Laurna with a smile.

Misty could only nod, slowly letting out the breath she didn't know she was
holding, and suddenly looking forward to challenging Laurna. If only to
alleviate the stress she felt.

"Well, that's all that I really wanted to know," Vivian replied, reaching out
for a shortbread cookie shaped like a dragonite, "So, to be fair, is there
anything you wanted to know?"

Misty glanced at Laurna, who smiled reassuringly and nodded. "Um, well,
actually," she stammered, still not sure whether or not to feel elated, "I was
kinda wondering if I... You know..."

"Passed?"

"Yeah."

Vivian chuckled, idly turning the dragonite cookie in a slow circle as though
examining it for flaws. "Yes, dear," she said drolly, her smile genuine yet
guarded, "You meet with my approval thus far. You needed worry. Anything else?"

Misty nodded, exhaling slowly as the tension abated somewhat. "Well, actually,
there is one thing," she replied, watching thoughtfully as Vivian all to
melodramatically bit the head off the dragonite, "It... It might be kinda
personal so, if you don't want to tell me, just say so, but... Well, Miri told
me about how her father found Selece, but she's never mentioned how you found
Undine. Did you find a dratini egg as well?"

Vivian sighed, a contentedly reminiscent look crossing her face, making her
features seem softer as she spoke. "No," she said in a strangely quiet, soft
tone, her eyes seeming distant, "I didn't meet Undine until she was an adult.
You see, one evening, a few weeks after Selece finally evolved, Nicholas and
myself were down by route 12. We did that at least once a week, going down there
to watch the sun set... Anyway, that was when Undine appeared. Well, actually we
heard her first. A fully-grown dragonite can fly at speeds of up to mach two, so
we heard the boom before we saw her.

"But when we did, it became obvious that something was wrong. As she neared us,
her flying became erratic as the whole time she made these awful, pained noises
that I'll never forget. Undine then landed, not far from us, and it became
obvious why she'd come here. She was badly wounded, and completely exhausted.
Later, I found out that Undine had been chased over the open water for several
hours as by a large group of people in several fast moving black painted motor
boats, armed with rifles that fired shards of ice.

"So, as a result of her wounds, and her exhaustion, Undine came to Lavender
Town. Drawn by the tower, I suppose. But she came here to die. Only she met us,
and we helped her. We even introduced Undine to Selece, and she gained an even
better reason to live. I suppose you know that they were Umi's parents?"

Misty nodded sadly, knowing who the people in dark boats were, and knowing all
too well that they'd come back for a second crack at Undine many years later.
Only their second meeting had been far more tragic.

"Yes," she replied, nodding her thanks as Laurna handed her a fresh cup of tea,
"Umi's really quite something. I really envy Miranda's good fortune."

"You specialize in water-types, don't you?" Laurna asked rhetorically as her
sister slowly chewed the tail off her cookie dragonite.

"It's a style thing," Misty chuckled, "And you specialize in ghosts, right?"

Laurna blushed, her smile reminiscent. "Yes," she said in quiet amusement, "And
maybe one day, I'll tell you why. But, so long as we're on the subject, we
should probably discuss this afternoon's challenge. Don't you think?"

Misty glanced searchingly into the professor/gym leader's eyes as not for the
first time, she wondered what happened to the woman the night she spent in the
Tower. "Sure," she replied, enthusiastically, "Miri said you have three ghosts,
so I guess you'll want a three on three?"

"You could say that," Laurna chuckled, pushing her glasses up her nose and
smiling knowingly, "But to be more accurate, at my gym we don't just battle our
pokemon one at a time. We do a real three on three. I believe in co-operation,
so does Miri. I'm sure you've noticed her pokemon have a few combination
techniques?"

"Err, yeah," Misty replied, her sea green eyes widening as she suddenly wondered
what she'd gotten herself into. One ghost at a time would be bad enough, but
three? "And I think they can do a few doubles as well."

Laurna's grin seemed all too happy. "It won't be the easy victory you've
probably had against other Gym Leaders," she explained wryly, "Unless of course
you don't want to challenge me? You only need eight badges to challenge the
League after all. Not nine."

"I've made my decision," the trainer assured, folding her arms across her chest
and smiling in what she hoped was a determined look, "And I'm not backing out of
it."

"So, which of your pokemon will you be using?" Vivian inquired, the look of
amusement in her eyes once more reminding Misty of Miranda.

"Well," she replied in a careful tone as she picked up three cookies, each in
turn and placed them before her on the table, "I was thinking of using Shadow,
Umberlee and Leviathan... Um, assuming that's okay with you?"

Laurna smiled at Misty's hesitant tone, and reached out for the spiraling shape
of the gyarados before it could touch the table. "Oh, that shouldn't be a
problem," the woman explained, meeting Misty's gaze as she raised the cookie to
her lips, and bit its head off.

Misty blinked as the crumbs scattered everywhere and she remembered Miranda's
words. "Fear can win a battle even before it begins..."

"So, um... Tell me Professor," Misty stammered, quickly trying to change the
topic as she scrambled to rethink her strategy, "Have you ever done Miranda's
tealeaves?"

Laurna smiled knowingly. "Yes," she said simply, her smile all too amused.

"And what did you see? In her future, I mean?"

"You."

"You're lying!" Misty laughed, feeling the tension abate once more.

Laurna shrugged. "Maybe," she replied with a shrug, "But the tarot card reading
I did for her last year did turn up a few interesting things."

"You do those too? Neat."

Laurna shrugged again, and shook her head dismissively. "Used to," she
corrected, sipping her tea regretfully, "Before it became way too popular and
trendy and got all pretentious."

Misty found herself nodding in agreement. "So, are tea leaves your only way for
you to foresee the future now?" she inquired.

Laurna laughed. "Goodness, no!" she explained as her sister sighed heavily, and
covered her eyes, shaking her head in dismay, "I also do horoscopes and
palmistry. Oh! And I can also read the holes in cheese. But there's not much
call for that..."

Misty laughed, uncertain as to whether Laurna was kidding or not, but the look
on Vivian's face said that she was suddenly regretting the block of Swiss in the
fridge.

"Anyway," the elder of the two sisters interrupted, her tone sounding mildly
ominous, "It's been a while. I'm sure that Bob's finished with Miranda now. I
think you'd both better go have lunch with her while you still can."

"Ah, she's right," laughed Laurna, wiping her eyes with her fingers, "And I'd
better see about a few last minute preparations. You still have those coins I
gave you?"

Misty nodded.

"Good," said Laurna, her tone bordering on prideful, "I want my first challenger
to have the best experience at my gym that she possibly can!"

"Should I be afraid?" Misty inquired as she pushed her chair away from the table
and stood.

"I believe that that's the idea, my dear," Vivian replied, causing her guest to
smile nervously.

"Well, thank you for your hospitality, Ms. Lilcamp."

Vivian's sudden smile both lit up the room and caused a nervous chill to run
down Misty's spine, "Actually, dear," she replied in a tone that made Laurna
giggle, "if you'd like. You can just call me 'mom'..."
Chapter XIV "Luke, I am NOT you- Err, Never Mind..."

He stood leaning against the wooden guardrail over looking the ocean, the wind
off the water blowing his light brown, but graying hair into his eyes as the
common sea birds fought with a spearow over a few fish that had washed up dead
on the shore many meters below.

"You wanted to talk to me?" came the cautious sound of his stepdaughter's voice
over the gentle crashing of the waves and the squawking of mundane gulls.

"Sorta," he responded, turning to meet her suspicious gaze with a reassuring
smile, "You're mother wanted me to talk to you, actually."

Miranda nodded. Saying nothing as she stepped up beside Bob and leaned against
the railing. "It's about Aunt Laurna's offer. Isn't it?" her voice seemed
distant, her stormy gray eyes focused on something far out to sea.

Bob nodded as he turned back to the ocean. "You know, Vivian misses you a lot,"
he said, tossing a loose stone at the hovering flock of angry birds as their
smaller cousin seemed to laugh at them from below.

"I am quite well aware of that, Robert," said Miranda dully, turning slightly to
face him before continuing, "And the answer's the same one that I give every
year."

"Miri, look-" began Bob, holding out his hand to touch her shoulder.

"Don't!" she yelled angrily, roughly knocking his hand away and glaring at her
stepfather, "Don't touch me, and don't you dare and try to tell me what I should
do with my life! And don't you EVER dare call me that again! You're not-! You're
not..."

"Your Father," Bob finished, his hands dropping limply to his sides, "I know,
Miranda. I've never tried to replace Nicholas, not with Vivian, and not with
you. And I've never expected you to call me dad, either. Now then, I'm not
telling you this as a parent, I'm asking you this as a friend. For your mother's
sake."

Miranda threw her hands down onto the wooden railing, gripping it so tightly
that her knuckles immediately turned white. "I, I have my reasons for not
staying," she managed, pushing down her misplaced anger, "You know that, and so
does Mother. But I do what I can for her. I show up every year for the Festival,
and I keep in touch whenever I can. It's just that... That this place... It..."

"Everything here reminds you of him," said Bob with a nod, watching as the
triumphant spearow flew off with the remains of a fish in each of his talons,
the gulls diving and squabbling amongst each other to snatch what remained, "And
now you have Misty. Someone you love, and someone you want to stay with."

Miranda nodded. "Yes," she replied quietly, unable to deny either truth as tears
welled up in her eyes, "Even though mom's tried to change things for me, I can
still hear his voice. I can still feel his kiss upon my forehead wishing me
goodnight when I go to sleep in my old bed. And I can see his refection in Umi's
eyes."

His stepdaughter pushed her glasses up as she rubbed the tears away. "And as for
Misty," the courier continued, "I just can't bear the thought of abandoning her.
Especially when it was me who put this idea in her head. She wants to challenge
the League, you know. Misty wants to prove that she's just as good, if not
better than that selfish, oblivious moron she used to believe actually might
love her."

"And you want to show her your support, your loyalty, your love," inferred Bob
with an understanding, though sad paternal smile, "You don't want to abandon her
the way you felt abandoned that day the Rockets came."

Miranda glanced at him darkly, but tears overwhelmed any comment she could make.

"Shh, it's alright," her stepfather said soothing, holding out his arms but not
moving to hold her, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I had no right..."

"No," sobbed Miranda, stepping into his arms and accepting the embrace, "It's
true. I do feel as thought my father abandoned me, and I feel so unspeakably
guilty for blaming him. Maybe... maybe one day when I finally catch up to Kathy
and find avenge his death, maybe then I'll be one step closer to settling down.
I'd even consider Aunt Laurna's offer then."

"Revenge is a dangerous road, Miranda," Bob replied carefully, "Just be careful
you don't become what you hate most."

Miranda nodded, her head against her stepfather's shoulder as he held her. "I
know, Bob," she told him, ignoring the tears that blurred her already imperfect
vision, "I'm not saying I'd kill her. I don't think Misty would ever forgive me
for going that far..."

Bob smiled, barely suppressing a small chuckle. "Then this girl's good for you,"
he said, beaming with approval, "She's changed ya, kid. Misty's made you a
better person."

Miranda smiled in spite of herself. "Yeah," she agreed with a smirk she couldn't
hold in, laughing a little despite her tears, "A year ago I wanted to see
Katherine Forester's head on a plate. But now, now I'd just be happy to see her
rotting away in Gringy Prison for the next hundred years!"

Bob laughed, giving his stepdaughter an affectionate hug. "I'm glad," he said,
feeling somewhat relieved, "And your mother will be too. You know, before you
met Misty you had us worried, eh?"

Miranda pulled away slightly so that she could look up at his smiling face.
"Really?" she inquired in surprise, quickly reviewing her last few visits home.

"Yeah," said Bob, his tone becoming serious, "Your gloomy despondency was
starting become problematic. I never said anything, but there were times when it
interfered with your job. But irregardless, we were both really worried about
you."

"And now?"

Bob smiled in the way he always did, chasing away any hint of the many years
that had passed in his lifetime. "Now I'm sure your mother won't mind you
escorting Misty on her journey. I'll even see what I can do about sending you on
extended trips to the Gym cities," he assured her before his voice became one of
false warning, "So long as this new hobby of yours doesn't interfere with your
work schedule!"

Miranda laughed, returning his embrace and giving him a kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks," she said as her stepfather blushed visibly, suddenly at a loss for
words, "Dad."

Bob's arms fell limply at his sides, completely dumbfounded as his stepdaughter
slipped free of his arms with ease and ran back up the road, laughing joyously
as she went...
Chapter XV "Let's Do Lunch..."

The Courier Club was busy as they entered and grabbed the last free table near
back. Glancing around, it was easy to spot the small handful of Lavender Town
natives, as most of the other couriers seemed to be either hanging onto various
souvenirs from the festival or were talking so loudly that their comments about
Lavender's strangeness made them stand out. A small handful were also wearing
extra layers of clothing and shivered as the front door opened and closed,
sending in gusts of wind and Autumn leaves.

As the two slid sat down in the rickety wooden chairs on either side of the old
wooden table, Daniel scurried from behind the bar and hurriedly handed them both
the small folded pieces of paper that passed for menus.

"Sorry," the said the proprietor, immediately scurrying away, "We're a bit busy
today!"

Miranda laughed as Daniel nearly collided with his wife as she hurriedly ran in
the opposite direction after clearing a table, the round platter of empty
plastic cups she wielded being balanced precariously as she spun around once
before heading towards the kitchen behind the bar.

"You're going to have to have more kids if this keeps up," the courier called
out to them, causing Daniel's wife to make a warding sign in the air.

"Three's too many as is!" she exclaimed as the swinging door banged shut behind
her and their youngest son ran out to quickly take care of the couriers seated
at the bar.

"I take it it's not normally like this," commented Misty, finding herself
nervously glancing at the mirror behind the bar, yet seeing no invisible ghosts
reflected in its surface that instead showed an empty room.

Miranda shook her head; giving a short wave to a courier she couldn't recall the
name of. "Nope. It's just the time of year," she explained, glancing at the menu
and making a quick decision based off the limited selection, "Usually it's
pretty err- Dead around here."

"That's bad," said Misty with a smile.

"Couldn't help it," Miranda chuckled, "It's the radiation leak from Nezumi's
pokeball. It's starting to infect me with his sense of humor."

"I'll try to keep that in mind," Misty replied thoughtfully as she set down the
menu in time to see a haggard looking Daniel standing beside their table with an
almost lost expression in his hopeful eyes, "Oh! I'll just have the lunch
special number one, please."

"Ah, thank you," he sighed, seeming relieved as he glowered at a table on the
other side of the room, "You wouldn't believe what that couple from Viridian
asked for! Yeesh! Don't these people know that you can't serve pikachus that in
Lavender Town?"

"Number three's fine, thanks," added Miranda, taking Misty's hand as she
shuddered at what Daniel had said.

"I mean, I know it's a delicacy out that way, but yeesh!" the proprietor
continued, writing down the orders as he ranted.

"By the way, have you seen Zack?" the courier inquired, "I think he owes me
lunch or something."

Daniel snickered as he glanced up from his notepad. "Naw," he said, seeming
almost relieved, "the Dawn sister 2 docked an hour ago, so he'll be off visitin'
his mom, I'm afraid."

"The Dawn sister 2?" Misty inquired as Daniel hurried off again as the door
swung open.

"That'd be our 'flagship'," chuckled Miranda, rolling her eyes at how ridiculous
it sounded to her ears, "we have three vessels all together, and they all do
double duty during the height of fishing season. But the Dawn sister 2 is the
main one. Her captain's Zack's mom Angela. She's okay, I guess, but I really
didn't see her that much growing up because of all the traveling she does."

"Do I want to know what happened to the Dawn sister 1?"

Miranda smiled. "That's one of those long Joshua stories," she replied, glancing
at the unfamiliar figure that entered the Club and was even now glancing around
pensively, "Hm. I guess he's off with his wife Nancy today."

"He was serious about that?" Misty laughed, and Miranda nodded vigorously.

"Yeah," she explained with a shrug, "people think he exaggerates, but I've
traveled with him and I've had proof that most of his tales are indeed true."

Misty nodded, glancing suspiciously at the lost looking woman who walked
cautiously past them before leaning over the bar to exchange a few quiet words
with Daniel's son.

"She's come a long way," Miranda commented, tracking Misty's gaze to the
somewhat broad shouldered female courier as she shook her head and turned away
from the bar to face the room.

"Oh? How can you tell?" Misty inquired, trying not to make it look like she was
staring at the newcomer.

Miranda pushed her glasses farther up her nose, making them shimmer in the poor
lighting as she sized up the other courier. "Well," Miranda explained, tapping
her chin thoughtfully as she tried to discern who the woman was looking for, "I
could say that it's the fact that she's dressed a little more flamboyantly than
you generally see up her in the frozen North, or the fact that you don't get too
many people with dreadlocks up this way, but really, it's the Orange Islands
Courier Crew badge on the shoulder of her coat."

Misty sighed; shaking her head as the woman suddenly appeared at their table.
"Excuse me," she asked, her accent putting a stop to any speculation that she
might not be from the Orange Islands, "I've just been transferred here, and I
was supposed to get in touch with one of our bosses..." The southern courier's
voice trailed off as a look of sudden panic entered her pale blue eyes and she
quickly searched the pockets of the heavy Winter coat she wore. "Oh yeah," she
said at last, reading from the scrap of paper she'd found, "Robert Kozlovski."

Both Misty and Miranda tried not to laugh as the woman pulled out a rolled up
pile of transfer papers. "Yeah, not a problem," said Miranda in amusement as she
handed off her cell phone, "It's the number three on the speed dial, Miss...?"

"Oh! Anna," the transferred courier replied as she fumbled with the phone for a
moment, "Sorry, but it was a long trip."

"Were you on the Dawn sister 2, by any chance?" Misty inquired as Daniel finally
returned with her club sandwich and Miranda's jalapeno grilled cheese sandwich.

Anna nodded. "I'm afraid so," she chuckled, brushing back several of her thick,
light brown dreadlocks so the phone could find her ear, "Kinda ironic in a way.
Seeing as I transferred out here to avoid traveling over the water all the
time."

"That must be hard to avoid down South," commented Misty, yanking out the
toothpicks.

Anna shrugged. "Well, some people manage to," she explained as the phone on the
other end rang several times, "but wanderlust isn't such a good thing in the
Orange Islands if you get seasick all the time. Oh, uh, hello? Mr. Kozlovski?"

"She's lucky," Misty teased, casting Miranda's lunch choice a short lived look
of alarm, "Looks like she missed Zack."

Miranda smiled up at her, trying unsuccessfully to look disapproving. "Now,
now," she said with a chuckle as Anna handed her back her phone.

"Um, do either of you know a courier named Zachary Evans?" she inquired
hopefully, looking from Misty to Miranda; "Apparently I'm going to be assisting
him until I get the geography down. Oh, by the way, you have another call."

Miranda tried to keep from laughing again as she switched lines.

"Actually, he's probably with the Captain of the ship you just left," explained
Misty helpfully, "She's his Mother."

Anna sighed heavily. "I'm really having the worst of luck today," she said
rhetorically, "Oh, and I never caught your names?"

Misty smiled apologetically, glancing at Miranda who had plugged her other ear
with her index finger and was glaring thoughtfully at her plate as she spoke
quietly to the person on the other end. "Sorry about that," she said, quickly
taking care of the introductions.

"No problem," assured Anna as Miranda hung up the phone and muttered an apology,
"So, I guess I'll be seeing you both around then?"

"If you're hanging around with Zack, it's inevitable," explained Miranda with an
amused grin, "Just be careful. He can be a real handful."

"I'll keep than in mind," laughed Anna, quickly saying her goodbyes before
hurrying out of the Club to catch Zack at the docks.

"So who was it?" Misty inquired, returning to her meal.

"Oh, it was Aunt Laurna," Miranda explained warily, shaking her head as she
spoke and seeming distracted, "She wants me to head over there early before you
get there. Apparently she needs my help with a few things. Mostly with Wraith, I
think."

"She wants to put on a good show then?"

Miranda nodded, trying to push down the mild annoyance she felt at having to
rush lunch before abandoning her beloved in a strange town. "It's her first
challenge, so I can't really blame her," she explained with a shrug, "So, are
you nervous?"

Misty glanced down at the other half of her club sandwich, her stomach
tightening into a knot as the moment of her challenge drew closer. "Yeah," she
admitted quietly so that only Miranda would hear, "And I don't know if I like
the idea of going into this pretty much alone. I'm still not totally comfortable
with ghosts. But so long as they're yours and a Laurna's I guess it'll be
alright."

Their hands met across the table, and Miranda squeezed Misty's reassuringly.
"Just remember what I told you," she said, "try not to be afraid."

"Any advice concerning the ghosts she's using?" inquired Misty hopefully,
causing Miranda to look thoughtful for a moment.

"Well," the courier explained, "As I recall, Viper's kinda solemn for a ghost.
He's almost the opposite of Wraith I guess. I don't really know anything about
that gastly she picked up last year... Nightfall I think she called him? And
Nox, well, I know she likes 'studying' humanity, but I don't really think
that'll make much of a difference."

"Well I suppose that's something," Misty replied, her tone betraying her
combination of nervousness and annoyance at Laurna's insistence that Miranda
leave early, "I'll just do my best, and even if I loose, I only need eight
badges, right?"

Miranda nodded. "And if worst comes to worse, I can always give you any of mine
that you didn't win."

Misty shook her head. "No, that'd be too much like cheating," she sighed warily,
"Besides, when I have something to prove I'm nearly unstoppable!"

"Glad to hear it," Miranda laughed, barely tasting her food as she tried to
hurry her meal.

"But it's nice of you to offer, though," continued her beloved, wondering if
she'd had room to finish her own, "It's good to know that you're on my side."

Miranda swallowed quickly, her unpleasant expression evidence that she wasn't
chewing enough. "It couldn't be any other way, my love," she replied, giving her
watch a quick glance, "Curses, I'd better hurry."

"Will I see you there?" Misty asked as Miranda greedily devoured the last stray
jalapeno.

The courier shrugged in reply. "I hope so," she said with a mouthful before
giving Misty a hug and accepting a kiss on the cheek before hurrying off to do
her Aunt's bidding...

***

The sky above had clouded over in the last few hours, its bleak, overcast
appearance only adding to the haunted look Laurna's lab and gym seemed to be
cultivating.

The house was set upon a small hill, with a driveway of broken pavement that led
away from the purple cobblestones of Azathoth Avenue, up to the front porch of
the modest looking Victorian style home. Beyond the rusting iron gates, which
swung open of their own accord as Misty approached, before slamming shut again
as she crossed the threshold, the driveway past through what was once a
sprawling front yard garden, but was now almost as overgrown with weeds as the
Lilcamp's greenhouse.

As Misty walked up the broken path, wary of the small, glowing red eyes that
stared out at her from the underbrush, she reminded herself that the Lavender
Gym was just another Gym. The ghosts that dwelt within weren't wild. They were
Laurna's, and they wouldn't hurt her beyond a good scare.

"I wish Laurna hadn't have asked Miranda to head up here ahead of me," she
muttered, stopping once she reached the dilapidated front porch and looked up at
the windows on the second floor, shivering as the curtains parted in one of
them, revealing only darkness beyond, "If she wanted to borrow Wraith so badly,
I'm sure he'd be willing to listen to her. Laurna IS the world's premiere ecto-
parazoologist after all."

But her own words did little to comfort her as Misty heard the front door creek
open loudly, diverting her attention from the seemingly empty upstairs window.
"Hello?" called Misty, cursing inwardly as her voice quavered, and nearly
bolting as a tall dark figure slowly materialized in the doorway.

Its features were hidden within the confines of a black hooded robe that was so
dark that no light seemed to reflect off of it. The hand that the figure then
held out to Misty, however, made her thankful that she couldn't see its face.

The trainer gulped, staring at the skeletal hand as the over six foot tall grim
sentinel waited with the patience of the inanimate, barring Misty's passage into
the Lavender Gym.

"Wha-!" Misty began before chastising herself for forgetting as she lifted the
bottom of her jacket and dug the two coins Professor Laurna had given her out of
the back pocket of her jeans, "I should have known...

The figure waited silently. It's presence a nonjudgmental, neutral barrier as
Misty collected her courage and stepped up onto the porch. "Is- Is this what you
want?" she inquired, the floorboards creaking beneath her feet.

The figure said nothing, its hand held out; palm upturned and waiting, forever
if necessary for its payment for passage into the house. "H-here you go then,"
the trainer stammered, reaching out a shaking hand and letting the copper coins
drop ominously into the guardian's skeletal hand.

Misty then leaped back, suppressing a yelp as the long bony fingers clamped shut
around the coins with the snap of old dry bones before the guardian became a
guide, turning its back on the trainer and gliding silently into the house.

Misty gulped down her fear, wishing Miranda could have accompanied her to the
Gym, but thankful at least for the quick meal they'd shared at the Courier Club.

"Well fine then," she told the figure as it practically floated away from her,
"If this is the worst this gym has to offer, then I can handle it!"

Misty stepped boldly across the threshold onto the thin, faded red carpet that
lead down a long hallway that seemed reminiscent of the Lilcamp residence.
However, the house had a conspicuous lack of doors leading from the hallway. The
only visible portals being a set double doors at the far end. And the lack of
windows made Misty wonder where the eerie light was emanating from as she
followed the grim specter, only now noticing the quiet sounds behind the walls.

At first she tried to ignore them, paying attention instead to the sound of her
own footsteps, sounding heavy in comparison to the silent passage of her guide.
But as time passed, and the hallway seemed to stretch on forever, the quiet,
muffled sounds began to remind Misty of her journey down Route 8.

She could hear the sounds of quiet crying, peculiar scratching noises that
sounded as though unknowable things in the walls where trying to break free. And
not even the creaking of the floorboards seemed to drown out the sound of
whispered voices just on the edge of hearing. Voices whose tones were muffled,
yet Misty could just barely make out certain words and phrases.

"This place..." they whispered darkly, "Not for you..."

"...Must not be awakened!" came another, more urgently.

"...dispose of her..." insisted another, sending chills down Misty's spine as
she simply closed her eyes and gritted her teeth.

'It's just to scare me, it's just to scare me,' she repeated over and over again
until the voices faded and Misty opened her eyes to see something new upon the
walls.

They were lined with portraits. Actual painted renditions of people as opposed
to the framed photographs Miranda's house had. At first, most of the pictures
were of men and women Misty didn't recognize. Some looked like farmers or
fisherman, and some appeared to be the miners who still went into the Lavender
Mountains to seek their fortunes. But soon, Misty began to recognize people.
Faces she'd seen at the market place. Merchants and locals out doing their
shopping. She even recognized a few from the Courier Club. Zack, Joshua, the
bartender Misty couldn't recall the name of. And then, there was Miranda, Frank,
and even Bob and Vivian, placed across from each other as Misty neared an
impressive set of dark oaken doors.

"Miri's grandfather must have made these," she commented thoughtfully as the
figure stepped aside and Misty could make out the intricately carved design of a
looming haunter, staring down at her malevolently as she looked into its eyes.

"Hey," inquired Misty, a thought suddenly striking her as she glanced up at her
guide, trying not to shiver as she noticed the sudden aura of cold that
surrounded it, "shouldn't there be a picture of Laurna somewhere around here as
well? You seem to have everyone else in Lavender Town."

The figure raised its bony hand again and pointed over Misty shoulder, giving
her an unnerving feeling as their auras overlapped. With a shiver, the trainer
turned around and found herself face to face with a portrait of Professor
Laurna. The woman's eyes were staring right back at her, smiling mischievously
as Misty noticed something that she hadn't before.

The trainer's eyes widened as she backed away from the portrait, only then
seeing how it seemed to age slowly as she watched. Misty then hazarded a glance
at the other pictures, finding Miranda's almost instantly and suddenly seeing
her lover as a very old woman.

"What is this?!" she demanded, turning to where her guide had been, only to find
that it had vanished from sight and that the wooden doors were opening, sliding
into the walls with an impressive rumbling.

As the door split in two, Misty's eyes were bombarded by a blast of brilliant
white light. The dimness of the hallway now seemed like night in comparison to
the room beyond. The candle lit crystal chandelier, half covered in cobwebs
glowed brightly, its light reflected off the white marble of the expansive floor
beneath it. At the far end of the room, a wide staircase lead up to the second
floor, and a wide balcony encircled the room with long thin windows above the
line of closed doors the walkway lead to.

"Welcome," came an amused voice that echoed throughout the ballroom, yet seemed
to come from nowhere at all, "To the Lavender Gym!"

Behind her, the doors slammed shut, causing Misty to jump; yet she refused to
look back. Even as her heart thudded in her chest, and her pulse raced in her
ears, the trainer knew better. Instead, she watched as a figure materialized,
seemingly out of nothing at the top of the wide staircase.

"Gym Leader Laurna, I presume?" Misty said formally, almost not recognizing the
woman in the long, dark flowing gown she wore.

"Indeed," Laurna chuckled, reaching back and fanning out her
uncharacteristically unbound hair, letting her graying black locks fall down the
back of her equally black gown, "Are you ready for your challenge then?"

"Yes I am," Misty replied, her stomach turning nervously as Laurna made her way
down the stairs, her gown billowing out like a ghost as the silver pendant she
worse sparkled in the candlelight.

"Tell me, something then," the Gym Leader inquired, idly fondling the talisman
as descended the last step, "Are you afraid, Misty?"

The trainer met Laurna's gaze with all the confidence she could muster. "Only
fools don't feel fear," she replied, holding her head high even as she clenched
her fists, "Courage is simply the ability to overcome it. Nothing more."

"Miri would be proud," commented the Gym Leader with an approving smile and a
nod, "Now then. Shall we begin?"

***

Outside the room, in the hall, a haunter materialized as his illusions dissolved
around him and his trainer appeared from behind the shield of invisibility.

"I am," Miranda mused, reaching out to scratch Wraith under the chin
affectionately, smiling as she pressed her ear to the door and listened, "Even
if you don't win. I'll still be proud of you, my love..."

***

Laurna held her hand forth dramatically. Between four of her fingers she held
three black and gray pokeballs that slowly levitated into the air, expanding as
Misty watched.

"Behold my legion of the undying!" Laurna announced with equal melodrama, her
voice echoing in the emptiness of the room as the orbs popped open with a trio
of sharp hisses, "Nightfall, my latest acquisition. Nox, who was but a gastly
when I first met her in the Tower. And of course, my dearest, oldest friend,
Viper."

The three ghosts that materialized above her were in of themselves and example
of the trinity of ghost-type evolution. Nightfall was a reasonably small male
ghastly who seemed to be the quietest of the trio, looking on with what appeared
to be a thoughtfulness that implied he was plotting. Nox, however, seemed to be
the most playful of the three. She was a haunter who when she looked at the
dress Laurna was wearing laughed in what Misty could have sworn was an ironic
way. Viper, however, had evolved quickly as far as ghosts were concerned. He
floated beside his mistress as a gengar. His stubby arms were folded across his
chest as his feet hovered a few feet off the floor, and the wide toothy grin
that was characteristic of his kind seemed somehow solemn, respectful of Laurna.

Misty smiled nervously, waving politely to the trio of frightful creatures as
she reached for three of her pokeballs. "Alright then," she told Laurna, I guess
I'll just have to introduce Shadow, Umberlee, and Leviathan!"

She tossed the balls into the air, and as their names were spoken, the three
pokemon materialized before her. The two peculiar star shaped creatures formed
to their trainer's right and left, giving the ever growing, blue scaled serpent
room to uncoil himself as he stared down at his opponents with his usual hungry
glare.

"Impressive," chuckled Laurna, raising her hand daintily into the air, the
sleeve of her dark gown falling off her arm and pooling at her shoulder, "Shall
we begin?"

Misty barely had time to react as the Gym Leader snapped her fingers and the
trio of complacent looking ghosts let out a laughing wail that seemed to echo
not in the room, but directly into her opponent's mind, shaking the roots of
Misty's soul. As they swooped forward, they each faded into invisibility and the
room seeded to subtly alter as Misty gritted her teeth and took a step back.

"Triple technique,Sibling Rivalry!" called out Laurna from the other end of the
now seemingly vast ballroom as Misty hesitated, unable to see her opponents.

"Wha-?" she began as leviathan was suddenly pushed forward, his monstrous head
suddenly rebounding off the marble floor for no apparent reason.

"Gaaa..." he hissed, rearing up an uncoiling fully as he glared down at
Umberlee.

"What are you doing?!" Misty demanded as the beast roared angrily, sending a jet
of flame at the unsuspecting starmie. The attack pushed Umberlee back, causing
her to skid along the floor as the flames washed unpleasantly over her.

"Eliminating the main competition," Laurna replied with a mischievous grin,
"Ghosts and psychic's don't get along so well you know. Too evenly matched for
my liking!"

"Oh really?" commented Misty, meeting the Gym Leader's amused gaze with
determination before glancing at Umberlee, who was even now returning
retaliating with a blast of water that quickly extinguished the gyarados's
flame, making him all the more angry.

"Leviathan!" the trainer ordered, stomping her foot to get his attention, "Stop
that! Umberlee, save it for the ghosts! Shadow, 'Rain Storm!'"

"Rain wha-?" began Laurna, suddenly wishing she'd read Professor Myria's long-
winded thesis on water pokemon techniques.

"You'll see," chuckled Misty as Shadow began to spin counterclockwise before
warbling, sending up a harmless shower of water that came down like a light
rain.

"I hope you're ghosties don't mind a little shower," the trainer chuckled,
smiling as the water fell upon her and she felt as though she were finally in
her element.

"But-" began Laurna, suddenly going into professor mode again and smiling
appreciatively at her opponent's ingenuity as the vague shapes of Nox, Nightfall
and Viper became visible as hazy images in the rain, "Ah, I see! A normal
rainfall would have no effect on a ghost-type, but the water your staryu exudes
isn't normal water."

"I believe my home town's professor said something about 'positively charged and
negatively charged chi reacting in strange ways' this year when she did her show
at the End Of Summer Festival," Misty pondered thoughtfully, a smile coming to
her face as she noticed the faintly purple tinge to the gastly's outline in the
rain, "Makes the water able to effect ghosts. Leviathan! Nightshade at three
o'clock!"

Umberlee let out an odd sound as the monstrous serpent turned in her direction,
and blasted the ghost that was about to hit Leviathan with a high-pressure
stream of water that wasn't so harmless.

The little ghost shrieked as he was thrown back, causing Leviathan to focus on
him, unleashing a jet of flame that sent more steam into the air than anything
else, but still added to the attack.

"Concordant Opposition!" Laurna ordered, smiling a sphere of darkness suddenly
enveloped the gastly, stopping the twin blast.

"Cute," commented Misty, glancing over at Nox as the haunter's hands wove an
intricate pattern in the air before vanishing along with the rain. A fact which
Misty found rather odd seeing as she could still feel it falling down upon her
as it slowly matted down her hair and dribbled off her to pool at her feet.

"More illusions?" she inquired rhetorically, as the floor beneath her feet began
to crumble and crack.

"Perhaps," giggled Laurna, leaning against the banister at her end and glancing
at something Misty couldn't see before giving a subtle hand gesture.

As Leviathan and Umberlee ceased their assault on Nightfall and Shadow gave up
on trying to reveal the invisible ghosts, the numerous cracks in the floor began
sprouting weeds. At first, Leviathan and Shadow looked on with a mixture of
curiosity and amusement, with Umberlee making a curious sound at Misty, asking
for guidance.

"Huh-?!" her trainer asked in suddenly astonishment as long vines began reaching
up through the floor and wrapping around the suddenly panicking Staryu and
Gyarados, "What do you mean you mean you can't 'see' what's happening to them?"

Misty glanced at her two suddenly struggling pokemon, vines had sealed
Leviathan's mouth shut as others sought to keep him still as Shadow was easily
held flat against the cracked marble floor. All the while, though, Umberlee
stood, looking on in confusion as Misty saw several vines pass through her
harmlessly.

"Illusions have no effect on you..." she pondered as Laurna snapped her fingers
again and twin blasts of dark purple unlight spiraled out of nowhere, enveloping
the prone staryu and slowly draining his energy into the surrounding
environment.

"Umberlee!" Misty ordered upon hearing Shadow's sudden shriek, but she needn't
have bothered. The starmie was already spinning in mid-air, ejecting water from
all ten arms as she flew towards the source of the twin blasts of nightshade.

There was another blast of purple, and the surprised gasps of two ghosts as the
spinning cone of water crashed into Nox's flank before ploughing straight
through into Viper. Both ghosts felt a portion of their ephemerae bodies
dissipate as they were forced to phase through the passing starmie, and they
both uttered curses as Umberlee continued on her way.

"Not bad," commented Laurna, wiping the sudden tidal wave of water from her eyes
and blinking to try to restore her vision.

"Sorry about that!" called Misty from the other side as the illusions faded and
Leviathan let out an angry roar that shook the whole gym, "But he's not!"

The angry gyarados's eyes glowed red, not caring where the ghosts were so long
as he could hurt something. After barely taking a breath, he let loose with a
blast of orange flame that formed a cloud of burning gas before him. The effect
didn't last long, and didn't go far before fading, but it did cause three angry
spectral voices to issue their complaints as tiny wisps of flame appeared out of
nowhere and sailed about the room.

"Fine then," replied Laurna, folding her arms across her chest and shivering as
the cold wet silk touched her pale skin, "You leave me no choice. Triple attack,
'Martyr!'"

Misty was taken by surprise as all three angry looking ghosts materialized
before leviathan, each dissipating into a ball of what appeared to be smoke,
except that it was run through with tones of purple and a pair of huge,
luminescent amber eyes stared balefully back at the gyarados.

"Don't be afraid, Leviathan!" assured Misty, gritting her teeth and clenching
her fist before her, "It's only an illusion!"

"Bets?" inquired Laurna gleefully as a huge jagged mouth cut along the surface
of the enormous ball and laughed malevolently as it sailed towards Leviathan.

"Everyone!" Misty called, adrenaline pumping so quickly through her system that
she felt more angry with the ghosts than actually afraid of them, "Blast that
ball of ectoplasm into next week!"

As one, her three pokemon let loose with their most effective attacks. Shadow,
who couldn't seem to get up off the floor, was more than content to spin in
place and arc his arms out, letting loose with the spiraling blast of water
Misty called "Neptune's Might." For his part, Leviathan let loose with his old
stand by. A jet of what appeared to be flame, but was actually a chi based
attack that reacted explosively with oxygen. Most people called it "Dragon
Rage", but he thought of it as "Ghost. Well done."

Umberlee, however, surprised the group by firing off a silent beam of mental
energy that emanated from the red crystal at her center, and sent visible
ripples through reality as it entered the mass of ghostly matter like a laser
beam through oatmeal.

"Mana bolt?" Misty pondered aloud in her amazement, almost missing seeing the
three ghosts as one collide with Leviathan, the cloud of inky blackness somehow
being absorbed by his scaly blue hide, "When do you-? Wha-?!"

Laurna chuckled confidently as Umberlee made contact with Misty's mind and tried
to explain that it had "just happened". "You'll see, deary," the Gym Leader
assured as Leviathan swaggered from side to side almost drunkenly, his eyes
going wide and his long forked tongue lolling out as the sea serpent waited for
the inevitable.

'I have a plan,' Misty thought as loudly as she could, causing Umberlee to stand
straighter, 'Can you find the ghosts? Seeing as you're not effected by their
illusions and all?'

Umberlee wanted to reply, by the light from the chandelier suddenly dimmed, and
an unearthly wailing filled the air. A heartbeat later, and several dozen white
spectral figures began tearing their way angrily from Leviathan's body. The
gyarados howled in pain, though no physical damage was apparent despite the
horrible ripping and tearing sounds that accompanied the vaguely humanoid shapes
that viciously sought freedom from the sea serpent's body.

"Oooh, he's tough!" giggled Laurna as the effect dissipated, and Leviathan stood
panting, his large vengeful eyes boring into her, yet the woman still seemed
more amused than afraid, "But how long can he take it for?"

Misty didn't bother inquiring; she glanced meaningfully at Umberlee and received
a positive response. 'You could have told me sooner!" she chided.

'But you did not ask,' came the creature's strange, ethereal, yet feminine voice
in her mind.

"Silly me!" Misty laughed aloud, slapping herself on the forehead, "Okay,
Umberlee, link-up with they boys and let's end this!"

"About time you figured that out," chided Laurna, her tone more playful than
anything else.

"Hey, I'm still learning," Misty replied with a shrug.

"Never stop," said Laurna in a serious tone, suddenly glancing at Leviathan as
the lights dimmed again and more spirits seemed to erupt from within his body,
even as Viper, Nox and Nightfall materialized before him, invisible, but now
somehow perceptible to his senses.

With a deep growl, the pokemon they tormented bared his nine-inch fangs, peeling
back his lips slowly, salivating hungrily as his body shuddered with pain and
his vision began to blur. 'You believe...' he hissed threatening in pokespeak as
the three ghosts looked at him in surprise, 'You believe you've seen death...?'

Viper laughed, realizing why the creature could perceive them. 'Yes,' he hissed
confidently, motioning for the others to move in on the starmie, 'I believe that
I have. Nice guy once you get to know hi-!"

With a roar that filled the air with the unpleasant scent of rotting fish and
decaying kelp, Leviathan lunged forward and closed his jaws around the suddenly
very amused Viper. 'And, what was that?' the gengar inquired, 'A bite? "You"
bit, "Me"? Are you insane, River Serpent? I'm a ghost for crying out lou-!'

But the gengar was cut off again as Leviathan's huge amber eyes narrowed, his
vision focusing on the ghost who was partially phased through the roof of his
mouth. As a third group of spirits emerged, ripping and tearing at his aura more
than his physical body, the enraged gyarados exhaled a gout draconic flame.

Leviathan didn't care about the pain the continuing ghost technique was causing
him. He didn't care that most of his attack would backfire against his clenched
teeth and would give him heartburn for a few days. He didn't even notice as
Nightfall was blasted into a puddle of whimpering ephemera by Umberlee the
instant he got to close. All that the livid water dragon cared about was
scraping the remains of Viper of his double rows dagger-sized teeth afterwards.

With a muffled sound of rage, twin blasts of flame shot out of leviathan's nose
and Viper shrieked unpleasantly as his body was mostly incinerated and he was
forced to revert to his most basic form.

Misty leapt up and cheered as Laurna let out a cry of concern as Leviathan made
one final moan of pain before his head crashed to the marble floor, causing real
cracks in its gleaming white surface.

"Return!" both humans exclaimed in unison a moment later, followed by Laurna's
suddenly glancing at Nightfall with sudden alarm.

"Hehehe, oops!" she giggled, quickly returning the other ghost and blushing,
making Misty shake her head in wonder at the almost childish exuberance the
older woman seemed capable of showing from time to time, "Almost forgot you,
deary."

"So," said Misty at last, catching her breath as she knelt to down to see if
Shadow was still capable of continuing, "Looks like it's going to be one on one
after all, eh?"

Laurna nodded as Misty returned the staryu and glanced over at Umberlee who
immediately floated to her side as Nox flew to her mistress as well. "Indeed,"
Laurna replied, her voice sounding her actual age, "And off hand, I'd say that
the advantage goes to you, deary. Are you willing take it?"

"Only if you're not willing to surrender that badge of yours," Misty smiled,
indicating the amulet Laurna wore.

The Gym Leader chuckled, crossing her arms behind her back. "Very astute,"
commented Laurna in a satisfied tone, "But no, I'm not willing to give up that
easily. I'll tell you what. We'll settle this like they do in the movies. When
the clock strikes twelve, we fire. Whoever hits, wins. No fuss, no muss. How
'bout that?"

"Uncle Frank must be rubbing off on you," chuckled Misty, not questioning the
lack of an actual clock, and not the least bit surprised as the floor beneath
them formed into a giant, ethereal timepiece. Its huge hands were set at five to
midnight, and an ominous ticking filled the damp air.

"Amongst other things," the Gym Leader agreed mischievously, causing Misty to
blush as she knew it would.

'You got another trick up your sleeve you haven't told me about yet?' Misty
quickly thought, her tension easing as Umberlee touched her mind gently and
responded.

'I believe it to be so,' sent the starmie as she moved into position before
Misty and the haunter floated down to be just across from her in front of
Laurna.

'Do your best. It's all that I ask.'

Laurna smiled from the other end of the gym. 'Can she hear us?' thought Misty
rhetorically.

'Yes,' replied Umberlee in her usual "mater-of-fact tone."

'Every word,' agreed another echoing voice that Misty quickly realized was Nox,
who was even now grinning broadly and waggling her fingers teasingly at the
trainer.

Misty sent her a stream of curses she once heard a drunken landscaper utter, and
the ghost gave her a shocked look as Laurna giggled.

"Not long now," the woman sighed, motioning at the floor and causing Misty to
suddenly tense up. She hadn't realized that the clock wasn't using normal time.
Its hands were moving at their own pace.

'Ready?' she inquired tersely as the two hands moved closer together, ignoring
the two voices that replied back with a resounding, 'Yes!'

"Now!" both trainers shouted in unison, both feeling the surge of adrenaline as
their pokemon sprang into action.

Across the room, Nox held her hands out before her as though she were holding a
sphere. An eye-blink later, and she was. A huge, crackling orb of darkness that
she wasted no time in lobbing at the opposing Starmie the instant the clock
struck twelve and a loud booming bell chime reverberated through the air and
caused the entire room to tremble.

If starmies had been created with teeth, Umberlee would have clenched them. With
determination she watched the crackling shadow bolt sail unerringly towards her
as she focused her power in a new way.

'I DID learn a few things from Sabrina,' she said allowed in pokespeak, 'And
this is but ONE of them!'

Just before the dark orb hit, a field of crackling blue light erupted around her
in a perfect sphere. As the shadow bolt hit the barrier, an odd crackling sound
filled the air where the two effects touched before the ghost attack was sent
sailing off towards the ceiling.

'NOW!' exclaimed Umberlee excitedly, spinning frantically and unleashing her
own, more powerful version of Neptune's Might.

Nox was caught off guard, thinking she'd achieved and easy victory, and caught
the spiraling torrent of water just under the chin. With a yelp, she flew
backwards, and phased through Laurna, causing the small woman to take the attack
in the stomach before being thrown backwards into he staircase.

"That's enough!" Misty shouted, running towards Laurna as a sense of panicked
guilt struck her, "Ms. Wyght, are you okay?!"

Laurna looked up a moment later, and smiled as she saw Misty, her sea green eyes
full of concern as she reached down to help Laurna up. "No wonder she loves
you," said the Gym Leader/Professor, wincing as her suddenly painful bottom left
the wet step she'd landed uncomfortably upon.

Misty could only smile, feeling a little embarrassed as she backed away to give
Laurna more room. "I- I'm just being me," she replied, causing Laurna to sigh
happily, even as she tried to brush more of the water out of her dress with both
hands.

"Good," the woman said thoughtfully, looking up through her suddenly crooked
glasses and smiling, "Then you meet with my approval as well."

"Your approval?" exclaimed Misty, suddenly going a bit pale, "You mean this was
just another test?!"

"Now, now," chuckled Laurna in a maternal tone, waving her finger cautioningly,
"That's not all it was. I really did want to challenge you. I wanted to see how
you handle yourself, and I wanted to see what kind of person you really were."

Misty nodded slowly as Umberlee hovered up beside her, nudging her hand
expectantly.

"You see," continued Laurna as Nox reappeared looking a little dazed and Misty
petted her starmie affectionately, "even when we don't mean to, we all wear
masks that hide who we really are. But there are times when we drop those
defenses. During a battle is but one of them. Or at least the one that was most
readily available to me without causing... Complications."

Laurna smiled mischievously, looking away as Misty chuckled. "That's okay," she
assured, glancing at the silver pendant the woman still wore, "But about the
other prize I've won?"

"Huh? Oh yes!"

Laurna glanced at Nox and ghost nodded, reaching out her disembodied hands and
lifting the silver necklace off her mistress as the woman bowed her head. "This
now belongs to you," the Gym Leader/Poke'prof said in an approving tone that
reminded Misty a little of Vivian, but without the seemingly perpetual edge to
her voice.

The ghost floated the short distance to her and glanced down at Umberlee
concernedly. "Don't worry," Misty assured them both, smiling and bowing her head
as she spoke, "Ghosts that don't mean me any harm don't scare me anymore."

Umberlee made a cautious reply as Nox moved closer and hung the silver pendant
around Misty's neck like a medal of honor. "You have defeated the Lavender Gym,"
said Laurna dramatically as the trainer held the emblem in her hand, "And as its
Leader, I present you with an ecto-badge."

Misty smiled down at the silver right side up pentagram, held in a triangle
shape, quivering with barely contained elation until the silver chain that held
it began to waver and dissipated like smoke.

"Wha-?" she began, glancing up at Laurna as the metal badge went from being a
pendant to more of a broach.

"Things are not always as they seem," the Gym Leader explained, "Especially not
where ghosts are concerned. Now then, I have some cleaning up to, and I'm sure
Miri's bored waiting for at home by now."

"Thank you, ma'am," Misty said politely, causing Laurna to chuckle.

"That's Aunt Laurna to you," she chided playfully, "Now get going. The festival
runs late tonight, and I have a lot of work to do!"

Misty nodded and glanced at Umberlee. "And especially thank you," she said with
the maternal smile Miranda often gave her pokemon, "This is really your badge,
but I think I'll hold onto it for while."

'Not a problem,' the starmie assured, sounding happy as Misty returned Umberlee
to her pokeball...
Chapter XVI "Meanwhile..."

Miranda slipped off her shoes and coat at the door as her mother called out from
elsewhere in the house. "It's just me!" the courier assured, walking into the
living room and finding her mother sitting upon the couch flipping through an
old photo album.

"Hello, dear," Vivian greeted her surprised looking daughter, "Laurna not need
you for that long?"

Miranda shrugged as she came in and sat down on the couch next to her mother.
"She just needed me to have Wraith spin some illusions to make the place look
creepy," she explained with a shrug, "And she needed me to make sure Misty
didn't get lost. Having her walk into one of the lab areas would have completely
ruined the effect."

Vivian nodded sagely, turning the page and tapping an old black and white
picture. "There," the woman said quietly, "that's the place I grew up in."

Miranda glanced down at the old, rundown five storied building and wrinkled her
nose in disgust. Even without colour, the building looked awful. The shabby,
falling apart looking brickwork of the exterior made it seem as though the
entire structure could collapse at any moment. The fire escape on the side of
the building looked as though it had actually caught fire, and was leaning
dangerously to the right, having come loose from most of its supports. And the
small, grimy looking windows that looked in on every apartment seemed as though
they'd offer little light.

"It looks horrible," Miranda said honestly.

"It was," her mother replied with a nod, setting the album down on the coffee
table, "But it's where we moved after my father lost his job."

Miranda looked up at her mother so suddenly her glasses fell off and landed in
Vivian's lap. "You- I-" she stammered.

Vivian smiled sadly. "I know, dear," she explained, "I don't like to speak of
them. But now, now that we have a little time alone, and I see that you're
getting your life on track, and Frank's finally willing to commit to my
sister... Perhaps. Just maybe it's time to dispel a few old ghosts."

Miranda nodded, pushing down the selfish thoughts of Misty that the word ghosts
invoked.

Vivian sighed, suddenly regretting that Bob had gone off on an errand and that
she'd not brewed herself a fresh pot of tea. "I know that I seldom speak of him,
Miranda," she said in a careful tone, not meeting her daughter's intent gaze,
but instead looking across the room to the glass ornaments that sat upon the
overly large black and white tv the family seldom used, "But I must tell you.
Your father..." she paused, catching her breath and sensing the tension her
daughter felt, "He was a kinda and gentle man. He abhorred violence, for the
most part, and he taught me what love really was."

Vivian turned to meet Miranda's gaze. The courier had yet to retrieve her
glasses, and her stormy gray eyes seemed either on the verge of sadness of
anger. "Nicholas," Vivian continued, reining in her emotions as she always did,
despite her daughter's sadness, "He... He more than made up for my parents. I
think it was intentional..."

"You almost never speak of them, mother," came Miranda's whisper quiet reply,
somehow unable to raise her voice so that even the ticking of the clock in the
kitchen seemed loud by comparison.

"I know," her mother said distantly, thinking for a moment.

"And I know you've said that they were... Unpleasant people."

Vivian wasn't sure whether to laugh or to cry. Instead she gazed into her
daughter's eyes intently for a moment. "I don't want to burden you with the
details," she said carefully, "but I can give you a small example of what they
were like."

Miranda raised a suspicious eyebrow and nodded, prepared for the worst.

Vivian's right fist shot out from around her, hitting Miranda's arm with
surprising alacrity. And though she'd pulled her punch, Vivian caught her
daughter's wince, sending a surge of guilt through her.

"They'd do that from time to time," she explained, trying to keep her voice
level, her expression blank, "And they'd say... Oh, Miri... They'd say 'That was
for nothing, now try something...'"

Miranda's eyes widened, the feeling of numbness she felt at the thought of such
people having control over her mother and aunt's lives being pushed aside by a
sudden feeling that mixed deep sadness and amazement.

"I- I'm sorry, dearest," said Vivian so quietly she wasn't sure she'd said it as
tears fell from her eyes and Miranda felt paralyzed, uncertain of what do,
having never seen tears in the woman's eyes before, "I shouldn't have done
that..."

"Shh," whispered Miranda, forcing her arms to move at last and putting them
around her mother sympathetically, "It's alright."

"NO!" Vivian cried, clinging so desperately to Miranda, that the courier felt
more helpless than she'd ever felt in her life as the woman she'd always thought
of as stronger than stone, crumbled before her, "No, it's not alright, Miri...
And that's why I never raised my hand against you as a child. Why I never
stopped you from making a lot of mistakes I should have. Why I've never just
arbitrarily pulled you off the Courier Crew and forced you to stay here..."

"Look, if you're trying to make me call you a bad mother, it's not going to
happen," said Miranda sternly, finding it odd to have to comfort the woman the
same way she herself had been comforted. Miranda also wondered at the fact that
her eyes felt suddenly very dry, as though all of her tears had gone to her
mother. 'I suppose one of us has to be strong,' she mused inwardly, 'To be there
for the other.'

Vivian nodded, not caring at that moment who walked in on them at that moment.
"Your- Your father," she went on, drying her eyes with her fingers and catching
her breath and leaned against her daughter for support, "He didn't just take us
away from all that... He saved us. Because if he hadn't have driven us out of
town that last night, I would have finished what Viper started."

"He killed my step-grandfather, didn't he?" Miranda said distantly, forcing the
thoughts from her mind as things began pieces themselves together, "To help Aunt
Laurna."

Vivian smiled. "That overgrown serpent may very well have saved my sister's
life," she replied in a tone that was both happy and sad, "I don't know what she
did to get him back after he sacrificed himself to save her, but I'm glad she
did it. Laurna lacks my strength."

"Is that why you're the way you are?" Miranda inquired carefully, "So strong, I
mean. For her?"

Vivian nodded, her eyes feeling empty of tears once more. "Yes," she said sadly,
"Only I was worse then. One of the other things your father did for me was to
remind me that I was still a woman. Quite an accomplishment for a simple country
boy."

Miranda smiled, chuckling quietly.

"He was my first love, you know," continued Vivian reminiscently.

"I know," Miranda replied, her smile seemingly permanent as she felt a feeling
of closeness to her mother. A feeling she hadn't felt in longer than she cared
to remember.

Vivian laughed. "I just mean... I mean that he made me feel complete back then,"
she explained, as for the first time in her life, the right words seemed
difficult to find, "And I just won't rest until my only child finds that same
happiness."

"I have, mother. I have."

Vivian's smile was more like her old self. "I see," she chuckled.

"Tell me, though," said Miranda, moving back but keeping a comforting arm around
her mother, "Do you approve of her?"

"I approve of your decision," Vivian replied sagely, her tone betraying nothing.

Miranda slipped a finger under her mother's chin and turned the woman to face
her. "That's NOT what I asked."

"But it's one of the things you wanted to know," said her mother all too
knowingly in an amused tone, her smile loving, "Isn't that right dear?"

"I guess so."

"I know so," came Vivian's softened tone once more, "Look, I'll support any
decision that you decide to make. Whatever makes you happy, even if it means I'm
never going to be a grandmother. I don't care. Or even if you don't want to
inherit the family business. I'll understand."

Miranda smirked. "By the time I inherit this," she said in an amused tone, "I'll
be very old. With hair of silver, and joints that ache to move. I'll be so frail
and decrepit that a desk job will be more than I can handle!"

Vivian laughed. "I won't live THAT long!"

"Please don't say that, mother," said Miranda, a sudden sadness touching her
heart at the thought of actually loosing the woman, "I- I know that I don't say
it often enough, and I know that I'm never around, but... I love you, mom."

Vivian hugged her daughter. "I know, dear," she said happily, "And I love you
too. Enough to forgive you for only showing up once a year, and to understand
why it hurts you so much to be here. Everything reminds you of him, doesn't it?"

Miranda nodded slowly. "Yes," she admitted quietly, slipping out of her mother's
embrace and looking forlornly down at her glasses, where they sat upon Vivian's
lap. 'Her legs have gotten so thin,' the courier thought sadly, reclaiming her
spectacles so she could see properly, 'It must seem so unfair to her.'

"Mother," she inquired, "May I ask you a stupid question?"

Vivian sighed thoughtfully, nodding as she met her daughter's gaze.

"What did they think of him? Father, I mean..."

The woman was quiet for a moment, searching Miranda's eyes, knowing how high a
pedestal she put her father upon and hating having to take the man's legend down
a notch.

"Here," said Vivian after a tense moment, taking Miranda's hand and moving it
into her hairline, "It should be right about... There."

Miranda concentrated on the feelings from her fingertips so intently, that she
jumped in her seat when she felt it. "That's what your maternal grandparents
thought of him," said Vivian as Miranda withdrew her hand, staring almost
horrified down at the fingers that had felt the scar upon her mother's head, "My
mother broke a bottle over my head the night she found out about him. We weren't
even officially a couple then, and she... Well, let's just say there are some
words that a lady should never allow into her vocabulary, but my mother called
me each and every single one. There was just no pleasing that woman."

"Oh, and before I forget," Vivian reached into her pants pocket as Miranda
stared blankly at the space between them, her mind trying to deal with the
information she'd received, "Here."

Miranda looked up and didn't immediately recognize the object that her mother
dangled in front of her face. "Oh my!" she gasped, fighting off the numb feeling
that had filled her, "Is that-?"

Vivian smiled as she nodded. "The key to your father's diary," she said as a
familiar face looked in from around the corner.

"Excuse me?" said Bob politely.

"Goodness, Bob!" exclaimed Miranda, nearly jumping out of her skin at the sound
of her stepfather's voice, "I didn't hear you come in!"

The man smiled. "I was being polite," he told her, a sudden worried look
crossing his face, "But um, if you have a minute... There's something wrong with
my computer. And I uh, I think it's your ghost. Again."

Miranda smiled, trying not to laugh at the finality of the "Again". "Okay," she
promised, "I'll be there in a moment."

Bob nodded and disappeared once more.

"You know," replied Vivian thoughtfully, "I got a call from a Sylph Co scientist
the other day."

"Oh yeah?"

Vivian nodded, watching her daughter get awkwardly to her feet and cross the
room to one of the two open archways. "Yes," she explained, "His name was David
something... Said he'd call back in a few days. It's not about Wraith, is it?"

Miranda smiled, trying not laugh at the slightly hopeful gleam in her mother's
eyes. "No mom," she assured, finally breaking down, "they don't want him back!"

Her mother laughed as well and quickly added, "Oh, and one last thing, dear."

"Yes?"

Vivian glanced at the white blouse Miranda was wearing. "That looks good on
you."

Miranda blushed, and fled from the room...
Chapter XVII "Home At Last..."

"Hey you're back!" laughed Miranda, catching Misty in her arms the moment she
stepped through the front door, "How'd it go?"

Misty smiled, allowing herself to be spun halfway around as she saw the
adoringly pleased look in Miranda's eyes. "You should know!" the trainer replied
laughing, "Aunt Laurna had you taking care of half the illusions!"

"Only at the start," the courier corrected, "I was home before the battle really
got started."

Misty smiled, swinging the door shut with the back of her foot. "Home you say?"
she teased.

Miranda shrugged with a happy sigh. "Wherever I lay down to sleep, and find you
in my arms, IS home," she replied dramatically, "But you still haven't answered
my question."

"Yes, my love," Misty replied softly, moving closer with eyes that gleamed with
excitement, "I won."

"So did I."

Misty glanced over at the small silver object in Miranda's raised hand.

"Is that-?"

Miranda nodded. "I haven't had a chance to take a look at it yet," she replied
in a hopeful tone, "but I'll get around to it."

Misty smiled, kissing Miranda on the cheek as the courier examined the simple
little key; almost entranced by the possibilities it held. For a moment, she
almost didn't feel her beloved slip free of her embrace.

"Well, I really need to take a shower before we head out tonight," explained
Misty, bringing Miranda back to reality, "So, if you'd like to take a quick
peek. Maybe you could read me the good parts afterwards?"

Miranda glanced back at her lover and smiled as she stepped slowly backwards
down the hall. "You'd enjoy that too much," the courier teased, causing Misty to
give her a shocked look that quickly became a laugh, "But hey, before I forget."

Miranda moved closer again, pocketing the key and giving Misty a warm hug.
"Congratulations, my beloved," she whispered into her triumphant lover's ear
before kissing her neck gently, "I knew you could do it."

Misty sighed happily; chastising herself for the momentary annoyance she'd felt
when Miranda hadn't reacted to the news sooner. "I never doubted you," Miranda
continued, her hands rubbing Misty's back as she spoke, "You may have long since
proven your determination, but now that you've proven your courage as well."

"There wasn't any time for fear," Misty replied with a shrug, leaning against
Miranda and glancing idly into the now empty living room, "I just went in and
did what came naturally. But I think I'm going to have to start working on
triple techniques. You never know when they might come in handy."

"Well, I still never doubted you," said Miranda lovingly, hugging Misty closer
before stepping back and taking her hand, "Triple attacks are more for drama
half the time anyway. But if you want, I'll see if I can't help you out with
them. Between Shadow and Leviathan, you should be able to pull off most of the
ones Nezumi and Umi can. But I'm sure we'll improvise something eventually."

Misty nodded, smiling in at Vivian as they passed her open office door hand in
hand. "So, are you still planning on wearing that tonight?" the trainer inquired
as Vivian nodded her approval and went back to arguing with a client over
caravan prices.

Miranda exhaled thoughtfully as they went up the darkly carpeted stairs, her
free hand trailing along the polished wooden banister as she strummed her
fingernails across its surface absently. "Yes," she said at last as they reached
the top of the stairs, "it fits well, and I'd still like to see the look on
Zack's face when he sees me wearing it."

"I'll bet he'd have a heart attack if he ever saw you in the dress," Misty added
with a laugh as Miranda pulled her bedroom door open.

"Yeah, but it's too late to have yours delivered here, so no."

"It'll probably be too chilly out to wear it anyway," said Misty with a shrug,
as Miranda opened the door to her room, "That and I don't recall this festival
being a formal occasion."

"Goodness no!" Miranda laughed, flinging herself down on her bed and bouncing
happily for a moment, "Aunt Laurna only wears that dress she got in the Tower to
be dramatic. And besides, with all the running around we'll probably be doing
afterwards, I'd rather dress more practically."

Misty frowned at the thought as she stepped out of her jeans and began to lift
the hem of her long sleeve shirt. "It wasn't sorta old looking, made of black
silk with silvery trim was it?"

"Um... Yeah. She's worn it every Halloween since she got it," Miranda explained,
her eyes lifting from her lover's exposed legs to the suddenly concerned look in
her sea green eyes, "Why?"

"I think I might have ruined it," Misty replied with a shudder, "There was quite
a bit of water thrown around while I was at her Gym."

Miranda smiled. "Don't worry about it," she chuckled, receiving a peculiar look
for it, "Knowing Aunt Laurna, that was just another illusion. She was probably
in a house coat with her hair all over the place knowing her."

"Think so?"

"Definitely," Miranda replied, happy to see the way Misty's expression
brightened, "I know what she was like when Uncle Frank was around before. They
tried to hide it, but I wasn't exactly blind and deaf back then. And now that
they're back together... Well, let's just say that I wouldn't doubt it if they
spent every waking moment in close proximity."

Misty nodded thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose she also wouldn't want to wear
something she'd need later on if there was a chance it wouldn't be usable in
time."

Miranda nodded. "Besides," she said with a knowing grin, "I met Uncle at the
gates. His uniform wasn't on properly when he ran past me in a bit of a panic."

Misty laughed as she discarded the rest of her clothing and took a bathrobe off
the hook on the back of the door. "Are you sure you don't want some company?"
added Miranda quickly as she tied the belt about her waist.

"I'll be fine," replied Misty slyly, catching the hopeful tone in Miranda's
voice, "You just wait here and read that book. I don't want you distracted all
night. I still need you to hold my hand with so many ghosts around."

"I need an excuse, my love?"

Misty smiled at her lover's tone, glancing back as the courier opened the top
drawer of her nightstand and fished out the book. "You better not!" she giggled,
"But seriously, three well trained ghosts in a ballroom is different to several
dozen, in a graveyard, beside the Lavender Tower!"

Miranda grinned broadly in a seldom seen display of her teeth. "Geeengaaaar,"
she whispered jokingly, fighting the urge to correct Misty. It was more like
several hundred ghosts at this time of year.

"Thank you, Nezumi," Misty chuckled, opening the door and blowing Miranda a kiss
before disappearing completely.

Miranda sighed heavily; the sound of her door clicking quietly closed sounding
far too final for her liking. She then closed her eyes, listening for the
creaking floorboards that would signal Misty's quiet passage down the hall to
the bathroom. A moment later, she could the old copper pipes in the walls
shudder and make a horrible whine of protest before the sound of distant sound
of water running through them could be heard.

For a time, Miranda sat cross-legged on her bed, listening intently to the sound
of the water as it changed in tone, signaling that the shower had been turned
on. She smiled, imaging her beloved slipping the fuzzy robe off her shoulders,
her naked body shivering against the sudden chill before stepping cautiously
into the falling water.

The courier sighed, holding the black, leather-bound book to her lips and
smiling in spite of herself. "I love her, daddy," she whispered, her eyes
suddenly burning for a split second before Miranda felt a single happy tear fall
from her eye, "I really, really do."

Miranda then shuffled back across the bed until she was leaning against her
decorative headboard before pulling out the little key her mother had given her.
"This is crazy," she told herself as excitement surged through her veins and a
burning desire to simply pry the book open washed over her, "I feel like a kid
at Christmas!"

With a shaking hand, she brought the key forward, missing the lock entrance
several times in her nervousness before finally sliding it home. Miranda
released the breath she'd been holding and forced the book down upon the random
patterns of her comforter. "No," she told herself sternly, pushing down the
aching need to selfishly devour the books contents, "I can't. I need to share
this with someone."

Miranda glanced at the nightstand and smiled. There were four poke balls sitting
there waiting for her. One was blue and white for Umi, one was lavender purple
and white for Nezumi, and one was light gray and black for Wraith. But now,
there was a fourth. Its lower half was the traditional gleaming white of most
balls, but the upper half was a brilliant emerald green.

Miranda shook her head as she reached for Ivy's ball first, recalling the
strange circumstances in which she'd acquired the juvenile bulbasaur. "What was
I thinking?" she asked rhetorically, not really regretting her decision, yet
still questioning it, "My dad would have loved you to pieces, but I'm not really
a plant person. Still, though, you are part reptile."

With a shrug, Miranda aimed the ball at the bed in front of her. "Ivy," she said
in a clear tone, letting the orb's internal voice recognition system activate
the releasing mechanism, "Come ye forth."

There was a flash of light before the peculiar reptile whose species hadn't
altered much since the extinction of the dinosaurs materialized before the
courier, before letting out a curious, happy sound.

Miranda smiled down at Ivy as the little reptile/plant hybrid glanced around
quickly, her thus far incomprehensible tone becoming panicked as she survived
the room but found no sign of her trainer.

"Silly, girl," Miranda giggled, picking up the still small pokemon and turning
her around so that she could see her.

Ivy's sad expression became instantly happy, and a thin, pale green tendril
immediately sprouted from the small hard bud on her back. "Nice to see you too,"
Miranda replied, laughing as she leaned forward so that Ivy could affectionately
bat the end of Miranda's nose with her appendage.

"Okay now I remember," she told the bulbasaur, "you were too cute NOT to take
home with me!"

Ivy let out a happy laughing sound, but even though she'd shed her skin nearly a
dozen times since Miranda had acquired her, and grown so large that it now took
two hands to hold her in, Ivy's pokespeak was still the equivalent of baby talk.

Miranda scratched the bulbasaur on top of the head, half wondering what she'd do
when Ivy grew to the size of her Father's car and decided that smacking her on
the nose with eight tendrils was a sign of affection.

"Oh well," she sighed, reaching over and activating Umi, Wraith and Nezumi,
"I'll deal with it later."

Although Wraith seemed anxious to go outside again and Nezumi glanced around the
room suspiciously as Umi seemed ecstatic to be home again. The instant she was
released, she leapt off the bed with an excited exclamation and slithered around
the room making observations, obviously pleased that nothing had changed.

"Yeah, we're home again," Miranda replied as Nezumi looked up at her and smiled
reassuringly, "But this time, it's different."

Umi popped her head up so suddenly it caused Nezumi to squeak out a curse before
covering his heart with a forepaw and falling over backwards. "Draaa?" she
inquired, her eyes shifting from a combination of orange and green to sudden
purple.

"I have the key to my father's diary," Miranda explained, causing Umi to
immediately slither up onto the bed and draw nearer, "There's a lot of stuff
about your parents in here, I'll bet."

Umi nodded sadly, slithering into Miranda's lap and resting her head against the
woman's chest. "Wraith, you don't have to stay if you don't want to," Miranda
explained, taking a moment to scratch Umi's eye ridges, "it's Halloween night
tomorrow, and I'm sure that there's all sorts of mischief you could be off
doing. Nezumi, if you want, you can take Ivy down to the greenhouse. I'm sure
some of your friends are still a bit on edge after yesterday, but I think she'll
like it there."

The rattata shrugged and the haunter mumbled something about staying, even
though his eyes were focused on the world outside the window. "All right then,"
said Miranda with a smile as Ivy crawled up on her knee in a sudden fit of
jealousy and Nezumi took his accustomed place upon the courier's shoulder, "I'll
tell you what, I'll skip ahead to the good parts..."
Chapter XVIII "Oooh! Foreshadowing..."

The sun was an orange disk over the ocean as they set off towards the sound of
distant music, past the ever-present black and orange decorations that nearly
every home in Lavender wore. As the cemetery drew nearer, the Victorian style
street lamps flickered to life, some sending up short bursts of blue sparks and
startling a few jumpy tourists.

When they reached the town square, where the light purple cobblestones rose up
towards the mountains, the Tower became an omnipresent beacon. It rose five
stories above the road, just to one side of Route 10 with the mountains at its
back where the lights from the mining camp gleamed like malevolent eyes in the
darkness.

Though the Tower was an eerie place at the best of times, its residence had
somehow made it more so with the approach of Halloween. At the top of the Tower,
a constant ring of ghosts danced around it like a dark halo before slowly
descending part way down where several of the ghosts would either flee into the
tower, or disperse into the night only to be replaced a new batch of eager
specters looking to continue the blatant display. As the now wailing band of
dark shapes spun about in their strange game, eerie lights flickered to life in
many of the windows. They alternated colours from an unpleasant sickly green to
hot pink, and were accompanied by the occasional scream or burst of baleful
laughter.

Misty shivered and held Miranda's hand a little tighter as the incoherent sound
of the festival's music became clearer, and she could make out the aging
brickwork of the Tower. With morbid fascination she watched as it grew nearer as
they ascended, not daring to ask where the strange array of what appeared to be
bleached white bones came from that suddenly shot out a West-facing window
accompanied by an ear-splitting belch that rattled the Tower's other windows.

"They're just showing off," assured Miranda, squeezing Misty's hand
reassuringly, as the bones pelted a crowd of all too curious tourists, "They get
like this every year."

Misty nodded, now noticing as the huge wooden double doors began to rattle in
response to the blinding white light that shined just beyond them and streamed
out through the cracks.

"Believe it or not," Miranda continued as they made a sharp left and Misty's
gaze fell upon the more reassuring sight of the festival grounds, "They're
usually pretty quiet the rest of the year. Especially in April, that's when the
mana level's at its lowest and they tend to sleep a whole lot."

"I see," replied Misty, trying not to think about the Tower too much, but
finding that the excited tone in Miranda's voice made it and its ghosts somehow
less threatening. Infact, the entire festival seemed to be trying to make the
Tower and the ghosts more of a tourist attraction than anything else.

As promised, the unoccupied areas of well-groomed grass between the rows wide
causeways of hard packed earth were decorated with papier-mch tombstones and a
few of the concession stands looked like mausoleums and crypts. Those same
stands sold the obligatory over-priced festival food, consisting mostly of fast
food with Halloween themed names. Misty was afraid to ask about the allegedly
vat grown hamburgers at one place called "The Darkened Kitchen". She especially
didn't want to know what went into their secret sauce, known only as "BTX101".

Beyond the concessions and hoard of tourists there were a gaming booths, run by
the usual band of shifty characters who seemed more intent on taking people's
money than handing out the prizes they'd all inherited from their grandparents
in order to lure the gullible. Most of the games they had set up were of the
usual sort, except that the proprietors had changed them to be more in theme.
Some were simple, and almost laughable, like the game where the object was to
knock over a set of glass bottles. Only the owner of the booth had filled them
with a clear liquid in which floated a small handful of eyes. But even Miranda
had to admit that the game where festivalgoers were challenged to test their
strength was a bit tacky. When the contestant smashed down the enormous mallet,
the small round ball traveled up a hastily constructed replica of the Tower. At
the top, instead of a bell, they had placed a replica of a gastly. One the one
occasion that someone did manage to thwack the small round orb all the way to
the top, though, the gastly let out a blood curdling scream and its eyes lit up.

"This was a lot better when I was kid," Miranda sighed, leading Misty down
another path that lead through and area populated small carnival rides, "We
didn't used to get as many outsiders setting up shop here... I mean, this isn't
supposed to be about making money, it's supposed to be about having fun, right?"

"Almost every holiday gets commercialized to-" Misty stopped herself from saying
it and quickly pointed to a large open area with a stage, "Hey, look at that!"

Miranda smiled as she noticed the small platform that passed for a stage where
most of the more interesting events often took place. Upon it was a band of
actors playing out some story that seemed to involve the use of a lot of jack o
lanterns.

"That takes me back," Miranda laughed as they joined the crowd of mostly out of
town children watching the play, "We did this in school one year."

"What is it?" Misty inquired as a man dressed as an old decrepit farmer
staggered merrily away from a group of angry looking people in dark cloaks and
masks that made their faces seem twisted and horrible.

"Ever wonder why we carve pumpkins?" whispered Miranda as the aged farmer
hovelled about the stage; appearing to be turned away at every door he came to.

"Not really," Misty confessed, glancing at the closest collection of jack-o-
lanterns and noticing a 1st prize ribbon on one of the more twisted looking
ones.

Miranda smiled as a huge papier-mch pumpkin was brought up onto the stage and
the old farmer, whose name was apparently Jack began to rejoice before pulling
out a huge knife and making broad sweeping motions at it in a dramatic fashion.

"Oh, it involves this rather unsavory farmer treeing some dark malevolent
spirit," the courier explained quickly, keeping her voice low as several
children applauded as prearranged sections of the fake pumpkin fell away until
it looked like a jack-o-lantern, "He made a deal with it in exchange for helping
it out of the tree that he'd never be allowed into-"

"Treed?" interrupted Misty as half the children cheered and the other half
cringed, "How do you get a dark malevolent spirit stuck up a tree, exactly?"

"Well," confessed Miranda as the play ended and all the actors and actresses
came out on stage, "That part's a little vague. But anyway, Jack wasn't a nice
guy, so when he died, he couldn't get into Heaven. But, because of the deal he
made, he wasn't allowed anywhere else either. So he wound up wandering the land
being turned away from every door he came to until he found a place to live."

"A pumpkin."

"Well, err, yeah... Kinda."

"Lavender Town's a strange place, Miri," Misty replied with a warm smile as
Miranda cast her a helpless look, "But I think I could get used to it."

"Well, you can't expect much from a kid's fairytale," the courier confessed with
a shrug, "And besides, our teacher wouldn't let us do MacBeth."

"Too much for kids to handle, I guess."

"I suppose."

"But making them afraid of lit-up pumpkin carvings is all right though?" Misty
teased as the stage was cleared and people started setting up folding chairs
before it.

"Hey," Miranda laughed, "we're Lav'Brats, remember? We're not afraid of
anything. Or at least that's what we like to tell people..."

Misty smiled. "I'll try to keep that in mind," she promised as the workers
started jabbing tall torches into the ground and lighting them in response to
the gathering darkness, assembling a double parallel row with the chairs between
them.

"So I guess this is where your Aunt's doing her thing tonight?" commented Misty
as they grabbed a pair of seats in the third row, watching idly as the two
people who'd set up the torches hurriedly joined those clearing the stage.

Miranda nodded. "Yeah, being so near the Tower always kinda adds to the
ambiance," she replied, feeling suddenly guilty as Misty's fingers clenched,
cutting off her circulation.

Misty let out a stifled exclamation, leaning forward and looking past Miranda
and shuddering as she saw just how close they were to the Tower. "S-sorry," the
courier stammered, desperately searching for the right words.

"It's okay," Misty replied, her tone quiet as she stared in disbelief at the
dark, imposing pillar that was now only a hundred yards or so away. Far above
her, the ghosts had ceased their screeching and had vanished, but as she looked
up into he sky above the Tower, dark clouds moved in from seemingly nowhere,
turning the sky into a swirling mass of dark gray.

"I guess when you live here you just kinda ignore it," said Miranda, trying to
sound reassuring as she slipped her arm around Misty's shoulders, "it doesn't
really do anything to anyone. If you ignore it, the chances are it'll ignore
you."

"That's true," Misty sighed, leaning against her beloved and feeling a familiar
sense of dread as she pried her eyes away from the haunted structure, thankful
that Miranda was so close by.

"Hey," laughed a familiar voice that made them both jump in their seats, "It's
just a dilapidated old building. Heck, if it weren't for the ghosts, it'd
probably collapse under its own weight!"

The two immediately looked behind them and saw Zack, accompanied by a short,
muscular woman with almost the same shade of flaming red hair as him. The pair
were walking down the aisle created by the double blocks of chairs that had been
set up, and now stopped as they spotted Misty and Miranda.

"Hey, Zack," Miranda replied with a smile, glancing at his companion with a
reverent nod, "Hi, Angela. Nice to see you made it back into town."

The woman smiled back, her grin seeming somehow less mischievous than Zack's,
who was now taking advantage of the their substantial difference in height by
leaning upon her broad shoulder. As he did so, she glanced up at him and shook
her head, revealing the long, waist-length braid she'd tied her hair into.

"Yeah, I heard my son was causing trouble again, so I thought I'd head back
early," said Angela, her tone sounding more amused than disapproving, with a bit
of an accent that was hard to place.

"Who, me?" Zack inquired innocently, looking down at his mother with a shocked
look that made the others laugh, "I'll have you know that I've been here all
week and I haven't been arrested yet-"

"The night is still young," Miranda replied slyly, causing Angela to nod in
agreement.

"And I haven't broken anything!" added Zack.

"Does teaching Joy's blissy to self-destruct count?" inquired Misty, happy for
the distraction.

"I- I-!" stammered Zack as his mother glowered at him and more people began
arriving, taking whatever seats were available, "Oh, look! It's Joshua! Hey,
Joshua, over here!"

His mother blushed and tried to compose herself as the elder courier hovelled
down the aisle, arm and arm with a short, slender woman who seemed to be near
his age, but in much better condition.

"Angela had a crush on him when she was a kid," Miranda whispered to Misty as
Joshua and his wife came closer and nodded respectfully to the couple, "It's
what made her join the Couriers."

"Gee," giggled Misty, pressing her lips close Miranda's ear, "And here I thought
he was kidding about being married."

Miranda shook her head, a look of respectful reverence gleaming in her eye as
Joshua and his wife took a seat just behind them. Although he was still wearing
his tattered traveling clothes and wide brimmed hat, he'd removed his long
leather duster and had draped it about the woman's shoulders. His wife smiled at
Miranda and Misty, somehow making the oversized coat with the Courier Crew badge
on its shoulder not seem too out of place with her long dark blue dress and
artfully styled silvery hair.

"Joshua never lies," Miranda replied as Zack and his mother quickly grabbed the
seats next to them as several other couriers descended on the area, taking the
best seats possible.

"That's right," the man replied, his left arm going protectively about his
wife's shoulders as Zack poked his mom in the ribs teasingly, "I just exaggerate
from time to time."

Misty laughed at the comment, finding the imposing courier less intimidating the
more she saw of him. "Aren't you a bit chilly, though?" she inquired as a cold
wind blew down from the mountains and sent Joshua's thinning hair billowing out
behind him.

"Naw," the old courier replied with a shake of his head and a shrug, "I recon
the grave'll be colder than this. So I might as well get used to it now.
Besides, I've had worse. Why I recall this one Winter. There I was, three days
outside of-"

"I've already heard this story."

"Oh, so sorry," said Joshua, lowering the brim of his hat and smiling toothily,
"I forgot."

"I think we've all heard that story," his wife Nancy chuckled, her quiet voice
sounding as carefree as her husband's seemed world-weary. "Ah! But I see that
the rumors are true!"

Misty felt suddenly self-conscious as the woman glanced down at the lapel of her
jacket to where she'd proudly pinned the badge she'd won from Laurna. "I'm sure
there's a new story behind that," the woman continued, glancing up at Joshua
teasingly, "Alas, my husband's are getting a little stale."

Joshua shrugged as Misty laughed, amused to see the look of sudden embarrassment
on the old courier's face. "Now, now," he said, patting her hand and meeting her
gaze with a look of dismay, "It's not my fault that the most of the adventure in
the world's all but dried up. What with all these new routes and that blasted
suspension bridge from Fuchsia-!"

His wife only laughed, even as Joshua's face became red and his remaining eye
blazed with annoyance. "Well I think you've brought home quite enough evil
little critters," she assured him, "And I know that I don't want anymore of you
being bitten, freezing or otherwise falling off! It's bad enough you almost died
the first time we met, and so help me, Joshua, you're not leaving me alone in
this town for the rest of my life!"

"Yes, dear..." the man mumbled looking downcast for a moment as everyone else
tried not to laugh, especially Nancy, "Oh, look! That Laurna kid's about to
start the show!"

Miranda had to laugh as she turned towards the stage again. Though her Aunt
Laurna was in her early forties, Joshua pretty thought of anyone younger than
him as still being wet behind the ears.

The small, unimposing woman stepped onto the stage with the spring in her step
that she'd adopted since Frank's return to Lavender. As promised, she was once
again wearing the long black and silver dress she'd worn at the challenge, and
again she wore a silver chain with the pyramid/pentagram emblem on it.

Just behind her, someone had put up a set of dark purple curtains, hiding the
view of the mountains behind the stage, making certain that all eyes were
focused on the politely smiling poke'prof.

"Hello, everyone," said Laurna in a quiet tone that somehow echoed loud enough
for all to ear, "and welcome to the fifteenth annual Lavender Town Halloween
Festival."

She smiled as the large block of couriers near the foot of the stage all
cheered, called out her name or generally made fools of themselves. "So nice to
have a fan club," the professor sighed, her silver earrings swaying as she shook
her head in bemused dismay, "But for those of you from out of town who don't
know me, my name's Professor Laurna Wyght. Although you've probably all met at
least one of us poke'profs in your lives, I'm currently the only one who takes
ecto-parazoology seriously."

A murmur came up from the crowd as most of the couriers whispered comments and
Misty heard Zack mutter, "Stupid tourists."

"Now," Professor Laurna continued undaunted, "how many of you out-of-towners
believe in ghosts?"

There was a chuckle from the crowd as only about half the tourists raised their
hands. Misty glanced over her shoulder and began to raise her own, only to have
Miranda stop her. "You're family," she whispered, causing the trainer to smile
happily.

Laurna nodded thoughtfully. "I see," she said, pushing her glasses back up her
nose melodramatically, causing them to shimmer in the flickering torchlight,
"Now, how many of you believe that ghost-types are just sentient balls of gas?
Kinda like a grimer or muk is just a sentient puddle of ooze?"

Only a few hands went down and Laurna smiled toothily, her magenta eyes gleaming
with amusement.

"Well," she told them with a degree of satisfaction, "I suppose I'm going to
have to give you all a quick education before we begin, for the tale I'm about
to tell you involves ghosts. And if you're going to believe my story, you're
going to have to believe in them. For they are real, and they are NOT just a
strange freak of nature. Believe it or not, ghost-types are indeed the souls of
departed pokemon, and you'd be wise to respect that."

Laurna ignored the murmuring of the crowd and the shouts from the back, some
demanding proof as others simply heckled. Instead, she raised her small hand and
snapped her fingers, the sound carrying much farther and sounding much louder
than seemed possible.

Instantly, three ghosts appeared around her, and causing several people to
scream as others broke into conversation. "They're just ghosts," muttered Zack,
and even Misty had to agree that Laurna's trio weren't that bad.

"Say hello, everyone," laughed Laurna as the spectral trio circled above her
head before turning their attention towards the crowd and receiving a few more
quieted screams as several people ran off, "To Nightfall, Nox, and of course,
Viper!"

As the ecto-parazoologist spoke their names, the three ghosts floated down and
hovered near Laurna's feet. "Now then," said Laurna in a more serious tone, her
fingers running idly through Viper's ephemera, causing him to make a contented
hissing sound, "My gengar Viper is proof of the facts. I received him from my
mentor Professor Joyce of Neon Town when I was apprenticing under her. Viper was
an ekans then. A very loyal, and very beautiful serpent whom I loved very
much..."

As Laurna spoke, the three ghosts concentrated, and huge illusionary scene
formed above her. It showed a much younger Laurna, receiving an, at the time,
rather small purple scaled serpent. In the phantasmal picture, Viper was only
about three feet long, having only hatched a few weeks previously, but the bond
between them seemed to form almost instantly. The look in Laurna's eyes as she
was handed the ekans caused most of the crowd to make approving sounds until the
image of the girl hugging the serpent happily shifted to one that seemed to take
place some time later.

"I had only been with Professor Joyce for a short while when it happened,"
Laurna explained, her tone reminding Misty of Vivian's as Miranda's fingers
suddenly tightened their grip, "Viper sacrificed himself to save my life..."

The image had now changed to one that was difficult to see, having been formed
from Laurna's own painful memories. It showed a dark, shadowy figure standing
over Laurna in what appeared to be a small bedroom that made Misty's look
spacious by comparison. As the dark figure neared, and Laurna's image screamed
silently, a huge serpent reared up behind him, and without hesitation, sank his
fangs into the attacker's shoulder as his long, thick tail wrapped around the
human.

"Viper fought valiantly for me," continued Laurna as the crowd's absolute
silence was broken only by the distant sounds of the rest of the festival and
the image of Viper rolling around on the floor with Laurna's would be attacker
changed to one where the man now had his hands around Viper's throat, "But in
the end, he was strangled to death... Not before his venom killed the man who
tried to hurt me, however."

Laurna paused, wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her dress and motioning for
someone in the front row not to move. "As he died, though," she said after a
moment, "I asked him to stay. To never leave me. Little did I know that he
would."

The woman smiled sadly down at the gengar whose gleaming red eyes glanced up at
her adoringly as the scene changed to one showing Lavender Town as it had been
nearly thirty years ago. Then, as Laurna spoke, the scene shifted so that the
Tower was the main focus until it filled most of the viewing area.

"A dear friend took myself and my sister to Lavender Town shortly after Viper's
death," she continued as Miranda glanced at Misty and gave her a concerned look,
"Once I arrived here, however, I started having dreams. Visions almost, of the
Tower. I mentioned it to my predecessor Professor Samuel, but he wasn't as
interested in the field of ecto-parazoology as I was. Infact, he warned me not
to go into the Tower under any circumstances, and told me a story that I'd like
to also share with you tonight. That, however, can wait."

The tension in the air settled a little as she smiled and a few people chuckled
nervously. "But his warnings fell upon deaf ears. I was determined to retrieve
Viper no matter what the cost. So, without telling anyone what I was doing, I
went into the Tower one night to retrieve my dearest ekans."

The scene showed an image of Laurna, wielding a flashlight and carrying a heavy
backpack of supplies as she entered the enormous double doors of the world's
most haunted structure and vanished within.

"I, however, was lucky," Laurna told the expectant crowd as the image vanished
and she smiled at their sudden disappointment, "I found a friend in the Tower. A
gengar known only as 'The Guardian!'"

With that, a loud, piercing shriek filled the air, followed by what sounded like
the wailing laughter of a thousand banshees. As most of the remaining crowd
glanced up at the real Tower, witnessing the arrival of an enormous dark shape
from one of the upper windows, Miranda leaned closer to Misty.

"That was new," she whispered, her stormy gray eyes tracking the descending
shape as it formed into an unusually tall gengar and floated towards her Aunt.

"What was?" inquired Misty as Laurna spread her arms wide, smiling happily as
the ghost that was nearly as tall as she was, floated into her arms and gave her
a hug.

"Aunt Laurna's never had them show that image of Viper's death before," Miranda
explained pensively, "She's also never really mentioned how he died, either. But
it meshes with some of what I read in my father's diary."

Misty glanced over at the courier with an alarmed look. "Should we be
concerned?" she inquired worriedly, "Um, I mean, that's some pretty personal
stuff she's revealing to the general public."

Miranda glanced at her Aunt, smiling sadly as she saw the look of joy in the
woman's eyes as Laurna exchanged a few quick words with the Guardian. "It's her
decision, I suppose. But at least she didn't give the whole story."

She glanced back at Misty with a sudden sadness reflecting in her eyes and
quickly gave her beloved an embrace that was meant more to reassure herself than
anything else. "That man was her stepfather," Miranda explained, causing Misty
to curse under her breath and hold Miranda a little closer, "That's what made my
father so angry. It's what made him take my mother and aunt away. Their mother
actually wanted to press charges against Laurna because of what Viper did,
irregardless of what her husband tried to do."

Misty clung to Miranda shaking as several conflicting emotions fought for
dominance inside her. She wanted to cry, run up on stage and hug Laurna, cheer
for Viper, and pummel the woman's long dead stepfather into dust at the same
time.

"Now I know," Misty managed, her eyes burning with tears as she buried her face
in Miranda's hair and breathed in her beloved's reassuring scent, "Now I know
why you love your father so much."

Miranda nodded slowly, running her fingers through Misty's hair reassuringly as
she glanced back at the stage. "He barely knew my mom and Aunt Laurna back
then," she whispered, "but he said that he loved my mother the first time that
he saw her. And when he got the call from Laurna, he rushed right over and drove
them out of town that very night. He didn't even stop until he was back here. He
said in his diary that it was the only way he could stop himself from going
after their mother. My father wasn't a violent man, but that night, he knew he
had to take them away or do something he'd regret for the rest of his life."

"He's still a hero in my eyes," Misty replied, moving back and smiling sadly as
she gave Miranda a gentle kiss, "Your mother is a very lucky woman, and so am
I."

Miranda closed her eyes and sighed contentedly, smiling happily as Misty rested
her head upon her shoulder, holding her hand as they watched the rest of the
show. "He saved them, and you saved me," she heard Misty whisper after a moment,
causing Miranda to squeeze her hand, "And I thank you. I thank you both, because
if not for your Father, I would never have met you..."

Upon the stage, Laurna's ghosts were now weaving a new set of illusions.
Overhead, the mostly spherical shape showed an area that looked only vaguely
familiar. A small village sat near the foot of the Lavender Mountains,
surrounded by a dense forest. It appeared to be a small mining town with a
narrow trail that lead down to a rather hastily constructed wharf. It was
obviously Lavender Town, only hundreds of years ago.

"When our ancestors came here," Laurna was now saying, "There was no Lavender
Tower. However, the two ley-lines that intersect here did exist. The souls of
departed pokemon, still clinging to this world came here even then. However,
there was no Tower, so they simply inhabited what we still call the Haunted
Woods.

"This lead to problems when the miners and fishermen started to clear the land
of its trees. The ghosts were NOT happy about loosing their only home to say the
least, and many people died as a result. So when word of this area spread, it
caught the attention of a man named Professor Spengler."

The scene shifted so that more of the forest had been cleared, revealing the
desiccated looking corpses of those foolish enough to try to destroy the ghost's
only home before shifting to an image of a rapidash drawn cart.

The equine seemed nervous and very displeased as trotted along, snorting small
flames from its nostrils as it's master drove it onward, down the winding path
that now ran West and would one day be know as Route 8.

The man urging it on was surprisingly tall for his time, with short dark hair
and small round spectacles on the end of his thin nose. As the Guardian added to
the illusion, the audience could hear the sounds of the pokemon's hooves
literally grinding the stones along the path to dust beneath its hooves as it
reluctantly pulled the wagon. They could hear its displeased snorts as its fiery
red eyes gleamed with primal fear in the growing darkness. But they could also
hear the man's quiet, reassuring words as he urged the steed on. Promising the
equine that no harm would come to him, that soon their journey would be over.

"Professor Spengler was a something of an anomaly at the time," came the now
happy sound of Laurna's voice as she continued to narrate, "five hundred years
ago, pokemon had very few rights, and most people treated them as tools and
weapons instead of as friends. But Spengler was different; he loved them and
never mistreated his small menagerie.

"He came here not only to study the ghosts, but also to fight for their rights.
He even brought his wife and three children with him, and was determined to
settle here and teach our ancestors to respect pokemon. Deceased or otherwise."

There was a chuckle from the crowd as the scene shifted again to one a few
months later. It showed a more organized looking village with several dozen
people laboring over what appeared to be some kind of structure.

"The professor started out, by commissioning the construction of what would one
day be the Lavender Tower. He had a substantial amount of silver saved up, and
paid the workers well. But it was his promise to deal with the ghosts in a way
that wouldn't endanger human lives that made them all work so hard.

"Then, in less than six months, the Tower was completed, and Spengler and his
family moved in to what was to be their home as well as the professors
laboratory."

The crowd oohed and ahhed as they were shown the Tower as it once had been. A
tall, proud, pristine structure that seemed friendly and not at all ominous.
They were also greatly pleased to receive tantalizing glimpses of the interior,
including the enormous play room Spengler built for his children, and the
science facilities he put together in the basement.

"That was when the a nameless gastly came to professor Spengler," explained
Laurna, smiling over at the tall gengar who looked away almost shyly, "and
claimed to represent the forest ghosts. He demanded that the humans move on or
be destroyed by the ghosts who greatly outnumbered them."

The scene showed the large black orb of a gastly hovering before a sympathetic
looking professor Spengler as he worked on what looked like a very primitive
pokeball in his lab. The sphere was nearly two feet across, made of dull gray
metal, with an open panel that exposed its vital circuitry and vacuum tubes.

"Professor Spengler explained to the gastly that the humans weren't trying to
harm the ghosts," continued Laurna as the image of the professor waved his arms
emphatically, and his lips moving mutely once more, "they were simply there
because of the minerals in the mountains. That they only cleared the forest
because they needed land to grow food and wood to build their homes.

"But the gastly explained that the woods were the ghost's only home. That were
the woods to be lost, the ghosts would have nowhere to congregate, to teach the
new gastlies who appeared now and then the way of ghostly society. That they
would be forced to take what the humans had built by any means necessary. No
matter what the cost.

"It was then that the Professor made a decision that would change Lavender Town
forever!" Laurna paused for effect, smiling as she noticed how many people were
now holding their breath, "He told the gastly, that once he and his wife had
passed on, that the Tower was theirs. He asked only that the human community be
permitted to claim a small portion of the land to live on, in exchange. In this
way, the two species each sacrificed something for the other."

The Guardian nodded at Laura's words and whispered something to her that caused
the poke'prof to shudder. "Oh, oh yes," she stammered, looking around nervously
and putting the crowd on edge, "I almost forgot. While this arrangement went
over quite well with most of the other ghosts, a small group of dissidents were
still less than satisfied.

"This group was lead by a young gastly who showed an extreme affinity for
psychic techniques. The ghosts saw the deal with the humans as a betrayal. He
hated the humans for what they had done, and nothing could change that. And as
he and his small band terrorized the human and ghost communities over the course
of several years until he became know to them as 'Stryphe'."

It was then easy to tell the native Lavender Towner's. They were the ones who
cursed under their breath, said small prayers or made warning signs at the
mention of the ghost's name.

"Now, there's something you should all know about ghosts," said Laurna, glancing
over her glasses at her captive audience, smiling inwardly at the power she held
over them at that moment, "Ghosts need to feed, just like any other pokemon.
However, ghosts don't eat food. They can consume one of two things. Dreams, and
strong emotions. Now ghosts can devour your dreams one of two ways, either by
just taking it and feasting upon it later, or by drinking it from the source.
This, of course, can lead to some very unpleasant side effects, the least of
which include insanity and death that plaguing the humans in this way would
inspire a greater terror.

"The other thing that ghosts prey upon, strong emotions, can be any strong
emotion. Be it love, hate, amusement, or fear," Laurna paused as the lighting
seemed to dim dramatically and a few people let out small fearful gasps at the
look she suddenly gave them, "Now Stryphe and his crew, they went around eating
people's dreams straight from the source all the time. They left many people in
comas, or with incurable derangements, feeling that killing them was far too
easy.

"Eventually they developed a taste for fear and hatred. Almost an addiction! So,
when Stryphe evolved into a haunter and found his powers gaining strength, he
began delving into the minds of his victims. For many nights, he studied their
nightmares in an attempt to discern the things that humans feared the most.
Stryphe intended to use this knowledge to drive the humans in Lavender Town to
the brink of insanity so he might sup upon the sweet nectar of their terror.

"Fortunately, though, the nameless gastly that had forged the deal with Spengler
on behalf of his elders had risen in the spectral ranks and was by this time
greatly respected in his community. He had also become the ghost's ambassador to
the humans as Professor Spengler had become the human's ambassador to the
ghosts. So when he also saw what Stryphe as doing, he attempted to organize the
others to stop the small band of evil spirits."

The illusion now showed a Lavender Town very similar to the present day one, but
Professor Spengler was much older, with long gray hair and three children who'd
grown up and left home. Before him hovered a small collection of ghosts, lead by
the Guardian who had now became a haunter as well.

"Unfortunately," continued Laurna with a shiver, her fingers coiling her
necklace nervously, "Stryphe's had grown substantially in power. He was now able
to control other ghosts within a limited range, and began turning those ghosts
who actually liked humans against their allies. Stryphe especially enjoyed
turning ghosts who had been adopted by humans against them, then letting go of
his hold and watching the aftermath with vile glee.

"It eventually became difficult to tell who was actually working for Stryphe,
and who was just being controlled. As more people were driven mad or simply
killed, the Town Council begged the aging Professor to do something.
Fortunately, he'd been on the problem for quite sometime."

Laurna smiled with a hint of pride as the image above her showed the now very
old professor climbing out onto the roof clutching a familiar device in both
hands. "Back then, poke balls were bulky, heavy, and very expensive
contraptions," she explained, holding aloft one of the black and gray orbs she
kept her ghosts in for the audience to see, "But it didn't stop Professor
Spengler from experimenting with them.

"Infact, it was due to his experimentation with ghosts and pokeball technology
that he was able to eventually put an end to Stryphe's rein of terror," the
scene now showed Professor Spengler at the top of the Tower. It was raining
hard, and thunder and lightning were accompanied by dangerously high winds as he
stood with the Guardian and several other ghosts, "he sent word that he wanted
to challenge the now gengar to one final decisive battle. Professor Spengler
told Stryphe that if he were to die, then the remaining humans in Lavender were
his to do with as he pleased. But if Stryphe were beaten, he would have to leave
Lavender with his minions, never return.

"Stryphe, of course, gleefully accepted the challenge. Professor Spengler,
however, knew that the ghost would never agree to leave. That's why he brought
the prototype of this with him. What he called a 'ghost-ball'."

Some of the onlookers leaned ahead in their seats even as a second illusion of a
slowly rotating gray and black pokeball appeared above them. Several people
immediately shouted questions, but Laurna silenced them with a smile and
dismissive wave.

"After the show," she promised with giggle as the scene atop the Tower showed
the small group being surrounded by numerous pairs of glowing red eyes, "Now
then. The battle that took place atop the Tower lasted long into the night, and
the Professor almost lost his life in it, but in the end, Stryphe lay at his
feet, a black puddle of partially visible ephemera.

"The good Professor took no pleasure in dropping the first ghost-ball upon
Stryphe. Even when the device activated and worked almost flawlessly, capturing
the downed spectre with almost no problem, Professor Spengler thought only of
those who had suffered. Both humans and pokemon."

The scene shifted to show a huge, round room, somewhere deep beneath the Tower.
The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of carved black stones that seemed to
have been fused together. The room was lit only by a ring of extra dribbly
candles that flickered angrily as the Professor entered the room, accompanied by
the Guardian, holding the ghost-ball before him like a cured artifact. Together,
they entered what appeared to be some kind of circle of protection carved into
the floor. At the center of the circle, where four line that represented the
ley-lines that intersected there, was a black pedestal.

"As you can see," the woman went on, "Professor Spengler had also planned to
capture Stryphe in such a way that he would never bother anyone ever again. He
had commissioned psychics to prepare a mystic circle of containment, a barrier
that would imprison Stryphe for all time."

In the illusion above, Professor Spengler carefully set Stryphe's ball down upon
the dark pedestal and quickly exited the circle as the Guardian held his stubby
arms aloft and chanted a few words. As the ghost did so, the professor cut open
his finger, bleeding a single drop onto the circle's outer boundary, and
Guardian let a small portion of his ephemera break free as well.

Almost instantly, the circle seemed to catch fire. The entire array of strange
patterns and lines that filled its inner surface burned with dark purple flames
as the two backed away, shouting in Latin, "Mangero Es Josephus!"

The flames died a moment later, and the scene faded to nothingness as Professor
Laurna spoke once more. "After Spengler's death of natural causes, the Tower was
sealed, and all living things were banned from entering," she said almost sadly,
"The pact between the ghosts and the humans was complete. The ghosts would give
up a small portion of the forest, and the humans would give up the Tower. This
was also about the time when the Guardian became just that. The Guardian. And
what he guards is the most dangerous, vile creature that ever unlived. Stryphe."

The audience gave a collective shudder as Professor Laurna accepted a drink from
a stagehand. "So now," she said finally, "The Tower stands, keeping us safe from
Stryphe. But now those who enter often meet with most unpleasant ends. I was
lucky. Nothing more. Please, if you value your lives at all don't enter the
Tower. Not under any circumsta-!"

But Professor Laurna's emphatic plea was cut off as the sound of breaking glass
filled the air, and someone in the audience screamed. All eyes then turned to
see what appeared to be a flailing human shape falling from one of the upper-
most windows of the Tower, screaming all the way down and accompanied by several
taunting ghosts.

Even before it hit the ground, the entire audience was on its collective feet,
and two uniformed figures from the front row were running to where the body was
about to impact.

"Stand back!" ordered Officer Frank, now followed by Bow who was barking and
snarling at anyone who dared get too close, "We have a situation here, but it's
under control!"

The second Officer seemed to be one of younger apprentices who'd been passed up
for Frank's promotion, but the shaking, pimply-faced adolescent seemed to be
more interested in chewing nervously on the brim of his hat then being bitter
about it.

A moment later, and the body hit ground, accompanied by a hail of glass shards
that Frank and the rookie cop had to quickly turn away from. For its part, the
crowd was silent; a collective gasp going up the body hit the ground a short
distance away from the Tower. Even as the dust settled, they held their breath
as Bow shot arcs of flame into the air to ward off the ghosts who'd followed the
body down as Frank moved in to examine it.

"Hm. Looks like he took a few good blasts of 'nightshade' before being
defenestrated," he commented in an all too loud, all too professional sounding
tone that caused Miranda to smirk as she caught on almost immediately.

"Yeah," added the apprentice officer with a shake of his head, "And then they
threw him through a window!"

Frank glanced up at the rookie cop. He appeared to be about to say something for
several seconds, but then thought better of it. Instead he turned to Laurna and
shook his head. "Better wrap this up, I suppose," he said warily, smiling
slightly as caught the look in his beloved's eye, "We'll do everything we can
for, uh... Him."

"Thank you Officer Frank," said Laurna, nodding graciously to Frank as she
turned back to the crowd, "Well, just to end this on a lighter note, I wish to
take this time to announce to all present that starting November 1st, the
Lavender Town Gym will be accepting challengers. I will be its Leader, and the
badges you'll be battling for are going to be called 'Ecto-Badges'."

Above her, a silvery image of a pentagram within a triangle appeared, causing
several dozen people to begin all talking at once. "Furthermore," continued
Laurna over the noise, "I'll be selling ghost-balls as of tomorrow, so any
interested parties just stop by my lab/Gym. You can even book an appointment for
a challenge while you're at it. So, um, enjoy the rest of the festival!"

By this point most people were either wandering off into discussion groups or
continuing to shout questions to Professor Laurna. Most of the courier's however
seemed content to remain in their seats and watch Frank and the rookie cop drag
off the old crash-test dummy the ghosts had thrown out the window.

"The body was a new one," commented Joshua, leaning forward in his seat and
glancing at Angela and making her smile nervously, as she looked back at
Joshua's wife who only shook her head and laughed, "Although for my money, I'd
have lit it on fire first. More dramatic."

"Fire's good!" agreed Zack before leaning forward and catching Miranda's eye.
"Hey, you okay, sis?" he inquired.

Miranda smiled. "Do you always have to call me that?" she chided in a non-
serious manner.

"Hey, your mom's always saying how we couriers are like one big family, right?"
he chuckled, his deep green eyes showing more reassurance than mirth.

"Supposedly," she agreed quietly, glancing at Misty, "But yeah. I'm okay. How
about you, dear?"

"I'm better," her beloved assured her, "I'm just a little shaken up. But hey, I
think we missed something. The part about how Aunt Laurna actually got Viper
back."

Zack shrugged and glanced at the stage to where Laurna was laughing at some
inane question asked by a tourist. "She said something about the Guardian
transplanting her memories into Viper's mind."

"Makes sense," commented Miranda, "Seeing as ghosts don't remember their former
lives at all."

"That's kinda sad in a way," added Misty.

"That's what makes Viper a special case, I guess," agreed Zack, "Although I
honestly can't say I'd go in there. As much as I like Sparkles and Pesto, I
don't think I'm that brave."

"Thankfully," his mother muttered with an involuntary shudder.

"It must be fairly boring for him, though," continued Zack, glancing up at the
Tower in time to see the Guardian returning to his entourage of waiting ghosts,
"I mean, sitting around all day, chasing off people who try and wander in. It's
no wonder he helped out Professor Laurna. The poor guy was probably bored out of
his tree!"

"Not all of us are so quick to dodge responsibility," replied Miranda with mock
severity and getting a laugh from Angela.

"Oh, come on now," said Zack, trying unsuccessfully to sound hurt, "Is it my
fault I that I need a little excitement in my life? I love being a courier!
Heck, you don't see Joshua retiring do you?"

Miranda smiled, her arm around Misty to distract her from the sudden shrieking
sound that emanated from the Tower for no apparent reason. "I know," she
chuckled, "we couriers just don't know what's good for us."

Zack glanced over at his mom. "Don't worry," he assured her, "When Miranda get's
a desk job, I'll join your crew on the Dawn sister 2."

"You'll inherit her before that happens," replied Angela wryly as several of the
other veteran couriers who'd managed to make it into town started showing up and
looking about expectantly, "But anyway, some of us 'old fogies' are going off to
enjoy ourselves. I'm sure you can stay out of trouble for a few hours. Right?"

Zack looked away and began whistling innocently in response, ignoring his
mother's raised eyebrow.

"Just remember," she added sternly, shaking her finger at him even as the
beginnings of a smile crossed Angela's weathered face, "If you cause anything
else to blow-up this year, I'll keelhaul ya!"

"Aye, Captain!" laughed Zack in response.

"That happened to Joshua once," added Miranda with a chuckle as the three waved
goodbye to the older couriers and headed back towards the main festival grounds.

"Really?" inquired Misty in a suspicious tone, looking from Miranda to Zack and
waiting for the punch line.

"No joke," Zack replied with a reverent nod, "That's why he's got the limp. A
gyarados chomped off a fair sized chunk of his leg. When it went back for more,
though, he apparently got out of the way in time and it wound up tearing a hole
in the bottom of the ship."

"You're serious?"

Miranda nodded. "Well, that's what Joshua says happened," she added with a nod,
"That's why Angela's ship is the Dawn sister 2. The old one was taken by pirates
and sunk by a gyarados who thought Joshua'd make a nice snack."

"Joshua even saved my grandfather's life that day!" added Zack with a grin,
suddenly talking almost as fast as his mind worked, "He was captain of the Dawn
Sister 1 back then, and if it wasn't for Joshua he'd've been killed. Wow, I wish
I could have been there to see that battle!"

"It was before you were even born, silly," laughed Miranda as Zack bounded
ahead, pulled his wooden sword from his belt and began slashing it around
dramatically, pretending to slay invisible pirates.

"You know," he continued in an excited voice, "When you're at sea there's no law
against using a real sword, eh? These one's your mom designed are tough, but
they won't help you if Shubby comes a callin'!"

"'Shubby?'" Misty inquired, smiling at Zack's antics.

"It's what mom calls that giant tentacruel off the coast of Porta Vista," Zack
explained, lunging forward as they walked, heroically slaying an evil, nefarious
garbage can.

"It's short for Shub-Nuggurath," added Miranda with a shudder, "But it still
baffles me that things like that can exist. I mean, what's it eating?!"

"Anything it wants to!" laughed Zack, jumping up and spinning around to face
them, "On guard, Miranda!"

Miranda jumped back, her sword sliding from her special belt-loop almost on its
own as Zack's cutlass stabbed playfully towards her. With just a bit too much
enthusiasm, the courier knocked her friend's wooden blade aside, sending a small
shower of splinters raining down around them.

"Um, Miranda," said Zack, his dark green eyes going wide as he glanced up at
their now linked swords, held just above their heads, "I hope your mom hasn't
seen that."

"Huh?" Miranda inquired, shaking her head and stammering out an apology, "S-
sorry, you caught me off guard, I- Oh! Oh, yeah... That."

Misty stood just to one side of them and picked up a long chunk off wood that
had dropped to the ground at their feet. "I think it's time for a new one," she
replied, motioning to the numerous cuts and dents along the length of Miranda's
bokken.

"I'll say," laughed Zack, stepping back, lowering his wooden cutlass and
noticing the gleam of the dark metal that lined courier swords clearly visible
where the wood had finally given way from Miranda's bokken, "What were you doin'
with it? Chopping down trees?"

"Oh, just fighting the forces of darkness, saving the world, rescuing
defenseless ice-cream," Miranda replied with a nonchalant shrug and a dismissive
wave of her hand, "You know. The usual."

"Well, Sarah's is closed tomorrow," said Zack, shaking his head and wiping the
sweat from his brow, "so I'd head down there tonight if I were you."

"Think she'll still be open?"

"Sarah?!" laughed Zack, looking at Miranda as though she were the one with a
screw loose, "She's only closes the Trading Post on Halloween because your mom
makes her. And last year she was open 'till midnight to make up for it."

"Well, I suppose," Miranda agreed, spinning her sword over her hand and sighing
in dismay as a few smaller pieces fell off.

"Trust me," assured Zack trying his best to smile in a completely untrustworthy
manner, "She'll enjoy the company!"

"Ha! Yeah, right!" laughed Miranda in a tone completely devoid of humor as Zack
lead them down a side road that took them through the real graveyard, "I'm not
sure Sarah CAN enjoy things."

"Why's that?" Misty inquired, glancing nervously at the dark gray stones that
soon surrounded them, half wondering which one belonged to Miranda's father.

Miranda gave an involuntary shudder and glanced back at the Tower. "She, uh...
She went in," the courier explained, sending Zack a knowing glance.

"Into the Tower?" came Misty's whispered reply, her eyes going wide.

"She used to sleep walk when she was a kid," added Zack in a more serious tone,
waving his arm to ward off a stray gastly that didn't seem to be interested in
pestering them, "Not anymore though."

"They consumed her dreams," explained Miranda quietly, linking her fingers
through Misty's as they walked, "In the harmful manner."

"It was probably one of Stryphe's crew," muttered Zack bitterly, kicking a stone
out of his way, "I mean, she was just a kid right? And she barely got through
the front door. The ghosts usually try to scare you away first, don't they?"

Miranda nodded sadly. "Usually," she agreed, "But I suppose she's lucky to be
alive."

Zack shrugged. "I know," he replied, "But sometimes, there's just stuff that
ain't worth living through, you know?"

Misty glanced over at Zack, her head resting against Miranda's shoulder. "Is, is
it safe to ask what ended up happening?" she inquired in a careful tone.

"Cerebral hemorrhaging," said Miranda, keeping her tone level, "The ghosts
completely wiped out her emotional center. So, quite literally, Sarah... Can't
'feel'. Everything else works fine. She still knows the difference between right
and wrong, and she's of above average intelligence, but..."

"Concepts like love are completely foreign to her," finished Misty, shaking her
head in disbelief.

"Well, at least she's surviving, I guess," added Zack, now walking several steps
ahead of them, watching the ground, "And it was nice of your parents to arrange
for her apprenticeship. Although I think she'll be stuck in Lavender for the
rest of her life."

"There's a difference between survival and living, Zack," correct Misty sadly.

"Still, it could be worse," assured Miranda sympathetically, "I mean, most
places have this pretentious view where all retail clerks have to be bubbly and
happy no matter how bad a day their having. It's kinda dishonest, if you ask me.
But at least here in Lavender if someone asks you how you're doing they actually
care!"

Zack turned to her and smiled. "Wow," he laughed, walking backwards down the
dirt road to where the front gates of the graveyard stood, "If I didn't know any
better, I'd say you liked it here!"

"It's not as bad here as it used to be," Miranda replied, sending Misty a
meaningful glance.

"So it's good to be home then?" he teased, glancing over his shoulder and
willing to the heavy iron gates to open with his mind.

"Home is wherever I lay down to sleep and find my beloved in my arms," she
responded, causing Misty to sigh contentedly and lean against her as the gates
swung open.

"You're in the wrong, business," said Zack with a smile, wiping the sweat from
his brow at the exertion.

"Eh, the money's better as a courier," chuckled Miranda, "And besides, you get
to meet the nicest people in your travels."

Zack glanced at Misty, trying not to laugh. "Keep this one," he told her, "I
think she likes you...!"
Chapter IXX "Retail Workers Should Always Be This Friendly..."

The lights of the trading post were still burning bright, and the grinning Jack-
o-lanterns stared out at them eerily from the darkness between the festively
decorated windows, a greeting to all travelers and nocturnal spendthrifts. As
they trio ascended the wooden steps onto the porch, a hidden motion sensor
reacted to their presence by switching on a recording of frightening sounds.
Miranda recognized them as being from the Tower, and she smiled at the thought
of how many tourists bought those same CD's every year.

The screen door swung outwards, and the main door beyond it pushed inwards,
alerting the proprietor to their presence by the small rusting bell it knocked
against when opened.

At the far end of the crowded looking store, a bored looking woman with large
round glasses and long, curly brown hair glanced up at them and tilted her head
to one side curiously.

"Oh, it's you," she said simply, turning back to the book she was reading, "If
you're looking for ghost-balls, Professor Laurna won't have them ready until
tomorrow.

"Don't worry," Miranda replied, "I know. I'm just here to reequip myself."

Sarah made no response as they entered her store, seeming content to let them
wander about until they found what they were looking for.

"But besides the usual Winter supplies, I do need a new bokken," added Miranda
hastily.

Sarah looked up, meeting Miranda's eyes for the first time. "Same as before?"
she asked dully, her tone sounding bored, almost unnatural.

"Yes," said Miranda with a nod as Zack wandered down one of the food aisles,
"And maybe something for my friend here too?"

Sarah turned her cold gaze upon Misty, sizing up the trainer as her dark blue
eyes seemingly focused on something beyond the normal range of perception. "Is
she you're apprentice?" the retail clerk inquired, squinting slightly as she
wrote a few things down on a note pad.

"Not exactly," Miranda admitted.

"Whatever," said Sarah with a shrug before disappearing into the backroom.

"One for me too?" Misty inquired, glancing at her lover suspiciously, "Ya think
I'll need it?"

Miranda shrugged and put her arms around Misty. "It's more for my own peace of
mind, I suppose," she admitted as her beloved looked into her eyes searchingly,
"I'd just feel better knowing you're as safe as I can make you."

"Miri," Misty whispered, a smile crossing her lips as she tried not to chuckle,
"Between you and Leviathan I feel pretty safe. I wouldn't worry so much."

"You don't have to take it if you don't want to," Miranda assured, kissing Misty
lightly upon the lips and ignoring the overly loud comments Zack made to himself
about the price of canned soup.

"No, I- I want to," Misty replied, her eyes betraying her thoughts and making
Miranda smile, "I want to be part of your world... From what I've seen of it,
it's so much better than mine ever was."

Miranda nodded slowly, hugging Misty closer and glancing behind the counter just
as Sarah placed the two wooden swords down upon it. "It's just a starter for
now," she explained dully, sitting back down and going back to her book, "But
once you've determined your style and preference, you can trade it in for one
you like better."

Misty turned to her and smiled. "Thank you, miss-" she began out of habit, only
to find Sarah ignoring her completely.

"Come on," whispered Miranda, leading Misty away as she looked on
sympathetically, wishing there was something she could do to help Sarah, "Let's
see if we can find some snowshoes in your size."

"Is there nothing anyone can do for her?" she inquired in a low whisper as
Miranda lead her away, "Can't the Guardian help?"

Miranda shook her head. "Her parents took her to Saffron the year it happened,"
she explained quietly as Zack ran past the aisle they were in, making bad
gunfire noises and flailing the two model airplanes he was holding about
dramatically as he went, "The best psychics worked on her for nearly a year
before giving up. Even the nanite treatments to restore her brain weren't
enough. I guess the damage just goes deeper than our current technology can
fix."

"That's too bad," Misty replied sadly, peering at Sarah through a gap between a
pair of small portable stoves just as Zack bounded out of nowhere, causing her
to nearly jump out of her skin, "Zachary!"

"Hey! Sorry already!" he whispered harshly, covering his ears as though Misty
had just uttered a curse, "There's no reason to call me names!"

"That is your name," chuckled Miranda, holding up a pair of jeans lined with a
warm, cold resistant material.

"Whatever," muttered Zack, standing on his toes and glancing over the top of the
shelf full of Winter boots at Sarah, "She's pretty though, isn't she?"

"Um, I guess so..." Misty admitted, suddenly blushing and turning away from the
proprietor.

Zack smiled sadly. "Don't worry, 'bout it," he assured her, "at least you didn't
ask her to go to the Halloween dance at the Festival last year."

"There's a dance at the festival?"

"I thought I could help her out," he explained, "Take her out, show her a good
time. Maybe spark some kind of an emotional response. But nothing. She used to
be quite a hyperactive kid, but now her aura's just plain ole' dark blue all the
time. Oh well."

"But what about-?"

"If you're looking for a girlfriend, there's that new courier from down South in
town," offered Miranda, adding a new thermos to her list of purchases and
glancing at Misty with a suddenly teasing smile, "I think she'd be more your
type."

"Guys?" inquired Misty, looking from one courier to the other as Miranda tried
to keep a straight face, "When's this Halloween dance thing? We didn't miss it
already, did we?"

"I suppose," Zack replied glumly, staring at the cobwebs on the still ceiling
fan above his head, "Most of the other couriers in town this year ARE taken, so
I guess I'd stand at least a bit of a chance."

Misty turned to Miranda, trying not to smile as she grabbed the lapels of the
courier's jacket. "Listen you!" said Misty, trying to sound angry, but chuckling
at Miranda's falsely innocent expression, "What's this about a dance at the
Halloween Festival? Are you holding out on me?"

"So anyway, Zack-" Miranda began, her arms full of purchases and unable to
defend herself as Misty backed her up against the closest wall as Zack laughed.

"Sorry, lady!" he called back, "Can't help you! Company policy!"

Miranda looked down into Misty's eyes as she felt the wall against her back, and
shivered slightly at the look in her lover's eyes. "Can I help you?" she said
coyly, managing to keep her voice level as her pulse raced.

"Mm, hmm," Misty responded, nodding as she leaned over the bundle of supplies
Miranda was clutching to her chest and kissing her lightly, "I think you know
what I want."

"What?" Miranda gasped in mock amazement, "Right here? Right now?!"

"Miri!" Misty laughed, unable to contain herself.

"Alright, alright," the courier chuckled, setting down her bundle on an nearly
empty bottom shelf, "Tomorrow's the thirty-first, which means all the big stuff
happens. Pretty much everyone takes the day off, and just has fun. There's
always this big parade that starts out right around here, and goes through most
of town before ending at the festival grounds. And there's all this free food,
and people telling stories about how they caught their ghosts, and all the usual
stuff..."

"And?" inquired Misty, her impatience having to make room for amusement as her
fingers pushed aside the Miranda's jacket and traced paths across the courier's
sides, making her jump.

"And after they have this best costume contest thingy for the kids, they play
music 'till dawn and let the adults have a good time," she explained, twisting
and contorting herself to make it difficult for Misty to tickle her, even as
Miranda found herself talking through gritted teeth, "It's kind of an open air
Halloween party. Wanna go?"

"Yes. I would," said Misty slowly, her tone teasing as she held her face close
to Miranda's and continued to run her fingers along her lover's sides, wondering
how long Miranda could keep from laughing, "Very much so..."

"Ah! Okay!" Miranda exclaimed, laughing both from being tickled and from
amusement, finally having to grab Misty's wrists and hold them over her head,
"Just-! Just-!"

"Just?" Misty inquired, her tone sounding a little sultry as she brushed her
lips gently, almost inperceptively across Miranda's.

The courier glanced around nervously and noticed Zack turning away, trying not
to laugh. "You did this on purpose, didn't you?" she asked in a whispered tone.

Misty smiled, kissing Miranda playfully on the nose. "You started it," she
teased, "But yes, I like making you loose control from time to time. It's
amusing."

"Amusing?"

"Well, maybe a little more than that," she admitted with a laugh, trying not
blush as Miranda gave her an all too knowing look.

"Is there something I should know?" the courier inquired, bringing their arms
back down and sliding her own about Misty's waist.

Misty's blush deepened and she glanced away, smiling uncontrollably. "It's- It's
just that, well, you know," she stammered, trying to find the right words and
wishing that they were alone.

"I think I might," Miranda assured her, brushing Misty's hair out of her eyes
and kissing her gently, "Look, I'm sorry if I'm not as emotional as some people.
I think I just get it from my mom, you know..."

"No, it's not that," Misty relied, her hands now holding Miranda's face
adoringly, "It's just that sometimes it's like you're afraid of breaking me or
something. You're always so gentle, and kind. And I appreciate that, but you
shouldn't be afraid to just come right out and say things some times."

"I know," said Miranda with a sigh, "But I guess that I just... Well, it's
silly, but I don't want to feel like I'm taking advantage of you."

"Ha! As if!" laughed Misty, taking a step back and finding Miranda's hands,
"Miri, you've opened my eyes to so many new possibilities that I've never even
dared to dream of. You've turned my life around, and you've shown me more love
than anyone ever has in my entire life. And in the end, you've asked for nothing
in return. No, I'm the one taking advantage of you. Not the other way around."

Miranda smiled, casting half a glance in Zack's direction and noticing that he'd
vanished once again. "I'm glad," she said, her gaze returning to the seeming
vastness of her lover's eyes, "and don't worry. I know when someone's taking
advantage of me. I've been there, and that's something you're definitely not
doing. So, is there anything else you think we should pick up?"

"You've got quite a pile of stuff already," Misty replied, glancing back at the
assortment of Winter gear Miranda had grabbed off the shelves, "but I trust your
judgment. So, um, how much do I owe you for-?"

"Please stop that," Miranda interrupted, her tone so serious that Misty was
taken back.

"But, I-" Misty began, the sudden anxiety she felt making her stomach clench.

The courier's smile returned, and the sudden hard look in her stormy gray eyes
softened. "Look, I kinda had a problem with Wraith while you were at the Gym
this afternoon," she explained as Misty relaxed a little, "I had to chase him
out of Bob's computer, and well, it gave me a chance to take a look at my
account."

"Okay..." said Misty pensively, sensing what was to come, but not wanting to
overreact.

"Err, yeah," Miranda replied, standing on her toes to see over the top shelf to
where Zack was now bothering Sarah, "And, well, Bob suggested that I take a
vacation."

"A vacation?"

"Or something," the courier explained, "It seems that I've been a little bit of
a workaholic. I haven't taken a real vacation since I started, and I've
stockpiled quite a few more credits than I'd anticipated."

"Even with the 'extra expenses'?" Misty inquired, glancing guiltily at
splendidly warm looking Winter coats Miranda had chosen for them.

"The extra furniture I got you for when we're in Cerulean set me back a bit,"
Miranda replied with a shrug before slipping out of Misty's arms and quickly
picking up their purchases, "but it only really dented my account. So, I'm
thinking, maybe... If you don't mind that is... Of staying in town for a while.
Maybe until New Years?"

Misty smiled, shaking her head as she sighed in amusement. "Did you mention that
part to your mom yet?" she inquired, following Miranda to the counter where Zack
was trying to impress Sarah by levitating a handful of jellybeans and causing
them to dance in the air.

"Not yet," Miranda admitted, blushing a little at Misty's expression.

"You know she'll be ecstatic."

"Hey, I'd pay to see that," laughed Miranda, dropping the bundle on the counter
and breaking Zack's concentration.

"To see what?" inquired Zack as jellybeans scattered everywhere.

"To see you sit still for five minutes," the courier teased as Sarah rapidly
keyed the purchases into the computer without looking, seeming unperturbed by
the mess Zack had made.

"Hey, Sparkles takes care of the calm side of this operation," he explained with
a grin as a flash of light appeared from nowhere just over his shoulder a second
before a loudly snoring abra teleported onto it.

"To speak the name is to evoke the power," Miranda muttered, smiling at the
psychic vole as she scratched the pokemon between her sharply pointed furry
ears.

"Good point," commented Zack before concentrating as hard as he could and
muttering, "Pizza, pizza, pizza..."

"Give it up!" Miranda laughed, handing Sarah her card, "So, how are you doing?"
she inquired of the clerk.

Sarah paused for a half a second before responding. "My stomach is a bit upset
and my right foot has gone to sleep," Sarah responded, her brow furrowed as she
carefully considered the question before running Miranda's card through the
computer, "And I'm concerned by the fact that the Trading Post will be closed
tomorrow. I am uncertain as to how I shall spend my time."

"Ah, honesty!" laughed Zack as Sarah packed up Miranda's things, "Ain't it
great!"

"Well, you could always go down and see the fireworks tomorrow night," Miranda
offered, "Or help out with the parade."

Sarah shrugged. "Perhaps I will offer to assist the clean-up crew afterwards,"
she replied in the same dull tone, "Although I must speak with your mother
concerning the fact that she insists on paying me for tomorrow. It is wrong to
pay someone for working a day that they did not work. Is it not?"

"Perhaps," said Miranda with a shrug, finding Sarah's peculiar attitude as
disheartening as ever, "Well, thanks for your time. Have fun tomorrow!"

Sarah stared back at her for a moment, her dully blue eyes devoid of any emotion
beyond puzzlement. "I will endeavor to find a method to fill the time," she
promised, glancing at the other two, "Is there anything else either of you
needed?"

"Well..." replied Zack with a wide grin.

"No, no it's alright," Misty responded with a sad smile, trying not to feel too
unnerved by Sarah's dispassionate gaze and thankful for the sudden warmth of
Miranda's fingers through her own, "We- we'll just be leaving now. Thanks."

But Sarah had already returned to her book, with Miranda's credit card sitting
on the counter waiting for her to retrieve it. "Come on," the courier said
quietly, "Let's drop this stuff off and head back to the festival."

"I'll race you there," offered Zack, glancing over his should back at Sarah as
Misty opened the door.

"We have our bikes, you know," Miranda replied with a sly smile, "You sure?"

"Absotively!" the psychic laughed as they walked back out into the cool night
air and he snatched Sparkles from his shoulder, "See you there!"

"Hey!" laughed Miranda as the two vanished with a sudden loud -POP!-, "That's
cheating."

"That's Zack," Misty agreed with a chuckle, "I guess he just needed to get
away."

"From Sarah you mean?"

Misty nodded a little guiltily. "Yeah, but it's not nice to say, though."

"That's okay," assured Miranda as they walked hand and hand back towards the
house, "it's true. Zack's made it his mission in life to make Sarah smile again,
and think his failures are starting to get to him. I really do think he should
think about finding someone, though. Even just to take his mind off Sarah."

"You know," commented Misty after they'd dropped off their things and started
back towards the distant echoes of the festival, "I still think that there's a
lot more to Lavender Town than I suspected. I really should have paid more
attention to it last time I was through here."

"That's okay," said Miranda with a smile, "I much rather prefer being your tour
guide. I grew up here, and it's all 'normal' and boring to me, but with you,
it's something unique and different. I guess it just gives me an opportunity to
see this place through new eyes. Maybe that's why it's not as depressing here
now."

"I guess then we're even now, eh?"

Miranda smiled. "Perhaps," she mused as a few non-scheduled fireworks went up
over the harbor, "but if not, I'm sure we'll think of some other way for me to
make up the difference."

"Just promise me forever," Misty chuckled, remembering something Vivian had
said.

"Actually, I was hoping for something a little more long term."

"Eternity?" Misty offered.

"For all time?"

"Until all of Creation grinds to a halt?"

"Naw, longer than that."

"Um, how about the time it takes to find the last decimal of pi?!" Misty laughed
exasperatedly.

"It's a nine," said Miranda, trying to sound serious as they stopped at the main
intersection and Misty turned to face her, "But I think that'll do. Maybe."

"How about you love me until I ask you to stop?" Misty offered at last, their
arms wrapping around one another, "Think that'll do?"

"Yes," assured Miranda, her quiet tone becoming slightly more serious, "Because
that's the only thing that will end my love you for. Your wish for it to end."

"That day will never come, Miri," whispered her beloved as their lips met, "Not
now, not ever..."
Chapter XX "Explosions, Helicopters & Exploding Helicopters..."

Consciousness came in a slow progression as her mind distantly registered the
repeated and extremely annoying sound of a phone ringing somewhere. It seemed to
go on forever. Starting and stopping whenever the sweet oblivion of sleep took
her, dragging Miranda kicking and screaming back into semi wakefulness every few
minutes.

"Just leave us alone," she muttered grumpily, blindingly reaching behind her for
a pillow and holding it against her ear as the phone downstairs rang again,
blessedly picked up on the first ring, only to be followed by the dreaded sound
of footsteps coming up the staircase outside her room.

Miranda gritted her teeth, an unpleasant feeling of dread filling her as the
footsteps drew nearer. "Go away, go away," she chanted under her breath, willing
the phone to be for someone else, but the quiet, polite knock at her door might
as well have been a sonic boom.

"Miri?" came a half familiar voice who's tone seemed distracted, "You up yet?
You've got a call from some guy named Dave."

'Dave?' Miranda pondered inwardly, running through the list of no less than
eight Dave's she met in her carrier as a courier. "Which one?" she called out
groggily, tossing the pillow aside and sitting up.

"Um, some Sylph Co guy," the voice replied as Miranda half realized who the
speaker was.

"Uncle?" she inquired, wondering what time it was and why Frank was outside her
door at such an early hour.

"Yes?" inquired Frank, his voice still sounding agitated, as though there were
other things on his mind.

"What time is it?"

"Half past ten."

"Tell him I'll be down in a minute," Miranda grumbled, sighing as she leaned
against the headboard, glancing down at Misty who opened her eyes and smiled up
at the courier.

"No rest for the wicked, dear?" she inquired with a quiet chuckle.

"Tomorrow, I'm sleeping 'till noon," Miranda replied with a weak smile,
accepting Misty's outstretched hand and kissing her knuckles affectionately,
"Need anything from downstairs?"

"No," Misty sighed, snuggling under the blankets almost teasingly, "Just you."

"I won't be long," the courier promised, reluctantly swinging her legs out from
beneath the warmth of the covers and shivering as she searched for something to
wear.

Misty made a quiet sound but was asleep by the time Miranda had thrown on a
housecoat and had kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I hope this is important,"
the courier muttered to herself, half wondering if every morning was going to
begin with some new emergency and if she'd ever get to wake up in a more
pleasant manner, "Oh well, I'm sure I'll know which 'Dave' he is when I see
him..."

***

Downstairs seemed somehow far busier than it should have for a Saturday that
people were supposed to be taking off. The tension in the air seemed palatable,
and the concerned look Bob cast Miranda when she passed him on her way to the
kitchen seemed to speak of a crisis situation.

"Should I ask?" she inquired as he rushed out of his domain wielding a platter
holding a steaming teapot and a pile of freshly baked cookies.

"Take the call first," Bob assured his stepdaughter with a wary shake of his
head, "There's not much we can do at this point."

Miranda's now very worried gaze followed him into the living room where Bob
vanished and the sound of her mother comforting Laurna filled her ears. "I
should probably wait for the whole story anyway," she told herself, walking up
to the out of date vid-phone her grandparents had once placed on the wall near
the kitchen door.

The screen was flashing "HOLD" as she picked up the receiver, but quickly
vanished when Miranda hit the "talk" button. It was then that she discerned
which Dave was calling her. She hadn't heard from the Sylph Co scientist who'd
helped herself and Misty thwart Kathy's experiments on water pokemon in quite
some time. But then, she'd neglected to make the effort.

Professor Katherine had been using DNA extracted by cruel methods from a
captured dragonite to make the water-types in her lab nearly invulnerable to
electrical attacks. However, when the higher-ups at Sylph Co had ordered a
porygon installed into the mainframe at the obscure regional office she'd been
working at, whatever nefarious plans the woman had for her army of mostly
lightning resistant magikarps had broken down and finally been thwarted.

"Oh, hello again, Miranda!" responded the busy looking scientist on the view
screen, cradling the receiver between his cheek and shoulder as he worked on
something the vid-phone's camera couldn't see, "Sorry if I'm calling you too
early, but this is the only break I have today, I'm afraid."

The courier smiled at Dave's mildly embarrassed sounding tone as he glanced up
sheepishly from whatever he was doing. "Well, the time difference is only half
an hour, so I wouldn't worry about it took much," she assured him with a shrug,
"So, what's up? Anything interesting happen since we left? And how's that
dragonite?

"Alexander's doing quite well all things considered," replied Dave, a satisfied
grin crossing his face as he set down a small screwdriver and wiped the sweat
from his brow, "As am I. They promoted me to head of evolution stone research.
It's our transposition system that seems to be having problems, though."

"Hopefully it wasn't sabotaged like the last one," Miranda laughed, moving to
hold her robe tighter as it threatened to open in the front, causing Dave to
blush and quickly look away.

"Oh! No, no," the scientist assured her, suddenly looking embarrassed, "It was
actually just me spilling my morning coffee into the transposition pad in my
office. I'd use someone else's, but I'd rather not have to explain what I'm
about to do."

Miranda gave the scientist a suspicious look. "And just what are you about to
do?" she inquired, quickly glancing around to make certain no one else was in
the kitchen with her.

"Send you a little something, actually," confessed Dave a little nervously, "You
see, I've been working on those de-evolution stones again. Trying to work the
bugs out, make them more stable, etcetera. The usual crap we have to go through
to line President Mordeaux's pockets."

"That could be a bad thing in the wrong hands, professor," commented Miranda
cautiously, trying to keep her mixed emotions at the thought of such a thing
from entering her voice.

"Yes, well, that's why I wanted YOU to test it for me," explained Dave, suddenly
holding up an ornately carved chunk of polished black rock, "Is the Lilcamp
transposition array working okay?"

"Err, as far as I know-"

"Great!" laughed Dave, his eyes gleaming with excitement as he set the stone
down and punched some buttons on a keypad, "I'll send it right over then!"

"Hold on!" exclaimed Miranda, "I'll need to reroute the signal to my
stepfather's office. I really don't feel like going into the warehouse barefoot
wearing only an old housecoat just now."

Dave glanced up and blushed again, causing Miranda to laugh as she set down the
receiver and hurried into Bob's office. "I hope he doesn't mind," the courier
muttered, glancing guiltily over her shoulder in the direction of the living
room as she sat down in her stepfather's swivel chair and hit the switch on the
power-bar with her toe.

After several unpleasant rattling noises from the hard drive and a nearly two
minutes of waiting for the OS to boot up, a small rectangular window appeared
against the pleasant mountain range landscape that made up Bob's desktop
background.

Miranda sighed as she typed in Bob's full name and clicked on the password bar.
"If he was wasn't so obvious, I'd probably need Wraith's help for this one," she
muttered with a laugh, smiling inwardly at her stepfather's devotion to her
mother as she typed in "V-I-V-I-A-N" and hit "Enter".

The courier gave the computer a satisfied nod as it finished booting the system,
and quickly accessed the transposition array's software before hitting the
shortcut that allowed her to access the vid-phone from Bob's computer.

"This'll only take a second," she told Dave as the house shook slightly in
response to the transposition array deploying atop the warehouse that the
building was connected to.

"Not a problem," Dave assured her as a distant -CLUNK!- sound issued from
somewhere outside and Miranda quickly typed in a few commands.

"Okay, send away."

The scientist nodded, smiling to himself as he hit the "Send" button and loud
humming sound filled the computer speakers, followed by a peculiar crackling
noise as the stone was converted into transferable energy and absorbed by the
device at his end.

"Black, blacker, blackest," Miranda recited quietly during the three seconds it
took the signal to bounce off the satellite in orbit and hit the Lilcamp array
before the small receiving device beside Bob's monitor began to hum and
crackling white light appeared between the small round receiving disk and the
rather menacingly unpleasant looking device just above it. A moment later, and
the energy was converted back into matter, leaving behind the fist sized round
stone Dave had been so anxious to send Miranda.

"So, you want me to field test this then?" the courier inquired, glancing at the
stone as she reset the system and returned the array to its holding area.

"If you wouldn't mind," replied Dave a little sheepishly, "Although I'd prefer
if you didn't let word get out that I sent it to you. The higher-ups are still
kinda annoyed that your aunt won't sell them the patent for those ghost-balls."

"Too bad, so sad!" Miranda laughed, picking up the stone and examining it, "But
yeah, I'd be glad to test it out if I get the chance. Although, if it's anything
like the last stone I tested out for you, there could be some rather interesting
side effects..."

"Oh?" inquired Dave, leaning forward in his seat, his eyes gleaming with sudden
interest, "There were side effects you say? Why didn't tell me, I-"

"Oh, it was nothing bad," the courier assured him with a chuckle, "But it seems
Nezumi can evolve pretty much at will into a raticate now."

"What?!" the scientist exclaimed so loudly that Miranda had to turn down the
speaker volume.

"You heard me," she chuckled, "Only for about ten or fifteen minutes at a time,
mind you, but it's a neat trick."

"I see," Dave commented quickly, scrambling for a note pad, "Look if you get the
chance, could you drop by at some point? I really like to run a few harmless
tests-"

"Well, actually, I still need to bring Nezumi in for his yearly physical. I
could have Joy send you the results if you'd like?"

"Oh, that'd be splendid!" responded Dave gleefully, clasping his hands together
and grinning broadly, "Just please, keep me informed from now on, okay? Please?"

Miranda smiled, resisting the urge to reach through the screen and pat him on
the head. "No problem," she told him, glancing over her shoulder as Bob entered
the room with a questioning look upon his face, "But look, um, I have kind of a
family crisis going on just now. Can I call you back another time?"

"Not a problem," the scientist assured her, glancing past her to where Miranda's
stepfather was standing, "But keep in touch, alright?"

"I will," she promised, casting the cursor about to end the call, "Bye Dave!"

"If you'd like, I could get you a computer for your room," commented Bob, his
tone sounding far more annoyed than the amusement reflecting in his eyes would
have his stepdaughter believe.

"I'll buy you a porygon for your birthday," Miranda replied with a dismissive
wave of her hand as she spun the chair around to face him, "But um... Sorry."

"It's okay," he replied sympathetically, "Look um, there's been a problem at
Laurna's lab-"

"Is she alright?!" Miranda exclaimed in a sudden panic, leaping to her feet and
barely keeping her housecoat closed.

"She wasn't hurt," Bob assured, quickly turning away, "But there was a small
fire, and some things have gone missing."

"Really? What?"

Bob glanced over his shoulder as Miranda walked up to him, meeting his gaze
questioningly. "Um, her entire supply of ghost-balls for one thing," he
explained in a careful tone.

"And?" Miranda inquired, knowing that the worst was yet to come.

"Um, Miranda," Bob asked nervously, glancing around as his tone filled with
dread, "You... You don't have any pokemon stored at the lab do you?"

The courier shook her head. "No, I've never sent any in," she explained, "I
don't 'collect' pokemon the way some morons do. It's not exactly a secret that I
hold that whole 'catch them all' mentality in contempt."

Bob nodded slowly, seemingly feeling better for the assurance. "Well," he
continued with a heavy sigh, "It seems that a few other Lav'Brats don't share
your perspective. Twenty some odd of the poke's Laurna had in stasis went
missing as well. Who ever did it covered their tracks by setting a few small
fires and trashing the lab. Needless to say, Laurna isn't happy. She feels
responsible, and she has no idea what she's going to tell the trainers who owned
them."

Miranda shook her head slowly in disbelief. "This town is falling apart," she
muttered, "First those tourists deliberately run that dewgong over with their
motorboat, and now this. Do I even what to know what's next?"

"Probably not."

The courier smiled in spite of herself. "I take it Frank's got his people
looking into it?"

"Yeah, they're off questioning the two hundred or so possible suspects right
now," Bob replied warily, rubbing his eyes as he shook his head, "Frank just got
back from the lab a short time ago, and hi's growlithe taking it worse than
Laurna is. Frank had to 'return' her least her anxiety give the poor thing a
heart attack."

"Canine mentality, I suppose."

"She blames herself," said Bob with a shrug, "apparently Bow didn't notice
anything until it was too late."

"They probably 'ported in," Miranda pondered, tapping her chin thoughtfully and
pacing back and forth, "Probably brought a white noise generator with them to
mask the sound too."

"More than likely," said Bob with a shrug as a cell-phone in the living room
went off and Frank's frazzled sounding voice answered it.

"I gotta go!" the officer called out a moment later, rushing from the living
room in a sudden hurry, "I'll be back as soon as I can!"

"You have a lead?" inquired Bob, hurrying into the hallway as Frank threw on his
coat and flung open the front door.

"Don't know!" he called back, his footsteps sounding heavy across the porch
outside as the door slammed closed.

"I-I'll go talk to Aunt Laurna," Miranda offered, stepping sideways through the
doorway to get past her stepfather.

"Did you want me to make you breakfast?" he offered.

"No, that's alright," she replied with a smile, holding her stomach as though it
were about to burst, "We had dinner at the Yin Tze Restaurant. I'll probably
have to skip lunch as well."

Miranda chuckled at Bob's suddenly downcast expression, but as she entered the
living room, the remnants of her good humor faded. Once there, the courier found
her mother and aunt sitting on the couch together. Laurna still looked as though
she'd just gotten up, and still had a bit of soot on one side of her face as she
leaned against her sister, staring blankly at the television before them.

"Hi, Auntie," said Miranda softly, adjusting her housecoat as she came over and
sat on the opposite side of Laurna, "Anything I can do to help?"

There was an unpleasant redness to Laurna's soft magenta eyes as she stared
blankly forward, barely acknowledging her niece's presence with a mumbled reply.

"Bob explained what happened, right?" asked Vivian rhetorically.

Miranda nodded, putting her hand atop her mother's to help hold Laurna's hand.
"Yes," she replied quietly, glancing at Laurna whose glasses were slipping off
the end of her nose, "had I known I would have come down earlier-"

"No, it's alright," her mother assured, shaking her head slowly, "There's
nothing more to be done. Frank's doing everything he can, and I'm not going
anywhere until my sister feels better."

Laurna glanced over at Miranda for the first time, her bottom lip quivering as
though she were about to cry again as she mumbled something unintelligible.

"I'm sorry," Miranda replied, putting her arm around the woman and giving her a
small hug, "Is there anything I can do?"

Laurna just shook her head and glanced back at the television. "Tell them to
make some new episodes," she muttered quietly.

Miranda glanced at the enormously, bulky black and white television that sat
omnipresently against the far wall, and whose flat top served as an additional
mantle piece of pictures and a variety of odd souvenirs the family had collected
over the years.

Among them was a large, rectangular box with a retractable antenna, a large
glowing red LED display, and a pair of glowing vacuum tubes near the back, all
connected by a mass of multi-coloured wires. Attached to the contraption was a
long black cable, twice the width of an extension cord that had been haphazardly
repaired several dozen times with various colours of electrical tape that lead
up to an equally bulky looking box on the coffee table. The variety of dials,
switches and levers on the device allegedly changed the channel, and Miranda
still smiled when she recalled her father's words. "We can put people on the
moon, but I still have to get up to change the channel, and that's just NOT
right!" The fact, however, that Lavender Town only got two channels hadn't
deterred Nicholas Lilcamp any. Neither had the fact that the only one that came
in clearly was in Spanish, and no one in their family spoke the language. His
need to create had always been something his daughter idolized him for.

"Oh, it's this show," Miranda commented, finally glancing at the fuzzy, black
and white screen in time to see the blurry image of an animated helicopter that
was involved in a car chase through a shopping mall go down in sudden fiery
explosion, "That's strange. It's the same episode I see every time I get a
chance to sit down and watch it."

The beginnings of a smile crept across Laurna's face. "Yeah," she whispered,
leaning her head upon her niece's shoulder for support, "The episode where the
evil Dr. Yak tries to launch a missile at the San Andreas Fault to cause all of
California to slide into the ocean. That way ninety percent of the world's
actors will be killed and the new acting Mecca for North America will shift to
Toronto. And once that's done, Dr. Yak can go there and start his acting career
and totally clean up. Goodness this show is bogus sometimes!"

Miranda smiled as Laurna's expression brightened somewhat. "So," she inquired
carefully, "Are you going to the festival at all today?"

Laurna sighed heavily, exhaling slowly as she pondered her response. "Probably
eventually," she said as the mute, rune-sword wielding heroine on screen
sidestepped the villain's car as it sped towards her before tapping the Ford
Pinto lightly on the back bumper and running for her life before the vehicle
exploded messily, "I'm supposed to help out with the parade this afternoon, but
I guess I won't be selling too many ghost-balls afterwards."

Miranda nodded sympathetically. "Frank'll find who did this," the courier
assured her with some certainty, "There's not too many places to hide several
large crates of pokeballs."

Laurna shivered unpleasantly at a sudden thought, her eyes mirroring her dread.
"Oh no," she muttered mostly to herself, "That reminds me. I still don't know
what I'm going to tell those trainers who had their pokemon stolen... And when
word get's out about this, I'll loose all credibility as a Professor of para-
zoology! And the Indigo League will revoke my Gym status, and-!"

"No they won't," replied Vivian firmly, "This isn't your fault, Laurna. We're
going to find out who did this. I'm going to have the couriers keep an eye out
for anything odd going on, and I've already seen to it that Heidi from the
mining guild's arranged for a convenient landslide, blocking off Route 10 as
well as having Route 8 declared temporarily unsafe for travel do to ghost
activity. Not to mention the fact that I had Angela convince her gyarados to
stir up some convenient trouble in the harbor, so anyone who wants to leave
Lavender Town early's going to have to get past Frank's roadblock to access
Route 12. Trust me, dear; no one's leaving this place without being thoroughly
investigated. I'm certain that the whole mess will sorted out by Monday
morning."

"I hope so," Laurna whimpered, tossing her head onto her sister's shoulder as
the show on tv went to commercial, "Because I'm getting really sick so seeing
everything I work so hard to accomplish get torn down again and again."

"I know," whispered Vivian, giving her sister's hand a reassuring squeeze and
shaking her head disapprovingly as the tv screen sudden cleared, and gave them a
perfectly clear image for the duration of the commercial that suddenly came on,
"But we just need to be patient..."

***

On the screen, the commercial began with a view of what appeared to be a
children's birthday party, setup in a typical looking but overly decorated
backyard. Most of them seemed to be content to run around screaming, followed
closely by several obnoxiously cute pokemon who seemed to be there solely to
ensure that the product being advertised had the maximum demographic potential.

The camera soon panned to one side and showed a distinctly unmotherly looking
woman with the usual plastic smile worn by those in commercials and tv weather
people. She stood behind a long table, wearing all to fashionable clothes to be
someone who raised children, pouring a bright and cheery red liquid from a large
class pitcher into several dozen plastic cups.

"At my children's party," she explained, so obviously reading from a cue card
that it became readily apparent that the woman was an out of work model, "I
really enjoy serving them fresh, delicious Kool-Aid. And it's not just because
it costs just pennies a glass, or because my children like it so much. No..."

At this point the screen darkened as though sun above had been blocked out, and
the woman raised her arms dramatically as she threw her head back, laughing
manically as she spoke. "No!" she told the audience as thunder and lightning
crashed all around her in response to her parental power trip, "It's because I
CONTROL THE SUGAR! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!"

***

Miranda shook her head in dismay as the show came back on and the screen went
fuzzy again. "Ah, surgical steel staples," she muttered to herself, "Is there
nothing they can't do?"

Laurna smiled and Miranda cringed as the phone rang again in the kitchen. "Bob's
got it," Vivian commented, listening intently to her husband's side of the short
conversation. A moment later, and Bob had hung up and came back into the living
room.

"Frank apologizes," he said carefully, nervously brushing his hair from his
eyes, "But it was a false alarm. But he says that they should have the town
thoroughly searched by lunchtime. Apparently the local ghosts didn't take to
kindly to the 'incident' for some reason..."

Laurna glanced up at him with an amused look. "I suppose they owe me a few
favors," she said modestly with a shrug.

"Before you came most people shot first and asked questions later when it came
to ghosts," agreed Vivian with a satisfied smirk.

"But bullets don't hurt ghosts-" began Bob as his wife's eyes widened and she
stopped herself from trying to jump to her feet.

"I almost forgot!" she exclaimed, waving over her husband and glancing
expectantly at her wheelchair, "I have something I've been working on that I
have to give to Frank!"

Miranda was caught off guard by her mother's sudden enthusiasm, but recognized
the tone in the woman's voice. "You've created something new?" she inquired,
pleased to see the creative gleam in Vivian's eyes.

Her mother nodded as Bob helped her out. "It's just incase the ghosts get out of
hand," Vivian explained with a shrug, but her tone suggested otherwise, "I doubt
he'll have to use them."

"Them?" inquired Laurna suspiciously, "I hope you haven't cooked up something
lethal. Not all ghosts are malevolent, you know."

"I'm sure they'll barely feel it," assured her sister, "They'll probably do less
than that sword trick Miranda came up with."

The courier smiled and bowed her head. "Coating your sword in ectoplasm to
affect spirits is hardly a new idea," she replied, "I just set the precedent
when I first met Wraith and had to smack him around a bit."

"Hey," she added hastily to her Aunt's sudden disapproving look, "it was that or
have him take over Vermillion City's entire power grid. Anyway, I'm still a bit
out of it from following Zack around all last night, so unless you guys need me
for anything, I'd really like to go get maybe another hour of sleep."

"No problem," assured Vivian as she turned her chair towards the door, followed
by Bob, "Just don't waste the entire day sleeping."

"I won't," Miranda promised, struggling to her feet while trying to keep her
housecoat in place before giving Laurna's hand a reassuring squeeze, "You gonna
be okay?"

The woman exhaled slowly and nodded. "Yes," she said quietly, "I just needed a
little time to center myself and take my mind of what happened. I dunno, maybe
I'll head next door and help with the parade."

"Give us a shout before it get's started then, okay?"

Laurna smiled and nodded. "I'll have Viper weave an auditory illusion of a
thousand cell phones going off just for you," she promised mischievously.

"Don't you dare!" Miranda laughed, quickly fleeing before her Aunt could plot
further, "I was dreaming about that all morning!"

Laurna leaned back against the couch and chuckled quietly to herself. "It's nice
to see her laugh again," she commented to the invisible gengar that sat atop the
backrest, swinging his stubby legs and clawed feet lazily.

'It is nicer to see you laugh,' Viper replied, projecting the thought directly
into his mistress's mind.

"Thank you, dear," she sighed, patting the cushion next to her, signaling for
the ghost to sit beside her properly, "It's good to know that I'll always have
you."

'It is my purpose,' assured Viper cryptically, his voice in Laurna's mind
sounding a bit like the hiss of a serpent, 'Even death shall not erase the
memories of your kindness, nor my devotion to you.'

Laurna smiled and took the small, three-fingered hand that only she could see.
"And to me, your still that adorable serpent I loved so much as a kid," she
replied, keeping her voice down as the sound of someone coming up to the front
door caught their attention.

'I regret nothing,' the ghost said ethereally, smiling happily as Laurna leapt
to her feet and practically ran into Frank's open arms as the officer opened the
front door, 'My only desire is your happiness...'

***

Miranda closed the door quietly behind her before siding the housecoat down off
her shoulders as she glided across the room, eager to feel the warmth of her
blankets for around her for at least another hour.

As Miranda approached, Misty's eyes half opened. A smile crossing her face as
she watched the courier pull back the blankets and crawl quickly into bed.
"Problem?" Misty inquired, her voice sounding half asleep.

"Yes," Miranda admitted warily, setting her glasses down on the nightstand
before sliding closer, causing her beloved to sigh contentedly as they embraced
one another, "But unfortunately all we can right now is wait."

"I think I can handle that," Misty replied with a yawn, her legs entwining with
Miranda's seeking the security of her touch, "It's not anything urgent, though,
is it?"

The courier shook her head thoughtfully. "No," she replied carefully, half
wishing that the thieves could have waited until after Halloween to strike, "The
damage is done, and the situation's pretty much in Frank's hands now."

"So what did happen?" Misty inquired, a certain urgency entering her voice as
her wary tone vanished, her expression becoming concerned.

"Aunt Laurna was robbed," explained Miranda, hating herself for the sudden look
of distress that crossed her beloved's face, "They took every stored pokemon
they could find, and the new batch of ghost-balls she was going to sell at the
festival. But Frank's certain that they're still in town. With any luck the
thieves'll be in custody by tonight at the latest. I wouldn't worry too much."

Misty nodded slowly, turning over the information over in her mind. "That's
absolutely unforgivable," she said at last, shuffling down at bit to rest her
cheek against Miranda's chest, "Your Aunt worked so hard to get where she is
today, and then someone comes along and steals her dreams away. That's
completely unfair... And those poor pokemon. What about them?"

"Given ten minutes and a Phillips screwdriver even I can adjust the 'imprinting'
settings on a pokeball, I'm afraid," admitted Miranda, "But by the same token,
they can always adjust them back."

"There is that," Misty agreed, shuddering involuntarily, "I guess it's just up
to your Uncle then. Oh, and before I forget, I wanted to ask you something."

"Anything," Miranda responded without hesitation, causing her lover to stop in
mid-sentence, a smile finding its way to her lips.

"Actually, I was just wondering if I could wear that blouse of yours today."

Miranda chuckled, kissing the top of Misty's head lightly. "If you can stand the
smell," she chuckled, trying to lighten the mood, "I just wore it yesterday, and
I haven't had a chance to have it cleaned."

"I know," Misty responded, leaning back and looking up at Miranda with an
adoring smile, "I guess I'm just feeling a little insecure. Halloween's the
scariest time of the year, and if I'm going to spend it right next to the Tower,
I want that extra bit of assurance. Besides, it'll smell like you. It'll be as
though you're holding me the entire time."

Miranda sighed happily, her hand reaching up to brush Misty's bangs from her
eyes. "That's reassuring in of itself," she said with a thoughtful smile.

"How so?" Misty inquired, reaching up to take Miranda's hand.

"It means that your need to be near me, is as strong as my need to be near you,"
the courier replied, her voice quavering slightly as she spoke, "It means that I
don't worry that I'm crowding you or anything."

"As if," chuckled Misty, moving up to give Miranda a playful kiss, "Believe me
when I tell you, Miri, I spent a very long time without this type of human
contact. I'm not about to let go of it without a fight."

Miranda closed her eyes as she pulled Misty closer as she tried to find the
right words. "Thank you," she said simply, her tone nearly a whisper, "You know,
some times, I wish I could tell you how much I love you."

"But you do-" Misty began.

"No," the courier chuckled, shaking her head at the thought, "No poet has ever
fully expressed the depths of their love for another with mere words. It's a
task that no mortal bard has ever succeeded in. Human lives are far too short to
ever find every last word to fully quantify my love for you. But I'm willing to
spend the rest of mine trying."

Misty closed her eyes as she leaned into Miranda, the flood of emotion that
overcame her drowning out all other concerns at that moment. "I know you," she
said finally, letting go of her grip upon Miranda's shoulders, and feeling a
little guilty about the tiny marks her nails left upon the courier's skin,
"You'll find a way eventually. And I intend to be here when you do, my love.
Because then maybe I can tell you exactly how much I love you in return..."
Chapter XXI "The Chamber Of Lost Souls..."

The rest of the day held few surprises, except that a thorough search of the
town turned up no witnesses, and no tourists hiding large boxes of poke balls in
their rooms. Even when Laurna had arranged for a few ghosts to check the Haunted
Woods for human incursion, and all the old mineshafts in the mountains were gone
through, there was no sign of the missing items.

When Frank finally sat down long enough to have lunch, he did some quick
research into the abilities of psychic pokemon; he was pleased to learn that
even extremely talented teleporter's were limited by distance and mass. The more
mass they had to move, the less the distance they could travel.

"They must still be in Lavender," he told Miranda when he'd caught up to his
niece and Misty as they followed the afternoon parade up to the festival
grounds, "But my people've been all over town, and Laurna's had the ghosts check
all the places they can't go."

"Like the Tower?" suggested Miranda.

"Naw, we'd know by now," Frank laughed.

"Um, are they're any places that ghost's can't go?" suggested Misty over the
cacophony created by the crowds and the constant array of musical selections
being played in various areas.

Frank rubbed his stubbly chin thoughtfully for a moment. "None that I know of,"
he replied, "But I'll have my people double check a few places like the harbor.
I know that the Lilcamp vessels have their hulls lined with mithril, so maybe I
should have some of my people actually go see for themselves. Ah well, so much
for the polite approach."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" Miranda offered.

The Pokeforce Officer shook his head and smiled warily. "Naw, that's alright,"
he assured them, "It's only a matter of time. You two just have fun."

"Sure, but what about you?" his niece inquired with concern.

Frank chuckled and lowered the brim of his hat. "Believe it or not, kid," he
said with a grin, "For me, this is fun. It's probably the only truly interesting
crime that's ever going to happen here, and it'd be no fun for me if I just
solved it right off."

"How's Laurna doing, though? And what about Bow?"

"Well, Laurna's off making calls," Frank explained with a shudder, "She's
feeling better now, and last I checked the trainers she's contacted are taking
it pretty well all things considered. No one's freaked out on her or anything.
And Bow's refused to leave Laurna's side since I let her loose again. Just as
well, I suppose."

"Makes me glad I don't send any of my pokemon in for storage," said Misty with a
shudder, recalling the icy chill that ran through her when Miranda had explained
the situation to her.

"It'll teach the youngin's not to be so greedy, I guess," said Frank with a
shrug as one of his people waved him over, "Uh, look, I gotta get going. But I
don't want to hear anything other than you two had a good time today, you hear
me?"

"Yes, Uncle Frank," they both laughed in unison before watching him vanish in
the crowd of people following the directions on a conveniently placed tombstone
that proclaimed that something called the "Chamber Of Lost Souls" was now open
for business.

"That any good?" inquired Misty as the crowd thinned.

Miranda chuckled. "Naw," she replied with a dismissive wave of her hand, "Last
year it was just a circle of trailers strung together with some rather lame
attempts at scaring people thrown in. All but one's just pitch black, and you
have to follow the group or get lost. Took me three days to get the honey off my
shoes from that first room the last time... And the last room just had a huge
cauldron in the center. They seemed to think that boiling about a dozen pairs of
used gym shorts in it would scare people. Well, the smell was pretty scary,
but..."

"You know..." Misty interrupted, grabbing both of Miranda's hands and pulling
her in the direction of the with a mischievous smile, "That still makes three
very dark rooms that are very easy to get lost in. I think that might be a
pleasant distraction, don't know?"

Miranda stammered for a moment, causing her lover to laugh. "Well, why not," she
said at last, unable to think of any adequate protest, "Maybe those thieves are
hiding those stolen pokeballs there and we'll find them."

"Now, now," Misty laughed as she half-dragged Miranda into the line-up, "No
justifying. We both know what we'll find in there."

"Each other?" the courier asked rhetorically, her smile mischievous.

Misty then glanced around nervously, her smile betraying her embarrassment. "You
know," she whispered, leaning so close that her breath was hot against Miranda's
ear, "I do sorta have that little... Um..."

"Fetish?" giggled Miranda, her arms reaching around Misty's waist and holding
her in place as she leaned back, bowing her head and trying to hide her smile.

"Yeah. That," Misty continued after making certain that no one was really paying
any attention, "I was just thinking that maybe this could be a bit of a prelude.
Give me something to think about later tonight after we head home."

"Goodness, milady!" exclaimed Miranda teasingly before speaking in a hushed tone
that she tried to make sound scandalized, "Are you propositioning me?"

Misty lifted her head, refusing to let herself be embarrassed further by her own
thoughts. "No," she whispered coyly, her cheeks feeling as thought they were on
fire as she spoke, "I'm just going to take you aside once we're in there, and
take advantage of you with all those people watching in the darkness."

"And then what?" Miranda asked teasingly as the line moved forward.

"You'll see," Misty promised, "Or rather, you won't."

"And neither will they," added Miranda, taking her lover's hand and motioning to
the people who'd lined up behind them.

Misty smiled mischievously, placing her lips close to Miranda's ear once more.
"But if we're not quiet, they'll hear," she said, sending a shiver down her
spine at the thought, "We'll need to be extra quiet, you know. Not make any
noise at all or we'll be caught. Hm... I wonder how much we can get away with?"

"You're hurting me, dear," chuckled Miranda, causing Misty to look down and
quickly apologize, not realizing that her free hand was anxiously clutching
Miranda's arm quite so tightly, "But I guess we'll see, eh?"

Misty nodded; pleased to see how fast the line was going as they quickly neared
the circle of four long structures, decorated with every Halloween clich the
proprietors could think of. The one at the forefront was made to resemble the
"standard" haunted house, with a wooden wall attached to the roof to falsely
provide a second level, and a wide front veranda that served as both a place for
the ticket collector to stand, as well as a place for the animatronic zombie
pokemon to flail their limbs and snap their jaws ineffectually at the crowd.

Through the painted on windows of the foremost building there were images meant
to put those in line into the right mood. One window depicted an ethereal
looking woman in Victorian looking clothes who was holding her head in both
hands, glaring down at the crowd imperiously. Another had a skeleton hanging out
the widow brandishing a bloodied knife, his eye sockets filled by a pair of
googly looking eyes that had been physically attached to the mural's face,
making it seem more amusing than threatening. Still others depicted sinister
looking zubats flying free of the broken, often cobweb filled windows, the
sightless creatures made to look hungry for human vitae as they fled the horrors
within.

The other building that was visible from their vantage point, was painted to
resemble a dark cave, with stalactites and stalagmites blocking most of their
view of the characters painted upon it. They supposed that the heroic looking,
burly man in ripped clothes fending off some tentacled monstrosity with a shot
gun and a chainsaw was supposed to be one of the "Chamber Of Lost Souls"
visitors. But as Miranda knew all too well, such attractions were usually more
laughable than actually frightening.

As the two drew nearer, the now commonplace pre-recorded sounds of howling wind,
creaking gates, and quiet screaming reached their ears. Just above the noise,
however, the proprietor who was dressed in a dusty undertaker's outfit was
regaling the crowd with tales of the horrors they'd encounter within. About how
just yesterday five people had mysteriously vanished in the third chamber known
as "The Sinister Laboratory Of The Nefarious Professor Ziffle."

"Should I scream in terror now, or wait until I see how much this'll cost me?"
commented Miranda drolly as they moved to near the front of the line.

"Might as well get it out of your system now," replied Misty with a smirk as the
proprietor ushered in a small group of people before closing and locking the
flimsy wooden door behind them.

"Oooh, two credits a person," the courier chuckled as she glanced at the sign
and reached into her back pocket, "That IS scary!"

"Oh. Looks like we're next," said Misty, as the man on the veranda stepped
forward and started counting heads.

"You five," he called out with a sinister toothy grin, "You're next!"

"I just said that," muttered Misty with a chuckle as she followed Miranda up the
wooden steps and stood near the door as the man collected money from the group.

"Wraith beat both of you to it," added Miranda, handing off the credits and
giving Misty's hand a reassuring squeeze, "The day I caught him, he'd changed
all the screensavers on all the computers in a Sylph Co computer lab to say
'You're Next'."

"What'd he mean by it?"

"Oh, nothing," the courier assured, "He was just being silly and trying to scare
people."

"Did it work?" inquired Misty with a smirk.

"Well, maybe a little," Miranda admitted as the undertaker-garbed man unbolted
the door and ushered them inside.

"Now don't stray from the path," he warned, "I can't be responsible for what
happens if you do!"

Miranda glanced at Misty and they both laughed as they walked into the first
chamber. "Dang," commented Misty as they followed the worn carpet through the
room, "It's not pitch black in here."

"No, but it does have a certain charm," her lover teased as they wandered
through what appeared to be a conglomeration of four rooms that had been rather
abruptly joined and cordoned off a velvet rope.

The first was a small living room containing a bookshelf and fireplace complete
with papier-mch fire. Before it was the dark shape of a plushy houndour who
stood glaring at the passers by with glowing red eyes as its master, a skeleton
in tacky looking tweed suit, sat in a large leather chair reading the paper and
smoking a pipe.

"Doesn't Joshua have one of those?" inquired Misty, indicating the dark furred
canine whose exposed bony ridges didn't look quite right.

"Yeah, sorta," replied Miranda with a shudder, "His name's 'Zule.' But he's
evolved since then apparently."

The second area was a kitchen, with a mannequin dressed to resemble a motherly
looking woman in a flowered dress and an apron, merrily cleaving up her husband,
a second mannequin who'd been securely bound to the kitchen table, her
animatronic arm working ceaselessly.

"I've seen her around Christmas time at the Celadon Department Store," chuckled
Miranda, "They have her cutting up fruitcake."

"Fruitcake, you say? Now that IS scary," laughed Misty as they moved on.

The third small section held a canopy bed that was covered in cobwebs. Lying
upon it was a second skeleton, although this one was wearing an ornate wedding
dress, and her head turned as the group passed by.

"Waiting for the perfect man, I guess," sighed Misty ruefully.

"Or a bus on Sundays," pondered Miranda, "One of the two."

They had to pass through fourth area to exit the first room. The area looked
like a bathroom, complete with an enormous tub supported by clawed feet that was
filled with a dark red substance, and toilet that had a large plushy raticate
bursting threateningly from it.

"You know," commented Miranda, glancing disapprovingly at the stuffed rodent,
"Even if something that large COULD crawl up through the pipes in your bathroom
from the sewers, raticates can't hold their breath for that long."

"Oh, and I think the tub's full of Kool-Aid," added Misty with a chuckle, "I
guess they ran out of red dye and baking soda."

"This time of year?" chuckled Miranda as they crossed the threshold into the
second chamber, "Definitely! Around here we sell out of fake blood by August!"

The second room was done up like a lab. The velvet ropes guided the group along
a winding path through what was obviously "The Sinister Laboratory Of The
Nefarious Professor Ziffle." Aside from the standard electrified Jacob's ladder,
the wall of twisting glass tubing that emptied liquids of varying colours in to
test tubes, beakers, and graduated cylinders, and the always popular dormant
flesh-golem strapped securely to a slab, there was also a small section where
failed experiments were "imprisoned."

Each cell was made to resemble a small stone room, infested with plushy
rattata's and other vermin, and all but one had a securely locked door made up
of bars made from empty paper-towel rolls duct-taped together and painted black.

The first held a male mannequin wearing a black Armani suit and fedora with a
pair of dark glasses manacled to wall. Upon closer examination, though, they
could see that one of his hands was metal, and part of his face had been peeled
away to reveal metal underneath as well. As they passed, sparks flew up from the
left knee, and the pant leg fell away, revealing exposed circuitry.

The second, though, was slightly more in theme. Chained to the wall by spiked
silver manacles was what appeared to be some kind of werewolf. The impressive
piece of papier-mch work had enormous hairless, bat-like ears, and network of
spiraling scars across its chest. The beast's mouth was open to reveal its huge
sharp teeth with a long forked tongue, and the dry ice placed upon each of its
wrists beneath the manacles sent up white smoke to add credence to the
prerecorded sound of pained howling.

The third room held a mannequin who sat upon his knees, staring down in horror
at his hands. enormous red lobster claws had replaced them and stuffed rodents
around him seemed to be preparing a huge pot of boiling water with spices and a
pound of butter.

The fourth and final room, however, had no bared door. It was open to laboratory
in an attempt to make its contents seem more frightening. With its confines
stood three figures. Two stood opposite one another, facing each other. They
wore purple and gold robes and held blood red candles as the hidden speakers
made it seem as though they were chanting some arcane ritual. "Mangero Es
Josephus... Mangero Es Josephus..." they chanted as the third figure screamed,
roared and ranted angrily.

It appeared to be an enormous, muscular gargoyle trapped within the confines of
a complex looking mystic circle that he seemed unable to leave so long as the
robed figures continued their chant.

"I think I saw this movie," commented Misty as they moved on to the next
chamber.

"Yeah," added Miranda thoughtfully, "But didn't it involve vampires in some
way?"

As they passed through the swinging wooden door, Misty suddenly gasped and
quickly covered her mouth to hide her excitement. The room was so dark that it
swallowed what little light passed through into it from the previous one as
several others crossed the threshold. From somewhere in the darkness, hidden
speakers emitted the sounds of a typical swampy bog. Above the sounds of
crickets chirping, amphibians croaking, and occasional call of a nocturnal
avian, came a quiet gurgling of stagnant water, coupled with the noise of oozing
mud and of the wind blowing through long dead trees.

"Quickly, this way," whispered Miranda, trying not to laugh as she lead Misty by
the hand to about the middle of the room, the entire time feeling the touch of
the strands of fabric someone had hung from the ceiling to scare those who
passed through the room. However, once they had reached their destination, the
two hopped over the rope that was there to both guide and keep people from doing
exactly what they were doing.

"Sounds like a relaxation tape for jynxes," commented Misty under her breath
with a chuckle.

"My hair's not that bad," chuckled Miranda, reaching out with her free hand and
finding the far wall after a short walk. "Ah, here we go," she whispered, almost
to herself before sliding offer her glasses that would be of no use and turning
to face Misty.

"Hey," her lover giggled in reply, reaching out with nervously shaking fingers
to touch Miranda's face and move the courier's hair back, "you know I like this
way."

Miranda smiled, and quickly placed a finger upon Misty's lips as the others
who'd followed them in entered the dark room with their own set of comments. As
the group laughed and shrieked merrily at the soft touch of the simulated
tendrils that hung from the ceiling, Miranda pressed her lips tightly against
Misty's ear.

"They're watching us, you know," she whispered as quietly as she could, each
word barely audible even at that distance as she tried not to laugh, yet still
sending shivers through her lover's body, "They don't know it, but their eyes
pass over us even now. They are not consciously aware of our presence, but on a
instinctual level they know that we're here."

Misty's body shivered once again, and she dropped her hands to Miranda's
shoulders, clutching them tightly as she pressed her lips against the courier's.
All the while, she listened to the passage of the others, their heavy sounding
footsteps across the wooden floorboards, and their laughing voices as they made
noises to scare one another.

'She's right,' Misty mused inwardly, tilting her head and trying to contain
herself as she felt Miranda's hands brush aside her open Fall jacket and slide
up her stomach, 'They can see us... They just don't know it! If we make just one
sound they will, though. Goodness this is just too much!'

As the group passed through the second door, and their voices became less
echoing and more muffled, Misty pulled her lips away from Miranda's, only to
have the courier kiss her teasingly as she stood panting for a moment.

"Shh," cautioned Miranda, slowly reaching up to the top button of the silk
blouse the trainer wore and with a controlled casualness set about undoing them
one button at a time, "They might still hear. And the next group is already on
its way."

Misty nodded, casting around in the darkness as her pulse raced, wondering if
her eyes would ever become accustomed to the blackness. Just then, a new set of
voices heralded the coming of a second group, and Misty took a deep breath to
stop herself from hyperventilating as she felt Miranda's hands upon her bare
skin as the door was flung open.

"Make no sound," Miranda cautioned, her voice quavering as her hot breath
touched Misty's ear before running the tip of her tongue over it, following its
curves and causing Misty's grip upon her shoulders to tighten.

'But I could scream!' Misty laughed inwardly, biting her lip and letting her
head fall back and smiling happily as Miranda made slow, purposeful kisses down
her neck, all the while the courier's fingertips played teasingly across Misty's
bosom, separated only by the fabric of her bra.

"Hey, what was that?" she suddenly heard one of the travelers inquire, sending a
sudden serge of white hot panic through Misty even as Miranda's fingers
unclasped her bra and the air felt suddenly cool against her breasts.

"It's just your imagination," laughed one of his companions as Miranda's fingers
moved to encompass Misty's bosom, her strong fingers squeezing the hardened
nipples she found.

"You mean you're actually getting scared?" laughed a third female voice, as the
voice made an exclamation and stumbled forward, obviously pushed by his
companion.

"No, it's not that!" the first argued as the sound of their footsteps came to a
sudden halt, and the group stood silently, listening, "I'm sure there was
something out there. It moved; I'm sure I saw something move!"

Misty squeezed her eyes closed, gritting her teeth and not daring to move or
breath as she felt the familiar tingle of her womanhood. Even as all Miranda's
hands did was gently caress the rise of her breasts, Misty could feel the
suddenly warm dampness of panties pressed against her skin. The need to have
Miranda's touch her making her body shake as though she were freezing, instead
of sweating as the group finally moved on.

"You okay?" Miranda inquired, her voice both concerned and teasing.

"Y-Yes," Misty hissed, quickly unbuttoning her jeans and grabbing one of
Miranda's hands before forcing it down the front, "N-Now please..!"

"Oh wow," giggled Miranda, biting her tongue to keep from laughing as her
fingers touched the wetness she felt through her lover's comfortable cotton
panties.

"Shh," cautioned Misty, her voice sounding pleading, almost helpless, causing
Miranda's heart to swell as her need to protect her beloved was sparked,
"Please, just touch me."

"I just love you so much," was all that Miranda could mutter as she put an arm
around Misty, kissing her passionately as her fingers slid beneath Misty's
panties and touched the soft warm skin of her womanhood, causing Misty to jump a
little as yet another group wandered in.

Misty closed her eyes once more, holding Miranda's wrist to keep her hand from
moving as the group of five stopped all too quietly through the room. 'Oh my
goodness!' Misty thought as Miranda's middle finger pushed upwards with a
careful back and forth motion, slowly rising as her labia parted obligingly and
her body reacted with a sudden quiver, 'They- They know we're here! The last
group told them that they heard something!'

Misty then had to quickly lean forward and bite the shoulder of Miranda's
courier jacket as her lover's other hand pushed at the back of her pants, moving
them slowly down over the rise of Misty's bottom.

'Oh!' she exclaimed inwardly, her entire body quaking so badly that Misty
worried that the entire room was shaking in response, that the group would feel
it and alert someone as she felt cool air upon her suddenly exposed skin, 'Oh
this is incredible!'

Misty could feel tears in her eyes from the exertion as she used every ounce of
her will not to react, not to simply scream out in her building ecstasy as
Miranda's relentless hand pulled down her panties as well, whilst the courier's
middle finger began to slowly, but rhythmically push in and out of her
womanhood, almost in response to the slow, careful footsteps of their unwitting
audience.

"Want me to stop?" came Miranda's barely audible voice, seemingly from far away
as Misty finally noticed that the silent group had at last moved on.

"G-! Goodness, no!" whispered Misty, trying not to laugh as she felt her heart
pounding in her chest, the swell of emotion that had nowhere to go driving her
crazy, making it difficult to think straight.

Miranda smiled, thankful that Misty couldn't see her blushing, and wondering if
it was safe to tell Misty just how much she was enjoying her lover's
performance. "Just tap me twice if I'm going to far, okay?" she whispered,
giving Misty a chance to calm down as the next group through seemed to be taking
their time.

Misty nodded in reply, panting as she leaned heavily against Miranda. "Just
promise me one thing," she said quietly, a smile that wouldn't leave crossing
her lips."

"Anything, my love," Miranda replied, holding Misty close with one arm, "Just
name it."

"I- I want to come back here next year," Misty breathed with a laugh, trying to
catch her breath as Miranda's thumb moved to caress her clit, "I- I really enjoy
this!"

"Shh, I know, dearest," Miranda whispered in amusement, her fingers running
affectionately through Misty's soft, silky feeling hair, "It makes me happy to
do this for you."

"Y-you don't mind, do you?" Misty inquired, her voice sounding both worried and
pleading.

"No," responded Miranda, shaking her head and trying not to laugh, "I'll admit
I'm a little nervous, but you know how much I like to watch you. How much I love
seeing like this. How my heart feels as though it shall overflow with love to
know that I can please you so."

Misty merely nodded, her head resting against Miranda's shoulder as the next
group finally arrived and Miranda quickly became silent. 'Here we go again!'
Misty thought with nervous excitement as she felt Miranda's hand squeeze her
bottom, before pushing her pants a little farther down, causing Misty to stand
upon her toes, quivering as her expression contorted, trying desperately to
remain quiet as she felt a pulse of ecstasy run through her.

A moment later, she opened her eyes, desperately trying to take slow, shallow
breaths as Misty stared out into the darkness, her ears alert to every sound the
passers by made, desperately hoping that the swampy bog noises drowned out what
little noise escaped her.

Then, as Miranda began to slowly side down, Misty reached out with her hands to
steady herself, immediately finding the wall that Miranda's back had rested
against. With both palms pressed firmly against it Misty looked down to where
she knew her lover was, to where Misty could feel Miranda's hands moving to
slide her pants the rest of they down to her ankles.

It was all that Misty could do not to gasp as she sucked in her lips and bit
against them to keep her mouth closed, to muffle what sound she made as her
pants fell down around her ankles and left her standing half-naked, leaning
against the wall with nearly half a dozen strangers looking in her direction,
staring out at her exposed bottom through the darkness.

Miranda waited a moment, expecting Misty to stop her, but she felt no signal as
she knelt upon her knees and touched the firm muscles of Misty's thighs
appreciatively. 'Darkness itself cannot diminish the light of your beauty, my
love,' the courier thought as she moved closer, swallowing as she instinctively
salivated, the scent of Misty's excitement seeming to hang heavily in their air
around them.

'Please hurry!' Misty wanted to scream as Miranda's parted lips touched lightly
against her stomach, 'They're leaving! There might not be another group for
while!'

As Miranda kissed Misty's stomach, her tongue teasing her lover's navel before
sliding her hands over Misty's goose bumped skin and took a firm hold of Misty's
bottom before moving to press her lips against Misty's womanhood, kissing them
gently before sliding her tongue between Misty's labia as her finger had done
before.

'Wonderful!' Misty exclaimed in her mind, shuffling her legs apart as much as
she could and glancing over her shoulder to try to make out the dark shapes of
those she knew she wouldn't see.

But, to Misty's surprise, someone was wearing a button on their coat. She
recognized it as one of the glow in the dark gastly buttons one of the merchants
was selling to tourists. Misty could just make out the words "Lavender Halloween
Festival" written around the outer edge, with the laughing gastly in the center,
its tongue hanging out to make it look silly instead of frightening.

Just then, the realization hit her. 'Oh my goodness!' Misty thought, almost
laughing in her combination of excitement and panic, 'He can see us! He's turned
in our direction, and he's watching us!'

For what seemed like forever, Misty stood awkwardly, leaning partially forward
with her palms pressed firmly against the wall, biting her lip to remain silent
as Miranda made her want to shout, as their observer stood motionless in the
darkness.

"Oh, sorry," murmured a voice, snapping Misty out of her sudden trace to find
her body shaking with excitement as someone obviously walked into the observer
and the two moved on.

'The next g-group,' thought Misty with a inward sigh, closing her eyes as a
pleasant sense of vertigo began to overtake her, 'they ran into him.'

Soon however, she found it difficult to stand, let alone keep quiet, as her legs
seemed to want to buckle beneath her, and Miranda's tongue showed no signs of
letting up.

'Move on!' Misty silently willed the latest group of people who seemed to be
making fun of the room, 'I can't- I can't keep this up much longer!'

But still the group remained. Even as her heart pounding in her chest seemed far
louder than any sound Misty was willing to make, and her whole body shook,
demanding release, the small group of laughing festival goers continued their
slow passage through the darkened chamber.

'Go! Leave!' she pleaded in her mind, unable to find the will to ask Miranda to
stop, even as her lovers hands caressed her while the courier's tongue traced
teasing lines along Misty's labia, coming close, but never quite touching her
clit, 'You can't be here when I-! When I-!'

With every once of will she had, Misty forced herself to stand up straight, the
sudden chill upon her womanhood, though, was nothing in compression to the
sudden sense of betrayal her body sent her mind, almost bringing tears to
Misty's eyes in her effort not to scream. Even as Miranda quickly covered her
mouth with her hand to stifle her surprise, Misty shuffled closer to the wall,
pressing her body against it as she shook compulsively against the sensation.

"Are- Are you okay?" came Miranda's whispered voice in her ear after a moment,
and Misty found that not only had the group moved on, but that the courier's
arms were around her, hugging Misty close as she took long, shallow breaths.

"No," Misty chuckled quietly, turning to face Miranda and feeling a great sense
of comfort as she embraced her, "But I enjoyed myself."

Miranda's smile wasn't visible in the darkness, but Misty knew it was there.
"Good," the courier replied, nuzzling Misty's neck and gently kissing her ear,
"You had me worried there for a second."

"Well," her lover admitted, listening carefully for the sounds of anyone else,
"I'll tell you this much. When I get you home tonight, you're finishing what you
started."

"Okay," Miranda assured teasingly, "I'll have a darkroom with the entire
population of Lavender waiting outside ready by then."

"Don't you dare!" Misty giggled, carefully pushing Miranda back so she could
reach down and pull her pants back up, "But do you think we could sit-down for a
while? I'm exhausted!"

Miranda nodded, listening to the quiet rustle of fabric as Misty shuffled to
arrange her clothes properly. "Okay," she said, glancing around as the swamp
noises persisted, "But we probably shouldn't stay too much longer. I'm sure
someone's noticed that we haven't come out the other side yet."

"Eh, they can just claim that we were victims of that nefarious laboratory
thing," said Misty, taking Miranda's arm as they both followed the wall to the
floor and placed the courier's arm about her shoulders.

"Or that raticate with the unlimited lung capacity in the first room," Miranda
added with a chuckle.

"And then there's always the 'Endless Caverns' over in the next room," offered a
familiar voice, causing them both to jump with fright.

"Zachary?!" exclaimed Miranda, her tone both angered and relieved.

"Hey, that's 'Zack' to you, lady!" her friend chuckled, trying to sound
offended.

"How long have you been here?!" the courier demanded, reaching her hand out
blindly and somehow catching hold of Zack's shoulder.

"Oh, about as long as she has," the psychic replied with a laugh as a second
voice called out in the darkness.

"Oh, hi!"

Miranda let go of Zack as a smile crossed her face. She half-recognized the
speaker's accent from the Courier Club. "Hey, looks like you took my advice
after all," Miranda chuckled to Zack before turning her attention to the other
courier, "I hope he's not being too much of a pain. I'm sure I could get my
step-father to reassign you..."

"No way!" she laughed in reply, "Had I known it was so much fun up here on the
main land, I would transferred ages ago!"

"I told her about you on the way over here," explained Zack with what must have
been a grin, "and then well, things kinda got a little out of hand..."

"I see," said Miranda in a more serious tone as she turned back to Misty and
whispered, "It's okay. It's dark, they didn't see anything."

Misty's only response was a quiet nod as she sat staring out into the darkness,
an embarrassed smile upon her face as she tried to decide exactly how she felt
about the situation.

"Well, actually," corrected Zack, ignoring the punch in the arm he received from
Anna, "I can see your auras. And wow! Misty's is REALLY pink right now! Are you
embarrassed about something?"

"Zachary!" Miranda exclaimed again, this time catching her friend's collar as he
laughed and a harsh flash of brilliant light that blinded them instantly
suddenly dispelled the darkness.

"What the-?!" came the suddenly confused sounding voice of one of the Chamber Of
Lost Souls owners, followed by the sudden shuffling of feet and a few
exclamations from the those who'd been blinded.

"Wow," commented a second, less surprised sounding voice, "Now THAT'S a new
record!"

"Yeah," agreed the first with a chortle, "never had six of 'em before. Hey,
maybe we should just open a place that's all just a big dark room and people pay
to either 'hang out' in it, and hire people to just walk through it."

"Naw," said the second as Miranda rubbed her eyes and found her glasses, causing
the blurry shape near the door to become two blurry shapes, "We'd get in trouble
for that. But they'd probably let us do it in Viridian. Ya can get away with
anythin' out there!"

"Six?" Miranda inquired rhetorically, glancing around and finally making out two
other figures that slowly came into focus as they straightened their clothes and
rearranged their hair.

"Joshua?!" she exclaimed in surprise, trying not to laugh as she saw the oldest
courier and his wife Nancy standing across from her at the other side of the
room.

"Howdy," said Joshua, dawning his ten-gallon hat before tilting it in Miranda's
direction as Nancy checked herself in a small hand mirror.

"All right," the first of the two proprietors laughed, still wearing the dusty
old undertaker's outfit, "Off with ya. You've all had your fun."

There was no argument from the group as they headed for the door and shuffled
quietly though the Endless Caverns that seemed comprised of Styrofoam
stalactites and stalagmites, with the occasional rubber spinarak attached to a
web made of string, not to mention the plushy zubats hanging from the ceiling
that seemed to have googly eyes; despite the fact that they were supposed to be
sightless at that stage of their development.

"See you at the fireworks!" called Nancy with an amused smile as she and Joshua
stepped quickly down the front porch steps and disappeared into the crowd once
the group had gotten back outside.

"I think they already did," chuckled Zack, quickly dodging Miranda's swat.

"Well, that certainly makes this whole thing less embarrassing," Anna commented
matter-of-factly.

"Hey," said Zack with a shrug, "I'm not embarrassed."

"Nothing embarrasses you," chided Miranda with a thin smile.

"That's very true," he agreed with a nod, ignoring the fact that the southern
courier seemed to be taking that as a challenge as Miranda turned her attention
back to Misty.

"You sure you're okay?" she asked again, her stomach feeling weighed down by
dread and her sense of guilt.

"I'm fine," Misty laughed, resting her head on Miranda's shoulder, "I'm just
starving!"

"Okay then," the courier said brightly, glancing at Zack and Anna, "Hey, you
guys hungry? It's on me."

Zack did a double take, a look of shock crossing his face as he tried not to
laugh. "When did you get rich?" he inquired rather hastily.

Miranda shrugged. "Long story," she replied, "But apparently Bob thinks I should
take more vacations."

"I transferred over recently," commented the Orange Islander with a
surreptitious glance at Zack, "And I'm really quite glad I did! Better scenery
here..."
Chapter XXII "Two Against The Tower..."

The open area at the foot of the Lavender Tower was once again crowded as the
sun set over the harbor turning the sky pink and purple as the ocean became
almost blood red. All around the perimeter, small concession stands were set up
to service the public's hunger for over-priced festival food as upon the small
wooden stage a stocky blond woman with too many piercings operated an array of
stereo equipment. Supplying the area with a variety music. The large crowd of
people whom either stood talking, or dancing to the music were mostly locals,
and couriers at first. To them it was more of a social gathering, and being that
the festival ran every year, few of the attractions held their interest for more
than a few days.

"I still can't get over how many of us there are this year," Miranda commented,
shaking her head as the group of four joined the crowd.

"I guess the Festival's just becoming more popular," said Zack with a shrug,
smiling as Anna took his hand in both of hers and gave him a gentle pull as a
rather fast song started up.

"Guess so," Miranda replied, smiling in amusement as her friend exaggerated his
peril at being dragged off to dance.

"Maybe it's a good sign," offered Misty, taking both Miranda's hands and leading
her closer as well, "maybe this 'come home for a while syndrome' is contagious."

"Well, I can't say I don't appreciate the apparent support," the courier added
thoughtfully, "But even without all these people, Lavender Town does seem a lot
less depressing than it used to be."

"Good," said Misty mysteriously, "Then my work here is done!"

"Oh no it's not!" Miranda laughed, catching Misty about the waist as she turned
suddenly and made to run away.

"Careful!" cried Misty, laughing as Miranda lost her footing and sent them both
tumbling to the grassy ground.

"Too late," Miranda replied with a grin, rolling onto her back and smiling up at
the first few stars in the rapidly darkening sky as the thick grass pressed back
against her.

"Not going to chase me anymore?" inquired Misty, suddenly coming into view as
she crawled across the courier's body and looked down at Miranda, supporting
herself on her elbows.

"If you're going to run away from me, my love, then I have no right to chase
you," replied the courier melodramatically as she slid off her glasses and
breathed in the fresh mountain air, tainted only by the salty scent of the sea,
"If there's something about me that makes you want to leave, then it's up to me
to change that something. Not to force you to stay."

Misty sighed contentedly, brushing away Miranda's bangs affectionately. "So long
as you don't want me to leave," she added sadly, "Cause you know, I can be very
persistent."

"Good," said Miranda, sitting up before reaching out to touch Misty's chin,
"because I'm just getting used to this being a happy place once again."

"Anywhere is happy so long as you're in it," her lover assured her as Miranda
leaned down and their lips touched, "Even Cerulean felt like home to me because
of you, dearest."

"Standing up to your sisters didn't hurt either," the courier added half
teasingly, glancing over at the stage as the song changed to something slower.

"Hm. That's more like it," she said with a smile, glancing back at Misty and
holding out her hand, "shall we?"

Misty smiled happily, and took the offered hand as they got to their feet before
moving closer to the main group where they embraced, moving slowly to the music.

"Wanna know something strange?" said Misty half-rhetorically, suddenly resting
her head upon Miranda's shoulder and closing her eyes to block out the rest of
the world for a moment, "I've never actually slow danced with anyone before."

"You're kidding," Miranda replied, suddenly feeling both shocked and deeply
honored.

"No, seriously," said Misty as Miranda gave her a reassuring squeeze, "I guess I
just made some poor choices in my life, that's all."

"It's never to late to change that," assured Miranda, kissing her neck lightly,
tasting her lover's warmth upon her lips before glancing up at the Tower. "Now
that's odd," she commented as several windows on the second floor lit up with a
brilliant white light before fading back to pitch black darkness.

"What is?" Misty inquired, looking up and glancing around.

"Oh, it's just the ghosts," Miranda replied dismissively, "They're always up to
something, and Halloween just makes it worse."

Misty shuddered as she glanced at the Tower as well, just in time to see a
second flash in one of the first floor windows. "What do you suppose they're up
to?" she inquired rhetorically, not really wanting to know.

"Oh, probably no good," Miranda chuckled, "Oh, that reminds me. I really should
let Wraith out again. He hates spending Halloween night all cooped up in his
ball."

"Or your 'dex," chuckled Misty as her lover reached for the small metal orb on
her belt.

"I'd buy a new one," the courier commented, holding the gray and black ball in
two fingers and looking at it contemplatively, "but he'd probably take it over
too. You know, I had to chase him out of Bob's computer while you were at the
Gym, eh? Sometimes he's such a pain."

But as Miranda held the ghost-ball out in the palm of her hand, watching as it
expanded from storage mode, her smile was happy and maternal. "Wraith, come
forth," she said in a clear tone, shivering slightly as the ball's temperature
dropped before snapping open and her haunter materialized in the air above it.

"Happy Halloween," greeted Misty, smiling at the dark shape of Wraith as he
looked back at her with a wide grin and a baleful look.

"You're not going to scare her, dear," chuckled Miranda in a maternal tone,
"She's getting used to you."

Wraith turned back to the courier and pouted for a moment before suddenly
looking serious.

"What is it-?" Miranda began, but Wraith raised a finger to silence her.

For a moment, the air was still, as though a storm were brewing in the cloudless
sky as Wraith turned to face the Tower. "Wra..." he whispered before abruptly
turning to Miranda with a look a fear that startled his trainer.

"Haunter!" he exclaimed, flinging his hands into the air in exasperation, the
sudden deeply felt terror clear in his tone as he balled one hand into a fist
and hit the activation button on his pokeball.

"You can't be serious!" Miranda replied in a deadly serious tone, all colour
draining from her face as Wraith vanished back into his ball and the device
clicked shut.

"What'd he say?" inquired Misty, the fear she didn't feel for Wraith finding a
foothold elsewhere as Miranda started shaking, staring up at the Tower as
someone on the stage started yelling desperately into a megaphone.

"-your ghosts!" she heard the voice yell over the sudden whine of the speaker,
"If you have ghosts, please return them now! This is NOT; I repeat NOT part of
the festival! We have a situation here!"

"Laurna?" inquired Misty, yelling just to be heard as all around them people all
started talking at once.

"But I don't understand," muttered Miranda, turning to face Misty as she pushed
down her sudden panic, "This just can't happen!"

"What can't happen?" asked Misty, her tone sounding a little aggravated even as
several dozen people let out fearful screams and started running from the
festival grounds.

"That!" said Miranda, pointing at the sky just above the heads of the crowd as a
swarm of ghost issued from the Tower.

"That's not normal, is it?" commented Misty rhetorically as Miranda drew her
bokken, almost in unison with the half dozen other courier's in their immediate
area.

"No," her lover replied in a now level tone as the swarm of ghosts dove down
towards the humans, all the while shrieking like banshees, "This, this is bad.
Very, very bad!"

As the tourists ran screaming and tripping over themselves for their lives, the
couriers present drew their wooden swords and quickly fumbled for the small,
sealed package they all carried as a precautionary measure.

"What is that?" Misty inquired as Miranda tore open the clear plastic rectangle
with her teeth and quickly squeezed out the greenish, translucent ooze within
onto the wooden blade of her sword.

"It's just ectoplasm," the courier assured her, quickly smearing the goo along
the length of the sword with her hand until it glowed faintly in the near
darkness, "Oh, and if you get the chance, could you call out your pokemon? We're
going to need back up!"

Misty shrieked as Miranda suddenly leapt backwards, barely avoiding the blast of
dark purple unlight that sapped the life from the grass where she'd been
standing, turning the dull green to sickly yellow and finally dead dry brown as
the watched with eyes that went wide with horror.

"I should have brought that sword you bought me!" she muttered, pulling out
three orbs and tossing them into the air.

"Don't worry about it!" assured Miranda, spinning around as the haunter that had
fired upon her sailed overhead, laughing manically as he targeted several
fleeing tourists, "Just remember for next year! Oh, crap! The graveyard!"

"What's wrong with the graveyard?" began Misty, suddenly realizing that she
didn't want to know.

"Them!" replied Miranda weakly, tossing out two poke balls of her own and
indicating the peculiar movement of the ground around the less impressive
looking tombstones where the town's deceased pokemon were buried, "Nezumi! Umi!
Antipode!"

The bewildered looking rodent and dragon wasted little time questioning the
command as the haunter herded the fleeing humans towards the cemetery. Instead,
Nezumi hopped up on top of Umi's head as they both drew in deep breaths, only
awaiting a target.

"The ghost!" Miranda ordered, swinging her sword in a wide arch as a gastly
appeared out of nowhere and caught the sticky blade in the face, "We're
surrounded by bad ghosts! Take down as many as you can!"

Umi's eyes blazed red, as one snarled menacingly at the laughing ghost and spit
forth a burning ball of flame. At the same time, Nezumi braced himself against
the dragon's head and fired an ice beam directly at the small, spinning sphere
of burning flame.

The cracking blue beam met the volatile burning sphere a short distance away,
instantly imprisoning it in a round clear ball of ice, that flew towards the
unsuspecting haunter like a comet drawn towards a star.

The laughing ghost didn't see the small orb with its sparkling tail of ice
crystals as it impacted with his ephemera, but he certainly felt it as the fire
within exploded just as the comet pierced his body. The haunter could only
scream as fiery shards of ice ripped their way out of him like shrapnel, tearing
away a significant portion of his ghostly substance and forcing the haunter to
fall to the ground in as a steaming mass of black ooze.

"Way to go guys!" called Miranda as a loud roar spit the air and even more
people screamed as Leviathan loomed over them, snarling and salivating making
the oncoming swarm of ghosts hesitate.

"You really have to show me how to teach them stuff like that," Misty commented
as Shadow and Umberlee sent jets of water into the air, hitting several of the
suddenly startled ghosts.

"It's easy," laughed Miranda, feeling much more confident, even as a several
dark shapes tore their way out of the ground and crawled towards the light of
the torches, "This, though? This could be a problem."

Misty's reply was suddenly stifled as she turned and saw the putrid shapes that
were advancing slowly upon them. Several other people had their own opinions as
well as the product of several hundred years of pokemon/human interaction
shambling towards them, loosing bits and letting out awful noises as their vocal
cords strained to function after such a long time buried within the earth's cold
embrace for so long.

"M-Miri," Misty stammered after a moment of watching the hoard of undead pokemon
advance on their position, "I- I thought you said there were no such thing as
zombies!"

Miranda did a double-take, and swallowed hard. "Well, well they're not really
zombies, right?" she replied nervously with a sudden shudder, "They're just
being controlled like puppets. I'm just glad we seal humans in popper coffins.
'Cause this is bad enough!"

"Guys!" she ordered, snapping Nezumi and Umi out of the sudden shock that had
overcome them, "Take care of the ghosts, we can handle these things!"

Nezumi shuddered as he glanced back at the skeletal raticate that was shuffling
towards Miranda, snapping its bony jaws menacingly and nodded before blasting
another ghost out of the air.

"Zombies," Miranda muttered as she and several other couriers formed a line
against them, "As if!"

Misty blinked in surprise as the group held their swords at their sides before
all moving as one. In unison, the couriers drew their still glistening weapons,
taking half a step back before spinning them clockwise over their hands and
holding their swords in both hands, pointing their weapons directly at the
oncoming army.

"Let's send them back to their graves, people!" called out the voice of Joshua
who hardly seemed old as he lead the charge into the hoard of undead, "Attack!"

"Yup," Misty commented as the air just over her head heated up, and her hair was
singed slightly as Leviathan blasted a ghost that was drawing too near her, "I
should have brought that sword."

But Misty's musing was interrupted by the sudden sound of gunfire, and the
pained hissing of small pack of ghosts who ran obligingly into Umberlee's path.
"Use Neptune's Might!" her trainer called out, turning towards the sound of
gunfire even as the swirling jet of water fired off into the air.

"Oh! Hi, Misty!" called out Frank as he and Bow jogged to a halt, watching as
the ghosts were reduced to puddles of dormant ephemera, "Seen Miri around?"

Misty glanced at the two smoking revolvers Frank was holding and couldn't help
but point to them. "H-how?" she stammered as the cop looked up and fired a round
into the air, causing a ghost to shriek and flee in another direction.

"Ah, it's a little somethin' Viv' cooked up for me," chuckled Frank as Bow let
out a barking whine and glanced up at him for guidance, "Hollow points filled
with ectoplasm. Oh! There she is!"

"Frank!" Misty exclaimed angrily, grabbing his arm as the cop ran off in the
direction of the zombies, "What's going on?!"

Frank stopped, the amused grin upon his face fading as he turned and looked down
at her grimly. "Stryphe," he replied in a serous tone, "That's what's
happening."

"Stryphe?!" demanded Misty, "H-How's that even possible?"

"Don't know," he replied, glancing pensively at the Tower, "the ghosts went
crazy right after Viper received a message from the Guardian about intruders.
I'm afraid we're just gonna have to keep fighting and get our answers after
we've cleaned up the mess."

"Hasn't anyone tried going in?" Misty asked, hating herself for even suggesting
such a thing.

Frank shook his head. "Can't. The doors have been sealed from the inside. So
unless you know of a way in, there ain't-"

"I do!" Misty interrupted, dashing off before Frank could stop her, "Tell Laurna
I have plan!"

"Right," chuckled Frank casting about for more targets and being pleased to see
that most of the ghosts had been pushed back towards the Tower, "Every time 'I'
say that she panics..."

***

"You know what this really reminds me of?" inquired Joshua as the line of five
couriers moved in unison, spinning their swords over their wrists and taking
half a step backwards from the small legion of undead that was even now
shambling towards them.

"That first caravan run you took where that snow storm blew in and you lost half
the team to those snow monsters and you had to take over?" his wife Nancy
inquired, wrinkling her nose at the combination of rotting flesh and damp earth.

"Or the time you were lost in the mining tunnels and found that lake with the
carnivorous blind albino cave fish?" pondered Miranda as the cacophony of
wretched voices reached her ears as the long dead pokemon's vocal cords strained
to utter sounds that were but twisted mockeries of the noises they made in life.

"Ooh, ooh!! Or what about when you wrestled that gyarados under water while
being keel-hauled, tore out its fangs and used them to climb back up onto the
deck of the Dawn sister 1 to save my grandfather and his crew from those
pirates?!" laughed Zack, seemingly without taking a breath as his shifted from
foot to foot, his adrenal gland working overtime.

"Um, it's not the liver story again is it?" inquired Anna sheepishly, having
only heard one of the elder courier's tall tales.

"You still tell that story?" chuckled Nancy with a smile that made her husband
blush just a little.

"Nope," replied Joshua, taking a deep breath as he adjusted his shoulders,
making the old bones within them crack, "This ain't like nothin' I've ever seen
before. It'll make me a nice new story to tell the kiddies about. Maybe even
this time there'll be witnesses!"

"Gee, thanks for the reassurance!" laughed Zack, suddenly bounding off to meet a
pack of four zombies and causing Miranda to scowl.

"Hey! Wait up, you idiot!" she called, chasing after him as he easily batted
away a small fast-moving rattata with no tail, "you're out numbered remember?!"

"Ah, kids," chuckled Joshua as Anna's eyes widened.

"Is he brave, or just insane?" she inquired, glancing at Nancy for reassurance.

"Yes, dear," the woman chuckled smiling as Miranda glowered at Zack, even as
they both swung their weapons, cleaving the rotting heads from a pair of bipeds.

***

"Bad kitty!" laughed Zack as the mangy furred decapitated electrabuzz staggered
around, looking for its head and Miranda's alakazam tossed its twin spoons at
her ineffectually as the two couriers between them, moving onwards towards the
next pair.

"Must you always show off to the girls?" Miranda inquired, a smirk crossing her
face as they both turned so that they were back to back.

"Oh yeah!" he friend laughed as they both moved in unison, taking two handed
swings of their swords as the two couriers stepped between the next pair of
poke-zombies, "Hey, it's Nezumi's grandparents!"

"Don't even joke about that," grumbled Miranda through gritted teeth as the
ancient raticate stood up on its hind legs, menacing her with its broken
incisors before her bokken rended a long gash along its midsection at the same
time as Zack's wooden cutlass sliced through a second one.

"Oh, you're no fun," the psychic chuckled as they both leaped back the way they
came before turning their backs on the two wounded rodents and spun their
swords, "But as Joshua would say, remember the good ole' days?"

"The good ole' days?" Miranda inquired suspiciously as they both jabbed their
swords backwards, impaling their opponents before gritting their teeth and
yanking upwards.

"Yeah!" laughed Zack as they spun around again, raising their swords high before
jabbing them down into what remained of the ghoulish raticates, effectively
disabling them, "Back when zombies only had a D8 hit-points. I'm tellin' ya,
this 3rd Ed D12 thing's a real pain...!"

***

"He's really something," commented Anna as she watched Zack and Miranda turn and
give chase after the two decapitated poke-zombies, not noticing the huge serpent
and flightless owl that was almost as tall as her that were looming ever closer.

"Pay attention, kid," came Joshua's seemingly neutral tone as the elder courier
gritted his teeth and jabbed his immensely long sword through both the noctowl
and the arbok, pinning the birds wings to its body, and yanking them both back
before the snake's fangs could sink into Anna's shoulder, "This ain't no time
for gawkin'!"

"Y-yes, sir!" the younger courier stammered, her blue eyes going wide as Joshua
flung the two zombies off his sword before tossing something small and breakable
on top of them. Anna then gasped in surprise as the object shattered, wreathing
the coiling serpent and the panicking avian in intensely hot flames that lit up
the area and sent a hail of smoldering feathers into the air.

"Oh, don't worry about him," called Nancy, the two wooden short swords she was
wielding stabbing outwards in either direction to impale both the pidgeot on her
right and the scaly, bipedal reptile known as a feraligator on her left, "He's
just used to being the center of attention, that's all."

With surprising strength the woman then lifted herself up, all but dragging the
two pokemon to their knees as she kicked out with both feet to shove the off
pink shambling mound of a blissy that had been bearing down on her.

"A little help would be appreciated, though, dearest!" Nancy added, leaning away
as the reptile's skinless jaws snapped at her, breaking several of its teeth in
the process, "I'm a wee bit out numbered!"

"Oh, sorry!" chuckled her husband, casting a glance over his shoulder. "Hold
them two till their embers," he told Anna, his glass eye gleaming dangerously in
the flickering light, "and don't be worryin' yourself. They ain't real zombies.
Their just Stryphe's puppets."

Anna nodded, kicking the arbok in the head as the black charred serpent
slithered out of the flames, only to be sent back into the inferno. "Not a
problem," she replied, turning in time to see several more zombies moving in to
halt Joshua's passage.

"I really don't have time for this," the elder courier muttered as though being
swarmed by poke-zombies were a regular occurrence, and jabbed the end of his
sword into the ground.

As a completely skeletal jynx hobbled towards him, stepping on the long twisting
strands of its white hair, and yanking it out in huge clumps, Joshua pulled his
sword back, bending as far as he dared away from the shambling bog hag.

"You could at least pretend to be a threat," the courier grumbled, seeming
disappointed as he let go of the weapon, causing the hilt to smash the creature
in the face before rebounding back into Joshua's hand.

"We can't have everything, dearest," replied Nancy, yanking her sword free of
the feraligator as the jynx's face collapsed in on itself and the creature
staggered backwards, tripped over its own hair, and tumbled backwards into the
pyre.

"No," her husband agreed with a grunt as he grabbed the reptiles tail and yanked
it backwards so that it landed face first, shattering it's lower jaw against a
rock, "But it'd be nice to be defending Lavender against a real threat."

"The most powerful evil ghost in history isn't enough for you, my love?" said
Nancy skeptically as her now free sword swept across to decapitate the
struggling pidgeot zombie on her left after cutting a line across the blissy
who'd come lumbering towards her once again.

"Well, I suppose you're right," Joshua agreed with a bit of a huff as he swung
the gator around and tossed it into he fire before yanking out his sword, "But I
still think his minions could use an upgrade."

"Would you rather be fightin' human zombies?" inquired Anna, jabbing her long
sword through the feraligator's head as it tried to crawl out the other side of
the now huge bonfire.

"Naw, it's alright," the man replied, bringing his sword down hard, cleaving a
raticate in half before swinging it back up to dispatch the ineffectual blissy,
"besides. We give 'em actually coffins and stuff. Even if Stryphe were to
control 'em, they couldn't get loose. It's better this way, though."

"True," agreed Nancy, yanking her other sword free as the gigantic avian flopped
down, twitching but otherwise no longer a threat, "but at least this way no
one's ancestors are coming to get them."

Joshua nodded grimly as Miranda and Zack rushed towards the pyre, holding a
struggling persian between them. The still vicious feline impaled on their
swords as it's claws rended a tear in Zack's jacket and it made horrible
growling sounds that issued more from the hole in its neck than its mouth.

"Yeah, I'd hate for Miri to have to see her dad like this," the eldest courier
shuddered, offhandedly swinging his sword to cut a zombie growlithe in half as
Nancy put her arms around him from behind, cuddling against her husband as his
voice quavered ever so slightly...

***

"You know what kinda erks me about this?" commented Zack, grimacing as they both
flung the enormous feline into he flames before swinging their swords repeatedly
to keep it from escaping.

"Do I really want to know," inquired Miranda, smiling just a little as she
muttered under her breath, "This is for my poetry book you jerk!"

"The fact that none of these things has threatened to eat my brains yet!"
replied Zack indignantly.

"Goodness! Not even your skin!" chuckled Miranda with a hint of sarcasm as she
caught sight of something moving in the forest West of the graveyard.

"It's almost too bad Rick moved down to Maiden's Peak before he died," commented
Joshua as he and Nancy banged the zombie bits from their blades and watched as a
second wave ambled out of the woods, slogging and dripping their way towards
them, obviously having drown in the bog Joshua knew existed somewhere within.

"Why's that?" inquired Anna, giving Zack a smile as they waited for the
shambling armada of mostly mundane animals.

"Ah, because he had Pyros!" the elder courier replied reminiscently, "Now that'd
be a challenge to take him down. Even without the breath-weapon."

"Pyros was an arcanine," explained Nancy to the confused looks the others sent
her, "Officer Richard was the head Pokeforce officer her when Joshua was little.
Apparently Pyros found the firestone by accident one day, and poof! A cute
little puppy became a huge direwolf! Ah well, it apparently kept the rowdier
townsfolk in order just by being there."

"Ya'all ready?" inquired Joshua as the second wave drew nearer, causing the
group to form a line once more and nod in agreement before spinning their swords
in unison, and standing ready to meet the onslaught...

***

Misty soon found herself running through a field of mostly shattered bones and
still moving body part parts as she dashed towards Miranda. "Oooh I hate this!"
she muttered through gritted teeth, holding her head up as she tried not to look
down and hopped over the angrily rocking body of a limbless alakazam, "But I'm
gonna hate this even more! Miri!"

Miranda swung her sword one final time, and put down what she was certain was
Joy's great, great, great grandmother's blissy. "Hey," Miranda laughed, panting
as spoke and wiped her forehead with her sleeve, "This was easier than we
thought. I guess all those horror movies were wrong after all."

Behind her Joshua nodded grimly. "Yeah," he said in a tone that almost sounded
disappointed, "but it's gonna be a heck of a mess ta clean up if we ever get 'em
to stop squirmin' around like that."

"Thanks," said Misty sarcastically with a shudder, "I really needed to hear
that. Anyway, I just saw Frank. He said there's someone in the Tower. He said
Stryphe's making the ghosts behave like this!"

"That'd make sense," Joshua replied thoughtfully before shrugging and helping
his wife clean the zombie bits from her sword.

"I know," Miranda muttered glumly, looking towards the Tower again and shaking
her head, "Someone really needs to get in there and make sure Stryphe doesn't
actually escape his ball."

Misty caught her breath and stared at Miranda with a sudden panic. "He- He can
do this while still being INSIDE his pokeball?!" she exclaimed, "Are- Are you
sure?!"

Miranda nodded before glancing at Joshua meaningfully. "If he was actually out
of his ball," she explained in a tone that barely hid her dread, "We'd all be
dead right now."

Misty swallowed hard and grabbed Miranda's arm. "Look, someone needs to get in
there and stop them, but the doors have been sealed."

"There's always the roof," offered Joshua with a shrug.

"Anyone got a flier that can carry humans?" Misty inquired, finding herself
surprisingly calm and half wondering when the panic would start.

"I have Hedwig," replied Nancy hesitantly, "but noctowls aren't large enough to
carry anything as large as a person."

"Wait!" said Miranda, glancing around, "Where's Zack? He has Pesto!"

"Over here!" called the familiar voice as Zack and Anna jogged over, dodging
several still clasping claws and snapping jaws, "What's up?"

"We need two things," explained Miranda, looking towards the battle at the foot
of the Tower and smiling grimly as she saw the shapes of two gyarados's sending
jets of searing flame into the air, accompanied by bolts of lightning and
torrents of water, "Firstly, we need Pesto to fly someone to the top of the
Tower. And secondly, we need a volunteer."

"I'll go," said Joshua, immediately, and without hesitation, causing his wife to
gasp and clutch his arm.

"There's absolutely NO way your going in there!" she chastised, a look of deep
worry crossing her aged face, "I've already lost too much of you as it is!"

"But-" the eldest courier began.

"No, she's right," interrupted Miranda, meeting Joshua's suddenly annoyed gaze
without fear, "I think I'd stand a better chance in there."

"Not without me you're not!" said Misty sternly, firmly clasping Miranda's hand
as the others looked on in surprise.

"Misty, no," her lover responded in a worried tone, "I- I'm related to Laurna.
If there's any ghosts guarding the Tower, I might be able to convince them to
let me through."

"She has a point," muttered Joshua begrudgingly, his tone softening as he gave
his former apprentice a slow, approving nod, "And judging by the crowd outside
the Tower, I'd have to say there can't be too many ghosts left inside anyway."

"Think so?" inquired Miranda.

"I'd be counting on it," the old courier replied, "Otherwise you could still be
in trouble. Related to Laurna or not, Stryphe's pulling the strings in there,
and he's got a couple a hundred years of bitterness to work through. So just...
Just be careful, okay kid?"

"We will!" assured Misty grinning at Miranda to halt any arguments before they
could begin.

"Don't I get a vote?" inquired Zack, grinning even as he cringed against he
resounding "NO!" he received from the group, "Oh, alright, I'll see if I can
talk to Pesto..."

With a moment's hesitation, the courier pulled a pokeball off his belt and
placed it carefully on the ground before him. "Pesto, you're up!" he called,
taking a step back as the ball activated and a bird that stood nearly six feet
at the shoulder materialized before him.

"I'd forgotten how big these things get," commented Misty, walking forward with
an outstretched hand.

"Wait!" exclaimed Zack as the enormous avian turned towards her with an angry
glint in his eye, "He'll bite your hand off if you're not careful!"

The pidgeot turned towards his trainer and raised an eyebrow, the long, multi-
coloured plumage that sprouted from his head raising dangerously as he squawked
out a disapprovingly suspicious remark.

"What?" demanded Zack, turning toward the bird with a stern expression, "No, I'm
not saying you're a vicious predator. I'm just saying that you can't just walk
up to a strange pokemon and not expect to get attacked. That's all."

Pesto nodded indignantly, and for a moment seemed satisfied, but as he opened
his pointed beak, Zack interrupted him. "No!" his trainer exclaimed in an
aggravated tone, "I'm NOT calling you strange and you know it! I'm just saying
that you two don't know each other 'tis all!"

The avian nodded in agreement and turned to face his two potential passengers as
Zack threw his arms into the air muttering. "See what I have to put up with?!"
the psychic courier demanded of the universe as a whole.

"So is he willing or not?" Miranda inquired with an amused smile as Pesto raised
his beak and gave a smug look.

"Yeah, it's okay," muttered Zack, shaking his head in dismay.

"Thanks," said Miranda, walking over to the enormous bird and running her
fingers down his dark brown feathered back, "Because you know, this is such a
dangerous mission, and only the bravest, most noble of birds could ever help us
with it."

Zack quickly bit his lip, trying not to laugh at Miranda's veiled sarcasm as
Pesto straightened himself and tried to look noble. "But there is just one more
thing," the courier continued, her tone sounding almost helpless as she rested
her head against the pidgeot's wing, looking up at him imploringly, "a task so
fraught with danger that only the most experienced of flier's could ever hope
assist us in it."

Pesto glanced down at Miranda and gave a short laugh as though danger were of no
concern before holding his head high again and squawking loudly.

Miranda smiled at the reaction as the avian held out his wing to help her and
Misty onto his back. "Thank you," said Miranda politely, pointing past Pesto to
where the diminishing swarm of ghosts were continuing to launch themselves
against the other couriers and their pokemon, "Now I just need you to fly low so
we can pick up our poke's, and then you can just drop us off on top of the Tower
okay?"

Pesto gave a snort, as though the task were far too easy and Miranda pulled
Misty onto his back in front of her before the pidgeot began running forwards,
his wings unfurled and held out to their full five meter span as he slowly
lifted off.

"Hold on!" Miranda cried, recognizing the subtle movement in the bird's muscles
as his special adrenal gland kicked in to give him the extra bit of speed he
required, "I've seem him do this before!"

"Do what-?!" Misty inquired loudly against the onrush of air before her words
were stolen from her by the wind, and the fact that they were both traveling at
speeds humans could only reach via machines caught up to her.

A moment later, and any explanation Miranda could have given would have been
insufficient. A foot away from where he would have crashed into the backs of
several couriers, the pidgeot changed direction without warning. As his
passengers clinging tightly to his plumage, their stomachs contracting with the
mixture of exhilaration and terror. Pesto changed direction with a simple shift
of his wings. Without worrying about the blast of wind that knocked the land
bound humans to the ground, he shot straight up into the night sky, causing
Misty to fall back against Miranda, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth the
entire time.

"Should have warned you!" the courier called out as the bird leveled off and
circled the Tower once before spotting the familiar forms of Miranda's pokemon.

"I-It's fun, but I'm not sure I wanna do this again!" confessed Misty, thankful
for the comforting presence of Miranda's arms around her waist.

"Down there, as well!" Miranda said Miranda, tapping Pesto politely to get his
attention, "The two star-shapes over by the small gyarados are with us too!"

Pesto nodded, sweeping his wings back and decelerating at a rapid rate before
descending in a tight, circle.

"Small?!" Misty demanded, looking around to find Leviathan and suddenly feeling
her stomach contract at the sight of how far down the ground was.

"I meant compared to Kraken!" Miranda laughed, pointing to the second looming
serpent that was even now orienting on them with an angry snarl.

"Oh. I see," Misty replied, her too quiet to be heard tone sounding awed
nonetheless as she got her first good look at Angela's gyarados.

Kraken was indeed larger than Leviathan, and considerably older. His head alone
was three times the size of the younger sea serpent's, and his maw, filled with
a double row of yellowing, three-foot-long blades that passed for teeth was
large enough to bite Pesto cleanly in half and come looking for more. His age,
however, showed in the faded blue of his scales, many of which were frayed or
missing, as well as the long since healed over missing eye with the jagged scar
to show that it had been gouged out by something even larger.

"What is it?" Miranda inquired, hearing Misty suddenly burst out laughing.

"He- He reminds me of Joshua!" Misty laughed, causing Miranda to smile as Pesto
let out a defiant squawk that made Kraken nod and turn away with a low rumbling
sound that shook the air around him.

"You have a point!" Miranda agreed as Pesto glided forward, his taloned feet
held against him to avoid hitting the ground as he flew in a wide arc around the
battlefield.

"There they are!" Misty called out, awkwardly pulling out two poke balls.

"Just grab Shadow and Undine," Miranda cautioned, already holding out her own
two as she spotted Umi, still with Nezumi hanging onto the top of her head, "I
don't think Leviathan fit in there!"

"Way ahead of ya, love!" assured Misty as they both aimed at their pokemon and
in unison yelled out, "Return!"

The four crimson beams of light startled a few people who turned in time to see
the enormous avian as it swooped around them, tilting slightly to one side to
give his passengers an easier time of it.

"Okay, Pesto!" called Miranda as their pokemon dematerialized and she hit the
hidden switches to shrink her colour coded pokeballs back to storage mode, "Take
us up!"

But as the pidgeot leveled off again and began his spiraling ascent, a loud,
pleading roar shook the air around them and caused several people to scream.

The two riders looked in the direction on instinct, and Miranda had to keep from
smiling as Leviathan slithered forward as fast as he could, a deeply saddened
look upon his face as the courier's in his path scattered to keep from being
crushed beneath the gyarados.

"It's okay!" Misty called back as Leviathan let out another pitiful pleading
sound, and huge teardrops formed in his eyes, "We're coming back! Just help
guard the humans while I'm gone! They need you!"

Leviathan came to a halt as Pesto flew around the Tower, and twisted himself
around to watch for the pidgeot's return, all the while his lower lip quivered
as he waited impatiently for Misty to come back. Then, out of the corner of his
eye, Leviathan spotted a trio of haunters floating towards him, pointing and
laughing at his sadness.

Without hesitation, the gyarados's sad expression turned to a snarl as he
glanced sideways at the ghosts, his lips peeling back from his razor edged teeth
as smoke rose lazily from his nostrils.

"That's my Leviathan!" laughed Misty as they came back around the Tower in time
to see her pokemon belch forth a searing wall of flame that threw the three
ghosts back against the wall of the Tower where they shattered their way through
a window.

"Oh, I'm sure Umi'll give him a run for his money when she grows up!" teased
Miranda, waving to the serpent as Pesto's ascent brought them up over the roof
of the Tower.

"When'll that be?" inquired Misty, a feeling of dread creeping in around the
adrenaline rush she felt as she looked down at a dilapidated gazebo, surrounded
by the remnants of a rooftop garden.

"Oh, in about twenty or thirty years," Miranda replied with a shrug as Pesto
sought out a landing spot beyond the garden and past an expansive collection of
scientific meters and chimneys.

"That long, eh?" said Misty rhetorically, steeling herself against what was to
come.

"They live about as long as we do," Miranda added as Pesto's back winging sent
up a cloud of dust and bone fragments as the pidgeot landed, "Sometimes longer."

"I hope we live that long," Misty muttered quietly as the pidgeot extended a
wing to help them down.

"Don't worry, we will," assured Miranda, giving Misty a quick hug before sliding
back to allow her to hop off Pesto.

"Promise?" her lover inquired with a weak smile.

"You know, you can always go back," Miranda offered, swinging her leg over
before siding down Pesto's wing.

"Not a chance," Misty replied without hesitation, flinging her arms about
Miranda before lowering her voice, "Besides, there's no way I'm letting you die
without me."

Miranda smiled reassuringly, kissing Misty playfully upon the nose. "Hey, I
don't know about you," she said in a quiet tone and a sad smile, "But I plan on
living forever."

"Not without me, you're not," Misty chuckled, reluctantly letting Miranda slip
free of her embrace so she could address Pesto.

"Well, thanks for all you've done, kind sir," said Miranda with a facetious
glance back at her beloved as the pidgeot stood a little straighter and adjusted
his feathers, "Be sure to tell Zack that I said you were a big help."

The avian nodded twice, extending his huge wings before giving a farewell squawk
and running to the edge of the roof and diving off.

"He show's off more than Zack does," the courier chuckled as a few of Pesto's
enormously long feathers floated down after him, "He's handy to have around, but
his ego's twice as big, and four times as fragile."

"I noticed," Misty replied, holding herself and shivering against the sudden
chill breeze.

"It's not to late to back down," Miranda offered, her arms encompassing her
beloved.

Misty shook her head, though her eyes mirrored her uncertainty. "Is that the way
in?" she asked, pointing at the large wooden hatch Pesto had been standing over.

"Only one way to find out," replied Miranda, her arm about Misty as they walked
over to it before stooping down and taking hold of the pull ring in both hands.

Miranda gritted her teeth as she leaned back, putting her weight into it as the
trap door made an awful creaking sound and wood began to splinter as the more
rotten parts gave way around the nails someone had once used to seal it shut.

"Well, at least we know whoever's mucking with Stryphe didn't come in this way,"
the courier commented as the door came free and she stumbled backwards, still
clutching the large metal ring.

Misty only nodded as she stepped cautiously stepped closer to the few centuries'
worth of dust that had been sent into the air and peered down into the black
void. "We're gonna need a light source," she said almost to herself as she
reached for Shadow's pokeball and activated it.

"Look out!" Miranda exclaimed, pulling Misty out of the way just as a jet of
water splashed past her and Shadow gave an apologetic sound.

"It's okay," Misty laughed, walking back towards the staryu once the
hydrotechnics had ceased, "It's my own fault for pulling him from battle like
that."

Shadow's arms drooped slightly, even as Misty's knelt before him, her fingers
carefully caressing the hard red sphere at his center with the same affection
Miranda used when scratching Umi's eye ridges. "I think most of the ghosts are
preoccupied for now," she told him, shuddering as she hoped it was true, "so we
need you come with us into the Tower itself. We need you to illuminate the area
for us so we don't get lost. That is... Assuming you're willing?"

Shadow's arms immediately stood out straighter as he levitated several inches
off the ground before he gave a confirming reply and caused the core of his
being to glow with a brilliant crimson light.

"It'll be a bit eerie," said Misty apologetically, glancing over her shoulder at
Miranda, "But it's better than wandering around in the dark."

"I agree," Miranda replied, holding out her hand and feeling thankful when
Misty's finger's touched her own, "I just hope you're right about the ghosts."

"Scared?" Misty inquired, unable to keep the small smile from her lips as the
staryu floated past them and tilted downwards as he descended the flight of
wooden steps to the floor of the Tower's fifth level.

"A little," admitted Miranda, stepping carefully after Shadow and grimacing as
the rickety wooden stairs strained under her weight.

"Good," Misty muttered with a nervous laugh, "I'd hate to be the only one."

"Just try not to show it," the courier cautioned before letting out a curse as
the third step gave way beneath her foot, and she went sailing forward, her hand
prying loose from Misty's as she careened into Shadow.

"Miranda!" Misty screamed as the two tumbled down the stairs, raising dust and
splinters as the sound echoed ominously through the darkened hallway.

"I'm- I'm okay!" Miranda called back in a harsh whisper as she spit out a few
splinters and Shadow shook himself off, "The stairs aren't, though."

"I see," her lover replied, staring down into the gloom at the now smashed and
broken staircase.

"Just jump down," the courier urged, standing up and holding out her arms, "I'll
catch you."

"You're sure?"

Miranda couldn't help smile as Misty's voice went up an octave, the sound of it
sparking Miranda's more protective instincts and pushing away her fear. "It's
that or I'll break your fall," she answered sincerely, her smile only half
reassuring.

"Okay," came Misty's reply as disappeared for a second before her denim clad
legs swung down through the hole in the ceiling as she slid down until she was
hanging by her arms.

"You okay?" Miranda inquired as her arms went about Misty, holding her patiently
until she let go.

"Mostly," the trainer muttered, glancing around nervously as Miranda set her
down and curling her nose at the thick sent of mildew that hung heavily in the
stale air.

"I think this where they slept," Miranda commented, glancing around in the dim
red light.

Misty nodded, shivering despite the comfort of her lover's arms as she survived
the long hallway that bisected the Tower. On either side of her were doors, two
of which were a set of dark wooden double doors that someone had carelessly left
ajar. The others were all securely closed, and in Shadow's luminescence, she
could almost make out the pattern in the faded, peeling wallpaper.

"I think those are my Aunt's," she heard Miranda say softly before glancing down
at the inch-thick layer of dust on the floor. Sure enough, it had been disturbed
by a trail of footprints that lead from the open doorway to farther down the
hall and back again.

"Or maybe Daniel's great-great grandfather's," Misty offered, motioning for
Shadow to move forward as she took Miranda's hand and stepped cautiously along
thinly carpeted hall.

"He found it on the first level," Miranda commented, trying to keep her voice
light as the floor creaked ominously beneath her feet, her right hand clutching
the hilt of her bokken as her left reached back to take Misty's, "He probably
wouldn't have gotten this far."

Misty merely nodded as they approached the open doorway as a sense of primal
dread crept down her spine. 'Best not to look,' she told herself as Shadow's
light illuminated a portion of the room, calling out to her curiosity.

With determination, she gripped Miranda's hand a little tighter and glanced over
at the single closed door across the hall. For a second Misty tried to
concentrate on the door's ornate looking ivory door handle, but as she passed
the yawning portal to her left, the temptation became too great.

Misty turned her head as quickly as she could, glaring defiantly and fully
expecting some horror to come leaping out of the darkness at her. But all she
found were the vague shapes of an enormous canopy bed and the outline of a
dresser. Near the open window, with its wind billowing curtains, she also saw
that the sliding doors of the walk-in closet were open, and many of the garments
it held had been haphazardly strewn about the floor.

"You think Aunt Laurna did that?" Misty inquired half-rhetorically as relief
spread through her and she pried her eyes away from the room she was certain was
trying to scare her.

"Well, she said she got that dress of hers here," Miranda replied, squinting
through the darkness, "Although I think someone's been here besides her. I- I
mean recently."

Misty moved ahead a little, pressing herself against the reassuring presence of
Miranda's back and looking where the courier was currently pointing. Sure
enough, the third door on the right appeared to have been blown off its hinges.
There were scorch marks along the wall as well, tracing uneven patterns along
the charred wallpaper.

"What was in there?" Misty inquired quietly, almost dreading to ask.

"Kids room, I think," Miranda replied, giving Misty's hand a gentle squeeze
before moving forward again and nudging Shadow to continue, "apparently Spengler
was really good to them. Devoted an entire floor to their entertainment. I think
it's the below us, actually."

Miranda turned her head to look through the open doorway. "Turn right for a
moment please, would you, Shadow?"

The staryu complied without question, and Misty felt a tinge of jealousy that
she quickly dispelled. 'Good,' she told herself as Shadow's crimson glow
illuminated the room, 'They trust her as well. It's nice to see my instincts
were right for once!'

Beyond the threshold was a large room with several comfortable looking beds and
dressers, accompanied by the remnants of children's toys and few other odd
things the ghosts must have moved into the room as well. But it was what had
been left there recently that made Miranda stop dead and gasp.

Upon the floor as well as one of the beds, were a dozen or so small, round
objects. Even in the limited colour spectrum offered by Shadow's glowing center,
it was easy to make out the fact that the top and bottom halves were of
different colours. And as Miranda ventured cautiously into the room, she was
certain that they black and gray.

"The missing ghost-balls," she whispered almost to herself as she stooped to
pick one up, "It's been used. This one 'missed,' though."

Misty gulped loudly as she entered the room, noticing that its cheery wallpaper
that depicted pokemon taking balloon rides had been scorched in several places
as well.

"They must be pretty good to capture this many ghosts," she commented, picking
up one of the balls as Miranda's hand slipped free to pull something from her
pocket.

"Careful!" the courier cautioned as she popped open the spent ball and carefully
made some internal adjustments with a small Phillips screwdriver, "I don't know
how many of those actually contain ghosts."

"This one does," Misty replied with a shiver, tossing the ball onto one of the
beds and moving closer to Miranda. "You know," she said, glancing out the window
at the darkness outside, "This place is really quiet."

Miranda nodded, her attention mostly focused upon the adjustments she was making
to the ball. "Yeah, I guess all the ghosts are busy after all. Or captured."

"I'd kinda like to know what they used against them," Misty replied, half
tempted to walk over and touch the long twisting burn marks along one wall that
crossed the still smoldering remains of one of the dressers.

Miranda glanced up as she clicked the ball shut and put it into storage mode.
"Hold on, I'll tell you," she said as Misty opened her mouth to protest but
thought better of it.

The courier walked closer to the wall, careful not to step on any of the ghost-
balls strewn haphazardly across the wooden floorboards. "Off hand," she said,
giving the burn an appraising sniff, "I'd say it was a focused particle beam
weapon."

"A wha-?" Misty began as Miranda turned and walked back towards her.

"My mom did some experiments with them when I was a kid," the courier explained,
"I guess that's what you get when both your parents are inventors of sorts."

"Can a focused particle beam hurt a ghost?" Misty inquired, already knowing the
answer judging by the ghost-balls upon the floor, but unable to stop herself
from asking.

Miranda nodded as she took Misty in her arms. "Yeah, but they're a pain to lug
around. You'd be better off with a pokemon by your side. Or a bokken smeared in
ectoplasm. Either way," the courier replied with a shrug.

"Either way, it looks like someone else thought of the idea as well," commented
Misty.

"It's too bad we don't know which one's the Guardian," the courier added, "As
is, though, I don't think we'd have time to reset the imprint codes on all these
ghost-balls."

"Not to mention that they all seem to be listening to Stryphe anyway," her lover
shuddered, "Now come on, we don't have much time."

Miranda nodded, taking Misty by the hand as they followed Shadow from the room
to where a spiraling metal staircase went down to the next level of the Tower.
It was then that the other footprints became more visible. Laurna's were the
oldest, half filled with dust, but there were three others as well, one smaller,
one larger, and one who's four toed feet were much too large to large for shoes,
and too large to be human.

"I don't need my 'Dex to recognize that print," commented Miranda, her eyes
narrowing, "Come one. Now I KNOW we don't have much time!"

Misty glanced at the prints as she took the stairs, carefully hanging onto the
rusting guardrail as she went. "You know," she commented rather glumly, "I'm
getting rather sick of reoccurring villains."

Miranda's smile was only half amused as she leapt off the last step and held out
her hand to accept Misty's before surviving the vast room they had just entered.
"The play room," she said simply, reaching out to take hold of Shadow's top arm
as they navigated a winding path through the varying assortment of objects
strewn across the floor.

"They must have done some babysitting as well-" Misty said half rhetorically
before catching her breath as her foot kicked a pokeball, sending it into a
bouncing and skittering across the dusty floor.

For a quiet moment, the two watched the small object skitter across the floor
before disappearing within the shadows between the long tall windows that
encircled the room before its sound was muffled as it rolled under a couch. The
two then waited, expecting the ball to snap open at any moment and have an angry
ghost on their hands. But by the time they both remembered to breath, the ball
remained dormant and silent.

"Must have been a 'miss'," Misty said, gulping down her nervousness as they
proceeded more carefully, stepping around a low table baring a dusty tea set.
"You know," she added, trying to keep the silence from looming in around them,
"I haven't really seen any cobwebs in here. Not that I'm complaining or
anything..."

Miranda shook her head. "You won't, dear," she said simply, refusing to
elaborate.

Misty nodded. She didn't need Miranda to say it, but she knew what was on the
courier's mind. Nothing lived in the Tower. If something or someone entered
wasn't a ghost, it soon became one.

Misty gave a shiver and continued following the winding path through the room,
carefully avoiding the unblinking gaze of several dozen stuffed animals and
porcelain dolls that stared out at them as the moonlight from outside reflected
off their hard glass eyes. As the small group moved past them, though, Shadow's
gleaming light reviled that many of them had been blown to bits my the particle
beam weapon they'd seen evidence of upstairs. Tiny heads and limbs of thoroughly
dismembered dolls lay charred amongst the previously detonated remains of the
plushy pokemon the ghosts had probably telekinesed into attacking the previous
intruders.

Beyond them, though, she could make out the dark shape of a wooden gate,
obviously designed to keep the smaller children from falling down the stairs. It
had been left ajar and was hanging off one of its rusting hinges with a large
handprint in the dust as though someone had impatiently all but thrown it out of
the way.

"They certainly were in a hurry," Misty commented as Miranda pushed the gate
back carefully and let Shadow go ahead of her.

The courier nodded sadly. "I almost feel bad for the children who lived here
once," she replied distantly, "Sure, they all grew up and have all passed on
long ago, but... These were things they loved, and now someone's come barging in
here tearing up the place, and tromping all over their dreams and memories. You
know, I think that might be part of the reason that the ghosts are so..." and
Miranda smirked as she used the word "possessive of this place. They're guarding
the memories of those who lived here before them."

The black rusting metal of the winding staircase thankfully wound down two
levels, past the guest rooms and into the main living area. It consisted of a
long hall that bisected the Tower as with the top level, but the long hardwood
floor was strewn with far more ghost-balls, and the dust still hadn't completely
settled.

"We're getting close," said Miranda nervously, choking a bit on the dust.

"I hate to ask this," Misty asked as they wandered past the open doors to a huge
study whose walls were entire lined with thick, leather bound volumes, "But what
exactly IS our plan here?"

Miranda sighed heavily, shaking her head in dismay as they passed the dining
hall with its enormously long sturdy wooden table that could have easily sat
fifty. "I don't exactly have one," she explained thoughtfully, "all I know is,
is we have to get down the basement before they set you-know-who free."

"Why haven't they already-!?" pondered Misty suddenly crying out as a high-
pitched wail filled the air and Miranda leapt back into her, causing them both
to topple to the floor in a heap.

"S-sorry!" the courier muttered, quickly rolling off and staring at the doll
she'd stepped on in time to see its head swivel around to stare up at the
curiously on looking staryu.

"I-it's okay," assured Misty, feeling winded as she shook all over, trying to
discern the source of the quiet cracking sound she heard, "Shadow?"

As she watched, the staryu began backing up slowly. To Miranda it seemed as
though he were simply gliding backwards in his usual method of movement, but
Misty could see the fear in him. She could tell that his sightless gaze was
focused on the screaming doll Miranda had stepped on. But what she couldn't see
was what was causing her staryu to suddenly let out a painful screeching sound
and collapse to the floor shuddering, his crystalline center pulsing red and
causing an eerie strobe-light effect.

"It's an illusion!" Miranda called out as Misty exclaimed and ran to the fallen
Shadow, "He knows we're here!"

Misty turned to her beloved, her expression stricken as Miranda pulled a second
gel pack from her coat pocket and tore it open with her teeth. "D-don't worry, I
have a plan!" the woman said, trying to sound reassuring, even as her hands
quivered and she found it difficult to open the package sufficiently to get at
the ectoplasm inside.

"What are you doing?!" Misty asked, unable to keep the panic from her voice as
the air turned cold, and the faintly whispered chorus of a building crescendo
that she heard was immediately followed by the vaguely humanoid shadows that
began to grow from the dark corners of the hall.

"Use this!" was all Miranda could think to say as she finally simply tore the
package open with her teeth, cursing as the pale, translucent green goo slopped
onto her jeans.

"For what?!" Misty demanded, tears forming in her eyes as she dragged the
immobilized Shadow closer to Miranda.

"This," Miranda suddenly said calmly, and as Misty glanced over at her, she saw
the courier dabbing her retinas with small globs of ectoplasm, "And put some in
your ears as well."

"Are you-?!" Misty began before smiling nervously and taking two fingerfuls of
the ectoplasm. "No," she said with an apologetic, but nervous smile, "I guess
your not crazy, are you?"

Miranda smiled. "We should have done this sooner," she said quietly, putting her
hands on Misty's shoulders to shield her from the creatures that now swarmed
around them, "Don't worry. If you block your senses with this, the illusions
can't effect you."

"I wish you would have mentioned that before I went to the Gym," Misty teased
nervously as she dabbed her left eye and had to blink a few times to get over
the sensation of the cold goo upon it.

"That wouldn't have been fair, though," Miranda explained softly, knowing all to
well that even as Misty dabbed her right eye, she could still hear the
illusionary creatures all around her, scraping their foot long curved claws
along the walls, whispering in her ears things that no mortal mind should ever
hear.

"So, how long does this last for?" Misty inquired, plugging her ears without
hesitation.

"An hour or two at best," Miranda replied with a shrug, "It depends on the
person, though. With you, I'd say about an hour and fifteen."

"Why's that?" Misty inquired, now sitting upon her knees pulling the unconscious
shadow into her lap as his red light began to fade.

"You're so full of life," smiled Miranda as the only light source became the
meager light from the dining room windows, "'The stuff of death cannot exist for
long in the halls of life'. Or so Professor Spengler wrote."

Misty nodded as a loud -click!- seemed to echo through the hall and the light of
a second pokemon's materialization seemed blinding in the near total darkness.
"He's alright," Miranda could hear her lover whisper quietly as a new source of
illumination filled the room, and she could clearly see the ten pointed shape of
Umberlee as she stood over Shadow, "he just got really scared. We'll take him to
see Joy once we're done here."

The red beam of Shadow's ball was visible as a slightly darker red against the
light that Miranda now saw was slightly pinkish as it emanated from the
multifaceted gem at the starmie's center. "Um, aren't you worried about the
illusions affecting her as well?" she inquired, tilting her head to one side in
curiosity as Misty smiled quietly explained the situation to Umberlee.

"No, not at all," her lover giggled, with a wry grin, "She's immune!"

"Really?" pondered Miranda, gaining a new found respect for the peculiar sea
creature, "That's handy. Too bad these two aren't."

With a sad smile the courier brought out Nezumi and Umi's pokeballs. "This is
going to be a bit tricky if those illusions are still around," she said, feeling
a little guilty as she aimed the first pokeball at her lap, "Nezumi, come
forth."

The ball snapped open and even before Nezumi had fully materialized, he'd began
struggling. "Shh, it's okay," Miranda soothed, keeping her voice low as she used
her most maternal tone and held the suddenly terrified rattata close to herself,
"Just close your eyes dearest, and hold on a second."

Misty gave Miranda a reassuring look as she scooped up some of the ectoplasm
that had fallen on her leg and carefully smeared it over Nezumi's ears. "Shh,"
the courier whispered, "There's no persians. It's all right; no one's trying to
eat you. Now just open your eyes for a second, this might feel a bit funny."

Nezumi gritted his teeth and wrenched his wide, frightened eyes open long enough
for Miranda to dab them with the ectoplasm. "He'll be okay," said Miranda, more
to herself than to Misty as she sat cross-legged on the floor, gently petting
Nezumi's small quivering back until he calmed down, "I hate to bring them into
this, but we're going to need backup."

"I know, dear," Misty replied moving to sit beside her before putting her arm
about the courier's shoulder, "It's alright. You'd needed justify yourself to
me."

Miranda sighed contentedly as her lover's head touched her shoulder and Nezumi
stopped shaking before glancing up at her. His tone was nervous as he spoke to
her, but the courier's reassuring smile calmed his nerves.

"We're in the Lavender Tower, dearest," Miranda said carefully, feeling guilty
as she saw the expression upon Nezumi's face change from calm to suddenly
panicked once, "Shh, no it's okay. All the ghosts are still outside, or are...
'Out of the way.' We only have to worry about the trio who are trying to free
Stryphe. Um, the really BAD ghost who's imprisoned here."

"Nez?" the rattata inquired, his tone calmer but sounding suspicious and Miranda
had to smile.

"You're very astute for a rodent, you know that?" she laughed, scratching Nezumi
between the ears as he gave a dismissive wave of his forepaw.

"What'd he say?" Misty asked, reaching out to pet Nezumi.

"He asked if this was Kathy's doing," Miranda replied coolly, but the sudden
tension in her body spoke of the effect simply speaking her mortal enemy's name
had upon her.

"Those footprints certainly did look like machoke tracks," Misty agreed warily,
shaking her head at the thought of anyone being stupid enough to try and free a
monster like Stryphe, "And her and that guy are both scientists, right? I
suppose your mom's not the only person who's thought of particle beam weapons."

Miranda nodded. "And contrary to popular belief," she added with a grim smile at
the thought, "with the Rocket's backing her, Kathy's resources are plenty more
than my mom's. More than enough to make at least one portable weapon."

Nezumi shook his head in dismay. 'Hehehe,' he laughed in pokespeak, and Misty
was certain she heard him say in an amused, sarcastic tone, 'Ah, we're all gonna
die!'

Miranda had a similar problem with Umi. When the nearly two meter long serpent
appeared, her disorientation gave way to anger and fear. As her eyes swirled
with a blazing red colour as Miranda did her best to calm the dragon, assuring
her that there were no ice monsters trying to kill them as Misty dabbed Umi's
eyes before looking puzzled about where the dratini's ears were.

"And here I thought you were a water-type expert," Miranda teased with a loving
smile as she quickly smeared more goo over Umi's temples at the base of the
small fins that grew from the sides of the dragon's head.

"Hey," the trainer laughed as Umi settled down, here eyes swirling pink with
embarrassment, "not even Professor Myria knows that much about dratini!"

"I'll have to send her a memo," chuckled Miranda, smiling as she patted Umi on
the head as the baby dragon looked into her eyes for reassurance and Miranda
explained the situation.

Umi took the news well, going into her more analytical frame of mind even as she
coiled once around Miranda's waist before draping the rest of herself about
Miranda's shoulders protectively.

"She's getting a big for that, don't you think?" teased Misty, feeling a little
envious as Nezumi too Miranda's other shoulder and tried to appear fearless in
the dragon's presence.

"Yeah, a bit," Miranda laughed, scratching Umi under the chin affectionately as
they headed for the double set of stairs at the far end of the hall, mindful of
the omnipresent ghost-balls, "I'm just worried she's going to want to still want
to do this when she evolves."

"She can carry you then!" Misty chuckled, following Umberlee down the gentle
curve of the right-hand staircase with its thin red carpet and thick wooden
banister, worn down by the many children who'd slid down it.

"Well, she's won't get THAT big," said Miranda with a smirk, "She'll still be
smaller than Leviathan as a dragonair. Hey, I think I can hear him!"

As the group came down the quietly creaking staircase to the main hall, the
noise from outside became more audible. They could almost hear Joshua yelling
something over the sound of Leviathan's bellow, just before something heavy
crashed into the enormous double wooden doors.

"Come on," said Miranda, jumping off the last few steps and running across the
stone floor to the doors, "We can use the help!"

"Good idea!" Misty agreed, giving chase, but as the light of Umberlee fell
across the portal, the small hope faded to nothing.

The huge oaken doors were locked using a long wooden cross-beam that took two
people to lift, which sat in brackets on either side of the doors.
Unfortunately, though, the wooden bar had been recently nailed into the door
with long metal spikes. Upon closer examination, there were indentations that
looked like fist marks around where the spikes had been hammered in.

"So much for that idea," muttered Misty, glancing around the sparsely furnished
room.

"Oh well," sighed Miranda, shaking her head as she walked back towards the
stairs, "I should have know it wouldn't be that easy."

"Where to now then?" Misty asked, running to catch up.

"There," said Miranda simply, pointing to where a secret door between the dual
staircases had been broken open with a complete disregard for other's property,
"Stryphe's Encumberie is a level below Spengler's lab."

"Oh well," Misty replied, "at least we won't have to worry about any traps he
set up."

"Good point," Miranda chuckled, taking Misty's hand again before descending
after the glowing Umberlee, "And hey, maybe we'll be lucky and the traps have
taken care of them for us."

"That'd explain why they haven't freed Stryphe yet," said Misty with a shudder
as the wooden steps came to a landing before a second flight lead into
Spengler's vast underground laboratory.

The area was similar to the rest of the Tower, with each level being slightly
larger than the one above it. The rooms here, however, were clearly labeled with
signs that read, "Store Room 1, 2 & 3," "Parahorticulture," "Parazoology,"
"Ecto-Parazoology," and "Main Laboratory." Each metal door, however, had been
either torn off its hinges or blasted open, and each room's contents had been
thoroughly trashed in some kind of haphazard search.

"There's no tracks in the dust leading out of the main lab," said Miranda once
they'd neared its door and survived the damage done to the ancient scientific
equipment.

"Aunt Laurna's not going to be happy about this I'll bet," commented Misty as
Miranda pushed the remains of the door out of their way and cringed at the
combined smell of formaldehyde and various other spilled chemicals that
permeated the laboratory.

"Neither will the Guardian," the courier added, noticing a few stray ghost-balls
in amongst the mess.

"You know, if she has a brain in her head," pondered Misty darkly, "when they
subdued the Guardian, Kathy held onto his ball."

Miranda shuddered as she noticed a second secret door leading down. "I just hope
his will is stronger than hers," she muttered, climbing over a knocked over
shelving unit that once held various small creatures suspended in formaldehyde,
"The imprint codes Aunt Laurna programmed are fairly strong and I'd hate to have
to fight him to get to Kathy."

"This just keeps getting worse, doesn't it?" Misty inquired rhetorically as
Miranda helped her over the obstacle that Umberlee simply floated over.

"Yeah, but I don't think it gets worse than what's down there," commented
Miranda motioning down the set of dark stone steps that descended into a damp,
dark void.

"So long as you're with me," came Misty's reply, her voice quavering.

Miranda turned back to her. "I love you," she said quietly, leaning forward and
kissing Misty softly, ignoring the Nezumi's sarcastic chuckle.

"I love you two, dearest," Misty replied, putting her arms around Miranda for
what she hoped wouldn't be the last time, being careful not to squish Umi, "we
will survive this, won't we?"

"We have too," Miranda said honestly, "For the sake of everyone and everything.
Stryphe's been imprisoned for centuries, "He hated human's back then, and his
bitterness has probably only been amplified by his defeat and capture. If he
get's loose, it won't just be us who don't survive. It'll be the whole world.
And there's no way that I'm letting that happen."

Misty nodded sadly as Miranda wiped away her tears and tried to smile. "Don't
worry, beloved," the courier said softly, "No matter what happens, I'll be with
you. I don't care what it takes; I'm not loosing you. Not even to death itself."

"I know," Misty's voice was quiet as she rested her forehead against Miranda's
shoulder, "I just wish we could wait a few minutes. I really don't want to rush
into this, but we don't really have a choice now do we?"

"No," Miranda admitted sadly, running her fingers through her beloved's hair as
she spoke, "Spengler's traps can only hold those three off for so long. We'd
better go."

Misty looked up into Miranda's eyes with an expression made it difficult for
courier to think, let alone speak. All she could do was kiss her beloved one
last time before turning towards the stairs where Umberlee waited for the order
to continue.

"Go," Misty said softly, causing the starmie to continue her floating descent
into the looming darkness that seemed to cut down on the amount of light she
shed.

Without further thought, the others followed her. The steps they walked down
were solid enough, but slippery and the jagged rock walls were riddled with
small alcoves, each holding small grinning skulls. Many were human, but most
were not, a fact that wasn't terribly reassuring as they stepped around three,
five-foot long blades that had sprung up out of one of the steps. A trap sprung
by those who'd come before them.

"D-did Aunt Laurna ever come down here?" Misty asked, trying to push down her
fear with the reassuring sound of Miranda's voice.

"No," the courier replied, her long dark ponytail waving as she shook her head
without looking back, "She said there was no reason to."

"Think she'll ever tell anyone what happened to her in here?"

Miranda chuckled, a sound that echoed ominously up and down the spiraling
staircase. "I doubt it," she said, "But I think my mom knows. And my father
might have, but he didn't mention anything in his diary."

"Well, I hope she had a better time than we're having," Misty shuddered,
suddenly feeling her ears pop as Umi hissed at something ahead of them.

"Shh," whispered Miranda, scratching the dragon's eye ridges, "It's just a
picture."

As they came to bottom of the stairs, the small antechamber they entered was
immediately illuminated by Umberlee's glow, revealing a set of double doors very
similar to the ones that sealed the Dragon Cave, only upon these was carved the
image of a giant gengar, surrounded by smaller ghosts and signs of warding.

"Um, trick question," Misty inquired as they approached, "What are these doors
made of?"

"Mithril. Same stuff as the doors to the dragon Cave," answered Miranda with a
shrug, "Why-? Oh, crap! That's probably why the ghosts couldn't find the stolen
balls! Mithril is the one thing a ghost can't phase through! It's used in ghost-
balls for that reason."

"Well, at least we know what to do afterwards," Misty replied with a wary sigh,
"But come one. We need to get this over with."

Miranda nodded, and followed Umberlee through the partially opened doors into a
room that was as vast as a cathedral and lit by thousands of candles that never
seemed to burn out.

Below the high vaulted ceiling, which was decorated with a huge painting
depicting the Guardian and Spengler's victory over Stryphe, was an enormous
ornate circle, carved into the stone floor and filled with finely powdered
silver. The circumference took up most of the perfectly round room, and was done
in a double row pattern that was filled with tiny carved runes of warding.

Crossing through the circle was a large "X" shape that met at the exact center
and stretched out of the main circle's circumference to where four smaller
circles sat carved into the floor as well, just outside the main one.

Within the main circle, larger runes had been carved into the floor and filled
with the same silver powder that glowed with its own phosphorescence to show
that some residual power still flowed through the now broken circle. And at the
very center, sat a five-foot high pillar upon which a truly archaic looking
black and gray pokeball rested. The ball itself resembled the modern pokeballs,
except that it was thrice as large, with several extra metal protuberances where
the modern one's had concealed buttons, and was wrapped in two intersecting
mithril bands to keep it from being pried open. These, however, were not part of
the original design.

But it was what she saw standing within the circle that bothered Miranda the
most. A short distance away from Stryphe's pokeball stood Kathy and Victor with
their machoke Tashiro. Each wore a peculiar helmet-like device that Wraith would
have recognized, except that they now had goggles that came to long sharp points
that glowed and a white light as well.

Kathy Forester grinned malevolently as the trio turned to face them, and Miranda
drew her sword without a word as her nemesis spoke. "Ah! Ms. Lilcamp!" she
cackled merrily, the hard line of her face straining against the smile, "So good
of you to come and witness my moment of triumph!"

"We'll probably have to wait a while judging by the fact that you haven't just
grabbed the ball and ran," replied Misty, trying to sound confident as Tashiro
glowered at her, his new Wraith induced facial twitch making him seem somehow
more menacing.

Kathy shrugged nonchalantly. "A minor setback, I assure you," she said casually,
"It seems that Stryphe is concerned about what I'll do when have his precious
pokeball in my possession. I can't imagine why, though."

"Because it takes five minutes to change the imprint coding on a pokeball,"
growled Miranda, spinning her bokken over her hand and wielding it
threateningly, yet not stepping into the circle.

"Two minutes, actually," chuckled Victor, the silly contraption on his head not
taking away from his better physical attributes which were only enhanced by the
tight-fitting black jumpsuit he wore while wielding the rather complex looking
rifle/metal backpack contraption he carried, "We do this for a living, after
all."

"Stealing people's pokemon?!" Misty exclaimed, rushing forward, and only being
stopped by Miranda's sudden hand upon her shoulder, "And murdering trainers who
won't just hand them over?! What kind of a monster are you people?!"

Kathy laughed quietly to herself as she walked calmly around the pillar,
examining it before tapping against the invisible wall that stood between her
and Stryphe.

"You know, you could join us in the circle," she said simply, motioning behind
her to where a small portion of the outer circle had been broken by defacing it
and removing the a bit of the silver dust, "We could all have it out right now,
Ms. Lilcamp. Wouldn't your daddy be proud to know you not only ended my life,
but also stopped my from freeing the most evil ghost in history?"

Miranda glanced at the hole for a moment, tempted by the offer. "I'd rather not
damage the circle any more than you already have," she called back, walking
along it's circumference, dragging the end of her wooden sword along the
invisible barrier and causing white sparks to shoot up every so often, "He's
powerful enough to raise zombies out of our graveyard and mind control every
ghost in Lavender Town just by the small little hole you've made already. How
much more damage do you want him to be able to do, Professor? You harm the
inside of this circle anymore and he'll probably find a way to nightshade you
into next week!"

"You lie, Courier!" sneered Kathy, not noticing the way Stryphe's ball rocked
slightly at the force of their negative emotions.

"Didn't you notice the way the ghosts are behaving tonight?" Miranda demanded as
she turned and walked the other way, "They're attacking mindlessly. They're not
even bothering with illusions or any kind of tactics, and I see that your crew
managed to beat them down fairly easily. Did you stop to think why that is?"

"Because," snarled Kathy, walking towards Miranda with an angry expression in
her small dark eyes, "My plan was perfect! We caught them off guard and hit them
with a weapon more powerful than any pokemon technique! We were strong; they
were weak. It's as simple as that."

"And those ghost-balls you stole from Professor Laurna didn't hurt either, I
suppose," glowered Misty, folding her arms across her chest defiantly.

"A useful technology," chuckled Kathy, turning to face the trainer, "One that
I'm certain Augustus Giovanni will be pleased to have added to his arsenal. Not
that it matters, though. Because once I control Stryphe, I won't need any other
ghosts. When he is within MY power, the other ghosts will obey him, and by
default, me. And the other pokemon we stole from the lab are just a bonus. You
can never get in too good with the boss, after all!"

Miranda rolled her eyes as Kathy laughed. "Look, Professor," she said
contemptuously, "either come out of the circle or we're just going to have to
stand here and wait for the others to finish with Stryphe's minions outside
before they all come bashing through the front door looking for us. You'll have
more than just us to deal with then!"

Kathy's scowl became so dark it almost made the flickering candles useless.
"Victor," she hissed, shaking with sudden rage, "It's time to field test our new
toy on human subjects!"

"Yes, ma'am!" her consort laughed, enthusiastically sprinting towards the small
opening.

"Now then, Ms. Lilcamp," Kathy growled as behind Stryphe's pokeball seemed to
react to her anger, shaking back and forth violently, "We put an end to this
once and for all! After I'm done with you, I'll have Stryphe finish off your
mother!"

Miranda cursed, running along the circumference of the circle to intercept
Victor before Misty could stop her. But just as Victor was stepping out of the
circle, long jagged cracks appeared in Stryphe's rattling pokeball, sending
beams of unpleasant red in all directions just before the ball exploded into a
thousand shards of mithril shrapnel.

"Victor!" came Kathy's pained shout as a shard hit her in the back, barely
missing her spine as she collapsed to the ground.

"Ooops!" was all the man could think of to say as a dark fog coalesced above his
partner in crime.

From within the dark shape a pair of glowing red eyes burst into being as the
whole dark mass began to grow, expanding to fill most of the available space.
"Victor! Tashiro!" Kathy choked, staring up at the apparition with a pained
expression, "Hit it! Take it down! We can still capture it!"

"You fools!" exclaimed Miranda, helpless to stop chain of events that unfolded
as Victor turned his focused particle beam rife on Stryphe and fired at the same
time as Tashiro lunged at the ghost, one had burning with flames, the other
cracking with electricity.

Stryphe merely laughed, a horrible, echoing sound that seemed to well up from
the abyss itself, leaving dark stains on the souls of all who heard it as the
sparkling beam of wavering reddish light impacted with him at the same time as
Tashiro began pounding on him like a drunken boxer.

"You are all fools," the ghost chuckled quietly in a surprisingly good
impression of the human tongue as his amorphous mass suddenly radiated with a
dark purple, unlight that filled the confines of the circle and unshined out
through the gap in it where victor was standing.

"Area affect nightshade?!" Misty exclaimed in disbelief as Miranda ran back
towards her, and Nezumi did his best to hide in the courier's hair.

"Don't worry!" explained Miranda hastily, "I have a plan!"

Misty did a double take. "You planned for this?!"

"Well, not exactly this," Miranda confessed as the blob of black ephemera began
to collapse in on itself, oozing into Stryphe's true form, "But I think we can
handle it."

"Can we?" Misty inquired, hesitantly taking a step back as Stryphe's toothy grin
became visible.

Miranda dug through her pockets for a second and pulled out the reset ghost-ball
she'd found. "Hold this," she said, tossing it to Misty before pulling out a
second small, peculiar object.

"What's that?" Misty inquired nervously, glancing at the foil wrapped object,
"Looks like a baked potato."

"It's something Professor Dave sent us," Miranda explained quickly, "I think it
might come in handy."

"How-?" Misty began only to stop as Miranda lifted a finger to silence her and
the now fully formed gengar stood floating over Kathy chuckling to himself.

"Ah," he laughed in mock sadness, motioning to the unconscious bodies of Kathy,
Victor and Tashiro, "They're all still alive. I guess I'll just have to try
again! Oh! But what's this?"

Stryphe held out his hand and from Kathy's belt, a ghost-ball flew into his
palm. "Ah! The Guardian!" the gengar commented happily, his voice rumbling and
echoing through the room, "In that case, you humans can wait!"

With that, Stryphe flew off towards the break in the circle, and ploughed into
the far wall at top speed momentarily reduced to a puddle of black, viscous goo
that splattered in all directions before quickly reforming. "Gah!" he muttered
angrily, turning and focusing on the open doors, "Too much mithril in this
rock!"

"Get down!" exclaimed Miranda, barely yanking Misty to the cold stone floor as
the gengar flew over their heads and through the open doorway, laughing
manically the entire time.

"After him!" Miranda ordered, surprised when even Umberlee gave chase.

"Now, about that plan?" inquired Misty as they got to their feet as Umi
slithered off at top speed, and Nezumi leapt from Miranda's shoulder, glowing
and expanding in size as he sailed through the air and landing in raticate form,
only to scamper off immediately, without a moment's hesitation.

"This rock," Miranda explained, running after the fleeing pokemon, "Dave said
it's an other de-evolution stone."

"Like the one that made Nezumi so much more than he is?"

"Yes," Miranda said with a nod as they sprinted up the stairs, "Only he says
he's worked the bugs out!"

Misty laughed as they both slowed only for the time it took to get around the
long blades in the stairs half way up. "So, you think we can catch him if he's
just a gastly?" she asked, glancing down for a moment at the mirconized ghost-
ball in her hand.

"Hope so!" Miranda called back, thankful as she spotted Umberlee at the top of
the stairs, waiting for them so that they wouldn't crash into the lab and hurt
themselves in the total darkness of it.

"This is crazy!" Misty replied, finding herself laughing despite the seriousness
of the situation.

"I know," Miranda confessed, thankful to be out of the dank tomb and into the
stale, acrid air of the laboratory, "Umberlee! Which way'd he go?!"

One of the starmie's ten arms fired a jet of water that streamed out the door
and Miranda smiled. "Thanks, dear," she said before leaping off the collapsed
shelving unit and running out the door in time to see Umi spit a ball of flame
down the hall that exploded against something that simply laughed and fired a
wavering beam of dark purple nightshade over her suddenly ducked head of the
young dragon.

"Since when do you listen to her?" teased Misty and Umberlee shrugged in
response before following her out of the room.

'You trust her,' came the starmie's eerie, ethereal voice in Misty's mind, 'So,
so do I!'

Misty smiled at the comment and found Miranda kneeling before Nezumi how was
holding his tail and blowing on the end of it as it smoked. "Oh, dear!" she
exclaimed skidding to a halt and panting from the exertion as Miranda pulled out
a hypo-spray.

"It's okay," said Miranda, glancing at the very guilty looking Umi, "I've
decided to carry these at all times now since I sprained my ankle."

"You sprained your ankle?" Misty inquired as Miranda hit the button and the
spray of what looked to be water splashed across Nezumi's charred tail, making
it glisten in Umberlee's light.

"Ooops!" said Miranda with a guilty look, "I forgot to mention that, didn't I?"

"Yes," scolded Misty in a mockingly annoyed tone, smiling as Miranda got to her
feet and Nezumi looked relieved.

"Anyway, we have to get Stryphe while he's still weak," the courier explained in
a more serious tone, "I can tell ya about it later. Now let's go!"

"Right," agreed Misty laughing as Nezumi ran ahead of them, but not ahead of Umi
who still looked guilty as they headed for the stairs.

Once they'd reached the main level, they found Stryphe again, and Misty paused
at the threshold, for the first time realizing just how large the gengar was.
"Um, do you have an extra hypo-spray?" she asked as the ghost turned to face
them, his toothy grin looking somehow more malevolent than usual.

Miranda nodded, handing Misty the second vile she had as she stepped forward,
spinning her bokken over her hand as Nezumi and Umi stood defiantly on either
side of the courier.

Misty wasted no time in activating Shadow's pokeball again and spraying the
unconscious staryu with the nanite treatment. "We need you," she said in an
urgent, yet gentle tone as the pokemon raised himself up and stood a little
straighter as he spotted Umberlee, "If you can handle it?"

Shadow gave an affirmative sound and floated over to Umberlee whose mind touched
Misty's again. 'We will not fail you,' she sent in a reassuring tone, even as
Stryphe gave the group an amused look, 'not now. Not ever.'

"This is what they send to oppose ME?!" he laughed, still greedily clutching the
Guardian's ghost-ball, "No matter. I will prolong your end no longer. Goodbye!"

With that, Stryphe raised his free hand and a crackling ball of black
nothingness slowly grew out of his palm as he savored the moment.

"Neptune's might!" exclaimed Misty at the same time as Miranda called out,
"Antipathy!"

Without question, both Misty's pokemon spun in place, each going as fast as they
could and moving in opposite directions as they both began spiraling streams of
water in Stryphe's direction. At the same time, Umi tossed off another small
ball of flame as Nezumi's crackling beam of pure cold hit it, turning it into a
fast flying sphere of ice that imprisoned a smaller ball of flame.

The attacks hit the now half-meter wide sphere of darkness as it left Stryphe's
hand, causing all the combined effects to explode in blinding flash of light
that was as much felt as seen. The area between the ghost and those who opposed
him, though, took the brunt of the damage, sending large chunks of the marble
floor flying off in all directions, as a cloud of dust to fill the entirety of
the room as Stryphe's echoing laughter faded just on the edge of hearing.

"You okay?" came the sound of Miranda's voice, somehow cutting through the
ringing in Misty's ears a moment later, the strange fuzzy feeling in her head
telling her that she'd been knocked unconscious for a short while by the blast.

Misty blinked several times, trying to clear her eyes as she heard the sounds of
Umi and Nezumi coughing as she felt the courier's hands upon her shoulders. "I-I
don't know," she replied honestly wishing the dust would settle as two dark
shapes hovered closer to her and she could just make out the two balls of
glowing read light at their centers, "How's everyone else?"

"They're not sure yet," Miranda replied, suddenly standing and causing Misty to
realize she'd been knocked off her feet without realizing it, "But at this point
I don't think it matters, I'm afraid. Stryphe's gone."

"Where?!" Misty demanded, leaping to her feet and immediately realizing why her
knees had buckled.

"Careful!" Miranda cautioned, catching Misty about the waist as she fell forward
with a surprised exclamation, "Here, sit down for a second."

"But what about Stryphe?" Misty asked as Miranda helped her back down and
fumbled for another hypo-spray.

"He can regenerate on his own," Miranda muttered as the dust cleared and Misty
could see that the tear in her pant leg where a sharp bit of shrapnel had grazed
her.

"He's still weak," the courier replied, the calmness in her voice an obvious
faade judging by the shaking of her hands as she carefully slid her fingers
under Misty's knee, "Okay, this is gonna hurt a bit, but we need to get them in
where they'll do the most good."

"It didn't- OW! hurt until I stood up," Misty commented as Miranda bend her leg
and grimaced a little before dousing the wound.

"Shock, I guess," said Miranda, now looking up as she straightened out the leg
and gave Misty a concerned look, "We need to give it a few seconds for the
nanites to seal it up, but even then it'll take 'em a while to repair all the
damage."

"We need to get back after that ghost, though!" Misty persisted, reaching out
and putting her arm around Shadow to pull herself up, "He has the Guardian, and
there's no telling what he's gonna do!"

"We'll take care of it," assured Miranda, taking Misty's other arm and putting
it over her shoulder, helping her beloved to her feet, "Nezumi, take the others
and head upstairs! Just keep hitting him with everything you've got until we get
there. I have a plan!"

Nezumi nodded, and without question, raced for the stairs followed by Umi and a
reluctant Shadow. Umberlee however turned to Misty and made a concerned sound.
"Go!" her trainer told her, "I'll be fine!"

'Yes,' came the starmie's ethereal voice in her mind, 'You WILL!'

"What the-?!" Misty began as her feet suddenly left the ground, seemingly in
response to the suddenly more intense glow of Umberlee's center.

"Amazing!" Miranda laughed, stepping back from Misty as she floated a foot off
the floor, "Just don't you dare drop her!"

Umberlee gave an indignant remark that Miranda couldn't understand but made her
gin nonetheless. "Alright then," the courier assured, "Let's go! Those three'll
need backup!"

As the trio reached the top of the curving staircase, the need for help became
quite evident. From somewhere down the hall, the sounds of shrieking laughter,
breaking glass, and metal on metal was mixed with the sounds of Shadow's rushing
water, Umi's exploding flames and Nezumi's curse accompanied ice beams.

"Go! They're in trouble!" ordered Misty, pointing down the hall and looking
stern as Umberlee launched an immediate protest, "No arguments! Stryphe's
probably gone invisible, and Shadow needs you for targeting!"

Umberlee stood a little straighter and looked somehow proud before sailing
silently off down the hall, leaving Misty and Miranda in sudden darkness.

"Catch me!" Misty exclaimed suddenly as she fell the short distance to the floor
and instinctively lifted her legs up in time to fall into Miranda's arms.

"And who's gonna catch me?!" the courier exclaimed as they both toppled to the
floor in time to hear a cheer from one of the rooms up ahead and the unpleasant
sound of Stryphe's voice howling with rage.

"Sorry," said Misty, looking apologetic as she carefully touched her knee,
finding the injury to now be quite painless.

"They've deadened the nerves," Miranda cautioned her before helping Misty up and
supporting her once again, "You should still stay off it for now."

Misty nodded as she hopped on her good leg while they hurried towards what
looked like the kitchen. "Not again," she muttered as three long kitchen knives
flew out of the open doorway and impaled themselves into the wall across the
way.

"He's trying to conserve power," the courier explained glancing around the
corner into the room as Nezumi spun around and knocked a flying spaghetti pot
out of the air with his tail, sending the now dented object crashing through the
kitchen window, "He's used a lot already, so he's just TK'ing things. I think we
have a chance."

"You again!" Stryphe hissed as they entered the kitchen, his form visible only
by the glow of his red eyes and the dark outline of his shape.

"Don't worry," said Miranda with a smile, holding up the ghost-ball, "this won't
take long!"

"Indeed!" chuckled Stryphe, glancing at the pokeballs on Miranda's belt, the
black and gray one in particular.

Miranda caught on almost immediately, and grabbed Wraith's pokeball, only to
have her arm forced straight out in the gengar's direction. "No," she growled
through gritted teeth as her pokemon looked on in sudden panic, "This one's
mine! You can not have him!"

"But I already do!" laughed Stryphe as Wraith's pokeball began to shake in his
trainer's hand, "ALL ghosts shall be by slaves. And soon, all humans shall be
our chattel!"

"No!" Misty shrieked, throwing both her hands around Miranda's in an attempt to
keep the ball closed, "Guys! Hit him hard! We have to take him down, NOW!"

The four pokemon responded immediately, with blasts of water, fire and ice, only
to have their opponent laugh and offhandedly motion for a pile of pots and pans
to telekinetically race across the room to block the incoming attacks.

"I grow wary of this," the gengar said with a yawn, "Wraith, come ye forth!"

With that, the haunter's pokeball shattered into dust, causing Miranda's hand to
close about nothing save for the small cloud of dust that rose between her and
Misty's fingers.

"Wraith..." said Miranda, her voice a barely audible whisper of deep sadness as
the haunter formed himself, his chuckling laughter sounding far more malevolent
than she could have ever imagined, "I forgive you."

Stryphe's toothy grin deepened as Wraith turned to face his trainer with a smile
she didn't recognize. "Now then, Wraith is it?" his new master replied in a
calm, satisfied tone, "'Take care' of these humans. I don't want them
interfering with My plan!"

With that, Stryphe sailed up through the ceiling laughing.

"After him," Miranda said simply, her tone sounding very much like her mother's
as her pokemon stared back at her in disbelief. "I said AFTER HIM!" she ordered,
her mock anger hiding her mixed emotions, "We can take care of Wraith. Just make
sure Stryphe's down for the count by the time we get there."

Nezumi nodded and paused before he reached the doorway. "Nez?" he inquired,
looking back over his shoulder as Miranda and Wraith stared silently at each
other, daring the other to make the first move.

"I know, dear," Miranda replied as Misty motioned for Umberlee and Shadow to
follow, "I love you too. Now GO!"

Nezumi nodded and chased after the two floating starfish as Miranda's hand
slowly slid her bokken out and she took half a step back. "Wraith," she said
sternly as the ghost flexed his fingers in anticipation, "You know I don't want
to do this, but there's still enough ectoplasm soaked into the wood of my sword
to do you some serious harm."

Wraith merely chuckled, his eyes suddenly glowing a combination of florange and
octarine. "Close your eyes!" Miranda exclaimed, suddenly charging blindly
forward as Wraith laughed with all the supernatural might he could muster,
sending chills of terror down both their spines as his maniacal laughter
technique caused both humans to take pause.

"Miri!" Misty exclaimed, trying to push down the fear she knew was artificial as
Miranda tripped and stumbled forward, causing one of Wraith's disembodied hands
to disappear inside her cranium.

The courier gave a shocked look as she fell the rest of the way forward, her
expression relaxing as she toppled to the floor where her unconscious expression
betrayed the slightest trace of a smile.

Misty turned on the hovering ghost, visible only by the phosphorescence of his
eyes and the slivery moonlight from the kitchen window outlining his dark shape.
"Are you insane?!" the trainer demanded, gritting her teeth and channeling her
anger to suppress the lingering fear, "That's Miranda you just- Just... What DID
you do?"

The haunter chuckled, his hand reappearing again as it clasped the hilt of
Miranda's sword and swung it around experimentally as Misty crept cautiously
forward. "That's not a toy, Wraith," Misty warned him, glancing quickly at
Miranda, thankful as she caught the quiet sound of her breathing in the now
still air, "put it down. NOW!"

Wraith glanced at Misty, the anger in her voice echoing her determination. But
as she walked forward, her sea green eyes betraying her concern for Miranda,
Wraith merely chuckled before turning, and sailing out of the kitchen and into
the dining room.

"Come back here!" Misty exclaimed, and running from the room after the ghost
without thinking.

The last thing she saw before going unconscious was the dark shape of Wraith's
three-fingered hand as she ran headlong into it just before the ghost touched
her mind and the darkness took her...

***

"Oh, now this is just great," muttered Nezumi bitterly as they came to the top
of the stairs and stared out at the black void of the playroom, "How are we
supposed to find him in this!"

"I suspect," came Shadow's calm, suspicious tone, "that it will not be as
difficult to find the ghost, as it will be to distinguish which one he is."

"Huh-?" Nezumi began a heartbeat before the room was filled with blinding
crimson and the stillness of the air was shattered, first by the simultaneous
activation sounds of nearly two-dozen pokeballs and then by the chorus of angry
voices as the captured ghosts were released, their cognitive functions being
immediately over taken by Stryphe's superior will.

"We can not take on this many by ourselves!" shuddered Umi, rearing up and
slithering behind Nezumi, her eyes blazing orange and red as she tried not to
calculate their chances.

"Do not underestimate yourself, little one," came Umberlee's slightly echoing
tone, "These spirits are still disorientated, and our adversary has already
proven that his control over so many is tenuous at best. We will have three
advantages over them."

"Th-Three?" inquired Nezumi nervously, glancing over his shoulder and raising an
eyebrow as he tried to ignore his instinct to flee.

Shadow gave what passed for a nod. "As with the ghosts outside, they will not
fight with as much fury as they could," he explained sagely, "Furthermore, they
are still weak from being captured so a single strike may be enough. And also,
ghosts are vulnerable to their own techniques."

"But so is Nezumi!" Umi exclaimed pleadingly, turning to the staryu as the
length of her body shook and her phosphorescent eyes brimmed with sudden tears,
"And so is Miranda! We must go back and help her!"

"As am I," said Umberlee in a calm, determined tone, "And as for our humans,
they will be safe. One ghost is not an army."

"Yeah, but that is!" muttered Nezumi as several of the disoriented spirits began
orienting on them.

"Then we must be swift!" Umberlee replied, levitating a little higher as she
prepared to dash, "Use what abilities you can. Their aim will be poor."

Nezumi nodded, gritting his teeth as his fur burst into a silvery light that
immediately made him the center of attention. "Ya ready, Draco Babe?" he
inquired, trying to sound confident.

"You are the fastest of us," the dratini replied pensively, "but you're also the
most vulnerable..."

"Hey, so's the esper chick, but who's countin'?" he grinned, sending Umberlee a
facetious wink before yelping and ducking under the first blast of poorly aimed
dark purple unlight.

"Go!" the starmie ordered, "spread out, and attempt to confuse them into harming
one another!"

"She means cause a crossfire!" Nezumi laughed, leaping atop the remains of the
childproof gate and causing it to creak under his weight.

"You are correct," said Shadow, flying towards the main cluster and noticing
that several of the balls that opened had ushered forth ghosts who could only
form themselves into dark puddles upon the floor, "We must conserve our energy!"

"Well, I suppose the odds aren't THAT bad," the raticate commented before
leaping off the gate, and opening his still silvery glowing fangs wide, tearing
his way though a confused looking haunter.

"Don't waste that!" Umi scolded him as the silvery light flashed brilliantly
before vanishing and the haunter became a puddle of goo as Nezumi landed and
skidded across the floor, knocking over a house of cards.

"Hey, no worries, kid," Nezumi laughed, picking up a card and examining it as he
brought the silvery light into being once more, "I'm savin' the ice for the big-
evil-end-guy. Hey, I wonder if this works?"

"He is wasteful," muttered Umberlee disapprovingly as she wove and swerved
between the oncoming blasts of nightshade that arched dangerously through the
air like angry serpents.

"The rodent is young and impetuous," assured Shadow, his voice reaching
Umberlee's senses despite the cackling of the two gastlies and two haunters that
moved to surround him, "but he is correct. It would be better not to approach
our adversary too closely."

As the two gastlies' spherical bodies crackled with a what appeared to be white,
almost ethereal lightning and the haunters did the same, but only upon their
disembodied hands, Shadow waited tensely for the moment it took them to close
the gap around him. As the circle of ghosts fired off the strange, crackling
energy, the five-pointed staryu quickly levitated himself above them and gave a
smug smirk as they each hit one another and all spun off in different
directions.

"They've confused themselves," Umi commented at last slithering from behind the
gate and giving the room a good look. 'I guess this doesn't seem so bad,' she
confessed inwardly, ducking her head as one of the confused gastlies spun end
over end past her, only to have a streak of silvery light slice through him,
causing the ball of ephemera to splatter against the wall beside the door.

"Nezumi?!" the dragon questioned, her eyes now glowing a deep lavender as she
stared over at the raticate who'd now grabbed twin pawfuls of cards and was
powering up once again.

"Hey! This is fun!" the large brown furred rodent exclaimed merrily, awkwardly
tossing the twin glowing piles into the air around him and catching the closest
haunter with enough to send him screaming into near oblivion.

"Just be careful!" Umi cautioned, feeling embarrassed for being so concerned
over a band of wounded ghosts, most of who couldn't hurt them anyway.

'Interesting variance,' Umberlee sent directly to Nezumi's mind as she moved
sideways and spun between her two attackers, her tone a begrudging compliment as
the two haunters she faced reacted according to her plan.

As one, they turned their bodies to track her, their hands still releasing
steady streams of dark purple unlight that now arched and writhed as the
constant exertion drained them of whatever power they had left. And as the ten-
pointed starmie flew between them, they foolishly turned towards each other,
their nightshade techniques harmless to the floor and other objects it hit, but
nearly the equivalent of lethal to each other.

Misty would have recognized the look Umberlee gave as smug, despite the water-
type's lack of a face as the two ghosts exploded. But as she was about to scold
Shadow for sending a single jet of water at the other confused gastly, pushing
it right out the window, Umi's voice called out with sudden panic.

"Duck!" the dratini exclaimed as Umberlee's sensory input registered a ball of
flame racing towards her, causing the dust upon the floor to spontaneously
combust by its passage.

Without question, but with some annoyance, Umberlee threw herself flat. As the
ball of flame exploded into the gastly behind her, the starmie shot back up to a
standing position. "The ocean floor would be preferable if I am to do that
again," she muttered, annoyed that no one seemed to be following her plan.

"Oh, don't sweat it, lady!" chuckled Nezumi, bounding over and joining her at
the same time as Umi, "Look, we're winning!"

Umberlee extended her perceptions and saw Shadow firing off a barrage of golden
light, formed into tiny star-shapes that only severed to annoy the haunter
before him. But instead of returning fire, the angered ghost flew forward,
splattering his way through Shadow and careening into the remaining gastly
behind him.

"I got 'em!" the staryu called back, spinning around and staggering as the
strange icy feeling of being phased through disoriented him.

As the two ghosts he now faced spun end over end, trying to sort out whose
ephemera was whose, Shadow began spinning as well, preparing to blast the two
with a bit of style and completely oblivious to the dark, looming, vaguely
humanoid shape behind him.

"It's HIM!" Umi exclaimed, unaware that she was probably the first female in
history to make that sound like a bad thing, and immediately flames came into
being amidst her snarling teeth.

"Behind you, Shady!" exclaimed Nezumi, leaping up onto the closest comfortable
looking chair for a better vantage point as he powered up a blast of cryokinetic
energy, only to fall to the floor cursing as the entire thing collapsed under
his weight.

"You're charcoal!" the dratini threatened, exhaling violently and nearly choking
in surprise as instead of a single ball of fire, a jet of searing flames shot
from her lips and arched downward onto a pile of old comic books.

"Oops!" she laughed nervously, "My aim is bad!"

"Hey, now," laughed Nezumi teasingly as Umberlee fired off a blast of water,
"Don't burn the place down around us!"

"The Tower is mostly stone!" called back Shadow, turning right around and
continuing to spin faster and faster, "Now where is he?!"

"Before you!" called Umberlee, as water attack only made it a short distance
beyond Umi's before falling and extinguishing the flames, "Hit him before he can
get off another attack!"

Although Shadow could not see it, the smiling gengar before him was pointing
with a single finger. At the end of his fingertip, a small sphere of crackling
darkness grew, expanding to the size of a baseball.

"I- I don't see him!" said Shadow; hesitating hating the fact that he couldn't
sense the spirit's invisible presence even as his spinning arms began to crackle
with icy blue sparks.

"Just hit him!" Nezumi exclaimed, struggling to free himself for the remains of
the chair and choking on the dust as Umi and Umberlee rushed to Shadow's aid,
"Take out the far wall if you have ta!"

Shadow gave half a nod, and pushed with all his might to release the torrent of
water from the special glands located at the end of each of his pointed arms.
But to the staryu's surprise, the crackling blue sparks suddenly leapt from arm
to arm as he spun, forming a crackling circle of electric blue light around him,
illuminating the room before expanding slightly and leaving his body.

The spinning ring of blue lightning contracted and its wavering shape became
more defined in the short distance between the staryu and the gengar. And as the
ghost tossed off the shadow-ball, the ring of lightning caught it, trapping the
orb at its center before contracting around it, holding the ball in place as it
returned to its source.

Shadow heard Umi's cheer as the ghost exploded, splattering a blob of black ooze
against the far wall. "Curious," commented Umberlee calmly as Nezumi danced up
and down trying to sing, "An electrostatic discharge. How did you accomplish
this, my l-" Umberlee paused and only Shadow caught the look of embarrassment
that few outside their species could ever recognize, "my friend?"

Shadow slowed to halt, his pours assimilating oxygen as quickly as he could and
wishing he could filter it through water. "I am uncertain," he replied simply,
but the hint of pride in his voice was apparent, "But what I am aware of, is
that this gengar is not Stryphe."

"Aw, it's not?!" pouted Umi in sudden disappointment.

"He ain't?" inquired Nezumi rhetorically, saving everyone's auditory senses from
his off key singing.

Umberlee tilted from side to side. "No, it was not," she explained, glancing up
the stairs to the next level, "But our true advisory has more than likely
reached the roof already. I suggest that we hurry, and avoid further
distractions." She glanced over at Shadow meaningfully, and only he caught what
was meant as smile, but to the others was merely a slight crinkling of her
fourth and ninth arms.

Nezumi scowled thoughtfully for a moment. "Hey! I've gotta plan!" he exclaimed
suddenly turning back the way they came, "Just keep you-know-who busy until I
get back, okay?"

"We will require your assistance," said Umberlee in a dark tone, "It would not
be advantageous for you to leave us at this juncture."

"Look," said Nezumi, spinning around and catching the sadness in Umi's eyes,
"Would ya just trust me? Besides, someone has to check on them two. They've had
plenty a time to put Fang Face in his place, and I'm a bit worried."

"Please be careful," said Umi as Umberlee's crimson glow deepened in annoyance.

"And hey, Shady!" Nezumi called once he'd reached the stairs down, "Take care of
Draco-Babe while I'm gone. Ya got me?"

"Indeed," said Shadow simply as Nezumi disappeared down the winding stairs...

***

Misty awoke with a headache and the vague sense that the dark burgundy carpet
with its intersecting green and gold patterns was nowhere to take a nap. For a
moment as she pushed herself up from the floor and wiped the dust off her cheek
her mind flipped through the disjointed half-thoughts that filtered through it.

With some certainty, she knew there was something important going on, and that
something was missing amidst the well-furbished dining hall. As Misty walked
along the length of oak table, past the single place setting with it plate of
small, discarded avian bones, empty wine-glass and hastily dropped knife and
fork, she noticed that the crystal chandelier above the table had been lit.

For a moment she glanced up at it, the hundred some odd flickering candles
bathing the room in a warm inviting light before glancing at the wide, tall
fireplace above whose mantle was a portrait of a bespectacled man wearing a
white lab coat.

"You must be Spengler," Misty said in a tone she barely recognized; only half
realizing that she'd grabbed one of the little porcelain ornaments from the
mantle as she stared appraisingly up at the man's picture.

"Do you know why we're here?" she inquired with a sly smile, tilting her head to
one side as her fingers turned the small, ornamental dragonite over a few times,
"Because I can't remember. Something about... about..."

But Misty's pondering was abruptly halted by the sound of shuffling feet. She
turned quickly and saw the disoriented figure of Miranda leaning against the
open doorway that separated the kitchen from the dining hall.

"Miri!" Misty exclaimed happily, all other concerns suddenly forgotten as she
bounded back across the room and held up the tiny dragonite for the courier's
inspection, "Look, I got you a gift!"

Miranda blinked her stormy gray eyes, trying to bring the world into focus and
wondering why it was so difficult to see past a certain distance without a
thought to where her glasses were.

"Oh, my head," she muttered suddenly, leaning forward as she held her face in
her hand and clung to the doorframe. Somewhere in her mind, the courier was
aware that there was something far more important than porcelain dragonites
worth more than she made in a year.

Miri!" exclaimed Misty, haphazardly tossing the ornament onto the dark velvet
cushions of one of the table's high-backed, wooden chairs, "Are- Are you
alright?!"

Miranda smiled as Misty's hands gripped her shoulders and all other concerns
vanished with the headache she'd had, replaced with a sudden clarity of thought
that the courier had never before experienced.

With a quiet giggle, Miranda glanced up to meet the concern in her beloved's sea
green eyes that were so full of concern. "No," the courier said, shaking her
head slowly as her arms went about Misty's torso, "No I'm not. Infact, I haven't
been alright, since the first time I looked into your eyes and saw what I've
been missing my entire life."

Without hesitation, without thought, without even recalling the split-seconds in
between the two found themselves in each other's arms, their kisses desperate as
they staggered across the floor in slow circles as they tried not to fall.

"Have I ever told you how much I love you," Misty panted, pulling back long
enough to practically tear Miranda's jacket from her shoulders before pressing
her lips firmly the courier's neck.

"More times than I can count," Miranda breathed, tossing her head back and
wincing a little as Misty yanked her hair elastic free and let the courier's
dark, wavy locks fall free, "But your words have yet to loose their meaning,
even after innumerably repetitions."

Misty made a happy sound at the reassurance, both her hands reaching into the
courier's hair, her fingers coiling about in its length as she pulled her lips
away and gazed into the Miranda's eyes.

"They're practically, glowing," Misty laughed, pulling Miranda backwards,
following the length of the table as her lover's finger's unbuttoned her blouse.

"It's the ectoplasm," Miranda muttered, unable to think of much else as her
pulse raced and felt herself loosing more and more control, "it reacts to heat."

"I see," said Misty, momentarily distracted as they reached the far end of the
table and she caught a glimpse of words written in the dust. "You're next?" she
questioned with a laugh, "What's that supposed to mean?!"

Miranda blinked, her fingers popping a button of the blouse as she did a double
take and stared down at the words. For a moment, she recognized their meaning.
Somehow, Miranda knew that she'd seen them before. Written on walls in various
substances, scrolling across computer screens as the screensaver message,
echoing from the speakers in an elevator and being emitted from telephones as
well as radios.

"Something," she whispered thoughtfully, her head aching as she tried to recall
the memory, "Something about a- a gastly?"

"Shh, it's okay," laughed Misty, her smile mischievous as she slipped off her
own jacket and kicked a chair out of the way before using the garment to wipe
the dust off the table, "the only ghost here's the little porcelain one on the
mantle!"

Miranda glanced in the direction of fireplace, but the mantle, with its small
white shapes and large portrait above it were but a blur to her. "I- I can't
tell," she began, glancing back in time to see Misty leaning out over heavy oak
table. Her arms outstretched with her coat to clear the dust further along it,
Misty's legs dangling slightly as she reached as far as she could, her bottom
providing an inviting target as the denim jeans she wore stretched across the
pleasantly rounded surface.

'Inhibitions!' a small portion of Miranda's mind tried to scream at her above
the rising tide of her desire, 'They're gone! He- He shut them off-!' But the
thought was quickly washed away as Miranda stepped boldly forward and reached
around Misty's waist, her fingers questing.

"Oh good!" giggled Misty as she knocked an unlit candelabra off the table with
her coat, "I find jeans so confining!"

"So long as you don't find my embrace confining," countered Miranda, unfastening
the button she found and pulling down the zipper before yanking Misty's pants
down a short distance.

"Never!" Misty laughed, gripping the edges of the table as Miranda stepped back
and grabbed the ankles of her pant legs before pulling them the rest of the way
off, leaving Misty nearly naked from the waist down, "It's all I ever think
about!"

Miranda smiled, finding the exaggerated sentiment amusing as Misty's feet came
free and she glanced up at her lover's vulnerable position. "If you were any
more beautiful," the courier replied, tossing the garment aside as she stepped
forward and cupped Misty's bottom in her hands, "I'd have been blinded by you."

Misty's toes curled and she arched her back as Miranda leaned forward to kiss
the back of her neck. "Tell me," she said breathlessly, closing her eyes
contentedly as she slid from the table to her feel with Miranda still behind
her, "Tell me again how much you love me."

"I can not," the courier said sadly, kissing Misty's neck as she unbuttoned the
rest of the blouse, letting it fall open, but making no move to do away with it,
"It would take a thousand bards a thousand years to express a tenth of how I
feel for you."

Before Misty could respond, Miranda spun her around and found her lover's lips
as her fingers took hold of the clasp at the front of Misty's bra. A heartbeat
later and Misty was laughing as Miranda's hurried fingers broke the plastic
clasp into several smaller pieces, causing the garment fell free of Misty's
breasts.

"A little impatient, are we?" she teased as Miranda's hands went about her waist
and Misty was lifted back up onto the table.

"A bit," Miranda admitted, stepping between Misty's knees and smiling as they
closed against her hips, "But then, it's hard to think of anything else right
now."

"Is there anything else?" Misty questioned rhetorically, sighing contentedly as
she leaned back in response to Miranda's kisses upon breasts before feeling the
courier's tongue tracing slow circles around her nipples.

"You are my world," Miranda muttered in reply shivering in anticipation as Misty
sat up straight and yanked the bottom of Miranda's long sleeve shirt out of her
pants before pulling the garment up as far as she could.

"And you're wearing more clothes than me again," her lover replied with mock
disapproval as Miranda leaned forward and backed up until she was free of the
garment, her tangle of midnight black hair frizzing from the static electricity.

"I'm sure you can fix that," Miranda chuckled, shaking a little as she stepped
closer once again, sliding her hands beneath the blouse to touch Misty's naked
skin before embracing her fully.

"You make it sound like a challenge," Misty sighed contentedly, the warmth of
Miranda's body against her own making her forget the slight chill in the room,
the scent of the courier's skin making Misty forget the dank, musty smell in the
air.

"Do you accept?"

Misty smiled, pushing Miranda a step back and taking her hands so she couldn't
escape. "Have I ever backed down from a challenge?"

"Only to eat my cooking." Miranda's tone was teasing as she moved forward again
and kissed her as Misty tried not to laugh and reached down between them to undo
her lover's jeans.

"Is that better?" Miranda inquired, feeling the garment fall around her ankles.

"A little," Misty replied slyly, reaching up to take a lock of Miranda's hair in
her hand and pull her lover forward as her free hand unfastened the courier's
bra as they kissed.

"See?" teased Misty, opening her eyes and pulling away ever so slightly, "I can
open those without breaking them."

"Show off," her lover replied with a smile, kissing Misty's nose playfully as
her fingers slid across the fabric of Misty's undergarments.

"Something you're looking for?" she inquired in amusement as Miranda eyes
reflected slight surprise and bemusement of her own.

"I think someone beat me to it," the courier teased, pushing two fingers gently
against Misty's labia, causing her to gasp and almost laugh when she felt how
wet her panties had gotten. "You're usually not 'that' responsive," Miranda
chuckled, leaning forward to kiss Misty lightly, "Not that I'm complaining..."

"I don't know," Misty said carefully, her mind feeling half clouded as she tried
to grasp at the nagging thought, "it's almost like nothing else matters right
now. As if we're the only two people in the world."

"We might very well be," said Miranda, finding it all to easy to ignore any
thoughts that didn't involve pleasing her lover.

"But- Isn't there something-?" Misty gasped, throwing her arms tightly around
Miranda for support as her lover's fingers slid beneath her panties and touched
the bare, hypersensitive skin of her clit, "Something we're- We're forgetting-?"

"Shh," Miranda whispered, her free hand holding Misty's back to support her when
she started to fall backwards, shaking all over, "only you matter to me right
now. Whatever it is we're forgetting can wait."

Misty could only nod as the familiar sensation of Miranda's middle finger moving
her clit in slow careful circles seemed to no longer cause the slow gentle
build-up she was used to. For no reason she could fathom, Misty's body seemed to
react far more intensely than it should have, as though all her other senses had
been turned down and her sense of touch were amplified.

'This- this is wonderful!' she laughed inwardly, Misty's voice only capable of
making sounds that were barely human as her body shook and she found herself
clinging desperately to Miranda's shoulders, 'I- I just don't understand it!'

For her part, Miranda's near-sightedness made Misty nearly her entire world. It
didn't matter that her glasses were lost somewhere. It didn't matter that she
couldn't remember where they were or why. All that mattered was that Misty was
enjoying herself with the greatest of abandon, and that it was all Miranda's
doing.

She almost felt like an artist as she withdrew her hand and giggled softly as
Misty gave her a suddenly desperately pleading look. "No..." her lover
whimpered, her sea green eyes nearly brimming with tears as Miranda's hand came
away.

"Shh, it's alright," came Miranda's soothing whisper as she laid Misty down upon
the long banquet table that would have served fifty in its time, but now was
being used only by two, "I'm not finished yet."

Misty nodded, and the vulnerability in her expression caused Miranda's mind to
go suddenly blank. All she could do was grip the sides of the table and shiver
against the sensation that filled her. A combination of love, desire and the
need to hold her beloved causing her body to react with the smallest of orgasms.

"Goodness..." she whispered, blushing as she glanced away into the dim, hazy
twilight of one of the long, tall windows, "That was... Embarrassing!"

"I don't think so," came Misty's reply, and as Miranda looked back, she saw her
beloved holding out her arms almost pleadingly, "I love you, Miri, and there's
nothing you can do to change that."

Miranda nodded, taking the way Misty looked at the moment into her mind and
committing it memory before climbing onto the table, her knees straddling
Misty's hips before leaning down to hold her.

As they embraced, holding each other for what felt like a beautiful eternity,
Miranda held the image in her mind's eye. The way Misty's hair seemed to glow in
the candlelight above them as it fanned out around her. The compelling pallor of
her skin, and how soft it now felt beneath her own. And the way the now open
blouse she wore conveniently covered the tempting rises of her breasts but fell
open just below seemed to tease Miranda in such a way that was far more inviting
than her lover's exposed and waiting womanhood.

"I love you too," said the courier, catching her breath at last and feeling calm
once again as she opened her eyes and looked down the length of the table, "But,
I have an idea..."

"Oh?" came Misty's giggled reply, her eyes suddenly alight with mischief, "Do
tell!"

Miranda smiled, leaning back up and supporting herself entirely upon her knees
as she looked at the fallen candelabra with its unused candles, sitting mere
inches away from the top of her lover's head.

"I don't know," she pondered, glancing down in time to catch Misty's expression
of mock anger and the curiosity burning in her eyes, "You might not like it."

Misty's expression softened as she reached up and took Miranda's hand. "Miri,"
she said softly, her smile full of love and trust, "You know me. I'm always
willing to try new things. And I know you. If it is something I don't like,
you'll just stop when I tell you to, and that'll be the end of it."

Miranda nodded, squeezing Misty's hand affectionately. "You are the greatest
gift I've ever received," she said sincerely, leaning down to kiss her lover's
fingers as a single happy tear fell from her eye, "I love you more than
anything, and if the only gift I ever receive again is your love, then that is
enough."

Misty closed her eyes, taking a deep breath to center herself as blissful
contentment threatened to push down her desire. "Show me, my love," she said
softly as Miranda reached for one of the unused candles before sliding off the
table, "I want to experience every wonder you have to show me..."

***

The raticate skidded across the floor, bunching up the old dusty carpet beside
him as he came to a halt beside the doorway to the kitchen. "Oh, man," he
muttered to himself as he bounded into the kitchen, his claws scraping noisily
across the linoleum, "We must be crazy for doin' this!"

Looking around the darkened kitchen, Nezumi noticed the glow of the chandelier
in the dining room and crept cautiously forward, his whiskers twitching as his
sense of spatial awareness kept track of where the fallen objects were around
him. But as he glanced into the dining hall, however, a sudden chill ran down
his spine as something cold touched his neck from behind.

Instinctively, and without a moment's thought, Nezumi spun around, his now dark-
brownish fur bursting into silvery light as he snarled at whatever had touched
him. "Who are you?!" he hissed under his breath, trying to sound threatening
even as the aftermath of the sudden fear reaction faded.

"Shh! Not so loud!" came the harsh whisper of a familiar voice, and by virtue of
the ectoplasm over his eyes, Nezumi could make out the shape of Wraith as he
hung invisibly in the air before him, "You don't want them to hear you, do
you?!"

"Fang-Face," Nezumi growled, his body shaking with anger as he gritted his teeth
and balled his forepaws into weak fists, "Why I ought'a-!"

"Shh! No!" whispered Wraith holding out his hands and waving them desperately,
"It's not what it looks like! Now keep your voice down."

Nezumi's dark eyes narrowed. "What'cha do to the Boss Lady, ecto-breath?" he
demanded quietly, his spatial awareness keeping track of the objects in the room
lest they suddenly fly at him.

"Surprisingly little," chuckled Wraith, floating a little higher and glancing
out into the other room, "It's amazing how easy it is to keep humans preoccupied
and out of your hair!"

Nezumi turned his head to one side curiously, his tense stance softening a
notch. "Oh? Do tell."

Wraith's smile was somewhat prideful. "Well, it seems that old ugly there is
still pretty weak," the ghost explained, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, "so,
when he said 'take care of the humans, make sure they don't interfere,' he left
some mighty wide room for interpretation."

"And?" said Nezumi suspiciously; suddenly curious about the strange noises
issuing from the dining room.

"And so, I did just that," chuckled Wraith mischievously, "I'm making sure
they're comfortable, unafraid, and above all, out of the way, and not bothering
idiot stick. It was pretty easy too! I just had to flip the right switches in
their heads, curb their inhibitions, and turn down all but their tactile senses.
Humans is sooo easy to play with!"

Nezumi's curiosity got the better of him and he peered into the other room. "Oh
for the love of Gouda!" he cursed, spinning back around to face Wraith, "This is
NO time for THAT!"

The ghost covered his wide mouth to keep from laughing. "Hey," he said,
"Whatever works! Besides, I have to keep them busy. At least until his power
over me wares off..."

"When'll that be?"

Wraith shrugged. "Whenever someone beats him senseless, I suppose."

"Hm, I see," said Nezumi thoughtfully and glancing at the small round object to
his right, "Hey, look Fang-Face, you lay low for while, okay? I don't want you
getting' any more orders from that Voldemort wanna-be. In the mean time, though,
I have a plan!"

"You do?" inquired Wraith curiously as Nezumi waggled a digit at him.

"No, no, no," the raticate cautioned, "I ain't tellin' ya Jill!"

"Jack."

"Whatever," muttered Nezumi as his grabbed the ghost-ball Misty had been
carrying, "Look, though, uh, have you seen the Boss Lady's coat-thingy? There's
somethin' in the pocket I need."

Wraith nodded, his right hand reaching out and flying into the dinning hall
where it sailed under the table to traverse the length of the room. "Hm, reminds
me of a baked potato," the haunter commented as his hand returned a moment later
with the tinfoil wrapped object, "What is it?"

"Never you mind," warned the rodent as the object dropped into his other paw,
"Just stay here until we've taken care of that waist of ecto-goo!"

"No problem," said Wraith sadly, "Just one thing, eh."

"Yeah?"

"Be careful, bro."

Nezumi smiled with his most sarcastic grin. "Eh, what's the worst that could
happen?" he asked rhetorically with a laugh, "See ya soon, Fang-Face!"

"Good luck!" called Wraith quietly, wishing he could help, but knowing that if
he showed up, Stryphe would have the haunter in his power, and hating himself
for having to waylay the humans he cared about, "Good luck to all of us..."

***

Misty opened her eyes and gasped in surprised amusement as she saw Miranda
standing before her, wetting the end of the candle she held in her mouth. "It's
probably a good thing they never got around to using these ones," commented the
courier with a smile as she examined the white wax of the now wetted candle,
"But it's too bad this is all we have."

"Oh my..." was all Misty could say as the combination of nervousness and
excitement made her toes curl and she felt her body react to the thoughts that
filled her mind.

"Just remember to tell me to stop if you need me to, okay?"

Misty nodded, swallowing nervously as she sat up on her elbows to watch as
Miranda knelt before her and began lapping at her labia with long, even strokes,
causing small flashes of light behind Misty's eyes with every motion.

'It's not supposed to be this intense!' part of her mind tried to tell her, but
at that moment it was too difficult to think. It was too hard to find the focus
to care about anything else as the tip of Miranda's tongue siding along the
contours of her womanhood, drawing all her attention for what felt like forever.

"Misty," came Miranda's soft voice, almost seeming to cherish the word as she
spoke it, causing Misty to open the eyes her eyes without recalling closing
them.

Miranda now stood with one hand on the table to support herself as the other
brought the rounded end of the candle close to Misty's womanhood. The look in
Miranda's stormy gray eyes was intense, but her voice was soft and gentle as she
spoke. "It's not too late to stop me," she said calmly, only to have Misty sit
up and kiss her full upon the lips.

"Please," she said with a reassuring smile, "Before I change my mind. I- I'd
like to try this. If I like it, maybe we can find something better another
time?"

Miranda nodded, smiling contentedly at the way Misty blushed but refused to look
away. "Alright then, my love," she said in a soothing tone, "Just lay back, and
try to relax. Don't be afraid, and know that you're the one in control here."

Misty nodded; ignoring the instinct that told her Miranda was quoting someone as
she complied, keeping a careful eye on what it was her lover was doing. "I
haven't stopped you yet," she said, biting her lip as the end of the candle
gently caressed her labia before being run teasingly between them, making Misty
shiver from the contact.

Miranda nodded slowly, her eyes tracking Misty's reactions as she guided the
candle with utmost care, moving it slowly up and down as her lover's moisture
began to invite its passage, almost as though Misty's body were willing it to
enter her.

"Are you ready?" Miranda asked, not needing the nervous nod Misty gave her to
know that she was. At that moment, she could almost feel her beloved's
anticipation as a tangible thing in the air as Miranda adjusted grip and slowly
pushed the object forward.

Misty felt herself shiver as her labia parted, her body accepting the smoothly
rounded length inside of her with a sudden rush of desire. For a moment, she
laid back against the table, gripping the sides of it with her eyes held tightly
shut as her inner walls contracted, holding the candle in place as Misty let the
sudden pleasurable sensation wash over her.

'This- this feels so different,' Misty pondered inwardly, quickly comparing it
to sensation of Miranda's or even her own fingers. It lacked their warmth, and
certainly wasn't as maneuverable, but something about its presence inside of her
gave Misty pleasant chills.

"It's not hurting you is it?" Miranda asked, her voice sounding distant as Misty
opened her eyes and smiled at the ceiling, shaking her head and swimming in a
pleasant euphoria that felt akin to the waves of an ocean gently lapping up
against the shore in time with Miranda's slow movements.

"No," Misty managed to whisper, stretching out her limbs and feeling strangely
comforted as Miranda leaned forward to gently suckle her clit as the candle
moved slowly back and forth, "It's wonderful."

Miranda made a happy sound as Misty reached down and ran her fingers through the
courier's long dark hair affectionately. "I feel like I'm floating," she
confessed, noticing the way her body seemed to be pulling against the candle as
it drew back, almost as though it were unwilling to release the object.

"I know a place in Celadon that sells more interesting things than candles,"
Miranda replied, stopping just long enough climb onto the table and lay on her
side next to Misty before reaching down and resuming her slow, penetrative
motions.

Misty blushed at the thought. "I think I'd like that-" she said before she could
stop herself, quickly covering her face with her hands, "Oh no. Did I say that
out-loud?"

Miranda's response was a dozen kisses upon the hands that covered her lover's
face, and finally when Misty moved them, a dozen more upon it. "Alright
already!" Misty laughed, smiling up at Miranda lovingly, "I'll stop being
embarrassed by this."

"Oh," Miranda pouted, trying to sound disappointed, but the amusement in her
tone was apparent, "But I think it's cute when you get that way."

Misty chuckled, coiling a lock of Miranda's hair around her index finger. "You
think I'm cute no matter what I do," she teased; shivering as her body reacted
to the gentle quarter-twist Miranda gave the candle.

"No," the courier corrected, kissing her repeatedly, accentuating each word with
the touch of her lips, "I- think- you're- beautiful."

Misty exhaled softly, smiling up at her lover contently as Miranda rested her
head in her hand and gazed back down at Misty. "Do you think it will always be
this way?" the courier inquired half-rhetorically as Misty moved a shaking hand
downwards.

"I- I hope so," Misty responded weakly, her smile embarrassed as Miranda's eyes
mirrored a peculiar satisfaction as they glanced down to see that Misty's
fingers were indeed caressing her own womanhood.

Miranda's gaze moved back up to focus on Misty's eyes and the pale shade of
green they'd become in response to her condition. "You know," she said
thoughtfully, finding it difficult to speak the words that filled her mind, "I
really do hope so too, my love. Because sometimes, I just like watching you
brought to the brink of ecstasy again and again."

Misty nodded, her expression betraying the sudden burst of elation that shot up
her spine. "It's strange, I know, but sometimes it's as though I can't be happy
without knowing you are first."

"No," Misty replied, her words interrupted by a sudden, exclamation and a moment
to catch her breath, "No, it's not. It's sweet of you."

"And a little perverted," Miranda chuckled, making Misty laugh as she glanced
down at the wetted candle and watched for it for a time as it slid easily back
and forth as just above it Misty's drew the length of her finger slowly back and
forth across her clit in time with the candle's movements.

"I don't care, my love," Misty sighed, looking back up at the chandelier and
half wondering who had lit the plethora of candles set upon the three rings of
delicately molded glass it was made of, "You could be so much worse, and yet
your not. I- I just feel so lucky..."

"Almost as lucky as me," Miranda replied as Misty lost her train of thought, her
consciousness suddenly taken by spasms of joy as Miranda looked on and kissed
her repeatedly until Misty regained control of herself.

"Thank you..." she replied at last, smiling up at Miranda through half closed
eyes and holding the courier's hand to make her stop.

"Any time, dearest," responded Miranda with a hint of mirth as Misty met her
kiss half way and slowly guided the candle out of herself, finding the sensation
of sudden 'emptiness' somewhat disconcerting.

"Next time, though," said Misty after a moments thought as Miranda brought the
candle to her lips, "I want something more comfortable beneath me. Okay?"

Miranda giggled at the thought that came to her. "Okay," she promised, teasingly
running the end of the candle across Misty's lips, "For next time, I'll buy you
a bed for every day of the year!"

"Sure, but where would we put them all?" her lover laughed as Miranda placed the
end of the candle against her own lips before suckling its end thoughtfully.

"Um, I could always buy you one of the Orange Islands," she said at last,
accidentally flinging the candle across the room as she drew the end from her
mouth, "Oops! Sorry!"

Misty both laughed and cringed as it impacted with the wood paneling of the wall
and broke in half before hitting the floor. "You could, I suppose," she said,
turning to give the broken candle a disappointed glare, "But that'd probably
cost you your entire life savings."

Miranda shrugged. "A small sacrifice," she replied as though it were, "But
there's what? A few hundred in that chain? I'm sure we could lay claim to one of
them and use it as our Winter retreat or something. Maybe make it into our own
city or something, making it a nice place for my mom and Bob to retire to."

"When you dream, you don't do it small, do you?" said Misty with an amused smile
as she turned back and ran her fingers affectionately over Miranda's cheek.

The courier shook her head almost sadly. "Nope," she confided, "I have this
habit of reaching for the stars. I guess I just got lucky one time, though."

"Oh?" Misty inquired, wishing they had more room so she could hold Miranda.

"I managed to reach far enough to find you."

Misty smiled, letting the feeling of adoration wash over her. "No," she
corrected, "I'm the lucky one. If I'm a star, I was a falling one, and I was
lucky enough to have you catch me before I burned to cinders."

"I love you," was all Miranda could think of to say as moved to hold her beloved
as best she could, the sudden feeling of protectiveness overshadowing everything
else as the spark of vulnerability within Misty's strong, self-assured exterior
shined through for a brief moment.

"If you say that to me every day, I think I may just survive," said Misty in a
tone that was both happy and sad, thankful for the embrace of the woman who was
now resting her head upon her shoulder and looking into Misty's eyes with a look
of both concern and adoration.

"One day, Miri," continued Misty after a quiet moment, "Long after you've chased
away the last of sadness so that no memory can ever hurt me again, will you
still hold me like this?"

Miranda sighed contentedly. "Even when the last bastion of darkness has been
banished from your soul, only your will, and your will alone shall force me not
to, my love. Believe me when I say that my need for you shall span my entire
life, but my love for you shall never die..."

***

The trails in the dust lead Nezumi to the top floor of the Tower where he found
the others looking up at the opening in the ceiling through which silvery
moonlight poured through down onto the broken remains of the only way up.

"Hey guys!" he called out, catching the change in Umi's eyes from brilliant
orange to emerald green as he bounded awkwardly down the hall, his forepaws
clenching the two objects he'd picked up, "Wait up!"

"Where have you been?" came Umberlee's accusing tone as Umi slithered out to
meet him half way.

"Gettin' what we need!" the raticate explained, grinning broadly at her before
giving Umi a reassuring wink and holding out the foil wrapped stone, "Um, can
you hold this? It's giving me a muscle cramp."

Umi gave him a questioning look, her eyes shifting through the violet spectrum
as she wrapped the end of her tail around the object. "I hate to dissuade you,"
came Shadow's concerned tone before Umi could comment, "But our advisory has
reached the roof and is even now extending his power to reap who knows what
havoc on the world."

"He is correct," agreed Umberlee in a somewhat harsh tone, "There is no time to
loose!"

With that, Umi and Nezumi found themselves levitating off the ground and being
directed in the direction of the opening. "Oh, man!" complained Nezumi as his
instinctively flailed his limbs, "I really hate flyin'!"

"I will fly one day," said Umi quietly, her eyes flaring red in anticipation as
the group rose up through the opening in the ceiling, out into the cool night
air.

"At the speed of sound even," agreed Shadow as the cacophony of panicked voices
rose up from the foot of the Tower and mingled with the varied noises of the
elemental inspired pokemon techniques that were going off far below.

And all the while, Stryphe stood at the top of the Tower, floating several feet
off the roof, concentrating, extending his will to its maximum capacity as he
chuckled quietly to himself.

"Hit him hard!" exclaimed Nezumi angrily, suddenly remembering that his favorite
haunter had to hide from the monster they now faced lest he be forced to turn
against them, "And take him down!"

As he and Umi dropped the last few inches to the stone floor of the roof, the
four pokemon unleashed the most powerful techniques they could muster. As Shadow
spun and summoned forth the electrical charge he'd exhibited previously, Umi
concentrated on once more forcing out her flames in a continuous stream and
Undine and Nezumi let loose with blasts of high-pressure water and a beam of
cryokinetic might.

Stryphe merely chuckled to himself. Raising a hand without opening his eyes as
the incoming attacks were suddenly blocked by a field of dark purple light that
formed a perfect sphere around the floating gengar.

"Pathetic," he muttered contemptuously, "When I'm done with the humans in this
city, I'll turn all the pokemon for a hundred miles into an army brand new
gastlies!"

"No!" exclaimed Umi angrily, her eyes becoming such a deep red that they seemed
ready to burst into flames, "I'm not becoming a ghost when I die! I'm going to
the 'Nice Place'!"

With that, she lobbed the stone in Stryphe's direction. For his part, the ghost
opened one eye and caught the object in mid-air with telekinesis. "What's this?"
he inquired, turning the tinfoil wrapped object over in the air, "A baked
potato?"

"Something like that," chuckled Nezumi, suddenly glowing a blinding white, "Oh
crap! Time's up!"

Stryphe's other eye opened as the raticate reverse-evolved back into a rattata.
"Fascinating!" the gengar chuckled, "A raticate that becomes a rattata! Or is it
a rattata that becomes a raticate? Not matter. I shall enjoy tearing the
information for your feeble mind."

Nezumi glanced at Umi once the transformation was complete, still clutching the
shrunken pokeball in both forepaws. "How do you do this?" he whispered as
Stryphe's attention returned to the strangely shaped tinfoil package he held
with the power of his mind, slowing unwrapping it as the sounds below became
more dire.

"The left button," whispered Umi back, speaking out of the side of her mouth
without taking her eyes off Stryphe.

"Left?" pondered Nezumi his tiny paws running over the surface of the ball until
a small portion of it pressed down with a gentle -click!-. "Nope," the rattata
muttered, "That ain't it."

"Other side," whispered Umi more urgently as the black surface of the stone
became visible and Stryphe's eyes grew wide with interest.

"Ah! Got it!" laughed Nezumi as he pushed down the second button and caused the
ball to expand before him just as the wrapping fell off the de-evolution stone.

"What peculiar power," Stryphe mused as the stone began to crackly with dark
blue lightning, "I must examine this more thoroughly!" Then, as the four pokemon
held their collective breath, the gengar reached out with his dark hand and
touched the stone.

The effect wasn't instantaneous, but it seemed unstoppable nonetheless. The de-
evolution stone sent out several beams of light that lit up Stryphe's suddenly
fearful face as the mineral's white radiance enveloped him almost greedily.

"Noooo!" the ghost shrieked as his form began to change, "This isn't possible!
Do you not know who I am?!"

"You ain't nothin'," spat Nezumi contemptuously as the spent stone landed
steaming at his feet and a very angry gastly floated before him, "Nothin' but
easy target practice."

"Take him down!" exclaimed Umi fiercely as the group fired upon Stryphe once
more, this time finding his barrier shield to be weakened by his current form,
and buckling beneath the pressure of the four attacks.

"No! This cannot be!" exclaimed Stryphe in anguish, firing off weak blasts of
nightshade as his barrier shattered and he was hit from all sides, "I'm
invincible!"

"You're trainer bait!" hissed Umi, making Nezumi laugh as Stryphe's body
exploded unpleasantly and a blob of sentient black goo splattered to the floor,
before the ball that the Guardian had been imprisoned in dropped from the now
gastly's telekinetic grasp.

"You is less than that," the rattata chuckled, struggling to heft the pokeball
up off the ground and struggle forward in his smaller form, "And another thing,
ya stupid puddle a ooze. You're mine!"

With that, Nezumi dropped the ghost-ball onto the puddle that Stryphe had
become. The darkly gleaming eyes that stared up at the rattata immediately
became fearful as the ball dropped, landing perfectly, bouncing a short distance
back into the air before splitting open and sending forth a blast of crimson
light.

"Noooo!" the ghost exclaimed weakly, his voice almost pleading as he disappeared
into the specially designed pokeball before it snapped shut and landed on the
ground, smoking as it wobbled from side to side.

"Not to be pessimistic," remarked Shadow as the group watched the ball for
several tense seconds, "But we only have one of those."

"That's okay," assured Nezumi confidently, "We only got one a him too!"

With that, the ball stopped rocking, and for several long moments the four
pokemon stood staring speechless, Nezumi at the ball, and the others at him
until the sounds of rejoicing echoed from far below.

"Looks like it's over down there," commented Umi, unable to resist the
temptation to slither to the edge of the roof and peer down.

"Think we should free the other guy?" the rattata inquired, only to have
Umberlee and Shadow rise slightly higher in the air and give an unpleasant sound
of warning.

"That would be unwise," hissed Shadow, immediately transposing himself between
Nezumi and the Guardian's ball.

"Yes," agreed Umberlee, speaking as though to a child, "The imprint codes of the
gengar's encumberie must be reset so that he might be free to perform his duties
and ensure that this does not happen again."

"Huh? Imp- wha-?!"

"It is beyond your comprehension, my friend," said Shadow soothingly, "Fear not.
We shall wait for the Professor to return and set things right. For now, WE are
the Guardians."

"Oh, yeah! That's right," chuckled Nezumi, turning towards the entrance down, "I
have to go tell Fang-Face the good news!"

"Wraith?!" demanded Umi, her eyes immediately burning red as she turned fiercely
on the rattata, "Where is he? What has that specter done to Miri?!"

Nezumi laughed. "Ah, don't worry, kid," he assured the dratini, "I'll explain it
to ya later."

"A poignant inquiry," said Umberlee, her multi-faceted center glowing
suspiciously.

"Indeed," agreed Shadow, causing Nezumi to scratch his head.

"Huh?" he inquired, giving the two awakened starfish a puzzled look.

"They mean they want to know," said Umi, her tone full of concern as she
slithered up to the rattata and fixed him with an unceasing stare.

"Oh, okay, okay," Nezumi laughed, "They're fine! They just need a few more
minutes I think."

The three gave him varying looks of suspicion, and Umberlee seemed about ready
to simply yank the information straight from the rattata's mind before a
cautious sounding voice called up from the lower level.

"Um, hello?" inquired Wraith as one of his hands flew up through the trap door
clutching one of his eyes, "Is it safe to come up for a moment?"

Umi's reply was a jet of flame that flew just over the macabre object that
floated above the hole in the roof, singeing Wraith's ephemera and making him
shriek before dropping the hand back down.

"I guess not!" he said as Nezumi laughed.

"Sorry about that Fang-Face!" he called, "Draco-Babe's a little ticked at you
right now!"

"I'm sorry," came the ghosts meek reply as the group crowded around the square
opening, "It's not like I hurt them or anything."

"You didn't?" inquired Umi hopefully, her voice betraying her need for
reassurance.

"You had better not have," warned Umberlee, her peculiar sounding voice echoing
dangerously.

"So where are they then?" inquired Shadow, sending the starmie a glance he hoped
would calm her fury.

"They're waitin' for us in the dinning hall," said Wraith with a shrug, "I told
'em I'd get you guys. Give them more time to um... Prepare."

"It's a trick!" exclaimed Umberlee, her entire body glowing with an angry golden
glow before it coalesced at her multifaceted center and fired off at the
haunter.

Wraith yelped as the blast of psionic power hit him, flinging the ghost at an
odd angle, ploughing him into the place where the floor and wall met. "Hey!" he
exclaimed, his eyes spinning around in his head so fast that his retina were
twin blurs, "What'd I do?!"

"Hey, that's enough, lady!" said Nezumi angrily as Shadow moved between Umberlee
and the opening in the floor.

"He is correct, my dear," agreed the staryu before she could argue, "Stryphe has
been contained. As a gastly his powers are likely to be far weaker. Especially
in his current state."

"I do not trust ghost-types," the starmie replied, a sound that seemed as though
it were gritted teeth, "If he has injured Misty in any way, I shall-"

"Enough," said Shadow simply, turning back to Wraith with a warning glance that
the haunter interpreted as such only due to intuition, "Ghost. Lead us to our
humans."

"I have a name," muttered Wraith bitterly as Umberlee telekinesed Umi to the
floor below but let Nezumi jump into the haunter's waiting hands.

"Yeah," the rattata agreed with an amused grin, "It's 'Fang-Face'!"

***

The lit candles upon the chandelier hadn't seemed to have noticed the passage of
time. Whatever otherworldly enchantment had been placed upon them hundreds of
years ago still remained, making certain that they never burned low. What
flickering shadows remained in the hall were banished, however, by the quiet
crackling light of the small conflagration burning in the fireplace.

"I hope they didn't hurt him or anything," commented Miranda, glancing at the
green illumination of her watch as Misty, now clothed once again, snuggled
closer and stared off into the fire the courier had made.

"I doubt it," the trainer chuckled with a contented sigh, "Nezumi's a good fast
talker, and Wraith can always dodge through a wall or something."

"I suppose," Miranda agreed, going over the events that had just occurred in her
mind. Wondering if when the small mental blocks Wraith had installed eroded
completely if she'd be mad at him or not. But for now, she felt contented,
unable to concentrate on much more than Misty, even when her haunter had flew
into the room laughing and cheering before giving a quick explanation and flying
off through the ceiling.

"You know," said Misty in a half serious tone as Miranda held her a little
closer, "I get the feeling that when he gets back I'm not going to be quite so
contented."

Miranda nodded, kissing Misty's hair and looking up at the portrait of Spengler
above the mantle. "I'm thinking this guy might be annoyed about what we did in
his dinging room," she chuckled, "But with all the dust, I'd say he's probably
not around to care very much."

"That's sad," commented Misty quietly, holding up the porcelain dragonite she
had grabbed off the mantle, "But I guess it means he won't mind if I give this
to you."

"I dunno about that," the courier replied sadly, "Things are starting to become
clearer, and I somehow think that it wouldn't be right to take anything without
the new owner's permission."

"New owner?"

Miranda shrugged. "I dunno, just a feeling."

At that moment, the five pokemon game bursting into the room, three of them
making ecstatically happy noises as they practically barreled into the two
humans, making them laugh as they fell back, raising their arms to protect their
faces from the show of affection.

"Enough!" laughed Miranda, holding back Umi's head as the dragon wrapped around
her torso with eyes that glowed brilliantly green, "I can barely breath!"

Misty's problem wasn't as life threatening, but the two starfish refused to let
her get to her feet before bombarding her with questions. "I'm fine! I'm fine!"
she told them, pushing the two pokemon aside as she sat back up, "The ghost
didn't hurt me at all!"

"Speaking of which," her lover commented in a sudden dark tone, glancing at the
inconspicuous looking spirit floating in the door way, "I think it's time you
fixed us. As fun as it is to wander around without a care in the world, it's
becoming a little disconcerting."

Wraith nodded apologetically before floating cautiously forward, all too aware
of the two glowering water-types as he reached his hands out towards Misty and
Miranda.

As his disembodied hands disappeared through their foreheads, he winced, feeling
the flood of memories as they broke through the barriers in the human's minds,
suddenly expecting the worst.

"I see," Miranda said simply, stepping back as Wraith's hand returned to its
normal position before moving to hold Misty in her arms.

"Oh dear," her lover managed, giving her head a shake, and thankful for
Miranda's sudden support as a feeling of disorientation swept through her, "This
could be bad."

Miranda glanced at the assembled, and somewhat worried looking pokemon that had
crowded around them. "No," she said with a smile that resembled that of a proud
mother, "I think they managed to do alright without us. Otherwise Wraith
wouldn't have been so ecstatic."

"Then, they managed to beat down Stryphe?" inquired Misty, glancing at the now
vigorously nodding Nezumi who looked exceptionally proud of himself all of a
sudden, "Well then we'd better get there and capture him before he regains
enough power to fight back-!"

"Tatta," chuckled Nezumi, doing his best attempt at waggling a finger at her.

"Oh?" inquired Miranda with a suddenly amused smile as she looked down the
slightly blurry image of Nezumi, "Do tell."

The rattata chuckled to himself before theatrically bounding about the room,
chattering the entire time as he mimicked and vastly exaggerated the scope of
the battle they had missed. As Miranda found it hard to keep from laughing and
Umberlee gave him a very disapproving look, Wraith did his best to keep up,
weaving an illusion into the air of what it must have looked like.

"Um, Nezumi's not twenty feet tall," commented Misty with a smile, managing to
catch most of what the rattata said after having spent so long with him.

Wraith shrugged, sending one of his hands off and retrieving Miranda's glasses
in time for the overly melodramatic image of Nezumi leaping high into the air,
clutching a ghost-ball in both forepaws before slamming it down onto Stryphe
flitted across the illusionary screen he made.

"And pokeballs don't illuminate half the continent when they capture something,"
Miranda added, smiling at the image of the Tower as seen from thousands of miles
away as beams of brilliant light shined out from its top followed by a sphere of
golden light that was surely visible from orbit as Stryphe was successfully
captured.

"Could be worse," Misty chuckled, "So, what'cha do with the ball?"

The assembled pokemon glanced at each other for a moment before screaming out in
unison and scrambling out the door in a panic. "They forgot it, didn't they,"
said Misty rhetorically.

"Yup," said Miranda defeatedly, feeling amused despite all that had happened,
"Alright, let's go. I don't want someone else getting to that thing before we
do...!"

***

As they at last made back up onto the roof, finding that both ghost-balls were
exactly where they had left them, a wave of relief swept over the group and a
swarm of thankful ghosts suddenly materialized overhead.

"Gee," Misty chuckled as Miranda immediately snatched up the Guardian's ball and
began making the necessary adjustments to it with a miniature Phillips
screwdriver, "I never thought we'd have people cheering us for doing 'that'!"

Miranda looked up and smiled, hearing the celebratory sounds from below as the
ghosts were met by a flock of other avians. "They probably don't know," she
laughed, tossing the Guardian's ball into the air as it clicked open and the
brilliant illumination from within seemed almost desperate to escape, "And I
think it's better that way. No one'd believe us if we told them what really
happened!"

As the Guardian materialized in the air, he turned to the assembled group and
his perpetual gengar smile became more respectful seeming as he bowed low. "I
thank you," he said in the human tongue, making Miranda wonder if the sound was
actually an illusion of sorts or just telepathy, "You have done our people a
great service, and you will be rewarded."

The gengar glanced at the second ghost-ball, and with a mere thought it raced
into his outstretched hand. "I shall take this to Laurna," he said as fireworks
suddenly exploded in the sky above them, and Misty and Miranda found it
difficult to resist the urge to hold each other, "But in the mean time, I would
suggest that you take care of the one loose end you have overlooked."

The two glanced at each other for a moment, the rainbow colours above them
illuminating their bewildered faces as the thought suddenly formulated in their
minds. "Kathy!" they exclaimed in unison before a second scramble for the exit
began.

"Ah, mortals," the gengar chuckled, his voice seeming almost paternal as he
floated over the edge and scanned the auras of the living throng at the base of
his Tower, his other hand clutching the small, porcelain dragonite statuette
between his dark, stubby fingers, "They're so cute when they're young!"

***

The room in which Stryphe had been imprisoned in was the same as when they had
left it. The candles still burned, and the circle remained partially broken with
shards of the nearly disintegrated ghost-ball lying scattered across the floor.

The only thing that was missing, however, were Kathy, Victor, and Tashiro. "They
would," Miranda muttered bitterly, walking along the circumference of the circle
as she noticed something peculiar sitting upon Stryphe's pedestal.

"They must have called out that alakazam of theirs," Misty commented, glancing
at Miranda and feeling her heart sink at the look in the courier's eyes as she
stepped cautiously through the break in the circle.

Her lover nodded sullenly, watching as she approached the pedestal. "I should
have done something when I had the chance," said Miranda, shaking her head in
dismay as she reached the center and looked down at the sheet of paper her
nemesis had left, held in place by one of the glow in the dark Lavender Town
Halloween Festival buttons.

"We had to save world first," came Misty's sympathetic tone as she put her arms
around Miranda from behind, "I'm sure he would understand."

The courier nodded sadly. "He would have insisted," she said quietly, finding no
tears to cry, "He'd say something like, 'You can't avenge me if you're dead,
silly.'"

Misty chuckled quietly, standing on her toes and resting her chin on Miranda's
shoulder. "So what's the note say?"

"'Be sure to save the world, I need to take it over later,'" said Miranda
bitterly, crumpling the note up in her hand, "'PS: Be sure to stop by Viridian
some time.'"

Misty took a deep breath and held Miranda a little tighter as the courier
glanced at the button, pondering its significance as a diminutive figure stepped
quietly into the room and stood politely in the doorway.

"Oh. Hi, auntie," said Miranda after a moment spent pushing down the burning
frustration she felt.

"Am I interrupting something?" the poke-prof' inquired with a sympathetic smile
as two gengars followed her into the room, one much larger than the other.

"No, no," Miranda assured her, reaching down to take Misty's hand before leading
her out of the circle to where their pokemon stood waiting, unwilling to enter
the final boundary of the ancient prison, "We just needed to make sure this was
over. And it is, at least for now."

Laurna nodded as the Guardian swept past her and entered the circle without a
sound before setting the new ghost-ball down upon the top of the pedestal.
"This'll take us a while, and then we have to go and gather up all the ghost-
balls," the woman explained, watching as the Guardian backed away and muttered
something quietly to his old adversary, "You two can always help get the door
back open and enjoy the rest of the evening. Or at least what's left of it.
You've earned it."

Miranda smiled as her Aunt embraced her and ruffled her hair as though she were
still a child. "Sure you don't need help resetting the protocols?" the courier
inquired.

"No it's okay," assured Laurna with a sad smile, "I can handle it."

"Oh, one thing," said Miranda, feeling a sudden elation at the thought as she
scrambled for her cell phone, "I think we figured out where they were hiding the
balls. And with any luck I can get Uncle and his people down there in time to
save the stolen pokemon."

"Where-?" began Laurna as her niece spoke quickly into the device, thankful that
Frank picked up on the first ring.

"The Dragon's Cave," said Misty grimly, causing Laurna's eyes to widen mixed
emotions, "The one place the ghosts couldn't go, and Frank's people would be too
respectful to search."

Laurna glanced apprehensively at Miranda as she thanked her Uncle and shut the
phone off. "What'd he say?" she inquired nervously.

"He was way ahead of me," Miranda replied grimly, shaking her head in despair,
"But not by much. Someone was definitely there, and storing a few large boxes,
but they cleared out pretty quickly. I think they were prepared for this."

Laurna nodded sadly, the defeated look in her eyes causing Viper to float up to
her and nudge the woman reassuringly. "It- It happens I suppose," said the
Professor in the tone she used in her younger days to hide her emotions, "All we
can do is make sure it doesn't happen again. Now go one, you've done your part.
And, thank you. Both of you, for all you've done."

"You sure you'll be alright?" inquired Misty carefully as Miranda gave Laurna's
hand a reassuring squeeze.

The woman glanced at the center of the circle and nodded. "It's not the end of
the world," she said with the slightest of smirks, causing Nezumi to chuckle
quietly, "Just be sure to make sure your mom knows you're all okay. She didn't
say it, but I know she was nearly in hysterics inside when she heard the news.
Now go."

Miranda nodded solemnly. "Good luck, Aunt Laurna," she said quietly as her
fingers slipped through the woman's and the group made their way from the most
haunted building on the entire planet; the Lavender Town Tower...
Chapter XXIII "Epilogue..."

The mood around the round wooden the table was one of celebration as Bob put the
last steaming platter of food down and took his customary seat between his wife
Vivian and his almost-brother-in-law Frank. Beside him was Laurna, looking quite
pleased despite all that had happened, merrily joking with Miranda as Misty once
again wondered where she'd put the mountain of food her host insisted on piling
her plate with.

The kitchen itself had been decorated to mark the occasion, with black and
orange intertwining streamers reaching out to all four corners of the room from
their center point at the ceiling, and a large glowing Jack O'Lantern still sat
in the window above the sink, staring out into the darkness despite it being the
first night of November.

"So I hear you two are planning on staying on for a month or two," said Frank
conversationally; glancing up at Miranda as he shoveled a forkful of Bob's gravy
soaked mashed potatoes into his mouth and looking entirely blissful for a
moment.

His niece nodded. "That's the plan," she replied, giving her mother a
questioning look, "That is, if it's still alright."

Vivian chuckled as Bob reached across the table to pass her the gravy he'd spent
the better part of the day working on. "As though I could refuse such a gift, my
dear!" the woman responded, meeting her daughter's gaze with a look that held a
softness seldom seen in Vivian's peculiar dark-magenta eyes.

"Hey, maybe you can try out an temporary admin job," her husband offered in a
careful tone, glancing from Miranda to Misty to gauge their reactions.

"I think not," Miranda replied gently, smiling to reassure him before turning to
her Aunt, "But I was thinking of maybe helping out at the Gym a bit. Earn my
keep and all that."

"As if you'd need to!" her mother scolded her mockingly, chuckling at the
thought of such a thing.

"She's right!" agreed Misty with a laugh, feeling surprising at ease, and for
the first time in more than a decade, feeling as though she were truly part of a
family, "Only Joshua works harder than our Miri!"

"I'll second that!" called Frank and Laurna, laughing at each other as they
raised their glasses high and Miranda blushed as they clinked them against
Misty's.

"Oh! And speaking of Joshua," added Bob as the thought suddenly struck him,
"He's retiring this Spring, eh."

"WHAT?!" exclaimed everyone at the table except for Bob and Vivian.

Bob chuckled to himself, feeling slightly smug. "He's taking one last big job
and then he's coming home to Lavender to stay," he explained, "Of course, he's
not REALLY retiring so much as taking a lighter work load. Joshua's gonna be one
of Lavender's in-city couriers."

"One of three," commented Miranda, her eyes fluttering as she realized why her
Uncle had reacted so favorably to her stepfather's gravy as she tried a bit of
the roast he'd made.

"If you don't mind me asking," Misty inquired curiously, smiling in Miranda's
direction as the courier set her fork down and gripped the table with both hands
to contain herself, "what's the big assignment?"

Bob grinned broadly. "It's a secret," he replied, dark blue eyes sparkling with
mirth, "But I can tell you this. It involves the Celadon to Fuchsia Winter
caravan."

"Speaking of which!" interrupted Vivian, raising an eyebrow as she inquired of
her daughter, "Are you up for it this year?"

Miranda opened her eyes, catching her breath as she nodded slowly. "I wouldn't
mind," she assured, glancing at Misty, "If it's okay with you?"

Misty shrugged, turning to Vivian. "Sure," she replied, "What's it involve?"

"Well, it pays quite a bit," chuckled Bob, receiving a stern glare from his
wife.

"Oh, it's quite a hike," Vivian explained casually, "Especially through the
mountains when those wretched storms hit us in late January. But you two
wouldn't be alone. Joshua's been the senior courier for that run since as long
as I've been with the Company. He knows the route, and all the complications
that can arise, so he'll be in charge. Oh, and they're be two or three other
couriers as well. Depending on who's willing this year."

"I hope you don't mind cramped quarters, though," cautioned Miranda as she
sipped her tea, "I volunteered my first year as a courier, and I don't mind
saying that sleeping in those wagons is something of a talent."

"Oh, they're not THAT bad," her mother replied, shaking her head in dismay as
she ate.

"Oh, I don't mind," assured Misty brightly, "It'd be better than walking through
nine feet of snow."

"Hey, I was serious, eh!" said Bob, quickly swallowing a mouthful of vegetables,
"It pays really well!"

"Well I'm sure Miri's account can handle a few extra credits," Misty chuckled.

Vivian sighed, setting her fork down and resting her chin on her hands. "No,
dear, you misunderstand," she explained, "We're offering you a job. A courier
apprenticeship, actually."

"Under Miranda of course," added Bob hastily, causing Frank to choke a bit on
his food and Laurna to smack his arm as she giggled.

"I- I don't know what to say-!" stammered Misty, turning to Miranda who
carefully took her hand and smiled.

"It's up to you, dear," she said, "You can always change your mind later and
take up another profession if you'd like. But as long as we're traveling around
together like this, it gives you an extra reason to be hanging with me."

"Like I need another one," assured Misty, squeezing Miranda's hand as she smiled
into the courier's eyes, "but I guess it'd be better than living off my
inheritance for the rest of my life."

"You'll eat better too!" laughed Bob, "Even apprentice courier's get fairly good
wages."

"Yeah," added Frank with a conspiratory grin, "And you'll be adding to all those
old tales you always hear about where apprentices get taken advantage of by
their mentors!"

"Frank!" Misty laughed, her face blushing profusely as she used her spoon to
fling several peas across the table at him and Laurna gave him a discerning
look.

"Hey, wasn't that what the movie we rented the other night was about?" she
inquired, trying unsuccessfully to embarrass the Pokeforce Officer.

"That was the pretext!" he chuckled, giving both Miranda and Misty an amused
wink.

"But seriously," came Vivian's calm, yet commanding tone, "Are you willing? For
the job and the caravan I mean?"

"Um, yes and yes," Misty replied after a moment's thought.

Vivian nodded. "Good," was all she said before going back to her meal.

"Then I'll be sure to have you both in Celadon come January," said Bob, "I'm
sure something'll come up by then."

"Hey, yeah!" laughed Misty, "That kinda works, doesn't it?"

"Oh? How so?" inquired Miranda, suddenly looking a little nervous.

"We can hit the Gym while we're there," her lover explained, "Assuming that
Erika takes challengers that time of year."

"She does," assured Laurna, sending her niece a surreptitious glance across the
table, and receiving a light tap under the table for it, "All year round.
Erika's door is always open."

"And you know," added Bob, suddenly remembering his promise to his stepdaughter,
"Angela's got a run to Cinnabar at about the time you'd be arriving in Fuchsia."

"Coincidence?" Miranda inquired doubtfully.

"Of course not, dear," her mother assured with a Machiavellian grin, "we have
our reasons for her being there then."

"Joshua's secret mission?" inquired Frank, obviously interested in unraveling
the little mystery.

"I say nothing," Vivian replied, "But the Dawn sister II will be in Cinnabar for
about three days before heading up to Pallet, and you know the trip North to
Viridian isn't a long one."

She then waited for Misty and Frank to end their mutual shudder before
continuing, Misty for the mention of Pallet Town, and Frank for the mention of
Viridian City. "Seeing as it'd be so convenient for you, I'm sure Bob can make
the right arrangements."

Misty sat back in her chair, goose bumps rising along her arms as her mind
turned over the possibilities. "Wow, that means I could hit every Gym in less
than a year," she breathed still mulling the issue of having to go through
Pallet.

"It's up to you," Vivian said simply, "Oh, and the dinner is beyond excellence,
dear. Thank you."

Misty turned to Miranda, not hearing Bob's words to his wife. "You know," she
said quietly, feeling more than a little overwhelmed, "This is a really good
opportunity."

Miranda nodded. "It's good to know you can recognize them," she teased softly,
her smile reassuring, "But as my mother says. It's all up to you."

"Just think," Misty chuckled ironically, "I'll be beating Ash's time for
collecting Gym badges. He took two and a half years..."

Miranda's supportive expression became one of concern as Misty's eyes became
suddenly sad. "Are- are you okay?" the courier asked, feeling suddenly guilty as
she put her arm around Misty and tried to keep the unwelcomed panic from her
voice.

Misty nodded slowly. "I'm sorry, dearest," she replied quietly, glancing up from
her plate and into the seemingly endless depths of Miranda's stormy gray eyes,
"It's just that I realized something just now. I- I wasted nearly five years of
my life with that guy. And what do I have to show for it...?"

"In the end? Self respect," came Vivian's answer, her tone uncompromising, but
maternal nonetheless, "It show's strength of character to put an end to an
abusive relationship."

Misty looked up in time to see Vivian and Laurna exchange glances. "I suppose
so," she said quietly, the beginnings of a smile crossing her face, "And um,
there's one other thing as well."

Everyone looked to her as she smiled, her gaze firmly locked on Miranda as she
put her arm around the courier, leaning in closer as she spoke. "I wound meeting
and falling in love with the most wonderful woman I could ever imagine," she
explained, blushing as everyone else at the table raised their glasses and
cheered as Misty and Miranda kissed...

THE END

Copyright September 20, 2001
Nikolai Mirovich (Nikolai_Mirovich@Rogers.Com)
ftp://ftp.asstr.org/pub/Authors/Nikolai_Mirovich

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