Symbiosis

In a different life Ash Ketchum looks upon his world from an unique perspective.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7917071/1/Symbiosis

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Purple goo wriggled in the dimly lit room as something struggled from within its center.

My new friend was right! There are a lot of humans to meet here.

If the other occupant of the room had been able to hear at the moment, then sound without meaning would've reached her ear, noise from the creature.

It was so nice of him to look for me after I met those tiny humans. He told me that they'd want to see me again and meet their family.

The struggling began to still.

This is so much-

The mass of slime broke apart in a blaze of white light and an explosion of water. Misty was sprawled on her hands and in knees in the epicenter of the explosion. Starmie floated next to her water dripping from its points. Misty shook her head, flinging bits of purple out of her hair and looked up.

"Starmie, Ice Beam!"

You're grumpy! Misty heard noise from the bits of purple goo as they began to crawl, slid, and flow of their own accord. And that really hurt! You need a nap! I'll wait until you've slept before I hug you again.

White blue light blasted forth from Starmie leaving a swath of ice on the floor as the star shaped pokémon sought to blast the masses. Some were caught and held in the chilling attack, but there were far too many for one pokémon to get.

Misty noticed an air vent in the corner of the room.

"Seal the vent!" She shouted pointing at the spot.

Starmie complied. A beam shot out and with the crunching sound of expanding ice the vent was sealed.

The goo changed directions heading for a seemingly random corner of the room, individual bits coming together into one large mass. An ice beam hot on its metaphorical heels, it seemed like Starmie would stop the creature. But the muk bunched together launched itself upward. Moments later the white blue of Starmie's attacked followed. But it was too late. Misty watched as ice expanded over another vent, just behind the muk.

The other trainers rushed into the room heartbeats later. Ice and purple goo were everywhere, along with bits of broken furniture. Misty stood up, taking deep breathes to calm herself down as adrenaline shakes traversed her body.

"It was a muk," she told the others between breathes, before they could ask. "It managed to get the drop on me. It escaped through the ventilation system."

"A muk?" Brock looked around the room. "But from where?"

Elle's eyes narrowed as she nudged a piece of purple slime with her foot.

"Jena was killed by a muk," she said in a quiet voice.

"What happened?" Chiyoko spoke from the doorway, the other three behind her.

"There was a strange coincidence," Elle answered in a flat voice, eyes still on the purple goo. "Misty was just attacked by what seems to be a muk."

Chiyoko's eyes narrowed.

"Just like Jena you mean," the old woman said, her voice also going flat. "Indeed, that is a strange coincidence." Her gaze turned towards the red haired girl.

Misty had finished calming herself down and recalled her pokémon with a flash of red light. For the moment she wasn't feeling tired anymore and she probably wouldn't for a while. She took a deep breath and faced the group.

"I thought Jena died in an accident?" Misty asked, looking back. Thinking about they had never been told how Jena had died.

"It was an accident with a wild pokémon," Chiyoko answered.

"Or so we thought," Elle added. "But I'm not sure about the 'accident' or 'wild' part anymore."

There was a gasp from Jean behind them. Hikaru strode forward, face hardening into a glare.

"It was you, wasn't it," Hikaru hissed, pointing at Brock, Aaron, and Misty. "You've been picking us off one by one, putting us in traps under the guise of trying to protect us."

"Which one of you has the muk?" Jean's eyes were wide and wild as she looked from face to face. "Which one of you killed my niece?"

"They are not responsible," Chiyoko started to say.

"Of course they are-" Hikaru began to interrupt.

"If they wanted us dead," Chiyoko continued, her sudden change in tone shutting the man up, "they could have easily done it. The oldest boy is a former gym leader who I know has an onix on his person and the girl is the youngest of the Cerulean sisters. They could have simply crushed our home with us within it."

"Then they're trying to hide their involvement," Jean claimed.

"If the League wanted to kill us they have several more efficient ways to do so without suspicion falling on them," Chiyoko said, raising her voice. "If they really wished they could make it seem like we perished in an avalanche. Or a rock slide. Or in a fire caused by a lightning strike. They would not employ such a method as you would accuse them of doing."

"When thinking about those whom you believe might cause you ill," the old woman continued, lowering her voice, "always believe them to be at least as competent as yourself, if not more so. Whoever is doing this to us is most likely not affiliated with the Kanto League."

"Then who's doing this?" Jean asked, no, almost pleaded.

"I don't know," the old woman sighed, looking down. "I just don't know."

Ash took refuge in an empty bedroom, claiming that he needed space. Brock said that there shouldn't be an issue so long as Aaron let out most of his team to protect him. As luck would have it, that had been the real reason Ash had wanted to slip away, so he readily agreed.

Pokémon sprawled all over the room. Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Primeape, and Magikarp lay on the bed. Charmeleon lay on the floor, belly down, keeping his tail flame away from anything potentially flammable. Pidgeotto perched on a chair. Pikachu stood on Ash's shoulder, who sat in the middle of the room, arms around his knees.

They sat in silence, shifting uncomfortably around an unusually inanimate Ash.

Well, I ain't been hearing much from inside my pokéball, Primape eventually broke the silence, but things round these parts don't seem very good.

It's a right mess, Bulbasaur groaned, and I think I might have had some bad food recently. I'm feeling awful.

I know what you mean, Charmeleon agreed, I'm glad that we don't have any training to do. Just the thought of getting up is painful right now.

That's nice, Pikachu growled, glaring at the two. But if things get dangerous you're not sitting on the sidelines. You'll be guarding Ash or I'll-

Don't worry, Bulbasaur said, rolling his eyes, if push comes to shove we can fight through the pain. But right now we should be worrying about our plan to deal with this situation. What have you got for us Ash?

Ash didn't say anything.

Ash?

What, sorry, the human said, shaking his head.

What's the plan, Bulbasaur repeated.

There isn't one, Ash replied, looking at his feet. We just wait until we can get out.

Then tell us what's bothering you, Magikarp spoke up. You hungry? I don't have much meat on me, but if you have Brock cook me right-

Shut up, Pikachu interrupted, glaring at the fish. But what is wrong Ash?

The boy shrugged without thinking, causing Pikachu to fight to keep his balance.

Just this family. I don't get them. The boy said to his friends.

What's to get? Pidegotto said, shrugging her wings. This is what happens when the chicks stay in the same nest rather than finding new places to roost. There isn't enough food to go around-

Shut up, Pikachu glared at the flying type. What don't you get about them Ash?

Why they don't- Like each other? Communicate? Try to get along? - just why they're the way they are.

People are people, Bulbasaur answered. And family's what you make it to be, who you make it to be, no matter if you're a person or a pokémon.

But it's usually better with pokémon, Ash replied.

Only because dysfunctional pokémon families tend to result in fatalities, Magikarp said.

Shut up Magikarp, Pikachu repeated. People are strange. You know that idiot.

Yeah, but not- Ash sighed. Nevermind. I guess it doesn't matter.

Good idea, Bulbasaur groaned. Try to keep your mind in the moment.

In this moment I feel like I might vomit, Charmeleon added from the floor. Ash, can you return me to my pokéball?

Another good idea, Bulbasaur agreed. Ash nodded and twin beams of red light reclaimed the pair.

There was a second of silence.

Are you sure you're not hungry?

Shut up Magikarp.

"How are the others?" Misty asked Elle. They were standing outside in the hallway.

After Chiyoko had finished dressing down Hikaru and Jean the older humans had debated on what to do. Elle and Chiyoko had wanted to form parties to hunt the muk down and kill it. Brock had insisted that they instead stay together in one room, with trainers on the inside and on the outside to better defend those who were left. Misty had stayed out of the argument. Eventually it was Jean and Hikaru who decided things, demanding that they stick together so that Thomas would be better defended.

"They're as fine as they could be," the older woman replied. "Jean and Hikaru are having a drink and then going to bed. My grandmother's falling asleep in her chair, and Brock got some of his pokémon out. You sure it's alright to leave Aaron alone?"

Misty nodded.

"His team's pretty big," she explained. "They'll catch anything trying to get at him by dint of numbers alone."

"Ah," Elle said. "So I was wondering, why are you two traveling with him? From what I've heard you've got gym connections and Brock's a gym leader. What's so special about Aaron?"

"Circumstance I guess," Misty answered, shrugging. "He helped me out of a bad situation when we first met and I didn't have a real destination when I set out-"

"The classic problems of young trainers," Elle said, rolling her eyes.

"Well when you're after strength-"

"Power you mean," Elle stated.

"Fine," Misty agreed, not wanting to get into an argument over the differences in connotations. "But there isn't really a clear guide to becoming stronger. So why not wander with someone? I might find the path that fits me best."

"And Brock? Why is he with you two?"

"Pretty much the same reason, but he wants to be a breeder rather than become a stronger trainer." Misty answered, eyes scanning the ceilings and walls. "Aaron was around when his father came back to lead the gym again."

"So coincidence is why you two follow him?" Elle raised an eyebrow.

"Life is strange," Misty replied. "Besides, given the trouble he keeps getting into-"

"He's lucky to have you two with him?"

"Or very unlucky to keep running into those situations," Misty answered. "I guess it depends on how his journey ends."

Elle didn't have anything to say to that. They retreated into silence for a time before concern moved Misty to speak again.

How are you holding up?"

"Well enough," Elle answered, sighing. "I'll probably have a nice breakdown once help arrives."

She looked up.

"I never did like winter."

It almost seemed like the night lasted forever. In the depths of winter that could be said to be almost true.

Aaron had been recalled to the bedroom for another shift on guard duty and then he and Brock were relieved by Misty and Elle.

Morning wasn't marked by light but rather a lessening of the oppressive darkness that was the characteristic of the season. Outside a storm raged, letting the inhabitants of the building hear the sound of wind pressing against the walls. Those still trying to sleep curled deeper into their blankets, while those still awake rubbed their arms or bits of bare skin to get rid of the goosebumps.

Thomas was sandwiched between his parents, trying to fall back into the warmth of sleep. He pushed his head into the arm cold of his mother.

"Mom, move your arm," he murmured.

There was no response.

"Mom?"

The other sleepers were woken by the piercing wail that came from a boy with almost nothing left. Elle rushed into the room as Chiyoko, Aaron, and Brock threw off their blankets. Thomas was shaking his mother blubbering.

Neither his father nor mother responded to the one sound that was almost guaranteed to make a parent move. Everyone could guess why that was.

"Oh no," Misty rushed in just after Elle and took in the sight, hand coming up to her mouth.

"How could this happen?" Brock shouted, rushing over to the boy's parents. "We were all in here. How could that muk have snuck in-"

"Poison." Chiyoko stated. "I recognize some of the signs. I don't know which, but-"

"How do you know," a growl came from Elle. "Who did you-"

"It's not important," Chiyoko snapped back, grabbing Thomas's shoulders. She pulled him out of the bed. "Get them out of here."

She wrapped her arms around the child and started murmuring comforting words to the distraught boy as she had done with many others during her long life. She whisked him away to a corner. Brock and Elle looked at each other for a moment and then moved to obey.

Ash and Misty watched the bodies being removed, various emotions swirling within. Chains of failure and guilt weighed down on Misty's heart, while Ash began to mourn another orphan.

"Aaron, guard the door," Brock instructed.

Brock and Elle moved the bodies to a re-purposed room, Jean first, followed by Hikaru. Thomas sobbed into Chioko while they worked.

In the other room, the room turned into a morgue, white sheets were draped over the bodies of the previous victims, laid out with some semblance of dignity. Brock and Elle added Hikaru and Jean to their number. They laid the bodies down side by side. Brock closed their eyes. He grabbed a large white sheet and draped it over the two of them.

He turned back to his companion, about to say something, but stopping when he caught sight of her. She was on her knees, slumped up against a wardrobe, her hair fallen around her face. Her head was tilted just enough that Brock could tell that she was looking at the bodies around the room.

"I didn't want this," she said her voice flat. "I wanted to be free of this place, but not like this. It was painful but I didn't hate them. I just wanted to stop suffering. But now they're dead.

"And now that I'll never see them again and-" Her voice began to crack. "-And now there's-" She pushed herself to her feet, still leaning against the furniture.

"It's gone. It's all gone." Her shoulders trembled, face still hidden. Brock approached her. He hesitantly reached out but stopped. Instead he put his hand on her shoulder.

She didn't shake his hand off. They stood together in silence, in the dark with the dead.

Pikachu paced on all fours in front of Ash who was curled up in a corner of the hallway, by the door where Misty, Chiyoko, and Thomas awaited within. He was guarding the hallway until Brock and Elle finished their job.

He felt the need to stretch. Ash tried to stand but Pikachu growled at him.

Stay there until Brock gets back, the yellow mouse glared up at the human.

Why? Ash asked, pausing in his movements.

It's safest that way, the pokémon answered, before resuming his pacing.

Here? I mean if that muk decides to attack it might come from above like it did for Misty, Ash pointed out.

Pikachu paused for a moment, considering his point, and then growled. His cheeks sparked and used a burst of electricity to illuminate the ceiling.

No vents, so you're safe there and staying there until Brock gets back, declared the electric type as Ash tried to stand up again. He sparked his cheeks and the trainer slowly sat down, deciding not to debate the point that he had only wanted to get up to stretch.

You're starting to sound like them you know, Ash commented.

With all the danger you get into they've got a point, Pikachu snarled. You should let out Primeape and Magikarp so that they can help me guard you.

I don't think I'm really in that much danger right now, Ash smiled a little, slumping down.

Yes, I can see how you would see that, what with the room full of recently dead people!

Yeah, but I'm only failing to help stop it, not being targeted, Ash said, smile vanishing. They're after Thomas and Elle's family.

And yet Misty was attacked! More sparks flew. You're in danger. You might not be what they're after, but you're in the line of fire.

How is that different than any other time? Other than the fact that so many people were dead and he couldn't help them. No, people and pokémon had died in other incidents, but he had never had dinner with them all first. And they had died in the heat of battle with no time to mourn until after it was all over.

Alright, what's up with you? Pikachu inquired. You obviously aren't scared but you're still acting strange.

I thought I was always strange?

Quit joking around! Pikachu snarled. Now's not the time. Now what's wrong with you?

Nothing's wrong with me, Ash replied.

I've known-

What's wrong with you? Ash interrupted. I've known you for most of a year and you don't usually act like this.

I'm just being prepared! Pikachu answered loudly. There's something out there-

That you can't fight, Ash guessed. I mean you could handle the muk, but if someone tried to poison me then you couldn't help. And that's why you're acting like you're overcharged. You're feeling helpless and doing this is the only thing that you can control.

Well- fine, I don't like feeling this way, Pikachu admitted, relaxing slightly. But you're still in danger. And you're not acting right, don't think you've managed to change the subject idiot. I've known you since you began your journey. What's wrong with you? And be honest.

I'm just- Scared of losing my friends and every being close to me, while stuck in a situation where I'm being constantly being reminded of said fear- I don't know, uncomfortable.

Fair enough, Pikachu nodded. But you've been like this for a while. Since the Safari Zone.

Like there's anyone who wouldn't be bothered by that, Ash shot back.

Is that what you talked to Bulbasaur about?

Pretty much, Ash sighed. This really isn't helping matters.

Just survive until this is over and then you can get better, Pikachu went over to Ash and jumped on his shoulder. Maybe you could tell Brock and Misty-

Not the time, Ash said quickly.

But being able to openly speak properly could be a big help here, Pikachu retorted.

Yes, but sharing that news would cause too much turmoil that could prove to be very dangerous, Ash answered, mind racing.

Pikachu sighed.

I guess I don't have any good ideas today idiot, he slumped down on his trainer's shoulder. It's the stress. And the lack of electrocuting things. I just want to fry something right now.

If something needs to be cooked, I'm sure Brock could use your help, Ash scratched the top of the yellow pokémon's head. But Brock and Elle are taking awhile. Let's go tell Misty that we're going to go check up on them.

Only if you bring out some more of the team to keep an eye out, Pikachu acquiesced as his trainer stood up.

Ash's arrival was just enough of a disturbance to shake Elle out of her previous state. She shrugged off Brock's hand and stood straight and tall.

"Uh, is anything wrong?" Ash asked the two.

"No, nothing," Elle replied quietly. "Let's get back to the others. There are some things that need to be done."

"Anything go on that I should know?" Ash asked as they exited.

Brock shook his head.

The three of them made their way back to the bedroom. Inside Misty was peering around the ceiling and bottoms of the walls, looking for any possible sign of the muk sneaking in. Chiyoko was still comforting Thomas in a corner.

"You guys," Elle pointed at the trainers, "take Thomas and get out of here. Grandmother and I need to have a little talk."

"I'm afraid we can't do that," Brock put himself between the woman and her grandmother. "It's too dangerous."

"Is that because you're afraid that the killer might strike or that one of us is the killer," Elle asked, glaring at her grandmother.

"It doesn't matter," Brock shook his head as he sidestepped the question. "It's simply too dangerous."

"At this point," Chiyoko interrupted, looking up at Elle. "I don't really care if she is the murderer. Let us talk while we have the chance."

"And if you're the murderer?" Misty asked keeping both in view.

"I somehow doubt I'm capable of that at this age," Chiyoko responded, still looking at Elle.

"Hmmm. You'd be surprised," Brock said, not moving. "I've seen some pretty dangerous old people before."

"I don't care if she is the killer," Elle's voice was hard. "It might make everything so much easier."

"No," Brock's voice grew stony. "That's not going to happen. It doesn't matter who the killer is. If we leave you two alone long enough to have your little 'talk', then it's more than likely that another person will end up dead."

"You don't really have a choice," Elle's hand went to her belt where she kept her pokéballs. "If you don't-"

"We should let them talk," Ash who had been silent thus far finally spoke up. "They need to talk."

"Aaron, stay out of this," Brock snapped at the younger boy. "This-"

"They need to talk," Aaron continued, unfazed. "This might be their last chance. They should take it."

"Completely unaccap-"

"In this situation wouldn't you have wanted to talk to your dad one last time?"

Brock went quiet instantly, mouth still open. He gaped, trying to think of a response before sighing and rubbing his forehead.

"You're right, but I still can't let it happen. I would hope that someone in that hypothetical situation would stop me from doing something like that."

"Do you think Elle's the murderer?" Ash continued.

"I don't know," Brock admitted. "I'm pretty sure that she's not, but I can't be completely certain."

"Do you think Chiyoko is killing her own family?" Ash drove his point further. "People that she helped raise?"

"She wouldn't be the first," but Brock's voice and point sounded weak, even to his own ears. Everyone knew that such things happened out in the world, that such things could happen around them, but to actually accuse another of doing something that horrible-

Well it was one thing to accuse some stranger, or someone that you had suspicions about from the start, but not someone you had got to know, no matter how little, in a different manner. To accuse someone of heinous crimes, without damning evidence, after one had developed some empathy for them was a bit like admitting that one could also commit said crimes.

Sometimes it is said that humans are the real monsters, but one interpretation of that phrase is never brought up; that they are so scary because they can do what no other monsters could, make a person fear themselves.

"Fine," Brock said, letting his hand flop down. "Let's let them talk."

Chiyoko gently pushed Thomas away and towards the trainers. Brock gently took the little boy's hand. Thomas's face was blank and emotionless, his movements almost lifeless as he let others guide him. Brock took him out of the room.

Misty looked at Aaron for a second and then followed. Ash turned to the remaining two. He opened his mouth to say something, but then thought better of it. He too left.

Jessibelle stared at Chiyoko. Jade eyes met jade eyes, one set locked in a glare, the other set softer with age and resignation. One set trying to challenge the other, to beat them down, to achieve righteous victory. The other set refused to even acknowledge that there was a contest.

"You should start," the older of the two women stated. "Recent revelations have shown that I am critically mistaken in some regards. Given the situation I don't believe there is any need for you to hold back."

"Fine. Let's get started then." Elle stalked over and grabbed Chiyoko by the front of her shirt, pulling her up so that their eyes were level. "I've seen what you do. I've seen what this family does. I've seen what our associates do. I know that you're related to these killings. There's no way that you would have no knowledge about this. So tell me WHY THEY'RE ALL DEAD!?"

She thrust the old woman back against the chair. Chiyoko grunted, but made no other indication that anything had happened.

"Jessibelle, I fear that you have greatly overestimated my capabilities," the old woman replied.

"Tauros-shit," Elle snorted. "I saw what happened to the Woburns. They were trying to stage a hostile takeover of some the families corporate assets in Saffron and then suddenly there's an outbreak of mysterious and fatal illnesses that force them to give up. Gee, I wondered how that could have happened?"

"While I have no special knowledge about what happened to the Woburns," Chiyoko said in a very precise manner, "I sleep more soundly knowing that they weren't able to get their hands on any company that happened to take contracts from Silph Co. They would have used that access to wreak the worst kind of havoc."

"Sure," Elle rolled her eyes. "And the Spencers? Funny how their security forces resign just before there's a League raid on their property that discovers all sort of illegal activities. A raid undertaken because of an 'anonymous' tip-off. Just as they were competing with us over some logging rights. Man, I guess we're just lucky like that."

"I'm sure that the source is sleeping more soundly knowing that they weren't able to hide any illegal activities under the guise of logging, and certainly not so close to one of our homes," Chiyoko folded her hands in her lap.

"And the Ueno's?" Jessibelle continued. "They hire P.I's to sniff around Uncle Renji and suddenly they're under investigation for embezzlement, an investigation that fails to find anything once the P.I's are called off."

"What a fortunate coincidence that was," Chiyoko said, nodding.

"Oh yes, all luck, with nothing to do with you," Jessibelle snarled. "Just like James? Right?"

"N-" Chiyoko tried to speak, but Elle kept going.

"Why let a disgrace like him into the family right?" Her face was twisted in to a rictus of rage. "I mean he was just so 'inappropriate' wasn't he? You certainly said that enough about him."

"I said that about many people," Chiyoko spoke up, but Elle ignored her.

"And of course he was. He didn't act the way he was supposed to. Too feminine. Too flamboyant. Too into pokémon. Too interested in technology." Jessibelle was pacing now, fast and heavy steps, back and forth as she ranted.

"He was young. He would have learned the proper way to conduct himself as he grew." Chiyoko was once again ignored.

"So you either let his family try to 'fix' him or you suggested it yourself in your usual manner. And then when it seems like they're not making enough progress, you kill them all! Save us some face, right?! Kill James-"

"I had nothing to do with James!" Chiyoko shouted, nearly jumping out of her chair.

"Don't you dare lie to me!" Elle roared back, tears in her eyes. "I know that you-"

"You think that I'd really do that to him? To a child? To your friend?" Chiyoko snapped. "You think that I would have let that happen to James if I had known about it?"

"You've orphaned plenty of children!"

"I killed their parents when it was necessary. I never touched their children!" Chiyoko protested. "I did what I needed to do, but it was never necessary to harm children. What is more, James was dear to you. All I wanted was for him to learn the proper way to conduct himself when in public. I never wanted to destroy what he was, who he was to you!"

"But you let it happen!" Jessibelle shouted, arms curling forward on either side. "You let them-"

"If I had any conception about what his family was devising then I would have terminated their plans in a heartbeat!" Chiyoko was beginning to tear up as well. "And when they locked him away I tried to liberate him. I even took you with me to try and convince them that what they were doing was heinous. You remember that day, surely?"

"I- You-" Jessibelle took a step back, eyes widening, shaking her head, going through the memories. She had wondered about the exact purpose of that visit, but she had never asked and the pain was still too raw when she tried to think back on that memory. "No, I-"

"You assaulted his parents, and I think you left some rather impressive marks on them in the process," despite her tears, Chiyoko smirked. "I don't think I ever had a chance to congratulate you on that. Their actions were disgusting, even if they were nothing new. I suppose they at least had the fortitude to perform such actions in their own abode, unlike some in the pre-war days."

"And that just made it worse," Jessibelle clenched her fists and tried to control her tears. "That fire-"

"I had nothing to do with it. Fire is far too clumsy a tool for me to ever use." Chiyoko looked down. "I had been busy trying to find some legal way to remove James from their care. You might remember that meeting I held between our lawyers and the social workers? There was some commotion about their state of dress if I recall correctly. I was preparing to finalize a course of action when we received the news."

"No, no, no... it has to be you. You have to be the one who did it." Jessibelle was backing up now, shaking her head. Beliefs that she had held onto for years, the anger that had sustained her and shaped her, the motivations that had driven her, all were being called into question. She was breaking.

"After the fire," Chiyoko continued, "when you started to change, I was proud. You had decided to do something that was not easy entirely out of your own prerogative and you stuck to it. It is true that in doing so you became more arrogant, more controlling, and less social, but I went through a similar experience at your age. I had always seen something resembling myself in you and after James' death it had come to the fore of your personality."

"I thought," the old woman choked back a sob, "I thought you were just maturing, finding your own path in life. I thought that you were just growing up and defining yourself. The fact that you were so reluctant to talk to any of your relations was worrisome, but nothing that was worth undue panic. You were supposed to have come back in your own time and I could have begun grooming you to take my place in keeping our family safe and together."

"No," Elle said quietly shaking her head.

"Oh yes," Chiyoko nodded. "But it turns out that you have yet more evidence that I am not omniscient and I find that I have been very mistaken about you."

"Why couldn't you tell?" Jessibelle's world had been turned upside down. Fact was now fiction and she was lost. She was clutching for something, anything to help her get to her feet and find her bearings. So first she tried to latch onto the crumbling image of her all-knowing grandmother.

"Why didn't you ever accuse me?" Chiyoko shot back. "Why did you just run away?"

"I didn't just run away!" Yes, an argument where Elle felt like she had some firm ground would help. "I left to become something better than I was. I went out in the world to become powerful and help people. I saw suffering and I helped stop it! It might not have been much, but it was more than I ever had at home!"

"You call us home, but if I had let you have your way, then you would have never returned," Chiyoko replied. "What else could I call such behavior other than running away? I had thought you needed space to grow-"

"Space away from all those stares and whispers!" Anger, yes anger was safe and familiar. "Space away from those judgmental fucks!"

"They're all dead," Chiyoko said quietly. "Most of them were dead before this winter. Would it have been so bad to show them so small kindness before they went?"

"Kindness none of them ever offered!"

"Oh, so your aunt Taoko, your uncle Hubert, Ayoko, and your cousin Terry never offered you kindness?"

"They were the minority! It was foolish for them to stay!" Elle shouted.

"It was foolish for them to stick by their family! To balance trying to help them with their own pursuits!" Chiyoko was yelling back.

"Yes! No! I don't know." Jessibelle looked down. "I don't know. They might have survived if they had."

"It was not belonging to this family that was the cause of their deaths, at least not in the manner that you are thinking," Chiyoko said, lowering her voice back to a level suitable for conversation. "No, most of them died for their beliefs. Some did so on the field of battle, some from overworking themselves, and some from simple bad luck."

"And some were killed by their own family members," Elle spat bitterly.

"Don't forget that they killed some of the family as well," Chiyoko responded. "But both sides were willing to risk their lives on the field of battle. Should the identity of the one who did the deed in such a place matter? So long as the conflict is left out on the field, then-"

"They'll simply sneak the conflict back in so that it can be a festering poison!" Elle countered.

"I have never permitted anyone to bring their conflicts home," Chiyoko rebutted.

"And yet they managed to find a way to do so!" Her rage was in full swing now. "I probably would have never realized how awful we are if they hadn't. Most of those dead men and women hated what I was doing! Not because of any sensible reason, but because of some stupid cause and some history that's best left forgotten! You shouldn't even have tried! "

"What would you have me do?!" Chiyoko defended herself. "Side with one group over another? Turned it into a war within the family? Destroyed one of the sides? Is that what you would've had me do instead?"

"You could have just let them split apart!"

"And how would the end result be any different from any of the scenarios I described? Did you want to kill them?"

"No!" Jessibelle's expression quickly became one of horror. "Never!"

"Then what would you have had me do?" Chiyoko demanded. "What?!"

"Something other than what you did! Something that didn't make everyone either miserable or dead!"

"And you think I didn't look for a way!" This time it was Chiyoko who was struggling with her tears. "You think I wanted this end! I tried to avoid it! Before now I had nightmare about this coming true! And after today I will have nightmares about how it came true! And you have apparently been hiding some wondrous solution from me, at least from the way you keep critiquing me. So what is it? What should I have done!"

"I don't know!" Elle shouted back. "I don't know" Her voice went quieter. "I'm sorry, but I just don't know."

Silently they stood in the dim room for long minutes dealing with their churning emotions.

"Is this the part where I apologize?" Jessibelle asked the older woman, voice quiet and eyes trained on the floor.

"It wouldn't go amiss," Chiyoko replied with a shrug.

"Then I'm sorry I broke your mauve vase when I was nine."

"That's alright. It was hideous anyway."

Both let out barks of laughter tainted by tears not shed.

"We are both fools," Chiyoko said, rubbing at her eye. "Two foolish peas in a pod."

"Yeah, we're pretty big idiots," Jessibelle admitted, also wiping away a tear. Another moment of silence.

"I would like to hear about some of your ventures when this is all over," Chiyoko stated. "I feel that I have gone too long without hearing them."

"Yeah, I wasted plenty of time too," Elle agreed. "You've probably got some stories I'd love to hear as well."

"There are plenty that I was saving until you were old enough to properly appreciate them," Chiyoko replied with a smirk. "It's too bad that you stopped talking to me before you turned sixteen. I have several stories that would have changed how you viewed certain relatives."

"We'll have plenty of time to swap stories when this is all over," Elle's face now sported a wan grin. "We should probably go join the others."

"That would be prudent," Chiyoko agreed. Elle offered her a hand and helped the older woman out of her chair. They headed to the doorway together.

"That was less violent that I woulda guessed," Misty commented when the two Umagoyas left the room. The other four had been clustered together in the hallway. Brock had been doing his best to comfort Thomas. His skill with children was trying to overcome the obstacle of unfamiliarity and only partially succeeding. Thomas was rapidly becoming a catatonic wreck.

"I'm back, don't worry," Chiyoko said in a soothing tone to the boy, taking him from Brock's arms. She continued to whisper soothing nothings to him.

"We need a plan," Elle stated, her eyes going hard, mouth drawing into a determined frown. "We can't just keep hunkering down and waiting for help."

"It's safest if we stick somewhere defensible," Brock answered, moving to face her directly. "Or at least it should have been. I agree to the point that we can't keep going forward blind. But I don't think we should abandon sticking to defensible positions. Most of the deaths occurred because-"

"Of a lack of trust," Chiyoko interrupted. "If they had been more trusting of you and Elle then there would have been someone standing guard inside the rooms. But, said lack of trust may have been justified, given what happened to my great grandniece and her husband."

"You think they might have done it?" Elle asked, turning to Chiyoko and raising an eyebrow.

"I am not a professional investigator so I will make no suggestions or claims," Chiyoko answered. "Someone in this mansion, whether they are hidden in plain sight or out of sight, has managed to gain access and intelligence that would require some at least some prior knowledge of this location. One of the servants may have slipped back in. One of the servants may have been replaced and impersonated. One of the family or the help may have been bribed into giving away the blueprints of this structure or intelligence about the behaviors of our family. Aaron there may be a nom de guerre to lull the gym leaders and the League into a false sense of security so that he may travel and do what he wishes with little interference."

Aaron fortunately had no idea what 'nom de guerre' meant and thus was saved from an awkward reaction that might have started a lot of commotion.

"In any case it would be prudent that, no matter what we end up doing, that we stay together," Chiyoko continued.

"Agreed," Brock nodded.

"We'll be slower then," Elle protested. "We'll give the killer more room to maneuver."

"And if we split up, we give the killer more chances to pick us off one by one," Misty pointed out.

"They haven't shown a problem with that so far," Elle glanced back at the room where the corpses were kept. Wait, wasn't that-

The entryway door slammed open and something hissed out of the darkness beyond. Everyone had already started moving, Misty tackled Aaron down, Brock moved to grab Chiyoko and Thomas, and Elle started rushing towards the door. There was a small thud, a brief gurgle, and then bodies were hitting the floor.

Ash tried to get up, but Misty pushed him down as she looked back to assess the threat. Nothing came through the doorway and the sound of running feet could clearly be heard.

"Get back here!" Elle roared. White light blazed as she released her three pokémon. "KILL!" The red haired woman shouted the command while pointing into the hallway. Dirty orange light shone, leaves whistled through the air, and a delcatty hissed as Elle's comrades obeyed.

"Stay down," Misty ordered Aaron, getting up and reaching for her own pokéballs. "Elle, don't be an idiot! Get back here!" More light blazed as Misty released her own pokémon and rushed to the doorway.

Elle had already disappeared from sight by the time Misty and her team looked out into the hallway. The girl turned back to the others.

"Is everyone alright back there?" She called back.

"I'm fine," Brock said, picking himself up, looking over at the two he had shoved out of the way. "How about-"

He fell silent when his eyes saw the trio of slim sliver white needles sticking out of Chiyoko's throat. A trickle of liquid leaked out of the corner of her mouth, crimson edging on black in the dim light, staining her pale cheeks as it traveled towards the floor and the gravity of cold earth far below.

Thomas whimpered once and then fell silent.

"Crap, crap, crap," Brock said, scrambling to check Chiyoko's vitals. "Misty, grab the kid."

No pulse in the old throat. Nothing in the wrists. No sounds from the chest. No breath. The old woman was dead.

"Thomas? Thomas? Talk to me!" Misty said, grabbing the child and pulling him close. "It's been too long since those first aid courses- Brock do you know if there's a risk that he could go into shock?"

"Not that sort of shock, no," Brock replied, looking up. "Aaron I need you to- Aaron? Where'd he go?"

Elle wasn't the only one who chased after the killer.

Ash was not a person who could hide away during trouble, sitting in the darkness and doing nothing. At the very least he had to be learning, planning, preparing to take action. Add in more death, one of the very things that going to the human world was supposed to help him avoid, seeing people lost and watching a broken family be destroyed, and it was easy to see why he might act rashly.

Of course Pikachu called him an idiot and after a minute or so of running through hallways, trying to track Elle and the fleeing party by noise and signs of destruction Ash started to agree with him. What was worse was that he was lost.

Head back to Brock and Misty! Pikachu shouted. It's not safe for you out here!

Well it's not safe for Elle either, Aaron hissed back, using his innate stubbornness to hide his insecurity due to being locationally challenged. He hated trying to navigate human habitats, he really did sometimes. And we can take that murderer down and make this whole place safer for everyone!

Fine let me track her then, Pikachu said. I can sniff her out.

You'll just try to lead me back to Brock and Misty, Ash protested.

No, if I try that you're just going to run off again, Pikachu pointed out. I want this over with too. We should be able to take him if we find him rather than the other way around. We don't want to get ambushed.

Alright, lead the way!

Their journey continued down the dark hallways with winter tinged windows, with the wind pressing on the walls, pockmarks marking sites of battle, the occasional scream of pain or bellow rage signaling that the battle was still continuing. The path twisted and turned, a chaotic mess of scents, and then it-

Split?

How does that work? Ash asked his pokémon.

I don't really know, Pikachu said, sniffing the air some more. They were at the intersection of two halls, and the scent trail had split in three. I know I'm not the best when it comes to tracking by scent, but I didn't think I was this bad. Where did you hear sounds from last?

I think it was that direction, Ash answered, pointing down the left hallway.

Alright, let's go.

They continued for a short while until they came to another doorway, one that seemed familiar.

Isn't this where we- Pikachu began.

Went outside to train, Ash finished. Well, at least we'll know the terrain.

You mean flat and snowy? Pikachu snarked as Ash turned the knob.

Wind whipped against their bare faces the instant they went outside. Snow was still falling, less than the white out from earlier, but still creating a veil over the landscape. Ash grabbed his pokéballs and cast them out. Light blazed and then his team was out and ready to fight.

"Follow me," Ash commanded, rushing out into the wind. "Pikachu, show me the way."

It turned out that they didn't have far to go. Before the mansion was lost in the falling snow they came across a figure, tall and dark, clutching their longcoat about them for warmth as they strode away from the mansion.

"Hey!" Ash shouted. "Stop right there asshole!"

"Asshole?" The voice called back over the wind. "How rude of you young man. But that is to be expected from your earlier behavior."

"What-" Ash said to himself. That voice sounded familiar. But it couldn't be- "Impossible"

"As the great sage once said, " Krieg turned around to face Ash, "Impossibility is merely a matter of perspective. Something that I'm sure you lack."

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