(A/N: I sometimes wish I had attracted a crowd of easier to please, lower intelligence beings instead of the talented molders and analyzers of words you all are (I am looking at you especially, Deathdealer) so I could use the "I've been gone for a while" card as an excuse for any and all terribleness, but then I remember that honesty and constructive criticism is how I can become as talented as you people... or at least more talented than I am currently. Anyway! As it so happens, marching band intruded on my life at a most inopportune time and I was left with a dilemma: write the one or two chapters it will take to finish the story, or catch up on sleep? ... I chose sleep. I don't function well without rest. Anyway, I hope you guys weren't really expecting a lot, because really... we're closing it up. T-T At the same time, I'm glad to write the finale. I'll finally be able to work on another problem story whose commisioner I've been receiving frustrated PMs from. As always, pikaree1 does not own Benjen/700, Kaz, Mithril, Natalie, or Leon.)
Lapis stared at the Krookodile, almost as stupefied by the request as he had been by the sand. "Ya want us... ta kill someone?" he repeated.
Krookodile nodded with an amiable, sharp-toothed smile. "That's right!" Silence reigned for a few moments before Grisseo came running back. Lapis was quick to put him in a headlock and then continue speaking to the Krookodile.
"Whaddya mean, kill someone?!" he shouted over the unholy racket that Grisseo was making. "Ain't dis a dream world?! Why would we need ta kill someone?!"
Krookodile adopted a grave look on his face. "Ah, now that's a long story..."
"Exposition is borin'," Lapis said promptly, and even Grisseo stopped flailing and screaming long enough to shoot the pokemon a deadpan expression. "Keep it down to two sentences or less."
"Someone else's consciousness has taken over this place, locked up the consciousness of Benjen, and that isn't good for the stability of the dream world."
Lapis and Grisseo frowned with twin expressions of confusion."'Stability of the dream world'?" they echoed.
"...You don't know how it works, do you."
They shook their heads.
"Er. Okay. Well. I guess I'll need to go overboard on the exposition."
Orange was awakened early in the morning by the tickle of knives at his throat.
Despite the fact that mere seconds previous he had been sound asleep, he was jarred into full alertness, breath catching in his throat and eyes wildly flitting around his surroundings. Why was it so dark?! Why were there knives at his throat?! Had the enemy decided to attack in the middle of the night?! The knives hadn't moved in for the kill, merely remained hovering above him. Orange tried not to move, careful of brushing his Adam's apple against the pointed tip of the blade.
"Good morning," came Kaz's voice, lilting and cruelly teasing. Orange guessed that she was the one holding the knives. Hmph, some wake-up call. The weapons were withdrawn, and he blinked, trying to adjust to the darkness. Kaz seemed happier as compared to yesterday, or perhaps it was just that she could now afford to school her mannerisms back to her signature false politeness. He half-wished it was Lyra or even Captain Silver here instead; at least he was familiar with them and wouldn't have to worry about being killed. Even if his control over Hope was necessary to counter The Boss's control over Chaos, a small voice in the very back of his mind whispered for him not to cross her. Who knows what would happen if he did? A gruesome death would doubtlessly await him if they won the fight.
Still, Orange was a teenage boy, and teenage boys aren't exactly known for their wise judgement.
"Couldn't you have just woken me up like a normal person?" he grumbled mutinously, dragging himself up to a sitting position.
Kaz merely raised an eyebrow. "Well, if I tried to do that, you would take too long to get up, and we'd have to leave you behind. If we left you behind, we wouldn't have Hope with us. If we didn't have Hope with us, Chaos would keep us from defeating The Boss. But that won't happen because now you're wide awake and ready to go, right?" Her smile (or rather what Orange could see of it) became a bit more forceful. He gulped and nodded quickly, mentally berating himself for challenging her. He quickly picked up his travel pack, stuffed his blanket into it, and scrambled over to what he thought was the door, crashing into the wall a few times before actually locating the exit. Kaz tracked him with her eyes until he was out before standing up and going outside herself.
As it turned out, it was almost as dark outside as it was inside. The twinkling stars and crescent moon cast a thin, pale glow, barely illuminating the night enough for Orange to see the rough gravel path in front of him. Mithril and Natalie were already waiting, Natalie sitting in the boat with her sunglasses on and Mithril jogging in place impatiently. When the younger took notice of him, she blew out an irate exhale and hissed, "Took you long enough! We've been waiting since forever!"
"Odd, considering you're only fifteen," Kaz chirped, suddenly seated beside Natalie. Mithril yelped shrilly before backing away.
"K-Kaz! A-Aren't you sounding h-happy today," she giggled nervously, fidgeting with crystal clear discomfort.
"My, was it that obvious? But why shouldn't I be?" the woman returned serenely. "After all, soon I will be able to kill the person who kidnapped my baby brother, and then I will have Benjen back." She giggled, teeth flashing white.
"Oh, Kaz, what pointy canines you have!" Mithril whimpered, mostly to herself. Orange found himself nodding in fearful agreement as he dumped in his bag and took a seat in the boat.
He turned to Natalie, their de facto leader of transport since she seemed to be the most stable out of the four of them (barring the ever-humdrum and mostly pacifistic Orange himself, but he didn't know much about transportation), and asked, "So... How's this thing supposed to be operated?"
"Zzz," was her answer. Orange blinked.
"...Natalie's asleep," he said, turning to the other occupants of the boat. "What now?"
Kaz shook her head, still wearing that far too cheerful smile. Orange kind of felt like he preferred it when she was open about her scariness instead of hiding it behind that polite mask. In fact, he sometimes wondered why she wasn't a member of the castle's team of ambassadors; she would've given the old farts in charge of other kingdoms a run for their money. "Silly child," she giggled, her laugh sounding like the tinkling of glass bells being shattered over some poor shmuck's eyes. Orange was half a mind to protest at 'child', but he was also half a mind to keep himself uninjured for as long as possible. The self-preservative half won. "It's pulled along by Floatzel. Do you see any oars or a motor on this thing? The only viable option other than being pulled would be to have you push us with magic, and I'd sooner die than let that happen because I would end up dead. Now, let's be off!" She barked a command at their steeds, and the weasel pokemon were off like a shot, dragging their passengers behind them. Orange and Mithril fell over at their sudden start, and Orange got a face full of flailing hand. Mithril got a hand full of screaming face. The jerking motion of the boat also served to awaken Natalie, who screamed bloody murder until she caught sight of Kaz's sharp smile and quieted to a whimper.
Their journey passed mostly in tense silence save for the sound of the Floatzels and the boat cutting through the sea.
Natalie's face was drawn in a tight expression as she kept herself from grimacing and looked out onto the water. Visibility was good, and she could make out the distant tip of Mt. Chimney. The salty scent of the water only served to further remind her that she was not on sweet, dry land but instead the uncertain, unsteady ocean. It didn't help calm her frayed nerves in the slightest.
Mithril was playing the ballad 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' by the bard Cob Narley in her head to soothe the Butterfrees jangling about in her gullet. She disliked being stuck on tight little spaces like their small boat as a rule; that and the fact that she was stuck with the most frightening woman she'd ever met in her life (aside from perhaps her elderly great-aunt Edna) were not making for the happiest moment in her short life, nor even a remotely pleasant one.
Orange was tranquil, his eyes shut gently as he meditated in the way his mother had always instructed him to do if he wasn't feeling well emotionally or if he was trying to figure out an important decision. However, he had already made his peace with the thought of assisting in ending the life of another; that life had ended and disrupted the lives of many others, caused chaos, destruction, and sorrow. (...And, he thought contentedly within the palace of his mind, Kaz can't scare me here. Probably.)
Kaz was, as always, single-minded; the only thing that mattered was retrieving Benjen from the clutches of The Boss. She no longer had the shackles of duty and mission holding her to what she was able to investigate, and there were no laws for her to tip toe around. Mt. Chimney was uninhabited territory, and she was going after a notorious criminal and his accomplices anyway. There was no need for her to circumvent governments from various parts of the world bringing down their idea of justice upon her; this kill was special. Her smile twitched to become something a little more sharp. As a highly proficient assassin, her missions were normally to kill off crime bosses (because the queen was adamant about keeping their kingdom's history as free of blood as it could be, and the king was of similar mind, just not blessed with the proper management skills to carry out the objective) who had gotten too big for their britches, as was the case with Baka back in chapter seven. Granted, he was actually Benjen's target, but she would have been sent after him soon anyway.
The underworld of crime tended to rely on these kinds of people; their influence branched out like tree roots under the soil. Taking out one was basically the equivalent of uprooting a tree, and there were plenty of criminals who ended up pissed and confrontational. They weren't much of a problem, but the real issue lay in whether or not the target had a front in politics. That was the problem with foreign targets; they tended to be entitled and weren't subject to random checks decided by roulette and a game of pool (Captain Silver had never elaborated on the choosing method, and Kaz had never asked. As long as she got the desired missions, she didn't care), so the public ended up infuriated and thirsting for the blood of whoever had killed him.
But it was not so with The Boss. According to the information Kara had relayed to the queen who then relayed it to the ninja corps, The Boss's organization was small and flew solo, systematically taking out other criminals who got too big or too deep in their territory. It was beyond Kaz why the lunatic hadn't taken in more (competent) people, but she supposed that was why he was labeled a lunatic.
Suddenly, the Floatzels pulling the boat stopped, their wet fur bristling out and air sacs inflating even teeth showed as the hissed agitatedly. Kaz's eyes sharpened as she reached for her kunai, and Mithril and Natalie prepared for combat as well.
"No need for such hostile reactions!" a familiarly condescending and jovial voice rang out cheerfully. "I haven't sent out another agent to kill you, don't worry! I was just bored sitting in a pit of magma."
The party members froze, eyes darting to each other in silent question. Adviser Green hadn't said anything about sitting in a pit of magma, so why...?
"You see, it seems that Yveltal doesn't like the idea of someone trying to control it more than twice. I have to sit in a pit of magma until two hours before the ritual can start! On a magic circle! With the gems around me! Without my cloak! Can you believe it?! My cloak!" Ugh. There were certainly times when they all wondered why this guy was their (at current) most feared enemy. "And I don't even have the leeway to go fetch Genevieve or even send 700 or Leon to get her! I can barely send out a telepathic projection! Ah well, you only have three proper combat units anyway. It'll be a one on one! So hurry up, alright? Get here soon!"
"Wait, why do you even want us there?" Orange piped up in confusion. "Wouldn't it be easier for you if we never showed up?"
"Yes, but it would be so terribly boring," The Boss sighed. "Besides, the next sacrifice calls for the blood of a hero. Procuring one is a little more troublesome than capturing a child, but it still isn't much of a challenge. But it would be so inconvenient to have to go out and get one, and you're already coming to me! Don't be too late, though, or we'll have start the party without you." There was a staticky buzz, and then a pop as the link was cut off.
The world of dreams, as Krookodile tried to explain to Lapis and Grisseo, had been invented by Darkrai to keep human souls from drifting away from their bodies when they fell into the deepest parts of slumber. In the days before, malevolent ghosts and spirits and other manner of beings even more supernatural than pokemon roamed the land, trying to find a tasty soul to devour. Possession wasn't all that uncommon in those days; a mother might go to bed with her baby tucked safely in its crib and five years later be raising up an old, old soul; a marriage could be torn apart be it by a sudden argument or the death of one spouse; a well-loved and respected teacher could one day kill their students. However, only the most powerful of spirits could take over the body of a human in full possession of itself, and they were few and far between. The more common ones preyed on the psyches that were deeply asleep, having a very weak anchor and just about ready to drift off away and become a wandering spirit in itself.
To remedy the situation, Darkrai gave humans a world within their mind to hold tight to their spirits. It began with showing them images of their worries and their hopes, reminders that they had lives to return to after they had rested, but as Darkrai grew increasingly bored and creative, the dreams became capable of growing more outlandish, some terrifying, some entertaining.
"The problem," Krookodile sighed in frustration, "is that this realm is meant to be a temporary existence, something without much substance that will dissipate and then renew itself as needed. If it lasts to long, the entities within it can grow their own consciousnesses. Case in point..." He gestured to himself. "When this happens, the dream world expands, sometimes even creating its own dimension and breaking off from the real one. Things spin completely out of the dreamer's control. The perp isn't very interested in what's going on in here, and Benny's a good kid, so this place is pretty peaceful, and we're still technically classified as a dream, but... Well, I'm not too sure how long this will last. The Sands of Stupefication? Benny invented them. It used to be way closer to him, but as the dream world grew, it got farther and farther away, stretched around the very edges... And now it's stopped moving, and stuff's growing around it, weird plants Benny never even thought of. That's proof that the connection's starting to fall apart. I don't know who did this, but they don't have a very deep understanding of what will happen. They let a little bit of his will free, one of the most basic and untouched parts, so we can assume that his body's still moving, but if things go on for too long... He'll fall into an unstable state of schizophrenia, or die."
Lapis scratched his head. "Couldn't brainwashin' deal wit' da shizzafreeza?"
"Schizophrenia," Krookodile corrected, a bit stupefied himself at how someone could know what it was and not how to say it. It wasn't even that difficult to sound out from writing. "And I guess it could, but... Benjen's own psyche would force itself to cut ties with the physical body. The remnants of his will still inhabiting it may have grown to be fuller in its own right over the years, but to be torn away from a major part of his essence... It would disintegrate, sooner rather than later, and he would die."
"What if he used a spell to keep the psyche stable?" Grisseo piped up.
"The human spirit isn't something that completely follows the rules of magic. Splitting it? Magic can handle that. But stabilizing one that's been totaled? Not even a legendary pokemon's power can do that."
"Wait," Lapis said suddenly, "how d'ya know dat he'll be okay when he's dropped back inta da real world?"
"Oh, there's a control center in the Sands of Stupeficatin that shows what's going on outside. There's a trustworthy-ish guy with him who'll get him somewhere safe if need be. Now come on, there's not much farther to go before we reach him."
"Come on, there's not much farther to go before we reach the top!" Orange declared with false cheer. This did nothing to appease Natalie and Mithril who glared at him poisonously. Kaz was the only one in their group to show no signs of flagging, fresh as she'd been when they began their ascent. It was... kind of unnerving, really, but none of them mentioned it, especially since she was likely to deliver a sarcastic comment about it being "just a little trek" or something like that.
"There's not even that," Natalie said blandly instead, catching sight of a cable. "I think I just found the cable car."
"WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR, LET'S GO! ALSO, CURSED RAINBOW BABIES!"
The youngest two members of their group were off like shots, charging with the reckless abandon and stupidity of teenager-hood in the direction of the car. Natalie followed at a light jog rather than a sprint, and Kaz just smiled before taking to the trees. Predictably, she reached the spot before them, not a hair out of place and her kimono free of tears despite her branch-hopping. There were times when having a ninja as an ally was a wonderful, wonderful, merciful thing, but there were other times when it only served as a reminder that one was a loser in comparison. This was definitely one of those times.
Whoever was supposed to be in charge of the car was absent. That was a bit of an inconvenience, considering the fact that none of them could operate it.
"This stuff requires magic," Natalie said uncertainly. "Usually someone with air magic propels it forward on the cable, but only one of us can use it now..." She glanced at Orange, a hopeful look on her face. "Any help from the magic ear-murderer?"
"Hey!" Orange protested with a huff. "Jo is not an ear murderer!"
"Yes he is!" Mithril yelled indignantly. "I almost went deaf the last time you played it!"
"Him! And I saved your life!"
"At the cost of my poor virgin ears!"
"Answer the gosh darn question!" Natalie complained, intervening in the face of the not-so-subtle signs of a full-on argument.
"Ah... No. We can still trek up the mountain on foot, so I guess Xerneas doesn't think it's necessary."
"Useless," Mithril muttered mutinously.
"I SAVED YOUR LIFE!"
"If it isn't working, we'll make it work," Kaz interrupted calmly before turning her sweetest smile on Orange. "You'll be pulling the cable to make us move forward." It was not a request, it was a demand, and Orange gulped fearfully and nodded, eyes not leaving that terrifyingly dulcet smile.
Soon enough, they were ascending the mountain once more, though at a Shuckle's pace. Kaz had many a scathing comment about the difficulty Orange was having. He privately thought that her expectations were inhuman; even if the car was attached to the cable with a wheel, they were moving uphill, and were quite heavy besides. Mithril asked Natalie if Greg the Ponyta could propel them with soft Sky Flames, but when the older girl shot her a confused, questioning look, she gave up and instead called out her Lucario, who proved much more capable than Orange. Progress increased from the Shuckle's pace to a Lucario's, meaning that Orange would turn into a Shuckle if he was hit with a pokemon-ifying spell.
He protested quite loudly to that observation.
Lapis could in no way connect the adorable, happy-looking child to an agent of The Boss, but he could connect him to Kaz. Their facial structures and eyes were incredibly similar, though Benjen's face was more cherubic and fuller with not-yet-lost baby fat.
"Howdy-doo, Benny," Krookodile said with a smile that was surprisingly friendly despite being full of sharp teeth. "Guess where I went today?"
"Where?" Benjen asked excitedly, gripping the bars of his cage.
Oh yeah. The cage.
While Krookodile and Benjen chatted about Krookodile's expedition into the Sands of Stupefication and beyond, Lapis frowned in thought. This kid... If he had spent the majority of his life in a cage, what would that mean for his mental and psychological health if he got out back into the real world? Actually, no, the question he should have been pondering much earlier was how a kid who had been living in a fantasy land inside his mind where pretty much everything could adjust to his will would be when returned to the real world. He hadn't seemed to have matured much, if his external state was anything to go by, and although Lapis suspected Kaz would not mind this terribly—no, she'd probably be overjoyed that she'd get to spend all the lost years with him—it might end up being a problem later on.
...Especially with the two conflicting psyches. If one part stayed a little kid and the other had grown into a ruthless killer, what the heck was going to happen? Were the two parts of his spirit going to duke it out? Were they going to combine into some bizarre amalgam that ended up like that creepy but cute yandere in that one manga? That was a terrifying thought, especially since Benjen was a guy. Guys weren't supposed to be cutely innocent in Lapis's opinion, but then, that was part of the reason why it would be creepy and bizarre, the other reason being that he would be doing the whole 'cute innocent smile' act while holding a bloody axe...Steer those thoughts away from there, homeboy. Think happy thoughts. Heroism and no kicked Lillipups.
"...And then I met these two!" Krookodile exclaimed, gesturing to Lapis and Grisseo suddenly. "Their names are Lapis and Grisseo!"
"Yo," Lapis said awkwardly, waving. He was awful with kids.
"It's an ankle-biter!" Grisseo shrieked, whipping a Darkrai charm out from who-knows-where and waving it in front of him.
Benjen's reaction was not as they expected. He squeaked, hiding behind Krookodile as best he could.
"...Benny doesn't really meet a lot of people, and he's never met another human before, so he's a bit shy," Krookodile explained awkwardly. "But I suppose we've had enough chitchat. Benjen, do you know where that weird blobby thing is? The one that keeps trying to make you drink tea?"
Benjen shook his head, trembling. "No... But it's going to show up soon. It said it would."
"And indeed I am!" A purple blob appeared from out of nowhere, a tea cup in one blobby tendril and a kettle in another. "So! Will you drink any tea today? This place gets terribly boring."
Krookodile pointed at it. "Okay, you two, do your thing! Get it!"
"Gee, yer purty confident dat we'll just do whatcha say," Lapis grumbled even as he grabbed the blob and plucked it up. It struggled in his grip but got nowhere. "Dis thing ain't even dat strong..."
Krookodile shrugged. "Well, it's an incomplete psyche that forced itself into a completely different mind. All it can do is create small illusions, like changing its appearance and illusionary teasets. The only reasons Benny's in a cage is because the complete psyche created a bunch before fragmenting and leaving. You, on the other hand, are a complete psyche that was given dreamwalking gear. I'm sure you can tell the difference."
Lapis considered this, then nodded, accepting the explanation. "Okay." He turned back to the blob. "Now, I've got some questions for ya-"
"Where is Lord Darkrai?!" Grisseo demanded furiously, snatching the blob from his hands and shaking it.
"Locked up in one of the spare cages," it choked out quickly. The thing was surprisingly wimpy despite technically being a part of The Boss. "It'll only last until Benjen dies and the external part of his psyche takes over."
Krookodile looked at him incredulously. "...You have no idea how this works, do you?"
Krookodile looked like he was about to smack himself, then like he was about to smack the blob, but he ultimately decided that using Smack Down on Lapis and Grisseo earlier in chapter 25 had already filled his smacking quota for the month. Instead, he reiterated what he told Lapis and Grisseo earlier.
"...Oh," said the blob, looking deflated. "Well, no matter. My main psyche is gonna kill the trigger soon anyway, so it doesn't even matter if Benjen doesn't die as long as he stays locked up."
Lapis snatched the blob back from Grisseo and shook it twice. "Great, now answer mah question! How d'we defeat Kyuukushu?!"
The blob snorted. "Kyuukushu? She's been stuck in that sealed cavern for so long that the world's very aura has changed outside. There're way less evil spirits roaming about the world, so it'll basically be so clean it hurts. Sure, she'll make a huge fuss and destroy a forest, so she'll at least be marginally more comfortable in her death throes, but even then, the only reason she's still so powerful is the concentrated strength she has around her to manipulate. It'll diffuse through the air and she'll only be a little more powerful than your average Ninetales, not to mention the fact that she's too old now. Even she will succumb to old age. Besides, she isn't really as strong as she claims to be. Defeating legendaries? They were practically babies back then; they live for eternity, and they had the time to grow into their power."
Lapis cut off the blob, who was seriously running its mouth. Also, the whole thing seemed way too anti-climactic, like that demon in one of the first story arcs of Gremlin Ears. "Okay, so how could she use Origin Pulse and Precipice Blades?"
"Illusions, obviously," the blob said flippantly. "Can you let me go now? This kind of hurts."
"Kill it!" Krookodile clamored. "That will set both Benny and your Darkrai friend free!"
"Ya know what," said Lapis, "I think I'll do dat."
"Let me go?" the blob asked hopefully.
"What? No. Dat's stupid. Kill you."
With a rather abrupt jolt, the party had reached the end of the cable. Kaz hopped out nimbly, followed by everyone else.
They were met, of course, with the utmost politeness. "Welcome!" The Boss said cheerfully with a little bow and a flourish. "You arrived at the perfect time! I just got out of my magma bath!"
Natalie squinted. "Wasn't this guy supposed to be stuck in there for another day?" she whispered apprehensively to Kaz. Kaz didn't get to answer, however, because The Boss had heard her question and was more than willing to answer it.
"Well you see, my former minion, that year was a leap year!"
Natalie made a face.
And Kaz aimed her knives at The Boss's face!
And The Boss protected himself from the knife thrown at his face using the shielding magic from before
Kaz sighed. "Oh my," she said disappointedly. "Looks like we'll be needing you after all, Orange."
The Boss's eyes lit up. "So you didn't decide on a one-on-one battle! Oh, goody! This means that I get to show off my minions, too! Leon, 700, come out!"
The duo did so in short order, stalking out of the bushes quietly. Leon didn't have any shoes on, something Kaz noted with slight curiousity. Wasn't that ever so slightly stupid in a terrain filled with sharp twigs and rocks? Well, no matter. It wasn't as if he was her opponent.
"Mithril, you're fighting him," she ordered. "I don't care whether or not you kill him, just keep him out of my way. Natalie, I want you to stall my brother. And remember, if you hurt him, your life is forfeit. Orange, do your thing."
"Why do you always get all the action?" Mithril complained as Natalie threw herself bodily between Kaz and 700 with a terrified screech and Orange began plucking Jo's strings in a very butchered rendition of 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'.
Kaz didn't deign to respond. Instead, she hurled herself at The Boss with vindictive fury. He smirked and teleported away.
Or rather, he tried.
It seemed Xerneas came through after all. Orange grinned excitedly, an exhilerated look on his face as he plucked Jo's strings with more vigor. Chu matched him, slamming the Elexecutor onto his triangle rapid-fire in a 'TING! TING! TING!' sound that was pretty, but also rather pointless.
The Boss quickly came to the conclusion that he could no longer use his magic and dodged, so fast that Orange, the only one of the group who had the luxury of watching the different fights occuring, could not see him. "Silly girl! Did you forget that I was once the captain of the guard?" A thin line of blood suddenly appeared on his cheek.
"Silly man," Kaz said with a serene smile. "Did you forget that I am a ninja?"
"No," The Boss hummed, using a basic summoning spell to get a sword—it seemed that his original magic capabilities could manage at least that. "But this is certainly a problem. I hadn't realized that the group grew so strong while I was away." He lunged at her, again faster than Orange's eyes could track, and swung the sword. Kaz dodged, bending backwards as if under a limbo stick.
"Perhaps you're just out of practice," she suggested. The Boss tried to kick her feet out from under her and take advantage of her already unbalanced state, but she seemed to have been expecting that and wrapped her legs tightly around the offending limb, quickly following up by forcing her torso upward to take full advantage of the fact that she had him trapped to stab him with her katana. "It's been decades since the last time you were in a physical battle, hasn't it?"
"Forty eight years," he said nostalgically, blocking her sword with his own and grabbing the wrist attached to her free hand which was holding a knife, and then he flipped her, making use of the fact that his physical strength was greater than hers. "It took me a while to get the hang of the magic; Yveltal's power was always fighting me. And I'll have you know that I've been working out and I'm still plenty spritely for my age!"
She landed easily and bared her teeth in a wide grin. "Perfect. The one who had the audacity to steal away my baby brother could never have been anything less."
"Indeed." The Boss smiled back pleasantly. "And the sister of my number one assassin could never be anything less than you are, either!"
They circled each other for a little while with the air of seasoned fighters, looking for their opponent's openings and at the same time making their own minimal; it was something Orange knew he could never hope to replicate. Kaz seemed to see something, because she leaped at The Boss suddenly—but he had been faking it, and she was subject to some kind of bomb in midair—but then she was behind her target, whispering that no true ninja would get caught by a slow attack like that—and then he smiled, agreeably, commented on how nice the weather was before reaching to twist her head to give her a better look at the sky—but she ducked around his hand, already used to the tricks used by her larger opponents when her missions came down to proper fights—and he made a noise of disappointment before shoving her forcefully away—and she tsked, a kunai in one hand—
So distracted was Orange by the fight as he plucked away at the strings of Jo, instinctually channeling the magic, that he paid no heed to the other fights. This proved to be a terrible mistake—Leon crashed into him, nearly crushing him under his weight as Mithril screamed that his path definitely wasn't the one Aria would have wanted for him, and also, precognitive black lilies. The straw hat atop Orange's head floated away, by chance landing lightly atop Kaz's head instead as she and The Boss sized each other up once again.
Orange, being crushed, was no longer able to play Jo and channel the magic to stop The Boss's magic.
And that was, you know, bad.
The Boss chuckled in the evil, dramatically low way some villains are born with as he felt the power returning. "This fight has been fun, little girl, but I'd really like to start making preparations now. Also, 700 is in a bit of a pickle right now," and indeed, Natalie had managed to use his blind rage that destroyed his reason to catch him in a trap that Tiki had set up with a few (thankfully not electric) webs, "so I think it's time to get you out of the way and let him return to working order. Goodbye!" Then he tossed a ball of destructive magic at her.
The chance that caused Kaz to be the new wearer of Orange's mother's hat turned out to be a lucky chance, apparently, because the ornaments attached to them sent out a pulsing rythm of energy before ripping away to reveal the Rainbow and Silver Wings.
The energy pulsing through them pushed back The Boss's magic; in fact, it caused it to backfire and blow up right in his face.
What. Did the Rainbow Wing and Silver Wing even have protectional properties?!
'Well,' Orange thought resignedly as Mithril and her Lucario hauled Leon off of him and he picked up Jo to begin playing again, 'at least now I know why Mom wanted me to take the hat she wore on her adventures.'
Kaz sighed through her nose. She'd wanted to be the one to deal this much damage to The Boss on her own! But she was a ninja, and ninja were supposed to be pragmatists when it came to their missions, so she decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Actually, maybe she would give the hat to Benjen after this whole fight was over; it would be good for him while she went in search of Ho-oh and Lugia to get more of their feathers.
She went in to continue the beatdown.
"Why isn't this working," she snarled half an hour later, stabbing The Boss's mutilated, bloody, no-longer-functioning-properly body for the umpteenth time.
"I don't know!" Orange wailed. "I'm trying, I dispelled his magic, but I don't know what's going on!"
He really didn't, though at the moment, he was very close to making up some fantastical theory, because Kaz looked very much like she was planning to stab him next.
"This! Thing! Ain't! Dyin'!" Lapis exploded as he squished the blob for the umpteenth time.
"That's strange," Krookodile said pensively. "These things are really easy to kill. It's incredibly weak. The only way it wouldn't is if the dreamer is willing it not to..." He glanced at Benjen. "Benny, are you...?"
Benjen looked away guiltily, which might as well be a universal sign of admittance.
"Benny, you have to let him die," Krookodile wheedled. "It's the only way you'll be able to wake up."
"But- But I don't want to wake up!" he burst out. "If I do, you'll disappear! I'll never see you again!"
"Of course you will, if you will me to-"
"No you won't!" Benjen's lower lip trembled dangerously. Lapis, as an older brother of two (though one of the two was his stoic, stony-faced twin brother), paled considerably. "I've lived in the dream world long enough to know how it works! I can call back an image of you, but you, the true you, will disappear! Forever! And I'll never get you back!"
"Kid," Krookodile said, a soft look in his eyes. "Benny- no, Benjen. Benjen. Your sister is waiting for you outside, you know?"
Benjen froze, though he still looked like he was about to cry. "My... sister?"
"Yeah!" Lapis added. "She's been lookin' all over for ya, but da part o' yer psyche dat's out right now doesn't recognize her! She's goin' nuts!" Literally, he didn't add.
"Kaz..." Benjen murmured sadly before shaking his head. "But that would be like choosing one life over another! I can't do that!"
"Benjen, she's your sister," Krookodile said sharply. "And she misses you, and she's done so much, and all she wants is her baby brother back. Do you remember when you first came here? You told me about how your father didn't recognize you. Well, your sister does, and she's not dead, she's alive, and she wants you back. Go to her, Benjen." His voice became soft again. "Go to her, Benny. She misses you."
"But-" Benjen started.
"NOW LOOK HERE!" Lapis exploded. Everyone looked. "Thanks. Now. Lookie here, Benjen, I might not know ya at all, but I know yer sis a bit, and I know how it is ta be an older sibling. Ya worry about yer siblings, especially when dey're real little. She still thinks of ya as dat li'l kid who was kidnapped, someone to be protected. But!" He put up his index finger. "I also know how it is ta be an older sibling of an independent guy. When dey stop cryin' an' start standin' up fer demselves, dere's no prouder moment, or dere wasn't fer me as a big brother. Ya need ta become a man at some point, Benjen, so why not now? Go back ta her. Show her ya've grown up a bit. Just..." He sighed frustratedly. "I'll jus' say what Krookodile said. She misses ya. So go back." Before she potentially destroys the world, he also didn't add.
"But..." Benjen murmured, much more weakly this time.
"Benjen, do this," Krookodile said firmly, grasping his creator's small hands in his claws around the bars of the cage. "You have to." There was a pleading note in his voice and the glimmer of a tear in one of his eyes, and that seemed to decide it for Benjen.
Those small hands became suddenly large, and Benjen became a little too big for the small cage. He closed his eyes. "Go on," he said to Lapis.
"Don' need ta tell me twice." Lapis squeezed his hand, and the blob exploded in a rather disgusting shade of purple.
"Goodbye," Krookodile whispered quietly.
"Finally!" Kaz shrieked, having reached the end of her (quite considerable, actually) patience at the exact same moment she stabbed The Boss and he actually died. And at the exact same moment as that, 700 stopped struggling and fell limp. Natalie gasped in relief, and Mithril burst into an off-key rendition of 'Hallelujah'. Orange attempted to accompany her on Jo, but the instrument suddenly disintegrated in his hands with its purpose fulfilled, and he dissolved into blubbering tears. Chu patted him on the back sympathetically, mentally noting that it seemed a bit too much like comic relief. Someone shouted "YES, IT'S FINALLY OVER!" though no one could be entirely sure who it was. That area would later be rumored to be haunted by the ghost of an adolescent who held a grudge over a far too early bedtime that interfered with things much more important than getting enough sleep before lessons the next day.
Kaz stabbed The Boss's mangled remains in the areas she was relatively sure his used-to-be-vitals were just to be safe before dropping the bloody knife and racing to her brother. "Benjen!" she burst out, ripping the web off of him and cradling him, which was surprisingly tame after all the honestly terrifying and stalker-ish things she had done. She slapped his cheeks gently a few times to wake him up. Luckily, he stirred.
"Krookodile... Kaz...?" he mumbled.
"Benjen!" She hugged him tightly.
She soon found herself on the ground a few feet away.
"I... I'm sorry," Benjen said, stricken. "It was reflex..."
Granted, this was to be expected. He had, after all, spent quite a few years avoiding her with a passion.
Kaz got up, one hand pressed to her side. She smiled; the curve of her lips was a bit pained, but still happy. "It's okay," she said softly, approaching him slowly and embracing him again, giving him ample time to familiarize himself with the feeling of the gesture. "We can work on that. We're family, after all."
And then Mithril, being Mithril, ruined the moment by wailing, "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! It's so sweeeeeeeeeeeeeet!"
Kaz returned to normal long enough to throw a kunai at her head. Mithril squeaked and was just barely protected by her Lucario.
Natalie frowned, more than a little confused. "I'm surprised she hasn't spirited him away to some far-off place yet," she commented.
Orange nodded, then tilted his head to the side. "Yeah. But maybe... maybe she isn't as insane as we thought," he mused. "Maybe there was a method to her madness. I don't know what happened, but he isn't acting totally like the 700 we know. Whatever it is, I think she knows he needs a little space, so she's toned it down a bit. And... I talked to Eleanor the day before we left the castle. Maybe the reason she was so forceful in reclaiming him was because she somehow knew that something was blocking his memory of her, and she was trying to jar him into remembering. Or... that's what it looks like. Kinda," he finished lamely. Natalie shook her head.
"Speaking of underwhelming things..." Natalie glanced at Leon. "What was up with you? There's no way you could've lost to Mithril."
"She said some persuasive things," he responded with a wry smile. "She told me that you two found out about Aria... and Kara told you about how I joined The Organization to get stronger. She... basically lectured me about my life decisions and said that I should've considered what Aria would want and seeked a different kind of power."
Natalie raised an eyebrow. "All that and she managed to avoid dying?" she said skeptically.
"Well, I was pulling my punches," he returned.
Orange took in the scene—Kaz speaking gently to Benjen and laying out plans for their return to their old village, Mithril and Natalie latching on to Leon in a group huge, The Sickening Mess Of Evil Flesh And Innards—and grinned at Chu. "It's over, buddy," he said fondly. "And now I have a new ballad to sing."
The next few weeks were a blur. Grisseo and Lapis—who had been ejected from Benjen's dream world along with Darkrai the second he had woken up—were returned from petrification with no more evil baddie obstructing the way. Grisseo had promptly left in foolish hopes of finding Darkrai, and Lapis had tried to return to his duties but had been sent home to recuperate with equal promptness. Silver had decided to dismiss Kaz from the ninja corps. so that she could settle back down in a more civilian lifestyle with Benjen (but really, civilians were a myth in the kingdom—the formidable housewives living in it were proof of that), though there were rumors that every so often, he sent a mission file for a covert assassination their way. Benjen's personality seemed to have dominated the persona of "700," but he'd had terrible nightmares which he learned were his experiences as 700 for months and came out of the experience with the acceptance of having killed people. Leon had joined the guard after much encouragement from Mithril, Natalie, and Orange, and Natalie and Mithril set off on their own journey to kickstart Mithril's heroic empire. Kara returned to being another one of Crystal's researchers, though their placid attitudes were a bit of a culture shock after the chaos of her previous co-workers. Genevieve was kept in custody of the ninja corps. Lyra, Will, Eleanor, and Nicholas continued their job as ninja, the latter two often dropping by the Kaahn siblings to pay Kaz visits and chat with Benjen. Orange decided to train as an on-the-field medic for the guard under his mother, and although Red was disappointed at his son not following in his footsteps, he was content to train Leon as his protege. The royal family continued to operate as it always had, and Blue had embarrassed the mermaid queen (who was flopping around on land trying to reach a puddle at the time) into surrendering and also handing over a hefty amount of deep sea treasures as reparations. A legion of the kingdom's best exorcists, priests, and other manner of spiritualists had been gathered to purify Kyuukushu from the safety of outside the barrier; The Blob had apparently been telling the truth.
Hope wasn't in human hands anymore, obviously. Jo exploded in the last passage.
But there was no need for it, because at least for now, the world was at relative peace once more.
(A/N: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that's the end of it! I feel like some parts were rushed, and others were lame and not emotional enough, and Krookodile and Benjen should've been introduced so much earlier in the story because then there'd be more emotional investment, and the Leon and Mithril issue really should have been addressed, and I'm sure there are tons of loose ends and plot holes I've forgotten about, but I'm still pretty happy with how it turned out, all things considered. And the last line. ... I should probably write an epilogue with the ballad, but I tried to write a poem for English once and failed miserably. I should also probably write an epilogue, period, but eh. *flops over* I'm done. Thank you all for reading and your cooperation—Falneou17, you encouraging words and messages are a boon. DeathDealer Inc., your insightful critiques have really assisted me in my growth as a writer however small. DaPokemonMadster, your reviews were muchly appreciated. Kiko Mizushima, your amusing reactions served as fodder to remind me of humor when I had difficulty writing. PokechuThePikachu, your characters added a special flavor to the story for me as one of the writers. Farla, I send my thoughts to you. I wonder if you're sneezing right now. Transform Queen Genevieve, I apologize for your characters not getting more spotlight. But I really liked Kara! Calem Phoenix, I will tell you the same; perhaps in another life or in a rewrite (*snorts* like that's happening with my laziness), Will will be able to get a more established role. Utmost thanks also go to DZ13, Eeveefan1290, Miki'sLittleSoul, SuperCherryGurl, and sileaf for the follows and faves.
(Thank you all for investing time into this story. Ladies and gentlemen, it's been a pleasure to have shared this adventure with you all.
(I'll respond to PMs soon... Probably...
(And now I'm going to run off and cry in a corner because Human Emotional Stuffs. *runs off and cries in a corner*)
(Lyra: HEY! Did you all think I disappeared?! ...Honestly, I did, too, but it seems I'm doing the ending credits. Conception by Copper of pikaree1. Written by Petal of pikaree1 and Copper of pikaree1. Leon Notus, Eleanor Blaze, and all affiliated pokemon submitted by Falneou17. Kazakazukazakazakakakazakuzaku Kaahn, Benjen Kaahn, Miss Doctor Professor Adeline Nurse, DC., DDS., DMD., DPT., ThD., PSYCH., ScD., SScD., MD., and all affiliated pokemon submitted by DeathDealer Inc. Natalie Simmons, Nicholas Hemmer, and all affiliated pokemon submitted by DaPokemonMadster. Mithril and all affiliated pokemon submitted by Kiko Mizushima. Yoduh, Pinkari,Wobbo, and all affiliated pokemon submitted by PokechuThePikachu. Genevieve, Professor Evelyn Kara Rosanna, and all affiliated pokemon submitted by The Transform Queen Genevieve. Will submitted by Calem Phoenix. Other cast members created by Petal of pikaree1 and Copper of pikaree1. Plot direction aided by DeathDealer Inc. Encouraging, optimistic messages sent by Falneou17, DaPokemonMadster, and Kiko Mizushima. Healthy, much-needed doses of not-always-dreary-reality given by DeathDealer Inc. Boredom expressed by Farla.
(Hope I didn't miss anything. And the MVP award goes to—drum roll please—Jo. ...Wait, what.)