This is a work of fanfiction by Butterfree/Dragonfree/antialiasis and is not to be reposted without permission. This story is in no way official or endorsed by Nintendo, GAME FREAK, Creatures Inc., or The Pokémon Company.

Morphic

For more information on this story and a full list of chapters and extras, click here. Please note that Morphic is rated R (M if you prefer Fiction Ratings) for strong language, violence and other sensitive subject matter.

Chapter 13

Peter stepped out of the Grace City Department Store and hurried into the alley behind the building, quickly unwrapping the Fire Stone and Fire Blast TM he’d bought. The others were sitting around and waiting for him there; Jack stood up as soon as Peter came in, with Jean following.

“You got them?” Jack asked urgently.

“Yeah,” Peter replied, handing him the items before he sat down next to Will. “I don’t think they realized I wasn’t normal.”

“Good.” Jack nodded and turned his attention to the yellow rock and CD case in his hands. “Okay, I hope Felicia doesn’t mind becoming an Arcanine. Can somebody hold this for a moment?”

Jean stepped up and took the rock off his hands while he reached for the minimized Pokéball in his pocket. There was a piercing scream, and Jack turned quickly around, his brain realizing belatedly that he had just given a Fire Stone to a half-Vulpix.

Her body had taken on an uneven sort of white glow, with her fully-Vulpix tails, hair and ears shining the way they ought to on an evolving Pokémon, but the rest of her either glowing sort of halfway or flickering disturbingly back and forth in intensity, like a failing lightbulb. Her six tails split into nine, her curled red hair straightened into a long, flowing mane, her ears became more perked and delicate, but at the same time her skull seemed to be trying to change shape, and her neck bulged out weirdly, and her legs and arms lengthened a little, and something horrible was happening to her eyes; the whole while she screamed in pain, her body stiffened by the horrors that were happening to it. Jack looked frantically for the Fire Stone, in some vague hope that he could remove it, but it had already turned a dull, grayish yellow in her hand, its power exhausted; there was nothing they could do.

“Jean! Are you okay?” Will shouted as the girl dropped down on all fours; the scream that followed sounded decidedly like a no. Then she cried out again, and it came out in an eerie howl as a tongue of flames spewed out of her mouth and narrowly missed Jack, who backed away in horror.

The glow faded completely from her body at last, but she didn’t stop bawling and screaming breathlessly as she curled up on the ground. Will and Katherine ran up to her side as Jack stared at her, taking in the changes.

Well, she’d turned blonde. That in itself, combined with the straightening of the curls in both her hair and tails, made her look disturbingly unlike herself at a brief glance. The lengthening of her limbs had made her look several years older, though her proportions were odd and kind of disturbing; she looked too thin and her body too small in comparison, like a misshapen doll. Yellow-white fur, the same color as her hair, had grown into an uneven, messy collar around her neck. Her eyes had gone blood red, with the whites no longer visible. Primarily, though, her face had lengthened and her chin shrunk, giving her something almost like a muzzle but not quite, still too human to pass as Pokémonlike.

Everything about her was wrong, smack-dab in the middle of the Uncanny Valley. Jack cringed and looked away as her cries quieted into hysterical sobbing. Peter was still staring at her in disbelief. Only Mia was wearing the same expression as always.

“It... it h-hurts...” Jean moaned between shaky breaths.

“What hurts?” Katherine asked quickly.

“M-my mouth,” Jean choked up and began to wail again. Of course, Jack thought distantly – even if evolution had activated the fire sac they’d always known she had, the inside of her mouth probably wasn’t all that heat-resistant. That had to suck.

“I’m sorry,” he said limply, not sure if it was loud enough for Jean to hear him. Handing her a Fire Stone. How could he be that stupid and careless at a time like this? (His mind also insisted on pointing out how stupid it was that she had actually accepted it, and really he’d just sort of held it out for anyone to take, and it was her fault if she took it anyway, right? Then again, he was also extremely tired after staying up all night, so perhaps it was no wonder he’d been a bit careless.)

Katherine, still kneeling by Jean’s side, stroked her silky Ninetales mane gently in an attempt to comfort her, and suddenly the Roselia morph’s expression changed. She closed her eyes, raised her face up towards the bright sunlight, and they all looked at her in puzzlement for a few seconds – all except Jean, who was still sniffling – before a strange, sweet, soothing smell wafted through the alley. It was incredibly pleasant and relaxing; Jack inhaled deeply and slowly realized he no longer felt tired. Jean sniffed and blinked.

“It feels better,” she said weakly and sat shakily up, feeling her body up and down with her hands. Her expression turned horrified as she groped at her face, and when she stroked her hands along her hair and new tails, she began to cry again.

“What is it? Does it still hurt?” Will asked with concern.

“No,” Jean said miserably, “but how can I be Sarah Hooter now? I look all wrong.”

Nobody answered that. Katherine still looked kind of dazed after what had to have been an Aromatherapy attack; she blinked blankly, like she wasn’t sure where she was. When Peter came over to his sister to ask quietly if she was all right, however, she nodded and seemed to be recovering.

“Look, Jean,” Jack said, looking at her again, “nobody gives a fuck about Sarah Hooter right now, okay? Just... don’t. We’re trying to help Gabriel here and...”

“But I don’t want to help Gabriel anymore!” Jean whined. “I want to go home!”

Jack really, really wanted to slap her, but the nagging knowledge that this was still his fault to at least some extent stopped him. “You can’t go home,” he said desperately. “We need Katherine with us, especially with Aromatherapy; she can’t be driving you back and forth. And you could help too – even if it burns your mouth, fire would be really useful, right? What if Katherine...”

“I don’t want to!” Jean yelled shrilly; Jack looked quickly towards the alley exit to make sure nobody had heard all her incessant screaming and was coming to check on it, but they seemed to have chosen a location out of the way enough for nobody to be around.

“Well, all right, but if not, you can just stay in the car while we go in, or something. Either way you can’t go home.”

“I’ll take a bus,” she replied, sniffling.

“Oh, Christ, Jean, public transport?” Jack asked in frustration. “You’ve never used it before. There are all sorts of people on public transports and maybe one in five of them is okay with sharing a ride with a Pokémorph. There’s just no way. Snap out of it and just come with us.”

Jean pondered this for a moment; then, with a barely-visible nod, she muttered, “Okay.”

Jack nodded emphatically in reply. “Great.” There was a moment’s pause. “So Peter, could you go get another Fire Stone?”

-------

The good thing about churches, thought Jack, was that they didn’t exactly sneak up on you; thanks to those convenient towers, you could always be sure where they were from a comfortable distance away. Even before they were two thirds down the directions they’d printed at his place, they could see the Church of Holy Truth looming ominously above the buildings around them.

“We probably shouldn’t go too close,” he told Katherine from the back seat. “They could be watching the roads leading up to the church.”

She didn’t answer. They’d all been a bit silent in the past minutes as it fully dawned on them just what they were doing. Jean still sniffled every now and then, fiddling with her pale, straight locks or shifting in discomfort as she tried to fit all her tails into the left-side seat. Will licked guiltily at his fingertips, squished between her and Peter, who kept turning his head anxiously towards Jack and back again with a jerky, birdlike motion. Katherine glanced in the rear view mirror so often it was a miracle she could pay attention to the road in front of her. The only one of them who wasn’t shifty at all was Mia, ever silent and stoic in the passenger seat in front of Jack.

Katherine pulled into the next parking lot they noticed with a few free spaces and began to slowly make her way into a spot between two stationary cars, until there was an uncomfortable crunching sound as the side of their car squished into the corner of the one on the left.

“Oh, shit,” Katherine hissed between her teeth and banged her rose-hands on the steering wheel in frustration. “What do we do now? I told you I couldn’t do this.”

Jack’s heart sank horribly. “Try... try to get back?” he suggested weakly as his mind swirled with the fact he should have known something like this would probably happen when they had a completely inexperienced driver under great pressure trying to get around in the city; something had to go wrong somewhere.

Katherine did something, and there were more crunching noises. “I can’t do this!” she repeated, her voice high-pitched and panicky as she lifted her hands completely from the steering wheel. “I’m just making it worse!”

“You’ll have to do it somehow!” Jack replied desperately; the others were looking fearfully at him. “It’s not like we can drive!”

“Turn it left,” Mia said coolly. “Then back out. Don’t hit the car on the right.”

Katherine looked at her for a moment, still cringing and holding her hands away from the steering wheel as if they might do something on their own accord if they came too close to it. “Right,” she squeaked, trying to slow her breathing, before she turned back towards the wheel. “Right. Okay, Mia. You probably know all about this. Gee, I wonder why you haven’t just been driving instead of me the whole time.”

Despite the sarcasm, she still followed Mia’s advice and carefully turned the steering wheel left and switched to reverse. Very slowly, the car eased away from the other one; the front right corner fast approached the car on the right, but Katherine managed to stop and turn straight before anything happened on that side. After what seemed like absolute ages, they were a comfortable distance away from both cars again.

“And now I have to try it again,” Katherine said with a nervous sigh. “That’s going to end well.”

Incredibly enough, it did; this time she came in at less of an angle and successfully got the car into place. There she switched to parking gear, put the handbrake on and finally shut off the engine with a turn of the key.

She slumped back in the seat and took a deep breath. “Okay. Uh, we should probably leave a note for the owner of the other car?” She looked around for a moment before opening the glove compartment. “Our parents are going to love this.”

Jack looked guiltily at Peter, who was kind of pale but silent as his sister attempted to pick up some papers, had little success, and in frustration asked Mia to do it instead. The Scyther morph took them out and looked blankly at the damage report forms; Katherine looked over her shoulder at them, about as blankly, and finally said, “We’ll get this stuff filled out later. Let’s just leave a cellphone and license plate number before the owner of the car gets here.”

Some part of Jack’s mind was immediately convinced that judging from their luck so far, the owner of the car would probably get there just around the time they’d finished writing a note, but no, they managed to write down Katherine and Peter’s dad’s cellphone number and the license number of the car on a piece of paper and stick it under the wipers on their victim – thankfully or not-so-thankfully, their car looked considerably worse than the other one once they walked around it – before they made their way out of sight as quickly as they could while looking reasonably casual.

“Okay, uh,” Jack began once they were a comfortable distance away from the parking lot, “well, you’re not going to be waiting in the car, Jean, so I guess you can just wait someplace reasonably quiet around here?” He looked around; there was nowhere immediately obvious in the vicinity that wasn’t uncomfortably public. “Or you could come in with us and try to help. That would be nice, too.”

“No!” she answered immediately and looked unsurely around. “I’ll... I’ll walk to our place and just wait there.”

“Your place?” Katherine asked hesitantly. “Well, it’s a bit of a walk, but it’s away from the church, and I guess you could avoid the larger streets.” She looked at Jack with a shrug.

He sighed. “Okay. I guess that’s the best option. Try to stay safe.”

“I will.” Jean smiled brightly. “Good luck!”

Well-intentioned as they were, her words only made Jack feel more nauseous. The others didn’t respond very enthusiastically to it either, but at least they managed some sort of a brief goodbye before the now-Ninetales morph bounded off across the road and soon disappeared into a side street.

“I hope she’ll be all right,” Will muttered.

“I’m sure she will,” Jack said with a lot more confidence than he felt. “Come on. Gabriel needs our help now.”

-------

“Okay,” Gabriel said unconvincingly to himself, staring at the strewn sand and dirt on the floor beside him, “I could eat this as a fetus. I’ve got to be able to eat it now.”

He had been locked inside a tiny, windowless, spectacularly dirty room in the church cellar, probably used to store visitors’ shoes or something of the like, for what he estimated to be close to twenty-four hours now though that figure might have been exaggerated by boredom. And although he thankfully didn’t need a lot of water to sustain himself, it took a lot of energy to maintain his unusual body temperature, and he was already feeling on the brink of starvation. He’d tried the whole banging-on-the-door thing already, but had soon come to the conclusion that there was simply nobody on the other side – not that his captors seemed likely to care very much about keeping him fed, anyway.

After giving up on that, he had looked around the room in exasperation and concluded for the umpteenth time that there was absolutely nothing in it except the thick layer of dust, sand and dirt on the floor. Then he had sat down, mostly because he was getting tired of pacing around and figured he could stay still for a while now before needing to warm up his skin again. And the floor had felt grainy beneath his fingers, which had made him remember some of what he knew about the circumstances of his creation.

So now, deliberately ignoring the glaring logical fallacy in his previous words, he squinted at the floor and stroked his hand carefully over it. The sand stuck to his gooey skin, leaving a visibly cleaner patch where he had wiped it. He turned his hand slowly around and dully watched the grains sink into the semi-transparent orange sludge on his palm. He shook his head; this was why he’d always had to eat everything with a fork or a spoon.

He looked around as if expecting to find a spoon magically lying around. Part of him wondered in morbid amusement whether he was really hungry enough yet for this to be worth it, but by now it was really less so much because he was hungry and more a means of finally letting his brain occupy itself with a task: figure out some way to eat this sand. It was oddly relieving after all the sleepless hours of having nothing to think about except guns being pressed against his head and whether he would ever get out of this alive.

After a bit of deliberation, Gabriel carefully removed his shirt and began to use a corner of the fabric, helped by the stiffer plastic coating on the inside, as a shovel. It took him at least ten minutes going around part of the room and trying to sweep the sand onto the shirt before he had gathered a satisfactory pile of dirt, and then he set it very carefully down on the floor and stared at it. He felt oddly like a drug addict confronted in a moment of clarity with the knowledge that his fix had spent unknown periods of time inside somebody’s anus.

Again he wondered whether he was really this hungry.

Then he decided that the longer he thought about it, the worse it would seem, and so he quickly grabbed the shirt and stuffed the pile of dirt into his mouth.

His gag reflex reacted immediately and violently. He coughed and spluttered, trying to clear the dirt from the inside of his mouth, but a lot of it remained stuck and gave him a terrifying feeling of suffocation. He desperately spat out a glob of grayish sludge, then half-vomited a bit more of it at the sight of what he’d just willingly attempted to eat, and finally lay there miserably for a few moments, feeling his muddy saliva dribble down his chin and blend with his skin, before he shakily pulled himself to his feet.

“Okay,” he croaked to himself and coughed a few more times, “no way in hell am I trying that again.”

He stood up, shaking a little, and wondered just how fetus-him had managed to feed on that.

In fact, he wondered just how he had eaten anything at all while he was a fetus. Fetuses weren’t supposed to eat, were they? Technically, of course, he’d become self-sustaining even while he was still a fetus by human standards, but his mouth and digestive system were nothing like those of a Slugma.

There was something very important that he was forgetting. He closed his eyes and rubbed them, trying to concentrate on the memory of when he’d seen that brief news video about the Pokémorphs years ago. A small slimy blob squirming around in an incubator – an incubator full of sand. Dave explaining off-screen that he gained nourishment from the sand by…

He was an idiot.

Gabriel stroked his slimy hand again over the floor and then stared at his dirty palm. The sand and dust were again sinking ever-so-slowly into the orange goo. He stared at it for a long while, watching the already tiny grains shrink and eventually dissolve into nothing. He wasn’t exactly surprised – this was, after all, why it wasn’t a problem that it was impossible for him to bathe – but this was the first time he’d ever properly realized the significance of it.

Gabriel removed his jeans, cleaned out a corner of the room with his hands, piled his clothes there and lay down naked on the floor.

He squeezed his eyes and mouth shut and then rolled himself awkwardly across the room. He stood up and looked with satisfaction at the line of cleanness he had left on the floor – cleanness aside from the globs of slime, of course, but that was not important. He looked down at himself and the dirt covering his entire body and watched with a triumphant glee as it slowly just disappeared, leaving his slime back to its normal orange in a matter of minutes – in fact, he must have been imagining it, but somehow it seemed to have gotten a little lighter and glowier and warmer than before.

Gabriel began to press himself against the walls, too, gathering up the grime stuck on them, before he had an even crazier idea. Experimentally, he pushed his hands onto the bare wall, laying his weight against them. He waited still like that for several minutes, feeling his quickening heartbeat all the while, and then stepped away to find two shallow, hand-shaped depressions in the concrete, unmistakable even underneath the layer of slime.

He laughed uncontrollably, looking at his hands in disbelief; they were a little grayish, but even that was rapidly disappearing with a renewed vigor. He wasn’t feeling one bit less hungry, in the way that he ordinarily understood the word – but as he pushed his entire body at the wall, he felt as if he were satiating some even greater hunger that he had gotten too used to to even notice. In fact, he was beginning to feel better and more energized overall than he had in years – and although it did alarm him somewhat that his skin really did seem to be getting hotter and hardening more quickly while his heart was beating as if it were about to explode, that feeling was too euphoric for him to stop.

For the first time in his life, he felt powerful. He felt fierce. He felt like a Pokémon.

-------

Jean, in fact, hadn’t gone home. She cringed at the very thought of being alone in their apartment now when she direly needed a hug and some pity. So instead, she’d just run over to the next bus stop she knew of and waited for a bus anyway.

The bus driver had a weird expression when she stepped in. She handed him the fare as quickly as she could and then walked shakily down the middle of the bus, uncomfortably aware of all the eyes on her. She didn’t look like Sarah Hooter anymore. She just looked like a freak, and they all hated her.

She found an empty seat near the back of the bus and sat down in it, tucking her tails carefully away so they wouldn’t get in people’s way. At first she looked around, but they were all still staring, so she just looked down at her clenched fists and pretended she didn’t see them. Her hands still felt weirdly far away, almost like puppets she was controlling from the end of a stick rather than parts of her body.

She twiddled her foot and it accidentally hit the seat in front of her; the old woman sitting there turned around with a scowl, and Jean looked back down, blushing. She tried not to move as the bus continued on its way, and she didn’t look up until she heard a couple of teenage boys who were about to get off making a joke about how it was no wonder Sarah Hooter hadn’t taken the Ultimate Fire Stone; she growled threateningly at them and they hurried out of the bus. Afterwards her throat burned, because there had been flames beginning to form, but she tried to cry as quietly as she could, and finally the bus stopped near where the Kerrigans lived, and she got off and ran all the way to the house as fast as she could.

She knocked on the door and her dad opened it, his expression lost and bewildered. “Jean?” he asked weakly. “Christ, what the hell happened to you?”

She was going to answer, but all that came out was a strangled sob, and she flung herself into his arms to cry on his shoulders. He was stunned momentarily but then pulled her inside and hastily closed the door. All their parents were standing around, looking exhausted and horrified.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” her father said quickly, hugging her. “Where are the others? Are they all right?”

It was a while before she could speak again. “I-I don’t know,” she said. “I left them after that Fire Stone evolv...” Her voice broke again.

“And they were all okay when you left?”

She nodded quickly and a wave of relieved tension and mutters of “Oh, thank God” travelled through the room.

“What did they do? What were they going to do?”

“T-they hadn’t really done anything yet,” Jean answered. “They were about to... to enter the church, but I... I wanted to go home.”

“Shit,” her father muttered, very quietly, but she heard him anyway. “Okay,” he said, a little louder, releasing her so he could look her in the eyes, “so they’re at the Church of Holy Truth, right? The one here in the city?”

Jean nodded.

“I’m going after them,” said Martha Harrison immediately, her gaze steeled. “Who’s going to lend me a car?”

“But... but then you’ll be in danger,” said Jean, looking at her.

“I don’t care,” Martha replied. “We’re in danger here anyway. And now that I know where they are...”

“B-but it was a trap!” Jean exclaimed. “We figured it out – they wanted us to come to rescue Gabriel, and that’s why they didn’t attack you, so you’ll be okay if you stay here.”

Everyone stared at her.

“Wait,” her father said, squeezing the bridge of his nose, “are you telling me they figured out it’s some sort of a trap... and then they went there anyway?”

Jean nodded. “They wanted to save Gabriel.”

“Oh, for the love of...” He grabbed his hair with both hands. “Shit. Why do they all have such a fucking hero complex?”

Before anyone could reply, Lucy suddenly floated through the wall from the girls’ room and looked at Jean. “They’re waiting for them?” she asked. “They won’t come here?”

Jean shook her head. “You’re safe.”

Lucy looked at her for a moment with her ghostly eyes. “I’m going to help them,” she said, and without warning, she disappeared out through the front wall.

“Lucy!” called Howard, but she was already gone.

-------

Peter walked innocently towards the Church of Holy Truth, concentrating fiercely on keeping his movements natural. He peered at the stained-glass windows, trying to see through them; the colored glass made it hard to see through into the darker building, and though he knew those inside would have a much easier time seeing into the sunlight, he also noticed those windows didn’t appear to open. He didn’t think these people would actually destroy the pretty glass windows of their church with bullets, even if they could avoid getting the glass all over themselves. They were probably safe until they were inside, then, but there was no real knowing. Maybe some of the windows could be opened. They could never be sure.

He glanced towards the streets where the others were coming through. He still wasn’t sure it had been a good idea to temporarily split up, but it did make them harder targets and more difficult to spot than the rather glaring image of five kids and teens in conveniently concealing clothing all advancing towards a church together. Currently he was the closest to the building, which made him a bit nervous, but he tried to ignore it and headed in a beeline towards the door. Katherine wasn’t far behind; being his big sister, she’d insisted on being close to him.

He quickened his pace a little, looking to the sides before he crossed the street – oh, crap, he’d just done a very conspicuous head-jerk, hadn’t he? His heart raced as he tried to decide whether it would be better to run and possibly blow his cover if he hadn’t already or to walk and remain easy to hit, but he’d started running before he’d come to a conclusion. In a sprint that may have been unconsciously assisted by a Quick Attack, he narrowly avoided getting hit by a bus, reached the door, turned the knob, opened it, went inside and slammed it behind him to catch his breath.

The clunk of the door echoed uncomfortably in the empty church. He flicked his gaze around in several quick jerks of his head, but found only the walls and windows, benches, an altar with some candles and crosses on it, normal church stuff like that. There was a small door at the back, but there didn’t seem to be anybody in the nave. He took a few breaths to calm himself. He should just wait for the others now and then they could continue and look for Gabriel.

The door at the back flew open, breaking the silence again. A man half-jumped out and threw it shut again, and Peter realized with a chilling feeling of horror that he was holding a pistol.

The man’s frantic eyes locked onto him, and he pointed the gun straight at Peter and fired.

-------

Flames danced around Gabriel’s hand, tickling him comfortably; it took only the slightest effort to maintain them. It seemed so natural and intuitive. It was almost bizarre to think that he couldn’t do that yesterday. His heart thumped furiously. Every part of him felt hot.

He looked at the wooden door and wanted to smash it to pieces or disintegrate it in a blaze of glory, but common sense stopped him: if he did anything too noisy and obvious, he’d attract the attention of his captors immediately if they were anywhere nearby. So he settled for pressing his fiery hands onto the door near the lock and watching the wood blacken and crumble under his fingers.

The faint echo of a gunshot sounded somewhere above him.

-------

The world slowed down. Peter watched wide-eyed as a bullet came flying in his direction; he desperately tried to jump to the side, and that was when he realized that he wasn’t slowed down at all.

He grinned as a second shot rang out and another bullet came flying; another Quick Attack allowed him to speed out of the way with no more effort than dodging a thrown softball. This was easy. They couldn’t hurt him.

He skirted out of the way of the third bullet just as the door opened again.

“Peter?” asked Katherine in a high-pitched, panicked voice, and the gunman immediately turned towards her and pulled the trigger yet again.

She had no Quick Attack. All Peter could think of to help her was running into the path of the bullet as fast as he could.

He felt it pierce through his side, leaving a path of burning pain in its wake, but saw the man raising his gun again and raced towards him instead, trying to ignore the numbness spreading through the right side of his body. Before the man could pull the trigger, Peter had reached him and awkwardly tackled him down; the gun flew out of his hand, and Peter landed on top of him with a sharp sting of pain.

“Peter!” he hazily heard his sister screaming as she ran towards them, her footsteps echoing. The gunman pushed him off and stumbled towards where the gun was lying, but Katherine threw herself at him and tackled him down again. She shook her rose-hands desperately in his face as he tried to wrestle her away, and in a matter of seconds, his struggling stopped.

Katherine ran over to Peter as he lay on the church floor, groaning. He felt dizzy and weak; pain throbbed where the bullet had hit him, somewhere in the middle of a strange numbness.

“Oh, God,” she said, pale and wide-eyed. “Are you... Peter, you can’t just jump in front of...”

That was the last thing he heard before he blacked out.

-------

Jack approached the front door with hurried steps. He glanced to the left, where Mia was creeping along the wall, her gaze fixed on him with something disturbingly like predatory hunger. He’d been close enough to hear the gunshots; he had to expect the worst. He shivered as he grabbed the doorknob and had to steel himself for a moment before he pushed it open.

Involuntary static electricity was beginning to build up in his antennae even before he took in the sight of the church: a man was lying motionless on the floor next to a gun, and up nearer to the altar, Peter was lying in a pool of blood, with Katherine kneeling over him. She looked sharply up as he let the door clunk shut; he hurried over to them, his heart thumping in his chest.

“I have to get him to a hospital,” she said, her voice strained and hysterical. Jack stared at the wound and the blood, simultaneously fascinated and horrified.

“You call an ambulance,” he said to Katherine. “Just tell them he’s in here, and then we can continue looking for...”

“I’m staying with him,” she said sharply. “We can’t just leave him defenceless like this.”

Everything was wrong. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. “Look, Katherine,” Jack said pleadingly, “we need you. You can’t just...”

“I need to protect him,” she replied, looking into his eyes; she was pale but her eyes shone with determination and he could tell nothing he could say would convince her. “It’s our fault he got involved in this. We never should have come here in the first place.”

The front door clunked shut and Jack looked around at it in alarm. Will was shuffling inside, panting. Mia seemed to have made her way inside earlier; she was watching them steadily from close to the entrance. As Will saw Peter lying on the ground, he froze, the tip of his tail twitching as he stared at the pool of blood spreading around him.

Jack looked back at Katherine. She’d taken out her cellphone to call an ambulance. As long as she didn’t mention anything relating to Brian’s murder or Gabriel’s kidnapping, it should be okay even if the inevitable questions reached the police. Will was hurrying over, while Mia followed him nonchalantly, looking around.

“Is he going to be okay?” Will murmured as he knelt down by Jack’s side. The Meowth morph averted his eyes from Peter’s wound, instead staring at his face.

“Katherine’s calling an ambulance, and they’ll get him and it’ll be fine,” Jack replied insistently. Of course it would be fine. It had to be.

Will glanced at the sleeping man lying on the floor a bit further away. “So um... is that all? Aren’t there more of them?”

Jack looked up. “More,” he repeated, blinking; somehow the word didn’t sink in immediately, but once it did, of course it struck him as odd. “Why aren’t there more?”

“Must be lying in wait,” Mia said. She’d reached them now; her eyes were still darting back and forth, taking in the room. “They probably want us to proceed further inside, where it’ll be harder to run.”

Jack’s stomach lurched uncomfortably; the thought of being ambushed somewhere deep inside an unfamiliar building was chilling. He looked around and found the door in the back that Mia’s gaze had also settled upon. “Well, we’re not running, are we?” he said. “Let’s go find Gabriel.”

Mia simply nodded. Katherine gave him a meaningful glance: she’d be staying with her brother, no matter what he said. He looked at Will; the Meowth boy’s tail was swishing restlessly back and forth as he glanced uncomfortably at Peter’s unconscious form. He looked uncannily like a cornered kitten.

“You coming or not?”

Katherine was still on the phone, but she gave Jack a frantic glare and shook her head.

“I... I’m okay,” Will muttered. “I want to help.” He stood up, and as Mia led the way towards the back door, he followed uncertainly behind Jack as Katherine gestured wildly in their direction.

Mia stopped abruptly as they were about to reach the door. Jack held his breath as her eyes darted around.

“There’s somebody breathing on the other side,” she said.

Jack stared at her. “You sure?” he whispered.

She gave him a strange look. Of course she was sure. She never said anything she wasn’t sure about.

“Um,” Will asked quietly. “So what do we do then?”

They never had to answer, because now the door burst open and suddenly two men were standing there, aiming handguns at them.

Time slowed down to a crawl. A shot rang out and Will started to crumple to the ground just as Jack instinctively threw himself down; he could feel the air displacement in the wake of the second shot just above him. Energy automatically flared up in his antennae as Mia emerged from behind the door, and somehow, he simply knew what to do: he focused for a fraction of a second as one of the men was starting to lower his gun down towards him, and suddenly a burst of electricity hit the man.

The victim let out a strangled sound as his muscles contracted involuntarily; his finger squeezed the trigger automatically, and Jack felt horrible, searing pain in his right leg. The other man, momentarily distracted by his partner’s fate, screamed when Mia slashed at his forearm, and the gun flew out of his hand; she grabbed his bloodied arm and with a disturbing strength managed to swing him headfirst into the wall. After a long moment, she released him and he fell, unmoving.

The one Jack had Thunder Waved was lying helpless on the ground, locked in a foetal position and groaning in pain. Jack tried to stand up but couldn’t even begin to try to put weight on his shot leg. Now that the brief adrenaline rush of the fight was dying down, the pain was coming back with a vengeance, intensifying with every heartbeat. He shakily managed to drag himself over to the wall, roll over onto his back and sit up.

“Mia,” he said and looked over at her, realizing with a jolt of horror that she’d laid out the unconscious man on the ground and was staring as if mesmerized at his pulsing jugular, her scythed arm hovering dangerously close. “Mia!” he said, louder, and she turned her head towards him. He saw her eyes flick over to his bleeding leg and stay there. “Don’t get carried away, just...”

She stood up, and he grimaced in pain and closed his eyes, trying to wish it away. He heard Katherine approaching hurriedly and kneeling down somewhere near him. “Can somebody, um... do something about my guy before the paralysis wears off?” he managed to say, but there was no response.

Jack opened his eyes again, and as he found Katherine, his gaze fell on Will, who was lying sprawled on the church floor next to her with a pool of blood spreading from his head.

He felt dizzy all of a sudden. Will. He’d completely forgotten about him in the heat of the moment, and there he was, his large eyes empty and staring. Jack had the time to make out an entry wound just beside the charm on his forehead before he forced himself to look away, frantically refusing to assess the damage otherwise. Will had to be okay somehow. The image of him curled up in his sleeping bag and purring with a contented smile on his face just last night hovered in Jack’s head, clashing violently with the horrifying, dull stare of the present. He couldn’t just be gone.

Katherine turned sharply towards him, tears of anger streaming down her cheeks. She choked on whatever words she meant to say, but he knew what she was thinking. It was his fault. Of course it was.

Searing pain throbbed in his leg. He dimly heard several loud thumps as Mia presumably introduced the paralyzed guy’s head to a wall on the other side of the door. Katherine was right; they never should have come there. And after what happened to Peter, why had he brought Will into danger as well?

Off where he was lying, Peter let out a groan, having seemingly regained consciousness, and Katherine immediately hurried over to him. Jack was left alone with Will and his empty stare.

He cringed and looked away, and suddenly he remembered Felicia. He somehow managed to dig into his pocket for the Pokéball before he crawled through the doorway. “Mia,” he said hoarsely. “We just... we have to find Gabriel and get out of...”

Mia wasn’t paying attention to him. She was staring at something that looked like a broom cupboard by the wall on the right, which she suddenly almost leapt towards and wrenched the door open.

A scrawny guy with wide, haunted eyes half-fell out of it with a frightened yelp, managing just barely to keep his balance and point the gun he was holding at Mia with a trembling hand. She was ready before he fired it and jumped to the side, grabbed the gun arm and used it as leverage to move up behind him while he fired useless shots into thin air.

As he struggled and screamed, she swung her other arm around and slit his throat with its blade. Blood sprayed out as the man continued feebly to fight back against her, but she held him still until his body went limp.

Jack stared in frozen horror at the dead man and at the psychotic grin breaking out on Mia’s face as she gazed at the blood dripping from her scythe, and it surprised him as much as her when yet another gunshot rang out, her head jerked, and she collapsed on top of her prey, her eyes rolled back in her head.

A tall, dark-haired man with piercing, icy blue eyes stood in front of another open door at the back of the room, his gun still raised, and chuckled. He looked at Jack, but the gun remained steadily pointed at Mia’s body as he walked slowly closer and fired two more shots at the back of her head.

Jack threw Felicia’s Pokéball forward with the little strength he had just as the man pointed the gun towards him. “Use Fire Blast!” he shouted in panic.

The Pokéball’s white sendout light burst forth, illuminating the room as it took the shape of the enormous Pokémon, and the moment the light began to fade, the man simply emptied the clip into the Arcanine’s head.

Jack stared in horror, splattered with hot Fire-type blood. Felicia’s body collapsed in front of him. The man was already reloading his gun with quick, practiced motions. Jack tried feebly to crawl back towards the wall as he raised the weapon yet again with a satisfied grin.

“Freeze!” came Katherine’s voice from the doorway, high-pitched and panicky. She was holding one of the other men’s discarded guns and pointing it shakily at Jack’s attacker. “You – you drop the gun, or I’ll shoot!”

The man didn’t drop the gun. He just swung his arm towards her instead, there was yet another gunshot and a scream, and Katherine hit the floor with a thump.

The killer chuckled softly. “Stupid girl.”

Jack wanted to shout something defiant and angry as the man looked back at him, but all that came out was a frightened whimper. There was no one left to save him now.

The man grinned manically and pointed the gun at him, and he braced himself for a swift death.

A jet of flame suddenly rushed into the room from behind the gunman, and he whirled around to shoot in its direction, but the fire enveloped him completely before he could. The gun dropped from his hand; he staggered backwards, but the fire followed him mercilessly, and Jack’s heart jumped when he realized that the source of the flames was Gabriel, his skin glowing a bright orange as flames streamed from his outstretched hand.

The man backed up against the wall, and Gabriel continued to advance towards him, glancing worriedly at Jack. As Mia’s murderer burned to death, he laughed madly among the flames, never screaming or crying; Gabriel continued to scorch his body with a shaking hand until he was finally silent and unmoving.

“Jack,” he said weakly as the flames died down and he hurried towards his friend. “Are you all right?” He knelt down by Jack’s side, looking at the bloodsoaked leg of his jeans and then at the room. “I... is that... Felicia?”

“I’m sorry,” Jack whispered. “It’s all my fault.”

“It’s okay,” Gabriel murmured, still staring frozenly at the body of the Arcanine.

“Are... are you okay?” Jack was shaking. His brain felt frozen and numb.

“Me?” Gabriel smiled faintly for a moment. “Never better.”

Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped limply down across Jack’s lap.

“Gabriel?” Jack shook him frantically, but the Slugma morph didn’t wake up. “Oh, no. Gabriel, you can’t die. We all came... we all came to save you and... Will, he... everyone... oh, God, please. It’s all my fault. Please don’t die.”

He was starting to sob uncontrollably, his hands still buried in the uncomfortably hot slime of Gabriel’s back. His leg burned with pain; part of Gabriel had landed on top of it and the liquid skin was pressing into the wound. Some part of him registered in puzzlement that Gabriel was naked. What had they done to him? Why was he dying? How had he escaped? When had he learned to use fire?

There was a groan near the door he’d come in through, and he looked frantically towards it. The first man that Mia had knocked out had regained consciousness where he was lying and was reaching for the gun he’d dropped.

“No,” he said hoarsely as the man gripped the weapon and turned his head towards them with difficulty. “Please. We didn’t do anything to you. Please don’t.”

The man’s eyes flicked towards the bodies of the two men they had killed and pointed the gun towards Jack with a shaky hand, his expression showing only pure terror.

He was knocked back by an orb of purple energy as the dark shape of a little girl emerged through the wall beside Jack. She levitated to the middle of the room, forming another Shadow Ball between her small hands as her ghostly hair fluttered in a nonexistent wind and her hypnotic eyes watched the man carefully.

“Lucy!” Jack choked out in relief before he realized that the Misdreavus morph had noticed her sister’s body lying there on the floor.

Lucy let out a bone-chilling wail as her eyes took on a blood red glow. The man she’d attacked frantically grabbed the opportunity to shoot at her, but the bullets went through her like smoke, eliciting no reaction as she floated up straight above him and hurled the second ball of energy down at him. He screamed as it hit, but it was drowned out by Lucy’s own scream that quickly transformed into an eerie melody of concentrated agony.

The world became pain; Jack dimly heard himself begin to scream as well as the excruciating notes dug into every fiber of his being, and then everything went black.

Page last modified July 14 2017 at 16:44 GMT