Where Angels Dare to Tread

by Cori Falls


Chapter 9 -- Control

Ayesha slowly waved her staff back and forth like a metronome and smiled. She'd summoned the dreaming spirits of a group of Bellossom to her tower, and now they were dancing for her as the wild, festive music of drums, flutes, and horns played on the wind.

When her initial attack on James and Meowth had failed, she'd learned that they'd been rescued by Gary Oak. The discovery that the grandsons of her old nemeses, Rose Morgan and Vivien Oak, were working against her had been unsettling, but Ayesha had reminded herself that James and Gary weren't as powerful as their grandmothers had been, and that the threat they posed would be minimal. Jessie had been quick to point out that James and Gary would prefer death to living as slaves, and that if Ayesha did, indeed, keep them alive, then they'd find a way to overcome her control and defeat her. This had been unsettling as well, but Ayesha had reminded her defiant captive that it had been her actions which had put her friends in danger.

After silencing Jessie, Ayesha had opened another scrying portal in order to find out what James and Gary were planning, but she hadn't been able to see anything except a thick wall of opaque gray smoke. Knowing that James had cast a protective spell on the cabin where he was staying with his friends, Ayesha had been able to determine that he was on his way to the Astral Plane to battle her.

She didn't allow this to worry her, however. Ayesha knew that even though James and his friends were safe from her attacks on their own plane as long as they stayed within the walls of the cabin, their souls would be easily defeated when they entered her city...and once she returned to life, nowhere would be safe.

And now, Ayesha was sitting on her throne, awaiting the arrival of her enemies and enjoying some entertainment. Her smile grew even wider than it already was as she closed her eyes and fantasized about how much fun she was going to have rising to power as a goddess and punishing all who'd dared to stand in her way....

When Jessie opened her eyes again, she found herself standing behind Ayesha's throne. The bars that had surrounded her were gone, and an eerie music was playing on the wind. The last thing she remembered was Ayesha slapping her across the face and slamming her into the bars of the cage, telling her that she was to blame for the predicament that everybody was in. And then, nothing but blackness as she'd succumbed to the pain in her body, mind, and soul.

But now, she was free from the cage, and Ayesha didn't seem to notice. In the recesses of her mind, however, Jessie knew that this was only another dream...that her soul was still trapped in Ayesha's tower and that her body was on a completely different plane of existence. With every passing moment, she seemed to be slipping deeper and deeper into the chaotic miasma of the dream-world, but she knew that if she wanted to escape, then she needed to discover Ayesha's weakness and use it to her advantage. And what better way to study the enemy than from the secrecy of a dream within a dream?

As Jessie stepped from behind the throne, she was met with a horrifying sight -- James, Meowth, Arbok, Weezing, Wobbuffet, Victreebel, and Articuno were kneeling before Ayesha, and so were all of Gary's pokemon. Gary, meanwhile, was shackled to the opposite wall. His body was covered with cuts and bruises, and he looked more dead than alive. Jessie covered her mouth with her hands and supressed the urge to scream. She didn't want to betray her presence, no matter how disgusted she was by what was going on.

It's only a dream...only a dream...it's not real, she reminded herself.

Meowth stepped forth and bowed at Ayesha's feet. "Yer Majesty. Please tell us how we, yer lowly subjects, may serve you," he said in a deadpan voice.

Ayesha laughed and pointed her staff at the cat. "Do a little dance for your queen, Meowth!" she commanded. As Meowth brought out a pair of black fans and began to dance, Ayesha turned her attention to Umbreon. "And you. Why don't you give your erstwhile master a taste of your Zap Cannon?"

Without hesitation, Umbreon walked over to Gary, and his black fur began to crackle with static.

Gary's eyes widened when he saw what his pokemon was doing. "Umbreon, no! Try to fight it! Please!"

But it was no use. As Gary pleaded with Umbreon and tried to make him come to his senses, he was hit with 10,000 volts of electricity. Ayesha began to laugh again when Gary passed out.

Now Jessie was biting her finger to keep from screaming. You bitch! You sick fucking bitch! she silently cursed.

Once Ayesha finished laughing, she cupped James's chin in her hand and forced him to look up at her. "What does Your Highness wish of me?" he asked in a flat, expressionless voice.

Ayesha ran her fingers along his cheeks and snickered. "You. You're the sweetest prize of all, my dear James. I'm so glad that I changed my mind and decided to keep you for awhile before killing you. Rose and Vivien are probably turning over in their graves about now, what do you think? And your darling Jessie is burning in the pits of Hell, powerless to help you...or stop me," she said softly.

James said nothing, just stared at Ayesha with a blank look on his face.

Jessie clenched her teeth and trembled with rage. Blood was now trickling from her finger where she was biting herself.

"I want you, James," Ayesha continued. "I want you to pleasure me as you once pleasured Jessie...."

"Your wish is my command, my queen," James replied.

As Jessie watched Ayesha laying James down on a pile of silken pillows, she felt her blood boiling. And when James offered no resistance as Ayesha tore off his shirt and began biting his neck and chest like a vampire sucking blood, she couldn't bear to stand idly by any longer.

NO!!! FIGHT IT, JAMES!!! FIGHT IT!!! Jessie's mind screamed as she charged forth and prepared to give Ayesha the beating she had coming. DON'T LET HER DO THIS TO YOU!!!

As if he'd heard Jessie's silent plea, awareness suddenly sparked in James's emerald eyes. And when he saw that Ayesha was seducing him, he recoiled in disgust and slapped her away. "UGH! Get off of me!" he cried.

Undaunted, Ayesha lunged at him again, but James reacted quickly, grabbing her by the shoulders and shoving her to the floor. When Ayesha landed, all of the pokemon regained consciousness as well. Meowth stopped dancing, Umbreon rubbed against Gary's legs and whimpered as Nidoking and Nidoqueen broke the chains that bound him, and all of the other pokemon gathered around the queen and prepared to attack.

"NO!!! NO, THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING!!!" Ayesha roared. "I am your queen! You cannot defy me!"

James slapped her again and silenced her. "Go to hell, bitch!"

As Ayesha recoiled from James's strike, she looked and saw that Jessie was standing behind her. "You," she hissed. "This is your doing...."

Suddenly, Jessie felt a sharp pain stabbing through her body. When she opened her eyes, she saw that she was still huddled in her cage and that Ayesha was standing over her. The queen was holding her staff so tightly that her knuckles had turned white, and she looked as if she were preparing to strike.

"How dare you?!" Ayesha growled. "How dare you interfere?!"

Jessie's sapphire eyes widened as realization dawned on her. That wasn't my dream -- it was Ayesha's! And I was controlling it!

"Don't get too cocky," Ayesha said, cutting her off. "It will not happen again. You may have disrupted my daydream, but you cannot control your own dream -- you're not strong enough...."

Jessie smirked. She could hear the slightest edge of fear in Ayesha's voice as she spoke, and she knew that the queen was having more and more doubts about the chances of her plan succeeding.

Before she could say anything, however, Ayesha reached through the bars of the cage and closed her hand over Jessie's head. "Your James is loyal, even in dreams. I'll give you that. But you should ask yourself, Jessie. Do you really deserve the loyalty and love of one such as him? Is his valiant attempt to save your life and soul truly merited?"

As she said this, a montage of images began to race through Jessie's mind -- images of herself yelling at James, images of herself slapping James and striking him with her mallet, images of the day she'd tried to make him marry Jessiebelle so that they could get rich, images of the day she'd stolen the badges from James and Meowth and tried to set out on her own, images of herself bossing James around...and finally, images of the day she'd blamed James and Meowth for all of her misery.

"I don't think you do deserve him," Ayesha went on. "Just look at yourself, Jessie -- you're cruel and selfish. That ex-boyfriend was right about you. Perhaps that's the reason you heard my call so easily -- you're every bit as ruthless as I am!"

Tears streamed down Jessie's cheeks. "No! You're wrong!" she cried, wrenching herself free from Ayesha's grasp. "I know I've made mistakes in the past, and that I've said and done a lot of things that I regret -- I'll own up to it. But what you've shown me isn't who I am anymore -- I've been trying to change! James has forgiven me for the mistakes I've made, and we've moved on!" She got to her feet again and met the queen's icy glare. "So don't you dare use my past against me! You're the one who doesn't deserve James, no matter how much you try to rationalize it or put the blame on me!"

"SHUT UP!!!" Ayesha screeched. She swung her staff again, but Jessie caught it before it could connect with her face. Then, she shoved it away and sent Ayesha reeling.

"You really are afraid," Jessie said coldly. "You're not as in control as you think...and you can't stand that I won't play your little mind-games anymore."

Ayesha scowled and turned away from her. "What you saw in my daydream is only a little taste of what I have in store for your friends, and when I make that dream a reality, you'll be powerless to stop me. Not even your precious James will be able to resist, no matter how many fancy parlor-tricks his grandmother taught him. Cling to whatever little hope you can if it makes you feel better, Jessie. But the end will still be the same...."

I definitely heard fear in her voice that time! Jessie said to herself as she watched Ayesha return to her throne and command the Bellossom to start dancing again. And she doesn't seem to hear my thoughts right now -- if she did, she'd still be screaming at me and smacking me around! Come to think of it, she didn't notice that I was eavesdropping on her daydream, either....

Jessie closed her eyes and pondered this for a moment. Then, a smile spread across her lips. Ayesha may be able to see and hear everything that goes on in her city, but she needs to be concentrating on it! And she doesn't like to dwell on things that bother her -- she prefers to focus on success! That's why I couldn't get away with anything earlier -- she was so sure that her plan was going to go off without a hitch that all of her thoughts were centered on me...or congratulating herself for catching me. But now that she's having doubts, she doesn't want to be reminded that I'm not falling for her tricks.

Suddenly, Jessie's expression darkened again. I may have figured out her weakness, but she's still going to be keeping an eye on me. If anything, she'll probably be more on guard than ever -- she's not going to be leaving anything to chance. Oh, well. At least I've got some mental privacy back...for the moment. I just hope I can use it to my advantage....


When James finished his sandwiches, he began setting up the specific items he was going to need for his various spells. Once he was done preparing the herbs, oils, and tools, he resumed his reading so that he could commit each and every gesture, action, and chant to memory. His plan was risky, and he knew that there was no room for mistakes, no matter how slight.

James spent the remainder of the afternoon in meditation, preparing himself both physically and mentally for the coming battle. Remembering everything Rose had told him and everything he'd learned from her books, he focused his mind completely on rescuing Jessie and defeating Ayesha, and he vowed that he wouldn't let anybody or anything distract him from his objectives.

By the time he brought himself from his meditation, it was almost seven thirty. The storm was still raging outside, and the gray, dreary day had given way to black of night. Suddenly, there was another knock at the bedroom door, and Meowth entered the room.

"Hey. I didn't disturb ya, did I?" the cat asked.

James shook his head. "No. I was just coming out of it...."

"So, how ya doin'?"

"It's strange," James replied. "I still feel apprehensive, but I'm not really scared anymore." He paused for a moment so that he could put his thoughts to words. "I've spent the past few hours focusing on my abilities and how to use them best. I feel like I'm in complete control of them now...like I really do have the power to keep grand-mama's vision from coming to pass the way she saw it. The magic isn't just my fantasy anymore -- it's reality!"

"I'm glad ta hear it...cuz I'm still afraid," Meowth said. "Jimmy, dere's been pokemon snoopin' around the woods outside the cabin all afternoon. I can tell from lookin' at 'em dat dey're under her control and dat dey're just waitin' for yer spell ta wear off, or somethin'...." His voice trailed off, and he shuddered.

"I'll burn some more protective incense when I cast my spells," James told him. "In the meantime, don't worry about what's going on outside -- as long as we stay in here, we're safe. It's only what's happening on the Astral Plane that we need to concern ourselves with."

"I guess yer right," Meowth sighed.

James placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled. "I know I am."

Meowth smiled back. "Well, I just wanted ta let ya know dat dinner's ready," he said, changing the subject. "Gary found some ground turkey in the freezer while he was fixin' lunch, so I showed him yer recipie for open-faced hamburgers."

"It's actually, my old chef, Dalila's recipie," James said, his smile growing wider. "She didn't have a lot of money when she was young, so her family was always coming up with recipies that would stretch the food as far as it would go. Those open-faced burgers follow two basic principles -- ground turkey is cheaper and leaner than ground beef, and you can get more meals out of a loaf of bread than a package of buns." He laughed bitterly. "We probably would've starved to death ages ago if she hadn't taught me how to cook...."

"Well, whatever inspired dat recipie, dose things sure are good...and Gary made a whole batch!" Meowth exclaimed. "So, come on! You may be calm and centered, but Me-owth is starvin'!"

James chuckled and got to his feet. "Alright, alright. I'm coming."

When the two of them left the bedroom, they found Gary bringing a tray of burgers from the oven. "Come and get it," he said as he set the tray on the table. "Meowth and Wobbuffet already helped me feed all of the pokemon, so now it's our turn to eat."

"How are Blaze and Articuno doing?" James asked when he saw that the baby bird was still asleep on the couch.

"Blaze is fine -- he made a complete recovery from last night's run," Gary replied. "Articuno is still exhausted, though. He woke up to eat his dinner, but once he finished, he went right back to sleep."

James's brow furrowed as he reached down and stroked Articuno's soft, ice-blue feathers.

"Don't worry. He's just tired, that's all," Gary continued when he saw the look of concern on James's face. "He should be okay when he wakes up in the morning."

"I just hope we can say the same for ourselves," Meowth said, his expression darkening once again.

Now Gary was frowning, too.

"Don't worry. I'm ready for this," James assured them. "After dinner, I'm going to get started. And when we wake up in the morning, we'll all be fine."

This made Meowth and Gary smile again.

"Thanks again for all of your help, guys," James said as he seated himself at the table. "Believe me, even if you don't think it's much, it makes all the difference to me. I'm just sorry I haven't been very good company today...."

"It's okay," Gary told him. "Meowth, Wobbuffet, and I have been keeping each other occupied."

Meowth seated himself next to James and put two burgers on his plate. "Dat's right! I told Gary about how we rescued Simon by gettin' all the pokemon ta scare the con-men away, like in The Brementown Musicians. Den, Wobbuffet and I gave him a couple a lessons on pokemon language -- now he knows how ta understand what Wobbu sez, just like you and Jess!"

And then I told him all about the day I got separated from you three and how I helped bring that robber to justice! Wobbuffet chimed in as he fixed a plate of burgers for himself.

"Meowth also told me the whole story about how Ash was treating you when you were in Rowandale this morning," said Gary. He pounded his fist on the table. "I can't believe the nerve of him, calling Jessie a bitch and accusing you three of beating up that archaeologist! He'd better be glad I wasn't there, or I'd have ripped him a new asshole!"

James sprinkled some salt and pepper on one of his burgers and took a bite. "Yeah. Even I couldn't resist kicking his ass for that one," he grumbled.

"Ya know what else pisses Me-owth off?" the cat piped up. "When the twerps was talkin' ta Tierra yesterday, we overheard Ash say dat he thought it'd be cool if he could use the staff and mask ta control pokemon! But when he saw Jess doin' the exact same thing, he and the other twerps spazzed and got all preachy about how evil it was!"

Gary rolled his eyes. "Jeezus! What a bunch of hypocrites!"

"Really. And at least when Jessie did it, it was only because she was being lured by Ayesha -- Ash would've taken the staff and mask of his own free will!" James snorted. "But let's not talk about that little basilisk anymore...."

"Yeah. We don't need his negative chi screwin' things up for us," Meowth agreed.

Then why don't we talk about something more uplifting? Wobbuffet suggested. Like the valuable lessons we learned from Gary?

"Oh, yeah! Gary taught us some more off-color French vocabulary!" Meowth exclaimed. "Didja know dat merde a la puissance treize, which is used ta wish somebody good luck, literally means shit to the thirteenth power?! How cool is dat?!"

Gary snickered. "As you can see, we've been keeping busy."

"Indeed," James laughed.

As the four friends sat together and ate their dinner, Meowth and Wobbuffet shared all of the French curses that they'd learned with James, and Gary told them about some of the places he'd traveled to in Johto and the training he'd been doing in the days since he'd won the Glacier Badge. They were doing their best to keep the mood light, but without Jessie, the group was incomplete. In the back of their minds, they couldn't ignore the void that her absence created, no matter how optomistic they tried to remain.

When the meal was finished, James excused himself and returned to the bedroom so that he could begin his spellwork. The first thing he had to do before casting his psychic shield was take a purifying bath that would cleanse him both physically and spiritually. Having memorized all of the lore in his grand-mama's book, he knew which herbs and plants were best for purification and prepared a sachet of mint and pine. He then placed the sachet in the tub and made sure that the water ran over it as he drew his bath.

While he was waiting for the tub to fill, James took off his pendant and placed it on the altar with the rest of the tools he was going to need. Then, he rooted around in his backpack and brought out all of his bathrobes. Over the years, Jessie had made several kimono-style robes for him -- he had a black one with the Japanese symbols for health and prosperity embroidered on it in white, a dark sapphire-blue one with ruby-red trim, a light blue one with royal blue Weezing silhouettes on it, another light blue one with navy blue "R"s on it, a pale lilac one with a red rose embroidered on it, and a white one with a golden "J" monogram. All of them were made of the finest silk, and they were all designed with Jessie's exquisite craftsmanship. After studying the robes for a couple of minutes, James decided to wear the white one when he cast his spell, to symbolize the purity of essence he needed in order to obtain the necessary protection.

Once James had put the other robes away, he returned to the bathroom and stripped off his clothes. As he put his dirty laundry into the hamper and set his robe on the vanity, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror that was hanging on the wall. James paused for a moment and examined his reflection. He'd always been tall, slender, and delicate...almost elf-like in appearance (and he always would be), but over the past few months, his muscles had been filling in more and more. Nobody could say that he was scrawny or skinny any longer. Ever since he was a little boy, he'd been mature for his age and wise beyond his years, and now he had a body that matched his mind. He was a man in every sense of the word. But the firm, well-toned muscles of his chest, stomach, arms, and legs weren't what James was looking at -- he was staring into his eyes...the mirrors of his soul. And when he looked into his green eyes, he could see the same strength of character that Rose Morgan had talked about on the day he was born.

Satisfied that he had the faith to make his powers work and that he wouldn't let Jessie down in her hour of need, James nodded approvingly at his reflection and went back to the bathtub. After turning off the water, he removed the sachet and inhaled the fresh, sweet scent of pine and mint that permeated the air. As he stepped into the tub and immersed himself in the warm water, he could feel the sweat and grime lifting off of his skin and the tension flowing out of his muscles. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, James slid further down in the tub and submerged his entire body. When he resurfaced, he kept his eyes closed and formed a mental image of all the negativity he was harboring being drawn out of his body and neutralized by the purifying waters. Before long, he felt himself filling with a warm, white light again, and he knew that he'd been cleansed.

After scrubbing himself from head to toe with a washcloth and soaking awhile longer so that he could absorb as much of the purifying energy as possible, James drained the tub and dried himself off. Then, he put on a clean pair of boxer shorts and his white robe and returned to the bedroom. After filling his burner with a mixture of furze incense and wormwood, he carried it through every room of the cabin and made sure that the smoke filled every last nook and cranny.

"Furze is good for protection and preparation for conflict, and wormwood strengthens the protective properties of incense. That should keep the barrier around this cabin from wearing off while I'm gone," James told Meowth and Gary once all of the incense had burned down. "Just remember not to leave the cabin, under any circumstances."

Gary pushed the curtains of a nearby window aside and shuddered at the sight of the driving rain and glowing red eyes of wild pokemon in the woods. "Believe me, I won't!"

"And I ain't gonna be goin' outside cuz I'm goin' with ya!" said Meowth.

James raised an eyebrow. "What?!"

"You heard me -- I'm goin' with ya!" he repeated.

"Oh, no you're not!" James protested.


"Because it's dangerous! That's why!"

"And when has a little thing like danger ever stopped us before?!" Meowth demanded.

James shook his head. "This is different, Meowth. I can't ask you to face a danger like this...."

"You ain't askin' me -- I'm tellin' you!" Meowth shot back. The cat's midnight-blue eyes filled with tears. "Please, James. You've gotta take me with ya. I love Jessie as much as you do, and I can't let youse guys face Ayesha alone. We gotta stick tagedda and do everything as a team, no matter how dangerous it may be."

James knealt down and placed a hand on Meowth's head. "Well...what about Gary?" he asked. "He can't come with us -- he needs to stay on this side and make sure that nothing happens while I'm under. Are you going to just leave him by himself?"

"I won't be alone," Gary interjected. "I'll have Umbreon, and Wobbuffet, and all of the other pokemon here with me. We'll be just fine."

James looked up at Gary and smirked. "I see I'm being ganged up on, here."

Meowth and Gary grinned. "Dat's right!" they said in unison.

James laughed bitterly and shook his head again.

"James, we'd all go with you if we had a choice," Gary told him. "I'll stay here since this is where I can do the most good, but please don't go alone. Take Meowth with you -- he wants to do this."

Meowth nodded. "Yeah! I read yer spell book while you was takin' a bath, so I know what all needs ta be done! The book even sez dat cats can enter a magic circle without disruptin' the power flow and dat dey can amplify the energy, so gimmie one good reason why I can't do dis!"

James closed his eyes and sighed. "I can't," he replied after a long pause. "My only real reason is that I don't want to put you in danger, but you said that doesn't matter to you. I can't force you to stay here if you really do want to come with me, but...."

"Hey, don't worry about Me-owth -- I can take care a myself!" the cat assured him.

"And I'll be alright, too," Gary added.

James opened his eyes again and saw the pleading look on Meowth's face. "Okay. You can come with me," he acquiesced.

"All right!" Meowth cheered.

"You're a good friend, Meowth, and very brave," James told him as he got back to his feet. "I just hope you really understand what you're getting yourself into."

"I do understand...and I don't care," Meowth replied.

James nodded and began heading towards the bedroom. "Then let's get started -- we only have a little over two hours left."

Meowth took a deep breath and followed him.

Gary gave the two of them a thumbs-up. "Merde a la puissance treize, guys," he said.

Meowth laughed. "Shit to the thirteenth power ta you, too," he replied.

Once they were back in the bedroom, James closed the door and walked over to the altar. "Are you ready?" he asked as Meowth came to his side.

"Ready as I'll ever be," the cat told him.

James picked up his crescent moon wand and smiled at him. "Then let's begin." With that, he pointed the wand at the floor and began turning in a clockwise motion.

Meowth watched in awe as the wand sent forth a jet of white fire and created a circle around them.

When he completed the circle, James turned to the east and held his wand aloft. "I consecrate this circle to the ancient powers! Here may they manifest and bless their child. This is a time that is not a time, in a place that is not a place. We stand at the threshold between worlds, before the veil of the mysteries. May the ancient ones help and protect us on our magical journey," he announced.

After setting the wand down, James used the incense, charcoal, water, and salt to summon the four elemental powers, just like he'd seen his grand-mama do. Once he'd finished consecrating the circle, James returned to the altar and lit the red candle on the right side of the cauldron, the black one on the left side, and the white one behind it. Then, he picked up a short sword and held it in salute as he faced east again and said:

By the power of the rising sun,
All evil in my life is done.

Then, he turned to the south and saluted again.

By the power of the noonday blast,
All control is mine at last.

Then, turning to the west and saluting again:

By the power of the darkening night,
My shield is strong, my armor tight.

And finally, turning to the north and saluting:

By full moon in blackened sky,
I'm not alone, my help is nigh.
The Goddess's hands around me stay,
To keep me safe by night and day.
Begone foul spirits unbidden here,
I send you back, I do not fear.
For I have won, I am set free,
You have no further power o'er me!

When he finished his chant, James placed the sword back on the altar and took the vial of oil from the cauldron. Placing a drop of the oil on his fingers, he anointed his forehead, heart, stomach, wrists, and ankles. Then, he did the same to Meowth. After a moment, suits of shimmering blue armor appeared on their bodies.

"Oh, my god! Dis is actually workin'!" Meowth gasped.

"Our bodies are safe within this circle of sacred fire, and now our minds are safe as well. Ayesha can't do anything to hurt us," James told him as he placed the oil back on the altar and picked up a pen and piece of paper.

"Whaddaya doin' now?" Meowth asked.

James smiled at him and began to write. "This is part of the next spell. Now that we're protected from Ayesha, we need the strength to battle her. I'm writing down our wishes for Ayesha to be sent where she belongs and for all of us to return safely from this ordeal," he explained. Once he was done writing his requests, James held the paper over the white candle and set it on fire. Then, he dropped the burning paper into the cauldron and picked up the sword again. As he stood before the altar with the sword clutched in his hands, he began another chant:

Wolf and horse, old signs of might,
Lend your strength to us this night.
Courage we need, and power of steel,
Energy, willpower, defense to feel.
Hark to my call, great powers all!

James brought up the sword and laid the tip of it on the rim of the cauldron. The fires within the cauldron reflected off the steel blade of the sword and cast flickers of orange and red light around the darkened room. James closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, allowing the final traces of apprehension and uncertainty to be chased from his mind and replaced by courage and determination. Once he'd absorbed all of the powers he'd summoned, he placed the sword back on the altar, put his pendant back on, and seated himself across from Meowth.

"It's time," he said softly. "Are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this, Meowth?"

Meowth nodded. "Of course I'm sure," he replied. "I ain't afraid no more, James."

"I'm glad to hear that. Because once we take this next step, there's no turning back," James told him.

Meowth smiled. "Bring it on!"

James returned the smile and took Meowth's paws in his hands. "Come on. Let's protect the world from devastation."

"Just one question. Ya said the Astral Plane is the world of dreams. So, how do we get dere? By fallin' asleep?" Meowth asked.

"That's one way. But we're going to get there by going into deep meditation. It'll be like a dream, only we'll be able to retain our consciousness and use the energies of the Astral Plane to control our actions and our environment," James explained. "It's simple. Just close your eyes and relax. Picture yourself slowly fading out of this world and entering another."

"Dat's all dere is to it?"

"Yes. If you can believe in yourself and hold on to the mental image, then you can do it."

Meowth closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay. See ya on the other side, Jimmy."

James closed his own eyes. "See you on the other side, Meowth," he echoed.


Jessie's brow furrowed, and a drop of sweat rolled down her temple as her hands worked at one of the iron bars of her cage. She'd spent the entire afternoon focusing her mind in two completely different directions, and it was beginning to wear her down.

One part of her mind had remained ever watchful of Ayesha. Now that Jessie knew the queen could only see what she was doing and hear her thoughts if she was being focused on, she'd been taking care not to do anything that would arouse suspicion. And during the times that Ayesha did turn her attention to her, Jessie had made every effort to keep her thoughts and actions as neutral and mundane as possible.

Meanwhile, the other part of her mind had been constantly reminding her that she was in a dream and that if she could tap into the energies of the Astral Plane, then she'd be able to control her dream and do things that weren't physically possible in the realm of consciousness. For the past few hours, she'd been concentrating on the bars of her cage, willing the iron to bend and break at her touch. She'd been interrupted several times and forced to pretend that she was simply huddled on the floor, accepting defeat when Ayesha's thoughts drifted to her, but she'd also been having a great deal of success. So far, she hadn't been caught, and she'd made the iron bars crack in several places.

Now, Jessie was just waiting for the moment when Ayesha opened her portal to Hell to break free from the cage and force her into her own gateway. Then, leaving the city and awakening from the nightmare would be a simple matter.

I know it's risky, she said to herself as another crack formed at the base of the last bar of her cage. She closed her eyes and took a moment to relax. But it's the only chance I have....

Suddenly, Jessie became aware that she was being watched, and she quickly purged all thoughts of escape from her mind. "What do you want?" she asked when she saw Ayesha standing over her. "Come to gloat some more?"

The queen's lips twisted into a smile. "Actually...yes. I wanted to let you know that you only have ninety minutes left to live. Better enjoy them while you can."

Jessie clenched her teeth and supressed the urge to say or think anything that would betray her plan.

"I also sensed another disturbance in the magical weave," Ayesha continued. "James has been casting more spells, and now I can feel his presence here on the Astral Plane. He and the cat are coming to rescue you, Jessie. And they've left Gary all alone on the other side. This is just the moment I've been waiting for...."

Jessie balled her hands into fists and trembled with rage. It was all she could do to keep from snapping one of the broken bars from her cage and beating Ayesha senseless right then and there. "If you do anything to hurt them, I swear I'll make you suffer worse than any torment you'd ever find in the lowest pits of Hell!" she growled.

Ayesha laughed. "I'm afraid your friends are the ones who are going to suffer, Jessie...and I know exactly how to make them suffer. You all have something in common -- the people you care about are your weakness. I've seen enough of your memories to know that Gary will forget all about his own safety if he thinks his loved ones are in danger. And as for James? He's already risking life and limb for you, but I have the perfect way to bring his heroic endeavor to an end." With that, she turned away from Jessie and opened another scrying portal.

When Jessie looked over Ayesha's shoulder and into the portal, she saw James sitting in the parlor of a great mansion. He was dressed in a black tuxedo. In the doorway stood a woman with curly red hair and sky-blue eyes. She was dressed in a long, white wedding gown trimmed with yellow roses and holding a bouquet to match.

"Oh, James, dear! We're finally goin' to be married!" the woman cried in a syrupy southern accent.

Jessie shuddered at the sound of Jessiebelle's voice.

As Jessiebelle walked into the room, she passed by a large full-length mirror with an ornate golden frame. "But first, I need to freshen up and make sure I look my best for my husband-to-be!" she said. When she paused and looked at herself in the mirror, however, her reflection wasn't that of a young woman. Instead, a large, black demon with ash-gray horns and tusks and a pair of cloven hooves was staring back at her. Tongues of flame radiated from her body, and in place of a bouquet of yellow roses, she was holding a long, fiery whip.

"This is a dream I'm watching now," Ayesha explained when she saw the look of horror on Jessie's face. "Jessiebelle's dream, to be precise. She still desires James. He certainly is in demand with the ladies, isn't he?"

Jessie snorted. Not that either of you have the slightest chance with him.

Jessiebelle primped in the mirror for a couple of minutes and pulled a veil over her face. "What a beautiful bride I am!" she giggled, seemingly unaware that she'd been staring at the reflection of a monster.

"The mirror shows all who dream a reflection of their true selves," Ayesha continued. "Though few actually remember what they see in the mirror after they awaken...."

Jessie raised an eyebrow. "So, Jessiebelle's true self is a balrog? Why am I not surprised?" she muttered.

"You may not be surprised," said Ayesha. "But James most certainly will be!" When she turned to face Jessie again, she no longer looked like Queen Ayesha -- she looked like Jessiebelle. "I can see why he fears her...and why you despise her. Pity she was never close enough to hear my call -- she probably would have joined with me willingly!"

"Wouldn't put it past her," Jessie said sarcastically.

Ayesha cracked her whip and laughed. "Now I'm really looking forward to James's arrival! This will be so much fun, don't you think?"

Jessie turned away from her and frowned. If James is coming here anyway, then he's not going to let a little illusion like that stop him, she said to herself. Still, Ayesha's going to be using more than illusions against us, and if we have any chance of defeating her, then we're going to have to fight her together. I just hope my plan...and whatever James has planned works.

To be Continued....

Author's Notes

All of the spells and rituals that James performs in this chapter are based on actual Pagan rituals. All of the information on plant lore, incense, spellwork, and such is from Celtic Magic, by D.J. Conway.

I'd like to give an extra special thanks to my friend, Shigeru1313. I was having trouble with the opening scene of this chapter, and her input gave me the inspiration I needed. The scene where Meowth and Wobbuffet were talking about the off-color French vocabulary they learned from Gary was also inspired by her story, More Than Allies. ^_^


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