Where Angels Dare to Tread

by Cori Falls


Chapter 10 -- Salvation

When James and Meowth opened their eyes again, they saw that they were still in the bedroom. But now, the circle of white fire that had surrounded them was gone, and Jessie was no longer lying in bed. The shimmering blue auras that covered their bodies had transformed into suits of chain mail armor that glittered like the purest Mithril.

"So, dis is it? We're on the Astral Plane now?" Meowth asked. "How come it don't look no different from where we just was?"

"The Astral Plane exists parallel to our own plane of existence. They're not separate worlds, Meowth -- they surround each other," James explained. "Everything that exists on our plane is going to be here in some form, too. The only difference is that the energy levels are a lot higher on this plane. That's why such extraordinary things can happen in dreams."

"Does dat mean we can wish ourselves ta wherever Jess is, get her ta safety, and kick Ayesha's ass right now?" he ventured.

"It's not quite that simple," James replied. "In order to wish for something and make it happen, you have to be able to visualize it, and I have no idea what the city of Yew is like on this plane...or where, exactly, Jessie is. I'm afraid we'll have to find her the old-fashioned way."

"Den we'd better hurry," Meowth said. "We ain't got much time left til Ayesha opens dat gateway ta Hell." As he walked to the door and pushed it open, however, he stopped and looked back at James.

"What's wrong?" he asked when he saw the incredulous expression on the cat's face.

"Come see for yerself," Meowth told him.

James raised an eyebrow and came to Meowth's side. When he looked out the door, he saw an Articuno standing in the middle of the living room. The bird's feathers were the most beautiful shade of crystal blue, and his long, luxurious tail was over twice the length of his large, muscular body. For a moment, James felt like he was in the presence of the Titan of Ice himself, but when the bird caught sight of him and began chirping happily, he knew who it was.

Meowth's eyes widened as the Articuno raced to James's side and nuzzled against him. "Is...is dat little Arti?!" he stammered.

James laughed and tried to keep the enormous bird from climbing into his arms. "Yes, it is!"

"Well, what's he doin' here?! And how'd he get so big?!"

"Obviously, he's still sleeping off the rough morning he had...and he's having a dream about being all grown up!" said James.

Meowth smiled. "Dat makes sense."

Articuno chirped again and rested his head on James's shoulder.

"Yes, I love you, too," James whispered, putting his arms around Articuno's neck and planting a kiss on his beak. "Daddy-bird loves you very much."

Meowth's smile became a grin. "Hey! I just got an idea! Ayesha can't take control of Arti's mind since his body is still inside the cabin, right?"

James nodded. "She can't control pokemon who have trainers, either...not yet, anyway. I'd say Articuno is definitely safe from her."

"Dat means he could fly us to the city and help us fight her!" Meowth exclaimed.

Now James was smiling, too. "That's a great idea, Meowth!" Then, to Articuno, "What do you say? Would you like to come with me and Meowth and help us rescue Jessie?"

Articuno nodded.

"Thanks, Arti!" said Meowth. "We need all the help we can get!"

"That's for sure," James agreed as he climbed onto Articuno's back and helped Meowth up. "Ayesha's going to be sending more of her minions after us if she finds out that we're on the Astral Plane."

"Which means Arti's fire-power is gonna come in really handy!" Meowth remarked, giving the bird a pat on the back. "Uh...ya do know other attacks besides Peck and Gust, right?"

Articuno looked over his shoulder at James and Meowth for a moment. Then, he flapped his wings and sent forth a torrent of wind and ice that blew away an entire wall of the cabin.

James smirked. "Guess that answers your question, Meowth!"

"Sweet!" Meowth cheered.

"You've become very powerful, Articuno. And someday, you'll be this big and strong in real life," James praised his pokemon.

"Yeah! So, let's put dat power ta good use and show Ayesha what we're made of!" Meowth added.

James closed his hand over the pendant that he was wearing and bowed his head as Articuno flapped his wings again and took to the sky. "This one's for you, Jessie...and you too, grand-mama -- I won't let either of you down. I promise," he said softly.

Meowth placed his paw on James's shoulder. "And dis is for all the pokemon of the world. We ain't just fightin' for our lives and Jessie's soul -- we're fightin' for dere freedom, too."

"You're right, Meowth. No living thing -- human or pokemon -- deserves a life of slavery," James replied. "That's why we can't lose this battle."

Meowth scanned the treetops of the forest below, then looked ahead to the golden city of Yew, nestled in the mountains above. "So, where do ya think Jessie's at?" he queried.

"My first guess would be Ayesha's temple," James told him. "And I'm guessing that the temple is beneath the stone tower I saw in the vision grand-mama showed me last night."

"How're we gonna get inside?"

James closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting the cool nighttime breezes play with his blue-violet hair and clear his mind as he pondered the cat's question. Before he could reply, however, a gust of wind slammed into them and made Articuno lurch to the side.

As the gales continued to buffet Articuno and his passengers, they could hear the menacing sound of Ayesha's voice being carried on the wind. Pokemon, heed my call! Destroy the grandson of Rose Morgan and the talking cat! Death to the interlopers!

Meowth sweatdropped. "Uh, James? If we die on the Astral Plane, do our bodies die on our own plane, too?" he asked nervously.

James shook his head. "No. It'd just be like waking up from a really bad nightmare, but we'd have to go back into meditation and start all over again...and we don't have time for that."

"Den let's hurry and get to Ayesha's temple before anything answers her call!"

No sooner than Meowth had said this, a great rumbling sound erupted from the forest. When he and James looked, they saw a swarm of Beedrills and Scythers, a flock of three Fearow and seven Skarmory, and a Charizard taking flight.

"Me and my big meowth," the cat grumbled.

"Shit," James muttered. "Looks like we've got a battle on our hands already...."

Meowth frowned. "Can't we just outrun 'em? If Arti knows Agility, we can leave 'em all in the dust!"

"True...but they'd still follow us. And an army of hostile pokemon at our backs is the last thing we need when we come face-to-face with Ayesha!" came James's reply. "Better to get them out of the way now so that we won't be distracted later!"

"Point," Meowth conceded. "But can Articuno handle all dese pokemon by himself? He's outnumbered at least fifty ta one!"

James smiled. "Not exactly -- we're going to be giving him a little help, Meowth!" With that, he snapped his fingers, and a bow made of rowan wood appeared in his right hand. Then, a quiver full of silver arrows appeared on his back.

Meowth's eyes widened. "How'd you do dat, Jimmy?!"

James's smile became a grin. "Remember what I told you earlier? This is a dream -- we can do whatever we want as long as we can imagine it!" Then, to his pokemon, "Are you ready?"

Articuno nodded and turned to face his pursuers.

"Okay, then! Take them out with your Powder Snow attack, Articuno!" James commanded.

Once his two passengers had braced themselves, Articuno flapped his wings again and created a flurry of snow. The force of the wind knocked a few of the Scythers out of the sky and froze several Beedrills solid, but the Charizard, Skarmory, and Fearow had been unaffected.

"Dammit!" Meowth hissed. "It barely fazed 'em! Whadda we do now?!"

James took one of the silver arrows from his quiver and nocked it in his bow. "I have to try and take out those Skarmory and that Charizard before they do anything to Articuno -- he's weak against steel and fire-types!"

Meowth facefaulted. "It's like Ayesha knew exactly what ta send after us, huh?"

"Seems that way," James agreed. As the swarm of pokemon charged forth and prepared to attack en masse, he took aim and fired at one of the Skarmory that was swooping in. Once he made his shot, he and Meowth braced themselves again and prepared for Articuno to use evasive maneuvers.

As Articuno used his Agility to put distance between himself and his assailants, James and Meowth watched the silver arrow arc through the air. When it struck its target, the Skarmory vanished in a puff of smoke.

"What'd ya do?" Meowth asked.

"Don't worry -- I didn't kill it," James replied. "Getting hit by the arrow just woke Skarmory up. It won't bother us if it's not on the Astral Plane anymore." While he was explaining this to Meowth, he wasted no time in getting out another arrow and firing again.

"Damn! Yer a good shot, Jimbo!" Meowth remarked as he watched the arrow strike a second Skarmory and take it out of the battle.

"That's one thing I'll give my dad credit for," James said, firing a third arrow into the army of charging pokemon. "He made me take archery and marksmanship lessons when I was a lad." As the arrow took out a third Skarmory, James braced himself once more. "Don't show any mercy this time, Articuno! Hit them with a Blizzard attack!" he commanded.

While Articuno was powering up, the Beedrills, Scythers, and one of the Fearow used their Agility to charge in for an attack. Meanwhile, the Charizard, the remaining two Fearow, and the four Skarmory broke from the formation and were preparing to surround them.

"Look sharp, Meowth!" James cried, setting two arrows into his bow and firing them simultaneously. "We can't let them box us in!"

Meowth watched as one of James's arrows hit a fourth Skarmory and woke it up. The second arrow struck the Charizard and made him break off the Flamethrower attack he'd been powering up for, but it wasn't enough to take him out of the battle. If only I knew some kinda long-range attack.... he said to himself. It was then that he got an idea.

As one of the Fearow began swooping in from the flank in hopes of skewering them with a Drill Peck, Meowth laid his ears back and puffed out his fur. "Come on, bird-brain! Come get some!" he said defiantly. Locking stares with the dive-bombing bird, the cat focused his mind on what he wanted and felt himself filling with a warm, white light. Suddenly, the golden charm on his forehead began to glow, and a spray of silver and gold coins shot forth from his paws. The coins slammed into Fearow and made him break off his attack, mere seconds before he was about to run them through with his beak. And as the bird tried to retreat and prepare another attack, Meowth held his concentration and continued to pelt him with coins. Before long, the Fearow went into a tail-spin and vanished in a puff of smoke, just like the Skarmory that James had taken out.

Meowth didn't have time to relish his accomplishment, however -- as soon as the Fearow had been defeated, he looked and saw that the Beedrills were firing a barrage of Poison Sting and Pin Missiles at them, the Scythers were raising their blades and preparing to hack Articuno to pieces, and the Fearow in front was coming in for a Drill Peck, too. Fortunately, Articuno had finished focusing his energy, and just as the incoming attacks were about to strike, he flapped his wings and blasted them all away with a gale of icy wind. Beating his wings a second time, Articuno sent forth a shower of ice and snow that froze all of the remaining Beedrills and Scythers and the dive-bombing Fearow and sent them crashing to earth.

"YEAH!!!" Meowth cheered.

James gave a quick nod of approval and grabbed onto the cat as he braced himself. "Articuno! Use your Agility again and get us the hell out of here!" he shouted.

No sooner than James had issued his command, Articuno screeched and lurched forward. Then, James and Meowth felt a searing pain as something slammed into their backs. When they looked, they saw that one of the Skarmory was using its Swift attack and that the Charizard, the final Fearow, and the remaining two Skarmory were regrouping and trying to surround them again.

James gave his pokemon a reassuring pat on the back and used his other arm to shield himself from the blows. "Hang in there, buddy," he said.

Mustering his strength once again, Articuno sped away and avoided a second round of Swift attacks. When his pace returned to normal, James got back to his feet and wheeled around to face their attackers, who were now giving chase. "Good work Articuno!" he said. Then, to Meowth, "Think you can take out that last Fearow?"

Meowth nodded. As he closed his eyes and began to concentrate on using a second Pay Day attack, James nocked an arrow in his bow and fired at one of the Skarmory that was gaining on them and preparing to attack from the left flank. Then, he did an about face, brought out another arrow, and fired at the Skarmory that was attacking from the right flank. As the two arrows connected with their targets, the Skarmory vanished.

It was now three on three. An even match.

But the battle was far from over.

As James reached for another arrow, he saw that the final Skarmory had used his Agility and closed the distance between himself and Articuno. The light of the red moon, which was almost at its zenith, glinted off of the metallic bird's razor-sharp feathers, making them look like swords coated in blood. He was preparing to use his Steel Wing.

And it was going to tear James, Meowth, and Articuno to ribbons.

Knowing that he couldn't hit Skarmory with an arrow at such close range, James threw down his weapons and took a flying leap at the bird as it swooped in. When he landed on its back, he wasted no time in steering it away from Articuno and making the Steel Wing attack miss by a fraction of an inch.

"Skaaaarrr!!!" the bird screeched, thrashing about in a desperate attempt to throw James from his back.

But James held fast, wrapping his arms around Skarmory's neck and digging into the bird's sides with his knees. In the distance, he could hear Meowth screaming, but he did his best to tune out the cat's voice as he scanned the skies. The Fearow had broken off its attack and was now coming to Skarmory's aid, but the Charizard was still in hot pursuit of Articuno, and he looked like he was powering up for another attack.

And this gave him an idea.

Quickly, James steered his mount towards Charizard. Knowing that he was being put on an intercept course with the dragon, Skarmory struggled against his unwanted passenger and tried again to throw him off. But James countered every move that Skarmory made and forced him to remain on course.

Meowth sweatdropped as he watched his friend wrestling with the Skarmory, seemingly unaware that the Fearow was right behind him, preparing to skewer him with his beak. "JAMES, LOOK OUT!!!" he screamed. "GET OUTTA DERE BEFORE DOSE BIRDS RIP YA TA SHREDS!!!!!"

But James didn't seem to hear him.

Before Meowth could scream out another warning, however, he heard a loud roar and saw that the Charizard was still chasing him and Articuno. Smoke was puffing out of his nostrils, and an enormous ball of fire was forming in his gaping maw.

Shit! What're we gonna do?! Meowth wondered. Arti and I are gonna get roasted if we don't get the fuck outta here...but we can't leave James!

While Meowth was pondering their predicament, he looked again and saw that James was steering the Skarmory and trying to position it between Charizard and Articuno. The cat's blood ran cold as he realized what James was planning. "NO!!! DON'T DO IT, JIMMY!!!" he pleaded.

James turned and looked at Meowth for a second, smiling and giving him a thumbs-up. Then, he gave Skarmory another push.

Meowth covered his mouth with his paws. He didn't want to watch his best friend get burnt to a crisp, but he couldn't make himself look away. Time seemed to come to a standstill as Skarmory and Fearow flew into Charizard's path at the moment he released his Fire Blast attack. But as the wall of flames raced towards the two birds, James sprang to his feet and dove off of Skarmory's back. A split second later, the Fire Blast slammed into Skarmory and Fearow, taking them out of the battle. James, meanwhile, had jumped clear of the explosion, but now he was plummeting towards the earth.

Seeing that James was in danger, Articuno did an about-face and went into a nose-dive, hoping to catch him before he struck the ground. Meowth dug his claws in and held on as tightly as he could as the bird took his vertical plunge. Once Articuno had closed the distance between himself and his falling trainer, he swooped beneath James and leveled out again, letting him land safely on his back.

"J-James? Are you alright?" Meowth asked nervously, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder.

James reached down and felt Articuno beneath him. Then, he opened his eyes and smiled. "Looks like I just killed two birds with one stone," he quipped.

Meowth facefaulted as James began to laugh. "I don't believe dis! Ya almost got yerself torn limb from limb, roasted alive, and splattered all over the ground, and yer makin' jokes?! You are one crazy son of a bitch, Jimmy!"

"Oh, calm down, Meowth!" James chuckled. "I wouldn't have died -- I just would have left the Astral Plane and woken up!"

"Yeah, and ya said yerself dat we don't have time for somethin' like dat!" Meowth retorted. "In case ya haven't noticed, we've only got about an hour left, and we've still got dat Charizard ta deal with...and den we've gotta get to the city and find Jess! And who knows what other obstacles Ayesha's gonna throw in our way?!"

The cat's words quickly sobered James's mood. When he looked to the sky, he saw that Charizard was charging them again, and that he was preparing to hit them with another Fire Blast. "You're right -- we don't have time for this," he said calmly as the bow and arrows reappeared in his hands. Then, to his pokemon, "Hold your ground, Articuno. And get ready for another Blizzard attack."

"Ya think Arti's ice can withstand Charizard's fire?" Meowth queried.

"It will if you and I pitch in," James replied, setting another arrow in his bow and taking aim.

Realizing what James had in mind, Meowth smiled again and came to his side. "Yeah! Let's hit it with everything we've got!"

As Charizard drew closer, he roared and exhaled a jet of fire at them. At the same moment, Articuno sent forth another blast of wind and snow. The fire and ice clashed with each other and exploded in a hiss of steam. Neither pokemon had taken damage since the Fire Blast and Blizzard had cancelled each other out, but now that they'd unleashed their ultimate attacks, it would take several minutes before either Charizard or Articuno could muster enough energy to attack again.

And that gave James and Meowth the opportunity they needed.

"Okay, Charizard. Time for a wake up call!" James said. With that, he pulled back on the bow string and released his arrow.

After concentrating for a moment, Meowth's charm began to glow again, and a shower of coins began to rain down on Charizard.

The dragon reeled backwards and roared as James and Meowth continued to pelt him with a volley of arrows and coins. But when he began charging again and preparing for an aerial Submission attack, he finally succumbed to the barrage and awakened from his dream.

Once Charizard had vanished, Meowth began to jump up and down. "YEAH!!! YEAH, WE DID IT!!!" he cheered. "Dat kicked ass!"

James smiled at him and nodded.

"Did...didja see me, James?! I used Pay Day!" Meowth continued. "I learned how ta use it...and it felt good!"

"I told you that you could do whatever you want on the Astral Plane, Meowth," said James. "Your imagination is the limit."

"Does dat mean I could use other attacks? Dat I could learn more?"

"That's precisely what it means."

Now Meowth was grinning.

"You've always had the power inside of yourself, Meowth. You just needed to awaken it, that's all," James told him. Then, becoming serious again, "Come on. Let's get out of here before Ayesha sends anything else after us."

"Yeah. We can't afford ta fight another big battle like dat one," Meowth agreed.

James reached down and stroked Articuno's feathers. "Well done, Articuno. You fought very bravely...and you saved me. Thank you," he praised his pokemon.

"Cuuu!" Articuno replied as he continued his trek to the golden city in the mountains.

"Arti sez don't mention it," Meowth translated. "You saved him, so he wanted ta return the favor."

James smiled again and patted Articuno on the back.

"Why'd ya do it, James?" Meowth asked. "Dat stunt with the Skarmory."

"Did I really have a choice?" James replied. "It was about to attack us. I didn't want you or Articuno to get hurt...."

"Even though it meant puttin' yerself in danger?"

"Isn't that what we're all doing right now for Jessie?"

"Yeah, but...."

James held up a hand and silenced him. "Meowth, it isn't just the energy of this plane that's giving us strength -- love has just as much to do with it as imagination," he said. "I've awakened a power I never even knew I had, for no other reason than because I want to save Jessie. And you? You learned how to do something that you thought was impossible. Your imagination may have given you the power to use Pay Day, but it was your love for your friends and your desire to protect them that gave you the power to imagine it. And that's why I wasn't worried when I was fighting those pokemon. I wasn't thinking about myself while it was happening -- I was thinking about my friends."

Meowth nodded. "Dat makes sense." Then, giving James a playful shove, "Just don't scare me like dat ever again! Ya damn near gave me a heart attack, Jimmy!"

"I'm not making any promises," James chuckled. "We still have at least one more battle to fight, after all. And who knows what kind of crazy things I'll do to protect Jess?"

"You and me both," Meowth remarked.

Suddenly, James's muscles tensed.

Sensing his friend's change in mood, Meowth tensed, too. "Hey. What's the matter, Jim?"

"I see them," James replied.

When Meowth looked to where James was pointing, he saw that they were quickly approaching the boundaries of Yew...and he could faintly perceive the forms of two women standing atop the roof of a large stone tower at the heart of the city. The woman with long, crimson hair looked as if she were locked in a cage...and the woman wearing the golden mask was holding her staff aloft, as if she were preparing to attack. "Yeah, I see 'em, too," the cat said. "But how can ya be sure it ain't just an illusion, or somethin'? I wouldn't put it past Ayesha ta try and mislead us, ya know...."

"The thought had occurred to me as well," James told him. He paused for a moment and closed his hand over Rose Morgan's old pentacle. "But our minds are shielded from her deceptions...and her control. That's really them, Meowth -- I can feel it!"

Meowth grinned and unsheathed his claws. "Den whadda we waitin' for? Let's kick some ass and take some names!"

James nodded and gave Articuno a gentle nudge, urging him to quicken his pace. Hang on, Jessie. We're coming, he said to himself as he focused his attention on the red-haired woman in the cage. We won't let that bitch hurt you. I promise....


Gary wrapped his arms around himself and shivered as he paced back and forth across the living room. James and Meowth had gone into the bedroom over an hour ago. He'd heard the muffled sound of James's voice chanting spells for the first few minutes, but after that, everything had gone silent. Now, it was eleven, and all he could hear was the ticking of the clock on the wall, the drumming of the rain on the windows and roof, and the pounding of his own heart.

He was tempted to peek into the bedroom to see how James and Meowth were doing, or at least to check on Jessie, but he didn't want to risk disrupting any of James's spells. Still, not knowing what his friends were doing or how they were faring on the Astral Plane was worrying him...and knowing that they had only an hour left made his apprehension worse.

I wish there were some way to find out if they're okay.... Gary said to himself.

Suddenly, Articuno began cheeping frantically and twitching in his sleep.

"Hey! Hey, it's alright, little guy! You're just having a bad dream!" Gary whispered reassuringly as he came to the baby bird's side.

As he reached out to rouse Articuno from his slumber, however, Wobbuffet placed his hands on Gary's arm and stopped him. No. Don't wake him up, Gary -- he needs to stay asleep.

Gary gave him a quizzical look.

If he's dreaming, then it means he's on the Astral Plane...which means that he's with James and Meowth, Wobbuffet explained. That cheeping -- he's saying, "Don't worry, James! I'll save you!" He needs to stay in that dream so that he can protect James and Meowth from whatever is going on.

"That means something bad really is happening," Gary muttered, hanging his head.

Wobbuffet placed a hand on Gary's shoulder. Don't worry. I've only known Jessie, James, and Meowth for about six months now, but if there's one thing I've learned about them during that time, it's that no matter how bad things may seem, they always land on their feet. I don't think it'll be any different tonight -- they'll be okay, Gary. I know they will.

"Yeah, I know they will, too," Gary sighed. "But still...I hate feeling so helpless...I hate not knowing!"

Then let's take our minds off of Jessie, James, and Meowth for awhile, Wobbuffet suggested.

"Easier said than done."

I know. But we have to try. We've done all we can for them -- worrying isn't going to do any good.

Gary managed a weak smile. "You're right, Wobbuffet...you're right...."

Hey, why don't you bring some of your pokemon back out of their poke balls? Wobbuffet asked. I'm sure they'd be happy to keep us company.

Gary's smile widened. "That's a good idea, Wobbuffet!" he agreed. With that, he tossed three of his poke balls and released Blaze, Umbreon, and Houndoom.

Umbreon stood on his hind legs and placed his paws on Gary's chest. "Bree!" he said.

Blaze wagged his fluffy tail and nuzzled against Gary.

Meanwhile, Houndoom went to the window and looked outside for a moment. Then, he walked over to Arbok, Weezing, and Victreebel, who were gathered at the bedroom door, and began to talk to them.

Gary chuckled and stroked Blaze and Umbreon's fur. "Yes, I love you, too."

Wobbuffet smiled. Looks like you're feeling better already.

"A little," he admitted. "I still wish there were something more I could do to help, though...."

We all do, Gary, Wobbuffet told him. But the best thing we can do now is stay positive and think happy thoughts. He smirked. As Jess would say, I know that sounds like a corny line from a "Care Bears" movie, but it's true.

Gary raised an eyebrow. "It doesn't sound corny at all. In fact...I think you may be onto something, Wobbuffet!"

Really? How so? he queried.

"Well...remember when we were talking to Meowth this afternoon? He told us that a lot of James's magical powers came from being able to concentrate on what he wanted," Gary explained. He paused for a moment and ran his fingers along the surface of his green and gold pendant. "I know I'm not a witch like grandma or Rose Morgan, and that I haven't received any training or been initiated like James...but I'm thinking we might be able to do something similar. Maybe if we concentrate on James and Meowth winning the battle with Ayesha and saving Jessie...."

....Then they may be able to pick up on our positive vibes and let it give them strength, Wobbuffet concluded.

Gary nodded.

Sounds like a great idea! he exclaimed. Sending James and Meowth some positive chi sure beats the hell out of sitting around and worrying about them! And even if it doesn't do anything for them, at the very least it'll make us feel better.

"Precisely," Gary replied.

We should get the other pokemon to join us, too, Wobbuffet suggested.

"Yeah," Gary agreed. "The more positive thoughts the better."

That, and it'd do Arbok, Weezing, and Victreebel good to take their minds off of Jessie and James for awhile, Wobbuffet continued. Especially poor Arbok -- she's been taking this whole thing really hard.

Gary looked over at Arbok, Weezing, and Victreebel, who were still speaking with Houndoom. He couldn't fully understand what the four pokemon were saying, but he could tell that Houndoom was trying to cheer them up. Weezing and Victreebel still had looks of worry etched on their faces, and Arbok's eyes were still moist with tears, but they seemed to be encouraged by what Houndoom was saying to them.

"You're right -- it'd definitely do them good. We need to do something...anything that'll make us feel less helpless," Gary remarked. He smiled and placed his hand atop Wobbuffet's head. "You're a really smart pokemon, ya know that?"

Wobbuffet smiled back and saluted him. Of course! How could I not be with friends like Jessie, James, Meowth, and you? he said proudly.

Gary winked at him. "You learned from the best, huh?"

I sure did! Wobbuffet chuckled.

Gary turned his attention back to Blaze and Umbreon. "How about it, guys? Wanna help me and Wobbuffet send some good vibes to James and Meowth?"

The two pokemon nodded.



He smiled again and scratched behind their ears. "Thanks." Then, to Wobbuffet, "Why don't you get the other four?"

Will do!

When Wobbuffet told Arbok, Weezing, Victreebel, and Houndoom about his plan, they all agreed that it was a good idea. As they joined Gary, Blaze, and Umbreon in the center of the room and sat together in a circle, however, Gary suddenly tensed.

What's wrong? Wobbuffet asked.

"D-do you hear that?" he stammered.

Wobbuffet cocked his head to the side and gave him a quizzical look. Hear what?

Gary raised an eyebrow. "I...I hear somebody calling my name...."

Umbreon perked his ears. "Breon. (I don't hear anything.)"

Blaze, Houndoom, Arbok, Weezing, Victreebel, and Wobbuffet all closed their eyes and listened for a moment. Then, they all shook their heads.

We don't hear anybody calling your name, either, Wobbuffet told him. Maybe it's just the storm...or your nerves.

Gary exhaled in a ragged breath. "Yeah...." He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on Jessie, James, and Meowth and visualize them defeating Ayesha, but before he could completely focus his mind....

"Gary!!! Gary, help me!!! Please!!!"

Gary's eyes flew open. "I KNOW I heard something that time!"

The seven pokemon exchanged looks as he jumped to his feet and ran to the window.

Pulling the curtains open, Gary peered out into the night. The rain was still coming down in sheets, and the silver light of the moon and stars were obscured by black clouds. As a brief flash of lightning illuminated the dark forest for a fraction of a second, however, he saw where the voice had come from -- Professor Oak was just outside the window...and he was being attacked by an enormous Scyther!

The sight sent a chill of terror up Gary's spine. "G-grandpa!!! No!!!" he cried.

Umbreon, Houndoom, and Wobbuffet rushed to his side.

"Hang on, grandpa! We'll save you!" Gary shouted. Then, to his pokemon, "Come on, guys!"

As he tried to run for the door, however, Wobbuffet blocked his path, and Umbreon grabbed his shirt in his teeth and pulled him back.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing?!" he demanded.

James said we're not supposed to leave the cabin under any circumstances! Wobbuffet reminded him. If you go out there, you won't be protected by his spell anymore, and Ayesha will send her minions after you!

"I don't care!!!" Gary shot back. "I have to help grandpa before that Scyther rips him to shreds!"

Houndoom bared his teeth, and his black fur bristled as he looked out the window. "Herrruuuggg," he growled.

Houndoom says that's not Professor Oak! Wobbuffet translated.


"Her! Herug!" Houndoom barked, cutting him off.

He's saying, "I used to live in a forest filled with ghost pokemon -- I know an illusion when I see one!"

"Gary, HELP ME!!!!!" Professor Oak pleaded, this time more insistently.

A nauseous feeling formed in the pit of Gary's stomach, and his legs buckled beneath him as he heard his grandfather emit a bloodcurdling scream. "Grandpa...." he muttered as he fell to his knees and covered his mouth with his hands.

Umbreon nuzzled against him. "Breon, bree!"

Wobbuffet nodded. Umbreon is right -- it can't be Professor Oak! How would he have known to look for you here?! And how would he have gotten here so quickly, even if he did know where you were?!

Gary squeezed his eyes shut and trembled. "Y-you're right," he stammered after considering the pokemons' words for a moment. "The only other person who knows I'm here is May...and she wouldn't have told mom and dad or grandpa about any of this -- she knows that I wouldn't want them to worry about me. I can always trust her to keep things in confidence...."



Exactly, said Wobbuffet. Your grandpa isn't here, Gary -- he's still in Pallet...safe at home....

"Safe at home," Gary echoed.

And so are your mom and your dad and your sister, Wobbuffet continued.

"Herr!" Houndoom barked again.

Gary, Houndoom wants you to look out the window again, Wobbuffet told him. Now that you know it's an illusion, you should be able to see the truth!

Gary closed his hand over his pendant and took a deep breath. As he touched the talisman, he could feel the spirit of Vivien Oak with him, giving him strength and courage. Once he'd steeled himself, he slowly got back to his feet and returned to the window.

And Houndoom was right -- when he peered into the forest again, he no longer saw Professor Oak. Instead, the phantasmal form of a woman wearing a golden mask and holding a large staff was standing in his place. She was crying for Gary to help her in a high-pitched, ethereal voice.

Gary blanched at the sight. "Ayesha...."

When he uttered her name, the woman slowly removed her mask and scowled at Gary. His blood ran cold as her glowing green eyes pierced through him. Then, he heard her voice inside his head:

I have seen into your soul, Gary Oak -- I know what you fear. The illusion you have seen here, I will make reality when I become queen again. Make no mistake about it....

Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, Ayesha vanished in a wisp of flame.

Gary shuddered and slumped to the floor as the forest went dark, and all fell silent again. "Ayesha...." he repeated. "If...if I'd gone out there...." His voice trailed off.

Umbreon rested his head in Gary's lap. "Breon...breon."

Houndoom looked out the window once more before seating himself at Gary's side. "Herug!"

Wobbuffet placed his hand on Gary's shoulder. Don't worry -- you didn't go out there! I know it was really scary and upsetting to see your grandpa being attacked, but you're a smart kid. I'm glad you listened to your pokemon...that you knew enough about them and your family to see through Ayesha's illusion.

At the mention of the word family, another unsettling thought occurred to Gary. "If...if Ayesha is out to get me, and she knows what I'm most afraid of, that means she really is going to go after grandpa, and mom and dad, and May...."

No! Wobbuffet said, cutting him off. Ayesha may want to hurt your family to make you suffer, but she's not going to! She doesn't have that kind of power yet...and she's never going to get the chance to wield that kind of power! Your family is safe in Pallet, where Ayesha can't reach them, and in another thirty minutes or so, Jessie, James, and Meowth are gonna send her to Hell, where she'll never hurt anybody again!

"Y-you're right, Wobbuffet," Gary muttered. "But still...."

I know. But remember what I said earlier?

"Yeah. Worrying isn't going to do us...or anybody else any good."

Then what are we waiting for? Wobbuffet asked. Let's get back to thinking happy thoughts!

Gary nodded. And as he rejoined the other pokemon, a smile made its way across his lips. "Ya know, I just thought of something. Ayesha was trying to break my spirit with what she said about my family...but it backfired. After the way she threatened them, it makes it a lot easier for me to visualize Jessie, James, and Meowth giving her the ass-kicking she's got coming!"

Now Wobbuffet was smiling, too. That's the spirit, Gary!

"When I saw that illusion of grandpa being attacked, I would've run out there to save him without a second thought. Thanks for helping me see the truth," he continued. He ran his fingers along the pendant again. "I don't know what I'd do without you...."


Jessie frowned as she watched Ayesha, standing at the edge of the tower. After informing Jessie that James and Meowth had arrived on the Astral Plane and gloating about what she planned on doing to them, Ayesha had summoned the dreaming spirits of the pokemon in the forest to attack. Satisfied that the scores of wild pokemon under her control would be able to make quick work of James and Meowth, Ayesha had then shifted her focus to Gary. Now, she was holding her staff aloft again, beseeching Gary to save her. Jessie didn't need to be able to read the queen's mind to know that she was projecting an illusion onto the other plane...an illusion of somebody that Gary loved...an illusion of his loved one in danger.

Don't listen to her, Gary! Jessie silently pleaded. I know that you'll do anything to protect your family and friends, even if it means putting yourself in danger, but don't let Ayesha use that against you!

Suddenly, Ayesha broke off her attack and pulled off her mask. "I have seen into your soul, Gary Oak -- I know what you fear. The illusion you have seen here, I will make reality when I become queen again. Make no mistake about it," she hissed.

Jessie folded her arms across her chest and smirked. "What's the matter, Ayesha? Couldn't fool Gary with your little trick, so you have to try and intimidate him with a threat you can't follow through on, instead?"

Ayesha turned and cast a venomous glare at her captive. "Laugh while you can, Jessie. Because in another half hour, I will follow through on that threat. Then it'll be my turn to laugh!"

"Then why don't you sound as smug as you did earlier? Why is there fear behind your voice?" Jessie asked.

"You don't know when to shut up, do you?" Ayesha growled.

"Admit it. You're afraid because everything is falling apart on you at the last minute," Jessie continued. "And it's driving you nuts that a bunch of lowly mortals are standing up to you."

Ayesha's face contorted in anger for a moment, but then she calmed herself and chuckled. "You may be standing up to me, but you don't have the power to defeat me -- I am God here! As we speak, my army of pokemon is probably tearing your precious James and Meowth limb from limb...."

While Ayesha continued to gloat about her impending victory and name off all of the gruesome things that were happening to James and Meowth, Jessie looked to the sky and saw a bright blue speck glittering against the light of the rising moon. As the speck drew closer, Jessie was able to discern that it was an Articuno...and as she looked more closely, she could see that James and Meowth were riding it!

A smile made its way across her lips. Wrong again, Ayesha! she said to herself.

As this thought passed through Jessie's mind, Ayesha brought her tirade to a halt and raised an eyebrow. Then, she turned and saw James and Meowth flying towards the tower on the back of an immense Articuno. "No! This can't be!" she cried. "The only way they could've gotten past my pokemon is if they learned how to control the energies of this plane, too!"

Jessie's smile became a grin.

Scowling once more at Jessie, Ayesha pulled the mask back over her face and returned to the edge of the tower. "No matter," she growled. "Even if they can control their dream, they're still no match for me!" She held up her staff, and the crystal on the end of it began to glow with a blood-red light.

Jessie tensed her muscles and closed her hand over one of the bars of her cage.

Once James, Meowth, and Articuno were within the boundaries of the city, Ayesha pointed her staff at the bird. "Articuno, hear the voice of your queen! Attack your...."

She never got the chance to finish. Before she could command the bird to throw James and Meowth from his back and dash them against the stones, Jessie pulled the broken bar from her cage, slipped free, and brought the length of iron down on Ayesha's head. As the queen screamed in shock and agony, Jessie swung the bar and struck her again. And as Ayesha crumpled to the floor, Jessie clubbed her across the back.

"Leave...me...and...my...friends...alone...you...fucking...bitch!!!" Jessie shouted, punctuating each word with a bone-shattering strike of the iron bar.

Ayesha groaned and struggled to get back to her feet. As she brought up her staff to try and knock Jessie down, however, Jessie smashed her arm with the bar and forced her to release her hold on the staff. Once the staff was free from Ayesha's grasp, Jessie kicked it away and sent it skidding over the edge of the tower.

"You'll...pay...for that...." Ayesha growled.

Jessie twirled the iron bar in her hand for a moment and smirked. "Not likely," she replied, clubbing Ayesha over the head with it again.

As Articuno swooped towards the roof of the tower, Jessie could see James holding out his hand for her. She smiled again and threw down the bar. Once Articuno was close enough, she raced alongside the bird for a moment and held up her own hand. A second later, Jessie could feel James's hand closing over hers and lifting her up. Then, she was sitting safely atop Articuno's back, and James's strong arms were wrapped protectively around her.

James brushed a loose strand of her crimson hair aside and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Jess! Are you okay, sweetheart?" he asked.

Jessie turned herself around and gazed into his emerald eyes. "I'm fine now, thanks to you, James." She paused for a moment and smiled again as she admired the coat of Mithril mail that he was wearing over his Team Rocket uniform. "My knight in shining armor!"

James returned her smile and blushed. "You like the armor?"

"It makes you look even more handsome and heroic than you already are," Jessie told him. She rested her head on his shoulder and ran her fingers along his chest. "I love you, James. I knew you'd come for me."

"How could I not?" James asked as he cupped her chin in his hand. "I love you too, Jessie."

The two of them gazed into each other's eyes a moment longer and brushed the tips of their noses together. Then, their embrace deepened, and their lips met in a passionate kiss.

Meowth's midnight-blue eyes filled with tears as he watched his two friends. Now that Jessie was safe and the three of them were a team once more, it felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his soul. But when he looked down at the roof of the tower and saw Ayesha staggering back to her feet, his mood quickly darkened again.

"Uh...guys?" he said, reaching up and tapping James on the shoulder. "I hate ta ruin the happy reunion, but we've still got a psychotic, undead, bitch-queen ta battle, remember?"

When they heard the cat's words, Jessie and James reluctantly broke from their embrace and nodded.

"Speakin' a which...me and Jimmy saw the way ya broke outta yer cage and beat Ayesha to a bloody pulp!" Meowth continued. "Way ta go, Jess! Dat ruled!"

Jessie grinned. "Thanks, Meowth!"

James frowned as he ran his fingers along the cuts and bruises on Jessie's face. "What did that bitch do to you?"

"She hit me with her staff and slapped me a few times when I talked back to her," came Jessie's reply. "I started fighting back before things got too serious, though...."

James clenched his fists. "I'll fucking kill her," he growled.

"Get in line," Jessie told him.

James placed a finger to her lips. "No. You're the one Ayesha wants, so you need to be taken out of the equation." Then, to his pokemon, "Articuno, fly us back over the tower. As soon as I jump off, get Jessie and Meowth out of Yew as quickly as you can."

"But...." Jessie protested.

James silenced her by closing his mouth over hers again. When Articuno doubled back and made a second pass over the tower, James released Jessie, and a wand tipped with a crescent moon appeared in his hand. Then, he smiled at his two friends and jumped from the bird's back. "Wish me luck!" he called up to them as he dropped to the roof of the tower.

"What does he think he's doing?!" Jessie cried.

"He's gonna get rid of Ayesha once and for all!" Meowth told her as Articuno used his Agility and flew them out of the city. "He's gonna make sure dat she never bothers you again...and dat she'll never be able ta return ta life ta get revenge on us or our descendants!"

Jessie shook her head. "Not without me, he's not!"

"No, Jess! James wants ya outta Ayesha's reach -- if he thinks yer in danger, it'll distract him!" Meowth told her.

"I can take care of myself! I think I've proven that!" Jessie retorted. "We have to go back, Meowth! We can't let James face that monster alone -- we're a team, and we survive by sticking together, no matter what! James may want to get us out of danger, but whether he knows it or not, Ayesha wants him just as much as she wants me!"

Meowth bit his lip and looked back towards the stone tower at the heart of Yew. By then, Articuno had taken them so far from the city that James and Ayesha were no longer visible. "He does know, Jess. He knows dat Ayesha's wanted revenge on his family and Gary's ever since Rose Morgan and Vivien Oak escaped from her forty years ago."

"And that's all the more reason we have to go back and help him -- this battle belongs to both of us!" said Jessie. "Besides...I want a piece of that bitch, too!"

"Can't argue with dat!" Meowth laughed.

"Then that settles it!" Jessie placed a hand atop Articuno's head. "Articuno, I know James told you to get us out of here, but you've got to take us back to the city. Please. We have to help him fight Ayesha."

"She's right, Arti -- yer daddy-bird needs us!" Meowth chimed in.

Articuno looked over his shoulder at them and nodded. Then, he turned around and began flying back towards Yew.

Meowth put his arms around Jessie's waist and nuzzled into her. "I hope you know what yer doin', Jess," he muttered.

Jessie nodded. "I do, Meowth. I've seen for myself how dangerous Ayesha is...what she's capable of. And I'll gladly face her again to protect James...."


James alit on the tower roof, just as Ayesha was finally managing to get back to her feet. When she shook off the beating she'd received and saw him standing before her, she removed her mask, and her lips twisted into a wicked smile.

"So, we meet at last, James Woodson, grandson of Rose Morgan," she said. "Are you prepared to die?"

James smirked. "I bet you've been practicing that line for the last forty years. Is your little revenge fantasy going as well as you'd hoped?"

"Oh, it will be," came her reply. "By the time I finish with you, you'll be begging for death...begging to join your beloved Jessie in the fires of Hell."

"One of us is definitely going to Hell tonight, Ayesha...but I'll give you a hint -- it's not me or any of my friends!" James told her.

Ayesha threw her head back and laughed. "You're awfully sure of yourself, aren't you, young one? Tell me. If two experienced witches like Rose Morgan and Vivien Oak couldn't defeat me with their combined powers, then what chance does a novice like you stand?"

James tightened his hold on his wand and met the queen's cold green glare. "I may not know as much as grand-mama, but I've vowed to follow the ancient paths of wisdom, just as she did. Someday I will be as wise as she is...but in the meantime, I know enough to defeat you."

Ayesha laughed again and pulled the mask back over her face. "I will struggle to conceal my terror!"

James arched an eyebrow. Despite the queen's posturing, he could hear the fear behind her voice...and he'd seen the fear in her eyes. "You're not doing a very good job," he remarked. "You know what I've inherited from grand-mama, and it scares you."

"Oh, I'll show you fear," Ayesha hissed. When she removed her mask a moment later, she smiled again and gazed at her adversary with Jessiebelle's face. "I'll show you more fear than you'll know what to do with, James dear!"

A drop of cold sweat formed on James's temple as he stared into the evil azure eyes of his ex-fiance and heard Queen Ayesha's voice take on a cloying southern accent. Before he could react, however, she lashed out with her whip and drew him into her.

"James dear, forget all about that whore you've been wastin' your life with," Jessiebelle breathed into his ear. "I can forgive your dalliances with her if you return to me, my beloved! You were intended for a lady of quality such as myself, not a cheap gutter-tramp like her. Come back to me, and I will make you the high-class gentleman you were destined to be...."

James shuddered at the sound of Jessiebelle's voice. The feeling of her hot, brimstone breath in his ear and her hands and fingers creeping under his shirt made his flesh crawl like the prickly touch of a black widow spider. He struggled to escape from her grasp, but he was bound in the coils of her whip, unable to move.

No...this is just one of her illusions -- it isn't real! he said to himself. She's only trying to scare me away!

"Oh, I'm very real, James dear...and I don't want you to go anywhere!" Jessiebelle replied.

James closed his eyes and turned away from her. And as he tried to tune out her voice and concentrate on escaping, he suddenly heard another voice inside his head....

James? Meowth?

James opened his eyes again. Gary?

"Forget about him, too," said Jessiebelle. "Only I exist now...only I'm real...."

I don't know if you guys can hear me or not, but I hope you know that all the pokemon and I are rooting for you, Gary continued. Ayesha tried to lure me outside the cabin with an illusion of my grandpa being attacked by a Scyther. I almost fell for it, but I was able to realize that it was an illusion...with a little help from the pokemon. It wouldn't surprise me if she tries something like that with you, too. But no matter what dirty trick she pulls, don't fall for it. Don't let her prey on your desires or fears...and kick her ass good and proper for me!

James's brow furrowed as he listened to Gary. So, she pulled the same stunt with him?

"Pay him no mind, darling -- he isn't real," Jessiebelle insisted.

"Like hell he's not," James countered. With that, he mustered his strength once again and flexed his muscles. A moment later, the leather straps of the whip snapped and fell away from his body. Then, he turned his attention back to Jessiebelle and slapped her across the face. The force of his strike was so hard that it knocked her to the floor.

Jessiebelle looked up at him in shock and placed a hand over the red mark he'd left on her cheek. Then, her face contorted in anger. "Why, I never! Don't you know that it's improper to hit a lady?!"

"Jessiebelle is no lady, and neither are you...Ayesha," James replied coldly. "And I have a lot worse in store for you than a little slap across the face."

"Such impudence! Perhaps I should teach you a little respect!" Ayesha snarled. As she stood up again, the facade of Jessiebelle melted away, and her countenance became that of a hulking demon with shaggy black fur and large gray horns and tusks. The whip that Jessiebelle had been holding repaired itself as it returned to her hand, and the leather transformed into thongs of flame.

James backed away from her and picked up his wand again. "More illusions? Give it up, Ayesha," he said. "If you didn't scare me as Jessiebelle, then you're sure as hell not going to scare me as a balrog!"

"Appropriate choice of words, James," she chuckled. With that, she waved a clawed hand, and a gaping pit opened in the floor behind her.

The acrid stench of brimstone scorched James's nose as orange and yellow flames belched up from the pit. Covering his nose and mouth with his free hand, he cast a quick glance to the black sky and saw that the moon had reached its zenith.

"Yes, James dear -- it's the notorious gateway to Hell that you've doubtless been hearing about all day," Ayesha said. "Take a good look...because in a few minutes, that's exactly where you and Jessie will be going!"

James shivered in spite of the blazing heat. Now I know how Gandalf felt when he was fighting that balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dum! he said to himself. He closed his eyes for a moment and thought about the gray wizard standing defiantly against the demon of the ancient world, shattering its weapon with his mighty sword, Glamdring, and casting the monster back into the darkness from whence it came. I'll do the same...but unlike Gandalf, I won't let this balrog drag me or anybody else with her when I send her into the abyss! Opening his eyes again, James saw that his wand had transformed into a glowing white sword covered with Elvish runes -- Glamdring, the foe-hammer.

When Ayesha saw the weapon that James was holding, she laughed again. "I think somebody's been reading too many books! Do you honestly believe that a sword from some fantasy story has the power to defeat me?!"

James smirked as he twirled Glamdring about a couple of times. "Care to find out?"

The demon flashed her ash-gray fangs and tusks, and a red light glimmered in her eyes as the whip she was holding in her right hand became a flaming sword. "Indeed, I would!" came her reply.

James adjusted his grip on the jeweled hilt of his own sword and braced himself. After concentrating for a moment, three blackthorn briars appeared in his right hand. Glamdring alone may not have the power to destroy you...but I know what does! he thought. Then aloud, "Come get some!"

Ayesha scraped a massive cloven hoof against the stone floor and spread her large, bat-like wings, obscuring the red light of the moon. Then, she emitted a bloodcurdling roar and charged forth, bringing the sword down in an attempt to cleave James in half.

James reacted quickly, bringing Glamdring up to block the strike. As the two swords collided, the flame of Ayesha's weapon became engulfed by the white light of James's. When Ayesha saw the fires of her sword growing dim, she broke off her attack and backed away. The demon was undaunted, however, and when the flames rekindled, she charged in to strike at him again. Once she was upon him, she swung her sword in a low arc, hoping to cut him down.

Knowing that this attack would create the opening he needed, James side-stepped and let Ayesha's sword make a glancing blow off of Glamdring's blade. While she was busy collecting herself for another attack, James ducked in and drove the palm of his hand into her abdomen, embedding one of the thorns in her flesh.

Ayesha shrieked and reeled backwards from the shock. Forgetting the battle for a moment, she began to claw at her stomach in an attempt to dislodge the thorn...and James took the opportunity to strike her again and drive a second thorn into her chest.

A fire sparked in the demon's eyes as realization of what James was doing dawned on her. When Rose Morgan and Vivien Oak had cast their binding spell forty years ago, they'd placed three blackthorn briars in a black candle and recited an incantation. And as the candle burned away, it had sapped all of her strength. Now Rose's grandson was performing a more potent version of the same spell...but Ayesha was determined not to let history repeat itself.

Feigning distraction, Ayesha began to claw at the thorn that had been embedded in her heart. When James saw the latest opening she'd given him, he took advantage of it and darted in. Just as he was about to leap up and drive the last thorn into Ayesha's brow, however, she brought down her sword and tried to impale him.

But James had seen the look of awareness in her eyes -- he knew that Ayesha had been baiting him, and he was prepared when she sprang her trap. As her sword thrust towards him, he brought Glamdring up again and deflected the blow. The blades clashed with such force that the flames of Ayesha's sword were extinguished, and Glamdring was knocked from James's left hand. As the foe-hammer clattered to the floor, it became a crescent moon wand once again. And as James staggered backwards from the strike and tried to shake the numbness from his arm, Ayesha grabbed him by the throat and lifted him from the ground.

"So, you were hoping to perform the binding spell on me, were you?" she hissed.

James turned away and wrinkled his nose at the putrid stench of the demon's breath.

"Well, I'm afraid you've failed," she continued. "I told you there was no chance you could ever defeat me, and now you will pay the price for your insolence. It's a pity I have to destroy such beauty -- truth be told, I wanted to keep you as my consort."

James's stomach turned when she said those words. "I doubt I'd have been very useful to you in that capacity -- I wouldn't touch you if you were the last woman on earth!" he retorted.

Ayesha brought James's face closer to hers and exhaled a puff of smoke at him. "You wouldn't have had a choice," she told him. "Not that it matters anymore -- you've proven that you can't be left alive. Better say your prayers...though I doubt any deity would be able to save you now...."

Just as she was about to turn around and cast James into the portal to Hell, however, Ayesha screamed and pitched forward. The sudden distraction gave James a split-second's purchase, and he took advantage of it, reaching up and driving the final thorn into Ayesha's forehead and wriggling free of her grasp.

When James landed on the floor, he tumbled out of Ayesha's reach, picked up his wand again, and got back to his feet in one deft move. And when he looked up at the demon again, he saw what had caused her to release him -- Articuno was flying back towards the tower with Jessie and Meowth. Meowth was using his Pay Day attack again, and Jessie was holding a silver crossbow in her hands. The two of them were peppering Ayesha with a spray of coins and bolts.

James's first instinct was to demand why Jessie and Meowth were putting themselves in danger again, but he already knew the answer to that question...and he certainly couldn't complain since they'd just saved his life. His second instinct was to command Articuno to fly them out of Yew once more, but he knew that he couldn't do that either -- the looks on their faces told him that they weren't going to allow him to fight this battle alone, no matter how much danger it put them in. He couldn't ask them to save themselves and let him handle Ayesha by himself any more than anybody could have asked him to forget about Jessie. The three of them were going to stand together as a team no matter what, now and for all eternity. At that moment, James loved his two friends more than he ever thought possible.

And when he saw the gleam in Jessie's sapphire eyes, he knew what was coming next....

"Prepare for trouble, you succubus!" she said to Ayesha.

James grinned. "And make it double -- don't fuck with us!" he chimed in.

"To protect the world from devastation!"

"To unite all peoples within our nation!"

"To denounce the evils of truth and love!"

"To extend our reach to the stars above!"



"Team Rocket blast off at the speed of light!"

"Surrender now, or prepare to fight!"

"Me-owth! Dat's right!"

As they recited the motto, Ayesha looked back and forth between Jessie and James and became progressively angry with each passing second. "Fools," she growled. "Gods don't surrender to mortals...and if it's a fight you want, then a fight you shall have!" With that, she spread her wings again and took to the sky.

James tightened his hold on the wand and closed his hand over his pendant as he watched Ayesha flying up to meet Articuno's charge. It's now or never.... he said to himself.

Ayesha bared her fangs again and wiped away the black blood that was trickling from the wound on her forehead and blurring her vision. Jessie and Meowth were still firing a barrage of arrows and coins at her, but she bit back the pain. Now that Jessie was back, she was determined not to let her escape again. As she continued her charge, her broken sword transformed back into a whip...and once she was close enough, she lashed out with it and ensnared Jessie in its fiery thongs.

Jessie screamed in agony as the tongues of flame wrapped around her body. She tried desperately to untangle herself, but to no avail.

Ayesha jerked the whip and pulled Jessie from Articuno's back. Then, she began to fly towards the portal. As she prepared to hurl Jessie into the abyss, however, Articuno used his Agility and slammed into the demon, forcing her to lurch to the side and drop Jessie several feet away from the portal.

When Jessie crashed to the tower roof, her head struck the stone floor, and she was knocked unconscious. The spectacle caused James to forget his binding spell for the moment. But before he could come to her aid, Ayesha landed next to her and began dragging her towards the pit again.

Suddenly, a high-pitched scream pierced through the darkness. "NOOO!!!"

James looked to the sky again and saw Meowth vanishing from Articuno's back. When the cat reappeared, he was flying towards Ayesha and delivering a drop-kick to her head. The Faint attack caused her to release Jessie once more.

Way to go, Meowth! he said to himself as he raced over to where Jessie was lying and scooped her into his arms.

Meowth alit at his side a moment later. "Is Jess okay?" he asked nervously.

James smoothed back her crimson hair and nodded. "She'll be fine." Then, to his pokemon, "Articuno! Use your Ice Beam!"

While Ayesha was still reeling from the effects of Meowth's assault, the bird started powering up for an attack of his own. Once James and Meowth got Jessie out of harm's way, Articuno unleashed a beam of blue-white light and encased the demon in a pillar of ice.

"Whadda we do now?" Meowth asked as he looked up at their frozen adversary.

"Now it's time to cast my binding spell and get rid of Ayesha once and for all," James replied. He caressed Jessie's cheek for a moment and closed his hand over his pendant again. Then, he began to chant:

Evil return to the one who sent thee!
Me and mine are now set free!
Darkness ended, control is done!
Light has come, our battle's won!

Evil return to the one who sent thee!
Me and mine are now set free!
Darkness ended, control is done!
Light has come, our battle's won!

Evil return to the one who sent thee!
Me and mine are now set free!
Darkness ended, control is done!
Light has come, our battle's won!

As James continued to chant the verse, over and over again, the flames that radiated from the demon's body slowly began to melt her icy prison.

Meowth wrapped his arms around Jessie's shoulders and trembled. Come on, Jimmy! Whatever dat spell is supposed ta do, it better do it soon! he silently pleaded.

Once all of the ice had melted, Ayesha emerged from the clouds of steam. But she was no longer a balrog -- she was back in human form. Blood was trickling from the wounds on her forehead, chest, and abdomen where the blackthorn briars were embedded, and she was trembling with weariness and fatigue, but she was still staggering towards them.

"You...will...never...defeat...me...." she stammered.

Undaunted, James locked stares with the queen and continued to chant. Suddenly, he began to glow with a warm, white light. And after a moment, the white light engulfed Jessie as well.

Ayesha gasped and took a step backwards.

When the light faded away, Jessie was awake again, and all of her wounds were healed. Her white nightgown was gone, and in its place she was wearing the black leather armor and crown of spikes that she'd worn when she, James, and Meowth had been the Black Rose superhero team.

"Wh-what's goin' on?" Meowth stammered.

Jessie got to her feet and stretched herself out. Then, she cast a venomous glare at the queen and clenched one of her fists.

James smirked. "Offhand, I'd say Ayesha is about to find out what happens when Jessie gets pissed off," came his reply.

Meowth watched Jessie begin to advance on Ayesha. "Yeah!" he snickered. "Things get messy when ya mess with Jessie!"

Ayesha scowled. "You may be tough, but you're still no match for a god!"

"True," James conceded. "But you're not a god anymore, Ayesha!"

Ayesha raised an eyebrow. Then, she screwed up her face, as if she were concentrating on something, but nothing happened.

"All of those amazing god-like powers you've spent the last 2,000 years building up -- gone!" James explained. "I nullified them with my binding spell."

"And I suppose you gave them to Jessie instead?" she sneered.

James shook his head. "No. All I did was heal her injuries. The playing field is level now -- if you want to fight us, it's going to be mortal against mortal. What do you say, Ayesha? Are you going to finish this battle...or are you afraid to lose?"

"Fools," she hissed. "Your sense of fair play will be your undoing! Goddess or no, I will destroy you!"

"I guess that means she still wants to fight," Jessie remarked. With that, she walked up to Ayesha and drove her fist into her face.

Ayesha reeled backwards from the force of Jessie's punch and fell to the floor. "How...how dare you?!" she sputtered.

"What's the matter? Can't handle me now that you can't call on your supernatural powers anymore?" Jessie growled as she grabbed Ayesha by the hair and hauled her back to her feet. She frowned. "I know your kind. When you were alive, you were probably a spoiled little princess that nobody ever said no to. And if anybody ever did stand up to you, you always had your legions of pokemon slaves and bodyguards to do your fighting for you."

Ayesha gritted her teeth and closed her hands around Jessie's wrist in a feeble attempt to break free.

"I knew it," Jessie laughed. "Without your powers, you're nothing. And I may be a princess bastardized by two generations of peasant stock, but I have a strength you'll never possess."

"I suppose that satisfies you?" Ayesha asked sarcastically. "That you can leave me here to wallow in self-pity now that you've proven yourself my better?"

Jessie reached out and caught Ayesha by the throat. "Not remotely!" she sneered, slamming her back to the floor and pinning her down. "Humiliation is far too lenient for what you've done!"

When Ayesha saw the cold rage that was burning in Jessie's sapphire eyes, she knew that any attempts to talk her way out of the situation would be futile. As she struggled to escape from Jessie's grasp, however, all she received for her efforts was another slam into the floor.

Tightening her grip on Ayesha's throat, Jessie balled her free hand into a fist and punched the queen's face again. "That's for trying to kill me!" She punched the queen a third time...and a fourth...and a fifth. "And that's for what you threatened to do to James...and Meowth...and Gary...and...."

On and on Jessie went, naming off all of the people and pokemon that Ayesha had threatened and buffetting the queen with punches. When she finished a few minutes later, Ayesha had been reduced to a trembling, bloody pulp. As she hauled Ayesha back to her feet and prepared to toss her into the portal to Hell, however, the queen began to laugh.

Jessie's eyes narrowed to slits. "What's so funny?" she demanded.

"You think you have me right where you want me...but I know your kind," Ayesha replied disdainfully. "You talk tough and act tough, but when it comes to murder, you'd never cross that line, no matter how deserving your opponent may be."

Jessie said nothing.

Taking her silence for hesitation, Ayesha continued. "Humiliating me...frightening me with the knowledge that you can destroy me will be enough for you, and you'll be happy to leave me here to my own devices. Why? Because in your heart, you know that if you destroy me, you're no better than I am.

"And so the cycle will repeat itself. I will call to somebody again someday...perhaps one of your daughters...or granddaughters. And if not them, somebody else will hear my call and give me life once more. I will be a goddess again when this spell wears off, Jessie...and when I return to life, you or your descendants will feel my vengeance! I'll rape your sons and murder your daughters! Their suffering and torment will be my meat and drink for all eternity! And there's not a damn thing you can do about it because...."

The feeling of a sharp pain ripping through her body brought Ayesha's tirade to an abrupt halt. When she looked down, she saw that Jessie was holding a sword in her left hand...and that she'd just run her through with it!

"You seem to be forgetting a few things, Ayesha," Jessie told her. "First, I can't kill you because you're already dead -- I can do whatever I damn well please to you and go to bed with a clean conscience. Second, you've proven beyond all doubt that if I left you to your own devices, you'd always be a threat me and James and our friends...and the rest of the world. This cycle can't go on forever, Ayesha -- you don't belong here, and somebody needs to send you where you do belong. And here I am with the perfect opportunity to do just that -- you're delusional if you think I'm going to pass it up! And finally, I may be against killing, and I'd never want to cross that line, but if anybody threatens me, James, any of my other friends and loved ones...and especially my children, then all bets are off! And you most certainly did all of that and more!"

Ayesha looked one more time at the sword that had pierced through her body, then back at the cold, unforgiving expression on Jessie's face. "Ah! A woman after my own heart. How refreshing...yet at the same time, annoying...."

Jessie scowled again. "Go to Hell," she sneered. With that, she brought up her right leg and delivered a swift kick to Ayesha's stomach.

Ayesha slid off of the sword blade and staggered backwards, tumbling headlong into the portal to Hell. Her screams of hatred and agony echoed through the night as she plummeted to the place where she should have gone 2,000 years before. Once she'd been engulfed by the swirling miasma of fire and brimstone, the portal closed, and the tower roof became solid stone again.

Jessie trembled and tossed the sword aside. Then, she collapsed to her knees and exhaled in a ragged breath.

James and Meowth were at her side within a fraction of a second.

When she felt the warm, gentle touch of her lover, Jessie wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder.

James returned her embrace and stroked her hair as the sobs began to wrack her body. "It's okay now, Jess...it's okay," he whispered soothingly into her ear.

"I know," she muttered. "But...." her voice trailed off.

He held her closer and nodded. "It's alright," he repeated as tears began to well up in his own eyes.

Meowth stepped closer and put his arms around Jessie and James. Then, he began to cry, too.

For several minutes, all the three friends could do was kneel together in a group-hug, absorbing the enormity of everything that had transpired over the past twenty-four hours.

It was James who finally broke the silence.

"Come on. Let's get out of here," he said softly, placing his hands on Jessie's cheeks and brushing away the last of her tears.

She smiled at him and nodded.

As they got back to their feet, however, they suddenly heard a loud cracking noise and felt a violent tremor radiate up through the tower. Looking out at the city, they saw that all of the buildings were crumbling...and that the tower was beginning to collapse as well!

Jessie threw her arms around James again. "What's happening?! Why is the city falling apart?!" she asked.

"This version of Yew was Ayesha's dream. Now that she's not here anymore, there's nothing left to hold it together," he explained in a surprisingly calm voice.

"Well...can't we imagine the tower holdin' up long enough for us ta get out?!" Meowth cried.

James smiled. "We could...but I have a better idea." With that, he placed his index finger and thumb on his lips and whistled. A moment later, Articuno landed next to them and gestured for them to climb onto his back.

Now Meowth was smiling, too. "Good thinkin', Jimmy! I forgot all about Arti durin' dat battle!"

Suddenly, the parapet where Jessie had been imprisoned that morning toppled over, and the tower began shaking more violently than ever.

Knowing that there was no more time to waste, James helped Jessie and Meowth onto Articuno's back and swung up behind them. Once they were all seated, the bird flapped his mighty wings and took to the air. As he began flying away from the tower, another parapet fell over and crashed right where they'd been standing only seconds before. Then, the foundation gave way, and the entire structure imploded.

"Whew! Dat was close!" Meowth sighed as he watched Queen Ayesha's stone tower crumbling to dust.

"This whole day has been full of close calls," Jessie remarked.

James put his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. "But we managed to survive, just like we always do."

Jessie closed her eyes and thought for a moment. "Now, where was I?" she muttered. A sly smile made its way across her lips as she opened her eyes again and turned herself around to face James. "Oh, now I remember! I was about to give you a kiss for rescuing me!"

"Only a kiss?" Meowth asked sarcastically.

Jessie stuck her tongue out at the cat. "Shut up, Meowth! You know damn well James is getting more than just a kiss!"

Meowth laughed. "Now dat's the Jess we know and love!" He winked and gave her a thumbs up. "It's good ta have ya back."

Jessie's expression softened into a smile again. "It's good to be back."

"It sure is," James agreed as he removed Jessie's spiked headband and rested his forehead against hers.

Jessie blushed as she ran her fingers through his soft blue-violet hair and gazed into his glittering emerald eyes. "Thanks again for coming to save me, James," she whispered. "I don't know how I can ever repay you for this...."

James placed a finger to her lips and silenced her. "What was I supposed to do? Stand idly by, let your soul be lost forever, and let Ayesha take over the world?" He shook his head. "You don't have to do anything to repay me -- just knowing that you're safe is all the reward I need."

Meowth snickered. "Though I'm sure he wouldn't object to a night of super-hot...mmmppphhh!!!"

"Okay, that's enough out of you!" James said, clamping his hand over the cat's mouth.

Jessie blushed more brightly than ever and put her arms around him again. "James, what you did tonight means more to me than you could ever imagine!" she whispered, getting back to the original subject.

"I didn't do it alone," he told her. "I had a lot of help from Meowth, Gary and his family, the pokemon, grand-mama...and even you."

"Yeah! The way ya punched Ayesha's lights out, impaled her on dat sword, and kicked her through the portal ta Hell was priceless!" Meowth agreed. "You whipped some major ass, Jessie!"

"We all played an important part in defeating Ayesha," said James.

Meowth put his arms around himself and shuddered. "I'm just glad we all managed ta come through. I don't even wanna think about what coulda happened if anything went wrong!"

"Then let's not think about it," James replied. He ran his fingers through Jessie's crimson hair and brushed the tip of his nose against hers. "Let's think about more pleasant things."

Jessie smiled at him again. "I love you, sweetie," she murmured. "I love you so much."

"I love you too, angel," James told her. "More than anything else in this world."

Jessie and James gazed into each other's eyes and rubbed noses. Then, their lips met in a tender kiss.

As their kiss deepened, Meowth felt his eyes filling with tears again, and he made a mental note to give the young lovers some privacy a little later.

When their kiss ended, the two of them sat quietly in each other's arms, and Jessie rested her head on James's shoulder. James responded by holding her closer and stroking her hair.

"So, whadda we do now?" Meowth asked, breaking the silence.

James shrugged. "I suppose we could all wake up."

"I suppose," Jessie echoed. "But can't we stay asleep a little longer?"

James raised an eyebrow.

"I've been having a nightmare all day -- it seems a shame to wake up now that the dream is finally getting good," she explained when she saw the quizzical look on his face. "Now that we don't have anything to worry about, I'd like to stay here and enjoy the moment for awhile."

"Sure thing, Jess. We'll do whatever you want," James said, planting a kiss on her forehead.

Her sapphire eyes sparkled. "Thanks, honey."

As Articuno soared over the forest and away from the ruins of Yew, the black storm clouds dissipated, and the blood-red moon turned silver once again, bathing the world in its soft celestial glow. And as Jessie and James cuddled into each other and savored the warmth of their embrace, they knew that the nightmare was truly over. Ayesha was gone, and she would never return to haunt them, or their friends, or any of their descendants. The two of them were safe in each other's arms, now and forever.

To be Continued....


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