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Operation GEAR: The Gardener of Gratitude

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by The Great Butler, Jul 25, 2018.

  1. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    Here’s something I honestly didn’t think I would get around to anytime soon. This is a remake of an old story I wrote a little under ten years ago. Back then it served as a companion piece to my then-current series. It also could serve as an early look at what would come into being with Operation GEAR, and it’s under that context that I’ve decided to remake it. This version will follow a similar rough plot to the original, if you have read it, but will feature a number of fairly significant changes in order to make it act better as a prelude to the Operation GEAR stories. So for that reason, this remake is effectively the “fourth” part of the Operation GEAR trilogy, taking place before any of the other three. Though it contains references to both events taking place prior to and after this story, these references are merely to provide context. The story is itself fully stand-alone.


    This will not deal with any particularly intense themes, though there will be bouts of intense violence and characters will die. The most violent scene is in this prologue, in fact, so fair warning.


    -:-


    Operation GEAR: The Gardener of Gratitude


    PROLOGUE


    -:-


    Sutter Chiaki, professor of history and archeology at the Rustboro School in its namesake city, was a man of simple tastes, wiling away the night working on a desk crammed with papers surrounded by those pleasures.. A cup of Komala Coffee, prepared black with the noticeable aroma of a strong roast. The soft, almost candle-like light of his antique desk lamp. His favorite old-fashioned dip pen and its accompanying inkwell. Indeed, his environment as he worked on his papers was exactly the way he preferred it, as if every stray scrap of paper had been purposefully laid out to aid the professor’s work.


    He put the finishing touches on the paper he was writing as a steady rainfall pelted the window behind his desk, providing some much-appreciated background noise. Once he was done, he quickly looked the document over and then placed it into the top drawer of his desk. His work for the night complete, he stood and walked over to a nearby rack, on which his coat and hat were hung.


    It was at that point that the sound of his office’s doorbell broke that peaceful quiet. A fateful chime that, far from Sutter’s wildest imaginings, would prove to change history.


    “It’s open,” he called out to the person on the other side of the door. “Come in.”


    Evidently, the person who walked in was not the one Sutter was expecting. He’d finished putting on his dark blue coat and had just set his black top hat over his messy white hair, but when he lay eyes on his visitor, he returned the hat to its hook and adjusted his glasses.


    “Can I help you?” he asked, not trying to hide the suspicion in his voice. “Who are you?”


    “I am merely someone who is interested in a bit of your past work, Mister Chiaki,” the man replied. Every part of his face was hidden beneath a gray, cylindrical helmet, save for his mouth, and he stood with his hands planted firmly in the gold-lined pockets of his darker gray suit. “There are a few questions I would like to ask you.”


    “I must say I’m not sure what part of my work interests a man like you who visits dressed like a Dusknoir,” Sutter said, “but I suppose I can make a moment for a few questions, if you’re quick about them.”


    If Sutter was honest with himself, he just wanted the man to leave. His vaguely wraith-like garb and evasive response to a simple question about his identity left Sutter uncomfortable with his presence. But the school was also well secured, and Sutter’s office was no exception. He calmly walked back to his desk, pretending that it was to retrieve a cloth and his coffee cup. Outside of the man’s sight, he placed the cup back down on top of a small button, its weight more than enough to push the button down. He then turned around to address the strange visitor again.


    “So what part of my work has brought you here tonight?” he asked while wiping his glasses with the cloth.


    “Your work on finding the Golden City.”


    As soon as the man’s answer hit his ears, Sutter paused. He put his glasses back on and lowered the volume of his voice. “Nothing but a legend. I’m only one of many men throughout history who have searched for it. There’s nothing to be found.”


    “Now see, Mister Chiaki, lying is unbecoming for an academic like you.” The man withdrew his hands and spread his arms wide. “I know you found it. I’ve studied the history of La Ciudad Dorada my entire life… I know when you came to the kingdom, you found the Golden City. And furthermore, I know you’re the one who has the map to find it again.”


    “If I had found it,” Sutter countered, “don’t you think I would have publicized such a historic discovery?”


    “I think you were aware of the incredible power that sleeps in that place,” the man replied, putting his hands back in his pockets. “Let me guess, you were trying to keep it away from people who might misuse it? Noble, but misguided…”


    “I think you’ve wasted enough of my time,” Sutter shot back. He glanced down at his watch and sighed. “Please, take my advice and leave.”


    You take my advice. Give me the map and I’ll walk out of here without a complaint.”


    “I don’t have your map.”


    “So you’ll lie. Lie all the way to the very end… how unfortunate.”


    In a flash, the man’s hand exited his pocket with a strange, clockwork Poké Ball firmly in his grasp. He swiftly opened it, freeing a Dragonite wearing a glowing collar from the sphere. As soon as she materialized, the beast bellowed and lunged toward Sutter.


    “Horn Drill!” Dragonite’s owner commanded.


    Even though he was incredibly healthy and mobile for a man of his advanced age, the Dragonite was far too close and her lunge far too swift for him to have a hope of escape. The beast dove upon the man, driving her rotating horn into his chest as a searing pain shot through Sutter’s body. The dragon’s attack missed his heart, but had sunk deep into his chest before she wrenched it free with a gush of blood. He screamed as he fell back against his desk, a great volume of blood splashing onto the floor and across his clothes. The only thing he could manage was grab at his desk and drag a picture frame off it as his life ebbed away and his body crumpled limply to the ground.


    At that exact moment, a bespectacled woman wearing a suit appeared in the doorway with several security guards. “Professor, we got the al-”


    When she saw her boss bleeding out on the floor against his desk, Sutter’s secretary shrieked. The guards pushed past her and surrounded his killer, wasting no time in deploying their own Pokémon to further close off his path to the exit.


    Surveying the group facing him, the murderer grunted to himself. There were a pair of Growlithe and a Manectric, which he knew he could easily defeat with Dragonite, but one of the guards happened to have a Glalie. “Dealing with an Ice-type on top of the others… not worth it. I’ll have to look for the map another time…”


    Resigning himself to the failure of his mission, the man vaulted over Sutter’s desk, knocking the lamp to the ground with a crash as bloodstained papers were strewn about. His Dragonite lifted herself into the air and fired a stream of bubbles from her mouth at the window, smashing it to pieces. The murderer then jumped onto her back as the guard’s Glalie launched an Ice Beam at the duo, only for his mount to dive ahead of it and fly out into the rain before they could be stopped. Glalie gave chase and tried again to shoot them down, but his aim was off and the second Ice Beam sailed harmlessly off into the sky.


    “How persistent,” the man fumed as he prompted Dragonite to turn around and face Glalie. “Dragonite, Bubble Beam!”


    The collar around Dragonite’s neck glowed brighter as she drew in a deep breath, then exhaled another flood of bubbles. Drawing power from the driving rainfall, they buffeted Glalie with relentless force. By the time Glalie shook off the attack, the killer and his Dragonite had vanished into the storm.


    Sutter’s secretary, meanwhile, rushed to her boss’s side as his life rapidly slipped away. “Professor…” she sobbed, tears running down her face. “Professor, why?”


    “T-T…” It took every ounce of Sutter’s remaining energy to speak. “Tell Matt… pr-protect… the b-box…”


    That request proved to be the last words the great archeologist Sutter Chiaki would ever speak. The last thing he saw before his death was the photograph he pulled from his desk - a picture of himself alongside a blond-haired boy with a face somewhat similar to his own.


    -:-


    “Ah!”


    Several years later, the boy from Sutter’s photograph - having since grown into a tall but very thin young man - snapped awake on the bed in his train cabin. He stared up at the ceiling as he caught his breath, and tried to focus on the rhythmic sounds of the train’s wheels on the tracks as a way of calming himself.


    Suddenly, the door of his cabin slid open, and he had no choice but to sit up.


    “Matt, good morning!” the young woman who entered greeted him. Her red hair contrasted sharply with the green t-shirt she wore. Though her greeting was a cheerful one, her attitude changed when she saw how plainly troubled he looked. “What’s wrong?”


    “It would be nice to be able to go a week without dreaming of when I saw my grandfather lying in a pool of his own blood,” Matt replied, brushing away the hair that hung over his right eye away for a moment. “That scene just… still haunts me. I think that’s why I’m doing this. I need closure.”


    “Do you really think doing this is going to find who killed him?” Matt ignored Cassy’s question, and as he walked past her, she understood not to pursue it. “Think you’ll be able to finish what he started?”


    “I don’t know,” he answered blandly. “That note sounds like a lot of things more important than a treasure hunt are going on.”


    “It sounded to me like finding the Golden City is key to all of it,” Cassy suggested in response.


    Without saying anything, Matt went to the hook on the wall where he had his coat and messenger bag hanging. He opened the bag and withdrew a piece of parchment, which he began to read from.


    “To Matt Chiaki, greetings. My name is Fernando, eighth Count of the royal family of La Ciudad Dorada. I write to you as I am aware of your grandfather, Sutter Chiaki, and his fascinating work in our kingdom. This may be very late, but please accept my condolences on behalf of the entire royal family for his unfortunate death. His work is recognized even today in our land.


    More to the point of why I have written to you with such urgency, our kingdom is facing a threat unlike anything we have faced any time in our recent history. You may not be able to fully understand right now, but our history is paramount to ensuring the continued security of our land. We must find the Golden City to ensure our survival, and that is why I am writing to you. I have researched Sutter’s time in our kingdom, and I have come to understand that even though he did not find the Golden City, he obtained an item that is key to locating it. To be specific, a puzzle box. Since his death, I understand you have inherited much from him, and as his heir I am sure that includes the aforementioned puzzle box. Please, I request that you come to La Ciudad Dorada at your earliest convenience, and bring the box with you. Together, we must finish what your grandfather started. It is the only way we can ensure that La Ciudad Dorada survives.”



    By the time Matt finished reading the letter, Cassy had made her way to the cabin window and was looking out of it.


    “I guess I can see your point,” he said. He put the letter down and reached back into his bag, retrieving a golden cube with ornate patterns carved into each of its sides. Each design prominently featured seven dots, arranged into one of three patterns; one resembling the letter ‘H’, one a wide cross, and one a hexagonal shape. The box glittered in the light of the morning sun as Matt examined it. “My grandfather always told me that this puzzle box was extremely important to one of his most meaningful expeditions, but I never thought I’d be holding it in my hands and heading off to follow his footsteps like this.”


    “Matt, come here!” Cassy exclaimed. “Come over here and look at this!”


    Matt followed Cassy’s urging and joined her at the window after putting away the puzzle box. Not terribly far off they could see a city, its buildings constructed from pale stone and packed closely together. Numerous towers dotted the city’s outer rim, and Matt and Cassy could see the same glowing blue lights on them that were on the train’s locomotive. However, it was the castle on the far end of the city that most commanded their attention. It was a huge, stark white palace that dominated its surroundings, its appearance enhanced by the intricate stained glass windows on it.


    “So that’s it…” Matt said in awe. “The kingdom of La Ciudad Dorada… it’s even more impressive than I expected it would be. I see why my grandfather spoke so highly of this place…”







    END of PROLOGUE
     
  2. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    CHAPTER 1: The Edge of History


    -:-


    La Ciudad Dorada was a city in the center of a vast island region located in the southern sea. Most of the region’s settlements were on its coasts, leaving the inland kingdom largely isolated from the outside world. Much of its immediate surroundings were barren desert, with the city itself in a fairly mountainous area. The resultant journey was a grueling ordeal for any would-be travellers, leaving passage on foot to be considered an unwise proposition at best. The march of time had done little to ease the difficulty of travel, with the only real means of access from the outside world to the kingdom being the railroad Matt and Cassy arrived on.


    In spite of its remoteness, the kingdom was far from short on visitors. As Matt and Cassy walked down one of the paths between buildings, the number of people and Pokémon passing by kept them on a slow pace.


    “Whew…” Matt took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his forehead with it. He looked at how the people around him were dressed and sighed again. “I should’ve worn something lighter.”


    “The city of La Ciudad Dorada is known to have sweltering weather, characterized by surprisingly humid air despite the desert surrounding it,” Cassy read from the tourist brochure she’d picked up at the train station. “Its citizens have grown to coexist with this climate, which may seem harsh to outsiders.”


    “I get it, I should have done my homework,” Matt said with a self-deprecating laugh, scratching the back of his head.


    “Seems like I have to tell you that a lot,” Cassy sarcastically added before returning to the brochure. “This sentiment, the feeling of gratitude for nature and the coexistence with it, can also be seen in the way the city and nature exist as one.” She folded up the brochure and looked around. Some of the buildings nearby were built around trees, and the path they were walking on was broken up by blades of grass growing through it. “Not that you couldn’t tell just by looking around,” she observed.


    At that moment, Matt and Cassy emerged from the narrow street they had been on into a spacious plaza. Numerous vendors had stands set up all around them, selling food, souvenirs and more. While Matt looked around and thought about whether anything he saw interested him, Cassy returned to the brochure.


    “The plaza outside of Lingote Palace is the site of the city’s main marketplace,” she read. “Tourists may taste the many varieties of berries grown in the city’s rich soil, taste its distinctive cuisine, or purchase items crafted by its artisans. This is truly a must-see location that all visitors to La Ciudad Dorada should make a part of their travels.”


    “I’d like to go and see everything, but we probably don’t have time to waste,” Matt said. “Fernando didn’t tell us a specific time to arrive, but I imagine we can’t keep him waiting.”


    “If you say so. It says the way to access Lingote Palace is there.” Cassy pointed to a steep hill on the other side of the plaza, which had a number of open-air elevators running up its side. Once again reading from the paper, Cassy said, “Lingote Palace is built on the Sacred Hill overlooking the rest of La Ciudad Dorada. To reach the palace, take the elevators built onto the side of the hill.”


    Following the advice of the brochure, Matt and Cassy walked across the plaza to one of the open elevators. Cassy boarded first, and she was the one to press the button that sent the lift on its ascent. While they waited, Cassy returned to the brochure once again as a way of breaking up the silence.


    “In addition to the opulence of Lingote Palace, visitors to La Ciudad Dorada should make sure to experience the panorama from the top of the Sacred Hill. It is said that the ancient kingdom that once stood on this land extended from the Sacred Hill all the way to the mountains that can be seen from its peak. Additionally, the site is famous for its spectacular view of the sunset and sunrise when the weather is clear.”


    “I can already see what they’re talking about!” Matt exclaimed. He was standing at the elevator’s guardrail, looking out over the city while shielding his eyes with his hand. Even though they hadn’t yet reached the top of the hill, he could see over the buildings to the desert landscape beyond, the sands glittering in the blazing sun. Beyond that, mountains spread out across the horizon, reaching far enough into the sky that snow could be seen on some of their peaks.


    “Amazing…” Cassy uttered in awe after joining Matt at the rail. “If the kingdom really reached from here all the way to those mountains, it must have been incredible…”


    “It’s a shame it fell,” Matt added. “I wish we could have seen it at its peak. Or at least I wish it lasted long enough for my grandfather to see it. If what’s here now is really as threatened like Fernando made it sound in his letter, we’ll have our work cut out for us, but we have to do something to save it.”


    “You don’t have to tell me twice,” Cassy replied.


    Matt and Cassy couldn’t look away from the view of the vast landscape spreading out before them. As the elevator went further up the hill, their perspective kept changing, giving them an increasingly clear overlook of the entire territory. They were so caught up in the view that when the elevator reached the end of its track, they were both thrown off balance and had to grip the rail when it stopped. Beyond the startling stop, both found their breaths similarly taken away by the sight that greeted them when they turned around.


    Lingote Palace, a massive castle built from white marble accentuated with rainbow-colored stained glass, stood before them. All around the gleaming palace, the rest of the hill was covered in a seemingly endless sea of flowers, broken up only by wrought iron arches shaping a dirt path between the elevators and the palace.


    “What a lovely garden,” Matt commented as he and Cassy started their way down the path, surveying the flowers and the Pokémon living amongst them. There were a number of Combee flitting from blossom to blossom, collecting honey while a Wobbuffet with red lips watched them. Two Chatot sat on a portion of the rail surrounding the garden and preened their feathers.


    “Ah, look at that,” Cassy said, pointing to a place in the flowers where the tails of three Sentret could be seen, giving away where their owners were. She gasped in surprise immediately afterward when a pair of Chingling floated overhead and landed in the garden, chiming happily all the while.


    The two were so caught up in taking in the sights that they didn’t notice when they approached an iron bench where two others were already sitting. Both were young women of roughly Matt and Cassy’s age, though neither had much else apparent in common between themselves, Matt or Cassy.


    “Excuse me, are you here for the tour?” one of them, who wore a plain white coat with a furred collar and had her brown hair tied into three buns, asked Matt and Cassy.


    Cassy scowled at the interruption, but she still stopped walking when Matt did, and he didn’t notice her expression.


    “I guess so,” Matt answered, before pausing and meekly adding, “well, not really. I don’t know? Technically?”


    “You missed the cutoff for the most recent tour’s start, unfortunately,” the woman informed them. Gesturing to the other young woman, who was still sitting and reading a book, she added, “The two of us just got here and got turned away as well, so we’re waiting for the next one.”


    “Yeah, that’s not how this is going to happen,” Cassy interjected. “Matt, give me the letter.”


    Without thinking about it, Matt reached into his bag, retrieved the letter from Fernando and handed it over to Cassy. “What are you going to do?” he asked once she already had it.


    “To let them know we were invited.”


    Cassy walked off in the direction of the castle’s front gate with the letter, leaving an exasperated Matt behind. He extended his hand in her direction, but his attempt to stop her withered away long before it could even come alive.


    “You were invited?” The woman tilted her head and furrowed her thick eyebrows. “What did she mean?”


    “I guess I should introduce myself, since we’ll be going on the tour together,” Matt said, chuckling nervously. “I’m Matt, she’s Cassy. We’re classmates at the Rustboro School in Hoenn… we were invited here by Count Fernando VIII because he wishes for me to follow up on archeological research my grandfather did here.”


    “Your grandfather… would he happen to be Sutter Chiaki? The famous archeologist and explorer?”


    Matt immediately shrank back when he realized the woman knew who he was. His face turned red, and he quietly replied, “I see you know of him… might I ask what made you realize it?”


    “Sutter Chiaki’s work closely involved my people as well, so it was known that he had a grandson named Matt.” When Matt returned the look of confusion she had just shown him, the woman brought one of her gloved hands to her chest. “My name is Sheena. I am the priestess that guards the Tenganist temple in Michina Town. Right now, I’m on a pilgrimage to learn more about the history of my people. That’s why I’ve come to La Ciudad Dorada. My people have a historical connection to this land that I wish to learn more about.”


    “So that’s how you knew… my grandfather’s research here ended up involving your people as well.”


    “That’s a part of it,” Sheena said. “At some point, I would like to ask you some questions about Sutter and his work. Perhaps after the tour?”


    “I don’t have a problem with that.” Matt looked over to the castle gate, where Cassy was showing the letter to the two women clad in Bronzong-themed armor who stood guard, and sighed. “She might be at that for a while, so who knows when the tour will even start.”


    “Then let’s get to know each other and pass the time,” the other tourist with Sheena suggested. She shut the book she was reading and jumped to her feet, causing the ribbon in her blue hair to shake. She took ahold of her billowing, gold-frilled black skirt and curtsied, saying “I’m Eleanor Laplace. I’m an engineer and I came here from Kalos because this place’s technology fascinates me.”


    “Technology?” Matt questioned.


    “Oh, you’ll love it!” Just getting to talk about machines excited Eleanor. “There’s a place in Kalos called the Azoth Kingdom. It’s an entirely mechanized city built from the designs of the great inventor Nikola using Arcane Science! Well, it turns out La Ciudad Dorada is considered a sort of sister city to the Azoth Kingdom. It has its own type of Arcane Science that’s similar to Nikola’s but still unique. I’m just fascinated by all types of machines, so I had to come here and experience La Ciudad Dorada’s technology for myself.”


    “I can relate to that,” Matt said to Eleanor. “I’m into robotics and science myself. I’ve been studying them with Newton Graceland at the Rustboro School…”


    The Newton Graceland?” Eleanor exclaimed. “You have to show me some of the designs you’ve worked on with him! Anyone who gets to work alongside someone like Dr. Graceland must have some real talent in them!”


    Sheena raised her hand to her mouth and gently laughed. “Your energy is admirable, Eleanor. I hope I enjoy this tour as much as you clearly will.” When she glanced over to the castle gates, Sheena saw something that made her blue eyes go wide. “It appears there’s some sort of incident,” she said to Matt and Eleanor.


    Following Sheena’s direction, Matt and Eleanor looked to the castle gates and saw Cassy heading back towards them. The guards stood at attention for the person who was with her, a tall, well-dressed young man whose blond hair was carefully combed into a sweeping style.


    “You can say thank you any time you want,” Cassy proudly said to the others as she stepped aside to let the man approach them.


    “Allow me to apologize for not giving you a clear schedule to follow,” he said, before putting his hand on his heart and bowing. “I’m Count Fernando the Eighth. It is my pleasure to finally meet you, Matt Chiaki.”


    “I… well, it’s an honor, sir,” Matt nervously sputtered in response.


    “Did you bring the puzzle box?”


    Matt nodded and reached into his bag, producing the box as Fernando requested. Its golden surface glistened in the sun, creating light that reflected in Fernando’s intense green eyes as he examined it.


    “So this artifact finally has found its way home,” the count said. “I thank you for returning it.”


    “I can’t say I know the entire story behind it,” Matt admitted.


    “That’s fine, I didn’t expect you to.” Fernando turned back toward the castle and gestured over his shoulder. “Come, we have much to discuss. Let’s head to the museum.”


    “Wait!” Just getting up the nerve for that one word took so much out of Matt that he had to catch his breath after saying it. Still, Fernando stopped walking to listen to him, so he considered that a relief. “It wouldn’t be fair if you just took Cassy and I along on a special tour. Please, bring Sheena and Eleanor with us.”


    “Oh come on,” Cassy complained. “You know we have a lot of work to do.”


    “It might actually turn out to be helpful for us,” Fernando said, though he did not turn around. “Perhaps they will have perspectives that will aid in our quest. Sheena, Eleanor, those were your names? Consider yourselves lucky, you’re going to get to go on a very special tour today.”


    “Thank you!” both Sheena and Eleanor replied.


    “Save your gratitude for the history you’re about to witness. Now, let’s get started. Come with me.”


    Fernando led the quartet past his guards and into the palace, passing underneath a huge stained glass mural that surrounded the castle’s entrance. The group felt the air inside circulate with a cooling breeze, and Matt wiped his forehead again as relief from the heat set in.


    Immediately past the entrance to Lingote Palace was a long hallway lined with more stained glass windows, which cast colorful sunlight onto the marble floor. The group had made it a fair distance inside before Fernando started speaking to them again.


    “The reason why I summoned you to my kingdom, Matt, is because we are currently under a threat unlike any we have seen in ages.”


    “I could tell from your letter it was serious,” Matt said. “But what exactly is the threat?”


    “It is twofold,” Fernando replied. “We have been threatened with invasion by outsiders who wish to steal our treasures. Compounding that is my sister, Rosalita… she has betrayed the kingdom. When news of the threatened invasion reached us, she murdered our parents, King Fernando VII and Queen Sophia.”


    A chorus of gasps went up among Fernando’s four guests.


    “I knew this would be serious, but… murders?” Matt thought. “Like my grandfather… was she connected to it somehow?”


    “Why would she do something like that?” Eleanor openly wondered.


    “She has always been envious that I was chosen to ascend to the throne over her,” Fernando answered sadly. “I can only surmise that she intends to aid the invasion in exchange for help seizing power for herself. She stole two of the three clues to the Golden City’s location after the murders, and she kidnapped our family’s royal Pokémon as well.”


    By this time, the group had reached a large set of double doors far down the hallway. Fernando stopped and turned around before continuing his explanation.


    “And that is why I summoned you here, Matt. Our administrative functions are in disarray with everyone trying to figure out who can be trusted and who is in league with Rosalita. But even with two of the clues and our family’s Pokémon, she cannot find the Golden City without the puzzle box, as it is the map that will reveal the Golden City’s location in the end. If she cannot find it, she cannot seize power, as there is something sleeping there that all new rulers must obtain first. We must find it before she can, or La Ciudad Dorada will be lost.”


    “The temptation of great power can corrupt even the most noble hearts,” Sheena commented. “I know. I’ve seen it firsthand. But what is this power you speak of, exactly?”


    “You will see,” Fernando answered as he pushed the doors open. “Welcome. To the history of La Ciudad Dorada.”


    Beyond the doors awaited a spacious room filled with exhibits around its walls and center. Ornate iron arches spread out overhead, and an intricate design of yellow, green, blue and tan covered the floor.


    “This is the museum?” Matt asked to get confirmation. “It’s impressive.”


    “As it should be. It’s one of my kingdom’s proudest places, where all of our history is kept for the world to appreciate.”


    Eleanor immediately broke from the others and ran right to a display case containing models of the train and other devices.


    “This is exactly what I came here to see!” she exclaimed in excitement. “Just riding on it was exciting enough, but I want to really see how it works.”


    “The railroad, like all the rest of our technology, runs on the energy created by our Arcane Science,” Fernando explained before adding, “but you probably knew that already. It allows us to prosper while having little effect on our environment.”


    “What are those other things?” she asked, pointing at a group of vehicles resembling old-fashioned cars and trucks, all of which had the same blue lamps on them as the locomotive.


    “Exactly what they look like, vehicles produced locally by our engineers over time after combining the principles of Arcane Science with sparks of inspiration from abroad. These models are of older designs than what we have now, but the basic principles that power them remain the same.”


    Meanwhile, Matt and Sheena watched Eleanor converse with Fernando, and neither could help smiling at her enthusiasm.


    “Hey, Matt, come here,” Cassy called from nearby. “Look at this.”


    Sheena followed Matt as he joined Cassy at a red velvet rope, which was blocking off direct access to a painting in a golden frame. It depicted an elderly man in a dark suit with a thick, white beard and small, round spectacles.


    “I know who that is,” Matt said after putting his hand on his chin.


    “Godey, the famous Sinnohan architect,” Sheena identified. “He was a Tenganist and created works of art inspired by our beliefs. But why is a painting of him here?”


    “Because he was the architect who created this museum,” Fernando said as he and Eleanor rejoined the others. Unlike the clear pride he showed while showing the machine models to Eleanor, his expression had become inscrutable. “My grandfather, Fernando VI, was interested in Godey’s works in Sinnoh, namely the Space-Time Tower in Alamos Town even before its completion. He hired Godey to design a reconstruction of this museum for us.”


    “Was your grandfather the king at the time my grandfather came here?” Matt asked. “He told me he worked with a Fernando, but he didn’t tell me which one. If the Space-Time Tower was incomplete at the time, I think it lines up.”


    “You’re right about that.” Fernando broke from the group and stepped a short distance away before speaking again. “Want to meet the old man?”


    Matt cocked his head. “Meet him? I don’t understand.”


    “Then follow me and you will.”


    Matt and the others, who were as puzzled as he was, followed Fernando past a number of other paintings. They only got brief glances at each one, but the recurring theme of vast, lush landscapes shared by humans and Pokémon quickly became apparent. One painting in particular, depicting a gigantic Pokémon holding a tiny one in its hand, caught the attention of Eleanor and Sheena.


    Eleanor tapped Sheena on the shoulder and whispered to her, “Regigigas and Shaymin, right?”


    “Right,” Sheena replied. “Both legendary, mythical Pokémon in Sinnoh. They must be here, too…”


    “Well, here we are.” Fernando stopped and stepped aside, gesturing to a line of golden statues against the wall. “Say hello to my grandfather… and all the kings before him.”


    The statues were of men of a variety of ages, all of them bearing at least rough similarities in appearance to their living descendant. There were six in all, with an open pedestal for a seventh at the end of the line. In front of each statue, as well as the empty stand, was a plate bearing the name of the individual king depicted as well as the years of their rule and some information about them.


    “Monuments to each king…” Cassy observed.


    “They aren’t just monuments,” Fernando corrected her. “These are the past kings themselves. As in, their bodies.”


    Almost immediately, Cassy recoiled with such force that she collided with Matt and nearly knocked him down. Sheena curled her lip. Eleanor, on the other hand, had no discernable reaction at all.


    “Their… bodies?” Matt uttered. “Forgive me for saying this, but isn’t that a little… morbid?”


    “That’s not for you to decide, to be frank with you,” Fernando snapped, his voice remaining low but his manner becoming deadly serious. “This is a sacred custom that dates back to the beginning of our kingdom.”


    “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to-”


    “It’s fine, I forgive you,” Fernando huffed, cutting Matt’s apology off. “You’re just a child. You haven’t had the time to absorb the world the way your grandfather did.”


    Matt shrank back, too embarrassed by his faux pas to say anything further. His silence allowed Eleanor to step into the conversation.


    “I don’t quite understand, can you explain the custom to us?” she asked.


    “Now that’s a good question. You see, once the life granted to our king reaches its end, we take great care to preserve them in gold so that they will never be forgotten. It is our way of honoring those who have gone to the Golden City and received its blessings.”


    “They do appear too lifelike to just be statues, now that I look more closely.” The way Eleanor carefully examined the faces of the preserved bodies left Cassy to blanch in disgust. “It’s rather intimidating to stand before six kings…” Eleanor suddenly realized something and turned around. “Wait, you’re the eighth, right? Why are there only six here? Where is the seventh?”


    “We haven’t finished the process on my father yet.” Fernando shut his eyes. “When my sister murdered our parents and fled, it left us in a state of crisis. We’ve had to focus on defense against her coup and it’s left us no time to properly honor him yet.”


    “And to help against that coup you called me here,” Matt said, finding his voice to seek confirmation of his belief.


    “Precisely,” Fernando replied. “We should move to the next part of the museum. It is necessary for you to understand what has happened here in the past.”


    “Wait!” Eleanor called out as the others started to follow Fernando away from the line of previous kings. “I have one more question!”


    “Just one more before we move on,” Fernando said over his shoulder.


    “I just looked at these signs,” Eleanor explained, “and I noticed the dates. Fernando I was in power over seven hundred years ago! How is that possible? How are there only eight generations over that much time? I don’t understand how each king could live that long.”


    “They didn’t all live for the same amount of time,” Fernando corrected her, “but the answer is something you’re about to find out. Come this way.”


    Eleanor frowned, but still left the gallery and rejoined Matt, Cassy and Sheena. The four followed Fernando all the way to end of the museum, past numerous exhibits, until they reached the back wall. Spreading out across that wall was an immense mural cast in bronze. Its scale in both physical size and in terms of the sweeping events it depicted left the quartet stunned at the sight of it. Even at a glance, the portrayals of humans and Pokémon engaged in an odyssey of peace and conflict that played across the artwork impressed upon the viewer the scope of La Ciudad Dorada’s history.


    “Sutter told me there was an amazing mural here he thought I should see,” Matt said as he stared up at the artwork with the others.


    “This is not the one your grandfather saw when he was here.” Fernando’s voice carried a hint of bitterness, and even though all of his guests heard it, none of them noticed him tighten his fists. “The original mural was replaced by this carving as the final piece of Godey’s design of the museum. Once everything calms down I intend to replace it with a new painting created by artists from La Ciudad Dorada, as the original one was.”


    “Would you donate this one to another museum?” Sheena asked. “It would be a shame for it to go to waste, and I can think of at least one museum in Sinnoh that would gladly accept it.”


    “Sure. They can have it,” Fernando replied with a dismissive scoff. “That’s a matter for another time. For now, the story of my kingdom.”


    Matt and the others followed Fernando’s indication to the beginning of the tale depicted by the carving. The very first section showed people and simplistic buildings, all gathered under a large sun. Around them was a rough landscape dotted by a small number of plants.


    “Long ago, this land was a desert where a small community of people dwelled,” Fernando explained while his guests examined the artwork. “Life was difficult for them, but they worked hard and were in turn rewarded enough by the land permitting them to survive. So it was for a while, and the people were happy. However, it did not last. Eventually, the environment grew harsher, and the people struggled to just survive day by day. All seemed lost.”


    Fernando stopped talking and gestured for his guests to follow him to the next part of the mural, which they did. They found themselves looking up at a depiction of people surrounding a mountain while a man in a cape stood atop it, his arms spread to the sky. At his side were a Lucario and an insectoid Pokémon, while in front of him a single flower was planted. Above them all was the shape of the same hedgehog-like Pokémon Sheena and Eleanor had seen in the painting earlier.


    “Just when the people were about to give up hope, a wanderer appeared,” continued the count. “From where he came, they did not know. He was accompanied by the Pokémon called Lucario and Golisopod, and took pity on their suffering. In order to restore hope, he climbed the Sacred Hill and atop it planted a single flower, which he called Gracidea. He then asked the people to think of everything in their lives they were thankful for. The Gracidea flower responded to their feelings of gratitude, and from the golden light it cast, the Gardener of Gratitude emerged… Shaymin.”


    “I know stories from Sinnoh about Shaymin,” Matt commented, not taking his eyes off the carving. “I knew it appeared in response to gratitude, so this all makes sense to me.”


    “Is there any knowledge of who the wanderer was?”


    Sheena stepped forward and said in response to Cassy’s question, “I can tell you, if Fernando would like me to.”


    “Go right ahead,” Fernando urged.


    “Well, he is the reason I came here in the first place,” she said to the others. When she turned her eyes back up to the figure in the mural she missed Fernando clench his teeth, an act Matt, Cassy and Eleanor also didn’t notice. “The writings of my people say that this man was a Tenganist warrior priest from the Ransei region who wandered the world in search of something.”


    “Something?” Cassy repeated, puzzled.


    “It’s not known what he was searching for, unfortunately. What is known about him is that he was extremely powerful and skilled in channeling Gaia, the energy that flows through the planet and all living things.”


    “I’ve heard that word before…” Matt said, again putting his hand on his chin while he searched his memory. “I think my grandfather mentioned it in passing, but I don’t know anything about it.”


    “I would be happy to tell you more once we have some free time,” Sheena offered. She brought her hands together in front of herself almost as if she was praying. “For now, though, what you should know is that it gives my people power. Every one of us is different… for example, I’m able to connect with the hearts of humans and Pokémon to communicate with them. The wanderer, on the other hand…” Sheena turned to Fernando. “Is it correct to say his power is a key to La Ciudad Dorada’s history?”


    “A very astute observation,” Fernando complimented her, his earlier frustration seemingly gone. “Here, have a look at this.”


    The count guided his guests’ attention to the next section of the carving. The wanderer was there, again standing over the people with his arms spread out, but in front of him were Shaymin and the shape of what appeared to be a fountain, along with a man wearing a crown. Behind him, meanwhile, was the gigantic Pokémon from the painting with Shaymin.


    “Regigigas!” Matt exclaimed in surprise.


    “You recognize it, the Colossal Pokémon?” Fernando ventured.


    “There’s no way I couldn’t,” Matt responded, “having grown up in Snowpoint City. I didn’t know it was here too.”


    “As the people continued to express gratitude for what they had,” said Fernando as he resumed the story, “Shaymin brought new life to the land, turning the once-barren desert into a lush paradise. With his work done, the wanderer entrusted Shaymin with the responsibility of ensuring the people stayed on the path of righteousness. A leader emerged among the people, one with the exact values Shaymin sought. In order to ensure wise leadership would continue and keep the kingdom on the correct path, the wanderer took all the people to where Regigigas slept. They knew not where it came from, but the wanderer taught them that it would watch over and protect them as long as they continued to be gracious for what the land gave them. He then built a fountain whose waters flowed with the life energy of the earth, gave Shaymin control of it, and invited the leader of the people to drink from it. When the leader did so, his body was invigorated and his life, greatly extended. He was my ancestor, King Fernando I.”


    “As I thought,” Sheena said. “My people say that the wanderer was so skilled in using Gaia that he even discovered a way to infuse it into his body and render himself unaging. It makes sense that he could construct a device to do that for others.”


    “What did you mean by him giving Shaymin control of the fountain?” Eleanor asked while Matt stood nearby, lost in thought.


    “To clarify,” Fernando explained with his finger raised, “only Shaymin can make the fountain’s life-giving waters flow, to ensure that only those judged worthy can obtain its power and lead our kingdom.”


    “I’m beginning to understand what the threat you summoned me here to help with is,” Matt suddenly said.


    “Oh?” Fernando wondered.


    “You said your sister murdered your parents and stole two clues to the Golden City’s location along with the royal Pokémon, which I assume is Shaymin. If that’s correct, and your conclusion that she wants to usurp the throne is correct, I have to guess that the fountain is in the Golden City and she intends to take Shaymin there to obtain eternal youth.”


    Fernando joined his hands behind his back, shut his eyes, and smiled. “There’s that brain that I knew would help me reach the Golden City before her.” He pivoted around and beckoned his guests to follow. “The kingdom grew over several generations,” he narrated as he guided the group past a depiction of Lingote Palace towering over a massive city filled with flora and Pokémon. “Eventually, as you know, it grew into an empire that stretched out into the horizon visible from the Sacred Hill. For many years, this prosperity continued unabated. However…”


    Fernando came to a sudden stop, prompting the others to do so as well. They all looked up at the carving and found a very different scene playing out in front of them.


    No longer were the residents of La Ciudad Dorada coexisting. They were locked in combat, both the humans and their Pokémon allies divided into two groups and viciously fighting. At the center of the chaos, two identical figures wearing crowns stood in opposition to each other.


    “It clearly didn’t last,” Cassy guessed. “Who are those two in the middle of it?”


    “The contemporary king and his… closest advisor,” Fernando replied. “The king’s advisor desired the power of the throne for himself and organized a rebellion. Soon, the royal court broke into two factions and La Ciudad Dorada descended into civil war.”


    “Sounds like the exact opposite of gratitude,” Eleanor commented.


    “Another astute observation,” Fernando said while leading the group forward. “The war consumed the entire kingdom, and both the leaders and their people lost view of what to feel gratitude for. They lost their way, and, well…”


    Instead of finishing his sentence, Fernando simply gestured to the mural, and once the quartet saw what was in front of them, they immediately understood.


    The imagery was stark and unmistakable. Regigigas, with three smaller Pokémon around it, was smashing through buildings, roads and everything else in its path. Anything not within immediate reach was destroyed by projectiles and beams the four Pokémon deployed instead. Everything around them was aflame. Matt, Cassy, Eleanor and Sheena all understood exactly what the stakes were even before Fernando spoke again.


    “When the kingdom lost its way, they fell victim to a great curse. Regigigas awoke from its slumber, summoned Regirock, Regice and Registeel to its side, and wrought terrible vengeance on the kingdom. It didn’t matter which side of the war they were on, none were spared from Regigigas’ judgment. Before long, the king and his advisor realized what they had done and laid down their arms.”


    Fernando took a single deep breath before escorting the group to the final part of the carving. The two identical figures now stood among broken buildings and ruined earth, raising their hands to Regigigas. Shaymin was in the air over their heads, giving off beams of light. Unlike the previous part of the mural, this one made its viewers relax. Even without explanation, they were able to see its message of peace.


    “Once again, the king, his advisor and the rest of the people gave thanks for what they had. Shaymin was energized by these newfound feelings of gratitude, and was able to use its light to calm Regigigas. Regigigas and its three subordinates returned to sleep. The king and the people agreed not to rebuild their empire beyond the city surrounding the Sacred Hill, choosing instead to abandon that land as an act of respect for Regigigas’ power. They built the Golden City around Regigigas’ place of rest as a tribute to it, then obscured its location in order to hide both Regigigas and the life-giving fountain from everyone but a chosen few. And that…” Fernando turned around and put his hands on his hips. “...is the history of my kingdom. Do you understand why it is so urgent we find the Golden City before Rosalita does?”


    None of the four answered at first. The story was still sinking into their minds.


    “Yes,” Matt finally answered, his voice low. “If Rosalita gets there first, she’ll end up unleashing the curse again and Regigigas will destroy everything here. Everything it didn’t destroy the first time.”


    Fernando nodded approvingly, but before he could say anything Eleanor asked him, “Doesn’t she know what will happen?”


    “She believes her vision for allowing La Ciudad Dorada to join deeply with the outside world is the righteous path.” Mentioning this was getting Fernando emotional again, and this time he tightened his fists in full view of his guests. “She believes that beyond everything else. It’s a game of life and death for the kingdom, and her obsession will destroy it!”


    “If there is a risk of Regigigas awakening, I should come along as well,” Sheena volunteered. “As I said, I can communicate with the hearts of humans and Pokémon. Should the worst case scenario occur, I can use my power to try and calm it down before anything happens.”


    “That will be helpful,” Fernando replied, “though allow me to warn you that doing that with Regigigas won’t be easy. That must be the absolute last resort.”


    “We’ll have to work hard enough so it doesn’t come to that,” resolved Eleanor.


    “What makes you want to be a part of this?” Cassy asked her.


    “If you think about it, building a whole city out of gold must have taken some real ingenuity. I’ve got to see the Golden City so I can figure out how they did it.” Eleanor frowned and turned her head away from Cassy. “Besides, I…”


    Their conversation was cut off by the sudden sound of a bell’s ominous chime. As soon as he heard it, Fernando looked up toward the ceiling with a look of shock on his face.


    “What is that?”


    Initially ignoring Matt’s question, Fernando pushed past him and started heading back to the museum’s exit before abruptly turning around. “As of this moment you four are soldiers of this kingdom,” he declared, running his fingers over the golden buttons of his mint-green silk shirt. “We’re under attack.”


    -:-


    Outside Lingote Palace, the flower fields were aflame. The Pokémon living there fled the hilltop for their lives as gouts of fire rained from above. Four Pokémon, seemingly unsupervised by any trainer, were carrying out the siege with only a single Bronzong deployed by one of the guards to stand in their way.


    One of the attacking Pokémon, a Magmortar wearing a glowing collar, turned both of his cannon arms toward an as-yet-undamaged patch of flowers and launched a wave of flames. The guard immediately replied, swinging her staff and calling out, “Bronzong, Protect!”


    Her Pokémon responded with surprising agility, flying in front of Magmortar’s Heat Wave and crossing its arms to generate a shield of light. It worked to deflect the flames, but within moments an Electivire - also wearing a glowing collar - bounded over Magmortar, using magnetism to propel herself. She produced electrified netting from her fingers, trapping and shocking Bronzong.


    “Bronzong, try to escape using Gyro Ball!”


    Bronzong exerted every ounce of its strength to try and force itself up, but ultimately, all it could do was raise its arms. Electivire’s Electroweb held the Steel-and-Psychic-type Pokémon down and continued to conduct electricity into it.


    With Bronzong sufficiently restrained, the collared Probopass sitting at the edge of the hill rotated to face the fourth attacker, a tortoise-like creature whose red-and-yellow body was covered with partially melted bits of metal armor. Probopass’s eyes glowed with a green light that also surrounded the other Pokémon, who then levitated through the air as Probopass turned herself back towards Bronzong. Probopass deposited the other Pokémon near Electivire and Magmortar, and she stomped up to stand between them. All three then started to build up fire, with Magmortar gathering flames in his arms while the other two did so in their mouths.


    “Bronzong, get out of there!” the guard plead with her Pokémon to no avail.


    All three attacking Pokémon released blasts of fire at the prone Bronzong at once, the middle spinning into a cyclone shape while the others remained straight. The guard planted her staff in the ground, shut her eyes and braced herself for what seemed like the inevitable brutalization of her partner.


    Her frightened state was broken not by the explosion she was expecting, but by the sound of a Poké Ball opening alongside a cry from an unexpected voice.


    “Sally, Hydro Pump! Hurry!”


    She reopened her eyes and discovered that Fernando, Matt, Cassy, Eleanor and Sheena had arrived alongside her at the gate. Matt was the one who had thrown a Poké Ball, releasing a Salamence who immediately spit a flood of water that turned the attackers’ flames into harmless clouds of steam.


    “Are you alright?” Fernando hurriedly asked the guard. When she nodded wordlessly, he instead asked, “What is all this?”


    “They came over the side of the hill and just started burning everything,” the guard shakily explained.


    “That’s… that’s Heatran,” Sheena said to the others as she stepped back. Her arms and legs shook as she pointed at the quadrupedal Pokémon between Electivire and Magmortar. “The Pokémon that’s the living soul of volcanoes and magma…”


    “What’s it doing here?” Cassy wondered, her lip curling.


    “Rosalita’s begun her attack…” Fernando said to himself, though loud enough for his guests to hear. He turned to the guard and instructed her, “Have your Bronzong put out the fires. We should be able to deal with these four.”


    “Yes, sir.” Recovering her composure, the guard pointed her staff at Bronzong. “Bronzong, Rain Dance!”


    Even while still trapped underneath Electivire’s Electroweb, Bronzong was able to lift its arms between the threads. Its eyes flashed white three times, and after the third flash, dark clouds gathered over the garden. Within seconds a heavy rain had begun, and the fires throughout the garden were soon well on their way to being put out.


    “What other Pokémon do you have?” Fernando demanded of the group.


    “If this was a one-on-one battle I have confidence Sally would be enough,” Matt replied while reaching into his bag, “but looking at this… if I’m not mistaken, Heatran’s Fire and Steel-type?”


    “Yes, Fire and Steel,” Sheena confirmed.


    “Then I think I know what to do. Anton, Rocky, make your mark!”


    In a single swift motion, Matt pulled two more Poké Balls from his bag and threw the spheres, which burst open in twin flares of light to release a Rhyperior and a Hitmonchan. Sally landed next to them and roared while the two Pokémon sized up their opponents; Anton stomped his heavy feet and Rocky hit his boxing gloves together to get ready.


    The presence of new opponents drew the attackers’ attention away from Bronzong. Heatran was the first to act, opening her wide iron mouth so light could gather inside of it. Magmortar rushed Matt’s Pokémon before Heatran’s attack completed, his arms glowing with green light.


    “Rocky, stop Magmortar with Drain Punch!”


    A green, swirling vortex took shape around Rocky’s right arm as he ran forward to meet Magmortar. Both of them struck each other at the same time, and while they separated some green energy floated out of Magmortar’s body and merged with Rocky, healing some of the wounds he had just suffered. Magmortar quickly recovered, however, and rushed back in to strike Rocky a second time to complete his Dual Chop.


    At that point, Heatran could hold no more light in her mouth. Probopass locked onto Magmortar and lifted him out of the way with Telekinesis, giving Heatran the opening she needed to launch a powerful Flash Cannon attack at Anton. The Rhyperior was nowhere near agile enough to escape from the light, so he braced himself and took the beam’s effects head-on.


    “Good thing Anton’s ability is Solid Rock,” Cassy commented to the others. “That would have hurt him much more otherwise.”


    Fernando stepped up next to Matt and put a hand on his shoulder to get his attention. “It looks like that Probopass is playing a support role for its teammates,” the count observed. “If it was knocked out of the fight, the others might lose their coordination.”


    “That’s a good idea,” Matt agreed, “but it’s probably going to be tough breaking through to it.” Turning to Anton, who was breathing deeply after taking Heatran’s Flash Cannon, he directed, “Anton, see what you can do with Drill Run.” He then said to his Salamence, “Sally, give Anton some air support.”


    While Sally pushed off into the air with her powerful wings, Anton started rotating the horn on his nose like a drill and lumbered forward with as much speed as he could muster. He had Probopass in his sights, but Heatran intervened by firing a quicker, less powerful Flash Cannon at him. Sally shielded her teammate by cutting off Heatran’s attack with her own stream of fire, causing both forces to cancel each other out in an explosion of heat and smoke. Anton nodded and gave a growl of appreciation to Sally, who replied with a grunt that allowed some stray embers to slip from her mouth.


    Suddenly, Electivire propelled herself into the air by projecting magnetic force from her hands. She cast an Electroweb from her fingers to repel Sally, who retreated rather than be trapped like Bronzong was, then pulled her fist back to punch the ground when she landed. The seismic wave that resulted knocked Anton off his feet, creating an opening for Heatran to fire Flash Cannon directly into his face.


    “Sally, try to get Probopass from the air! Hydro Pump!”


    Having dodged the Electroweb, Sally attempted to fly forward again, but as soon as she opened her mouth Probopass levitated Magmortar into her way. Magmortar unexpectedly discharged electricity from his body, a Thunderbolt that traveled up the water coming from Sally’s maw and made her howl in pain as the shock coursed through her body.


    “These aren’t just random Pokémon, Matt uttered in frustration. “Rosalita trained them well…”


    “My sister knows she needs an effective fighting force to take the throne,” Fernando remarked.


    While Matt and Fernando tried to work out a strategy, Sheena stepped forth. “Allow me to try using my power and connect with their hearts. I may be able to slow down or stop their attack.” Sheena clasped her hands together and chanted, “Transcend the confines of time and space!”


    When those words came off her lips, the world melted away in Sheena’s mind. No longer did she see herself on the Sacred Hill with Fernando, Matt or anyone else beside her. Instead, her mind placed her consciousness in a sea of blue light with only the hearts of the Pokémon around her for company. Her visualizations of Anton, Rocky and Sally all had gentle blue auras around them, but Heatran, Electivire, Magmortar and Probopass were all cloaked in an intense red.


    “Please, stop your attack,” she mentally implored them. For a brief moment, it seemed to work. Sheena could feel herself connecting with them and sensed their hesitation to continue, but just as she smiled at her apparent success a flood of energy from the collars intensified their red auras. Their collective rage broke Sheena’s concentration and forced her back into reality, where she stumbled back.


    “Sheena!” Eleanor exclaimed in concern.


    “They’re too overcome with anger…” Sheena weakly said to the others. “I can’t reach them. Just as I thought I got through, those collars influenced their minds, or at least they did on the three besides Heatran… Heatran doesn’t have one, whatever’s controlling it must be elsewhere.”


    “Wait, did you say collars?” Sheena’s words made Matt stop to adjust his glasses and examine his opponents more closely. When he noticed the devices around the necks of Electivire and Magmortar, and around the red magnet on Probopass’s head, he could feel his stomach sink. “Cassy…” he blankly said, “do those look familiar to you?”


    “Collars with blue, glowing lights on them…” she said, squinting at Electivire and Magmortar. “Sure sounds like what your grandfather’s secretary and those guards said they saw that night…”


    “What is she speaking of?” Fernando questioned.


    Matt didn’t answer. He was too consumed with the storm of emotions the presence of the collars dragged up for him. “They’re the same as the one that Dragonite wore…” he thought, staring down at the ground with his mouth hanging open. “That means that whoever sent these four… they have to be connected to the guy who killed him!”


    Cassy could tell from intently watching Matt what was about to happen. “Whatever you’re about to do, don’t do it before you think-”


    “Rocky, go for Probopass with Drain Punch!” It wouldn’t be accurate to say Matt ignored Cassy. Instead, he was completely unaware she’d even said anything. “Anton, hit Heatran with Drill Run!”


    Neither Pokémon hesitated to follow their trainer’s direction, even as reckless as it was. Rocky sprinted past Heatran, whose attention was drawn away by Anton heading straight for her. The legendary Fire-and-Steel-type Pokémon stomped one of her cross-shaped feet against the ground, sending a glowing yellow light cracking through the earth that ultimately erupted beneath Anton, knocking him down.


    Rocky, meanwhile, found his path to Probopass blocked by Electivire and Magmortar. Electivire cast an Electroweb at Rocky in an attempt to ensnare him, only for the Fighting-type to weave around it. As soon as Rocky did so, Magmortar responded by extending his arms and aiming his cannons in the Hitmonchan’s direction, while Electivire drew in a deep breath. Even in the rain, their combination of Heat Wave and Flamethrower had enough strength to send Rocky flying back to where he started when they hit him, leaving him covered with burn marks.


    “Matt, calm down and listen to me,” Cassy said while Rocky pushed himself back up. “I have an idea. At the school I read about Heatran. If I’m remembering correctly, Heatran’s ability is Flash Fire. If you can get Rocky to copy it with Role Play, what just happened can’t happen again.”


    “...because Rocky will absorb all their flames,” Matt realized.


    “Let me help you open up a path,” volunteered Eleanor. “I can help.”


    “Alright,” Matt agreed, “when you see an opening, try to distract Electivire.” After seeing Eleanor nod in acquiescence, Matt turned his attention to his Pokémon. “Rocky, use Role Play on Heatran! Anton, you try Drill Run again!”


    Rocky remained in place while his hulking teammate trudged forward once more. The Hitmonchan locked met Heatran’s glare, causing his eyes to turn the same orange color as Heatran’s. Heatran paid him no mind, instead opting to focus entirely on repelling Anton’s approach. She aimed to again hit him in the face with Flash Cannon, only for Sally to swoop in from above and block it with her own Hydro Pump.


    “Alright, Rocky, this is it! Go for Probopass as hard as you can!”


    Sensing her opportunity, Eleanor threw a Poké Ball of her own and called out, “Persian, show that Electivire your Foul Play!”


    Eleanor’s Persian burst from the Poké Ball, and as soon as she materialized her differences from a normal Persian became apparent. She was purple instead of the usual tan color, and her head was fluffy and round.


    The two Pokémon, Rocky and Persian, sprinted side-by-side toward their foes. Electivire tried and failed to snare them in an Electroweb, and after dodging it the pair split from each other. Persian grabbed Electivire with her front legs and flipped the Electric-type Pokémon into the air; Electivire managed to stabilize herself with Magnet Rise only for Sally to plow into her headfirst as a purple aura enveloped her body.


    Left without his usual partner, Magmortar pressed on alone in a bid to protect Probopass. He again targeted Rocky with his arm cannons, but when he launched his Heat Wave from them, Rocky felt nothing from it. Empowered by his newly acquired Flash Fire ability, he was able to simply run through the flames, his body absorbing any that made contact with him. Seeing this, Magmortar didn’t budge and instead shifted tactics. Electricity sparked around his body as a Thunderbolt started to take form. Before he could strike, however, Magmortar was blown away by a pulse of black energy rings Persian launched from the gem on her head. With that, Rocky had a clear path to Probopass.


    Seeing the danger she was in, Probopass used her Telekinesis to levitate Heatran toward herself. This proved to be a fatal mistake. With her back now turned, Heatran couldn’t protect herself. Sally seized the chance to knock Heatran to the ground by blasting her with water, where Anton was ready to keep up their counterattack by smashing his rotating horn into Heatran’s side. A pained croak sounded from deep in the legendary Pokémon’s throat, and her legs gave out.


    Finally, with nothing left standing in his way, Rocky was able to pummel Probopass. The swirling green energy shifted between his hands with each punch, and with every strike he landed more of his visible injuries disappeared. For a short while all Probopass could do was wince and endure the blows, but eventually, she had enough. She released a magnetic pulse from her body to throw Rocky back, then detached the three small noses from her sides. Her eyes and the eye-like shapes on the small noses all glowed at once, and Electivire, Magmortar and Heatran were picked up by her Telekinesis. Propelling herself with her own magnetism, Probopass floated away, taking her three allies with her.


    The battle left a grim situation in its wake. The garden atop the Sacred Hill, which had been lush and beautiful less than hour before, lay in smoldering cinders. Even though the fires were out the damage was done.


    “This is my fault, isn’t it?” Matt uttered, falling to his knees as the severity of the destruction before him sank in. “If I didn’t bring that puzzle box here…”


    “Rosalita would have done this no matter what,” Fernando said, just managing to contain his anger. “We can rebuild. We will rebuild, just as we always have. But to think she would resort to such acts… her thirst for the throne knows no bounds.”


    “This will only be the first battle of this war,” Cassy warned.


    “You’re right,” Fernando agreed, “which is why it is urgent we find the Golden City before her. If she gains eternal youth this will never end… we should retire to the castle library to examine the clue I still possess. She may already be on the trail of the two she stole.”


    -:-


    At the edge of the city, away from the destructive battle at Lingote Palace, a young woman and young man stood in the shadow of one of the towers. Both had jet-black hair that matched their lightweight jackets, and carried six clockwork Poké Balls each on said jackets. The young woman was also wearing a device on her wrist that projected a red-and-black image of several Pokémon - specifically, Probopass, Electivire, Magmortar and Heatran.


    “Lookin’ like the test run was a success,” she said, examining the image. “Bit tough keepin’ track of so many Pokémon at once when they’re fightin’, but I’ll get used.”


    “You were always the better of us two at it, Sis.” The young man reached into his coat, retrieving a comb that he ran through his pompadour. “‘ey, Sis. When we’ve got that Shaymin and all that gold, where do you want to go and spend it?”


    “With that kind of cash, we could go anywhere.” She shut off the projection, walked to her brother, and reached up to put her hand on his shoulder. “Where do you want?”


    “Gotta admit, would be nice to head home and get to live like the bigs do for a change. Y’know, like Phenac City? Total opposite of those streets we grew up on.”


    “Bein’ able to go off to that Realgam Tower and not get looked down on by those people… I like the way you think, Bro. Promise you, we ain’t comin’ off this job anything less than filthy rich ourselves when all’s said and done.”







    END of CHAPTER 1
     
  3. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    Oh man, this bring back memories. There might be some stuff I forgot, but I do recall the basic premise here and it's great to see you giving this a new facelift!

    On the prologue, oh right I remember Sutter being killed in that manner. Geez that map must be serious business. On your concerns if this was too violent, well I've seen worse in anime and Game of Thrones, and you warned about it at least.

    The first chapter I recall some of the details, in particular the king proclaiming his sister against the kingdom and all the past kings turning into gold. The conflict with the sister I think I remember the full truth concerning that, but I'll keep quiet for now haha.

    You mention giving Elenaor a different role, so I look forward to seeing her doing more engineering stuff. You also reference some stuff from the newer generations like Kalos and a few of the Alola Pokemon. At the moment those references are nothing more than that, but that's fine no need to force the newer generation stuff if not called for.

    Looking forward to any more changes and such you're making!
     
  4. The Walrein

    The Walrein Well-Known Member

    Well, I haven't read the old version of this, or anything else in the Operation GEAR series, but hopefully this is a good place to start. After reading the prologue and first chapter, I was definitely intrigued by how quickly the plot seems to be developing here, and I'm looking forward to seeing more combat between high-level pokemon. To continue with the positive, I like your scenery descriptions, which offer just the right level of detail. In particular, the description of Sutter Chiaki's office and the gardens surrounding Lingote palace stood out as highlights, doing a good job of setting cozy/peaceful and vibrant moods, respectively, which contrast well with the violence that subsequently occurs at those locations.

    However, something seemed off about the description of La Ciudad Dorada. Up until the first battle, it definitely doesn't feel like a city in turmoil over an impending invasion and its king and queen being killed in an ongoing coup attempt. At the very least, I'd expect there to be some sort of military checkpoint set up at the train leading into the city, and a heavy security presence at the palace instead of just a few guards in ceremonial armor. I'm not sure if this is intentional or not; I'm definitely getting the air that Ferdinand is deceiving Matt and co about something pretty substantial.

    The dialogue is something of a weak point to me. Matt, Cassy, Eleanor, Sheena, and Ferdinand all seem to have pretty similar voices. I can't really describe it that well, but a lot of what they say is formal and kinda exposition-ish, if that makes any sense? A lot of the times it seems rather stiff, in particular when Sheena and Eleanor are introducing themselves, where they sound like they're reading out their character description notes from an outline.

    Speaking of Sheena, it seems a bit strange how everyone just kind of accepts her somewhat-offhandedly-mentioned ability to commune with the hearts of pokemon without any skepticism or surprise. Are abilities like hers common in the Operation GEAR universe? Also, it feels a bit weird to include a single fairly obscure anime-canon character in the plot while everyone else is original (Or at least, I think? I'm not super up on anime-canon). I actually had no idea Sheena was even an anime character until I looked up Michina Town on Bulbapedia.

    There are a lot of cases where dialogue is redundant or a character just comments or confirms something someone else just said without adding anything new:

    Here, I think you could've cut down on the needed dialogue by having Matt describe Godey instead of just mentioning that he knew him and letting Sheena do the actual description. Also, 'identified' reads awkwardly to me here. In general it feels like you use non-standard speech verbs a bit too often, most notably with all the instances of 'commented' and 'uttered'.

    The lines where Sheena asks permission to speak and Fernando grants it feel unnecessary.

    Moving on to the battle! Keeping track of seven (and then eight) pokemon involved in a fight can get fairly tricky, but I think you managed it pretty well, even if there were a few moments where it seemed like some combatants weren't doing anything at the moment. Definitely like that you're using some of the less commonly seen pokemon like Probopass, Rhyperior, and Heatran. It did seem odd that Matt never thinks to try to order his pokemon to aim for the collars at any point, though.

    There are some things about the plot which confused me. Here, Fernando claims that Rosalita won't be able to find the Golden City without the puzzle box:

    However, here, Fernando seems to imply that even without the puzzle box, it's only a matter of time before Rosalita finds the Golden City:

    If the former is true, asking Matt to bring the puzzle box seems pretty foolish, as it increases the odds of the worst case scenario where Regigigas returns, whereas without it, Ferdinand could just focus on rallying opposition against Rosalita while she futilely searches for the city without the box.

    Another thing: I'm not sure what Ferdinand and co plan to do, exactly, if they reach the Golden City before Rosalita does. Without Shaymin, they can't use the fountain, so are they just going to wait there and set up an ambush for Rosalita (which assumes she'll either follow them or find the City on her own)? Is there something else they can do there to access power or decrease the odds of a Regigigas event that doesn't require Shaymin?

    Also, from the history, it seemed like what caused Regigigas to awaken was the civil war happening, not either the King or their advisor using the fountain. So why do Matt and Ferdinand assume that this time the trigger for the awakening would be Rosalita reaching the Golden city, specifically?

    A few other random thoughts while reading:

    Huh, I'd think that the masked man would give Sutter a chance to reconsider his decision to not hand over the map after making it clear his life was at stake, rather than just immediately killing him.

    In the large exposition scene that followed, the nature of the 'outsiders' threatening invasion is never really explained, which feels like an important detail to leave out. Are they a foreign army? A criminal team? I'd think someone would have found time to ask at some point.

    The timing of events seems a bit off here; I'm not sure there'd be enough time in between the fire attacks being launched and them connecting for someone to release a pokemon, for that pokemon to become oriented and receive a command, and for the hydro pump to then intercept the attacks.

    What were the four attacking pokemon doing in between their last action and now? There was quite a bit of dialogue and other actions occurring in that interval, but it doesn't seem like they ever tried to attack Bronzong again during that time.

    A little hard to visualize a Persian 'grabbing' something as large as an Electivire with their front legs and tossing them into the air; Persian just doesn't seem to have the right body type to do that.

    Lastly, a few corrections:

    It should be 'archaeology', and there are two periods after 'pleasures'.

    Should be 'laid eyes on his visitor'.

    Should be 'archaeological' and 'archaeologist'.

    Missing a quote here.

    I'm guessing 'locked' is a holdover from a previous version of the sentence.
     
  5. Umbramatic

    Umbramatic The Ghost Lord

    Oh hey, this is something cool to see! I regrettably haven't read the other Operation Gear fics, but I figured this would be a good place to start.

    You do a very good job of setting up a very science fantasy vibe with this fic that's really neat. It's all set up with some really cool exposition too, though it's admittedly sometimes hard keeping track of it all (more on that later). You have a good grasp of clever Pokemon tactics, like the Role Play shenanigans.

    My only real problem is a lot happens at once and it's sometimes hard to keep track. It's also easier to lose track of the characters in all the exposition and action around them, though I still have a decent grasp of what they're trying to do. But I still have a nice sense of intrigue - I want to learn about this city that needs defending and the characters' stakes in it all.

    But this is a really cool start to a new, old fic(?) and I'm looking forward to what you do with it next.
     
  6. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    Thank you for coming by and leaving this extensive review, it is much appreciated.

    I can promise you that the plot will continue to unfold fairly quickly, and you'll see plenty of that combat. I hope to continue delivering on the scenery descriptions as well.

    To put it shortly, they are keeping what's going on hushed up among those who are in charge so they can project an image of peace and stability. This is partially because of their economy relying on tourism and partially for other reasons that I think will make sense later. This is something I kind of want to come back to.

    Hm, I see what you mean, but there are a couple of things I think should be mentioned. First, I think this chapter is a little limited in terms of the opportunity it gives each character to "breathe," so to speak. To be themselves, in other words. Given that the most prominent part of the chapter is the tour of the palace and museum, the environment for the characters to act within is a bit constrained. That said, I think there are little moments that show more of what they're like, such as Cassy being disgusted by the "statues" and Eleanor not caring what they are (which also disgusts Cassy further.)

    Second, on the introductions, I again see what you mean. When it comes to the introductions, what I was concerned about was that given the fact five prominent characters enter the scene fairly quickly, I did not want them to bleed together. Fernando pretty quickly establishes himself and his role, so when it comes to Eleanor, Sheena and Cassy, it was important to me to make sure each of them establish themselves individually right away. Cassy may feel like she doesn't have much going on right now, but she's a character who will play out more over the course of the whole story.

    To put it shortly, yes. Here is a post I wrote out detailing at some length the powers and some detail on how they work.

    There are two reasons why she's here. One, I wanted this version of the story to act as a sort of tribute to Sinnoh and the time at which I wrote the original version of it, which was around ten years ago and thus late in Generation IV. In this way, Sheena is here because of her character's link in Sinnoh mythology in her movie. Additionally, I wanted to work in at least a nod to the Diamond and Pearl movies and Sheena is the one for the Arceus movie; I haven't found a place to put one for the Zoroark movie yet, but Godey is the Darkrai nod and Newton Graceland is the Shaymin/Giratina one. The second reason why Sheena is in this story is because, while she wasn't in the original version, I wanted this one to establish her presence in the timeline of the larger series since she appears in the story that this takes place prior to. That's merely a bone to my long-term readers, though, so don't worry too much about this not being a stand-alone story. It is, it just contains a couple of moments that long-term readers will get.

    I think that, while using it in excess is obviously not a good idea, this can help clearly communicate ideas so they get across successfully. I may not be using it all that well, but that is the thinking that goes into it.

    As for this, I have a bit of a deep-seated concern over having characters present in scenes where they end up not saying anything. That is something I'm not going to try to defend. It's just something that was a concern when I was first starting out writing and it's gotten deep into my mind over the years. So the reason why Sheena gets that bit of dialogue is simply because I felt like I had to have her say something at that point, and it was a bit of relevant information she could provide that Matt himself likely wouldn't know about Godey's background.

    When it comes to the non-standard speech verbs, that's something we'll have to agree to disagree on, to be honest. I don't like overusing "said" (though I've gotten better about it compared to how I used to be) and I would rather use an at least somewhat wider pool of words to break it up.

    In that scene, she's picking up on his haughty and bossy nature and showing a respectful deference to his position. If he wasn't a royal and the situation wasn't so formal, she'd likely just step forward and talk.

    I'm a very visual thinker, so elaborate action secquences with many moving parts are something I enjoy writing. There are plenty of those in store, with all manner of participants from simple one-on-one battles to huge scale clashes that dwarf this one.

    The selection of Pokemon... that's twofold, really. On Matt's side, I simply give him Pokemon I like. My tastes trend toward fairly uncommon/unpopular Pokemon with some frequency, so his party in this story is stocked with unusual appearances. On the other side, the side of the army, that's another piece of the Sinnoh tribute I mentioned - aside from a few exceptions, the army is made of cross-generational evolutions introduced in Generation IV. I deliberately avoided a few like Weavile and Mismagius that have appeared in prominent roles in the anime (such as Weavile being featured as a major character in the Lucario movie, and Mismagius being owned by the main antagonist of the Zoroark movie) in favor of ones that had a better "feel."

    It's ... a little difficult to answer clearly here without giving too much away. There are several things about this situation surrounding Fernando, Rosalita, the Golden City and the nature of the box that haven't been revealed yet. What's going on isn't quite as straightforward as it seems, and as those facts unfold the bigger picture will be shaken up. In other words, new information will be coming in that should have you reexamine the old information to develop a new look at the larger whole.

    I'll say the same thing here. The next chapter will be going up very soon, so I think you may find at least indications of answers to some of your questions if not the answers themselves in it.

    This one I can answer. Fernando is saying that Rosalita's search for the Golden City will eventually lead to another civil war if she isn't halted before she finds it, and the kingdom losing its gratitude for what it has will once again cause Regigigas to punish them. There is more information coming on this as well in future chapters, but that's the basic gist of it.

    This was deliberately left vague for now.

    You have a point, but this is a product of that visual thinking I mentioned earlier. I frame action sequences in the way the anime and movies would do them visually, and in those such a sequence like this is relatively common.

    They were waiting for their next orders, but since their controller wasn't present, there was a delay.

    Perhaps "grabbed" wasn't the right word, but if you want to visualize what I tried to go for, picture Persian simply wrapping its front legs around Electivire. The toss is a product of Foul Play's nature of using the target's physical strength against it.

    Thank you again for your very thorough and honest comments! I hope my replies have been satisfactory to you. Expect the next chapter to be up within the next couple of days.

    Thank you for giving it a try. I hope everything will be pleasing to you.

    Thank you! When it comes to the battle tactics, since I plan out Pokemon movesets in advance, I like to choose more creative and unusual moves. Once again, since I'm a very visual thinker I want to see more inventive things happen.

    I apologize that it is overwhelming at times. Given that there was a lot of mythology to cover in this chapter, it may be a one-time thing. I hope so.

    I hope you continue to enjoy it!
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2018
  7. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    A note: during the in-universe time this story takes place in, the Fairy-type doesn’t exist. As a result, Togekiss is its original Normal and Flying type.


    -:-


    CHAPTER 2: Brothers and Sisters


    -:-


    Fernando didn’t have to take Matt, Cassy, Eleanor and Sheena very far, as it turned out. Lingote Palace’s archive was adjacent to the museum, through a door at the end of the bronze mural. It had the same marble floor as the central hallway and heavy wooden bookcases lining its stone walls. At the very end of the room, there was a fountain that created a curtain of water in the place of a window.


    “As you can see, this archive isn’t accessible to just anyone,” Fernando said to his guests as he ushered them in, turning the archive’s key over in his hand. “Normally you’d have to make special reservations to come in here, but these are exceptional circumstances. You,” he said, looking to Sheena before pointing at a large, rolled-up piece of material in a nearby container, “fetch that map for me.”


    Sheena inhaled sharply when she realized Fernando was talking to her, but the surprise quickly wore off. She retrieved the map and brought it to the oak table in the center of the archive, where Fernando and the others had gathered.


    “This is a map of the entirety of the land our kingdom once stood on,” Fernando explained while he spread it out across the table. “Those tourist maps won’t show you it all. If we’re going to find where the trail to the Golden City begins, we’ll need to see the whole picture.”


    “Hold on a minute before you show us that clue you have.” Matt reached into his bag to get his laptop, then opened it and held its camera over the map. “I’ll take a picture of it, that way we can check it while searching.”


    “Smart idea,” Fernando complimented. “You have some of your grandfather in you after all.”


    Though these were words of praise, Matt still shrank back, his face reddening. Cassy, noticing this, stepped forward to take over the situation.


    “We’ve got the map out, so let’s get this show on the road,” she forcefully suggested. “Let’s see that clue.”


    “As you wish.” Fernando produced a piece of aged parchment, which he laid down on the table. “If you don’t mind, please read it without touching it.”


    Cassy was the one closest to Fernando, so she leaned over and read the text aloud. “Gifts of air and gifts of earth. Without one, the other cannot be obtained. Man presses on, searching for that which cannot be found on the surface. The riches of the earth rest where man allows himself to be swallowed up by it, possessing more than he had should he return.”


    “Somewhere where man allows himself to be swallowed by the earth,” Matt repeated. “It certainly sounds voluntary, right?”


    “I’d agree with you there,” Eleanor concurred. “That means we can rule out something like quicksand. But at the same time, it clearly still sounds dangerous. Why talk about ‘should he return,’ otherwise?”


    “You have a point,” Cassy mused. “And this part, ‘gifts of air and gifts of earth. Without one the other cannot be obtained.’ Not only is this proverbial man going into the earth willingly, he needs a gift from the air to obtain the gifts of the earth. You know what that sounds like? Oxygen.”


    “So the implication is that if one goes into this place, there could be the danger of running out of oxygen,” reasoned Sheena.


    “Wait, I know what this sounds like!” Matt exclaimed, pounding his right fist into the palm of his left hand. “A place where people voluntarily enter the earth to gain its gifts, but face the risk of running out of oxygen if they aren’t careful… that sounds like a mine to me.”


    Matt’s proposal led to a wave of realization washing over the others. They all turned to Fernando, their stares asking him a question none of them had yet vocalized.


    “I know exactly what you’re thinking,” he said, waving them off. “There is an abandoned mineral mine out in the desert.” Fernando put his finger on a spot on the map well outside La Ciudad Dorada’s present borders. “It was operational until several decades ago, but the buildings and mine remain there to this day.”


    “If it’s that far out in the desert, how will we reach it?” Matt wondered.


    “Down in the palace garage we have a number of vehicles I can loan you.” Eleanor’s eyes lit up the moment Fernando revealed this. “Come, let us go now.”


    Fernando left the table and headed for the exit, gesturing with his hand for the others to follow. While they walked, Cassy caught up to Matt and got his attention by tapping his shoulder.


    “Listen,” she whispered to him, “I’m going to stay behind and keep researching the books here. There might be information in this archive that could help. I’ll see you off and then get right back to work here.”


    -:-


    “Yahoo! This is exactly what I came here for!”


    A bright afternoon sun hung in the sky over the desert outside La Ciudad Dorada as the group’s vehicle sped across the arid landscape. Fernando had provided them with what looked very much like a small truck with a flatbed behind its cab. There was, however, one big difference - instead of wheels, it had flat discs emanating the blue light of Arcane Science as they levitated the vehicle a few inches off the ground.


    Inside the vehicle’s cab, Eleanor was overcome with giddiness just to have a chance at driving it.


    “This is so much fun!” She couldn’t help herself from practically jumping up and down in her seat, just managing to avoid pulling on the steering handles on the sides of the vehicle’s glowing projection dashboard. “Matt! Sheena!” she called back to the others. “When this is over, we have got to see if Fernando’s got any books about these machines in that archive!”


    “I wouldn’t mind reading those myself!” Matt said back to her, raising his voice over the wind.


    For a while there wasn’t much else in the way of conversation between the trio. Eleanor remained caught up in her delirious joy over the machine, while Matt and Sheena watched the landscape and some of its resident Pokémon go by. A group of Hippopotas clustered under the protection of two Hippowdon, and further off in the distance, a line of Camerupt could be seen traversing the desert.


    “They all look so peaceful,” Sheena observed. “What’s going on with us and La Ciudad Dorada isn’t affecting them. I hope it stays that way.”


    “That gives us something else to shoot for,” Matt said in agreement. “The smoother our search goes, the better for everyone. Of course, Rosalita could be anywhere, so I think it’s best if we prepare for our next encounter now.”


    “That’s a good idea.” Sheena moved to sit next to Matt so she could see his notes on his laptop.


    “So far we know she has Heatran, Probopass, Electivire and Magmortar,” he said while reviewing images on the laptop’s screen. “All of them are weak to Ground-type moves, but they’re trained to use tactics that allow them to be competitive.”


    “And they fight with great coordination,” Sheena added.


    “That’s the part I don’t totally get. Rosalita must have trained them so well that they can execute defined roles within the attack even without her presence. We have to watch out for that Probopass to show up, for one. It was clearly playing support but the way it was able to levitate its allies around will be trouble.”


    “Electivire certainly didn’t need Probopass’s help for that, though,” Sheena remarked, staring at the screen. “Those Magnet Rise-powered leaps make it more of an aerial threat than you’d expect.”


    “You can say that again,” Matt concurred. “Magmortar’s fighting style was pretty straightforward, and really, Heatran’s was too. What we have to watch out for with that one is just how powerful its individual strikes are.”


    “Not just that,” Sheena corrected him. Matt had a hard time hearing her lowered voice and had to move his head closer to make out what she said. “You have to be very careful with that spiraling fire move it used. That’s called Magma Storm. If your Pokémon is hit by it, it’ll keep doing damage for a while afterward.”


    “That’s just great,” Matt sighed. “Between that and how easily Probopass can make it fly, Heatran’s going to be the biggest danger when Rosalita sends it to attack again.”


    “Hey, you guys!” Eleanor interrupted. She didn’t turn her head, instead just yelling loud enough for Matt and Sheena to hear. “I think we’re here!”


    Matt shut his laptop and joined Sheena in looking out at the small village they were approaching. A dilapidated factory stood tall above the surrounding buildings, themselves in similar states of partial ruin. Eleanor slowed the vehicle to a stop as soon as it entered the village, sending a cluster of Skorupi scattering as the three disembarked to explore the area.


    “There’s more to it than I even thought,” Matt said to Sheena as he surveyed their surroundings. Neither of them noticed Eleanor wander off to investigate a nearby object covered by a huge tarp. “I was expecting an ordinary mining facility, not a whole community like this.”


    “I imagine life was tough for them here,” Sheena ruminated, “but they got by. Maybe in a sense, the people who lived and worked here were the closest to living the way the original settlers of La Ciudad Dorada did.”


    “You guys?” Eleanor interrupted them, her voice quivering. “I think you should come here and look at this…”


    When they turned around, both Matt and Sheena could see how heavily Eleanor was breathing. They ran over to join her at the tarp as she held its corner with a trembling hand.


    “What is it?” Matt asked her.


    “See for yourself.” At that, Eleanor threw the tarp back with all her strength. It didn’t lift all the way off, but it was enough to give Matt and Sheena a look at what was underneath.


    An Arcane Science vehicle identical to their own greeted them.


    “You see what I see, right?” Eleanor nervously wondered.


    “Oh, I think do.” Matt was careful to lower his voice as he examined the machine. “No way is a vehicle that was abandoned here decades ago going to look like it just came out of the garage yesterday.”


    “You mean it was just brought here recently…” Sheena’s eyes grew wide as the realization of what this meant dawned on her. “Someone’s here… right now.”


    The trio closed around each other and again inspected the ruined buildings surrounding them. They were searching not with curiosity, like they had been before, but with fear. Every partially standing wall, every broken beam, there was virtually nothing that couldn’t be hiding a potential threat.


    Aside from the gusting wind, the air was silent. Yet, that silence was more deafening than any sound could have been.


    “You see anything?” Eleanor asked Matt and Sheena.


    “No, but I bet whoever’s here probably sees us,” Matt replied.


    “I was afraid you’d say that,” added Sheena.


    Suddenly, a loud crash in the house right next to the group pierced the silence. All three of them jumped, and they nearly fell over each other because of how close they all were.


    “We should go investigate that,” Eleanor suggested, recovering from the shock first.


    “Yeah, you’re… you’re right about that.” Matt slowly took one of his Poké Balls out of his bag, an act Eleanor copied for herself. “Stay close to me.”


    The group clustered together with Matt in the lead, warily approaching the building. Their steps went from crunching sand under their feet to making the floorboards creak as they got close to the door.


    “Workers’ Quarters, Section 9,” Sheena quietly read from the sign next to the entrance. It was hanging lopsided by one nail, the other having rotted away long before.


    With his free hand, Matt gently pushed the door open. It groaned loudly, making the trio cringe, but the dimly-lit room beyond was empty. As if on cue, another crash from further down the hall told them exactly where to go.


    No words were exchanged between the three as they made their way to the source of the noise. The door to the room in question was ajar, and once near it, they could hear some sort of rustling behind it. Matt pushed himself against the wall next to the door, and while Eleanor and Sheena mimicked his action he rolled the Poké Ball in his hand so his thumb was on its button.


    Finally, after a quick nod to Eleanor and Sheena to ensure they were all on the same page, Matt inhaled deeply, then burst through the door.


    Inside was a Cacturne surrounded by over a dozen cans of food he’d knocked off the shelves. He had one in his hand that was torn open, and when Matt surprised him he dropped it, sending the colorful beans within it scattering everywhere.


    “Oh…” Matt uttered, dumbfounded. The Cacturne backed toward the window while Eleanor and Sheena looked over Matt’s shoulders at the scene. “Oh.


    “Sorry about that, Cacturne…” Sheena apologized.


    “I saw in the brochure that Poké Beans are grown in La Ciudad Dorada…” Eleanor said, “so I guess it’s no surprise they were canned for use at the mine…”


    “We better get back to our business,” Matt urged. “There’s still someone here wh-”


    Matt’s words turned into a startled scream when something seized his ankles from behind. Both Eleanor and Sheena were grabbed by the same entity seconds later and reacted similarly. Matt and Eleanor’s Poké Balls both clattered to the ground, and Cacturne fled through the window with a can of Poké Beans in his hand. All three of them were then hoisted into the air and left hanging upside down when the substance restraining them - which they could now see was thick, sticky silk - was attached to the ceiling by the Pokémon that attacked them. Their attacker was an insect with a thin body covered in vivid green leaves.


    “Well done, Elena,” the Pokémon’s trainer said as she emerged from another room. Her features were completely obscured by the black, hooded cloak she wore, leaving her voice as the only way Matt, Eleanor and Sheena could tell anything about her identity. The mysterious woman walked right up to the three as they hung by their legs, showing no fear in her forceful, deliberate steps. “Who are you? Why have you come here?”


    “I should ask you the same thing!” Matt choked back at her.


    “Difference is, I’m in a position to make demands. You aren’t.” She turned to her Leavanny, Elena, and said, “Take his bag, we’re searching it.”


    Elena complied and started working Matt’s bag off of him with her spindly hands. Matt tried to pull it back from her, only to earn a sharp rap on his wrist for his trouble. The Leavanny then took his bag and passed it to her trainer.


    Almost instantly upon looking inside, the cloaked woman froze. She stared into its confines for several long, tense moments before pulling out the puzzle box and confronting Matt with it.


    “Where did you get this?” she demanded. “Just who are you?”


    “My grandfather was murdered by someone trying to take that, and you’ll have to kill me if you want it!” he fumed.


    “You’re one of the people looking to steal La Ciudad Dorada’s treasures, aren’t you?!” Eleanor snapped at the now-confused woman.


    “Where did… no, I know where you heard that. You talked to my brother, didn’t you?”


    “Did you just say… your brother?”


    Instead of answering Sheena’s question, the woman said to her Leavanny, “Elena, cut them down. They aren’t enemies.”


    Elena daintily stepped forward and extended one of her arms, which glowed with green light and lengthened into a sharp blade. She then jumped up and cut the three lines of thread with a single graceful motion, sending Matt, Sheena and Eleanor crashing down. Eleanor recovered first and stumbled into the storage room to retrieve the Poké Balls she and Matt dropped.


    The woman then put the puzzle box back in Matt’s bag and pushed it toward him. “Here. I’m sorry.”


    “What does it matter?” Matt kept the Poké Ball in his hand once Eleanor returned it to him. “You’re just going to kill us now that we found you, just like you did to your parents!”


    “Now I know you definitely talked to my brother. He’s lying!” She reached up and removed her hood, revealing billowing, cloud-like blonde hair and the same intense green eyes Fernando had. “I didn’t kill them, he did. I’ve been hiding here since then, with what I could conceal from him. But you must be Sutter Chiaki’s grandson… why are you here? Did Fernando send you to find me?”


    “If he killed your parents, then…” Matt trailed off briefly, lost in thought. “He killed your parents, then he wrote to me… but…”


    “Answer my question!” Rosalita interrupted to demand. “Why are you here and why do you have that relic?”


    “My grandfather left it to me after he was killed, alright? Fernando wrote to me and asked me to bring it here so we could find the Golden City and protect La Ciudad Dorada!”


    “So you could find the Golden City and protect La Ciudad Dorada…” Rosalita repeated. “I knew it. He’s making his move…”


    “If Fernando is the murderer, then what about Cassy?” Sheena asked.


    Matt froze. He had been so caught up in what he was doing that he forgot Cassy was studying in the palace archive - under the same roof as a man who he’d just discovered very likely murdered his own parents.


    “What are you talking about?” Rosalita questioned Sheena. She didn’t wait for an answer before turning to Matt, who was fumbling to get his laptop. “Who is Cassy?”


    “My friend who came with me on this trip,” Matt answered. “She stayed behind when we came to this mine to do research in Lingote Palace’s archive. And now she’s there with Fernando…”


    “He won’t hurt her,” Rosalita said, “or at least I have no reason to think he will. He gains nothing by doing it.”


    “Fine, I’ll be the one to say it,” Eleanor declared, crossing her arms. “How do we know you’re not lying to frame him? Why’d you come out here instead of doing something to bring him to justice?”


    “Rosalita would not lie, yes?” a tiny voice said. Matt, Eleanor and Sheena all turned to see a white-bodied, hedgehog-like Pokémon with grass and flowers growing from its back peeking out of the room Rosalita had been hiding in. “I stayed with her because she is the worthy one, yes?”


    “Shaymin…” Sheena gasped in surprise.


    “You’re the Pokémon from the mural!” Eleanor exclaimed.


    “Wait, if Shaymin’s here with Rosalita, that means…” Matt trailed off as he took a moment to think about what he was hearing, though something Shaymin said quickly hit him. “The worthy one? Are you saying she’s the heir?”


    “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.” Rosalita leaned down and ushered Shaymin into her arms, where the mythical Pokémon curled up in comfort. “Fernando framed me for the deaths of our parents. Maybe it was wrong of me to go into hiding, but I panicked and acted to take away as many of the tools he needs to seize power as I could. I’m trying to figure out how I can convince him to stop. How I can save him from himself.”


    “Isn’t it a little late for convincing?” Matt said, a sound of disbelief breaking through his words. “How are you able to just forgive him so easily? He killed your parents, according to you!”


    “I know, but…” Rosalita lowered her sad, watery eyes, causing Shaymin to look up at her in concern. “He was a good man and can be a good man again. I wouldn’t be who I am without him and I’m grateful for that… his knowledge of our kingdom and drive to protect it is second to none. We need him. It’s just…” Rosalita had to stop herself from sobbing. “Everything he’s done, he’s done it to save our kingdom. That’s what he really believes… I have to just get him to see that he’s gone too far. I have to save him…”


    “It’s not really my place to say,” Sheena ventured, “but how has he convinced himself that murdering the king and queen helps the kingdom at all?”


    “No, I don’t blame you for asking.” Rosalita breathed deeply, trying to soothe herself. “We don’t really have time for the whole story now, but he told you the truth when he said the kingdom was threatened. He believes that he is the only one who can protect us and wants Regigigas’s help doing so, but to do so he has to become king. That’s why I have to get to the Golden City first.”


    “I’m still skeptical,” Matt said, having just finished sending an email to Cassy warning her to be careful. “I didn’t sign up for a family feud with power and immortality in the balance. I just wanted closure for my grandfather… you’re asking me to choose a side in something where I can’t fully agree with either side.”


    “What do you mean?” Rosalita asked him.


    “If I believe you, and with Shaymin vouching for you I have no reason not to, Fernando is a killer who betrayed his family and his home and then lied to me to help him attain power. But if it’s as you say, he did it for what he sees as a noble reason. You, on the other hand, you want me to help you stop him, but you also want to forgive him for all the crimes he’s committed. I don’t know if I can accept that.”


    “I understand…” Rosalita bitterly said. “I’m sorry you all became involved in this. It isn’t fair. I can’t ask you to forgive my brother for what he’s done, but I still care about him and I can’t just let him destroy himself.”


    Rosalita’s words struck a chord in Matt’s heart, leaving him silent. As much as he couldn’t forgive Fernando for his actions, Rosalita’s dedication to helping her brother moved him.


    “I know that feeling, being willing to do anything to save someone you care about…” he thought. Images flooded his memory, ones that had happened years ago but still felt like yesterday to him. He saw himself riding on Anton’s back - at the time the Rhyperior was an unevolved Rhyhorn - through a blizzard. With him was a blue-haired girl wearing goggles to protect her eyes.


    “Matt?” Eleanor asked.


    “Sorry, I got… caught up in thinking about something,” he admitted. “I’ve decided. I’ll keep going and help you find the Golden City. But I’m leading this expedition with Sheena and Eleanor’s help. Rosalita, you’re coming with us but we call the shots.”


    “That’s acceptable, yes?” Despite sounding like a question for Rosalita, Shaymin’s statement was actually aimed at Matt. “It will be like when I traveled to the Golden City with the professor, yes?”


    “If Shaymin says so, I have no reason to disagree with your terms,” Rosalita agreed.


    “Then we should get goi-” Matt cut himself off when the meaning of Shaymin’s words dawned on him. “When you traveled to the Golden City with the professor? What do you mean by that?”


    “It was a great many years ago, yes? While I was serving at the side of Rosalita’s grandfather, the professor and his apprentice came here, and together we all went on a grand adventure to the Golden City. It was a very fun time, yes?”


    Matt took a step back and put his hand over his mouth. His evident shock made Shaymin stare at him with its head cocked to the side.


    “What’s wrong?” Sheena asked him.


    “Sutter told me many stories of his adventures searching for the Golden City,” he answered, his voice faint. “He never told me he found it.


    “Wait, I don’t understand,” Eleanor intervened. She turned to Shaymin and said, “If you went to the Golden City before, you should know where it is. Why don’t we just go there now?”


    “None will find the Golden City without first walking the path of the Three Pillars.” Shaymin’s response was automatic, almost robotic, and even lacked its typical verbal tic.


    “The body shaped from the mountains themselves,” Rosalita added. Her recitation was less rigid than Shaymin’s, sounding more like the careful recollection of a student than a reflexive response. “The body forged within the blood of the earth. The body carved from the waters of life. So stand the Three Pillars, eternally guarding and being guarded by the great protector. Whence man steps forth to commune with the protector in its shrine, the path shall only appear to those who have gathered the light of the Three Pillars.”


    “Regirock, Registeel and Regice?” Eleanor deduced.


    “You are very wise, yes?” Shaymin said, its normal manner returning.


    Rosalita couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, that is correct. Even with the location of where the Golden City should be, we cannot reach it without first finding Regirock, Registeel and Regice. That’s what the three clues and the puzzle box are for. Now, with all of that said, tell me why you came here.”


    “Fernando showed us the clue he had and we decided it referenced this mine,” Matt revealed.


    “That makes sense,” Rosalita said, putting her finger on her chin. “I had my own suspicions about this site. That’s why I came here to hide. I thought that if Fernando followed the clue himself, it would be safer to stop him out here away from the city. But since you’re here, Matt, and you brought the puzzle box, we can follow the trail ourselves and get there before he does!”


    “Then we best get going,” Sheena suggested.


    “You’re right.” Rosalita recalled Elena to the safety of her Poké Ball, then turned away from the three and gestured for them to follow her, much like her brother had done earlier in the museum. “The elevator to go down into the mine isn’t far from here. Come on, I’ll show you.”


    Rosalita led Matt, Eleanor and Sheena back out of the workers’ building and across the village, toward a large building next to the abandoned factory. Not one of them realized that a Yanmega wearing a glowing collar was flying overhead, watching them.


    -:-


    The siblings who directed the attack on Lingote Palace’s garden had trekked a short distance into the desert beyond La Ciudad Dorada, leaving the city behind. They were huddled under the shade of a lone palm tree while the sister monitored what their Yanmega was seeing using her wrist device and a camera on Yanmega’s collar.


    “Looks like they found the princess, Bro,” she said to her brother, who was fanning himself. Just as she finished talking, she squinted to examine the projected image more closely and gasped in surprise. “Yo, and that Shaymin’s with her!”


    “Jackpot on that one, Sis!” This news so excited him that he pushed himself forward off the tree with his foot before spreading his arms and looking to the sky. “It ain’t gonna be long before our fortune is ours! Ya know what we should do with it?”


    “What?”


    “So if we go on back home, what do ya think of gettin’ our old gang back together? There’s gonna be so much cash in our pockets when this job’s done, ain’t gonna be a problem to help ‘em out, too.”


    The young woman stopped to ponder her brother’s idea. It was true, the riches they stood to gain were far beyond what just two people would need for a more than comfortable life. Her mind wandered back to memories of their youth.


    Pyrite Town in those days was an incredibly bleak place that offered its residents only three real options for supporting themselves. You could go to work in the mines of a city underneath Pyrite, appropriately known as The Under. If you preferred to stay in the sun, battling at Pyrite Colosseum was an option. The problem with both of those choices was that Pyrite Town was corrupted to its core. No matter what you did, at some point your livelihood intersected with the culture of crime that so permeated the city. It was that reason for why so many residents of Pyrite Town chose option number three: abandoning all pretense and simply becoming criminals themselves.


    Those were the circumstances the pair found themselves in. For as long as they could remember, they only had each other to rely on, and with no better choices they turned to stealing food and money to survive. Other children on the streets were drawn to her decisive leadership and his surprisingly gentle, compassionate personality, and together, they created the family none of them really had. Those in their orbit grew deeply loyal to the pair they dubbed “Big Sis Noel” and “Little Bro Leon,” names that stuck even after Leon grew to be much taller than his sister.


    “’ey, Sis, you awake?”


    Noel shook her head as Leon’s questions snapped her back to the present. “Sorry, Bro, I’m here. I feel ya on that one. Wouldn’t be right if we just head home and forget where we came from.”


    “Ain’t who we are,” Leon agreed. “And I gotta be honest, Sis, I miss ‘em. We’ve been flyin’ solo for way too long.”


    “You can say that again, Bro. C’mon, we gotta get going.”


    Noel shut off the projection, then joined Leon in putting on backpack-like machines they’d brought with them. The devices had buttons on their straps that caused pairs of wings to spread out from them once Noel and Leon pressed them, and the bulbs on them emitted a blue glow as the siblings lifted into the air.


    -:-


    On their way down into the mine using the rickety work elevator, Eleanor released a Litwick, a Pokémon that looked like a candle with a blue flame. She sat on Eleanor’s shoulder, giving light to the group as they started to explore. Matt, meanwhile, had taken out his laptop in order to record their search.


    There was little discussion of anything among the four while they made their way deeper underground, following the narrow tunnels.


    Unable to focus on the exploration, Matt couldn’t help but let his mind wander to what he’d seen and heard over the course of the day.


    “Rosalita, I’ve been wondering about something,” he finally said, breaking the uneasy quiet over the group.


    “Hm? What?”


    “Your brother, does he have any Pokémon?” Matt narrowed his eyes. “I have to know.”


    “I don’t understand where that question is coming from,” Rosalita answered, putting her hand on the side of the tunnel for balance while Shaymin held onto her head. “But since you asked, no, he doesn’t.”


    “Oh…”


    “What is wrong?” Sheena asked him. His lack of a significant response left her unable to tell what kind of answer he actually wanted.


    “I needed to know if Fernando had a Dragonite,” he admitted, though his voice remained bland and lifeless. “After Rosalita said he killed their parents I started thinking that maybe he killed my grandfather, too. His killer attacked him with a Dragonite that was wearing one of those collars.”


    “So that’s what you meant in the garden…” Sheena murmured to herself.


    “I don’t know how much it means coming from someone like me,” Rosalita gently said, “but I’m sorry. What happened to him was horrible.”


    “Yeah, I liked the professor, yes?” Shaymin added. “He helped us keep our secrets safe.”


    “Since he found the Golden City and never told anyone, he sure did.” Matt sighed in resignation. “Not even me…” he thought, “but why?”


    “Keeping them secret was the right thing to do back then,” Rosalita said to Matt and Sheena while they kept walking. “Times have changed. Since Sutter was killed, I’ve realized more than ever that all the secrecy is causing too much harm. I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this, but two families being destroyed over all of this is too many. It has to change.”


    “Heads up, guys,” Eleanor called from the head of the group, interrupting the conversation before Matt or Sheena could press Rosalita for more details. “I found something.”


    Eleanor had stopped at the end of the tunnel, which appeared to open into a much larger cavern. Matt, Sheena and Rosalita joined her there, but none of them could see through the darkness to what lay beyond.


    “You hear that?” Rosalita put her hand to her ear to help focus her hearing. “I think I hear water.”


    “I hear it too,” Matt said, mimicking Rosalita’s action before picking up a small rock and throwing it. It bounced off something deep in the murk and made a sound that echoed all around them.


    “There’s no way we can safely explore that big an area in such darkness,” Sheena commented.


    “Then we have to make it not be dark. Simple.” Eleanor extended her arm, allowing Litwick to climb down onto her hand. “Litwick, Flash!”


    The blue flame on Litwick’s head flared several times greater than normal as its owner let out a cry that echoed through the cavern. She put all her energy into it, but was unable to light very far into the vast space.


    “This isn't going to work…” Rosalita turned to Eleanor and saw how Litwick looked disappointed. “Oh, no, Litwick, you did a good job!” she said to the Pokémon. “I’ll get you some Poké Beans when we’re done here.”


    Rosalita’s words of praise cheered Litwick up, and the candle Pokémon smiled at her.


    “What’s that?” Matt pointed at a box he’d spotted on the wall of the cave a few feet away when Litwick used Flash. It was made out of rusted red metal and had two unlit bulbs sticking out of it.


    Eleanor approached the box and started examining it. “It might be just what we needed… a generator. If it still works we’re set. Can one of you help me get it open?”


    “I think so,” Matt said. He took one of his Poké Balls from his bag and opened it, allowing Anton to materialize. “Anton, use Smart Strike on that generator’s latch, would you?”


    The Rhyperior assented to his trainer’s request with a grunt, then fixed his stare on the rusted latch Matt indicated. His horn started to glow with a metallic sheen as he lowered his head, and he headbutted the latch, breaking it off in one blow.


    “Well done, Anton. Thank you,” Matt said, giving his Pokémon a pat on the arm.


    With that task done, Litwick jumped off Eleanor’s shoulder to sit on top of the generator and provide light to her. Eleanor used both hands and all of her strength to pull the cover open. It made a horrible grinding sound as it moved, but she still managed to make it give way so she could look around inside.


    “How does it look?” Sheena asked her.


    “Like it’ll still work,” replied the engineer. “Everything’s still in place. I think it’s time for my number one rule when it comes to trying out machines like this - give it a go and see what happens.”


    “Is that a good thing or not?” Matt couldn’t help himself from thinking.


    Eleanor pushed the generator’s switch handle all the way down. Almost immediately, the two bulbs on the bottom of the box filled with the expected blue glow, and all around the cavern strings of lights flickered to life.


    For the first time, the group could fully appreciate just how vast the mine truly was. The cave spread out all around them, making them notice that the cliff they were on was even smaller than they first thought. The lack of space on the ledge prompted Matt to immediately recall Anton to open up more room.


    When Matt went to put away Anton’s Poké Ball, Sheena caught a glimpse of golden light shining out of his bag. “What’s that?”


    “What?” Matt hadn’t been looking at what he was doing, and when he did look, he immediately saw the light as well. He furrowed his brow, handed his laptop to Sheena and reached in to retrieve the source of the light - the puzzle box. “It’s certainly never done this before,” he said, lifting it up. “Rosalita, do you know why?”


    “Not for certain,” she answered, cocking her head, “but I have an idea. I think I remember reading something about it in the palace archive once… ‘the key shall show the road ahead,’ I believe.”


    “It sounds like the puzzle box is going to guide us,” Eleanor reasoned. “Matt, see if it does anything to show us the direction we need to go.”


    “Right, good idea.”


    Following Eleanor’s suggestion, Matt stepped up to the cliff and held out the puzzle box as far as his arm could stretch. Nothing noticeable happened at first, so he moved to point it in different directions. After a few moments, its light suddenly intensified.


    “There,” Matt said, “something must be over there.”


    Eleanor joined him and peered out at the area the puzzle box was indicating. “That looks suspicious,” she commented, pointing at a ledge below that was connected to the main landmass by an old, rickety wooden bridge. “We should go check that out.”


    “That bridge doesn’t look safe,” Sheena observed, having come up alongside Matt and Eleanor with Rosalita behind her.


    “You’re right,” Matt agreed. He put the puzzle box back in his bag and took two more Poké Balls out. “But there’s one thing we have in our favor… how big this mine is.”


    When he threw the spheres, Sally appeared alongside Matt’s Magnezone, both hovering over the edge of the cliff. Rosalita quickly tossed one of her own Poké Balls as well, releasing a Staraptor to join them.


    “Sally, bring Sheena and I down to that ledge, would you?” he asked his Salamence, gesturing to the cliff below. He then said to his Magnezone, “Zero, please take Eleanor.”


    “And we’ll follow them, Reyes,” Rosalita informed her Staraptor.


    Sally was the first of the Pokémon to land on the precipice, allowing Matt and Sheena to climb onto her back. She then lifted herself back into the air and pulled away so Zero could take her place and collect Eleanor. Rosalita was last to get on her mount, but Reyes pushed to the front of the pack before the group started their descent.


    “This place really is incredible,” Eleanor marvelled as she looked around at the cavern. “This isn’t what I was expecting a mineral mine to be like at all.”


    “A mineral mine? I guess Fernando told you that.” Rosalita smiled sadly to herself. “The truth is, this mine yielded many more types of treasures than that. Matt, you’re Sinnohan so you might understand this the most. In the past our kingdom mined precious artifacts, stones and even fossils here.”


    “Like the Sinnoh Underground,” Matt realized.


    “Yes. From what I understand there are also mines in Alola that are similar,” Rosalita continued. “It doesn’t matter now, though. The mining industry stopped being viable for us years ago, so this mine was closed.”


    When the group arrived at their destination, Rosalita jumped off of Reyes’ back before Matt, Sheena and Eleanor disembarked. Shaymin ran right to the sheer rock face and stared at it. The four humans followed and started examining the wall as well.


    “I don’t see anything,” Matt said to the others. “Is this not the right spot?”


    “It doesn’t look like there was any excavation done here,” Rosalita reasoned, “so why is there a bridge to this spot? What is this?”


    “Matt, your bag!” Eleanor exclaimed, pointing at him.


    He hadn’t noticed, but the light spilling out of his bag had intensified so much that the shape of the puzzle box could be seen through the material. The sight made him gasp, and he quickly took the cube out. Unsure of what to do with it, he simply held it up toward the wall.


    The reaction was almost instant. A light matching that of the puzzle box emanated from the wall, and a golden archway and set of doors materialized right in front of the explorers’ eyes.


    “What?” Matt uttered, gasping for the second time in under a minute. “How does that even work?”


    “Did the ones who built it use Gaia’s power?” guessed Sheena. “If they did, making a shrine that only appears with a key would be possible.”


    “It is possible,” Rosalita agreed. “The wanderer who came to this land seven hundred years ago left texts behind on how to use Gaia. As far as I know nobody has ever had the same talent in channeling it as he did, but construction of a vanishing shrine is probably within reason.”


    “Then let’s investigate it before it disappears again.” Eleanor marched right up to the stone doors, which bore the same ‘H’ shape pattern of dots that appeared on the puzzle box. Sheena followed right after her, while Matt and Rosalita hung back with their Pokémon.


    “Sally, Zero, I’d like for you to guard the shrine while we’re in there,” he requested, earning cries of agreement from the pair. “There’s always the chance we were followed.”


    “Reyes, you too, please,” Rosalita said to her Staraptor, who replied with a determined squawk. She then turned to Matt and started walking with him to the doorway. “That was good thinking, I have to say. I’ve been expecting Fernando to follow us here the entire time…”


    Matt opened his mouth to say something, but when he looked down at Rosalita next to him, he realized that her eyes were watering again. She had turned away from him and was staring rigidly at the doors.


    “She expects it, but she doesn’t want it to happen… she still hopes there’s a way to fix everything with him, I guess…”


    “Let’s get going,” Rosalita said to Sheena and Eleanor, her voice hard and emotionless. She marched straight past them and pushed the doors open.


    Eleanor stepped inside after Rosalita, allowing Litwick to illuminate the chamber. Matt and Sheena followed, all of them carefully looking around at their surroundings for any sign of what to do next. It was a simple stone room whose only features were the colorful paintings of Regigigas, Regirock, Registeel and Regice that spread across the walls and floor.


    “Come here,” Eleanor called out to the others, “look at this.”


    The engineer beckoned Matt, Sheena and Rosalita to the back wall, where Litwick’s flame shed light on the writing inscribed on it.


    “This writing… I’ve seen it before,” Rosalita said after leaning in closer to examine it. Instead of ordinary written language, whatever was recorded on the wall was in patterns of dots. “But I don’t know how to read it.”


    “I do.” Matt stepped past the others, who looked at him with surprise on their faces. Lowering himself to be level with the writing, Matt began to read it, running his finger along the lines of text as he went. “Whosoever shall wear the crown, here begins the road. Walk this path with resolve and face the three trials that await. Here lies the first of the three trials. The body of rock shall only awaken for one whose gratitude blooms before us. Beware, for if gratitude does not bloom, destruction shall be at hand.”


    “Shall only awaken for one whose gratitude blooms before us,” Sheena repeated. “It sounds like it wants us to express gratitude, but that wording is a little odd.”


    “I don’t know what will happen to bring destruction if we get this wrong,” Matt warned, “so we best think about what our next step is before we take it.”


    “Bloom, like a flower,” reasoned Eleanor. “Maybe that’s wordplay. What if it doesn’t want our gratitude but a flower that represents gratitude? We could try Shaymin.”


    “It’s not Shaymin,” Rosalita realized. “Shaymin is the Gardener of Gratitude, but the gardener only plants the flowers. This message is referring to the flower of gratitude itself - the Gracidea.”


    Shaymin sat on Rosalita’s shoulder and smiled proudly as she approached the wall. Matt, Sheena and Eleanor backed up to give her space. When she stood directly in front of the message, she reached into her cloak and took out a small box. It bore the image of a canine Pokémon with wing-like ears, which was holding three spears colored brown, silver and blue. Behind the Pokémon was the shape of a flower with six petals.


    The same flower as the one in the coat of arms was inside the box when Rosalita opened it. It was a vivid pink color with yellow stamens and a pair of green leaves sticking out of it. Rosalita held the box up to the dots on the wall, and in response to the pollen that wafted out, the symbols started to glow. A strange light whose source could not be identified filled the shrine.


    “What’s happening now?” Eleanor wondered, putting words to the confusion all but Rosalita felt.


    While the humans were distracted, the pollen of the Gracidea had also drifted over to Shaymin. Its body started to glow and change shape, becoming the Pokémon who was in Rosalita’s coat of arms. The grass on the back of Shaymin’s original form transformed into a mohawk-shaped tuft between its long ears, the two flowers surrounding its head became a single, scarf-like set of red petals, and its legs more than doubled in length.


    “There is no need to be afraid, you!” Shaymin exclaimed, floating into the air once its transformation was complete. “This is the first trial on the road to the Golden City. The message said that, you!”


    Eleanor was unable to stifle her laugh. “Thanks, but you sure have changed.”


    “It’s Shaymin’s Sky Forme,” Rosalita revealed. “When Shaymin gets exposed to a Gracidea flower, it transforms and gains the ability to fly.”


    “I get a lot stronger too, so don’t underestimate me, you!” Who Shaymin was talking to was unclear, but none of the four had much time to think about it. The doors of the shrine suddenly slammed shut, trapping them inside. “Don’t focus on me now, you! He is here!”


    “Who is here?” Matt nervously asked, though Shaymin didn’t answer.


    A beam of light erupted from the floor in front of the blocked exit, forcing Matt, Sheena and Eleanor to shield their eyes. Rosalita, on the other hand, wasn’t bothered by it. She stared straight into the light as she readied one of her Poké Balls, her eyes burning with determination.


    “This is my fight now, so stay back,” she told the others. A shape was emerging from the light, though its features remained obscured at first. “I must do this if I am to prove my worth for the throne.”


    Finally, the light began to fade. A deep, robotic voice echoed through the shrine as the figure emerged from the glare, its rough, craggy body constructed of what appeared to be stones of various shapes simply stuck together.


    “Regirock…” Matt uttered as he took his laptop back from Sheena to continue recording what was happening.


    “I’ve waited a very long time to meet you, Regirock. My name is Rosalita, princess of the House of Fernando and current heir to the throne of La Ciudad Dorada. I have come to prove myself and claim my birthright!”


    Despite Regirock’s bizarre, inorganic appearance, it clearly understood Rosalita’s words. It stomped one of its feet into the floor and braced its arms, the ‘H’-shaped pattern of dots on its face flickering rapidly. In response to this seeming challenge, Rosalita threw her Poké Ball. It burst open to reveal a Bibarel, who immediately fell to all fours and prepared for battle when he saw Regirock.


    “Regirock wants to see what Rosalita and her Pokémon are capable of,” Sheena revealed to the others after clasping her hands and using her power. “This isn’t a fight between predator and prey, or one living thing defending its nest from another. If I had to say, this is ritual combat.”


    “We might be seeing something very few people are lucky enough to see,” Eleanor said in amazement. “Matt, make sure you record it!”


    “I am, I am!” Matt hurriedly answered, making sure he had his laptop pointing in Bibarel and Regirock’s direction.


    The dots on Regirock’s face flashed again while it grunted mechanically. It then raised its arms into the air, slammed them into the ground, and pointed them at Bibarel. A gust of sand burst out from around it, creating a sandstorm that spiraled around the chamber. Matt and Sheena had to back away to prevent the gritty vortex from getting in their eyes, but Eleanor nonchalantly donned a pair of goggles she’d been keeping in a pocket on her skirt.


    Rosalita, meanwhile, put her hand above her eyes to shield them. “Sandstorm… I expected as much. Leonel, use Swords Dance!”


    The princess’s Bibarel lowered himself in preparation to leap at Regirock. Sword-shaped bursts of light circled him before being absorbed into his body, causing an intense red aura to briefly surround him.


    “You’re doing a good job, Leonel,” Rosalita called out to him as the sandstorm buffeted him. “Now, strike with Liquidation!”


    A coat of water enveloped Leonel’s body before he finally sprang at the advancing Regirock. Their collision caused the water to explosively separate from Leonel’s body, while Regirock was thrown back several feet before it could brace itself again.


    “That surprises me,” Sheena observed. “Everything I know about Regirock says it should be a lot more physically defensive than that.”


    “It’s not a difference with Regirock, it’s a difference with Bibarel,” Matt deduced. “Its ability must be Simple, which would mean that Swords Dance had twice as much of an effect.”


    “I see,” Sheena said, turning back to the battle.


    Regirock raised its arms into the air, summoning forth a flurry of small, sharp stones. It then swung its arms forward, sending the rocks flying to slash at Leonel. The Bibarel dodged as many as he could, but enough hit him to force out a few pained cries.


    “This is the sort of thing I know you can handle,” Rosalita encouraged her Pokémon. He looked back to her and nodded with a grin on his face, making her smile as well. “Let’s go with exactly what we practiced. Defense Curl!”


    Leonel jumped into the air and rolled up into a ball. Where Swords Dance had drawn a red aura around him, Defense Curl elicited a blue one.


    “So twice as much effect again, right?” Sheena asked Matt.


    “Right,” he confirmed.


    While Leonel remained rolled up, Regirock summoned forth the ammunition it needed for another Stone Edge. Before it could launch the jagged projectiles, however, Rosalita swept her arm in front of herself, making her cloak flap dramatically in the air.


    “Leonel, Rollout!”


    The Bibarel rolled out of the way of Stone Edge with great speed, leaving Regirock’s attack to crash harmlessly into the wall. He spun in a zigzag path toward Regirock before crashing into it. Regirock retaliated by pulling its arm back and charging the green energy of a Drain Punch into it, but by the time the legendary Pokémon swung its target had bounced off out of its reach.


    Regirock’s dots flashed rapidly, then it jumped into the air and landed again with enough force to send a shockwave through the ground. Leonel was still rolling, but Regirock’s Stomping Tantrum knocked him off course for a moment. Eleanor had to jump back to avoid being hit.


    “You’ve got a good pace going now, Leonel. Keep up using Rollout!”


    Hearing his trainer’s words of encouragement helped Leonel get back on track, and he curved around to head for Regirock again. This time, Regirock readied its Drain Punch in advance, so when Leonel made contact it was able to swing and connect immediately. Green light flowed from Leonel’s body into Regirock’s as the Normal-and-Water-type flipped back through the air.


    Leonel managed to regain his composure, however, and rolled back up before he landed. He barreled straight for Regirock at a greater speed than before. Regirock paused for a moment to appraise the threat, its dots flashing in tune with its robotic voice, then countered by firing Stone Edge into Leonel at point-blank range.


    “Ah!” Rosalita gasped when she saw her Pokémon crash backward. His Rollout had finally been stopped.


    “That was good while it lasted,” Matt said to Sheena while staring at his laptop. “She’d have to start a new Rollout all over now.”


    “And Leonel probably can’t take too much more, even with a doubly effective Defense Curl,” she added, taking note of the scratches and other injuries on Leonel’s body.


    Though Rosalita didn’t hear Matt and Sheena’s conversation, she was thinking of exactly the same things they were discussing.


    “Can you keep going, Leonel?” she called out to him. Despite his weakened state, he sat up and cheerfully chattered back at her, raising her spirits enough to restore her determined smile. “I have to lead you to victory if I am to lead the kingdom, but I cannot and will not sacrifice those I’m responsible for… we must claim victory in this battle now. Swords Dance!”
     
  8. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    Another ring of sword-shaped lights circled around Leonel’s body, but unlike the first time he did this, a red aura didn’t appear around him. This time, he glowed with a vivid red light instead.


    “I think Leonel’s hit his limit,” Matt observed. “This really will end now, one way or another.”


    Regirock appeared to have come to the same conclusion. It stood still for a moment, appraising its opponent while making a beeping sound, then raised its arms, calling forth the greatest volume of jagged stones yet.


    “This is it, Leonel!” Rosalita cried out, sweeping her arm again. “Go forth and claim victory! Liquidation!”


    Right as Leonel cloaked himself in water and launched himself at Regirock, the legendary Pokémon released its Stone Edge. Leonel weaved his way through the assault with movements much like those he’d use while swimming. He couldn’t evade every one of the stones, but the ones that penetrated his veil of water failed to rattle him.


    An explosion of water and dust occurred when Leonel and Regirock collided, creating a muddy mess in the shrine. None of the group could see who came out on top at first, but as the air cleared, Regirock dropped to one knee. It groaned mechanically, then fell forward into the ground.


    “We did it, Leonel!” Rosalita exclaimed, running over to hug her Pokémon. “We’re finally on the road we’ve prepared for for so long!”


    “I’m proud of you, you!” Shaymin praised her.


    “That really was something else,” Eleanor said, lifting her goggles as she approached the pair. Matt and Sheena were behind her. “I knew we were seeing something special.”


    “This is the path the heir to the throne must take to prove their worth,” replied the princess, her manner turning serious again. “Ever since I was chosen, I’ve prepared for this.” She stopped for a moment and pet Leonel’s head. “I should say, we’ve prepared for this. The trials are only going to get harder from here, though… it’s a game of life and death for the kingdom, and our leader must be strong enough to give their own life to it.”


    “Since you were chosen?” Sheena asked. “There’s quite a bit I’d like to ask you about. I came to this kingdom to learn more about my peoples’ connection to it.”


    “Yeah, me too!” Eleanor exclaimed before adding, “Well, not that last part. But I love history and I want to hear all about it.”


    “Your interest is heartening,” Rosalita said to them. “I wish my brother could see that there are outsiders who truly appreciate our way of life.”


    Suddenly, Matt, Rosalita, Sheena and Eleanor all heard a strange, unfamiliar voice speaking to them. It was deep, rough and seemed to be coming from everywhere.


    “A body of rock. To summon the king, such a thing must be obtained.”


    “Who said that?” Matt wondered, looking around the shrine for the source of the voice.


    “It was as if… it spoke directly into our minds,” Sheena thought out loud. She and the others settled their questioning gazes on Regirock, who had begun glowing with golden light.


    An invisible force started to pull on Matt’s bag, and before he realized what was happening, the puzzle box floated out under its own volition. It was radiating the same light as Regirock, and the rays joined the two together. Regirock soon vanished, and the puzzle box lowered to the floor. When Matt picked it up, he noticed that the sides bearing Regirock’s dot pattern were illuminated.


    “A body of rock. To summon the king, such a thing must be obtained,” he repeated. “That must be what this box really is for. It’s not just a map, it’s a key. It’s how we gather Regirock, Regice and Registeel together to find Regigigas and the Golden City.”


    “You’re correct,” Rosalita said. “We still have much to discuss, but now is not the time. We must continue on.”


    The quartet turned to head for the doors, but they hadn’t gotten far before they could hear the sound of an explosion outside.


    “Now really isn’t the time,” remarked Eleanor.


    “He must have found us…” Rosalita realized. She swiftly returned Leonel to his Poké Ball. “We’re not exactly in a great position for this right now…”


    When the group rushed outside the shrine, they were greeted by the clearing smoke from the explosion they’d just heard. Sally, Zero and Reyes were standing firm in the positions guarding the shrine, but across the chasm stood Noel and Leon. Heatran was with them, along with their collared Yanmega, Togekiss, Honchkrow and Lickilicky, all of whom snarled menacingly.


    “Yo, what the heck were you doin’ in there for so long?” Leon shouted across the crevasse with his fists on his hips. “You kept us waiting!”


    “Why would it matter when we don’t even know who you are?” Eleanor’s expression had quite literally darkened compared to her typical, more upbeat personality.


    “Get out of our way,” Rosalita ordered the pair, staring at them with an intense fire burning in her already intense eyes. “I don’t know if you’re with Fernando or not, but honestly, I don’t care. Walk away right now.”


    “Yeah, that ain’t gonna happen,” Leon dismissively replied.


    “Then I’ll make you move. Reyes, us-”


    Before Rosalita could order an attack, Noel and Leon’s Togekiss used her wings to send a blade of wind cutting through the air. It crashed into the ground right in front of Rosalita’s feet, kicking up a small cloud of dust.


    “No, no, no, you ain’t doing that either,” Noel declared, waving her finger. “This is how things are gonna go down. You’re gonna hand us that magic box you got, and you’re gonna give us Shaymin, too. We go to the Golden City, ’n maybe we let you outta this cave.”


    “Wait, Sis, where is Shaymin?” Leon wondered. “Don’t see it with ’em now.”


    “I’m right here, you!” Shaymin angrily announced, floating to the front of the group. “And I’m not going anywhere but with Rosalita, you!”


    “It changed shape…” Leon realized.


    “So there really is another form, huh,” Noel said to herself. She crossed her arms and smiled. “Ain’t gonna change a thing in the long run. You’ll be comin’ with us, whether we gotta make you or not.”


    Rosalita opened her mouth to say something, but she paused when Matt touched her shoulder on his way past her.


    “Use this chance to get Shaymin out of here,” he quietly said to her.


    The princess nodded and stepped back, allowing Matt to take the lead.


    “You gonna be a hero, dude?” Noel taunted him. “Ain’t nobody gonna get between us and our ticket outta this, ’specially not a dork like you. Don’t try me.”


    “You better listen to what Sis is tellin’ you,” Leon added.


    “Well I’ve got a question for you,” Matt countered. “My grandfather was murdered by someone who used a Dragonite wearing one of those collars your Pokémon have. Was it you?”


    Much to Matt’s surprise, his question seemed to genuinely catch Noel and Leon off guard. Noel’s aggressive confidence broke, and she jabbed a finger in Matt’s direction.


    “You got some nerve even suggesting that!” she angrily said to him, her eyes narrowed to mere slits. “Bro and I might be a lot of things but we ain’t no killers! We’re just doin’ what we gotta do to survive!”


    “Is that so,” Matt responded, his voice turning bitter. “Because I haven’t seen those collars since then… until today.”


    “The collars were on the Pokémon when we got ’em, dude,” Leon admitted.


    “What did you say?”


    Before Matt could get an answer, Rosalita saw an opening in how Noel and Leon were engaged with him. “Shaymin, fly out of here,” she whispered to the Pokémon.


    “I won’t leave you behind,” Shaymin argued. “I must be at the side of the leader, you!”


    “You don’t need to worry about me,” Rosalita asserted. “I’ll catch up with you. Just go!”


    Shaymin hesitated, but did eventually turn and start to fly back up the way the group came. Though he didn’t see this, Matt still knew he had to draw out his argument with Noel and Leon.


    “I’ll ask you one more time, what did you mean when you said you ‘got’ the Pokémon and the collars?” he demanded of them. “From who?”


    “I don’t remember sayin’ anything like that.” Leon shrugged, taunting Matt with his knowing smirk. “You losin’ your mind, dude?”


    “You rich folks have been lookin’ down on us street kids all our lives,” Noel angrily said with her arms tightly crossed. “We ain’t takin’ it no more. This job is our ticket outta this life, and you ain’t gonna take it aw-”


    Suddenly, the pair’s Lickilicky interrupted Noel’s tirade with a cry of surprise. She’d spotted Shaymin making its escape.


    “No!” Rosalita exclaimed when she realized her plan was shot. “Shaymin, run for it!”


    It was already too late, however. The moment she saw Shaymin flying off, Noel got to work with the control device on her wrist and sent Honchkrow, Yanmega and Togekiss to block its escape route.


    “Honchkrow, Icy Wind!” Noel directed. “Togekiss, Air Slash! Yanmega, Ancient Power!”


    Honchkrow was the first of the three to act. Positioning himself directly in front of Shaymin, he flapped his broad wings to send a gust of chilled air over it. The attack wasn’t very powerful, but Shaymin was still stricken by the cold, losing some of its agility. As a result it was unable to escape when Togekiss and Yanmega barraged it with a blade of wind and spheres of silver energy. Shaymin cried out from the force of the repeated impacts and fell back down to the ledge, where Rosalita caught it in her arms.


    “You idiots just made a big mistake,” Noel growled. “Since you did that, I’m doin’ this. Lickilicky, Dragon Tail!”


    The blue glow from Lickilicky’s collar intensified, and purple light in the shape of a straight, pointed tail surrounded her typically curled one. She then jumped up and swept away the posts holding up the bridge on her side of the chasm, sending the rickety pathway collapsing uselessly to the opposite end.


    “Oh, you guys did it now,” Leon mocked. “You made Sis real mad.”


    “I’m done talkin’ to you.” With a sweep of her hand over her wrist device’s projection, Noel beckoned Heatran to the front of her army. “Shaymin and the box. Now. Or I start puttin’ the screws to you. We ain’t killers but we don’t have these Pokémon to not use ’em, and we got numbers on our side if you think you’re fightin’ back.”


    Matt froze. “She certainly isn’t kidding about that,” he thought. “And we haven’t got nearly enough space to even try fighting our way out, anyway… what to do?”


    “We aren’t afraid of you, you!” Shaymin was back to its old self, having already recovered from its earlier injury. “I’m not going with you, and you’re not getting the treasure either.”


    “Guess the decision’s made for me,” Matt sighed when he saw Shaymin fly in front of him.


    “You made that decision, then. Not me.” Noel manipulated the projection with her fingers and ordered, “Heatran, Magma Storm!”


    Fixing her glare on Shaymin, Heatran opened her gaping mouth and blasted out a spiraling stream of fire. Shaymin ignored the very real danger this posed, and reared back to throw an Air Slash into the vortex.


    Seeing that Shaymin’s counterattack wouldn’t be enough, Matt quickly called out, “Hydro Pump!”


    The combination of Shaymin’s Air Slash and Sally’s Hydro Pump overcame Heatran’s offense, canceling it out in a violent, smoky explosion. Matt covered his face as the force of the collision blew against him.


    Before the smoke cleared, Rosalita stepped up next to Matt and put her hand on his shoulder. “I have an idea to get out of here, but I need what just happened to happen again.”


    “I don’t like the sound of that,” he answered nervously.


    “We’ll need it if we’re going to get all the way down there.” Rosalita pointed over the side of the cliff, where Matt could see an Arcane Science-powered, multi-car mining train sitting abandoned on tracks heading into another spacious tunnel at the bottom of the cavern.


    “Ohhh, I get it now,” he said. “I think I do, at least.”


    “What’s the matter, can’t decide how you’re goin’ to surrender?” Leon shouted across the chasm once the veil of smoke lifted enough to allow the two sides to see each other again.


    “Tell Eleanor and Sheena the plan,” Matt quietly said to Rosalita. “I’ll handle this.”


    Rosalita nodded quickly and retreated to the others, leaving Matt to face Noel and Leon. Sally, Zero and Shaymin lined up in front of him.


    “Are you gonna give me what I want,” Noel demanded, “or do you think makin’ me do that again is a good idea?”


    “I pick door number three,” he countered. “Sally, use Flamethrower! Zero, Thunderbolt!”


    Matt’s Salamence roared as she spouted a jet of fire from her mouth at Yanmega. Zero, meanwhile, took aim at Togekiss with a bolt of electricity that arced through the air from the antenna on its head. Finally, Shaymin contributed to the effort by lashing out with another Air Slash.


    Noel hadn’t expected Matt to actually try mounting a counteroffensive, so she wasn’t ready to coordinate a response. All she could do was frantically go through the different control options her wrist device offered, her distraction forcing Leon to step in.


    “I got this, Sis!” he said to her before turning his attention to the Pokémon. “Honchkrow, Icy Wind! Lickilicky, Water Pulse!”


    The cold air that Honchkrow blew toward Sally’s Flamethrower soon dissipated into a cloud of harmless steam, but the ring of water Lickilicky launched was able to lessen the intensity of the fire, so Yanmega took little damage from it. Immediately after, Honchkrow shielded his body with his wing, protecting it from a direct blow from Shaymin’s Air Slash. Togekiss, however, took the full force of Zero’s Thunderbolt, crying out and thrashing around while the electricity brightly illuminated the cave.


    “Togekiss, escape that and use Hyper Voice!” Noel ordered the Normal-and-Flying-type Pokémon. In response to the command Noel gave with her wrist device, the light from Togekiss’ collar intensified, its influence strengthening Togekiss enough for her to break free from the Thunderbolt.


    She then flew to a vantage point where Sally, Zero and Shaymin were all in reach, took a deep breath, and unleashed a loud shriek. Although Zero had a robust defense against Normal-type attacks such as this, the sheer force Togekiss put into it forced the Electric-and-Steel-type Pokémon back just as it did to Zero’s allies.


    “You say you wanted door number three?” Noel bitterly mocked Matt. “Too bad, what you just did is only gonna get you door number two. Heatran, give ’im what he deserves!”


    Noel swept her hand over the projection and then made a tight fist. In response to this motion, Heatran stomped forward, opened her mouth and spat out a Magma Storm more intense than the one before. Sally, Zero and Shaymin stood ready to stop it, and put all their effort into a combined Hydro Pump, Thunderbolt and Air Slash that met the vortex with explosive force. Matt, Rosalita, Eleanor and Sheena all had to brace themselves against the blast’s force, while Leon held Noel in place. The air filled with smoke once again, though like the Magma Storm that went into creating it, there was much more of it than before.


    “Shaymin, now!” Rosalita called out.


    “You got it, you!”


    Without hesitation, Shaymin dove straight into the huge cloud of smoke. It tensed all its muscles and focused its mind, drawing the smoke into its body. As it did so, the two scarf-like petals on its neck turned black. Still, it pressed on, growling to get through until it absorbed every trace of the acrid cloud.


    Once the cloud was gone, Shaymin strained to keep it all contained. Finally, it screamed, “Take this, you!” before flying straight at Noel, Leon and their Pokémon.


    Noel and Leon had no time to react before Shaymin unleashed a blinding light from its body, followed by a massive and powerful explosion. The pair were thrown all the way back into the wall several feet away, with their army scattering around them. Even the heavier Pokémon, Heatran and Lickilicky, couldn’t stand against the force of the blast.


    Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the destroyed bridge, Rosalita frantically told the others, “Hurry, we have to go right now!”


    Matt, Sheena and Eleanor wasted no time in following Rosalita’s direction to execute her plan. All four of them got back on the Pokémon that had helped them descend earlier - Matt and Sheena on Sally, Eleanor on Zero, and Rosalita on Reyes - and set off even deeper into the mine. Shaymin followed as soon as it recovered from attacking Noel and Leon, leaving the pair and their army of Pokémon behind.


    When they reached the lowest area of the cavern, Shaymin had already caught up with them. “Hurry up, you!” it barked at them while they recalled their Pokémon.


    “Is Shaymin always like this?” Matt flatly and sarcastically asked Rosalita.


    “Only in Sky Forme,” she answered, equally bitingly. “It would be best for us if we just listened…”


    The quartet boarded the train and made their way to the engine at the head of it. All the cars and the engine had the same rusty, flaking red paint on them, and like almost all other Arcane Science technology, the engine had cylindrical bulbs sticking out of it. They were unlit, however, as were the controls Eleanor and Rosalita found when they went to examine the engine.


    “I don’t know if it still works,” Rosalita confessed. “This plan wasn’t guaranteed, but it was the best I had…” Noticing how attentively Eleanor was inspecting the controls, Rosalita asked her, “Am I wrong? Do you see something?”


    “The actual wires and machinery all look intact,” Eleanor said, poking at the cables. “It’s missing a power source, but I can fix that.”


    Eleanor retrieved a Poké Ball from the waist of her skirt and opened it. A Rotom materialized out of it and floated in the air, the lightning bolt-shaped plasma surrounding its body trembling with every slight move it made. When it saw the machinery in front of itself, its smile turned into a toothy, excited grin.


    “You want to power this train up, Rotom?”


    Eleanor didn’t need to ask Rotom twice. The Electric-and-Ghost-type dove straight into the control panel, and its energy brought the engine to life. The bulbs flickered and filled with blue light, and the panel illuminated to display the train’s controls.


    “Excellent!” Rosalita exclaimed. Looking over her shoulder, she called to Matt and Sheena, “Train’s running! Time to go!”


    Eleanor mimicked the motion of adjusting a train engineer’s cap on her head before bringing her hands over the controls. “All aboard!”


    At Eleanor’s prompting, the train started to move. It jerked abruptly forward and stalled briefly before getting going, rolling into the tunnel with its wheels clicking rhythmically on the tracks. The group traveled in silence for several minutes before Matt finally exhaled and relaxed.


    “Well, that’s finally over,” he sighed, sitting down against the interior of an empty gondola behind the engine.


    Sitting down opposite Matt, Sheena called to Rosalita, “Where are we heading, anyway?”


    “I had a look at a map of the old mining system earlier,” the princess explained. “We entered the mine in section nine using the elevator. This rail line enters and exits the mine in section six, and there’s lodging for workers not too far from where this tunnel ends. We’ll be able to rest and recover there.”


    “That’s a relief,” Sheena said before taking a deep breath.


    “Who were those two, though?” Matt wondered, adjusting his glasses and putting his hand on his chin. “I heard her say that this was their ticket out of a life of crime… once we’re out of here I’ll look and see if there’s any public information on them. Maybe we can get an idea of who we’re up against.”


    “They must be in league with my brother somehow…” Rosalita said as she joined Matt and Sheena riding in the gondola. Her serious attitude from earlier had broken, and she now both looked and sounded tired. “The collars, and those clockwork Poké Balls on their vests… both are Doradan Arcane Science technology.”


    “Then someone connected to your kingdom murdered my grandfather,” Matt told her. “The witnesses to the killer said he had a Dragonite wearing one of those same collars. If it wasn’t Fernando, and it wasn’t those two we just dealt with, it was someone.”


    “Once I take the throne I’ll find who in the court was involved,” Rosalita vowed, hanging her head and turning her eyes up to see him. “It must have been someone in the government. The general public wouldn’t know Sutter had that puzzle box.”


    “Wait, that sounds… strange,” Matt thought, moving his hand from his chin to his mouth as he considered Rosalita’s words. “It’s true that not just anyone should have known he had the box. But if a new ruler must follow the path of the Three Pillars, and the box is necessary to gather them, then…”


    Matt’s deductions were interrupted when Shaymin perched itself on the edge of the gondola. Seemingly both excited and agitated, it shrilled, “Look alive, you! The fight’s not over!” as it stared off behind the train.


    Despite Shaymin’s alert, it wasn’t until an impact shook the train that Matt, Sheena and Rosalita stood up and saw the threat.


    Noel and Leon were giving chase, flying through the tunnel single-file with their wingpacks. Yanmega and Togekiss remained with them.


    “Oh, when will you just quit?!” Rosalita yelled at them.


    “When you give us Shaymin and that box!” Noel shouted back. “I told you, we ain’t goin’ back to the way our lives’ve been!”


    “Well your lives aren’t going to be made on the sacrifice of our kingdom, that I’m telling you now.” Rosalita climbed out of the gondola and beckoned Matt to follow her, both of them boarding the flatcar immediately behind it. Shaymin flew to Rosalita’s side, and she opened one of her Poké Balls, summoning her Luxray. “Shaymin, give me a hand here. Matt, you back me up.”


    “Got it, you!” Shaymin excitedly said.


    “Same, but without the ‘you,’” Matt added with a hint of sarcasm.


    Seeing the defense being mounted against her efforts, Noel seized her chance to act first. Pointing forward, she commanded, “Yanmega, Ancient Power! Togekiss, Hyper Voice!”


    Yanmega flew to the head of Noel’s group and formed several silver energy orbs around himself. Before he could complete his attack, Rosalita countered, calling out, “Isabel, Thunderbolt!”


    Sparks of electricity crackled from the Luxray’s mane moments before she unleashed a burst of lightning from it, shooting down the spheres before they could impact the train. Togekiss dove in front of Yanmega immediately afterward and filled the tunnel with her earsplitting screeching, but even as it cringed from the pain the noise caused, Shaymin still rushed its enemy head-on. The mythical Pokémon stepped on Togekiss’ head to stun her, then backflipped through the air and flung a blade of compressed wind directly into her face before laughing mischievously.


    “Why are you givin’ us such trouble?” Noel fumed. “You got a brother too! We ain’t doin’ anything you wouldn’t do for him!”


    Rosalita took a step back, and although Matt couldn’t see her face, he correctly guessed from the way her whole body tensed up that she was upset and hurt.


    “It’s true that I love my brother…” she admitted, the vanishing of her previous confidence reflecting how torn she felt, “and trying to better your lives isn’t wrong either. But you’re wrong, I’m nothing like you!”


    Noel was so angered and distracted by Rosalita’s outburst that she nearly stopped flying after the train. “Of course you aren’t. Rich kids like you never understood livin’ on the street like we had to!”


    During the argument, Noel had retrieved a normal Poké Ball from her belt, and once she was done fuming she opened it. The light within landed on the flatbed car and took the amorphous shape of a Muk. Unlike all the Muk Matt had seen before, this one had an oily blue body with green, yellow and pink flowing aimlessly through him. Some points on his body had solidified into small white crystals.


    “Muk, use Gunk Shot!” Noel shouted.


    Without hesitation, Muk coughed up a giant mass of sludge outlined by a golden aura. It was large enough to threaten both Pokémon assisting Rosalita, but while Shaymin could easily fly away from it, Isabel the Luxray had no such option.


    A sudden flash in front of Rosalita and Isabel forced them both to shut their eyes. They could only hear the explosion that came moments later, and when they were able to look again, they discovered its source.


    Standing in front of them on the flatcar was an Aggron. Matt had sent the Steel-and-Rock type out by opening his Poké Ball from around Rosalita’s side, allowing him to intercept Gunk Shot without harm.


    “That was close.” Rosalita sighed in relief. “Thank you.”


    “Don’t worry about it,” Matt replied before turning his attention back to his Aggron. “I’m tired of doing this… Tony, use Dragon Claw on that Muk, please.”


    Noel grit her teeth. “Muk, get away using Rock Polish!”


    Tony pulled his right arm back and advanced on Muk, his claws lengthened and glowing with a bright green hue. In response, Noel’s Pokémon smoothed out his body, a wave of white light working its way across him as the irregular parts of his mass became uniform. Just before Tony was able to strike, Muk slipped away and slithered to the underside of the flatcar, where he adhered himself to remain out of Tony’s reach. Togekiss then swooped into the opening, formed an Aura Sphere between her wings and flung it into Tony’s chest. The Aggron roared as he stumbled back from the impact.


    “This is never going to end at this rate,” Rosalita realized. “Not with that Muk hiding like that… and if we reach the end of the tunnel they’ll have room to bring out all their Pokémon again.”


    “We’ll be swamped,” Matt concurred.


    “Good thing I’ve got an idea, you,” Shaymin said to them both after floating down to them. “I say just stop them from following us. Get what I mean, you?”


    Shaymin subtly nodded to the coupling between the train cars, and Rosalita immediately realized what it was suggesting. “I got it,” she said to the Pokémon. “You push them back and we’ll take care of the rest. Isabel, with me.”


    Rosalita carefully pushed by Matt and got back inside the gondola, then Isabel leaped over him to join her. She then gestured for Matt to follow her, and once only Tony and Muk remained on the flatcar, she called out to Shaymin.


    “Do it now!”


    With another mischievous grin, Shaymin reared back and spun multiple blades of wind into Yanmega and Togekiss. The pair were halted by the attack, while one of the Air Slashes came close enough to Noel to force her to stop flying after the train. Leon barely avoided crashing into her.


    “Have Aggron use Dragon Claw on the coupling,” the princess told Matt.


    “Alright.” He took Tony’s Poké Ball back out of his bag, then called to the Steel-and-Rock-type, “I don’t know if you heard her, but break the coupling with Dragon Claw!”


    Tony turned around and grunted in acknowledgement to his trainer, then lumbered over and drove his glowing claws straight into the coupling between the gondola and the flatcar. The metal hooks cracked apart and lost their hold on each other.


    Now no longer connected to the engine, the flatcar started slowing down. Tony roared in pride at his work, not noticing Muk come back up to the surface.


    “Well done, Tony!” Matt praised him before recalling him into the Poké Ball, leaving Muk alone on the flatcar.


    “You two might want to keep your heads down and back away for this part,” Rosalita told Matt and Sheena. When they both looked questioningly at her, she added, “Just in case.”


    Though neither of them fully understood what Rosalita intended to do, Matt and Sheena shrugged at each other and went to the other end of the gondola as she suggested. Once Rosalita saw they were a safe distance away, she pointed at the ceiling and said to Isabel, “Use Thunderbolt and don’t let up.”


    Thanks to the pace of the train, the electric bolts Isabel struck the ceiling with kept moving with her. The tunnel collapsed at each point she hit, filling the passageway with rocks that formed an ever-thickening barrier between the train and Noel, Leon and their Pokémon.


    “That’s enough,” she told Isabel after a few minutes, prompting the Luxray to halt her attack. Rosalita gave her a scratch behind the ear, then went to join her companions at the front of the train. “They won’t be getting out of the mine this way, at least.”


    “You fought well,” Matt said. “Not just now. Everything I saw you do today was impressive.”


    “I must agree,” Sheena added. “La Ciudad Dorada is lucky to have such a driven leader.”


    “Thank you, even though I’m not really the leader yet.” Rosalita sat down and frowned as she hung her head. “There’s so much that still needs to be done. It’s all rather overwhelming, and that’s before taking my brother into account. I know I have to face him eventually and that’s what has me scared the most.”


    “Scared?” Matt wondered.


    “I’m not scared that he will harm me. I’m scared that when I face him again, I won’t see the Fernando I love anymore. I’m sure those two goons were working for him and it leaves me to fear that he’s already too far gone to be saved… when that time comes, I have to choose between him or the kingdom and I don’t know if I’ll be able to make the right choice.”


    By the time she was done talking, Rosalita’s whole body was trembling. Sheena sat down next to her and took the princess’ hand up in her own.


    “I had to face a relative once who I was led to believe was a horrible person,” Sheena told her, “and I had to do things that made me feel like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I made a lot of mistakes along the way but in the end I was able to help do what needed to be done. I’m saying this because I understand how you feel right now, and if it means anything, I believe in you.”


    Rosalita was stunned by Sheena’s words of support and couldn’t form a response right away. “Th-thank you…” she finally managed to say. “I’m not even sure I deserve it. A real leader would have been able to deal with their own brother instead of running away the way I did.”


    “You may have made a mistake, but I promise you that it doesn’t make you any less worthy of being a leader.” Sheena tightened her grip on Rosalita’s hand. “What matters is what you do from here, and I believe you’ll do what’s right.”


    Unable to hold back any longer, Rosalita started to tear up. “Thank you so much, I mean it…”


    “You’re already stronger than you think, you,” Shaymin told her in a manner totally different from its typically boisterous personality. “You know what the kingdom’s leader is expected to do and you’re preparing yourself to face it. That means you’re following in the footsteps of what your predecessors did, you.”


    Matt observed the increasingly emotional conversation between Rosalita, Sheena and Shaymin in silence. Feeling he had no right to insert himself into the exchange, he climbed over the end of the gondola and boarded the engine instead.


    -:-


    That evening, Fernando watched the sun slowly dip behind the mountainous horizon from a balcony in Lingote Palace. La Ciudad Dorada and the vast tract of land where its empire once stood were bathed in the brilliant orange glow that had long been a notorious attraction for tourists.


    Fernando had draped himself in a crimson, gold-fringed cape fastened around his neck by an emblem of his family’s coat of arms, which itself had three gold tassels hanging out from its sides. In his right hand, he held a staff that ended in an ornate, translucent gold bulb. Within the bulb rested a glowing, misshapen and prismatic jewel.


    “I know you’re out there, Sister,” he said out loud. A breeze picked up, rustling his hair and cape for a moment. “Please just understand that I’m doing what I must to save us all… come home. There’s still time for me to fix everything.”


    “Count Fernando?”


    An aged man dressed in a regal purple-and-gold uniform stood in the glass doorway that led out to the balcony, waiting for acknowledgment before he approached or addressed his superior further. He had a medal with the coat of arms on it pinned to his chest, as well as a broad moustache.


    “Ah?” Fernando said, turning around to face the official. “Oh, yes, I called for you. Come here.”


    Having secured Fernando’s permission, the man joined him on the balcony. “What can I help you with, sir?”


    “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Fernando asked him, not immediately answering his question. “The land, I mean. Look at it.”


    “Of course it is. We’ve always worked to ensure it stays that way.”


    “Then you will understand why I need your help right now.” Fernando turned to gaze out over the city again. “I want you to have your men begin preparing the skyship for launch.”


    “The skyship?” The official raised an eyebrow at Fernando’s request, then pulled at the end of his moustache. “If I may, sir, I’ve served La Ciudad Dorada since your father’s reign, and not one time during all those years did we need to launch the skyship.”


    “But you always kept it repaired and ready in case it was needed,” Fernando said back. “Now is the time that you’ve been preparing for. I hope we will not need to actually launch it in the end, but La Ciudad Dorada is in danger and I need us to be ready.”


    “As you wish, Count Fernando. I’ll give the order right away.”






    END of CHAPTER 2
     
  9. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    Well, this is a totally different Chapter Two than I last remembered. Either way, time to dive right in!

    The first part with Cassy saying she'll be staying, I think a few more sentences to show Matt's reaction would've been nice.

    I thought Eleanor's excitement being in that vehicle is cute, haha. I also liked the part where she and Rotom help with the train running.

    I admit, I don't remember Rosalita's personality from the original version but I think here you have her feel a bit more empathic towards her brother this time despite a feud between them. I enjoyed the battle between Leonel and Regirock, didn't think a Bibarel has so much potential there (yay for US/UM tutor moves heh).

    Oh, hi Shaymin. I believe I remember it having two different personalities depending if it's in its Sky Forme or not. Sky Forme Shaymin made its appearance much sooner here, and even Rosalita gets a bit annoyed at its attitude at times heh.

    So Noel and Leon are the new characters you mentioned. So far it's interesting you have this poor vs rich theme going on, and if you'll be expanding on that I look forward to it.

    Even though I enjoyed the battles here, I think this chapter perhaps could've been broken into two parts since Rosalita's battle and then the group dealing with Noel and Leon was a lot to take in. Also I feel Shenna didn't do much this chapter, but maybe I missed something on my first readthrough. I liked that reference to what happened in the Arceus movie and her comforting Rosalita though.

    Overall another enjoyable chapter, looking forward to more!
     
  10. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    CHAPTER 3: The Purpose of Power


    -:-


    The end of the rail line out of the underground was far from the end of the journey Matt, Eleanor and Sheena had to take that day. After disembarking from the train, Rosalita led them on a hike through the wooded, mountainous terrain. It wasn’t an easy path to take by itself, but their exhaustion from everything else that had already happened made the trip even more grueling.


    At first, they followed the princess and kept all their questions about the situation in La Ciudad Dorada to themselves, but as the sun lowered and the sky dimmed in the last throes of daylight, those questions only got stronger. Finally, while the group passed by a Lickitung that was slurping his evening meal of berries out of a tree, Matt couldn’t wait any longer.


    “Why is it this far?” he asked Rosalita. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the quarters near the train so the workers wouldn’t need to travel?”


    “It wasn’t like this in the past,” Rosalita explained. She did not turn around or stop walking while she spoke. “They had vehicles to ride back and forth with, but when the mine closed the workers brought them all back to La Ciudad Dorada.”


    “That makes sense,” Eleanor said. “No reason to leave machines behind if they wouldn’t get used anymore.”


    “But you can’t take a train with you,” Sheena commented.


    “Exactly,” the engineer agreed.


    Their trek through the woods continued in the waning daylight. Wild Hoothoot and Noctowl heralded the emergence of night with their symphony of cries from the trees. When the sun dipped beneath the horizon, an entirely different light started shining in the group’s midst, making them pause to look at it. The light was radiating directly from Shaymin’s body.


    Eleanor brought her hand to her mouth and gasped, then asked the Pokémon, “Are you alright?”


    “When the sun goes away I can’t keep this form, yoooouuuu-” Shaymin’s body morphed within the light while it answered. No longer did it have its canine appearance or ability to fly. It reverted into its original hedgehog shape and flopped to the ground, though it managed to land on its feet. “You understand, yes?” it asked, looking timidly up at Eleanor.


    “So its demeanor changes with its form,” Sheena observed. “How curious.”


    “That’s right,” Rosalita said, walking over to Shaymin and picking it up so it could nestle in her arms again. “In a way, I admire Shaymin more than anyone else in our history. It’s been here from the beginning, keeping our kingdom on the right track, yet that responsibility hasn’t changed it at all. It gives me hope at times like these that everything will be okay .”


    Shaymin squirmed around in Rosalita’s arms to get more comfortable, then smiled. Multiple flowers emerged from the grass on its back.


    Surprised by the sudden appearance of the new blossoms, Matt leaned closer to Shaymin and adjusted his glasses. “I didn’t know Shaymin could do that.”


    “Shaymin appears in response to gratitude, and also gains strength from it,” Rosalita explained. “One person’s feelings of gratitude give it enough strength to grow flowers. It’s said that during the civil war, when the entire kingdom gave thanks for what they had together, Shaymin manifested a power so great it was even able to overwhelm Regigigas, communicating to it that the people felt remorse for what they did.”


    “Even beyond the move it used in the mine?” Sheena said. “That’s amazing…”


    “It is, isn't it?” Shaymin happily murmured. “It’s my Seed Flare, but better, yes?”


    “Anyway, we should be going,” Rosalita told the others. She walked in front of the rest of the group and said, “It isn’t much further from here.”


    That was truly an understatement. Once the group set off again they arrived at the camp in mere minutes. Unlike the one where Matt and the others met Rosalita, this one was just a single two-story building instead of a small town. It was covered in plant growth, but for its years of disuse, was in surprisingly fair shape structurally.


    “It does look like a good place to stop for the night,” Matt said to Rosalita and Sheena as they stood outside the building and looked up at it. “Hopefully we don’t end up disturbing any Pokémon taking food this time…”


    “At least this time we’d be expecting it,” Sheena pointed out.


    “Yeah, that’s true,” Matt conceded, putting his hands in the pockets of his coat.


    Rosalita advanced toward the building, but before she made it very far, Eleanor emerged from around the corner. She’d gone off on her own to investigate the area and returned with excitement evident on her face.


    “You guys!” she called to Matt, Sheena and Rosalita. “Come over here and look what I found!”


    Intrigued, Matt wasted no time in following Eleanor back around the corner, leaving Sheena and Rosalita with no choice but to go after the two of them. They were greeted by the sight of another Arcane Science vehicle that matched the ones they originally rode out to the mine using.


    “I thought the workers took all the vehicles back with them when the mine closed,” Sheena said.


    “I certainly believed that was the case,” Rosalita responded, taking a step closer to the machine. “It’s to our benefit that it’s here, though.”


    Eleanor, meanwhile, was inspecting the vehicle’s controls. When she tapped her finger on its central panel, there was no response. She furrowed her brow and fetched Rotom’s Poké Ball from her skirt.


    “Give it some juice, would you?” she asked the skittish Pokémon after releasing it.


    Rotom flashed its trademark toothy grin and nodded, then discharged some electricity from its plasma body into the machinery before it. The Pokémon continued until Eleanor signaled it to stop by raising her hand. The vehicle’s control panel remained dark.


    “Doesn’t look like it’s working,” Eleanor called to the others. Before any of them could say anything, she playfully asked herself, “Can I fix it? Sure I can.” Winking at Matt, Sheena and Rosalita, she added, “Give me time and I can fix anything.”


    -:-


    Once night fell in La Ciudad Dorada, Lingote Palace’s stained glass turned the castle into a vivid beacon over the town. Whereas sunlight filled its halls with color during the day, the electric glow from within cast the pigmentation of the glass out into the dark, cool air. Effectively, the palace transformed into a guiding star that ensured none could get lost within La Ciudad Dorada.


    Only one room in Lingote Palace, the archive, lacked that light, but its absence didn’t bother Cassy at all. Fernando provided her with a lamp, and its flame gave her all she needed to read the books kept there. Sitting at the oak table with the lamp, a stack of books and a drink mixed from locally-grown Poké Beans that she bought in the market, Cassy was well equipped for a busy night of studying.


    Cassy was well into a book about the history of the royal family when she discovered something that caught her by surprise. Upon turning one of the pages, something slipped out of the tome and fell to the floor. When Cassy went to retrieve it, she saw that it was an old photograph. That wasn’t what shocked her. It was when she realized who was in the photograph that she had to rub her eyes in disbelief.


    Sutter stood squarely in the center of the image, flanked on one side by an aged man and on the other by a much younger one. The unidentified pair looked incredibly similar to each other facially, but it was the object in Sutter’s hands that drew Cassy’s attention the most. Matt’s grandfather was holding the puzzle box.


    “What is this?” Cassy wondered out loud. As she examined the photo more closely, she noticed something else she recognized. She could see iron arches overhead, and in the background, a portion of a familiar bronze mural. “The museum, so it was taken there…” A realization suddenly hit Cassy’s mind, and she cocked her head while staring at the image in her hand and recalling Fernando’s words. “Wait a minute… this museum was designed by Godey at Fernando VI’s commission while the Space-Time Tower was unfinished. That’s when Sutter traveled here… but the museum is clearly finished in this picture…”


    At that point, something else about the photo caught Cassy’s eye. On the left side of the image, she could see three of the gold-encased bodies of the previous kings in the background. The furthest one to the left was almost entirely cut off by the edge of the photo, and the other two were partially blocked from view, but Cassy could clearly see that the rightmost one was the last in the sequence.


    Struck by inspiration, Cassy stood up with the photo in her hand and exited the archive into the museum. She walked through the exhibits, double-checking the photograph all the while, until she found the spot it was taken from. It was near a giant planetarium model where she finally stopped, raised the photo and backed up until the image lined up with what was there.


    There was only one difference between the photograph and what Cassy could see from the same perspective. “I knew it,” she said to herself, narrowing her eyes as she stared at the line of former kings entombed in gold.


    There was one more king in the row presently than there was when the photo was taken.


    It turned her stomach, but Cassy knew what she had to do to concretely confirm her suspicions. She approached the kings, every step she took making her grimace further. When she could push herself no further she held up the photo so the aged man on the far left was right next to the last statue in the line.


    Once they were side-by-side there was no doubt any longer. The aged man in the photo was identical to the last of the kings in the gallery.


    “Fernando VI…” Cassy uttered. Glancing over to the youngest of the three men in the picture, she said, “And you must be Fernando VII… but then…”


    Cassy’s eyes settled squarely on Sutter. She’d talked to him regularly in her years attending the Rustboro School prior to his death, but never had he puzzled her to the degree his image did at that moment.


    “You… what were you up to?” she said to the photograph. “Why were you here then?”


    -:-


    Eleanor was busy working on the machinery of the broken vehicle, wearing her goggles while her Litwick provided light and her Rotom buzzed around in the air nearby. Matt, Sheena and Rosalita, meanwhile, sat nearby around a fire Matt started to cook preserved food they found in the camp. While he quietly worked on his laptop, Rosalita was happily regaling Sheena and Eleanor with stories of La Ciudad Dorada’s history. The chorus of lively cries from the colony of Woobat and Swoobat living in the surrounding trees as they awoke for their nightly flight filtered along in the background to the princess’s tales.


    “You know,” Eleanor said, gesturing to Rosalita using a wrench without turning around, “I’m having fun listening to you tell these stories.”


    Rosalita smiled wearily as she stroked Shaymin’s back. “Thank you. Preserving the kingdom’s mythology is another responsibility that falls to me, as the soon-to-be queen. I must be ready to pass it on to future generations.”


    “I know you’ll do a good job,” Sheena said to her. “I have to do the same thing for the shrine in Michina Town. It’s not always easy, I won’t lie about that. But by watching you battle Regirock and seeing you tackle what Fernando is doing, I know you can do it.”


    “I really appreciate that…” Rosalita reflexively turned away from Sheena to hide her face.


    Even though he hadn’t been participating in the exchange, Matt had carefully listened to it. He sensed that Rosalita’s emotions were threatening to overwhelm her, so when the information he had been looking for appeared on his laptop’s screen, he silently thanked his luck for its convenient timing.


    “I hope you guys don’t mind me interrupting,” he said to his three partners. “I found something on those two from the mine.”


    “What? Who are they?” Rosalita rushed to ask him while Sheena and Eleanor stopped to pay attention. “Are they with my brother?”


    “Honestly, probably.” Matt and Rosalita both frowned at the same time, but he didn’t notice, instead focusing his attention on the information surrounding the mugshots of Noel and Leon on the screen. “I heard her say something about stealing Shaymin and the box being a job that would get them out of a life of crime, so I thought there might be something out there on them. Turns out I was right. Their names are “Big Sis” Noel and “Little Bro” Leon. They led a gang of homeless orphans on the streets of Pyrite Town in Orre when they were kids. Back then it was petty crime just to get by, but as they got older the gang fell apart and they became Pokémon hunters who dodged the police by ambushing travelers in Orre’s lawless desert zones outside its cities. They did mercenary work for bigger groups like Cipher and Team Snagem on and off until recently, when Orre’s governor initiated a push for new laws to make desert travel safer.” Matt looked up to Rosalita, who was staring at him as she absorbed what he was saying. “Obviously such laws would endanger them, so I’m thinking they somehow got into contact with Fernando and accepted a job from him to help get him to the Golden City. In exchange, he pays them enough to live the rest of their lives in comfort.”


    “I don’t get it,” Rosalita responded once Matt was done laying out his case. “All of this started because my brother thought he was protecting our home from outsiders. Why would he turn to not only outsiders but criminals for help?”


    “Did’ya ever think that this whole thing was a setup?” Eleanor suggested, stopping her work to face the others. “Think about it. None of us are from here, and he already framed you for the murders of your parents. By having Noel and Leon do the dirty work while posing as someone who wants to keep the outsiders away, he can make it look like it really is all your fault, Rosa. As for us, he sent us along to do the work of finding the Golden City so Noel and Leon can swoop in and steal it and Shaymin for him while we, the outsiders, could later be framed as complicit. Boom, he gets everything he wants and has scapegoats to blame for it.”


    “That could be it,” Matt said, “but there’s one part I doubt he anticipated. If you’re right about all that, I don’t think he expected us to run into Rosalita.” Turning to address Rosalita directly, he added, “Fernando didn’t know where you were. Since we’re with you, and Shaymin vouched for your character, he can’t trick us into thinking you’re the mastermind of this plot.”


    “This is exactly what I was afraid of,” Rosalita admitted. Shaymin cast a worried glance up at her when it felt her hands trembling. “This isn’t him. Or at least, it used to not be him. I want to believe I can save him, but if everything you said turns out to be true…”


    “Please tell us about the real Fernando,” Sheena requested, catching Rosalita by surprise. “Matt, what’s your opinion? I think that if we understand the good man Rosalita believes he still can be, we might be able to help her save him.”


    “I, uh…” Matt shrank back. “Is it really my place to make her remember something that might be painful to think about?”


    “I’m grateful for your concern,” Rosalita gently thanked him. While Shaymin nestled in her arms again and sprouted flowers from its back, she said, “I would be happy to tell you, so don’t worry. It’s just that…” Despite her words, Rosalita hesitated. “It’s just a little hard to think about how close we used to be.”


    ~:~


    Fernando and Rosalita ran laughing through the garden outside Lingote Palace, playing in the bright sun of their homeland. Shaymin chased after the two children as fast as its stubby legs could carry it, while their parents watched from a wrought iron bench nearby.


    “Come on! Come on!” the boy called to his sister and their family’s Pokémon. “Don’t fall behind!”


    “I’ll catch you!” Rosalita playfully countered.


    “You’ll catch me when I let you,” Fernando teased her back. He stopped running, turned around, and put his hand on his chest. “As the king,” he said in an exaggerated deep voice, “I name you, Princess Rosalita, as my most important knight.”


    Playing along, Rosalita lowered herself to one knee before her brother. “I accept this honor, your highness.” She then stood up, smiled broadly, and said, “You’re so silly.”


    “Well, it’s true!” Fernando said back, growing ever so slightly flustered before quickly regaining his composure. “It’s going to be you and me, Rosalita. We’ll be the best leaders the kingdom ever had!”


    “Hey! Don’t forget me, yes?” Shaymin complained, having finally caught up moments before. “At least wait until I make my decision, yes?”


    “Don’t you worry,” Fernando said to Shaymin as he picked it up. “Everything will work out. Rosalita and I can do anything.”


    Without warning, Rosalita tackled Fernando, sending both the siblings and Shaymin falling into the dirt.


    “I caught you, Fernando!” she exclaimed.


    “Hey!” Shaymin huffed. “You’re both silly, yes? What will I do with the two of you?”


    Both Fernando and Rosalita started laughing uncontrollably. Their cheer was so infectious that even Shaymin couldn’t help joining in.


    ~:~


    “We were together like that from the beginning,” Rosalita recalled. While she stared into the campfire, its flickering flames reflected in her watery eyes. “Since the palace was our whole world, it would be accurate to say we were each other’s best friend on top of being family. Between the two of us and Shaymin, we didn’t need anything else.”


    Matt remained silent, but nervously pressed his lips together and tightened his grip on his laptop. “It really is a lot like Amanda and I,” he thought.


    “He sounds like he really was a good person,” Sheena gently said. “If it’s not too painful for you, Rosalita, please tell us about what happened to change that.”


    “Yeah, I wanna know that too,” Eleanor added, looking back over her shoulder. “Someone doesn’t just go from saying they can do anything with their sister’s help to framing said sister for killing their parents.”


    “Well, he was always prone to taking dramatic and grandiose actions, even when we were young, but he used to be incredibly caring. There was one time…” Rosalita couldn’t help but laugh sadly to herself. “One time when we were maybe nine or ten, I broke my leg and had to stay in bed until it healed. You know what he did to cheer me up?”


    The princess halted her recollection for a moment to allow her audience time to consider her question. They just looked back at her, waiting for her to continue.


    “He actually went and had Mother and Father recruit the merchants of Dorada Market to bring me gifts,” she revealed. “Basketfuls of berries, drinks made from the finest Poké Beans our kingdom can grow, new clothes, crafts made by local artisans… it was practically a second birthday for me that year, and he made sure I knew it was all his idea.”


    “How sweet of him,” Sheena said with a smile. “Even if he was a bit egotistical about it, it was a wonderful gesture.”


    “See, now you get the kind of person he is.” Rosalita stopped and considered her words. “The kind of person he was? Regardless, despite his ego he really was caring. I think it weighed on him, ironically. He was eager and proud to take on the ills of everyone in the kingdom, and was convinced he could fix everything.”


    “Such a responsibility would weigh heavily on anyone,” Sheena mused, “but most particularly a young mind.”


    Rosalita nodded. “You’re right. I think that’s why, as we got older and started being prepared for our futures as leaders of the kingdom, Fernando voraciously hunted for more knowledge. It was an obsession with him. He had to learn everything, even that which Mother and Father thought we were not ready for.”


    ~:~


    The planetarium in the museum had fascinated Rosalita with its great size and attention to detail ever since she was a small child. Nothing of that changed when she grew into adolescence. That night, like many others, she stood before the model, staring up at it and letting her mind wander.


    “I still wonder if there’s someone out there among those stars…” she thought. “Could there be someone looking at a model of our planet and thinking the same thing I am?”


    A loud thump from behind her startled Rosalita out of her reverie. She turned to look for its source and noticed that the door to the archive was ajar, with light filtering out from the room.


    “Huh?” she said to herself. “That’s unusual…”


    Rosalita couldn’t just walk away and ignore such a strange circumstance. She swept across the museum, her light slippers making little to no sound as she walked. When she made it to the door and peeked inside, she was greeted by the sight of her brother collecting several books from the floor.


    “Fernando?” she said in surprise.


    “Oh!” Fernando jumped when his sister made her presence known, but quickly recovered. “Oh, Rosalita, I’m glad you’re here!”


    “What are you doing?” Rosalita asked him as she stepped into the room. “Father told us we were only to study what he gave to us.”


    “Fine, you caught me…” he confessed. “But I found something I think you need to know. For us to fulfill that promise and be the best leaders La Ciudad Dorada ever had, remember?”


    “I remember, but we shouldn’t…” While Fernando returned to the table, where he had another book spread open, Rosalita couldn’t help but have her curiosity piqued. Her objection to Fernando’s actions faded away, and she joined him to look at the book in the lamplight. What caught her eye immediately was its reproduction of the civil war portion of the mural, specifically focused on the two identical crowned figures. “What is this?” she asked him, her nerves rattled.


    “The history of our family,” he answered, lifting one side of the tome so Rosalita could see their coat of arms on its cover. “But this part… this is something that caught me by surprise. The great civil war of our ancestor Fernando III’s time… it was fought between Fernando III and his twin brother.”


    “Twins?” Rosalita gasped. “Like us…”


    “Not just like us,” Fernando clarified, his face rigid. “The only ones like us. We are only the second pair of twins born to a king in La Ciudad Dorada’s history. The first were the ones who turned factions of our military on each other and caused the civil war that destroyed our great kingdom.”


    Rosalita could do nothing but back away from the table while holding her hand over her mouth. “Mother and Father never told us this… are they afraid we’ll…”


    Fernando stood up from the table with such haste that he nearly knocked the chair over and pulled Rosalita’s hands into his own.


    “Rosalita, listen to me,” he begged her, meeting Rosalita’s wide, nervous eyes with a fiery gaze. “We have to make another promise right now. Now that we know about this, it’s not enough to be the best leaders the kingdom ever had. We have to be better than the last set of twins. Promise me that. Promise me that we will never end up that way.”


    “You already know I will support you,” Rosalita said, finding her courage. “As long as we have each other, we can do anything. I won’t let anything change that.”


    ~:~


    “...of course, that ended up changing anyway,” Rosalita noted to the others before she wiped away a tear.


    “He lied about that too,” Eleanor pointed out. “You guys remember, right? He said it was the king and an advisor who fought each other, not that they were twins.”


    “That’s right!” Sheena exclaimed. “I remember that, too.”


    “It makes sense that he wouldn’t tell you about that,” Rosalita said. “If you knew that twins fought the civil war and we were the first twins since then, you might have resisted going along with his plans to take the crown from me even if you didn’t know that’s what he’s up to.”


    “Yeah, I hear you on that one…” Matt said in agreement. “But how is what he’s doing now not breaking that promise and risking another civil war in the process?”


    “I’m sure in his mind he’s still technically keeping his promise,” the princess deduced. “Fernando III was already king when his brother tried to overthrow him, and they used the full resources of La Ciudad Dorada to fight each other. When the story says that the kingdom lost its way, it means that. The people all turned on each other and the two factions fought using all the things our kingdom should have been thankful for. That might be why he simply hired foreign Pokémon hunters and set you up to have the puzzle box stolen by them.”


    “And if he doesn’t want to repeat history then that might be why it looked like nobody outside the palace seemed to know what was going on,” Sheena realized. “If the people think times are peaceful, they will not see a need to choose sides.”


    Matt nodded his head in silent agreement, but as he did so, a thought entered his mind that made him speak up. “Wait, Rosalita… you said he wants to take the crown from you. What’s up with that? It sounded like he was going to be the king…”


    “Until a certain day, we did not know for sure which of us was the heir to the throne. That’s where your impression was wrong.” Though Rosalita’s correction was gentle, Matt still cringed in embarrassment. “It’s understandable that you would be confused. A philosopher from a faraway land once said, “there are not two suns in the sky, nor two sovereigns over the people.” Do you know that?”


    “I do,” Sheena said. “The philosophy section of Canalave Library has been like a second home to me. Reading those books helps give me perspective on my own duties.”


    “I’m not really as into the topic as you are, Sheena,” Matt commented, “but the history involved does interest me.”


    “Well, it may have come from far away, but that saying is true in La Ciudad Dorada too,” Rosalita continued. She turned her sad eyes down to Shaymin and put her hand on its back, while Matt continued transcribing her words with his laptop. “There can only be one king. Or queen, as it is. You understand what I mean. Because of that, there is a custom in place should more than one child be born into the royal bloodline, even if it’s only been needed twice. It’s up to Shaymin to choose which of the descendants will become the heir to the throne. And when that day came for Fernando and I… that was the day everything started changing.”


    ~:~


    Fernando and Rosalita were walking briskly through a passage deep in Lingote Palace, guided by a pair of men clad in Bronzong armor and carrying staves. The panels of stained glass lining the walls had no light to illuminate them, leaving the glass to provide a somewhat ominous darkened backdrop for the siblings’ march to their destiny.


    Fernando glanced over at his sister and saw her staring at the floor, her brow furrowed. “Are you okay, Rosalita?” he asked her.


    “I’m scared, I won’t lie,” she quietly replied. “It’s one thing to just talk about the future, but… nothing’s going to be the same after this.”


    “I do admit that’s true…” Sensing there was more on Rosalita’s mind than she was letting on, Fernando took her hand and squeezed it as they walked. “Do you remember that day in the garden, with Shaymin? It’s going to be you and me. We’ll be the best leaders the kingdom ever had.”


    Her memories of their childhood brightened Rosalita’s mood, if just a little. “You’re right. As long as we have each other, we can do anything.”


    “See, that’s the way!” Fernando’s voice echoed down the corridor. “This is just going to make official everything we already knew. After this, we can finally start working to protect our home for real.”


    “You know what you’re talking about,” Rosalita said, “as always. It is scary to think that what we’ve prepared for our whole lives is here, but I think we’ll be okay…”


    “You’ll see,” Fernando assured, “everything will work out.”


    “We’re here,” one of the guards said as the quartet arrived at a set of gold-lined wood doors. “King Fernando and Queen Sophia await you.”


    “Here we go…” Rosalita whispered to herself.


    Each of the guards pushed open one side of the doorway to allow the siblings to pass, then closed the doors behind them. The chamber beyond had wall-to-wall stained glass and no solid floor, a fact Fernando and Rosalita quickly discovered when they felt their feet sink into the dirt.


    Their parents were there waiting for them near an altar on which Shaymin was sitting. “My children, I welcome you,” Fernando VII greeted them with a proud smile. He then gestured to a nearby patch of earth, where a single Gracidea was growing in sunlight let in by an opening in the ceiling. “This is where La Ciudad Dorada began, the seed that our homeland grew from… the first Gracidea. This sacred land, where the bringer of gratitude first helped our ancestors, is where you will inherit the responsibility our family has had for centuries.”


    While Fernando and Rosalita knew they were being summoned to a chamber they had never been allowed into before, that it was the site of the kingdom’s founding caught them by surprise. They both felt the enormous weight in the air and the significance of what was happening. All they could do was stare at the original Gracidea in awe, their shared trance only breaking when Sophia walked over and embraced them.


    “I’m so proud of you both,” she told her children. “You’ve come so far to make it to this day. The dedication you both have to our kingdom, its history and its people leaves me optimistic for our future.”


    “Well, naturally,” Fernando said. “Rosalita and I promised each other we’d become the best leaders La Ciudad Dorada has ever had. I intend to keep that promise.”


    “As long as we have each other, we can do anything,” Rosalita added, repeating their oft-stated belief to their mother.


    “I’ve always been happy to see how much you two can rely on each other.” Sophia turned away and took her childrens’ hands in her own. “Come. We must complete this ceremony first.”


    Sophia led her son and daughter to the altar. Once they stood before Shaymin, the queen returned to Fernando VII’s side.


    “As you know, my children, only one of you can inherit the throne and the gift of life that comes with it,” the king reminded them. “Shaymin will decide which of you is worthy of receiving this power and responsibility.”


    “I have had many men come before me since the beginning of this kingdom, yes?” the tiny Pokémon spoke up. “All who obtain the waters of life must first understand their meaning. I want to hear what you two believe that to be, yes?’


    “Well, it’s because a kingdom needs a strong leader to follow,” Fernando asserted. “When the right leader comes along, it is only natural that their life should be extended. That ensures stability for as long a time as possible. In other words, giving the king a long life is a testament and celebration of his being the leader that the kingdom needs.”


    “That’s all true, but…” Rosalita looked down at the dirt. Her fears were finally able to come out. “It’s kind of awful to think about what the king must go through. By living for so long, he’s going to lose everyone he cares about.” The princess balled her fists and tightened them so much her fingernails cut into her palms. “The only way to avoid that burden is if the king accepts that the only thing that will live as long as him is La Ciudad Dorada itself.”


    “I believe that it’s a confirmation of strength,” Fernando insisted. His missing her intended point made Rosalita sadly turn away. “A kingdom must have a strong leader that the people can put all their faith in. That’s the way it should be and the way it’s always been. The king shows the people the way, and they follow, thankful to have him share his wisdom.”


    “A kingdom is about more than just a single person,” Rosalita quietly countered. “No kingdom would be anything without its subjects. They do feel gratitude for their leader, but the leader must know that he does not have anything without them and feel gratitude for them, too. I think that’s why we give the king extended life, when all is said and done. We give it to him so he will understand that he is a servant of our subjects and must act for their collective good. It is profoundly sad, but… it must be done. A leader must be attached to those they lead above all else.”


    “Enough!” Shaymin intervened, its sudden intensity startling both Fernando and Rosalita. “I have heard enough, yes? Now it is time for me to make my decision.”


    “The Gardener has spoken,” declared Fernando VII, closing his eyes. “My children, step forth and place your hands upon the altar.”


    Fernando and Rosalita looked at each other before they followed their father’s instruction. The way she slouched and started dragging her feet made her brother cock his head in confusion as he followed her.


    Once both of them had their hands on the altar, Shaymin tensed up in much the same way it did when it used Seed Flare. Bright lights emanating from Shaymin’s body, the altar, and the single Gracidea in the ground, reflecting off the stained glass surrounding them to flood the chamber with color. It wasn’t long before the brightness became overwhelming and forced Fernando and Rosalita to shut their eyes.


    “There won’t be anything to worry about once this is over,” Fernando thought, allowing a smile to slip onto his face. “We’ll have all the time in the world for Rosalita to see what I mean. It’s just too much right n-”


    A sudden gasp from his sister broke Fernando out of his self-absorbed speculation. Even with his eyes closed, he could tell that the light had suddenly vanished from the room. When he snapped his head around to see what could have possibly gotten such a reaction from his sister, he nearly fainted at what he saw.


    A crown of Gracidea flowers was sitting on Rosalita’s head.


    “What?!” he choked. He so disbelieved what he was seeing that he reached up to feel his own head, unable to fully grasp what was happening until he realized there was nothing there. “I don’t understand this…”


    Rosalita, meanwhile, could no longer hold back her tears. She crossed her hands in front of herself, lowered her head, and said, “I was so afraid this was going to happen… Fernando, I’m sorry.”


    “I don’t understand this at all!” was all Fernando could say. It was as if he didn’t hear Rosalita’s words. “Am I to believe that everything I did to prepare to be king was wrong? Is protecting La Ciudad Dorada wrong?!”


    “You misunderstand. That is not why I have passed you over, yes?” Shaymin told him. “You have prepared valiantly to come to the defense of your realm, but you still do not understand the sacrifice necessary to be a truly wise leader.”


    “Father, Mother, is this true?” Fernando demanded of his parents. “How can it be wrong to protect the kingdom?”


    “Please, Fernando, don’t misinterpret what this means,” Sophia gently said. “You still have much to contribute to La Ciudad Dorada. Your drive to protect it is invaluable. This is not a judgment on the worth of your character, just your understanding of the meaning of power.”


    “How can I believe that?” he continued fuming. He struggled to keep his emotions from flying completely out of control, but even gritting his teeth as hard as he could did little to check how he felt. “You can’t expect me to accept that all one needs to become king is some platitude about sacrifice. All that tells me is that being willing to do anything to protect the kingdom doesn’t make one worthy of the crown at all!” Turning to Rosalita, Fernando said, “What could you possibly know that I don’t?! Every day I’ve been training and gathering knowledge for how to best defend this land! How can you protect the kingdom as well as I could?”


    “Fernando, can’t you see that this is a good thing?” she tried to reason with her brother. “You’re free. Now you don’t have to sacrifice your life… you can still help me protect the kingdom, but I’ll shoulder the weight of the throne. Don’t you remember? We’ll be the greatest leaders the kingdom has ever had. Nothing has changed that… the roles are just reversed. We can do anything as long as we have each other…”


    “What good is that when there won’t be anything to protect?!” he snapped, making Rosalita visibly recoil. “The only way to ensure future security is to know everything about the past and be willing to use it. I’ve spent years gathering that knowledge! You didn’t! I sought it all out by my own volition! You didn’t! Until the day where you see my point of view, how could you ever be able to do what is necessary to save La Ciudad Dorada?”


    “How can you say that when we promised we’d never end up like the twins who fought the civil war?” Rosalita shot back. “Have you forgotten everything already?”


    “I will not make the mistakes of our ancestors,” Fernando declared. “I will simply prove to you that my views are correct, to lay it out as plain as day for all of you that the way I’ve been chasing all these years is the kingdom’s last, best hope. And when I do, that will be the end of things.”


    With that, Fernando turned away from the altar and marched out of the chamber, leaving Shaymin, his sister and his parents behind.


    ~:~


    “He has never stopped seeing that as a fundamental betrayal of the kingdom itself,” Rosalita explained with a weary voice. “No matter who tells him otherwise, he still sees it as a rejection of the idea of protecting the kingdom at any cost.”


    “Sounds to me like he’s made it his whole identity,” Matt ventured. “Don’t get me wrong, all I’ve got to go on is meeting the man for a little while and what you’re telling us now.”


    “No, you’re correct,” Rosalita said. “The Fernando I grew up with… he vanished. I want to believe he’s still in there somewhere, but… he vanished. He was consumed by his obsession with proving that his views were superior.”


    Over at the vehicle, Eleanor shuddered at what she was hearing. “Kinda ironic when you think about it, Rosa,” she noted with a hint of bitterness. “It sounds like he sacrificed his identity after all.”


    Rosalita hesitated to consider what Eleanor had pointed out. “I… had never thought about it like that before. Perhaps you’re right.”


    “But there’s one link still missing, at least for me,” Sheena said, carefully thinking about what she knew and what she’d been told. “He clearly didn’t snap and kill your parents immediately. Was it the threat against the kingdom alone that pushed him over the edge?”


    “I don’t think so,” Rosalita admitted. She had to wipe away a tear before she could continue. “Fernando, as I said, became obsessed with proving that his views were superior. Every future ruler, once officially named as the heir to the throne, begins being educated in the information only the leader is allowed to know. I was no different, and that was when Fernando started spending every waking moment studying relentlessly in the archive. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to see him spend several days straight in there. He just knew that there had to be something that would prove him right. A few years ago, I think he found something.”


    “He did?” Matt said, his eyes widening. “What was it?”


    “I don’t know. He just got up and disappeared, leaving a note telling us he was going to travel overseas for a while. When he came back… something had changed about him.”


    ~:~
     
  11. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    La Ciudad Dorada’s train station was always a busy place, and that day was no different. Yet, it was a day that was far from normal. The presence of Rosalita and her entourage of three guards made that very apparent to the crowds around her. Murmurs floated around amongst tourists and residents alike, all of whom recognized the future queen.


    She paid them no mind. They were why the guards had accompanied her from the palace. Her reason for being there was to intercept Fernando, who disembarked the train wearing a dark suit and black sunglasses.


    “What do you think you’re doing?” Rosalita demanded, confronting him while the guards formed a semicircle behind her.


    “I ought to ask you the same thing,” he coldly answered. “You have much bigger things to worry about than where I am. Come to think of it, that reminds me of something I need to ask you.”


    Rosalita crossed her arms and pouted. “What?”


    “Tell me, Rosalita…” Fernando said while sticking his hands into his pockets, “when you become queen, what will your policy towards the outside world be?”


    Caught by surprise by Fernando’s question, Rosalita tilted her head toward him and raised an eyebrow. “What will my policy towards the outside world be?” she repeated. “Well, I guess… I haven’t really put too much thought into it yet, but I think it would be a good thing if we had more of a relationship with the lands beyond our borders.”


    Fernando sighed in annoyance. “I was afraid you were going to say that,” he told his sister, spreading his arms before reaching up to take hold of his sunglasses.


    When he removed them, Rosalita felt a chill run down her spine. His eyes were filled with an icy, focused anger unlike anything she’d seen from him before.


    “What happened?” she managed to ask him in a shaky voice. “Where did you go?”


    “I cannot support anything along those lines,” Fernando declared, ignoring her questions. “If you are going to so blindly expose La Ciudad Dorada to the dangers that lurk abroad I will have no choice but to refuse any role in your government.”


    “Have you forgotten the promises we made to each other?” Rosalita pleaded.


    “You will come to understand what I know.” Fernando retorted, once again ignoring his sister’s questioning. “It may not be right away, but you will see in time that the outsiders do not respect La Ciudad Dorada or its culture. They come here and take things from us while never appreciating what it is that we have here. That’s what I’ve learned. When the day comes that you understand that indelible truth, that will be the time for our promises to be fulfilled.”


    ~:~


    “What happened after that?” Sheena wondered out loud.


    “To tell you the truth, that’s it,” Rosalita confessed, once more looking down at Shaymin in her lap. “Even though that was a few years ago, nothing new actually happened until recently, when we received the threat against our kingdom. You know by now what happened then.”


    Matt adjusted his glasses and took his turn staring into the fire. “I can understand why you want to forgive him now,” he said, “even if I still have doubts about him being redeemable.”


    “There are things he’s done that I think should be punished,” Sheena agreed with Matt before turning back to Rosalita and adding, “but if you want to try and save him, Rosalita, we should do our best to accomplish that. He’s your brother, so it should be your decision.”


    “Sheena’s right,” Matt admitted. “No matter what I think about him… I couldn’t imagine losing my relationship with my sister, so I have no right to not support you now. Amanda and I were a lot like you and Fernando… I can’t block you from trying to save that.”


    “And for what it’s worth,” Eleanor chimed in, “I’m not gonna turn my back on you either, Rosa. We’ve come this far already. Besides,” she said, holding up her wrench, “you’re gonna need my help to keep your equipment going.”


    “All of you…” Rosalita was stunned by the outpouring of support she was receiving. She couldn’t organize her feelings into words until Matt handed her his handkerchief to wipe her eyes. That act gave her time to collect herself. “Thank you. I have no right to force you into this affair…”


    Sheena took Rosalita’s hand in her own once again. “I think I can comfortably say that I speak for all of us when I tell you that you aren’t forcing anyone.” Sheena checked for a quick visual confirmation of her belief, which she got with a nod from Matt and Eleanor shaking another tool in the air. “Like I told you, I understand how you feel with all the responsibility on your shoulders, Rosalita. We will see this through to the end.”


    The princess hesitated, but she soon remembered something her father told her. She could practically feel herself back in Lingote Palace, as if she’d traveled back in time to hear it again. “Rosalita, when you become queen, it will be up to you to decide what kind of direction you want to take La Ciudad Dorada in. The truth about our history is but a tool for you to use in the course of your decisions. Shaymin choosing you is an acknowledgement that you possess the wisdom of a true leader.”


    Her father’s words echoing in her head made Rosalita feel a surge of confidence swell within her. “You’re right. I’m not going to be afraid anymore,” she resolved. “I can’t be. The people of La Ciudad Dorada need me to fight for them, and I refuse to let them down.”


    “There you go!” Sheena said with a smile.


    “Let’s get to work, then.” Rosalita reached into her cloak and retrieved a pair of pieces of parchment, much like the one Fernando had showed them earlier in the archive. “These are two of the clues to where the Golden City is. Only current and future kings are permitted to have these, but I wasn’t able to keep all three of them away from Fernando. You surely know that already, though.”


    “Yeah,” Matt replied. “Can I look at them? We’ll want to get going first thing tomorrow if we can.”


    “Given the circumstances, I will grant you that permission.”


    Rosalita handed the documents over to Matt, and he wasted no time in reading them. Or he at least tried to start reading them, but couldn’t restrain himself from vocalizing the surprise he felt upon seeing that the clues were written in dot patterns.


    “It’s Braille, again,” he uttered. “This must be what you were referring to when you said you’d seen it before.”


    “You’re correct,” Rosalita confirmed. “Although, as I also did say, I can’t read it. I never had a chance to learn how to. When did you learn it?”


    “My grandfather was the one who taught me, actually.” Matt adjusted his glasses once more and then looked up at the night sky. The last of the Woobat and Swoobat living in the area were flying out of their trees. “I’ve got a sister who’s very important to me, just like how Fernando is clearly important to you. Her name’s Amanda. Thing is, she was blinded in an accident when we were both very young. That wasn’t going to keep her back, though… when our grandfather got us into the Rustboro School, he made sure of that.”


    ~:~


    Sutter was sitting at his office desk, looking out over Rustboro City, when his doorbell rang. He pivoted his chair away from the window and called out, “Come in.”


    With his grandfather’s permission, Matt opened the door and pushed through it, walking backwards to bring Amanda’s wheelchair into the office with him. Amanda, the blue-haired girl who accompanied Matt into the snow on Anton’s back, was wearing a diamond-patterned school uniform virtually identical to her brother’s. The cloudy look of her eyes gave away her lack of sight, but the wounds that robbed them of most of their function had largely faded. Only small scratches remained, ones that could only be seen if one looked for them.


    “Grandpa!” Amanda greeted him.


    “Ah, Amanda, Matt, I’m so happy to see the two of you,” Sutter wistfully said, leaning back in his chair. “How’s life in Rustboro treating you these days?”


    “I dunno how I’m fitting in so far, to be honest,” Matt answered. “This place is really different from Snowpoint, that’s for sure.”


    “It’s nice for it to be the two of us on our own, though,” Amanda added. “And it’s fun heading out to Mauville and Slateport, too. The Food Court and Battle Tent are great. Thanks for helping us get set up here, Grandpa.”


    “It’s the least I could do.” Sutter clasped his hands on the desk. “You kids deserve the same chance I had, and that son of mine wasn’t giving you it. I’ll see to it that your lives here are better than that.”


    “Thank you…” Matt muttered, his mood dampened by the reminder of fairly recent events. “I’m also enjoying everything Amanda is. It’s just a little rough getting used to a big famous school like this after living in a quiet place like Snowpoint.”


    “Totally understandable. That’s why I’m going to teach you two something that’ll help you communicate better and ensure you’re both able to get the education this institute provides.”


    “What do you mean?” Matt asked in surprise.


    Sutter stood up and walked around to the front of his desk. He picked up a sheet of paper and showed it to Matt. “This is Braille,” he explained, gesturing to the dot patterns on it. “Amanda, you can’t see what I’m showing Matt, so listen closely. This is a written language that translates the alphabet into raised bumps on printed material. It was developed by a Kalosian researcher who based it on an ancient writing system from Hoenn and Sinnoh. These days it’s widely used so people like you, Amanda, can read just as well as your peers.”


    “I’m ready, Grandpa,” Amanda said. “I wanna know all about it.”


    “Anything that’ll help us is good,” Matt agreed.


    Sutter couldn’t help but chuckle to himself as he put the paper down and approached his grandchildren. “You kids make this old man feel like his time’s almost up, even when it isn’t. Your enthusiasm makes me happy you two are my heirs.”


    “What do you mean?” Matt asked him.


    “One day, I want you two to inherit my responsibilities and continue my work. I trust you kids to make me proud when that time comes. For now, I’ll do everything I can to ensure you receive the finest education possible.”


    ~:~


    “So yeah, Sutter taught us both how to use it. Amanda really excelled in both school and social life, so it was worth it.”


    “Professor Chiaki really was a fine man, like the stories say,” Rosalita said to herself. “I guess that’s why my grandfather trusted him…”


    “What?” Matt wondered, looking questioningly at Rosalita.


    “I…” Rosalita froze. She hadn’t intended for Matt to hear her, so when he did, it made her uncomfortable. She shifted herself around, nervously trying to decide how she should answer. Eventually, after concluding she couldn’t tell him what she was thinking, she said, “Oh, I was just thinking of how he helped you and your sister get closer. Amelia, was it? She sounds like someone I’d like to meet one day. I wish I had someone like Sutter to help me patch things up with Fernando.”


    “I feel like she’s not telling me something…” thought Sutter’s grandson. Despite that, he chose not to pursue the subject. “Amanda, but don’t worry about it. Let’s figure out what these clues say so we can work on getting to the Golden City before Fernando does, how about that?”


    Rosalita let out a sigh of relief. “Yes, let’s do that.”


    “Alright.” After returning one of the pages to Rosalita for the time being, Matt focused his attention on the one he still held. “It says… ‘heart of the realm and heart of the king. Both reside within the protection of the strongest barrier. Cross not will those who seek to pierce the heart. The strongest barriers stand like a shield, an impenetrable shield to protect the realm.’”


    “I think I recognize what that’s referring to,” Rosalita immediately said, “but read the other one first.”


    Matt and Rosalita exchanged the documents they each held. He started to examine the second one, but as soon as he did, he narrowed his eyes at it.


    “What is it?” asked Sheena.


    “This is strange. It doesn’t really say much of anything.” Matt turned the parchment around and held it up for the others to see. “Just ‘find the hidden message’ and this symbol here,” he explained, pointing at a strange shape drawn on the material.


    Rosalita looked down at Shaymin, then back to the clue. “It does resemble Shaymin’s flower,” the princess said, tracing her finger along the outline, “but without the detail. I think I remember seeing that in a book Father and Mother showed me as part of my preparation for taking the throne, but… I really don’t get what message this is talking about.”


    “Let’s put it aside for now, then,” Sheena suggested.


    “Good idea,” Matt said in agreement. “Rosalita, about the first one…”


    “Centuries ago,” she interrupted, unable to wait for him to finish asking his question, “when La Ciudad Dorada was at its peak, it was protected by a huge defensive wall. The whole realm was contained within it. Once much of the kingdom was ravaged by the civil war and Regigigas’ judgment, we pulled back to our current borders and abandoned what was left of the walls. They’re gone now, but the fortress that acted as the base camp for our first lines of defense remains. I believe we must go there.”


    “Do you know where it is?” Matt asked. He presented her with the picture of the map on his laptop and requested, “Show me, please.”


    “It’s here,” said the princess, pointing to a location directly south of their current position. “There is quite a ways to go between here and there.”


    “You can count on me!” Eleanor chimed in. “A few more tweaks of this and a little bit of elbow grease on that, and this thing will be as good as new.”


    “Thank you, Eleanor.” Rosalita said, smiling. Another flower sprouted from Shaymin’s back in response. “We have no time to waste. Fernando could end up causing the destruction of the kingdom if he upsets Regigigas. We must stop him from causing history to repeat itself.”


    -:-


    Meanwhile, Noel and Leon - both disheveled from their long trip out of the mine, stumbled upon the railroad tracks leading out from the mine. With the direct exit blocked, the pair were left to take their Pokémon and leave the mine the way they came before working their way back from outside.


    “They ain’t here no more, Sis!” Leon shouted to Noel, having rushed ahead to check the now-abandoned train. “All that time we took tryin’ to dig our way out gave ’em a head start!”


    “They can’t have gone far,” Noel bitterly said, crossing her arms. “Ain’t nobody who goes that fast on foot.”


    “You got that right, Sis.” Turning away from the train, Leon plucked three of the clockwork Poké Balls from his vest and threw them into the air. A Dusknoir and a Roserade, both collared, materialized from them alongside the Yanmega from earlier. “Go find those guys who got that Shaymin with ’em!”


    Dusknoir took Roserade in his hand and rose up into the air alongside Yanmega. The two Pokémon capable of flight then split off in opposite directions, prompting Noel to activate her wrist device’s projector so she could monitor their activity.


    -:-


    Later in the night, Sheena and Rosalita had retired to the workers’ quarters of the camp for rest. The bedding supplies were long gone, but they managed to find sleeping bags to use instead. Both of them were sound asleep, as was Shaymin, who was tucked comfortably in with Rosalita. Its mind wandered into a dream, one etched deeply into the depths of the long-lived mythical Pokémon’s mind.


    ~:~


    One thing Shaymin never understood after coming to La Ciudad Dorada was how the wanderer who helped summon it didn’t die of the heat. All the other people in the city dressed so lightly, Shaymin noticed, yet he never wavered from wearing his blue cloak and heavy shoulder plates. That day ages ago was no different. The blazing sun beat down on the Sacred Hill and the rest of the kingdom, yet it didn’t even seem to affect him at all. He held Shaymin in his arm and gently pet it, while behind them, his Lucario and Golisopod patiently waited for their master.


    Finally, the caped figure leaned down and set Shaymin on the ground. “Shaymin, I must bid you farewell now.”


    “Why?” the Pokémon asked. “Are you not going to stay and help lead these people, yes?”


    The wanderer rose to his full height and turned away to face Lingote Palace, which was still under construction at the time. “You are the one who must keep them on the path of righteousness and wisdom. I trust in you, Shaymin. As for myself… I am but a simple nomad. From the day I arrived in this land, my fate has been to leave it… I must continue on my own way. There is something I must find, and it is not here.”


    “You’re going to leave, and you never told me what it is you’re looking for, yes…” Shaymin bitterly said.


    “I apologize, but I will not burden anyone else with what I must carry.” The wanderer closed his eyes. “Although, I suppose I can admit that it’s a person, not a thing. I must not stop until I find them again, so I cannot stay here. This is your home, Shaymin. Continue to guide the royal family with wisdom and gratitude, so these people can continue to thrive.”


    ~:~


    The memories Shaymin dreamt of caused it to reflexively curl up even more tightly against Rosalita. Even while it was asleep, the feelings of gratitude it recalled caused flowers to sprout from its back.


    -:-


    Meanwhile, Matt sat outside the building, working on his laptop while his Pokémon helped keep guard. Besides Sally, Zero, Rocky, Anton and Tony, the group of six was rounded out by the presence of an Ambipom.


    Matt was so focused on his work that he didn’t notice Eleanor emerge from the building and approach him. “Hey,” she said, making him jump in surprise.


    “Oh, Eleanor, it’s just you,” he said with a sigh of relief when he saw her.


    “What you mean it’s just me?” she teased him, twisting her face into an exaggerated pout.


    “Sorry…” he listlessly said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”


    “I’m not mad at you, relax.” Eleanor sat down next to him and peeked over at his laptop. “Whatever you’re working on must be important, if you’re doing it instead of sleeping.”


    “It doesn’t bother me, really,” he admitted. “Besides, if this works out the way I hope, a lot of people will benefit. That’s more important than I am.”


    “You shouldn’t talk like that,” Eleanor said to him. “You’re important too, no matter what. Try to remember that.”


    “I appreciate that. It’s just…” Matt turned away from Eleanor, preventing her from seeing his face. “I want my ideas to do some good for the world. That’s the only way I can make up for what was done with them before.”


    “What was done with them before?” Eleanor repeated, bringing a finger to her lips. “What do you mean?”


    “Well, let me answer that in reverse. Look at this.” Matt tapped a few keys on the laptop and then pushed it closer to Eleanor, allowing her to see the diagrams on its screen. “The Spheres that can be dug up in Sinnoh and other places grow larger when you plant them back in the earth. As they grow, they emit energy.” He traced his finger along an image of waves emanating from a spherical object to accentuate his point. “I’ve been working on ideas for technology that can harness that energy as a clean and cheap power source.”


    “That’s awesome…” Eleanor murmured. She couldn’t pull her eyes off the screen, and her fascination was such that she was almost salivating at the idea of it. “Wish the gadgets I come up with were this useful.”


    “I want it to be used to give everyone in my hometown of Snowpoint all the heat they could ever need. I love the place even despite…”


    When Matt trailed off in the middle of his thought, Eleanor knew immediately that something was wrong. She looked up from the screen and tilted her head, asking him, “Despite?”


    “It got so unbearable that Amanda and I rode off into a blizzard with my Rhyhorn rather than spend another day there. Needless to say, it was a stupid decision… dealing with our parents more would have probably been better than nearly dying out there in the cold. But then, dying in the cold might have been better than being saved by the founder of Team Galactic.”


    “Oh no...” Eleanor gasped. “Cyrus? Of all the people who could have found you guys, it was Cyrus?”


    “He brought us to his base camp at Lake Acuity to recover.” Matt’s face sank as he recalled what had happened. “Back then he wasn’t quite the emotionless monster the world came to know, but don’t let that fool you. He only saved us because he thought he could find value in using us. At that time, everyone believed he was just a businessman who had a fascination with history. Even my grandfather was fooled… they were in the same circles back then and knew each other well enough that Cyrus helped him make the arrangements for Amanda and I to move to Rustboro in the first place. All Cyrus wanted in return was me to share my research and ideas with him.”


    “If I’m remembering correctly, Team Galactic’s public cover was as an energy company, wasn’t it?” When Matt answered her question by nodding, Eleanor raised a finger into the air. “You can’t blame yourself for being tricked. Everyone thought that was what they were, so why would you think otherwise? It would only be natural for an energy company to act interested in a clean energy source.”


    “You don’t understand,” Matt said. He took off his glasses and sighed sadly. “If I just misjudged his character, I wouldn’t care as much. Before anything happened I found out that he was conducting terrible experiments on people and intended to use Amanda as a subject. Sutter helped us cut ties with Cyrus and made sure we’d be safe if he sent anyone to target us, but nobody ever came. You want to know why? He already had what he wanted from me. By using my ideas and altering them to use pieces of the Veilstone City meteorites instead of Spheres, he created the system for the prototype Galactic Bomb. The one that was detonated at Lake Valor.”


    Eleanor was left stunned, unable to say or do anything other than look on in worry with her lips puckered. Matt didn’t notice her at all. He just slammed his fist into the wall behind him.


    “It’s all my fault!” he seethed. “If Team Galactic was never able to create that Galactic Bomb, they would never have been able to get as close as they did to-”


    Matt’s anger at himself was cut off when Eleanor suddenly grabbed the sides of his face, forcing him to look directly at her.


    “You listen to me,” she forcefully told him. “You didn’t design that machine to be used for destruction. Cyrus twisted its purpose, and you can’t blame yourself for that.”


    “But I made it possible to-”


    “It doesn’t matter!” Eleanor had to take a breath before she could speak again. “Machines are neither good or bad by themselves. They can only become either depending on who they’re used by. Sure, Cyrus took your idea and used it to try destroying worlds, but you designed it for a good reason. That makes it a good invention and you a good person for making it.”


    Matt pulled his head from Eleanor’s grip, sighed once more, and put his glasses back on. “You’re right. It still weighs on me, though… I want what I create to help people. It’s easier to get people to understand you when you give them something for them to see your intent in.” He turned back to face Eleanor again, this time voluntarily. “Words are tough sometimes, you know?”


    “Yeah, I feel you on that. I never felt totally at home where I was born, the big city of Orsay in Kalos…” It was Eleanor’s turn to look down at the ground. “Hundreds of thousands of people around and you don’t feel like you connect with any of them. Ironic,” she said with a bitter laugh. “I always felt like I belonged somewhere else, like Avignon Town, if I couldn’t make it to the Azoth Kingdom and live there. Messing around with gadgets and machines, though… that makes me happy. I always felt like I understood them more than I did other people.”


    “They don’t judge you no matter what you say or do,” Matt agreed. “You’re right about that.”


    While Matt and Eleanor conversed, Sally sensed something nearby. She lifted her head into the air and looked around, though she was unable to discern what it was that had aroused her suspicion. The Salamence turned to her fellow Pokémon and grunted to them, prompting Tony the Aggron to respond in kind. He’d had the same suspicious feeling Sally did, but like her, he was unsure of why.


    In the trees some distance away, Dusknoir and Roserade were watching them, concealed by the thick cover of leaves.


    -:-


    “Looks like we found ‘em, Bro,” Noel said, observing what Dusknoir and Roserade saw through her wrist device’s projection. “There’s another camp not too far away from here.”


    “Is that so, Sis?” Leon replied. “Call ’em back, then, and let’s go waste those fools.”


    “Nah, you know what, Bro? I got a better idea.” Leaning against the train, Noel turned her hand over and extended two of her fingers, then told her brother, “Let’s kick back and relax tonight. We’ve been through a lot today, and besides… followin’ ’em is better. Those spoiled brats will lead us right to the next stop on the way to the Golden City. All we gotta do is keep on followin’ ’em and then swoop in to grab up the next prize.”


    “Good point, Sis, I didn’t think of it that way before.” Leon sat down on the ground and clenched his fist. “Ya know, there’s somethin’ botherin’ me, though. Why are we doin’ all this work for that rotten prince? Dude’s got everythin’ he could ever want already. This job ain’t fair to us no matter what he pays.”


    “I think I get what you’re sayin’, Bro… and I think I like it.”






    END of CHAPTER 3
     
  12. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    Well that's quite a flashback chapter there. Yeah this version of Fernando is more sympathic as he seems more genuine in wanting to make his kingdom a better place but upset all his effort and preparation felt like nothing. Don't know if this version you'll have him go too far down the rabbithole, but still curious where you'll take him next.

    The part where Fernando is against outsiders coming to the city reminds me of the Disney movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which funny enough I watched just a few days ago. In the movie after the exhibition group discovered the city, the king is against outsiders while his daughter believed they could be able to help the people and culture from Atlantis not perish. Just want to comment that scene of yours I got some vibes from that movie there heh.

    I too thought it was neat Braille has been featured there! You already know how much I enjoyed Matt and Amanda's sibling relationship throughout your several works heh.

    I don't remember if Amanda and Matt's backstory includes Cyrus, though that shouldn't be a surprise to me do to their personal history with Team Galactic. I do like Eleanor reminding him all of this is not his fault there.

    Still another fun chapter, look forward to more!
     
  13. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    This chapter will contain a scene of violence elevated a bit beyond what’s happened most of the time prior to this point. It’s not going to be as violent as Sutter’s death in the prologue, however.



    -:-



    CHAPTER 4: Iron Will



    -:-



    The next day, Eleanor drove the group to the location Rosalita pinpointed on Matt’s map. Their trip was marked with lingering tension and anxiety - they all agreed that their act of collapsing the tunnel out of the mine would only serve to slow Noel and Leon down, and that the hunters would attack them again soon enough. Matt and Eleanor mostly kept to themselves during the ride, neither sure of what to say to the other after their conversation from the previous night.



    The uncomfortable silence between them was broken when Eleanor moved her hands over the vehicle’s control panel to bring it to a stop. “Looks like we’re here,” she announced to the others, snapping Matt out of the thoughts he was lost in and also interrupting the conversation between Sheena and Rosalita.



    Eleanor’s three passengers gathered at the side of the vehicle’s flatbed, where they got their first full look at the fort they’d come to investigate. It was a structure built from gray stone, with a spacious courtyard spreading out in front of it. At its peak it was an imposing building that could almost be called a small castle, but ages of disuse left it a shell of its former self.



    “It’s a little different from what I was expecting,” Matt remarked.



    “In what way?” Rosalita asked him.



    “Well…” Matt nervously scratched the back of his head. “It looks… like a fort, there’s no mistaking that. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it to have such a big courtyard. We can’t even get close to the actual fort inside except on foot.”



    Without any hesitation, Rosalita climbed over the side of the flatbed and jumped down to the ground. Her shoes pressed into the soft soil, making quiet squelching sounds as she positioned herself.



    “There’s no time to waste,” the princess declared, gazing ahead at the fort with cold determination in her green eyes. “We must be off.”



    “That’s right, yes?” Shaymin added as it restlessly squirmed around in Rosalita’s arms. “Onward, yes! Onward!”



    “You’ve got legs,” Eleanor teased the Pokémon, having disembarked the vehicle with Matt and Sheena following her.



    “I’ve got legs but that ground is all muddy,” Shaymin countered, sticking its nose in the air and frowning dramatically. “I’m the royal Pokémon of La Ciudad Dorada, yes? I must always reflect my station in life.”



    “If nothing else, you certainly have the attitude of a noble,” Matt sarcastically said.



    Sheena, meanwhile, stepped up next to Rosalita and gently set a hand on the princess’s shoulder. “Are you ready for this?” she asked.



    “As ready as I’ll ever be,” Rosalita replied, stiffening her body even further. “There are only two of the Three Pillars left to go, and the quicker I do this, the quicker I can officially take the throne. Once that’s done, I hope Fernando will come to his senses.”



    “I hope so too, Rosalita,” Sheena said, tightening her grip in hopes of reassuring Fernando’s sister. She tilted her head in the direction of Matt and Eleanor and suggested, “Let’s set off, shall we?”



    No objections to Sheena’s proposal arose, so Rosalita marched into the fort complex and the rest of the group promptly followed. There had once been an iron gate attached to the stones, but it had long since rotted away in the many years of weather it had been left to endure. All that remained was a small amount of rusted, twisted metal protruding from the walls.



    Inside the courtyard, the terrain was surprisingly rough and rugged. The fallen remains of what had once been parts of the fort, such as lookout towers, had been turned into rocky outcroppings by the passage of time that transformed the courtyard into what almost seemed like a maze. A Mismagius popped out from behind one of the piles of stones to curiously observe those who had come to visit her home. The newcomers didn’t notice her, however, and they did nothing that appeared to threaten the fort. Satisfied that the quartet approaching the main building posed no danger to her or her home, the Mismagius turned and quietly slipped back into the shadows.



    Much like the front gate of the complex, the wooden door that once provided entrance into the fort had was largely gone, having been consumed by the flow of time. Only a piece of the its side still remained, hanging forlornly on what remained of its frame, creaking back and forth in the wind. Rosalita carefully pushed it away and stepped into the cooler air of the fort’s interior, with Matt, Eleanor and Sheena following closely behind.



    Holes in the ceiling allowed rays of sunlight to shine into the fort. They glistened in the tiny streams of rainwater running down the stone walls. As the group inspected their surroundings, they found more rotting wooden doors all around them, both on the ground floor and a second floor they could reach using stairs straight ahead of them.



    “Which way do you think we should go first?” Sheena wondered aloud.



    “There’s one way to find out.” Matt reached into his bag and pulled out the puzzle box. Its presence in the fort had already triggered a reaction in the cube, and the gentle glow coming from it confirmed to the group that they had indeed followed the clue correctly. “Here goes.”



    Acting on a hunch, Matt turned to his left and held out the box. He pointed it both up and down, but the amount of light radiating from it did not change. His idea’s unexpected failure left him to cringe in embarrassment from the judgment he imagined to be coming from the others. In an attempt to undo what he feared, he pivoted to point the box in the opposite direction, completely missing it briefly brightening when it was closer to the stairs.



    Rosalita, however, did see it, and quickly tapped Matt’s shoulder for his attention.


    “Wait, check straight ahead again.”



    “Huh?” he uttered in surprise. “Oh, right.”



    Matt followed Rosalita’s suggestion and pointed the puzzle box directly toward the staircase. Sure enough, much more light spilled out from it, as if the box were crying out to be taken to something the group could not yet see.



    “That doesn’t tell us that much, though,” Eleanor mused. “Up the stairs? Down here in that direction?”



    “It’s Rosalita’s trial, yes?” Shaymin piped up. The tiny Pokémon pulled itself from Rosalita’s arms and jumped down onto the floor, then looked back up with an intense expression and said, “Show me you can solve this, I say! You can find the way forward as the crown princess, yes?”



    “You’re right. I’m the crown princess… it’s up to me.” Rosalita held her fist against her chest and closed her eyes. “Last time, in the mine… we used the box to find the shrine’s exact location. It guided us straight there.”



    “Did you think of something?” Sheena asked Rosalita, seeing a slight shift in the princess’s expression.



    “Yeah, I did.” Turning to Matt, Rosalita pointed forward and said, “Take the box up the stairs and see how it changes. When we found Regirock’s shrine, it brought us directly to the door. There’s no reason it should be any different now.”



    “You have a point,” Matt acknowledged.



    Holding the puzzle box firmly with both hands, Matt slowly advanced toward the staircase. The cube’s light intensified with each step he took and by the time he reached the foot of the stairs, it was blinding. He looked back at the others, and after receiving confirmation in the form of a quick nod from Rosalita, began to ascend.



    By the time he was roughly halfway up, there was an undeniable change in the puzzle box’s state - but it wasn’t what he had expected. It had, in fact, grown less bright.



    “Wait, stop!” Rosalita called out to him. “It’s got to be somewhere immediately around the base of the stairs.”



    “I have to agree with you on that one,” Matt said as he returned to the ground floor. The puzzle box once again shined incredibly brightly, prompting Matt to laugh to himself and mumble, “It’s almost like this thing’s alive.”



    Rosalita, Sheena and Eleanor hurried over to join Matt at the stairs, and together, the quartet slowly started to walk around them in a half-circle. They quickly discovered that the further around to the right they went, the brighter the glow from the box became. Following that clue lead them to the wall below the stairs, and after a moment’s hesitation, Matt held the box up to it.



    A new light almost immediately began radiating from the wall, the rays merging with those given off by the cube. An intricate pattern of curved lines spread out across the stone, and the four explorers heard a loud thud as a hidden mechanism activated. They stepped back as what they believed to be a wall revealed itself to actually be a door, which slid back and revealed a narrow path heading underground.



    “I knew you would be smart enough to put it together, yes,” Shaymin smugly noted after plodding over to join the group.



    “Hey, you’re the one who knows all of this already,” Eleanor pointed out. “You’re cheating.”



    “But if I just tell you all the answers, there’s no fun in that, yes?” Shaymin teased her back. “It’s for the one who will take the throne to solve the mysteries, yes.” Pausing, Shaymin considered what it was saying, before hastily amending its words, “Or... at least it’s their responsibility to do as much as possible, given the circumstances. In normal times, Rosalita would know how to read the secret messages, yes?”



    “That is true,” Rosalita admitted, turning her eyes downward. “I never had a chance to learn Braille from Mother and Father before Fernando killed them and started all of this…”



    “That’s why I’m here,” Matt said, doing his best effort to shore up her confidence. He held the puzzle box into the tunnel, allowing it to illuminate the stairwell. “Let’s keep going. We should be getting close to the next piece of this puzzle.”



    Matt’s encouragement helped lift Rosalita’s spirits, and she straightened up with a hint of confidence. “You’re right, let’s make the most of our lead.”



    After giving Rosalita a slight smile, Matt stepped into the tunnel and started down the steps. Rosalita picked up Shaymin and followed right after him, while Eleanor and Sheena brought up the rear. As they descended, they could hear the sound of water dripping somewhere nearby, though its precise location remained impossible to discern.



    It wasn’t long before the group reached the underground chamber at the bottom of the stairwell. Much like Regirock’s temple in the mine, it was a plain, open chamber whose walls and floor were covered in paintings of Regigigas, Regirock, Registeel and Regice. Eleanor noticed the similarity and promptly fetched Litwick’s Poké Ball from her skirt, releasing the Ghost-and-Fire-type Pokémon so she could give the group her light.



    Once Litwick was perched on her shoulder, Eleanor rushed over to the wall at the far end of the shrine. “Look at this!” she called over to the others, gesturing to the facade. “There’s another Braille message here.”



    “I expected as much.” Matt stowed the box back in his bag and made his way over to join Eleanor, with Rosalita tagging along at his side.



    “What does it say?” the princess asked.



    “Let’s see…” Matt leaned forward to look closely at the writing, again guiding himself by running his finger along the symbols. “He who wears the crown shall unlock the future for all of the kingdom. He who shall wear the crown must unlock their own future. None who fail to open their own doors shall open the doors for the people. Here lies the second of the three trials. The body of steel shall awaken only awaken for one who uses the key held by the one who brings forth gratitude.”



    “So it’s Registeel this time,” Sheena observed, having walked over to the others at the wall. “That means Regice will be last.”



    “Is it asking for Shaymin this time?” Matt wondered, scratching his chin. “The one who brings forth gratitude. That’s Shaymin, isn’t it?”



    “That’s what you really think, yes?” Shaymin asked him. “What is the key that you think I have?”



    “Well…”



    “Wait, look at this,” Rosalita interjected before Matt could fully answer. Her attention had been caught by a thick line painted under the Braille, and she leaned down to follow it to its end. In the floor was a strange opening cut out of a stone that was slightly higher up than those around it. None of the others had seen the hole until Rosalita pointed it out. “You know what I think? This message wants an actual key of some sort.”



    “What about the part about ‘the one who brings forth gratitude,’ though?” Matt asked. “We don’t really have that much of a lead on where this key is.”



    “Let’s split up and search the fort, first,” Rosalita proposed. “I think it should be somewhere in here, whatever it is. Nobody who served at this fort could have used it without the puzzle box, so it would be safe to have it here.”



    “That’s a good idea,” Sheena said in agreement. “I’ll go with you, Rosalita.”



    “So Matt and I will do the other half,” Eleanor confirmed. “Sounds like that’ll work.”



    -:-



    Lingote Palace’s bunker-like hangar was located at the back of the castle, built partially into the Sacred Hill. It served only one purpose - housing the kingdom’s skyship, the personal craft of the royal family. In ages past, the Arcane Science-powered vessel had been used by previous generations simply to survey the kingdom they led, but those days were far behind it. For over a century, the skyship had been left resting in the hangar. Recent kings had chosen to save it for use in defending the kingdom, even though they prayed such a time would never come to pass. For this reason, engineers and technicians in the employ of the royal family kept it in perfect condition even though it wasn’t being used.



    Or at least that was how things were until Fernando VIII decided he wanted to use it.



    The count stood alongside his elderly defense minister, clutching the staff containing the glowing orb. A group of the minister’s subordinates were going in and out of the dormant skyship while the pair watched, some bringing supplies into it and others carrying tools to inspect the craft.



    “Count Fernando, sir…” the minister quietly said to the young man next to him, “I understand what you said, but I can’t help but ask again… are you really sure about launching it?”



    Fernando grinned, but he did not shift his eyes away from overseeing the skyship’s preparation. “Yes. What exactly has you worried about the idea?”



    “I’m thinking about our history, to be honest.” The minister missed the sarcasm underpinning Fernando’s seemingly friendly question, so he answered completely seriously. “I worry about the possibility that by launching the skyship, we will cause a series of events that will lead to another civil war and to Regigigas awakening once again.”



    “And you fear that like in ancient times, that should Regigigas reawaken, all of La Ciudad Dorada will be destroyed yet again?” Fernando guessed, though he really was just humoring the minister by acting like he didn’t know the answer.



    “That’s correct, sir.”



    The minister’s naive sincerity left Fernando unable to suppress a laugh, but he quickly apologized. “I’m sorry. I can’t blame you for that concern with Rosalita out there… and it is valid to think that we won’t be able to stop Regigigas from destroying the kingdom completely, given that Rosalita is still out there with Shaymin. That’s how the picture looks to you right now, right?”



    “Again, correct, sir,” answered the minister, bowing his head.



    This got Fernando to turn to face the old man. “That makes sense considering what you know,” he said, tapping the bottom of his staff against the floor. “But what you don’t know is that with the powers of Arcane Science, I’ve developed a special defense mechanism in my workshop for just that occasion. Should Regigigas return, I will be ready to protect La Ciudad Dorada from its judgment.”



    The minister drew in an uncomfortable breath. “I would like to say that your words alleviate all my fears, Count Fernando. Just the possibility of Regigigas awakening worries me, though. Even if we have a defense.”



    “Again, I understand what has you nervous. All I can tell you is that once that secret weapon I developed is loaded onto the skyship, it’ll be ready to deploy the second we need it.”



    -:-



    “Are you alright?”



    Eleanor’s question came right as she and Matt entered the fort’s armory. He’d been very reserved since the two groups split up to carry out their search, and it concerned her. Not only that, but he knew he was acting withdrawn, so her words cut him to the bone despite being so simple and direct.



    A shiver ran through his body, and as he approached the suits of armor in the room, he said to her, “Look around here carefully. There are a lot of places where a key could be hidden.”



    Annoyed by the way Matt completely ignored her question, Eleanor disregarded his instruction and planted herself firmly where she was standing. “I’m not letting you get off that easily!” she snapped, losing control over the volume of her voice for a moment before calming herself. “You’re not okay, I can tell. It’s clear as day.”



    Matt paused. “You’re right… I’m sorry.” He placed his hand on the suit of armor he was looking at, but did not turn around. “I’m a fish out of water here. It’s always just been Amanda and I, and that’s all I’ve ever needed. I’m not used to having this much of a group around me.”



    “Didn’t you have friends back in Rustboro?”



    “A couple,” he replied while he took off the armor’s helmet and examined it. “But none of them were particularly close friends, really. Well, Cassy’s been there a lot, but besides her they haven’t been that close to me. Amanda was always the more social one between us.”



    Matt paid no mind to the fact that Eleanor said nothing more, and simply continued to look over

    the helmet’s interior. He froze, however, when she stepped up right behind him and wrapped her arms around him.



    “If it makes you feel any better,” she said, “I’ve always been an outcast, too. Like I told you last night, there were hundreds of thousands of people around me in Orsay City and I never felt like I could connect with any of them. You’re not alone.”



    “I know I’m not. It’s just weird to me.”



    “You’ll get used to it,” Eleanor told him, releasing her grip and smiling at him when he turned to face her. She then pointed at the suits of armor behind him, arranged neatly into two rows. “So how about we check them out now?”



    “Good idea,” he said, returning her smile.



    The pair set about checking the suits of armor, each taking one row. Matt decided to go over the left side of the room, while Eleanor went to the right.



    A few minutes passed, and Eleanor had just finished inspecting her second suit of armor before a thought popped into her head. “Hey, Matt?” she called over to him. “What did the clue say about the key again?”



    “The body of steel shall awaken only awaken for one who uses the key held by the one who brings forth gratitude,” Matt recalled. “Why did you ask?”



    “You’re certain it said ‘held by the one who brings forth gratitude,’ right?”



    “The Braille text directly said that, yes,” he explained. “It’s a different form of written language, but the symbols translate into ordinary letters. The ones used here do, at least.”



    “So if it’s taken literally, ‘held by the one who brings forth gratitude’ would mean that the key is in the hand of the one we’re looking for,” Eleanor deduced. She glanced down the entire row of armor on her side and observed, “But all of these are just holding swords.”



    “Same on my side,” Matt confirmed. “Not only that, they all look the same. I’d say that means we can rule them all out, since if one sword opened that lock they all would.”



    “You’re right on that one,” Eleanor said as she made her way toward the back of the armory. She glanced at every single suit of armor she passed, but all of them matched each other. “I feel like we’re in the right place, but-”



    A gasp slipped from Eleanor’s mouth when she saw what was right in front of her. She ran straight for it, leaving Matt confused as he tried to catch up.



    “Eleanor, what’s wrong?” he asked her, feeling a rising sense of panic. At that point he couldn’t yet see what had so captured her attention, but as soon as he reached the far end of the lengthy room, he spotted it and immediately understood.



    Eleanor was there looking closely at a statue on a slightly elevated platform. Though it wasn’t a suit of armor, it was shaped from metal, giving it the appearance of one. The only actual armor on the statue were heavy, broad plates on its shoulders.



    “The wanderer who helped found the kingdom,” Matt uttered in surprise.



    “Yeah, and remember what the message wanted us to find?” Eleanor pulled her face away from the statue and jabbed a finger into the air. “‘The key held by the one who brings forth gratitude.’ He’s the one who helped bring forth Shaymin, the Gardener of Gratitude.”



    “So then…” Matt quickly turned his attention to the statue’s right hand, which was resting on a scabbard attached to its waist. “That’s got to be it. Help me get this out.”



    “You got it, chief,” Eleanor replied, playfully saluting.



    Matt and Eleanor started working the statue’s hand away from the sword, taking great care to avoid damaging it. As it turned out, the statue’s arm was built with joints at the shoulder and elbow, making their task much easier. They were able to raise it up into the air with little trouble.



    “This is probably going to be the hard part,” Matt said as he inspected the sword. “The last thing we want to do is knock it over. Can you hold the statue in place while I get the sword out?”



    “Yeah, I got that.”



    Eleanor stepped up and braced the statue by pushing against its shoulders. At the same time, Matt firmly gripped the sword’s hilt and carefully pulled on it. Much to his surprise, it came out of the scabbard far more easily than he anticipated, leaving him to stumble and fall backward. The sword dropped to the floor next to him, sending a metallic crash echoing through the room.



    Eleanor jumped down from the statue stand and said, “You alright?” She offered a hand to help him up and added, “Looks like we almost had a Matt-kebab there.”



    “Don’t joke about that, it was a little too close for comfort.” Matt took Eleanor’s hand, but before he stood up he collected the sword with the other. He held the blade up once he was back on his feet so they both could get a better look at it. Unlike the swords issued to the suits of armor, it was thicker and heavier. “It must have taken a lot of strength to use this, if the replica’s any indication.”



    “Who says it’s a replica?” Eleanor pointed out.



    “I suppose that’s true,” Matt admitted. “Either way, though, I’m guessing this is our key.”



    “I’m sure it is,” Eleanor agreed. “Let’s show it to Rosalita.”



    With the sword in hand, Matt and Eleanor made their way back past the suits of armor and exited into the fort’s mezzanine. From over the railing they could see Sheena and Rosalita waiting at the foot of the stairs with Shaymin, seemingly empty handed.



    “You guys!” Eleanor called down to them as she walked. “We found something!”



    “I hope you did, because we came up empty,” Sheena replied. By that point Matt and Eleanor had reached the stairs and were descending. “Nothing notable except a wardrobe with surprisingly intact clothes. If you call that notable.”



    “What’s that?” Rosalita inquired, having noticed the sword in Matt’s hand.



    “We found it in the armory,” he explained, showing the blade to Rosalita and Sheena as soon as he left the stairs. “There was a metal statue of the wanderer there, and he had it.”



    “‘The key held by the one who brings forth gratitude,’” Rosalita recalled. “That makes perfect sense!”



    “You should be the one to use it,” Matt said, offering the sword to Rosalita with both hands. “It’s your trial, after all. Besides, I can’t hold it and record everything at the same time.”



    Rosalita started to reach for the weapon, but before she took it, she hesitated. The symbolic weight of the action was not lost on her. Her breathing grew shallow, and she stared at the blade. “Once I commit to this, there really is no going back… everything I’ve known will change. My life will never be the same again once this is over…” The more she thought about the responsibilities she had to take on, however, the more confident she began to feel. “No, I can’t feel sorry for myself! My people need me to lead!”



    Having regained her composure, Rosalita accepted the sword from Matt and bowed her head in a modest gesture of gratitude. Shaymin padded up next to her and raised its tiny head into the air, focusing squarely on the princess towering over it.



    “You truly understand what it means to lead the kingdom, yes,” the mythical Pokémon said, shaking its head back and forth. “I can tell, yes? That’s how I knew you were the right choice. When you live as long as I have, you often know what’s right, yes.”



    “Why doesn’t it surprise me that you’d say that?” Matt sarcastically asked Shaymin.



    “Because you know more than you think,” replied the Pokémon. “You are the professor’s grandson, after all, yes? It’s only fitting that you’d understand me, you.”



    Matt furrowed his brow, puzzled by Shaymin’s words. “Why would me being Sutter’s grandson make me understand you?”



    “And here I am noticing that Land Forme Shaymin just ended a sentence with ‘you’ for some reason,” Eleanor added, flicking her hand open.



    “Hey, you’re right,” Rosalita realized. Turning down to Shaymin, she said, “It’s hard for me to remember a time you’ve done that before.”



    “I can say whatever I want whenever I want, yes.” Shaymin raised its nose into the air. “That’s my privilege after so many years serving the royal family.”



    “Nobody can argue with you there,” Rosalita replied, laughing slightly. “I think I’m about ready to face the trial now. Eleanor, if you please, would you lead the way with Litwick’s light?”



    “You got it, Rosa.” Eleanor fetched Litwick’s Poké Ball from her skirt and opened it while pointing it at her shoulder, allowing the candle Pokémon to materialize there. She scratched Litwick’s cheek, earning a squeak of pleasure from her, then asked, “Litwick, would you light the way for me, please?”



    “Wick!” the Ghost-and-Fire-type Pokémon happily replied.



    With that, Eleanor walked over and entered the tunnel underneath the staircase, Litwick’s flame illuminating the narrow space. Rosalita followed after her, carrying the sword firmly in her grip while Shaymin stayed closely at her side. Matt and Sheena went last, the former with his laptop out and recording everything once again. Before long, the quartet was once again before the wall where the Braille puzzle was left ages ago.



    Rosalita stepped forward and, after looking back to make sure Matt was recording, held the sword up. “How fitting,” she said to the others. “There was a great king who once pulled a sword from a stone. Now I’m here putting a sword into a stone. Here goes nothing.”



    The princess’s first motion was a tentative one. She pointed the sword downward and carefully lowered it toward the opening in the floor. After tapping it against the stones a few times to feel out the best way to proceed, she gathered her strength and jammed it into the opening as far as it would go.



    The moment the sword hit the bottom of the slot, bright light burst back out. Rosalita stepped back in surprise and nearly slipped, but Sheena caught her from behind. A line of light traced along the floor from the opening and back up the wall with the Braille on it. It split and filled the wall with an elaborate pattern before the piece with the message pulled back and slid away, revealing a passage heading further underground.



    “This is it,” Rosalita cautiously said, taking a Poké Ball out from her cloak.



    “You know who you will fight with, yes?” Shaymin asked as it scurried into the passage alongside the humans.



    “Of course,” answered the princess. “Adiela and Deivi are well suited for Registeel.”



    “You planned this out in advance?”



    Rosalita nodded to Sheena. “Every heir must face the trials of the Three Pillars to take the throne. I would be failing my predecessors to not be prepared.”



    “I’m proud of you, then,” Sheena said with a warm smile. “You’re more ready to be a leader than I think you realize.”



    “Thank you. I feel better hearing that.”



    The passage ultimately led to a cavern illuminated by a source none of the group could see. As they fanned out, they found that even though the cave was spacious enough, there were few places they could actually go with any ease. The plateau right in front of them was surrounded by jagged ledges on all sides.



    “I don’t think Sally could fly in here,” Matt observed. “The mine was tough enough and this place is even worse.”



    “Same for Reyes,” Rosalita concurred. When she glanced back to talk to Matt, though, she spotted a familiar glow in his bag. “Matt, the puzzle box!”



    Matt hadn’t noticed the glow, so when Rosalita pointed it out, he fumbled to hand his laptop to Eleanor and retrieve the cube. Its shining only continued to intensify, prompting Eleanor to slip on her goggles and lick her lips in anticipation of the battle to come. Matt and Sheena averted their eyes while Rosalita stared squarely at the light until it erupted into a flash that filled the cave.



    Much to the quartet’s surprise, the box immediately ceased glowing afterward.



    “What happened?” Sheena wondered.



    The answer to the priestess’s question came not from any of her companions, be they human or Pokémon. It instead came in the form of heavy, stomping footsteps and a bizarre robotic gurgling that sounded throughout the cave.



    “Prepare yourself,” Shaymin warned Rosalita. “She is here, yes?”



    Matt took his laptop back and pointed it in the direction of the stomping, but then paused and said, “She?”



    There was no time to address Matt’s confusion, for the bulbous, silver body of Registeel loomed into view on one of the cliffs overlooking their position. It jumped down onto the plateau, flailing its black arms and gurgling all the while. After landing with a great crash, it turned using its cylindrical legs to face Rosalita.



    “Registeel, you probably know who I am already.” Rosalita’s body stiffened as her focus from her previous battle returned. “As the crown princess of La Ciudad Dorada, I challenge you!”



    “Steel,” it said in its strange voice, accepting the princess’s challenge. It waved its hand towards itself while the seven dots on its face flashed, urging her on.



    Registeel’s invitation prompted Rosalita to throw the Poké Ball she had ready. It burst open in an unusual flare of vivid, sparkling light, revealing a Shiftry whose appearance caught Matt, Eleanor and Sheena by surprise. Instead of the green color most Shiftry had, Rosalita’s was red with an off-white mane running across his face and down his back.



    “A shiny one?” Matt breathlessly uttered. “I didn’t expect that.”



    In response to Deivi’s appearance, Registeel stared at him and repeatedly stuttered the first part of its name while its dots blinked. It then stomped its feet into the ground and unleashed a mechanical roar, causing an intense red aura to surround its body.



    “What’s that?” Eleanor inquired.



    Sheena didn’t say anything right away. Instead, she clasped her hands together and brought her thoughts into sync with Registeel’s. “It called upon Gaia’s power to strengthen itself for combat,” she revealed. “Makes sense that they could tap into Gaia, since they’re the elements given life.”



    “Regirock didn’t do this, though…” Rosalita realized. “This is the second of the Three Pillars. It’s making it tougher for me to pass…” The princess clenched her fist as she regarded the titan with determination in her eyes. “But I won’t be defeated now. Not after coming this far. Deivi, start off with Low Kick!”



    The Shiftry ran at his opponent, showing great agility despite having to balance on his narrow, peg-like feet. Registeel flashed its lights and then pulled its arms back to form a Focus Blast between them. However, just as it went to throw the glowing sphere, Deivi dropped into a slide, allowing Registeel’s attack to fly harmlessly over him. His foot collided with Registeel’s leg, causing the legendary Pokémon to fall over.



    Deivi leaped away from Registeel while it groaned and pushed itself back onto its feet. Rosalita braced herself, expecting to need a response to Registeel’s next form of offense, but no attack came. Instead, Registeel lurched back, once more pointing its face toward the ceiling. It gurgled and beeped while its dots flashed, then roared with all seven dots turning bright red.



    From elsewhere in the cavern, the voice of another Pokémon made itself known. Its owner quickly revealed itself as a Xatu, who glided over the plateau before deftly landing to stand alongside the titan who summoned her.



    “An ally Pokémon?” Sheena said, bringing her hand to her mouth. “Now that’s a real surprise.”



    “The humans of La Ciudad Dorada live lives based on the gratitude they feel for what they can give each other,” Shaymin told her. “It’s only natural that its Pokémon feel the same way, yes?”



    Rosalita, meanwhile regarded this development with a sense of silent tension. She knew Shaymin’s point well, but she hadn’t factored in the possibility of Registeel calling for help from something like a Xatu.



    “I’ve got to be careful,” she thought, a bead of sweat rolling down her face. “If I knew a Flying-type would come, I’d have started with Adiela instead. But I can’t feel any doubt now, and besides, this might still work.” Sweeping her hand in front of herself, Rosalita commanded, “Deivi, use Dark Pulse on Xatu!”



    The Shiftry brought his leafy hands together, forming a cluster of black energy rings between them. Xatu fearlessly faced the oncoming dark vortex, opting to raise her wings up instead of escaping. At the same time that Dark Pulse threw Xatu back, a gust of wind started to blow from behind her and Registeel. Harnessing this wind, Registeel effortlessly glided at Deivi while its body gleamed with a metallic glow.



    “Tailwind!” Rosalita gasped, barely able to react before the impact of Registeel’s Iron Head sent Deivi crashing into a rock. She tensed up, bracing herself by moving her left leg back, then tersely noted, “That’ll make Registeel more agile than Regirock was…”



    Xatu was busy, meanwhile. She swayed her wings from side to side and calmly chanted. Her dance caused dark clouds to materialize over the plateau, which soon brought rain. Sheena touched her cheek when the first drop landed on it, then looked at the damp spot on her hand.



    “Rain Dance…” she said, blinking. “That’s useful for Registeel’s ally Pokémon to know.”



    “You!” As the rain grew steady, Shaymin lunged into Sheena’s arms. “Keep me dry!” it told her while burying itself.



    “You’re really in quite the mood today, aren’t you?” joked Eleanor.



    “I’m not a plant, yes?!” Shaymin was indignant. Evidently, Eleanor’s attempt at humor hadn’t landed. “I don’t want to get all soggy!”



    “It’s fine,” Sheena assured the Pokémon, bringing one of her arms over it. “I’ll keep you dry.”



    “Thank you. I like you, yes?”



    Sheena didn’t answer, but she didn’t need to. Shaymin knew how she felt from the fact that several flowers sprouted out of its back as it nestled in her arms.



    Rosalita, meanwhile, had remained focused on her battle. Deivi and Registeel were rushing each other, the latter able to better match the former’s pace thanks to Tailwind. Low Kick met Iron Head, and both combatants were launched back from each other. Xatu, had been hanging back and gathering up energy, and chose that moment to unleash an orange-and-gold aura that formed the shape of a phoenix around her. When she shot forward and collided with Deivi, the aura exploded, leaving the Shiftry sprawled out unconscious on the ground, covered in burn marks from the intense energy.



    “Sky Attack,” Matt said in awe.



    “Deivi, I’m sorry,” Rosalita apologized while sending her Shiftry back to the shelter of his Poké Ball. Once he had been recalled, she lowered her head. “I should have known better and prepared for something like this,” she thought. “I can learn from it now, though. Adiela won’t do well in the rain. That means I might need to put Registeel aside for now and focus on Xatu… and I think I know the best way to do that.”



    Reaching into her cloak, the princess removed and threw another of her Poké Balls. Her Luxray, Isabel, emerged from the sphere and roared.



    Rosalita wasted no time in issuing her next order. “Isabel, Xatu’s your target! Strike with Thunderbolt!”



    All three Pokémon on the plateau started moving at the same time. While Isabel’s mane crackled with her electricity, Xatu started gathering energy in preparation for another Sky Attack. Registeel, well aware of Rosalita and Isabel’s intent, called forth its own electrical energy. Isabel’s Thunderbolt and Registeel’s Thunder cast dramatic flash upon the battle as they forked through the rain-filled air. When they met, their respective powers were largely nullified by the resulting explosion. Enough of Thunder remained, however, to continue on and hit Isabel, though it had little effect.



    What Registeel had done wasn’t lost on Rosalita. “So it will run interference to protect Xatu,” she said to herself. “If that’s the case, we’ll need to fight up close, Isabel. Go in for a Throat Chop!”



    A purple, flame-like aura engulfed Isabel’s front right paw as she darted at Xatu, who met her charge head-on with Sky Attack. Despite the great force of Xatu’s dive, Isabel was able to overwhelm her. With the Psychic-and-Flying-type stunned, Isabel took the opportunity to drive her glowing paw directly into Xatu’s neck.



    “Follow that with Thunderbolt!” Rosalita cried out.



    Since she was already on top of Xatu, all Isabel had to do was discharge electricity from her body. The strength of her Thunderbolt was such that it propelled her away from Xatu. Registeel’s ally was left lying still on the ground, weakly twitching and unable to continue fighting.



    “Perfect!” exclaimed the princess, clapping her hands together. “Now to deal with Registeel…”



    Rosalita looked around, then froze. Registeel was nowhere in sight. It was as if the titan had simply vanished into thin air.



    “Did any of you see where Registeel went?” Rosalita called to Matt, Eleanor and Sheena. She could feel her skin crawling from how nervous she was.



    Before she could get an answer, Registeel’s robotic gurgling emerged from above them. The quartet hastily turned to find the source of the noise, only to discover Registeel lumbering toward the edge of the cliff overlooking Isabel’s position.



    “How did it get up there?” Rosalita wondered before shaking her head. “Isabel, get out of there, hurry!”



    Before the Luxray could react, Registeel simply stepped over the precipice. The metallic shine of Iron Head surrounded it as it fell, and Isabel was too caught by surprise to react. Registeel plummeted straight into her, landing with a loud crash.



    “Isabel! Are you okay?!”
     
  14. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    The answer to Rosalita’s plea came in the form of a Thunderbolt that erupted from beneath Registeel as the titan stood back up. It reeled back, making mechanical spitting noises while the shock worked through its body. Isabel emerged from the hole created by Iron Head just as Xatu’s earlier Tailwind petered out.



    “Have you got anything left, Isabel?” Before Rosalita even finished asking her question, Isabel had lowered herself and begun growling at Registeel. “Thank you,” the princess said with a smile. “Let’s go all out one last time. Superpower!”



    After returning Rosalita’s smile, Isabel tensed all the muscles in her body, giving herself a somewhat swollen appearance. She sprang at Registeel and tackled the titan hard enough to force its heavy iron body back through the dirt. The legendary Pokémon reacted by spinning its left arm in a full circle, allowing a black light to form the shape of a claw around it before crashing it down into Isabel’s head.



    Isabel didn’t faint from the blow, but she did stumble away from Registeel. Rosalita already had the Luxray’s Poké Ball ready to recall her, and pointed it at Isabel as the two Pokémon separated. “That was good, Isabel,” Rosalita thanked her once she was pulled back into the sphere. Before she could move on to her next combatant, the rain tapered off and the clouds hanging over the cave cleared up. “I lost track of that…” the princess thought to herself. “I don’t know if I’m confident enough to send Adiela in just yet, though, even with the rain gone. I think I need to work it down a little more first…”



    Rosalita had her hand on one Poké Ball within her cloak, but moved away from it and threw another instead. Her Leavanny, Elena, materialized from it and yawned.



    As soon as he saw the Bug-and-Grass-type Pokémon, Matt shivered. Even with her attention safely diverted in battle, his memories of the way Elena had strung him, Eleanor and Sheena up at the mine sent a subconscious chill down his spine.



    Shaymin noticed his reaction. Poking its head out from Sheena’s arms, it said to him, “Rosalita knows what she’s doing with Leavanny, yes? I think you’ve experienced that yourself.”



    “Stop reminding me,” Matt sighed, tightening his grip on his laptop.



    “Elena,” Rosalita said to her Pokémon, “we’re just weakening Registeel up a bit, alright? There’s not much we need to do.”



    “Va,” replied Elena.



    “Glad to hear it!” Rosalita exclaimed. She snapped her fingers, pointed at Registeel and said, “Hit it with Throat Chop!”



    The same flaming purple aura that surrounded Isabel’s paw earlier flared to life around Elena’s leafy arms. Moving deftly on her spindly legs, she closed the distance between herself and Registeel in the blink of an eye and struck the titan squarely in the face. Registeel shuddered and beeped, its dots flashing rhythmically. It tried to grab Elena, but she slipped between its arms, flipped over its head, and delivered another chop directly to its back.



    By that point, Registeel’s beeping and gurgling had turned plainly angry and its movements became wild and aggressive. Instead of trying to aim for Elena, it spun around in place, wildly flailing its arms. One of its Shadow Claw attacks caught Elena in the cheek, knocking her down and stunning her. Registeel then lumbered over and picked her up. Trapped in the titan’s grip, Elena thrashed around but couldn’t get away from the Focus Blast Registeel formed around her. The pulsating orb exploded almost instantly upon taking shape, throwing Elena through the air toward her trainer.



    “This is getting to be rougher than I expected,” Rosalita fretted as she watched her Leavanny stand back up. “Elena, I’m sorry. Can you use String Shot to hold Registeel down?”



    Registeel already had its arms pulled back and a new Focus Blast forming between them. Just when it pulled back in preparation to fling the orb, however, Elena spit several wads of sticky silk at it. One of them hit Registeel in the face, while two more caught its arms, adhering them to the ground. The air in the cave filled with the sounds of Registeel gurgling and grunting angrily while it struggled against its bonds, which had it held leaning back at an awkward angle.



    “Well done, Elena. You can rest now.”



    Rosalita held up a Poké Ball, allowing a red beam of light emerged from it and contacted Elena, pulling her back into the sphere. Right before transforming back into energy, she exhaled and relaxed.



    “You’re almost there,” Sheena said in encouragement, earning a tired but glowing smile from the princess. “You can do this.”



    “I can do this,” Rosalita repeated. She gazed at her reflection in the surface of the new Poké Ball in her hand, fidgeting it around instead of throwing it. “After this, only Regice remains, she reminded herself. “Then we’re free from what this has caused… I’ll endure anything if it means I can get those days back again.”



    Having firmed up her resolve, Rosalita finally pulled her arm back and tossed the ball toward the still-struggling Registeel. When it burst open, the lithe, majestic form of a Rapidash appeared from within. She pawed at the ground and neighed fiercely, the flames on her head, back and legs blazing in a magnificent display of power.



    “Wow, impressive,” Matt said, making sure to focus his laptop’s camera at the equine Pokémon. “I’ve seen plenty of Rapidash before, but this one… it stands out.”



    “That the Adiela you mentioned before?” Eleanor asked.



    “She is,” Rosalita proudly told the others. “My very first Pokémon…” Turning back to Registeel, who was still struggling against the binding effect of String Shot, the princess added, “But I’ll have to tell you about her another time. Adiela, let’s pass this trial. Use Flame Charge!”



    Adiela neighed again and lowered her head, pointing her horn in Registeel’s direction. While she galloped at the titan, her flames fused together to form a cloak of fire around her body. Registeel groaned loudly when she collided with it, but that groan swiftly morphed into a vicious growl as electricity sparked around it. Adiela was unable to escape the Thunder attack it soon unleashed.



    “Adiela, I know it’s rough but I also know you can handle it!” Rosalita told her Rapidash, who was bucking around and snorting while the electricity coursed through her body. Hearing these words of confidence calmed the Fire-type, and the confident grace she initially projected returned. Rosalita happily said to Adiela, “Very good. We’re close now, so keep using Flame Charge again and again.”



    Every time Adiela’s flame-cloaked form made contact with Registeel, her subsequent movements grew faster. This didn’t matter much when it came to her reaching the still-bound titan. Where it made a difference was instead in Adiela’s ability to evade the Thunder attacks Registeel countered with. Bolt after bolt split the air, but Adiela deftly danced around them until she saw an opening for her next strike.



    While Rosalita watched her Rapidash’s lithe motions, she found herself falling into a memory from her childhood.



    It was the day their parents had taken Rosalita and Fernando out of the palace to see their city up close for the first time. The royal family possessed a personal carriage for their trips into La Ciudad Dorada, pulled by a pair of Rapidash that their servants trained. Rosalita, then only a few years old, fell in love with them at first sight. She admired the serene yet powerful beauty they projected. By the time she was in the carriage with her parents and brother, her heart was already set on having a Rapidash of her own, a wish soon fulfilled when Sophia gifted her a Ponyta she named Adiela.



    A bolt of electricity shot close by Rosalita, snapping her back to the present as a gust blew through her billowing hair. Adiela was literally running rings around Registeel, who kept fruitlessly lashing out with Thunder. Its growling had grown weak, and the flashing of its dots dramatically slowed.



    “Adiela, use Flame Charge one more time,” she called out, “but aim for the strings!”



    As soon as Registeel’s electric barrage ceased, Adiela moved in once more. The opening was brief, but it was more than enough for her to ignite the threads Elena left behind. Registeel, trapped at the center of the inferno, could do nothing but groan and flail once the string burned away.



    Adiela backed away and warily observed Registeel’s actions. Behind her, Rosalita, Matt, Eleanor and Sheena did the same. The titan’s thrashing eventually did dispel the flames, but it could only take one step forward before gurgling out its name a final time before falling face-first into the dirt.



    “We did it!” Rosalita beamed. She couldn’t stop herself from jumping into the air before running to embrace Adiela, who whinnied proudly. When she heard the others approaching her, though, her face flushed. “I mean, that’s the second one down…”



    “Just because you’re a crown princess doesn’t mean you have to always act like one,” Sheena said with a smile. “Feel free to let yourself enjoy things.”



    Sheena’s encouragement was all Rosalita needed to relax and embrace her Rapidash again. Meanwhile, from its place in Sheena’s arms, Shaymin indignantly piped up, “I’m the one who’s guiding the princess, yes? Don’t try to make me obsolete!”



    “Don’t worry, Shaymin, nobody can replace you,” Sheena told it while stroking its back.



    “That’s right, yes,” it replied, snuggling back into Sheena’s arms and sprouting several flowers.



    “Did you get all of that?” Rosalita asked Matt, gesturing to his laptop.



    “Every second. Don’t you worry, I’m making sure I get as complete a record as possible.”



    “Thank you.” The princess put her hand on her heart and curtsied. “It’s very important to me that this custom be recorded. One of my goals for when I am queen is to help the world better understand us. They can’t truly know without seeing for themselves.”



    “I hear you on that,” Matt agreed. “I think that was what drove Sutter, too. He had a thirst for learning about other cultures. I’m sure that’s why he came here.” Turning to Sheena, he added, “That’s why he studied the Tenganists, too.”



    “You’re gonna be a great queen, Rosa,” Eleanor cheerfully said, throwing her arm around the princess’s shoulder. “Don’t forget about me when you make it.”



    “I won’t forget any of you,” promised Rosalita. “You’ve stood by me this far, and that’s already more than I could ever have asked for.”



    “Ah, look at that!” Sheena intervened, pointing the others’ attention over to Registeel.

    The titan was emitting a gentle golden light, and right as Matt pointed his laptop at it, the puzzle box emerged from his bag and floated into the air. “It’s like what happened with Regirock,” he realized as the rays of light joined Registeel and the box together.



    “A body of steel.” Much like what had happened in the mine, an unfamiliar voice addressed the group, speaking into their minds like it was coming from everywhere at once. This one was feminine and youthful but authoritative, lacking the rough edge that defined the voice they heard before. “To summon the king, such a thing must be obtained.”



    “So that’s why Shaymin called Registeel a she.” Matt turned his head back and forth as if he was searching for the source of the voice, even as he knew very well he wasn’t going to find it. His focus returned to Registeel just in time for him to see it dissolve away and the puzzle box fall to the ground.



    “Did it change?” Rosalita asked him as he picked the cube up. Instead of answering, he held the box up and turned it, revealing that the sides marked with Registeel’s dot patterns were now glowing as well. “That seals it, then. Two down, and only Regice to go.”



    “But if you recall, we never solved the third clue,” Eleanor pointed out.



    “That’s true,” Matt realized. “We never got beyond it talking about a hidden message and showing a symbol that looked like Shaymin’s flower.”



    “Surely you can solve that riddle, yes?” Shaymin said, leaping out of Sheena’s arms. “You have the professor’s blood in you, after all.”



    “That doesn’t mean I know all the things he knew.”



    “I don’t know if you need to worry about it, actually…” Eleanor interjected. She was staring off in the direction where Registeel had been, and removed her goggles so she could squint at something she spotted on the stone wall at the far end of the plateau. “I think I found that hidden message.”



    The engineer made her way across Registeel’s battlefield, and her friends followed. Her vision hadn’t failed her. By the time the group clustered around the wall, they all could see that it was covered in Braille, but not only that, there was a familiar symbol on it.



    “There’s that mark again,” Sheena pointed out, running her hand over the featureless caricature of Shaymin’s flower. “You’re right, Eleanor. This must be what that third clue was referring to.”



    “I knew you would solve the riddle, yes,” Shaymin remarked, proudly strutting up behind the humans.



    “You said Matt would solve it,” Eleanor said to the Pokémon, “not me.”



    “But Shaymin also didn’t say there was only one riddle.” Matt’s eyes were locked on to the writing before him, but the longer he examined it, the more visibly confused he grew. “This doesn’t make any sense. The text is all garbled.”



    “What do you mean?” Rosalita asked him.



    “It’s just a jumble of letters,” he elaborated, “a big incoherent mess. It’s not accidental, though. Whoever created this message clearly intended to write exactly these characters.”



    Sheena turned to Rosalita and said, “Didn’t you say you saw the symbol in a book your parents showed you?”



    “I did, but like I said, I don’t really get what it means.”



    “I have an idea,” Matt declared. While hastily typing commands into his laptop, he explained, “There’s a possibility this might be some kind of code, and if that’s the case, perhaps the book you remember is the key to breaking it. I’m going to call Cassy and see if she’s found it.” He set his laptop down on a nearby stone and reached into his bag, fetching a pair of small, transparent bottles. Each one contained an herb with gnarled green leaves floating in liquid. “Give these to the Pokémon who battled Registeel,” he instructed Rosalita as he handed the bottles over to her. “They’re bitter but there’s not much out there that revitalizes Pokémon better.”



    “Revival Herbs…” she said, recognizing the plants. “You carry them around everywhere?”



    “They stay good for a long time if you buy them from people who properly preserve them,” Matt explained. “I learned that they’re good to have on my trips with my grandfather, when a Pokémon Center isn’t always nearby.”



    “Good idea, and a lucky one considering we don’t have a Pokémon Center in La Ciudad Dorada.” Rosalita stashed the bottles away in her cloak, freeing up her hands so she could get the Poké Balls containing Deivi, Isabel, Elena and Adiela out. The four Pokémon materialized before her in flashes of light, Deivi’s a bit more dazzling than the others. “Matt gave me some Revival Herbs for you all,” she told them as she retrieved the bottles.



    Matt, Eleanor and Sheena, meanwhile, clustered around his laptop. One window on its screen contained the camera footage of the message on the wall, while a second window showed a rotating wheel against a flat gray background. That image soon disappeared to make room for a direct video link to Cassy in Lingote Palace’s archive.



    “Did something happen?” she immediately asked Matt, skipping past any sort of greeting. “What went wrong?”



    “Nothing went wrong,” he replied, “there’s nothing for you to worry about.” Cassy visibly relaxed, and Matt continued, “We’ve found two of the three points on the road to the Golden City, but neither Rosalita or I can solve the third clue.”



    “Neither Rosalita or I? Is that why he warned me that Fernando was the dangerous one?” Cassy stiffened again but did not otherwise let on that she’d caught Matt’s mention of Fernando’s sister. “What exactly is stopping you from solving it?” she asked instead.



    “Here, have a look.” With the click of a few keys, Matt brought the image of the message up so Cassy could see it.



    “It’s Braille,” she said, furrowing her brow. “I’m not the one who can read it, you are.”



    “The problem is that it doesn’t form anything coherent. It’s just a mess of random letters.”



    “I’m not sure what you’re asking me to do.” Cassy leaned over, propping her head up with her hand.



    “I want you to see this symbol.” More taps on the keyboard made the camera zoom in on the flowery shape. “Rosalita says she saw this in a book her parents showed her, but she can’t remember what its meaning was. Have you-”



    “I did!” Cassy exclaimed, her bored manner giving way to the more passionate side that knowledge often brought out in her. She moved out of sight for a moment, and the only sign of what she was doing was the sound of her fumbling with the books that surrounded her. When she returned, she held one particular tome in her hand. She held it up to the camera, showing off that it had the same symbol on its red, leathery cover.



    “That’s the book!” Rosalita said, having returned to the group after giving her Pokémon the Revival Herbs.



    Cassy pulled the volume away and started flipping through it. “It’s a history of the kingdom’s military. I noticed while I was reading it that there are a lot of similarities between Pokémon that have served here over the centuries and the types that attacked the garden. Probopass, Electivire, Magmortar… have you seen any others?”



    Matt could feel his heart sinking. He instantly knew what Cassy was suggesting. “We ran into the Pokémon hunters who controlled those Pokémon. They had Yanmega, Togekiss, Honchkrow, Lickilicky…”



    “They’re all here,” Cassy ominously revealed. “The only one I haven’t seen is Heatran… but if the attackers are mimicking the kingdom’s military history, I did find one other Pokémon…”



    “Please don’t say Dragonite,” Matt practically begged her.



    When Cassy went silent, that was all Matt needed to confirm his worst fears. He stood up and stepped away from the computer, removed his glasses, and ran his hand down his face. Rosalita hurried after him and grabbed his shoulder to get his attention.



    “I-”



    “Your brother killed my grandfather,” he said, cutting her off. “I’m certain of it now. Noel and Leon are just his stooges, they aren’t consciously following La Ciudad Dorada’s history. They didn’t even know Shaymin had another form. There’s only one person who would go to that length, who would have access to those collars.”



    “I-I’m sorry…” Rosalita’s grip loosened, and her hand fell off his shoulder. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the Pokémon they were using mimicking our military. If Fernando set this up, he kept it a secret from everyone. I didn’t know he had any Pokémon…”



    “But Shaymin should have known about the military of the past!” Matt fumed, spinning around on his heel to confront the tiny Pokémon. “Why didn’t you tell me when you saw what they were using?”



    “I couldn’t let you fall to the same fate as the professor, yes?” Shaymin revealed. “If you knew the truth you would have thrown caution to the wind and gone to fight Fernando yourself. Should he get possession of the Three Pillars’ puzzle box, he would be able to work things out for himself without you, even if it would be harder than using you. I did it to protect you, yes.”



    Much to Shaymin’s surprise, it was Rosalita instead of Matt who came over and picked it up. It squeaked, but the harsh anger on Rosalita’s face didn’t change at all. “I don’t care if you’ve served my family for seven hundred years or not. What you did was wrong. Matt had every right to know that Fernando was the one who killed Sutter. I had every right to know Fernando was the one who killed Sutter. This is why I believe we need to stop being so secretive about our traditions. When I am queen, that is going to change. Now apologize.”



    Rosalita’s outburst left Shaymin completely stunned. Never in its centuries of life had anyone, let alone a member of the royal family, spoken to it in such a way. Such a display of insolence would normally provoke a stern response. Yet, Rosalita’s demand for an apology only made Shaymin recall what the wanderer had tasked it with doing so long ago. “You are the one who must keep them on the path of righteousness and wisdom,” his words echoed in its head. It had always thought it was doing that, but looking into Rosalita’s eyes and seeing the sheer hurt in them made it question whether it had actually been tricking them instead of guiding them all along. It had felt those doubts about that after the first civil war, too, but was able to settle itself once settling on the story about the king’s ambitious brother. Now, though, all those doubts had come roaring back.



    “I apologize… to both of you,” it finally said. “All this time I’ve been doing what I thought was right to keep your family and the people you lead on the path of gratitude, Rosalita. Now I see that I didn’t have faith in you to be able to do it yourselves, yes… I sanitized history to keep the peace and that led to this, did it not?”



    “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think so,” Matt interjected. “The saying goes, ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ If you don’t know the truth about history you can’t learn from it.”



    “I apologize for hiding the professor’s killer from you, too, but I want to hear the answer from Rosalita, yes.”



    “Matt has a point,” Rosalita said, turning the sternness Shaymin ordinarily would have displayed against it. “Things are going to have to change in La Ciudad Dorada. But first, we must stop Fernando and save him.”



    “Save him?!” Matt couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Even now?!”



    “He took my parents from me the same way he took your grandfather from you and Amanda,” the princess said, her voice icy and flat. “That’s not Shaymin’s fault, that’s Fernando’s and no one else’s. But at the same time, he’s my brother. He has to be stopped, but I still believe that once the truth about our history is revealed, he will return to being the person he used to be. In fact, I believe that now more than ever. His crimes are his to be punished for, but it was all the secrecy that convinced him there was a greater truth to find. The secrecy was what warped him.”



    “I will never forgive him for what he did to Sutter,” Matt firmly reiterated, “but if the best way to ensure he gets punished for it is for me to support you, then that’s what I’m going to do. I’m in your corner now, one hundred percent.”



    “Thank you.” As Rosalita put Shaymin down and turned around, Matt thought to himself that just a day earlier she probably would have been emotional in her gratitude. Yet there she was in front of him, her manner as hard as Registeel’s iron. He wasn’t sure if he was pleased or worried to see her so determined. It reminded him of Fernando. “Come on, let’s go solve that message,” she told him, snapping him out of his daze.



    “I guess I have to take things as they are now,” he decided. “Shaymin was right when it said I’d go after Fernando, but now… I won’t abandon Rosalita or any of them.”



    “I will give you the answer, yes,” Shaymin remorsefully offered, padding along after Matt and Rosalita on their way back to Sheena and Eleanor.



    “No, we’ll do it on our own,” Rosalita said. “There has to still be some meaning in something. If I have to be the first leader in however much time to walk this trail with a clear mind, I-” For a moment, Rosalita’s resolve wavered. “I will carry that burden.”



    Neither Matt nor Shaymin could say anything more.


    “What was all that about?” Cassy questioned Matt when she saw him return to her sight.



    “If the culprit behind all of this is imitating the history of the Doradan military as you suggested, it could only be Fernando.” Matt ran his hand down his face before quietly adding, “He must be Sutter’s killer, too. He’s got those hunters following me, but Cassy, as long as you’re in Lingote Palace, you’re in danger. It might already be too late for you to get away.”



    Much to Matt’s surprise, Cassy had barely any visible reaction. “No, you’re looking at it wrong. He can’t do a thing to me. As long as I’m here, he can use me as leverage to pull your strings.”



    “Are you really fine with that?” Sheena interjected, caught off guard by Cassy’s indifference to her situation.



    Cassy grit her teeth, but hid it by pressing her lips together. “I’m perfectly fine with that. Besides, you’re all going to see the search for the Golden City to the end, right? If I’m here and Fernando thinks I’m an asset, he won’t hurt either of us since he’ll see you doing what he wants.”



    “I guess you have a point…” Despite agreeing with her, Matt still held deep reservations about Cassy’s plan. “The board could be upended at any time, though. If he decides he no longer needs us, you won’t be safe anymore.”



    “Relax, there’s nothing for you to worry about,” Cassy said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You want to know what else I found in that book?”



    “Tell us,” Rosalita insisted.



    “I was talking to Matt…” Cassy was barely able to mask the irritated sigh that slipped from her mouth. “...but alright. I found a page in it that also bears the symbol and has nothing to do with the military. Here.”



    Cassy held the book up so Matt and the others could see it. The page in question was covered in Braille marks, with the flower symbol stamped on the corner. As soon as he saw it, Matt covered his chin and mouth in thought.



    “What is it?” Sheena asked him.



    “This is a standard Braille alphabet, no doubt about it. I’d recognize it anywhere.” Matt pointed at one of the characters, which had the letter ‘G’ written below it. It was the only one to have a letter tied to it. “But this… this is wrong. That’s not ‘G,’ that one’s ‘D.’ Why would they have a Braille alphabet that’s so clearly wrong?”



    “I’d say it’s a deliberate choice by whoever did it,” Eleanor reasoned. “All the other Braille has made sense so far.”



    “I agree with you,” Rosalita concurred.



    “Wait…” A realization struck Matt’s mind, and he lashed his head around toward Eleanor so quickly that it shook his hair. “What did you just say?”



    “That it was deliberate?” Matt’s sustained look of inquisitiveness prompted Eleanor to continue. “All the Braille we’ve seen until this point has made perfect sense.”



    “All the Braille to this point.” Matt raised a finger into the air. “What have we got here now? A garbled, incoherent message and an alphabet that mistranslates the Braille. But what if it’s not mistranslated?”



    “A cipher,” Rosalita recognized.



    “And its key.” Matt started typing furiously, saying while he did so, “That’s why everything related to this message had the symbol on it. We were meant to connect them all together. And I’d bet that’s exactly why you were meant to be shown that book by your parents, Rosalita. One day you were meant to arrive here, discover the cipher, and crack it with the key from that book.”



    “There’s the Matt I want to see,” Cassy proudly said from behind the book.



    “What’s the secret of the key?” asked Sheena.



    “If I’m right, each character is three letters away from what it should be. Like the one in the book? That one showed the character for ‘D’ marked as ‘G.’ It goes ‘E,’ ‘F,’ ‘G.’ If we assume that all the characters in this message are displaced in the same way, then…” Matt interrupted his own thought to exclaim, “I got it!”



    “You finished it?”



    “Yes, Rosalita!” he enthusiastically said, pushing his laptop toward the others. “Have a look.”



    Matt’s work had produced a duplicate of the carving on the laptop’s screen. He had adjusted it to correct the Braille in accordance with his theory on the key, then translated it into familiar letters.



    “The king must face both the heat of the peoples’ eye and the cold burden of their position,” Rosalita read aloud. “Yes, having gone through the earth, whoever shall wear the crown must now travel to the end of the realm. The body of ice awaits in the land consumed by what dispels gratitude, at the site where king first turned on king.”



    “Something’s a little bit odd about how that one’s written,” Matt thought to himself. He kept his concerns quiet, however, and instead asked Rosalita, “Where king first turned on king?”



    “It’s referring to the place where the civil war began,” the princess explained, “and I know where that is. Let me see the map.”



    Matt complied with Rosalita’s request, manipulating the data on his laptop in order to bring up the picture of the map from the archive. The windows containing the Braille messages disappeared, while Cassy’s video feed shrank into the corner.



    “It’s here,” Rosalita pointed out, placing her finger on a location at the far side of the mountain range. “The body of ice awaits in the land consumed by what dispels gratitude, at the site where king first turned on king. That location is where the first battle of the civil war was fought, and it’s frequently snowing there. The cold is what dispels gratitude, ask Shaymin.”



    The mythical Pokémon didn’t wait for any of its human companions to say anything. “I really don’t like the cold, yes?” it whimpered. “In fact, it’s hard for me to even keep my other form when it gets too cold. I like staying in the palace instead.”



    “There’s not a single one of us who wouldn’t rather live in a palace,” Eleanor teased it, “I’d bet money on that.”



    “I’m happy with my home in Michina,” Sheena said. “I’ve never needed a lot in life. But it sounds like a dream of yours, Eleanor.”



    “Won’t deny it.” Eleanor shut her eyes and smiled dreamily. “If I could be reincarnated in a future life, I would want to be the royal engineer of La Ciudad Dorada. Just a few days here has already made me want to stay.”



    “You do realize you don’t need to be reincarnated for that to happen, right?” Rosalita pointed out.



    Eleanor froze. It took a moment for the offer implicit in Rosalita’s words to sink in. “Aha, don’t joke like that, Rosa,” she dismissively said. “I’m nobody. I don’t deserve a place in actual nobility.”



    “I might not be able to just confer a title upon you, but I’m not joking,” insisted the princess. “It’s within my power to give you a job in the palace once I’m queen. I-”



    Rosalita couldn’t finish before Eleanor tightly embraced her. “Thank you so much, Rosa! I-I mean it… I’ve felt so comfortable hanging out with you guys, and La Ciudad Dorada’s a town that speaks to me, you know?”



    “Don’t worry about it at all,” Rosalita soothingly said, her words accompanied by a comforting pat on the head. “You might all be foreigners, but when you’re in La Ciudad Dorada, you’re a part of it. That makes it my responsibility to do right by you.”



    Watching the scene from nearby, Shaymin said to no one in particular, “That’s the gratitude I want to see!” It couldn’t help but shake its body as multiple flowers erupted from its back.



    “I don’t want to bring you down,” Matt said to Eleanor and Rosalita, “but we can’t do anything about that until we stop Fernando.”



    Rosalita hesitated, but after looking to Eleanor and Sheena, she nodded. “You’re correct. We’d best be off to find Regice right away. Eleanor, you can get us there, right?”



    “It would be my pleasure, Rosa,” Eleanor replied, holding the sides of her dress and curtsying. She froze mid-gesture, looked up and playfully corrected, “Excuse me, Queen. Queen Rosa.”



    Rosalita couldn’t even get her hand up to her mouth before she started laughing. “Yes… that was just what I needed today. Thank you.”



    Satisfied that his companions were ready to move on, Matt turned his attention to his laptop. “And thanks for helping us out, Cassy. I couldn’t have figured that one out without you.”



    “That’s why I stayed here, after all. But…” Cassy’s expression hardened. “I found something else while I was reading.”



    “What?” Matt could tell Cassy’s new discovery was of some importance from his demeanor, and the way he momentarily lost control of the volume of his voice attracted the attention of the others just as quickly. “What are you talking about?”



    Cassy reached out of the view of the camera, then held the photograph of Sutter up to it. “What’s the deal here?”



    Nobody noticed Rosalita freeze up the instant she saw the photograph. “Oh no… I can’t deal with this now…”[/I] she thought, sharing a nervous, knowing glance with Shaymin. “I’m terrible… I talk about revealing secrets and yet here I am not telling him what really happened… I just can’t right now, not after what we just learned…”



    “I-” Finding himself at a loss for words, Matt covered his mouth with his hand. All he could eventually say was, “It doesn’t make sense…”



    “That’s Sutter Chiaki,” Sheena quietly observed, but who are the others? They look familiar.”



    “The old man’s Fernando VI,” Cassy revealed. “I know. I went right up to the so-called statue of him and compared… it’s definitely him. The younger one? I don’t know for sure, but I have to assume that’s Fernando VII.”



    Sheena peered over to Matt, who was still fixated on the image of his grandfather with the puzzle box, the king and the prince. “Well, he came to La Ciudad Dorada during Fernando VI’s reign to search for the Golden City, no? Given how respected a man Professor Chiaki was, it’s not surprising that the royal family would keep something from that visit.”



    “You’re wrong,” Matt weakly replied, “This can’t be from then.”



    “You see it too, right?” Cassy ventured.



    “Yeah, I do…” He brought his finger to the screen to help manipulate the photo for the others, shifting and zooming in on the bronze arches before pointing a shaking finger at the image. “Sheena, Eleanor, look right there. Recognize that?” Matt didn’t give time for them to reply. “It’s the museum in Lingote Palace… as it was when we saw it. Completed.”



    “And you said Sutter came to La Ciudad Dorada during the time Godey was designing and building it,” Sheena realized.



    “Surely there’s an answer in the archive somewhere,” Rosalita emphatically told the others. The thought of blurting the truth out flickered across the princess’ mind, only for the stress of revealing the truth behind the photograph to prove too much and force her to gulp down her words. Turning her back on them, she shook her head and before tersely suggesting, “Keep searching in there. Maybe you’ll find something.”



    “Wait, don’t you kn-”



    It wasn’t that Rosalita ignored Cassy’s plea. She certainly heard it, but the only acknowledgement she was willing to give was to clenching her teeth, and with her back turned none of the others could see it. She walked off without another word, heading for the stairs back out of Registeel’s cave with Shaymin nipping at her heels.



    “Cassy, thanks again. I’ll call you again soon.”



    Matt dismissed the video call, leaving a confused Cassy to vanish from the screen, then closed his laptop and tucked it back into his bag. He stumbled after Rosalita, and Eleanor and Sheena followed.



    “Hey, you know what?” Eleanor said to Sheena as they walked. “I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts there’s something we don’t know about going on here.”



    “Oh, definitely,” Sheena agreed. “That’s an understatement if I’ve ever heard one. Thing is, I don’t know if we’ve got the time to worry about it now.”



    “True.”


    By the time Matt, Eleanor and Sheena surfaced in the entrance hall of the fort, Rosalita was nearly back to the exit outside. The three quickened their pace to catch up with her.



    “Rosalita, slow down…”



    Instead of just slowing when Matt suggested it, Rosalita stopped. “That was the Cassy you mentioned earlier, correct?” she asked, forcing a smile even as she faced away from him. “She seems quite smart. I’m confident she’ll determine the answer behind that photograph.”



    “She is, but…” Matt’s agreement with the princess’s praise of Cassy was all he could manage. Anything further he could have said died off long before it reached his lips.



    Eleanor and Sheena, meanwhile, shared a glance as the group started moving again. The engineer then started to say, “You know, I’m starting to think-”



    Whatever was on Eleanor’s mind would never get a chance to be said, as it was not only the sun that greeted them when they got outside. The moment they passed through the doorway of the fort, a Tangrowth crashed down in front of them. Matt slipped and nearly fell thanks to how quickly he jumped back, while Sheena put her arm up to protect her face, but Eleanor and Rosalita were much more restrained. Eleanor simply pulled her goggles back over her eyes, and Rosalita braced herself, knowing right away that Registeel would not be the only test she faced that day.



    “Yo, Tangrowth!” Though the group could not yet see him, they immediately recognized the voice as Leon’s. “Use Block to seal ’em in!”



    Tangrowth’s collar, which he was wearing like a belt, lit up upon Leon’s command. The Grass-type Pokémon spread his arms out, allowing thick vines to sprout out of them. His reach was effectively extended, allowing him to form a wide semicircle around the group.



    It was at that time Noel and Leon finally appeared, flying over the courtyard on their wingpacks.



    “Judgment day is here, Princess!” Noel said to Rosalita, her voice dripping with impatience and anger. “That was a dirty trick you played on us back in that mine, so now it’s our turn to fight dirty. I’m done playin’ games with you, so I’ll make this short and sweet: The box and Shaymin. Hand ’em over, now.



    “You are implying this was a game to start with,” Rosalita shot back, jabbing a finger in the hunters’ direction. Shaymin timidly stepped behind her leg to hide. “Leave this place at once and cease your interference with our customs.”



    “There you go again, talkin’ down to us just ’cause you got money…” Noel’s anger was consuming her, transforming her words into a guttural growl. “You ain’t nothin’ just ’cause you live in that castle. Everything you got, you were born into. You don’t know anything ’bout the way guys like Bro and I gotta live, fightin’ for every scrap out there!”



    “You know what?” Rosalita paused. She hadn’t intended to be dramatic, but for Matt, Sheena and Eleanor, that was exactly what it was. “You’re right,” she finally admitted, visibly surprising Noel. “Most of my life, I’ve been in Lingote Palace. I’ve never wanted for anything, nor have I needed to… but I have to learn. I know that I must if I’m going to lead. My brother doesn’t understand that, so I don’t know why you’re taking orders from him.”



    “Finally you’re talkin’ some sense,” Leon said, shrugging. “You’re right about your little creep brother, too. We don’t need nobody like him.”



    Rosalita tilted her head. “What do you mean?”



    “You wanna tell her, Sis?”



    “Yeah, Bro,” Noel replied before turning her attention back to Rosalita. “Listen good, Princess. Sure, it was your brother who sent us on this mission, but we got to thinkin’, and we realized something. A guy like him is the type who’d take all our hard work and rip us off for it. But if we take that little Shaymin and your city of gold, and we sell ’em ourselves, that’ll put us right on easy street for a lifetime. We’re fightin’ for ourselves now, and nobody, not you or your little creep brother, is gonna deny us our freedom. Now, hand the box and Shaymin over. Last time I’m gonna ask.”



    Rosalita backed up and whispered to Matt, “Shaymin and I can handle this. Go hide in the fort so they can’t get the box.”



    “Are you really-”



    “We can handle it,” she repeated. “Just go!”



    At Rosalita’s insistent urging, Matt turned around and tapped both Eleanor and Sheena on their shoulders so they would follow him. The trio barely moved before a pile of sand with a red shovel sticking out suddenly materialized in front of the door, blocking their path. Three tower-like shapes rose up to form the shape of a sandcastle, with the creature’s eyes and mouth formed from the central tower while the side ones acted as her arms. Unlike Tangrowth and most of the other Pokémon the siblings commanded, she did not have a collar.



    “Palossand, Iron Defense!” Leon called out after catching the Poké Ball he threw to send her out.



    Palossand responded by stretching her arm towers up higher, covering more of the fort’s entrance. She issued a warning to her trainer’s enemies by growling at them, and her body’s sand hardened into a solid lump with a metallic sheen.



    “No!” Sheena exclaimed.



    “I thought I already told you, we ain’t playin’ games anymore.” Noel’s anger hadn’t lessened, but it had changed into a colder, more focused fury. She removed one of the clockwork Poké Balls from her jacket, sharply telling the group, “We ain’t leavin’ here without the keys to our future!” before throwing the sphere.



    A Pokémon unlike anything Matt had ever seen before erupted from the device and crashed onto the roof of the fortress. He was easily at least eight feet tall, and as the Pokémon stomped forth and roared at the sky, they got a clear look at his lithe yet muscular gray body and the yellow-edged scales that covered it like armor. One of the collars was affixed around his neck.



    “What is that?!” Matt gasped in shock.



    “A Kommo-o…” Rosalita’s reaction was one of muted awe. “One of our kingdom’s greatest knights used one… but this one’s much bigger than normal.”



    “Bigger and badder,” Noel scoffed before jabbing her finger forward. “Have a taste for yourselves! Kommo-o, Clanging Scales!”



    Urged on by both Noel’s verbal command and the directive entered into her gauntlet, Kommo-o smashed his fists together to make his scales vibrate. They started glowing, and he pointed his claws towards Matt’s group, releasing a horrible screech that manifested as solid soundwaves. These waves hit the earth in the quartet’s midst and exploded, throwing Matt and Eleanor in one direction while Rosalita and Sheena went in the other.
     
  15. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    The chorus of yelling that broke out beneath her was like music to Noel’s ears. Flashing a twisted, excited grin, she scornfully mocked them, “Ain’t so fun when you’re the ones on the receivin’ end of the dirty tricks, is it? Welcome to our lives!”



    Kommo-o viciously roared and leapt from the roof, landing in front of Palossand and kicking up a cloud of dirt. Matt, having shielded Eleanor and gotten the grit thrown in his face, coughed as he fumbled in his bag for Anton’s Poké Ball. He released his Rhyperior as soon as his hand found the sphere. Shaymin, caught between the two Pokémon that could easily crush it, squeaked in fear and ran to Rosalita, climbing up and hiding under the princess’s cloak.



    “It’s a Dragon-and-Fighting type!” Rosalita yelled to him. “You’re sending your Rhyperior into an impossible battle!”



    Matt gasped and looked back at the two Pokémon, but he couldn’t act before the reason for Rosalita’s warning made itself plain. Kommo-o drove his fist into Anton’s chin, and the force of his Sky Uppercut pulled both Pokémon into the air despite their tremendous weights.



    It was then that Matt got an idea. “Anton, get yourself together and use Avalanche!”



    Matt’s words threw a switch in Anton’s head. He gathered his strength and pushed Kommo-o away, then growled and swung his arm in the dragon’s direction. Boulders of ice formed around him and fell, bombarding both Kommo-o and Palossand.



    With Noel and Leon’s Pokémon immobilized and the hunters’ attention diverted, Rosalita sensed an opportunity. She stood up, retrieved Adiela’s Poké Ball and threw it straight at Tangrowth.



    “Megahorn!” she cried out.



    Adiela erupted from the ball a few feet away from Tangrowth, her head lowered and legs set to hit the ground running. She drove her horn into the Grass-type right below his concealed eyes, and he groaned as he stumbled back. The vines he’d extended to wall off the group’s escape broke from his body and withered away.



    “Meet us on the other side!” Rosalita told Matt and Eleanor, pointing back and forth before pulling Sheena behind one of the courtyard’s stones.



    “You get what she meant?” Eleanor whispered to him.



    “Yeah, I think so…” With Kommo-o and Palossand trapped by the remnants of Anton’s Avalanche, Matt took the opportunity to recall him to his Poké Ball. He then ran to hide behind one of the nearby outcroppings, and Eleanor wasted no time in joining him. “I’ve got the box, she’s got Shaymin,” he quietly explained. “If we go in separate directions, we split up the opposition.”



    “Oh yeah, I’m hearing you on that one.” Eleanor pulled her goggles back down over her eyes and took Persian’s Poké Ball in her hand. “Once we’re out of here, I can get us away from those two, no problem.”



    “I wish I shared your optimism,” Matt replied, “but it’s not going to be easy fighting our way through all th-”



    Matt couldn’t even finish making his point before Kommo-o made it for him by smashing their stony shield. He and Eleanor scuttled back away as the Dragon-and-Fighting-type Pokémon rose back up from breaking the rock with Iron Head. Luckily enough, Matt happened to have his hand in his bag and near Sally’s Poké Ball already, so he was able to quickly dispatch his Salamence to protect them. Sally materialized directly in Kommo-o’s face and immediately collided with him, using Dragon Rush to smash him into the wall of the fortress.



    “That was close…” Eleanor said between deep breaths.



    “Come on.” Matt stood up, pulling Eleanor with him by the hand. “We have to go. Now.”



    “You don’t have to tell me twice,” she answered, stealing a glance back at Sally leaving Kommo-o behind in the wall.



    Hand in hand, Matt and Eleanor started running to the nearest chunk of rock they could reach. The maze-like layout of the ruined courtyard proved to be a good thing in the end. It didn’t do much to hide them from an airborne enemy, but it provided cover, and that was enough. Sally flew after them, but before they could get far, the collared Lickilicky and Electivire appeared before them, accompanied by Noel’s oil-slicked Muk.



    “Where do you think you’re going?” the sister half of the sibling hunter duo taunted them. They could see that she was hovering overhead by herself - evidently their plan to split Noel and Leon up had worked. “Don’t bother answering that, ’cause I don’t care! Lickilicky, Blizzard!”



    “Sally, block it with Flamethrower!”



    The gusts of ice and fire spat by the two Pokémon met between their trainers, creating a wall of steam that separated the sides. Matt had to shield his eyes from the blowback of the collision, but Eleanor’s goggles kept her protected.



    As he recovered, Matt took notice of how the steam kept Noel and her Pokémon from seeing him and sensed an opportunity. He quietly reached in his bag for two more Poké Balls and opened them, releasing his Aggron and Ambipom. Only once they were out did he even consider that Noel could use the cloud to her advantage too, a lesson he became very aware of when a bolt of lightning and a burst of fire came through the smoky veil. They were obviously blind stabs on Noel’s part and missed Matt’s Pokémon by a wide margin, but came dangerously close to him.



    “Are you alright?” Eleanor asked him. She came to his side with Persian accompanying her.



    “Yeah, I’m fine,” he replied, wiping his brow before refocusing on the dissolving cloud. “We have to deal with that, though.”



    Enough of the steam had lifted to reveal Electivire and Muk as their attackers. They were still giving off sparks and breathing embers, respectively. On Noel’s part, the cloud’s dissolution showed her for the first time that she was against not one but four Pokémon.



    The hunter tightly balled her fists and growled, “I’m so sick of dealin’ with you people… been doin’ it my whole life and I’m just done with it. Lickilicky,” she paused to enter a command into her gauntlet, “Dragon Tail! Electivire, take Lickilicky flyin’ with Magnet Rise!”



    Purple light forged the shape of a pointed tail around Lickilicky’s own, but she otherwise stood still and waited for Electivire to stomp over. The Electric-type Pokémon wrapped her in a tight embrace from the front before using electromagnetic force to propel them both into the air. Their sudden synergy caught both Sally and Matt off guard, and all either could manage was a surprised grunt from the former. Electivire swung Lickilicky around, using her like a blunt weapon to batter Sally with Dragon Tail. The single hit left a dark mark squarely atop Sally’s head and forced her to the earth.



    Just when it seemed like Noel’s charges had struck a strong blow, Eleanor’s Persian intervened. The feline Pokémon vaulted onto Sally’s back and then sprang at Electivire and Lickilicky, who were still locked in their embrace. They had started to fall back down themselves, and with her Foul Play, Persian turned that momentum into force strong enough to pitch them into the earth.



    Noel was only growing angrier by the minute, but her fury was starting to give her a new sense of focus. “Take ’em out one by one. One by one,” she repeated like a mantra. “One by one. The dragon first. Muk, nail that Salamence with Gunk Shot!”



    Sally’s descent placed her squarely in the sights of Noel’s Muk, and the wallop she’d taken from Lickilicky’s Dragon Tail left her too dazed to defend herself. She got a faceful of the sludge Muk coughed up, enough to not only cover her head but splatter all over her neck as far back as her wings.



    Sally!” Matt shouted in dismay as he watched her shake her head back and forth fruitlessly, roaring in pain all the while. Seeing that making her continue to fight would only hurt them both, he recalled her to her Poké Ball. “Tony,” he said to his Aggron, “Head Smash!”



    A rumbling cry rose out of the Aggron’s throat. He slowly lowered his head, pointing his sharp horns at the Poison-and-Dark-type that had crippled his companion.



    “Muk, Fire Blast ’em again!” Noel hurriedly ordered her partner Pokémon, plainly seeing the threat Tony posed.



    Muk saw it too, and he didn’t hesitate to choke up a ball of flame whose size rivalled that of his earlier Gunk Shot. One thing neither Muk nor Noel realized, though, was that behind the Aggron’s bulky facade lurked shocking athleticism. Their anticipation of a lumbering charge crumbled when Tony sprang like a rocket at Muk from all fours, surrounded by a light that gave his body a monochromatic appearance. He smashed cleanly through the oncoming fireball, and at that point, Noel and Muk both felt their perception of time slow to a halt. The few seconds before Tony collided with Muk seemed like forever to them both, and all they could do was watch the looming theropod Pokémon in wide-eyed horror.



    When the inevitable collision came, all of Tony’s momentum transferred itself to Muk in the impact. The Poison-and-Dark-type bulleted past Electivire and Lickilicky as they recovered, only stopping when he hit a stone that crumbled from the force.



    Seeing Muk crash into the rock pulled the cork on a torrent of rage in Noel’s heart. “Enough!” she screamed at Matt and Eleanor, coming close to going into convulsions. “You ain’t gettin’ away with treatin’ my boy Muk like that! Electivire, put your Earthquake right into that Aggron!”



    Electivire’s collar flashed as the device re-energized its wearer. She propelled herself into the sky with Magnet Rise, spun around and pulled back her fist, aiming squarely at Tony’s back in her descent.



    “Persian, hurry and use Swift!”



    Noel had lost track of Eleanor’s Persian after the Dark-type struck Electivire and Lickilicky down earlier. The feline Pokémon’s reappearance caught her completely by surprise, and she had no response when Persian battered Electivire away from Tony with a stream of glowing stars. It fell to Lickilicky, whose collar had revitalized her while Electivire’s collar did the same to its wearer, to act on the basic directives given to her. She trudged up on Persian’s side and swung her head back while allowing her tongue to stretch even further out of her mouth.



    Matt, seeing the Power Whip heading for Persian, tried to repay the favor Eleanor had done for him. “Agnetha,” he urgently said to his Ambipom while pointing at Lickilicky, “Seed Bomb!”



    “Bi!” the two-tailed simian answered. She spit seeds at Lickilicky, though they failed to reach their target before Persian got swatted by Power Whip and hissed in pain. Lickilicky, too distracted with Persian to see Agnetha’s oncoming assault, ended up taking the full brunt of the barrage. Each seed exploded on contact with the Normal-type’s rubbery skin, making her wail and fall to one knee.



    “Why do you two care so much?” Matt and Eleanor assumed Noel was speaking hypothetically, but they were wrong. She was completely serious. “You and Princess, you got everything you need. People like you, you’re always lookin’ down on those without, but you don’t want us climbin’ out, either. What does it matter to you if Bro and I escape this life?”



    “Because you’re doing it in a way that’s only causing harm!” Matt yelled up at her. “Look at what you’ve done. Look at what you’ve always done. This isn’t all that different from stealing and selling Pokémon back in Orre, Noel! This time, though, you’re taking something that the Doradan people built their civilization around. You’re robbing them of who they are if you do this!”



    “You intellectual snobs, always lecturin’ us like we’re stupid…” Noel didn’t notice Matt frown. He had hoped that he could get through to her, as unlikely as it was. “Live in your little bubbles if you want. Bro and I, we live in the real world, and-”



    “So do we, you just-”



    “You don’t know anything about the real world!” Noel roared over Matt’s interruption. “Bro and me and our crew, we did what we needed to survive, and there ain’t nothing different now. I don’t care if those people lose their precious city, get it through your thick skull. They never reached out to help us, and they still got everything they need.”



    Matt spread his arms as if he were pleading with Noel. “But if you give this up and just as-”



    “Don’t bother,” Eleanor whispered in his ear, having sidled up next to him. “She won’t stop. She can’t.”



    “You’re right,” Matt admitted, sighing in defeat. He wanted to do something to help Noel, but watching her army reorganize itself, he knew he had to accept reality. “Eleanor said it. Noel’s just too far gone… I can’t blame her for fighting a world that’s always turned its back on her, but…”



    Matt sighed again, resigning himself to the fact that the battle would just rage on.



    Meanwhile, on the other side of the courtyard, Leon wasn’t faring as well against his own adversary. He had pitted his Dusknoir, Roserade and Honchkrow against Rosalita and Sheena, but the princess was easily holding them off with her own Pokémon. Dusknoir flew behind Roserade to catch the Grass-and-Poison-type when Adiela flung her back using Flame Charge. Rosalita’s Rapidash bounded back to the side of her Luxray and Shiftry, where she neighed and pawed the ground while dispelling the remaining embers from around her body.



    “Deivi, Dark Pulse!” Rosalita cried, pointing at the trio of collared Pokémon. “Isabel, give him a boost with Helping Hand!”



    Isabel the Luxray firmly planted her foot in the soft, muddy soil and roared. A golden aura erupted around her and cut through the air, infusing itself into the body of her companion Shiftry. Deivi then crossed his leafy arms and aimed a beam of glowing, black-and-purple rings at Roserade and Dusknoir. He was able to easily double the usual intensity of his Dark Pulse thanks to Helping Hand empowering him.



    “Dusknoir, get out of there!” Leon said in a panic. “Ally Switch!”



    The blue light on Dusknoir’s collar blinked, and he dropped Roserade to the ground before teleporting away. Honchkrow materialized in his place, just in time to weather Deivi’s assault.



    “He’s got some clever tactics of his own…” Rosalita noted. “I shouldn’t be surprised, if Fernando really did prepare these Pokémon.”



    “You know him better than any of us,” Sheena said to her, “so you should have insight into how he would think.”



    “You’re right. I’m feeling pretty confident in that now.” Rosalita swiftly crossed and uncrossed her arms, sending both her hair and her cloak fluttering behind her. “Isabel, send Helping Hand over to Adiela! Adiela, you strike that Honchkrow with Wild Charge!”



    Once Isabel’s golden aura merged with Adiela, the Rapidash lowered her head and galloped at Honchkrow, her body cloaked by sparking, yellow electricity. Her increased agility from use of Flame Charge allowed her to ram Honchkrow with such speed that Leon couldn’t react until she was already on her way back. Honchkrow, on his part, was left twitching on the ground from the electricity still flowing through him. He hadn’t quite fainted, but Adiela badly injured him.



    “Sis, you wanna come over here and give me a little help?” Leon helplessly called out to Noel. No response came. “Those other guys are givin’ you a hard time, Sis?” he muttered in disbelief.



    “Have you had enough yet?” Rosalita planted her hands firmly on her hips, causing her elbows to poke out of her cloak. Her eyebrows twitched, caught in her mentally teetering between anger and exasperation with the situation. “Think for a minute, there’s no way my brother is letting you leave here. Whether you give him what he wants or not, you’re only loose ends to him!”



    Shaymin climbed out of the princess’s cloak and perched on her shoulder. “Listen to Rosalita, yes? Fernando already killed the king, the queen and the professor.” Turning its nose up, Shaymin huffed and added, “Realize you have no value to him, yes.”



    “How dare-” Leon’s intent to yell at Shaymin ceased when he realized where the Pokémon was. He had always considered himself the muscle and his sister the brain of their duo, and he was more than happy to play that role. But when he spotted Shaymin on Rosalita’s shoulder, he saw an opportunity. “Sis’ll love it if I get you first. Roserade, blow ’em away with a Hyper Beam at their feet!”



    Having heard Leon’s order, Rosalita instinctively turned and reached out to shield Sheena. She didn’t even have enough time to do that before the pulsating orange laser Roserade fired from her blue bouquet exploded right in front of them. The princess and the priestess got thrown into the grimy terrain, the muck soiling Sheena’s coat and Rosalita’s hair. Both screamed, but their voices were overrun by Shaymin shrieking as it tumbled over itself in the air. It splattered into the mud and shrilled even louder at the state it found itself in.



    “No, no, no!” It lashed its head back and forth in a desperate attempt to get the dirt off. “I hate this, yes! Someone get me up!”



    “I’ll be happy to.”



    Shaymin felt a pair of powerful hands seize it and immediately regretted what it had said. With Rosalita and Sheena still several feet away, Leon took the opportunity to land and grab his target. The tiny Pokémon writhed in his grip, trying with all its might to escape, but his hold was too strong.



    “You let go of me right now, yes!” Shaymin sputtered. “How dare you put your hands on me!”



    “Sorry,” Leon said with a sarcastic shake of his head, “you ain’t goin’ nowhere until there’s a nice fat pile of cash takin’ your place.”



    “Rosalita, look!” Sheena had realized Shaymin’s predicament and yelled to get Rosalita to do the same.



    The princess gasped and angrily jabbed her finger toward the hunter. “Adiela, Deivi, Isabel,” she commanded, “get Shaymin back!”



    All three Pokémon acted in unison with their trainer’s order. A purple aura surrounded Isabel’s leg, and she bound into the air while Deivi spit a stream of seeds at Leon. Adiela’s fire shot up from her back and surrounded her body in preparation for Flame Charge.



    “I don’t think so!” Leon pulled Shaymin away, hiding it against his body. “Dusknoir, hold ‘em up with Will-O-Wisp!”



    The thick-bodied phantom floated up higher, hauntingly moaning while clenching the mouth on his stomach. He conjured numerous globes of blue flame around himself, then rained them down on his foes by pulling back and opening his stomach mouth as far as it could go. Deivi and Isabel halted their advances, knowing well what would happen if they let themselves come in contact with the spectral fire. Adiela, on the other hand, had no such concerns. Thanks to being a Fire-type herself, she carelessly sprinted straight through the onslaught.



    “Nope, sorry!” Recognizing that continuing to engage Rosalita was an unneeded risk, Leon used his wingpack to ascend into the air with Shaymin still in his clutches.



    That was the point where he had made a fatal miscalculation.



    Shaymin went still in his hands, sick of trying to squirm its way out. He didn’t realize until it was far too late that the mythical Pokémon wasn’t surrendering. Far from it. Instead, it tightened its muscles and focused its mind, pulling the mud and dirt stuck on it into its body. Such grime wasn’t as powerful a fuel as the plumes of smoke in the mine, but it would suffice. There was nothing Leon could do to stop Shaymin from exploding with Seed Flare, simultaneously freeing itself and flinging its captor back to the ground.



    Across the courtyard, the bright explosion and Leon’s accompanying shout finally caught Noel’s attention. Her perception of time slowed to a near halt, and watching her brother fall made her feel like her entire world was collapsing.



    All her anger melted away, and Noel cried out in panic, “Bro!” She flew away from her own battle and her Pokémon followed, both the army and its master disregarding Matt and Eleanor.



    “Should we go after her?” Matt wondered.



    “Nah,” Eleanor replied with a shrug, “not yet anyway. Rosa can handle it for a little bit. Let’s go get our ride started, then we’ll get them and beat it.”



    “Makes enough sense. Let’s do it.”



    Without Noel impeding them, Matt and Eleanor were able to make their way to the outer wall of the courtyard in no time. They stopped with only about a dozen feet separating them from the gateway out of the area to allow their Pokémon to catch up. Agnetha and Persian arrived mere moments later, but it took Tony a little more time to join them. Just as the Aggron arrived, Matt and Eleanor could hear an explosion on the other side of the wall. They pressed themselves up against the stone barrier to hide from whatever had caused the noise, whose source they couldn’t see.



    For the next minute or so, Matt and Eleanor remained still. The sounds of Noel and Leon fighting with Rosalita still reached their ears, but there was nothing more from outside the courtyard. They edged their way closer to the gate, but before they reached it, Matt stopped.



    “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he quietly warned Eleanor. He took off his bag and thrust it into the engineer’s hands. “This is probably going to be an ambush, so hold on to that and keep it away from them if something happens.”



    “Aye, captain.” Once again, Eleanor playfully saluted.



    With his bag and thus the puzzle box securely with Eleanor, Matt shuffled closer to the gate. He hesitated at the very edge of the threshold, taking a deep breath before stepping around the corner.



    Standing right there, literally on top of him, was Heatran. He froze, realizing that the explosion signified Heatran’s arrival but unable to run away until the legendary Pokémon had already opened her giant mouth. That delay proved catastrophic. Heatran belched a plume of fire, and Matt wasn’t all the way back behind the wall. It caught him on the left side of his face and torso.



    In an instant, the world around him disappeared. Nothing remained but an infinite white void. He screamed but it stayed trapped in his mind, nothing coming out of his mouth at all. He reached forward as he fell backward to the ground, and when he hit the earth, that was when the pain came. Searing, incomprehensible pain that consumed every function his brain was capable of. He finally was able to scream as he rolled around on the dirt in a desperate but fruitless attempt to do something, anything to stop his agony.



    “Matt!!” Eleanor shrieked. Agnetha, Tony and Persian all rushed past her and tackled Heatran, pushing the Pokémon away from Matt.


    Over on the other side of the courtyard, Noel had helped Leon back into the air and joined her team of Pokémon with his. Rosalita fearlessly faced them after recovering Shaymin, but before the two sides could clash, the noise of the chaos at the gate reached them.


    “Huh?” Noel glanced over her shoulder just in time to see Agnetha, Tony and Persian battering Heatran with Seed Bomb, Aqua Tail and Dark Pulse. She came close to shrugging off the confrontation thanks to her confidence in Heatran, but when she saw Matt’s state, the truth finally dawned on her. Flying into a state of panic, she frantically entered commands into her gauntlet’s projection, sputtering, “Heatran, what’re you doin’? Stop that right now!”


    “Sis, what’s-”


    “Heatran almost killed that guy!” Noel interrupted Leon. “That ain’t the deal! That ain’t ever been the deal!”


    “Almost… killed?” Sheena uttered, blinking in shock. She focused her hearing and took notice of the anguished screaming coming from nearby. “Matt!” she realized.


    “What did you two do?!” Rosalita didn’t wait for an answer to her furious question. She stormed past the Pokémon without a single care for the risk they posed to her, strode under Noel and Leon, and discovered the terrible sight at the gate. “No… not you too,” she said, her anger turning into something bordering on despair. The princess dropped to her knees at the side of her new friend. He’d managed to snuff out the flames but blacked out from the pain soon after. Rosalita tenderly ran her fingers down his charred clothing while Shaymin poked his head with its nose.


    “He’s still alive…” Sheena said. She’d clasped her hands to use her power and connect with Matt’s mind. “I can sense his life energy, but it’s badly weakened. He needs help, now.”


    “I can do that, yes,” Shaymin informed Rosalita. Even the long-lived mythical Pokémon seemed rattled, speaking in a flat tone. “My Aromatherapy can stabilize the Gaia energy within him. Heal him to a stable state, yes.”


    “Do it then, please,” urged the princess.


    Shaymin tried to climb up onto Matt’s head, but its diminutive size and stubby legs left it needing a boost from Rosalita. A pleasant floral scent wafted from the flowers on its back, and waves of green light passed through its body into Matt’s. His breathing soon grew more stable and relaxed, as if he were enjoying a peaceful sleep instead. While Shaymin worked, Rosalita pulled the charred remnants of his coat and shirt away.


    “Oh, that’s a relief,” she sighed when she saw that his burns had already been healed into scars. She took Elena’s Poké Ball out of her cloak and opened it, allowing the Leavanny to materialize next to her. When Elena saw what had happened to Matt, she brought one of her leafy arms to her mouth and murmured in worry. “Don’t worry, Elena, he’ll be fine… I’m sure. For now, can you use your silk to make him bandages?”


    “Van,” Elena replied, nodding.


    Meanwhile, Noel and Leon just stood by, watching the scene unfold while they were gripped by a sense of distressed alarm. Their Pokémon, including Heatran, were gathered around them but checked by Noel’s command not to act.


    “This ain’t right,” Noel said to her brother, “none of this is right at all.”


    “You said it, Sis.” Not knowing what else to do, Leon took out his comb and shakily ran it through his hair. “Muggin’ dudes in the desert was one thing, but we never left ’em to die… we took their Pokémon but that was it. But if this is what’s gonna happen if we go for the gold…”


    “This ain’t us…” Noel lowered her head, and her hair cast a shadow over her face. “If we went this far to get what we want, we ain’t… we ain’t ever coming back once we cross this line. It’s about survival, not… not…”


    “This is all your fault!” Eleanor’s angry outburst broke the siblings from their stupor, and they looked just in time to see her pull Matt’s laptop out of his bag. “The answer to the last clue is in here,” she warned them, raising the computer into the air. “You make one move and I’ll destroy it! The box and Shaymin won’t have any use to you without the clue!”


    “I could tell you to hand it over too,” Noel replied, “but my brain’s tellin’ me you ain’t gonna do that. So a stalemate it is.”


    “No, not a stalemate,” Rosalita declared, rising to her feet. In the blink of an eye, her Bibarel and Staraptor were released from their Poké Balls to join her Rapidash, Luxray and Shiftry. She gestured with her head toward Noel and Leon, and her five Pokémon immediately surrounded the hunters.


    “What is…”


    Leon’s words cut off when his sister jabbed him in the side with her elbow. A quick look at the quintet of Pokémon around them led him to exactly why she did it. Their angry, intense expressions sent a chill down his spine that told him that they were not to be trifled with.


    Rosalita smoothed out her cloak to appear more presentable, then warned the siblings, “Those five have helped me defeat Regirock and Registeel already. Challenge them at your own risk.” Once she saw that Noel and Leon wouldn’t take her up on her challenge, she glanced over her shoulder and said to Sheena, “Please go get one of those coats we saw in the fort earlier. He’ll need something to wear instead of his burned clothes.”


    “Right.” With that, Sheena turned and strode back toward the fortress.


    Shifting her attention squarely to the hunter siblings, Rosalita firmly stepped toward them and brought her hand up to her chest before clenching it into a fist. “I may not have formally been crowned queen yet,” she told the pair while approaching them, “but if you go against the kingdom, I am the one you will deal with.”


    “What makes you think I wanna talk to you?” Noel crossed her arms and flashed her typical sour scowl, but it barely masked how shaken she was. The fire in Rosalita’s eyes didn’t help her nerves at all.


    “I think you want to talk because deep down inside, you want a way out of this. You could have easily fled when Matt got hurt. You didn’t.”


    “Don’t you judge my motives,” Noel shot back, defensively. “I’m doin’ what Bro and I need. Nothing more.”


    “I know you’re doing all this for your brother. That I understand.” Much to Noel’s surprise, Rosalita warmly smiled. Her expression soon faded, however. “You two are on the same side. My brother and I… aren’t. That’s why I’m offering you a deal. I can see that you’re someone lashing out at the world because it’s hurt you. I get that. But my brother doesn’t. All he sees you as are tools to be used and discarded.”


    “Uh, that’s why we ditched him, remember?” Leon sarcastically interrupted.


    “My point is that he surely planned for that possibility,” asserted the princess. “Once he has Shaymin and the Golden City, he will dispose of you like he disposed of our parents and Sutter Chiaki. Whether you did it for him or not, you have no place in the kingdom he envisions.”


    “We’ve never had a pl-” When the true meaning of Rosalita’s words dawned on her, Noel froze.


    “Sis?”


    “We’ve never had a place where we belonged,” she thought. “We came all the way here and our lot in life’s still the same. I’ve been lyin’ to myself all along, and I’ve been lyin’ to Bro too… It ain’t ever gonna change like this, no matter how much money we make, is it?” Though she failed to notice it, Noel was shaking. All she could do was repeat the question, “It ain’t ever gonna change like this, no matter how much money we make… is it?”


    “You’re finally starting to understand…” Rosalita’s warm smile returned, and this time it stayed. “You two have done some very bad things in your lives, and I can’t forgive you for those crimes, that much is true. What I can do is try to appeal to your better selves, to the people who want to turn over a new leaf. If I can do something that will stop your crimes and also benefit the kingdom, it is my duty to make that decision. Help me stop my brother.”


    Noel and Leon shared a look at each other. Both of them found Rosalita’s offer tempting.


    “You’re the brain, Sis,” Leon said. “Up to you.”


    For the second time in minutes, Noel lowered her head. “Now I gotta make the right choice here… this isn’t just for me, I gotta do what’s right for Bro, too. If I screw this up…” A sudden thought hit her, leading Noel to point at Rosalita and bitterly demand, “How do I know you aren’t messin’ with me just like the little prince was? It’s our fault what happened to him.” She gestured toward Matt, whose wounds and damaged clothing were being tended to by Elena, with her head. “You’re just gonna use us up and then stab us in the back to get your revenge for that, aren’t you?!”


    At this, Rosalita closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, the fire was back. “Did you order Heatran to do it?” she flatly questioned.


    “No!” Noel adamantly denied, stomping her foot on the ground. “Well, uh… I told Heatran to guard the way out. That’s it! I never wanted it to go this far!”


    “We already told you, Princess, we ain’t killers,” Leon rushed to add. “We just wanna survive. Like we keep sayin’, this job was supposed to be our ticket outta this life. What good is that if we go and fry someone?”


    “You know what I see, then?” Rosalita shut her eyes again. When she didn’t immediately continue, both Noel and Leon started to shift uncomfortably out of worry over what she would say. “I see that you abandoned your attack on us as soon as you noticed what Heatran did, and you haven’t continued it even though doing so would be easy. That tells me that you really did not want this to happen. It backs up what you’re telling me. That’s why I’m not going to use you. I understand that society has treated you poorly your entire lives, so it may be hard for you to believe, but I want to give you a fair deal and I’m not lying.”


    Noel crossed her arms and frowned. “What’re your terms, then, Princess?”


    “You will cooperate with everything I tell you to do,” Rosalita firmly explained. “I will not give you the Golden City or Shaymin in exchange, but what I will do is give you a comfortable enough life in La Ciudad Dorada once I’m queen. Just be advised that if you try to betray me, I know about your history in Orre. I’ll turn you over to the International Police if you try anything.”


    “This girl is scary, Sis,” Leon grumbled, taking a step back away from the princess. “She ain’t nothin’ like what that prince told us.”


    “Fine!” Noel spat. “Fine, we agree. What do you want from us?”


    “First, you’re going to tell me exactly what my brother told you when he gave you this mission.”


    “That little creep said we’d probably run into you when we went lookin’ for the Golden City,” Noel said, never uncrossing her arms. “That’s one thing. He never told us you were such a hardened fighter, that’s for sure. Nothing ’bout those Pokémon of yours or anything.”


    “That doesn’t surprise me,” Rosalita replied, putting her hands on her hips. “He surely already suspected you’d betray him at some point. Telling you the truth about me would only make that more likely. How many Pokémon did he give you, and what did he tell you to do with them?”


    “There were eleven of ’em in those clockwork Poké Balls,” revealed the hunter. “He told u-”


    “Wait, that doesn’t add up. Eleven?” Rosalita began to count on her fingers and named off, “Electivire, Magmortar, Probopass, Lickilicky, Togekiss, Yanmega, Muk-”


    “No,” Noel interrupted, “Muk and Palossand are ours. They ain’t ones that he gave us. Heatran ain’t in one of those things, either. He told us it would just be followin’ us around.”


    Leon stepped forward and added, “He kept one back from us when he gave us the other eleven. That’s why the number’s so weird.”


    “I suspect I know which Pokémon he saved for himself,” Rosalita noted. “Why do I see twelve of the clockwork Poké Balls on you, then?”


    “The last one was supposed to be for catchin’ Shaymin with,” answered Noel. “He told us to stage the attack on your castle, grab that magic box off glasses guy over there, catch Shaymin, and then bring it all to him.”


    “Hand it over. You aren’t going to be capturing Shaymin with anything anymore.” Noel obeyed Rosalita’s order, taking the empty ball off her jacket and handing it to the princess. She promptly dropped it on the ground and stomped on it, the sound of it cracking making both Noel and Leon jump. “So it really is what we thought, everything that’s happened was a setup. Frame me for murdering our parents and then allying with a group of outsiders to exchange our treasures for the throne.” Rosalita clenched her fist, using the pain of her fingernails cutting into her palm as a distracted from the tears welling up in her eyes. “Why did he have to resort to this… I don’t want to admit it, but the Fernando I knew… he might really be gone.”


    “We have to continue, though,” Sheena reminded Rosalita, having approached during the conversation after dropping off the coat with Eleanor. “You’ve already passed two of the trials. That has to mean something.”


    “I-It does,” replied the princess, her voice shaky. “You’re right, we must keep going. That’s the only way this will stop. How is Matt doing…?”


    “He hasn’t woken up yet, but he’s completely stable now. He’ll be scarred, but otherwise fine.”


    “Good.” Turning back to Noel and Leon, Rosalita said, “I have another question. Do you know how he kept Heatran under control?”


    “He showed us some weird machine he’s got running,” Leon clarified. “It’s got some electro… electromag… it’s doin’ somethin’ to a rock inside of it.”


    “The Magma Stone,” Sheena said, inhaling sharply when she recognized the description. “It’s a special stone that’s found in volcanoes where Heatran lives. They say that it’s able to control and even seal Heatran.”


    “Another thing we’re going to have to deal with…” Rosalita sighed. “That can wait. For now, we have a deal. You two cooperate with us and you have nothing to worry about. Betray us, get sent back to Orre and face justice. Those are the terms.”


    “Fine, we’ll take it,” Noel agreed. “You really drive a hard bargain, Princess.”


    “I have to. But I also have a responsibility to those who don’t have the luxuries I do. You’ve suffered enough, so prove you can change and I’ll give you the help you’ve always wanted.” Turning to Sheena, Rosalita said, “Please go get the laptop from Eleanor. We’ll share the clue.”








    END of CHAPTER 4
     
  16. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    The character of Jacob Alexison first appeared in the story “Nothing, Everything” by Bay, and is used with her permission. Bay also provided an inspiration for the document written in-universe by Jacob in the first scene of this chapter.


    -:-


    CHAPTER 5: Cold Truths


    -:-


    The air in La Ciudad Dorada was cold that night, the sky filled with countless stars. In spite of it being yet another tranquil night the desert kingdom was known for, the normalcy was nothing but a facade. A creeping feeling of dread, the sense that something monumental was going to happen, hung over the remote city. Even the average citizens and tourists, who had little idea of what was unfolding in and around the kingdom, seemed to sense it.


    Only a few people knew the reality of what was taking place, among them Cassy, who was still hard at work in Lingote Palace’s archive. Her stack of books had barely changed over the hours she’d spent reading, while the pile of empty drink cups next to her had piled up into a large mound of coffee-stained paper. She was paging through a leather-bound folder indexing the various treasures of the kingdom with her left hand while holding her head up with her right.


    “Colored shards… fossils… Sparkling Stones, even…” Her eyes lazily glanced over each page before she turned it, but with nothing piquing her interest, she yawned.


    At that moment, though, she found something. She nearly passed it because of how used to flipping the pages she was, but she managed to catch herself after noticing a curious name. Cassy straightened up in her seat and blinked to focus.


    “From the journal of Jacob Alexison,” she read aloud, picking up the document. “Professor Sutter and I have discovered so much during our time in La Ciudad Dorada. It is a shame that the world will not know most of it. Ah well, it is not my decision to make. Perhaps the day will eventually come where the world is ready to learn the truth. I hope I will get to live to see it.”


    Cassy reached for her current drink and nearly knocked it over. The paper in her hands, yellowed as it was, held her transfixed. She took a long sip before continuing to read.


    “Among the many treasures we have witnessed, one that truly fascinates me is the Griseous Orb. Yes, I said Griseous Orb. I’m as surprised to see it here as you are, future reader. Though it prominently features in the mythology of Sinnoh, it is in fact considered one of the Doradan crown jewels. I wonder if the royal family understands its true significance. You see, in Sinnoh, it is tied to the legendary Pokémon Giratina as well as Giratina’s home, which we call the Reverse World. The Reverse World, or as some know it the Distortion World, is a place that exists on the opposite side of our own world. The limited research by scientists of our time indicates that it is a dimension where common knowledge is warped and strange. Fitting for a Pokémon that represents antimatter, I suppose.


    Sinnohan mythology explains that the Griseous Orb is a condensed physical form of Giratina’s power. It is written that the Griseous Orb is able to help Giratina maintain its true form in the gravity of this world. Additionally, the Doradan royal family has informed us that it has the ability to locally alter gravity’s effect when used. How accurate these accounts are remain unclear, as the Griseous Orb was said to have not been since the time of kingdom’s civil war. Perhaps that is for the best. La Ciudad Dorada has seen ages of peace, and such an item could disturb that if it were to be used as a weapon again. Even separated from Giratina, its powers are not to be underestimated.”


    When she finished reading the note, Cassy set it down on the table and took a deep breath. “Finally, a clue. It really is here…”


    -:-


    The Griseous Orb glittered from its container atop Fernando’s staff, its light pulsing as if it knew someone was thinking about it. Fernando didn’t notice. He leaned the staff against the wall of the skyship’s hold while he stood nearby, reviewing information projected holographically by the gauntlet he’d donned on his left arm.


    “Everything looks ready to go,” he said to himself as he flicked through the different windows. He stopped on the last one, which displayed the image of a giant sphere with strange belts strapped onto it, and shook his head. “Including you. I truly hope it doesn’t come to this, but if I’m left with no other option, you will ensure that our greatest treasures are never taken.”


    -:-


    Matt Chiaki was not having a good day.


    From where he sat in the back of the vehicle en route to Regice’s location the next morning, every sensation around him proved to be a stressor of some sort. Noel and Leon sitting right in front of him, the former with her arms crossed and face twisted into a characteristic scowl. The old coat that had been thrust upon him as soon as he woke up. The fact that half his face and some of the left side of his torso were wrapped in the same silk that had hung him up by the legs just a few short days ago. He irritably sighed, and all it did was agitate Noel further.


    “I ain’t any more thrilled by this than you are,” she grumbled. “Thank Princess over there for the idea. She’s the one who cut us a better deal than what her brother did.”


    “Yeah, I know.” Matt adjusted his glasses - a new pair he had as a spare in case something happened to his original set - uncomfortably. They fit strangely on his bandaged head.


    Sensing Matt’s obvious resentment, Leon paused quietly before asking him, “You really doin’ okay, dude? Heatran really messed you up… Sis and I never wanted to do somethin’ like that…”


    “Show me you mean it and I’ll believe you.” Matt sighed again. “Look, I’m not trying to be cruel to you. You guys just have a lot to make up for.”


    “And I made that crystal clear to them,” Rosalita intervened from her place between Matt and Sheena. “Imperative number one is stopping Fernando. That is why I made the decision to forge an alliance that will also help them out of their life of crime. If you want to blame someone for them being here,” she firmly declared, “blame me.”


    “I can’t imagine what I’d do in your position,” he admitted. “Maybe you really did make the right choice in the grander scope of things.” Feeling the conversation had reached a dead end, Matt decided to change the subject. He started pulling at the heavy, dark material of one of the sleeves on his new coat, then opened and closed his now-gloved hands. “At least I’m not feeling any pain right now. This stuff, though… it’s not really my style.”


    “Our options were limited, unfortunately,” Sheena informed him. “The only other thing back there you even plausibly could have worn was a suit of armor.”


    “I don’t think I’d call that a plausible option,” Matt replied, dismissing the mere thought of wearing armor with a weak chuckle.


    “Tell you what, though…” said Noel, a shiver running through her. Next to her, Leon sneezed. “I think I’m speakin’ for both Bro and I when I tell you we’d gladly take anything warmer than what we got now.”


    Matt hadn’t thought much about it before, but once Noel called his attention to them, he saw her point. The siblings’ jackets were far too light for the rugged, snowy terrain on the far side of the mountain range. He briefly considered giving his new coat to one of them, but swiftly remembered that it was the only thing protecting his bandaged side from the cold.


    “I’m sorry,” Rosalita apologized to them. “I should have thought to fetch some coats for you before we left, too.”


    “I guess it ain’t the worst problem we could be havin’ right now.” Leon stretched his neck and called to Eleanor, who was driving the vehicle, “Hey, cabbie! Can we get there a little faster so this can get done?”


    “I’m going as fast as I can!” Eleanor shouted back, not taking her eyes off the path ahead. “I can’t make this thing fly over rough terrain like this!”


    “We shouldn’t be too far from our destination, anyway.” Rosalita pressed her lips together and stared down at Shaymin, who was sitting in her lap. “The final trial, Regice’s… I must confess, I’m nervous.”


    “Just breathe, Rosalita,” Sheena encouraged her. “Remember, you’ve passed two already, and you know who your final opponent is. That allows you to be ready.”


    “It’s not Regice I’m worried about. Not entirely.” The princess balled her hands into fists, prompting Shaymin to look up at her. “The closer we come to the conclusion of my trial, the closer we come to whatever Fernando’s endgame is. I’m sure he has something prepared, some sort of plan, to ambush us when we least expect. What would the time we least expect it be? When we think we’ve won.”


    “Maybe I ain’t got a right to be talkin’ here,” Noel crudely interjected, “but I say let him bring it. I believe you when you say he was usin’ Bro and me, Princess. Now I’m spoilin’ to serve up some revenge, and ruinin’ his big moment sounds like just the ticket.”


    “Thank you for the assistance.” Rosalita didn’t lift her head. “However, it’s what lies beyond that which scares me the most. I don’t know if I’m ready to give up the life I have now, even though I know the people need me. I love being able to participate in our riding pageants with Adiela, competing in the traditional sporting events of our kingdom… I just don’t know if I’m ready to give it all up. Such things aren’t quite becoming of a queen.”


    “Maybe you could be the one to change that? No one ever said that the crown had to be unchanging,” Sheena suggested. “Don’t feel bad about being nervous. That’s a natural human reaction.”


    “That’s true, I suppose.” Rosalita’s expression brightened, but she remained fixated on Shaymin. “Thank you, Sheena. I really owe all of you a debt. Now that we’re at the final trial I’m thinking about the support you’ve given me.”


    From its place in Rosalita’s lap, Shaymin squirmed. It had its own worries, and they distracted it to the point where no flowers sprouted in response to Rosalita’s gratitude. Unable to sit still any longer, Shaymin jumped down to the floor of the vehicle and plodded toward the driver’s seat.


    “Shaymin, is something the matter?” the princess wondered.


    “I told you, I hate the cold, yes.” This was a lie. The cold did bother Shaymin, but the reason for its consternation was something else. Something far heavier, planted deep within its heart. It frowned and felt glad it had its back to the humans. “Every time I come back to this place, I feel the same shame, yes… and the shame only gets worse because I never can fix what I did…”


    “Finally somethin’ you and I have in common,” Noel remarked, completely missing the mythical Pokémon’s body language. Her eyes happened to twitch over to Matt for the briefest of moments, but even that was enough time for her to spot a glow coming from his bag. “Hey, hey, what’s goin’ on with that?!” she exclaimed, pointing squarely at the light.


    Neither Matt nor any of the others had noticed the now familiar glow. Once Noel called their attention to it, Matt hurried to retrieve its source, the puzzle box.


    “It really is magic…” Leon whispered, awestruck.


    “This happens every time we get close to the next puzzle to find the Golden City,” Matt explained to the siblings. “I guess it’s a guide.”


    “Eleanor, we must stop here!” Rosalita called to the front of the vehicle. “Regice is nearby!”


    “Roger that, Rosa!” Eleanor slowly brought her hands together over the glowing control panel, gradually bringing the machine to a stop. She then got up and joined the others just in time to see Shaymin climbing back up onto Rosalita’s shoulder. “I take it we’re ready to go?”


    Before the full question had even left Eleanor’s mouth, Rosalita was already climbing out of the vehicle. The others were left to catch up.


    “Looks like you two aren’t the only ones who want to be done with this,” Matt sarcastically said as he stuffed the cube back into his bag. Even though he directed the comment to Noel and Leon, Eleanor was the one who laughed.


    “Don’t you joke like that,” Noel sniped back.


    “Fine, I won’t.”


    By that time, Sheena had gotten off the vehicle as well. Matt followed, but when he turned back to help Eleanor down, she just jumped off and landed perfectly on her feet. Leon ended up assisting his sister by taking her hand as she stepped down instead. Once the entire group assembled, they stared out over the bleak, rugged terrain before them. There was little but rocks and gravel as far as the eye could see, mostly covered by at least a thin layer of snow. Compared to the oasis of La Ciudad Dorada or the wooded mountains, Regice’s domain was another world entirely. Even the sky was different, filled with a monochromatic grey.


    “Regice is out there somewhere…” Sheena said aloud to no one in particular.


    “Luckily we have a way to find it,” Matt replied. He took the puzzle box out of his bag and held it up in front of himself. Its light brightened when he did so, much like it had for Regirock and Registeel. “We just follow where it leads us by seeing where its light is strongest,” he explained to the group’s two new members.


    “Then get followin’ it already,” Noel complained. Next to her, Leon sneezed from the cold.


    Before Matt could respond to Noel, Rosalita grabbed his arm. “Let us make haste,” she said, glaring ahead at the wintry expanse. “It is not just Regice that’s out there. The future of La Ciudad Dorada hangs in the balance… as does the fate of my family.”


    Matt started to accede to Rosalita’s request, but he stopped himself from speaking when he saw her face. Her eyes and lips were trembling subtly, betraying her true feelings in spite of how hard she was trying to focus on her mission. Sheena and Eleanor noticed it too, and they shared a knowing glance with Matt.


    “Let us go.” Rosalita told her companions, not letting on whether or not she knew they were aware of her roiling emotions.


    The princess took the lead in trudging out into the rocky tundra. Matt quickly followed, making sure to keep the cube held out in front of him. They were trailed by Eleanor and Sheena, but Noel and Leon initially hung back.


    “Sis…” Leon whispered, “you think we’re doin’ the right thing? Cuttin’ and runnin’ like this?”


    “I don’t think we got much choice,” Noel replied, scowling. “We got in way over our heads with this one. I let you down, Bro.” Noel’s scowl turned into a depressed pout that she hid from her brother by turning her head. “I got greedy when I agreed to take this job. We shoulda never got involved in this.”


    Seeing his sister so downcast shook Leon to his soul. He was used to always having her confidence to look to as an easy way to reassure himself in times of doubt.


    -:-


    The hike in search for Regice was a punishing one, thanks to both the terrain and the climate. Matt couldn’t fully understand how either Rosalita or Eleanor were managing the trek over the stones and snow as well as they were. He could at least guess that Rosalita’s blazing determination was keeping her focused on her goal, but Eleanor was practically leaping through the landscape despite her completely unsuitable clothing. He and Sheena were doing just fine on their own, while Noel and Leon avoided the issue altogether by walking next to Heatran.


    They’d been traveling for some time, following the box’s steadily growing light, until it suddenly and sharply intensified.


    “Wait, you guys!” Matt cried out, bringing the others to a stop. “I think we’re close!”


    “You’re right,” Rosalita agreed. She hopped down from the slightly elevated stone she was on, walked to Matt, and looked around. Shaymin stuck its head out of her cloak, but remained safely nestled in its warmth. “There’s nothing around here,” she observed, “but that does not mean a thing by itself. Every time we do this, a passage forward appears before us.”


    “About that…” Sheena piped up. The rest of the group turned to her, but she said nothing more. She simply pointed down and swept away the snow around her with her foot.


    Matt, Eleanor and Rosalita, all understanding the meaning of this action, hastily mimicked it. The reason for doing so soon became clear to them.


    Under their feet, initially hidden by a thin layer of snow, was a vivid mural depicting Regice, its two siblings, and their master Regigigas.


    “It’s here…” Eleanor said to herself, before raising her voice and repeating, “It’s right here!”


    “What’s right here, girl?” Leon asked, unaware of what was about to take place.


    “Here, watch,” replied the engineer. Turning her head towards Matt, she told him, “Use the box so we can find the next clue.”


    “You act like I know exactly how this thing works,” Matt sighed. Nevertheless, he raised the cube toward the murky sky. He was unsure of what effect his action would have, if it had any at all. When the puzzle box completely erupted with light, he was so surprised he nearly dropped it.


    The light carved a wide, circular space out of the snow around the group, fully uncovering the mural in the course of doing so. All Matt, Rosalita and the others could do was watch in awe as the process unfolded, staring intently as the gleam intensified until it grew so bright that they had to shield their eyes.


    “Wh-what’s goin’ on?!” Noel sputtered.


    “Just watch and you’ll see something amazing!” Matt yelled back, still covering his eyes.


    Right when the light reached the peak of its intensity, it vanished just as suddenly as it appeared. All that was left was a single trail leading from the center of the mural to a point in the stones surrounding the area.


    “That where Regice is?” Noel’s anger and aggression had melted away, replaced by a sense of pure wonder at what she was witnessing. She couldn’t help but be fixated on the spot the trail of light led to.


    “It’s not where Regice is, technically,” Matt explained. “It’s more accurate to say it’s where the way to make Regice appear is.”


    “There’s something strange here, though,” Rosalita ventured as she looked around at their surroundings. “The tower that used to stand here was destroyed in the civil war, that much I know. Yet there’s no shrine appearing this time?” While heading to the spot indicated by the light, she placed her finger on her chin and mused to herself, “Perhaps the tower itself was the shrine. But if that was the case, why was it not rebuilt?”


    “Please just solve the puzzle, yes…” Shaymin thought. It buried its face in Rosalita’s cloak. “Defeat Regice and leave this place…”


    Taking no notice of Shaymin’s mood, Rosalita lowered herself to examine what the light led to. There, half-buried in the rocks, was a stone tablet with a Braille message written on it.


    “Matt, please come here,” the princess said over her shoulder. “I need your assistance reading this..”


    “Now what’s he doin’?” Noel asked Sheena as they watched Matt go to Rosalita’s side.


    “Every one of these trials has involved at least one puzzle written out in Braille.” Sheena saw both Noel and Leon staring inquisitively at her, so she clarified, “It’s a way of writing that translates letters into patterns of dots. He learned to read it because his sister is blind.”


    Noel could feel her heart sink when she heard that fact. She turned, slowly and stiffly, to face Matt and Rosalita while they uncovered the tablet. “He’s just like me… watchin’ out for his sis like I watch out for Bro.” Both horrified and disgusted with herself, Noel covered her mouth with her hands. “I’ve been doin’ this to him and didn’t even know…”


    The siblings hung back as Eleanor and Sheena joined Matt and Rosalita in examining the tablet, which they’d laid on top of the stones that once covered it. Matt wasted no time in reading over the message spread across its surface.


    “Can you tell what it says?” Sheena asked.


    “It’s not a cipher this time,” he replied, “it’s actual words and sentences, but the way it’s written seems a little… odd.”


    “What do you mean?” the princess wondered, cocking her head to the side.


    “Listen and I think you’ll get it right away.” Before beginning to read the Braille, Matt held his chin. When his fingers touched the bandages, he cringed at their still-alien feeling on his skin. “The one who shall wear the crown, listen, you. Here is the end and the beginning. The body of ice shall only awaken when the one who most fears the cold braves it. Only the one who shall wear the crown can guide the way.”


    “Yeah, this one’s definitely asking for Shaymin,” Eleanor teased the Pokémon, half-closing her eyes and smirking mischievously. “It’s about time that was the answer.”


    “You haven’t made any secret of the cold bothering you,” Sheena added. “This one’s easy.”


    “Hey, that’s not funny!” Shaymin shot back from its perch in Rosalita’s cloak. “The cold is really awful to me, yes!”


    “I certainly do see why you said the message was odd,” Rosalita said to Matt, paying no mind to Shaymin’s fuming. She only happened to turn to the mythical Pokémon after it was done, asking it, “Did you create that clue yourself? It sounded very much like how you speak in your other form.”


    “Not only that, the clue that led us here sounded like how you speak normally,” Matt elaborated. “You were creating your own clues, weren’t you?”


    “Only these two, yes,” Shaymin confessed.


    “Why just these, then?” Rosalita’s swift response only made Shaymin regret answering so specifically. “You created the messages to lead here and call forth Regice. The tower that was here was probably Regice’s shrine, but it was never rebuilt after the civil war. All these circumstances are awfully strange… something else happened here, didn’t it?”


    Shaymin didn’t say anything right away. It tried to shrink back into Rosalita’s cloak, but there was no escaping the group’s collective gaze. “Now cannot be the time,” it finally decided. Popping back out of its hiding place, it dodged Rosalita’s question by saying, “We must focus on defeating Fernando for now, yes.”


    All four humans glanced knowingly at each other. Shaymin’s attempt at a non-answer immediately led all four to conclude something had indeed taken place that Shaymin was covering up. Matt, Sheena and Eleanor all weighed the idea of confronting it, but none of them could get up the nerve to do so before Rosalita spoke up.


    “You are correct,” the princess said, allowing Shaymin’s lie to slide for the time being. “Preventing Fernando’s coup is of paramount importance right now. So… summoning Regice is not as simple as merely bringing you here, is it?”


    “Hm?” Shaymin was caught off guard by its companion’s inquiry. “Well, I do hate the cold, yes…”


    “But you could hate the cold even more,” Rosalita deduced. “You are a Grass-type Pokémon,” she reasoned as she fetched the container with her preserved Gracidea within it. “But your other form is a Grass-and-Flying-type. That means your other form is twice as weak to Ice. I apologize for making you transform in this climate, especially after how anxious it made you earlier, but there is no other option.”


    “Yes, yes, the cold is what I hate the most about this place,” Shaymin again lied. It climbed out of Rosalita’s cloak and edged toward the Gracidea. When the pollen wafting from the blossom made contact, Shaymin’s body became cloaked in golden light.


    “What’s that now?” Leon uttered. He and his sister had drawn closer during the rest of the group’s deliberation over the puzzle, and they watched in awe as Shaymin floated into the air and began to transform.


    “Remember Shaymin’s other form?” Eleanor said over her shoulder. “This is what happens when it assumes that form.”


    As soon as Shaymin completed its transformation into its Sky Forme and emerged from the cocoon of light, it sneezed. “It’s time to make haste, you!” it exclaimed to Rosalita.


    “I am ready!” the princess declared in response, spreading her arms. “Shaymin, call forth Regice!”


    Heeding Rosalita’s call, Shaymin landed directly on the stone tablet. “Listen to me, you!” it called out into the cold air. “A new leader has come to claim the crown! Appear to us and put her to the test, you!”


    Nothing happened at first. In fact, it almost seemed like Shaymin’s entreaty made the area even calmer. The air went still and quiet, but just before any of the group could question this strange turn of events, the sound of a high-pitched, vaguely electronic beeping reached their ears.


    “It’s starting again…” Sheena murmured.


    “That’s right, you!” exclaimed Shaymin. It was using its intense mood to try and fight back the chill in the air. “He is her-”


    Before Shaymin could even finish warning the humans of Regice’s arrival, the titan erupted from an elevated snowbank. It crash landed on its narrow, pointed feet and loomed over the circular arena, repeating the syllables of its name in a screeching, buzzing voice as the landscape reflected brilliantly in its crystalline body.


    “That’s Regice?!” Noel could no longer keep her composure, seeing Regice’s continued buzzing and beeping as a threat. Turning to Leon, she warned, “Bro, we’re gonna have to fight our way outta this…”


    “One step ahead of you on that, Sis!”


    The siblings fumbled for the Poké Balls containing their partners, Muk and Palossand. Matt happened to hear their exchange, however, and he lunged to stop them before they could act.


    “No!” he cried out. “This is how it’s supposed to be!”


    “What’re you sayin’?” Noel demanded. “Can’t you see? That thing’s comin’ after us!”


    “You’re wrong.” As he gave his explanation, Matt retrieved his laptop from his bag and began recording with it. “It’s a ritual. Rosalita has to defeat Regice and the other two in direct combat to prove herself worthy to lead the kingdom. Regice isn’t here for any of us.”


    “So that’s what Princess meant when she said they beat Regirock and Registeel…” Leon reasoned.


    “Regice!” Rosalita called up to the titan. She stretched her arms out to her sides, touching her thumbs to her middle fingers as she did so. “I am Rosalita of the House of Fernando, and the crown princess of La Ciudad Dorada! I have come before you to prove myself and claim my birthright!”


    Regice stood still, only acknowledging Rosalita’s declaration by flashing its dots. Everyone assembled before it could tell that it was pondering the princess’s words despite it not having anything resembling a normal face.


    Finally, Regice raised its arms, brightened all its dots, and let out an electronic-sounding shriek. It was plain to all present that the titan accepted Rosalita’s challenge even before it floated down to the arena floor, while Shaymin landed on one of the highest stones overlooking the ring.


    “This is the last of my trials against the Three Pillars,” Rosalita told the others, urging them back with her arm. “It’s going to be the hardest, I’m sure… but I am…” The princess shut her eyes and thought of her beloved family. Her father, her mother… even her brother. She saw them all there, proudly watching her. Yes, that was the person Fernando really was, of that she was certain. All he had to see was that she was capable of leading the kingdom, then he would come to his senses. She truly believed he would. She needed to. “I am sure I will succeed!” she finally declared, fixing her intense gaze on Regice. Fetching one of her Poké Balls, she threw it and called out, “Leonel, come forth!”


    Rosalita’s Bibarel materialized from the Poké Ball already on all fours. A small shiver ran through his body from head to toe, but the sight of his opponent helped him push it from his mind. For its part, Regice acknowledged Leonel’s presence by running a flash across its dots, then raised its arms to the sky and shrilled. A red aura similar to Registeel’s burst from its body.


    “Making yourself stronger by tapping into Gaia’s energy,” Rosalita noted. “I am not surprised you would do that as well. But I can also do such a thing. Leonel, Swords Dance!”


    Much as they had during his battle with Regirock, the blade-like lights surrounded Leonel and orbited him for a moment before being absorbed into his body. Leonel briefly radiated a red aura as intense as Regice’s, tensing his muscles and growling as the lights boosted his strength.


    Regice remained largely still in the face of its challenger powering himself up. Its apparent serenity was such that off to the sidelines, Matt, Eleanor, Sheena, and even Noel and Leon felt unsettled from looking at it. The dots on the ends of its cross-shaped pattern lit up, followed by the next ones in line. When the centermost dots illuminated, a brilliant, rainbow-colored beam shot out from them. Leonel took the Signal Beam directly to his face, but it had little effect besides forcing him to fall back and sit up.


    “Be careful with that!” Matt warned Rosalita when he saw Leonel blinking off the remainder of Regice’s attack. “Signal Beam can leave your Pokémon confused!”


    “I’ll be mindful of that,” Rosalita replied.


    Regice suddenly pitched back and screeched even louder, pointing its dots toward the sky as they emanated bright red light. Rosalita recognized what it was doing, thanks to Registeel calling for Xatu the previous day, and couldn’t help but wonder what would happen next.


    The answer came in the form of a gruff cry that sounded across the battlefield. An Abomasnow crashed through one of the surrounding drifts and leapt down to join Regice, his great weight shaking the ground when he landed. His entrance also turned the sky even darker, and the clouds churned as a storm of wind, snow and hail whipped up.


    “Ah, it’s Abomasnow’s Snow Warning!” Sheena exclaimed, bracing herself against the sudden gusts and shielding her face with her arm, much like Matt and Eleanor were doing. Noel and Leon, meanwhile, simply pushed themselves even closer to the warmth of Heatran’s body.


    “This will be trouble,” Rosalita said to herself, her expression darkening. Unlike the others, she paid the snowstorm no mind, acting as if it didn’t even exist. “I did not account for the possibility of a Grass-type… still, I shall stay with my plan. Leonel, Defense Curl!”


    The princess’s Bibarel jumped into the air at her behest, rolling into a ball before he landed. His body was temporarily cloaked in yet another aura, this one blue, as his physical fortitude heightened.


    Anticipating that Regice and Abomasnow would take the opportunity for an attack, Rosalita mentally shut out the world around her so she could focus squarely on them. Regice beeped for a moment - processing Leonel’s actions, Rosalita reasoned - but what it did next initially surprised her. Instead of mounting an offense, the titan again raised its arms. Brilliant, rainbow-colored light radiated from its geometric fingers and wrapped around both Regice and its ally.


    Rosalita took a step back and ground her heel into the snow under her feet. She recognized what Regice had done after all. “And at the end of the road, the body of ice shall cloak itself in the polar lights…” she recited, remembering the words in the book she and Fernando had read years earlier. “Aurora Veil…”


    While the princess was lost in thought, Abomasnow took action. He dashed forward, displaying enough unexpected speed to snap Rosalita back to reality. She gasped in both surprise and dismay when she saw Abomasnow right on top of Leonel, getting ready to strike with a glowing, green club formed around his arm. Neither the Bibarel nor his trainer could react fast enough to Abomasnow’s Wood Hammer to counteract it.


    “Leonel!” Rosalita cried out, watching her Pokémon tumble through the air while still rolled up. Seeing that he’d maintained his posture from Defense Curl swiftly gave her an idea, however. “Use Rollout off the rocks!” she called to him.


    Leonel gave no clear acknowledgement of Rosalita’s command, but he did hear it. Using the momentum from the Wood Hammer he was hit with, he propelled himself off a stone on the arena’s edge and spun right back towards Abomasnow. The impact made the Grass-and-Ice-type stumble back and grunt, even as the Aurora Veil’s gleam shielded him from feeling the brunt of the Rollout. Leonel, meanwhile, pitched high into the air.


    “Keep going, Leonel!” Rosalita shouted in encouragement.


    Though he again gave no direct reply, Leonel felt heartened by his trainer’s words. He spun faster and cut through the snow and hail, aiming directly at Regice. The titan shot another Signal Beam at him, but he broke through it and struck Regice squarely in the center of its body. Regice groaned, its voice briefly becoming deep and distorted while Aurora Veil’s light glittered across its form.


    Just as Leonel separated from Regice, however, Abomasnow loomed up behind him.


    “Watch out!”


    Rosalita’s warning came too late. Abomasnow hit Leonel from behind with an Ice Punch, while Regice blasted him with a point-blank Blizzard. There was no way to tell which one had done it, but Leonel was left frozen in a block of ice.


    “That’s not good…” Sheena said to herself.


    “I don’t have any other option,” Rosalita hissed through clenched teeth. “Leonel, try your best to break free and keep using Rollout!”


    Several small cracks appeared in the ice, and seeing them gave Rosalita a flicker of hope that Leonel would pull through. She clenched her fists, put her foot forward in the snow and cheered him on, but no amount of optimism could save him. Just as one of the fissures grew wide enough for Leonel to reach out, Regice unceremoniously dropped a pile of glowing rocks on him, while Abomasnow slammed a Wood Hammer down squarely on the Bibarel’s head. The blunt brutality of the pair’s assault left not only Rosalita but her audience of supporters stunned as they watched Leonel collapse into the snow.


    Regice and Abomasnow then backed away from Leonel’s still form. Rosalita looked at them and cocked her head, unsure at first of what exactly they were doing. It took Regice blinking its dots and beeping at her for her to realize that they were allowing her the opportunity to bring in her next combatant without interruption.


    “How chivalrous,” she chuckled to herself. “It is a nice thing to see the honor of the royal court exist even out in this wilderness.” After recalling Leonel to his Poké Ball, Rosalita held it in her hand and said to it, “Thank you, Leonel. You fought valiantly, as you always have.”


    “I’m so glad we didn’t try to capture that thing,” Noel uttered, dumbfounded at what she’d seen. “If that’s the power of a legendary Pokémon…”


    “I’m thinkin’ we got lucky then, Sis…” Leon added. “Shaymin’s gotta be even tougher, and we got away with only a taste…”


    “I’m with you on that, Bro. And Princess said she’s beaten two of ’em already…”


    The siblings turned to the elevated outcropping where Shaymin was perched, only to find that it was no longer alone. Many local Pokémon - specifically several silver-blue Sandshrew and Sandslash, two Delibird, a Vanilluxe, a Froslass, and a Mamoswine with his family of Swinub and Piloswine - had assembled to watch Regice in battle.


    “Look at ’em all, Bro!” Noel exclaimed in surprise, bringing one hand to her mouth and pointing at the crowd with the other.


    Matt, Sheena and Eleanor, having overheard the siblings’ conversation, also took notice of the gathering around Shaymin. “Well, would you look at that,” Matt said to the others, making sure to get some footage of the Pokémon with his laptop. “They all understand the significance of this event, I’d say.” Sheena and Eleanor nodded in agreement.


    Within the ancient arena, Rosalita started to take out another Poké Ball. As she did so, the Mamoswine stomped up next to Shaymin and grunted to it. Shaymin tilted its head and carefully listened to him.


    “Yeah, yeah, I know it hasn’t been that long since last time,” the mythical Pokémon replied, brushing snow from its face. “A lot is taking place back home. But this one’s tough. Just watch, you!”


    Right before she threw the Poké Ball, however, a sudden thought made Rosalita pause. She turned the sphere over in her hand and stared at it. “Adiela, you have the best matchup against Regice and Abomasnow… but I just saw Regice use Ancient Power. If you faint now, I will not be able to call upon you later. I did not want to have to do this, but I have no choice…” The princess returned Adiela’s ball to under her cloak and fetched out another. “Isabel, everyone… I apologize for sending you into battle like this. Please fight as long as you can. We will need to tackle this trial as one if we are to overcome it.”


    With that, Rosalita threw the Poké Ball, and her Luxray materialized in the hailstorm. Isabel pawed at the ground and shook her body, growling as she acclimated herself to the harsh environment. She then let out an earth-shaking roar that made Abomasnow shrink back, even as Regice displayed no reaction whatsoever.


    Recalling her studying with Fernando again, Rosalita said to herself, “The Three Pillars stand strong and true. None shall compromise their Clear Body.” A tiny laugh slipped from her lips. “So Intimidate didn’t work on you, Regice, but it sure did on your partner. That will be enough for now. Isabel, use Superpower on Regice!”


    Isabel’s muscles swelled, and she bound straight into the titan. Even though Aurora Veil gave it some degree of protection, Regice was driven into a snowbank behind itself, shrieking all the while.


    The stress of assailing Regice with such strength forced Isabel to stop and catch her breath. That brief downtime was all Regice needed to turn the tide back in its favor. It exploded from the snow with a blast of icy wind, fueled by the storm Abomasnow brought with him. Between her own weariness and the way the hail strengthened the Blizzard, Isabel ended up taking the full brunt of the frigid assault.


    “Isabel!” Rosalita exclaimed in dismay. Her Luxray had avoided being frozen the way Leonel had been, but as Isabel picked herself up and shook the frost from her fur, her shivering made plain that the chill badly weakened her. “Isabel, I’m sorry… are you able to continue?”


    Isabel braced herself and growled at Regice and Abomasnow, a response that heartened Rosalita. Before the princess could give another direction, however, Abomasnow caught both her and the Luxray by surprise. He locked his gaze with Isabel’s, and his eyes briefly filled with yellow and red colors to match hers. Once it faded, he lifted his bulky arms above his head and released a guttural roar. Much like how Isabel’s roar had sapped his strength, Abomasnow’s had the same effect on her.


    “No way!” Matt had to adjust his glasses to be sure his impression was correct, but when he did he almost dropped his laptop. “That’s the last thing I expected to see here!”


    “That looked awfully familiar,” Noel remarked. “You know what that was, Glasses, don’t you?”


    “I’ll just ignore that…” Matt sighed. “But yes, your memory is correct. Role Play, just like my Hitmonchan used when you attacked the garden. Abomasnow took Intimidate for itself.”


    Rosalita didn’t hear Matt’s explanation, but she’d already worked out the same conclusion. “That’s going to make things a little more difficult…” she said, furrowing her eyebrows. “It is not ideal, but I have little choice. Isabel, Thunderbolt!”


    Electricity erupted from Isabel’s fur and arced through the frigid air until it struck Regice, but it had little effect on the titan. At first, Regice simply stood still and absorbed the lightning with aid from the cover given by Aurora Veil. It waited until Isabel began to tire, and as soon as Thunderbolt’s intensity dropped even a tiny bit, Regice seized its opportunity. It raced straight for Isabel, breaking through the flagging remains of her Thunderbolt, before blowing a gale of icy wind into her at point-blank range. She hissed in distress as she was coated in frost and thrown by Blizzard’s force, only for Abomasnow to catch her by the leg and fling her into the ground. Rosalita recognized what was coming and hurried to retrieve Isabel’s Poké Ball, but she failed to reach it in time. Abomasnow ended the clash even more decisively by bringing one last Wood Hammer down on the prone Luxray.


    Without a word delaying her, Rosalita recalled Isabel to the safety of the sphere, then stared down at it. “I’m sorry you had to go through that…” she whispered to its occupant. Her eyelids were trembling without her notice. “If only I were stronger…”


    A memory suddenly emerged in her mind, giving Rosalita pause. She shut her eyes, allowing her perception to fill with an image she’d forgotten until then. It was so vivid she actually wondered how she’d lost it. She felt as if she was standing right there in her elegantly furnished bedchamber, watching her younger self sitting on her silken sheets. The Rosalita of the past had Elena, then a green caterpillar with a leaf collar, sitting peacefully on her lap, happily cooing as Rosalita stroked her head. Fernando’s younger self stood a few feet away.


    “I was serious when I said I would make you my knight. You’ll help me keep our home safe, right?”


    “Of course I will, Fernando! We promised each other, right?” The young princess ceased petting her Pokémon, causing the Sewaddle to look up at her. “But that’s such a long time away. Father and Mother aren’t going anywhere soon. Let’s just…”


    “Rosalita, this is serious!” Fernando interrupted. Even in his youth, he was passionate about defending the kingdom. “We have great responsibilities placed upon us. One day, I will be called upon to lead everyone who lives here. When that time comes, I will need you to help by fighting beside me as my knight. You must be able to toss aside any and all doubts and do what is necessary to emerge victorious. That’s not just for you, it’s for Adiela, Elena and any of the other Pokémon who are at your side.”


    “I can’t watch them get hurt,” replied the Rosalita of the past. “If I make poor decisions, they will be the ones who pay the price. For now, I can’t wait to be able to enter the Alliance Battle myself. To take Adiela into a pageant. That’s what I want to do. Fighting with so much on the line is kind of scary.”


    “I understand your feelings,” Fernando offered, “but when a strong bond of gratitude exists between trainer and Pokémon, they will understand you. I’ve learned that Pokémon enter battle alongside humans because they choose to. Their assistance is an expression of gratitude for the fact that we live in peace as one with them. If you fight for a noble goal, they will understand and come to your side.”


    “If you fight for a noble goal, they will understand and come to your side,” Rosalita repeated to herself as she opened her eyes. She immediately saw Regice and Abomasnow waiting patiently for her, then looked to Shaymin and the crowd of Pokémon overlooking her trial. At that point, she could no longer hold her emotions in check. Small, narrow tears rolled down her cheeks as she quietly said to herself, “Is that what this is, Fernando? Your noble goal? I hate what you have done, but your cause, your reason for your deeds…” Rosalita’s despair started to subside when she again regarded the Poké Ball in her hand, replaced with a swell of what she considered determination instead of confidence. “Then stopping you is mine. I swore I would do whatever I needed to protect our home… and it is my allies’ home as well. You all understand,” she addressed the sphere, “of that I am certain. Please grant me your assistance, and I will lead you to victory.”


    While Rosalita pondered her next move, the hailstorm tapered off. She watched the clouds Abomasnow had summoned break apart and reveal the calmer ones underneath.


    “Without that, Regice's Blizzard will be easier to evade,” she observed, before taking notice of the rainbow light still enveloping both of her opponents. “Aurora Veil is not yet gone, however… this may be the only time I get a chance to do this.” The princess stashed Isabel's Poké Ball away in her cloak, selected another, and threw it. Her Staraptor, Reyes, appeared from it, spreading his wings and shrilling in a display that turned Intimidate against the Ice-type duo once again. Rosalita went to his side and set her left hand on his back, saying to him, “Reyes, I have a plan I need your help in executing. Only you can do it. Are you ready?”


    “Star,” Reyes trilled in affirmation.


    “Most excellent.” Rosalita smiled, stepped back, and swept her arm in front of herself in a regal, authoritative motion. “Reyes, I call upon you to use Double Team!”
     
  17. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    Reyes took to the air, beating his wings so forcefully that the snow around him blew away. Regice spun around in place, beeping as it called forth another Ancient Power, but before the glowing stones could reach Reyes, he screeched and split off a number of illusionary copies of himself. With the true Reyes obscured within the cluster, Regice couldn’t accomplish anything beyond cutting down a few of the illusory Staraptor. Abomasnow tried to assist by leaping up at swinging an Ice Punch at one of them, only for his fist to pass cleanly through the copy he ended up targeting.


    At that point, as Abomasnow landed at Regice’s side again, the rainbow light of Aurora Veil finally faded from around their bodies. Seeing this, Rosalita called out, “Now is your chance, Reyes! Hit Regice with Close Combat!”


    All of Reyes’s doubles swarmed over the titan, further concealing their creator while they battered Regice with their wings, beaks and talons. The legendary Pokémon, angered by the way the barrage took chips out of its body, bellowed electronically and raised an Ancient Power around itself. The rocks it threw into the air dispelled Reyes’s copies, but the real one flipped back to escape direct harm. Abomasnow swung an icy fist after Reyes, but failed to reach him.


    “Now is the time for what only you can do, Reyes.” Rosalita extended her arm toward Regice, then snapped her fist closed. “Final Gambit!”


    Reyes voiced a mighty caw that echoed throughout the barren landscape. The Staraptor drew every ounce of strength he could muster from deep within himself, creating an orange aura that outlined his body. He then dive-bombed Regice like a missile, slicing through the air in the blink of an eye. When they collided, Reyes’s aura exploded, violently flinging them back apart. Regice was caught by a pile of stones behind it, but no such safety net existed for Reyes, leaving him to fall and tumble through the snow.


    “A move that sacrifices all the user’s energy to inflict equal damage to the target,” Matt said to Eleanor, Sheena, Noel and Leon. “That’s what Final Gambit is.”


    “Princess had somethin’ like that up her sleeve all this time?” A chill ran down Noel’s spine, but it wasn’t from the cold. “We’re real lucky we stopped when we did, ain’t we?”


    “What was holdin’ her back, then?” wondered Leon. “Not that I’m complainin’, though…”


    “I think she was still struggling to accept that she had to fight with nothing at all held back,” Sheena ventured, watching as Reyes picked himself up and Rosalita went to his side. “Now, though, I sense a new level of resolve in her. Does she still harbor some doubts? I believe so, but at the same time, I can tell she has grown enough to face them.”


    “I am proud of you, Reyes,” Rosalita told her Pokémon while helping him up. He cooed softly to her in response, and she smiled at him. “Once we’re done here, I will help heal you from doing that. For now, please rest.” The princess held up Reyes’s Poké Ball, calling him back into the sphere. She then turned back to Regice, who was still lying against the stones that broke its momentum. Abomasnow was standing between it and Rosalita, watching her warily. “I will not yield,” she told the pair, her voice firm and eyes burning with conviction. “For my brother, my people, and those who have come before me, I will defeat you!”


    At that, Rosalita flung the Poké Ball she’d been clutching under her cloak. Her Shiftry, Deivi, emerged from it with a cluster of glittering stars surrounding him. Regice emerged from the indentation once an opponent appeared, but its dots changed to shine with a menacing red glow. Its shrill, buzzing voice had also vanished, discarded in favor of a deep, electronic croak that struck fear into the audience of the battle.


    Rosalita, on the other hand, wasn’t fazed at all. In fact, Regice’s newfound aggression only seemed to harden her resolve even further. She pursed her lips, allowing a small puff of steam to slip from her mouth, and pulled back her arm in preparation to give Deivi an order. Before she could voice her intent, however, Regice took further action. A wave of green energy flowed from the dots on its face and merged with Abomasnow, causing a cocoon of light to form around him. Said cocoon shattered moments later, revealing that the titan’s Grass-and-Ice-type ally had undergone an unexpected metamorphosis. He’d grown at least a full foot taller, his fur had drastically lengthened, and the four cones on his back had become giant spikes of ice, not unlike those on Regice’s back. The four spikes were so heavy, in fact, that Abomasnow was forced to lean forward and support his newfound bulk with both his arms and legs.


    “Mega Evolution?!” Eleanor gasped in surprise. “It’s a phenomenon where certain Pokémon temporarily assume an even higher form of evolution during battle. I’ve read about it back home in Kalos… but I thought a trainer was needed to activate it. How did Regice do it?”


    “That green light must have been a wave of Gaia,” Sheena realized. “You’re right, normally it’s the Key Stone held by a trainer that harnesses the life energy of the Pokémon in question, but we know Regice can draw upon Gaia itself. That is probably the way it carried out Mega Evolution.”


    Amidst their awed chatter, the group failed to notice one other event set off by Abomasnow’s Mega Evolution while they conversed. As soon as Mega Abomasnow had emerged from his cocoon, the churning clouds returned to the sky. It wasn’t until snow and hail started falling once again that they became aware of it.


    “I think it’s a safe guess that Mega Abomasnow’s Ability is also Snow Warning,” Matt said, his voice strained from the irritation he felt.


    “What’ve you got to complain about, Glasses?” Noel complained. Both she and Leon were pressing themselves against Heatran again, desperate for any amount of warmth they could get. “Bro and I are the ones who ain’t prepared for this!”


    On the battlefield, Rosalita pulled up the front of her cloak to partially cover her mouth. “You’ve certainly prepared well for this, Regice… over all these centuries, it’s only natural. Despite that, I will see this through no matter what you do! Deivi,” she called to her shining Shiftry, “Low Kick!”


    It took a moment for Deivi to find his footing in the hail. His narrow feet made it hard for him to stay balanced on the wet rock, but once he stabilized himself, he was able to slide toward Regice with ease.


    Regice, however, was having none of it. The titan buzzed at its ally, leading Abomasnow to lumber between it and Deivi to run interference. His great weight following his Mega Evolution only made Deivi’s Low Kick even more potent; when the Shiftry’s foot collided with Abomasnow’s leg, the Grass-and-Ice-type flipped helplessly forward while his assailant slid underneath him. His act still had its intended outcome despite his injury, as Deivi fell short of Regice.


    With its plan a success, Regice cast Aurora Veil from its fingers, wrapping itself and Abomasnow anew in the polar lights. Its ally, meanwhile, swiftly recovered from being knocked down. Abomasnow loomed over Deivi from behind, his arm cocked in preparation for Ice Punch.


    “Behind you!” Rosalita yelled to her Shiftry. “Dark Pulse!”


    On his trainer’s direction, Deivi jumped into the air and flipped over in a single fluid motion. Despite being upside down, he was able to shoot a wave of glowing black rings from his hands straight into Abomasnow’s face. The Grass-and-Ice-type stumbled and flinched, losing his nerve to attack. Regice tried to retaliate by firing a Signal Beam at Deivi, but with how the Shiftry’s body was propelled by the force of his Dark Pulse, it couldn’t get a bearing on him.


    “Keep going like that, Deivi!” the princess encouraged him. “Channel your attack into X-Scissor!”


    Deivi flipped again, this time taking aim squarely at Regice as he crossed his arms. Regice shot two more Signal Beams at him, but both missed and Deivi was able to slash at Regice’s body. Though the titan was shielded by Aurora Veil’s light, it still groaned erratically when its foe made contact. It recovered its strength right away, though, and blew Deivi away with a vortex of wind and ice it whipped up around itself. On the sidelines, Matt cringed at how badly Regice’s Blizzard overran Rosalita’s Pokémon, while Sheena frowned and shivered.


    The princess herself remained centered, however. She exhaled another puff of vapor, then said to Deivi as he shook off the frost, “I have faith in you, Deivi. If you can continue, I am sure you will do everything you are capable of.”


    Deivi replied with a grunt of affirmation, but he was cut short when Regice rushed him, gliding over the earth with unexpected speed and buzzing angrily all the while. Another Signal Beam sparked to life in the titan’s face, but before it could launch the ray, Rosalita called out, “Low Kick!”


    Just before the gleaming light erupted from Regice’s dots, Deivi dove underneath it and slid into its right leg, knocking the titan over. It called Abomasnow to attention with a furious, distorted cry, prompting its ally to step in block Deivi from escaping. The two Grass-types ended up face-to-face with each other, their proximity leading to their perception of time slowing down. Abomasnow breathed out a tiny cloud of frozen crystals, then pulled his fist back, more ice encasing the three digits on it.


    Acting on instinct, Deivi was able to cross his arms and leap up before Abomasnow swung at him. The change of orientation between the two Pokémon led to Abomasnow only being able to strike Deivi’s foot with Ice Punch mere moments before the shining Shiftry slashed at him. Using the momentum given to him by Abomasnow clipping his foot, Deivi somersaulted over his opponent after striking with X-Scissor.


    “Watch out!” Rosalita shouted as Deivi landed.


    Turning around to see what his trainer was warning him of, Deivi discovered Regice sweeping around its temporarily felled partner and heading straight for him. The titan whipped up a Blizzard as it continued advancing forward, leaving Deivi little room to escape. He only managed to avoid taking a direct hit by reflexively bounding up onto the stones around the battlefield. Regice wouldn’t let up and gave chase, levitating up to Deivi’s elevated refuge and pursuing him as he raced through the hailstorm. Every few seconds, Regice fired another Signal Beam at him, but he managed to stay ahead of them.


    “This really is the toughest one yet,” Eleanor mused to the others. The dueling pair had left the humans’ sight, but they could still hear the sounds of their clash.


    “It is still ritual combat,” observed Sheena, “but Regice is fighting particularly viciously. The technique behind its tactics are also quite impressive…”


    A snowbank opposite Rosalita exploded when one of Regice’s Signal Beams burst through it. Deivi leapt over its remains and landed back in the arena, but as soon as he arrived, Abomasnow ambushed him with an Ice Punch straight to the chest. The blow forced a sickening wheeze from Deivi’s lungs, and Abomasnow tossed him upward, putting him squarely in Regice’s sights. The titan extended its arms and finally managed to cleanly strike Deivi with its ray of flickering, multicolored light. All the blows the Shiftry had weathered finally caught up with him, and when Signal Beam’s explosion threw him at his trainer’s feet, he didn’t get up.


    Rosalita was aware of the worried stares her companions, even Noel and Leon, were regarding her with. Though she understood why they would react that way to what they’d seen, her heart was untroubled by it. She lowered herself to her knees and nestled Deivi’s head in her arms. “Deivi…” she gently whispered to him, recalling when she first found him as a child. She’d been playing hide-and-seek with Fernando in Lingote Palace’s vineyard, and while it was her turn to find her brother, she encountered a red Seedot feeding from a Nomel Berry tree. She ended up forgetting about her game to pursue Deivi around the garden instead, and Fernando never let her live it down. “We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we?” the princess said to the Shiftry as she gently stroked his hair. “I am proud of your courage, Deivi. Thank you for lending me your strength. I couldn’t be where I am today without you.”


    Rosalita returned Deivi to his Poké Ball, then stood up and brushed the snow from her cloak. She could sense that her destiny was close, a fact that both excited and terrified her. Her conflicting emotions led her to bite her lip.


    “Almost there…” she muttered to herself as she tightened her fingers around another Poké Ball. She recalled the events of the previous day, specifically her battle with Registeel, and was able to calm herself down as a plan formed in her mind. “That’s right, this should still work. Elena, Fell Stinger!”


    The princess’s Leavanny burst from her Poké Ball already in mid-dive. She spat several glowing, purple needles at Abomasnow, only for Regice to sail into their path and block them from reaching their target. The needles scattered on the ground while Regice moved away, giving Abomasnow space to take a swing at Elena. She was ready, however, and deftly pulled her head back so Abomasnow’s Ice Punch would sail harmlessly over her.


    “That is superb, Elena!” Rosalita encouraged her Pokémon. She then crossed her arms and called out, “Now use String Shot and spread it everywhere you can!”


    The first place Elena spit her silk was directly into Abomasnow’s face, covering his eyes. He roared and blindly swiped at her, his anger making a red aura to erupt from his body. Elena bobbed around his punch and attached a strand of silk to his arm, using its movement to swing away on the thread. Just as she let go of the string and spun forward through the air, Regice planted itself firmly in front of her and raised its arms to start whipping up a Blizzard.


    “Leaf Blade!” the princess commanded.


    Elena trilled and slashed at Regice using her leafy arms, which had extended into knife-like protrusions. Aurora Veil shielded Regice from suffering any visible injuries and assisted it in remaining upright, allowing it to easily engulf Elena in its gusty winter blast. Her frail body couldn’t weather the cold, and she crumpled to the ground crying out in pain.


    “It won’t work the same way it did yesterday…” Rosalita realized. Her confidence started to crack, leaving her unable to decide what to do. All her thoughts intrusively focused on one thing. “I should not have sent Elena into this at all…”


    Off on the sidelines, Matt and the others could see Rosalita’s fear and worry pulling her eyes open wide and weakening her posture. He instinctively moved his laptop’s camera away from her.


    Eleanor cupped her hands around her mouth and called out, “Keep going, Rosa! You’re almost there!”


    “That… that’s right!” Sheena added, initially caught off guard by Eleanor’s enthusiasm. “You can move past a mistake!”


    “You can move past a mistake…” Rosalita repeated. With each word, a little more of her determination returned. She straightened up, and her look of panic disappeared. “You are correct. Thank you for reminding me of that…”


    The princess, having composed herself, recalled her Leavanny to the Poké Ball in her hand. Once this was done, she rolled the sphere over and stared at its button. Flakes of snow landed on its plastic surface and melted just enough to leave visible streaks of water.


    “Elena,” she addressed the Pokémon inside the sphere, “please forgive me for leading you into the wrong battle. It was my mistake, not yours.” Her lip quivered, and her fingers tightened involuntarily around the ball. “When we’re done here, I’ll heal you. For now, though, all I can do is make sure your effort was not in vain. I shall not let you down.” Rosalita reached into her cloak and exchanged Elena’s Poké Ball for Adiela’s. It was her last, a fact she was very well aware of. Yet, she held no doubt when it came to what would happen. For all her mistakes, and as grueling as the trial had been, she had a reason for saving Adiela until the end. “I shall not let any of you down… nor will I let down anyone else I must fight for. Adiela, come forth and claim victory!”


    Two things happened at once when Rosalita’s Rapidash erupted from the sphere she threw. The equine Fire-type clacked her hooves on the stone floor and neighed, while up above, the hailstorm tapered off as the clouds broke up.


    “If I’m not mistaken,” Matt said as he gazed skyward alongside the others, “there’s no way Abomasnow will be able to set Snow Warning off again. That means no more Aurora Veil, too.”


    “I don’t really know all the particulars of what you’re talkin’ about,” Leon told him, “but I’m guessin’ that’s good for Princess, and that means it’s probably good for us.”


    “You aren’t wrong,” Sheena confirmed, making Leon smile in delight.


    Noel remained stone-faced, on the other hand. Her attention stayed fixed on the battle before them, where Abomasnow had finally managed to pull Elena’s silk off his face. “Don’t get to countin’ your Torchic yet, Bro,” she warned. “Those eggs are all in one basket and they ain’t hatched yet.”


    Rosalita, too, was aware of what the shift in the weather signified. “This is our best opportunity to make a decisive move,” she informed Adiela, who snorted embers from her muzzle in response. “Tackle Abomasnow with Flame Charge!”


    Adiela bound straight for Abomasnow, her lithe form wrapped in smoldering flames that flicked outward like those of the sun. The Grass-and-Ice-type didn’t move at all in the face of the overwhelming threat the oncoming attack held. He stood perfectly still, watching Adiela as she approached. Before she reached him, his eyes changed color, briefly flashing the same red and white as the Rapidash’s.


    Rosalita and her companions couldn’t react in time to what Abomasnow did, and Adiela didn’t see it. She collided with him at full force, but he didn’t flinch at all. He held fast to his place, seemingly unaffected by a blow that just moments earlier seemed to pose a severe danger to him. The flames that could have easily brought him down were instead drawn into his body and absorbed, with not so much as a singe on his furry body. Rosalita had no idea what she’d just seen at first. It took her some time to think back on the trial before the answer came to her.


    “Role Play!” the princess exclaimed, taking a step forward. “I completely forgot…”


    “I don’t understand what’s goin’ on here, not one bit,” Noel remarked to the others.


    “I think Adiela’s ability must be Flash Fire,” Matt deduced. “Abomasnow copied it and gained an immunity to Fire-type moves. Very clever…”


    Once Abomasnow finished absorbing the flames, the same red aura that he radiated while attacking Elena reappeared. He roared, reared back and smashed both his arms into Adiela, sending her skidding across the ancient arena. At that same time, the rainbow light of Aurora Veil faded from around his body.


    Though Regice had disappeared from her line of sight, Rosalita knew it too was no longer protected. Swelling with another burst of confidence, she swept her arm in front of herself and into the air, calling out, “Go for a Megahorn!”


    On her trainer’s command, Adiela checked her slide by shifting her right rear leg back. She lowered her head and charged at Abomasnow again, her horn glowing and lengthening as she did so. He stomped towards her, still engulfed in the aura of his Outrage, but before the two collided, Regice emerged from behind its partner. The titan already had a number of Ancient Power’s stones levitating around it, and it flung them at Adiela. Several of them hit her, but she was so focused that they failed to stop her pace.


    Regice slid away as quickly as it had appeared, granting Abomasnow the chance to charge Adiela head-on. He met Megahorn with a powerful punch, and both Pokémon felt the shock of the impact radiate through their bodies. Neither was repelled, however, and they continued to clash. Horn met fist again and again, with Abomasnow showing agility that belied his bulk in keeping up with Adiela’s thrusts. No matter how the Rapidash twisted and bucked around him, he was able to match her blow-for-blow.


    “See, I told you this one was good,” Shaymin boasted to the other Pokémon watching the battle. The Mamoswine grunted to it, and after listening to what the Ice-and-Ground-type had to say, it shook its head. “There’s not enough time to tell everything that’s going on, you. It’s not for you to worry about.” Shaymin turned back to the duel between Adiela and Abomasnow. “Not for you, but for me…” it silently added.


    Adiela and Abomasnow continued to joust, but Rosalita could perceive that Abomasnow was growing weary. His punches were losing speed and turning more into him just blocking Adiela’s jabs with his arms. Not only that, his eyes were glazing over.


    “That shouldn’t surprise me…” the princess thought to herself. “Outrage leaves the one who performs it in a state of confusion…”


    Abomasnow’s movements continued to grow slower and clumsier, to the point where Adiela was finally able to start landing clean blows on him. After several more strikes, Abomasnow stumbled, and Adiela seized her opening. She drove her horn straight into the Frost Tree Pokémon’s chest, forcing a deep, pained groan out of him. He collapsed onto his stomach and reverted to his original form, his Mega Evolution vanishing in a wave of light.


    “That’s one down… well done, Adiela!” While Rosalita praised her, Adiela snorted out a bundle of embers and neighed. Their moment of victory was short-lived, however, as Regice re-entered the ring. Beeping and buzzing, it tore more stones from the ground and spun in a circle, flinging them at the Rapidash. Rosalita was ready, and she directed, “Adiela, dodge it and strike with Bounce!”


    Drawing on the strength in her powerful legs, Adiela leaped up and into the swarm of rocks. She bounded off the first few, using them as literal stepping stones to propel herself toward Regice. The titan kept spinning and throwing the stones at her, and before she could reach it, one clipped her right flank. She stumbled in midair, leaving herself open to suffer several more blows from the glowing stones.


    Rosalita glanced to her side, and saw that Matt, Eleanor, Sheena, Noel and Leon all were staring at Adiela, closely watching the Rapidash’s struggle. To encourage her, Rosalita called to her, “You can do it, Adiela! We’ve been so much together… I know you can make it!”


    Hearing her trainer’s words of support helped to clear Adiela’s head. She shook off her daze and vaulted from the stone she was on, just managing to avoid several more flying her way. Once she finally got above Regice, she somersaulted and plummeted toward it, driving all four of her hooves down into its body. A shockwave radiated through the titan’s body, making it shudder and emit an electronic groan. Adiela shoved herself off Regice, but when it tried to give chase, it found itself unable to move.


    “Bounce paralyzed it!” Matt shouted to Rosalita. “This is it! Now’s your chance to finish this fight!”


    “Much obliged,” replied the princess. She turned back to the battle, held her fist to her chest, and said, “That is correct, Adiela! Victory is in our grasp! First, use Flame Charge to build up speed!”


    Regice, unable to move, could do nothing but watch as Adiela charged towards it with her body aflame. It screeched and slid back when she collided with it. While she ran back to her trainer, Regice tried to mount a counterattack but failed to rouse its body beyond raising its arms.


    “This… this is really it, Adiela.” Rosalita’s voice was growing quiet as the meaning of the moment started to fully dawn on her. “We’re going to win against the last of the Three Pillars… please, put an end to this. Wild Charge!”


    Adiela struck her foot against the ground to dispel the remaining flares from Flame Charge. They were promptly replaced by a veil of crackling electricity, and the Rapidash barreled at its target once again. From her vantage point, Rosalita thought she saw Regice go still, as if it was ceding the fight to her. She couldn’t be sure, but the idea that even Regice respected her strength gave her some comfort.


    After Adiela tackled Regice and caused her electrical energy to explode outward, she backed up but did not go far from her opponent. Sure enough, after one last robotic groan, the titan fell forward and crashed into the ground. By sheer coincidence, a soft, gentle snowfall started at the exact same time. It was as if the weather itself was watching and understood what had taken place.


    “We did it…” Rosalita whispered to herself. For a moment, she felt nothing. Her mind disconnected from her body, giving her the sensation of watching herself from outside. And then, all at once, every emotion hit her. Joy that her long-awaited destiny had come. Worry over whether she'd do the right thing for her kingdom. Nervousness over the immense responsibilities she faced. All-consuming fear regarding her brother and his plans. Rosalita couldn't handle everything that was piling on her at the same time. She crumpled to her knees and started sobbing. That was the only thing she had the ability to do. “It's finally over… we did it, we did it…”


    A sudden warm touch briefly choked off her tears, and she looked up to see Adiela gently nuzzling her. She started crying again as she hugged her friend, but these tears carried hints of joy.


    “Thank you, Adiela, thank you so much…” She glanced under her cloak and saw her other Poké Balls. “I thank you all as well… all of you, I couldn't have done it without you.”


    “I'm proud of you, Rosalita,” Sheena said as she approached with the others. She gave Rosalita a warm smile. “You've worked hard to get here.”


    “Sheena is right, you!” Shaymin boisterously declared, flying into the circle. The Pokémon it was with remained on the cliff. “Your efforts have been quite admirable. Yes, quite admirable indeed. You truly are worthy of taking the throne.”


    “That means so much to me…” Rosalita cries subsided, her tears coming slower and smaller as she looked up still sniffling quietly. “I don't know if I'm ready for what comes next…”


    “That's why we're by your side.” Matt had given his laptop to Eleanor, and he extended a gloved hand to Rosalita. The light of the puzzle box was spilling from his bag. “Please, stand up. This is your rite of passage, so you should be the one to do this.”


    The princess blinked several times, ridding her eyes of the tears that remained. “You are correct,” she said, regaining her focus. She took Matt's hand and rose back up. Both of them then turned to Regice, who hadn't moved after falling over. It was radiating golden light, just like Regirock and Registeel had after their defeats. Matt retrieved the puzzle box from his bag, and he and Rosalita lifted it into the air, each of them sharing one side of it.


    “A body of ice,” the voice, distinctly male yet gentle and suave, sounded in their heads. While it spoke, Regice dissolved into light and merged with the cube. “To summon the king, such a thing must be obtained.”


    “Who’s that talkin’ now?!” Noel exclaimed, pushing Leon behind herself while frantically searching around.


    “It’s the voice of Regice,” Eleanor told the siblings. “Don't feel bad, it freaked Matt out pretty bad when it first happened to him, too.”


    Matt shot a look back over his shoulder at Eleanor, and she replied by sticking her tongue out and winking at him. He thought about saying something, but a sudden spike in the intensity of the puzzle box's glow distracted all of them. It levitated from Matt and Rosalita’s hands and floated in the air before the group, spilling light from all of its sides.


    “Here we go,” Rosalita breathlessly said.


    As much as the question of what the cube's completion tantalized the princess, it was Matt who couldn't wait to find out. “My grandfather laid down his life to protect this thing,” he thought, staring at the gleaming relic. “Now that it's complete, what's going to happen…?”


    The puzzle box released a burst of energy, forcing Matt, Rosalita and the others to shield their faces as the wave blew against them. It then slowly descended, landing softly on the snow-dusted earth. The group convened around it as its light faded. For all the different ideas each of them had regarding what would happen next - Matt and Rosalita anticipated seeing an actual map, Eleanor hoped that whatever was inside would come out through an elaborate mechanism - what ended up happening was something none of them guessed.


    The top of the cube lit back up and projected not a map but a simple message written in Braille. Matt waited for a moment, thinking as the others did that something else might happen. When nothing did, he focused his sight and began reading.


    “Whosoever shall wear the crown, the time of your birthright has come.” Behind him, Rosalita tended up and drowned. “Reach the sacred site and accept the gift and the curse of the earth. The place of your fate is the crown on the head of the king. The boundaries of life and death await at the end of the four towers and the Three Pillars.”


    “The four towers and the Three Pillars?” Sheena repeated. “The Three Pillars are Regirock, Registeel and Regice, that we know. What four towers is it referring to?”


    “I am quite certain I know,” Rosalita said in a deathly serious voice. “Matt, show me that map we've been using.”


    “Huh? Oh, right.” Matt reclaimed his laptop from Eleanor and tapped several keys, bringing the map back up on its screen. “Here.”


    “Back when the Doradan kingdom was at its peak,” the princess explained, “our land encompassed everything from where La Ciudad Dorada is now to the mountain range across the desert. At that time, we had multiple towers laid out across the realm. Lingote Palace is considered one of them, but there were three others.” Rosalita touched the laptop’s screen in three places, leaving marks behind. “Here, here and here. The four towers.”


    Eleanor cocked her head. She had been tracing the path laid out by the towers’ locations, but noticed something unusual. “See that? Those three towers are all in a straight line with Lingote Palace. But isn't this all a little weird?”


    “What do you mean?” Rosalita asked her.


    “These,” Eleanor replied, pointing to the marks representing the titans’ locations. “Where we found Regirock, Registeel and Regice. As soon as you showed us the towers. Rosa, I couldn't help but think that the whole map looks a bit like Regigigas.”


    Rosalita stole another glance at the map, brought her hand to her mouth, and gasped. “You are correct, it really is in the image of Regigigas!” she exclaimed, regarding the map with wide eyes. “Lingote Palace and the towers, plus the locations of the trials… this is the face of our guardian. And the clue said we need to go to a place that’s the crown on the head of the king. Since this is Regigigas’s head and face… the Golden City must be right… there.”


    The princess placed her finger on a spot at the center of the mountain range. The dots representing Lingote Palace and the three other towers led straight to it, while the locations of the trials completed a circle around the site.


    “X marks the spot,” Eleanor joked, “or in this case, the circle marks the spot.”


    “So in a sense, it really was a map…” Matt said to himself. “Not literally, but the key to understand the map to the Golden City…”


    Matt's musing was interrupted when Rosalita tugged on his sleeve. “We must be off with haste,” she told him, “but first… I need more Revival Herbs. I must heal my friends.”


    “Of course.” Matt started to reach into his bag, but before he grasped the bottles with the herbs inside, he added, “I should let Cassy know where we're going, too.”


    -:-


    It was mere minutes later when Cassy's phone started beeping. The tone interrupted her from the book she was reading, an extensive genealogy of the royal family.


    “What happened now?” she muttered to herself in irritation.


    Her frustration faded once she saw what was in the email Matt sent her. Besides a modest amount of text, it contained an image of the map with all the different location designations on it. Not only that, the site of the Golden City was circled a few too many times with what resembled yellow marker.


    “Never one to be subtle when you want someone to see something, huh?” she said before reading the text out loud. “Cassy, it’s me. We figured out where the Golden City is, so we're heading there now. I’ve marked it on the enclosed map. Be careful. Until Rosalita takes the crown, Fernando may resort to any measure necessary to stop her. This incident will be over soon, but the endgame is the most dangerous time.”


    As soon as she finished reading, Cassy stood up so quickly she nearly knocked her chair over, then hastily made her way out of the archive.


    -:-


    Meanwhile, elsewhere in the castle, Fernando was in his personal sitting room, surrounded by the splendor he’d personally chosen to furnish it. Two red velvet couches sat on opposite sides of a glass table with a marble frame. A number of stands made of wood dotted the room's perimeter, each of them supporting a planter. The Gracidea flowers contained within weren't in the best of health, even though Fernando had been careful to take care of them. Why they had proven so resistant to return to health, the royal had no idea.


    What had his attention at that time, however, was the giant painting overlooking the room. It depicted himself and Rosalita as children, and had been commissioned by their father as a gift for their fifth birthday. He was standing before the portrait, staring at it while holding the Griseous Orb's staff in his hand.


    Lost in thought, he scowled and asked himself under his breath, “Why wouldn't any of you listen to me?”


    ~:~


    Lingote Palace's throne room was easily the most spectacular chamber in the entire castle. Giant stained glass windows depicting lush gardens and magnificent towers overlooked the red carpet path at the center of the hall, which connected the great entryway doors to the raised floor where the king's golden throne sat. More stained glass surrounded said platform, helping to fill the chamber with colorful radiance.


    All that color and radiance was a mere facade that day. Fernando, Rosalita and their parents - all four were present, but the mood between them was nothing like the happy family they had been before.


    “Father, you must see things the way I do!” pleaded the count. Spreading his arms, he continued, “That message is a direct threat against our sovereignty and way of life!”


    Fernando VII tightened his grip on the piece of paper in his hand. It was a letter that had just arrived in the kingdom, promising that an unidentified sender - implying itself to be a group with its language - was coming for La Ciudad Dorada's treasures. He glanced to Sophia, standing at his side, and his queen gave him a short, encouraging nod. He then looked down from his throne to his children standing before him.


    “It is undeniable that this is a threat to be taken seriously,” Fernando VII told the pair.


    “See, you understand!” his son exclaimed. “Luckily, I have prepared a plan to keep La Ciudad Dorada and its way of life safe. We must show these outsiders that attacking us would be a fool's errand. To do so, we should walk the path of the Three Pillars and awaken Regigigas-”


    “We will do no such thing,” the king interrupted.


    In an instant, Fernando's face sank. He thought his father was listening to him, so when he realized his pleas were falling on deaf ears, his mind filled with anger. “But why?! You said we must take the threat seriously! Why are you not doing anything to respond to it and protect our land?”


    “Father understands what Regigigas’s role is,” Rosalita interjected, bringing her brother’s rage-filled glare onto herself. “Regigigas is our protector, but not our weapon.”


    “That is correct, my son,” Fernando VII concurred. “We have had many centuries of peace, and we are more than prepared to defend that peace if we must. Regigigas’s will is its own. If our defenses are not enough to defeat this threat, Regigigas will recognize the urgency and awaken of its own accord. We must not awaken it for our own purposes.”


    “You’ve all gone mad!” the younger Fernando fumed. “The civil war cost us all our territory except for this city itself. That was the last time Regigigas awakened on its own! We must call upon it ourselves and explain why we need it! I implore you, reconsider!”


    “This is not up for debate, Fernando.” The king shut his eyes. “Awakening Regigigas on our own is not an option. As Rosalita said, it is our protector, not our weapon. It is up to Regigigas to decide when to act.”


    “I cannot… I cannot believe…” It took every ounce of Fernando’s will to not lash out at his father in a way that would surely have earned him a punishment. To restrain himself, he clenched his hands into fists so tightly that he nearly drew blood from his palms. He lowered his head and said in furious anguish, “I spent my life training myself to protect the kingdom, only to be rejected in favor of Rosalita… Now I’m the only one taking any initiative to shield our home from a threat, and this scorn from you all is how I’m rewarded… I have no place here, do I?!”


    “Fernando…” Sophia gently replied, her face sinking into a soft, compassionate expression with saddened eyes. “You do have a place here. You always have and always will. Please try to understand that this just is not the right idea for the times we are in. It is not a judgment of your character.”


    “Mother?! H-how could you?!” Fernando seemed genuinely hurt by what Sophia said. His look of anger flipped to despair nearly instantly, and instead of restraining his fury, he found himself fighting back tears. “That is exactly what you told me that day, when Shaymin selected Rosalita to inherit the throne… how could you say those words to me now?!”


    “I did not mean to…”


    At that point, nothing his mother could have said would have gotten through to Fernando. He pivoted on his heel and started to march out of the throne room, leaving his parents and sister behind. They couldn’t see or hear him mumbling to himself as he left.


    “You’re all mad… I will defend this kingdom. I will protect it from all its threats, from without… or within.” Fernando’s eyes went wide as they sank back in his head. “No matter what price I must pay. No matter what…”


    ~:~


    Recalling the relatively recent events only made Fernando grit his teeth, the anger he felt rising within him once again.


    “You will understand once I awaken Regigigas and it protects us, Rosalita,” he told the image of his sister, using the portrait as a stand-in for her. “I will make sure that it will defend our land.”


    Fernando’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the heavy wooden door that connected his sitting room to the hallways outside. He turned away from the portrait and took a single step toward the entrance.


    “Come in!” he beckoned.


    The visitor to his chambers turned out to be one of the guards, who slowly pushed the door open with one hand while clutching his staff with the other. “Count Fernando?”


    “Yes, what is it?”


    The guard stepped aside, revealing Cassy standing behind him. She glared up at the count with an icy stare, seemingly angry with him for something even he wasn’t aware of.


    “Miss Natsuka has requested an audience with you,” the guard explained.


    “Very well,” Fernando replied, ushering Cassy forward with a sweeping gesture. She went to one of the velvet couches and sat down, and Fernando followed. Before speaking to her, however, he said to the guard, “Leave us. I wish to speak to her alone.”


    “As you wish, sir.”


    The guard bowed his head and exited the room, closing the door behind him. Once they were alone together, Cassy and Fernando sat in uncomfortable silence for what seemed like forever.


    “Well?” the count finally asked her.


    Cassy sighed and reached into her pocket, retrieving her phone. She tapped its screen to wake it up, then handed it over to Fernando. “That’s where the Golden City is,” she informed him. “Matt circled it a million times, so you can’t really miss it. Don’t you hurt him when you go.”


    “The entirety of La Ciudad Dorada thanks you for your service,” Fernando replied, though his expression soon darkened. His natural distrust of outsiders was flaring again, even despite the gift Cassy had just given him. “What do you think you gain by leaking his activity to me?”


    “I’ve given you that information so you wouldn’t hurt him while you dealt with your own affairs.” Cassy’s eyes drifted away from Fernando’s face and fixated on the Griseous Orb atop his staff. “I already told you. That’s what I want.”








    END of CHAPTER 5
     
  18. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    My good friend Ren helped me with the flashback featured early in this chapter. The scene itself was almost entirely her idea, so I cannot thank her enough for it. Also, Bay’s character Jacob appears in this chapter, so once again, credit to her.


    I also must give a lot of credit to my excellent beta reader, Spiteful Murkrow. He did a lot to get this chapter into shape.


    -:-


    CHAPTER 6: The End of History


    -:-


    If the ride to Registeel’s fortress the day before had been awkward for Matt, Rosalita and the others, their trip to the Golden City proved to be positively unbearable. Eleanor drove them to the area indicated by the puzzle box’s clue, and when they got there, the cube led them off into the brush with its light.


    The weight of everything that had happened so far weighed heavily on their minds, as did the knowledge of what still lay ahead of them. Noel and Leon proved the exception, unaware of the true meaning behind what they were involved in, and were blissfully untouched by the oppressive atmosphere lingering over the rest of the group. The two siblings only knew that they were going to the Golden City, and couldn’t stop talking excitedly about it as the group hiked. Sheena entertained them with conversation, as did Eleanor.


    Not one word from any of them registered in Rosalita’s mind. The princess, walking at the head of the group with Matt as he held the box aloft, had shut them all out. All she could think of was something she remembered from her childhood.


    ~:~


    La Ciudad Dorada was truly an oasis in every sense of the word. Despite being completely surrounded by miles of desert, it had plenty of water and its land overflowed with life thanks to Shaymin’s power and the gratitude of the people that fueled it. It didn’t frequently rain there, but what they proved to be enough for their little emerald island amid the sands.


    But the oasis’ idyll was marred by one primary shortcoming. When the rains came to La Ciudad Dorada, they came with the force of a hundred Water Spouts. Such a violent storm was outside the young Rosalita’s bedroom window that night, and the sound of the rain pounding the glass terrified her. She tried everything she could to hide from it, drawing the semi-translucent curtain around her bed and just barely peeking out from under her silk sheets.


    None of it helped soothe her fears at all. A bolt of lightning flashed near her window, but before she could react, a huge crack of thunder shook the castle. Rosalita couldn’t stop herself from screaming at the top of her lungs and diving under the sheets, where she started to cry.


    Between her frightened wailing and the continued rhythm of the torrential downpour outside, she could barely hear the door to her room opening a few minutes later.


    “Rosalita?” It was Fernando. Her brother tentatively ventured further into her room, focusing his attention like a laser on her bed. Though at first confused, his expression quickly turned into one of concern when her crying sank in. “Rosalita? What’s wrong?!”


    Shaymin padded into the room around Fernando’s feet and called out, “You are okay, yes?”


    Rosalita couldn’t reply. She just kept sobbing, although she did stick her head out from under her sheets enough for Fernando and Shaymin to see her. The prince and the Pokémon ran to the side of her bed and pulled the curtain open, Shaymin doing its best to help by tugging at the curtain with its mouth. She still didn’t stop crying, but when she looked at Fernando, he could see that her eyes were already red.


    “What… is… it?!” Shaymin demanded as it pulled itself up onto the bed. Once it conquered the piece of furniture, it let out a tired huff and shook its head. “Tell us what has you so upset, yes?”


    Shaymin had no idea how much it had tempted fate, but fate immediately delivered its answer. Another lightning bolt flashed through the window, followed promptly by its accompanying thunderclap. Rosalita dove back under the sheets, though her cries were starting to weaken.


    “I see, yes,” Shaymin uttered, trying to take on an authoritative tone. “Lightning and thunder is very frightening, yes…”


    “You’re not helping, Shaymin!” Fernando complained before turning back to his sister. He tried to pull back the sheets, but Rosalita initially fought to hold them in place. Despite this, he persisted, and she soon gave up her resistance.


    “Th-The light and noise is scaring me,” she whimpered once Fernando got her out in the open.


    “But it’s outside,” Fernando replied, placing his hands on his hips.


    “It doesn’t matter!” Rosalita threw up her hands and knocked away a Clefairy doll that was on the bed next to her. It nearly hit Fernando on its way to the floor.


    Fernando picked up the doll and carefully regarded it. Looking at the plush toy gave him an idea, and he threw it back onto Rosalita’s bed before seizing her hand and pulling her out. “Come here! I need to show you something!”


    “What?” she sniffed.


    “You don’t have anything to be afraid of, because…” Fernando let go of his sister’s hand and ran to the corner of the room, where Rosalita had piled all of her other dolls. The biggest of them was a huge plush Regigigas, so great in height that it eclipsed the child prince. Fernando pulled it away from the rest of the pile and positioned himself behind it in such a way that he could manipulate its arms while pushing it. He forced his voice from the back of his throat when he spoke again, making it sound deeper. “...because I am Regigigas, the great protector! When my subjects are in danger, I go forth to protect them!”


    Fernando started pushing the doll towards the window. He was unable to see Rosalita while he did so, but he did notice that he no longer heard her crying.


    “You will stop making Rosalita cry, storm!” he yelled at the glass, keeping his exaggerated voice up. “Stop, or I will come out there and destroy you!” As if the storm was responding to Fernando’s challenge, another lightning strike and boom of thunder occurred. The prince noticed that his sister didn’t seem to react this time, but still, he kept up the act. “That’s it! I warned you, now prepare to face my wrath!”


    That ‘wrath’ amounted to the boy roaring at the storm while waving the plush Regigigas’s arms around. It was such a ridiculous spectacle that Rosalita could feel her fear melting away as her muscles unwound. She finally fell to her knees on the red carpet and broke down - broke down laughing. The sight of her brother cartoonishly challenging the elements from the other side of her window was just too much of a delight to ignore.


    It was exactly the reaction Fernando was hoping for. He released the doll and ran to embrace his sister. “There we go. Isn’t that better?”


    “Yes, it is…” she murmured. “Thank you.”


    “Don’t you be scared of that stuff anymore, I’ll stay here to keep you safe.” Fernando put his hand on Rosalita’s head, then teasingly added, “And if I’m not enough, Regigigas can come back.”


    Rosalita threw her arms around her brother with such force that she nearly knocked him over. “I don’t think I need Regigigas if you’re around. Thank you…”


    Even as the storm produced another clap of thunder outside, the royal siblings descended into shared hysterical laughter. Shaymin watched approvingly from the bed, several flowers having sprouted from its back.


    ~:~


    Thinking back on that night only made Rosalita more upset. Her hands tightened into fists and her teeth clenched behind a sharp frown, though she wasn’t consciously aware of either action.


    “No, Fernando, you’re the one who doesn’t understand!” she thought, finding herself growing angry at her brother. “Regigigas is not a toy! It’s not something we have the right to trifle with! If you cannot see that, then I must protect not only the kingdom, but you from yourself!”


    Rosalita remained lost in her haze of memories and emotions until a sudden shout from Matt popped her bubble. She blinked her way back to reality in time to see that they had reached a clearing, where a gigantic, sheer rock face seemingly stymied them. Easily at least thirty feet tall by Matt’s estimation, the wall in the side of the mountain seemed at once an impossible obstacle, and a warning to go no further.


    “It’s right here!” he told the others. “It has to be!”


    “I guess Matt’s thing is ancient golden cities like mine is machines,” Eleanor joked to Sheena, Noel and Leon.


    “Something certainly does have him fired up,” Sheena said in agreement.


    “What are you all waitin’ for?!” Leon demanded of them. “We gotta get there and get Princess to become… uh… Queenie, I guess! Sis and I ain’t gettin’ what we want without that, did you forget?! How can it be here?”


    “You’ll see,” Matt told Leon. “It actually reminds me of what we found when we were searching for Regirock and Registeel.”


    “I concur,” Rosalita said. Facing Matt with intensity burning in her green eyes, she requested, “Please use the puzzle box to open the way.”


    “No, you should do it,” he replied, surprising the princess by pushing the box into her hands. He then took his laptop out of his bag, and as he opened it he said, “You’re the one with a birthright to be here.”


    “That may be so, but…” Rosalita lowered her head. Did he really see things that way even though it was his adventure too, following in his grandfather’s footsteps? “I think, as Sutter Chiaki’s heir, you also have a right to visit this place.”


    “But you are the heir to the throne of this land,” he countered, though in a bland tone that betrayed his inner turmoil. “Me? I’m just… an observer of what is to happen.”


    Rosalita opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. She instead turned away in shame. “I am so happy that this is nearly over,” she thought. “I cannot avoid telling him for much longer…”


    While Rosalita contemplated her situation, Sheena came up alongside her and touched her shoulder, making her jump. “I’m sorry for sneaking up on you… are you alright?”


    “Why… why do you ask?” the princess stuttered, still off-balance from her thoughts being interrupted.


    “I cannot say how I would feel knowing I was about to inherit immortality and take the reins of a land my family has led for seven hundred years…” When she saw Rosalita flinch, Sheena hurried to add, “But you’re the one who can do it! You’ve proved it! To be honest, I don’t think I could do it.”


    There was a lot Rosalita wanted to say in response to Sheena’s praise, but her escalating worry left her unable to put it all into words. It wasn’t just her nervousness over the immense responsibility she would soon be taking on. No, what was really striking fear into her was a sinking feeling about what she and the others didn’t know. They had no idea what Fernando had been up to back at the palace. They had no idea about Cassy leaking their location to him. As long as her brother’s activity remained an enigma, he posed a danger she couldn’t help but dread.


    Even though she felt afraid, though, Rosalita knew she had little choice but to keep pressing on. Swallowing her fear, she responded to Sheena’s praise with a simple nod and smile, then lifted the puzzle box toward the graying sky.


    Almost immediately, the cube erupted with light with the force of a great volcano. The blinding glow flooded the clearing, and as it spilled from its source it began etching intricate images into both the ground and the wall.


    “How much more weird stuff is gonna happen today, exactly?!” Noel complained from the back of the group, covering her eyes like all the others. “Ever since Bro and I started followin’ you it’s been one thing after another!”


    Before anyone could answer the hunter’s demands, the overflowing light from the box abruptly cut off. The area went back to normal in an instant, save for one significant change: the entrance of a great golden temple had materialized in the mountain while they had been blinded. Both its front and the ground before it were covered in elaborate depictions of Regigigas, Regice, Regirock, Registeel and Shaymin amongst lush forest settings.


    “Once again I bring an heir to the throne here,” the real Shaymin said to its human companions. It sighed, though it was careful not to let on how doubtful and ashamed it actually felt. “And another generation I end up misleading…” it thought, sadly shaking its head. In order to hide these feelings from the humans, it immediately put on its usual demeanor and told Rosalita, “Go forth, you! March to your destiny!”


    A small gasp slipped from Rosalita’s lips, but she swiftly composed herself. “Yes, of course.” The princess could see that the path into the mountain was quite dark, so she turned to Eleanor and said, “Please have Litwick show us the way.”


    “You got it, Rosa!” Eleanor replied with a wink. She walked past the others, took Litwick’s Poké Ball from her skirt and opened it, allowing the candle Pokémon to materialize on her shoulder. She scratched Litwick’s cheek, earning a coo from the Ghost-and-Fire-type, and said to her, “Rosa says we need your light. Are you up for it?”


    Litwick chirped happily as the flame on her head grew. Pleased with this, Eleanor made her way through the golden shrine’s entrance and into the cave. Rosalita followed closely behind, trailed herself by Shaymin, who was hanging its head as it flew. Matt, Sheena, Noel and Leon brought up the rear, with Sutter’s grandson careful to keep his camera running as they drew ever closer to the treasure they sought.


    -:-


    Rosalita had no way of knowing just how prescient her fears about Fernando really were. He wasn’t just on his way to the Golden City, he was going there with the Doradan skyship freshly armed with the weapons he had added to it. Despite being an incredibly complex craft using a great amount of machinery made with Arcane Science, it could be piloted by a single person. The minimal manpower requirements proved invaluable for Fernando’s efforts to keep the palace advisors and servants as far away from interfering in his plans as he could.


    He sat in the skyship’s bridge, moving his right hand over the glass panel on which most of the vessel’s controls were projected. There were many levers surrounding the panel and a single handle mounted in the floor in front of the pilot’s seat, but Fernando had no need for them unless he had to change altitude, which he had no intention of doing until he returned home. Many of the city’s citizens had seen him depart in the ship, so he knew he would have to give them some sort of explanation. No matter, he thought. He could deal with that later on.


    “I will protect the kingdom no matter what price I must pay. No matter what price…” he muttered to himself as the ship navigated the darkening skies. Those words soon became like a mantra to him, and he tightened his left hand around the Griseous Orb’s staff. “No matter what… no matter what… no matter what…”


    Suddenly, a vision of Rosalita burst into Fernando’s mind, blocking out the control panel in front of him. He blinked several times before he was able to dispel it. Troubled by the vision, he looked out over the vast landscape below and started breathing heavily.


    “Why can’t you understand?” he said out loud, his body beginning to tremble. “I was born for one reason, to protect this place… please just let me do it. Don’t make me have to give up even more…”


    -:-


    With every inch the group advanced further down the dark, narrow staircase, the air around them grew thicker and ever more oppressive. It was true that there was little circulation so deep beneath the mountain, of course, but the stagnant atmosphere wasn’t the main source of the weight they felt. No, it was the knowledge that all of them - even Noel and Leon - understood that every step brought them closer to the Golden City, and thus closer to the the history that would unfold in these musky tunnels. It was so quiet in the passage that Matt, Rosalita and the others could hear the steady rhythm of water dripping somewhere nearby.


    After following the path Litwick illuminated for some time, they reached a point where the stairs stopped and the tunnel opened up into a much bigger chamber. Eleanor hesitatingly advanced into the larger space to see how much light Litwick could fill it with, only to discover that it was too big to get the glow very far at all.


    “Well, that’s unfortunate,” she said with a shrug.


    “Don’t give up just yet,” Matt told her, prompting her to turn around. She saw him give Sheena his laptop, remove his right glove, and dip his fingers into a small bowl in the wall at the end of the tunnel. “Oil,” he said, rubbing the substance in the bowl between his fingers. Turning to Eleanor, he beckoned her, “Bring Litwick over and light this so we can see what we’re dealing with, would you?”


    “You got it.” While Matt put his glove back on and reclaimed his laptop, Eleanor made her way back to the bowl. Litwick hopped off her shoulder and plopped next to the reservoir of oil. “Light it up, Litwick,” Eleanor told her.


    The candle Pokémon responded by chirping happily, then hopped to turn around. She lowered the flame on her head until it touched the oil, igniting the fluid.


    Eleanor, with Litwick having jumped back onto her shoulder, joined the others as they watched the results of their action unfold. The flames quickly spread out of the bowl of oil, following canals set into the chamber’s walls. Bit by bit, the veil of darkness was lifted, revealing to the awestruck explorers what they had found. They had no idea when they entered, but they had uncovered a temple that dwarfed everything they’d seen to that point in both size and splendor.


    Directly ahead of them was a gigantic, vividly colored mural, framed by gold pillars that glistened in the light cast by the dancing flames. It depicted countless people clad in festive clothing, dancing alongside many Pokémon. A lush landscape surrounded them, with bushes, trees and vines sprouting from the rich grass under their feet. What caught the attention of Matt, Rosalita, Eleanor, Sheena, Noel and Leon the most, however, were the images at the mural’s center. An old man wearing flowing white robes stood next to an image of Shaymin, his hands raised in reverence to Regigigas. The image of the great titan dwarfed everything else in the mural, with its tremendous arms reaching from one corner of the art to the other. All the group observing the mural could do was fan out as they took it in, humbled by the obvious gratitude it depicted.


    “Yo, that’s Regigigas, ain’t it?” Leon remarked to Rosalita in wonder. “Since you said you beat those other three, that means this really is the place…”


    “Princess, who’s that old geezer there?” Noel demanded.


    “It’s the first king…” Rosalita softly replied. She knew plenty about her ancestor and her homeland’s history, but seeing such a depiction of them with her own eyes left her stunned. That she knew how tantalizingly close to her destiny she was didn’t help matters. All she could do was take a single step forward and cover her mouth with her hand, leaving her voice to slip between her fingers. “We call him Fernando the Great… and those are the ancient Doradan people. This is the paradise Shaymin made our land into, and the paradise Regigigas protects… as that paradise was when it was but a newborn.”


    Expecting some sort of humorous comment from Shaymin after the princess praised it, both Sheena and Eleanor both pulled their eyes away from the mural’s hypnotic imagery. When they looked at the Pokémon, however, both were surprised to see it hanging its head and not reacting to Rosalita’s words.


    Just then, Sheena took notice of a stone monolith in the corner of her eye. It had been right there in front of them the entire time, but with how vast the mural was, they completely overlooked it. Sheena went to the pillar and, after discovering Braille characters on it, called for the others to join her.


    “What is it?” Matt asked her as the rest of the group made their way to join her.


    “Look at this,” Sheena replied, pointing over her shoulder at the Braille. “Another puzzle.”


    “So it is…” Rosalita quietly said. “It would appear that the tests have not ended just yet…”


    Instinctively understanding what had to be done, Matt moved to the head of the group to examine the message, as he’d repeatedly done before. He couldn’t help himself from wishing it would be the last of the puzzles, though he kept those thoughts to himself. “I want this to be over, but if I got that wish, it would force Rosalita to take up her obligations sooner… I have no right to do that to her.”


    Matt’s internal conflict led to him freezing with his hand just over the monolith’s message. He was seized by indecision, unable to fully commit to opening the path to their fates.


    “Is something wrong?” Rosalita piped up. “Are you not able to read it?”


    That interjection was all Matt needed to put his doubts down. Rosalita was fully aware of what would likely await beyond the puzzle, so if she wanted to solve it, he had faith that she was ready for it.


    After sighing in relief, Matt said to her, “No, it’s fine. Let’s see…” As was his habit , he ran his finger along the Braille glyphs while he read them aloud. “He who shall wear the crown, here lies your final test. The bounty of gratitude sits before you. Complete thus the depiction of gratitude by opening the lock separating you from your destiny. But beware, for the bounty of gratitude shall only be reaped by the worthy. All others shall face the wrath of Gaia.”


    “The wrath of Gaia...” Sheena ominously repeated.


    “Do you know what it means by that?” Rosalita asked her.


    “Only in broad strokes,” the priestess confirmed. She made her way to Matt’s side and touched the Braille, then looked up at the mural. “Gaia enriches our lives, that much is true. But the teachings of my people warn that if one misuses Gaia, it can reverse and become deadly. The bounty that Gaia normally gives us can become a corrupt force that drains the life from the land instead of empowering it.”


    “Of course messin’ with ancient powers would turn out to involve a curse,” Noel said with a shrug. “Even a street urchin like me knows that much.”


    “There certainly is truth to that,” Eleanor concurred, her manner much more serious than normal.


    “This curse…” All the color had drained from Rosalita’s face after she heard Sheena’s explanation. In an instant, the stakes at play had risen exponentially, and she knew it. “If Fernando gets here, he could end up destroying all we have left without even realizing it…” Yet, the fate of La Ciudad Dorada wasn’t the only thing on her mind. It was something else, something far more personal, that drove her to pivot around and confront Shaymin. “I am aware that the waters of the Fountain of Life only flow when you prompt them to. What would happen if the wrong person were still able to drink from it?”


    When Shaymin failed to answer immediately, Rosalita knew her worst fears were correct. Her posture weakened, but conversely, the determined expression on her face hardened even further. Shaymin saw this, but decided to still answer anyway.


    “Sheena has already told you,” the mythical Pokémon admitted. “The energy of the land flows through the waters of the Fountain of Life. If it were to be misused, the consequences would be the same as those for any other abuse of that power.”


    “I thought so.” When Rosalita turned to Matt, the steely look in her eyes sent a chill down his spine. “I cannot worry about what will become of me anymore. We must find the way forward.”


    “I agree.” Matt couldn’t bring himself to tell her that she didn’t need to sacrifice her own well-being. “But what lock does it mean?”


    Almost on cue, Eleanor piped up, “You guys, look at this.” She pointed in the direction of the wall behind the monolith, prompting the others to search there.


    What they found was a second mural set into the lower edge of the first one. Though much smaller than the one that dominated the chamber, it still towered over the humans observing it. It was crafted in a circular shape, and even more unusually, it was divided into three sections that increased in size the further they went from the smaller mural’s center.


    Matt approached the strange piece of art and carefully pushed on one of its three sections. It shifted slightly under his hand. “I think this is our so-called lock,” he told the others, “but what exactly are we looking at here? Clearly, all we need to do is set these wheels in the correct positions to form an image, but…”


    Despite Matt trailing off, the rest of the group understood what he was getting at. There were no easily defined shapes to be found, nothing that could provide a starting point for deducing the mural’s true nature. The curved lines and dots of varying sizes spread across the wheels defied the best efforts of the entire group to solve the puzzle.


    “There ain’t anythin’ there that makes sense,” Noel remarked to her brother. She and Leon had been trying to help, but to no avail. “Might as well just be blank space.”


    “Space…” Something clicked in Rosalita’s head after hearing Noel’s offhanded comment. She tilted her head to get a different perspective, and the image’s meaning came into focus. “Space, that’s it!” the princess exclaimed, hitting her fist into the palm of her other hand. “This is the star map from the planetarium in the museum! I cannot believe I didn’t recognize it sooner!”


    “Is that so?” Matt cocked his head to look at the puzzle the same way Rosalita did, but the clear answer didn’t come to him. “As much as I’m interested in space, I don’t know the stars here. I mean, it does look like a star map, but not one I know.”


    “I shall show you.” Rosalita stepped up to the puzzle, then looked back over her shoulder. “Leon, you appear to have some muscle on you. Come here and help Matt and I put this together.”


    “Sis is the only one I take orders from, Princess.”


    “C’mon, Bro, not now,” Noel said with a sigh. “This ain’t the time, not when we got a good thing goin’ with Princess. Besides, we might be on a time limit. Who knows when that count could turn up.”


    “Yeah, you’re right…” Leon shrugged his shoulders, then went to stand where Rosalita indicated on the opposite side of the puzzle from Matt, who was busy setting his laptop up on the ground. “What d’you want me to do, Princess?”


    “Help me turn each wheel until I tell you to stop.”


    Together, Matt, Rosalita and Leon set about doing exactly that. They started with the outermost piece, which was also the heaviest. It took an exceptional amount of effort to move that wheel, but the three of them were able to get it done. The middle and centermost pieces were easy by comparison, and before long, they had all three wheels set exactly where Rosalita wanted them, forming a flattened but otherwise identical replica of the planetarium.


    Matt, Leon and Rosalita barely had time to take a breath before the room reacted to the completed puzzle. Light erupted from between the wheels, causing Matt and Leon to stumble and fall in their surprise. Rosalita, however, remained composed. She simply stepped back and watched, holding her fist to her chest, as the light fused with the three wheels and traced the star map. Once it was fully drawn out, the entire puzzle started to slide into the wall, causing a mighty rumble that shook the entire chamber.


    “Amazing…” Eleanor beamed. She had her hands clasped in front of her and a look of sheer delight on her face. “The technology here is nothing short of amazing!


    Waiting behind the puzzle was another tunnel, a little less narrow than the first but still nowhere near the size of the mural chamber. Upon its reveal, the torches lining the passage lit on their own, illuminating the path leading even deeper under the mountain.


    “This is it!” Noel exclaimed. “Our ticket outta this life is right in front of us, Bro!”


    Leon nodded in acknowledgment to his sister. Neither of the siblings could contain themselves at the thought of finally escaping their difficult lives, and they started to dash toward the tunnel.


    “Halt!” Rosalita boomed. There was such authority and force in her voice that Noel and Leon instantly obeyed.


    “That ain’t the voice of the weak little girl that count said she’d be…” Noel thought, a chill running through her body. “Glad we picked the winning side in the end here…”


    “I will be going first,” the princess declared. She made her way to the threshold before turning and saying, “Matt, I want you at my side to document this.”


    “Oh, right…got it.”


    With Matt right behind her recording everything with his laptop, Rosalita led the others into the tunnel. They knew quite well what was coming from the way the last Braille message called the planetarium puzzle the final test. Awaiting them at the end of the path was what Sutter, Fernando VII and Sophia had all given their lives to protect.


    The way two families had been torn apart by the Golden City and its secrets wasn’t lost on the rightful heir to them. Rosalita’s mind was elsewhere as she stiffly trekked down the tunnel. “So much blood has been shed,” she bitterly thought, “and to what end? All because he can’t understand that he is still important… When this is done, I am sure he’ll see the truth then. He must…”


    Shaymin couldn’t see Rosalita’s face as it floated along behind her, but her body language gave it a good idea of how she felt. The mythical Pokémon, overwhelmed with shame, tried to find something to say to her, only for Matt to break the silence first.


    “So you said back there you’re interested in space?” he asked the princess. “I mean, that was the impression I got.”


    Rosalita sighed, internally thankful he’d given her something more positive to think about. Her posture loosened as she replied, “That is correct. Ever since I was a child, it has fascinated me. Since La Ciudad Dorada is so remote, there is nothing to muddle the light of the stars above… and space is so vast that I often wonder if there is another being living a life like mine out there.”


    “Never took you for someone who’d be interested in aliens.” Eleanor had gotten directly behind Rosalita and Matt at some point before she popped into their conversation.


    “I never thought of them as aliens,” Rosalita said. “To me, anything that’s out there is just another being on another planet with its own life and its own story. If you think about it, to them we would be the aliens, the strangers living in the far unknown.”


    “I guess I’d never thought of it that way. That’s a fair point there, Rosa.”


    “I’ve always had a dream of going into space myself,” Matt admitted to them. “Rosalita, you’re right about how beautiful the stars are. I’d love to get to be among them, even for a brief moment… but that’s not something that’s realistic for someone like me.”


    “Aw, don’t give up on your dreams like that,” Eleanor said, giving Matt a playful smack on the shoulder. “Who knows how the chips might fall? I’ve thought that if I can’t make it to Avignon Town or the Azoth Kingdom, maybe I’d go get work at Mossdeep Space Center. I could make the ship that you go into space on.”


    “I appreciate the thought…” Matt instinctively went to adjust his glasses, only to brush his hands against the bandages on his face. Even though his glove, he cringed at the sensation. “Mossdeep Space Center is a big part of why I have that dream, to be honest. Amanda and I went on a school trip there years ago, right after the Delta-2 mission came home. Everything I saw there blew me away.”


    “Sounds like quite the experience.” Eleanor crossed her arms behind her back. “We’ve got a lot of sights to see in Kalos, but they’re all of this world. I’ve taken the tour of Lysandre Labs so many times now that the guides all know my name.”


    “Now, Kalos, that’s a place I’ve never been to,” Matt replied, “even with all the trips Sutter took me on. I’d like to get there one day.”


    “You’d love it,” Eleanor assured him.


    The pair’s conversation wound down just as the group reached what appeared to be the end of the passage. Like the tunnel that came before, it opened into a vast space that the lights they’d been following couldn’t illuminate. Yet, as soon as they entered the cavern and fanned out, they all recognized that the chamber they stood in was unlike any place they’d previously visited. A tremendous, overwhelming presence hung in the air, its source concealed by seemingly infinite murk all around them. The sole thing any of the explorers could see lay in front of themselves - something in the darkness was glistening in what little light escaped from the tunnel.


    “That must be…” Sheena trailed off, the presence in the underground chamber combining with the stale air to leave her feeling suffocated. She looked down, and gasped in surprise at what she saw. There, under her feet, was yet another vivid mural. This one depicted Regigigas with its arms spread out to their full length. “Look at that, you guys!” she exclaimed, drawing the others’ attention to it.


    “Regigigas…” Rosalita said the moment the legendary Pokémon’s image entered her sight. When she inspected the rest of the artwork, she noticed that the other titans were present in it as well. Regirock and Regice sat at opposite ends, touching Regigigas’s fingers, while Registeel was positioned near its master’s head. The darkness partially obscured the trio, but enough of them remained visible for them to be recognized. “Regirock, Registeel and Regice as well…” Rosalita took a deep breath, attempting to calm her growing anxiety. “There is only one place we can possibly be.”


    It appeared that the group’s progress was checked by the barrier of darkness they faced, prompting them to search for a way forward. Eleanor soon found another bowl of oil set into the wall, much like the first. It was right at the end of the passage they’d just left, so the torches threw light on it.


    Taking Litwick in her hands, Eleanor said to her Pokémon, “This might be the last time we get to do this. You ready to light it up?”


    Litwick responded with a happy yet determined chirp, so Eleanor placed her down on the edge of the bowl. She tensed up, infusing all the energy she could into her flame, then leaned forward so it could touch the oil.


    When the liquid ignited, the fire quickly left the bowl and followed a winding path of aqueducts filled with more oil. Every inch the fire traveled further lifted the dark veil, revealing to the increasingly awestruck explorers exactly what occupied the spacious cavern.
     
  19. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    What spread out before them was a vast complex of interconnected temples and shrines, all forged in gold. Actual, solid gold. Matt couldn’t imagine where the ancient Doradans who built it found so much of the precious metal, but there was no mistaking what the structures were made of. While it wasn’t literally a city where people could have lived, that didn’t really matter. Rosalita and Shaymin already knew about it, obviously, but for the others any remaining traces of doubt they harbored melted away. Here, buried in the deepest bowels of the earth below La Ciudad Dorada, truly was a city of gold. One as real and tangible as the stone under their feet.


    The tunnel had led the group to a balcony with an altar overlooking the Golden City, as it turned out. It afforded them a perfect view of the legendary site as the flames continued to illuminate the area. Eleanor, Sheena, Noel and Leon couldn’t help but run to the railing at the platform’s edge, each of them thrilled for a different reason.


    In Eleanor’s case, it was nothing more than excitement for how much her visit to La Ciudad Dorada had given her. She’d traveled there just to see the kingdom’s machines, yet when she got swept up in the search for the Golden City, she ended up finding a sense of friendship that largely eluded her in Kalos. That, in turn, had made her feel like she belonged there, bringing her peace and satisfaction she had long sought. Basking in the glow of the flames against the gold, she closed her eyes and whispered to herself, “It feels so warm…”


    As for Sheena, the Golden City represented an opportunity to learn. The wanderer, the allegedly immortal Tenganist warrior priest from Ransei, was responsible for La Ciudad Dorada becoming an oasis. In that sense, Sheena thought, the Golden City and its Fountain of Life could be considered his greatest achievements. “It’s thanks to him teaching the Doradans how to use Gaia that all this is possible,”, she marvelled internally as the gleaming glow of the Golden City reflected in her blue eyes. “Being here is my greatest chance to walk his path and understand what he truly could do.”


    As for Noel and Leon, what the Golden City meant to them was already well known. They hadn’t exactly tried to hide their motives from the others, after all. When they traveled to the realm at Fernando’s behest, they expected to be arriving at the Golden City after capturing Shaymin for him. They’d considered stealing the treasure for themselves, too, but seeing how vast it truly was left them pleased they hadn’t pursued that end. It didn’t matter. All they wanted was a chance to escape the desperate lives they led, and helping Rosalita was what would get them there.


    “Hey, Sis?” Leon said to his sibling and partner. “I just remembered… if we’re stayin’ here, what about our crew back home in Pyrite? Weren’t we gonna help ’em too?”


    “I already thought ’bout that,” Noel answered with a hearty slap to her brother’s back. “They’re pretty tough, ’specially that Renzo, but I’ll talk to Princess ’bout arrangin’ something for ’em.”


    “Sounds good to me, Sis.”


    As the furthest reaches of the Golden City were illuminated, one thing brought those on the observation platform together above all else. Gratitude, be it for friendship, knowledge or opportunity, filled their hearts. Though unspoken, all four also shared a sense that they couldn’t have achieved their goals without each other. Their silent gratitude was such that it even brightened Shaymin’s dour mood for the time being.


    At that point, the very back of the cavern was finally brought into the light, and the source of the overwhelming presence in the Golden City was revealed at last. There, sitting on a gargantuan golden throne, was Regigigas. It was easily the most gigantic thing any of the group had ever seen; the temples surrounding the titan were like mere toys compared to its awe-inspiring size. Despite there being a wide path laid out before it, Regigigas could have easily destroyed the entire Golden City if it so desired. That much became immediately obvious to those present. All they could do was stare at the great Pokémon as it radiated power even while remaining perfectly still.


    “Good thing it’s asleep…” Eleanor breathlessly said.


    “Yes, you are correct…” Rosalita took a step forward and unconsciously clenched her hand around the pin on her cloak bearing her family’s coat of arms. Shaymin remained floating by her side, and noticed how her hand was trembling. “We must be cautious but prompt,” the princess continued, fighting back her anxiety. “I think we can all see quite clearly why Regigigas must not be awakened, most particularly by my brother. Sightseeing can wait until after we head to the Fountain of Life. Come, Matt, we must go…”


    When she turned around, Rosalita saw Matt clutching his laptop and staring at its screen. He was slouching, his breathing had turned shallow, and his face was completely blank. Any effect the spectacle of the Golden City had on him had seemingly worn off.


    “Matt?” she quietly inquired, taking a tentative step toward him. “What is wrong?”


    “We’re standing exactly where Sutter stood so many decades ago,” he murmured in reply. A sigh found its way through his clenched teeth before he turned his gaze up from the screen. “When Cassy and I came to La Ciudad Dorada, I thought that walking the same path he did would help bring me closure over his death. Now, I’m here, and…” Matt sighed again, finding himself afraid to admit what he was thinking. “I’m here, and… I don’t feel anything. Please don’t get me wrong, Rosalita, this is a magnificent place… I just…” His composure was beginning to unravel. “I just… I thought that once this was over, I could finally put what happened behind me. I thought I would finally understand why he died, and I don’t…”


    “Please, do not give up hope,” Rosalita told him. She spoke before she could think, and when her mind caught up with her, her sense of guilt flared anew. “This is my fault,” she thought, forcing herself to not frown and give away her feelings. “If I just told him everything, he could be at peace…”


    “Rosa?”


    Eleanor’s voice snapped the princess back to reality. The others had closed ranks around her while she was distracted to await her decision on what to do next.


    “Yes, yes, Eleanor, I apologize,” she said, raising her hand and smiling nervously. She then turned to Matt and vowed, “You will find what you seek, that I can promise you. There is only a little… a little further to go.”


    “You’re right,” he answered, straightening himself. “Thank you.”


    “Rosalita, look over there.” Sheena pointed off to the left side of the balcony, drawing the others’ attention to a stone staircase leading further down. “That looks like the only way to proceed.”


    “An apt observation,” Rosalita agreed. “Come. Once we are done here, I’ll…” One last pang of fear rose in Rosalita’s heart, but she fought it back. “I’ll be able to tell you everything, Matt.”


    “Or maybe he can find out now.”


    Before any of the group could process the sudden intrusion, a bolt of dark lightning cracked the air and struck in their midst. The resulting explosion threw them all back, scattering them across the floor of the viewing deck. Behind them, standing in the gateway to the Golden City, was Fernando.


    “You!” Matt yelled at him. Overcome with fury, Matt seized his laptop and tried to stand up, but found himself unable to. It was as if an invisible force was holding him back. He looked around, noticing that the others appeared to be similarly afflicted. “What did you do?!” he demanded.


    Fernando held the staff out so Matt could see the Griseous Orb atop it. The jewel was glowing and giving off sparks of dark electricity. “So it really does alter gravity,” the count noted as he closed the staff’s bulb around the orb.


    “You know you are not supposed to be using that!” Shaymin shrieked at him. “Surrender it at once, you!”


    “Silence!” Fernando countered, unconcerned by Shaymin’s order. He entered the cavern with slow, deliberate steps, and Heatran lumbered in behind him. “You, who refuses to defend this land, has no right to give me commands.”


    “Oh, like you’re doing any better?” Eleanor spat.


    Fernando’s eyes briefly flicked over to the engineer, but he otherwise paid her no mind. The sight of the Golden City and Regigigas fascinated him. There, laid out before him, was everything he’d hoped for and dreamed of his entire life, given physical form. “It truly is as spectacular as the writings of our ancestors say…” he uttered, awestruck. “This must be protected from the outsiders who would take it away…”


    “You’re the one who’s threatening it!” Rosalita scolded her brother. The effect of the Griseous Orb had worn off enough that she could sit up and throw out an accusing finger at her sibling. “Why can you not understand Regigigas is not a toy or a weapon?! You’re the one being a child, Fernando! And while you go on about protecting this place, you’re the one who sent outsiders to do all your dirty work!”


    That remark got Fernando to halt his advance. He stood right in front of his sister, looked down on her with an icy glare and said severely, “That is rich coming from you. I used them to find the Golden City, that is correct. But I only used them to do what I could not, and that includes getting our rightful property back. Or do I need to remind you that, you took the grandson of the outsider who started all this and relied on him when you didn’t even need to?”


    “Am I supposed to be chastened by that?” Rosalita snapped. “You killed Mother and Father! Professor Chiaki too! You’re in no position to moralize to others when you’ve already gone too far!”


    “That right there is why you are not worthy of the throne despite your power,” Fernando coldly replied. His voice was growing shaky, and the hand he held the staff in was trembling. “I… I did kill them. I am weak, and I did what I was capable of. What you fail to grasp is that... nobody is more precious than what we must protect. We are insignificant in the bigger picture of things, and that is why the kingdom must be protected no matter the cost. My life has made that very clear to me.”


    “You’re absolutely mad,” Matt angrily interrupted, clutching his laptop and still documenting things, “but does somebody want to tell me what’s going on here? My grandfather started this?”


    “You didn’t even tell him,” Fernando scorned Rosalita as he turned away from her. “You lecture me while you manipulate people yourself.”


    “It’s not like you told him either…” she listlessly countered.


    “Told me what?!” Matt’s anger was devolving into utter desperation, and both his tone and movements reflected it. His gaze darted from Shaymin to Rosalita to Fernando and back again before he begged, “What really happened here?!”


    “What happened was your grandfather defiled the trial all kings must face,” Fernando revealed, “just as you are now. He, an outsider, made himself a part of our sacred custom. To that end, he stole one of our treasures, the golden puzzle box.”


    “You’re not telling him the truth either!” Rosalita lashed out. When she saw Matt look to her in clear bewilderment, the last of her hesitation to tell him fell away. “I didn’t know how to tell you this, Matt, and for that I apologize. If you don’t wish to forgive me, I will not hold it against you. The truth is… our grandfather, King Fernando VI… he appointed Professor Chiaki as a guardian of the trials and the Golden City.”


    ~:~


    Many decades earlier, Sutter had indeed seen the same sight Matt would see in the future. Time seemed to have no influence there. The balcony and altar, the gleaming golden temples, Regigigas and its throne, all of it was identical to how it was in the present.


    That, of course, did not apply to Sutter himself. His appearance then was much more robust, with vivid blue hair that matched Amanda’s and a neatly trimmed beard. He stood at the edge of the balcony with his apprentice, a young man with a thick, black handlebar moustache, at his side.


    “I can’t believe it,” the elder Chiaki marvelled at the sight before them. “The Golden City is actually real, and we found it… this is our greatest achievement, Jacob.”


    “No doubt about it, Professor,” Jacob replied. “Not just the Golden City, either… if the city itself is real, then the fountain of eternal life must be real as well. Our names will go down in history for this!”


    “It is all real, but you presume much to think you will gain fame from this place. If you value your life, you will tell no one outside what you have found.”


    Sutter and Jacob turned away from the Golden City to see King Fernando VI approaching them, holding Shaymin in his arms. A man of great height, Fernando VI bore a striking facial resemblance to his future grandson.


    “Your highness,” Sutter addressed the king, “forgive my insolence, but I fail to understand. You have helped us on our journey to this point. Why would you do that if you did not want us to document our findings?”


    “We helped you because we have a much greater purpose in mind for you, yes,” Shaymin informed the pair.


    “That is correct,” Fernando VI continued when the two adventurers looked questioningly at him. “Recently, I became aware of some…” The king turned his eyes down to Shaymin, who squirmed nervously in his arms. “...information. Because of it, in my capacity as king, I have decided that I wish to appoint someone outside our realm to watch over this process.”


    Sutter straightened up, understanding immediately what Fernando VI was suggesting. “What would such a mission entail?” he asked.


    “Guarding this,” Fernando VI said, producing the puzzle box from his robes after setting Shaymin down. He’d allowed Sutter and Jacob to use it to find the Three Pillars, and they had just returned it to him after solving the planetarium puzzle. “Everything you’ve heard about this land is true. I allowed you to find the Golden City to see if you were worthy of drinking from the Fountain of Life and using its gifts to watch over the cube until it is once again needed.”


    “You want us to live forever?” Jacob questioned, completely stunned by what he was hearing.


    “Not exactly,” Fernando and Rosalita’s grandfather replied. “I believe you two have proven that you will use the gift the Fountain of Life gives responsibly, and not abuse it to attain true immortality.”


    “I see,” Sutter said, scratching his chin in thought. “It is true that I’ve gained deep gratitude for your kingdom’s way of life… if fulfilling your request is how I can give back to you, I will do it.”


    “You’re always so brave, Professor…” Jacob remarked. “I don’t have the same courage… I’m sorry, your highness, but I don’t think I can do it. I just… don’t think I can give up my ordinary life for such immense responsibility. I’m not saying I’m not grateful for the honor, but…”


    “You need not apologize, Jacob,” the king assured him. “I understand I am placing a great demand upon you both. It is not unreasonable to refuse. At the same time, I must insist that you not reveal what has taken place here to the outside world.”


    “I swear I won’t!” Jacob exclaimed, placing his hand over his heart.


    “Very well. Come, Professor Chiaki, we must carry out the ceremony at the Fountain of Life.”


    “This way, yes!” Shaymin called from near the stairs. “Hurry!”


    ~:~


    “That’s it…” Matt gasped. His mind was totally overwhelmed by the reality of the situation, and he had started to shut down. He dropped his laptop to the ground as he sat and held the sides of his head. “That must be what Sutter wanted Amanda and I to inherit, his role as overseer… is that why he had to die?”


    “No outsider has the right to drink from the Fountain of Life,” Fernando declared, devoid of empathy for Matt’s situation. He wasn’t incapable of caring, but he truly could not understand why Matt was in such distress. “It was a mistake that needed to be corrected. And with no ability to do anything else, I… I corrected it. I hoped to recover the puzzle box at that time as well, but the academy’s guards interfered and I had to flee.”


    “No, that can’t…” Matt’s face fell as his hope and drive abandoned him. “That’s it, that’s what took the only one who cared about us away? And if we had inherited his duty as he wanted… it would have been us instead… but why was he even given that responsibility? What called for it…?”


    Seeing Matt falling into complete despair spurred Rosalita into action. She forced herself to her feet, pushing through the last of the Griseous Orb’s effect. The others were inspired to rise as well, but Rosalita didn’t notice them. She jabbed her finger squarely at her brother and thundered at him, “You are wrong, Fernando! All of this is wrong! You don’t have the right to deem someone worthy of receiving the Fountain of Life’s gifts or not! Only Shaymin and Grandfather did, and they chose Sutter of their own free will!”


    “Grandfather was nothing but a traitor!” Fernando roared back, jerking himself around so violently his hair lashed about. “He poisoned Shaymin’s mind. That’s the only reason it ever would go along with his ideas, whatever the cause was for them! Father knew, too, and he wouldn’t do anything to protect us now! That’s why I had to do what I did!”


    “And I know, too, as all the heirs to the throne do,” Rosalita countered. “Would you call me a traitor as well, Fernando? Would you take my life too?”


    This truly took Fernando by surprise, and for the first time, he genuinely seemed to be at a loss for words. “I… I…” he sputtered. “Do you think this has been easy for me?!” he finally yelled, not providing an answer to his sister’s question. “Father and Mother’s faces, their voices as I struck them down… they haunt me endlessly! Do you remember what you said that day, when Shaymin named you heir? You told me I had to understand the sacrifice necessary to be a wise leader. Do you remember that? Do you?!”


    “Of course, but that’s not-”


    “And now I’ve learned the kind of price I must pay to save the kingdom!” he fumed. “That you would say such a thing, knowing everything we’ve been through… No!” Fernando shook his head back and forth. “Don’t make me lose any more than I already have, Rosalita. I’ve paid enough of a price. Because of that, I can’t stop… I must awaken Regigigas and protect the kingdom.” Extending his hand to Rosalita, he pleaded, “Please, you can end this right now. Give up your claim to the throne. Once you do, Shaymin will have no choice but to give me the power of the Fountain of Life.”


    “You still demonstrate little understanding of the meaning of gratitude, you,” Shaymin gravely warned. “Without that, you will only face the wrath of Gaia.”


    “Silence,” Fernando spat. “I don’t want to hear anything from you right now.”


    “Well, I do not know what answer you think you’re going to receive.” Rosalita met Fernando’s gesture with one of her own, extending her hand to him. “It is not too late, Fernando. There’s still time. If you’re willing to put an end to your campaign, I can use my power to grant you clemency. I hate what you have done… but no matter what, I cannot hate you. Come home with me and you don’t have to lose everything.”


    “Even now, you forgive him…” Sheena thought. “I must admire that.”


    Even in the face of Rosalita’s forgiveness, Fernando was unmoved. “That is truly why you aren’t worthy,” he said, stepping back and shaking his head. “You will never understand the price that must be paid to protect the kingdom.”


    “How can you say that, though?” Tears were welling up in Rosalita’s eyes, but they were not spurred on by sadness. She was simultaneously so angry and so distressed by the situation that her roiling emotions forced the tears out. “We promised each other we’d be the best leaders the kingdom ever had, that we’d never fight like the previous siblings did. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”


    Rosalita didn’t see Shaymin visibly cringe at her mention of the siblings. Fernando did, but he ignored it, unaware of its meaning.


    “Nothing but the words of silly, foolish children,” the count dismissed, drawing a horrified gasp from his sister. “I realize the reality of life now… No matter what I did, how hard I worked, Father and Mother told me it wasn’t necessary. They, and the land I love, turned their backs on me. That led me to finally realize something. I was born to protect the kingdom… there is no other purpose for me to be on this earth. I am nothing but a tool for La Ciudad Dorada’s survival.”


    “You’re not…” Rosalita knew she would regret saying what was on the tip of her tongue, but at that point, she could no longer hold it back. The sad, broken figure self-destructing before her was nothing like the Fernando she knew. What was perhaps her worst fear was coming true, and she could do nothing but lash out at it. “My brother is a good person, maybe a little vain, but a good person. He would never say that our family had no place for him or sacrifice his humanity for anything! I can’t understand how you could become this way… I can’t even recognize who you are anymore!”


    “... If you loathe me to your dying breath, that is merely another sacrifice I will have to make,” Fernando bitterly admitted. Turning to his sister’s allies, he said, “I tire of this endless talking. Matt, give me the box so I can awaken Regigigas. Wipe away the stain your treasonous grandfather put on your family name by returning what he stole.”


    Seeing Matt shrink even further at Fernando’s demand, and with Eleanor and Sheena doing nothing, Noel decided to intervene. “Yo, Count. Real low blow on that dude, y’know?” She put her fist against her hip and flashed her trademark scowl. “Ain’t it bad enough you killed his grandpa? You don’t gotta rub it in like that.”


    Fernando smirked. He knew exactly what reaction he wanted to provoke, and chose his next words very deliberately. “By what right do you to speak to me, the protector of La Ciudad Dorada, in such a way? You and what army?”


    As soon as Noel heard this, she threw back her head and laughed. “Really, dude? The army you gave us! Let’s go, Bro!”


    Leon followed his sister’s direction, throwing all of his clockwork Poké Balls right after she threw hers. Neither of them realized they had walked right into Fernando’s trap. The count grinned even more widely as the squadron of collared Pokémon materialized before him and aggressively cried at him.


    “That’s what you are going to do?” Fernando taunted the siblings. Spreading his arms, he beckoned them, “Then bring it on.”


    “Hah!” Leon exclaimed. “You must have more than a few screws loose in that head of yours, man. Sis, waste this fool!”


    “Gladly!”


    An undeniable sense of dread crept up Sheena’s body while she watched Noel issue orders to the Pokémon. She absentmindedly brought her hand to her mouth and bit her finger, thinking to herself, “Something’s not right here. I know he has Heatran, but…”


    “Go get ’im!” Noel shouted. “Lickilicky, Water Pulse! Roserade, Shadow Ball! Togekiss, Aura Sph-”


    At that point, Fernando switched the hand he was holding the staff with, moving it to the right hand from his left. It wasn’t until then that Sheena spotted the gauntlet on his left arm. When he started to raise it into the air, the realization of what he was doing hit the priestess like a ton of bricks.


    “Noel, stop your attack!” she warned. “It’s a trap!”


    “What d’you mean, Eyebrows?”


    Sheena couldn’t answer before Fernando had his arm fully extended above his head. He dramatically snapped his fist shut, causing a red wave to erupt from the gem on the back of the gauntlet. As soon as the light washed over them, their collars flashed in response, and the Pokémon froze where they stood, standing with every muscle stilled to the point where their very breaths were almost imperceptible.


    “What’re you all doin’?” Noel demanded of her Pokémon. Flustered, she pointed at Fernando and again ordered, “Go and get him!”


    “How very, very sad,” Fernando mocked her. “Did you really think I’d give the two of you weapons you could turn against me?”


    “What?” Leon gasped. “Sis, if he’s not bluffin’, he’s saying those Pokémon…”


    “We still got the controller!” Noel’s panic was clouding her judgment. She tried frantically to manipulate her bracelet’s projection, to no avail. The device suddenly sparked and died, promptly followed by their entire supply of clockwork Poké Balls doing the same. The siblings could only watch in horror as the tools they’d relied on were torn away from them, the spheres falling off their jackets as they ceased to function.


    Smirking, Fernando pointed his fist at his sister and her allies, leading the army of Pokémon to follow his signal. As they slowly turned to face the count’s enemies, all emotion and vitality drained from their faces and their eyes filled with a red glow, the listing Pokémon taking on vaguely undead appearances.


    “Impressive, no? Those Poké Balls, the collars and their controllers are the fruits of the wisdom of Arcane Scientists in bygone eras. Developed for our military for crises that outstripped the simple bond between Pokémon and trainer,” Fernando explained. “It was meant to help give us a defense unit with perfect cohesion as a team. I am using it for its intended purpose, defending the kingdom. Now, Matt Chiaki… give me what your grandfather stole.”


    “Fine…” Matt sighed in what seemed like surrender. He reached into his bag and said, “It was La Ciudad Dorada’s, you’re not wrong about that.”


    “Don’t give it to him!” Rosalita implored Matt. “Everything we worked for will be lost!”


    Suddenly, Matt looked up and grinned. “Who said I was giving it to him?” When he pulled his hand from his bag, it was wrapped around a Poké Ball, not the cube. “Rosalita, you misled me, and we’re gonna have to have a talk about that, but I still know which side I’m taking here! Anton-”


    In a flash, the collared Electivire and Magmortar were upon Matt, responding to an order Fernando gave them with the gauntlet. Elective grabbed his arm to prevent him from opening Anton’s Poké Ball, while Magmortar pointed one of his cannons at Matt’s face. A fireball smoldered within, making his threat crystal clear.


    “Do not be a fool and test me,” Fernando warned him. The count then pointed his closed fist at the others, drawing the attention of the rest of his army to them. “That goes for the rest of you, too. I want our kingdom’s property back, and I want you to give up your claim to the throne, Rosalita. Only then will I be able to give our home the security it needs.”


    With Matt immobilized, the others knew they had little chance of successfully fighting back against Fernando. Noel and Leon still had their Muk and Palossand, and Eleanor could contribute her Persian, but against all eleven Pokémon under Fernando’s control at once, even Rosalita’s full team wouldn’t be able to win, with or without help. Nevertheless, the princess’s instinct drove her to action, and she started to reach into her cloak for a Poké Ball.


    Much to the relief of Rosalita and the others, a solution abruptly presented itself. Having had enough of Fernando’s insolence, Shaymin snapped from its stupor and flew straight into Electivire. The force of its headbutt sent Electivire reeling, and Matt fell to his knees after being freed from her grip. Eleanor ran to help Matt up, while Shaymin shrieked and lashed its head around, generating a blade of air that drove Magmortar back when it made contact.


    “To think I gave you the benefit of the doubt,” Fernando said in disgust. “I thought your mind was merely poisoned by Grandfather’s treason, yet here you are, siding against protecting the kingdom. It’s time for you to wake up and fulfill the role you were brought here for.”


    Fernando didn’t fully realize how he’d pushed Shaymin’s buttons and played on its insecurities, but what he also failed to realize was that Shaymin could do the same back to him.


    The mythical Pokémon scoffed, then admonished the count, “You talk about making yourself worthy of the throne? Look around, you! Exploiting the resources of your realm to blackmail your way into power? Keep your promises, you!”


    “Are you suggesting I’m doing what the previous siblings did?” When Fernando said this, Shaymin grinned. He’d taken its bait, and was clearly upset by its implications. “That I’m turning the kingdom against itself?”


    “That is what I’m saying, you.” Shaymin was well aware that it was fudging the truth, but for the moment, doing so seemed like the best option. “You would rather repeat your ancestors’ mistakes than swallow your pride and change your course. May La Ciudad Dorada crumble to dust before I deem one like you worthy to reign!”


    “So pompous for such a small creature.” Despite his derision of Shaymin, Fernando gestured with his left hand, calling off the army. They retreated to the perimeter of the platform while he activated the gauntlet’s projector. A number of images appeared before him, but the one he brought to the front was of a device with several rings circling around an orange stone. He flicked his fingers over the image, and in response, Heatran stomped to the forefront. “One final trial,” he proposed. “Neither Heatran nor the Magma Stone that controls it comes from this land, so you cannot say I am using the kingdom against itself. You and Rosalita against Heatran and I… that will prove my worth.”


    “I accept your challenge, you.” Shaymin turned back to the princess and said, “Come to my side, Rosalita. Lead me.”


    Rosalita hesitated. She had an idea in mind for how to defeat Heatran, but still, the reality of the situation worried her. For one, as much as she wanted to, she didn’t trust Fernando to simply give up his quest if he lost. She knew how he thought. He’d gone too far and done too much to simply surrender, so from the start, Rosalita suspected another trap. Furthermore, while she had faith in Shaymin’s decision and was well aware it could hold its own against Heatran, the fact that it faced a Fire-and-Steel-type was still daunting. Speaking strictly in terms of type, Heatran held a significant advantage.


    “He says it’s one last trial,” Sheena said, approaching Rosalita from the right. “That means it’s a trial for you, too. You’ve passed every other one with flying colors, so I know you can do this.”


    “I agree,” Matt concurred, standing on the princess’s left. “You can do this, Rosalita. Don’t worry…” He reached into his bag and finished, “I’ve got a plan that should work. Beat Heatran, and it should work.”


    “That you two stand with me, even now…” Rosalita’s eyes watered as she smiled, but she didn’t cry. “Thank you.”


    With the backing of her friends and allies, Rosalita felt no fear. She approached Shaymin and straightened herself, standing at her full height with the poise of a queen.


    “I must give you credit for the strength you’ve gained,” Fernando admitted, “but that strength is being used in a misguided fashion. It doesn’t have to be this way… you could surrender the throne and be my knight, fighting for the kingdom just like we promised each other.”


    “You’re correct, it doesn’t have to be this way.” Rosalita stared across the platform at her brother and Heatran, her features fixed in a look of absolute determination. “But I won’t surrender. Not now, not ever. I’m going home after this and you’re coming with me.”


    “There won’t be a home to go back to if we don’t protect it!” Fernando spread his arms and sighed in resignation. “You will never see the truth until I demonstrate it to you. So be it. After I prove my worth here I will awaken Regigigas and you shall see that I’ve always been right.” The count closed his left hand and thrust his fist forward, calling out, “Heatran, Magma Storm!”


    Both Rosalita and Shaymin had expected Magma Storm to be Fernando’s opening move, so they were ready for it. Before the command even fully left Fernando’s mouth, his sister countered, “Evade it and use Air Slash!”


    “Way ahead of you!” the mythical Pokémon enthusiastically announced.


    As the fiery cyclone erupted from Heatran’s mouth, Shaymin initially dove toward it before veering to the right. Heatran tried to follow after it, but she wasn’t fast enough to keep up. Shaymin danced through the air, skillfully weaving around Heatran’s onslaught with deft arcs and somersaults. The Magma Storm soon abated, having accomplished little besides filling the air above the platform with black smoke, and Shaymin responded by flinging blades of air into Heatran’s armored face. While her part-Steel typing gave her a formidable natural defense against Flying-type moves, the blows still sent enough of a shock through her body that she shuddered and growled.


    Rosalita noted the presence of the fumes overhead, but elected not to use them. Instead, she couldn’t resist trying one more time to appeal to her brother. “I am serious, Fernando, you need to stop this! There’s still time! You won’t get what you want no matter what happens, so please, stop!”


    “I won’t get what I want unless I win,” Fernando bitterly replied, making his sister’s heart sink. “Nevermind that this is all you, Mother and Father left for me. Heatran!” As soon as Fernando raised his left arm into the air, the Fire-and-Steel-type shook off her daze and returned to her battle-ready stance. “Get into a better vantage point and use Flash Cannon!”


    “Keep it in place, Shaymin! Air Slash again!”


    The mythical Pokémon was able to get ahead of its opponent and send another Air Slash cutting toward her as she charged, but this time, she fired a ray of gleaming silver light straight through it. The blades of air dissipated harmlessly, leaving Shaymin to take the full force of the Flash Cannon that broke them apart. It squeaked painfully as it pitched through the air, much to the dismay of Rosalita and the others.


    “Shaymin!” the princess cried, taking her eyes off the still-advancing Heatran.


    As if on cue, Shaymin righted itself and grinned. “It’ll take more than that to defeat me, you!” it affirmed to its companion.


    Before Rosalita could say anything further, however, a glint in the corner of Shaymin’s eye caught its attention. While it and its allies were distracted, Heatran had marched straight to the back of the viewing platform, where she used her cross-shaped feet to climb up on the wall next to the entry passage. Having gotten the vantage point Fernando called for, she had opened her mouth and aimed another shot of light at her foe. Shaymin caught notice of the oncoming Flash Cannon in enough time to only get clipped by the blast. The Grass-and-Flying-type was thrown to the ground, but had little to show for the blow than some scrapes and wounded pride.


    “Now, you!” it told Rosalita. “Let’s do it!”


    “Indeed.” Sweeping her hand from under her cloak, Rosalita played her trump card, the one thing she and Shaymin knew that Fernando did not. “Shaymin, Earth Power!”


    “What?!” Caught by surprise in exactly the way his sister hoped, Fernando frantically manipulated the data from his gauntlet’s projection. He was searching for any tactic he could use to get Heatran to escape the energy Shaymin sent pulsing through the ground, but from her place on the wall, there was no refuge for Heatran to turn to.


    The golden, glowing veins worked their way to and then up the wall before erupting under Heatran’s feet, sending her crashing violently onto the balcony. A number of stones broke off and fell along with her, forcing Matt and the others to run out of their way. Heatran voiced an angry rumble from deep within her throat as she righted herself after landing on her back. When she did get to her feet, however, her legs were wobbly, a sign of just how badly Shaymin’s Earth Power had depleted her stamina.


    “I will not let this happen,” Fernando muttered to himself. Thrusting his arm forward, he commanded, “Dark Pulse!”


    Heatran again opened her giant mouth, this time allowing a chain of dark energy rings to burst out of it. The assault came too fast for Shaymin to escape it, and the small explosion that occurred upon impact threw the mythical Pokémon across the platform.


    “Shaymin!” Rosalita cried out, alarmed by the sudden shift in the battle’s pace. She had been ready to have Shaymin again attack with Air Slash, but she could see from the way Shaymin flinched that calling for it would accomplish nothing.


    Fernando, on the other hand, couldn’t restrain himself. “Now will you finally acknowledge my worth?” he demanded, though he didn’t wait for an answer before adding, “Soon, you will have no choice but to give me what I want! Heatran, use Magma Storm to end this!”


    Once more, the tornado of fire that comprised Heatran’s signature move erupted from her gaping iron maw. It seemed as if Shaymin stood no chance of escape, let alone survival, from where it was lying on the dusty floor. Rosalita and her allies all felt their perception of time slow as they watched Magma Storm draw ever closer to the princess’s partner. The one thing they all feared - Fernando actually winning - appeared to be inevitable.


    Yet, when all seemed lost, a rush of energy flowed through Shaymin’s body. The burning vortex glinted in its eyes, but instead of feeling fear, it was taken by a determination to not lose. While it had no way to fly out of Magma Storm’s path in time, it instead simply rolled to the side. Magma Storm sailed harmlessly past, exploding in a fiery blast against the wall. Matt’s coat, as well as Rosalita’s hair and cloak, blew in the gusty backlash. Shaymin, meanwhile, was left covered in dirt but otherwise unharmed.


    “You…” Fernando grit his teeth. Mythical or not, how could such a foolish, tiny Pokémon be giving him such trouble, when he had Heatran and so many others at his disposal? He had to consciously stop himself from sending in the rest of his army at that that point. His hand was already up before he remembered that the fight was meant to be a trial.


    Rosalita glanced around herself, her brother’s hesitation affording her a moment to think. When she saw the cloud of smoke Magma Storm kicked up, an idea popped into her head. “Shaymin, use that smoke to power a Seed Flare!”


    “Excellent suggestion!” Shaymin replied. It lifted itself into the air and glided straight into the plume, where it began sucking the fumes into its body. The dirt already on Shaymin got pulled in as well.


    “I won’t let you!” Fernando snapped. “Dark Pulse! Now!!


    Heatran obeyed, but even though her blast of shadowy energy scored a direct hit, Shaymin’s intense focus rendered its impact largely ineffective. The mythical Pokémon remained airborne as if nothing had happened.


    As the last traces of the smoke disappeared into its body, Shaymin’s eyes shot open. “Now take this, you!” it shrieked.


    A blinding light radiated from Shaymin’s body, followed mere seconds later by a tremendous explosion. Fernando had to hide behind Heatran to avoid the brunt of the blast, the Pokémon holding in place despite being dazed by Seed Flare. Matt, Sheena, Eleanor, Noel and Leon were all blown into whatever was behind each of them. As the force and glow of the light abated, none of them could understand how Rosalita avoided being swept up in it.


    “This is our moment to claim victory, Shaymin. Earth Power!”


    Shaymin screeched the last syllable of its name as a battle cry, reared back, and pounded its forelegs into the floor. Like before, golden veins of glowing energy ripped through the ground and erupted directly below Heatran’s feet. The Fire-and-Steel-type Pokémon howled in pain and was thrown into the air despite her tremendous weight.


    Fernando’s mind went blank as he watched what was unfolding before him. He’d issued the challenge for another trial to Shaymin because he was supremely confident Heatran couldn’t fail against it. One Magma Storm would have put an end to Shaymin and Rosalita’s opposition, or so he thought. Yet, right there in front of him, Heatran was crashing to the ground in complete and utter defeat.


    “That’s it, Rosalita! That should be enough for my plan to work!” Matt stepped forward, clutching a green-and-black sphere in his hand. It was a Dusk Ball, and it represented what personal payback Matt could get on Fernando. “This is for taking our grandfather away from Amanda and I, you!”


    With that, Matt threw the Dusk Ball at Heatran, who was lying prone on her back. Instead of the bright glow most Poké Balls used, it sucked Heatran in using a strange black light. It closed up around its quarry, fell to the floor, and started rocking back and forth. Many anxious gazes locked on to the sphere, awaiting an outcome that ultimately came with a single ping.


    “Impossible…” Fernando uttered, his eyes going wide as he backed away. He went to his gauntlet’s projections with the intent of using the Magma Stone to take Heatran back, only to be met by a second surprise. The Magma Stone cracked and crumbled, leaving the mechanism’s rings to collapse into a tangled pile of metal. If there was any doubt about what had happened, the words “off line” appearing in the projection erased it.


    “Your own ambition was your undoing,” Matt told the count after collecting the Dusk Ball with Heatran inside. He didn’t say it out loud, but he got some satisfaction out of rubbing Fernando’s failure in his face. “You didn’t put Heatran in one of those Doradan Poké Balls, like all the other Pokémon you gave Noel and Leon. I bet you thought you could use Heatran secretly that way, since you had the Magma Stone. Well, you just made it possible for me to capture it instead. Congratulations.”


    Fernando backed up further, but said nothing in reply. The angry stares of the people surrounding him had him sufficiently stunned him into silence for the time being.


    “Matt’s right, Fernando. Your ambition backfired.” Rosalita extended a hand toward her brother. “It’s time to go home. You have done so much to wound our family and to wound this kingdom, but you’re still my brother. With my authority, I can offer you clemency under our laws.”


    The offer of forgiveness from his sister ironically helped Fernando refocus his mind on his goals. “I cannot let it come to that, Rosalita…”


    Before anyone could stop him, Fernando closed his fist and pointed the gauntlet at Matt. His Dusknoir’s collar flashed red, and the Ghost-type used Ally Switch to swap places with Kommo-o, the nearest Pokémon to Matt. Dusknoir grabbed Matt and teleported again, this time switching with Roserade to reach Fernando’s side. He then threw Matt down at his master’s feet.


    “Stop this, you!” Fernando ignored Shaymin’s order and reached into Matt’s bag, so it started flying toward him. Honchkrow, Togekiss and Yanmega attacked Shaymin to protect him, battering it away with Steel Wing, Air Slash and Ancient Power.


    “You lost your own trial, Fernando!” Rosalita scolded him. She was disappointed at what he was doing, but not surprised. “Stop this! Have you completely lost your mind?!”


    “Think whatever you want of me,” he replied, his voice devoid of emotion. “I still care about you, Rosalita. That might be hard to believe, I know… it wasn’t easy for me to pin my actions on you. It wasn’t. But this is all I have left. If I don’t see this through, there was no reason for me to exist. I didn’t want to lose you, too, but I will walk my path alone if I have to.”


    Hearing those words deeply crushed Rosalita. In an instant, she could hear his voice echoing in her head, haunting her with things she remembered.


    “It’s going to be you and me, Rosalita. We’ll be the best leaders the kingdom ever had!”


    “Don’t you be scared of that stuff anymore, I’ll stay here to keep you safe.”


    “We have to make another promise right now. Now that we know about this, it’s not enough to be the best leaders the kingdom ever had. We have to be better than the last set of twins. Promise me that. Promise me that we will never end up that way.”


    “What could you possibly know that I don’t?! Every day I’ve been training and gathering knowledge for how to best defend this land! How can you protect the kingdom as well as I could?”


    “It may not be right away, but you will see in time that the outsiders do not respect La Ciudad Dorada or its culture. They come here and take things from us while never appreciating what it is that we have here. That’s what I’ve learned. When the day comes that you understand that indelible truth, that will be the time for our promises to be fulfilled.”



    And now what he’d just said. “If I don’t see this through, there was no reason for me to exist. I didn’t want to lose you, too, but I will walk my path alone if I have to.” That line repeated in her mind like a cruel, endless broken record.


    “H-how could you…” she finally managed to say, holding the sides of her head. “I wanted to save you…”


    “That you would prioritize a mere tool like me over the kingdom you are sworn to protect says more than enough. It’s a pity, really...” Matt tried to push Fernando away while he was distracted speaking to his sister, but the count easily held him down until he collected the puzzle box. He then stood up and backed away, allowing Dusknoir room to teleport and throw Matt back to the others. “We are done arguing, Rosalita. The future of our home is at stake, and…” Fernando hoisted the box in triumph before finishing, “...in my hands, that future will gleam as brightly as this holy city around us.”


    “You won’t get the future you long for if you do this!” While Sheena and Eleanor helped Matt up, Rosalita decided to try pleading with her brother one last time. On some level she knew it would prove fruitless, but she just couldn’t give up. “Your path will only end in ruin!”


    “We’ll see.” Fernando turned his back on his sister and her allies, and his army of Pokémon closed ranks to protect him from them. With the puzzle box in his right hand and his left clutching the staff, he marched to the altar overlooking the Golden City and placed the cube upon it. “Regigigas!” he called to the immense Pokémon in the distance, while raising both of his arms in a gesture of supplication to it. “I am Fernando Renato the Eighth, descendant of your servant Fernando the Great. I come before you with an entreaty for the protection of our home. Invaders from the outside are coming to tear apart our kingdom! I beg of you, awaken and be our shield once again! Please, Regigigas!!”


    At first, nothing happened. Rosalita, Matt and the others could see that fact by peering between the Pokémon. But, right as soon as they started entertaining the notion that Fernando’s plan didn’t work, three familiar voices echoed through the cave. They seemed to come from both nowhere and everywhere, and spoke in perfect unison.


    “A body of rock. To summon the king, such a thing must be obtained.”


    “A body of steel. To summon the king, such a thing must be obtained.”


    “A body of ice. To summon the king, such a thing must be obtained.”



    As soon as the voices of Regirock, Registeel and Regice faded, brilliant light again poured from the puzzle box. It was visible enough that the group instinctively knew the worst-case scenario was taking place.


    “Fernando, put that thing down! You’re going to destroy La Ciudad Dorada!” Matt yelled at him, “not save it!”


    “Your time is up, Chiaki.” The cube levitated off the altar, its light glittering in Fernando’s joy-filled eyes. “You will not poison my mind and lead me astray! I will not be my grandfather or my father! I will be better!


    The puzzle box dissolved into light at that moment, as if it were bonded to Fernando’s thoughts. Mere fractions of a second after it vanished, the entire cavern started to shake, and the air filled with a deafening rumble.


    “An earthquake?!” Eleanor cried out in panic.


    “He… he actually did it…” Rosalita closed her fist and pounded it against her side. “That miserable fool awoke Regigigas!”


    “Tell us what we need to do now!” Sheena urged the princess. “You know more about what this means than any of us!”


    Rosalita took a moment to think, then told her allies, “We must return to Lingote Palace and fortify the city. He will come for Shaymin, and at this point, I do not know what he'll do to get it. We need to make sure the kingdom is not destroyed by Regigigas's wrath.”


    “That makes sense,” Matt said to himself, holding his chin and looking down.


    Above the group, the ceiling of the cavern suddenly began cracking apart, and pieces crashed down around them. The first forced Matt and Eleanor to yelp and jump back, nearly colliding with each other in the process. Shaymin destroyed a few smaller rocks with its Air Slash, but doing so quickly became pointless.


    When the group reached the exit, Matt and Rosalita turned around to give Fernando once last glare. They couldn't see him through his army, and he wouldn't have cared about the act anyway, but they did spot Noel and Leon still dazed on the platform.


    “Move it, you two!” Matt yelled at them. “What are you doing?!”


    “R-Right,” Noel stuttered. Her usual cockiness was completely gone. “Bro, let's-”


    Not one of the group noticed the stone falling directly above Noel until it was far too late. When it struck her, her world instantly went black. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and she crumpled to the floor in an unconscious heap.


    “Sis!!” Leon cried out.


    “Bring her with you!” Rosalita said. “We will help her on the way!”


    Leon followed the princess’s direction without a word. He lifted his sister onto his back and started to run for the tunnel, but just when it appeared he would escape, a huge chunk of the ceiling broke off and blocked his path.


    “Shaymin, help him by breaking that stone with Air Slash!”


    Rosalita truly did want to save the pair, but the giant rock proved impervious to both her intentions and Shaymin's assaults. The mythical Pokémon struck it over and over but managed to cut only small pieces out of it.


    On the other side, Leon stared at the obstruction and felt a sense of despair consume him. He was strong enough to climb it without a problem, but it would be no easy task while carrying Noel, and he wouldn't leave her behind. No, absolutely not. There would never be any situation where he'd abandon her. She always knew what to do, and her guidance was the only reason he'd survived the mean streets of Pyrite. Since she was the brain of their team, though, he had no idea what to do in that moment with her aid cut off.


    “Matt, I need help!” he could hear Rosalita say. “Use Rhyperior and Aggron to-”


    “No, you get out of here!” Leon roared, interrupting her. “Don't worry ’bout us!”


    “I made a promise to you!” Rosalita countered.


    “You have something out there you gotta protect, Princess!” Resigning himself to his fate, Leon fell to his knees and laid Noel on the ground. “All I got is right here with me. If Sis is gonna buy the farm, I'm goin’ with her.”


    “I-” The tremors wracking the cavern intensified, forcing Rosalita to accept Leon's choice between choking tears. “Your bravery will not be forgotten. I will tell your story.”


    With that, the group entered the tunnel and fled the Golden City. Fernando didn't notice them leave, nor did he overhear any of their prior conversation. He was far too obsessed with the process unfolding before him.


    The lights on Regigigas's body slowly flashed, making Fernando’s eye twitch. As he raised his arms to the titan once again, he started weeping openly.


    “Mother, Father, Rosalita… I always worked for the betterment of La Ciudad Dorada, but no matter what I did, you scorned my ideas…” Unable to stand up straight any longer because of his overwhelming emotions, Fernando braced himself on the altar. “Look at me now. I did it! I saved the kingdom! You have to acknowledge me now… acknowledge that my existence has a purpose! That I wasn't a mistake of fate! I had to have been born for a reason, and this is it!!


    Seemingly in response to the count's plea, Regigigas’s lights flashed faster. Not long after, its own robotic beeping started sounding across the Golden City.


    “Gi… gi… gi…”





    END of CHAPTER 6
     
  20. The Great Butler

    The Great Butler Hush, keep it down

    This chapter was originally planned to be one with the next chapter, but I split it up to make each half easier to digest.


    The character Laura who appears in these two chapters is an original creation of my friend Ren, and is used with permission. Also appearing in a cameo role is Door, the main character of Minty’s excellent Nuzlocke fic Electric Sheep. She has generously allowed me to include Door and her Audino, Knives, here. I encourage you to check out Electric Sheep if you haven’t yet.


    -:-




    CHAPTER 7: War and Peace/The Beautiful Lie




    -:-


    “We should not have left them behind! I failed them!”


    The mountains themselves seemed to be quaking apart behind the group’s vehicle as they sped away. Eleanor was pushing its engine to the limits, just barely avoiding overheating it. Yet, Rosalita felt neither the velocity of her ride nor the violent tremors radiating through the earth. She was too distracted by the fact that they’d left Noel and Leon behind. Sure, they had once been her enemies, working at Fernando’s behest, but that was no longer the case. She’d given her word to them, and she owed it to them to follow through.


    “Rosalita, listen-” Sheena tried to say.


    “No!” Rosalita drove her fist into the metal side of the vehicle with such force that Matt was surprised she didn’t break her hand. “I entered into a treaty with them, and by leaving them to die, I went back on our agreement! What sort of leader does such a thing?!”


    Matt opened his mouth to say something, but he was cut off when Sheena seized Rosalita’s shoulders. Her action was so sudden that the princess gasped in surprise.


    “You have to listen to me,” the priestess insisted, locking her blue eyes with Rosalita’s green ones. “Leon wanted you to go. He knew there’s something bigger at play here, that there is something important only you can do. You didn’t do anything wrong. Besides, those two have lived through a lot. I have faith that they’ll find a way out.”


    Leon wanted her to go. Even in her panic, Rosalita knew Sheena was right. She could hear it in her head.


    “You have something out there you gotta protect, Princess!”


    “Something I have to protect…” she repeated. Reorienting herself to the reality of her situation, Rosalita took several deep breaths, her mind focusing more every time she exhaled. She blinked, and when she reopened her eyes, the familiar fire in them was back. “You are correct. If they survive, I will make it right with them once this is over… but for now, we must make sure the kingdom is safe.”


    “Yeah, um, about that…” Matt interjected. When Sheena and Rosalita turned to him, he poked his finger toward the cloudy, darkened sky. “Should we be worried about that?”


    Hovering in place high above them was the skyship. Sheena gasped when she saw it, but Rosalita only grew angrier.


    “So that is how he got here with such haste,” she hissed.


    “What is it?” Matt and Sheena asked together.


    “The skyship owned by the royal family,” Rosalita explained. “It’s been kept in working order despite not being launched for many, many years… to think he brought it out now…”


    “Let’s just recap things here, then.” Matt pinched his temples. “Fernando has an army of a dozen Pokémon completely at his beck and call. He’s got a flying battleship, and Regigigas is awake. Have I got that all straight?”


    “More or less.”


    As soon as Rosalita replied to him, Matt sighed.


    “I better warn Cassy,” he said.


    -:-


    Back in La Ciudad Dorada, neither the residents nor the tourists had any idea of the kind of chaos coming their way. There was a sense of uncertainty in the city, which had settled in when they saw the skyship depart, but nothing else seemed unusual besides how dark the sky had become. That only gave the impression that it would soon rain, however, so the city was as peaceful as ever.


    Cassy had decided to go out among the people in the market. Her work in the archive was complete, so with nothing else to do, she was looking to spend some time relaxing. She was sitting at one of the stands, which had a colorful sign promoting the locally-grown Poké Beans and fresh juice it sold. At her side, wearing a dark leather bag around his body, was her Swellow.


    She took a gulp of juice from the cup in her hand and held it in her mouth, not immediately swallowing it. There was only one more thing left for her to do on her trip to La Ciudad Dorada, and she was anxious to get to it. She had no choice but to wait, though. It wasn’t something she could do right away.


    “Yo. You, with the Swellow.”


    Cassy heard the voice addressing her from behind, but she kept to herself and didn’t acknowledge it. She swallowed her juice and then tossed a red Poké Bean to Swellow, who caught it in his beak. He chirped in happy satisfaction after eating it.


    “Hey.”


    All of a sudden, the woman who was talking to Cassy appeared in the seat next to her. That was the one downside of staying in a bubble the way she did - people could easily approach without notice, and often did. She jumped, nearly knocking her drink on its side as she did so, and scowled at the trainer with the navy blue hair.


    “What do you want?” she grumbled.


    “Hey, no need to be so grouchy, you know?” The youthful woman largely played off Cassy’s ill-mannered greeting. “Can I ask you a question?”


    “You just did,” Cassy replied. She was completely serious, but the woman just laughed, further frustrating her.


    “Hey, that one doesn’t count!”


    The way the trainer playfully feigned indignation vexed Cassy. While she tried to figure out how best to approach the situation, she noticed the woman’s necklace. The drill hanging from it was initially of no interest to Cassy, but the stone next to it pulled her gaze in. Soft tones of blue, green and yellow blended within the small sphere, surrounding a helix shape at its core.


    “A Key Stone?” Cassy asked, her eyes going wide in wonder. “Who are you?”


    “Yup!” the young woman confirmed with a beaming smile. She stuck out one of her hands and introduced herself, “My name’s Laura. Nice to meet’cha.”


    Seeing no other way to move the conversation forward, Cassy reached out and put her hand in Laura’s fingerless glove. “Cassy. I… wait, Laura?”


    “One of a million Lauras out there,” Laura laughed.


    Cassy blinked. At first, she had no recollection of who the person approaching her was, but when she learned the trainer’s name, something in her mind clicked. The navy blue hair under a red-and-white bandana. A jacket that matched the bandana in terms of color. A black undershirt and monochromatic shorts. And of course, the Key Stone set into a drill on a necklace.


    “I know you,” Matt’s partner finally said. “You won the Hoenn League a few years ago, didn’t you?”


    “Aha, I get that a lot.” Laura pulled back from the handshake and grasped her Key Stone. “I guess it comes with the territory.”


    “No, I remember now,” Cassy said. “You and your Swampert made a big splash when you won the League, and then you were everywhere. Television. Radio. BuzzNav. Virtually every magazine published in Hoenn. You were everywhere. But why are you here?”


    “That kind of celebrity isn’t really my jam anymore.” Laura shrugged. “My buddy Swampert and I are just traveling the world now and enjoying life. We came here to do that, but also, we wanted to try one of those Alliance Battles. And that’s why I saw your Swellow!”


    “S-Swellow?” Cassy defensively put her hand on the bag Swellow was wearing. “I don’t think you want us as Alliance Battle partners. We’re not very good.”


    “Nonsense. I can tell by Swellow’s wonderful sheen that you’ve raised it very well.” Laura got up from her seat to scratch Swellow’s head. The moment she rose, Cassy took the bag off of him. “Don’t sell yourself short,” the former Hoenn League champion urged Cassy. “I used to not have much confidence in myself, either.”


    “That surprises me,” Cassy admitted, “but thank you anyway, I guess. I can’t do it now, though.”


    “Hm?” Laura looked away from Swellow, who was enjoying her scratches. “Why’s that, if I might ask?”


    “I’m helping my… friend,” Cassy hesitatingly explained. “He’s off on some adventure out in the desert. I can’t do anything until he doesn’t need my help anym-”


    Suddenly, Cassy’s phone started ringing. She jumped at the unexpected interruption and fumbled it out, but when she saw it was Matt calling, she relaxed.


    “Of course he gets me in trouble the moment I bring him up,” she sarcastically said before raising the phone to her ear and answering the call. “What happened now?”


    “Cassy! Cassy, listen to me!” The urgency in Matt’s voice wasn’t something Cassy expected to hear, and it made her tighten her grip on her phone. “You have to do exactly what I tell you to! Right now!”


    “You tell me what happened, then,” she replied.


    “It’s a long story, that’s putting it mildly. All you need to know is that Fernando ambushed us at the Golden City and woke up Regigigas! It’s coming!”


    Cassy’s face darkened as she thought back to what she told the count earlier. “Did he hurt you?”


    “What?” Matt seemed puzzled by her question. “That doesn’t matter right now. Listen to me. We’re on our way back to Lingote Palace now. Rosalita wants you to meet us in the garage there. She says to just tell the guards she’s turning herself in and you’re taking them to her.”


    “Fine, got it,” Cassy said after a beat. “He better not have hurt you, though.”


    With that, Cassy ended the call. As she put her phone away, Laura approached her.


    “Something’s going on, isn’t it?” the former champion asked, her usual light hearted attitude gone.


    “Yeah, that’s an understatement,” Cassy replied. She swallowed the last of her juice in one big gulp and threw some money on the counter, then added, “I’ll see you later.”


    At first, Laura simply watched Cassy run off to the elevators leading up the Sacred Hill. Once she boarded one, Laura sat back down and took out her Swampert’s Poké Ball.


    “How d’ya like that, buddy?” she asked the sphere. “Guess trouble always did have a way of finding us, huh?”


    -:-


    An explosion blew a huge hole out of the rock face where the path into the mountain started, but with all the earthquakes, it could barely be heard. Fernando emerged from the opening on his Dragonite’s back, the Dragon-and-Flying-type’s mouth still sparking from the Thunder she used to tear open the hole. She ascended toward the skyship until her master made her stop. From his vantage point, Fernando watched the rest of his army follow after him. Those that could fly did so, while Probopass levitated the rest using Telekinesis.


    “Most excellent,” Fernando said once all his Pokémon were assembled. “You will not betray me, not like the rest of them.”


    The rumbling of the earthquakes soon grew even louder, and not long after that, ear-splitting crashes joined the cacophony. Fernando was unfazed by all the noise. In fact, it only made him more excited as he made his way to the ship.


    “Of course, you still await your vanguard,” he told his army.


    As if on cue, a gigantic fist punched through the mountainside, followed closely by a second. Each one had three digits coming out of a disc-like shape. They were the hands of the protector, the great titan Regigigas.


    All the rumbling and crashing reached a crescendo as Regigigas fully ripped through the mountain. The tremendous avalanche this caused consumed everything in its path, leaving the Pokémon of the mountains to flee lest they get caught up in it as well. In its wake, the Golden City and the path leading there was left fully exposed.


    Normally, La Ciudad Dorada’s protector would never have caused such destruction. Regigigas was usually content to spend the centuries in its dormant state, rousing only to bless a new king, but this time was different. Regigigas was fully awake, and it was furious. The thunderous storm of beeping and buzzing it gave off made that very, very clear. It felt the wishes of the one summoning it through the Gaia conducted by the puzzle box, and Fernando’s corrupt intent enraged it. Such manipulation of the land’s gifts was familiar to the titan - familiar as something that was meant to never happen again. It was compelled to put a stop to his delusional ambitions, there was simply no other way about it.


    Fernando jumped off Dragonite and stood at the bow of the skyship, watching as Regigigas pointed one of its vast arms at the craft. He remained calm and unconcerned, even when a cluster of glittering, diamond-hard rocks took shape between the titan’s fingers.


    “So even you misunderstand, Regigigas,” the count noted, expressing genuine pity for the creature. “Don’t worry, I will help you.”


    That ‘help’ came in the form of an onslaught set off when Fernando pointed his left fist at Regigigas. Every member of his army trained their attacks on the nascent Diamond Storm in the titan’s hand. Fire, water, lightning, wind, poison, iron and deafening sound waves all converged within Regigigas’s grip, triggering a massive explosion. Individually, the Pokémon under Fernando’s command were like specks of dust compared to Regigigas, but their combined power was enough to stun even the great titan. It reeled and groaned robotically from the blast, and its temporarily incapacitated state presented Fernando the opening he was waiting for. With a grand, sweeping gesture, he activated his control gauntlet’s projection and entered a command into it.


    In response to its pilot’s direction, the cargo hold of the skyship creaked open, releasing numerous pieces of metal. Each one had a glowing blue bulb on it, signifying the Arcane Science that enabled them to fly. They formed a circle around Regigigas, and although the titan could not discern their exact purpose, it knew they posed a threat.


    “Gi-gi-ga!” Its cry, both robotic and strangely human-sounding at the same time, shook the earth as bolts of lightning shot out from all over its body. They managed to repel Fernando’s machines for a time. As soon as Regigigas’s Thunder abated, however, the devices returned to their formation.


    Regigigas then swung one of its immense fists down like a club at the machines in front of it, but they simply moved out of the way. All that the Knock Off accomplished was smashing a giant hole in the ground. The ring of machines closed in on Regigigas, floating away from every swing it took as if they had minds of their own.


    “You…” From his vantage point on the skyship, Fernando cast a sad gaze upon his kingdom’s guardian. “Even you turn your back on me, Regigigas? That is why this weapon is necessary. If you loathe me for this, too, I will shoulder it. I’m sorry.”


    The count snapped his fist closed in front of his gauntlet’s holographic control screen, inciting his machines to descend on Regigigas like a pack of piranhas. Regigigas flailed wildly in its attempts to remove them, crushing trees like matches under its feet as it struggled. Yet, no matter what it did, its efforts were in vain. The devices spread across its body and fused together, forming a vest-like suit of metal armor. Once it had Regigigas restrained, the armor generated an energy pulse that caused the titan further pain. It thrashed, stumbled and fell backward into a sitting position, nearly cracking the ground with its immense weight.


    There was a brief moment of dead silence, and then, Regigigas rose. Moving slowly and deliberately, emitting a low buzz all the while, it got back up on its feet and then stood perfectly still.


    The seven dots running across its face and down the middle of its body, which were ordinarily black, now gave off a sinister red glow.


    “Now you understand, Regigigas!” Fernando exclaimed. “Now we can protect La Ciudad Dorada from all outsiders who would do it harm, fulfilling the reason we exist side-by-side! Unfortunately…”


    Fernando pivoted to the left and took out an ornate spyglass. He peered at La Ciudad Dorada and Lingote Palace in the distance, then down at the desert separating him from the city. It was then that he saw the vehicle carrying his sister and their allies there. Rosalita and Matt were staring back toward the Golden City, watching the unfolding scene with horror on their faces.


    “...I have proven my dedication to the kingdom’s defense, but I cannot take solace in just that. I must drink from the Fountain of Life to know I am acknowledged. I must know.” He stowed the spyglass away and turned back to his army. All of them, including Regigigas, quietly awaited his command. “We must defeat my sister and invalidate her undeserved claim to the throne!” he announced to them. “She refuses to allow this transfer to take place peacefully, so we must fight! All of you, aid me in taking Lingote Palace! Once we win this battle, she will have to surrender! This is our moment to claim victory!” Fernando pointed his left fist toward La Ciudad Dorada, drawing the attention of his army to it. “Go forth!” he ordered them.


    Every one of Fernando’s Pokémon responded with a flat cry before setting off. Like before, those capable of independent flight traveled that way, while Probopass brought the rest along using Telekinesis.


    “No, you stay with me,” Fernando said to Dragonite before she could take flight. He recalled her to her clockwork ball, then turned to Regigigas. “Come along, Regigigas. We have much work to do.”


    -:-


    “Ugh… what’s all that racket ’bout…?”


    Down on the ground, Noel slowly sat up. When she saw the devastation around her, she jolted fully awake and gasped. Not even in Orre’s desert had she seen such ruin. Crushed trees on land beaten to a pulp surrounded her.


    “Sis!!”


    Before she even knew what was happening, Leon tackled her back to the ground. He wrapped her in an embrace so tight that it almost impeded her breathing.


    “Bro…?” she whispered. “What happened?”


    “There was a rock that knocked you upside the head!” Leon released his sister, finally giving her a chance to see his face. Much to her surprise, he was openly crying. “I thought we were gonna bite the dust, Sis! I was givin’ up, and I told Princess to leaves us, but then Regigigas ripped open a way out, so I carried you and-”


    “That’s enough, Bro. Say no more.” Noel rose to her feet and dusted herself off. “Thanks for gettin’ me outta there. Honestly, I owe you an apology for takin’ this stupid job in the first place. Where’s that little punk Fernando?”


    “Up there.” Leon pointed at the skyship, which was flying away and leading Regigigas back to the city. “But what are we gonna do? He took all those Pokémon away.”


    Noel looked at her wrist, where the burned remains of her control device still hung. She spit on the ground and then tore the broken bracelet off. “We ain’t gonna need ’em. We still got Muk and Palossand, and we got each other, like always.”


    “You’re always the brain, Sis,” Leon said, content with what Noel was telling him. “So what d’you say? Wanna go serve up that revenge to him?”


    Noel smirked. “If it’s a dish best served cold, what we’re gonna throw in his face’ll be frozen.”


    -:-


    “He’s coming this way…” Matt said in shock as he watched the skyship turn towards them. “And why did Regigigas stop attacking him? What did he do?!”


    “The armor,” Rosalita deduced. She was remaining cool and collected somehow, but Matt sensed it was a forced act. “I think it must work the same way the collars do. If my brother planned for this, he would surely have created a method to control even Regigigas.”


    “That makes sense,” Sheena agreed. “I’ve seen something like this before. Marcus, the one who my people call the Betrayer…” Her voice grew hesitant, though the others couldn’t tell why. “When he attempted to… destroy Arceus in the ancient past, h-he… used enchanted armor to control his Pokémon. This is done with technology, but for the same principle.”


    Horrified by what it was seeing and hearing, Shaymin perched on the edge of the vehicle and uttered, “I can’t believe Regigigas was enslaved, you…”


    “It’s about time you explain what you’re hiding.” Rosalita and Shaymin couldn’t tell if Matt’s demand was directed at one of them or both at once. “Starting with that photograph Cassy showed us. Was that from a time when my grandfather was acting as the overseer of the trials?”


    “Yes,” the princess confessed. The moment she finally admitted the truth, she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. “I knew from the beginning, when Cassy displayed that photograph, what it was. And I knew of Professor Chiaki’s role before I even met you.” Rosalita bowed to Matt. “I am sorry for misleading you all this time.”


    Matt gave no reply. Was he so angry that it kept him silent? With her head down, Rosalita couldn’t tell. She rolled her eyes upward just in time to see him turn away.


    “You were wrong to hide it, I’m not going to lie. I came here because I wanted to find closure and understand why he was killed. You kept that from me until now.”


    “I’m sorry!” Rosalita repeated, putting even more force into her apology. “I should hav-”


    “But I understand why you did it.” Rosalita was so surprised by Matt’s interruption that she shot up straight from her bow. “The pressure on you must be so immense… I can’t imagine what it’s like. So I forgive you.”


    “Th-thank you.” It was difficult for Rosalita to find the words to express her gratitude at first.


    “Don’t worry about it. We’ve got bigger problems to be concerned about right now, but…” Matt frowned. He worried that what he was about to say might cross into sensitive territory, but there was no way he could hold it back. “...I have one more question. Why did Fernando VI want an independent overseer of the trials in the first place? I understand now what my grandfather was doing here, but I need to know why he was doing it. I need to know because that mission is what got him killed, and he wanted Amanda and I to inherit it. So why, Rosalita?”


    Matt’s earnest, pleading question cut right to Rosalita’s soul, but as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t answer it. “I do not know,” she sadly said, bringing her fist up against her chest.


    “Then there’s someone else I have to ask.”


    Until that point, Shaymin hadn’t been listening to the conversation all that well. It heard Matt and Rosalita talking, sure, but the meaning of their words didn’t register in its mind. When Matt fixed his gaze upon it, Shaymin almost didn’t realize it.


    “What, you?” Once again, Shaymin was fudging the truth by acting naive. It instinctively knew the time it feared had arrived. “Is there something you want?”


    “It is not just him.” A chill ran through Shaymin’s body when it heard Rosalita speak. She didn’t often take such a tone, but when she did, it was a sign she was focused and deadly serious about what she was saying. “I wish to know why my grandfather sought Professor Chiaki as well. Not just that, you have been acting strangely for some time now. It’s time for you to tell us the truth, Shaymin.”


    Shaymin took a step back. It wanted a way out of the situation, but the more it searched for one, the more it realized it had been pushed into a corner. There was no escape.


    Finally, the mythical Pokémon turned away from its human companions and hung its head. “Hundreds of years of work, and it ends like this,” it muttered, just loud enough for its audience to hear. “I guess in a way, I always knew it would be you, Rosalita. So much has already changed. Perhaps that is why I selected you.”


    Rosalita cocked her head. “What are you talking about?”


    “I’m saying…” Shaymin lowered its head even further and pressed its eyes shut. The moment it dreaded for so long had arrived. “I’m saying I lied, you! I have spent centuries falsifying history, all in the name of peace, and look what it brought upon us!”


    Hearing this, the princess dropped herself onto the seat next to Sheena. Matt, initially unsure of what to do, ended up sitting across from them. He had plenty of questions of his own, but he could tell that what was coming would have more significance to Rosalita, and chose to remain quiet.


    “What specifically have you lied about?” Rosalita asked the Pokémon. She had her suspicions, but wanted - no, needed - to hear directly from Shaymin.


    “The civil war,” Shaymin confessed. Behind it, Rosalita’s face fell upon confirmation of her thoughts. Unaware of her reaction, Shaymin kept talking, trying to keep her from prying apart its story. After centuries of lies, it wanted the truth to come out on its terms. “The truth is, the civil war was not fought between Fernando III and his brother, you. There wasn’t even a brother, in fact!”


    Rosalita’s mind shattered like glass when she heard that. There never was a sibling that Fernando III fought? If that was untrue, what else in her life was false?


    “...Everything I built my beliefs on in preparation for the throne… everything Fernando and I promised each other…” Rosalita turned as pale as someone with a tan like hers could. “It was all based on lies?!” she cried. “Why would you do such a thing?! What could possibly justify it?”


    “I did it because the truth was so terrible it would have destroyed La Ciudad Dorada, you.” This revelation put a check on Rosalita’s emotional break. “We…” Shaymin caught itself and swiftly corrected, “I could not let this paradise die so early in its life.”


    Out of the corner of his eye, Matt could see Rosalita trapped in a state of shock. Since she wasn’t pressing Shaymin on its statements, he decided to do it himself.


    “You said ‘we’ couldn’t let La Ciudad Dorada die. Who else was in on this with you?”


    Shaymin huffed in frustration. It had hoped nobody caught its slip of the tongue, but that plan was shot to pieces. Realizing it truly had no way out, Shaymin steeled its nerves and resolved to finally come clean.


    “Back then, I was still young and naive, you.” It was unclear who Shaymin was addressing. “When I granted Fernando III the right to drink from the Fountain of Life, I should have foreseen what would happen, but I failed to…”


    Shaymin opened its eyes and looked to the sky, the wind ruffling its fur and ears. The image of it granting Fernando III the right of succession was fresh in its memory, despite that day being centuries prior.


    “The fountain’s waters do grant eternal life,” it continued, “but understand that such a thing comes with a price, you. It is, in fact, not a gift. It is a test, the final and most important one the king must face.”


    “A… test?” Rosalita haltingly wondered. She didn’t fully understand where Shaymin was going, but the context was giving her a feeling of dread.


    “The ceremony of succession, the path of trials against the Three Pillars, all of it is but preparation for the true test.” Shaymin hung its head again. “All of those trials are meant to instill a sense of true gratitude in the heir to the throne, you. That test is to see if you are grateful enough to give up the chance for immortality and disappear into Gaia when the time comes for the next generation to take charge. That gratitude helps keep the kingdom alive.”


    Rosalita subconsciously wrapped her arms around herself, but remained silent. The others similarly allowed Shaymin to continue.


    “Fernando III… he was the first king to be born after La Ciudad Dorada became a paradise. He did not know what life was like here before I was summoned, you. But he still expressed gratitude for what he had, so I believed it was enough. For quite a while, it was.”


    “W-what are you saying?” the princess asked, unsure if she truly wanted to know.


    “He was a wise and just ruler for many years…” Shaymin recalled, “...until his son, Fernando IV, was born. The reality that he would one day have to cede his power and life caused him to grow increasingly obsessed with attaining true immortality. I tried to guide him back to the path of gratitude, you, I truly did. But when the day came to officially name Fernando IV as the next king, he went completely mad.”


    Shaymin finally turned back around to face its audience, who were simultaneously disturbed and enraptured by its tale.


    “What happened then?” Matt asked.


    “Fernando III imprisoned his son and I in the tower that once acted as Regice’s shrine,” the mythical Pokémon confessed, “but a sympathetic soldier smuggled a Gracidea to us, and I was able to escape in this form, you. Those in the court and the military chose sides, and before long, the kingdom descended into civil war.”


    “Th-The king turned against his own flesh and blood...” Rosalita murmured, her voice barely a whisper. Her entire body was trembling. “He abandoned everything we stand for, all for his own benefit…”


    “The fighting awoke Regigigas,” Shaymin continued, “and it destroyed everything until it found Fernando III. You see, Regigigas is able to manipulate Gaia. That’s how it gave life to the Three Pillars, and how it regulates the flow of Gaia within the Fountain of Life’s waters. Not only can it give life, though, it can also take it away, you. Since the king lost his gratitude, Regigigas found Fernando III and took him into Gaia’s flow by force. It fell to those left behind, Fernando IV and I, to pick up the pieces.”


    ~:~


    Many centuries earlier, Fernando IV watched from the Sacred Hill as Regigigas headed back to its throne in the mountains. The nightmarish devastation wrought by the civil war spread out in front of him as far as the eye could see. Burning buildings, the vast majority of which were smashed apart beyond recognition, filled out virtually everything between the hill and the mountain range on the horizon. Regigigas, for all the legends about it being the kingdom’s protector, displayed indifference to the destruction surrounding it. It had done its job - King Fernando III had betrayed the trust placed in him when he received the gift of the Fountain of Life, causing his kingdom to fall off the path of gratitude. From the titan’s point of view, what had become of La Ciudad Dorada was of their own making. Having retaken the Gaia within the ungrateful king’s body, and thus revoked the eternal life given to him, Regigigas had nothing more it needed to do.


    That was not the view of the armor-clad prince watching the titan leave. Fernando IV fell to his knees as he looked out over the kingdom that had just become his. Once, seemingly so long ago, he had eagerly anticipated the day that he would inherit his father’s throne. Now, though, there was nothing but despair in his eyes as they reflected the dancing tongues of fire consuming the kingdom. Floating behind him was his loyal Pokémon, a golden sword with a single blue eye who held an ornate shield in one of her cloth-like arms.


    “H-how?” the new king said, devoid of any sort of hope. “How could Father do this? Aegislash, how could things come to this?!”


    “You shouldn’t be asking Aegislash, yes?” Shaymin told him after plodding up next to him. “This is my fault… I was troubled by parts of your father’s character when I gave him the right to the throne, but I ignored it, yes…”


    “You trusted Father, Shaymin. We all did, and we were all just as wrong.” Fernando IV shook his head in dismay. “None of us did anything before it was too late, and look what has become of us! La Ciudad Dorada is finished! When the people learn what their king did, their faith in our family will be broken! They’ll fight over which path is correct, and this conflict will never end!”


    “We must give them something to feel gratitude for once again, yes?” Shaymin suggested, sagely nodding. “Then they will be at peace again.”


    “It is fortunate that the truth of this played out behind closed doors…” Even as he spoke to Shaymin, Fernando IV didn’t look at it. “We must never let the people know what really took place. I-It will be…”


    Fernando IV interrupted himself, wrestling internally with what he wanted to say. His heart told him that to cross the line he was treading was wrong, that it would take he and his budding reign past a point of no return. But in his mind, he felt Shaymin was right. The people needed something to believe in, so that he could lead them back into peace. His conflicting ideas forced him to glance over his shoulder, at the golden statue that until a short while prior had been his father. Further back lay the unconscious form of the Steelix that once served the deceased king.


    Finally, he took a deep breath and committed himself to what he felt he had to do. “It will be the position of my government that this war was the fault of the king’s brother, his top advisor, who was heretofore unknown to the public.”


    “Do you understand the magnitude of what you are saying?” Shaymin gravely questioned.


    “I’m sure… yes, I’m sure. I have to do this.” Fernando IV’s voice was shaky, betraying just how unconfident he really was. “We will tell them that the king had a brother who betrayed him to try and usurp the throne. And so they will not live in fear of Regigigas, we’ll say that it was that betrayal of gratitude that brought Regigigas’s judgment, not its need to take Father’s life. They… they will think it was giving you their gratitude that ended the war. That your Golden Sky Bouquet showed Regigigas it no longer needed to punish us.”


    “That is technically true, yes?” Shaymin pointed out. “You had them help me use it so we could defeat your father and Mega Steelix, even if they didn’t know it.”


    “It will be difficult, but it will bring peace back to our land.” Fernando IV was nowhere near as certain of this as he tried to sound. His arms trembled as he took Shaymin into them, while his Aegislash tucked herself behind her shield. “I will need the aid of the full court in this endeavor… that includes you, Shaymin.”


    “I am the one who allowed this to happen, yes…” Shaymin turned away from the devastation. “I have to make this place peaceful again… n-no matter what it takes, yes…”


    Upon hearing its agreement with his plan, Fernando IV hugged the mythical Pokémon. His armor was cold and uncomfortable against its body, but it didn’t even flinch.


    ~:~
     

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