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Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Unequivocant (Complete)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by lucarioknight56, Feb 19, 2018.

  1. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Chapter 15: Assault

    Lawrence sat on a bench, in a park set in a suburban community. He studied the trainers walking on the paths, walking around the battles taking place on the fields. Houses surrounded the curved fences, and a stream cut through the corner in a winding fashion. Spindly trees cropped up in the lush green grass, contrasting the coarse dirt of the training fields. The bright sunny day benefitted the Arcanine in its bout against the Luxray, their attacks arcing back and forth and scorching the dirt underneath them.

    Lawrence simply watched their movements, leaning his head against his arm. He heard the commands of the trainers, knowing that some ulterior reward awaited the Pokemon after the bout was over. When the battle was finished, the Pokemon acted as if nothing had happened, save for a few scratches and burns. Lawrence felt sure that there would be no memory of this in the Pokemon’s minds.

    A man suddenly sat next to him. Without turning, Lawrence said, “What do you want, Brother Morgan?”

    The sharply-dressed man carried a small folder with him, and at his side was a single Poke Ball. His face hadn’t been shaved for some time, and on his head was a white, broad-brimmed hat.

    Brother Morgan tilted the hat up, watching another set of trainers go up to the practice field. “I heard a few weeks ago that you had a bad time with Josh; I haven’t seen you at meetings since. What’s got your Gogoat?”

    Lawrence remained still. “Pokémon aren’t like us.”

    Morgan chuckled, leaning back. “Well, yeah. They don’t talk, they breathe fire—”

    “I mean they don’t have feelings. They don’t remember things like we do, and they do things only by instinct, not because they want to,” Lawrence sighed.

    Silence rang between them, interrupted only by the newfound clashing of the Snorunt and Grotle fighting each other on the field, ice freezing the soil and leaves whipping in the wind.

    Brother Morgan blew his breath out slowly, then said, “That’s a rather…strong thing to say. Especially considering what is said in the Arcean Texts.” He flipped open the folder, pulling out a small stack of paper in fine print.

    Lawrence turned to see it. “Why’d you bring that?”

    Morgan rubbed the back of his neck, flipping through the pages. “Your parents wanted me to come talk to you about your faith. They’ve noticed that you haven’t been the same since your wilderness trip, and since they haven’t been able to get a straight answer out of you, well…”

    Lawrence turned away and muttered, “Well that’s encouraging.”

    Morgan put a hand over Lawrence’s. “I’m concerned for you. It’s my duty in the church to ensure that everyone’s taken care of, and right now, you’re my priority.” He stopped flipping through the pages and took a breath to read.

    “Arceus isn’t real.”

    Morgan held his breath.

    “There’s been no proof that he exists, all except for the Arcean Texts and some drawings in Celestic. Dialga and Palkia were sighted years ago, when Team Galactic was around, as well as all the other Legends at some point. But he never showed up—because he doesn’t exist,” Lawrence stated, refusing to meet with Morgan’s eyes.

    Morgan took off his hat, shaking his head. “Where'd you hear about that? Certainly not around here.”

    Lawrence replied, “It’s everywhere in Unova, even in Kanto and Kalos. Really, Sinnoh’s the only place that believes Arceus is real. I read some books about it in the library.”

    “But they have no credibility—”

    “Yes, they do. Archaeologists and experts made. Detailed studies, more than those Arcean Texts ever did.”

    Morgan’s face flushed. “Alright, now that’s going a little too far.”

    Lawrence stood up, maintaining his passive expression. “You just don’t get it. Just like everyone else here. It’s exactly why I want to leave.” He turned and walked away, leaving Morgan to dwell on the loss of a fellow Arceist.

    ~~~~

    Lawrence sat on a sizeable rock, remembering that conviction well—and the persecution it led to. He suffered so much to claim that Arceus was a false god and was satisfied with the results. That is, until he came to Equivos; now, everywhere he went with Cassia, he felt challenged in some way.

    Matheus had thrown off his cloak and went into a series of stretches, ignoring the other Lucario for a moment. Cassia still hadn’t returned from her reconnaissance of Jareth, and Grom presumably stood on the other side of the town, waiting for their eventual return. Lawrence and the Legend were the only ones together on the barren mountaintop.

    Matheus finally stood straight and exclaimed, “Alright, let’s see what we can do.”

    Lawrence got off the rock, shaking free of his thoughts. He stood in front of Matheus and said, “Alright, what do you want me to do?”

    Matheus smirked. “Hit me.”

    Lawrence nodded slightly, then suddenly threw a punch at Matheus’ chest. The silver Lucario deftly caught the punch and deflected it with his own, sending Lawrence onto his back.

    Lawrence groaned, and Matheus stood over him, shaking his head. “Let me clarify: land a successful hit. Every time you fail, I’ll punch you back. Your opponent’s not going to let off easy in the real world, so I won’t either.”

    Lawrence pushed himself up, staggering slightly. “Well that’s hardly fair. Aren’t you supposed to be teaching me instead of punishing me?”

    Matheus shrugged. “There’s all sorts of teaching methods. This one happens to be mine.” He crouched, putting up his fists. “I want to see how you humans tend to attack before I go about showing you how Lucario do it. Give it your best shot!”

    Lawrence couldn’t help but feel irritated toward Matheus’ attitude. He let out a forceful breath and swung toward Matheus’ chin. He stepped back and watched Lawrence miss, then grabbed the swinging arm and twisted it behind Lawrence’s back.

    Matheus leaned in close and said, “Stop being so predictable. How many fistfights have you been in?”

    Lawrence seethed, pulling free of Matheus grip. “None.” He swept his leg toward Matheus’ but the Legend leapt over his head and pushed him to the ground.

    Matheus sighed, brushing off his paws. “I was expecting more. So far as I can tell, we’ll have to—”

    “Stop talking like that!”

    Matheus ducked, barely avoiding another blow from Lawrence. He continued dodging, the other hastily attempting to land a hit.

    Matheus’ attitude reminded Lawrence of those individuals who called for him to ‘prove it’. To prove that Arceus didn’t exist. To prove that Pokemon were only animals. Yet they had no proof of their own that Arceus existed or that Pokemon were like humans. Even now, in Equivos, that attitude came.

    Lawrence swung too hard and spun, giving Matheus the few seconds needed to clout him over the head. He fell to the ground, then Matheus set a paw on his back. Lawrence looked up and saw the Legend’s concerned expression.

    “’Stop talking like that?’ Why?” he asked. He stepped off of Lawrence, allowing him to stand up and brush the dust off his fur.

    “I don’t believe in Arceus. It was an unpopular opinion back where I grew up. So many people taunted me with that tone, saying, ‘Prove it’, or, ‘That’s not enough.’” He shook, closing his eyes. “They’d even say ‘Let’s work on that’, as if I’d change my mind.” He sat on the rock again, massaging the back of his head.

    Matheus considered his words, looking down. He then said, “How does it feel to be in Equivos, where everyone—including you—is a Pokemon?”

    Lawrence groaned, rubbing his face. “It’s so…strange. For five years, I managed to avoid doing anything the Arceists would do. I’ve proven them wrong so many times that their religion should be dead.” He stopped. “But here, I’m put into the same situation as before: a beautiful region overloaded with Arceists. And now, all of them are Pokemon, preaching the same thing.” He closed his eyes. “I don’t know what to think anymore.”

    Matheus sat next to Lawrence, crossing his arms. “What did they use to prove that Arceism was true?”

    “Nothing. Just a few legends and the remnants of the book they used to have. They’ve been dying for the past few decades, especially once that book disappeared.”

    “Yet they continued to believe?”

    “Yes!” Lawrence turned to him crossly. “Why are you so interested? I thought you believed in Arceus.”

    Matheus pressed his paw against Lawrence’s leg, looking him in the eye. “Not believe, know. You are forgetting that what’s left of the book may be true. What about the world could have convinced you that it wasn’t?”

    Lawrence thought of the Gabite and Nidoking, his first experience with the reality of Pokemon. He thought of his antagonization, his peers loathing him for his views. He remembered the terrible atrocities in the world, like what Team Plasma or Galactic committed, and how only a single, unlikely trainer could defeat them—none of them Arceus’ followers.

    Matheus’ paw retracted from Lawrence’s leg, and the Legend grimaced. “I…understand what you feel.” He stood up, holding his head. “I’ve always believed in Arceus. I’ve even met him, when I completed his trials.” He picked up his hat from on top of his cloak. “But, for several days, I questioned his power. I wondered how he could allow so much pain, why Pokemon chose wrong, and why even…even your truest friend, can turn on you.” He wrinkled the hat, his paws shaking.

    He looked down at his paws, then set the hat over his head. “I didn’t fully recover until I raised Laryon. He helped me rediscover Arceus’ wisdom, and, well…” He held up his paw, engulfing it in azure flame. “This.”

    Lawrence focused on the flame, feeling his fears quelled by the cyan light. The gentle warmth reached into his core, a feeling of peace, familiar after what felt like years of silence. Despite his previous experience with Aura, he had never felt anything like this with it.

    Matheus noticed his gaze and made a small smile. “You feel it. Good. You at least have the sense for it.” He doused the flame and the peace that lingered in Lawrence, causing his face to fall. He stretched his arms and said, “Just from your expression, I could tell you want to use aura. Problem is that you appear to have not developed any serious relationships with anyone.”

    Lawrence cocked his head curiously. “What do you mean?”

    Matheus leaned on another rock, crossing his arms. “Riolu evolve by having a powerful relationship with someone. For Laryon, it came from his bond with me, while myself…” He cringed. “Well, it was my friendship with Arthus.” He furrowed his brow. “The reason why is because aura grows stronger based on your connections with others. From the studies I’ve made over the centuries, I’ve found that it has to do with Life, in a sense.” He looked up momentarily, then shook his head, jogging toward Lawrence. “It’s easier just to show you.”

    He stopped in front of him, then made a circle in the ground with his footpaw. He pointed at it and said, “Here’s a Pokemon’s Life. Despite the power it has, most Pokemon are unable to use it.” He made another circle, leaving a space between the other. “However, there is a way to tap into it, partially, by using another Pokemon’s life.” He finished the circle and pointed to both. “Two separate Pokemon, two separate sources of Life. Following me so far?” Lawrence nodded.

    Matheus nodded back, then set his paw into the first circle. “When you interact with Pokemon, you leave behind traces of your Life. It’s like a mark to show that you have impacted them in some way.” He dragged his foot into the other circle. “As you interact with Pokemon, more and more of your Life is shared with those around you. More is focused on those you interact with often, particularly if it is positive.” He stepped away and pointed at the line. “The other also leaves behind portions of their Life in your soul, and when you both have high levels of shared Life, it creates a sort of charge, similar to what Electric Pokemon gather.” He tapped the ground. “That is Aura. It is what comes from two souls becoming one.”

    Lawrence studied the image, realizing how much sense it made. Scientists in Unova had always wondered where Aura came from, despite all their best efforts. This explained it entirely.

    Matheus stepped away from the image and sighed. “There’s the problem: you don’t have a strong relationship with anyone. I could see it when I touched you earlier, just as I felt your emotions; your Life is in a tight little ball, keeping its power away from others.” He shook his head sadly. You can’t create Aura by yourself.”

    Lawrence leaned back on the rock and groaned. “That’s not helpful at all! I’ve never been close to anybody!” He rolled onto his shoulder and muttered, “Didn’t help that they hated me…”

    Matheus sighed, massaging his head. “Unfortunately, Lucario primarily use Aura in their fighting style. I can teach you how to detect other Pokemon, as well as how to see Aura connections; those things are usually taught to Riolu when they’re young, but it should come quickly to you.” He sat on the rock Lawrence lay on, clasping his paws. “But until you bond with someone, I can do little more than that for Aura.”

    Lawrence thought of who he could have some sort of friendship with. He never felt particularly close to anyone in Unova, everyone in Sinnoh despised him in some way, and had met few Pokemon in Equivos. The only Pokemon he could have grown closer to would be—

    “Cassia! What did you find out?” Matheus exclaimed, bolting upright.

    The Zoroark padded carefully toward them, looking over her shoulder. “Just so you know, Grom will be over soon, so be ready for him.” Across the town, a black shape dropped off the side of the mountain, then suddenly shot upward, barreling toward Cassia.

    The shape slowed and turned out to be Grom, who landed just in front of her and embraced her. “Graw-graw-hawm!”

    Cassia gently pushed away and said, “Yes, I know, you don’t like being by yourself for so long. We won’t let it happen again.” Grom, satisfied, stood obediently beside her.

    Cassia sighed and continued, “Anyway, I checked around and found out that Gardner should be there late in the morning. I think if we go there early and get out of there on Grom, we should be fine.”

    “Graw-unh!” Grom exclaimed, shaking his head and pointing at Lawrence and Matheus.

    The Zoroark groaned. “Having all of us will be too much? You’re stronger than a Machamp!”

    “Graw,” he grunted, pointing at his feet, then clanged his chest.

    Cassia’s face fell. “Right, your weight. Wouldn’t want you running out of Life while you’re up there.”

    Matheus smiled good-naturedly and waved his paw. “I can run on my own; I have to stay in shape after all. Lawrence can ride with you.” He wrapped an arm around Lawrence, who stiffly stared back. “Until then though, let’s teach you how to fight properly; humans are so predictable.”

    ~~~~

    “Mange!”

    The Torracat crept into the storage shed, keeping his head low. Gardner’s back faced him, the Dusknoir packing items into a satchel. Various supplies sat on shelves all around the room, dimly lit by the dusty window on the wall.

    Mange stepped cautiously across the filthy floorboards, looking up to Gardner. “Y-Yes, Guildmaster?”

    Without looking back, Gardner said, “Is that your real name? I heard the Pokemon around the Guild calling you that, but I doubt anyone’s parents are that cruel.” He took a glance back. “Besides, you’re hardly mangy by my standards.”

    Unsure of what to think of his near-compliment, Mange replied, “My name’s really Zacheus, but ever since Arthus called me Mange, everyone’s forgotten about it.” His ears dropped. “My dad named me after a great explorer, hoping for me to be like him one day. I guess that’ll never happen…”

    Gardner lifted a sack of berries from the shelf, then stopped. He took another glance back. “Who is your father, Zacheus? I haven't seen any Incineroar around here.”

    Zacheus, although glad to hear his own name, circled his paw in the dust. “I was only a Litten. My mom died soon after I was born, so it was only me and my dad. He went out for a rescue mission, but he never came back. I was lucky that Arthus didn’t find me when he came.”

    Gardner focused his gaze on Zacheus, picking up the satchel and slinging it over his shoulder. He hovered past him and out into the open, dropping the bag of berries in front of the Torracat. “Keep quiet.”

    Zacheus gazed at the bag and drooled. He ripped it open with his fangs and dug inside, enjoying his first decent meal in weeks. After eating a few, he looked up and licked his lips, nodding his head toward the retreating Guildmaster. “Thank you,” he whispered.

    Gardner’s chest restrained a grin. He dug through the bag, finding mostly maps and healing berries inside. Ghosts like him rarely needed more.

    You regret.

    Gardner flinched, looking around him. Guild Pokemon marched about, carrying items to the various storehouses, completing their tasks for the coming night. Disheveled families huddled under what remained of their homes, avoiding the piercing gaze of the Guildmaster.

    He studied the area around him, then thought, “Where are you?”

    All the suffering you have brought is finally stirring your soul.

    Gardner tightened his grip on the bag. “What do you want from me?”

    You realize that Arthus no longer sees you as an ally.

    “That’s a lie!”

    The Guild Pokemon turned curiously toward their Guildmaster, wondering who he was taking to. He growled, his eyes glowing menacingly, warning them away.

    After they left, Gardner clamped over his eye and muttered, “I have to get rid of that voice.” He continued toward the gate, where the Usurper leaned against the wall and tapped his claws impatiently.

    He opened an eye and growled, “About time. You remember the plan?”

    Gardner nodded. “Down to the letter.”

    Arthus stood up and pushed open the gate, brushing his claws through his mane. “Get to Jareth by morning, and all will go well. You’ll be forgiven, and that little mistake will be forgotten.” He thrust a hand into the ground and forced it to glow red. He offered his other hand to Gardner.

    The Dusknoir took it, and they both sank into the ground.

    ~~~~

    Lawrence flopped to the ground, splaying his arms out in exhaustion. Grom had taken to watching Jareth for activity, while Matheus took to testing the younger Lucario’s skills. Cassia sat on the ground, watching from afar while she tossed pebbles down the steep edge of the mountain.

    Matheus put on his cloak and panted, “I think that’s enough for tonight; don’t want to be tired out before we go in there.”

    “Agreed,” Lawrence replied, panting. He sat up, then wiped his brow instinctively. Cassia gave him a curious look.

    He looked down at his paw, then realized why she looked at him that way. “Humans sweat; I’m used to wiping it off.”

    Cassia nodded slowly, then moved to set next to him on the ground, brushing back her mane. “You said earlier that you didn’t hate Pokemon, but you feared them. Why?”

    Lawrence froze. He rubbed his face, saying, “Well…it’s…complicated.” He paused for a moment, then finally said, “I had a bad experience with Pokemon when I was growing up. I was a wilderness survivalist—someone who lives away from civilization for a time. Sort of like what we’re doing now.” He clasped his paws and continued, “Anyway, one day, I was caught in a fight between a Nidoking and a Gabite.”

    Cassia gasped. “Wild ones? They could’ve killed you!”

    “I know; I was lucky to get out of there.” He sighed. “When I was hiding from them, I saw the Gabite’s eyes. They were… soulless. They looked like they wanted to kill and nothing more. No anger, no fear, nothing but want.” He released his paws, watching them shake. “It was completely opposite to what the Arceists taught. They said that all Pokemon should be treated like humans.” He turned away from Cassia. “They aren’t even close to us.”

    They stood silent. Grom’s head swiveled around, focused on them. Matheus continued to look toward Jareth, but his focus lay toward the human-turned-Pokemon.

    Cassia blew out her breath slowly, then began to gently pull off the Pokedex. Lawrence grunted and put a paw over her claws, staring at her. He stared at her eyes, seeing the compassion and feeling they had—so unlike the Gabite.

    He looked away and removed his paw. Cassia paused, then continued to take out the Pokedex. She removed it from the case, and carefully typed the password, then tapped the photos application. She reached the Tome’s pictures, then began to read:

    Two forms of life are present in my creation: one that holds knowledge of me, and the other that does not. Those that hold knowledge are to follow my word and grow closer to me, while the other cannot be held for their actions.

    I have given memories to know my word, emotion to confirm my word, and willpower to obey my word. Those that hold no knowledge have no such gifts, and thus, cannot be expected to be like those who hold knowledge.

    Cassia lowered the Pokedex, then said, “I know this might seem…strange…but, do you think that you received that commandment from Arceus so that you could treat the Pokemon of Equivos like humans?”

    Lawrence considered her words. He continued to think, while Cassia added, “Arceus is the same no matter where he is; his power can surely be felt in your world just as its felt in mine. He…could have foreseen you coming here and wanted to prepare you for it.”

    Lawrence turned back to her. “But why give everyone that commandment? The other Pokemon are nothing like you. You’re smart, kind, and—” He caught himself, then said with a sigh, “More trusting than I’ll ever be.” He took the Pokedex—Cassia allowing him to take it—then walked away from here, sitting on another rock and considering her words.

    He thought of what the Arceists of Sinnoh believed. They believed that someday, he would restore their book of scripture and grant them the opportunity to live all his teachings. Until then, they were to follow the three key commandments: love Arceus, love your neighbor, and love your Pokemon, all like yourself. It would not be far-fetched to say that the Arceus of Sinnoh was the same as the Arceus of Equivos, considering the dimensional abilities he shares with the likes of the Creation Trio.

    He held his head, sighing. For the longest time, he denied the existence of Arceus, but too many things confirm that he does indeed exist: The Legends of Equivos, the Arceist Tome, the widespread belief throughout this region. In Sinnoh and Unova, he could deny the credibility of the Arcean Texts because the minority actually believed them. Even if, in a small part of his mind, he knew that Arceus truly did live.

    He looked up. He finally admitted it to himself: Arceus was real. Not that it mattered, considering all that he witnessed. He hated it but knew that all evidence pointed to such a fact. But even if the Legend existed, that does not mean he ‘spreads his arms to grant blessings to his creations.’ The Gabite and Nidoking, along with so many other wild Pokemon have harmed humans for generations. No benevolent god would allow that.

    He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up to see Matheus. The silver Lucario pointed to Jareth and aid, “It’s time to go. I’ll let you know about my plan on the way over.” He stepped away and toward Cassia and Grom, who both started towards the mountainous village.

    Lawrence stood up, slowly walking toward them. He had to admit that he was in the wrong for his beliefs about Arceus—even if, in a way, they were warranted. But if he was to be expected to believe in the goodness of Arceus, he had to see it. Words would not be enough.

    ~~~~

    Later that night, two Floatzel stood in front of the storehouse of Jareth, keeping a watchful eye over the iron doors. Burning torches hung in sconces, brightening the rushing river. Its sound crowded the area, blocking any other noises from being heard.

    The two Floatzel kept a constant watch for Pokemon, squinting their eyes to see better in the darkness. They felt the ground rumble beneath them, then gave each other surprised looks. Two holes opened beneath their feet.

    They fell with a shout, and Geodude hopped out of the holes, hovering toward the door. The two holes joined and expanded, allowing Boldore and Graveler to hop out as well. They surrounded the storehouse as stealthily as they could, watching as the aged Aerodactyl clambered from the hole.

    He crept toward the door and turned to a chipped Boldore. “Is the area secure?”

    The Boldore nodded. “No Guild Pokemon in sight, Aerav.

    The Aerodactyl looked up at the door confidently. “We’ll have food for our families tonight.” He grabbed the door and pulled back.

    From within, a jet of water thrust into the Aerodactyl’s chest, sending him to the edge of the river. Six Golduck exited the and blasted the other Rock Pokemon with Water Gun, forcing them back into the hole. With moans, and screams, the Rock Pokemon fled the flooded tunnels, leaving behind the Aerodactyl leader.

    Captain Loran Azumarill stepped out from the storehouse, smirking. “Good work crew; might let you have your share early at this rate.” He bounded toward Aerav and set a foot on top of him, causing him to groan. The Azumarill turned to his comrades and grinned. “Figured that this old fool would try something like this.” He leaned down to Aerav and said, “I think we’ll have you skip your next round of rations. How does going two weeks without any food sound to you?”

    Aerav groaned, looking up at Loran fearfully. “Y-You can’t. We won’t survive!” He struggled to push himself up.

    Loran sucked in a breath and sprayed Aerav’s face with a blast of water, causing Aerav to collapse with a gasp. “You don’t control us! Ever since we started listening to Guildmaster Gardner, life has been great for us Water Pokemon! My kids don’t have to worry about going hungry anymore, and we can settle in one place instead of having to wander scavenge the rivers!”

    Aerav coughed, blinking away the water in his eyes. “But look at what you’ve done to us Rock Pokemon. We used to help each other, giving each food and support when we needed it. We kept to our own business, and no one suffered. Now you use your powers to make us slaves!”

    Loran sprayed him once more, then turned to the Golduck. “I’ve had enough of this old Aerodactyl. Let’s shush him up!” He hopped off Aerav and set a foot underneath his heaving chest. He lifted his foot slightly, edging Aerav toward the rushing river.

    “Graow!”

    A massive black Golurk fell from the air and landed in the center of the Golduck, stunning them. He punched two away and ran for the Azumarill, his eyes burning crimson.

    Loran stepped around Aerav and toward the houses, pointing at the Golurk and shouting, “Get that thing before it kills us!” He fled toward the houses as his pursuer stopped in front of Aerav.

    The Golduck snapped into action, running toward the Golurk and breathing in for another Water Gun. A flash of silver dropped in front of him, and a silver Lucario crouched with his paws up.

    He grinned and exclaimed, “Lovely night to drop in, isn’t it?” He sprung forward and chopped a Golduck across the throat, causing him to choke and splutter on his stored water. He proceeded to battle with the other Golduck, dodging jets of water as he went.

    Grom carefully lifted the Aerodactyl, remaining crouched. “Gro-ha-hawm.” Aerav managed a croak before Grom burst into the air, soaring toward the low peak above Jareth.

    The Golurk left red streams of light in his wake, illuminating the scene below with eerie red light. Lawrence and Cassia stood atop the peak, and they nodded to each other. “Ready? Cassia asked, donning her mask and deepening her voice.

    They leapt off the peak, skidding down the side and rapidly descending toward Jareth. More torches went alight, driving off the red glow and illuminating the dozens of Water Pokemon streaming from the caverns and buildings. Poliwrath, Floatzel, Seismitoad—all sorts ran up to drive away the legendary Lucario at their storehouse.

    The Zoroark gracefully landed on a Poliwrath and pierced his skin, draining Life from the unconscious warrior. She released her grip—leaving only enough to keep him alive—then proceeded to spin toward another target and strike it down.

    Lawrence, however, lost his grip on his slide down and skidded on his rear toward a sizeable Poliwhirl, bowling into him and the couple of Palpitoad behind him. He covered his face and cringed, imagining the scene entirely different than how it turned out.

    Unfortunately, his rolling didn’t stop there. Just beyond the Palpitoad the stairs continued, and he continued to bash into more Guild Pokemon, knocking them with no more than his built-up momentum. He continued all the way down the village until he finally stopped at a run-down shack, away from all the action.

    He groaned, pushing himself up and holding his head. “I think I’m going to barf…” he moaned, holding his stomach. He looked behind him, noticing that he completely missed his target—namely, landing with Cassia.

    He brushed his dusty arms and growled, “That’s the last time I’ll listen to one of Matheus’ crazy ideas.” His ears twitched, then he turned toward the shack, noticing a pale blue light glowing within.

    He looked back to the ongoing battle. The Guild Pokemon’s yells of defeat echoed, and he could see Cassia and Matheus speedily dispatching them. They didn’t need him to finish the job.

    Despite his urge to rejoin the others, he entered into the hovel, entranced by the light. He brushed past cobwebs and broken beams, ignoring the dried blood and ruined furniture all around him. At the far end of the ruin, a disheveled Pokemon stood in front of the source of the light.

    Lawrence squinted his eyes at the brightness and asked, “Who are you?” The Pokemon turned, and the light dimmed, revealing it to be a Xatu.

    The Xatu’s feathers were discordant and matted, and its wings were spread apart, revealing the dark and unintelligible symbols on its chest. Its beak chipped and crooked over years of misuse, the eyes lay hidden behind a thick white cloth tied around its head.

    “You have come. As predicted,” he said in a monotonous tone, closing its wings.

    “What do you mean? Who are you?” Lawrence said, holding his paws as if ready to attack.

    The Xatu turned his head toward his paws. “You fear me. As expected.” He stiffly turned back around. “I am Tursha, a Prophet of Arceus. I paid my sight in order to see more clearly—” He lifted his wings. “—the will of the Creator.” The blue light appeared again, forcing Lawrence to cover his eyes.

    The light faded, and Lawrence gaped at the disheveled Xatu. “You’re saying you can see the future?” Arceus or not, he knew that Xatu could see glimpses of coming events, and if trained, could make accurate predictions.

    The Xatu turned once more, pointing at Lawrence’s chest. “A price must be paid. That stone that hangs from your neck—” He pointed to himself. “A mere trinket to you, the remnants of a lie. To me, however, it bears great value.”

    Lawrence groped at the fake Illusion Stone that Cassia had given him over a week before, holding it up. It would be a small price to pay in exchange for a glimpse to the future. He could help him find a way home, perhaps the very location where a dimensional weakness may be.

    He pulled the string off his neck and held it out to Tursha. “Here.”

    The Xatu stared at it, his head jerking to the right. He swept it with his wing, and it disappeared from Lawrence’s grip. “You are trusting. A sign of your Sinnohan upbringing.”

    Amazed that he would know of this, Lawrence went to speak, but Tursha held up a wing, halting him. “I have mere seconds to send my message. To find what you seek, go to the Arceist Temple within the Faelyn jungle, past the peaks of Xilo. I will await you there.” He clapped his wings together, and in a flash of blue light, he disappeared.

    Before Lawrence could ponder the events that had just happened before him, a voice called out, “Lawrence, are you in there?”

    He turned around and pushed past the cobwebs, finding Matheus standing at the entrance. The Legend sighed with relief, stepping aside. “Good, we were worried about you. All the Guild Pokemon have been taken care of; it's time for us to leave and wait till morning.” As Lawrence walked past, he clapped a paw on his back and chuckled. “Nice going back there. I’ve always wanted to see someone roll like that.”

    Lawrence held his tongue, knowing that Matheus would make some smart comment about it. He ran up the side of the mountain, leaving Matheus at the shack.

    The Legend went to follow, but stopped, giving the shack a suspicious look. “Something’s not right…” he peeked his head inside.

    The ground beneath it suddenly shook, and he scrambled back out. The shack crumbled and the ground beneath it gave way to gravity, tumbling down the peak and bringing the grisly remains of the property with it.

    Matheus stared at it in astonishment, considering the chances of such an event happening. Shortly after, he shook his head, then ran up to follow Lawrence.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2018
  2. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Chapter 16: Breaking

    A knock came at the door to Lawrence’s room. He sat in front of his desk, poring over a book in front of him. His bed was made and his shelves bare, and in the corner lay an empty suitcase.

    The door opened. And his mother walked into the room. “Are you sure you want to go on this next wilderness trek? You’ve been missing meetings because of your training for it, and I’m feeling concerned for you.”

    “Don’t worry; it’ll only be a week, just like last time.” Lawrence replied, still reading from the book.

    His mother peered over his shoulder. “What are you reading?”

    Lawrence flipped the page. “‘Pokemon and Evolution.’ Why?”

    “That’s a book from that Unovan university, isn’t it?”

    “Why do you care?”

    “Because, Lawrence, they don’t have the same standards as us. They see Pokemon as savages, and only bearable because we train them.” She shivered and crossed her arms. “Honestly, I don’t see why they see Pokemon like that.”

    “Maybe cause they’re right,” Lawrence muttered.

    “What was that?”

    “Nothing.” He looked at the clock sitting next to his bed, then closed the book. “It’s getting late. I have to leave early tomorrow, so I’ll be getting to sleep.”

    “Right.” His mother sighed, putting a hand on her cheek. “Is there anything you want to talk about? You’ve just been so…quiet, since your last trip.”

    Lawrence shook his head, standing up. “No, I’m fine.” He took a glance at a pamphlet sitting underneath the book. It showed a large stone building with statues of a black and a white dragon. Underneath it was the words, ‘University of Unova’.

    His mother held him close, hugging him tightly. “I love you.”

    Lawrence stiffly allowed her to do so, wanting free, but at the same time, knowing that she needed it more than him.

    ~~~~

    Aerav Aerodactyl awoke in a cave, aching and sore. Around him, three Geodude hovered about and watched over him. The still-dark morning could be seen from the entrance of the cave and the chiseled window over his head. On the rock-hewn shelves, small vials and pictures sat, gathering dust and grime in the air.

    The aged Aerodactyl stirred, leaning on his wing. A Geodude gently pushed him down. “You are weak. We should be grateful that those Lucario stopped Captain Loran when they did.”

    Aerav coughed, his eyes widening. “Lucario?” he said in disbelief. “They were all killed when the Guild took over.”

    Another Geodude shrugged. “It doesn’t change the fact that they came; we saw them ourselves, along with a black Golurk and a masked Zoroark.”

    Aerav closed his eyes, remembering the blurred vision of the onyx golem. He remembered its strangely-warm grasp, and the rush of wind as he carried him away.

    Another Geodude spat a pebble from his mouth. “I don’t trust the Zoroark. It had dark powers; it weakened the Water Pokemon, to the point that they could hardly walk. Who’s to say it wouldn’t do the same to us?”

    “But it fought with the Lucario and the Golurk that saved Aerav. It must be some good.”

    “It doesn’t change the fact that it’s a Zoroark. You remember what Arthus did.” The Geodude shuddered, dust falling from his body.

    Aerav nodded sadly, lifting his head. Muffled voices could be heard outside, and Graveler crossed by the door speedily. “What’s going on?”

    The argumentative Geodude floated to the door, then exclaimed, “It’s the Golurk from before! He’s with a Gardevoir and a Gallade!” He furrowed his brow in confusion. “And a...Watchog?”

    “I must meet him; he may know where the Lucario came from,” Aerav exclaimed, waveringly standing up. The other two Geodude looked at each other, then pinned themselves underneath the Aerodactyl’s wings, helping him shuffle outside the door.

    Upon exiting, the Geodudes’ jaws dropped. What seemed to be all the Pokemon in the village--Water and Rock--had come out to meet the Golurk and his companions. The Gardevoir sat on the Golurk’s shoulders, while the Gallade and Watchog stood next to them, keeping back the vast throngs of Pokemon from interfering with them.

    The Gardevoir cleared her throat, then said, “You were recently freed from Guild control. Just last night, in fact. I know because our friend, Grom Golurk, told us of his fight here with the Guild. He wanted us to come teach you what we know about a Legend named Arceus, and have you learn what he would have you do.” She held up a strange black device and tapped it, then said:

    I created Pokemon not only to grow closer to me, but also to themselves. Their powers that I blessed them with are to be used for peace and creation, not war and destruction.

    For I say that unless you do these things, you shall not be saved on the Day of Desolation, the day the Legend of Destruction shall come and take back what I have given to my creations: the very breath of Life.

    The Gardevoir lifted her head and exclaimed, “Both Water and Rock Pokemon must treat each other equally! We are not to use our abilities to take advantage of one another, said by Arceus himself.” She gestured to the crowd. “Do you understand?”

    The Rock Pokemon nodded and agreed audibly, while the Water Pokemon shifted uneasily. One Lombre strode forward and said, “But what about Guildmaster Dusknoir? He’ll be coming in under an hour!”

    The Gardevoir slid down the Golurk’s arm, then stepped toward the Lombre. “As long as you follow Arceus, all will be well.” She looked toward the Gallade and Watchog, who both nodded. She looked back toward the crowd and explained, “I’m afraid we must be going now. I would stay longer to answer your questions, but I must remain as far away as I can from Guildmaster Dusknoir.” The Pokemon made their displeasure known to her, shouting for her to stay and teach them more about this silenced deity.

    She joined with the Watchog and Gallade, then started to walk down the path to the exit. The Golurk’s remained behind, searching through the crowd, then saw Aerav. He pointed at him and said, “Gra-haw!”

    The Gardevoir looked back and saw who he pointed to. She smiled and said, “I’m glad to see you well. Grom's the one who rescued you from Loran and his Guild Pokemon. “

    Aerav nodded weakly. “Indeed. I wanted to thank him for his service. I was the leader of Jareth before Loran took over, and—unless otherwise said—I would like to take the mantle once more.” He looked toward the Water Pokemon. “is that alright with you?”

    The Water Pokemon remained silent, until one Poliwrath stepped forward, scowling. His face weakened, then he knelt and rested his fist on the ground. “I’ve seen you with the Rock Pokemon. You treat them like your equals; more than Loran ever did for us Water Pokemon.” He looked up. “If you’d give us that sort of respect, then I will follow you.”

    Soon, the other Water Pokemon followed suit, with only the imprisoned Guild Pokemon, including Loran Azumarill, not doing so. Now distracted by the restored leadership, the citizens of Jareth failed to notice Grom, Cassia, Lawrence and Matheus slip away.

    Aerav, however, did. He wished to have been able to talk more with them, but knew, somehow, that he would have another chance.

    ~~~~

    Lawrence leapt over the rock, dodging out of sight. Matheus and Cassia crouched next to him, the Zoroark peeking over the rock to look. “You think they’ll be alright?” she asked.

    Matheus nodded. “Given that the Guild Pokemon are out of commission and that they seem to be unified, Gardner won’t stand a chance.”

    “What’s this ‘Day of Desolation’ I keep hearing about?” Lawrence asked, confused by her statement in Jareth.

    “It’s essentially the day Equivos will be destroyed.” Matheus answered. “Yveltal will come from his tomb and take the life of all who remain in Serenita, then the other Legends will raze the land. The only Pokemon who will survive are the followers of Arceus.”

    “But didn’t you say that Arthus came out when Yveltal woke up?” Lawrence said, referring to Cassia.

    “Yes, but that doesn’t mean he’d do that right away.” Cassia reached for the Pokedex at Lawrence’s arm.

    Matheus stopped her and said, “Proclamations 21: ‘All work is done by my time, not by the time of my creations.’ I can assure you that Yveltal is very much awake but is busy making…preparations.” He tapped his snout, then walked toward Grom. “Better get ready to leave. Gardner will be here soon, and I’d rather not fight him if we have to.” He stopped, turning back to Lawrence. “You never told us if anything happened in that house.”

    Lawrence remembered Tursha Xatu and what he said. ‘To find what you seek, go to the Arceist Temple within the Faelyn jungle, past the peaks of Xilo’. He could only mean that he knew a way home; a way back to Unova.

    Lawrence described the events to his companions, including the loss of the Illusion Stone. At this, Cassia pulled him arms and exclaimed, “You gave it away?

    He pulled free, amazed by this reaction. “He needed it so he could help me. Besides, it was just an old rock.”

    Cassia combed her claws through her mane, muttering to herself. After several lines, she said, “Fine, fine, it’s not like he can do anything with it.”

    Matheus rubbed his chin, closing his eyes. “Hmm…the Arceist Temple is crawling with Guild Pokemon. It’s near the main settlement, Virona, so it wouldn’t take all that long to get there.” He shook his head. “Still, this Tursha character concerns me. I felt a dark aura near that shack, and likely would have found it if it didn’t collapse. I doubt that any good would come from listening to this Xatu.”

    “But I haven’t had any leads on getting home until I met him! He might know where a dimensional break is!”

    “Xatu are known to see into the future, but it’s always changing, and based on what I know, it’s no guarantee that he will get you home.”

    Cassia came between them and said, “Regardless of whether or not he can help Lawrence, I think it’d be worth it to go to the temple. I’ve always wanted to see how the Arceists worshipped before Arthus took over.”

    “Graw-graw!” Grom agreed, nodding his head.

    Matheus groaned, throwing his arms in the air. “Looks like I’ve been outvoted. Very well, we can go after we’re done with Virona, but we’re going to Furnek straight after!” He stretched briefly then exclaimed, “I’ll meet you at the tallest mountain. Cryus will be at the top, but it’ll take too much of Grom’s energy to make the trip.” He sprinted down the across the narrow pathway ahead of him.

    Lawrence turned to Cassia. “What’s his problem?”

    Cassia shrugged, then turned to Grom. “You ready to go? “

    “Graw-grawm!” he replied, saluting.

    Cassia and Lawrence climbed onto his back, then with a flare of crimson light, they rocketed across the sky, making way to the tallest peak of the Xilo Mountains.

    ~~~~

    Gardner hovered over the various sharp rocks and steep edges of the Xilo mountains, keeping the town of Jareth in sight. His ghostly form made traveling easier than his sled, but far slower as a result. Even after hours of travel, he still had another peak to overcome.

    He took this time to dwell on Guild matters. Pokemon still obeyed him—which quite frankly was the only thing he cared about—but other things such as control across Serenita and the gathering resources concerned him further.

    Despite his best efforts to focus on his duties, his recent acts of kindness took hold of his thoughts. The Duskull, Carlin, and that Torracat, Zacheus, were individuals he would normally scorn and turn away, insulting them for their position in life. Instead, he treated them with his own food and self.

    He remembered the thoughts that fueled these actions: his own memories, from when he himself was a Duskull. A pitiful creature by anyone’s standards, it was only by the grace of Arthus that he survived. An utter waste without any guardians to speak of, he was like the wretches he had only recently helped. Too much like them.

    He furrowed his brow, his eye glowing more fiercely. Arthus never chose him for his compassion; he wanted a Pokemon who would establish law and order, force other Pokemon into line. He allowed himself to slip back into his past, just as he did when he stood on the fringe of the Revenant Forest. He couldn’t allow that weaker self to rule.

    He kept focusing on these thoughts, resolving to keep to his dominating and cruel means of leadership, just so he could regain the favor of his one true master, the Usurper. This continued all the way until he reached the entrance to the eerily quiet town of Jareth. No Pokemon awaited his arrival, none came to tell him of problems needing resolve. No Pokemon were present at all, the only sign of movement being the river rushing down the mountainside.

    He cast a suspicious look all around the town, ignoring the dirty huts and tunnels that plagued the outskirts. “Your Guildmaster has arrived! Where is Captain Loran?”

    “It’s an ambush!”

    He jerked to his right and saw Loran Azumarill locked in a cage, along with over two-dozen other Water Pokemon. Around his wasted and pale shape was a bound rope, with a cloth wrapped underneath his mouth—the remains of a gag.

    Loran hopped up weakly and exclaimed, “They've been waiting for yo—" A perfectly aimed rock struck him on the side of his head, knocking him unconscious.

    Suddenly, Graveler rolled down the mountainside, barreling toward Gardner. Poliwrath and Floatzel leapt from the mouth of the river and sprung toward him, firing jets of water from their mouths. Overseeing this was an elderly Aerodactyl, who watched from his tunnel, out of sight.

    The Guildmaster curled his fists, then punched an oncoming Graveler. It rebounded with a crack, spinning into a house, causing it to collapse. The Dusknoir exploded into purple mist, passing through the streams of water and the passing Graveler.

    The Aerodactyl above nodded to someone behind him, then a Banette squirmed out from the cracks. His mouth unzipped, and he echoed out babble and cursings, the chants echoing out across the mountain.

    Gardner rematerialized and pressed his hands against his head, roaring in fury. He focused on the Banette, finding it impossible that such a creature would live on this desolate plateau.

    His thoughts were interrupted by the rumblings of Boldore, rapidly clambering out from their tunnels and toward the Dusknoir, their crystals gathering sunlight for a deadly attack. The Poliwrath and Floatzel ran toward him, breathing in for another watery blow, while beneath, Dugtrio poked out of the ground, all poised to strike down the Guildmaster.

    “You will obey me! I am your Guildmaster!” Gardner roared, backing away.

    The Pokemon continued their approach. The Aerodactyl above yelled in reply, “You hold no power over us! Leave this place if you wish to live! We will suffer your cruelty no more!”

    The Banette’s continued chanting prevented him from simply turning into gas and avoiding the Assault, and without such tactics, he knew there was only one choice: retreat.

    He hovered as fast as he could toward the other exit, dodging above and below the thrown rocks and advancing streams. A Poliwrath leapt toward him, spreading his arms out for a slam. Gardner’s fist crackled with lightning as he threw it into the Poliwrath chest, coursing wildly into the frog Pokemon chest. The Poliwrath fell in front of Gardner, still.

    He went over the fallen Poliwrath and finally made it to the exit, where the attacking Pokemon halted. They watched him rapidly head down the mountainside, avoiding any further attacks from the liberated town.

    After over ten minutes of charging ahead, Gardner finally stopped. His chest heaved and his body ached, exhausted by the extreme effort necessary to flee. Flee like a coward.

    He felt his head throb, then he saw himself standing among the Jareth towns-Pokemon. He saw himself beat them into submission, driving back the Rock Pokemon to make way for the Water. He remembered the fearful faces of the Diglett he forced back into their tunnels, laughing at their plight and insulting their weakness. All the while, he had pleased Arthus by making them do what he thought was right.

    Until now, you had never suffered for your crimes. Now, you see what comes from your ways.

    Gardner shook his fist in the air and roared, “Who are you to judge me? Who are you to say I wronged them? Arthus is the only one who can say that to me!”

    More memories came, of him walking alongside Arthus through the Guild, proving to the citizens that they were unstoppable by killing their mightiest warriors.

    How can Arthus be a judge when he does as you do? Any who dare judge your actions are killed; how can any who disagree with you live except in fear? How do you hold command over these Pokemon unless it be by making them suffer exactly what you did, when you were like them?

    Gardner swore aloud, then exclaimed, “It doesn’t matter what my subjects think! I am my own ruler, and what I believe is what is right!”

    The vision from two nights ago resurfaced, showing the eyes and claws holding him in their grasp. “Whatever the creator does is right, and thus, what the would-be creator does is right as well.” He then saw himself crushed by Arthus’ claws, and the final proclamation: “Failure is betrayal. Betrayal is death!”

    He froze. He failed. Another Guild-controlled settlement had fallen thanks to Cassia, and he couldn’t do anything to reverse it. If Arthus heard about this, his standing with him would only grow worse.

    He held a hand to his head, then said wide-eyed, “I-I’ll make it up to him. Those traitors can’t be too far off now. All is going to his plan.”

    What makes you think he will forgive you for your crimes against him? Failure is betrayal, and betrayal is death.

    Again, Gardner saw himself with Arthus, only this time, he drained the Life from the very Pokemon who failed to follow his commands. Whether it be delivering a message, or missing a delivery, all offenses amounted to death.

    Why is it, after such atrocities you commit, and after following such leadership, that you have grown a heart?

    He saw himself granting Life to Carlin Duskull and giving the berries to Zacheus. He remembered his sympathy toward them, knowing full well what they had gone through. When had he grown a heart, like what he had said to Arthus twenty years ago, when even Arthus himself had room for love?

    He felt a sickening feeling in his chest, then reached inside and pulled out the ruby. Arthus’ figure materialized in it, and his voice barked, “Well, how are things coming along? Did you find them in Jareth?”

    Gardner took a glance back at the town he had just retreated from. “N-no, unfortunately not. They left before I got there.”

    Arthus leaned in closer. “You’re hiding something. You only stutter when you do.”

    Gardner held himself higher and bellowed, “That is none of your business, Lord Arthus!”

    Arthus cackled, his image pulling away. “Oh, everything’s my business! Especially since it involves my plan!” The ruby glowed red. “And don’t forget, Guildmaster, you’ve yet to redeem yourself from your last little mistake. I’d advise that you don’t get cocky.”

    Gardner paused. He struggled to think of what to say, all while Arthus’ smug, mocking face taunted him from across Serenita. Memories flashed by of all the times the Usurper demeaned and insulted him, all for some small error he made, away from his insane sense of perfection.

    In dark tones, he finally muttered, “Jareth was converted by those traitors, Lord Arthus. I refuse to speak any more on that matter.” He shoved the ruby back into his chest, then continued along the trail to Cryus, dwelling on the imperfections of his leader—and himself.

    ~~~~

    Minutes after Gardner’s contention with himself, Grom landed on the plateau, just below the harrowing ascent to the highest city in all of Serenita: Cryus. The early morning light did nothing to mitigate the swirling and raging appearance of the peak. Surrounding the isolated settlement was nothing but ice and snow, slickening the rock beneath it, causing outsiders to think twice about visiting such a location.

    In the shade of the cleft above, Lawrence clambered down the Golurk’s back, followed by Cassia. The giant then turned to them and pointed to himself. “Graw-gro-hawm.”

    “Go ahead and find a Life deposit; we can wait here,” Cassia replied, digging through her bag. Grom stomped off to find a recharging location, leaving Cassia and Lawrence on their own.

    Cassia pulled out her sketchbook, then flipped to a blank page. She sat on a rock and said, “It’ll take a little while for Matheus to make it over here, so might as well work on something.” She pulled a piece of charcoal out of her bag, then began to sketch.

    Lawrence sat on the ground next to Cassia’s rock, leaning his back on it. Careful not to draw too close to the edge of the trail, he stretched his arms.

    Still sketching, Cassia said, “I want to understand your feelings about Arceus a little better. We’re you a very active Arceist?”

    Lawrence restrained a groan. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

    Cassia scowled. “I’m only trying to help. It’s my job.”

    “I left them a long time ago. I don’t remember that much.”

    “Were they like me?”

    “Nobody’s like you.”

    “In a good way?”

    “Yes, in a good way! You’re the only person I can be open with!”

    “Then be open with me on how you were as an Arceist.”

    Lawrence looked up, knowing that he was caught in her trap. She looked down, waiting for his answer.

    He sighed and looked back down, huddling his legs close to his chest. “Well…I was actually pretty good. I didn’t have any problems. I attended every meeting, I listened to every sermon…I even had plenty of friends. Life was good.” The smile that formed faded. “Until I realized it was all a lie. Arceus may be real, but he never really did anything for me. He didn’t help me in the good or bad times, and never will.” He lay his head against his knees, then closed his eyes.

    The Zoroark above him looked up, scratching the charcoal against her cheek. She raised the length, then said, “Have you ever prayed? Did you ever read those Arcean Texts?”

    Keeping his head low, Lawrence replied, “No, and no. Those Arcean Texts held little of value, even to the priests. As for praying…well, I never thought of it.”

    “You never learned about it?”

    “I never thought it would work.”

    Cassia came off the rock and sat next to Lawrence. “You never had faith? Even then?”

    Lawrence looked up. “Yes, but why does that matter?”

    Cassia reached over Lawrence and pulled off the Pokedex, receiving no restraint from the Lucario. She quickly brought up the Tome and scanned through it quickly. She began to read:

    A certain Timburr wanted to grow a tree, so that he might have wood for his house. He found a seed, then planted it in the ground, expecting to have a grown tree in the coming days.

    When no tree came about, he left the seed and planted another, hoping for better results. As more days passed, he continued planting seeds, all to what seemed to be no results.

    Eventually, he stopped and bartered for his wood, believing that seeds never grow to be trees.

    Years later, all the seeds he had planted became mighty trees, fit to build a whatever house the Timburr would have wanted. But he had long since moved away, living in a small house, never to return.

    She lowered the Pokedex and said, “So, was the Timburr foolish by planting the seeds?”

    Lawrence, not seeing the purpose in the story, replied, “No, he wasn’t foolish in that way. He just didn’t wait long enough or do enough for that matter.”

    “Would it have been better if he didn’t plant them at all?”

    “No, he made a forest! It surely would’ve helped himself if he simply waited long enough.”

    Cassia poked Lawrence on the chest. “Exactly. The seeds are your faith, and the Timburr is you. You grew up expecting something for your faith, but you failed to notice what it brought since you left it behind. After your experience with the Nidoking, you left it all behind, including the blessings from Arceus you would have gotten.” She held a hand to her chest. “For me, it didn’t seem like a blessing to leave Arthus at first, or for Matheus to leave, or even for… Arianne to die.” She held her breath, wiping her eyes. “But…but I know all of that needed to happen. I’ve become a stronger Pokemon because of it, and I’ve helped bless so many Pokemon because of it.” She looked back at Lawrence. “And you probably would have too, if you didn’t leave him when you had hard times.”

    Lawrence stared, processing what Cassia had said. She stared back firmly, completely confident in what she had just said. Finally, Lawrence turned away and groaned, rubbing his eyes. “How do you do it?”

    “Do what?” Cassia replied, cocking her head.

    He slapped his paws on the ground. “That! Figure out exactly what people think, then say what they should’ve done! You just do it so perfectly, like when you fight, or when you draw! I’m just the guy following you around with no idea of where to go and what to do!” He let out a sigh, leaning back on the rock and letting his legs fall flat on the ground. “I just want to be home. To be myself. I have to do all this just to get there.”

    Cassia—blushing because of Lawrence’s compliments--turned away, holding a hand to her face. Her face brightened, then sidling closer to Lawrence, said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself; you're more than just the guy who follows me. Who helped me buy a new bag? Who helped save the Pokemon in a burning town? Who stood up against the Guild when I wouldn’t? You might not be the best fighter in the world, but you have one of the best hearts I’ve seen.”

    Lawrence gave her a sideways glance. “Don’t forget that I’m the one who got beaten by a bunch of punk Scyther.”

    “All to save Buneary who had just lost their mom! You know so much about how Pokemon act, like with that Machamp back in Hydren. You knew how to make him listen, and I’m sure that you know a whole lot more than me about how to do that.”

    Lawrence let a small smile split across his face. “You… you really think all that?”

    Cassia nodded. “Most of all, you’re just so…open. You can go up to someone and talk with them like you’re good friends. Me, on the other hand.” She cringed, brushing her claws through her mane. “I…can’t. I’d like to, but I’m always so afraid of them finding out who...what, I am. I don’t want to get close to anyone in case I’m found out. They’ll be… afraid of me.” Her ears drooped. “That’s not what I want. I want them to listen to me, so I always need to hide…hide what I really am.”

    Lawrence thought for a moment, then said, “Well…I figured out that that you’re a Zoroark, and I wasn’t afraid of you.” She gave him a knowing look.

    He shrugged and added, “Alright, I was at first. You caught me off-guard, what with Gardner trying to capture us.” He shook his head. “Point is, I figured it out, and even if I was angry at first, I knew you were a good Pokemon, and you never wanted to hurt me. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Zoroark; you are a great Pokemon no matter what.”

    Cassia put a hand over her mouth, then with a wide smile, hugged Lawrence. “Thank you…thank you so much.”

    For once in a long time, Lawrence didn’t retract from the embrace. He slowly wrapped an arm around Cassia, not noticing the dreadlocks on his head slowly rise with a blue glow.

    “Grom?”

    “Gah!” Cassia and Lawrence leapt away from each other in shock. The ill-timed Golurk stared down at them, standing behind the rock with his head tilted to the side.

    Lawrence stood up and hastily exclaimed, “How do you keep doing that?”

    “Graaw…haw-haw-haw.” The Golurk put one hand over his mouth and pointed the other at them. He then put his hands together and chuckled.

    Realizing what he meant, the Lucario and Zoroark stepped away from each other.

    “Graw-haw! Haw-haw-haw-haw!” Grom bellowed, stamping his foot and holding his sides. Lawrence and Cassia smiled at each other awkwardly, then looked away, blushing.

    “Whew…what a hike! Don’t remember the trail being that long fifty years ago.” Matheus came up the trail, steadily trekking upward. He stopped at the edge of the shaded cleft and propped an arm against the wall, giving the still-laughing Grom a perplexed look. “Say, what’s got him howling harder than an Emboar at a drinking party?”

    “Nothing!” Cassia and Lawrence both exclaimed.

    Matheus gave them a studious look, then turned to Grom, who finally started to calm, wiping a faux tear from his eye. The Legend shrugged, then paced toward Lawrence and Cassia. “I dunno, but it must’ve been good. Shame I missed it.”

    “Actually, it would’ve been worse if you were around…” Lawrence thought to himself.

    “Right then, “ Matheus clapped his paws together and continued, “While on my way here, I saw old Gardner getting kicked out by the Pokemon in Jareth. Given his speed, I’d say we’ve got quite the lead on him.” He stepped back out from the cleft and gazed up at the peak. “Since up there isn’t very good climbing weather at the moment, Lawrence, how about we get some more training in? Always does good when we likely have a bunch of Fire Pokemon to get back in line.”

    “Fire Pokemon?” Lawrence asked, groaning inwardly at the mention of more training with Matheus.

    The Legend nodded. “Yep. Some years back, I took a visit to Cryus and found that the Fire Pokemon were the leadership, likely because of their natural advantage against the local Ice Pokemon. There’s not too many of them, but the Fire Pokemon are feared and respected around there.” He shook his head briefly and pounded his fists. “But enough talk. Let’s fight.”

    ~~~~

    Arthus crawled out from the ground outside Dusknoir Guild, shaking free of the vicious tendrils. He spat out bits of dirt, then held up a sack, eyeing it viciously. “I loathe carrying things like you around.” He swung it around and pushed open the gates, striding across the path toward the little hut that Martre Metagross made home.

    He threw it open and exclaimed, “Delivery!” He threw the sack onto the cluttered desk of the rusted automaton, much to his dismay.

    Martre lifted a stack of books with his psychic powers and slipped the onto a shelf. “I’m trying to get cleaned up in here.” His rust glinted dully in the dim candlelight from above yet reflected against the jet-black and crimson eyes perfectly.

    Arthus waved a dismissive claw. “This is the first time I’ve seen you clean since you got here, so what difference does it make?” He sat on a chair with a creak and said, “Gardner’s been rather irritable lately. He just got out of Jareth and refused to say what happened outside of it being taken by Cassia and her wretched Lucario friends.” He scratched his claw against the wall, creating a spiraling wood shaving.

    Martre lifted other piles of papers, sorting through them quickly and placing them into different piles. “He’s never been the most pleasant Pokemon, even on his best days. He doesn’t understand the importance of strategy, for one; all that brute understands is force.”

    Arthus cackled, clapping in reply. “Too true, too true! You described him perfectly in just a few words!” He picked off the wood shaving and set it alight with a spark of Life. “You know, I think Gardner got humiliated in some way up in Jareth, considering his attitude. Humiliation tends to come with failure, so yet again, he messed up a perfect plan.” He grinned. “Although, you don’t mess anything up, correct?”

    Martre swiftly bound the piles of paper with lengths of cord, keeping his gaze away from Arthus. “Well, I always make sure to plan out for variables and act on the accordingly. It ensures that I don’t have to complete a task more times than I have to.”

    Arthus stood up and nodded his head. “Exactly what I like to hear.” He scratched his chin, continuing to grin. “You know, when Gardner comes back—after we’re all done with this business involving Cassia and this Lawrence fellow—I may consider replacing the old fool. He was useful, yes, but his methods are stale, and we’ll need a faster, stronger, more intelligent approach in order to have the Guild come back to its former glory.”

    Martre held the stacks of paper in the air, finally turning to look at Arthus. “What are you implying?”

    “I’m saying that we could have you take his place. Gardner’s always been a bit of a fool, but I let him stay because of his loyalty.” He formed a Life Sphere and twirled it around his fingers. “Now, though, not so much. I don’t care how loyal he is, a servant who fails is little more than Life to me.” He opened the door. “Study what’s in the bag for me while I go out to take care of my weekly culling. Keep in mind that potential promotion.” He chuckled, then slammed the door.

    Martre sighed, lifting the sack and peering inside. He looked at it sadly, then looked up. “I just want to be with my work…I don’t want to be crowded with more responsibilities,” he thought.

    He set the bag down, then sighed. “But if he wills it…

    “So be it.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  3. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Chapter 17: Retaliation

    Eighteen-year-old Lawrence lay under a carefully crafted pile of branches, a notebook, and pencil in his hands. He watched a herd of Stantler graze in a lush field close to the almighty Mount Coronet, the desolate landscape a stark contrast to the emerald grasses and shady trees. Kricketot chirruped happily, and Pachirisu hopped through the trees, rivaling the Pikachu in their hunt for berries and nuts. All the while, the Stantler grazed, paying no attention to the other wildlife—or Lawrence.

    He couldn’t help but admire the simple atmosphere. Even after two years of wilderness study, it remained the same: the gentle breeze, the rushing grasseven the Pokemon. They always remained the same, searching for food, shelter, and mates, just as they had always done.

    He felt a vibration at his leg and scowled. He pulled out a rectangular box and unfolded it. A series of buttons lay on the bottom half, and a screen illuminated on the top. The text box in the center had a message: Will you be home for church tomorrow? – Mom.

    Hurriedly, Lawrence typed, ‘No, too far.’ He tapped the ‘Send’ button and cringed; the button’s click reverberated through the air.

    The Stantler stopped their grazing and huffing. They lifted their heads and searched for the source of the sound. Ears twitching and eyes scouring, the jewels on their antlers began to glow with an ethereal light.

    Lawrence silently put the phone back into his pocket and closed his notebook. The Stantler stamped their feet, agitated by being unable to find the source. Lawrence held the notebook closer, remaining as still as possible. The largest Stantler called out and stamped his feet—right in front of Lawrence.

    The leader charged forward, narrowly avoiding the bump in his way. The other Stantler followed, each hopping and prancing around Lawrence as they fled. He lay under the cover, desperately wishing that none of the Stantler’s hooves would crush his body.

    They continued to rush by him until, finally, the final Stantler clopped away. Lawrence waited for a minute, then pushed himself up. The branches and leaves fell away from him, untouched by the startled Pokemon.

    He wheezed a sigh of relief, looking back toward the Stantler’s direction. “Last time I’ll use the phone out here again…” He turned back around and froze.

    A Houndour growled at him, baring his teeth and stooping low. Two other Houndour stood behind him, and another two approached from the side, all focused on Lawrence.

    Lawrence took a step back. The leader huffed out smoke and howled. Lawrence turned and ran, and the Houndour followed, barking and howling at their prey.

    Lawrence reached into the pack on his back and pulled out a silver spray can. He shook it vigorously, then sprayed its contents into the face of a Houndour. It whined and tripped on its feet, rolling on the ground and trying to rub off the substance.

    He sprayed another Houndour with similar results, but on the third, the can weakly spat and fizzled. Lawrence cursed and threw it at the Houndour, causing it to growl more fiercely. Its mouth opened wide, and fiery sparks gathered into its throat.

    Lawrence reached into his bag again, reaching for anything he could. His fingers met with a metal rod, which he pulled out and extended into a large pole. He focused the end on the Houndour, then swatted its head.

    The gathering fireball flew out of its jaws and into the leaves, bursting apart and catching the branches on fire. The flame grew, and a column of smoke rose into the air.

    Lawrence beat the Houndour away with the pole, then did the same with the other. The leader however, grabbed it with his jaws and yanked it from his hands.

    A cliff suddenly came into view, and Lawrence was forced to stop. He kept against the wall, reaching for a sizeable rock beneath him. The Houndour barked and growled, then leapt for Lawrence’s throat.

    “Keeaaw!”

    A rush of grey feathers pounded into the Houndour, knocking it aside. It stood up, searching for the source of the attack. The rush came again, revealing itself to be a giant Staraptor, larger than any Lawrence had seen.

    The Staraptor landed on the ground, then flapped its wings powerfully toward the Houndour. The dog kept its legs rooted in the ground, the ground scraping underneath him as it slid back. It opened its mouth and gathered another fireball, aiming for the Staraptor.

    The Staraptor halted its flapping and charged toward the Houndour. It scratched the Houndour with its talons and pecked into its hide. The Houndour’s fireball flew into the rock wall behind Lawrence, completely missing its target. Finally, the Staraptor relented, and the Houndour limped away, whining.

    The Staraptor turned to face Lawrence. It studied him for a moment, then turned its gaze to the cliff. “Keeaw!”

    A man clad in green suddenly appeared at the edge of the cliff, looking down towards Lawrence. “You alright down there?”

    Lawrence looked up and made a sigh of relief. “Yeah…I’m fine.” He turned back to the Staraptor. “Thanks for the help.”

    “Don’t mention it.” The man hopped down the wall and stood next to the Staraptor, petting its feathers. “Striker and I were just doing our rounds when we saw some smoke around. I left Spray, my Pelipper, over there to deal with it, but decided I should probably see what caused it. Turns out it was a bunch of Houndour!” He shook his head. “Haven’t seen any around here before.”

    Lawrence walked past the man and took back his pole. “If a Ranger didn’t see them before, then that means I’m right.”

    “Right about what?” the ranger asked.

    “That the lack of predators in the area has lead to a Stantler explosion, and now Houndour are moving in from the south to balance things out.” He held the notebook out to the ranger. “Feel free to take a look.”

    The ranger accepted the notebook and flipped through it, nodding his head as he read. “Looks about accurate to me. You’ve got all the usual Pokemon around here too.” He looked up. “How long have you been studying the Mount Coronet Reserve?”

    “About a week.”

    “A week?” the ranger handed back the book, shaking his head and laughing. “Better work than I could’ve come up with. You’ve got a head on those shoulders for knowing how Pokemon work.”

    “Thanks.” Lawrence took back the notebook, then looked behind him. “Better find that can of Max Repel I threw away then. It ran out just as the Houndour came around.”

    The ranger sighed. “Bummer.” Lawrence began to walk away, then the ranger said, “Those Houndour wouldn’t have been so much trouble if you had a Pokemon with you. Don’t you have one?”

    Lawrence paused. He turned back to the ranger with a grim look. “I like studying them. I like seeing how they work. But I don’t like using them or interacting with them.” He continued through the woods, ignoring the ranger’s stark surprise.

    ~~~~

    The two Lucario stood apart from each other, each holding up their paws in a combative stance. Cassia sat next to Grom, scribbling away in her sketchpad, while the Golurk sat on the ground, sapping away some Life deposited below him.

    Matheus rolled his shoulder and said, “This time you’re on the defensive. After seeing me and how I defended myself from your attacks the last time, this shouldn’t be too hard.”

    “But I didn’t pay much attention to that!” Lawrence exclaimed.

    Matheus shrugged. “Your loss.” He rushed forward, raising his paws high.

    Lawrence beat away the swinging blow, then another, clumsily stepping back. Matheus swept for his legs, but Lawrence made a small hop in response, then sent a fist toward Matheus’ face.

    The elder Lucario caught the blow and sent another toward Lawrence’s chest. The other stepped to the side—narrowly dodging it—then punched Matheus across the jaw.

    The Legend stepped away, rubbing his mouth. He grinned. “Well done. Managed to hit me.”

    Lawrence grinned in response, lowering his arms. “About time.”

    Matheus shook his head and chuckled. “You messed up.”

    “Messed up what?”

    Matheus kicked Lawrence in the chest, forcing him to double over and wheeze. “Don’t let your guard down.”

    “Graw—Haw—Haw!” Grom bellowed, clapping his hands heavily. Cassia looked over from her sketchbook, unimpressed.

    Matheus bowed for his performance. “Thank you, thank yo—”

    Lawrence grabbed his leg and yanked it back, causing him to fall onto his chest with a groan.

    He rolled onto his back in amazement. Lawrence shakily stood up and wheezed, “Don’t—let your guard down.”

    “Gah-haw-haw-haw!” Grom rolled onto his side and shook with laughter, his light shifting in magnitude with every heave.

    Cassia giggled as well, covering her mouth and looking away. “Hahaha—You certainly—hahaha—got him there—haha!”

    Matheus stood up and good-naturedly smiled, brushing off his chest and back. “Yes, very good, very good. Certainly more than what Cassia managed to do to me the first time we met.”

    At this Cassia stopped laughing. “I managed to scratch you!”

    “And I managed to pin you, so I’d call that even,” Matheus replied. Cassia muttered to herself, returning to her sketching.

    Grom pushed himself up, choking back his laugh. “G-Graw-haw. Gro-hawm!

    “No, we are not bringing that up!” Cassia exclaimed.

    Matheus sighed, then turned back to Lawrence, who now had recovered from Matheus’ blow. “You’ve certainly gotten better, but you’ve got a long way before you have a chance of beating me in a proper duel.” He patted him on the back, then took several steps back. “Let’s go again, and this time, don’t worry about me getting in a cheap shot.”

    “You had it coming for a while,” Lawrence replied, stepping back as well.

    They clashed once more, and Grom continued to watch. He heard a scraping sound behind him. He looked back and saw Cassia rubbing at the paper with clay, removing the charcoal mistake.

    He pushed himself up and came around to her, leaning on the rock she sat on. “Graw-gro-grawm?”

    Cassia sighed, setting down the clay. “Yeah, they’re having fun, aren’t they?” She lifted a charcoal length, scratching at the end to make it sharp. “They get along pretty well, being Lucario and all. What do you think?”

    Grom swiveled his head toward the Lucario, watching the two push at each other’s paws in a wrestling match, each with a smirk. “Gro-graw.” He shrugged, turning back to Cassia. “Ha-hawm-hawm.”

    Cassia continued on the mountainous landscape on the page. “We haven’t been talking to each other much, I know.” She sighed and looked up. “I’ve just…I’ve just been helping Lawrence. He just…feels like the sort of Pokemon to follow Arceus. Yet he doesn’t.” She looked back at him, watching the Lucario practice a swinging kick next to Matheus. “Plus, he’s leaving. That Xatu will help bring him home, and he’ll hopefully be changed back to a human.” She stared off in space, then stared back at the page, her charcoal remaining still.

    Grom put an arm over her shoulder. “Gro-graw-graw-grawm. Graw-gram.” He pointed back at Lawrence. “Gro-haw-haw-hawm.”

    Cassia blushed, then covered her face with a hand. “N-Not like that. I like him as a friend, not…” She considered what she was about to say, then lowered her claw. “Anyway…you’re right that I don’t really want to see him leave. He’s…he’s the only Pokemon I’ve really felt comfortable around—aside from you and Matheus, of course.”

    Grom gave her a nudge, chuckling. “Graw—haw.”

    Cassia slapped his arm, jabbing a claw at him. “I told you, it’s not like that!”

    Grom continued to tease her while Matheus and Lawrence settled down. They sat next to each other on the ground, panting and recovering.

    Matheus pointed at them, their conversation unable to be heard from their point. “She’s different. Not so shy, and definitely more playful. She’s had to worry so much about herself that she hadn’t really made any friends.” He chuckled, nudging Lawrence’s arm. “Until you came around. Amazing how two weeks can help out a girl, huh?”

    Lawrence nodded slowly, considering his words. Cassia laughed, leaning back and giving Grom a playful slap. The Golurk shoved her off the rock in response, laughing as well. Cassia leapt onto his back and jabbed her claws into his neck, causing him to laugh uncontrollably and totter onto the rock with a crash.

    “Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

    Lawrence pulled himself away from the play-fight. “What?”

    Matheus smirked. “Travelling has a funny way of making you grow fonder of the Pokemon you travel with. Same goes for fighting, eating, sleeping…everything really.” He cleared his throat and sheepishly looked up. “I, uh…never got along well with the ladies, though, so…another thing you’ve done better.”

    Lawrence gaped and stuttered, “I-It’s nothing like that, I swear! I don’t even know any girls at home!”

    Matheus clapped a paw on his shoulder and shook it. “Probably cause you haven’t gone looking! Tell me, what did you do in your spare time back home?”

    “Well, I read books, listen to music…” Lawrence trailed off. He wasn’t used to talking about himself in that sense.

    Matheus yawned, waving him off. “Yeesh, no wonder you don’t have a love life.” He pushed Lawrence’s head back to Cassia. “Now tell me this: how’ve you been spending your time since you got here?”

    “Walking till my paws get sore.”

    Matheus rolled his eyes. “Besides that. I noticed when we stop for Grom’s charging breaks that she goes and reads the Arceist Tome to you from the Pokedex. Even if it’s only for a few moments, she wants to do that.”

    “She just wants to prove that I should be an Arceist…” Lawrence replied. He couldn’t help but feel unsure in his conviction of the religion—especially after his continued discussions with the priestess.

    “She does that because she cares. Why would she spend so much time on a stubborn Pokemon like you otherwise?”

    Lawrence scowled. “I’m not that stubborn.”

    Before Matheus could reply, Cassia walked over and said, “It looks like the storm’s cleared up over there. Think we should get going?”

    Matheus nodded. “Indeed we should, but first, I’d like to take another look at the Trevenant’s prophecy.” He pointed at Lawrence. “Particularly his. I don’t think we’ll be able to glean much more off of Cassia’s, so let’s focus on that one.”

    The Zoroark brought out her sketchpad and flipped to the page with the prophecy, then set it on Matheus’ lap. He scanned through it, with Cassia and Matheus studying it over his shoulders.

    Matheus rubbed his chin. “Hmm…A price of mind must fully be paid, or the Realm of the Keeper will forever make slaves.”

    “Who’s the Keeper?” Lawrence asked.

    “The Keeper is the Pokemon who will come on the Day of Desolation and bring all the surviving Pokemon of Equivos to a place of safety.” Matheus scratched his ear, giving the prophecy a strange look. “But forever make slaves? Doesn’t sound like anywhere I’d like to go.”

    Cassia pulled the sketchpad up higher. “This entire thing’s about the Keeper, I mean, just look at the first few lines: “A Keeper once was but now he becomes a treader of realms and deceiver of self.” She looked over to Lawrence. “Lawrence, aren’t you a ‘treader of realms’? You did come from a different dimension.”

    “But I’m not a ‘deceiver of self,’ and I know nothing about this Keeper,” Lawrence replied. Saying ‘deceiver of self’ caused Lawrence to wince. He hurriedly pointed at another portion of the poem and said, “What about ‘Awaken Aleron as well as the Keeper and Equivos may be reborn to live on?’”

    Matheus’ paw slammed on the page. With a wavering voice he said, “Aleron is dead. He can never come back.” He forced the pad into Cassia’s claws and stormed toward the mountain. “We’re leaving soon. Get ready,” he growled.

    Cassia and Lawrence stared at each other, perplexed about Matheus’ behavior. They and Grom followed him to the peak, then began their ascent.

    Few words crossed between them on their way up the icebound peak of Cryus. Rarely was there a defined trail along the way, but despite this, a handhold always seemed to be near. Matheus always remained ahead, warning those below of what dangers lay ahead, while Grom steadily clambered below, ready to catch them if they fell.

    By evening, Lawrence dragged himself up the final ledge and rolled onto his back, panting and heaving on the edge. Cassia already sat on a rock, panting just as he did, while Matheus lounged against a scrawny pine, laying his hat across his eyes.

    He lifted it and eyed Lawrence. “Oh, come on, the Mountain of Rebirth was a far worse climb than this tiny peak.”

    Cassia stretched her arms and growled, “Says the two-thousand-year-old Legend! That has got to be the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done!”

    Lawrence crawled over by her and exclaimed, “I’m way out of shape.”

    “Rather surprising, considering you have a new body and all,” Matheus commented, standing straight.

    Lawrence groaned. “That doesn’t mean it isn’t tiring!”

    Grom clambered over the edge, stepping awkwardly over the edge and stumbling past Lawrence. He looked down at him, then over toward Cassia. “Gro-graw-grawm?” he said, scratching his head.

    Cassia sighed and put a hand over her eyes. “Unlike you, we actually get tired. I’m amazed you haven’t noticed by now.”

    “Now now, let’s not be irritable; we’ll have to keep a good mood on our scouting of Cryus,” Matheus chided. He walked up to Grom and patted his arm. “I want to talk with you for a little bit about this mission.” The Golurk followed him behind a copse of snow-covered pines, their voices muffled by the distance.

    Lawrence sat up and looked toward them, bewildered. “Does Matheus understand what Grom says?”

    Cassia shrugged. “I think it’s mostly guesswork. Matheus doesn’t have the same connection that Grom and I have.” She sighed, rubbing her shoulder. “That climb was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Don’t you think so?”

    “Yeah. Just like Mount Coronet.” Lawrence studied his surroundings. A thin layer of snow coated the ground, from the whippy pine branches, to the jutting mountain rocks. The evening light poured over the snow, making it appear tangerine all around. Beyond, a collection of tall stone buildings lay surrounded by a thick wall of ice, perched near the edge of the peak.

    Lawrence felt his tiredness leave him at the sight. “I haven’t seen anything like this though. Back in Sinnoh, we got snow roughly once a year outside Snowpoint, and it was near as nice as this.”

    “What is Sinnoh like? You don’t talk much about it,” Cassia asked, brushing her claws through her mane.

    Lawrence blew his breath out slowly. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been there. I guess everyone’s…nice. They aren’t really afraid of each other. You can talk with someone like you’re old friends, even if it’s the first time you’ve met.” He looked up and smiled. “I miss that about it.”

    Cassia cocked her head. “Why?”

    “Unova’s different. Over there, you only talk with people if you need to, and that’s it. Sure, you talk with friends a lot, but everyone else gets left in the dust. Everyone has different values there, so there’s really no trust amongst strangers.” Lawrence sighed, massaging his temple. “It’s something I’ve learned after living there for a couple years.”

    Cassia leaned over toward him. “So what makes Sinnoh different from Unova? Why is everyone there so friendly, yet everyone in Unova not?”

    Lawrence lowered his paw. “I…I guess it’s because practically everyone believes the same thing. Unova has a bunch of people from everywhere, while Sinnoh mostly has natives.

    “And what do they all believe in?”

    Lawrence lowered his head and closed his eyes. “Arceus.” He imagined how Unova would be if everyone were Arceists like in Sinnoh. Murders and thefts would be almost zero. The cities would be full of cheer instead of fear. People wouldn’t be rallying for the government to do things for them instead asking for their friends and family, even strangers to take care of them—and they would actually get it. Even Pokemon would be in better circumstances, having respectful and loving trainers, adequate living areas, even enough food for themselves. The divisions that would likely occur—like in Sinnoh—would cause some hostility, yes, but not to the extent that Unova currently suffers. All of this, because they would believe Arceus would want that from them.

    He couldn’t believe he never made the connection before. The people he talked to in Unova always thought he was more sociable than usual, and more trusting. He thought it was just an inner trait, but it was really what made Sinnoh so different from the other regions. If it wasn’t for this belief in Arceus, Sinnoh would have ended up like Unova, or worse. Belief in Arceus was needed for people to trust each other there, and without it—

    He stopped himself. All of this felt true, despite what he knew about the true nature of Pokemon. Even if Arceus made no sense on treating Pokemon like humans, he had to admit that humans treated each other better thanks to him. There must be some benevolence in this god.

    Cassia’s claw held tight to Lawrence’s paw. She shook it and said, “You see it now. You see what Arceus is all about. That look in your eyes…it’s what I see in the other Pokemon I teach.”

    Lawrence looked down at her claws, then back toward her. “I…guess it isn’t as bad as I thought it was.” He turned away, pulling back his paw. “But I still don’t get it. If Arceus wants people to treat Pokemon like humans, why don’t Pokemon act like them?”

    Cassia’s ears lowered briefly, then rose again in understanding. “You’re talking about in your world…not mine.” She moaned, holding her head. “Sorry, it’s just so…confusing, every time you bring your world up. I never even knew such a place existed until you told me, so…”

    Lawrence set a paw on her arm, then said firmly, “I would never say that about Equivos. You, Grom, Matheus, and everyone else here are far better than anyone I know in Unova.”

    Cassia paused, then set her hand across Lawrence’s paw. “Then why do you want to leave?”

    Lawrence opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. He turned away, considering her words, and thinking more about his reasons for seeking a way to escape this foreign world.

    Before anything more could be said, Matheus and Grom returned from the pines. The Lucario pointed to Grom and said, “All done here, so let’s get going.” He stopped, noticing Cassia and Lawrence’s glum expressions. “Is there something wrong?”

    “No,” Lawrence said, “nothing at all.” He stood up and proceeded toward Cryus. “Let’s get this over with.” Matheus looked over to Cassia, who simply nodded her head, and followed Lawrence.

    On the bare and icy path to Cryus, Lawrence bowed his head, struggling to think of a suitable answer to Cassia’s question: why did he want to leave? He missed his parents; he never got to say a proper good-bye to them, and they were probably panicking over him not talking to them for two weeks. Valence surely wanted him back, but it was more to keep their good reputation instead of concern for his health.

    He held up a paw, studying the soft, black fur that covered it. More than anything, he missed his true body. Being a Lucario had its benefits, such as greater endurance, agility, and strength—even the potential to use Aura, if he could make a bond. Now, unlike when he first came to Equivos, he enjoyed being a Lucario. But at what cost? Being in this body still felt strange, such as having a tail, or the heat fur gave, and the absence of any clothing. While he may have gotten used to having all these things, he still missed his human self.

    He brushed the bunches of black fur on the back of his head. Was getting his proper body back worth the price of leaving Equivos? He didn’t even know if returning to Unova would bring him back to normal. There was the chance that he would remain as he is, at the mercy of Valence Tech for use in their…experiments.

    He shivered. Before, he could maybe have lived with a Pokemon suffering at their hand, but now it would be abominable to let them. He couldn’t bring back any Pokemon for them to press and prod, no matter the consequences. They were too…sentient, to allow it.

    He felt a paw slide across his shoulder and turned to find Matheus, a small smile across his face. “You doing alright?” he said. Lawrence nodded.

    Matheus nodded as well, then sighed. “Just…keep in mind that I’m here to help. Arceus didn’t send me just to train you, or to clear out the Guild with Cassia. You’re a good Pokemon, Lawrence,” he tapped the younger Lucario’s head, “Even if there’s some work to do up here.” He chuckled, then waved his paw toward the rapidly-approaching wall. “Come on: let’s see what damage the Guild has made.” He ran farther ahead, leaving Lawrence to smile at the eccentric silver Lucario.

    They all stopped at the heavy iron gate that covered the sole entrance into the city. Rough stone rooftops poked above the waving and warping sheet of grey ice. The sconces set in the stone surrounding the gate were unlit, as were all the torches that could be seen beyond the wall. No Pokemon were in sight, and no sound emanated from within.

    Matheus eyed the sconces and torches curiously. “Strange…last time, they kept them lit, and Fire Pokemon patrolled the area. Ice Pokemon kept making repairs to the wall, even if there was nothing to be fixed.” He pressed an eye against the wall for a moment, then leaned back and hmphed. “I see a crack on the other side. Something’s not right.”

    Cassia walked up the iron bars of the gate, looking left and right. “Maybe things have changed since then.”

    “And Xerneas isn’t stuck in a tree. I doubt they changed much in the last thirty years, even with the Guild as it is,” Matheus replied, crossing his arms.

    Cassia and Matheus continued talking with each other, while Lawrence continued to study the wall. He looked toward the ground near the brink of the peak, and noticed disturbed snow, piled and thrown in disarray.

    He stepped to the pile and dug into it, finding blackened flakes and sticks amongst the snow. Digging farther, he gasped and drew back, putting a paw over his mouth. Continuing to stare at the pile, he croaked, “Matheus…”

    The Legend held up a paw, stopping his and Cassia’s conversation. He padded toward Lawrence and the pile. He peered into the pile and froze.

    Inside, a frostbitten and lacerated Typhlosion curled into a ball, long dead. Propped against him was a sign with a single line engraved in it:

    Freeze the flame!

    ~~~~

    Gardner Dusknoir ascended the vast peak toward Cryus, forcing himself to climb through the bitter snow and turbulent winds. Dark clouds clustered all around him, and cold penetrated his body despite his incorporeal frame. Ledge after ledge he lifted his hands, clutching onto them for fear of falling.

    He halted a moment, closing his eye. He knew that at the peak, above the clouds, it was calm. But the wind made it too unpredictable for simply floating to the top. Under normal circumstances, he would wait for the storm to pass—but the pursuit of traitors was by no means normal.

    He kept climbing, until at last he found a small cave embedded in the sheer cliff. Grunting in exertion, he pulled himself over the lip and rolled inside, remaining still.

    He slowly sat up and studied the alcove. The entire room was coated in ice, harder than the rock underneath and slicker than the snow outside. Translucent stalagmites poked up from the ground, their sister stalactites reaching down to touch them. The wind whistled across the entrance, ominously complementing the warped reflections of the Guildmaster.

    Gardner hovered to the far end and pulled his satchel off his shoulder. He reached in and pulled out an Aspear berry. He opened his chest and threw it inside, closing his maw with a contented growl.

    The wind rushed into the entrance, causing Gardner to shiver. He gave the outside a harsh look and muttered, “The things I do for him…”

    “What has he done for you?”

    Gardner remained still. “Leave me alone.”

    “What is this chase worth?”

    “I said, leave me alone,” Gardner repeated, furrowing his brow.

    “Your life and time have been devoted to Arthus, but does he deserve it?”

    “You have no right to question me, whoever you are! I have no idea how you got stuck in my thoughts, or why you continue to torture me with them, but I refuse to answer you!” Gardner slumped against the wall and crossed his arms, gazing into the swirling snow outside.

    After what seemed like ages, the voice returned. “Why do you continue to hate?” Gardner made no response.

    The voice continued, “Your first act as Guildmaster…what was it?”

    Despite his will, Gardner thought of himself going to the cluster of Life deposits within the Krelig Swamp, a popular site for Ghost Pokemon. He had gone to each of the families of ghosts that turned him away and took their Life, ensuring that they would suffer the hunger and fear that he had undergone all his life.

    He put a hand over his eye and said, “The day justice was finally dealt out…”

    “Justice, or revenge?”

    Gardner flinched. “What do you mean?

    “Those families had young ghosts such as you to take care of, and there were limited supplies of life. Have you ever considered that they simply didn’t have enough to share?”

    Gardner clenched his fists. “It doesn’t matter what happened. I made them pay, that’s that.” He relaxed, wiping his hand across the ice. “Besides, Arthus ordered all who opposed him to be killed. That was part of my duty.”

    “How can a Pokemon who brings death promise you Life?”

    Gardner’s eye widened. “How—how dare you! Arthus made me evolve! If it wasn’t for him, I’d be nothing more than a little snot of a Duskull!”

    “Like the one you had given Life?”

    Gardner hovered upright. He remembered Carlin well. Despite his thoughts now, he couldn’t help but empathize with the Duskull, suffering the exact circumstances he had: being without guardians in a world full of dominant Ghost types. Or, he supposed, Arthus.

    His chest lurched, and he reached inside and pulled out the ruby. Arthus appeared within and exclaimed, “Where are you? You haven’t shown up at Cryus yet, and I’ve been expecting you for the past hour!”

    Lord, I’ve been trying to get up there, but the storm’s too strong. I’m in a recess—”

    “Hold on: did you just say ‘Lord’ sarcastically?”

    Gardner bristled. “No. It was merely a mistake in tone.”

    Arthus remained still. “It better have been.” His body shook momentarily, then he said, “Well, hurry up with it; I can’t wait around here for too long.” He breathed in sharply, then in a slick tone added, “You know, just a today I encountered the strangest thing: a little Duskull had the audacity to ask me for Life.”

    Carlin!” the Dusknoir seethed.

    Arthus restrained a snicker. “Amazing, I didn’t think you’d care. Anyway, the puny thing said that you had given him Life and thought that I’d be nice enough to share as well.” He cackled, bringing the ruby closer. “He was a liar. You don’t care about anything, not even your own kind! So, I did you the favor of killing him and the rest of his pals, just to make sure they don’t spread stories.”

    Gardner’s eye burned, and his hands shook. He brought the gem closer, then said, “How could you promise me Life when all you bring is death! I gave that Duskull Life, just as he said!” He enclosed both hands around the ruby and roared, “You killed him for nothing! Just like everyone else! You’re mad! Insane! No wonder Matheus betrayed you!

    “Silence!” Flames erupted around the ruby forcing Gardner to drop it and yank back his hand. Arthus’ shadow rose out of the gem and towered over the ghost, his claws reaching out and hovering over the Dusknoir. It rose to full height, and his ice-blue eyes sparked open, glaring.

    Gardner’s fists now shook with fear. This visage—the dream—all of it was coming together. And now his imaginings had become reality.

    “I forced your evolution to make you a servant, not a traitor! You failed my orders, ruined the Guild, and insulted my history! I ought to drain you dry for daring to say such things to your Lord! Or change you back to that sniveling Duskull you were those years ago! At least then, you were loyal!” The claws hung over Gardner, reaching for him and grasping for his limbs. The Dusknoir remained still, keeping his eye focused on the Usurper’s.

    Arthus’ shadow shrunk, and he finally said, “However…I still need you. I will leave for the rendezvous point tonight, and I expect to see you there by the time Cassia gets there! Unless you do, consider your leadership and your life forfeit!” The shadow shrunk back into the ruby, and the flames extinguished with a flash.

    Gardner shakily picked up the ruby, holding it against his chest. “I…I…I shouldn’t have said that. Now I’m finished.” He pushed the ruby back into his chest and fell to the floor, gazing at the reflection beneath him.

    He stared at his eye, seeing the eye of Carlin Duskull, and of himself when he was Duskull. All three were one and the same—afraid, lost, and robbed.

    He closed his eye and muttered, “He never cared about me. I thought he at least respected me, but…but he never did.” He looked up. “But still…he gave me my power. Without him, I’d be nothing.”

    He stood upright, putting his hands together. “Voice—if you’re even there—you won this round. Arthus is mad. I should have realized it before, but now I know.” He jabbed a fist into the air. “But I will not fail him! I still owe him my loyalty, until another Pokemon shows me that they deserve it more!” The storm outside finally slowed to a gentle snow, the turbulent winds of before now nothing more than a light gale.

    The Dusknoir pulled on his satchel and rushed out of the cave. He floated upward as fast as he could, determined to serve the Usurper—even out of hatred.

    He remembered Carlin and looked to the sky. He held a hand over his chest and whispered, “I’ll make him pay for your death…you didn’t deserve it.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  4. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Chapter 18: Discovery

    Lawrence stood on a dock, watching passengers pile into a ship ahead. They carried suitcases and bags of all sorts, all rushing to board. Workers crossed to and from other docks despite the early morning, loading crates and other goods onto their own ships just as passengers loaded onto theirs.

    The young man lifted his own bag, filled with little more than clothing and books. His mother and father stood behind him, each gazing sadly at their son. No other friends or family gathered for his send-off.

    His mother hugged him tight and said, “You should’ve told us sooner.”

    Lawrence restrained a sigh. “Mom, I know what you think about Unova, but they have the best Behavior Science course in the world! I have to go.”

    “But we have a perfectly acceptable course here in Sinnoh,” his father replied. He tilted his broad-brimmed hat back and added, “Plus, we need your help on the farm. Tauros don’t just herd themselves, and, well, your mom and I aren’t getting any younger.”

    His mom let go of Lawrence and said, “Your father’s right; you ought to stay here. Leaving everyone you know behind without even telling them is simply rude!” She huffed, crossing her arms. “Plus, there’s hardly any Arceists in Unova, especially in Castelia. Where will you go for church?”

    “Mom, I haven’t been going to church for years.”

    “But that was because of all your wilderness trips. You’ll be within a couple blocks of a little branch, actually. The daughter of a friend of mine has a place over on Reshiram Boulevard. She’d be happy to have you there!”

    The ship’s horn sounded, and the seaman on its deck shouted, “Last call to Castelia!”

    Lawrence looked back at the ship, then back to his parents. “I’ll call you once I’m there.” He gave them each a brief hug, then rushed to board the ship, leaving his mother to cry into his father’s shoulder.

    Soon after he boarded, the gangplank pulled up, and the ship drifted from the dock. The engines turned on, and he soon went on course to Unova.

    In his room, he opened his bag and found a wrapped parcel with a note folded on top of it. He opened the package first and found a copy of the Arcean Texts, signed by Alfred Morgan.

    Lawrence set the work aside and read the note:

    Lawrence,

    I know that the other kids your age haven’t been treating you all that well. I’ve tried to help them understand that you are unsure about Arceus, but they see your arguments as attacks. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.

    I had your mom, Catherine, put this in your bag, as well as the Arcean Texts, should you change your mind. I hope to see you again.

    Brother Morgan

    Lawrence stared at the paper for a moment, then set the note on top of the texts and wrapped them back up. He stuffed it back in his bag, then looked out the window, toward the receding Sunyshore City. Two years after leaving Arceism, he finally escaped the believers who thought he was wrong—and the former friends.

    ~~~~

    Claws gouged into the ice wall, rapidly scrabbling up the slick surface and leaving punctures behind. Black and red fur swirled up the barrier, and following it was blue and yellow flying higher. The two shapes landed on the snow on the other side, the red gracefully, while the blue with an unsteady wobble.

    Cassia swept back her mane and huffed. “This fur is so irritating sometimes.”

    Lawrence shook his head briefly, noting the black fur gathered on the back. “Glad I don’t have to deal with it.”

    Silver and gold fur landed in front of them, the leather clothing covering portions of it. “Just wait till it gets wet,” Matheus replied. He pushed past them and tapped on the ice wall, catching the attention of the black Golurk on the other side. “Thanks for the throw; I’ll let you know if we need you!”

    Grom saluted. “Graw!”

    Matheus saluted back then turned back to Lawrence and Cassia. “Alright, let’s go find those Ice Pokemon.”

    “Already found,” Lawrence stated, pointing at an enormous stone structure that stood in the center of Cryus. Standing in front of the iron doors at its entrance were two Cryogonal. Their eyes glowed ominously from their icy bodies, catching the sunlight and warping it into beads of freezing energy. They remained stationary, their backs facing the intruders.

    Matheus’ eyes widened. “I haven’t seen any Cryogonal for years. I didn’t know any were left.”

    Lawrence stood alongside, just as surprised. “Those things can freeze you faster than anything. We can’t let their chains catch us.”

    Cassia raised her claws and waved them in the air. “I’ll hide us so we can go in for a look.” A shimmer surrounded them, hiding their movements as they crept toward the small window on the side of the hall. A single, tenor voice echoed within, full of conviction and contempt.

    The Zoroark slipped her claws into the frame of the window and pulled it away, allowing it to swing outward. Dozens of Ice Pokemon sat on pews inside, ranging from snow-colored Ninetales and Glaceon to powerful Beartic and Sandslash scattered amongst them. The entire hall was covered in frost, including the magnificent chandelier, all of its candles unlit.

    Standing on a chipped and battered Avalugg on a platform on the side of the room was a Delibird, whose voice rang all throughout. The shrunken sack-like tail of the Delibird hung limply behind him as he pranced on the back of the Avalugg, his red and white feathers splayed out in an unkempt fashion.

    He held himself higher and exclaimed, “As you know, it was thanks to my leadership that we wrested power from the villainous Fire Pokemon, who for generations ruled Cryus with a burning fist! But no longer!” He stamped on the back of the Avalugg and continued, “My compatriot and I killed their leader, Irik Typhlosion, just two days ago, and with your help, imprisoned the rest of the Fire Pokemon!” He raised his wings, expecting some sort of praise. None came from the stone-faced Ice Pokemon.

    The Delibird didn’t seem to notice, continuing with his speech. “Now I, Fresnic Delibird, sole prophet of Arceus, will give you a message from the almighty creator!”

    Cassia and Matheus gave each other surprised looks. “A prophet of Arceus did this?” the Zoroark asked.

    Matheus leered at Fresnic and growled, “He couldn’t be, considering he said that he was the ‘sole’ prophet. Let’s see what he has to say.”

    Fresnic hopped up and exclaimed, “Arceus wants us to be our own Pokemon, free of obligations and tyranny! We are to do as we please, forcing others to do what we want, to ensure that we aren’t beaten down, like we have been for many years!” He flapped his wings and shouted, “You can only become a follower of Arceus by not relying on him for your needs! You have prayed to him for years for the Fire Pokemon to be beaten down, and only after I came to you did you do anything! He will not help you! We can only help ourselves!” He froze, focusing on the Sandslash edging for the door. “Why are you leaving our celebration? Surely you appreciate it?”

    The Sandslash looked about, his ice-covered quills quivering. “I-I just want to see how the Fire Pokemon are doing i-is all.”

    Fresnic remained still. “Oh. Is that all.” He leaned down to the Avalugg’s head. “You hear that? He wants to go see the Fire Pokemon. Why?” He jabbed a wing toward the Sandslash. “Because he wants to see them back in power, after all they did!”

    The Sandslash held up his claws in defense. “No, no, nothing like that! I didn’t really think they did all that bad stuff to us, b-but—”

    “Graah!” the Avalugg bellowed, pounding his feet on the stage and shaking the room. The Sandslash and the other Ice Pokemon reared away rom the ‘prophet’ and his pet Avalugg, fearing the worst.

    The Avalugg opened his mouth, and a slender spear of ice slid out from it. The Delibird grinned. “We can’t have any apostates in my congregation.” He stomped his foot, and the Avalugg fired the spear—right into the chest of the Sandslash.

    He fell without a sound, still and unmoving. Fresnic shook his head sadly and said, “Does anyone else have a complaint?” No one made a move, frozen with fear.

    Fresnic held out his arms. “Then let’s carry on!” He continued making his vigorous exclamations, rapidly circling the Avalugg. Lawrence stared at him in puzzlement, while Matheus’ features hardened. A red mist hovered around Cassia as her hands shook, her fangs bared.

    The Zoroark reared back a hand, causing a pulsing sphere of Life energy to hover above it. “He’s a lying piece of—”

    Matheus forced her arm down and hissed, “Are you insane? We can’t just go in there and take him out!” He growled, looking back toward Fresnic. “As much as I’d like to.”

    As Cassia forced herself to calm, Lawrence scrutinized the Avalugg and the other Ice Pokemon. “Fresnic won’t be an issue; Delibird like him are practically harmless. That Avalugg, on the other hand, can do some damage.” The Avalugg snorted, mist jetting out his nostrils. Lawrence stepped back and said, “They’re slow, but they’ll crush you once they set their mind to it.”

    Cassia took another deep breath and said, “What are we going to do then? We can’t just let him say those things!”

    Matheus pulled them closer and said, “We find the Fire Pokemon. We’ll have greater numbers and their natural advantage over ice. That should hopefully be enough to take care of that Avalugg and all of the Delibird’s followers.” He pointed in separate directions. “Split up; we’ll find everyone faster that way. It shouldn’t take too long given the size of the place. I doubt there’s many Ice Pokemon out and about with how many there are in there, but keep on your toes. Got it?”

    “Got it,” Lawrence and Cassia replied. They each ran in different directions, weaving between the bare grey stone of the houses.

    Lawrence peered through the windows of the homes he passed, hoping to find some sign of the Fire Pokemon. Instead he found simple buildings with tables and chairs all made of the same hard stone. Few pieces of furniture were made of wood, which Lawrence realized was because both the scarcity of the material and its flammability—hardly an aspect Fire Pokemon would want.

    He crossed by a somewhat small and disheveled dwelling and noticed a bright blue flash in the corner of his eye. Carefully, he looked through, and saw the still figure of Tursha Xatu through the window. He stood with his wings done and head up, his blindfold seeming to gaze at Lawrence’s eyes.

    Lawrence opened the door of the hut and closed it behind him. “What are you doing here?”

    Tursha made no movement. “Where Arceus needs me, I go.” He shuffled over toward Lawrence. “You…you are not of Equivos. A foreigner. An invader.”

    Lawrence took a step away from the Xatu, feeling a sense of dread rise in him. “What do you mean?”

    “You do not belong here,” Tursha monotonously said, raising a wing and pointing it at Lawrence. “I feel a disturbance in Equivos. The energies that surround your arrival…I feel them even now. They are slowly ripping apart the Creator’s work, and unless something is done, will surely bring about the end of Equivos. The Day of Desolation.”

    Lawrence grimaced, looking away from Tursha. He could scarcely believe his words. He had seen nothing that proved his claim, but then again, what did he know? He didn’t have the psychic powers of a Xatu, or some deep connection with the world. He could very well be causing damage from his mere presence without anyone realizing it.

    Tursha continued forward, his beak nearly touching Lawrence’s nose. “Unless you come to the Temple of Arceus, all will be lost. You will be able to return where you belong, with all you care about safe.” His head twitched. “I assure you that everyone you hold dear will die a miserable death unless you leave.” He stepped back. “I expect to see you soon.” He raised his wings, and bright blue light encapsulated him, temporarily blinding Lawrence. When he was able to see again, the Xatu was gone.

    ~~~~

    Matheus slunk around a corner, scouting ahead for any hostile Pokemon. With none in sight, he sped toward an iron door set in a rocky outcropping set in the wall. Unlike the other structures, no windows could be seen.

    The Legend pulled on the door’s handle and found that it was locked. He glared at the door and set himself into a crouching stance. He pulled his paws back, then thrust them right into the lock in the side. The door burst into the hallway beyond, clanging and banging against the floor.

    Cringing, Matheus looked back toward the meeting hall. The Cryogonal appeared to be talking to each other, but they made no move to investigate. The Lucario sighed with relief, then ran down the hallway. Empty torches lined the gradually descending tunnel, wrapping with it into the bowels of mountain.

    Blinking in the darkness, Matheus raised a paw and summoned an Aura Sphere, illuminating his surroundings. He sniffed and took a deep breath, then coughed, covering his nose. Soot and ash plagued the air, coating the walls and floor in inky blackness. He pressed forward, focusing on the dull reflection ahead. He reached it and found yet another iron door, also locked.

    Matheus sighed, enlarging the sphere in his paw. “Why can’t they just use wood?” He launched it into the door, causing it to burst from its hinges and slam to the floor—revealing the astonished eyes of Arcanine, Infernape, Delphox, and their children in an expansive dark room.

    The Lucario formed another aura sphere, causing gasps of shock to come from the imprisoned Pokemon. An elderly Typhlosion sat in the center, holding a Chimchar and Fennekin in her arms. Her grizzled fur reflected in the pale light, revealing a gaunt frame and tired eyes. She gaped at the sight of Matheus, keeping the children close to her.

    She rose a hand and gasped, “A ghost…coming to haunt us. What have we done to deserve this?”

    Matheus looked down at his silver fur, noting how it seemed to shine with the aura’s light. He looked back to the Typhlosion and said, “I’m here to help. What happened with that Delibird, Fresnic?”

    The Typhlosion shivered. “He just showed up a week ago from another peak with that Avalugg of his. They claimed to have been sent by Arceus to educate us about what he wants us to do. We all bought in to his claims—even my husband, Irik. As he stayed, the Ice Pokemon grew more violent toward us Fire Pokemon, until Fresnic eventually demanded that we be imprisoned. Naturally, we resisted it, but once that Avalugg…k-killed Irik…” She sobbed, wiping her tears. “We got thrown in here with no light, no warmth—nothing but some food and water. We couldn’t keep any fires going, and they refuse to light the torches…we’ve had nothing but darkness…” She continued to cry, hugging the Fennekin and Chimchar tighter, who hugged back.

    Matheus stepped forward, causing the Pokemon around him to flinch. “What was everything like before he came?”

    The Typhlosion sniffed, forcing a smile. “Oh, it was wonderful. The Ice Pokemon climbed down the mountain to find berries, then when they came up, we cooked and prepared it for everyone. We watched for high-flying Braviary and Staraptor from the wall, and even drove back the Guild Pokemon when they came to take us over. We Fire Pokemon did our part in cooking and building, and they did theirs with the wall and food. It was perfect…until Fresnic came.” She cringed, lowering her head. “Irik was only trying to do what was right. He never threatened to hurt the Ice Pokemon, like what Fresnic thought. He only wanted to keep everyone happy his whole life.” She continued to cry, matching the crestfallen faces of the other Pokemon that surrounded her.

    Matheus looked to the left and right, then sighed. He stopped in front of the Typhlosion and crouched. The Chimchar and Fennekin in her arms looked up at him in wonder and fear, the aura sphere spreading a feeling of warmth across them.

    He held out his other paw. “I came to help you…not to hurt you. I can drive out Fresnic, but I’ll need your help to do that.” The Aura Sphere faded into a glow surrounding his paw, radiating through the premises.

    The elderly Typhlosion paused for a moment, then sighed with relief. She accepted Matheus paw and said, “My name is Telda.”

    A slim figure descended the stairs, the aura revealing it to be a Gardevoir with bright blue eyes. Unlike Matheus, the other Pokemon did not veer back in fear, but instead looked on in relief.

    Matheus looked back to her and said, “Go find Lawrence; I’ll get them out.” The Gardevoir nodded, then went to turn away.

    The Chimchar in Telda’s arms swiped for her dress, passing through it harmlessly. The Chimchar flinched back in surprise, then looked up at Cassia with a bewildered expression.

    Cassia’s eyes widened, then she closed them and ran toward the stairs. She tripped against the first step and fell onto them, her head cracking against the stone. The Gardevoir illusion immediately dissipated, revealing a beautiful young Zoroark, clutching her head.

    The Arcanine, Infernape and Delphox gasped, the mothers clutching their children while the fathers stood in front of them protectively, their inner flames flaring up. Cassia rolled onto her back and held up her claws, noticing the failed illusion. She drew them back, cringing, then scrambled to her feet and ran up the stairs, tears streaming down her face.

    Matheus gaped at the stairs, then furrowed his brow. He whipped his head back toward the Fire Pokemon, causing them to flinch. He held up his aura-covered paw.

    “She is not your enemy. She is Arceus’ true priestess.”

    ~~~~

    Lawrence slumped against the wall of the dilapidated room, holding his head. Him staying here would kill everyone he knows? All because he made some disturbance in this dimension? He could scarcely believe it.

    He held a paw over his eyes and groaned. Now he had to leave, as much as he regretted it. Regardless of his want to remain with Cassia, Matheus and Grom, he would rather leave them than have them die because of him. The Xatu seemed serious in his conviction, and with what he knew about them, they were rarely wrong.

    He looked up. Claws clattered against the walkway outside. He turned and saw Cassia running wildly through the street, panting and searching left and right. Her mane splayed out in disarray, and a faint red mist surrounded her body.

    Concerned, Lawrence stepped out of the room and said, “Cassia?”

    “Lawrence!” she gasped. She burst into Lawrence’s chest, forcing him back into the room. The door closed behind them as she finally cried out, pouring out her sorrow into the Lucario’s shoulder.

    “They saw me! T-They saw what I really am! I tripped and f-f-fell, and th-then I saw them, angry and afraid! At me!” she howled. She looked up and exclaimed, “They hate me, just like they hate Arthus! What am I going to do now?” She continued crying on Lawrence, heaving and sobbing while he thought of what to say.

    Carefully, he rubbed her back, then softly said, “They don’t hate you. They only see what isn’t there.”

    Cassia sniffed, pushing away from him. “My eyes! They make me look just like Arthus!”

    Lawrence pulled her back, renewing his efforts by stroking her mane. “Arthus killed Pokemon; you never did. They’re only afraid of him, not you.”

    Cassia calmed barely, making a deep, shuddering sigh. “My…my looks…my powers…everyone hates them…I’ve had to deal with it ever since I found out the truth…”

    Lawrence now pushed away and exclaimed, “Who cares what they think? For four years, I had to deal with people hating me for not believing the same things they did! My friends left me, my parents didn’t understand, and even after I moved a continent away, I never felt like I belonged!” He breathed heavily, staring into Cassia’s still, sorrowful eyes.

    He backed away, then sat on a decrepit chair. Staring at the floor, he said, “Trust me... I know what it's like for people to turn their backs on you.”

    They stood silent. The wind rushed outside, blowing past a flurry of snow and ice. The evening light shined though the window, casting shadows across their features as they stood.

    Finally, Cassia crept closer and wrapped an arm over Lawrence’s shoulders. She pulled close and quietly said, “I-Is that what you really feel like? Really?” Lawrence nodded slowly.

    Cassia came close to his ear. “You said that more than anything else, you missed being yourself. Well…” She sat on the floor, wiping her face of her dried tears. “I just want to be myself around everyone I teach. I just want to touch Pokemon, feel what they feel, help them go through it. But I never can, because I’m too afraid.” She closed her eyes, the crimson mist around her fading from sight.

    Lawrence’s breathing calmed. “It’s…it’s never easy. Being alone. You’ll always be like that in some way, where you can’t tell someone your true feelings. I’ve had my share of it.” He set a paw in Cassia’s claw, then looked straight at her. “But you can always tell me.” He tightened his grip on her hand. “Just like I’ve told you.

    Cassia sighed into Lawrence’s shoulder, remaining there. “I…I don’t want you to leave, Lawrence.”

    He winced, Tursha’s warning coming to mind. He his paw through her mane and said, “I…I don’t want to leave…” Silenced passed between them as they remained in that position.

    Crash!

    A Cryogonal burst through the window, hissing and steaming as it glared at its targets. It threw a chain around them, encasing them in its freezing touch. Cassia reached out toward the Cryogonal, a Life Sphere gathering in her claws. The chains glowed blue, and the Life Sphere fizzled back into her body. Freezing cold surged into their bodies, and both Cassia and Lawrence fell limp.

    ~~~~

    Matheus stood outside the entrance to the Fire Pokemon’s prison, directing them out of the halls. Lit torches now arced up the tunnels, illuminating the passing Pokemon as they ascended.

    Telda stood next to Matheus, hunched over and holding her arms close to her chest. “I never thought we’d get help so soon.”

    “It’s a good thing we came here,” Matheus replied. He eyed her suspiciously. “I trust that Cassia won’t be an issue?”

    Telda grimaced. “It is just…unusual, to trust a Zoroark. You surely know about Arthus.” She squinted and said, “You never told me your name. What is it?”

    The silver Lucario cleared his throat and stepped away slightly. “It’s unimportant,” he coughed. He stepped forward and searched the streets, finding no sign of any Pokemon. “Cassia and Lawrence should’ve been here by now.” He turned to Telda and said, “I’ll go find them. You bring the Fire Pokemon over to the meeting hall as soon as you’re ready.” He sprinted through Cryus, looking into the different houses in search of his companions.

    He stopped midway, a dark thought entering his mind. He looked toward the meetinghouse, noticing that the Cryogonal that guarded it were no longer at their posts—and the windows seemed to be covered with panels.

    He cocked his head curiously. “Odd…” He ran to it and checked each window, finding each of them blocked by iron panels. When he pushed at the door, he felt a bar spread across it.

    He out his palms together and closed his eyes. “There’s only one way to know,” he thought. The black fur on the back of his head rose, and he felt the mind of those within the house. He recognized two, one lying on the stage, and another shoved to the side.

    His eyes shot open and his fur fell. “They got captured,” he growled. He reared back his fist and punched the door, causing it to shake violently. The frame held still, however, preventing him access.

    Muttering to himself, he raised a paw and gathered an Aura Sphere. At full size, he turned away and pointed it at the sky. It fired off into the distance, creating a stark streak of light across the twilit sky.

    He looked up to ensure it worked, then ran around to a window and punched it, breaking the glass, but not the panel behind it.

    He continued to the next, and the next, thinking to himself, “Keep them safe, Arceus! Keep them safe!”

    ~~~~

    Boom…

    Boom…

    Boom…

    Boom…

    Cold. Sheer cold. Darkness-crowded vision.

    At the center…an ebbing flow. The core, weakly pumping warmth through the all-surrounding chill.

    The Lucario awoke, but only in mind. He felt himself slipping away into the cold, never to awaken. He felt loss, shock, remembering nothing but this sudden encroachment of freezing cold. He prepared himself to fade into the chill, his core barely beating to fight back—

    Until he remembered.

    Where is she?

    Boom.

    What happened to us?

    Boom.

    We were together.

    Boom…

    We’re in danger.

    Boom…

    She needs me.



    I need her!

    Cra-a-a-a-ack!

    The core became enveloped by a piercing blue light, siphoning into the dying core. The core beat faster and faster, driving way the heat. Cyan flashes burst from the core, lighting the endless darkness bringing forth light.

    The Lucario awoke!

    ~~~~

    Breath. Hot, moist breath. High-pitched ringing. Blurry figures—red, white, black, crimson. Numbness retreating; feeling returning. Frost melting. Hearing clearing. Vision sharpened.

    A Delibird stood in front of him, next to a massive Avalugg, shouting and holding his wings aloft. A crowd of Ice Pokemon shrunk away to his right, staring at the Avalugg. The massive giant stamped his feet and growled, opening his mouth and producing a slender spear of ice.

    The Avalugg stepped away, revealing a Zoroark slumped on her knees, her arms tied behind her back, and her legs tied together. Her eyes closed, her chest rose and fell quickly, her head facing the Delibird.

    The Delibird yanked the spear from the Avalugg’s mouth and roared, “And so dies the spawn of Arthus the Usurper!”

    NO!”

    The Lucario pounded to his feet and extended an arm; a sphere of blue flame grew from the palm, then fired into the air—straight into the chest of the Fresnic Delibird.

    He squawked and shot into the wall, cracking the stone behind him. His spear shattered against the iron curtain of the window. The Delibird’s eyes closed as he slid down the wall.

    The Avalugg turned to the Lucario, mouth opened wide as white light poured into it. The Lucario shot another Aura Sphere into its mouth. The creature exploded in a burst of blue-white light, sending shards of ice spraying everywhere.

    The iron doors behind the Ice Pokemon burst apart, a giant black fist sending them away. The onyx Golurk stomped forward, surging with red energy. Behind him, a silver Lucario padded forward, his face contorted into one of hatred.

    They both froze, staring at the Lucario. The black fur behind his head rose, blue fire suspending it. The same fire wrapped around his arms and legs, strengthening the awoken warrior.

    The flames suddenly died, and the Lucario’s eyes dimmed. He fell on his side. The last thing he saw:

    Blue eyes.

    ~~~~

    Lawrence saw fire. Dancing flames, skating across the burning wood. Mud and gravel surrounded it, driving back the frost and snow. Beyond, a clear, black sky stretched over the distant peaks of Xilo.

    Behind the fire, Matheus’ head hung low. Grom stood to his right, crouching with his back facing them. In front of the Golurk, a bundle wrapped in a thick blanket rose and fell.

    The younger Lucario’s leg flinched, and he noticed he was wrapped in a blanket as well. He pushed himself up, groaning with the exertion. Matheus’ head lifted up.

    He slid around the fire and toward Lawrence, gently pushing him down. “Easy there. You’ve been through a lot, and I wouldn’t want you blacking out again.” He looked over to Grom. “Cassia’s not much better.”

    Lawrence coughed, then croaked, “Where…are we?”

    The Legend turned back to Lawrence. “Outside Cryus. After I settled the mess between the Fire and Ice Pokemon, Grom and I brought both of you out here; we didn’t want any…unnecessary attention.” He pushed closer. “What happened back there?”

    Lawrence held his head, still feeling groggy. “Don’t really know…I remember meeting with Cassia…she was crying about…everyone hating her…then after that…this Cryogonal came and—” He shivered, the cold feeling returning to him.

    Matheus sat back in on the ground, holding his chin. “You’ve been awfully cold…same with Cassia.” He groaned, shaking his head. “You’re lucky it didn’t kill you. Their chains bring your body heat down dramatically, sometimes until there’s ice on your fur!” He held his head taking a glance toward Grom. “Cassia had her Life to fight it off; the heat from that was enough to revive her.” He pointed at Lawrence. “You…you should’ve died.”

    Lawrence nodded, pushing himself upright again; Matheus made no move to stop him. “I remember…being in the meetinghouse…but nothing else. What did I do there?”

    Matheus blew his breath out slowly, then said, “Well…I got there late, thanks to that cursed Delibird blocking the door. From what I heard from the Pokemon who saw the entire thing, you and Cassia got dragged in there. Cassia woke up pretty quickly afterwards, but she was still weak. She got bound up, and Fresnic started demanding answers from her. She started answering them and countered all of his accusations—even of killing Pokemon, like Arthus.

    “Fresnic became furious toward her and was going to kill her for being a ‘blasphemer against Arceus.’ He was going to kill her with a spear from his pet Avalugg before—” Matheus stopped himself, blinking.

    Lawrence leaned in closer, keeping the blanket wrapped around himself. “Before what?”

    Matheus shook his head in disbelief. “Before you woke up and shot both Fresnic and that Avalugg with an Aura Sphere.”

    Lawrence stared at him, unmoving. “I…I did? I thought I couldn’t?”

    Matheus clasped his paws together, looking straight at Lawrence. “Hold out your paw.” Lawrence did so. “Now, think of someone you are close to. Not simply friends, but really, truly, close to. Then focus on that love you have for them.”

    Lawrence focused on his paw, concentrating. He knew who to think of, and upon focusing on the love shared, he felt heat rise in his chest, then flow into his arm. It became surrounded with a bright, cyan light.

    Lawrence jerked away from his paw breathing heavily. “H-How did I do that?”

    Matheus enthusiastically pointed at the light. “That’s it! That’s Aura! You’re able to use it!” He calmed, crossing his arms. “Now, who is it?”

    Entranced by the aura, Lawrence jerked away from it in surprise. “Hmm?”

    “Who is it you love? Laryon loved me as an uncle and friend all those years ago, and I—” He stopped himself, then muttered, “Loved Arthus like my own brother.” He grit his teeth for a moment, then shook his head and said, “Who is it for you?”

    Lawrence stared, then took a glance toward the covers behind Grom.

    Matheus nodded, smiling. “Just as I thought. You know, she’s done a better job than I ever could have softening you up.” He chuckled. “You know, for Aura to work, it has to go both ways; Cassia has to love you back.

    Lawrence shrunk down, blushing; his paw no longer glowed. “W-We only just met. Two weeks is—”

    “Enough time to know, especially if there’s not much else to distract you.” Matheus chuckled again. “Although, I’ll admit, it took me a few years to see…Arthus, in that light.” He took a look over to Cassia, then said, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but after you blacked out, Cassia came over to you and—” He rolled his eyes. “Grom’ll have my hide if he found out, but she kissed you, right on the cheek.” Matheus tapped his cheek and sighed deeply. “Ah, lucky you, having a girl fall for you.”

    Lawrence swallowed, holding a paw up to his own cheek. “You’re kidding.”

    “And why would I joke about this? It’s romance!”

    Lawrence held his shaking paw away. “It…it’s just what Tursha said.”

    “Tursha? You mean that Xatu?”

    Lawrence nodded. “Just before Cassia found me, I found him in an old house. He said that I needed to leave, or that you’d all…die.” He looked away, holding a paw to his head.

    Matheus’ face grew stern. “You can’t always believe what those Psychic Pokemon say. The future’s changing all the time, and—”

    “He said that because of me, the entire world’s out of whack, and unless I leave, it’ll tear itself apart!” Lawrence exclaimed. Grom’s head shifted, twisting to face Lawrence. The Lucario didn’t notice.

    Matheus rubbed his temple, muttering to himself. Finally, he said, “That—that can’t be right! I would’ve known back at the Tree of Life!” He opened his mouth as if to say more, but paused, then said, “However, I will admit, that because I haven’t been there, things might have changed.”

    Lawrence sighed, lowering his head. “I…I really don’t want to leave. Not just because of Cassia, but this entire world. I’ve missed being in Sinnoh, and Equivos reminds me so much of it. And I..I just can’t go back there.” He raised his head. “But if I have to leave to keep everyone alive, I’ll go.”

    Matheus remained still. “Let’s get to sleep. You’ve been through a lot, and we have to get down to Virona within a week.” He lay down on the ground, then shifted for his back to face Lawrence.

    Lawrence looked over to Grom, who continued to stand vigil over Cassia. Knowing that now wasn’t the best time to meet with her, Lawrence followed in Matheus’ example—but his mind continued to rush.

    ~~~~~

    On the other side of the peak, Gardner Dusknoir finally climbed over the edge, exhausted from the effort. He fell forward, scraping his chest against the rocks as he slid forward. Deciding that it wasn’t worth the effort, he remained there, sleeping into the coming night. He opened his eye later to find that it was no longer evening, but now night.

    He bolted upright, cursing himself. “Arthus will have my neck!” he hoarsely whispered, then rushed toward the open gates of Cryus.

    A shimmer appeared at the gates, then Arthus materialized, leaning against the doors with his head lowered. “Words cannot describe my disappointment in you, Guildmaster.” He trained his eyes on the Dusknoir, his gaze overpowering Gardner’s own. “I give you one simple task—get here before Cassia left—and you fail even that!”

    The Zoroark stood straight, pacing toward Gardner. “Even better, that human, Lawrence, just awakened his Aura! With who, I don’t know, but I’ll find out and kill them!” His eyes glowed red and his chest heaved, then he covered his eyes and forced himself to calm. “Can’t—can’t lose my composure. Not when I’m this close.”

    Gardner looked away momentarily then said, “I passed out after I got up here. Climbing up here took far too much of my energy, so I had to sleep.” He lowered to the ground, bowing his head. “Please forgive me, Lord Arthus, for the trouble I’ve given you.”

    The Usurper raised his claws, smirking. “Well done, Gardner, well done. You’re that cowardly little Duskull all those years ago.” He yanked Gardner’s antenna and heft him up, bringing his eye level to his. “You’re coming with me to our final destination. I’ll say it again: slip this up, and you’ll wish you died long before you met me.” He released the Dusknoir and paced toward the disturbed snow pile. “Good thing they dumped this old fool out here; we’ll get over to the jungle in no time flat.”

    Gardner rubbed his antenna, glaring at the Usurper. “You might deserve my loyalty, but not my trust. After all you’ve done to me, you’re lucky you’ve got that,” he thought. He floated to Arthus, softening his gaze.

    The Usurper grabbed Gardner’s arm and stabbed his other hand into the ground. Crimson tendrils surrounded both of them, and they sunk inside, leaving behind the frigid city of Cryus.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  5. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    All right, let's get caught up on this. I'm going to break this up into five-chapter chunks so it's a little less overwhelming.

    Chapters 2-5

    And we meet our actual protagonist! I like how Lawrence's lack of amnesia colors the story; he would actually probably have an easier time of things if he didn't have his memories, or that pokédex. The dichotomy between the pokémon in Equivos is also interesting. I don't know if we're ever going to get an explanation for why they're so different between the two worlds (ostensibly the whole reason Lawrence is there, heh), but that plus the continuity of Arceism and even language between them opens up a LOT of cool questions about how the two worlds relate to each other and how Arceus may play into everything.

    It's also good in that it lets you have a real reason for Lawrence to want to go back to his world--he actually knows about his job, his loving family, all the things he misses from his normal life. That allows you to set up a legitimate internal conflict as he starts to get more attached to the people in the pokémon world, but also still wants to go home, and ultimately has to decide between them. Which is right where you've been going, and I'm all for it!

    The start of Chapter 2 was a bit slow for me, though. I get that you want to show Lawrence's normal, boring life before he gets whisked off to adventure, but I think you went a little overboard with it. It's not even necessarily that the amount of stuff Lawrence has to do before getting sent to a new world was excessive, but more that you went into too much detail about it. Like take this paragraph:

    There's a lot of unnecessary detail about the specific sequence of actions Lawrence does and what results: he clicks the icon, the screen flashes, then changes, then he turns to the TV, then he presses another button... I get that you want to show how versatile the pokédex is and all the cool functions that it has, but it's not that interesting to get a blow-by-blow of someone using it. You could have written, "While considering, he looked down at his Pokédex and clicked a remote icon, then the "Power" button that appeared. The TV turned on with the morning news." That only gets rid of, like, a sentence and a half, but over the course of the chapter all those extra sentences really add up and slow the narration down. All that extra stage direction just isn't interesting! Like, you could maybe mention the screen wiping and new buttons appearing onscreen, like, once with the pokédex, to give a sense of its smartphone-like nature, but more than that you really don't need; it's not that much fun to read about how someone navigated their e-mail inbox. Stuff like characters opening and shuttind doors... it's just unnecessary stage direction. On the positive side, this isn't a big issue throughout the rest of the story, but it's very prevalent in Chapter 2 for some reason.

    Some of Lawrence's reactions during this chapter also felt a little off to me. Like, his reaction to, "It turns out my company has a secret underground research bunker where they do horrible experiments on pokémon and study other worlds, and it turns out they found one where pokémon live like humans! Oh, and also the boss is going to fling me into it in about two hours," appears to be moderate curiosity/excitement? He doesn't even appear to wonder about the safety of all this until he's actually looking at the portal. Likewise, it was cool to see the ultra beasts hanging around in the liminal space between worlds, but again Lawrence's reaction to them was pretty muted. I think it might help to give a little more physical description, a little more insight into what Lawrence feels alongside what he thinks about what's happening to him. You mention his heart pounding and hair raising when he sees the ultra beasts, for example, but then he's shrinking, his body's changing, but there's no description of how that feels, no sense of fear or confusion about what's happening to him. Even if the transformation is painless, that in and of itself would seem weird and freaky, in the same way as getting a tooth pulled under anaesthetic except taken to the extreme. It would be good for Lawrence to react a little more to all this weirdness, I think.

    I do like Cassie and Grom. We haven't seen much of the latter yet, though I imagine when we finally find out exactly what happened that turned him mute he'll turn out to have a dark past. He's been cute thus far, though, and I'm always up for seeing a story take advantage of a golurk's ability to fly, which has always been hilarious to me. You can't do too much with it, of course, or the characters would be able to travel around too easily, but it's there. Cassia, on the other hand, has a lot more going on, especially with that one secret in particular. It's cute how Lawrence pretends to adopt the usual PMD protagonist amnesia in order to avoid difficult questions, and how it's clear to the audience Cassia's hiding things from him, even though Lawrence is convinced otherwise.

    Lawrence's conflicted feelings about Arceism seem a little weird to me, though. Like, it's definitely unsettling to see it echoed here, and it makes sense that he has a beef with the religion. But his whole, "I'm just helping these pokémon because I want to! That doesn't make me an Arceist!" seems kind of over the top. I guess he's retroactively guilty about his previous views, and the fact that pokémon are so humanlike here does raise some uncomfortable questions about what may be up with the pokémon where Lawrence is from. But at the same time, the pokémon here are clearly VERY different, so I don't know why Lawrence's opinions about them should necessarily have any bearing on how he relates to pokémon in Unova. Like, it just seems odd to me that he's angsting about how the pokémon here have something to do with Arceus' teachings that all life is created equal, when really they... don't? People aren't really rational about this kind of stuff, so it's not necessarily unrealistic just because it doesn't make sense to me, but it does strike me as a bit overblown, and Lawrence really does bang on about it quite a bit in these chapters.

    Lawrence managing to rip up the tree in Chapter 4, and everyone being stunned by that, seemed a little weird. It would make sense for him to be stronger than the average pokémon, because fighting-types are probably a pretty swole bunch. But although Lucario are extinct, there are other fighting-types, yeah? Or I'd think something like a beefy feraligatr would also be able to handle a tree like that. And sure, people are going to be surprised when a watchog pulls something like that off, but even Cassia thinks he shouldn't be able to do it, and she knows what he is. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be alluding to Lawrence actually being an extra-powerful lucario, but if not, the surprise and skepticism seems overblown.

    Ultimately, things pick up nicely after the initial slow intro in Chapter 2. We're still getting up to speed on the characters and lore in this world, and I think you do a nice job of introducing new concepts without bogging the story down in too much expedition. Lawrence, Cassia, and Grom work well together as a group, and I think they behave realistically; they feel like comfortably well-rounded and distinct characters. All in all, the world of Equivos is a lot more interesting than what we got to see of Unova. Which, given that we're probably going to be here for most of the remaining fic, is probably as it should be. :p

    Chapters 6-9

    In general, I find the sections focusing on Lawrence and company more interesting than the ones focusing on Gardner and the other villains. Gardner does have reasons behind his actions and a somewhat sympathetic backstory, so it's not like he's totally one-note, but still, pretty much all he does is bully other pokémon and cringe around Arthus, which is your fairly standard villain behavior. What Arthus is up to with Hoopa is a bit more interesting, but also less directly tied to what's going on with Lawrence and his companions. I'm most interested in seeing what happens when Arthus and Cassia inevitably meet up; their relationship was one of my favorite things about the first chapter, and I think it'll be a lot of fun to see how Arthus deals with confronting someone whom he clearly loved, but who ultimately "betrayed" him.

    On which note, I think you do a good job of hinting at Cassia's true identity over the course of the story. At first there's nothing particularly fishy about her, so the details of her eye color and the fact taht she's got an illusion stone don't seem all that significant. People get special-colored eyes for all kinds of reasons, and there's no reason to think the illusion stone isn't just tech that any old character might have. But then that zoroark shows up, and Cassia seems to have some weird connection with him (and never be in the same place as him, lol), and we're reminded of Arthus' special blue-eyed thing. By the time Lawrence is taking pictures of her and she's freaking out about it and he notices a weird fuzziness around her, it's pretty obvious what's going on, and then in Chapter 8 Arthus makes EXPLICIT reference to her blue eyes... People will figure out what's up at different times, and maybe some not at all until you explicitly spell things out, but the clues are all there for people paying attention and/or making a second read, and you do a good job of making things gradually come together so the reveal of Cassia's identity won't feel like it came out of nowhere, but also isn't so screamingly obvious that the hints seem tedious or too on the nose. You also let it go on for an appropriate amount of time; it wasn't so drawn-out that people who'd figured out the twist already would get frustrated, but there's sufficient space for you to build things up gradually. It was just handled well overall.

    I think the relationships between the main characters are developing well, too. I'm not a huge fan of the presumably-impending romance between Lawrence and Cassia, but obviously we've yet to see how that really plays out. In general, it's clear that although the characters generally like each other and want to stick together, they still have some pretty substantial reasons not to completely trust each other/points of conflict, like Lawrence with his whole Arceist thing and Grom/Cassia's legitimate worry that he's hiding something from them with the pokédex. It'll be interesting to see how things develop now that Cassia's secret is out and Lawrence has an idea of just how much she was keeping from him.

    One thing I've been a little disappointed with in regards to Lawrence is that he doesn't act very much like a researcher. Like, he's had a rough time of things, and I understand him not wanting to go through with his actual "mission" since he still has no idea when/if he'll be able to get home, but presuming he actually is good at his job and interested in pokémon in general, I'd kind of expect him to exhibit a little more curiosity and do more hypothesizing/trying to gauge just what it is about the pokémon here that's different than the ones at home, how they got this way, etc.

    Some smaller details:

    That... is pretty danged dystopian. I'm not sure how gritty you wanted Unova to feel, but I definitely didn't get the impression that it was that dangerous from what little we saw of it in Lawrence's introduction, heh.

    Hmmmm. Is that maybe Arceus trying to get its teachings into a device that's going back to Lawrence's world? Has Lawrence's whole adventure been an attempt to bring evidence of pokémon's personhood and the reality of Arceus' teachings to another world?

    If so, then Arceus is one heck of a manipulative bastard. :p

    The scene where Lawrence makes crepes is cute, but also what he makes... doesn't sound like crepes to me? I wouldn't describe crepes as anything like "cakes," personally, and what Lawrence does to make them doesn't sound like how you'd make crepes, either. Like, the way you're describing them they sound kinda poffin-like? idk, I'm just wondering if you're thinking of a different kind of food, or if I'm totally missing something, haha.

    lol. Smooth, "Cassia."

    Not sure if something went wrong with your syntax here or I'm just not getting what you're trying to say.

    In any case, it's kind of funny that ocean pokémon are kind of their own deal and people eat them in your story; it's the same deal with DeliriousAbsol's PMD: Reboot fanfic. Only there the ocean pokémon are just as sapient as the land ones and the whole situation is just hugely messed up, heh.

    You keep using the phrase "come free" in the confrontation between Gardner and Lawrence and Cassia, but you'd usually say "get free" (if you mean "escape") instead.

    All in all, my impression is that this is kind of the end of the "setup" chapters, and now that Cassia's secret is out and Lawrence has come clean we'll be getting into whatever quest Arceus has in mind for them in the future chapters. I think the story's been paced well so far; you balance quieter moments and action pretty well, and it feels like things are moving towards something rather than just meandering. You did lose out on some tension in the Lawrence/Cassia scenes because, although they were being chased, they rarely acted particularly worried about it? Like there was a fair amount of hanging out and drawing or eating crepes instead of fretting about what would happen if the guild pokémon caught up to them. I don't know that that's a serious issue, because some of the quieter moments are defintely important for advancing the relationships between the main characters, but it was kind of jarring to have Cassia mention being worried about pursuit or whatever and then her and Lawrence hanging out like there was nothing wrong.

    Anyhow, onward! I guess we've got some interludes before we get back into the meat of the story proper.

    Special Chapters 1-3

    So this is a backstory arc! It was fun to get to see Arthus and Cassia together again; their relationship is still the one I enjoy the most, and it was a lot of fun to see more of them. Arthus teaching Cassia how to use illusions, getting down on all fours so he was more on a zorua's level, reading her books, all that, was super cute. Again, I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens when they meet up properly again in the main story.

    Cassia breaking Grom is a bit messed up, I think. It's true that if she repaired him, he might go straight back to Arthus according to his programming, but at the same time, hiding the fact that she knows how to fix him is pretty skeevy. Surely a friend would at least ask him what he wants to do about the situation, rather than shove the necessary part deep in her bag and go on like there's nothing that can be done? Like, you've set their relationship up as a positive one, and that Grom is 100% better off the way he is now than before, but that's still a really shitty thing for Cassia to do.

    That's a neat little detail.

    Her eyes... wavered?

    You jump into present tense for these paragraphs.

    Welp. I can't imagine that'll ever come up at a suitably dramatic point in the future. :(

    The mask thing seems like a bit of a stretch. Given the level of tech the pokémon seem to be working with, I don't know how you'd manage to order a mask and then have it completed on the same day... something nice like that would take a long time to make, surely. And how would a tailor who's never even seen Cassia manage to make one that would perfectly fit her face, unless Arianne had somehow been taking her measurements without her noticing?

    I have mixed feelings about this arc overall. There's a lot of interesting stuff in here, worldbuilding-wise, and it certainly answers some questions about the characters. On the other hand it felt like it ran long to me, and dragged especially after Cassia ran away from home. Like I said, I do love her interactions with Arthus, but in general, I think you gave her backstory a bit more time than was warranted. I'm not sure what the benefit of seeing e.g. her relationship with Arianne will work out to be--how it's going to come up in the future, and there wasn't a lot of propulsive force to this arc. It was mostly Cassia going places and getting taught things, which makes for a lot of exposition but not a lot of tension or conflict. For the most part I wasn't feeling the relationships between the characters strongly enough to want to sit around and read about them hanging out and making dinner, etc. It does provide for some nice dramatic irony around things like what will happen if Grom's brace gets removed, but for me I don't think the payout was quite large enough to justify the amount of time spent in the past. For me it might have worked better if you'd split these scenes up rather than have them together in three contiguous chapters, and have flashbacks to them closer to whenever the events shown are relevant to the present-day narrative, and maybe if you didn't include all of them.

    Chapters 10-15

    Back to the main narrative! Things are starting to heat up here, on multiple fronts. Presumably the next big task is going to be Lawrence learning to use aura, which he'll no doubt need to complete whatever his ultimate mission ends up being. Which ties into the romance sub-plot, which I'll admit isn't a favorite. I don't know what maturity level a zoroark of Cassia's age would be expected to have, although she's clearly considered old enough to be out on her own, and I thought Lawrence was somewhere in his twenties. Their relationship has felt very teenager-y so far, though, with the whole "ugh I don't like like her, we're just friends" and Matheus/Grom being kind of weirdly invested in how cute they are together. I think they get along just fine, but I don't feel any real romantic chemistry from them at all, tbh. But I'm not much for romance in general, so it would be hard to come up with a subplot here that I'd be enthusiastic about.

    I liked the little part where Matheus kind of tells Cassia off for how she dealt with the weavile. It's cool to see two people on the same side who nonetheless don't agree about things like whether someone should be forgiven. And Matheus definitely has a point, like, those weavile kind of MURDERED someone, and the fact that they did it because they were in the middle of a robbery carried out to get money to feed their families doesn't make it less murder, plus the parallel with Arthus. It's a legitimately difficult issue, because yeah, as Matheus points out, the act is not okay, whatever the motive, but as Cassia understood at the time, if you can't be understanding of other people, there's no hope for them to change... simply beating the crap out of the weavile, as she'd started off wanting to do, wouldn't exactly have helped things, either.

    I'm not clear on why Arthus doesn't just kill Cassia, Lawrence, etc. himself, rather than sending Gardner to do it? Maybe he can't bring himself to kill Cassia, fair enough, but clearly he was fine with taking Matheus out once, and Lawrence is just some random Lucario of all things. If he really thinks he'd have trouble taking all four by himself, surely he'd at least want to go with Gardner and/or whatever other backup to make sure it gets done right/he gets to relish killing Matheus (again) himself, etc.?

    tbh I'm only getting more and more confused about the Arceism thing as time goes on. Like here, my interpretation of the tome's text would be that there are two groups of pokémon, one that's received knowledge of Arceus, and one that hasn't. It doesn't say anything about how these two groups should be treated, equal or otherwise. "They shouldn't be expected to be the same," fine, but I thought what the Arceists were saying in Sinnoh is that pokémon are the same as humans. So is this supposed to imply that what the people in Sinnoh believe is wrong, whether a misinterpretation of the text or because they have a bad source? I guess why Cassia is bringing this up is because it suggests Lawrence has an out, Arceus actually says there are differences. And he totally does, they clearly are different, and that's kind of what I've been frustrated about with him, but I had to read this several times to figure out what Cassia was getting at--I got really hung up on the fact that the text doesn't say what one should do, based on the fact that there are these two categories of being, and had trouble seeing why she was bringing it up.

    Also, that's not a commandment, it's not commanding anything, arrrrgh.

    Overall, these chapters had their ups and downs for me. I do like the main cast we're following here, but I admit I haven't really warmed up to Gardner. Is the voice in his head actually Arceus (like... presumably not? That would open a real can of worms), and if not, who/what is it? It's nice to see him getting a bit more multifaceted, but I guess for me it's a bit too little, too late? He's kind of been the generic henchman type up until now, and the attack of the feelings just hasn't made me all that much more interested in him.

    It's also been a bit frustrating, throughout the story, to have the characters doing things because it felt like the plot dictated that they had to. Like, Lawrence only comes to the pokémon world because his boss springs the idea on him out of nowhere and then he kind of goes along with it. He's been following Cassia around with the idea of finding a way back home, but now there's this whole prophecy thing that they have to worry about. Lawrence is sort of getting dragged through the plot, it's pulling him, rather than him pushing it. It would be nice to see Lawrence really gravitating towards something, rather than letting events carry him where they will.

    However, there's a lot of cool stuff going on in this story as well. You have a real high-fantasy feel going on here. There's a real sense of the epic quest, and the world seems suitably epic to be housing it: all these villages tucked among high mountains, massive storms, Life deposits and ancient stones and even more magic and lore than the canon pokémon world. And like I said, I do enjoy the main cast. Even though the romance thing isn't for me, it's been nice getting to follow them on their journey and see how they've grown and changed over the course of the story. That's something I'm hoping to see continue in future chapters, and you've been doing a good job with it so far--I have no doubt that it will.

    Throughout your author's notes you mentioned being worried about posting too fast, and unfortunately I'd say yeah, you are, at least for me. :( I'm a slow reader, no question, and even once-a-week updates tend to get away from me. For Serebii in general I'd say it's best to update no more than once a week, and probably once every two weeks is around the sweet spot. So, you probably did build up a bit faster than readers were prepared for. But that doesn't mean you're doomed to no one reading your fic ever; Ambyssin had a very fast update schedule, but he did eventually get people who were willing to go through even 20+ backlog chapters in order to catch up with his story. For getting more readers, your best bet is to keep writing even if you aren't seeing an immediate payoff, and also to try and be active outside your thread if you can; we have plenty of other cool PMD authors who I'm sure would be interested in reading your stuff, if they knew you and knew what you were working on.
     
  6. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    @Negrek

    Whoo boy...haven't had a long review for a couple months. Might as well respond to it.

    It used to be a lot worse, I can assure you of that. You see, Chapter 2 takes place in a very modern setting, and I have little-to-no experience with that. I’m used to going into detailed descriptions, which is fine for high fantasy, but not for a modern work. I agree that it needs work and appreciate criticisms about Chapter 2.

    Chapter 2 was my first chapter with Lawrence, so I didn’t entirely know how to write his reactions. Now that I’m towards the end of the story, however, I think I can better write for his reactions.

    This was an issue brought up before, and while I took steps to adjust that, I know I have more work to do. I want Lawrence to have a conflict involving the religion he left being in the world he just entered, but I still need to figure out a good way to execute that. Any ideas?

    I can adjust Cassia’s reaction in that scene to be a little more realistic.

    I remember getting a similar sort of response. I guess I can cut some of the scenes with Gardner out, but I want to establish his character here and show how he’s changed throughout the story. Which scenes do you think are ultimately unneeded?

    He is more focused on surviving rather than researching at this point, but I can understand your point. See, he’s more of a behavioral specialist rather than a general researcher, and has a basic understanding of anatomy and such. Plus, I sort of pushed those observations of his into the notes he takes on his Pokedex throughout the Act 2. It was mostly forgotten in Act 3, but I can resolve that later on.

    In hindsight, that line is a bit dark, so I think I’ll change that to something more…benign.

    Lawrence is making about as close to crepes as you can get with the materials on hand. I’m no chef, though, so I could be unintentionally describing something else.

    That detail wasn’t handled all too well, unfortunately. I could put more reference to that, I suppose, since that is one of the driving factors for them going to Hydren. I’ll consider it.

    I can probably toss a scene into Special Chapter 2 involving that piece, forming a greater trust between them.

    I can understand your point. Originally, I had it be Samuel Gallade’s mask ,but given that Zoroark and Gallade have different facial structures, I think that should be adjusted. I’ll work on that.

    I’m not sure where would be a suitable place to put flashbacks for Cassia, as Act 1 is setting up the story, Act 2 has her hiding from Lawrence, and Act 3 already has flashbacks from Lawrence’s past. Really, these are the chapters that would have been part of Act 1 had I not wanted to have the dynamic of Cassia’s secret identity. There’s no part of the story I can justify placing flashbacks without detracting from the narrative, so other than clipping scenes, this will stay as it is.

    Cassia’s 20 while Lawrence is 23. There’s a small age gap between them, but they are old enough to have a more mature sort of relationship. But look at it like this: Cassia hasn’t really had any romantic relationship before, and she’s already been hurt by someone she poured her love into (Arthus/Arianne). Lawrence hasn’t really been romantic either, given his interests, past, and location (essentially an atheist researcher in a religious region). Matheus has been shown to not be very mature despite his age, and Grom already has a childlike mind, so I think it works out rather well. Then again, this is my first time writing any sort of romance, so…

    There is an important reason, but considering this is the second time this has been brought up, I think I need to change the way Arthus learns of Cassia and Lawrence’s location and plans. I won’t say anything more as it relates to the future chapters.

    Alright, I’ll try and help clear this up. As you know, there are two different worlds (Unova/Sinnoh and Equivos), and in each of these worlds there are sets of scripture. Lawrence’s has the Arcean Texts, which have been referenced to have lost vital pieces over the years and have thus lost credibility; the key law that has been saved is that people should treat Pokemon like themselves, particularly Pokemon partners.

    Cassia’s world has the Arceist Tome, which is more complete, but less distributed. There it directly references two classes of Pokemon, namely the Enlightened (the talking Pokemon) and the wild Pokemon (those who can’t); the work only refers to the Enlightened, not the wild. The Arcean Texts were made for Lawrence’s world, while the Arceist Tome was made for Cassia’s. Don’t forget that there is only one Arceus between the worlds, so he is the origin for both these texts.

    It’s confusing, but there is meant to be some overlap between the texts.

    I imagine the voice as more his conscience. I can’t expect every character to appeal to everybody, but I will admit that Gardner is probably the weakest of the cast.

    I’m not really sure how I’d resolve that, as given the choice, Lawrence would have refused Arceism altogether, and Cassia was needed to remind him of the errors of his ways. Really, it’s similar to life: sometimes we are clearly not in control of what’s happening around us, so we just have to weather through it and maybe get changed along the way.

    Don’t worry though: Lawrence will get his chance to be proactive. ;)

    I’m glad to see that you like it despite the flaws. Encouragement has got to be the best motivation to write.

    Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be posting so fast; I’m posting once a week on Bulbagarden and Fanfiction. I just want to catch up is all. When I make the prequel story for PMDUE, I will definitely post at a minimum of once a week.

    As for me being more active here, I definitely want to try. But with me busy writing 1000 words a day for PMDUE, along with the rest of life, it’s hard to find the time. I do want to become more a part of this community, though, so don’t think I’m not trying!

    Thanks for the review, and when I’m not working on a new chapter, I’ll fix up what you suggested.
     
  7. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Chapter 19: Ascendance

    Drip.

    Drip.

    Drip.

    Lawrence stirred, wiping the fur on his face.

    Drip.

    Lawrence groaned, wiping away more. He opened his eyes, grouchily staring above him.

    “Grom.”

    Lawrence flinched and slid away from the source, feeling moist earth underneath him. He stared upward again and found Grom leaning over him and staring. Water dripped from his head and rolled down his shoulders, steaming upon entering the various cracks along his body.

    The Lucario sat upright, causing Grom to step back. He looked about and saw palm trees stretching high into the sky, their trunks and roots overcrowding the ground beneath them. Cawing over the distant rush, Toucannon swooped down from the canopy and pinched nuts off branches, their child Trumbeak warbling after them. Liepard lurked through the branches, keeping a watchful eye on the Emolga that drifted and chittered on the wind.

    The Golurk pointed behind Lawrence, his eyes flashing. “Groawm.” The foot of the Xilo Mountains stretched in front of them, far higher than any of the trees. A mighty waterfall cascaded down the slope, fanning out to a wide sheet of rushing water. It expanded outward into a pool, which funneled into a coursing stream, wrapping between the roots and trees. Swanna paddled in the pool, pecking at the Magikarp and Feebas that helplessly swam about. A Zoroark stood at the bank of the pool, holding her shoulder and looking down into the water.

    Lawrence looked back to Grom, who nodded his head over to Cassia. Lawrence exhaled slowly, then padded to Cassia, the earth squelching underneath him with each step.

    Cassia stared at her reflection in the pool, the water rippling outward with the rushing falls. “You’ve been asleep for a long time.”

    “Must have,” Lawrence replied. He marveled at the environment, gazing up at the mist that gathered around the falls. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Where are we?”

    “We’re at the fringe of the Faylen Jungle, at the base of the Xilo Mountains. Grom brought us down here because Matheus was worried that Gardner would catch up with us; he didn’t want him attacking while we were recovering.”

    Lawrence spun slowly, searching. “Where is he now?”

    Cassia remained staring at the water. “Hunting. He wanted to get us something better than berries to eat.” She combed back her mane, tilting her head. “I…I shouldn’t have broken down like that back in Cryus. I could’ve fought off that Cryogonal if I had been paying attention. We…we nearly died…because of me.” She let go of her mane, watching it fall across her shoulder.

    The crashing waves was all that sounded between them. The Swanna flapped out of the pool and into the air, cawing as they went.

    Finally, Lawrence said, “It wasn’t your fault; you’ve worried so much that Pokemon would discover you that when it finally happened, you couldn’t stop yourself.”

    Cassia shook her head, pulling back her mane. “But I’ve been with them for two years. I should be used to being around them, even if…even if I look normal.” She huffed, closing her eyes. “I don’t belong here. Why should I keep going if no one cares about me?”

    Lawrence thought to himself for a moment. He considered what best to say. He crouched to view his reflection in the pool, his fur matted and covered in dirt—well-traveled in comparison to when he first came to Equivos.

    “When I moved away from Sinnoh, the first thing I wanted to do was make friends. I joined the university’s most popular club—the Senior Pokemon League—hoping I’d find some people I could be with. And, for a time, I did.” Lawrence passed his paw through the water, watching the water ripple outward. “But they noticed I wasn’t quite like them; ‘I always borrowed Pokemon’, ‘I never said nice things to them’, ‘I always thought of what to do if they turned on me’…” He sighed. “They thought I was too negative, and, well, they found out my thoughts on Pokemon. I didn’t really see them again after that…just like in Sinnoh.”

    He looked up to Cassia. “I’d been in slumps before, but after those ‘friends’ left me, it hit me hard. I didn’t know what to do with myself; nobody seemed to like who I was and what I did. I became so hateful of myself that I was willing to do anything to stop it: I prayed to Arceus.” Cassia gave him a surprised look. “There had always been some part of me that thought he was there, that thought that maybe, just maybe, he really did exist.”

    He shook his head sadly, looking back at the water. “I didn’t get any answer. No comfort, no words. I just got over it after a while, and after that, I stayed true to who I was. But I never felt…happy. Any hope I had was gone.”

    Lawrence stood up, letting the water around his paw drip back into the pool. “You said to me a while back that we’re pretty alike. We’re trying to fit in with those around us, and they end up pushing us away, for one reason or another.”

    He held up Cassia’s hand, causing her to look down. “I feel like…like we were meant to meet each other. I was meant to help you, and you were meant to help me.” Cassia looked up once more, her mouth open in astonishment.

    Lawrence held up his other paw, allowing it to glow with aura. “I think I got my answer to that prayer. You.” Cassia stared, then beamed.

    Lawrence enclosed her hand with his other paw. “Don’t say nobody cares about you. I do. I’m always here for you, no matter what happens.”

    Cassia exhaled in relief, then embraced Lawrence, falling into his shoulder. He paused for a moment, then embraced her back, closing his eyes.

    Moments later, heavy hands wrapped around the couple. They looked up and saw the brightly glowing eyes of Grom shining down on them. “G-G-Graw-haw-haw…”

    Cassia giggled and rubbed Grom’s arm. “You always knew, didn’t you?”

    Grom reared back his head and chuckled to himself, then winked. He stepped away, and Lawrence and Cassia separated.

    The Golurk set a hand on Lawrence’s shoulder, then nodded solemnly. “Gro-graw-graw-grawm. Gra-grawm.”

    “What did he say?” Lawrence asked.

    Cassia set a hand on his other shoulder. “He said he’s glad to see you’ve changed.”

    Grom reached down and squeezed Lawrence, popping his back. The Lucario wheezed and said, “Love you too…big guy.”

    The Golurk slowly stepped deeper into the water, causing Cassia to look at him curiously.

    He let go of Lawrence.

    Ker-splash!

    “Grom!” Cassia exclaimed.

    “My idea—it was too good to pass up!”

    She whipped around and saw Matheus standing on the fringe of the jungle with a large Trumbeak hanging over his shoulder. He waved his paw in front of his nose and said, “We all whiff a little, so Grom volunteered to help.”

    Cassia gave him an offended look and said, “What do you mean I—wha!”

    Grom picked her up by the waist and threw her near where he dropped Lawrence. Water cascaded into the air, splashing all over Grom and scaring away the fish beneath.

    As they both resurfaced, Grom turned back to Matheus, who had set down the Trumbeak and shed his leather clothing.

    He gave himself a quick sniff. “High time for me too.” He waded into the water, sighing contentedly.

    Cassia coughed, paddling haphazardly. “You know I can’t swim that well, Grom!”

    Lawrence paddled on his back, swimming around Cassia. “I can help you out. Want a ride back to shore?” he said with a smile.

    Cassia grinned, pushing him away. “In your dreams.” She knocked Lawrence underneath the surface as she rocketed forward.

    Lawrence surfaced again and spat out a stream of water. “Oh, it’s on!” He sprung forward, tailing Cassia.

    She suddenly turned and splashed Lawrence’s face, laughing. Lawrence sputtered, wiping his eyes. “Foul move!” he cried, blinking.

    “All’s fair in love and war, right?” Cassia laughed, swimming around him once more.

    The Lucario continued to trail her, both laughing as they went. Matheus watched from afar, sitting on the bank with Grom. “They’ve grown up a little, haven’t they?”

    Grom lifted a chunk of dirt from under the water and threw it over his legs, shifting it around.
    “Gro-awm?”

    Matheus sighed, shaking his head. “Yes, I’m aware that they’re over twenty. Just trying to make a joke is all.”

    Grom stared for a moment, then abruptly pushed Matheus forward, sending him face-first into the dirt. The Legend coughed and gagged upon standing up, wiping his now-muddy face.

    The Golurk chuckled, pointing at Matheus. “Graw-graw-haw-haw! Graw-haw!”

    “First, just because I asked you to do it to Lawrence and Cassia doesn’t mean you can do it to me.” He crouched and rubbed the mud free in the water. Between splashes, he added, “Second, that wasn’t funny.”

    Grom grunted, rotating his head away. “Gi-gr-graw.”

    Matheus perked up and gave Grom a sideways glance. “Could’ve sworn you said ‘hypocrite’.

    The Golurk hummed to himself, pretending not to hear.

    Later, Matheus, Lawrence and Cassia huddled around a fire, eating roast Trumbeak flesh and drying themselves, while Grom stood behind them and threw rocks into the pool—some as large as boulders.

    Matheus nibbled on a wing and pointed at the roasting bird stuck through with a spit over the fire. “Been a long time since I’ve had Trumbeak. Very sweet flavor, thanks to all the berries they eat.” Lawrence and Cassia heartily agreed, ravenously eating the wild Pokemon.

    The Legend lowered the wing, chuckling. “Good thing I got it. You must be starving after being nearly frozen to death by that Cryogonal.”

    Cassia swallowed, cocking her head. “How did we survive? I thought they freeze Pokemon to death?”

    “For you, I believe it had to do with your stored Life,” Matheus replied. “As its name implies, it likes to keep its host alive. Plus, thanks to its erratic state, it could easily provide enough heat to drive out the cold.”

    “What about me?” Lawrence asked.

    Matheus grinned. “After further thought, I think yours has to do with Aura. See, they are remarkably similar, even if they’re opposite energies. So, whenever you got your full Aura, it drove out the cold just as Cassia’s Life did.” He put a paw over his heart. “Ah, love melts even the iciest heart. How sappy can it get?”

    Cassia edged up to Lawrence. “Guess you made the right choice then.”

    Lawrence chuckled, biting into his Trumbeak leg.

    After their fur was dry and their stomachs were full, Lawrence and Matheus stood apart from each other in the sand. Cassia sat with Grom on a boulder, sketching the magnificent waterfall and the Swanna that inhabited it.

    Matheus smirked. “You’ve been getting better, but you have a long way before you can call yourself a master of Aura.”

    “I’ve managed to get the better of you before,” Lawrence remarked.

    “Yes, but that was because ‘A’, I let you and ‘B’, I wasn’t using my Aura. Fighting with aura is a whole lot different compared to standard techniques.” The fur on the back of Matheus’ head rose, and his paws glowed cyan. “Let me explain how it works in combat. As you know, Life is an explosive and draining force, seriously damaging any Pokemon it hits.” Matheus raised his paw. “Aura, however, is different. It’s hard to explain, but spheres aside, it exhausts the target’s mental state.

    Lawrence cocked his head. “That…doesn’t make sense.”

    Matheus groaned. “I told you, it’s hard to explain. To put it simply, it increases your strength, and every time you hit your opponent, it exhausts their mind and spirit—essentially their Life. But unlike draining it, this simply tires them out faster than standard techniques. Catch my drift?”

    Lawrence shrugged. “I guess.”

    Matheus rubbed his chin, thinking. “Hmm…you need a demonstration…” He grinned. He waved to Lawrence and said, “Come on over here for a moment.”

    His student tramped over, giving him a suspicious look. “Why do I feel like this is going to hurt?” He stopped in front of Matheus, watching his paws.

    Matheus shook his head. “You have no faith.” He clipped Lawrence across his jaw, knocking him onto his back. “But you were right, it’d hurt.”

    Lawrence groaned and stood up, rubbing his face. “I don’t like your ‘demonstrations’.”

    Matheus held his paws up in defense. “Sometimes the hard way is the best way!” He narrowed his eyes. “Now…do you feel tired?”

    The younger Lucario rolled his shoulder, admittedly feeling that they felt heavier, like he had been lifting something heavy for a long time. “Yeah…so that’s what Aura does?”

    Matheus nodded. “You get it now, good.” He paced away again, snatching a branch from the ground. He tested its weight, then twirled it in the air. “I can teach you those techniques on our way to Virona, so we’ll worry about that later. Your next lesson is on Aura Spheres.”

    He held the stick under his arm, pacing left and right. “Now, an aura sphere is essentially a compact form of a simple punch, only it’s made entirely of aura, and it can hit a whole lot harder.” He pointed the stick at Lawrence, tapping his snout. “The longer you concentrate on it, the farther and harder it’ll hit. Keep that in mind.”

    Lawrence pushed away the stick, rubbing his nose. “Alright, alright, I get it. So what do I do?”

    Matheus retracted the stick. “Put your paws together.” Lawrence did so. “Now, think of your aura link.”

    “You mean Cassia?”

    “Yes, I mean Cassia.”

    Lawrence’s paws glowed.

    Matheus nodded, circling the stick. “Good, now, sort of…concentrate it, in your paws. It’s difficult to describe, so just try.”

    Lawrence closed his eyes, centering his thoughts on his paws. He tried to will the aura to flowing there. He felt the warmth in his chest flow into his paws, then felt the heat grow in his paws—so much that it felt like it would burn. He parted his paws, revealing a tiny sphere of pure light. Unlike the Life Spheres that Cassia used, it swirled and circled in a perfect ball, rather than sending jets of light out at random occurrences.

    The sphere continued to grow, and Lawrence said, “How long should I do it?”

    Matheus waved the stick, looking up. “It’ll keep going as long as you concentrate on it. When you’re ready to let it loose, just focus on where you want it to go, and aim your paw at it.” He threw the stick into the air. “Aim for that!”

    Lawrence quickly focused on the falling stick and jutted his paw at it. The aura sphere zoomed from his paw and thrust into the stick, curving as it fell. The stick splintered in two, its center singed and smoking.

    Matheus inspected the stick, nudging it with his footpaw. “Hmm…not bad on your first try. Aura Spheres will follow inanimate objects, but for them to follow Pokemon, you need to focus on them more.” He held up a paw and caused an Aura Sphere to materialize instantly. “Let’s try again.”

    ~~~~

    At night, Lawrence, Cassia, Matheus and Grom all sat in the jungle, sitting around a small fire on the bare ground. Illumise and Volbeat darted through the trees, stray lights shining through the darkness. Trumbeak warbled contentedly, resting on a full stomach of berries, nestled with their elder Toucannon warming their Pikipek with their beaks.

    Matheus reclined on a root with a groan. “You’re getting better, Lawrence. A lot better.”

    Lawrence groaned as well, rolling his shoulder. “I can tell…you’re getting in more cheap shots.”

    “Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures,” Matheus remarked.

    “You’re getting desperate to beat a Lucario who barely knows how to use aura?” Cassia asked.

    Matheus waved a paw. “Nah, I’m only making it look like I’m getting desperate.” Cassia and Lawrence gave themselves knowing looks.

    Matheus leaned up and said, “Well, better get to sleep. We have a long trek ahead of us to get to Virona.”

    Cassia reached for him. “Wait, Matheus.” He looked over to her. “Can you tell us about Aleron?”

    Matheus winced, then rubbed his eye. “What do you want to know?”

    “Like what species he was, or what he was like.”

    Matheus sighed, leaning forward. “Well…I don’t like talking about…him. Too many hard memories.”

    “Tell us what you can then. I’d love to hear more about the creator of the Arceist Tome,” Cassia explained, leaning on Lawrence’s shoulder.

    The silver Lucario closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Well…I guess I can tell you a little bit.” He opened his eyes. “He was…perfect, for sake of a better word. He always taught Pokemon what was right, helped the poor, and, of course, made the Tome. I—I often helped him.”

    He sighed. “But…Arceus asked me a difficult question. After I answered, it turned out that I wasn’t really the servant that Arceus deserved. I had to serve him in other ways…”

    He hung his head. “That was the day he died. I still don’t feel ready to remember him, let alone talk about him.” He lay down on his side, rolling away from Cassia and Lawrence. “It’s going to be a long day tomorrow. Just get to sleep.”

    Lawrence and Cassia looked at each other in surprise, then followed Matheus’ example, sleeping apart.

    ~~~~

    One week later…

    In the dark of night, no moon illuminated the sky. Woven within the tallest trees were dozens of platforms and capsules, all suspended with vines or attached directly to the trunks. No Grass or Fairy Pokemon traipsed along the narrow walkways and bridges, and no candles or lanterns burned. Only the dull flutter of Dustox occupied the pitch-black night.

    Down on the forest floor beneath, Gardner watched a dark figure bound through the hanging city of Virona, clambering up the rope vines and infusing them with Life, the dull red glows accompanying his work.

    The Dusknoir looked away. “Why is he doing this? There are loyal Guild Pokemon living there, along with their children. They shouldn’t be targeted like this.”

    You have changed.

    Gardner didn’t move. “You again,” he muttered.

    Why do you care about these innocent Pokemon?

    “Because Arthus doesn’t. For the past week, I’ve been going through the place and getting them whipped back into shape, while Arthus is here only at night, muttering to himself about his plans to restore that accursed Seal.” He shuddered. “He’s losing it. I didn’t swear allegiance to him to kill honest and loyal Pokemon.”

    Then what did you swear allegiance for? Wealth? Power? Glory?

    Gardner thought back to that fateful day when Arthus forced his evolution. All that went through his mind was the potential for revenge against the Pokemon that made his life miserable. Arthus’ aggressive and diabolical means seemed a far better alternative than what Arceus promised.

    And now what do you think? Is Arthus’ history of treachery worth this leadership?

    Gardner grunted, holding his head. Visions of his childhood home—the atrocious swamps of the south—returned.

    ~~~~

    Mud pits and hollows steamed, belching out noxious gases. Sickened willow trees sprouted up amid the foul concoction, struggling to remain upright in the mess. Around the perimeter, Litwick and Lampent lurked, providing lights for the living Pokemon outside—only to lead them into the center, feeding their Life to the massive deposits scattered within. No life dared remain with the Ghosts.

    A solitary Duskull wove between the willows, his eye trembling. Gastly soaked up the gases, growing their already-bloated forms, while Gengar hovered behind them, ensuring that opposing guardianships stayed away. Misdreavous cackled through the night, practicing their charms and spells for when they go to harvest Life themselves, their Mismagius training them for the coming day. All the while, Phantump whined, watching the Ghost guardianships with careful eyes.

    The Duskull stared at the sodden ground that whizzed past him. He stopped and jittered. One of the gas pockets belched out crimson particles—a sign of sustenance.

    He looked around briefly, then dove in for the pocket. He greedily absorbed the Life, his limp and fluttering body beginning to plump up.

    “Mine!”

    The Duskull shot up and shrieked: a Banette scrambled toward him, skating across the bog, his three Shuppet flapping behind it.

    The Banette swatted away the Duskull, hissing a laugh. “Where’s your guardian, Lifewaste?” It reached up for the Shuppet, carefully lowering them to the pocket. “Eat up now—I want you to be big and strong before you go sapping away the living!” The Shuppet laughed as the pocket tickled his sheets, while the Duskull crestfallenly limped away.

    A Phantump hovered alongside him, whining softly. The Duskull didn’t acknowledge it. It whined higher, and other Phantump surrounded the pitiful Ghost, herding him from his course. The Duskull whipped and whimpered, fearing the worst.

    The Phantump stopped in a surrounded copse of the bog, with no gas pockets or other Ghosts in sight—save the Trevenant rooted in the center, as tall as the willows that made the surrounding wall.

    The Duskull swiveled away, shivering. “If you’re going to drain me, just do it now. I don’t have much…”

    The Trevenant’s eye shimmered, and the Phantump drifted away. The massive wooden limb encompassed the Duskull, trapping him in its splintering and creaking grip. From its fingers, red mist flowed.

    The Duskull stopped shivering, spinning around. It jittered and soaked up the mist, scarcely suppressing a laugh as it did. The Trevenant’s mouth cracked into a grin.

    When the Duskull was full, the grip fell away, and the Duskull hopped in the air happily. It stopped suddenly, then drew close to the Trevenant’s eye. “Why’d you do that? I’m not your charge. I…I don’t even have a guardian!”

    The Trevenant chuckled lowly. “I…in my many years…gave Life to those…who need it more…than me…” He gestured to his Phantump children, who now floated into the night sky, their whining echoing into the air. “My children…now go to search…for other forests…full of Life…to guard their borders…and inspirit trees…making more children.” The Trevenant’s arm’s lowered, stiffening. “It is now my time…I may have lived…generations more…had I not…so freely gave…my Life.”

    The Duskull hovered around wildly. “Then why did you give so much? The only way I can survive is if I keep it to myself!”

    The Trevenant smiled sadly, holding up its hand again. “Because…Life is only worth…what you give. Those…who take Life…end up dying…in grief…” His hand lowered again, and his eye began to dim. “While those…who give Life…die…in joy…” It sighed one final time, and the eye went dark. The leaves on its crown flew away one by one in the breeze, leaving behind the barren husk of the Trevenant.

    Gardner Duskull remained still, gazing up at the leaves fluttering in the wind. He nodded his head.

    “I want to be like you…when I grow up…

    “Someday…”

    ~~~~

    He snapped back to reality, gasping. He spun around wildly, finding himself back in Virona. No other Ghosts, no putrid swamps, no swollen Life deposits. Only himself.

    Has Arthus granted you your wish?

    He panted, holding his head. The Trevenant spoke so clearly to him now, and he realized more than ever how he had never obeyed his council. Except on that fleeting day he had granted Life to little Carlin—only for it to be robbed by the Usurper.

    A shape landed softly behind Gardner, then laid its claws on his shoulder. “Everything is all set, Guildmaster.”

    The Dusknoir sighed. “The plan you’ve had to destroy a perfectly viable Guild operation, Arthus?”

    “It’s not ‘viable’ at all!” Arthus sneered, twirling around Gardner and clutching his arms. “You see a town fit for your leadership. I see one that will eventually betray it.” He paced around Gardner, prostrating his arms. “Think about it like this: every single city you’ve come to so far—Saunte aside—has been converted by Cassia. The same will happen here, and you’ll have no control whatsoever and be forced to come back and create a new Guild outpost.” He wrapped an arm around Gardner’s shoulder. “I’m merely preventing the inevitable. As morbid as it is, I’d rather have Pokemon die—loyal ones even—just to prevent Arceus from having their trust.”

    Gardner lowered his eye. “You say that like it’s right. Like their lives don’t matter.” He thought of all the times he justified killing Pokemon for their disobedience, or for their resistance to his rule. Just like Arthus.

    Arthus stepped away, coming in front of Gardner. “No, no, not at all! They do matter—in the end.” He snapped his claws, creating a crimson flame on the tip of one. “You see, once I take Arceus’ place with this—” he held up the flawed Seal of Creation, “—then everyone can come back, as if they had never been dead in the first place. I’m only making sure they don’t hinder the perfect world to come!”

    “You’ll resurrect them, just like Grom Golurk?”

    “Exactly!” Arthus cheered. “And like him, they will never do wrong, never feel pain, and never make mistakes!”

    Gardner closed his fingers. “Just like you?”

    Arthus flinched. “What?”

    Gardner held himself higher. “Just like you. You’ve never done wrong, never felt pain, and never made a mistake.” Arthus’ smile vanished. “Isn’t that right…Lord?”

    Arthus wrapped his claws around the Seal, grimacing. “That…is an assumption. I…I have indeed made mistakes, just like anyone else.”

    “Like with Cassia?”

    Arthus bared his teeth. “She left me on her own! She’s the one who was mistaken!”

    Gardner furrowed his brow and shook his head. “Not her.”

    The Zoroark’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “H-How…” His body shook, and the flame on his finger extinguished. “How—how dare you! I gave you everything! Your body, your leadership—everything! I made you!”

    Gardner pushed closer, his eye bearing heavily on Arthus’. “You only changed me. I made myself.”

    Arthus kept his eyes trained on Gardner. He picked up a branch from the ground, then sent a spark of Life onto the end. It crackled and fumed, swiftly becoming a roaring torch.

    He held it out to Gardner, pointing at a single vine hanging down from Virona. “Burn it. Prove your loyalty.”

    The Dusknoir shifted his eye between the torch and Arthus, then accepted it. He slowly floated to the vine, holding the torch close to the vine. He brought it closer, his arm shaking.

    He froze. He thought of the vision. Of him burning and killing innocent Pokemon—in complete contrast to the words of the Trevenant. All to Arthus’ plan. And what reward did he receive? Power and glory—from one who had none.

    He pulled the torch away, then turned around and held it in front of him. “No.” He covered the fire with his free hand and coated it with violet fog. The flame sputtered and died, then Gardner threw down the branch.

    Arthus raised a hand, pointing at the vine. “If I didn’t need you, you’d be dead where you stand.” He fired a bolt of Life energy at the vine, igniting it in an explosion of light. The flames hungrily crawled up the vine, spreading to the others throughout the interconnected web. Soon, the night was alight with the ever-growing fire, and the Pokemon above awoke yelling, screaming, fighting to save their home.

    Gardner watched the flames spread to the key support vines and planks, their path dictated by their creator. His eye burned with hatred, but not toward the Pokemon that, for all his life, he believed wronged him. He turned to Arthus, who watched the spectacle unfold—cold and dour, without the zeal he had only moments ago.

    The vines snapped one by one, and the planks cracked and burned. Virona sagged, straining the other supports further, causing them to snap even faster. Finally, the last vines disintegrated, and the walkways and capsules fell to the floor in a rush of golden light—then a massive crash.

    Splinters and sparks flew past Arthus and Gardner, exploding with the imploding houses of Virona. All the Pokemon within burned with the same strength, all through the fury and madness of a single Pokemon, the orchestrator of their supposed rescue from evil.

    Arthus turned away and walked several steps, dusting off his claws. “There. Done. No more potential traitors…” He suddenly glared at Gardner, who continued to stare at the flames. “Except one…” He stopped, finding a slender metal bottle underneath his foot.

    He picked it up and swung it around, weighing it. He grinned. He kept it under his arm and said, “I’ll be making some last-minute preparations. Go to the meeting point. I should be back by morning.” He leapt into the trees, hopping back and forth through the branches, always keeping the bottle in his grip.

    Gardner didn’t look back. He held his fist over his chest, right over the Usurper’s gem. “Those who take Life don’t deserve it. He will pay…I’ll make sure of it.” He looked up, watching the sparks and ashes float up into the sky.

    “After this final task.”

    ~~~~

    Over the week, Lawrence, Cassia, Matheus and Grom traveled through the Faylen Jungle, with Matheus training Lawrence, Cassia drawing pictures, and the lovers growing loser to each other. Now they were only one day away from Virona—and Lawrence’s departure.

    The morning before they would reach Virona, Lawrence woke before any of his companions. His dreams were haunted by Tursha and his visions of the future, the warning that he must leave. Contrasting this were thoughts of Cassia, and how he wanted to remain with her, here in Equivos—regardless of the consequences.

    He shuffled to a nearby stream, kneeling and splashing water onto his face. His reflection barely came through, showing a strong, young Lucario, still tired and worn from days of travel. Twenty-two days of it.

    He rubbed the spike on the back of one paw. If he returned to Unova, would he even change back? Would he remain a Lucario, one to be experimented on by Valence tech for the secret of speech? Would they even let him see his family again, even if he turned back? He had already been gone for over three weeks; they can only keep up a lie for so long and will surely admit that he was missing—or deceased.

    The safest option was to ignore Tursha’s warning and continue to travel with Cassia, Grom and Matheus. At least, until the world began breaking apart. Lawrence had no idea when that would happen or how it would look like, but he would certainly die with everyone in Equivos—and it would be his fault.

    He grimaced, torn between these options. His ear twitched, and he looked back, finding Cassia behind him. Twigs and leaves stuck in her mane from a night of rolling.

    She knelt next to Lawrence, beginning to pluck them out as she studied her reflection. “Sleeping out here isn’t the best for my look.” Lawrence didn’t reply.

    She plucked out another twig, then set a claw on Lawrence’s paw. “What’s wrong?”

    Lawrence turned away. “It’s nothing.”

    Cassia’s ears drooped. “You’re thinking about leaving, aren’t you?”

    Lawrence nodded. “I don’t think I can stay here…in Equivos.”

    “Why?”

    “I miss my mom and dad, for one. They must be worried sick about me. I usually call them twice a day, but ever since I left…” He pulled out his Pokedex and searched for a dimensional weakness, realizing he hadn’t done it for the past week. ‘No access point in range’.

    Cassia stared at the Pokedex. “But…what about me? I can’t teach Pokemon without you; you have the last copy of the Tome.”

    Lawrence looked back to Matheus, who snored on a tree root, his cloak’s pockets spread across the ground; the bulge of what he remembered to be the Prison Bottle shown on the bottom right, it’s neck completely buried in its folds. “Matheus seems to have the entire book memorized. Just use him.”

    Cassia took a glance at him and said, “Well, what if you don’t change back when you go?”

    Lawrence winced. “As much as I like being a Lucario, I think I’ll turn back…hopefully.”

    “If you don’t?”

    “Then I’ll just have to deal with it.”

    Cassia blew her breath out slowly, then said, “What if I come with you?”

    Lawrence leapt up and exclaimed, “What?”

    Cassia stood up. “I’ve always wondered how your world looks like. The forests, rivers, deserts…even the towns and Pokemon.” She curled a claw through her hair. “Plus…I wouldn’t mind seeing how you really look like.”

    Suddenly, Lawrence thought of the implications of being in love with a Pokemon—in Unova. He shook his head vigorously and said, “No, no, you can’t! It’d be too—too—”

    “Weird?” Cassia sighed.

    Lawrence moaned. “Yes. Plus, when I left, I told Valence I’d bring back a Pokemon—”

    “Then everything should be fine!”

    “No, it wouldn’t.” Lawrence corrected. He took Cassia’s shoulders and said, “Look, I’d almost certainly end up back in Valence. If you come with me, they’ll take you away and find out how you’re able to talk.”

    “I talk the same way you do.”

    “But Pokemon don’t talk in my world. Valence sent me to take one of you, so they could…experiment on them.” He let go of Cassia and slumped. “They…they do horrible things to those Pokemon. I’ve seen it. I couldn’t live with myself if I brought anyone to them…let alone you.” He shivered, hugging himself. “They’d do the same to me if I stayed as a Lucario.”

    Cassia stared at the ground for a moment, then said, “But…but you said you’d always be with me.”

    Lawrence sighed, nodding his head. “I know…and I’d love it to stay that way.” He looked up to Cassia. “But I need to leave.” He lowered his head and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

    Cassia sniffed, a tear going down her cheek. She turned and ran back to the small clearing, leaving Lawrence to groan and press a paw against his head.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  8. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Chapter 20: Desolation

    They continued their trek to Virona in solemn silence. Cassia stood close to Grom, hiding behind him, while Lawrence stood ahead, following Matheus as he blazed a trail. No Trumbeak sung and no Emolga chittered; the very movement within the Faylen jungle seemed to have stopped.

    Matheus pushed through a thick cluster of vines ahead of him. “Virona should be just past here,” he explained. He pushed past it and froze. Grom, Cassia, and Lawrence joined him in astonishment.

    Smoldering husks of wood lay tumbled across the forest floor. Smoke rose high in the air across hundreds of feet of ash and charcoal. No Pokemon were visible amongst the remains, all burned away by the massive flames of the previous night.

    “What…what happened?” Cassia whispered, putting a hand over her mouth.

    Matheus treaded carefully through the remains, searching. “Virona must have caught fire as recently as last night. We couldn’t see anything because of the thickness of the jungle.” He held up a singed fabric doll, the eyes of the Oddish staring blankly back. “Knowing the height it used to hang from…no one survived.” He dropped the doll, then took off his hat and lowered his head. Everyone else followed suit.

    After around a minute of standing, Matheus put his hat back on and said, “Well…there’s nothing else to do here.” He looked back to Lawrence. “Just…just one last thing. The Temple.” Lawrence slowly nodded back, while Cassia hugged Grom.

    Matheus lead the procession past the graveyard and to an unkempt trail, brushing past low ferns and patches of grass. A thin haze of smoke hung overhead, causing their eyes to water.

    The massive stone temple loomed closer, and all Lawrence could think of is how he wished to stay. He wanted to be part of Equivos, to walk with Cassia to bring Arceus to the Pokemon who didn’t know him. He saw now that he does act for his creations, even if it was delayed. He had issue with some of his core concepts, sure, but it did not change the fact that he felt he had been wrong for the past seven years of his life.

    How could he return to Unova after a journey like this? How could he live knowing that there was a world that existed that was better than his own? He didn’t care about Valence or its goal to bring speech to all Pokemon—he had seen its dark underbelly and wanted nothing to do with it or its technology. Especially knowing what it was willing to sacrifice all for its marketing goals. He simply couldn’t leave.

    Except that he knew it would bring Equivos’ destruction. Tursha had said so. He was a Psychic; he had to speak the truth. Lawrence could either leave and live without the perfect world or remain and destroy it. As much as it pained him, he knew the option he would rather choose.

    Finally, they stood at the entrance of the giant stone temple. The box-like structure towered above the trees, decorated with vast carvings of the many Legends of Equivos. Scattered all throughout was the Arc of Arceus, encircling the large and simple doorway into the inside. Massive pillars rose up to meet the ceiling, all carved with depictions of the Legends. Sconces of all sizes lined the walls and pillars, dark. A single tattered Xatu stood in the center, his back facing them.

    Matheus paused in front of the door, then turned around. He motioned for Lawrence to continue, then followed him inside. Upon entering, they saw that the temple had no other doorways or windows to speak of; the entrance they went through was the sole opening. A massive stone slab hung over the door, supported by two giant timbers.

    Lawrence looked under his feet. A massive mural extended across the floor, depicting all the Legends, with Arceus standing in the center amongst them. Around him on the walls were various levels and stone-carved ladders, a massive auditorium for the ancient Arceists. At the far end, a single podium stood, shaped in such a way to hold scrolls or books for the lead priest to preach.

    When Grom entered the temple, Tursha turned around mechanically. The bandage still wrapped around his head, completely covering his eyes. “You brought companions. Friends.” He nodded his head. “That was expected.” He waved his wing. “Come closer, Lawrence Stephenson.”

    Lawrence did so, his steps becoming shorter and shorter. He stopped, his paws quivering. He turned back to Matheus, Grom and Cassia, then turned back to Tursha. “Do I…do I really have to leave? Isn’t there some other way?”

    The Xatu remained still. “To save this world, there is none. It will not be tomorrow, not even the day after, or even next year or the year after, that we shall succumb to the unraveling of this world. But this is your one opportunity to leave, and unless you do, certain death lies ahead.” He motioned for him again. “Come within wing’s reach, and it shall be done.”

    Lawrence swallowed fearfully and took another step. Cassia exhaled sharply and ran to Lawrence, embracing him. “You can’t leave! You just can’t!”

    The Lucario forced himself to push her away, bowing his head. “I’m sorry…but I don’t want you to die…because of me…” He rubbed her tears away from her face, forcing himself to smile. “Just remember…I’ll always be with you. Even if I’m in a different world.” They embraced each other once more, while Grom and Matheus bowed their heads sadly.

    “How touching.”

    The stone slab fell in front of the entrance with a crash, plunging the room into darkness. All raised their heads, bewildered by this turn of events.

    The sconces erupted in crimson light, brightly illuminating the temple. Tursha cocked his head, putting his wings together. “I gather you together…I remain in the shadows…I nudge here and there…all of this hard work…” A single glowing eye appeared at the door.

    Tursha straightened, his blindfold starting to slide down his head. “Now, what do I witness? A Lucario in love with a Zoroark? I’ve seen this before…and it was loathsome.”

    Matheus stared at Tursha, squinting his eyes. “You sound familiar.”

    Cassia nodded, eyes wide. “He does.

    Tursha reached up for his blindfold. “Oh, so you know me?” He ripped away the blindfold. “I know you very well.” Two bright blue eyes glared harshly at them, quivering.

    Everyone took a step back. “Arthus,” Matheus hissed.

    The Xatu disappeared, revealing a graying Zoroark wearing a golden pendant. He grinned and held his head high, his mane trailing the floor. “Oh, don’t think I’m the only one.” Thin purple mist trailed over their heads, gathering together next to Arthus to form a Dusknoir, crossing his arms with a dour expression.

    “Good to see you again, Lucario,” Gardner bellowed.

    Lawrence’s head turned back and forth, then he finally exclaimed, “How? Why? You tricked me?”

    Arthus cackled, leaning back. “Oh, it was all too easy. I mean, seriously, ‘the energies that surround your arrival are destroying the world’? Arceus would never let that slide!” He narrowed his eyes. “Isn’t that right, Matheus?

    Matheus growled, his paws beginning to glow. “So all this time, you just lied to Lawrence about him being able to return home? For no good reason?”

    Arthus wagged a claw. “Oh no, nothing like that.” He held out a claw. “One, I wanted to kill the little human myself—especially after he dared to forge an aura link with her.” Lawrence bared his teeth, his own paws coming to a glow.

    The Usurper held up another claw. “Second, I wanted to see my daughter again.” He shook his head sadly, wiping away a faux tear. “Why must you run away for so long?”

    Red mist rose around Cassia as she crouched, holding out her claws. “I’m not your daughter.”

    Arthus waved a dismissive claw. “Not by blood anyway.” He held out a third claw. “Finally…” he pointed at Grom, his various cracks glowing more fiercely. “I want my servant back.”

    “GRAAW!” Grom roared, the temple shaking with the intensity. He clanged his chest and stamped his feet, making a final punch in the air toward Arthus. The circular crack in his fizzed and sparked with every move.

    Arthus covered his mouth, eyes wide. “Oh, would you look at that! It seems you don’t want to obey your master.” He smirked. “How about a deal then?” He held up a small black sphere covered with spidery cracks.

    Cassia gasped. “No!”

    Grom focused on the sphere, his eyes flickering. “G-Graw?”

    Arthus revealed his teeth, then reared back his arm. “Let’s have a trade: your memory for your servitude!” He threw the black sphere directly into the crack in Grom’s head; it fit perfectly.

    Grom spasmed and sparked, his arms and head falling limp. He groaned and shook, the sphere glowing brightly as it fused back into his body.

    “No…no no no!” Cassia cried, running to him and reaching for the stone. The Golurk’s eyes flashed, then his arms sprang out, punching Cassia in the chest.

    “Cassia!” Lawrence exclaimed, running to her side. He helped her to her feet, then watched as the Golurk whirred and growled, his eyes flashing once more.

    “Systems restored. Designation: Grom. Master reconfigured—now subservient to ‘Arthus Zoroark’.”

    Lawrence stared at Grom pointed at the now-full crack in his head. “The Illusion Stone—it was really the missing chunk of his head?”

    Arthus cackled, slapping his knee. “Oh, you never cease to amaze me with your stupidity. I thought I was going to have to swipe it away from Cassia in the night, but then you just dropped into my palm!” He waved over to Grom. “Come, stand here and wait for further orders!”

    Grom’s eyes flashed. “Understood.” He pushed past Matheus and stepped over Cassia and Lawrence, standing on the other side of Arthus.

    Cassia reached out to him and shouted, “Grom! Don’t you remember me? Grom?

    Grom’s eyes flashed. “’Cassia’ confirmed. Listed as ‘Being of Concern’ by Master Arthus.”

    “No, that can’t be right!” she cried.

    Arthus banged a hand against Grom’s arm, nodding agreeably. “Ah, it’s nice to have my perfect servant on hand again.” He grinned. “Of course…it’s only icing on the cake compared to this.” He held up an intricate grey bottle, capped by an elongated purple stopper.

    Matheus’ nostrils flared. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the bottle within—finding it to be a plain metal one. He threw it down and roared, “How did you get that?”

    Arthus’ claws danced on the cap. “Oh, just found you in your sleep and made a little trade—after I burned down Virona for being potential traitors.”

    “You did what?” Matheus bellowed. He threw down his hat and shook his paw at him. “How could I have ever been your friend! You used to care about Pokemon, but then you killed your own wife!”

    Arthus crouched forward and sent a surge of Life energy around him. “And I’m going to bring her back!” He heaved, his eyes darting wildly across his opponents. He took a deep breath, then combed back his mane. “All I need to do is summon our little friend, Hoopa.”

    “Do you really think I’ll let you do that?” Matheus pulled on his hat and sprinted forward, an Aura Sphere gathering in his paws.

    Arthus snapped his claws, then Grom bounded forwards to punch Matheus square on the jaw, sending him flying into the roof. The Legend landed with a thud and groaned, pebbles landing on top of him.

    “Matheus!” Lawrence hissed. He ran to the Legend and cleared the dust from him, then helped him to his feet.

    The silver Lucario rubbed his jaw and spat on the ground. “Nice move, letting the big guy do the dirty work.”

    “Always a critic,” Arthus said, rolling his eyes. “While I’d love to chat, I got a Seal to fix!” He twisted the bottle cap, causing it to glow with a soft purple light.

    Matheus smirked now, crossing his arms. “Hoopa’s hiding out in the Tree of Life. You can’t call him from there.”

    Arthus continued to hold open the cap, grinning. “And did you think I’ve just been waiting here for you? I’ve been watching his movements, and I know that today—” Mist gathered around the battle, gathering into a cloud above it. “He happens to go out for supplies.”

    The cloud solidified into Hoopa, his hoops jangling as he shook his fist at Arthus. “You promised! You promised you wouldn’t call me, then you go and—” He froze, noticing who now held the bottle. “Arthus! How did you get—”

    “Augh, enough with the shouts of astonishment!” Arthus whined, pulling away the cap entirely.

    Violet missed flowed voraciously from the bottle and enveloped Hoopa. The Djinn screamed, “Don’t let him out, don’t let—” His voice ceased, and the cloud grew.

    “No!” Matheus cried, running toward Arthus once more. Gardner and Grom stood in front of him and the gathering cloud, each holding out their fists.

    Cassia and Lawrence ran next to Matheus, then Arthus stepped between Gardner and Grom, the bottle now tied around his waist. The mist finally ceased, and the cloud began to solidify.

    Matheus leapt toward Arthus, his paw reaching out. “I can’t let you restore the Seal!”

    Grom’s hand snapped against Matheus’ paw, and the Golurk leaned forward. Matheus held out the Seal of Creation tauntingly. “You want to know why I didn’t steal the bottle earlier? I wanted you to come along with Grom and Cassia that way you can be the first Legend I take with it.” He wrapped his claws around it and scowled. “Then I can finally be rid of you!” He waved his arm and Grom swung the Lucario against the ground, cracking the stone. He then threw the Lucario against a pillar with a sickening thud.

    “Matheus!” Lawrence and Cassia shouted. They both ran to him, leaving Arthus with his servants.

    Arthus stood in front of the cloud and pointed at Grom. “See, this is the sort of Pokemon I need to be a Guildmaster!” Gardner remained unmoving, his eye flickering back and forth.

    The Zoroark held the bottle high as the clouds finally formed into a solid shape. Its feet hovered slightly above the floor, crossed. Its six arms lay tucked in its body, a single giant hole within its chest. Purple hair exploded from its head, flowing from the shining silver armor of its chest and legs. Its head nearly touched the ceiling, standing five times higher than Grom.

    The eyes opened, and rows of pointed teeth revealed themselves. “You have unleashed the mighty Hoopa, granter of wishes.” He bowed his head, two arms popping out and pounding together. “I will grant a single wish for the wielder of my prison.”

    Matheus coughed, struggling to stand even with Cassia and Lawrence’s help. “Hoopa! Don’t listen to him!” he croaked.

    The Legend took a glance at Matheus. “You speak to me as if I am a friend. I am neither friend nor foe to all I know.” His grin vanished as he focused back on Arthus. “What is your wish? I am eager to finish your foolish business.”

    Arthus held out the Seal to him. “I wish for you to restore the destroyed Seal of Creation!”

    Hoopa plucked the Seal from him, inspecting it carefully. “Constructed by the Creator himself, to bind his creations should they turn against him. Little did he know it could be used against even him.” He stared back at Arthus. “I can grant your wish, but for a price. The Creator’s work is not to be trifled with, and I pose great risk to myself should I fail.”

    “Don’t do it, Hoopa!” Cassia cried.

    “Do not interrupt me, mortal!” Hoopa barked.

    Arthus held up the bottle thoughtfully, tossing it back and forth. “Hmm…now what to give you…how about your freedom? I will release you after you fix the Seal.”

    Hoopa’s eyes widened. “You so carelessly suggest what generations of wishers dreaded?” He chuckled. “Already you are my favorite master. Very well, I will complete this task.” He leaned in close. “But I warn you: if you dare entomb me before I do, I’ll reverse my work, and it can never be fixed.”

    Arthus cackled, dropping the bottle against his waist. “Your wish is my command!”

    Hoopa grunted, then with his other four arms held the seal, and with two he sent a beam of light into the gem. The single shot fused into the Seal, a tiny pinprick of many. He then continued with another, methodically restoring the single weakness to the almighty Arceus.

    Matheus broke free of Lawrence and Cassia’s grip. “We have to open the bottle. If we do that, Hoopa will be forced back into it.” He pointed at Arthus, who stared at the Seal as it was carefully reassembled. “I can get it from him if you distract Gardner and Grom. I know how Arthus works.”

    “I’ll take Grom,” Cassia replied. “I can’t let him serve Arthus again. I can bring him back, I just know it.”

    Lawrence rolled cracked his knuckles. “That leaves me with Gardner. I’ve been wanting to get back at him for beating me.”

    “Are you seriously talking about your plans out in the open?” Arthus bellowed. He shook his head in disappointment. “Yet another flaw of yours Matheus. I wonder why you were ever my friend!” He nodded to Gardner and Grom. “Well, you know the drill.” He faded into invisibility and cackled, “It’s only a matter of time before I have you, Matheus!”

    Grom pounded his fists and exclaimed, “Directive received. Prepare for conflict.”

    Gardner continued to remain still, his eye still flickering. He finally lowered his arms and grumbled, “Come at me.”

    Cassia threw her bag to the ground and ran to Grom, keeping her claws close. “Don’t you remember anything Grom? The Fletchling? The pool?”

    “Memories irrelevant; I serve only Master Arthus now.” Grom lunged for Cassia, who leapt back. He continued to charge for while she bobbed and weaved, hoping to catch his head with a blow.

    Lawrence approached Gardner, holding up his fists. “Why are you still listening to Arthus? He just wants to kill everyone!”

    Gardner rolled his eye. “Thanks for stating the obvious.” He exploded into mist, surrounding the Lucario. “I’m only doing this until I can get back at that mad-Pokemon.” Lawrence coughed, watching for Gardner’s characteristic purple fist.

    Matheus ran to Hoopa, then called out to him, “Do you realize what he can do to you once you fix the Seal?”

    Hoopa paused in his work. “Any prison is better than the bottle. Leave me, puny Lucario.” He continued weaving together the gem, paying no attention to the conflicts that surrounded him.

    “How do you like it, Matheus?”

    The Legend punched the air behind him, searching wildly. “Come out and fight, Arthus!”

    “Ah, you’ve always been so demanding, Matheus. You insist on fighting on level ground, making sure everyone has a fair fight.” His eyes glowed from the corner of the temple. “Well, that’s not the way I work.”

    Matheus ran to the corner and punched the empty air behind the eyes. “You’re a coward, Arthus! You always have been ever since I returned from the Trials!”

    A dozen pairs of eyes focused on Matheus, circling him. “The Trials? Those tasks that would lead to you becoming a Legend?” He chuckled as Matheus’ head circled with the eyes. “While they may have let you cheat death, they will not save you now.”

    Cassia pierced Grom’s body and created a stream of Life flowing into her. The Golurk slammed the ground where she formerly stood, his eyes continuing to blink rapidly. “You must not interfere with my directive.”

    “You were my friend, Grom! My friend!” Cassia cried, cutting into Grom once more.

    Lawrence ducked underneath an oncoming punch, then another, then another. “If you know he’s crazy, then why do you listen to him? Just stop!”

    Gardner’s eye appeared briefly in front of Lawrence. “Until I come up with a better idea!” He punched Lawrence in the chest, knocking him to the ground.

    The Lucario rolled from another punch, then watched as Gardner rematerialized. The Dusknoir rubbed his knuckles and rolled his neck. “You’re not that little whelp back in Hydren. About time I got to face a proper Lucario.”

    Lawrence wiped his lips, leering at him. “As much as I’d like to fight you, there’s bigger things on the line; you can’t let Arthus take the Seal.”

    Gardner shrugged, rearing back his fast and charging it with arcing electricity. “Fair point, but not fair enough.” He dove for Lawrence, barely missing the Lucario.

    Matheus continued to spin within the circle of eyes, then finally stood still and lowered his head. The black fur rose, and he saw that none of the eyes that stood were Arthus’; the Usurper crept around the perimeter of the temple, watching Matheus.

    Matheus kept his eyes closed and ran toward Arthus. “You know you can’t hide from me!”

    Arthus suddenly split into three, all running in different directions. “Says who?” they said.

    “One-third restored…” Hoopa muttered, now using a threading the inside with a glowing needle and thread.

    Grom grabbed Cassia’s mane, reaching for her body. “Arthus sees you still as an asset; I am to keep you preserved.”

    Cassia yanked at her mane, blasting Grom’s head with a Life Sphere. The Golurk released the Zoroark blindly, wiping away the sparkling residue of the Life.

    Lawrence wrestled with Gardner, each pitting their strength against the other. “At least help us in some way instead of doing what he wants!”

    Gardner crossed his arms and flipped in the air, causing Lawrence to flip and land on his head. The Lucario groaned as the Dusknoir replied, “And how does that benefit me? He’d kill me as soon as he found out.”

    Matheus dissolved one illusion, leaving two. “You could’ve been a good Pokemon, Arthus! You never had to do this!”

    “Not this discussion again! That ship sailed long ago!” Arthus exclaimed, splitting into two more illusions.

    Lawrence pulled Gardner’s tail and slammed him onto his back. He clambered onto the Dusknoir’s chest and punched him straight in the eye. “Then do something without him noticing!”

    Gardner threw the Lucario off him and grabbed the scruff of his neck. “Why should I listen to you?”

    Lawrence remained still, glowering at the Dusknoir. “Because Arthus hates you. He’d rather have a mindless servant like Grom be the Guildmaster.”

    “Two-thirds restored…” Hoopa bellowed, shining the surface of the Seal with a bright purple light.

    Gardner blinked, turning his gaze to Grom. The Golurk swung his fists constantly to capture Cassia, who continually called for him to remember her once more.

    The Dusknoir released Lawrence. “…I hate you.” He exploded into smoke once more, drifting to the Golurk.

    Matheus fired one of the illusions with an Aura Sphere, then another. “All of this…all of this death and pain because you want to bring Cassia back from the dead!”

    Arthus leapt out from the shadows, throttling Matheus’ throat. “And to make sure no one hurts another again!”

    Grom grabbed hold of Cassia’s arm, then her other. He leaned in toward Cassia’s face. “You’ll remain here until Master Arthus’ directive is complete.”

    Cassia grunted, attempting to pull herself out of Grom’s grip. She panted, closing her eyes. “I knew I should’ve gotten rid of that stone..."

    Gardner’s cloud enveloped the Golurk, seeping into his joints. Gardner’s eye appeared above him, as well as a translucent hand; it held the Ghost’s blackened ruby. He pressed it on the back of Grom’s head, then forced it to flash. The ruby cracked, and the Golurk spasmed once more, falling to his knees.

    Gardner retreated into the corner, gasping and clutching his chest. “N-N-No more of that for now.”

    Cassia stood up, watching as Grom continued to spasm. “Grom?”

    The Golurk’s eyes flashed, and he froze. “C-Cassia?”

    She gasped. “You sound like…you!”

    Grom’s fingers fluttered, reaching for her. “Cassia…I can’t control myself. It’s taking all I have to not pin you again.” He sighed. “I can’t break free. I’m…I’m sorry Cassia.”

    Cassia scrambled onto his back, preparing to strike his head. “I’ll just knock out that piece again!”

    Grom’s eyes flashed weakly. “No…you won’t get it a second time. You’ll destroy my mind, and I’ll be no good for anything.”

    Behind them, Matheus wheezed, taking choking breaths. “You’ll…never…win!”

    Arthus continued to squeeze, bringing his face closer to Matheus’. “Wrong.”

    “Almost there…” Hoopa roared, enclosing the Seal and pouring light into it.

    Lawrence ran toward Arthus and threw an aura-covered punch at him. “You’re the reason we’re even in this mess!”

    Arthus let go of Matheus’ throat and caught the fist, grinning. “Ah yes, the human I met in his dreams. If only I really could have sent you back!” He slashed Lawrence across the chest and kicked him away, leaving him to reel and moan on the floor.

    Matheus wheezed, holding his neck and reaching for the bottle. Arthus kicked the side of his head and leapt away. “It’s too late Matheus! All of your precious planning with that uncaring god has come to nothing!”

    Grom’s shaking hands drew closer to his chest. “C-Cassia…I can’t serve Arthus anymore…I can’t!”

    Cassia leapt off Grom and shouted, “Just hang in there! I’ll free you again!”

    “No, Cassia…there’s nothing you can do.” His fingers brushed against his brace. “But there’s something I can do.”

    Cassia paled. “No Grom…please don’t. Not that.”

    Grom nodded his head. “It’s the only way.” He slipped his fingers underneath the metal. “I wish I could’ve spent more time with you, Cassia. Two years isn’t long enough.” He began to pull. “You gave me the greatest years of my life. It was an honor being your guardian.”

    Cassia gasped and pushed back against the brace, futilely fighting against Grom’s might. “No, Grom, please! You’ll—you’ll—”

    One rivet popped out of place, and the Golurk jerked. “L-Lawrence will p-protect you now.” With his free hand, he held Cassia’s face. “Remember me.” He pulled out the final rivet, and the brace clattered against the floor.

    He shot up to his feet and clanged his chest, ignoring everyone around him. “Roa-raw-raor-raaaaaaahh!” The Golurk’s body began to spin rapidly, his arms rotating speedily around his chest. He clanged into a nearby pillar and knocked it down, causing the entire temple to quake.

    Cassia picked up the brace, gritting her teeth. “Grom!” She scooped up the rivets and followed Grom on his rampage, struggling to resecure it.

    Bright light filled the entire room, and Hoopa threw up his arms. “It is done!” The Seal floated in the air, the amethyst gem inside pulsing beautifully, complete.

    Finally!” Arthus ran to the Seal and scooped it out of the air. He swiftly hung it around his neck, holding it high. “Now, Arceus stands no chance!”

    Hoopa towered over Arthus, pointing at the Prison Bottle. “Now, your turn. Release me!”

    Arthus tapped his chin thoughtfully, holding up the bottle. “Did I really say that?”

    Hoopa grunted. “Don’t play dumb with me, Zoroark! Release me!”

    Matheus finally got up to his feet, breathing hoarsely. “Arthus…” He looked up Hoopa, shaking his head.

    He heard a groan behind him, then turned and wheezed, “Lawrence!” He stumbled to him and hefted him to his feet. Blood streaked across his chest in a raking tree of gashes.

    Lawrence limply pointed at Arthus. “The Seal…”

    Matheus shook his head. “Nothing for it now…he has it.”

    “Grooooooooaaaaaawww!”

    The berserk Golurk slammed into a pillar, then another pillar, each causing the temple to shake. Pebbles began to fall from the ceiling, clattering on the stone floor.

    Matheus’ eyes widened in fear. “He’s going to bring this place down on top of us.” He turned around and limped toward the exit as fast as he could.

    Lawrence craned his head back, following Cassia as she trailed Grom. “Cassia…!”

    Arthus’ eyes lit up, then he pointed at Hoopa. “Oh yes, now I remember. I said I’d release you.” He held his claw on the stopper. “I never said when.” He pulled it open, and the almighty Hoopa’s legs dissolved into mist.

    Hoopa bellowed, sending his six arms to surround Arthus. “Liar! Liar! We had an agreement!” More and more of him flowed into the bottle, causing his great form to shrink.

    Gardner’s eye followed Grom’s trail of destruction; only six of the original nine pillars remained. The Golurk slammed into another—five left. The roof groaned, and it shook more violently. Larger chunks began to fall.

    He gasped and hovered swiftly to the rope in the back of the temple, which connected all the way to the slab gate. “We’re trapped!” he bellowed.

    Arthus’ grin vanished, and he hissed to Gardner, “What do you mean, ‘trapped’?” He noticed Grom rampaging around the temple, his arms circling wildly as his core glowed brighter and brighter. He smashed into another pillar—four left.

    He quaked. “That fool’s going to kill us all!”

    Hoopa laughed bitterly as he turned entirely to smoke. “A fitting end for a breaker of his word. I will keep my weaker self within me until the day I am finally released, as punishment for letting himself be summoned by you!” The last of the smoke trailed into the bottle, and the cap sealed shut.

    Gardner pulled on the rope, lifting the slab slightly. Arthus ran to him and pulled with him, causing it to rise higher. “Pull! Pull for your miserable life!” Arthus cried.

    The ghost groaned, his entire body shaking. “Can’t escape…I’ll be trapped…must…pull!”

    Lawrence broke free of Matheus and stumbled toward Cassia. “We can’t leave her!”

    Matheus grabbed her bag of supplies and ran to Lawrence, propping him with his shoulder. “Cassia!” he hoarsely cried, “We have to get out of here!”

    “Groooaaawwaaaww!” Grom slammed into another pillar, his arms spinning faster and his chest glowing brighter.

    “I can’t leave Grom!” Cassia exclaimed. She ran under his legs and attempted to place the brace back onto the Golurk’s chest. He surged with Life energy, then ran faster. She held on with all she had, the brace hanging on her claw by a thread.

    The Golurk slammed into one last pillar, then stopped moving entirely. His entire body shook violently, then his arms rose high. “Grrraaaaaaaawww!” He glowed with piercing bright light, and just as Cassia leapt off, exploded. Black fragments erupted from him, slamming into the remaining pillars and weakening what integrity they had left. The roof sagged, and stones continued to fall.

    Cassia flew into the wall next to Gardner and Arthus and slammed her head. She lay still, the bolts of Grom’s brace still clutched in her claws.

    “Cassia!” Arthus and Lawrence exclaimed. The Usurper left Gardner and hovered over her, holding her hand and placing his other claw on the ground. He cursed and roared, “No Life Deposit!”

    Lawrence pulled at Matheus, straining to get to her. The Legend pulled Lawrence back to the barely-open exit, exclaiming, “There’s no time!”

    “No, Matheus!” Lawrence continued to struggle, his chest continuing to bleed.

    Gardner’s arms trembled as he pulled down the rope. “A-Arthus…help…”

    The Usurper blinked and gave the rope a final yank, infused with his precious Life. The slab slid up the rest of the way, and the securing timbers jammed back underneath it.

    Matheus pulled Lawrence out of the Temple and threw him onto the grass, then called out, “I’m coming for you, Cassia!” The pillars shook and cracked under the weight of the roof, and boulders fell to the ground.

    Matheus started to step inside, but stopped; the gate of the temple groaned, and a giant slab cracked from the bottom of the ledge.

    The Legend rolled back, narrowly avoiding the falling portion of the temple. He stared at it, then into the room. “It’s too late…"

    Gardner floated to the center of the room, rushing to get to the exit. A boulder landed on top of him, pinning him to the floor. He reached out to Matheus and screamed, “Help me!”

    Arthus dragged Cassia across the floor, then looked up at the ceiling. The pillars creaked, then one gave way—only one remained.

    He turned to Matheus, holding up the Seal with a cold expression. “You win.”

    The final pillar crumbled, and the entire roof collapsed on top of them. Matheus and Lawrence were blown away by the sheer force of impact, rolling into the dense trees nearby. The Arceist temple roared and groaned as its entirety rumbled on top of those who remained, their booming cacophony ringing out for miles.

    The dust billowed high into the sky, and the Temple now stood twenty feet high, little more than several tons of rubble and scrap.

    Lawrence shook his head free of the leaves, then froze. “No…” He forced himself to stand, then hobbled to the remains of the Temple, finding no sign of life.

    “No, no, no!” He pulled free rocks as large as he could lift, but to no avail. Gardner and Arthus lay buried, ending whatever plot they had to conquer Equivos.

    But all at the cost of Grom and Cassia, two of his only friends.

    He fell to his knees, then fell across a boulder, crying out uncontrollably. Matheus merely lowered his head, dropping the last belongings of Cassia Zoroark.

    End of Act 3: The Guildmaster
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  9. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    I've made all the changes needed for the chapters, and will be posting them today. Here's a list:

    Chapter 02: Overhaul of description in introduction and Lawrence's emotional responses in Facility D.

    Chapter 04: Removal of Lawrence's worry of following Arceus if he helps the Pokemon of Equivos.

    Chapter 05: Same as Chapter 04, along with removing the details of the deaths of the Guild Pokemon.

    Chapter 06: Removal of Lawrence hearing screams in Unova compared tot he death of the mother Lopunny.

    Chapter 07: Removal of Gardner absorbing the souls of those who died in Barash when none died.

    Chapter 09: Odd phrasing adjusted.

    Special Chapter 1: Tense changes and vocab adjustment.

    Special Chapter 2: Major details added, mostly with Matheus describing his past with Arthus. This includes his account of Arthus' betrayal and a description of the Trials of Deitae, along with his description of their fight together. Cassia now offers to return the piece of his head to Grom, only to have it be denied as a form of trust. She also receives her mask from Matheus, learning that it used to belong to Ferrick Zoroark, Arthus' brother.

    Special Chapter 3: Cassia no longer receives the mask from the Weaviles, instead receiving it from Matheus in Bonus Chapter 2.

    Chapter 10: Change of transition with Cassia and Matheus talking about Arianne; it used to revolve around the mask.

    Chapter 11: Arthus now learns of Cassia and Lawrence's route by means of a Murkrow spy, killing it in his rage afterwards.

    Act 4: The Legend
    Chapter 21: Loss

    All hope is now gone,

    All love now buried.

    The darkness has fallen,

    Just as light has done.

    Silver and Cyan,

    The Master and One,

    Are now all alone,

    On their journey travail.

    ~~~~

    Silence. Only silence. No leaves rustled. No birds sung. A dark and clouded sky ruined the otherwise warm and soothing evening, forcing it into a dark and forbidding tone.

    Matheus stacked the final stone atop a careful formation of loose rocks from the temple, situating in front of the former entrance to the temple. Lawrence stood stiffly, cautiously shifting the bandages wrapped around his chest.

    The Legend lifted a large, flat slate and propped it against the formation. He reached into his cloak, then pulled out a small chisel and hammer, both rugged and worn. “Good thing I kept these,” he muttered. He grasped it tightly for a moment, then held one in either paw, and diligently and elegantly carved letters into the slate.

    After carving several lines, Matheus blew away the dust and stepped back, allowing Lawrence to see his work:

    Here Rests

    Cassia Zoroark—Priestess of Arceus—Beloved by All

    Grom Golurk—Guardian of the Priestess

    Gardner Dusknoir—Guildmaster of the Usurper

    Arthus Zoroark—The Usurper—Friend and Father

    Matheus brushed off his instruments, then replaced them in his cloak. He made a shuddering sigh, then said, “Too many…just too many…” He held a paw over Cassia’s name. “Of all the Pokemon I’ve known, you were the most faithful…even to the end.” He passed his paw over Grom’s name. “I wish I had known you longer. You were a true companion, one that could never be replaced.”

    He shifted to Gardner’s. “Despite your wrongdoings, I sensed a change in you. I only wish it could have become more full.” He paused, then lowered to Arthus’ name. “Arthus…” He sighed and shook his head. “I still can’t see why you changed. We could have still been friends—brothers, even. But then…” His paw curled into a fist, then relaxed.

    He stepped back and turned to Lawrence. The silver Lucario paused, then sighed. “I’m…I’m sorry, Lawrence. There…there wasn’t enough time, and well, it was too dangerous. You could’ve—” He cut himself short then shook his head. “I’ll just…I’ll just go look for some berries.” He trudged past ferns and roots and went into the trees, leaving Lawrence alone.

    Lawrence remained still. His face remained blank.

    He winced. He saw the temple. He saw Arthus, holding the Seal for them to see. He saw Gardner, pinned under a rock and screaming for help. He saw the scattered fragments of Grom on the floor. He saw…Cassia.

    Lawrence closed his eyes and made a shuddering sigh. He held out a paw, gazing at the weak glow that surrounded it. He hugged himself and hunched over, closing his eyes.

    He saw himself walking with a Gardevoir through a forest path, first joining this world.

    He saw himself with a Gardevoir, in a vale guarded by a Trevenant.

    He saw himself with a Gardevoir, pouring his fears out to her.

    He saw himself with a Zoroark, reading the Tome across mountains.

    He saw himself with a Zoroark, travelling together for the benefit of the world, and each other.

    All the while, a black Golurk watched from afar.

    All of it for nothing. For death.

    He thought of all the time he had spent with her, in the meantime of their travels. Three weeks felt too short a time. He had only just known her, known her troubles, and realized his own…and how she could resolve them.

    It would never be.

    He felt something rise in him. Anger. Despair. Gathered together. It continued to rise, and he thought of what Cassia had devoted her entire life to:

    Arceus.

    Lawrence’s paws shook. He saw the sufferings of Pokemon at the hand of the Guild—at the hand of Arthus. He saw the grief of Cassia throughout her life, all through the viciousness of others. He saw himself, insulted for his lack of belief, isolated through his whole life. He had finally found someone to empathize with—and she was taken.

    Lawrence grit his teeth, then shook a fist into the sky. “You’ve done nothing for me! NOTHING!His fist surged with aura, then he threw it into a nearby boulder. The aura burned into the very center, splitting the rock in two.

    He panted, slowly removing his paw. He stared at it, watching the aura recede. He fell to his knees and continued to cry. All the while, Matheus watched from the fringe of the palms, bowing his head.

    ~~~~

    Later, Lawrence sat at the base of the tree, holding his Pokedex and studying the screen: “No access point in range.” Yet again, that message taunted him. Never had it felt so insulting.

    Matheus came out from the trees, holding a cask dripping with water. He took a long draught, then wiped his lips and coughed. “Arthus really did a number on my throat. Don’t remember him being the throttling type.” He took another drink, then held the cask out to Lawrence. He didn’t move.

    Matheus pushed it closer. “You’ve been sitting there ever since we left the temple; you need to sustain yourself, especially after what Arthus did to you.”

    Lawrence glanced at the cask, then looked away. He sighed, put away his Pokedex, then accepted the cask and poured water into his mouth. He finished, gave it back to Matheus, and turned away.

    Matheus set the cask into the bag. “Look, Lawrence…we can’t stay here. We still need to get to Furnek and Saunte. There’s not much—”

    “What’s the point?”

    Matheus bristled. “Excuse me?”

    “What’s the point of going there?” Lawrence replied. He lay back on the root, ignoring the burning pain on his chest. “Arceus won’t protect them. He didn’t protect Barash, Jareth, Cryus…he’s done nothing. Believing in him won’t make it any better.” He sat straight again, glaring at Matheus. “You could’ve done something. You’ve been alive for two thousand years! You could’ve fought Arthus again and stopped him from taking over! You could’ve kicked the Guild out of Equivos! You could’ve saved Grom and Cassia! Yet you didn’t!” He inhaled sharply, holding his chest and cringing.

    Matheus remained still, giving no response. He lowered his head, gazing at the ground.

    Lawrence stood up and growled, “Let’s go. Anywhere’s better than here.” He scooped up Cassia’s bag and pushed past Matheus. The Legend pulled the supply bag over his shoulder and followed Lawrence to the south.

    Hours passed, and the cawing of Trumbeak and chittering of Emolga returned as lively as before. Lawrence failed to notice, completely absorbed by his march through the Faylen jungle. He took no rest stops, ate no food, and drank no water. He kept pushing between the trees, dwelling on the loss of Cassia and Grom, and how they could have been saved.

    Night fell, and Matheus looked up, frowning. “Getting late. We should stop for the day.” Lawrence refused to reply.

    Matheus caught up with Lawrence and grabbed his arm. “You’ve done nothing but walk for hours! You haven’t even changed your bandages.” He looked down at Lawrence’s chest and groaned. “They’re filthy. We have to change them.”

    Lawrence glared at the Legend, then begrudgingly sat on a root, setting down Cassia’s bag. Matheus sighed, then pulled off his own bag and dug through it for the roll of bandages. He pulled it out and pulled away a layer of Lawrence’s bandages, recoiling after. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better. I’ll need to clean it before anything else.” He took out a cloth and a cask of water, then soaked the cloth.

    He pulled away the rest of the bandages. He took a glance up to Lawrence, who looked away. Matheus started to clean the wound, then said, “Years ago, after Arthus betrayed me, we had a long, drawn-out battle. I managed to win, and I took the Seal from him. Then I ran, ignoring the dozens of scratches he gave me.” He held up his arm, the silvery scars visible in the approaching moonlight. “That’s where I got most of these.”

    He lowered his arm and finished cleaning Lawrence’s wound. He wrapped the roll around Lawrence’s chest, his paws shaking. “I kept going for days, hating myself for Arthus’ change. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep—exactly what you’d do if I let you. And do you know what happened?” Lawrence glanced at Matheus.

    He ripped the length of bandage from the roll and exclaimed, “I keeled over! I nearly died because I refused to take care of myself!” He tied the ends of the bandage together, shaking his head. “If those Phantump didn’t find me when they did…”

    He stood up, frowning. “I don’t want you wasting your life…the life I managed to save. Cassia wouldn’t either.” He turned around, then paced out of sight. “I’ll go find food.”

    Lawrence remained still. He considered the Legend’s words, thinking of Cassia and Grom. He only recently accepted Arceism after all the time Cassia had spent convincing him of its truth, and over the day, he had been rejecting Arceus as a true deity—exactly as he had been doing before he met Cassia.

    Suddenly, he heard Matheus’ words in Cassia’s voice: “I don’t want you wasting your life…the life I managed to save.” She had worked to the end of her days to make him the Pokemon he now was, yet it would have been for nothing if he continued his course from before he met her—the course he knew to be wrong.

    The sadness and anger from the temple rose up once more. He resolved to continue following her words, and to ensure that he kept himself alive, just so she could keep her memory alive. But it was not fate that took her; it was only Matheus’ hesitance that ended her life.

    Or was it your own doing?

    Lawrence flinched. He listened to Tursha’s words. He brought them to the Arceist Temple. Matheus may not have saved Cassia, but it was his own fault that they even came into that situation. Arthus wouldn’t have the Seal restored, and Grom wouldn’t have been forced to kill himself.

    He reeled over this train of thought, clutching his head. “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have listened to him! I shouldn’t have listened to him!” he thought, the words repeating in his mind. He teared up, regretting ever following the words of the false seer of Arceus that ultimately lead to his own demise.

    His thoughts were interrupted as Matheus came out from the trees, carrying a bundle of small green berries in his arms. Lawrence quickly composed himself as Matheus held one up. “Found a bunch of Lum berries,” he said. “Pretty bland, but they’re filling, and they’re good medicine too.” He popped it into his mouth and shrugged. “Better than nothing.”

    He handed some off to Lawrence, then sat next to him continued to eat his berries. As they ate, he pointed to his right and said, “We keep heading south for two days or so and we’ll be in the Iren desert. Two days after that, we’ll be in the Velcan Range, where Mount Furnek is. Then it’ll take three days to cross the desert and get over to Saunte.” He lowered the berries, concentrating. “I…I think I’ll be going to sleep now.” He threw the remaining berries in his mouth and finished them, then slid off the root onto the soft earth below. He pulled his hat over his eyes, leaving Lawrence to finish eating.

    The younger Lucario ate several more, then looked down at the berries. He wrinkled his nose, then threw away the rest. He slid down the other side of the root and made himself comfortable. He felt all the day’s tiredness hit him at once, setting him swiftly to sleep, despite the nightmarish thoughts that plagued him.

    ~~~~

    Gray. Lawrence saw only gray. He didn’t notice himself in his human form, only that this dreamscape appeared to be an endless haze of shade.

    A bulge appeared in front of him, then extended skyward, darkening into coarse brown bark. Two massive limbs stretched from the center, sharp claws separating into digits. A plume of emerald-green leaves erupted from its top, and the bottom separated into a series of root-like feet. A hanging black maw opened beneath the leaves, and a single, ruby eye flashed awake above it. The Trevenant of the Revenant Woods.

    The Trevenant’s eye narrowed. “The end of days approaches, and the Keeper has not come to be. Even now, the Tree of Life absorbs the Life that remains in the soil, preparing for this final calamity.” The Trevenant stopped, noticing the tears that stained Lawrence’s face. “Why do you suffer so?”

    Lawrence lowered his head, avoiding the piercing gaze of the Trevenant. “Cassia’s gone…Grom’s dead…two of my only friends here.” He made a shuddering sigh, then looked up to the Trevenant. “Why did you give me and Cassia that prophecy? I don’t know who this Keeper is, and Aleron can’t be awakened. And with Cassia…dead…” He shook his head. “I should’ve known that Tursha—Arthus—lied. Then they’d still be here.”

    The Trevenant enclosed Lawrence with a claw, moaning and creaking. “The Usurper’s tricks manipulate the mind. Many have fallen to his lies; in his mind, the ends justify the means.” He raised his arm, pointing at the sky. “I am deeply sorry for the suffering he put upon you…however, the words of the prophecy must come to pass if Equivos is to be saved.”

    “But how am I supposed to do that if Aleron is dead? Matheus said he couldn’t be brought back!” Lawrence exclaimed.

    The gray sky darkened, and pinpricks of light clustered together, forming the constellations that Lawrence knew from Unova and Sinnoh. The Trevenant’s mouth creaked into a grin. “Stars are a wondrous gift from the Creator. He made them to guide us, to show us the way to what we seek. Just as stars, the influence of the guides of this world shine bright, leading Pokemon to where they should be.” He gestured to himself. “I am a star. The Legends are stars. Aleron is a star. Arceus created us to be guides to all who seek him, and to know the best course to return to him, and to those we love.” He held his arms out and bellowed, “‘The truth once held must take once more for the Keeper to be awakened for war. Awaken Aleron, as well as the Keeper, and Equivos may be reborn to live on.’” The Trevenant narrowed his gaze once more. “Remember my words.”

    Lawrence stepped forward, holding his arms out. “But Aleron’s dead!”

    The sky lightened to gray once more, and gray mist wrapped around the Trevenant’s limbs. “Matheus Lucario is a servant of Arceus. Ask him what you will in Arceus’ name, and he is obligated to answer. Heed this counsel, and Aleron may awaken once more.” The Trevenant faded completely into mist, then the cloud surrounded Lawrence’s vision. He woke.

    ~~~~

    Lawrence’s eyes opened slowly. He shifted is arm and felt what seemed to be rope. He looked at his chest and saw glowing red tendrils receding from his chest and sinking into the ground, their light dimming.

    He pushed against his chest, feeling no pain. He peeked under the bandages and saw pristine fur completely untouched by any wound. Sighing with relief, he pulled off the bandages, grateful for the Trevenant’s coming.

    “Who did it?”

    Lawrence sat upright and twisted around, finding Matheus standing behind him, his arms crossed, brow furrowed. “Who healed you? Those gashes would’ve taken weeks to heal, yet here you are, like new.”

    Lawrence scraped his paw against the ground, remembering the dream. “The Trevenant…he came to me and must’ve healed me.”

    Matheus’ eyes widened. “The Trevenant of the Revenant Woods?” Lawrence nodded.

    The Legend turned away with a grim expression. “So…it’s come to that.” He closed his eyes. “What did he say to you?”

    The Trevenant’s words rang clearly in Lawrence’s mind. He recounted what the Trevenant taught him, from the environment of the dream, to the last words of warning.

    After he finished, Matheus set a paw on Lawrence’s shoulder. “None of it was your fault, Lawrence. I was fooled too. I should’ve seen Arthus’ aura under that disguise.” He rubbed his chin. “Still…what he said is true. The last day is approaching.”

    Lawrence lowered his eyes. “You mean the Day of Desolation, don’t you?” Matheus nodded. “When is it?”

    Matheus shrugged. “Even I don’t know. The signs just point to it. Life is indeed leaving the ground and going to the Tree of Life. Yveltal awakened years ago, and a priestess has come forth to preach his word one final time. The only sign left is the final one: the light of the Tree of Life shining across the sea, seen by all.” Matheus shook Lawrence and said, “That’s why we have to go to Furnek and Saunte, even without Cassia. Every Pokemon in Serenita needs the chance to embrace Arceus before that day, no matter how far it may be in the future.

    Lawrence looked around him sadly. He loved Equivos for the beauty it had, the beauty that Sinnoh and Unova only had a shadow of; years of human occupation had disturbed their splendor, and Serenita was practically untouched from all of it. Yet it would all be gone.

    “Will…will everyone die?” Lawrence asked.

    Matheus forced a smile. “No…but unfortunately, many will.” He took a deep breath, then pointed to his right. “We best get going. Furnek is a three-day trip, then another three days to Saunte. We can’t waste any time.” He leered at Lawrence. “But we’ll still be taking breaks. Understood?” Lawrence nodded sharply in reply, then they continued their journey to the volcanic Mount Furnek.

    Over the next two days, they continued in relative silence. Lawrence still felt the stabbing pains of being without Cassia and Grom. He each time he closed his eyes, he hoped for the childlike Golurk to pop behind him and say his signature phrase, ‘Grom,’ to make him jump, or for Cassia to come over to him and show him another phrase from the Arceist Tome. But neither happened. Only Matheus’ occasional babble about the environment came—none of it a replacement for what was lost.

    Finally, after two days, the tall and winding palms of the Faylen jungle thinned out into stout and sturdy cacti, rooted in coarse, arid sand rather than moist, rich soil. A seemingly-endless sea of sand stretched before them, the occasional Trapinch or Sandile skittering across its surface. Vibrava jittered in the breeze, veering away from the Vikavolt that soared high above them, seeking a suitable meal to zap.

    Matheus stopped next to Lawrence, then pointed to their right. Across the sand, a hump belching black soot rose, surrounded by a patch of black rock. “There’s the Velcan range. Real far away, despite how close it looks. Rather not be in such a place, to be frank, but it’s the last major settlement outside Saunte that never heard about Arceus.” He raised a paw and said, “Did you know that Cassia spent most of her two years finding all the smaller settlements scattered around? There’s not too many of them, but they’re real far apart, and with Pokemon in dire need of some help.” He grinned, pushing back his hat. “Even if they weren’t on the map, she still found it in her heart to help them.”

    He noticed Lawrence’s glum expression at the mention of the Zoroark. He held his head and grit his teeth, then said, “Sorry…I know it still hurts.”

    “It’s fine,” Lawrence croaked. He stepped onto the warm sand, turning to look study the horizon. Parallel to the distant Mount Furnek was an outcropping of reddish stone, forming a valley in the center. “What’s that over there?”

    Matheus scowled. “The Guild.” He spat on the sand. “Arthus and I chose that place because of its defensibility. An underwater spring, fresh soil, and only one good way in or out.” He clenched his fist. “If it wasn’t for the underground escape tunnel we built into it, I could never have gotten inside with Laryon all those years ago.”

    “What was Equivos like in your time?”

    Matheus blinked. “I…well, it’s…changed…” He groaned, massaging his temple. “Well, there were more wild Pokemon around. Dangerous ones, at that. It was such a problem that Pokemon were hiring mercenaries to rescue them if they got trapped. I made the Guild to make the entire process more organized.” He walked toward Furnek, waving his arms behind him. “Of course, since then, pretty much all the wild Pokemon are docile. Nothing like my day. You had to constantly worry about Arbok coming in your sleep, or a stampede of Tauros tearing across the plains. All of them are gone now, along with the outlaws that defied Guild control.” Lawrence followed the Legend as he mused.

    “Ah, what a day to be alive,” Matheus said. “It was a golden age once the Guild was restored. Two thousand years of peace, with only wild Pokemon and the occasional Outlaw to ruin someone’s day.” He growled. “Until Arthus returned.”

    Knowing he was treading unstable ground, yet still wanting to learn more, Lawrence asked, “Why was he put into the Cocoon? Why wasn’t he just executed?”

    “Me personally, I never wanted to see Arthus dead; in that time, he did horrible things, but I still loved him like a brother…mostly.” He shook his head. “Arceus didn’t see fit to kill Arthus, despite what he did. While I don’t know all his reasoning, I believe he thought that Arthus would change over his incarceration.” He snorted. “If only it wasn’t for the worse.”

    Sensing that Matheus had answered enough questions, Lawrence backed away. The Legend continued to scowl, dwelling on age-old events harrowed up by the inquisitive Lucario.

    The continual grief for Cassia once again returned, the momentary distraction doing nothing to stop it. She could have helped him with his reasoning, his duties, his fears, yet she had to be taken by fate. Adding insult to this act was the fact that he had to ‘awaken Aleron,’ an individual Matheus specifically stated to be well and truly dead.

    He kept thinking about the impossibility of these events, why he even had to complete them, and why he should even care. All the while, Cassia kept circling in his mind, even until the late evening, when Matheus finally halted their trek.

    “Well, we made good progress today. Might be able to make it by noon tomorrow, actually.” Matheus set his bag down and dug through it. “Might as well rest up here. Could maybe get some training done in the morning.” He looked over to Lawrence. “You think you’d feel up to that?”

    Lawrence sat down, nodding. He went to open the bag over his shoulder but stopped. He hadn’t inspected what she left behind until now. It might prove too much for him to bear.

    He left the bag alone and set it on the ground. A sheet of paper poked out of it, folded together. Curious, Lawrence carefully pulled out the paper and unfolded it. The prophecy of the Trevenant lay within.

    He sat down, reading it. Cassia had underlined portions of the text, adding in notes of what she thought each of the lines meant. Toward the bottom, she heavily circled the line ‘Awaken Aleron,’ and wrote to the side ‘Ask Matheus.’

    “What are you in the mood for tonight? Lum, or Lum?” Matheus asked, taking out a sack. He looked over to Lawrence with a sly grin, which disappeared upon noticing the paper. “What is that?”

    Lawrence set a paw over the circled text. “Who was Aleron?”

    Matheus lowered the bag of berries. “I told you what I was willing to say.”

    “What else is there?”

    “It’s not your business to know,” Matheus warned.

    “It is my business to know,” Lawrence replied, his grip tightening on the paper. “The Trevenant wanted me to find him. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but I need to do it!”

    Matheus stood up, holding his paws apart. “He. Is. Dead. End of story. I will not talk about him!”

    Lawrence fumed and held the paper in front of Matheus. “Cassia thought it was important! She wanted to know more about him, and you told her nothing!” Lawrence exhaled sharply, then said, “If you really want to help me, you will tell me more about him.” Matheus glared at Lawrence, barely shaking his head.

    Lawrence remembered his dream, and the final advice the Trevenant had given him. “In the name of Arceus, you will tell me everything you know about Aleron.”

    Matheus’ eyes widened in surprise. He furrowed his brow, then rocked his head back in forth. He growled, then sat on an opposing rock and took off his hat. He set it on his lap, then rubbed his temple “It’s…more complicated than you think.” He held up the hat, inspecting it, then sighed. “You see…I really haven’t done that much to help Equivos. Sure, I helped imprison Arthus years ago, but I’m the one responsible for creating him. I created the Guild to help Pokemon, but it ended up hurting them instead.” He lowered the hat. “Even after I was resurrected, I felt like I did little to deserve it. I helped Pokemon, sure, but it was only rarely. Honestly, I spent my time watching from afar, in the Tree of Life…away from the Pokemon I failed.” He crimped the edges of the hat, avoiding Lawrence’s gaze.

    He brushed a paw through his silver fur. “It wasn’t until Arceus gave me a certain assignment that I felt like I truly was making up for my mistakes. I became the perfect example of what an Arceist was supposed to be: selfless, caring, obedient, and humble, all because I felt like I was forgiven.” He set his hat back on his head, “I was to go out into the world and gather the writings of his prophets. Then I needed to bind them into a book, then make copies for all Pokemon to read, to know his word.”

    Lawrence blinked, then cocked his head. “Wait a minute. I thought—”

    “Yes, yes, Aleron did those things,” Matheus sighed. He winced, then said, “You see…”

    I am Aleron.”

    ~~~~

    Across the eastern ocean of Equivos, on the continent of Deitae, a magnificent golden tree towered over the Luminescent Woods. The glowing bulbs of light popped from the soil and into the sky, shining over the domains of the Legends of Equivos.

    The golden bark of the tree reflected the multi-colored leaves, all coursing with peculiar energy. The roots ingrained themselves in the center of the woods at the center of the continent, spreading across the entire clearing. Pulses of crimson light shot through the roots, soaking into the source of life itself.

    Perched atop the tree was a giant onyx creature, its wings folded over its chest. It claws clamped around the uppermost boughs, its crimson underbelly pulsing with each glow of the root. Its silvery-blue eyes gazed across the continent, then to the distant coast of Serenita beyond.

    “Remain watchful, children of Arceus. The time draws nigh for the end of Life, and I shall not be prevented from ending those unfaithful. All within Serenita shall fall…” He spread his wings and fanned his tail, surging his Y-shaped body with Life energy.

    “At the wings of Yveltal.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  10. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Chapter 22: Change

    Aleron is known,

    A death of mind.

    The Keeper now awakens,

    For all to find.

    The love still remains,

    Just and kind.

    Let Arceus be praised,

    For leaving misery behind.

    ~~~~

    Matheus averted his eyes from Lawrence’s gaze. They sat across from each other, ignoring the sand that swept through the air by the wind.

    After moments of silence, Matheus finally said, “Yes, I’m Aleron. I used that name as a pseudonym while I travelled; my reputation as the uncle of Laryon Lucario would have brought too much attention upon myself if I went by my own name.”

    Lawrence leaned in closer. “Why didn’t you say any of this before?

    “Because I’m ashamed, that’s why!” Matheus exclaimed. “I never wanted to tell anyone because of how I left them!” He exhaled, then shook his head. “I didn’t want to tell you, but now that you know…might as well.”

    He shifted uncomfortably on the rock. “When I was first assigned by Arceus to assemble the Arceist Tome three hundred years ago, I thought I was useless. Equivos remembers me for training Laryon and helping him save the world by taking a fatal blow from Arthus.” He spat. “It wasn’t as noble as you think. Sure, I trained him, but only out of duty; it wasn’t until the end that I actually loved him as my nephew. I would’ve just wandered Equivos as a broken Pokemon, reeling over Arthus’ betrayal till the day I died. Instead, I was dragged into a quest to save a little Riolu’s dear aunt—my sister.” He stared off into space, distant.

    He blinked, then said, “Anyway, about Aleron. I hadn’t done much but look out on Equivos through the Tree of Life since I got there; the last time I interacted with any mortal Pokemon was when Laryon was alive. He’d been dead for generations when Arceus requested for me. So naturally, I was hesitant.

    “But as it was my duty to obey him, I complied. I started gathering writings, and when they asked for my name, I came up with Aleron.” He looked up, reminiscing. “That was when I finally felt like I was doing something worthwhile. I began helping the towns out with the outlaws and wild Pokemon, sometimes working with the Guild. I became enthralled in the work that I had left for centuries.” He sighed contentedly.

    Matheus paused, continuing to look to the sky. After a few moments, Lawrence asked, “What changed?”

    Matheus’ grin disappeared. “After a hundred years of gathering the writings of Arceus’ prophets and making dozens of copies, Arceus asked me if I enjoyed serving Equivos the way I had. I said I did.” He grimaced, leaning forward. “He said he was pleased with the great service I had done. He told me that Legends such as myself were not supposed to have regular interactions with mortal Pokemon, due to the great influence we tend to have over their activities.” He clasped his paws together. “So, he gave me a choice: I could continue roving Equivos, or I could return to the Tree of Life, coming out every couple of years to serve. The cost…” He turned away. “My immortality.”

    Lawrence’s eyes widened as he leaned back. “That’s…that’s surprising.”

    Matheus nodded. “I know. I asked if something else could be done, but he said no. He set the laws on how Legends could interact with Pokemon, and even I, a former mortal, had to obey them.” He pulled his hat over his eyes. “You can guess what I chose.”

    “But why?” Lawrence blurted. “Didn’t you like what you did? What’s the point of living if you can’t do what you love?”

    “Because, Lawrence, I’m a shoddy brawler,” Matheus groaned. “Look, I know I can beat up a bunch of Guild Pokemon with little trouble, but I couldn’t handle Grom when he went berserk.” He readjusted his hat, staring at the ground. “It doesn’t help that my aura’s been weak ever since Arthus went off the deep end. If it wasn’t for Laryon, well…” He rubbed his eyes. “Point is, I chose immortality over service. Oh, I still got to go around for a little bit, but it just wasn’t as often or...satisfying.”

    He stopped and looked at Lawrence. “The reason why I did was because I’m reckless. That’s how I’ve always been, always will be. I’d go in and do the craziest things just to save a couple of Pokemon, and half-killed myself each and every time.” He growled and shook his head. “If it wasn’t for Arthus keeping me in line, I’d have been dead the first day out of Quantus.” He rubbed his shoulder, looking away. “So, I wanted to make sure that if I did anything stupid, I’d at least live to tell the tale.”

    Matheus held up a finger. “But if I had the chance to change my answer, I would. At least if I had said no to immortality, I’d have been more careful…and, well, I wouldn’t have to live through Arthus ruining the world twice over.” He grimaced. “It was painful enough the first time.”

    Lawrence remained silent, considering his words. After a moment, he said, “Did you ever…go back, after that?”

    Matheus sighed. “No. No I didn’t. After I realized the choice I made—myself over others—I didn’t feel worthy. It just reminded me of when I isolated myself for ten years, regretting my decision to complete the Trials and allowing Arthus to become who he is.” He shivered. “That was a dark time. I only thought of how I could have made things different, how I was the reason Cassia—Arthus’ wife—died, how I made Azure lose her memory of Ferrick, how I caused Laryon’s parents to die—even if I didn’t know how or why they happened.” He exhaled waveringly. “I know now it was really Arthus’ fault, in some way…but I couldn’t help but feel that. All because I thought I was strong enough to defeat Arceus’ greatest challenge.” He swallowed. “I was. But I wasn’t for the consequences.”

    Matheus’ gaze hardened, then he sat straight. “I can’t be Aleron. Not anymore. He was selfless, kind, and devout. I’m none of those things. Not since I refused Arceus’ will.” He stood up, stormed away from Lawrence, then sat on the side. He lay on his side and tersely said, “Get to sleep. We’ve got a long way to Furnek.”

    Lawrence stared at Matheus, processing what he had admitted to. He got off the rock and lay on the cool sand, rolling onto his side. The distant green of the Faylen Jungle stood in view, reminding him of Cassia’s fate.

    He slept fitfully that night.

    ~~~~

    The next morning, Lawrence woke up to see Matheus standing on a boulder sticking out from the sand. His back faced the younger Lucario as he stood, looking out toward the distant canyon walls of Dusknoir guild.

    Lawrence carefully approached Matheus, studying the hazy vision. The ruddy brown of the sheer cliffs contrasted sharply with the bland yellow and white of the fine grains of sand. Black shapes flitted in and out of the walls, all going different directions. The rising heat formed what appeared to be vast pools of water around the walls, what Lawrence knew to be a mere mirage.

    He stopped at the foot of the boulder. The Legend gazed at the cliff, his eyes squinted and jaw firm. His tail hung limp behind him, not standing tall as it once did.

    Without turning, Matheus said, “I remember the day Arthus and I saw that canyon. We were trying to find every secret in Equivos, both on Cretea and Serenita. We didn’t really have a plan in those days, except to just go where our hearts told us.” He pointed to the right of the Guild. “We came in from the Kaena Woods, near the Revenant Forest. We had just escaped from an Ursaring we…accidentally stole some honey from.” He chuckled. “We weren’t very bright then. Anyway, we just escaped, and we just kept going across the desert, expecting adventure.”

    Matheus smiled. “Some Trapinch pits and Charjabug nests later, we found it. We were amazed by the sheer size of it; you could keep an entire town in it.” He raised a finger. “And Arthus said to me, ‘Someday, we’ll come back here. We’ll live here, have families, and help others, side by side.’” His smile disappeared. “We made the Guild. He married. I left. When I came back, nothing was the same. It was all twisted and corrupted, thanks to Arthus and his accursed servant, Gregorius Gengar.” He stiffened. “I confronted him. I won, but I didn’t feel like it. I ran. I blamed myself for what happened, and it’s thanks to me the world is…was, in danger.”

    He faced Lawrence. “I don’t deserve to be a Legend, Lawrence. I failed you. I failed Cassia. I failed Grom, Arthus…everyone I’ve known. Yet here I am, still serving Arceus, like I actually matter.” He held up a paw. “Don’t talk to me about this. Just…just leave me alone.” He hopped off the boulder and brushed past the other Lucario. He picked up the supply bag, then steadily paced toward Mount Furnek. Lawrence followed with Cassia’s bag, his head low and eyes narrowed.

    No words passed between them throughout the hike. Except for the occasional food and water break, Matheus remained several paces ahead of Lawrence, never looking back.

    This continued until evening fell once more, when they finally stopped. The charred and burning environment of the Velcan range now spread across the edge of the Iren Desert, surrounding the enormous volcano of Mount Furnek. Sparks and smoke spat from the vent into the sky, raining down on the crowded town wrapped around it below.

    Matheus set down the supply bag, his face dull. Lawrence carefully did the same with his own, then approached the other bag. “What’s for tonight?” he asked.

    Matheus didn’t reply. He turned toward Mount Furnek. “I can’t do it.”

    Lawrence cocked his head. “Do what?”

    “I can’t teach Furnek. The last time I saw the place was centuries ago, yet there’s one Pokemon who’d surely remember me: Vignon. He’d be a Darmanitan by now, likely in stone form. But he’d remember me. I helped him get adopted into a kind Simisear family in Furnek, and I promised to see him every month after that.” He bowed his head. “A few weeks later, Arceus made his offer. I never came back.” He groaned. “He’s surely told them stories on the mighty feats of ‘Aleron’ through the entire Velcan Range. They’ll know the truth of my identity if he saw me, and I can’t live through that.” He shook his head. “But we can’t leave them. Lawrence, you have to teach them.”

    Lawrence stepped back, holding his paws out. “But I’ve never done that before! What makes you think I can do it?”

    “You listened to Cassia, didn’t you? Use her as an example.”

    “Yeah, and I’ve only believed again for a little over a week!”

    “You believe, don’t you?”

    “Yes, but—”

    Matheus grabbed Lawrence’s shoulder and pulled him closer. “Do you trust in him? Trust that he knows what is best for you, trust that what he does is right?”

    Lawrence blinked. He looked away, remembering his experiences before he came to Equivos—the Nidoking, the church, the Houndour. The feelings of loneliness and distrust rang clear in his mind from those alone.

    Then the loss of Grom and Cassia.

    Lawrence pulled away, setting a paw on his head. “I-I’m not sure. It’s…it’s hard to say.”

    Matheus narrowed his eyes. “It’s one thing to believe in Arceus and to realize he helps us. It’s another thing to trust in him to do what’s right.” He turned away and crouched over the supply bag. He dug through it and said, “That trust is what separates Arceists from Arthus.” He pulled out the water casks and held them out. “I’m going to fill these up. I don’t want the Pokemon of Furnek to have a faithless teacher, so consider my words.” He brushed past Lawrence and went south, moving away from Furnek.

    Lawrence sat to himself, dwelling on what Matheus had said. His thoughts gradually turned to Cassia, and what she had done to preach to Equivos. And himself.

    “She always took a story from the Tome,” he thought. “Then applied it to the issue they had in life.” He took his Pokedex and entered the files from the Tome—only to realize one crucial thing:

    “I don’t know any stories!”

    He turned off the screen and growled, holding his head. “I’m useless for this! I don’t even know if I should trust Arceus!” He stopped. He looked down, focusing on Cassia’s bag.

    He stared. “I haven’t looked inside since she…died.” He reached for it, then drew back his paw. “Should I? This is her personal stuff…I’ve only really seen inside once.” He thought back to that fateful day, picking apples with Cassia, when her mask fell into view.

    He swallowed hard, then reached for the bag. “I—I think I should.” He pulled the flap off the bag, revealing the darkness inside.

    Lawrence took a deep breath, then carefully placed a searching paw inside. He felt around for a moment, then grabbed a small parcel. He pulled it out and found it was the mask he remembered only minutes before.

    He opened the drawstring bag and allowed the mask to slide out onto his paw. The pearlescent mask reflected the moonlight, surrounding the pitch-black gauze of the eyes. He held the mask up to his face and looked through it. The gauze made the environment slightly darker, but otherwise fully visible.

    He lowered the mask. “This was Cassia’s last reminder of Arianne…the one who taught her about the Tome.” He rubbed its surface, smiling. “She always wore this to hide her eyes…” He put the mask back into its bag. “I wish she didn’t have to hide herself like that.” Reaching into Cassia’s belongings once more, he grabbed what felt like a long rod.

    Lawrence lifted the rod and found it was a small, ornate mirror. The frame and handle were both made of polished silver, and the oval surface of the mirror was polished as well.

    He gazed into it, finding it odd that Cassia would have such a belonging. He flipped it around and saw there was a message inscribed on the back:

    To my dearest Cassia,

    A daughter more precious than the world.

    When you look into this mirror,

    Don’t think of anyone else.

    Don’t think of their lies, their deceits, their illusions.

    Think only of the purity that is you.

    Arthus Zoroark,

    Your Father

    Lawrence held the mirror away, amazed. “I always thought Arthus was just a monster. But...maybe he was more than that?” He remembered the brief glimpses Cassia gave of her past, and how much she had loved Arthus.

    He passed his paw over the message. “I can agree with him on one thing: Cassia was pure.” He sighed. “I wish she didn’t have to hide herself.” He set the mirror down next to the mask. “I guess she wanted to remember all the good Arthus had.” He reached into Cassia’s bag once more, finding a small book.

    He opened it and saw dozens of names, all lined through the few pages inside. Most of the pages were filled with names of Pokemon, while the last two seemed to indicate entire cities. All but two had a line crossed through them: Furnek and Saunte.

    “She wanted to reach everybody, everywhere…no matter how long it took.” He looked down at the bottom of the last page and blinked. ‘Lawrence Lucario’ was circled and had a line through it. The line appeared more recent.

    “She…she fought so hard…for me to believe. Even when I refused.” Lawrence thought of the times she sat next to her to read from the Tome, learning scripture and how he should apply them to his life. He unfortunately remembered few, but their messages still rang true to him.

    He set down the book and reached into the bag once more. He pulled out a small sack, covered in black dust and patches. Peering inside, he found a collection of various lengths of charcoal, along with several blobs of clay and a small knife.

    “Her drawing utensils,” Lawrence thought. He thought of her drawing in each new environment, perfectly capturing the details with her charcoal. Whenever she wasn’t teaching, she was always sitting with Grom, drawing and chatting with the black Golurk.

    Lawrence swallowed hard, setting down the bag. “Now that can’t happen anymore.”

    He felt three pads of paper within the bag, with two smaller and newer than the other. He brought the newer ones out and flipped one open, seeing scattered drawings of various figures, such as a flower, an Eevee, and a house.

    Lawrence smiled. “These must be from when she started out.” He turned the page and saw more practice drawings, each getting progressively better. He flipped through the other, finding more of the same, then reached into the bag, meeting with a leatherbound pad of paper. He gingerly pulled it out, knowing it to be Cassia’s sketchpad. The beaten leather cover had her first initial, ‘C’, printed on it—likely because of Arthus—and the brown thread binding the pages at the top still had faint traces of red in its weave.

    He passed his paw over the aged leather, then flipped over the cover and saw a massive wooden gate set in rock, with limp branches and leaves sticking out from the top. Although he had never seen this gate, he knew where it was: “The Guild.” Despite the harsh environment he envisioned for it, the gate held a somber, almost beautiful quality to it, like it was meant to be a guardian to those within rather than a harsh protector.

    He turned to the next page and saw a Gardevoir standing in a vast plain, looking toward the horizon. Lawrence knew her to be Arianne, Cassia’s former teacher. He remembered how much Cassia loved her, and how she had taught the Zoroark to be the perfect priestess.

    The next page showed the Gardevoir with a Gallade, and Lawrence remembered the brief glimpses he saw of Cassia the night Arianne died: of her running across the plains into the forest, attacking the Weavile. But then she calmed, understanding that the aged Gardevoir would be at peace.

    “At peace,” Lawrence thought. “Just like Cassia.” No more worries, pains, sufferings, prejudice. She never had to worry about these afflictions anymore, untimely as it was. Cassia set aside her hatred, because she chose not to blame Arceus for the troubles of the world—unlike Arthus had done—but instead trust Arceus to somehow remove them.

    Lawrence blinked, connections forming in his mind. He flipped through the next few pages, going through the various portraits and landscapes until he found one he recognized: a Golurk holding a Fletchling on his finger in the middle of a glade.

    He set his paw over the picture. He remembered that moment well. It was such a little thing then, but now he wished he could relive it, if only to see Grom again. And Cassia.

    He turned the page and saw the Iren Desert, overlooking the city of Barash. The first day he saw Cassia’s true form.

    He turned again and saw himself standing in a glade with Cassia and Grom, along with the Buneary they had saved. The second time he saved Pokemon.

    He kept turning pages, remembering the Eastern Coast and Hydren, where he discovered Cassia’s lie. Xilo and its peaks, where his aura finally awakened. The Faylen jungle, where he finally realized that—

    “I loved her.”

    Lawrence stared at the image of the jungle. “She was always doing what was best for others, even if they hated how she really looked like,” he thought, “Even for me, someone who hated what she believed.” He held up his paw. “She didn’t care what happened to her…as long as she could bring Pokemon to Arceus.” He closed the pad. “She trusted in him completely to save them…and herself.”

    He paused. He did remember a story: the Timburr and the trees, where he planted them, expecting to have wood to harvest. When none came after weeks of waiting, he left them, only for them to grow into a mighty forest. But he never returned, because he thought that seeds never grew to be trees.

    “He believed…he trusted the seeds to grow…and they did.” Lawrence held a paw to his head. “I used to trust Arceus, but then I didn’t. And I’ve been miserable since.” He held up the pad. “Cassia trusted Arceus…she was happy.” He lowered the pad. “Until the end.”

    A folded piece of paper slipped out from the back of the pad and fell on the ground. Lawrence cocked his head, picked up the paper, then unfolded it. Inside was an intricate drawing of himself, Matheus, Grom, and Cassia. Lawrence stood in the center, while Matheus was to his right, Cassia to his left, and Grom standing behind. Matheus and Cassia both wrapped an arm over Lawrence’s shoulders, while Grom crouched and leaned forward, embracing everyone. All of them smiled at Lawrence.

    Lawrence’s stared in amazement at the portrait. “When did she draw this?” He looked down and saw the words ‘Remember us, Lawrence!’ elegantly drawn at the bottom—along with another piece of paper behind the drawing.

    He shuffled the drawing behind the other, revealing long, spidery letters lining the paper. Lawrence read:

    Dear Lawrence,

    By the time you read this, you’ll probably be back home in Unova. I understand why you had to leave, but I’ll still miss you. I was hoping we could make a life here in Equivos after we were done in Saunte, but now that you’re gone, well, I’ll have to stay with Grom.

    But I don’t want to find someone else. You’re one of the few Pokemon I’ve really felt comfortable around, and the only one that wasn’t old or a Golurk. There’s too much hatred toward Zoroark like me to find someone who will appreciate me like you.

    I wish I could have come with you to Unova. I’ve seen everything in Equivos, and as much as I love this place, it won’t be the same without you. I don’t care what your world would think of me; I just want to be with you.

    I know that it’s dangerous for me, and you’d never let me go because of that. So I didn’t push that. But I hope—no, want you to come back. You came here once, and you can surely come here again. I’ll wait here with Grom until you do.

    I trust Arceus that he’ll help us see each other again,

    Cassia

    Lawrence looked up from the letter. “You trusted Arceus…that we’d see each other again.” His paws shook. “I…I remember. The Tree of Life. Everyone who dies…returns.” He let the drawing fall from his paws. “I…I can see her again. When I die…she’ll be waiting for me. For me to return.” Tears brimmed his eyes. “I’ve been thinking about it all wrong. Arceus does love me. He does care.” He stared up adamantly, looking at the stars of Equivos—where he knew he belonged.

    His eyes widened as he remembered. He crossed his arms and bowed his head, then squeezing his eyes shut, said, “Thank you, Arceus. Y-You’ve helped me see so much. I love Equivos and what it has brought me.”

    He tilted up his head and opened his eyes. “Cassia helped me and so many others see the truth. I’ll miss her for her smile, her company—everything about her.” He came to his feet. “She died trusting you’d do what was right. And through her, you have.”

    He raised a paw and thrust it into the sky. “I’ll finish what she started! I won’t forget her, or Grom, or anyone else! I won’t forget what she’s done for me!”

    He lowered his paw, then sighed. “And I won’t forget what you’ve done for me.”

    The cross of despair and gladness that filled Lawrence’s heart swept away in exchange for peace. A deep, wholesome calm, as if nothing could be wrong in anything. All the sadness, all the pain—vanished.

    He fell to his side, exhausted. He immediately fell into a warm, sustaining sleep. One that he had never experienced since Cassia’s fate.

    ~~~~

    Light. Warmth. Wind. Sand. The bright morning light reflected off the smooth grains. Vikavolt burrowed back underground for their next flight, while Vibrava resurfaced, filling the air with light-hearted buzzing. The brisk breeze churned up the sand, coating the fur of the two Lucario on its banks.

    Lawrence took a deep breath, opened his eyes, then sat up, stretched, and shook off the sand in his fur. He looked to his left and saw Cassia’s bag, packed with her belongings.

    A stab of guilt and sadness struck Lawrence’s core. She was still gone. Just like Grom. No more surprise hugs, no more silent footsteps from either the Zoroark or Golurk. It was just him and a legendary Lucario. Alone.

    He shook his head. “I’ll see her again…even if she’s not here now.” The despair fled from the peace that gradually filled his chest.

    The Lucario stood up, picked up the bag, then turned around expecting to see Matheus sleeping nearby. He searched for a moment and saw Matheus sitting away from him, his head tilted down.

    Lawrence cocked his head and approached the Legend. Upon reaching Matheus, Lawrence noticed Cassia’s letter in his paws.

    Matheus gazed at the letter, unmoving. “You’re awake.” He glanced at Lawrence. “Good.” He nodded his head, then continued staring at the letter.

    Lawrence looked around momentarily, then cleared his throat. “Don’t you think we should…get going?” Matheus didn’t respond.

    Lawrence looked at the other side of Matheus and saw the supply bag, with the casks poking out from the top. “Did you find water last night?”

    “Hm?” Matheus perked up from his letter, staring up in space. He shrugged his shoulders, then said, “Yeah, I found it…like always.” He trailed off, muttering.

    Lawrence sat down next to Matheus, pulling off Cassia’s bag. “Are you alright?”

    Matheus blinked, then slowly turned toward Lawrence. “I could ask the same about you. Why are you suddenly in good mood?” He grumbled, turning back to the letter.

    Lawrence bit his lip, turning away. “I’ve just…come to terms with reality is all.” He sighed. “No use being sad for the rest of my life. I’ll always miss Cassia and Grom, but at least they don’t have to worry about anything anymore.”

    Matheus paused. “You’ve…you’ve already come to that?” He cringed, folding the letter down. “More progress than I’ve ever made.”

    “E-Excuse me?”

    Matheus threw down the letter. “Yes, you’ve done better than this miserable old coot of a Lucario ever did!” He stormed upright. “For most of my life, I’ve thought of nothing but how I failed Equivos! I hid away in the Tree of Life, sorry for myself for creating the most vicious Pokemon Equivos has ever seen—and losing my home and my friends with him! I don’t even know what made him change!” He tore off his hat and smacked against his other paw. “Everyone I know dies! No matter how much I try to protect them! First my Guildmembers, then my village—” He took a deep breath, then lowered his hat. “Then my brother…Laryon’s father.”

    He knelt on the ground, then held up Cassia’s letter. “She cared so much for you. She believed in you. She knew you’d do what’s right.” He lowered the letter, then his head. “No one’s ever said that about me.” The letter fell from his paws. “I’ve failed you. I could’ve saved her, yet I didn’t. Another mistake made with thousands of others.” He held up his hat, then let it fall to the sand. “I don’t deserve to be a Legend.”

    Only the wind passed between them in those long moments. Matheus hung his head, eyes closed, while Lawrence stared at the ground, watching the individual grains of sand shifted with the others.

    Lawrence raised his eyes, a small grin coming across his face. “Alright, you, Matheus, have made mistakes. You did things wrong, and I agree with you.” Matheus exhaled, his head dipping closer to the ground.

    Lawrence set a paw on Matheus’ shoulder. “But let’s look at what Aleron did.” Matheus opened his eyes.

    “Aleron saved hundreds, thousands of Pokemon. He made the Arceist Tome, helping others know the truth!” He shook Matheus slightly. “If it weren’t for you, Aleron, none of that would’ve happened.”

    Matheus shrugged him away. “But Arceus could’ve easily chosen someone else."

    Lawrence shook his head. “No. He couldn’t have. No one else could’ve trained me like you.” He came to his feet and stood in front of Matheus. “If you weren’t a Legend, then all the Lucario would’ve been dead when Arthus came back.”

    “Don’t remind me.”

    “But since you were still around, you saved me and Cassia from being captured by Gardner. You trained me to fight like a Lucario. You taught me how to use aura—and how to find it.” Lawrence held up his paws. “Before I came here, I hated Lucario; I thought they were creatures just driven by instinct, learning to fight only to attack others.” He shook his head, lowering his paws. “But now I know they’re more than that. They learn to fight so they protect those they love. They evolve because they love their partners. Everything about them involves loving others.”

    He sat next to Matheus once more, wrapping his arms around his knees. “The Pokemon in my world might be wild…but I can never look at them the same. I can see where Arceus was going with his commandment to love Pokemon like humans: they have the same capacity to love as we do.” He turned to Matheus. “And you helped me realize that. I don’t think anyone else could have done that. You deserve to be a Legend.”

    Matheus stared at him for moments after. He abruptly held out his paw. Lawrence accepted it, then Matheus quickly embraced him. “Thanks for that.” He shook his paw, then pushed away from Lawrence. He smiled. “Hard to believe you didn’t believe in Arceus.”

    Lawrence grinned. “Helps to have a miserable old coot of a Lucario beat it into you.”

    Matheus’ eyes widened, then he chuckled. “Yeah…I guess so.” They laughed together for the first time in nearly a week.

    Soon after, they continued their journey to the fiery Mount Furnek, with Matheus leading the way with renewed vigor. Lawrence trailed behind, reading the Tome from his Pokedex in preparation for what lay ahead.

    In a matter of hours, they crossed the border into a steaming, boiling environment, complete with hot springs and vents belching out vapor. Salandit skittered across the blackened ground, spitting poison as they went, while Torkoal lounged around the vast baths, soaking in the heat. All the while, Durant screeched across the landscape, hunting down what few berries lay in the heat.

    Lawrence panted, Cassia’s bag feeling heavier on his shoulder. “Is it usually this hot around here?”

    Matheus nodded, unfazed. “Welcome to the Velcan Wastes, full of mineral-rich hot springs, all warmed by lava chutes just below.” He pointed at one of the steam vents. “Every so often, one of those will go off and blast a Slugma to the surface. The unlucky sap turns to rock on contact, so the nice thing to do is to just toss it back in the vent and hope it lands back in lava.” He noticed Lawrence’s discomfort and sniffed. “It’s just a bit of steam. Be grateful it isn’t all smoky like it was a couple hundred years ago, when the ole volcano blew its top. Had to evacuate Furnek for that.”

    “I’m just not used to steam with a fur coat,” Lawrence panted.

    Matheus shrugged. “You’ll get used to it.”

    They continued on through the steaming wasteland, passing scanty Rawst bushes and beaten trails marked with metal-plated signs. Eventually, they reached the base of the volcano, and sprawling across was a series of interconnected metal frames. Box-like houses stood atop the frames, open-roofed, while stalls of all sorts popped up around the bridges between them.

    The Lucario stopped at the platforms, looking up at the single ladder up to the metallic realm. Covered in soot, it appeared to have not been used for years.

    Matheus paused for a moment, looking up. He stepped aside and gestured to the ladder. “I can climb up another way and watch from above. If Vignon is still alive, I’d rather not meet him.” He sighed. “But if you need help, just say the word. I expect that the Guild Pokemon shouldn’t be much trouble. I’ll wait up on the tower.”

    Lawrence nodded, then climbed up the surprisingly-cool ladder into Furnek. Matheus ran around the structures to a single tower that rose up from the ground. He steadily climbed up the posts embedded in the side to the roof—one of the few in Furnek. He then sat, watching Lawrence pass through the town.

    The younger Lucario passed by disheveled Blaziken and Magmar, all shying away from him. Darmanitan stood between the houses, backing away from him, glaring as he progressed to the center. Steadily, the Blaziken and Magmar followed him, daring not speak about him.

    He reached the central platform, which held little more than a shaded canopy decorated with small statuettes and dried food. Sitting on an intricate mat in the center was a massive stone statue in the shape of a Darmanitan, cracked and weary with age. The eyes were shut, and the mouth remained slightly open, as if it hoped to open once more.

    Lawrence stopped in front of the statue, and the Pokemon behind him stopped as well. The statue’s eyes ground open, a gentle pulse of white light shining from the stone.

    “You…” the statue said, it’s voice echoing from its mouth. “A Lucario…yet not.”

    Lawrence looked about him, expecting to see the signature black armbands of Dusknoir Guild on the Pokemon; none were in sight. He turned to the statue and asked, “Where’s the Guild?”

    “All gone. The life of the Velcan Wastes proved too difficult to stand, so they returned to the land from which they came.” One of the statue’s eyes lowered. “Why are you here, Lucario-Yet-Not? How? They all died years ago.”

    “I survived,” Lawrence replied. “And I’m here to remind you about Arceus.”

    The statue’s eyes lowered. “We know him. We worship him. The Guild forced our trust, but when they left, we knew that Arceus held mercy, even within our desolate home.” He sighed his eyes closing. “Despite this, I don’t hold full faith in his servants. They make promises they cannot keep, even to themselves.” His eyes opened again. “Leave this place. The time of the Lucario has passed. They and their deeds should be forgotten.”

    The Fire Pokemon parted, creating a path back to the ladder. Lawrence turned around, noticing their distrustful faces. The Darmanitan in particular considered him warily.

    He looked up to the tower, expecting Matheus to be there. He was absent—and Magmar and Blaziken gathered on the other side of the town.

    They separated from the individual in center, and Lawrence saw it was Matheus solemnly stepping through the crowd. He held a paw out toward the statue. “Vignon.”

    The statue’s eyes widened. “Aleron?” He hovered above the mat, rotated to face Matheus, then gently lowered. “You are still living, after all this time?”

    Matheus nodded, stepping closer. “Yes Vignon. I am Aleron—a Legend of Arceus.”

    Vignon’s eyes closed. “I should have expected as such.” They fluttered open. “I have told many tales of what you did for those here in Furnek, hundreds of years ago. Rescuing Pokemon, gathering food, defeating outlaws. None of those feats are as well-known as evacuating Furnek in its last great eruption.” He sighed. “I am the only one to have lived through that time, when I was a Darumaka.”

    “And I helped you find a family.” Matheus stopped in front of him, kneeling. “I told you I’d visit you every month after, helping you. I was unable to keep that commitment, and for that, I am sorry.” Vignon’s eyes remained still. Matheus continued, “But I’ll tell you now: I wanted to come. I wanted to help you. And our priestess wanted to come to you as well.” He set a paw against Vignon’s head. “I made many promises to you, and I regret not being able to fulfill them. You reminded me so much of my nephew, and I am sorry to have disappointed you…like so many others.”

    Vignon’s eyes closed, and a tear escaped from one. “You are more than Aleron…Matheus, protector of Laryon.” He shifted, disturbing the mat. “I always hoped to see you once more. Now, in my dying moments, I have.” The eyes opened, their light dimming. “Thank you.” The light extinguished, and he shrunk in a gentle crackle of stone. He became the same size as the other stones that surrounded him, at peace.

    Matheus and Lawrence gazed at each other and nodded. Matheus walked around the altar and joined him, then they passed through the crowds, exiting Furnek with Pokemon sustained in their faith.

    They remained silent until Furnek lay out of sight, when Lawrence finally asked, “Why’d you come down? I thought you didn’t want to see Vignon?”

    Matheus smiled. “When I saw that they didn’t see the prophets of Arceus in the best light, I knew that I was to blame.” He sighed. “It wouldn’t be right for me to ruin the memories of the other prophets. Plus…” He lowered his head. “I was Vignon’s hero. I needed to show that I was worth looking up to.”

    After a moment, Lawrence set a paw on Matheus’ shoulder. He looked up, and Lawrence smiled. “I was hoping for that...Aleron.”

    ~~~~

    Over the next three days, Lawrence and Matheus crossed the Iren Desert once more, passing around the northern side of the Guild. Once past it, they found a set of sled tracks only a few hours old. They followed them into the West Kaena Forest, then into the Minute Plains, leading back into Saunte.

    Lawrence stopped at the fringe of the Kaena Woods, remembering it well. On the other side of the plain, he first met Cassia Gardevoir and Grom Golurk, beginning his journey across the entirety of the Serenita, now over a month ago.

    He remembered himself from that time, so concerned about being able to return home. Now he didn’t care, save for being able to see his parents again. That old, faithless self was gone. Now, the Arceist had returned.

    Matheus joined him at the fringe, following the sled tracks. He looked over to Saunte and gave it a curious look. “Awful lot of smoke coming out from there.” A giant plume hung over the center of Saunte, gathering above the massive crowd in the plaza.

    Lawrence nodded in agreement. “Think it’s safe?”

    Matheus turned to Lawrence, hefting the supply bag. “Only one way to find out.”

    They began walking down to Saunte, all while Lawrence relived the same trek, thinking only of one thing:

    “I wish Cassia was still here.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  11. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    By Saturday next week, this site will be officially caught up with Bulbagarden. We are nearing the end of the story, so please keep reading!

    Chapter 23: Fate

    The ashes of evil,

    The tinders of light,

    May still burn,

    Through darkness and night.

    The Guild is mighty,

    And their leader as well,

    But even the hardest souls

    Have hearts of gold dwell.

    ~~~~

    One week prior…

    A stack of heavy leather books settled onto a shelf, narrowly avoiding the nearby rack of glass tubes. The desk lay clear of debris, newly polished, the early morning light reflecting off it. No dust, no grime, no mess of any sort lay in the research center.

    Martre Metagross shuddered and sighed in relief. Rust sprinkled off his body and pattered to the floor, a solitary mess on the newly swept wood.

    He held a claw in front of his face, noting how neglected his iron frame was. Orange powder coated everywhere on his body except the silvery ‘X’ across his face and the claws on his legs. Twenty years of researching for Arthus, isolated from all other Pokemon, led to a lack of care toward his own appearance.

    “Well,” he thought. A set of wire brushes and a bucket of powdery liquid floated from the floor to him. A sponge rose out from the bucket and wrung itself, then splatted against Martre.

    It rubbed across the rust, then the wire brushes began scraping it away. Martre closed his eyes.

    “Might as well clean up for my future position.”

    ~~~~

    Outside the well-kempt command buildings at the southern end of the Iren Canyon, the families of the north end of the Guild—the former civilian district—woke up and carefully began their day. Breloom rushed through the dark alleys to trade for food, Murkrow watching their every move for their Honchkrow boss. Pokemon of diverse species all collaborated with each other, keeping in mind what happens to those that defy the Guild’s rule.

    In the ruins of a once-grand multi-story smithy, a young Torracat snored resting his paws on an old burlap sack in the shade. Rattata scurried by on the walls, causing his ears to twitch. He opened a lazy eye and yawned, stretching his legs. “Morning already?”

    “Mange!”

    The Torracat restrained a hiss of fear as he leapt up from the sack and dove into the jumble of stones behind him. A pack of Lycanroc lead by a Tsareena peered into the ruins, searching for the hapless Torracat.

    The Tsareena looked down at a Lycanroc. “Can you sniff him out?”

    The Lycanroc took a deep sniff, then coughed, shaking his head. “Can’t. Smell’s too strong in this part a town. You know this is where Arthus likes to hunt around.”

    The Tsareena nodded slightly. “Smart choice for Mange to sleep then.” She pointed ahead, flashing a black Guild band. “Come on, let’s search for him somewhere else. He won’t escape punishment for stealing food again.” The Tsareena and her Lycanroc marched off, calling out for Mange.

    Mange peeked out of the stones, whiskers drooping. “I never steal any food…” He hopped out of the stones, revealing his scrawny frame. “My tail’d get lopped off…like I need to lose any more weight.” He crept out of the ruins, keeping a careful eye for Guild Pokemon.

    He passed by a bundle of Makuhita, eyeing the fists they held up. The grunted and pounded their chests, warding him away from the berries they kept behind their backs. Mange continued on.

    Near the fringe of the civilian district, in the shift between grey and yellow light, Mange cautiously search for food. Few berries remained in this part of the Guild, but he had a better chance scavenging than trying to steal food from the others.

    He rooted around, pushing up rocks and the occasional bush branch. A sickly-sweet scent filled the air near there, and soon he found a bunch of Mago berries huddled underneath a bush, squishy and bruised.

    Mange took brief glances around him, then heartily dug into the berries, juice spilling out from his lips. He licked up the last of the juice, wishing for more, then wandered out from under the bush.

    “There he is!”

    Mange spun around and saw the Tsareena jabbing a finger at him, her pair of Midday Lycanroc at her heels. They ran ahead and barked after him, glaring.

    Mange yowled and sped toward the command district, haphazardly avoiding the bustle of Tauros and Bouffalant carrying goods to and from the storage sheds, and others marching in formation under their captains’ orders. The Lycanroc kept in pursuit, hindered by Mange’s escape tactics, but not stopped.

    The chase continued into the center of the Guild, and the Lycanroc managed to force Mange onto the door of a large shed covered with metallic pipes and old lanterns. The curtains were drawn, the only sign of movement within being a loud scraping.

    The Lycanroc to the left snarled, then chuckled. “Thought you could get away this time, did ya?”

    “Don’t think we didn’t see you swiping food from the stores last night,” the other added. “Lady Tiana don’t like that. You know she’s in charge of rations round here. Got to wait your turn.”

    “B-But I didn’t take anything! A-And I haven’t gotten rations for days!” Mange whimpered.

    “Says you!” the left Lycanroc barked. Mange shrunk lower and mewled, causing both the Lycanroc to cackle.

    Mange force his head up and stuttered, “Y-You don’t have p-proof! Y-You need to take it to the G-Guildmaster!”

    The right Lycanroc bared his teeth. “He’s been gone for over a week. It’s just Tiana and the other captains now.”

    The left snarled, pressing closer to Mange. “You’re coming with us.” His jaws opened around Mange’s neck. He yowled, scrabbling at the door.

    The scraping abruptly stopped, and the door swung outward, batting the Lycanroc across their heads and pushing Mange out of the way. A massive, shining Metagross glowered at the Lycanroc, dripping with solution and remnants of rust.

    “What is the meaning of this racket?” he bellowed. He clamped his claws around the necks of the Lycanroc and pulled them next to his jagged mouth. “Gardner specifically ordered for this area to be quiet for my studies!”

    “Who are you to order us around?”

    He glared behind the terrified Lycanroc and saw Tiana Tsareena with a hand on her hip, unamused. “Haven’t seen you here before. What authority do you have?”

    The Metagross dropped the Lycanroc, allowing them to scamper back to Tiana. “My name is Martre Metagross, head researcher of Dusknoir Guild and part of the Guild Council.” He stamped his foot and added, “Why were they making that infernal yowling and scratching right at my doorstep?”

    “It wasn’t us, you clod, it was that Torracat, Mange!” one Lycanroc wheezed, bowing his head.

    Martre stepped out of his research center and shut the door. Mange eeped and backed against the wall, his chest heaving as he looked up at the Metagross.

    “And for what reason,” Martre growled, “were you so loud?”

    Mange swallowed, then said, “S-Sorry, sir…those guys were about to h-hurt me for doing’ somethin’ I never did. I didn’t mean it…”

    Martre turned to Tiana. “And what did you accuse…Mange, of doing?”

    “He stole food from the storehouse. The door was open and several sacks of berries were gone,” Tiana replied, brushing back her hair. “He’s a scrawny one, and he’s a wily one. Just look at him.”

    Martre studied the pitiful cat with a discerning eye. “Do you have any evidence?”

    Tiana looked down at the Lycanroc. “Well?”

    “Uh…” they both replied, sheepishly looking at each other.

    Tiana clouted them over their heads. “Idiots! We chased Mange for nothing!”

    “Hey, he looked suspicious!” one protested.

    Martre groaned, shaking his head. “Just leave him. You have no proof he’s done anything wrong.”

    Tiana stared at Martre, then glanced at Mange. She grabbed the Lycanroc’s necks. “I’ve got two ‘geniuses’ to take care of.” She turned back to Mange. “You’ve won this round, but we’ll catch you red-handed. Just you wait.” She dragged off the whining Lycanroc, shouting with belligerence.

    Mange wheezed with relief, his head lowering. “Thanks, Martre, sir. I don’t think I would’ve gotten out of that alive.”

    “Having illogical brutes in charge of punishment is nothing I care to see,” Martre replied, not even looking at Mange. Instead he studied the masses crossing between the scattered storehouses and dwellings, all circling the Master’s Tower. Meanwhile, to the north, few Pokemon dared to come out into the light to ruin the attitude of the south.

    Martre shook his head. “Fake. All of it.”

    Mange cocked his head. “What’d you say?”

    “This Guild. I’ve been looking through the supply records and saw that we’ve been going through all our stores without replenishing them. We’re no longer receiving recruits, and the captains are poorly trained.” He pointed at a parade of Pawniard ganged behind a Bisharp. “Like them. They’ve been marching back and forth, doing nothing useful.” He swept his arm in the air. “In fact, everything here is simulated to make it seem like we still have the success we had over a decade ago.” His mouth clanked. “Inefficient, just like Gardner.”

    “Guildmaster Gardner’s done a good job of keeping everyone in check…right?”

    Martre’s eyes focused on Mange, causing the Torracat to shrink to the wall. He looked away. “He’s been gone for weeks. He’s done nothing to help this Guild, and if we expect to survive, something will need to be done.” He stomped forward, looking back at his research center. “Though I’d prefer to continue with my studies, Arthus has planned for me to take Gardner’s place.” His eyes glowed more brightly. “Might as well start with culling out unnecessary routine.”

    Whump!

    Whump!

    Whump!

    ~~~~

    Minutes earlier, in the Faylen jungle, an early morning breeze passed over the remains of the Arceist temple. Trumbeak warbled once more in the surrounding canopies, flapping through the leaves in search of berries and nuts. Emolga flitted alongside them, chittering away.

    Far below, deep within the crumbled temple, the many broken bricks and statues created a compact network of narrow tunnels and caverns, each slowly collapsing from the weight above them. No light reached the lowest of the caverns, where the floor of the temple used to be. The air grew staler as dust choked the interior of the mountain.

    Beneath a massive boulder within one such cavern, a still form stirred. His body phased into gas, crawling out from underneath the rock, then painstakingly reassembled into as Dusknoir.

    His fingers twitched, and his eye fluttered open. He dazedly studied his surroundings, finding himself in a large cavern, continually rumbling from the weight above. A single tunnel stretched in front of him, leading into a dark stretch of perilous rubble.

    He stretched his hand out, gasping, “Need…Life…” His hand slammed against the floor, and he felt the aftershocks of a massive deposit, just in front of him.

    Gardner crawled closer to it, his vision dim and blurry even in the environment. An ethereal, crimson glow came into view, pulsing away from charred stone.

    The Dusknoir set his hands over it, sensing its raw power. He drank deeply from the well of Life, his senses turning sharper and his limbs becoming stronger. Soon, the flow of Life began to burn his insides, and he forced himself away before he could be lost to its power.

    Gardner hovered upright and rubbed his neck, shaking his head. “Ach…thank Arceus for that Golurk’s demise.” His eye shot open, and he realized the situation he was in: deep in a temple still in the process of collapse, mere minutes away from pulverizing him.

    He clamped his hands over his head, breathing heavily. “I have to get out of here!” he thought, panicking. “I can’t die like this, crushed to death!” He searched left and right, struggling to find a solution. He hovered all around the boulder he escaped from, soil falling from the ceiling.

    Realizing the pointlessness of this, he forced himself to calm, barely doing so. “I’m fine, I’m fine…just need to concentrate,” he told himself, the Life inside him rushing like a heartbeat. He set a hand over his eye and muttered, “Can’t phase for long…even if I could, I couldn’t get out in time…can’t punch my way through, can’t stay safe under here...”

    He opened his eye and bellowed, his pupil glowing brighter. “I’m going to die down here!” he roared. He punched the boulder, causing it to split in half—revealing the still form of a Zoroark, sprawled across the floor. Clutched in his claws was the Seal of Creation, pulsing gently despite the doom approaching its owner.

    Gardner froze. “Arthus.” A crack echoed from the ceiling as a cavern above collapsed.

    He closed his eye and crossed his arms arguing with himself. “I should just leave him here. He’s caused nothing but misery and doesn’t deserve to live.” He glanced at the ceiling, the continual rumble chilling him. “But he can travel through the Life network…he can get us out of here.” He looked back at the Life Deposit, still pulsing despite what he had drawn out. “There’s more than enough.”

    He twisted his head, groaning. “Rrrgh…my life, or his…” His shoulders slumped, and he glowered at the Usurper. “If I didn’t need you, I’d leave you to die.” He rushed to the Zoroark, cleared the rocks on top of him, then flipped him onto his back

    Gardner saw the full extent of the damage done to him: dozens of bruises swelled under his fur, along with more than a few broken bones. Blood dripped from the numerous gashes scattered on him, matting his fur and soaking the dust coating it. The Prison Bottle hung around his waist, pristine, despite the damage of its holder.

    The Dusknoir set a hand on his chest, then clenched his other hand. “You better be alive.” He pushed against Arthus and forced raw Life into his chest, being careful to keep it gradual. The Zoroark’s body glowed with Life, becoming darker with each passing moment. The flow quaked underneath, slightly loosening the death looming above.

    Gardner craned his neck, his eye widening. He pushed harder against Arthus. “Wake—Up!” he roared.

    The blue eyes shot open.

    Grruuuhh!”

    Arthus sat upright, breathing haggardly and holding a hand over his chest. He forced himself to breathe, then chokingly asked, “W-What h-happened?”

    Gardner forced Arthus onto his feet, pushing him forward and taking glances toward the source of the rumbling above. “No time—just get us out!” He set him down next to the Life deposit and jabbed a finger at it. “Do it! Now!”

    Arthus moaned, pulling free of Gardner’s grip. He crawled toward the edge of the cavern, breathing haggardly. “N-N-No…not without—” He fell to the floor and coughed violently, then dragged himself further.

    Gardner wrapped his arms around Arthus, pulling him back. “There’s no time! You’re the only one who can get us out of here!”

    Arthus bellowed weakly and shoved Gardner away. “Not without my daughter!” He reached the wall and caused a shrunken Life Sphere to appear in his claw. He held it next to the wall, revealing a narrow tunnel.

    Gardner pulled him away, fuming, “How do you even know she’s even in there?

    Arthus ripped free from Gardner and struggled to fit inside the tunnel. He barely squeezed his shoulders inside before he fell back, moaning and holding his arms. “C-C-Cassia…” he whispered, shrinking to the floor.

    Gardner’s eye flitted between the distraught Zoroark and the Life Deposit behind him. The rumbling grew stronger, and larger rocks began to shake free.

    He rolled his head back and forth, then growled and exclaimed, “Fine!” With a grunt, he imploded to gas and funneled into the opening, leaving Arthus to gaze into the tunnel desperately, holding the Seal aloft.

    Gardner barreled through the passage, astonished that Arthus cared so much for the traitor. “Whatever it takes to get out of here!”

    He reached the end and came to another smaller cavern, far more narrow and concealed. Within the rapidly crumbling chamber was another Zoroark, slumped against the far wall and grasping two bolts in her hand.

    The gas hovered around her, a new idea forming. “If I just take her, I can leave Arthus to die and still live.” Memories of Arthus training her came to mind despite his haste, and he remembered one crucial detail.

    The gas seemed to explode as his mind fumed, “She never used the Life network before! She’s useless!” Arthus’ continued vigilance of the Life Deposits prevented Cassia from ever using them—much to Gardner’s disappointment.

    He sighed as he flowed around her, focusing on the tunnel. “Fine, I’ll just bring her out, useless as she is.” He compared the two and groaned inwardly. “She won’t fit!” He searched all around for a solution to carry the still Zoroark out and saw only one.

    The mist wrapped around Cassia’s arms and legs, then formed a tightly packed sphere, exactly her width. “I sacrifice too much for that fiend.” The sphere formed into a glowing fist, then punched straight into the tunnel, dragging Cassia with it. It expanded just wide enough for her to slide through—then promptly collapsed as the foundations fell apart.

    The fist’s light sputtered through the bits of granite that rained from the ceiling. “Too…weak…” A blue light appeared at the end of the tunnel, then sped by him as he shot out of it.

    He rolled onto the ground and formed into physicality, shaking. Cassia slid across the ground just in front of Arthus, causing the Zoroark to make a shuddering sigh of relief. He slumped over Cassia and rasped, “I thought I lost you…”

    Gardner heaved, pulling himself to Arthus. “No time…must leave…now!” He clamped onto Cassia and Arthus’ neckfur and dragged them toward the deposit, narrowly avoiding the boulders crashing from the ceiling.

    The Dusknoir finally pulled them over the Life Deposit and fell on his chest. “Now!”

    Arthus forced himself away from Cassia and jabbed his claws between the cracks of the stone floor. Glowing red tendrils erupted from them and enclosed them, dragging them through the stone. It sunk completely, and the cavern collapsed, cutting off any escape with a tremendous crash.

    Gardner soared through the ethereal space, shocked by the sight. In the pure blackness, only a few threads spread out from the oversized core of the Tree of Life. It beat with vigorous intensity, drawing out all remaining Life in the soil and returning it to its source—including those travelling through it.

    Arthus gasped and forced them forward, coughing rapidly afterwards. Their escape route disintegrated behind them, joining with a thicker branch of Life before being completely absorbed by the core. The three whisked through the channel, avoiding the pull of the Tree and entering the shining light at the end.

    The tendrils erupted underneath a withered stump at the edge of a canyon wall. They spat Gardner, Arthus and Cassia in front of it, then receded into the earth.

    Gardner forced himself upright, holding his head. His eye grew dim, narrowing as the pain grew worse. A blurry brown shape loomed in front of him, muffled voices emanating from it.

    He looked back. Cassia remained still, while Arthus’ head lolled to one side. Gardner felt the need to do the same.

    The Dusknoir faced the shape, then remembered what it was. He raised his arm, then pounded against it.

    Whump!

    Whump!

    Whump!

    Gardner gasped one final time, then fell forward, sight dark. He fell unconscious, hearing the wind rush and voices rise as the gates opened.

    ~~~~

    Up in the dilapidated Master’s Tower, Gardner slept. He lay on a cot in the center of the circular room. The ruined furniture no longer littered the walls and floor, leaving the interior empty and dark. The hole in the roof was now covered with boards, and the windows were dusted and cleaned of grime.

    Gardner shifted slightly, then opened his eye. It panned across the room, noticing the emptiness. He sat up from the cot, confused and weak.

    The tower door creaked open, followed by clanks up the stairs. They reached the top and met with stone, heralding Martre Metagross, a tray hovering over his head.

    “Ah, you’re awake.” He held the tray lower, revealing dozens of Joltik trapped in a glass jar. “You really surprised us when you came back in your state. You were very close to death.” The lid of the jar unscrewed, sitting on top. “We put Arthus and Cassia in the medical bay to recover, but since conventional medicine doesn’t really work with ghosts, we figured that you’d be better off recovering on your own.” The tray hovered in front of Gardner. “Here: these were caught on the Pokemon around the Guild. They aren’t much, but they’ll provide enough, hopefully.”

    Gardner leered at the jar, taking it from the tray. He nodded, then carefully plucked a writhing Joltik from the jar and sapped its life, throwing its husk to the floor.

    He consumed another, then gestured around him. “I see you cleaned my quarters while I was away.” He drained another Joltik and crushed its husk. “Without my permission.”

    Martre set the tray on the eave of the window. “I’ll have you know that it was Arthus’ desire to have it cleaned. Before he left for Faylen, he specifically ordered me to prepare to move here.”

    Gardner’s hand curled around the underside of the cot. “Is that so?” He tightened his grip. “How is Arthus recovering?”

    Martre lifted his foreleg. “He’s healing remarkably fast, along with Cassia. His Life energy is speeding his recovery…along with Cassia’s, strangely. I didn’t think Life could be shared unconsciously.” He sighed. “But they’ll be on their feet soon enough.”

    Gardner scooped out a handful of Joltik and drained them all at once, causing a cacophony of squeaks. “Delightful.” He threw away the carcasses, each of them collapsing to dust.

    Martre studied the dust briefly, then looked at Gardner. “You don’t seem entirely pleased.”

    Gardner shoved his hand inside the jar and drained all the rest of the Joltik, then threw the jar to the floor, shattering it. He rose up and roared, “It was thanks to his idiotic schemes that I nearly died!” He clutched his head, quivering. “That Zoroark is an irrational, murderous, maddening—”

    “Watch your tongue; I don’t care for him much myself, but I don’t go insulting him behind his back,” Martre warned. “If you hate him so much, then why’d you save him in the first place?”

    Gardner growled, crossing his arms. “No other choice if I wanted to survive.” He shot an evil look.

    “Besides, what do you know?” Gardner jabbed a finger at Martre and advanced toward him. “You’ve been fiddling with your books in that shack for years, conducting ‘research’, while I’ve had to deal with that freakish nightmare abroad!”

    Martre held himself higher, leaning forward. “I’ve been reading reports from all around the region, all to come to one conclusion: Equivos is dying.”

    Gardner stopped, and hovered back. “What do you mean?”

    “I mean that for the past three days, while you’ve been asleep, ghosts have been draining each other for Life, and crops are wilting away. Storms are gathering in the south and will be here in less than a week.” He stamped his foot and shook his head. “It’s all connected to Life. That Life Deposit you came through is one of the few I’ve determined to still exist. All the rest of them are gone.”

    Gardner rubbed his chin. “Similar to what I saw on our way here. The Tree was unusually full of Life; we couldn’t go near it without being absorbed. We can’t get to Deitae anymore."

    Martre narrowed his eyes. “It gets worse. From what I’ve studied in the Arceist Tome, these are all signs of what is known as the ‘Day of Desolation’, and the final sign will be the coming of Yveltal the Destruction Pokemon to take the lives of all on Serenita.”

    Gardner’s eye widened. “Everyone?”

    “Everyone.”

    The Dusknoir thought to himself, rubbing his chin. “Hmm…is there any way to stop Yveltal?”

    Martre shook his head. “He’s a Legend. No one can face him and live.”

    Gardner perked up. “No. Arthus can.”

    “And for what reason do you say that?”

    Gardner crossed his arms. “Simple: Arthus repaired the Seal, just as planned.” He pounded a hand on his palm. “We simply convince him to absorb Yveltal, therefore stopping this Day of Desolation and saving our lives.” He looked away and thought, “More importantly my own.”

    Martre sighed. “I noticed the Seal when I took the Prison Bottle from Arthus; I couldn’t leave it for another Pokemon to take, so I put it into my vault.” He raised a claw and explained, “Anyway, there’s no way you’ll change Arthus’ mind; he’s been dwelling on taking down Arceus ever since he was imprisoned, and now that he has the means, nothing will stop him.” Martre stepped toward the stairs, then paused. “You seem awfully antagonistic of Arthus—more than before, at least. Why is that the case?”

    Gardner closed his eye, recounting the past two weeks spent with the Usurper. “Numerous reasons.”

    Martre studied Gardner, his eyes darting across him. “It’s good that Arthus sees fit to remove you from Guildmastership, despite saving his life. His goals are noble, and having one who does not support him in charge of the Guild would be unwise.” He clambered down the stairs, closing the door on his way out.

    Gardner remained still, glowering at the edge of the stairs. “He’s removing me, is he? Despite my service?” He turned away, focusing on the window. “No matter. I couldn’t bear to be his slave any longer anyway.”

    He watched Martre direct Guild Pokemon, sending them to different parts of the compound to conduct repairs. “Still, he could prove useful. Yveltal’s a threat to everyone. Surely he’d realize that.”

    He turned away, shaking his head. “Even if I manage to change his mind, I can’t stay under his rule. Virona was the last straw. The temple plan very nearly failed—thanks to my mistake in restoring Grom’s emotion.” He reached into his chest and pulled out the corrupted ruby. “He’d kill me off before long for the numerous times I defied him.”

    He passed his hand over the giant crack made in its surface. “I can’t just disappear, and I’m too weak to fight him. Plus, Martre said there’s little Life left. I can’t expend any more than needed.” He lowered his head. “That narrows my options.”

    He set the ruby on the eave, scrutinizing the Guild. “I’ll need help. Everyone hates this place, so there will be no shortage of volunteers.” He groaned. “But everyone hates me.” He pounded the window. “Why did I not listen to the Trevenant’s words? I would never have gotten into this mess if I did!”

    He stopped, noticing a red-and-black cat slinking past a contingent of Pawniard, hiding in the shadows. “Mange—Zacheus. I helped him. He looks up to me.” He shook his head. “I can’t get away with him alone; even with his experience, it simply can’t be done.”

    He continued searching, his eye passing the white roof of the medical bay. He stared at it. An idea formed in his mind. “Zacheus will be useful...but there’s another way.”

    He held his chin, closing his eye. “She hates him as much as I do—probably more in fact. She’d do anything to escape the Guild and return to those Lucario.” He opened his eye. “But Arthus wouldn’t allow that. He’d surely restrain her.” He slapped his fist against his palm. “But I can release her, and in exchange, she’d help me and Zacheus go free.”

    He focused on the ruby, then held it up. “She won’t trust me.” He tightened his grip. “But I’ll earn it somehow. Anything to escape Arthus.”

    Gardner grunted, then crushed the ruby, causing it to explode with crimson light and sparkling shards. They clattered against the ground, joining the dust of Joltik and shards of glass.

    The Dusknoir took a deep breath.

    “I made myself who I am. Now I will be my own.”

    ~~~~

    A Zoroark stood in blackness, still. No sound or sight crossed its path for what felt like hours. A black Golurk glowing with Life appeared, standing at attention.

    “Grom?” the Zoroark asked.

    Grom didn’t hear. The brace over his chest loosened and fell off, dropping into the black void below. The crack in his chest surged, and he crouched, leaning toward the Zoroark.

    He bounded forward, making no sound except a high-pitched whine. The Zoroark attempted to jump out of the way, but Grom diverted his path to meet it. The Golurk grabbed the Zoroark, his victim fully expecting to die from the oncoming explosion. The Golurk lowered his head and whispered five words:

    “I’ll always be with you.”

    The blackness was consumed by white, and the Zoroark awoke.

    ~~~~

    In a tiny room coated in beige paint, sunlight leaked through the open window. Beds lined the opposite walls, each with white linen and soft pillows over its frame. On the tables next to them were bowls and platters, ready for their occupants. On the wall adjacent to them, cabinets loaded with medicine and supplies surrounded the windows, hanging above a counter with a bucket of water and a set of cloths. Opposite of that wall was a set of double doors, leading out to Pokemon completing their daily tasks.

    On the central bed along the left wall, a Zoroark stirred under the covers. A bandage wrapped around her head, chest, and limbs, each fresh and clean. Her fur was shiny and smooth, brushed free of imperfection.

    She sat upright and gasped opening her eyes. She breathed heavily, looking around the room in confusion. “W-Where am I?” She turned to the table and noticed two brass bolts sitting next to a small bowl of Oran berries.

    She picked up one of the bolts. “…Grom…” Her eyes widened. “Lawrence?” she called. “Matheus?”

    “They aren’t here.”

    She froze.

    “They escaped before the temple collapsed. I have no idea where they went after that.”

    She knew that voice.

    “We were lucky to get out ourselves. If it wasn’t for Gardner—” He stopped himself. “Sorry, I forgot that you couldn’t see me.” Another Zoroark appeared on the bed next to Cassia, sitting on the side. Bandages wrapped around his chest and arms as well, but his fur was disheveled, and around his neck was a simple golden pendant glowing with pure blue light.

    The other Zoroark turned toward him slowly, then edged away on her bed. “Arthus?”

    He smiled. “It looks like your memory’s intact despite the nasty hit you took.” He stood up shakily, rubbing his arm. “You would’ve been asleep for weeks if it weren’t for the Life that I ordered Martre to retrieve. It’s only been three days, and all you have right now are mending bones and skin.” He winced and sat down on the bed again. “Of course, I suffered more. But we’ll both be right as rain within a few days.” He chuckled. “Oh, I forgot.” He took an Oran berry from the bowl and held it out to her.

    “Welcome home, Cassia.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  12. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    And with this next chapter, you are officially caught up! Now the story will update exclusively on Saturdays.

    Chapter 24: Escape

    The Priestess is taken,

    The Usurper reveals

    The weakness of self

    In his years of old.

    Loyalty now broken,

    The Guildmaster commands,

    But the Usurper has left him

    For his final desire.

    ~~~~

    In the dark alleyways of the north district, Gardner Dusknoir passed through broken structures and dusty debris, keeping a watchful eye. Darkened ruins of once-beautiful homes rose up around him, a thin haze obscuring the sky. Only the occasional crumbling wooden plank crackled through the air. No Pokemon dared dwell here after Arthus’ fury twenty years ago. No Pokemon except those with nowhere else to go.

    Gardner hovered over moldy remains of berries, ignoring them. “Zacheus? I know you’re in here.” Crates shuffled in the back.

    The Guildmaster’s hand passed through a cobweb, entangling his fingers. He shook it off and exclaimed, “I didn’t come into this abandoned wasteland just to be given the silent treatment.”

    The crates rustled again, and the head of the mangy Torracat poked out from underneath. “What do you want me for? I did nothin’ wrong.”

    Gardner drew closer, causing Zacheus to flinch. “I’m not here to hurt you,” Gardner replied, “I’m here to make an offer.”

    Zacheus paused. “What for?”

    Gardner brushed up to the crates, whispering, “I’m escaping from the Guild. I won’t be in power for much longer, and Arthus will have me dead before long.”

    The Torracat crawled around the crates, then ran to a different corner. “Why do you want me? I’m worthless. Everyone around here hates me.”

    “Then why stay? You obviously don’t have a life here if you’re living in this wreck.”

    “I wouldn’t make it out of the desert! Just look at me! I’m just a meal on legs for one of those Vikavolt.”

    “Just listen to me!”

    Gardner rushed toward him and pinned him to the wall, a deathly chill hanging over him. “The only one who knows more about this Guild than you is Arthus, and he’s the one who built this place.” He dropped Zacheus and backed away. “You can worm your way out of any situation. You hate this Guild and what they do to you, so why don’t you have the backbone to run?”

    Zacheus sunk to the ground, avoiding Gardner’s gaze. “I-I just have nowhere else to go. I’m s-scared of everything. Everyone wants to hurt me.” He buried his face in his paws. “I just want to hide…”

    Suddenly, Gardner saw himself shivering in the Ythereal Swamps, hiding from the ghosts that drove him away from the wells of Life. All his years until his meeting with Arthus, he hid away. Afraid. With nowhere left to go.

    Gardner sat on the ground next to Zacheus and hesitantly set a hand on his side. “Well…let’s change that.” Zacheus looked up.

    Gardner continued, looking away. “I was afraid. I was small. I was always hungry. And no one loved me.” He drew closer. “Now, I’m large. I’m fearless. I’m strong.” He blinked, thinking to himself, “A pack of lies, but he doesn’t know any better.”

    “And still, everyone hates me. This world is cruel, and you can never hide for long. In the end, there are only two choices: join the world in its hatred or stand up and fight it.” Gardner tightened his fingers behind his back. “Or run and hide for the rest of your days, like I plan to do.”

    He raised a hand to his chest, the gem absent. “I chose to hate the world and look what I became: a tyrant. A stooge. A hateful, ignorant Pokemon, all because I focused so much on how the world had wronged me.” “True, true,” he admitted, nodding his head slightly.

    He pointed at Zacheus and exclaimed, “You can’t hide forever. Sooner or later, you’ll come to a point where you have to make your stand. You’ll choose to either hate the world or try to make it better.” Zacheus crawled out from under Gardner’s hand and sat in front of him, gazing. Gardner scarcely restrained a smile. “This might actually work.”

    Gardner backed away and crossed his arms. “I’m tired of revenge; it never satisfied me. I realize that the only way to stop our stories from happening again is to not become the ones who ruined them.” He held out a hand. “Will you join me, or stay here? Will you be afraid for the rest of your life, or be brave…like your father?”

    Zacheus’ eyes widened at the mention of his father. He looked away, then turned back with a gleam in his eye. He stood tall and slapped a paw into Gardner’s hand.

    “Where to…Guildmaster?”

    ~~~~

    In the medical bay, Arthus held the berry out closer to Cassia with a smile. “Aren’t you hungry?”

    Cassia ignored the offer, pulling off her covers. “I shouldn’t be here.”

    “Yes, you should. You’re still recovering.” Arthus pulled back the berry, his smile turning into a look of concern. “You don’t want to go back there, do you? It’s dangerous with all the Ghosts.”

    Cassia swung her legs away from Arthus. “It’s more dangerous in here.”

    Arthus hopped off his bed and limped in front of Cassia. “Why would you say that?” He froze. “Oh. I see.” He threw away the Oran berry and pointed at the Seal around his neck. “You see me as a threat, don’t you? Now that it is finally repaired.” He held it up, considering it. “Only a matter of time before I end the evil in this world…and this time, no Lucario is going to stop me.”

    “Matheus will,” Cassia interjected. “He’s done it before, he can do it again.”

    Arthus smirked. “It was Laryon who stopped me. Not Matheus. All he did was take a scratch for his nephew.” He shook his head. “He’s a worthless asset to Arceus.”

    Cassia pushed up from the bed, then fell back into it with a groan. She held her side, then exclaimed, “You won’t win. You changed Grom to fit your perfect world, and he was no Pokemon.” Her gaze softened, then she held her shoulder. “Before I changed him…”

    Arthus sighed, massaging his head. “That Golurk was only an experiment, and an imperfect one at that. If it weren’t for him, you’d never have left the Guild and been corrupted by Matheus and all those foolish Arceists.”

    “You’re wrong!” Cassia snapped. “It was thanks to him I got to see so much of Equivos! It was thanks to him that I could be with Matheus and Lawrence!” She lowered her eyes. “It was thanks to him that I saved so many…”

    “Except him,” she thought.

    Arthus sat next to her, causing her to scoot away. He frowned. “But I gave you so much here. I taught you to draw, to read, to use Life. I devoted all my time to you, and all my love with it.” He held Cassia’s hand and rested his claws over it. “I never hurt you…yet you left me.”

    Cassia pulled away her had. “It was all a lie. All those stories, all those lessons—”

    “Cassia.”

    “—While you killed hundreds of Pokemon behind my back—”

    Cassia.

    “All because they did something you didn’t like!” She stood up, ignoring her pain. “You don’t love anything! You say you’re stopping evil when you’re the cause of all of it!” She stamped her foot. “You killed my parents! And if it weren’t for you, Grom would still be alive!” She fell to the floor, clutching her sides. Arthus remained still.

    Cassia pushed herself up, tears rolling down her face. “Why? Just why? Why all the death and the hate? Why all this anger against the Pokemon who are just trying to survive?” She glared at Arthus. “You’re a monster. You don’t love me, or anyone else.” She turned back to the ground. “You just want to murder.”

    Arthus lowered his head, propping it up with his hand. He took a deep breath and made a shuddering sigh. “So…that’s what I am. A murderer. A monster. An uncaring beast that hates everyone in Equivos.” He stood up, pacing around Cassia. “I expected harsh words from you, Cassia, but…” He stopped himself. He picked up Cassia silently—ignoring her protests—then set her on the bed.

    He took the chair set against the wall and set it in front of the bed. He sat in it and kept his head low. “You may not believe it, Cassia, but I do love you. Just as I loved my son, Erik. Even my wife, your namesake—and Matheus, before he turned his back on me.” He held his head, gritting his teeth. “You just don’t understand. No one does. Not even Matheus.” He raised his head, his eyes losing their fearsome luster. “I never done any of this because I hated the world. I hated Arceus for allowing us to make horrible decisions, decisions that hurt ourselves and others.”

    “You hated freedom. How is forcing someone to do good any better?” Cassia interjected.

    Arthus brushed his claws through his headfur and said, “It’s time you knew about my past. I know the Tome tells you nothing about me except that I’m the Usurper…you deserve a better explanation.”

    Cassia remained silent and still. “Yes, you do. Why did you become the Usurper?” she thought.

    Arthus blew out his breath slowly. “When I was five years old, my parents were forced to flee their home by a group of evil Pokemon. I don’t know the details of the situation, but we made way to Quantus Village for safety. On our way there, my mother was killed, while my father saved both me and my brother, Ferrick. It devastated all of us—none more than my father.”

    “When we reached Quantus, the gatekeepers—a family of Lucario—allowed us to stay, offering us a room in their home. They had three Riolu: Matheus, the eldest; Cael, his brother; and Azure, their sister. They all welcomed us with open arms, not caring that we were Zoroark.” He clenched his claws. “Even then, Zoroark were feared.”

    He relaxed, then continued, “My father wasn’t the same after we fled, and several weeks after we arrived, he left to hunt down the Pokemon that murdered my mother to ensure they didn’t attack Quantus. He never returned.” His hands shook. “Matheus’ family raised me and Ferrick. I always tried to figure out what happened to my father, he remained a mystery to me.”

    He rubbed his eyes. “Anyway…Ferrick and I grew up with Matheus’ family. Over the years, I grew close to Matheus, and when we were fourteen, we evolved—on the same day, in fact.” Arthus smiled. “We were both so excited. He wanted to go see what else was in the region, while I wanted to find out my father’s past. Matheus’ parents wouldn’t allow it, but they finally agreed after two years of begging from him. I went along as his companion.”

    Chuckling, Arthus shook his head. “We got into so much trouble. Everywhere we went, there seemed to be something out to get us: Beedrill, Tauros, Seviper, the like. It was mostly Matheus’ fault with how reckless he was, but I was always there to save his tail.” He stopped, staring at the floor. “Until…”

    He shook his head, then said, “We had many adventures, often saving Pokemon in need from the wild or villainous Pokemon. We came up with the Guild to help them all, and by the time we were nineteen, we had unified Equivos, basing ourselves in the Iren Canyon—where we stand now.”

    He looked up fondly. “Several days after that, I met Cassia, and months later, we married. Life couldn’t have been better, with all my friends at my side, and the knowledge that Pokemon were being saved thanks to our work.” He laughed. “Ah, Cassia. I loved her more than the world. I could never have been happier with her at my side.” His face darkened. “Until Matheus left.”

    His fist tightened again, and he bared his teeth. “A month after I married, Matheus was anxious to go adventuring again. I wanted to remain in the Guild with Cassia, so he left without me, leaving for Cretea. I begged for him to stay, but he wouldn’t listen—as he often did when we were together.” He pressed a hand against his forehead. “I was left to manage the Guild. I knew Matheus would be back eventually, so I waited. As long as Cassia was with me, I could do anything.”

    He exhaled slowly. “Life continued as normal until I went out for a rescue call for a village myself. I had seen many attacks, but none were as brutal as that. A herd of Camerupt had run through the streets and burned down all the homes. Few survived, and I was reminded of how cruel the world was.” He straightened and barked, “My parents died because of Pokemon like them! Wild Pokemon were mindless, and the mistakes of good Pokemon can cost lives!” He winced, holding his side. Cassia now lay on her back, claws clasped over her chest.

    Arthus breathed in, then said, “That was the last straw. I went to the library in the Guild and searched for a way to stop this evil, as unlikely as it was. My advisors and even Cassia discouraged me, but I continued.” He closed his eyes. “After weeks of searching, I found my answer: the Gregorian Scrolls.

    “They were written by Gregorius Xatu in the distant past, likely when the Golurk were first created. He was the one who prophesied the Day of Desolation, and how the evil of the world would eventually trigger the awakening of Yveltal. Later in his life, he wrote how it could be stopped by removing evil from the world.” He set a hand on his head. “He was banished to the Xilo Mountains after that, as he had become what is known as a Dark Prophet.”

    Arthus lowered his hand. “I was afraid of the futures that Gregorius prophesied, and wished to stop them. He detailed how only the one who found his tomb could retrieve the means of preventing this future: The Edge of Despair.” He shivered. “It gave whoever used it power over Life itself. That power was needed to activate the key to the entire plan, which was the Seal of Creation.

    “The Seal required the Life of the individual who touched it, and unless they survived, it would continue to require it. However, if one is immortal—like the Legends—they can use it. It was designed to let no mortal activate it.” Arthus raised a claw. “There’s a catch. If the individual has the Life of two individuals, the lock would break, as if they were a Legend.”

    Arthus leaned forward once more, holding his claws. “As the Edge was the only way to have that amount of Life, I went to search for Gregorius’ tomb in Xilo. After weeks of combing through the mountains, we found it, and upon breaking in, we saw the Edge of Despair resting on top of Gregorius’ coffin. I went to take it—then a Gengar burst from the coffin.”

    Arthus cringed. “The Gengar was the ghost of Gregorius, and he was protecting the Edge from being used by someone not devoted to him. He challenged everyone there, killing those who didn’t share his beliefs. Soon, only I was left, and he determined that only I was allowed to use the Edge. I took it, and Gregorius returned with me to the Guild, hidden.” He stared at the ground. “I was shaken after that, and for a few months, I ignored the Edge, enjoying the company of Cassia while I built up my relations in the Guild. Many preferred me over Matheus, while a few believed he was the only true Guildmaster. That didn’t worry me—then.”

    “Gregorius grew impatient with me and demanded that I use the Edge. Hesitant as I was, his insistence over the past weeks finally convinced me. I tried to justify finding the Seal of Creation first, but he insisted that I use the edge first, as the Seal was useless without its power.” He started to shake. “I agreed, on the same day that Cassia revealed we were having a baby. Despite that joy, I was afraid of the price I’d have to pay.” He swallowed hard, then said “I-I can’t tell you what it was…” Cassia remained on her back, gazing at Arthus.

    Arthus gave a deep, shuddering sigh, then said, “The day after I used the Edge, Matheus returned, to the shock of everyone. He said he had completed the ‘Trials of Deitae’, though no one knew what he meant. He expected praise from the Guild he had created with me, but no one cheered for him except the few who remained devoted to him.” He looked left and right. “Soon after, he left, and in the weeks he was gone, I was trained to use the Life the Edge gave me. I kept it hidden from everyone, fearing that they’d lose faith in me if they knew.

    “While he was gone, I went to the resting place of the Seal of Creation and took it. To prepare for the journey, I returned to the Guild to find Matheus waiting for me. He wondered where I was, and I said that I had finally found the means to make sure no one can make a mistake again, to prevent sadness, fear, and hatred. I told him that we were on the edge of making world peace, all thanks to my efforts.”

    Arthus growled. “That night, he stole the Seal from me, claiming that it was wrong to use it. I tried to convince him that he was wrong, but he refused to listen.” His fist tightened. “I was forced to fight him to take it back. He managed to win using sly tactics, and he ran away with the help of his followers. Gregorius advised me to punish them for helping him escape.” He solemnly lowered his head. “I used my Life to finish them, and anyone else who stood in my way. I refused to be stopped from ending evil, no matter the cost.

    “After that night, I set the Guild to find Matheus and bring the Seal back to me. For weeks, there was no sign of him. I feared that he may have escaped me for good, until I remembered the one town we had never established the Guild in: Quantus, my home.”

    Arthus rocked his head left to right. “I went there myself to find him and saw that nothing had changed from when I left. It was as peaceful as ever, despite the evils there were in the world.” He shook his head. “But that thought left when I saw Ferrick getting ready to marry Azure. He thought I would be happy for such a union but it was anything but; no Zoroark should be associated with the traitorous Lucario.” He glared at Cassia. “No good comes from it.” Cassia glared in response.

    Arthus looked away. “Not wanting Ferrick to make that mistake, I wiped his memory of her with my Life, and vice versa to Azure. I had to leave without checking the entire village, but I at least had my family with me.” He shuddered. “I left my Guild to the rest. They attacked Quantus to search for the Seal, while I cared for my son.” He waved a hand and shook his head. “Matheus miraculously showed up and escaped with Azure and Laryon, who was Cael’s son. For the next ten years, I searched for them, and the rest is history.”

    He sat still. Cassia stared at him in shock. She sat on the edge of the bed, jaw slack from his horrific tale.

    Noticing this reaction, Arthus said, “All my life, I have been wronged. Thousands of others I met have suffered because of these Pokemon who don’t care about their lives, only wishing to propel their own.” He raised a claw. “I suffered so much in my life. My parents, my guild, my brother! All lost to the trickery of the Pokemon who wish nothing more than to harm them!” He held out his arms. “But I can stop all that if I simply take Arceus’ place and have the will to do what he didn’t. No one has to feel pain, inflicted by others or themselves, anymore.”

    Cassia’s features darkened, and her eyes narrowed. “Hypocrite.”

    Arthus flinched. “Excuse me?”

    Cassia pounded the side of the bed. “You’re a hypocrite! You say you want to stop Pokemon from doing evil what that’s exactly what you do! You ruined families, you destroyed the Guild, and you made everyone forget Arceus!”

    Arthus stood up and exclaimed, “All to save them in the future! Matheus never tried to help them! All he wanted was to sail off the edge of map in search of somewhere new! He stopped me from ending generations of suffering!”

    Cassia remained firm. “You loved him, didn’t you?”

    Arthus faltered. He lowered his hand and sighed, “Yes…yes I did. Like a brother.”

    “Yet you didn’t when he stood in your way?”

    Arthus grimaced. “What’s your point? That I should have let him go free?”

    Cassia said in a low tone, “Did you love Cassia? Your wife?”

    Arthus’ eyes widened, and he struggled to sound out the words. Finally, he said, “Of course I did! She meant everything to me! I was worthless without her!”

    Cassia gripped the edge of her bed. “Then why did you kill her?”

    Arthus froze. “No. I won’t tell.”

    “Then you’re a liar,” Cassia warned.

    “I am not—”

    “Yes, you are!” Cassia stormed upright and pushed Arthus back into his seat. “You’re nothing like what I thought you were! I thought you were a loving, compassionate Pokemon, but now I see you’re just a selfish, jealous, hateful wreck, wanting nothing more than to find traitors in your life!” She jabbed a claw at him and bellowed, “You never loved me or Cassia! You only hate! You’d rather see us die than get in your way!”

    Arthus leaned back in his seat, clutching the Seal. Cassia fell back onto her bed, focusing on Arthus as he blinked, dwelling on her words.

    Finally, he chokingly said, “N-No. I loved you and Cassia. More than I can ever tell you.” He shuddered, clamping hand over his eyes. “I k-killed her because of my love.” Cassia’s eyes shot open.

    Arthus sniffed, shaking his head slowly. “The p-price of the Edge of Despair…was the life of who you love most.” Tears fell down his cheek. “I n-never wanted to do it. I wanted to raise Erik with her, to be happy with her, to just be with her.” He heaved. “But I wanted Erik to grow up in a world where he didn’t have to be afraid or lose anyone he loved—unlike me. So, I did it. I killed Cassia!”

    He continued to cry, exclaiming, “And I’ve regretted it ever since!” He continued to cry, leaving Cassia to put a hand over her mouth, horrified.

    Minutes after this breakdown, Arthus calms, and between deep breaths, he says, “I…I’m sorry for what I did. I don’t want anyone else to go through my pain.” He held up the Seal. “Once I take Arceus’ power, and wipe this world clean of evil, the first thing I’ll do…” He forced a smile. “I’ll bring her back to life. I can reverse that awful mistake and prevent everyone else from doing things they regret.”

    Cassia gasped, backing away. “You…I…” She stopped. “I can never forgive you. You deserved to rot with Yveltal!” She turned around and grabbed Grom’s bolts, then burst out of the medical bay—right into the arms of two Machoke.

    She struggled to escape as the Machoke tied her arms behind her back, restraining her from escaping. In her panic, Cassia cried out for Lawrence and Matheus, dwelling on the tragedy of the one who had raised her.

    Arthus stood up from his seat, holding his claws behind his back. “I don’t want you regretting what you’ve done, like me.” He held out a claw, a burst of Life erupting from it. “You don’t have to be afraid.” He held up the Seal of Creation. “Soon, I will end all pain…

    “Most of all…my own.”

    ~~~~

    A puff of purple gas thinly hovered around the entrance to the prison, amazed by the reaction of the now-imprisoned Zoroark. “She’s got guts, talking to Arthus like that.” He ducked around the wall and rematerialized, rubbing his chin. “Figures, considering she had the guts to run away—more than I ever had till now.” He watched the Machoke that carried her exit, putting her in the prison and guarding the entrance.

    Gardner cocked his head, appearing to smile. “This ‘Arceist’ business might have something going for it if she’s managed to run away and talk back to Arthus like that.”

    Arthus stepped out from the medical bay and pointed at the Machoke guards. “Don’t let anyone in; she must remain isolated from anyone she can gather Life from.” He twisted his head behind him, focusing on Gardner. “Good to see you’ve recovered!”

    Gardner flinched and hovered out from behind the wall. “Y-Yes, thanks to the new Guildmaster.” He rolled his eye. “Even if I’m escaping this hole, that doesn’t mean I’ll show him any respect.”

    Arthus held his hands behind his back and stepped closer to Gardner. “Ah, you’ve heard from Martre then. Yes, I’ve determined that he will be a better Guildmaster than you ever could be.” He smiled. “No complaints, I trust?”

    Gardner restrained a sarcastic ‘ha’. “None.” He waved his hand through the air and said, “So, with him taking care of the Guild, what should I be busy with then?”

    Arthus set a claw on Gardner’s shoulder. “Just listen to Martre. I have business I need to take care of.” He started to walk away.

    Gardner’s eye widened. “Now’s my chance.” He grabbed Arthus’ arm and hurriedly said, “Before you go, I must ask you something.” Arthus turned around and crossed his arms, then nodded for him to continue.

    The Dusknoir held his hands behind his back, fidgeting with his fingers. “As you know, Yveltal has awakened, and there’s a variety of disasters coming shortly. I was wondering if you could do something with the Seal to—”

    “No.” Arthus spun away from Gardner. “Arceus is the only one that matters. Let Yveltal come; less work for me once I take his place.” He paced away, occasionally setting his claws on the ground and drawing out small wells of Life.

    Gardner stared at Arthus, then looked away and groaned. “So much for that approach.” He turned to the prison and studied the Machoke standing at the door.

    He rolled his eye, then exploded into mist. He trailed over their heads as they stared ahead glumly, worming into a crack just above the doorframe, out of sight.

    Inside, the windows lay coated thick with dust, along with every other bare surface. The table and chairs in the center, the bench in the cell, even the lanterns hanging from the ceiling, glowing with dim firelight. For years, the cell had lain dormant, its potential prisoners instead executed by the Usurper and his Guildmaster.

    Sitting on the bench, Cassia crooned over the bolts laying on her palm. Tears trickled down her face as she traced over the grooves within the bolts. She sniffed, then said, “I wish you were here, Grom.” She closed her eyes and covered the bolts. “You too, Lawrence. I need your help…” She looked up and put her hands together. “Please help me, Arceus. I can’t stay here. Equivos needs me, and I…I need Lawrence and Matheus. And they need me. They’re my only friends.” She lowered her head. “I can’t get out of here on my own. And Arthus will take you again, and this time, he’ll win. I just have to stop it.”

    She looked up again momentarily. “Please help…”

    Gardner strangely felt sorry for her. “Despite her guts, she still feels fear…yet that doesn’t stop her.” He shook his gaseous form. “Ugh, I can’t believe I respect her now.”

    Moments after, the gas in the air gathered into the center, forming into Gardner Dusknoir, his eyelid creased into what appeared to be a frown…saddened.

    Cassia backed away, holding a shaking claw out. “I can’t take anymore…just leave, please!”

    “I’m not here to hurt you,” Gardner replied. Cassia stared at him, confused.

    He passed through the prison bars and stood next to her, causing her to scoot away. He didn’t react. “I’m…sorry, for what happened. I should’ve realized Arthus’ insanity sooner. I was just…blinded, by my ambition.” He curled his fist. “What I did was wrong. I want to make up for what I did…to give Life rather than take.”

    After a moment of silence, Cassia asked, “Why me? I thought you hated me for being a Zoroark, for being Arthus’ descendant?”

    Gardner moved in front of Cassia. “I’ve been despised my entire life. If anyone should be hated, it’s me.” He pointed at Cassia. “You had the guts to stay with Arceus, after all this time. I gave up on that years ago, and I followed Arthus in the hope I could be someone.” He lowered his hand. “He gives nothing. He’s too absorbed in the past and too concerned for himself. He doesn’t deserve any followers.”

    Cassia cocked her head slightly. “Why are you telling me all this?”

    “I’m offering to break you out of here and take you out of the Guild with me. In exchange, you’d cover our tracks and make sure Martre doesn’t follow us.” He held out his hand. “I just want you to know why I’ll be dead sooner or later. Arthus won’t tolerate someone like me for long, so I have to get out while I can. Do we have a deal?”

    Cassia crossed her arms. “I still don’t trust you, after all you’ve made me go through. How do I know this isn’t a trick?”

    Gardner looked up, thinking. “I…I’ll get you something. Something that’ll prove my trust. It’ll take time, but I can do it.” He thought to himself, “And I can get back at old Martre while I’m at it. Kill to Pidgey with one stone.”

    Cassia only stared. “Plus, I’m still in no shape to be going anywhere. I need time to heal…it’d go faster if I had more Life, but I’m stuck in here, so…”

    “I’ll get you more Life. Anything to avoid this wretched Guild; I can’t have them track me down.” Gardner held out his hand again. “Sound good?”

    Cassia considered Gardner’s hand, then shook it. “You better be telling the truth.”

    ~~~~

    The next morning, Arthus sat outside the medical bay, rubbing his arm. It glowed with Life, rapidly mending the bruised skin and broken bone underneath. The Zoroark stood free of bandages, healed from his disastrous injuries.

    He removed his hand, satisfied with his work. “Rather let myself heal naturally, but I’ve put off my duty for far too long.” He clutched the Seal around his neck. “And if Matheus somehow comes to stop me, I’ll be ready.”

    Heavy feet stamped toward him from the tower. Arthus looked up and said, “How goes your new duties, Guildmaster Martre?”

    The Metagross stopped in front of him, gesturing around the Guild. “Tiring, but manageable. I’ve sent scouts to prepare for taking back the settlements we’ve lost to Cassia’s proselytizing, and I’ve sent trackers to find the Lucario. That, along with the new recruitment and supply efforts I’ve initiated, will help bring the Guild back to the power it ought to be.”

    Arthus nodded sagely. “Yes, very good. Call back the trackers, though; they won’t be needed.” He brushed past Martre and started walking toward the gate.

    Martre hovered alongside his brisk pace. “You’re going to Deitae? Arthus, the Life network is too perilous around the Tree of Life, and the storms—”

    “Are not my concern.” Arthus tapped his head and said, “I have it all figured out. There’s a Life deposit over in Hydren, and once there, I’ll gather a crew to head for Deitae, and within a few days we’ll be on the coast, storm or no storm. After that, there’s nothing to fear.”

    “You seem awfully sure of yourself. Are you positive no complications will arise?”

    “Of course I’m sure. Even if those Lucario were headed directly for Hydren from Faylen, it’d take them two weeks to reach me, while I’ll be there instantaneously. There is no threat to my success.”

    “And no regrets?”

    Arthus winced. “Regrets?”

    Martre nodded. “What you’re about to do will have repercussions. This world won’t be the same after you take Arceus and eliminate evil. You’re sure you want to go through with it?”

    They reached the gate, and Arthus pulled open the door. He lowered his eyes. “You remind me of Gregorius, always making sure I stay true to my path.” He slipped behind the door. “I’ve been set for the past two thousand and twenty years.” He slammed the door.

    Arthus pounded toward the deadened tree just outside, calling to the Life beneath it. “Once this is over, I’ll have the life I should have had. With Cassia and Erik, with no one to fear.” He clutched the Seal once more.

    “And no foolish mistakes.”

    ~~~~

    Over the next two days, Gardner continued preparing his escape with Zacheus and Cassia, feeding Zacheus and granting Cassia Life as they finalized the details. During one of Gardner’s visits to the Zoroark, he carried something with him through the crack over the door.

    He slipped between the bars and held it out to Cassia. “Here.”

    Cassia clutched Grom’s bolts in her claws, studying Gardner warily. “What is it?” It was a small drawstring bag made of leather, appearing to be harmless.

    Gardner held it up. “It’s for those bolts. You haven’t let them go since you were thrown in here.” He set it on the bench she sat on. “Might as well have something to keep them in.” He backed away.

    Cassia studied it for a moment, then took it from the bench, checking it for traps. Satisfied, she dropped Grom’s bolts inside carefully, then closed the bag.

    Gardner held out a length of string. “You can wrap this around it and keep it on your side. No need to lose it.”

    Cassia accepted that as well, slipping the string through the loops on the bag. “No tricks?”

    Gardner rolled his eye. “And what would I gain from that?” He crossed his arms. “You’re awfully paranoid of me despite the fact I want to help you.”

    “Doesn’t help that you’ve been hunting me for the past two years,” Cassia muttered.

    Gardner groaned, rubbing his eye. “Yes, I know.” He turned around and passed through the bars. “You would’ve been trapped here within weeks of you escaping if it weren’t for Grom. He was a great guardian, and I hope you can support yourself without his help. Even if I’m around.”

    Shouts echoed behind the door, and Gardner exploded into mist. “I’ll come later today with your Life. Stay vigilant; we’ll be out of here soon.” He swept into the crack and was gone.

    Cassia stared at the crack, considering his words. “Support myself?” She was without Matheus--who saved her from the Pokemon in Cryus--and Lawrence, who provided much-needed support in her times of despair. What would she do without them?

    She continued thinking about this, and on the morning of the third day, exactly eight days from when the temple of Faylen had collapsed, Gardner stood outside the entrance of the Master’s Tower, invisible to all.

    The door swung open, and Guildmaster Martre Metagross tramped down the steps. He pointed at a Mienshao and exclaimed, “Gather the captains for an important meeting at the cafeteria involving ration deployment! I expect to see them in ten minutes!” The Mienshao nodded and ran off, while Martre turned around and marched to the café.

    Gardner briefly reappeared, holding open the swinging door. “Now to earn Cassia’s trust.” He barreled up the stairs, slamming the door.

    He reached the top floor and retched. His dark and forbidding atmosphere was gone in exchange for one of science and research. Bookshelves lined every possible wall, covered in scientific instruments and books. A portrait showing Martre in some distant landscape occasionally cropped up in the instruments, surrounding the massive circular table at the center.

    Gardner carefully wove through the books, passing a finger through the spines. “It has to be around here somewhere…” He stopped and rubbed the side of his head, moaning. “He wouldn’t be foolish enough to leave it out here.” He scanned the room, searching for a suspicious-looking location—finding a black square hidden behind a low shelf of books.

    Gardner yanked away the books and discovered a heavy iron safe, set with three locks. The Dusknoir rolled his eye and caused his hand to collapse into gas. The wisps flowed into the three locks, flipping the pins within and pulling away the deadbolts. The door swung outward, covering the floor in golden light.

    Gardner ignored the mound of coins in the safe. Instead, he focused on the true prize on top of it: a large, leather-bound book, imprinted with the seal of Arceus. The last Arceist Tome.

    He carefully pulled it out, flipping through the pages briefly to ensure it was real. Satisfied, he went to close the door, until he noticed a peculiar object lying on its side.

    He picked it up and found that it is the Prison Bottle, elegant and unmarred despite the beating it took in the temple. The intricate carvings glowed with a low, lavender light, and a voice in the back of Gardner’s head plead to be released.

    Setting the Tome under his arm, he held the neck tightly and gently closed the door of the vault. “Just in case,” he thought. He turned around. Crimson eyes bored into him.

    “Martre!” Gardner shouted, pulling away from the Metagross. “I thought you were meeting with the captains!” He set the Tome and the bottle behind his back, futilely hiding the from the Guildmaster.

    “I came back to retrieve some important documents,” Martre nonchalantly replied. A purple aura surrounded his pupils. “But now I see there’s more important matters to attend to.” The Tome was surrounded in purple light, and it flew in front of Gardner, still clutched in his grip. “I expected you to flee, but not with this. Why would you need the book you burned?”

    Gardner grunted, struggling to pull it back. “None of your business.”

    The Prison Bottle swung in front of him as well, still in his grip. Martre chuckled. “And are you sure you want that? An infuriated Legend is waiting to get out of there. No matter what you do, he won’t be any use.”

    Gardner forced a laugh, gradually pulling the objects back. “Better with me than with you. Who knows? Hoopa might be generous.”

    Martre sighed, shaking his head as the Tome and Prison Bottle floated closer to him. “I’m not going to let this stand. Release them now, and I’ll consider throwing you into prison rather than executing you.”

    Gardner laughed maniacally. “I’m already in one, no thanks to that fool Arthus and your idiotic strategies!” Dark, gaseous tendrils rose up around him, edging toward the Metagross.

    Psychic forcefields rose up to protect Martre from the tendrils, pushing them back. “I am merely setting things to the order they should be. Arthus will set the world into balance, and I will stand at his side, bringing Pokemon to maximum efficiency, allowing me to continue my studies without fear of my survival.”

    “You mean ripping the option to choose from everyone? That’s no life! I should know…” Gardner crept closer, his fists flowing with dark mist. “I lived it for the past twenty years.” He released the Tome and the Bottle and clamped his hands over Martre’s eyes, then sent a surge of cold into them.

    “Aaauuggh!” Martre bellowed, dropping his psychic powers and clawing at his eyes. Gardner snatched the Tome and the Bottle and rushed down the stairs, leaving the agonized Metagross to suffer.

    He rushed through the courtyard, ignoring bewildered looks from the Pokemon he passed. He reached the prison door and the Machoke guarding it. “You’re relieved of service,” Gardner muttered as he banged their heads together and chilled their heads. Amidst their groans, he opened his maw, pulling out a ring of keys from within. He selected one and unlocked the door, then barged in, shutting it.

    Cassia lay on the bench, woken up by the commotion. “Is it time?” she asked, yawning.

    Gardner opened the prison door, nodding and replying, “Yes, yes, it’s time to go!” He held open the bars and threw the Arceist Tome next to her. “Found that in Martre’s collection. Hope that’s enough to make you trust me.”

    Cassia sat upright and gazed at it, wide-eyed. She flipped open the cover and scanned through the pages, astonished. “I didn’t know any were left…” She turned to Gardner, cocking her head. “But why would you bring me this? Why betray the Guild? Wasn’t it thanks to Arthus that you became who you are?”

    The Dusknoir drifted away from the door, looking at the ground. “That’s what I used to think. But Arthus has done nothing to help anyone. No one but himself.” His fist shook. “He’s killed too many. Too many souls that didn’t deserve to die.” He turned to Cassia. “I have too. But unlike him, I want to make things right.”

    Cassia stayed still, then smiled and nodded. She closed the Tome, and Gardner remained at the entrance, waiting for her to follow.

    She stood up and went to go outside but stopped. She reached under the bench and pulled out the drawstring bag, drawn tight.

    She opened it and reached inside, feeling the aged, rigid bolts within. “Grom…”

    She remembered their final moments together, and what Grom had said to her before he passed. “Lawrence will protect you now.” She didn’t know where Lawrence was; all she had for companions was a scrawny Torracat and an untrustworthy Dusknoir. She was on her own.

    She held the bolts tightly. “Lawrence isn’t here. I love him still, but I can’t rely on him now.” Who could she rely on?

    She closed the bag, and walked out the gate, waving her hand. “There’s only me. I don’t need Lawrence to support me, even if he’s welcome.” A shimmer surrounded her and Gardner. “There’s only me. I must fend for myself.” She narrowed her eyes. “I won’t let the world tell me who I am.” They exited the prison, Cassia feeling confident in herself.

    Guild Pokemon rushed back and forth, calling to each other. Martre waved blindly outside the Master’s Tower, roaring orders to them. “Find Gardner and bring him to me! He’s betrayed us all!” he cried, his eyes forced shut.

    Gardner pushed Cassia along, disconcerted by the Pokemon not noticing him thanks to Cassia’s illusion. They passed through the crowds into the north district, crawling through the uninhabitable region until they reached a small cave set in the wall of the canyon.

    Cassia hesitated to enter, dropping their illusion. “What’s down there?”

    Gardner entered first, holding up the Prison Bottle. “A Torracat and a way out. Come on.” Cassia followed, looking around, unsure.

    They continued through the dark, winding tunnel until they reached a small beacon of light. It revealed itself to be Zacheus, sitting next to a large wooden sled and a tiny fire made from leftover sticks. He was noticeably bigger thanks to the renewed diet Gardner had given him.

    The Torracat saluted and exclaimed, “All set to go, Guildmaster!” He turned toward the sled with a concerned look. “I’m not sure I can pull this with both of you on it though…”

    “You only have to worry about Cassia; I don’t weigh a thing,” Gardner replied. He pointed at the sled and said to Cassia, “Go in and make yourself comfortable; it’ll be a bumpy ride.” He tossed the Prison Bottle to her, watching her catch it. “Keep hold of that too.”

    As she got inside and as Gardner hooked Zacheus onto the sled, Cassia asked, “Is this a tunnel of some sort?”

    “Yes,” said Gardner, “One that will get us out into the desert.” He set a palm on Zacheus’ back. “This will make sure you have enough strength to get us out of here.” Life surged into the young Torracat, causing him to yowl as he felt his power growing.

    Gardner hopped onto the sled and grabbed the chains, nearly chilling them to propel Zacheus. He paused, realizing that’s what he would have done before. Now, he must act differently.

    “Now!” Gardner barked. With a lurch, Zacheus set the sled into motion through the tunnels.

    Gardner hurriedly grabbed a stout stick from Zacheus’ fire and set it on a post, allowing them to see as they tumbled through the cavern. The Torracat blazed ahead, moving faster than he had ever before.

    Rocks scored the underside of the sled, nearly breaking through the bottom. Zacheus and Gardner worked together to avoid the larger rocks, while Cassia simply braced herself for whatever impact may come.

    Finally, after a long, arduous travail through the tunnel, a beam of light shined ahead. Zacheus pounded toward it faster, and they popped out into the bright and hot sunlight of the desert. Sand rushed by them as they barreled toward the distant trees of Faylen Jungle.

    Gardner pulled on the chain and adjusted their course toward the east, where the deciduous trees of the Kaena Woods lay. “We need to get to soil as soon as we can!” He looked down to Cassia. “Hide our trail until we get there.”

    Cassia nodded, then leaned out from the sled and passed her claws through the sand. The thin trail the runners of the sled made soon disappeared, making it seem that no one had used this way.

    Gardner curtly nodded. “Good. Just keep it up till we get to the forest.”

    As they rushed there, Cassia thought of Lawrence and Matheus, and where they might have been at that moment. She wished she could rejoin them, no matter how long it would take.

    She looked down at a small drawstring bag at her side, a gift from Gardner while she was imprisoned to hold Grom’s remains. She stroked it and thought, “I won’t give up. Not now. Not ever. I will find Lawrence and Matheus and be ready for whatever lies ahead.” She looked up, determined. “You wanted me to follow Lawrence’s example of being true to who I was. I won’t be the Zoroark that Arthus was.

    “I will be my own, and show Equivos that I refuse to live in his shadow.”

    ~~~~

    In the Revenant Forest, the enormous guardian Trevenant looked beyond his domain and toward the southern sea. Dark clouds roiled in the distance, booming and flashing as the tumbled toward the mainland. The spindly trees rustled in the chilling wind, and the Phantump duck underneath his branches.

    Hanging from his head was a small hut, where the Buneary children lay nestled, fearing the worst. With his Life, the Trevenant kept them warm, and fed his Phantump with it as well. Despite the world growing darker, he remained a light for their young lives.

    The Trevenant rumbled. “Desolation shall soon come.” The soil churned beneath him. “Yveltal will descend.” His roots rose up, groaning as they lifted the Trevenant. “I must protect the next generation.” With giant, lumbering steps, he made way to the coastline, his Phantump children following his footsteps. Other ghosts of all sorts followed as well, sustained by his vast well of Life.

    The Trevenant looked to the east. “I shall return, Creator. As will the children of Equivos.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  13. Marika_CZ

    Marika_CZ Well-Known Member

    I have just finished Ch3 and decided to comment. It is not a full review really... more like my first impressions and some comments on characters. So take this with a pinch of salt please. The plot has been barely kicked off so I am going to hold my comments on that until later chapters. Please bear with me, as I only started reading last week and will take some time to catch up with the final act. (Also, going to ignore any comments until I do... I am one of those people who are desperate to avoid spoilers)

    I have some mixed feelings about Ch1, but you totally got me on board starting with Ch2 and onwards :) Let me elaborate a little.

    The purpose of Ch1/Prologue is obviously to introduce the villain and establish him as a badass with godly powers. My issue with it was that it felt a bit overdone. Arthus felt like he was trying a bit too hard to be cool. He has not one but two action scenes where gets to wipe floor with his opponents while taunting them casually, making one liners and leaving carnage behind like it is nothing. I feel like one such scene would be enough to make it clear he is very tough and not to be messed with. Those fighting scenes also happen right after each other. I expected the early Guild scene to give me some exposition about the Pokemon living in it but nope, Arthus teleports there and his kill spree continues.

    On the other hand, you did a really good job preventing him from becoming one dimensional. There is Zorua that Arthus spared and decided to take care for and also his belief that he is ultimately going to change the world for the better. This gives him vibes of a Well-intended Extremist. It makes me wonder if he is the real villain of the story, or if there is much more going on behind. It is really intriguing. Hence my mixed feelings, there both positive and negative points to Arthus (and his introduction).

    Ch2 is where I became fully invested in the story. It became obvious you got more players - and worlds - involved (Hanson honestly creeped me out more than Arthus did) and whole story will be much more complicated than the prologue would let me know.
    This is helped by the fact that Lawrence is the first relatable character that we stick with and can easily follow. I like how you smuggled in some very real world issues that most people can identify with (being lost in your job, pressure from your boss, dealing with people whose opinions/lifestyle you dislike, problematic relationships with relatives etc.) - very nicely done.

    And then we got Ch3 and the other main characters appear. You did a good job of preparing some groundwork for later drama/character arcs. Grdevoir and Golurk obviously have a history to explore. Gardevoir's quest, whatever it is, seems hopeless given what we know about Arthus... and Golurk is just one big enigma. His character could go any way and I am curious to see what will you do with him. And of course Lawrence 1) has to deal with the fact he is Pokemon now, 2) is an atheist person thrown in the world where Gods and magic are real. There is some inner conflict just waiting to happen. Add the mix that Gardevoir and him are completely different minded people whose relationship is likely to affect the plot.

    Oh and I spotted a typo... in Ch3, you refer to Hanson as "Lanson."

    So in short, I like the story so far and I am looking forward what you will do with this world and where you take the characters from there!
     
    lucarioknight56 likes this.
  14. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Thank you for your review, @Marika_CZ! I'll post my responses in the spoiler below.

    I'm not really sure how I'd resolve that. While I can agree that having two fight sequences so close to each other is a bit much, they are needed. We need to see the dichotomy of Arthus' personality with him killing the other Zoroark and then wanting to preserve this Zorua. And in the Guild, we need to see that he can stand toe-to-toe with some of the strongest Pokemon in that age, and more especially, regaining the Seal of Creation.

    If I was to choose which to get rid of, it would be the Guild fight scene, but I don't know what I would replace it with outside of maybe showing Arthus with the remains of the fight and dwelling on what he would do with the citizens of the Guild after reclaiming the Seal. I guess it could work, but I'd have to put more thought into it.

    Arthus' previous incarnation was rather one-dimensional, so I wanted to prevent that from happening in this story. The Zorua ended up being the perfect solution, and you'll see more as to why later on.

    Chapter 2 actually required the most work from me to improve the pacing and character interactions. See, I'm used to going detailed with my descriptions, as is fitting for a fantasy style, like what PMD usually is. In a modern/sci-fi situation, like what Unova turned out to be, you shouldn't go nearly as detailed--which meant a whole lot of revising on my part. So yeah, good to see this chapter invested you in the story rather than drove you away from it. I find it interesting that you like this chapter more than the others so far, actually. I made Hanson creepy, yes, but he was overshadowed by Arthus in terms of importance or flair.

    As for Lawrence being relatable, that was precisely my goal in introducing him here. Chapter 01 was simply a prologue, establishing the key event in Equivos that ultimately changed everyone living there. Chapter 02 is firmly establishing the ain character and why you should root/hate him in moments of the story, if you're that type of person.

    Yeah, one of my early mistakes from Chapter 2. I used to refer to Hanson as Lanson, but that was changed due to the similarity between that name and Lawrence. I'll fix it up real quick.

    Sorry for my late posting of Chapter 22. I ended up being delayed by life circumstances, but I am perfectly able to post now!

    Chapter 25: Reunion

    Fears are all-powerful,

    Strident and bare,

    But all may be conquered,

    Whether foul or fair.

    All may be saved,

    But many refuse.

    For what reason,

    Leaves many despaired…

    ~~~~

    Cassia, Gardner and Zacheus stopped their frantic pace at the edge of the Kaena Woods, dead leaves crunching underneath the runners of the sled. Grey skies complemented the bare trees and silent wind, accompanying the missing twitter of Fletchling at the end of the season.

    Zacheus lay on the ground, panting heavily after the Life-fueled sprint through the desert. Gardner leapt off the sled and chuckled. “Good work, very good work! All you needed was a bit of Life to get you going!”

    Cassia unsteadily clambered out of the sled, bringing the Prison Bottle and the Tome with her. “Thanks for getting us out of there, but where are we going now? We can’t stay here forever.”

    Gardner rubbed his chin. “Hmm…I’m thinking back to the mountains. If what Martre said was true, then those storms will be upon us in no more than a day, and we’re going to need as much protection as we can get.”

    “Storms? What storms?” Cassia asked, bewildered.

    “Martre called it a sign of this ‘Day of Desolation’, along with Yveltal coming out and taking everyone’s Life,” Gardner explained. “Though, I don’t—”

    “Wait, Yveltal’s coming?” Cassia exclaimed. “We can’t just hide, we have to go tell more Pokemon about the Tome!” Crestfallen, she looked away and said, “I’d like it if Lawrence and Matheus were here, but…”

    “Hold up, how is that a priority?” Gardner crossed his arms. “I mean, a few words of peace before their demise might be good, but shouldn’t we be more concerned about saving ourselves?”

    Cassia furrowed her brow. “It’s my duty as the bearer of the Tome to teach everyone I can!” She pointed east. “Saunte and Furnek need me, and since Furnek is on the other side of the Guild, Saunte is where we should go.”

    “What makes you think I’ll go to most Guild-infested location in Equivos? They’ll send word to Martre within hours of us being there!”

    “If those storms are as close as you say, then no bird would be willing to get off the ground. We’ll be safe!”

    “And what makes you think this is a good idea?” Gardner shouted. “You’ve been preaching from that book for over two years, and where has it got you? Nowhere! Your friends are gone, you’ve got nowhere to call home, and here you are, saying we should keep at it!” He pressed his hands against his head. “What is the point?”

    The Zoroark stood still, glaring at Gardner. She held the Tome closer to her chest, then calmly said, “You’re right. I’ve lost everything. My friends. My family. My home. Everything. I’ve never been sadder in my life, and when I was stuck in that cell, I began to wonder if Arceus really cared about me.” She pointed at the Tome. “But I remembered the joy I had when I followed his word. The joy the Pokemon I taught had when they heard it. The peace I have when I’m not suffering…and the assurance that this life isn’t the end for us.” She lowered the Tome. “If you want to make up for what you did with the Guild, you’ll help me. You’ll show them that you support Arceus. You’ll show them that you aren’t a slave of Arthus.” She narrowed her eyes. “And that you’d never hurt them again.”

    Gardner kept his eye trained on Cassia, grunting to himself. He looked over his shoulder toward Zacheus. “What do you think? Should we go to Saunte?”

    Zacheus slowed his breathing and widened his eyes, amazed that his opinion was being considered. He sat on his haunches and after some thought, said, “I-In my mind, it’d be safer to go to Xilo. Plenty of places to hide, not a lot of Pokemon…” He looked down and sighed. “But…something tells me that we should go to Saunte. Don’t know why, but I have a good feeling about it.” He smiled and looked over to Cassia. “I guess it’s something like Arceus telling me where I should be.”

    Gardner stared at Zacheus, then at Cassia, who had a smile across her face. He rolled his head and groaned, hopping aboard his sled. “Fine, to Saunte we go.” He jabbed a finger at Cassia. “Don’t expect a warm welcome!” Cassia continued to smile as she climbed into the sled’s basket, securing the bottle and Tome.

    Zacheus nodded and pulled against the chains connected to the sled, grunting. After a few moments, he panted and exclaimed, “Too heavy. Can I get a boost?”

    Gardner considered his fist for a moment, then leaned next to Cassia and said, “Would you mind giving him a little of your Life? I’d rather keep what I have for Saunte.”

    Arthus’ tragic history came back to Cassia’s mind, causing her to shiver. “Now that I know how Arthus got it…I’d rather not use it.”

    Gardner gave her a puzzled look. “Why not? You’ve used it all your life. Can’t be that bad.”

    “It’s just what Arthus said about it. It’s part of the reason I want to go to Saunte anyway…I want to show everyone that I’m not Arthus, and it won’t help if I use Life like him,” Cassia replied. She then whispered, “He killed his own wife to get that power. I…I just can’t do it.”

    Gardner paused for a moment, then sighed, nodding his head. “Understood.” He hovered up and said, “I’ll help push, Zacheus, that way I can keep my strength up. Sound good?”

    Zacheus agreed, and the worked together to push the sled between the numberless trees, the air growing colder as the hours wore on.

    Amidst the clinking of Zacheus’ chain, Gardner spoke with Cassia. “So…do you know where Lawrence and Matheus are?”

    “No…but I want to,” Cassia sighed, leaning her head against the sled.

    “I wouldn’t mind either. They’re strong allies to have, and would be a great help in Saunte.” He leaned closer, noticing Cassia’s glum expression. “Do you have…feelings, for Lawrence?”

    She looked up at him. “What makes you say that?”

    He shrugged, hovering back up. “Just the way he tried to go back for you back in the temple. He obviously cared for you, even when it could’ve killed him.”

    “…I guess the same could’ve been said for Grom. He always wanted to protect me, even there.” Cassia made a bewildered look. “I don’t know how he managed to talk with me. I mean, actually talk with me, not just saying what Arthus wanted.”

    Gardner scratched the back of his head. “I may have had a hand in that. I had limited control over Life when I had Arthus’ gem with me. I just gave him a quick blast to the head, and he turned back to normal…sort of.” Cassia remained silent, hugging her shoulders.

    Gardner cleared his throat and said, “I’m…sorry, for what happened. Grom was a perfect guardian for you. I wish I could’ve fought—known, him more before he went.”

    Cassia looked up and briefly smiled. “…Thanks.” She continued to stare out into space, wondering how life would be without the lively Golurk.

    After another hour, Gardner asked, “Do you think those Lucario are in Saunte right now?”

    “…Maybe. Our plan was to head to Furnek after the temple, then go to Saunte. I’m not sure if that changed at all, but who knows.”

    “Given how close our escape was from that place, I don’t think they would have thought we survived. They’d surely think we're dead."

    “I guess so.”

    “Are you…concerned?”

    “Well, yes. But there’s nothing I can do for it. I just hope Lawrence will manage.”

    Gardner stared out for a moment, then said, “I never knew my parents, and I’ve never had a loved one. But I can tell that it’s hard to be without them.” He pushed the sled harder, advancing closer to Saunte. “But Lucario are strong Pokemon. He’ll be alright.”

    Within moments they stood on the edge of the Minute Plains, looking out on the vast sea of grass in the depression. The once-vibrant life now appeared dim and grey, just like the sky above it. The air was still and the atmosphere one of death. Autumn hadn’t yet ended, yet the season felt that it had.

    Cassia looked across it, disheartened. “This used to be beautiful…now it’s not.”

    Gardner hmphed. “Agreed. Something isn’t right. The air isn’t cold, and wild Pokemon aren’t anywhere. It can’t be winter yet.”

    Screams echoed from their left. They turned and gawked at the column of smoke rising from the town of Saunte. Streams of water, bursts of flame and chunks of rock, alongside all other elemental moves flashed and erupted throughout the settlement.

    Gardner pounded his fist on the rail. “Martre! He must’ve ordered the Guild to double down their control!”

    “We have to help them!” Cassia replied.

    He pulled on Zacheus’ chain and shouted, “Get us down!”

    “R-Right away, Guildmaster!” Zacheus pulled the sled down the slope into the basin. They rushed through the plains toward the ruined town, both Gardner and Cassia determined to act.

    They came to a halt near the walls of the town, smoldering remains of crates and stalls visible from the entrance. Everything that lined the vast paths of the town now lay scattered across the ground in complete disarray, just like the population.

    Gardner and Cassia hopped off the sled, leaving behind the two artifacts. Zacheus shrunk back under the sled and stuttered, “I-I think I’ll just stay here.”

    “Good,” Gardner replied, “We need someone to watch the bottle and the Tome. Keep them safe.” Zacheus nodded obediently.

    Cassia stepped alongside Gardner toward the entrance, then stopped with a gasp. “Oh no, my mask! It got buried under the temple!” She growled, combing her claws through her mane. “What am I going to do now?”

    “You don’t need some mask to fight!” Gardner exclaimed. He came closer and said, “If you drive the Guild out of Saunte just like before, the Pokemon will not fear you! Especially if you’re resolving not to use Life!” He pointed at the besieged city. “So if you want to prove to everyone that you’re not Arthus, this is the time!”

    Cassia considered his words, but only briefly as a stone building collapsed near the center of Saunte. She shook her head free of indecision. “Come on!” She ran inside, Gardner following her after.

    They sprinted through the ruined walkways, no other Pokemon in sight. They made their way to the plume of dust mixing with smoke, leaping over fallen stalls and scattered food, ignoring the smell of burning and death.

    They stopped upon reaching the broken structure, where a Rhyperior and Feraligatr barked orders at a team of Guild Pokemon rounding up the citizenry of Saunte. All except the two leaders were covered in sore burns and bruises, weakened after fighting back the enraged Saunte against the outer wall.

    The Rhyperior cackled, wrapping an arm around the Feraligatr. “About time we showed them who’s boss, eh Derak?”

    The Feraligatr cackled as well, patting the Rhyperior’s back. “You said it, Valder! No more rations! Just the easy life from here on out!”

    Gardner rose up into the air from behind a chunk of the structure the air darkening around him. “Says the two most lazy Guild Pokemon I ever lay eye on!”

    The cacklers froze, then slowly looked up at the Dusknoir. The citizens quieted, and the subordinate Guild Pokemon stopped. All focused on the reformed Guildmaster.

    Derak jabbed a claw at Gardner and sputtered, “What are you doin’ here?”

    Valder joined as well, focusing on the crimson band around Gardner’s arm. “And why you wearing that? Guildmaster Martre’s in charge!”

    Gardner glared at the armband and tore it off, then bellowed, “This isn’t what the Guild is! We are supposed to be protecting Pokemon and promote life, not destroying their lives!”

    “Well, you’re one to talk!” Valder shouted. “You’re the one who killed Pokemon for no good reason! You’re the one who wanted us to burn all those books! What was that for, huh?” Silently, the towns-Pokemon asked the same thing.

    Gardner thought carefully, pausing. He said, “I did those things to make Equivos obedient to the Guild. I regret them. Few Pokemon truly deserved to die, and I realize that the Arceist Tome is actually the key to unifying Equivos. The messages from it brought together two rival clans in Xilo, and they drove me out together.”

    From behind the remains of the building, Cassia smiled. “He has changed.”

    Gardner growled and exclaimed, “Regardless of what I did, this must end! Fall back, or I’ll make you pay!” He held up his fists, which began to emanate violet gas.

    Valder grinned. “You’re alone, Gardner! You don’t stand a chance against me and Derak!”

    Gardner lowered to the ground, appearing to smile. “I’m not alone.” He flicked his head behind him, and Cassia apprehensively stepped out. The crowd collectively gasped. Voices cried out:

    “It’s a Zoroark!”

    “It’s Arthus!”

    “It’s gonna kill us!”

    Valder and moved closer to Derak, each crouching for an attack. “We saw ya here around a month ago. Gardner wasn’t too happy about that. I wasn’t either,” Valder muttered.

    Cassia’s fear rose up in her throat, Arthus’ past returning to haunt her. She wanted to run away and disappear, away from the hardened hearts and terrible claims of her true self. All because Arthus defined the Zoroark.

    Something snapped in Cassia’s mind. “Arthus defines the Zoroark.”

    The fear retreated. “No. He doesn’t.”

    She held up her head. “Arthus is nothing!”

    She strode forward and shouted, “I am Cassia Zoroark, the Priestess of Arceus!” She held up her claws, black fog flowing from them. “And I’m here to protect his Pokemon.”

    Derak spat on the ground and beat his chest. “Bring it, traitors!”

    Cassia and Gardner rushed down the ruins toward Valder and Derak, ethereal energies flowing from their limbs. The Rhyperior raised his arm and fired a boulder toward Gardner, while Derak gushed a jet of water directed at Cassia.

    Gardner exploded into gas—avoiding the boulder—and formed into a spear, shooting toward Valder. Cassia leapt over the spout and sent a pulse of black gas after Derak.

    The Rhyperior leapt away from Derak as the Dusknoir sheared the space between them, narrowly missing. Cassia’s pulse struck Derak’s shoulder, causing him to cringe and grab the wound. He growled and rushed forward, his tail becoming surrounded in streams of roiling water. He slammed his tail on the ground, sending a massive wave toward the Zoroark.

    Cassia ingrained her claws into the rock, scraping against it as the wave pushed her back. Gardner rematerialized behind Valder and reared back his fist, encasing it in crystal-like frost.

    The Rhyperior turned around and caught the swinging fist, swinging his tail into Gardner’s chest. He flew back into a wall, cracking it. The frost from his hand collected around Valder’s and froze it into a club, crawling up his arm. He stared at it in astonishment, then fired a boulder at Gardner with his good arm.

    Derak bounded forward and leapt toward Cassia, teeth bared and claws out. The Zoroark leapt to the side and gouged into the Feraligatr’s side. He cried out and grabbed Cassia’s arm, swinging her around and slamming her into the ground.

    Gardner dodged Valder’s boulder and dissipated, his gaseous state flowing toward the freezing Rhyperior. Valder’s horn started to glow, and the Rhyperior scraped his feet and held his frozen arm in front of him. He launched forward in a flash of light toward Gardner’s collecting fist.

    Cassia groaned from Derak’s attack, grabbing his neck and blasting it with a pulse of reddish-black waves. The Feraligatr gasped and coughed, clutching at his throat. Cassia swept to her feet and disappeared. Derak searched around wildly.

    Gardner’s fist and Valder’s drill met, and both were blown back by each other. The ice around Valder’s fist shattered, and Gardner was forced back into corporeality, grasping his semi-transparent hand. The Rhyperior charged toward him again, pounding footprints into the pathway beneath him.

    A dozen Cassias surrounded Derak, each crouching for a strike. The Feraligatr raised his tail, causing it to surround itself in water once more. The Cassias struck first, rapidly cutting through Derak’s scales in a flurry of dagger-like claws. The Feraligatr swung his tail around himself, passing through all the Cassias except one, knocking her down and causing the others to fade.

    Gardner stood in front of the charging Rhyperior and suddenly sunk into the ground, allowing him to charge into the wall behind him. The Rhyperior plowed through, causing a section to collapse on top of him in a plume of dust. The Dusknoir then whipped around and surged to Derak.

    Derak towered over the drenched Cassia, breathing haggardly and holding his arm. She struggled to stand up, but the Feraligatr grabbed her arms and held them out, restricting her.

    Derak chuckled, baring his teeth. “Any last words before I rip out yer throat?”

    Cassia looked around his head, noticing an approaching orb of crackling light. She smirked and kicked Derak’s gut, causing him to let go and double over. She leapt away just as Gardner pounded Derak’s head with a fistful of lightning. He cried in agony and collapsed in a heap, his wounds cauterized by the powerful current.

    Valder burst out from the collapsed wall, firing boulders at Gardner and Cassia. One struck Gardner in the back and threw him to the ground, while the other clattered on the wall next to Cassia. The Zoroark disappeared and sprinted toward the Rhyperior, who powerfully stomped toward Gardner.

    The Dusknoir slowly hovered upward and held his back, moaning. Valder punched him to the ground, cackling as he pulled the Dusknoir up by his antenna. “Some Guildmaster you turned out to be! I could beat you in my sleep!”

    Gardner winced as he grabbed the Rhyperior’s hand. “Wrong.” Deathly cold surged into the Rhyperior’s fist, instantly numbing his entire body.

    Valder screamed, falling to his knees and clutching his arms. Cassia reappeared with a shout and cracked a rock over his head, knocking him out cold. Gardner and Cassia stood still, both breathing heavily as she dropped the rock.

    The spectating Guild Pokemon paled. They had known the might of the Guildmaster and the Zoroark but had not expected such a victory to come over their captains. Their fear overcame them, and they scrambled out of the city toward the east, to the safety of the Kaena Woods.

    The Saunte Pokemon warily stepped away from the outer wall, the numerous merchants staring wide-eyed at Cassia and Gardner. A Kecleon cocked his head, pointing at Gardner. “Aren’t you the Guildmaster? Why did you attack your own captains?”

    Gardner sucked in a deep breath, suddenly irritated. “Did you not hear what I said just moments before I shocked the living daylights out of that idiot Feraligatr?” he roared.

    A Gurdurr stepped forward, holding a broken arm. “Ghosts are tricky sorts, just like Zoroark. ‘Ow do we know you aren’t gonna do what you did to Valder and Derak to us?”

    “We took them out so you could be free! We don’t want to hurt you!” Cassia replied, backing away with Gardner.

    “Ma always said to never trust a Zoroark!”

    “Gardner can’t be trusted! Look what he’s done to us!”

    “We have to stop ‘em before they trick us!”

    The Saunte Pokemon slowly enclosed Gardner and Cassia, both with their backs to each other as they attempted to ward off the mob. “Please, listen to us!” Cassia cried, jerking her hand away from a Scyther’s blade.

    Gardner held up his fists, bracing for attack, then suddenly dropped them, lowering his head. “Too weak—too tired—too guilty.” He turned to Cassia, shaking his head, the mob drawing closer. “They aren’t listening.” The shouts of the crowd grew to an uproar.

    “STOP!”

    The Saunte Pokemon backed away, searching for the source of the voice. Cassia and Gardner each froze. They recognized it.

    On the same structure Gardner and Cassia attacked from, a silver Lucario with a brown cloak stood, looking down on Saunte. “Shame on all of you for attacking the ones who saved you! If not for them, you’d all be imprisoned or dead!”

    He leapt off the building and stepped toward them, lifting his hat. “Arceus encourages acceptance and forgiveness among us, not fear and ignorance! Gardner has proven himself willing to change, and Cassia has obviously shown that she does not wish to harm you.” He shook his head, pushing through the astonished crowd. “Had I known there would be an attack, I would have come sooner.”

    He came face-to-face with Cassia, a smile widening across his face. “And I would’ve ran here and back just to see you again.”

    Cassia beamed and embraced him. “Matheus!”

    Saunte immediately chattered in shock:

    “Matheus? The Matheus?”

    “I thought he died in Laryon’s time!”

    “He must be a Legend! That explains why he came back to life in the story!”

    “He doesn’t hate Cassia or even Gardner!”

    The Gurdurr who incited the mob sheepishly stepped forward and bowed, supporting his broken arm. “I-I-I’m terribly sorry for misjudging the Zoroark—Cassia, sir. Had I known she was a friend of yours, I’d never had said what I did.”

    Matheus broke away from Cassia and nodded sternly. “Well, you should be. Even if she wasn’t my friend, you ought to treat her more like a Pokemon than a monster! Only Arthus deserves that treatment!” The Gurdurr paled and shuffled back into the crowd. Other Pokemon shouted out their apologies to Cassia, with a few even to Gardner.

    Matheus stepped up to Gardner in the midst of the crowd, studying him. “So, you finally turned for good, huh?”

    The Dusknoir nodded curtly. “As sure as Arthus’ wretched heart beats.”

    Matheus exhaled, lowering his eyes. “So…he made it out. Figured considering you two managed to escape.” He looked back up. “Does he have the Seal?”

    “He’s on his way to Deitae as we speak. He’s in the ocean by now.”

    Matheus held a paw on his face, moaning. “We can’t catch up with him with such a head start…”

    Before anything else could be said, a younger voice exclaimed, “Hey Matheus, got that Torracat you mentioned earlier!” A normal-colored Lucario pulled a wooden sled around the walkways, carrying Zacheus completely tied and gagged in rope, sitting alongside the Arceist Tome, the Prison Bottle, and two large leather sacks.

    He scratched the back of his head, looking back at his haul. “I don’t know how he managed to get these, but—” He stopped, noticing the Zoroark that stood in the center, the crowd parting from her.

    The chains of the sled dropped from the Lucario’s paw. “You’re—you’re—” He struggled to speak as he staggered forward, his eyes wide and jaw slack.

    Cassia turned to him, breathing only one word: “Lawrence.”

    At the sound of his name, Lawrence sprinted forward and swept Cassia off her feet. They spun briefly as Lawrence hugged her tight, tears brimming his eyes.

    They stood still for a moment, then Lawrence whispered, “I thought you died.”

    Cassia shook her head slightly. “Nearly.” She nuzzled into Lawrence’s neck. “I missed you so much.”

    Lawrence rested his head on top of hers. “I missed you too.”

    Everyone was silent, allowing them their time together.

    “Can someone let me out?”

    Cassia and Lawrence faced the young Torracat wrapped in rope, the strands around his mouth frayed. “I-I never meant to hurt anybody…”

    Gardner groaned, shaking his head. “Guess that’s what I get for leaving him to guard the sled.” He pulled ahead and said, “Hold on, I’ll get you out.” On his way to Zacheus, he patted Lawrence’s shoulder. “Good to see you again.”

    Lawrence stared at the passing Dusknoir, bewildered. Cassia pushed his head back to her. “It’s a long story.”

    Matheus clapped his paws together and walked past them. “I, uh, have some things to talk about with Gardner, so, how about you catch up with each other?” He came in close to them and whispered, “Might want to get away from some prying eyes…” He nodded his head toward the crowd of Saunte Pokemon who couldn’t stop staring at the Lucario and Zoroark pair.

    Their faces burned as they exited the walls of the city and sat against the southern wall, sitting apart from each other. The plains sprawling in front of them rustled with the growing wind, enormous dark clouds looming in the distance. The trees to the east and west trembled with the gale, their bare branches whistling in seeming fear.

    They sat quiet for a few moments. Lawrence shuffled his feet uneasily while Cassia combed through her mane nervously. Despite longing to see each other for so long, they were lost for words.

    Lawrence broke the silence and said, “How’d you survive? How did you get here?” Cassia told her story, from when she woke up to when she defeated Valder and Derak.

    At the end, she shakenly said, “I never realized how horrible Arthus truly was. He killed his wife to control Life, and that’s what’s been driving his madness all these years.” She hugged herself, bowing her head. “To think that I’m related to him…”

    Lawrence leaned closer to her. “Don’t let that bother you. He’s—”

    “I know: he’s nothing like me. There’s no need to hide.” They smiled for a moment, the Cassia said, “So, how did you end up here?”

    Lawrence explained what happened after he left the temple, from his grief, to his rediscovery, even Matheus’ feelings of him being a Legend.

    “You went through my stuff?” exclaimed Cassia.

    “I didn’t know you were alive!”

    “That’s no excuse!”

    “Actually—”

    “Aw, forget it.” Cassia threw her hands down, laughing. “I’m excited that you’ve changed, Lawrence! I knew that you would make a great Arceist!”

    Lawrence smirked, nudging her. “And you thought I was a Guild Pokemon trying to capture you.”

    Cassia playfully slapped him and sternly said, “That was before I really knew you!”

    Lawrence chuckled, leaning back on the wall. “Grom didn’t like me at all. Good thing I—” He stopped, noticing her glum face as she reached inside the bag around her waist.

    She pulled out Grom’s bolts, closing her claws over them. “Managed to save these. They’re all…they’re all that’s left of him.”

    Lawrence empathetically wrapped his arms around Cassia. “I miss him too, Cassia. I’m sorry I wasn’t more…considerate.”

    Cassia put Grom’s bolts back into the bag. “It’s not your fault.”

    They remained hugging each other, Grom’s death hanging heavy over them. The storm in the south rumbled closer, lightning arcing between the clouds in flashes of white light. Deep, roaring thunder followed, making the ground shake.

    They parted from each other to look up. “I haven’t seen a storm like that since…ever,” Cassia explained.

    “Same here.” Lawrence thought for a moment, looking away. “We should probably get back to Matheus.”

    Cassia stood up and helped Lawrence to his feet. “You’re right, let’s go.”

    They went back inside the walls to find Gardner and Matheus sitting on the sled together, deep in discussion. Zacheus lounged behind them, anxiously sleeping on the barren surface. The citizens of Saunte had since begun gathering their belongings from the wreckage, their livelihoods ruined by the Guild.

    Lawrence and Cassia came up to their elders, who stopped talking with each other. Lawrence said, “Matheus, the storm—”

    “Is getting worse by the minute, I know.” He groaned and said, “As Gardner confirmed, that isn’t any ordinary storm. It heralds Yveltal’s flight across Serenita. Soon, he’ll take the life of every Pokemon here; nothing will stop him.”

    Mortified, Cassia exclaimed, “There must be something we can do! There’s so many good and honest Pokemon living here! It wouldn’t be right for them to die!”

    Matheus reached down and handed the Arceist Tome to Cassia, who hurriedly accepted it and reached for her bag next to it. “Don’t worry; it is thanks to you that many will live.” He reached around his other side, holding up the Prison Bottle.

    Gardner reared away from it. “Are you sure this is a good plan?”

    Matheus solemnly nodded. “It’s the only plan.” He stood up and walked to the top of the ruin, with Gardner, Lawrence and Cassia following close behind. Zacheus remained at the sled, hiding behind the scant cover.

    Matheus held the Prison Bottle high and pulled off the stopper. Thick violet mist spewed from it and swirled around the Legend, collecting in front of him and bellowing menacingly. The Unbound Hoopa materialized in front of them and threw his six arms out from their sockets, his eyes brightly glowing green.

    “I have been robbed of my freedom by that deceitful Zoroark!” Hoopa roared, the air crackling around him. “I know well what my duties are, puny Lucario, and I refuse to comply until I have my freedom—and more!

    Lawrence pulled at Matheus’ free arm. “What are you doing?” he hissed. “How is he going to help us?”

    Matheus set a finger against his lips, then turned back and proclaimed, “Hoopa, regardless of your personal issues, you must complete your duty of gathering all the followers of Arceus to the Tree of Life in preparation of Yveltal’s coming, as prophesied in the Arceist Tome.”

    Hoopa grinned maliciously, leering at the Lucario. “And who’s going to make me? Arceus has no energy to spare to prepare for the final desolation, and the Seal is in that Zoroark’s claws.” He leaned back and crossed his six arms. “Until I am recompensed, I will not gather the followers of Arceus.”

    Matheus quaked, dropping the Prison Bottle as the fur on the back of his head rose. “As a servant of Arceus, you will save them! I didn’t spend the last two thousand years saving lives just to lose them all because of your arrogance!”

    Hoopa continued to grin. “My freedom, my price, or no saving grace. I shed no tears for the loss of life, as you know from my trial, Matheus.”

    Matheus seethed, his eyes temporarily glowing blue. He soon calmed, his paws balled into fists. “I’ll grant you your freedom,” he growled, “but what’s your price?”

    Hoopa balanced a loop on two fingers, purple mist flowing from their centers. “A simple one.” He stacked the loops together. "A heavy one.” He set them over his head. “All I ask is for one thing.” He lowered one hoop over his head, causing it to appear in the higher one, leaving an enormous space between his head and body. “One far more amusing than a mere parlor trick.”

    He pulled back the loops and made his eyes parallel to Matheus’. “I want, from one of you, your most precious love.”

    Matheus blinked. “What?”

    Hoopa chucked, leaning back and crossing his hands behind his head. "You heard me: your most precious love. One of you come to me and offer it, and once I have it, I will gather the followers.” He straightened and sat on crossed legs, his arms reentering their crevices. “Once the storm clouds cover the entirety of Serenita, Yveltal shall come. I suggest you make your decision hastily.”

    Matheus nodded dazedly, then returned to his companions. “You heard him. Unless we sacrifice our greatest love, all of Arceus’ work will be for nothing.”

    Lawrence held Cassia’s hand. “If I go…I’d be giving up Cassia.” He shook his head. “I can’t lose her again.”

    Cassia held a hand over her heart, touched. “And I’d lose Lawrence…”

    Gardner sighed, scratching the back of his head. “I’m not sure I’m a good candidate either. I don’t exactly know what my ‘most precious love’ is, but it wouldn’t end up good.”

    “S-Same here,” Zacheus added, trotting to them nervously.

    Silence. None seemed to be willing to give their most precious love, even if the lives of the entire region were at stake. The storm clouds rolled overhead, migrating further and further north, and spreading still to the east and west.

    Matheus suddenly grimaced, taking off his hat. “I’ll…I’ll do it.” He faced Hoopa. “It’s high time I did it anyway.” Without waiting for the word of his comrades, he boldly marched to Hoopa, and planted himself in front of the djinn.

    Hoopa eyed Matheus, his grin growing wider. “Ah, the Guildmaster offers himself as tribute. What a delectable surprise.”

    Matheus replaced his hat, holding his paws out. “Just do it.”

    Hoopa chuckled, his claws glowing violet. “Your wish is my will…” He tapped Matheus’ chest, and he breathed in haggardly, holding a paw against his chest. Pure white light flowed from him into Hoopa’s finger, growing dimmer with each passing moment.

    Matheus fell to his knees, his silver fur losing its luster with the light. His breathing became ragged, his limbs shook, becoming frailer each passing moment. Lawrence and Cassia went to support them, but Gardner held them back, his eye narrowing as the light extinguished.

    Hoopa retracted his finger, inspecting it. He scraped it against another claw, then gingerly picked up the Prison Bottle. “Now for the other half of our agreement.” His claws glowed violet, and the bottle shattered into millions of pieces, exploding outward.

    Hoopa stood straight and took a deep breath, a warm glow surrounding him. “I will now complete my duty. Then, I shall join my fellow Legends in the final destruction of Equivos.” His six hoops flew from his arms, one going to the far east.

    He pointed at Lawrence and the others. “Don’t let this be for naught. Complete your duty, Keeper.” A hoop swept over and scooped him inside. The other four hoops followed suit, capturing Lawrence, Cassia, Gardner, and Zacheus, and sending them to Deitae.

    Hoopa laughed, sending the hoops all across the world. “All thoughts and wills are known to the mighty Hoopa, my freedom allowing my full power. No unfaithful will arrive on Deitae.” His eyes glowed a brighter emerald.

    “All on Serenita shall fall at the wings of Yveltal.”

    ~~~~

    Cold.

    Weak.

    Foolish.

    Me.

    Matheus stirred, his vision clearing in the dim light. He saw a vague blue shape, accompanied by a black-and-red one. “Are you alright?” a muffled voice asked.

    Matheus moaned, holding his chest. “Been…better,” he croaked. He struggled to his feet, clutching onto Lawrence and Cassia for support. He looked around him, recognizing where he was.

    Dark, massive trees surrounded a large clearing, the grass underneath them completely black. The occasional yellow speck of light popped out from the ground, only for it to die soon after contacting the air. The wind was strong, and black clouds overhead boomed their arrival. To his right was an enormous, rainbow-colored tree, its bark pulsing many colors to the golden leaves. A single entrance lay embedded in its trunk, guarded by a familiar ‘X’.

    Matheus made a grim, hoarse laugh. “It’s finally here…the Day of Desolation.”

    “Matheus, what did Hoopa take from you? You look awful,” Cassia said, inspecting Matheus’ paw.

    He gently pulled it away. “It was what I held most precious…once.” He coughed, then said, “We are in Xerneas’ Glade, where the Tree of Life grows.” He held his paw out grandly, noting the frail bones beneath. “Welcome to Deitae.”

    All but Matheus gazed in awe at the marvelous tree, the many spiraling lights a sight to behold.

    Zacheus suddenly sunk low to the ground, covering his head. “Isn’t this place lethal for non-Legends? You know, the glowing lights?”

    Matheus pointed at a dying light sprouting from the soil. “With the Day of Desolation, the lights are no longer alive. You have nothing to fear here—provided that Arthus doesn’t reach the Tree of Life.” He coughed again, pounding his chest. “While he is certainly a danger, he is second to the real task at hand: bringing all the remaining Pokemon of Equivos to the Realm of the Keeper.”

    “The final prophecy…” Cassia muttered.

    Matheus nodded weakly. “Yes. Any moment now, Hoopa will bring them here.” He looked around, then sighed. “Although that will be meaningless unless the way to the realm opens. Once Yveltal finishes his work, the Legends will destroy Serenita, and then Deitae—and us along with it.” He rolled his head, seething. “I don’t even know who the Keeper is, let alone how the way opens.”

    The Trevenant’s prophecy rang clear in Lawrence’s mind: “A Keeper once was, but now he becomes a treader of realms and deceiver of self. The truth once held must take once more in order for the Keeper to be awakened for war. Awaken Aleron as well as the Keeper and Equivos may be reborn to live on.

    Lawrence paused. “Cassia said a while back that I had to be the Keeper…

    Beep—Beep—Beep!

    Everyone jumped in fright, searching wildly for the source of the alien sound.

    Beep—Beep—Beep!

    Gardner pointed at Lawrence. “It’s coming from him! What is that infernal noise?”

    Lawrence’s heart skipped a beat. “It couldn’t be!” He scrambled to remove the Pokedex from his arm, then flipped open the case. A rush of excitement overcame him from the words on the screen:

    Incoming Call from Valence HQ.

    ~~~~

    In the seas west of Deitae, a small ship bobbed in the growing waves, its sails straining in the torrential winds. Machoke and Dewott manned the rigging, silently pleading to reach the continent of myths. Rain pelted down the deck, soaking the ropes and slickening the planks, making the task of sailing to Deitae even more of a death wish.

    Away from the bustle of activity on the deck, Arthus sat in a warm cabin, meditating on the bed. His eyes closed, he envisioned his perfect world, free of strife, free of fear, all obeying him and therefore doing what was right. He ignored the creaking ship and splitting timbers, only dwelling on the feat he would not fail for a second time.

    The door burst open and a sopping wet Floatzel burst in, breathing haggardly and pointing outside. “That storm’s gonna kill us all! We have to turn back!”

    Arthus opened his eyes, their pure blue boring into the Floatzel. “Feel free, Captain. Just expect a more gruesome death than any ocean can do to you.” He waved a hand. “Close that door; you’re letting in the rain.” The captain fearfully obeyed, regretting ever allowing passage to the Usurper.

    Arthus took a deep breath, returning to his meditation. “No mistakes, no regrets, no accidents…nothing but perfection, just as Arceus should have done.” Grom’s creation came to mind, how he had carefully removed the Golurk’s willpower to make him completely obedient, and then removed his emotion to make him willing to obey. All that remained was the knowledge that he was doing as he should.

    Arthus clutched the Seal, the pulsing light growing brighter with each passing moment.

    “Soon, Cassia…soon, we’ll be together again.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  15. Marika_CZ

    Marika_CZ Well-Known Member

    My comments on your comments... of my previous comments. Erm, never mind :p
    Understood. I would actually think Zoroarks' murder is the one that doesn't require an action scene. Why not have Arthus keep the Delphox disguise and killing everyone with a single surprising blow? He can then deliver the "Arthus is back" speech over their corpses (why did he use the Illusion anyway, if he is that much more powerful than a common Zoroark?). This would also explain Zorua not being initially afraid, as there would be barely a noise or violence to witness.
    Good work then :) An yeah it might be just my personal preference. I always liked realistic villlains over fantasy ones. Arthus-like antagonists with their McGuffin are typical in fiction, but "Hansons" actually exist in real life and could therefore potentially screw you for real - makes them more intimidating to me, but like I said, depends on reader's taste.

    Anyway, my review of Act II:
    The twist with Cassia was nice but too easy to figure out. I knew from Ch7 onwards she was the masked Zoroark for sure. There was too much foreshadowing and a hint in every other paragraph.
    Was that intentional? If this is a clever bluff where you use the "easy twist" to distract the reader from something else (possibly more important), then job well done (I mean it).
    If you genuinely wanted readers to gasp at the revelation however, then I would recommend toning down the clues. The mask in Cassia's bag is overkill because her explanation is blatant cover up on her part that ignores the simplest explanation. This is akin to a random person finding a real Superman outfit in Clark Kent's suitcase and not thinking of a possibility that he and Superman might be the same person.
    I would remove that scene with mask dropping, or have it happen during the Dusknoir confrontation (which would also serve as a confirmation that Gardner is not kidding).
    There really is an ambundance of clues already (just the ones I spotted myself before the reveal):

    1. Masked Zoroark and Cassia never appear in the same scene.
    2. Cassia carries around an "Illusion stone" - Illusion not being something Gardevoir is known for but Zoroarks are.
    3. Cassia mentions losing mother as a child and running from a father who "is nice to her but not really a good Pokemon" - this matches Zorua background too perfectly.
    4. Cassia is described having blue eyes right after Arthus commented on the "traitor" having them too.
    5. Cassia knows an awful lot about Arthus and Arceus when everyone else in Equivos is not only unaware of the story between them, but according to narration Arthus being alive is not even a common knowledge. Only select few Pokemon know.
    (Pretty sure there are even more...)
    And that is good because it proves you thought this out, but feel free to cut some of them down. Attentive reader should call it fair even with less hints.

    Last thing about the twist/reveal. Lawrence reaction is mostly well written but there was one spot where he sounded forced. He mentions aloud Cassia not being Zoroark because she couldn't even fight. It doesn't feel natural. It sounds like something audience might be asking themselves, but not the character. Lawrence mind should be blown just from the possibility (he should be thinking more about Cassia herself and her lying to him, rather than technical details like Did I see her fight before?) - just my two cents of course. You know these characters better than I do.

    Not sure if I sound too criticizing, so to make it clear: I liked the twist because it makes sense, I am just saying you can afford cutting down the clues to make it harder to figure out for bonus points (unless there is a second twist / second layer of the twist coming and I fell for your distraction trap).

    Spoiler-free observations (Note I didn't read past Ch9 yet):
    Regarding the plot I still feel like it is too early to discuss it. We know Arthus is after the McGuffin and he needs the help of a certain legendary. We know Cassia wants to stop him (somehow - I suppose more will be revealed after we get to know the new character). Grom's purpose will be probably tied into it somehow, judging from Trevenant's speech, but again too early to tell. I like it so far and I look forward to see where you take it.

    Character-wise, there is a lot to love. Each character has their own flavor and a quest/arc going. Cassia: stop Arthus and dealing with her legacy; Lawrence: find a way home and internal conflict about his faith; Grom: who is he and what happened to him; Arthus: take revenge and change the world to his liking; Gardner: gaining power and respect.
    Also relationships among these are interesting, especially Cassia and Lawrence (due to different personalities and opinions but common goal).

    The only criticism there is one point where Lawrence sounded almost like a saint. It felt a bit over the top (unless it was intentional due to his religious past). I am talking about this scene in Ch5/Barash rescue:
    He sounds more like a martyr wannabe rather than someone frantically trying to explain themselves/help someone in need. Might be a nitpick or completely irrelavant depending on your intentions and his future character arc tho. It just felt weird, so I thought I would point it out.

    All in all, I like your story and characters so far and want to see where you take them :) Especially looking forward to see how the relatioship between Cassia and Lawrence is going to evolve, and how much is the plot going to be affected by emergence of a new player with legendary-level power.
     
    lucarioknight56 likes this.
  16. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Spoilerific Reply:

    I can agree that the mask was probably too much. Plus, given what else was happening in the chapter, it doesn't really need to be there. I still want to have it appear before Cassia's reveal, so having it in the fight with Gardner in Chapter 9 is a good idea.

    As for Lawrence's reaction...honestly, that slipped my mind. I can fix that. Thanks for touching on these aspects.

    And now the standard reply:
    Just so you know, Chapter 5 was also heavily revised along with Chapter 2, although for a different reason. Lawrence used to be incredibly concerned about serving Pokemon in Equivos because he didn't want to treat them like humans, which is how the Arceists in Unova try to do...which he is against. It was a confusing level of logic, and his arguments against it ended up coming off as preachy and nonsensical. This was one of the few sections I kept intact from that change, and while I felt the line was great, I can see why you'd bring it up.

    I'll consider revising it, but if I can't come up with a suitable alternative, it will remain. Thank you for your thoughts, and I look forward to see your thoughts on Act 3! Note that it is longer than Act 2.

    Alright, for those of you have caught up, I would like to say that Chapter 23 is complete...but it is not, unfortunately. I got sidetracked with another project I have, and I hope to do a massive write-up of the chapter today, then set to revising it tomorrow before I post it. Considering how it's practically the end of the story, I have to be careful with the way I approach it. I hope that the posting doesn't get delayed for a few days, so keep with me!
     
  17. Marika_CZ

    Marika_CZ Well-Known Member

    Oh I see! That actually explains why did the line stand out so much to me. You would be surprised how much you can change it just by switching order of the sentences.
    If I am to believe Lawrence is genuinely altruistic guy who always helps, he should say things concerning others first (Let me help those Pokemon stuck in there! You can’t leave them to die!) and anything concerning himself should be mentioned second and thus less important (You can punch me later if you hate me so much!)

    No worries lol. These are just my suggestions. Wheather you agree and act on them (or not) is totally up to you! :D
    Good luck with Chapter 23.
     
  18. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    As I'm sure many have noticed, I have yet to post Chapter 23 today. I'm sorry to say that the chapter is not ready for posting, due to me getting sidetracked with another project, and my family recently going on overdrive to get a garden going. Both have taken up my time to the point that I simply couldn't write the chapter. I'm sorry for not having it ready, especially after posting every other one consistently throughout these last few months.

    Don't lose hope, however; I plan on finishing the initial writing tomorrow. I'll spend the rest of today working on that aforementioned project and preparing for this marathon write. I hope I can have the chapter posted by the end of tomorrow, but I'm not sure that will be possible. I still plan on posting Chapter 24 next week, so aim to see Chapter 23 before then. Again, sorry for the delay, and I hope you will stay with me for the climax.
     
  19. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    And now, a delayed Chapter 23!

    Chapter 26: Salvation
    The Day has come,

    The Flight has begun,

    The Usurper has but hours,

    To fulfill his mission.

    The Priestess has spoken,

    The Bottle has broken,

    The Keeper has awoken,

    The Day of Desolation.

    ~~~~

    Hoopa cackled as he hovered high above Serenita, watching four of his hoops scooping up Pokemon through one in front of him. He carefully avoided the Pokemon unfaithful to Arceus, leaving dozens behind after finishing a village.

    Abruptly, he clapped his hands together, and his hoops immediately returned to him. “It is done.”

    “Krreeeaaaaww!”

    Hoopa smirked, noticing that the storm clouds had fully covered the continent. “Just in time.” A Y-shaped object soared over him, rapidly upon Serenita. A deep, booming voice rang out across the land:

    “The Day has come! All that failed to follow the words of the Creator shall be claimed by Yveltal!”

    ~~~~

    “I-It’s a call from Unova!” Lawrence exclaimed, nearly dropping the Pokedex. He and Cassia and Matheus stood away from the growing crowd of Pokemon surrounding the Tree of Life. Gardner and Zacheus went through the crowd together to keep the peace amongst the bewildered and panicking Pokemon.

    “What do you mean ‘a call’?” Matheus asked, his voice growing stronger. The Pokedex continued to beep, waiting for Lawrence to accept the transmission.

    Lawrence pointed at the Pokedex excitedly. “Look, this might sound crazy, but I have a way to get everyone out of Equivos!” He breathed in sharply. “The…the realm of the Keeper.” He fell still, suddenly realizing the Trevenant’s prophecy. “I’m a traveler between worlds…I’ve protected so many. I gathered everyone—and the Arcean Texts. Only one message remained from them: to treat Pokemon like ourselves.” He looked around him, everything coming clear to him. “Those words were never meant for the Pokemon of my world…they were meant for the Pokemon of this one!”

    He stared at the Pokedex and quietly said, “I’m the Keeper. I was meant to come here.” He lifted his head and said more clearly, “I…I can bring everyone to safety—to my world.

    “And how would you do that?” Cassia interjected.

    “The same way I came here: a wormhole.” Lawrence remembered the horrifying experience of entering the region, the screeching of the beasts beyond the clouded tunnel, causing him to shiver.

    “Kreeaaww!”

    Everyone around the tree screamed, panicking at the shadow soaring above them and toward the continent.

    Matheus pulled Lawrence closer. “Once Yveltal’s done with Serenita, the other Legends will destroy it and come here to finish the job! And that’s not even accounting for Arthus’ madness!” He stepped away and added, “Plus, there’s the matter of getting outside the region. How are you so sure that this ‘Valence’ will take us out of here?”

    “I’m contacting them now.” Lawrence tapped the answer button, and the text on the screen dimmed.

    Cassia cocked her head. “What now?”

    “Now we wait,” Lawrence replied. He turned to the other Pokemon. “We need to get them ready to leave. It won’t be long before they come in.”

    “We haven’t seen any sign of Arthus; someone has to go to the coast and stop him from reaching the Tree of Life,” Matheus reminded them.

    “Is Arceus really in there?” Cassia asked, awestruck.

    “Yes, but the protections he put up are useless against the Seal; it can counteract anything created by the Legends.” Matheus separated himself from them, stepping to the west. “I’ll handle him while you two help Gardner distribute supplies. They’re in a storage compartment under the Tree.”

    “What?” Cassia grabbed Matheus’ arm and pulled him toward her, adjusting the Tome in her grip. “You’re too weak! You can’t—”

    “Just hit me with Life and I’ll be fine.”

    “But you’re a Legend! He can take you!”

    “Not anymore.”

    “All the more reason!

    “I’ve beat him before.”

    I don’t want you to die!”

    Cassia let go of Matheus and threw down her arms. “We need you. We all do. If we’re really going to Lawrence’s world, we need someone to look up to, someone we respect.” She held the Arceist Tome out to him. “We need Aleron. Not Matheus.”

    Lawrence’s Pokedex continued to ring as Matheus gazed at the Tome. Lightning flashed, and rain pelted the ground.

    The Legend turned away from Cassia. “No. Matheus would run from this fight. Just like he did when Arthus first took power. He would be a coward, hiding away, regretting his actions.” He closed his eyes. “Aleron would protect those who cannot protect themselves. He would charge in recklessly, beating back whatever dangers awaited him, no matter the cost.” He pushed the Tome back to Cassia. “You are a better example than I could ever be. You lead them.” He let go of it. “I’ll save them.”

    Cassia held the Tome close to her chest, then nodded. Matheus went to turn back but was stopped by Cassia’s hand again. She set it on Matheus’ palm. “I’ll give you what I can spare.” Life surged from Cassia’s arm into Matheus’ causing him to stand taller and breathe clearer. His coat retained the dull sheen gained from Hoopa’s price.

    Matheus raised his paw, warmed by the rush of energy. “Thanks.” He turned and ran into the dark woods, leaving Cassia to her work.

    She caressed the Tome, walking back to Lawrence. “Do you think he’ll be alright?”

    Lawrence looked away from the Pokedex. “He knows Arthus best. If anyone’s got a chance to stop him, it’s Matheus.” He turned back to the Pokedex, gripping it tighter. “I just hope we can do our part.”

    Cassia cocked her head, looking over Lawrence’s shoulder. “Why?” The Pokedex continued to flash, waiting for someone to pick up on the other end.

    “No one’s answering.”

    ~~~~

    Unova, Castelia City, Valence Tech

    In the dark hallways of Facility D, scientists solemnly pulled white sheets over the various instruments of the dimensional research center. Others gathered what data they had on Equivos, and others more worked on dismantling the wormhole generator, its golden ring gathering dust. Machines scraped and ground in the background, muffling the pitiful whines of the Pokemon in cages throughout.

    Aaron Hanson bit his fist, his head low and eyes shut. “He was so promising…” he sighed. He glanced at the communication module, a single red light blinking below the slim microphone and blank screen.

    Two engineers inspected the module. “That Lawrence fella’s been gone for nearly a month,” one said.

    “Likely dead by now,” the other replied.

    “And we’ve been sending a signal ever since he got sucked in.”

    “Must not’ve been in range before he died.”

    Hanson grimaced. “Yes, and I’ll have to break the news to his friends and family. I’ll have to explain that he died in a lab accident, but no need to go into the details.” He groaned. “I can’t afford to discredit the company any more than I need to.”

    The engineers set to work on disassembling the giant communication module, going behind the contraption. The red light suddenly glowed green.

    Hanson sighed, massaging his forehead. “Years of preparation…a perfect employee…and weeks of putting off the board…” He tightened his fist. “Wasted.” He looked to the ceiling, shaking his head slightly. “I had such high hopes…a world full of talking Pokemon…” He sighed and lowered his head. “I suppose it was never meant to be.”

    As the communication hub began to be taken down, Hanson took another hopeless glance over at the module. His eyes widened. He ran to the module and shouted, “Stop! Stop! We have contact!”

    The engineers stopped in their tracks and backed away, looking around the front. One pushed back his helmet and blew his breath out slowly. “Well I’ll be. He’s alive!”

    He pushed him away and hunched over the computer. “Tell everyone to stop what they’re doing! Lawrence has responded!”

    The engineers nodded briefly and run through the dark hallways, shouting for everyone to stop. All around, the scientists halted taking down the equipment, even the enormous wormhole generator.

    Hanson pushed a button on the module, allowing a cacophony of static to ensue. He stepped back and cringed, waving over to his men. “Get this thing to work!” A pair came to him and hurriedly twisted dials and clicked buttons, clearing the static and making voice come clear.

    Finally, in a crackling tone he said, “This is Lawrence Stephenson—Repeat—Lawrence Stephenson—Can you hear me?”

    Hanson pushed away the scientist and hovered in front of the microphone. “We hear you loud and clear, Lawrence!” Hanson wiped his brow, grinning. “Thank heavens you’re alive! You dropped off the grid after you disappeared, and we’ve been sending a distress signal ever since!” He looked behind him, his gin fading. “We were just about to take everything down, in fact.” He turned back around. “What happened to you?” He tapped the blank screen behind the microphone. “Did your camera break in the entry? Why can't we see you?”

    A short breath blew through the crackling speaker. “Not a good time—have to hurry! World’s falling apart—need wormhole!”

    Hanson shook his head in bewilderment. “What do you mean the world’s falling apart? It was a stable dimension—”

    “There’s thousands of Pokemon in danger! How quick—wormhole?” Lawrence’s voice kept breaking, losing itself to the static.

    Hanson pulled a scientist closer. “If what he says is true, we don’t have time to waste! Get the wormhole generator running and target his current location!” He turned back to the monitor. “How many Pokemon are there with you?”

    “Thousands—hurry!”

    As the wormhole generator hastily had final adjustments made, Hanson smiled. “This venture wasn’t a total loss after all.” He paced to one of the blue-suited guards standing by, several Pokeballs at his hip. He leaned down as Hanson said, “Get the cages ready. We’re about to have a lot of Pokemon come from Equivos.”

    ~~~~

    Amidst the thundering of the storm, a small, beaten boat arrived at the shore of Deitae, the waves rising ever higher behind it. It scraped against the sand—jutting to a halt—and the sodden Pokemon aboard dove to the sand and thanked Arceus for their safety.

    The captain Floatzel sighed in relief, shaking his coat free of water. “Glad we made it.” He looked back at the raging ocean and cringed. “Although, I doubt we’ll be making it back any time soon.”

    “No need to worry, my dear captain.”

    The Floatzel looked up the ship and saw Arthus leap down from the deck, completely dry and refreshed from his stay. He held a hand at his side lazily, holding his head high, and he turned about, breathing deeply.

    The Captain cocked his head curiously. “W-What do you mean by that?”

    Arthus leaned over the Floatzel and smirked. “You and your crew have done well to bring me here. Now that your task is complete…” He stabbed the Floatzel and siphoned his Life, causing his fur to gray. In his last moments, Arthus added, “I have no need of you.” He let the Floatzel sink to the ground and studied the terrified Pokemon that remained.

    Arthus raised a claw, enveloping it in Life. “Who’s next?”

    Immediately, the Dewott and Machoke bolted for the forest, spreading apart in sheer fear. Arthus cackled, effortlessly pouncing on each and slaying them, taking their Life and relishing the warmth that it provided.

    After killing the last Dewott, Arthus stood straight and took a deep breath. “Soon, such tactics will no longer be necessary.”

    “They never were.”

    Arthus spun around and froze. Matheus leaned against a tree, his arms folded and his head lowered. The Tree of Life rose behind him, the lights continuing to shine as a beacon to those beneath it.

    The Zoroark narrowed his eyes and sneered. “Here to stop me again, are you?” He slowly approached the silver Lucario. “For the third time. First you betrayed me, then you took Erik, then you took Cassia!”

    “That was never my fault, Arthus. Just as you drove me away with your change, you drove away Erik and Cassia.” Matheus stood up, straightening his hat. “You’re blind to what you’ve become. You’re a murderous mad-Pokemon, not even flinching at the prospect of slaying someone for dropping your food, when you used to be someone who would forgive even the most wretched criminal!” Matheus bared his teeth. “You became the evil that you wanted to stop!”

    “Enough!” Arthus bellowed, his eyes glowing red. He stopped then closed his eyes, taking slow, deliberate breaths. After a moment, he uncovered his eyes, pure, ice-like blue. “If you think that I enjoy this terror…then you’re wrong. I hate it as much as I did in the past.” He stooped forward, extending his arms. “But unlike before, I know that this needs to happen for the world to be saved from itself. When I take Arceus, all will be resurrected; it won’t matter if I kill them now because they’ll die anyway!”

    “At what cost? With no choice but the right one, they won’t be alive!”

    Arthus’ claws emanated Life. “This entire discussion is water under the bridge. We’ve had it twice before, and both times we clashed.” The Seal glowed brighter as he removed it from his neck and wrapped the chain around his claw. “It’s time I took you with the Seal!” He sprung toward Matheus, the Seal outstretched.

    Matheus leapt back and threw down his fists. They surged with Aura as he pressed them together, causing the light to gather inside. Arthus came to his feet and sprinted after Matheus. The Lucario threw an Aura Sphere toward him.

    Arthus’ claws glowed crimson as he beat the sphere away, causing it to explode with violet light against a tree. He snarled, both his hands glowing with Life. He held them outward, continuing to run for Matheus.

    The Lucario pressed his paws together once more, then slowly spread them out, creating an elongated rod of Aura. He thrust it outward and met with Arthus’ claws, creating sparks of purple as they ground against its surface.

    Arthus pressed close, the Seal growing closer to Matheus’ paws on the rod. “Only a matter of time before we all die, isn’t it?”

    Matheus pulled away and pounded Arthus in the chest, causing him to stumble back. Arthus growled and beat against the rod, sending out another explosion of violet. He did so again, and again, approaching Matheus from all different angles in an attempt to graze him with the Seal of Creation.

    He halted, breathing heavily. He grinned, and various copies spread from him and surrounded Matheus. They reared back to strike.

    Matheus dove to the ground, his rod dissipating. He closed his eyes and saw vague outlines surrounding the copies, noticing only one true Zoroark as a blob of red. He swept Arthus’ legs and rolled underneath the falling Zoroark, then darted into a dense cluster of trees.

    Arthus clambered to his feet and snorted, the Seal still in his grip. “You can’t avoid your fate!” He rushed for Matheus, slashing at trees, still reaching out to touch his fur.

    Behind them, soaring over Serenita, Yveltal roared.

    ~~~~

    Within the Guild, Pokemon forced themselves through the torrential rains and thundering lightning, taking shelter in the storehouses and barracks. Some dared to go out to secure the unprotected rations and supplies, but most felt a deep foreboding, as if, somehow, this storm was an ending.

    Within the Master’s Tower, rain leaked through the rafters and splattered over Martre’s head, rolling down his face and coating his bandaged eyes. He prodded them, sensing his surroundings with his psychic abilities rather than using his physical.

    He faced the window, his metallic teeth grinding. “Curse that traitorous Dusknoir.” He looked up, as if seeing the raindrops rocketing to the ground. “Unlike any I’ve seen before…”

    A void-like shadow passed his psychic vision, causing him to flinch. He shook his head, disbelieving it. “Tales were all they were…legends…”

    Screams echoed from below, and Martre looked out to see a crowd of his subservient Pokemon escaping from a giant column of crimson energy spiraling into the sky. It rapidly enveloped the Pokemon and absorbed them, burning through the structures and leaving only destruction in its wake.

    The column circled closer to the Metagross catching each of its victims. Martre cleared his mind as his research center shone with red light, the pillar just beyond the window.

    It crashed through the glass and burned the wood instantly, melting stone and disintegrating the books in its path. It surged toward Martre and caught him in its light, bringing the Life of the Metagross to Yveltal, the Destruction Legend.

    ~~~~

    The rain on Deitae only worsened. The trees of the Luminescent Woods blew backward in the mist. The Lake of Enlightenment lost its luster in the fierce winds. The ruins of the Mountain of Rebirth crumbled further in the onslaught. All the landmarks of the Legends wore away as Yveltal completed his first and final work.

    Lawrence distributed small packs of supplies to the displaced Pokemon of Serenita underneath the Tree of Life, the multi-colored leaves continuing to shine bright despite the storm. Gardner gathered Pokemon into groups, while Cassia lined them up, all under Lawrence’s direction. Just as with the Guild, the end lingered in their minds.

    Inside the supply storage, Lawrence continued to dwell on the preparation for the wormhole, how everything seemed to come together despite the circumstances. He looked up at the Tree of Life, wondering if some higher power was at work.

    “Don’t even think about it.”

    Lawrence turned around and saw Aerav Aerodactyl from Jareth standing outside the door, his wings bent on the ground with age. “Arceus is the wisest and most powerful being in Equivos. He has a purpose for everything he does.” He gave the Lucario a warning look. “So don’t go to him. We are not worthy to stand in his presence.”

    Lawrence nodded, picking up the final bag and strapping it onto his back. “Don’t you think it’s strange that I happen to come just as the world is ending? That I have the only way to save everyone? That Cassia—”

    “None of that is important now.” Aerav smiled slightly. “Just focus on bringing us to your place of safety.” He lumbered back to the Pokemon of his village, leaving Lawrence to dwell further on the circumstances of their return.

    He stepped out of the now-empty storage underneath the tree and closed the door, looking up the boughs one more time. “I’ll figure out why you did this. One way or another.” He turned toward the eastern edge of the woods. “I hope you’re alright, Matheus.”

    “Lawrence!”

    Lawrence turned around to see Cassia and Gardner coming toward him, sopping wet from the rain. Cassia pointed at the end of the line of Pokemon. “We’ve organized everyone and got them ready. Where’s the wormhole?”

    Lawrence glanced at the Pokedex on his arm. “I haven’t been able to contact Valence since the connection gave out. We’ll just have to hope they do it.”

    Gardner squinted his eye, looking up. “Better make it quick. It looks like Yveltal might be finished with the job.”

    The Legend flew over their heads in a rush of wind, causing many of the other Pokemon to jump or scream. Yveltal seemed to disappear into the sky, vanishing into the distance.

    From the southern edge of the trees, a giant Trevenant rose above their boughs. A hoard of Phantump followed in his wake, surrounding his body and swarming for his precious Life. On the side of his head, a cluster of Buneary huddled inside a small house, fearfully staring out into the rain. As he approached, the remaining population of Serenita steadily backed away, unsure of the ghost.

    The Trevenant marched toward Lawrence and Cassia, his arms lowered and scraping against the soil. “The day has come. Yveltal has flown, and soon, his fellow Legends will follow in his wake.” He lifted his hand and placed it against the edge of the hut. The three Buneary cautiously climbed out, covering their heads from the rain. The Trevenant placed his other hand over them as he lowered them to the ground.

    His maw curled into a smile. “I have cared for you as long as I am able.” His Phantump drifted away from him and swarmed over the three Buneary, creating cover from the rains.

    The Buneary backed away, the smallest one sniffing. “Do you have to go?”

    The Trevenant blinked, nodding his head. “The Realm of the Keeper is not for the likes of me. I am to remain and receive my rest.” He turned to Lawrence and Cassia. “My word has come true. The betrayal was fostered, the bottle was opened. Aleron has awoken, and now the Keeper has come to complete Arceus’ work.” His claws hovered over the ground, rising higher. “Now, Keeper, ensure that he did not save his Pokemon only for them to become slaves.” His hands sunk into the ground, and the cracks in the bark glowed red. His leaves fell away and his head disintegrated, funneling into the grass. The rest of his body followed, removing any remnant of the Trevenant.

    The entire crowd stood still, astonished by the arrival and the death of the seer. The Phantump mewled mournfully, their erratic nature slowed by the passing of their parent. The Buneary hugged each other in their loss of their second caretaker.

    From the edge of the line of Pokemon, a certain Ambipom stepped out, holding a slumbering Aipom in his tails. “Alright, what in Arceus’ name is goin’ on! First, I get dragged away from my wife and get stuck with the kid, then some thing comes out and scares the livin’ daylights outta us, and now some giant tree comes and goes!”

    No reply came. Creeping from the edge of the crowd, Zacheus soddenly sat in front of Gardner, his miserable frame more visible than before. “A-All the packs are out. I-I-I—achoo!” He sneezed, looking up pitifully. “I’m feeling pretty sick.” He turned to Lawrence. “Can we go now?”

    Lawrence’s Pokedex rung again, blaring out despite the rain. Lawrence hurriedly picked it up and answered, “Do you have it ready?”

    “Yes—get to a good—position! Send—the word!”

    Lawrence briefly glanced at Cassia and Gardner, nodding his head. He ran to the front of the line of Pokemon, his steps heavier due to his soaking wet fur. The population gazed at him in awe, never having seen a Lucario after Arthus’ takeover of the continent.

    He planted himself at the edge of the clearing and held the Pokedex in front of his face. “Now!”

    The rain stopped over his head. The clouds swirled, funneling toward the Lucario and arcing with electricity. Lawrence moved away from its targeted ground and watched the funnel expand into a disc of roiling cloud. It stopped, then the center sunk inward, disappearing into a void. The back remained flat as the inside of the vortex spun once more, opening into a dark and forbidding abyss, revealing nothing of what lay beyond.

    Lawrence studied the wormhole, remembering his first encounter well. Unlike before, it didn’t pull everything toward it, but instead remained stagnant in the air, patiently waiting. Despite this, Lawrence could feel its antagonistic aura.

    The Pokedex crackled and said, “We’ve refined the generator and made it so you could enter at will. You best hurry and get everyone across; I can’t guarantee it will last long!”

    Lawrence shook his head and turned to the Equivosians. He pointed to the wormhole and exclaimed, “Go inside, now! This is your only way to safety!” They shifted uneasily, gazing at the wormhole in fear.

    R-R-R-UMBLE!

    All around them, towering giants sprung from the singular mountains and lakes that formed Deitae. Groudon burst from the enormous Crack of Formation, spreading magma through the air and shaking the earth. Kyogre emerged from the Abyss of Darkness, sending a fountain of salt water to mix with the rain and strengthening the already-mighty torrents. The oceans rose and fell, rising beyond the coastlines and threatening to drown the vast tracts of land. Dialga and Palkia materialized from the Ruins of the Cosmos, joined with Azelf, Uxie and Mesprit from the Lake of Enlightenment. Time and space warped all around them, their presence disturbing the work they had so carefully made. The Legendary beasts—Entei, Raikou, and Suicune—roared from the Trinity Peaks, sending the call for their final work.

    All the Legends that assisted in the creation of Equivos came from their domains, each calling out their final duty:

    “Yveltal has finished what must be done, and now our time to destroy has come! All of Serenita now must fall, and then our home, Deitae, shall join it all!”

    Simultaneously, the Legends marched from their abodes going around the Tree of Life and the one Legend that failed to emerge: Arceus, the creator of all. The entire pantheon prepared to destroy their greatest creation, wiped clean of life by the Destruction Pokemon.

    Immediately after their call, the line of Equivosians advanced toward the wormhole, guided by their elders. Many voices cried out to escape:

    “We can’t stay here! Let me in!”

    “Why would Arceus do such a thing?”

    “Listen to the Lucario, go through that thing!”

    Cassia and Gardner hastily joined Lawrence at the foot of the wormhole, blocking it from the onslaught of Pokemon. Gardner hovered to them and shouted, “One. At. A. Time!” He glowered at them, instantly warding off any sort of mad dash to Unova.

    Gardner hovered away from the portal and curtly nodded his head. “There.” He held his arm out toward the wormhole. “Just be quick. The Legends will be back soon.”

    The Linoone at the front of the line hurriedly jumped in, a squeak of fear emerging as he disappeared into the void. His family followed, and the others as well, as they warily entered the wormhole.

    Lawrence stood at their side, his thoughts focused on only one thing. He stood straight and said to his companions, “I have to go help Matheus.”

    “What?” Cassia exclaimed. “But he’s—”

    “Probably in trouble with Arthus!” He jumped across the line of Pokemon and held Cassia’s hands. “Look, I know we don’t have much time, but we can’t leave Matheus here.” He held her hands tighter. “He’s…he’s our friend.”

    They stared at each other for a few moments, with Cassia considering his words. She finally pulled away and sighed. “You’re right. I don’t want to leave him either.” She turned back on him and pointed a claw at his face. “But I don’t want to lose you either! You need to come back before those Legends do!”

    Lawrence smiled, nodding his head. “I will.” He then nodded toward the wormhole. “Just make sure everyone gets across.” He turned around and ran into the forest toward Matheus and the desolation of the Legends.

    ~~~~

    Hanson and the other scientists stood behind the control panel, anxiously waiting for something to come through their wormhole. The generator hummed, growing in intensity as time wore on.

    The CEO of Valence Tech waved to the men clad in black security vests. “Keep ready for the Pokemon. There’s no telling how they’ll react here. Just get them into the cages as soon as you can.” They each nodded to him, holding Pokeballs in their hands.

    A scream emanated from the wormhole, and a Linoone shot out from it, skidding against the concrete floor. He opened his eyes and gasped, shrinking back down. “T-This isn’t how imagined it to look like.”

    Hanson grinned, pushing back his ruffled hair. “Jackpot.” He swung his arm toward the Linoone. “You know the drill.”

    A guard threw a Poke Ball in front of the Linoone. It cracked open and sent a flurry of white light in front of him, forming and dimming into a snarling Mightyena, barking at the Linoone.

    The Linoone backed away, lowering his head and shivering. “W-Wild Pokemon!” He looked around at the foreign humans, paralyzed. “What are all of you?”

    “Keep quiet!” the guard exclaimed. He pointed at the Linoone and shouted, “Mightyena, get the Linoone!”

    The wolf growled and ran after it, its eyes wild. The Linoone screamed and swiftly ran away, darting around the legs of the guards toward a dark corner of the room. At the wall, he found himself surrounded with bars, unknowingly running into a cage.

    The Mightyena hovered at the entrance, barking at the Linoone. He remained in the corner, clamping his paws over his head. “Arceus, save me!”

    His family followed, each screaming as they sprawled to the ground. A cluster of Machoke followed, and many others as well. The other guards deployed their Pokemon, ranging from Luxray to Machamp, Arcanine to Pangoro—all powerful Pokemon, trained to capture.

    Hanson couldn’t stop a smile from spreading across his face. “Project Babel is underway.”

    The generator zapped and the wormhole warped, disrupting the funnel inside. Hanson’s smile disappeared as quickly as it came. He jabbed a finger at a scientist. “Keep it stable! We must let Lawrence and all the other Pokemon through!” The scientist plinked away at a keyboard, shouting orders to his associates. The wormhole soon calmed, allowing more Pokemon to follow those who were herded away.

    Sweat rolled down Hanson’s brow as he clamped his fingers on the railing. “Come on…bring more, Lawrence…bring more!”

    ~~~~

    Across the ocean, the Kaena Woods burned by Reshiram’s almighty flames as he soared over the atmosphere. The Iren Desert turned to glass by Moltres’ fury, the Faylen Jungle froze by Articuno’s and Kyurem’s frost, and Mount Furnek raged under Entei’s roar. The islands of Cretea sunk into the ocean at Kyogre’s bidding, and the Minute Plains fractured under Groudon’s might. All around the physicality of Equivos, Dialga unraveled the stream of time, forcing the environments into a flux of birth and death, while Palkia warped matter from under to above and vice versa, ripping to pieces the vital balance of space. Yveltal’s oblivion provided peace to those who had inhabited the continent, saving them from the despair of the destruction of their home—all to cleanse the countless generations of darkness and evil caused by those who refused to serve Arceus.

    On Deitae, Lawrence ran through the Luminescent Woods, leaping over fallen trees and heading for the explosions of crimson and azure in the distance. Finally, after what felt like hours he reached the edge of the clearing where Arthus and Matheus fought.

    Arthus struck against Matheus’ aura rod, driving him to the ground. “You. Will. Die!” He charged his claws with Life and struck against the rod once more, forcing it disintegrate in an explosion of violet.

    Matheus panted on the ground, struggling to get up. Arthus set his foot on his chest, dangling the Seal over him. He grinned. “Time’s up, Guildmaster.”

    “No!

    Arthus’ head shot up as Lawrence ran from the edge toward him, aura flowing from his paws. He snapped up the Seal and turned back to Matheus. “I’ll finish you, then I’ll finish that human!” He slammed the Seal against Matheus’ chest.

    Lawrence stopped, thinking he was too late. The Seal glowed against Matheus’ dull fur, edging against his spike. The rains continued to pelt their fur, weighing down their bodies.

    Arthus blinked. Matheus remained present, a smile creeping across his lips. Arthus lifted the Seal and stared at it, then pressed it against Matheus again. No reaction.

    Arthus growled, lifting the Seal once more. “How! It’s exactly how it was before!”

    Matheus chuckled, his eyes glowing blue. “It only works on Legends.” His paws glowed blue, and he grabbed the Seal and came to his feet. “And I’m not a Legend.” He reared back his paw, surrounding it with Aura.

    Arthus hurriedly slashed Matheus’ paw on the Seal, causing him to release it and allow him to leap away and wrap the Seal around his hand.

    As Matheus clutched his paw, Lawrence ran to him, asking, “Are you alright?”

    Matheus lowered his paw, ignoring the scratch. “F-Fine.”

    Arthus lowered the Seal around his neck and scowled. “You’ve just been wasting my time, knowing that I couldn’t take you with the Seal.”

    “And it’s nearly too late,” Matheus replied. He grabbed Lawrence’s arm. “For all of us. You need to get out of here!”

    Lawrence pulled away grabbing Matheus’ arm. “Not without you!”

    “I’m old, weak, and foolish! You don’t need me!”

    “Yes, I do! Who else will—”

    “While it’s nice to see you bicker, I have more important business to take care of!”

    Arthus ran around them and toward the clearing, the Seal illuminating the path.

    Matheus pulled away from Lawrence and chased Arthus. “We can’t let him get to Arceus!”


    “I’ll stop him!” Lawrence exclaimed, swiftly running ahead of his elder. Matheus’ cry was drowned out by a sudden boom of thunder as Zekrom unleashed his power on the Xilo Mountains, instantly reducing them to rubble.

    Lawrence quickly caught up to Arthus and gathered a sphere in his paws far slower than Matheus’. The Zoroark looked back and snarled, charging a Life Sphere in his hand. He threw it back at Lawrence.

    The Lucario dodged away from it, then narrowly avoided a tree. He threw the Aura Sphere at Arthus, clipping the Arthus’ legs.

    Arthus gasped and tumbled to the ground, coating himself with mud and grass. He clambered to his feet and began to walk away, the clearing edging closer and closer into his vision.

    Lawrence punched Arthus over the head and knocked him down. “You won’t take Arceus!”

    Arthus throatily cackled, turning around. “Oh, I remember your dreams well, when I cared. You were a faithless young fool, wondering why Arceus would allow such horrible things to happen in the world.” He gestured around him at the rain, destruction, and waste. “And look what’s happened! Terrible, horrible death, more than I could ever achieve!” He held up the Seal. “And all of it could be stopped with this. No more faith, no more hopes, just a pure and simple trust that all will be well!”

    Lawrence remembered his previous beliefs, that Arceus didn’t exist, that he was contradictory, that he never wanted the best for everyone. “You’re wrong! You’re looking only at the bad, Arthus, at what everyone else has done wrong!” He pointed at the storm. “He saved everyone that held faith in him! He prepared my world for them to come! Horrible things happen, but they aren’t because of him!” He jabbed a finger at Arthus. “It’s all because of Pokemon like you, who are too self-absorbed to care about anyone else!”

    “I’ve had it with you!” Arthus bellowed, slashing at Lawrence. The Lucario stepped back at each subsequent slash. “You’re ignorant!” He charged his claws and skimmed against a tree. “Flawed!” He slammed the ground. “And deceitful!” Lawrence backed away with each blow, struggling to find an opening against the maddened Zoroark.

    Arthus swept Lawrence’s legs and pinned the Lucario’s arms to the ground. “You took Cassia from me!” He raised a claw, aiming it at Lawrence’s heart.

    A silver blur bashed into Arthus and rolled across the ground, binding him with his limbs. Matheus bound him with his body, each rendered immobile by the other. The Seal lay buried between them, wrapped around Arthus’ neck and hidden behind his back.

    Matheus grunted and growled as he fought against Arthus, his muscles tight and strained. “Go, Lawrence! I’ll keep him down!”

    Lawrence came to his feet, distressed. “I’m not leaving without you!”

    Krreeeaaaaww!

    At the triumphant cry, a rush of wind flowed from the east. They all now knew that the Legends had finished their work, and now were turning back to Deitae to complete the Day of Desolation.

    Arthus gnashed his teeth, attempting to bite Matheus’ paws. “Let me go! I can stop this! All of it! I can save everyone!”

    “Lawrence has already done that!” Matheus spat. He glared at the younger Lucario. “The Legends will be here in moments. You have to leave, now!”

    Despite the logic of Matheus’ command, Lawrence shook his head, tears brimming his eyes. “I can’t leave you to die.”

    Matheus narrowed his eyes, all anger gone from them. “I want to die. I want to see Laryon and the rest of my family again.’ He rolled his head back over Arthus’, restraining his neck. “And I want to make up for the biggest mistake I ever made.” He looked back at Lawrence. “Go…take care of Cassia and everyone else. They’ll need you in your world. They don’t need me.”

    Lawrence cringed, squeezing his eyes shut. He briefly nodded, then ran around the former Legend, leaving him to restrain Arthus despite the coming death.

    Fissures opened around Lawrence’s feet, Groudon’s fury encroaching the continent early. Trees fell all around him as he desperately charged toward the clearing, narrowly outrunning the desolation. He never faltered despite his vision blurred by rain and tears, all the way to the Tree of Life.

    At the edge, the wormhole warped and tore the air around it, growing more unstable with each passing moment. Only Cassia, Gardner and Zacheus stood in front of it, waiting for the last Pokemon that remained on Deitae. They saw Lawrence, expecting Matheus to be following him.

    Lawrence waved his paw forward and shouted, “Go in! Go in now!”

    Gardner scooped up Zacheus and leapt into the portal, causing it to ripple and scream. Cassia ran for the Lucario, joining him and asking, “Where’s Matheus?” She gasped, noticing the great dragons of Equivos swarming across the sky and gathering light into their maws.

    Lawrence dragged Cassia with him to the portal, the ground breaking underneath them. The wormhole cracked with yellow light, splintering under the dimensional energies. It glowed bright white and squealed, the funnel swirling too fast to see.

    The dragons sent their attacks down on the continent, sending a wave of fire and immolation into the air. It blew Lawrence into Cassia, sending both of them into the exploding wormhole, winking out of the decimated world.

    ~~~~

    The dragons flew overhead, and Arthus’ struggle to come free became more desperate and frantic. “It’s not too late. It’s not too late!”

    Matheus panted haggardly, tiring from Arthus’ struggle. “It is, Arthus. You failed.”

    “No!” Arthus shifted and faced Matheus, eyes wide with panic. “I can’t go! I can’t! I must save everyone!” His voice became a whisper as he suddenly stopped. “I…I just want my family back.”

    The fire descended upon the continent and Matheus gazed into Arthus’ eyes, smiling. “And you will.” He closed his eyes, and the orange wave of pure energy enveloped them, becoming a bright white as they turned to nothingness—just as the rest of Equivos.

    ~~~~

    Light.

    Pure light.

    All that could be seen was pure light.

    Standing in the brightness, Lawrence struggled to see, turning about. “Cassia?”

    “Lawrence?”

    Lawrence turned to the source of her voice and saw her dark fur. He shuffled forward, unsure of whatever lay on the ground.

    They finally met, their hearts racing from their escape. They held each other warily, unsure of their environment. “Where are we?” Cassia asked.

    Lawrence cautiously looked around. “I…don’t know. I’ve never seen any place like this.”

    They remained quiet for a moment. Cassia lowered her head. “…What happened to Matheus?”

    Lawrence swallowed, his throat tightening. “He…he stayed behind. To stop Arthus. And…and so he could see his family again.” He made a shuddering sigh, lowering his head. “I…I tried to save him, but…”

    Cassia set a hand against his face, forcing a smile. “It’s…it’s alright. It was his choice.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “He was always reckless…I just…never thought it would end up like this.” Together, they mourned for the loss of their dear friend, in the vast emptiness of white.

    “Do not sorrow, my children.”

    They both looked up and turned to witness a marvelous sight. A magnificent Pokemon with pure white fur and golden appendages towered over them, looking down with gentle, scarlet eyes. Green gems sparkled on the arc around his chest, and his hooves hovered with splendid grace, their tips just above the floor.

    Cassia and Lawrence struggled for the word, but each managed to say it: “Arceus.”

    Arceus made no motion, his fur flowing despite the lack of wind. “My servant has completed his work and returned to rest within the Tree of Life. His loss will be felt, but rest knowing he is at peace.” He lifted a hoof. “And now, the Arceist Tome is fulfilled. The Day of Desolation has passed, and the children who are faithful have passed on to inhabit another of my worlds.” He focused on Lawrence and seemed to smile. “Do not fear, Lawrence; your unbelief of your youth is forgiven. I will no longer remember when you come to be judged.”

    Cassia broke away from Lawrence and knelt before him. Lawrence followed, feeling a greater warmth in his chest than he ever had before. The Legend took no notice. “You may speak in my presence, children.”

    Cassia slowly looked up, eyes wide. “What…what is this place?”

    “A world yet to be created,” Arceus replied. “One that has no time or place with the others in existence.” He lowered his hoof. “I have brought you here to congratulate you for your continued faith in me. Among all my children, none have shown so great as yours.” He looked sadly at Cassia. “I sorrow for the many pains you suffered through your life and am pleased to see you still hold me close to your heart.” He turned to Lawrence. “And you as well, despite your troubled past.”

    Although pleased to hear such praise from his creator, Lawrence felt a question nagging at his mind. “Arceus…why did you let Arthus become the Pokemon he was?”

    “He was such a good Pokemon…before he changed,” Cassia added, her ears drooping.

    Arceus lowered his head and looked away. “As with all my children who fall away, I felt a great loss. He could have been the receiver of many blessings, yet he chose to reject them, believing that I failed to do what was necessary to have a perfect world.” He turned back to Lawrence and Cassia. “But let me ask you, my children: if I had forced Arthus to change, or had intervened to stop him on his path, would the belief of my children be made on faith, or on certainty? Would I have been any better than Arthus in forcing everyone to choose me? Would everyone really do what I desire them if I showed myself to all? Would I be seen as benevolent and just if I had killed someone because of their unbelief in me?”

    Neither could argue with his logic. Sensing other concerns, Arceus continued, “Even if I intervened to halt his senseless killing of everyone he loved and more, it would go against the plan I laid for this world and the others I have: allowing them choice. Follow me, and they are given blessings. Otherwise, they choose a life of sadness and grief, all through the others that have chosen the same path. My followers at times suffer such grief, but the grief they bear is nothing compared to the happiness they hold.” He stared hardly at them. “Do not ask his fate. He has done many things against me, even going so far as to use my own tool against me. He will be punished, far more than any others who had defied me. But he is also a conflicted, broken child.”

    “But what about everyone he killed? Their choice to live was taken from them,” Cassia interjected, feeling guilty for contradicting her creator.

    Arceus remained still. “There is also the matter of those that Hoopa never saved; despite the efforts of my servant, even he couldn’t save them. Even still, there are those who were unable to hear your voice. What of them?” Cassia paled, realizing her imperfect coverage of Serenita.

    He raised his head higher. “Those who died before their time who would have accepted me, and even those who had their choice taken from them, shall still reside with me in the Tree of Life. Only those who would reject me in any circumstance are isolated from me.”

    He shook his head. “Do not dwell on such matters. Now, you must look to the future that the world of man holds for those of Equivos.”

    Lawrence rubbed his head, groaning. “Right…Hanson. He’s going to—” His head jolted up. “He’s going to use them. Make them slaves.” He grabbed Cassia’s arm staring at her. “I can’t let that happen!” He looked down at himself and sighed. “But…he’ll just use me too. I’m a Pokemon just like you, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

    Arceus raised his hoof again. “When you first passed through the barrier that separates the dimensions, I changed you to be the way you are. From your human self, to the Lucario you now are.” He narrowed his eyes. “Do you now know why?”

    Lawrence considered his question, thinking deeply. “I…I used to hate Pokemon. I thought they were just beasts to study, to help us in time of need…but little more.” He held up his paw, studying it. “When I became a Pokemon, I thought it was the greatest irony, to be the very thing I loathed.” He smiled, turning his paw around. “But then I saw the wonder of Pokemon. I saw that they were really no different from me. At home, they could become the best of companions and act just as we would. But in Equivos, they can stand with us as equals.” He clenched his paw and lowered it. “You changed me to make me realize how wrong I was. I would never have listened to Cassia if I was human. I would never have talked to everyone like a friend. I needed to change, not just as a person, but as a whole.”

    Arceus smiled, his eyes still narrowed. “And now that you have experienced life as Lucario, do you wish to remain one?”

    Lawrence’s jaw fell. “You mean…you mean, I can go back?” Arceus nodded. He stared down at himself, holding up his paws again. “I…I would like to see myself again…have my fingers, my face…everything. It’s who I am.”

    He turned to Cassia, who smile faltered as he spoke. His own fell away. “But…if I turn back…” He held Cassia’s hand. “I could never be with her…at least, not in the way I’d like.” She beamed.

    He cringed, closing his eyes. “But I can’t leave Valence, or help everyone else, if I remain a Lucario.” He let go of Cassia’s hand, and both stared at each other, dwelling on the prospects.

    After a long moment, Lawrence slowly turned back, his mind set. “Arceus…you gave me the option…” He bowed to him. “But I will let you choose. Whatever you see fit for me, I will follow.”

    Arceus’ eyes opened, and he nodded. “Very well. You have indeed changed from before you entered Equivos.” He regarded Cassia, who fought the urge to kneel once more. “And you, Priestess…do you wish to follow Lawrence, whatever path he follows?”

    Unflinching, Cassia nodded. “I’d love for him to stay as he is…” She faced him. “But as long as I’m with him, I will follow him.”

    Arceus nodded again, lifting his hoof higher. “Both of you have passed my test to prove your faith by leaving your lives in my hands.” Tendrils of light erupted from his arc and surrounded them, causing them to glow. “Your fates have been intertwined ever since you were born. And now, they will be closer, with each following the other.” He held his hoof high, and Cassia and Lawrence both glowed intensely. “Save my children, Keeper and Priestess, with my blessing and gift.” He stamped his hoof, engulfing the world in light. The mortals felt a change, only it felt soothing, pure…welcome.

    Just as Arceus had been in their lives.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
  20. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Sorry for the delay once again; I had an unexpected activity I had to do. For now, enjoy the chapter!

    Act 5: The Keeper
    Chapter 27: Aftermath

    Darkness.

    All he saw was darkness.

    He felt heavy, as if he had been through a great ordeal, only it had happened instantaneously.

    He forced his eyes to open, his vision blurry in the dim light. He lay on a pad in an empty room, free of instruments and furniture. As his vision cleared, he saw a light buzzing overhead, and a series of windows revealing a dark, technological underworld, full of whirring machinery. The buzzing seemed quieter, duller, as if his hearing had worsened. The smell of oil and smoke also seemed muted compared to his previous experience.

    He craned his head up to see through the window better. He felt a chill in his arms and legs, despite not usually having one. He rubbed his face to rid the tiredness from his eyes.

    He stopped.

    He held out his hand, noticing the pearlescent, smooth, sturdy fabric that covered it. The digits were long and well defined, unlike the paws he remembered.

    His breathing grew heavy. He carefully pulled off the glove, studying the furless, pale hand underneath. He pressed it against his face, feeling no snout, no fur. Only a mouth, nose, and eyes.

    He passed his hand through his hair, a long, messy brown mess. His elation rose as it fell from his furs, unlike the short, velvety fur that covered him for over a month. He looked down and saw himself in the same white suit he had entered Equivos in, perfectly clean and shiny, even in the low light.

    He looked up and gasped. “Which means—"

    A shout echoed from the window to his left. Others followed, each furious in their cries. Lawrence shakily stood up, unused to the balance of his former self. He shuffled toward the window and froze.

    A dozen guards surrounded a massive Dusknoir, driving him back with gnashing Arcanine and Mightyena, while others in gloves handled a yowling Torracat, clawing at the men that captured him.

    Gardner’s fist emanated frost as he punched the side of Mightyena, causing it to whimper pitifully. “Let us go!” he bellowed, holding up his arm in response to another Mightyena’s bite. It’s smog-covered fangs drove into his body, causing the Ghost to grunt as his grey body lightened from the attack.

    He fell back, clutching his arm. He muttered something, looking around at the strange humans, ultimately succumbing to their onslaught. A guard clamped a large brace around his neck, and an anguished cry rose from him.

    Lawrence’s jaw fell. “No…” He looked to the left and breathed in sharply. Two Machoke each took one of Cassia’s arms as she was dragged across the room, each listening to the shouts of their masters. He mane trailed along the ground, her eyes closed and head bowed. She soon panned out of view, her dark, Zoroark fur clutched in the arms of the Machoke.

    Lawrence’s heart beat rapidly. Sweat beaded on his brow. “She’s…she’s…” His face hardened. “They can’t do this.” He turned around and marched toward the door, finding renewed strength. “They can’t do this!”

    He slammed open the door, his eyes locking with an elderly man in a suit. His eyes squinted up from a book in his lap, his white hair flowing over his bald crown. The ruby around his neck glinted in the flickering light, matching the smart, black suit he wore, and the crimson tie underneath the coat.

    The man grinned, shutting the book. “High time you woke up!” He pushed himself up and heartily took Lawrence’s hand, shaking it vigorously. “Thanks to you, Valence Tech will rise to new heights!” He pulled Lawrence’s tense arm closer and muttered, “And under such strenuous conditions. I have no idea how you survived there for as long as you did, but rest assured that you will be handsomely compensated for it.”

    Lawrence didn’t reply, scarcely restraining his anger toward President Hanson. “Let Cassia and everyone else go!” he wanted to scream, but he knew that such an action could lead to nothing. For now, if he wanted to reason with Hanson, he had to force himself to say, “Thank you.” He looked back at the window. “What will happen to them?” he asked with barest restraint.

    Hanson cocked his head, his continually squinting eyes contorting in confusion. “The Equivos Pokemon?” He waved his hand, shaking his head. “Don’t know why you’re so concerned, considering their savage nature.” He folded his hands behind his back and cleared his throat. “Don’t worry; they are being put into holding cells as we speak. Within hours, we will begin the research and experimentation phase.”

    He wrapped an arm around Lawrence and guided him away from the door, their footsteps clapping against the coarse concrete. “You know, I thought you wouldn’t make it because of the instability of the wormhole. After that Dusknoir came through, it was warping so much that it threatened to destroy the facility.” He smiled, looking across to Lawrence. “But you managed to come through with a Zoroark—quite a rare specimen. You’ve only been asleep for several minutes while we took care of it.” He turned back toward the hallway, grim. “The Dusknoir was making things difficult…especially with that Torracat.” He shook his head gently. “There’s always complications, but they’ll soon be gone. They are just Pokemon after all.”

    Lawrence carefully hissed through his teeth. “They aren’t just Pokemon…”

    Hanson patted Lawrence’s shoulder, chuckling. “Regardless, they will make excellent subjects for Project Babel.”

    A cry of anguish echoed through the hallway. Lawrence tightened his fist. “What are your plans for the project?”

    Hanson looked up thoughtfully. “We’ll likely spend the next several months, or years even, on extracting the DNA sequence from these Pokemon that allows them to speak. Then it will be used to create a serum or machine capable of granting our Pokemon speech capabilities.” He smiled wide, his eyes opening. He lowered his arms, staring out into space, breathing deeply. “After mass production and distribution, we will have a world with perfect communication between man and Pokemon.”

    Lawrence realized that Hanson couldn’t simply be convinced to release the Equivosians; he not only had a profit in mind from them, but also an ambition, one that he seemed entirely devoted to. Another course of action may be needed.

    Lawrence forced himself to calm, then said, “Is there any way to do this without harming them?”

    Hanson’s eyes squinted again, and he eyed Lawrence with suspicion. “Why so concerned? From my observations, you saw Pokemon as savages, like myself. There’s no humanity in them, so why should it matter?”

    Lawrence never remembered being willing to harm Pokemon, but he did remember his previous views on Pokemon and regretted them. Sure, he was right in considering the Pokemon of this world as inhuman, but the Arcean Texts never meant to claim that; it was trying to pave the way for the Equivosians to come, to treat them as humans. And he and everyone else failed to realize that—only he chose to make it a reason to leave Arceus.

    Hanson looked away, disinterested. “I can’t guarantee they won’t be harmed while we extract their DNA. But after it is set on the assembly lines, we’ll show them to the world as part of the advertising campaign of Project Babel. They will be assurance that the project will work for their Pokemon.”

    “But that’s a lie! I brought them from Equivos!” Lawrence fumed, wondering how extensively Hanson planned this entire scheme.

    Hanson held up a finger and smirked. “The public won’t know that. We’ll use the completed Project on our own Pokemon, yes, but why not use Pokemon that have already been prepared?” He focused his eyes on Lawrence again. “And if you really are concerned about their fate afterward, they’ll be given the best life we can offer: food, enclosures, nests, toys—everything needed to make Pokemon happy.” He turned away and shrugged. “Who knows? We might be able to integrate them with our own Pokemon. We could find them owners and train them, just like any other.”

    Lawrence grinded his teeth, scarcely believing his employer. “They aren’t like ours! They can’t be forced to live that life!” He slowly let out his breath, watching Hanson smile and wave to a few engineers walking by. “You might seem like a good person, but you’re not. You don’t care about Pokemon, least of all Equivos. You and your company.”

    A long window extended to their left, revealing the massive warehouse that Facility D housed. He stopped to study the whirring machine lifts and workers rushing back and forth, all working to carry the cages that housed the Pokemon they captured. Their cells were formed into a rough rectangle, stacking on top of one another in a jigsaw, accommodating all sizes of Pokemon. And sitting on the highest cage, gently lowering onto the top of the others, was a Zoroark, clutching a set of bags in her arms.

    Lawrence held onto the railing beneath the window, focusing on Cassia. She stared at the floor of the cage, looking down at the Pokemon she had saved from destruction. She looked around her, watching the alien people cross by her, all shouting various orders to their subordinates. She looked up, staring at the window. Her eyes widened.

    Lawrence cringed, leaning closer to her. “Cassia…” he whispered.

    Their eyes met, and Cassia put a hand over her mouth. She looked away and hid her face, her back rising and falling with her heaving.

    Hanson stood next to Lawrence, scrutinizing his crestfallen face. “What is the matter? They are being given the best treatment possible in the current situation. We were expecting only a dozen at most when you first entered Equivos, not over two thousand!”

    Realizing his mistake, Lawrence stood straight and forced himself to look away from Cassia. “Please, e-excuse me. I’m just…I’m just feeling tired, that’s all.”

    Hanson didn’t move. “Considering what you’ve been through, I’m not surprised.” He gave the cages another glance, then turned around, pacing toward the door at the end of the hallway.

    Lawrence turned back toward the Cassia, who still covered her face. “I’ll get you out,” he assured her, knowing she couldn’t hear him. “You and everyone else.” He stared for a few moments longer, then returned to Hanson, passing through the door.

    The dark environment brightened, no longer so grim and forbidding. To the left of the simple lamp hanging from the ceiling, the elevator doors waited for service, while to the left, two doors marked ‘Men’s’ and ‘Women’s’ stood, perpendicular to the doors Lawrence and Hanson came from.

    Hanson waved to the Men’s room. “Go on and get freshened up; I’ll have your belongings sent down from your station.”

    Lawrence strode past him, pushing open the door. Hanson’s eyebrows lifted. “Oh, and by the way…” Lawrence stopped.

    Hanson set a hand on Lawrence’s shoulder. “I made sure to take care of your finances while you were gone. It wouldn’t be right to have you go through trivial matters after your ordeal.” His hand slid off, then he walked to the elevator and pressed the up button.

    Lawrence continued into the room, feeling no kindness from Hanson’s gesture. The concrete of the facility changed to pristine white tiles. Going around the corner of the door, bathroom stalls and urinals lined the left and sinks with mirrors lined the right. Beyond them, a massive wall of lockers stretched, prepared for the hundreds of employees under Hanson’s control. All of it was lit with elongated light bulbs, seeming brighter due to the slight smell of bleach and cleaner.

    He walked into the locker room and looked to the left, where showers rose from a massive web of walls, none in use. He wove through the lockers, searching for his own—then realized he had forgotten the number.

    He groaned in frustration, not surprised to have forgotten it with all that happened. He almost went out of the locker room altogether, then noticed a neat pile of clothing sitting on a bench, a note on top of it.

    He gathered his clothes—remembering them to be his own—then read the note:

    Lawrence,

    I had my janitors take out your clothes after we assumed you to be gone, but I had them sent here when we heard you were alive. Nothing has been taken, I assure you; I would trust my employees with my life.

    Aaron Hanson

    Despite his thankfulness, Lawrence couldn’t forgive Hanson in the slightest.

    He went into the closest shower and pulled the door shut, finding a mirror on the other side of it. He saw his face and how alien it appeared after being a Lucario for so long—the small, round nose; the angular chin; his dark blue eyes and the brown eyebrows above them. All of it contrasting the subtle, handsome features of a Lucario.

    He pulled off the top of his suit and stared at his chest and arms. Toned muscles replaced the thin body from before his time in Equivos, as if the training he had undergone as a Lucario had somehow transferred into this body—almost as a gift from Arceus, now that he thought about it.

    He passed his hand over the smooth skin on his left arm, then came to his wrist and stopped. On the underside, he felt a strange, raised section at the base of his hand. He flipped it over and saw the fleshy, pink arc of Arceus, roughly two inches across. It was intrinsically etched into his wrist and raised into being.

    Lawrence considered the reason for such a symbol, feeling a strange want to touch the center. His finger hovered over it, then his mind abruptly shifted to the task at hand: cleaning himself. He left the mark alone and finished undressing, then took a long, relaxing shower in the stall.

    His indignation toward Hanson now cooled, he considered what he could do to break the Equivosians free from their prison. But his mind kept returning to the mark, and Arceus’ promise to him: “Your fates have been intertwined ever since you were born. And now, they will be closer, with each following the other.” Surely, he couldn’t have meant only one of them changing? With them apart, with one imprisoned and the other free?

    He closed his eyes and thought of the surest sign of her love toward her: Aura. He wanted its warmth to comfort him, to bring assurance that not all his Lucario self had gone. But none came. He was as human as he was before he left.

    He turned off the shower and dried himself, then dressed in the clothes he left behind, wincing as the fabric contacted his bear skin.. He shook his head free of the feeling as he zipped up the blue jacket over his green collared shirt, then walked out of the locker room in his jeans and brown shoes.

    He pushed open the door as he brushed back his hair, taming the wild mess that he woke up with. Hanson waited at the elevator with a black bag in his hand, and two guards in navy outfits stood behind him, each with three Pokeballs at their belts.

    Hanson smiled in satisfaction as Lawrence approached them. “Good to see you back; the white of that outfit was a tad overdone.” He held the bag out to him. “Here’s everything from your station. I watched the guards myself to make sure nothing was taken.”

    Lawrence accepted it, then Hanson looked up at the two burly men behind him. “Given your experience, I thought it best to give you a week paid vacation. It is only fair.” His positive expression suddenly turned serious. “But I warn you: don’t say a thing about this project. We can’t have the public know there are Pokemon that can talk…or their origin.” One of the guards plucked a ball from his side and tossed it in the air, catching it threateningly.

    Hanson stepped away from the elevator, and the guards followed. “Oh, and don’t come back until your vacation is over,” Hanson added. The other guard lifted a Pokeball and tossed it in the same manner as the other.

    Lawrence nonchalantly walked past them, hiding the confirmation that he knew he wasn’t welcome. He pushed the elevator’s button, entered, then shot up into the main lobby, leaving Hanson and his beloved project. He then exited the quiet, pristine lobby of Valence Tech, and entered nighttime Castelia.

    He strode past the bronze statue of the Pokedex 2.0 and entered the main walkway, orange lights flickering over his path. No one but Lawrence crossed the sidewalks—no cars hummed, no Pokemon called, and no people came. Sewage, gasoline and grease hung faintly in the air, evidence of the busyness hours earlier. The unusual quiet joined with the eerie dominance of the skyscrapers in the sky, replacing the trees and mountains of Arceus’ design.

    Lawrence looked around him, the bag bouncing on his back. “This…this isn’t right,” he thought. “I don’t belong here. I need trees…” He looked up, the stars invisible from the various lights of the city. “I need clear skies.” He passed a sign advertising the Pokedex 2.0. “I need isolation…”

    The edge of Castelia became visible on his left, and Lawrence stopped. He stared at the horizon, the black night and sea joining as a single entity. “I need Equivos.” He turned back onto his path. “I need…home.”

    He reached his apartment building and ascended the stairs, then opened the door. The door slowly swung outward, and as he entered, he studied the place he had called ‘home’: the solitary couch and TV, the underused kitchen, the unappealing bathroom, and the near-empty bedroom. All inside a space no more than thirty feet across.

    Lawrence’s chest ached. “Do I really live here?” He swept his hand across the counter, still clean. “Why would I want this place? Why did I work for Valence?” He pulled out his Pokedex from his pocket, opening it. He tapped on ‘Call’ and swiped to ‘Missed Calls’; his parents had left over fifty since he had gone.

    He sat on the couch and set his bag next to him, then tapped on his parents’ picture, calling them. “Why did I leave behind what made me happy?”

    The phone continued to ring, until it suddenly showed a large, scruffy man and the woman next to him. Each wore large, broadbrimmed hats, and their faces were streaked with sweat.

    “Lawrence!” they both exclaimed in relief. “We’ve been trying to call you for the past month! Where in Arceus’ name have you been?” Lawrence’s mother continued.

    Lawrence’s throat grew tighter. “Mom…”

    His father pushed a little closer. “And why are you calling now? It’s the middle of the day over here! We’re usually outside, but…after you didn’t pick up, we’ve been taking more breaks...hoping you’d call.” He pulled off hat, his bald head shining in the bright light. He noticed Lawrence’s pained expression. “Son…what’s wrong?”

    Lawrence struggled to keep his voice even as he said, “I had to go somewhere…somewhere far away. I…I made new friends…saw new places…” A tear rolled down his face. “But I didn’t realize until I left how much I missed you. I…I couldn’t call you from where I was. It was so much like Sinnoh: the trees, the mountains…everything.” He wiped his hand over his eyes. “I can’t work with Valence anymore…I can’t live here anymore…not after being in that place.”

    His parents fell quiet. A Tauros lowed behind them, and several passed behind the window. His mother leaned closer, sympathetic. “We missed you Lawrence…even before you left. Talking to you once a day was never enough, but then we couldn’t see you at all.” His father hugged her, rocking her. “Can you…can you come visit us? You’ve already been gone for years, and you’ve never come back. Can you now?”

    Lawrence nodded, slowly at first, but then gradually faster. “Yes…yes I will.” Despite his joy of going back, he felt a stabbing pain in his chest. “Mom, Dad…about how I’ve been…with the Arceists.”

    His parents looked at each other, then his mother said, “I know how hard it’s been, and I’m sure you have questions…but we’re not the ones to talk about it with you.” She weakly smiled. “Remember that little church in Castelia…the one we kept telling you about?”

    Lawrence blinked. He pulled his bag closer and sifted through the unimportant employee material and found what mattered: a brochure emblazoned with the arc of Arceus, labelled, ‘Arceism: A Belief Fit for All!’.

    Lawrence turned back to his parents. “Yeah…I remember.” He flipped it over, revealing the address of the closest building and its owner. “I’ll go get some things, and…and I’ll visit.”

    ~~~~

    In Facility D, the Equivosians huddled together in their cages, avoiding eye contact with the guards who forcefully shoved them in. Their Mightyena and Arcanine prowled around it, watching for anyone who dared to try and escape. The Equivosians, however, held no faith that they could, what with their Keeper gone and their home destroyed. Now all that awaited them was the dark and oppressive Valence Tech and their dreams of granting speech to all the Pokemon in their world.

    Cassia sat in the topmost cage, staring at the iron floor beneath her. Her bag sat in her lap, while the supply pouch she had worked to distribute lay at her side, its contents untouched. In the corner of the cage was a metal bowl filled with brown chunks of grainy substance that smelled vaguely of meat. She dared not try it.

    The Zoroark’s mind wasn’t focused on food, or even the loss of her friends and home. She thought only of the human that looked down from above, longingly, like he wanted to come to her. She recognized his face, from when he had shown her long ago. Lawrence Stephenson, a human. And herself, a Pokemon.

    “Hey.”

    She looked down the bars and saw Gardner pressed up against the ceiling of his own. A metallic collar with blinking lights wrapped around his neck, and his arm was still punctured by the bite from the Mightyena.

    He held up some of the brown chunks and narrowed his eye. “Don’t try this stuff. I learned the hard way.” He tossed it to the corner of his cage and slumped against the bars, groaning. "Must've lost my immunity to Dark Pokemon when I destroyed Arthus’ ruby. He intended that to be a defense against your natural abilities, but that never ended up coming into use.” He grabbed at the collar, glaring at the lights. “And this…thing, prevents me from shifting out of here.” He grabbed the bars again, looking up doubtfully. “And we have no idea where Lawrence is. I don’t know what they plan on doing with us, but it can’t be good.” He sighed again, lowering his hand. “Do you think that he might have…betrayed us?”

    Cassia shook her head in astonishment. “What, no! He wouldn’t!” His human body returned to her mind, and her features twisted into doubt. “He…he loves me…he loves everyone.”

    Gardner continued to stare. “He might’ve changed back on the return and sold us out. He doesn’t seem like the sort of guy to do something like that, but considering the circumstances..." He closed his eye and shook his head. "This isn’t what I thought his world would be like. I was expecting open skies at the least. Not this.”

    Cassia held up her right wrist, tracing the white fur that now cropped on it. The arc of Arceus shown prominently through it, leaving a raised impression in her skin. She had no idea why she had it, but she expected Arceus to have an explanation. That is, if she could talk with him again.

    Crrreak!

    The door of a cage swung open and two Machoke lunged for the Bibarel inside. The hapless Pokemon was dragged by his arms, his beady eyes darting everywhere. “Where’re you takin’ me? Tell me, please! I thought this was supposed to be a paradise fer us, not this!” The Machoke took no notice of his pleas, continuing past the circle of guards to an unseen corridor of Facility D.

    Cassia clutched her wrist, horrified. “Arceus preserve us.” The Pokemon below her murmured, each wondering if they were the next to be taken. Children were held by their parents, wondering if Arceus truly wanted them to be in this forsaken place.

    Cassia looked down at her bag, focusing on the book that lay visible within. She carefully pulled it out, revealing the final copy of the Arceist Tome. She opened it and studied its pages, a sense of peace overcoming her as she read.

    Slowly, carefully, she read aloud, and the murmuring stopped. Despite the grinding and whirring surrounding them, her voice rang out beautifully and clearly, projecting the Creator’s message of peace and goodwill to all his creations, human and Pokemon alike. She started from the beginning, the creation of Equivos, and read on through the ages, recounting the vast tale of the region to its final survivors. The peace she felt spread to them, and despite the danger that awaited them, they felt that all would be well in the end.

    ~~~~

    In a circular room in a lower level of the facility, Hanson watched as men in white lab coats tuned machinery and prepared wires around a large chair with straps, the screens around them blank and ready for listing information. The deafening noise outside was muted, leaving them to work in relative peace.

    Hanson couldn’t stop himself from smiling, despite the fact he knew it unsettled his employees. “A world full of Pokemon that can speak. A way to not only add to the world, but truly change it.”

    He thought back to his youth, when he tinkered with circuitry leftover from computers and Pokeballs in an attempt to create a successful product. Not until years later, when he produced the Poketch, did he succeed. He was successful, but he saw little impact from it; people used it, but it made no meaningful change to their lives.

    He pushed himself and others to create the Pokedex 1.0 years after that, and later the 2.0. Now everyone is interconnected with one another, using the universal remote to complete all they must. He had made a difference, but many still went on through life without its advantage, instead staying true to their ways before the new modern age.

    And now, years after resolving to change the world, he could do it. Everyone, young and old, man and woman, would buy speech for their beloved Pokemon. And no one could create a competitor.

    He chuckled, imagining the perfect world further. “No need for sign language or translators, just have a Pokemon tell you what’s wrong. How much easier could life get?”

    The doors behind him burst open and a pair of Machoke carrying a Bibarel entered, strapping him into the chair. They exited, and Hanson clapped his hands together. “Time to work, everyone! The sooner, the better!”

    An aged, balding scientist hobbled over as his associates placed wires on the blubbering Bibarel. He anxiously swallowed and said, “Are you sure this is…ethical? I mean, he seems as intelligent as you or me.”

    Hanson set a hand on the man’s shoulder, tightening his grip. “Mister Vaun, they’re just Pokemon. We’ve done this before with other subjects, and you had no qualms."

    "But this is different. They never spoke or—”

    “We must ensure the machine works, no matter the circumstances.” Hanson flashed Vaun a dark look. “Are we clear?”

    Vaun nodded reluctantly, then shouted orders to his subordinates. A generator began to spin, and the Bibarel cried out in pain as the process began.

    Hanson turned away and closed his eyes, grimacing. “A needed sacrifice, but a regrettable one nonetheless.” He pushed past the stricken employees and entered the elevator, it’s door closing. He looked up, remembering his dream. “But it is a small one to bring unity to all.”

    ~~~~

    Lawrence crossed the streets of Castelia, looking at the back of the closed brochure. He occasionally glanced up passing the numbers and street signs of the various towers until he came across a sign labelled ‘Reshiram Boulevard’. He turned left, a small black book in his hands, imprinted with three golden words: ‘The Arcean Texts’.

    He came to number 255 and saw a tiny house squished between two apartment complexes. Lights shined behind the windows, and the arc on top of the spire on the roof glowed a soft yellow. The soft red paint on its walls seemed to invite him in, despite the late hour.

    He ascended the steps slowly, feeling guilty for avoiding the church for so long. He went to knock on the wooden door decorated with the Legends of the world but stopped when he saw it open a crack.

    He pushed it open the rest of the way and entered a darkened chapel, the bulbs in its chandeliers off. Rows of pews extended toward the stand at the front, which had a podium and rows of chairs behind it. An organ sat to the left of it, and to the right was a donation box, stuck between the corner of the chapel and the entrance to a foyer. Light poured out from within.

    Lawrence walked toward it, passing his hands on the tops of the pews. He remembered the meetings he had when he was young, how the Pokemon sat with their masters on the pews to listen to the priest and those he had asked to speak that day. Testimonies of those who believed rang out from his mind, and the soothing, yet powerful notes of the organ during the hymns brought peace to even the most troubled soul.

    He stepped into the foyer, where a collection of doors lined the walls, all labelled as ‘Classroom’. A door labelled ‘Library’ stood locked, and the bulletin board to the right had various events listed, all their dates long passed. The light from the lamp in the room emitted a soft, pink glow, and just down the hallway connected to the foyer, Lawrence heard someone cry.

    Concerned, Lawrence approached the hallway, passing various paintings of Arceus and his Legends. In some, he created the world and Pokemon; in others, he stood with his followers against the darkness, his arms holding back the fears that lay so prevalent in the world. They stopped at the end, where a door labelled ‘Office’ lay open, and where the woman could be heard.

    He stood at the open door and saw a red-haired woman in a long, grey coat, piling clothes into a suitcase, fighting back the tears that came. A pull-down bed had numerous papers and books thrown across it, and the desk lay clear, fitting only the massive suitcase that she loaded everything into.

    She stopped briefly, then fell back into the rolling chair behind the desk, sighing. “What am I going to do?”

    Lawrence took a step back, realizing that he likely came at the wrong time. He could go back and try to figure out how to break the Equivosians out of Valence. But what could he do as a behavior specialist? He had no technical know-how, and even if he did miraculously pull everyone out of Facility D, he had to get them out of Unova to keep them safe—and with over two thousand to save, that would be no easy task. Until he could consider a course of action, he may as well talk with Erica.

    Lawrence stepped forward and knocked on the open door. Erica gasped and stood up from her chair, eyes wide with panic as she turned toward the door. She cocked her head in bewilderment. “Lawrence? What are you doing here this late?” She waved at the mess and sighed, wiping away the tears on her face. “You came at a bad time.”

    Lawrence peeked inside the room, noticing a bag full of hygiene supplies tucked next to the suitcase. “I came by to talk. What are you doing?”

    Erica sat back down on the chair and crossed her arms, then grumbled, “Nice to see someone come here other than me.” She blinked and gave Lawrence a suspicious look. “I thought you hated me? I haven’t been able to see you for the past month, and none of the guys you worked with seemed to know where you were.”

    Lawrence cautiously stepped inside the office, sitting down at the strangely-empty chair in front of the desk. “It’s a long story.” He looked around another time. “Seriously, what’s going on? Are you…moving?”

    Erica stood up and picked up a pile of clothing. “Yes. I haven’t had anyone but a few elderly couples come for the past year, and even they eventually stopped. Without the donations, I couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage, so the bank’s evicting me.” She set the clothes inside the suitcase and picked up a Pokeball on the dresser behind the desk. “I’m a waitress over at the Simisear Grill and Chill, but I could only afford food and supplies for me and Roselia. I was hoping to move back with my mom in Sinnoh, but I don’t have enough money saved up. I’ll have to rent an apartment until I can.” He fingers passed over the button of the ball, decorated with a tiny arc of Arceus. “I really wanted to be a priestess here…” She tucked the ball inside a coat pocket, then patted it. “But I guess there’s just not enough people who believe.”

    She turned back to Lawrence, scowling. “Why am I telling you this? You never cared about me. You never cared about this church or anyone who went to it.”

    Lawrence silently cursed himself and held up his copy of the Arcean Texts. “I just have some things I need to talk with you about. You know about this a lot better than I do, so I need you to help me confirm it.”

    She raised an eyebrow. “Confirm what?”

    Lawrence flipped to a bookmark, scanning the page. “See, I’m technically a member of the church already; I’ve just been inactive for the past seven years. Now I want to start getting into it again, but I want to help correct a big mistake.”

    Erica closed her suitcase and leaned over the desk, curious to see Lawrence’s notes. “What mistake? Is it some policy that the presidency made?”

    “No.” He set the book on her case and pointed at a lengthy passage, where he added his own notes. The sentences were interrupted by large gaps, indicating the portions of the texts that were lost through the years.

    He pointed at the paper and said, “I think I figured out what this is meant to say. I underlined what I think should be added.” Erica studied his changes:

    “And I, the Creator, have made worlds without number, but they do not affect the salvation of this present one. However, one will impact this one upon its end. This world holds my children, just as this one, but contains only Pokemon, and no men. They hold the memories, emotions, and willpower that the men of this world have, and so, must be treated as such. At the conclusion of that world’s journey, these Pokemon will have a new journey within this one. Treat them as men, and they shall treat you as them. Respect all life, but treat the children of Equivos as equals.”

    Erica studied the page, her face unchanging. At the end, she leaned back and interlocked her fingers, shaking her head in disbelief. “This…this is ridiculous. Yes, he created worlds without number, but one with only Pokemon? That can speak? And they’re coming here for some reason?” She blew out her breath and continued, “This changes our longest held belief: to treat Pokemon like ourselves. According to you, we were really supposed to just respect our Pokemon, and treat these Pokemon from ‘Equivos’ as equals—not ours.” She eyed him suspiciously. “Where’d you come up with all of this, and why are you showing it to me?”

    Lawrence passed his hand through his hair, considering the best way he could explain. “Let’s just say that Valence managed to find it, and I…may have brought these Pokemon here.” He winced, hoping that word wouldn’t spread.

    Erica simply stared. “I’d say you’re lying if I didn’t know you were horrible at it.” She stood up and held a hand on her head, scarcely believing it. “This is…just too much.” She dropped her hand and shook her head in defeat. “Why are you telling me this? What can I do? I’m just a waitress-slash-priestess!”

    Lawrence threw his hands in the air. “I don’t know either! Look, Valence is planning on doing something with the Pokemon from Equivos, so I have to get them out!” He slapped the brochure on the desk and groaned. “I just want to say sorry for all the times I shrugged you off. My life’s been crazy for the entire month, and I just want to set things right again, even if I sound crazy while doing it.”

    Erica crossed her arms, considering his exclamation. She looked down at the brochure and cocked her head. “Hey, what’s this?” She took out a slip of paper tucked between the folded pages and inspected it. “’Sheffield’? Who’s he? And why’s his number on here?”

    Lawrence blinked. He took the paper and stared at it, remembering the captain’s intrusion well—and his promise.

    He thought of an idea.

    He shot upright and shoved the paper into his pocket, then took Erica’s hand and looked directly at her. “I know this is going to sound strange, but I have a way to get you back home—free of charge.” She jerked slightly, caught off-guard by his gesture and his statement.

    He continued, “I don’t have the time to explain, but get down to the docks and wait for me there. I have a friend who can help.” He darted toward the door.

    She looked down at her hand, then back at Lawrence. “Wait, why are you wanting to help me? Why are you doing any of this? You’re making no sense!”

    He stopped at the door and thought for a moment. “I guess I want to make up for running away from Arceus for so long…and running from you in the process.” He shrugged. “Plus, I wouldn’t want anyone to be stuck here in Castelia. Would you?" He ran down the hallway and burst out the door, his feet clattering down the streets of the city.

    Erica held the side of her face, bowing her head. “Is this really true?” She stood still for a moment, then leaned forward slightly. She stood straight, and a smile slowly crept onto her face.

    “You know…maybe it is.”

    ~~~~

    Lawrence slammed his apartment door closed and pulled out Sheffield’s number. “I hope you like staying up late.” He then pulled out his Pokedex and went to type the seaman’s number. He stopped. He set his Pokedex down on the counter with the number and sighed. “But I still don’t have any idea on how to save Cassia and the others! What am I supposed to do?”

    Touch the arc.

    Lawrence looked around, remembering that soft, quiet voice from when he took pictures of the Arceist Tome. “…Arceus?”

    Touch the arc. Hold it.

    Lawrence pulled back the sleeve of his left wrist, revealing the arc-shaped scar. “Might as well.” He held his right finger against it, and for several seconds, nothing happened.

    A fire burned in his core.

    He pulled his finger away, and his body became absorbed in light.

    He felt himself shift and change, a welcome, if unexpected, feeling.

    The light disappeared, and Lawrence opened his eyes. He looked down.

    A black-furred paw rested on the counter.

    Lawrence gaped, then felt his own face, feeling the snout and ears of a Lucario. He looked down at himself and saw the proportions of a Lucario through his clothing. His legs were notably thinner than before, and he appeared to be taller to compensate for his human form. His feet rose out from his shoes, now with small points of contact, and his tail hung above the rim of his pants.

    Lawrence studied his left paw, studying the white fur that made up the arc of Arceus. He held the arc again, and the same bright light enveloped him. Moments after, he was back to being a human, albeit with his shoes now underneath his feet.

    His mouth hung open, then he closed it and looked up gratefully. “Arceus…thank you. You never separated me from her after all.” He picked up his Pokedex and carefully typed in Sheffield’s number, a plan to rescue Equivos from Valence forming in his mind.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2018

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