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Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Unequivocant

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' 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 Pokémon after the bout was over. When the battle was finished, the Pokémon 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 Pokémon’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 sizable rock, remembering that conviction well—and the persecution it led to. ‘No one believed me…they all hated me…but I fine with that….with where I was…” He closed his eyes. ‘Until now.’

    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, 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.

    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 Pokémon?”

    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 Pokémon, 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. “I don’t believe he exists, I know he exists. 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 Pokémon. 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 Pokémon 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 it appears you haven’t 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 foot paw. He pointed at it and said, “Here’s a Pokémon’s Life. Despite the power it has, most Pokémon 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 Pokémon’s life.” He finished the circle and pointed to both. “Two separate Pokémon, 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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. ‘Even the best scientists in the world couldn’t figure out where Aura came from—yet it’s so simple.’

    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 Pokémon, 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.”

    Lawrence thought of who he could have some sort of friendship with. ‘I’m not really close to anybody. Sinnoh hated me, Unova’s closed off, and I haven’t met many in Equivos. The only one I can think of is—’

    “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 Arthus 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.”

    ~~~~

    Within the Master’s Tower, Gardner painstakingly used a needle and thread on his chair, repairing the jagged tears Arthus had made. He pricked himself in the finger and scowled, watching thin mist trail out of it. “Foul, despicable Zoroark.”

    “Shame. You were doing so well.”

    “Gah!”

    Gardner dropped the thread and fell onto his back, twisting behind him. Arthus leaned against the wall, studying his claws. The Gardner jabbed a finger at him and exclaimed, “Well it’s not my fault that you tore up my chair! It’s ruined!”

    Arthus shrugged and walked along the undamaged arm of the chair. “Oh, that’s easily fixed.” He cut a delicate along the top of the arm, revealing the stuffing within. Gardner growled with rising intensity, his fingers curling as his eye glowed brighter.

    Arthus grinned and laughed, “See? Symmetrical. Less work.”

    Gardner held up the needle from before and tossed it behind him with a moan. “Indeed.” Gardner rubbed his eye and said, “Let me guess: you’re here about the Prison Bottle.”

    “Why yes!” Arthus replied, wrapping an arm around Gardner’s neck. “But more specifically on where to summon him. I’ve narrowed down Matheus’ location to a few places in northern Serenita. Got any leads?”

    Gardner shrugged Arthus away and sat down in his chair, fingering the newly-made tear. “No, not really; I’ve been having to rework the Guild to make it ready to take back the settlements Cassia had converted. All I’ve managed to go through was an old history book about Arceism.”

    “Is that so? Do tell.” Arthus sat cross-legged on the floor, brushing through his mane for tangles.

    Gardner ignored his actions and looked upward. “From what I read, there used to be several temples scattered throughout the region; they were places where Arceus focused his power and allowed for things like miracles to happen.”

    “Sounds like the right place. Where’s the closest one?” Arthus asked, finding a writing Joltik buried in his mane.

    Gardner sighed, slumping in his chair. “Well there’s the problem; the temples have been abandoned for centuries. I can tell you where they used to be, but actually finding them is a different matter.”

    Arthus pierced the Joltik’s body and drained its Life, throwing away the dusty husk. “Just tell me where they used to be. I’ll go search the areas myself.”

    “Fine. There were five temples: one near Cambeta, Barash, Virona, Saunte, and Respit. Considering that Barash was just destroyed, I doubt the temple is still standing there.”

    Arthus twisted a length of his mane. “Hmm, yes. I’d rather not go back to Saunte or Respit, so that leaves Cambeta and Virona.”

    “I doubt the temples are standing in those places anyway: Saunte has changed a lot in the past few decades and likely destroyed it to expand, and Respit’s temple was made of wood; it would have deteriorated without any care.”

    “Anything about Cambeta?”

    “Not really. They regularly get storms there, however, so it wouldn’t be an ideal place for such a structure.”

    “It’s not even where Cassia and the others are headed.” Arthus stood up and clapped his hands together. “Right, Virona it is. Anything I should look out for?”

    Gardner languidly took the book from his side table and glanced at the pages. He stopped at one and said, “Apparently the Virona temple was put into the denser section to the west of Virona; if anything, the jungle itself destroyed it given how much time it’s had to to grow.” Gardner set the book aside and shrugged. “But who knows? It was made of stone, so it could still exist.”

    “Good, good. I’ll heading off now; can’t leave Jareth waiting!” Arthus ran down the stairs and left Gardner to grumble about both tears made in his chair.

    Once Arthus was outside and invisible, he crossed by Guild Pokemon and toward the gate. “I know exactly where to go,” he said under his breath.

    ‘This is simply cruel.’

    Arthus hissed and quickened his pace. “You again!”

    ‘What you’re planning is low, even for you. And you want Cassia to come back to live here? She’ll never forgive me!’

    Arthus opened the gate and slammed it, then shouted, “It’s also to take care of Matheus and Lawrence! Don’t you want them gone?”

    ‘Not if it costs my relationship with Cassia—with what little is there, thanks to you. There’s still time to have her trust us again if you stop this madness and let me come back.’

    “No. I didn’t spend two thousand years with Yveltal to just surrender the Seal.”

    ‘You can’t be—’

    “And you didn’t kill Corrina in her sleep for nothing…did you?”

    The voice stopped, and his presence retreated in Arthus’ mind. ‘No.’

    “That’s right. Now step aside until I’ve done my job. When the world is made perfect, you can feel free to spend every moment with her.” Arthus ran to the deadened tree at the wall of the canyon and had tendrils drag him down into the earth.

    As he traveled across Serenita, the personality in the back of his mind thought, ‘But she wouldn’t be the same—not without her feelings or strength.’

    ~~~~

    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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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-Pokémon.

    Cassia blew out her breath slowly, then began to gently pull off the Pokédex. 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 Pokédex. 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 Pokédex, 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 Pokémon 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 it 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 Pokémon 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 Pokédex—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 Pokémon, 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 creators of time and space.

    He held his head, sighing. ‘I’ve denied him for so long…but so much here in Equivos says he does exist: The Legends, the Tome, everyone’s belief. I could deny him before I knew all this…but now, I’m not sure I can.’

    He looked up. ‘They’re right; Arceus is real. But he’s not a benevolent deity, like they say he is. He doesn’t “spread his arms to grant blessings”. Pokemon like the Gabite and Nidoking have harmed people for generations…no just god would 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. ‘I might have been wrong about Arceus’ existence—even if it was warranted. But I won’t believe in his goodness. Not until l I see it for myself.’

    ~~~~

    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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon with Water Gun, forcing them back into the hole. With moans, and screams, the Rock Pokémon 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 Pokémon! 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 Pokémon. 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 shut 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 Pokémon 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 sizable 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon’s yells of defeat echoed, and he could see Cassia and Matheus speedily dispatching them. ‘They don’t need me.’

    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 Pokémon stood in front of the source of the light.

    Lawrence squinted his eyes at the brightness and asked, “Who are you?” The Pokémon 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 jerked its head to the right, then nodded. “Yes. I see many things—a void in the sky…a realm of towers and machines…all created by a species not known to Equivos.”

    Amazed that he knew 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 Pokémon 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: Oct 9, 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. “‘Pokémon 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 Pokémon as savages, and only bearable because we train them.” She shivered and crossed her arms. “Honestly, I don’t see why they see Pokémon 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon nodded and agreed audibly, while the Water Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon. “

    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 Pokémon. “is that alright with you?”

    The Water Pokémon 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 Pokémon. You treat them like your equals; more than Loran ever did for us Water Pokémon.” He looked up. “If you’d give us that sort of respect, then I will follow you.”

    Soon, the other Water Pokémon followed suit, with only the imprisoned Guild Pokémon, 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 Pokémon are out of commission and that they seem to be unified, Arthus 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 Pokémon 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 Pokédex 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. Suffice to say, h’s stirring up something in the south.” 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 unless 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 that happened in the shack to his companions. Afterward, Matheus rubbed his chin, closing his eyes. “Hmm…the Arceist Temple is crawling with Guild Pokémon. 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 worshiped 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.

    ~~~~

    Arthus crept along the borders of Jareth, carefully inspecting the now-unified city. Graveler lined up at the top of the hill to roll down to the entrance, and Marill and Floatzel gathered around the rooftops to fire Water Guns and Hydro Pumps. Seismitoad and Boldore stood in the alleyways, ready to charge out and beat him to death. All the while, a Noctowl flew overhead, which Arthus knew had to have Foresight—one of the few moves that could destroy his illusions.

    He nodded, impressed. “Nice preparations, but little match for someone like myself.” He shook his head and continued around Jareth. “But I have no time. While I might have a location to summon Hoopa, I still have to get the bottle itself, and it could be anywhere here. The sooner I find it, the better.”

    ‘First time I’ve seen you dismiss the opportunity to kill someone—Arceists especially.’

    Arthus seethed, nearly slipping on a loose patch of gravel. “You’ve got some nerve to insult yourself. Remember, I’m just your shadow; I’m everything you would’ve done had you not hidden it behind your precious facade.”

    ‘At least I had the decency to respect Life. Corrina was not worth control over it!’

    But you didn’t know that at the time. Remember what Gregorius had done?”

    ‘…Yes.’

    Arthus clambered across the narrow path, looking to the other peaks. “Then you know exactly why you had to take the chance.” He bared his teeth and added, “And if you ever want to see her again, leave me in peace! The Prison Bottle only has to be found and we’ll be set!”

    ‘Hoopa is a malicious trickster, and he will surely know that the Seal can be used against him; he always demands a price for feats of strength, so what do you think he’ll require, and how do you plan on paying him?’

    Arthus blinked, staring up for a moment. He scowled and continued. “I’m working on that.”

    ~~~~

    Minutes after Arthus’ 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 Pokédex, 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 Pokédex 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 Pokémon because of it, and I’ve helped bless so many Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon, and you never wanted to hurt me. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Zoroark; you are a great Pokémon 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 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 Pokémon to get back in line.”

    “Fire Pokémon?” 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 Pokémon were the leadership, likely because of their natural advantage against the local Ice Pokémon. There’s not too many of them, but the Fire Pokémon are feared and respected around there.” He shook his head briefly and pounded his fists. “But enough talk. Let’s fight.”

    ~~~~

    Gardner put the finishing touches on the needlework for his chair. He pulled out the needle and tossed it away, then sat on the chair. “One of my few real comforts…”

    The door opened, and heavy, metallic footsteps followed. A densely rusted Metagross ascended the stairs, a pile of books and papers sitting on his head. Hic cold, black eyes flitted around the room as his internal computer whirred.

    He stopped next to Gardner with a shudder, loosening some rust. “The books you requested, Guildmaster,” he said in a deep, robotic voice.

    Gardner leaned forward and hefted the stack of books with little exertion. “How has the library been for you, Martre? As dreary as ever?”

    “Being Assistant Guildmaster requires high levels of organization and analysis. If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have found any of the materials you showed Arthus.”

    Gardner humphed, setting the stack on the floor. “And you don’t how grateful I am. I’ve been threatened to no end by that Zoroark.” He searched through the books and collected a leaf of paper. “Not to mention his desire to irritate me to no end.”

    Martre sighed, his metal plates shuddering. “If it weren’t for his ability to make good on his threats, he wouldn’t be the one pulling the strings.”

    Gardner crumpled the paper and threw it away. “Right. It doesn’t help that my Guild Pokemon are useless in stopping Cassia and that Arthus is too attached to her to actually finish her off.” He pointed outside and continued, “Not to mention that we’re isolated here. If we were located somewhere like Saunte, we could coordinate our actions better. Now we have dwindling supplies and a loss of Pokemon.”

    Martre’s eyes flashed. “Have you considered a coup against Arthus? The combined might of the Guild would give us a greater chance against him, and if we succeed, we wouldn’t have to devote resources to his insane plans.”

    Gardner rubbed his chin, looking up. “Hmm…before recently, I would’ve disagreed. But after seeing how useless he is at actually completing his goals, it might be better if he’s out of the picture entirely.”

    “And we wouldn’t need to worry about him slaying us all just to bring us back to life—with no free will at that.”

    Gardner hovered upright with a laugh. “Yes, yes! That part of his plan has always been the most unbearable.” He tapped against Martre’s head and added, “You know I selected you primarily for your brains, right?”

    Martre looked up at Gardner distastefully. “As always.”

    Gardner moved away and folded his hands behind his back. “Good. Now, let’s consider what to do when he comes back…”
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 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, it’s all the same: the breeze, the grasseven the Pokémon. 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 Pokémon.

    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 sizable 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 led 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 you—”

    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 Pokémon 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, looking away. “He’s just a friend. I don’t…” 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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-I hardly know her! I don’t even know any girls at home!”

    Matheus clapped a paw on his shoulder and shook it. “Probably because 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 Pokédex. 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 Pokémon 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 a look at the Trevenant’s prophecy.” He pointed at Lawrence. You have some rather interesting stuff going on.”

    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 Pokémon who will come on the Day of Desolation and bring all the surviving Pokémon 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 wasn’t 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. ‘People wouldn’t kill or steal as often. Cities could feel safe instead of dangerous. Even Pokémon would live better, because Arceists value them in a far different way. There would be disagreements, but they wouldn’t be as serious as they could be. All of this, because they would believe Arceus would want that from them.’

    He couldn’t believe he never made the connection before. ‘Everyone in Unova always thought it was odd that I’d just go up to someone and talk to them, like friends. I thought it was something about me, but Sinnoh is like that in general. Unova could’ve been like Sinnoh—or Sinnoh like Unova, without Arceism. It is a drive for trust, and without it—’

    He stopped himself. ‘It…feels true…even if Pokemon aren’t like they say. He made no sense in treating Pokemon like humans, but he at least helps us treat each other better. He has some good at least.’

    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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon like humans, why don’t Pokémon 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? ‘I miss my parents; I never got to say good-bye, and they’re probably panicking about me not talking with them for two weeks. And Valence probably wanted me back, if only to keep the press off their case.’

    He held up a paw, studying the soft, black fur that covered it. ‘And I miss having my real body back. There’re advantages to being a Lucario; I don’t get tired as easily, and I’m faster and stronger. Plus, there’s the ability to use aura. I can say I enjoy it now.” He lowered his paw and closed his eyes. ‘But what do I lose? It still feels strange to have a tail, or fur—or to not wear clothes. It just feels more natural to be human.’

    He brushed the bunches of black fur on the back of his head. ‘Is it worth leaving Equivos? I don’t know if I can even change back, and if I end up with Hanson like this…’

    He shivered. ‘I could have lived with giving them a Pokemon before, but now…I just can’t, no matter what they do to me. They’re just too…human.’

    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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon patrolled the area. Ice Pokémon 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!

    ~~~~

    Arthus Zoroark 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.

    After several agonizing minutes, he pulled himself over the lip and rolled inside, breathing heavily. He pulled his limbs close and shivered, his teeth chattering. He formed a small ball of life in his hands and kept it close, warming himself to fight back the bitter cold of the storm. When he stopped shaking, he stood up and surveyed the cave he ended up inside.

    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 Usurper.

    Arthus paced toward the wall, stopping near a stalagmite. “Knowing Matheus, he’d want somewhere nearby to hide the bottle, yet obscure enough to keep it hidden.” He inspected the wall, tapping against the ice and peering inside. “This goes much farther, but someone—or something—built up a barrier.” He held his hands out, wrists together. “Only one way to find out.” A searing stream of crimson fire pulsed from his palms, driving into the ice. It stood unfazed, completely nullifying the heat.

    Arthus stopped and huffed, combing back his mane. “Regice or Kyurem really did their work.” He looked up and sighed in defeat. “Maybe this isn’t the right place. Maybe—” He stopped, discovering a small hole in the corner of the ceiling.

    He slid just underneath it and looked up, noticing how perfectly round it was. “That’s no natural formation.” He looked around briefly, then ran to the other side of the cave. He sprinted toward the hole and leapt up, grabbing onto the ledge.

    He pulled himself up and peered inside, finding a small, stone plate set in the wall. He let go of the ledge with one hand and reached inside, gathering a Life Sphere “A secret entrance? Let’s find out.” He fired the sphere and pushed the plate. It clicked, and the floor began to rumble.

    Arthus fell from the ledge and watched as the icy cavern shook, stalactites falling randomly. The Zoroark narrowly dodged them, noticing the the hole expanding in the center of the ceiling.

    He stood underneath it and saw a long, dark tunnel, stretching into the mountain. He looked down at his claws, then sprung up inside, digging his claws into the walls. He squeezed inside and shimmied up, panting and scrabbling to ascend.

    As he crawled up, the light below faded, and he was left in the dark. He squinted and muttered, “He really outdid himself this time.” After hours of climbing the tunnel, light came at the top and he pulled himself up to meet it, splaying his hands to keep him secure on the floor.

    A tiny alcove lay inside, made completely of clear ice, revealing the onyx rock beyond. Just in front of Arthus was a short pedestal, and resting on top was an ornate, pearlescent vessel, built in a hoop-like shape. Six rings enclosed the hoop, and a magenta neck cropped from the top, ending with a cap looking like a demonic figure.

    Arthus grinned and pushed himself out reaching for the bottle. “The Prison Bottle. Finally!” His hands hovered over it momentarily, then snatched it. The eye on the figure flashed, and Arthus gasped.

    “You hold the prison of the mighty Hoopa the Djinn, granter of wishes and champion of Arceus. Release me, and I will grant a single wish. It can be for seas of wealth, vast glory, or death upon your foes. Anything, as long as you allow me to go free.”

    Arthus’ claws inched to the camp, his eyes wide. “Y-Yes. Anything.” His claws curled around the cap.

    ‘What are you thinking! He’s over fifty feet tall!’ Arthus jerked back and threw down the bottle, and the eyes stopped glowing.

    He took deep breaths, holding a hand over his brow. “For once…I’m grateful you still exist.”

    ‘I’d almost rather die if only to stop your insane plan.’

    “Taking down Arceus was your plan in the first place.” Arthus reached down for the bottle again, then stopped himself. “He’ll just put me under his spell again.” He searched the room and saw a small indent in the ceiling.

    He came to it and pushed against it, causing the wall to move. He pushed harder, and it swung into another larger tunnel, spiraling even higher. A rope stretched from the top down to the bottom, where the rest remain coiled.

    Arthus smirked. “Of course, he’d make another way in; the climb up here is nearly impossible.” He cut off a length of the rope and brought it down into the room. He carefully threaded the rope through the hole in the Prison Bottle, then wrapped the rope around his waist, securing the treasure.

    He looked down at it and grinned. “Now all I have to do is find the temple.” He hopped onto the rope and climbed toward the exit.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 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 Pokémon.”

    “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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon!” He raised his wings, expecting some sort of praise. None came from the stone-faced Ice Pokémon.

    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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon. 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 Pokémon reared away from 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 Pokémon. “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 Pokémon. 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon. 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 Pokémon 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 down 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 Pokémon. 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 Pokémon. 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 Pokémon grew more violent toward us Fire Pokémon, 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 Pokémon around him to flinch. “What was everything like before he came?”

    The Typhlosion sniffed, forcing a smile. “Oh, it was wonderful. The Ice Pokémon climbed down the mountain to find berries, then when they came up, we cooked and prepared it for everyone. We watched for Braviary and Staraptor from the wall, and even drove back the Guild Pokémon when they came to take us over. We Fire Pokémon 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon, 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 there isn’t.”

    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 Pokémon; 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon’s prison, directing them out of the halls. Lit torches now arced up the tunnels, illuminating the passing Pokémon 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 Pokémon. “Cassia and Lawrence should’ve been here by now.” He turned to Telda and said, “I’ll go find them. You bring the Fire Pokémon 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 and 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 Pokémon shrunk away to his right, staring at the Avalugg. The 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon, 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; his paw no longer glowed. “She doesn’t love me. 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. “Really?”

    “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 Pokémon 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.

    ~~~~~

    Within the Master’s Tower, Gardner scribbled sentences onto a series of papers, working by the light from the candle to his left. He scooted away from the desk and leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eye. “Those idiots Valder and Derak are making a mess of everything in Saunte. The sooner I get these letters of dismissal delivered, the sooner I can get someone else better for the job!”

    The black-banded ruby on the desk pulsed with red light. Gardner picked it up and Arthus’ silhouette appeared within. “Gardner, I’ve claimed the Prison Bottle and am making my way to the temple. Do you have any information on Hoopa’s tactics in battle?”

    Gardner furrowed his brow. “Why would you want to know about that? You’re only wishing for him to repair the Seal, are you not?”

    “Yes,” Arthus sighed, “but I’m more concerned about what will happen afterward. Hoopa is a very manipulative Legend, and I need to be prepared to face him in case he attempts to take the Seal.”

    “You really think he’d do that?” Gardner asked, sitting on his favorite chair. “Can’t he mimic the Legends already?”

    “That’s my point: he can only copy other Legends’ abilities in their domain. He’d surely want their power for himself, so the Seal is in great danger if I just give it to him. I bet he wouldn’t ask for much of a price considering what he could do with it.”

    Gardner flipped through a book, shaking his head. “Even with your experience, Hoopa would easily outmatch you. He apparently uses his hoops to send a flurry of punches from all sides, along with some rather…grisly tactics of bisecting Pokemon with his teleportation skills. Not to mention he has the power of what Legends’ domain he is within. In this case, he could use Arceus’ creative abilities to do what he pleases.”

    Arthus groaned, holding his head. “If I could repair the Seal any other way, I’d do it.” He thought for a moment and said, “Is there any way to send him back into the bottle?”

    Gardner flipped through the book faster, thinking, ‘I’d leave him to die if Hoopa wasn’t the worse of two evils.’ He abruptly stopped and slammed his finger on the page, depicting the Legend shrinking into the bottle. “Yes, here. If you can make him break his word, the sealing of the bottle comes back into effect, and Hoopa will be forced inside.” He closed the book and set it aside, tapping his fingers. “If Hoopa is the manipulator you say he is, then it will be very difficult to do that—especially if he is so set on coming free.”

    Arthus remained still. He muttered something illegible, then said, “I may have an idea, but you must be present. Do you think you could come to the temple with me?”

    Gardner rose from his seat and threw his arms out. “I can’t just drop everything and leave! It’d take at least a week to arrive on foot, considering how dense Faylen is! And I have no idea where to find you!”

    “I have a hunch on where the temple is. Leave Martre to lead the Guild in your place and meet me in Virona; I’ll spend time preparing for Hoopa.”

    “Couldn’t you just come here and carry me through the Life network?”

    “It’s not that simple. It takes skill to keep one source of Life—myself—from bleeding into the Tree of Life, and it’s considerably more difficult to handle another. I would only do so in the direst of circumstances.”

    Gardner hovered to the gem and held it in the air. “So be it. It will take a few days to prepare, then another few to arrive on my sled. I’ll be there within a week.” He covered Arthus’ face and the gem returned to normal, falling back into patterned bands.

    He set down the gem and held his chin, looking up. “If I’m going to be present when Arthus uses the Seal…hmm…” He blinked, a grin expanding across his chest. ‘I can use the Seal myself…”

    ~~~~

    Deep within the Faylen jungle, amongst the towering tree and sprawling vines, a series of bridges stretched from bough to bough. Scattered between the hanging planks were round, wooden houses hanging by thick vines, each with a surrounding platform. The houses and bridges remained clustered together above a clearing below the trees. Berry vines wrapped around one house, while another hung intricate cages containing Pikipek, each chirruping loudly to be released. The other wild Pokemon within the jungle didn’t dare come into sight as the watchful sentries in their low-hanging turrets watched for predators of any sort. Mothim fluttered above, collecting honey from the Combee hives scattered throughout the area. Cherrim gathered berries in bright daylight, and Ribombee created their signature pollen puffs and readied them for market. Pacing along the bridges were Decidueye and Roserade with arrows and thorns ready.

    Arthus crushed the gem in his claws and watched fragments scatter below. He sat in a tree high above the town, focusing on an Audino going from house to house, searching for the sick.

    He rubbed his chin, then leapt off the bough and held onto a vine, sliding down. He shimmered and turned into a hunched Sceptile, its tail partially eaten away and its eyes heavy-lidded and irritated. He landed on a far-off platform and wandered amongst them, careful to have his eyes only partially visible.

    He looked about, watching a Scyther wearing a Guild band slice a length of rope and hand it to a Bellossom, chatting cordially. He watched a Slurpuff squashing berries delivered by a Swellow, giving coins in exchange. He watched the same Audino press its hand against the injured leg of a Breloom and envelop it in light, healing it instantly. All throughout Virona, no ill deeds or evil acts came about—against Arthus’ desire.

    He shuffled to an empty bridge and abruptly fell of the edge, only to grab onto the low-hanging vines and support himself underneath. He dissolved his illusion and tapped his claws together. “This…this isn’t how it should be.”

    ‘How should it be then? As cruel and miserable as the Lawless Era?’

    “As horrible as our time was, it drove Pokemon to change. Tell me, would you have created the Guild had Damon Decidueye not killed your parents?”

    ‘…No.’ Arthus smiled, then the voice added, ‘But that would be because I wouldn’t have met Matheus, who actually brought the Guild together.’

    “And he regretted it ever since!” Arthus seethed.

    ‘Only because you corrupted it not once, but twice!’

    “Enough!” Arthus dug his claws into the vines, breathing heavily. “You see my point. For everyone to see that Arceus has to go, they have to see that he isn’t helping Serenita anymore.” He swung off of the vines and wandered to a fallen tree, digging his hand beneath the earth. “Martre’s little inventions might be useful here.”

    As the crimson tendrils rose, the voice said, ‘You’re planning something. Something I want no part of.

    The tendrils dragged Arthus under as he said, “As if you have the choice.”
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 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. Grom brought us down here because Matheus was worried that Arthus 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon’, ‘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 Pokémon. 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 other hand. “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 Pokémon.

    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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon it hits.” Matheus raised his arm. “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, eying him warily.

    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 them, then felt the heat grow—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 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 forward 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 foot paw. “Hmm…not bad on your first try. Aura Spheres will follow inanimate objects, but for them to follow Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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.

    ~~~~

    Over the week, Lawrence, Cassia, Matheus and Grom traveled through the Faylen Jungle, with Matheus training Lawrence, Cassia drawing pictures, and the lovers growing closer 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 I go back to Unova…would I even change back? Would I still be a Lucario and be like all the other Pokemon in Facility D? Would I even see my parents again?’ He stopped, staring into the pool. ‘I’ve already been gone for over three weeks; Valence has surely said I’m missing…or dead.’

    He considered these choices. ‘If I ignore Tursha’s warning, I’ll still be with Cassia, Grom and Matheus and be safe from Valence—until the world eventually gets destroyed. I don’t know what will happen, but everyone in Equivos would die—because of me.’

    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 Pokédex 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 Pokédex. “But…what about me? I can’t teach Pokémon without you; you have the last copy of the Tome.”

    Lawrence looked back to Matheus, who snored on a tree root, his cloak’s splayed across the ground. “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 Pokémon.” 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 Pokémon—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 Pokémon—”

    “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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon. 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.

    ~~~~

    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 Pokémon traipsed along the narrow walkways and bridges, and no candles or lanterns burned. Only the dull flutter of Dustox occupied the pitch-black night.

    A lithe shadow whisked between the supporting vines of Virona, wrapping a coarse, black thread around them. The threads all hung overhead, wrapping together in the center to hang low to the ground, forming a large bundle.

    The shadow stopped at the door of a house. It peaked inside, watching two small Audino rest in their beds, smiling. The shadow turned away, its ice-blue eyes narrowed. The Zoroark leapt off the bridge and landed on the ground, the Prison Bottle smacking against its thigh. He paced to the bundle of black wire and held up a claw; a crimson flame sparked on the end of it. He reached down to set the wire alight.

    ‘This is wrong.’

    Arthus froze, inches away from the wire. “I’m saving these Pokemon. Cassia is coming; they’ll be converted to Arceism and trust in that Legend’s lies.” He held his hand closer.

    He flinched and stopped, then stared at his arm. ‘This is proof that good Pokemon can exist without following Arceus! And you just want to burn it down?”

    “Yes!” Arthus yelled, extinguishing the flame and pointing his claw at the city. “With every settlement lost, Arceus grows stronger! The world is tired of misery, so now it’s a war between me and Arceus—and I plan to win.”

    ‘You promised that I’d only kill those who stood in my way—and it has gone far beyond that with killing all the other Arceists.’ Arthus’ arm jolted down, and the Zoroark grimaced, baring his teeth. “We are going—to the temple—” he said with clenched teeth. He mechanically stepped away from the wire and toward the thick jungle. “And that’sit!”

    He stopped and turned to the wire. “I’m finishing—this first.” He held up a Life Sphere and aimed at the wire.

    He pulled away and fired it into the air, scorching leaves as it soared into the night. He kept aiming at the wire and firing Life Spheres in the wrong direction, all the while pacing back and forth between the city and the jungle.

    “You’re insane! Everyone knows it! Even you!” Arthus exclaimed.

    “Genius is never appreciated in its time! Everyone will praise me in the future!”

    “After being robbed of free will?”

    “As long as everyone comes back to life, yes!”

    Arthus shifted between his two personalities, his eyes shifting from the cold everyone known him for to the fire he had in the past. He screamed, clutching his head and falling to the ground. His vision went black.

    ~~~~

    Pure black stretched over the sky, hanging over the endless trees below. A clearing opened in the center, where a gnarled stump grew from the ground, impossibly large. The air sparked, and an orb of crimson Life came into existence over the stump, creating a ruby haze across the entire landscape.

    A Zoroark appeared on one side of the stump, pure black save for its cold blue eyes. They flitted back and forth, studying itself in horror. “He’s…he’s challenged me for control.”

    Another Zoroark appeared on the other side, perfectly normal in its appearance save for his blue eyes. “It’s time I put an end to this madness.”

    The black Zoroark laughed half-heartedly. “This won’t be any different from before. I will still exist, and I will take control once more, if only to make sure you don’t ruin it like before, Arthus.”

    “You’re my shadow—all of my hatred and rage gathered into an opposite of me.” Arthus held out his claws, creating an onyx haze around him. “And shadows are supposed to follow in their master’s footsteps.”

    His shadow laughed, following his same movements, only creating a foul red mist. “Weak-willed and afraid, yet here you are, standing up to me. I look forward to driving you back once and for all.” The Life-fueled sun began to lower, and they both charged toward each other.

    They bashed into each other and locked claws, the red haze pushing against the black. Arthus’ feet scraped against the wood of the stump as his shadow pressed forward, his mouth in a wide grin. “You forget that I still have all your passions—but unlike you, I’m not afraid to get them back.” He released his grip and caused Arthus to stumble forward, then punched him across the jaw, blowing him back.

    Arthus rolled across the ground, but dug his claws into the wood, stopping himself. He stood up and looked up at the sun; it continued to lower. His shadow stood underneath it.

    He ran forward and clapped his hands together, generating onyx sparks of electricity. “I’m not afraid; I just know there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed!” He fanned out his arm and released a wave of pitch-black energy, clipping the shadow across his waist. He doubled over and clutched his chest, then Arthus slashed his legs twice and punched him back, making himself stand underneath the center of the sun.

    The shadow seethed, covering the viscous black that flowed from his wounds. He stood up and shambled toward Arthus tapping his head with a smile. “But you can’t help it when bad memories haunt you.” A black wave radiated toward Arthus, emanating over him and crowding his mind.

    He gasped, clutching his head and hunching down. “C-Corrina! Erik! Matheus!” His shadow’s Torment pulled up the dark memories of him betraying all he had loved—all for what he thought was the greater good.

    His shadow grabbed Arthus’ mane and threw him aside, laughing. “You’re weak! Helpless! Without me, you would never have come this far!”

    Arthus opened his eyes and aimed his hand at his shadow, cringing. “Without you…I’d be with Corrina…in the Tree of Life…instead of the Cocoon.”

    His shadow knocked away his hand stamped on it with his good leg, crushing it and making Arthus scream. “But she’d still be dead, thanks to you! I had no part in that! I loved her as much as you do!”

    Arthus forced himself to breath slower, pulling back his hand. “But you’re twisted…obsessed…you’re nothing like me…Cassia saw that…”

    The shadow waved a dismissive hand and returned to the lowering sun, now only feet above his head. “I realize that; why do you think I let you take control and raise her? I’m not fit for such things.” He reached up, the sun only inches from his claws. “And if I have my way, I’ll make sure she doesn’t preach about Arceus ever again!”

    No!” Arthus cried, coming to his feet and running toward the shadow.

    The shadow’s claws met with the sun, and the entire area was caught in crimson light.

    ~~~~

    Arthus gasped, sitting upright and holding a hand to his chest. He woke below Virona as the moon began to sink beneath the horizon, beginning the dawn.

    He looked up, listening for anything. He smiled and came to his feet, to the fuse he had made for Virona. He snapped his fingers and held the flame out to it. “Don’t worry, Arthus; I don’t plan on killing her. I share your love for her.” The flame caught on the wire and created hundreds of sparks, all becoming a tiny, yet powerful flame, darting through the wires and making all the vines and branches keeping Virona in the air catch fire as well.

    Arthus curled his claws together, grinning. “Everything’s coming together…you’ll see.” The Grass and Fairy Pokemon of Virona ran through their burning home to the rope bridges that stretched to the ground—yet no ne were three, cut by Arthus. They all screamed, struggling to douse the fire that plagued them. Two child Audino hugged each other and cried, pleading desperately to be saved.

    All the vines snapped, and one-by-one, the structure fell, instantly killing whoever remained with them. Virona became a raging inferno on the jungle floor, incinerating everything and belching smoke into the new day’s sky

    Arthus’ eyes flickered, and his ears drooped. ‘This…this is never what I wanted. I wanted to save everyone from evil not…become that evil.’

    His features returned to a face of malice as he turned away and faced the south, where metal clinked against metal and drew closer. “The ends justify the means.”

    Six Houndoom burst from the plant life, barking and snarling as they pulled a large metal sled, mounted with chains. A Dusknoir held onto the handle at the back, his scarred eye wide with horror at the burning city of Virona.

    The sled came to a stop and the Dusknoir hovered after Arthus, pointing wildly at the disaster. “What—what happened? I heard a crash on my way here and thought it was a tree, but this?”

    Arthus pulled him back to the sled and made him grab on. “I’ll explain on the way there. Now go!” He wrapped around Gardner and grabbed onto the handle as well, then swung the chains that hung on the Houndoom’s chest. They barked and ran into the jungle to the west, where deep within, they sought the ancient Arceist Temple.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2018
  8. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Chapter 20: Desolation

    “You destroyed an entire town because there was a chance they’d become Arceists?” Gardner roared. “That is idiotic and insane!”

    Arthus and Gardner zoomed through the narrow passageways created by the dense jungle, all through the night and into the morning. The trees gradually grew less dense, and the cawing of birds grew quieter as they drove deeper.

    Arthus held on to the sled around Gardner’s girth, struggling to look around him. “Would you let it go? They weren’t even acting like the rest of the outposts anyway!”

    “That doesn’t change anything! I thought you were crazy enough slaying a servant for bringing the wrong drink, but this is a whole other level!” Gardner groaned, rubbing his eye. “Augh, never mind. Can’t change anything anyway.”

    The sled lurched and Arthus pulled it to a stop, and the Houndoom quieted, waiting for orders. Towering in front of them was a massive stone structure, engraved with thousands of drawings and coated entirely with vines. Balanced on top of it was a broken Arc of Arceus, split in half. No birds sung, and no movement could be heard; not even the wind whistled. The building exuded a somber aura, almost ordering a place of peace.

    Gardner broke away from the sled, looking around warily. “So…this is the temple.”

    Arthus nodded slowly, following him. “Indeed.” He stepped toward it and began cutting through the vines.

    As he did so, Gardner came closer and cleared his throat. “Why do you need me here? Aren’t you supposed to be dealing with Hoopa?”

    Arthus cut the last layer of vines, revealing the yawning entrance into the temple. He stepped inside, holding up the Prison Bottle by its rope. “You play an important role, Gardner. Just come inside.” The Dusknoir hesitantly followed.

    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. There were 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. A massive mural stretched across the floor, depicting all the Legends, Arceus standing chief among them. Along the walls were various levels of benches with stone ladders leading up to them, creating an auditorium. At the far end, a single podium stood, shaped in such a way to hold scrolls or books for the lead priest to preach.

    Arthus stood at the podium and set the Prison Bottle on top of it. Gardner stood next to him, holding his arms behind his back. Arthus took a deep breath, then took hold of the bottle’s cap. The eyes on it lit up.

    Arthus leaned over to Gardner and said, “I promise not to kill you.”

    Gardner furrowed his brow. “What do you—”

    Arthus pulled off the cap and violet gas erupted from the neck, filling the entire room. Beyond, a Pokemon screamed, shooting through the entryway. It appeared in the center of the violet clouds and turned out to be the smaller Hoopa, the rings on his chest and arms suspending him in the air.

    As the gas enclosed him, he noticed Arthus and screamed, “What have you done?” The rest of his pleas were muffled by the gas as it grew to consume the entire room, coming the scrape the ceiling. The mist stopped flowing from the bottle and solidified, darkening. 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. It’s eyes glowed emerald, and its wicked grin revealed rows of pointed teeth.

    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 over ten times higher than Gardner, who shrunk behind Arthus.

    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.”

    Arthus kept his grip on the bottle, his hands shaking. “Before I ask my wish, I would like to ask you some questions. I trust that will not be an issue?”

    Hoopa frowned, his eyes narrowing. “I am obligated to answer any question while you are my master. What do you wish to know?”

    Arthus scarcely hid a sigh of relief. “Will you be released from the Prison Bottle upon granting my wish?”

    Hoopa leaned back, popping out four of his arms; two positioned themselves behind his head, and the other two rested on his chest. “For three days, I am free to do as I please. Once the third sun has set, I must return to the bottle, and my true power is concealed until someone awakens me once more.”

    “Can you destroy the bottle?”

    “No. Only if a master commands me to do so. But that would require a wish, and none are so selfless—or foolish—to do so.”

    Arthus rubbed his chin, closing his eyes. “I may be willing to release you.”

    Hoopa swung forward and rested his six arms on the ground, smiling wide. “Really? You would release me?”

    Arthus took an involuntary step back, and Gardner hovered in his shadow. “W-Why yes. But in exchange, I will need you to fix this.” He held up the Seal of Creation with his free hand, revealing the cracked sapphire in its center.

    Hoopa’s eyes flashed, and his mouth hung open. “The Seal of Creation. Arceus’ means of eliminating my kind.” He leaned back again, tapping his fingers together. “You have done well in choosing this place; Arceus’ followers built this temple long ago as a means of contacting him and begging him for blessings. I can tap into his power to complete this feat.” He leaned forward once more and pointed all his index fingers at Arthus. “I am no fool. You plan on taking me into the Seal, just so you can use my power!”

    Arthus dropped the Seal and held up the bottle. “I don’t! I promise I won’t!” Hoopa lowered his arms, leering at the Seal.

    Arthus wheezed, then brushed back his mane. “How about we make a deal?” Behind his back, his fingers twisted around, forming a gem between them. He tossed it to Gardner and quickly wrote a message in pale red light: “Place your Life inside.”

    Gardner cocked his head and went to say something, but a warning look from Arthus made him hold his voice.

    Hoopa continued to stare, folding his arms. “I’m listening.”

    Arthus turned back around with a forced smile. Here’s my proposal: You repair the Seal and promise not to harm me, then I will release you and promise not to harm you.”

    Hoopa held up his fingers. “The process of repairing the Seal will significantly tax me. I will require more on your part for such a bargain to be worth my while.”

    Arthus waved a dismissive hand. “Understandably. After making my wish and before you repair the Seal, you can drain my servant of Life.” He waved to Gardner and slyly took the gem from his frozen hands, now glowing red.

    Gardner eyes whisked back and forth between Arthus and Hoopa. “What? I never—”

    Hoopa laughed, its echo reverberating through the room. “How entertaining! Very well, I accept.” He growled and pound his fists on the ground. “But what happens if you do take me with the Seal?”

    Arthus held up a claw, his smile gone. “I expected this. If I harm you, then—then Arceus can kill me where I stand.” The floor rumbled, and Arthus paled. He hurriedly added, “B-But if you harm me or break the order of our deal, then you return to the bottle instantly!”

    Hoopa hummed to himself, resting his head on his hand. He nodded curtly and held out a hand. “A reasonable bargain.”

    Gardner hovered forward and sputtered, “What—What do you mean I’m going to be—”

    Arthus’ hand met with Hoopa’s, and they both shook. A wave of violet energy radiated from them, and Hoopa snatched the Seal of Creation from Arthus’ neck. He pointed at him and said, “Make the wish.”

    In a clear voice, Arthus said, “I, Arthus Zoroark, wish for the Seal of Creation to be made whole.” He rubbed the glowing gem behind his back.

    Two of Hoopa’s arm snatched Gardner and held him in the air. Despite his screams, Hoopa held him over his mouth and opened wide. Crimson mist flowed from Gardner’s body into Hoopa’s mouth, until he closed his eye and fell limp and silent.

    Hoopa smacked his lips and gently set Gardner’s body on the ground. “Delicious.” All six of his arms surrounded the Seal, with two delicately holding it up in the air. “Now for my end of the bargain.” Hoopa grunted, and with two hands 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. With a third hand, he wove a mystical thread through the cracks, and with the fourth shone a violet light across it.

    Hoopa grit his teeth, hovering around the Seal occasionally and leaning close to ensure his hands made no mistake. Arthus watched him work, entranced by the many lights used to fix it. Little by little, the jagged crack through the sapphire sealed, until only a faint outline remained.

    Hoopa held his four arms away and bellowed, “It is done!” He clamped his hands around the Seal and exploded with bright light. It faded, and Hoopa delicately held it out to Arthus, as perfect as the day it was made.

    Arthus graciously took it with his free hand, a smile widening across his face. “Finally…”

    Hoopa reared back his hands, grinning as well. “Allow me to destroy the bottle and secure my freedom.” He snatched the bottle from the podium and bludgeoned it with his other five fists, cackling wildly. The ornate container remained undamaged, its green eyes glowing fiercely.

    Hoopa faltered, holding it away. “What is this? Why does it not break under my might?”

    Arthus slowly revealed the gem from before, still glowing with crimson light. “The deal was that you’d kill Gardner before you repaired the Seal. In case you haven’t noticed,” he threw the gem at Gardner and caused it to shatter on his chest. The red light enveloped him, then Gardner shot upright and gasped, holding his head.

    Arthus waved to the Dusknoir. “He’s still alive.”

    Hoopa growled, clenching his fists. He suddenly roared and bellowed, “You deceived me! I will make you suffer a thousand deaths!” His arms shot toward Arthus, only to dissipate into mist. The cap of the bottle opened, and Hoopa little by little flowed into it.

    Arthus shrugged and lowered the Seal around his neck. “You broke the rules, you go back in the bottle. Simple.” Hoopa roared again as a small figure hovered up from the mist.

    Hoopa’s last free hand wrapped around the figure and called, “I will not allow you to go free!” The figure screamed as he too faded into mist and funneled into the bottle, until at last all of it was caught within, and the cap closed.

    Arthus let out all his pent-up breath and fell against the podium, forcing a laugh. “I…I did it…the Seal is fixed…and Hoopa is still trapped.”

    Gardner advanced toward Arthus, his eye burning with hatred. “You used me! You would’ve had me killed to fix that accursed Seal!”

    Arthus forced his arms down and said, “I told you before, I wasn’t going to kill you! I had it all under control.”

    Gardner humphed and said, “You were shaking like a leaf.” He eyed the Seal and said, “So, what now? Are you headed for Deitae now?”

    Arthus shook his head. “No, not yet. I have some unfinished business to take care of.” He patted Gardner on the back and said, “But feel free to go now. You’ve done your part.”

    Gardner spun around and grabbed Arthus’ shoulders. “That’s it? You wanted me to be some tool to fool Hoopa?”

    Arthus ducked under Gardner’s grip and yanked his antenna to force him down. He held a claw dangerously close to Gardner’s maw. “Don’t take it personally. I mean it.” He let go of Gardner and said, “Just go. Take a vacation if you need. I’m sure Martre will manage.”

    Gardner rubbed his antenna and remained silent as he floated out of the temple, leaving Arthus to disappear in a shimmer. The Dusknoir mounted the sled and whipped the chain, then swerved south, careening through the trees.

    He furrowed his brow and said under his breath, “I swear, Zoroark, you’re going to regret using me like that.”

    ~~~~

    Lawrence, Cassia, Grom and Matheus 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 Pokémon 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. ‘I…I want to be part of Equivos…to be with Cassia. I missed so much while hating Arceus…I want everyone else to realize their mistake. Some aspect I still have issues with, yes, but still…I was wrong.’

    He grimaced and thought back to Castelia and its environment. ‘How can I go back after this? Equivos is so much better than Castelia. I don’t have to worry about Hanson or his technology changing the world.’ He shivered. ‘Especially with what he planned to do with one of the Equivosians. I can’t leave.’

    He sighed and rubbed the side of his head. ‘But if I stay, I’m dooming everyone, even myself. Tursha’s seen the future, and what he says makes sense; I caused dimensional disturbances, and the only way to fix them is to leave. This world wouldn’t stay perfect for long.” He bit his lip and bowed his head. “I can’t let that happen.’

    Finally, they stood at the entrance of the giant stone temple. They entered the darkness within and saw a single tattered Xatu standing at the podium, 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.

    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…”

    Tursha straightened, his blindfold starting to slide down his head. “Now, what do I witness? A Lucario in love with a Zoroark? How…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 perfect, golden pendant. He grinned and held his head high, his mane trailing the floor. “And I have exactly what I need.”

    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?” He jabbed a paw at the Seal. “And how did you fix that? It was broken beyond repair!”

    Arthus wagged a claw. “Not true. I had a little…divine help.” He held up the Prison Bottle, the eyes glowing green.

    “He’s…he’s loose?” Matheus shouted, paling.

    Arthus laughed and let go of the bottle, allowing it to smack against his thigh. “No, no, no, even I’m not crazy enough to let Hoopa Unbound free. No, I managed to trick him and got him inside.” He shook his head and stepped off the podium. “But I digress. Let’s get down to why I tricked all of you into coming here.” He pointed at Matheus, grinning. “He’s priority number one. After I learned you were alive, I wanted nothing more than to send you into the Seal—even more than Arceus.” He gestured around the temple. “And this is the perfect place. No way to run or hide—just you and me.”

    Matheus growled and held up his paws. “I’m not going down without a fight. You still have to touch me with it to take me.”

    Arthus smirked. “Just wait.” He looked over at Lawrence. “And you. I was rather surprised to find out you were really from a different world, but, like the other Lucario, you must die.” He clenched his fist, his eyes glowing red. “Plus, there’s this little romance with my daughter.”

    Red mist rose around Cassia as she crouched, holding out her claws. “I’m not your daughter!” She and the others failed to notice her bag rustling.

    Arthus scowled and crossed his arms. “I raised you. I cared for you. I taught you everything you know.”

    Cassia faltered, standing straighter. “Y-Yes, but—”

    Arthus pulled at his mane and screamed, “I gave you everything! And what did you do? Abandon me, the only one who ever loved you!”

    Cassia shrunk away and covered her face while Lawrence stepped forward and said, “Leave her alone! You’re the one who’s made everyone hate her! You’re a mass murderer! Why shouldn’t she run away?”

    Arthus suddenly calmed, tapping his claws together. “Why, Grom happens to agree with me.”

    Lawrence blinked and narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean—”

    “GRAAWW!”

    Grom threw his arms out and stepped backward, grasping the air in front of him. Arthus melted into the air and reappeared on Grom’s chest, climbing it quickly and holding a black, spherical stone in his claws.

    Cassia gasped and turned to Lawrence. “The Illusion Stone! Where is it?”

    Lawrence groped around his neck, only to find an empty string, cleanly cut. His head snapped to Arthus as he recognized the sphere as the illusionary artifact, clambering up to Grom’s head. He held it high and slammed it into the crack in Grom’s head, fitting perfectly. Grom froze, then lowered his limbs, falling still. His light went out.

    “Grom!” Cassia ran in front the Golurk, shaking his arms and trying to make him move. Arthus slid off his back and disappeared once more.

    Lawrence and Matheus came next to Cassia, each with the fur on the back of their heads rising. “Do you sense him anywhere?” Lawrence asked.

    Matheus closed his eyes and slowly turned his head behind him. “Yes…right there!” He swung his paw behind him and clashed with Arthus’ arm, narrowly blocking the Seal from hitting his chest.

    Arthus pressed closer, causing Matheus to stoop. “Don’t delay the inevitable; we both know how this will end, brother.”

    “Get away from him!” Lawrence shouted, running forward with fists covered in aura.

    Arthus pushed Matheus aside and dropped the Seal, meeting Lawrence’s Aura with his Life. They traded blows, and Arthus cackled, growing faster and faster. “You’ve gotten stronger, but you’re still nothing compared to—urk!”

    Matheus punched Arthus’ side from behind him and forced him to the ground. The Legend took a quick breath. “Lawrence—we can’t stay here. We have to go!”

    Arthus groaned and brought himself upright. “Talking about your plans out in the open again…always worked out for you.”

    Lawrence slugged him across the chin and caused him to stagger backward, revealing the Seal of Creation. “We have to take it back!”

    Arthus cackled and rubbed his chin, his eyes glowing red. “Now that’s more like it!” He met with both Matheus and Lawrence, swapping between them and trading blows, straining to touch the Legend with the Seal.

    Cassia stared back at the Lucario, grimacing. “I…I can’t leave Grom.” She turned back to him. “Please…please be alright.”

    Grom’s eyes flickered, then flashed. He whirred and rolled his shoulder, focusing on Cassia. She stepped back and said, “Are you…alright?”

    Grom stared for a moment longer, then suddenly grabbed Cassia around her shoulders, pinning her arms to her sides. “Directive continued; restrict target until command received.”

    Cassia screamed, pushing against her companion’s grip. “No! Grom, please, come back!”

    Lawrence beat back Arthus’ claws and saw Cassia’s plight. “He’s…he’s like he was before!”

    “Why of course!” Arthus kicked Matheus away and grabbed Lawrence’s neck, dragging him closer. “That missing piece was all I needed to bring back my servant—and you brought it right to me.”

    “Raaagh!” Lawrence kneed Arthus in the gut then clouted him with his paw, stunning him. He then ran to Grom and shouted, “Let her go!”

    Grom’s eyes flashed as he repositioned Cassia to be held in one arm, then took a step closer. “Threat detected. Disposing of target now.” He threw a rocket-powered kick at Lawrence and sent him flying into a pillar, cracking the stone.

    Matheus stood over Arthus and reached for the necklace around his neck. “You have no idea what will happen if you use this!”

    Arthus groaned and slapped Matheus’ paw away, hastily coming upright. “Wrong! I’ll make this world like Arceus should have years ago!” He held up the Seal and leapt for Matheus. Matheus rolled backward and ran for the blocked entrance. Arthus followed.

    Lawrence slid down the cracked pillar and moaned, rubbing his back. Grom threw a punch at him despite Cassia’s cries. He ducked underneath the Golurk and grabbed onto the arm holding Cassia, struggling to pull her free.

    As Matheus and Arthus knocked the Seal back and forth, Cassia pushed against Grom’s might with Lawrence, doing nothing against the Golurk. “I have to change him back!”

    “He’ll just lose his memory again! There has to be another way!” Lawrence replied, releasing his grip just as Grom punched in his direction.

    Grom swung for him again and spun on his feet, stumbling. He let go of Cassia to steady himself, sending her rolling on the ground. She shook free of her dizziness and watched Grom continue to assault Lawrence and Arthus chase Matheus, each threatening to kill the other.

    She looked at Arthus and his firing Life Spheres, then at Grom and the filled socket in his head. She blinked and remembered: ‘Arthus used his Life to change Grom.’ She sprinted toward Grom and jumped onto his back. ‘I can too!’

    Lawrence saw Cassia on the Golurk’s back and said, “What are you doing up—”

    Grom punched him across the jaw and sent him into the wall next to the entrance. He weakly attempted to get up but lowered his head and fell still.

    Arthus and Matheus pushed against each other, paw against claw. Arthus brought his face close to Matheus’. “Do you still feel guilty? Ashamed?”

    Matheus eyed the Seal of Creation, dangling from Arthus’ wrist and nearly touching his own. “…Yes.” He abruptly let go and clouted Arthus over the head. Arthus’ arm lifted as he fell to the ground, and Matheus grabbed the Seal by the chain on his wrist. He stared at it briefly, then turned to the slab covering the entrance.

    He considered both as Arthus came to his feet and reached for the Seal. Matheus threw it to the other side of the room and ran for the slab. Arthus ran for the Seal and screamed, “You were always an idiot!”

    Matheus grabbed the rope hanging by the pulley above the slab and began to pull, grunting. “Cassia, have you brought back Grom?”

    Cassia held on to Grom’s neck with all her might as the Golurk floundered to grab her, stamping around in a circle robotically. “Almost…there,” she said, setting a hand on his head. She closed her eyes and the top of Grom’s head flashed crimson. He stood completely still as the light faded.

    Arthus scrabbled for the Seal in the corner of the room, the light covered by being facedown. He looked back briefly and shouted, “I’ll deal with you after Matheus is mine!”

    Cassia slid down Grom’s back, holding her hands together. “Can…can you hear me? Grom?”

    The Golurk flinched, then slowly turned his head toward her. “…C…Cassia?”

    The Zoroark sighed in relief and stepped forward to hug him. “You can—”

    The Golurk stepped forward and swung his arms back dangerously while his head swiveled back and forth. Cassia rolled out of the way and panted, shocked.

    Grom locked up again and shuddered. “I…I can’t control myself. I have to follow Arthus’ directive…to capture you.”

    Cassia held up her claws and reached out for him. “I’ll just—”

    “No!” Grom stomped again, forcing his fists to the ground. “Arthus has done too much; you were lucky to free my emotions.” He sighed. “And I can’t break free. I’m…I’m sorry Cassia.”

    Cassia’s throat bobbed, then she speedily climbed onto his back. “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. “This…this door is heavy.” He looked over at Cassia and Grom. “I wish I could help.”

    “Oh, Matheus…”

    The Lucario slowly turned his head, where Arthus stood to his left, dangling the Seal in front of him. He groaned, dropping the rope. “Why don’t you just hit me with it already?”

    Arthus laughed and reared the Seal back. “I want to remember this moment!” He swung the Seal forward—only to be blown back by a lone Aura Sphere.

    Matheus turned to its direction and saw Lawrence with his paw thrust out, his fur matted and blood dribbling down his lip. “Don’t. Touch. Matheus.”

    Arthus got up from the ground and chuckled, rubbing his side. “Oh, now you fight.” He set the Seal around his neck and ran toward him, claws extended. “I might as well take care of you first!”

    Matheus yanked back on his mane and shouted, “Not if I have anything to say about it!” He continued to wrestle with the Zoroark as Lawrence leapt into the fray, weakly punching the Zoroark.

    Cassia turned between Grom and the brawlers, cringing. “Grom…there has to be something you can do. Anything. They need help.”

    Grom looked down at his chest, then his eyes flashed. “There is one thing.” He shakily reached up for the brace on his chest.

    Cassia’s eyes widened as she tried to push down his hand. “No. Not that. Anything but that!” As she spoke, Arthus swept under Matheus feet and sent him to the ground while he traded blows with Lawrence, continually advancing on him.

    Despite her pleas, Grom dug his fingers underneath his brace, revealing the bright light beneath it. “You can’t bring me back.” He looked down and tugged at the brace. “And I can’t serve Arthus!”

    Cassia pulled at Grom’s arm harder, crying out, “Don’t! You’ll die!”

    Matheus got off his back and ran to intercept Arthus and Lawrence, but a dozen Arthuses suddenly appeared around him. They all grinned and held out their hand. “It was all thanks to you this happened, right?” Matheus froze, shrinking to the ground as the fake Arthuses advanced.

    Arthus slashed the air in front of Lawrence, driving him into the corner of the temple. “Matheus is a fraud, Grom is a minion, and Cassia is mine! Where are you in this story?”

    Lawrence wheezed, his vision becoming blurry as the pain in his body grew. “I…I don’t care.”

    Arthus spun around him and drove his claws into Lawrence’s side, making him gasp. He fell to the ground and clutched at the wound, doing nothing to stop Arthus from standing over him. The Zoroark smiled as he held his claw up to strike.

    Cassia and Grom watched as Lawrence was about to be killed by the Usurper. Grom tugged at the brace once more, pulling loose a bolt. He jerked, and in a struggling voice said, “It—it was a pleasure to serve you—Cassia. You gave me my greatest memories—and taught me—to be a friend.”

    Cassia pulled herself away from Lawrence and croaked, “You don’t have to do this.”

    Grom’s eyes dimmed as he pulled the brace a final time. “Lawrence will protect you now.” The brace came free, and Grom threw out his arms and bellowed, “Remember me!” As the brace and bolts clattered against the floor, his arms spun around rapidly, advancing toward Arthus. “Roa-raw-raor-raaaaaaahh!”

    Arthus’ illusions faded, and Matheus gasped and rolled out of the way, while Arthus stopped midswing and paled. The onyx Golurk roared and charged toward him at full speed, his arms spinning faster than the eye could see.

    Arthus sprinted away from him, nearly running on all-fours. “What have you done?” He circled around a pillar and Grom bashed into it, instantly destroying it. Arthus circled another with the same results.

    Cassia broke free of her shock and gathered Grom’s brace and bolts. She cautiously approached him, holding out his safety components.

    Matheus stood up and stared at Grom chasing Arthus, destroying yet another pillar. He looked up and grit his teeth; the ceiling shook, and the remaining six pillars were struggling to keep it up.

    Matheus started toward the slab. “This place will collapse at any moment!”

    Lawrence groaned, reaching out for him. “Matheus…”

    The Legend swerved around and sat next to him, putting a paw over his mouth upon seeing his wound. “You need help. Now.”

    Lawrence grabbed onto Matheus’ cloak and pulled himself higher. “Where’s…Cassia?”

    “Grom!”

    They both snapped their heads toward the shriek, where Cassia stood in front of a pillar with her arms out, holding the Golurk’s brace. Arthus ran toward her, having no other option thanks to the Golurk’s pursuit.

    Arthus tossed his hand to the side and yelled, “Get out of the way! He’s gone berserk!” He tripped and skidded against the floor, only to get stomped on his leg by Grom. He screamed in agony and struggled to push himself up despite the flattened limb.

    Cassia remained still as Grom advanced, not caring who his target was. Realization came too late to her as Grom’s spinning fists slammed into her and threw her into the wall next to the crushed Arthus. She lay still, her bag caught in Grom’s hand and his bolts still in hers.

    Lawrence abruptly stood up and cried, “Cassia!” He limped toward her, clutching his wound.

    The bag caught in Grom’s hand slung toward Lawrence’s head. Matheus caught it in the air inches from contact, then grabbed Lawrence’s arm and shuffled toward the exit. “I’ll come back for her once you’re out!”

    The walls of the temple began to crumble, revealing a small hole next to the stone slab. Matheus and Lawrence toward it as a fifth pillar fell to Grom’s rampage.

    Arthus crawled to Cassia and flipped her onto her back, eyes wide with fright. “Talk to me! Say something!” Her eyes fluttered as she struggled to lift her head, but she fell back, unconscious.

    The Usurper cursed and forced himself to his feet, screaming as he put weight onto his broken leg. He took Cassia’s arms and dragged her toward Matheus, far slower than the other. He reached for him and cried, “Help her! Don’t leave her to die!” He gasped as Grom advanced toward him once more, destroying a sixth pillar. The temple’s ceiling crumbled, showering stones around them.

    Matheus reached the crumbling hole and pushed Lawrence out, then threw Cassia’s bag. He darted back inside as he said, “I’m going back for Cassia!”

    Arthus fell to the ground and held up his hands pleadingly toward the incoherent Grom. “Stop! Stop! Stop!” He lowered his head and cringed as Grom threatened to beat him down.

    Matheus ran toward him and threw and Aura Sphere at Grom. It swerved around and knocked into his side, making him stumble to the left and bash into not one, but two pillars as he fell next to the last in the center. He spasmed as his internal light grew whiter and whiter.

    Matheus fell next to Arthus and Cassia, leering at Arthus’ Seal. “How can I trust you with that?”

    Arthus pushed Cassia to him and hung his head low. “Just take her. Her life is more important than mine.”

    Matheus stared for a moment, then stood up and hefted Cassia, setting her over his shoulders. He ran as hard as he could to the exit, while Arthus limped after him, wincing and moaning with every step.

    Grom stood upright and held his arms out, his chest becoming blindingly bright. “GRAAAAAAAAAWWW!” He exploded, blowing back everyone still left in the temple and destroying the final pillar. As black fragments of his body fell, the roof sagged, and stones continued to fall.

    Cassia and Arthus landed near the far wall away from the exit, their fur singed. Matheus rolled across the ground and stopped near the sole exit from the temple. He stood up and looked around him, his face falling with every moment. He took a final look at Arthus and Cassia, then turned away and closed his eyes. He ran out of the temple just as the exit covered over.

    Arthus looked around him, defeated. “Arceus…you’ve won.” He turned to Cassia and closed his eyes as stones the size of boulders fell around him. “But it was an empty victory…”

    Lawrence stood just beyond the temple, holding Cassia’s bag. Matheus ran toward him and dragged him away from the imploding temple. As they retreated, Lawrence cried, “Where’s Cassia? Where is she?”

    The top of the temple fell, and a deafening crack rung out. 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.

    Minutes after, 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. Arthus lay buried, ending his conquest to usurp Arceus.

    But 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.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2018
  9. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Act 4: The Keeper
    Chapter 21: Loss


    Act 4 - The Keeper

    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 placed a stray plank of wood atop a careful formation of loose rocks from the temple, situating it in front of the former entrance to the temple. Lawrence stood stiffly, cautiously shifting the bandages wrapped around his chest.

    The Legend clapped his paws together, the fur on the back of his head rising. He parted his paws and a narrow stream of blue flame jetted from one. He carefully passed it along the wood, leaving behind a black streak with every pass.

    After branding several lines, Matheus blew away the smoke, allowing Lawrence to see his work:

    Here Rests

    Cassia Zoroark—Priestess of Arceus—Beloved by All

    Grom Golurk—Guardian of the Priestess

    Arthus Zoroark—The Usurper—Friend and Father

    Matheus made a shuddering sigh, then said, “Too many…just too many…” He held a paw over Cassia’s name. “Of all the Pokémon 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 paused, then lowered to Arthus’ name. “Arthus…” He sighed and shook his head. “You…you were still there…in the end. 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 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, traveling 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 Pokémon 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 Pokédex 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 Pokédex, 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. ‘I only just accepted Arceus again…but ever since…the temple.” He lowered his head sadly. ‘I’ve just been the same as before.’ Suddenly, he heard Matheus’ words in Cassia’s voice: “I don’t want you wasting your life…the life I managed to save.” He sat straighter. ‘She worked with me till the end to make me this way…yet here I am, back at square one.’

    The sadness and anger from the temple rose up once more. ‘I won’t forget what she did for me…I’ll keep myself strong, so her memory can be.’ He curled his fist. ‘But it’s thanks to Matheus that she isn’t here.’

    Lawrence kept his fist tight for a moment, then froze. ‘Or was it me?’ He flinched. ‘I listened Tursha’s—Arthus’ words. I brought everyone to the temple.’ He leaned down and pressed his paws against his head. ‘Matheus might not have saved Cassia, but it was my fault that we even ended up there. Arthus might’ve had the Seal, but Grom and Cassia wouldn’t be…dead.’

    He sat straighter, 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 a haze of darkness.

    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 Pokémon 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 his 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 Legends calling one final time, saying that they have come to destroy Equivos.” Matheus shook Lawrence and said, “That’s why we have to go to Furnek and Saunte, even without Cassia. Every Pokémon 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. ‘I don’t all this to go; Sinnoh and Unova are only shadows of this place because of how men developed it. Serenita was free from that. Yet it’s going to 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. 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon around. Dangerous ones, at that. It was such a problem that Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 either, 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 me so much—with my thoughts, my fears, everything. Even to awaken Aleron, as impossible as it seems.’ 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon, sure, but it was only rarely. Honestly, I spent my time watching from afar, in the Tree of Life…away from the Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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. Its 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: Oct 9, 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 traveled; my reputation as the guardian 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon, 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 once a month 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 Pokémon, and even I, a former mortal, had to obey them—and he could do nothing to change them, considering that the other Legends would have taken advantage of it.” 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 Pokémon with little trouble, but I was on even grounds with Arthus and 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 weaker 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 Pokémon, 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 Arthus’ wife died, 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 The 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 had just escaped from some thugs in Saunte and had found Barash. After we recovered, we saw the canyon walls and wanted to see how it was inside.”

    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.” 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 Pokémon 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 the non-believers—or Arthus, to an extreme.” He pulled out the water casks and held them out. “I’m going to fill these up. I don’t want the Pokémon 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 Pokédex 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 white 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 Pokémon, 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 leather-bound 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 jailer.

    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 Pokémon.

    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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 a 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 Pokémon 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 Cael…my brother.”

    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 Pokémon. 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 Arthus. 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokédex 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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, its voice echoing from its mouth. “A Lucario…yet not.”

    Lawrence looked about him, expecting to see the signature black armbands of the Guild on the Pokémon; 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 Pokémon 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.

    Lawrence looked around him. The Furnekian Pokemon all stared at him as if he didn’t belong, staying several feet from him.

    He took a deep breath, then turned back to the Darmanitan. “You say you worship Arceus…yet you don’t trust his servants?”

    “One in particular,” the Darmanitan replied, his eyes remaining still.

    Lawrence slowly paced around him, holding an arm up. “Let’s look at why Arceus gave us prophets. He wanted us to learn how he wanted us to act, but he couldn’t give us his instructions himself, so he called Pokemon to do that for him. And not just any Pokemon—good, loyal Pokemon that he could trust.”

    “What about Gregorius, the dark prophet? Or Aleron, the one who abandoned his work?” The statue rumbled at the mention of the latter name.

    Lawrence resisted the urge to look at the Tome in his Pokédex, aware of the consequences. “As far as I know, Gregorius wasn’t a real prophet; he might’ve seen the future, but he wanted to tear down Arceus, just like Ar—the Usurper.” Pokemon muttered illegibly around him. Lawrence hoped it was for the better.

    He continued and said, “And Aleron…well, he had important work to do. Very important. So much that he couldn’t stay; he got invited to Deitae and was there until he—” Lawrence cut himself short, not wanting to reveal Matheus’ identity, yet not wanting to lie.

    The Pokemon stepped closer yet kept a tentative distance. The Darmanitan raised an eye in confusion. “Until he what?”

    Lawrence held his breath a moment, then said, “Until…he got permission to leave. I don’t know what happened to him…but know that he wanted to serve everyone as long as he lived.” More whispers permeated through the crowd, and they drew closer. The Darmanitan’s eyes closed, and a gentle rumble emanated from his feet.

    Feeling more confident, Lawrence faced the towns-Pokemon and said, “And isn’t that what all the prophets wanted to do? To help others? Look at what they’ve done! They saved lives when the Legends lived among us and guided the kingdoms to peace! And when times grew dark and they left, they came back after Laryon made the Guild, and with them, the Arceist Tome came! We have a whole history of Equivos and Arceus’ teachings—and none of it would have happened without them.” The whispers grew more positive and supportive as he spoke, and the Darmanitan’s neutral expression seemed to brighten.

    Lawrence stopped in front of him and knelt. “I might not belong here—in more ways than one. But Arceus had a plan when he created this world; the prophets were a key part of it.” He bowed his head and looked up at him. “Don’t let the actions of one ruin your perception of the rest.” The Darmanitan’s mouth creased into a slight smile.

    Astonished gasps erupted from the crowd as they parted for a silver Lucario solemnly stepping forward. Lawrence stood up and walked away from the Darmanitan, eyes wide. The Darmanitan’s eyes were lowered as Matheus stopped in front of him. “You look…familiar.”

    Matheus held a paw out toward the statue. “Vignon. It’s me.”

    The statue’s eyes widened. “Aleron?” He hovered above the mat in shock, then gently lowered, controlling himself. “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 Pokémon, 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. And with this other Lucario’s assurances, I understand why you left—and why you are still a true prophet. “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 Pokémon 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.”

    ~~~~

    At night, after leaving the Furnek Wastes and traveling part of the way through the Iren Desert, Matheus and Lawrence stopped for the night and bedded down for sleep. The cool sand proved relaxing after the heat of the harsh environments, and along with the chitter of Grubbin returning to the surface, they felt relaxed for the first time in what felt like forever.

    Matheus dug through the supply bag and pulled out two thin blankets. He tossed one to Lawrence and said, “Should be easy-going until we make it to Saunte. Best sleep for now though.”

    The blanket landed next to Lawrence with a soft thump. He sat with his legs up against his chest, looking up at the full moon.

    Matheus looked away for a moment, unfolding his blanket. He soon dropped it and shuffled next to Lawrence, sitting down. “You’re thinking about Cassia, aren’t you?”

    Lawrence nodded. “She would’ve wanted to see me back in Furnek. Me, of all people, teaching from the Tome.” He smiled, but it soon fell as he lowered his head. “It’s…it’s still hard to believe that she and Grom are gone. I keep waiting for her to just reappear, like she was invisible. Or for Grom to just wander back from somewhere, just…doing what he does.”

    They remained silent for a moment, then Lawrence asked, “Matheus…if Arceus really loves everyone, why doesn’t he just save everyone? Why couldn’t he have stopped Grom from destroying himself, or Cassia from dying?”

    Matheus raised an eyebrow. “You sound rather…uncertain, which is surprising, considering how you were earlier.”

    “I know,” Lawrence groaned. “But I wasn’t thinking about it much then, just…feeling, for lack of a better word. Now that I’ve had time to let it sink in….I just can’t help but wonder.”

    Matheus blew out his breath slowly, tapping his paws together. He stopped and said, “I don’t know what to say here—at least, not anything obvious. I guess it was just their time. Arceus has intervened on rare occasions, but that usually happened when someone’s life was in danger because of the actions of another. Grom caused his own death, and Arthus’ and Cassia’s with it.” He rubbed the side of his head, staring out into space. “Although, consider what would have happened had Grom not destroyed himself, or the temple for that matter. Arthus would likely have taken me with the Seal, he would have killed you, Grom would be his servant, and Cassia would have been miserable for the rest of her life.” He shuddered. “And Arthus would have had nothing preventing him from going through with killing Arceus.”

    Lawrence blinked, then narrowed his eyes. “That’s…right. If anything, Grom…had to die. And Cassia was just…in the wrong place.”

    Matheus grabbed Lawrence arm and said, “Don’t go thinking anything had to happen one way or another; there’s always another way.” He let go and lay on his back, setting his paws on his chest. “Although, given the circumstances…I’m not sure what that way would be.” He turned to Lawrence. “But do you feel a little better about it?”

    Lawrence shrugged with a sigh. “Not really. But at least I can understand why more.” He smiled and looked down at Matheus. “At least you’re here, Matheus.” He lay down on his blanket and turned away for sleep.

    Matheus remained on the ground for a moment, then sat upright and smiled. “Thanks.” He returned to his blanket and rested with Lawrence to be ready for their return to Saunte.

    ~~~~

    Over the next three days, Lawrence and Matheus crossed the Iren Desert once more, passing around the northern side of the Guild and into the Kaena Woods, where they passed a disturbed patch of soil, but little more of interest.

    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: Oct 9, 2018
  11. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    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.

    ~~~~

    Four days prior…

    Within a small, well-lit shack, 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 Pokémon, 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.

    “If Gardner’s going to leave me here, I might as well look the part.”

    ~~~~

    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. Pokémon of diverse species all collaborated with each other, keeping in mind what happens to those that defy the Guild’s rule.

    A Sawk tread carefully through the ruins of a once-grand multi-story smithy, stepping over rusted iron tools. The forge imploded on itself and any semblance of a bedroom in the loft had long since disintegrated. Nothing remained here save for ruins.

    The Sawk stumbled and scraped against the dusty wood of the stair banister. He grumbled and wiped off his Guild band. “Trias, why are we even here?”

    An Alakazam hovered over the debris and gently lowered onto the ground. He stood up and stroked his silvery moustache, his hand brushing the silver spoons hanging from a string around his neck. “Searle, you’re aware that things have been growing worse around the region.”

    Searle pointed behind him and flicked his head to the right. “Uh, yeah. The only major city we have under control is Saunte, and—”

    “Not that,” Trias interrupted. “Far, far worse things. Have you noticed that there’s been no wild Pokemon for miles? Not even the Vikavolt at night?”

    Searle shrugged. “So what? They’ve been goin’ downhill for years.”

    “It’s worse. Remember when you took guard duty for Harish two nights ago?”

    Searle rubbed his back and groaned. “Do I ever.”

    Trias folded his fingers together. “The lights you saw….those were ghosts.”

    Searle’s eye grew wide. “Wait…all of those…were ghosts?” He shuddered and shook his head. “There were thousands of them! Where did they come from?”

    Trias closed his eyes and lowered his head. “They came from the Ythereal Swamps—and they’re hungry.”

    Searle stared up in thought, then blinked. “That’s…that’s not right. They never go out because of all the Life that’s there. Why go now?”

    “Because there’s no more Life. It’s going away.”

    “Where?”

    Trias rubbed his eyes and said, “The Tree of Life.”

    Searle stepped back, aghast. “You’ve…you’ve got to be wrong! There’s no way it’s—”

    Trias grabbed Searle’s arm, and he fell silent. “I’m not wrong. I’ve felt it coming for a long while, and now it’s here. The Day of Desolation is upon us, and Arceus is preparing Equivos for it.”

    Searle stood still, then sat down on a pile of rubble. He threw one aside and leaned his head against his arm. “Great. We’re all gonna die.” He looked up at Trias sadly. “Are you going to tell everyone else?”

    Trias folded his arms and turned away. “No.”

    Searle came to his feet and threw his arms out. “You’re just going to let them live out their lives like nothing’s happening?”

    “Yes,” Trias replied, turning back around. “Because of Arthus. He’s dead set on killing Arceus and taking his place, and if he learned that the Day of Desolation’s nearly here, that’d only serve to hasten his plans. We can’t have that.” He gestured around them. “That’s why I’m telling you here.”

    Searle rubbed his chin and sighed. “I guess you’re right, as usual.” He clenched his fist and growled. “But Arthus hasn’t been seen for weeks. It’s not like he’ll find out.”

    Trias hovered into the air with his legs crossed and ducked under the ruined entryway. “Whether or not Arthus returns, we must keep my premonition to ourselves. It is something that has been prophesied for generations; the time for change has nearly ended.”

    Searle followed him toward the light beyond the dark and disheveled buildings, beyond the dead streets of the north district. “What about everyone here? I mean, won’t there be some Pokemon who survive?”

    Trias remained silent until they breached the light of the south district. “Yes. But the prideful that make our ranks will pass.” They watched Tauros cross back and forth, guided by Machoke. Bisharp ordered Pawniard into formation. Cacturne rooted themselves on the canyon wall, keeping a watchful eye for intruders. But none except them noticed the preemptive chill in the air.

    Trias walked forward, and Searle followed. Trias only walk forward, yet everyone else seemed to flow around him, unaffected by his presence. Searle kept bumping into shoulders, struggling to keep up. Eventually, they both stood next to the Master’s Tower, where Trias bowed his head and closed his eyes.

    He looked up. “The Guildmaster has returned.”

    The gates suddenly swung outward, and all the Pokemon scrambled away to avoid being crushed. Gardner passed through the gate and growled, pointing behind him. “Go back to your kennel!” A pack of Houndoom dragging a sled rushed along the path toward a secluded corner of the Guild, barking as they went.

    Gardner huffed, then looked over at the Searle and Trias. He came up to them and growled. “Did anything happen while I was gone?”

    Trias stared at his scarred eye. “Nothing to report.” Searle shrunk away, holding ah and to cover his face.

    Gardner waved them off. “Very well. Go about your business.” The Alakazam and Sawk did so, and the Dusknoir reached for the door to the tower. He stopped. He turned around and studied the masses crossing between the scattered storehouses and dwellings, all circling the Master’s Tower. Meanwhile, to the north, few Pokémon dared to come out into the light to ruin the attitude of the south.

    Gardner shook his head. “This isn’t even worth saving.” He hovered to a secluded shed covered with metallic pipes and old lanterns. The curtains were drawn, the only sign of movement within being a loud scraping.

    Gardner knocked on the door curtly. The scraping abruptly stopped, and the door swung outward, batting Gardner across his face and pushing him out of the way. A massive, shining Metagross glowered at him, dripping with solution and remnants of rust.

    “I swear, if you’re pranking me—” He cut himself short, noticing an irritated Gardner rubbing the side of his head. Martre averted his eyes and muttered, “I…suppose I should have warned you about the door.

    “Won’t matter before long.” Gardner entered and shut the door behind him just as the main gate was also closed. He took a brief look around and wiped a finger across the desk in the center of the shack. “I see you’ve cleaned up—finally.” He rubbed his finger and returned his attention to Martre. “You look like a civilized Pokemon instead of a depraved hermit.”

    Martre’s eyes flashed. “I hope you’re here to do more than insult me.”

    Gardner crossed his arms and hovered around the desk, sitting on the edge of it. “I got to Arthus, and he managed to make Hoopa fix the Seal without releasing him.”

    “Wise move. Now we only have an insane murderer to worry about,” Martre nonchalantly said, making a basket of berries hover from the desk toward him. He psychically lifted a berry and brought it to his mouth.

    “I was there so he could have Hoopa kill me.”

    Martre choked on the berry and coughed, his metal clanking with each heave. He calmed himself and exclaimed, “He used you?”

    “Yes,” Gardner grumbled. “He managed to fool him, but he didn’t tell me beforehand. I was practically dead!” He smacked the desk and shouted, “The next time I see him, I’ll rip that precious pendant from his dead body!”

    Martre set aside the basket of berries and stomped closer to Gardner. “That’s suicide. You’re lucky he isn’t here, or he might’ve just killed you right there.”

    Gardner blinked, sliding off the desk. “Wait, he’s not back? He was only taking care of Cassia and her posse of outcasts. Why in Equivos would he not have come back?”

    “Maybe he went directly to Deitae?”

    Gardner shook his head, holding his chin. “No, that can’t be it. If he did, we would know; we’d all be dead.” A dull roar came from outside, and Gardner looked out the small window to see all the Guild Pokemon running toward the main gate, calling out for someone.

    Gardner and Martre rushed out of the room and saw the main gate thrown open, with everyone gathered around what lay in the center. The Dusknoir hovered over the crowd and bellowed, “What’s this all about?” He saw the focus and his maw hung open. “Oh.”

    ~~~~

    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.

    Within one of the few pockets that remained after the collapse, a still form stirred. Flat on his back, his claws twitched, and his eyes fluttered open. He opened ice-blue eyes and pushed up against the rocks that buried him. He emerged with a cough, then searched the darkness as his vision grew clearer.

    Arthus held his head as he rolled onto his back, then started to push himself up with his other hand. He seethed and clutched his leg, still swollen. He looked up, ignoring the blood dripping from the gashes across his body. Dust and pebbles fell from the cracks between the rocks that formed his prison.

    A blue light came from his chest, and he held up its source: The Seal of Creation, as perfect as it was when Hoopa had repaired it. “At least I still have—”

    He stopped. He dropped the Seal and studied himself. “I’m…I’m back! He’s gone! “He laughed but stopped as he realized something. “Cassia.” He groped in the darkness, crawling around in search for her. He found nothing of her.

    Arthus forced himself to stand despite his injury and held the side of his head. “Cassia! Can you hear me?” No response came as his voice echoed.

    Arthus snapped his claws, creating a small flame on the end of one. ‘I’m not leaving without her.’ He doubled over and doused the flame, clutching his chest. He soon stood again and studied his hand. “Out of Life energy,” he croaked. He looked down at his injured leg, which looked marginally better than he last remembered. The cavern shook, and Arthus froze. It soon settled, but several larger rocks fell.

    Arthus hastened his pace, crawling through the narrow passageways. He managed to get into the next room and saw a dull red glow spread across the floor.

    He set a hand on it and gasped as Life rushed into him, healing his cuts and soothing his leg. He forced himself away, retracting his arm. “Grom’s Life energy.” He looked toward another passage, limping toward it. “But Cassia.”

    The cavern shook again, and Arthus avoided the falling rocks, leaning against the wall to relieve weight from his leg. “Cassia!” he called. He made it to the next room and stopped.

    Underneath a boulder was Cassia, her back facing Arthus.

    Arthus ran to her and pushed against the boulder, grunting. It moved slightly but rolled back to its previous position. Arthus’ body glowed red as he pushed again with a roar, throwing off the boulder and slamming it against the far wall. The cavern quaked, and even larger boulders fell.

    Arthus held Cassia and supported her with his shoulder. He grit his teeth, the pain in his leg growing as he he pressed on to the exit. He looked up and saw pebbles falling and ceiling loosening above the tunnel.

    He rushed through, making it inside just as it was covered. The tunnel itself started to collapse, and a dull roar echoed through what remained of the temple as the higher levels crashed to meet the bottom.

    Arthus made it to the mouth of the tunnel and was thrust forward by the force of it collapsing. He and Cassia fell against the floor, more Life energy seeping into them. Arthus grabbed Cassia’s claw and punched into the stone with his other hand. Crimson tendrils emerged and dragged them under the earth just as the remains of the temple buried them.

    Arthus instantly felt a pull as he entered the Life network, and saw that the epicenter was a monstrous entry, sapping away the rest of the Life in Equivos and destroying what remained. Even the pathway he traveled through was deteriorating quickly—as was Cassia.

    He turned to her and saw a bright white glow fading into the stream. He pulled her closer and embraced her, protecting her Life with his own. They arced toward the surface, the tenacity of the Tree of Life nearly drawing them in.

    They emerged at the gate of the Guild, skidding against the coarse soil. Arthus groaned, pushing himself up as his vision blurred. The gate was closed.

    He crawled toward it, dragging Cassia with him as he dug into the ground to pull himself closer. His vision grew dimmer and dimmer as he knocked against the door with all his might, then passed out as it was opening. He heard the muffled voices of Pokemon surround him, then silence.

    ~~~~

    Three days later…

    Gardner waited outside a beige building, crossing his arms and bowing his head as he leaned against the wall. The other Guild Pokemon continued with their day, attempting to ignore the fact that Arthus Zoroark was in critical condition—along with his adopted daughter.

    The door opened and a Comfey drifted out, holding a small piece of paper in its hands. Gardner stood straight and turned to the Comfey. “Well?”

    The Comfey studied the paper, her flowers hanging behind her. “Arthus and Cassia will recover—barely. I’m not familiar with how Life energy works outside of Ghost types, but it seems to be helping their healing process.” She rolled up the paper and picked up her flowers again. “Still, Cassia’s suffered a nasty head injury, and Arthus’ leg looked like it was crushed. Ordinarily, I’d keep them here for at least a month, but I have no idea what will happen with Life.” She floated off and said added, “Some Ghosts will be coming by to give them more Life; I’ve noticed that they stop healing as quickly when that glow goes away.

    Gardner turned away from the Comfey and toward the door. He looked down at his hand. ‘It’s now or never.’ He clenched his fist and pushed open the door.

    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 future 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.

    Cassia slept in a bed on the far wall, lying on her back with a bandage wrapped around her head, along with others scattered around her body. Arthus was on top the bed next to her, his back turned toward Arthus. His leg was set in a cast, and he appeared still.

    Gardner rolled his arm and approached him silently. He slowed his gait, opening his maw. His hands exuded a chilling aura, and they came within inches of Arthus’ back. Gardner could almost feel Arthus’ Life seeping into his body. ‘This is for—’

    He stopped. Arthus held Cassia’s limp hand with both of his own. He studied her sorrowfully, his normally-cold eyes having a warmth that Gardner had never seen—until now.

    The Dusknoir closed his maw and dissipated the chill in his hands. He clasped them together and stared at the side of the room. He cleared his throat, and Arthus looked up at him.

    “Oh,” he said. He sat upright with a moan, letting go of Cassia’s hand and turned to face Gardner. He set his cast down gently, the hardened Ariados silk keeping it strong. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

    “…Well…I am a ghost,” Gardner replied, forcing a smile. Arthus smiled back, chuckling. Gardner’s smiled disappeared immediately after. ‘He…he never laughs…not like this.’

    Arthus wiped his nose and looked over at Cassia. “I’ve been keeping an eye on her to make sure she recovers well. I don’t think she’ll have any memory loss, or anything else really; our control of Life makes us rather durable.” He set his hand over Cassia’s and sighed. “Still…I wish this never happened in the first place.”

    Gardner sat on the bed next to Arthus’, unsure of how to react. “How did you get hurt? I don’t recall you getting a scratch since you released me…until now.”

    Arthus winced, holding his casted leg. “I managed to trap everyone inside the temple, as planned. Matheus and Lawrence proved more troublesome than expected, and right when I had them, Grom had pulled off his brace.”

    Gardner’s maw dropped. “What? That’s suicide!”

    Arthus nodded, grimacing. “Indeed. He started chasing me and began destroying the temple. I tripped, and he stepped on my leg. Cassia was in front of me trying to get his brace back on.” He closed his eyes tight. “I thought she died right there. Grom wasn’t in control of himself, sure, but I wouldn’t have hesitated to attack him if I could.”

    Gardner pointed at the Seal of Creation, which still hung from Arthus’ neck. “So you didn’t capture Matheus?”

    “No.” Arthus held it up, giving it a disapproving look. “And honestly, I want to be done with this entire business. It’s caused nothing but grief for myself and others around me.”

    “You…mean capturing Arceus?”

    Arthus dropped the Seal carelessly and rested his head on his arm. “No. I’m considering just throwing it into the sea and forgetting about it.”

    Gardner narrowed his eye and stood up, towering over Arthus. “You’re not the Arthus I know. You might look and sound like him, but you aren’t as—”

    “Callous? Temperamental? Murderous?” Arthus finished, tiredly listing them off.

    Gardner blinked, lowering himself. “Well…yes.” He rubbed his arm and stared at the ground. “It’s just…I obeyed you because you were all those things. I always feared for my life whenever something angered you, and even when you were calm, I never knew when you’d come around and nearly pull out my eye.” He sat on the bed again and rubbed his eye. “This is all so…disconcerting. I don’t know what to think.”

    Arthus sat a moment longer, then cautiously stood up and smiled. “I’m not sure what to think either.”

    Gardner uncovered his eye and cocked his head. “What changed you? Why are you suddenly so…so…” He rolled his eye and spat, “Nice? You don’t even care about the Seal anymore.”

    Arthus gently paced up the hallway, holding his hands behind his back. “This is the real me. The Arthus you’ve known was my…shadow, so to speak. He’s all my worst qualities but magnified.” He tapped his head and said, “He must’ve been driven back when the temple landed on me. I’ve no idea if he’s truly gone, but at least my mind is free of him for the time being.”

    “And how did this…shadow, come to be in the first place?”

    Arthus forced a smile, turning away. “That is a story I’m not ready to tell yet.”

    Cassia took a larger breath, shifting slightly. Arthus gestured to Gardner, then to the door. “Would you give me and Cassia some privacy? I have some things to clear up between us.”

    Gardner blinked and shook his head briefly. “Er…yes, Arthus, sir.” He stood upright and began toward the door.

    Arthus grabbed Gardner’s shoulder, causing him to turn. “Please, call me Arty.”

    Gardner only stared at him, wide-eyed. “Yes…Arty.” He broke away from Arthus’ grip and rushed out of the room. Arthus only shook his head, sitting back in his bed and holding his hands.

    Gardner burst out of the double doors and panted, holding his head. “I must be going mad—a world where Arthus isn’t waiting to kill someone? Or even use the Seal?” He grabbed his head and groaned. “This place must be getting to me. I have to get out of here.”

    He saw Martre walking toward the medical center with a pair of Lampent hovering behind him. Gardner came between them and asked, “What are you doing?”

    “Giving Arthus and Cassia more Life energy. What’s got you so wound up?” Martre asked.

    Gardner eyed the doors, then looked back at Martre. “I’m warning you now: Arthus isn’t quite right in the head.” Martre gave him a cold look. Gardner shrugged and said, “Alright, more so than usual. He’s suddenly treating others nicely and insisting on being called, ‘Arty’. He doesn’t even want to use the Seal anymore.”

    Martre stepped back, and the Lampent looked at each other with confused expressions. The Metagross clamped his teeth, then said, “He did mention having the temple collapse on him. Maybe he’s suffered a head injury?”

    Gardner humphed, moving away. “Don’t know, don’t care. I’m headed off to Saunte to deal with those idiot captains, Valder and Derak—and to clear my head. Arthus was just—” He shuddered. “Bizarre.” He hovered to the far side of the Guild, where the Houndoom had previously brought his sled into storage.

    Martre’s insides whirred for a moment as he considered the implications of Gardner’s claim. “I must evaluate him to see if he is…well, any worse than he was before.” He gingerly stepped inside, and the Lampent followed, carrying more stores of Life for the Zoroark to consume.

    ~~~~

    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.

    ~~~~

    Cassia stirred under her 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 weren’t for Grom—”He stopped himself. “I’m over here, just so you know.” Cassia slowly turned to face the other Zoroark. Bandages were wrapped around his chest and arms, and a sizable cast was wrapped around his leg. his fur was disheveled, and around his neck was a simple golden pendant glowing with pure blue light. “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 Martre brought it. It’s only been three days, and you’re nearly right as rain.” 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: Oct 9, 2018
  12. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Chapter 24: Escape

    The Priestess is taken,

    The Usurper reveals

    The weakness of self

    In his years of old.

    The prison now broken,

    The true mind commands,

    But the Usurper still lurks

    To fulfill his demands.

    ~~~~

    In the medical bay, Arthus held the Oran berry out closer to Cassia with a smile. “Aren’t you hungry?” She rolled on her either side in the bed, facing away from him.

    Arthus frowned, dropping the berry back in the bowl. “I understand if you’re upset—”

    “Upset? Upset?” Cassia turned back around and threw off the covers, then stood up and jabbed a claw at Arthus. “You tried to kill Matheus and Lawrence, and it’s thanks to you that Grom died!” She breathed in sharply, sitting back down and breathing heavily.

    Arthus stood up and reached over to her. “Careful, you’re still weak!”

    Cassia pushed him back onto his bed. “Stay away from me!” she breathlessly said.

    Arthus grimaced, clasping his hands together. Once Cassia’s breathing slowed, he said, “I…I never meant for any of this to happen. Really.”

    Cassia glanced at him coldly, then turned away. “No. I don’t believe you.”

    “This is far more complicated than—”

    “Complicated?” Cassia exclaimed. “What’s complicated about it? You tricked all of us into going to the temple, and you said exactly what you wanted to do.” She fell onto her side, her back facing Arthus. “What do you want with me? You’ve got the Seal. That’s all you cared about.”

    Arthus looked down at the necklace, then shook and tore it off his head. He threw it to the ground, the gem illuminating the air around it.

    Cassia slowly turned around and stared at the Seal, then at Arthus, perplexed. Arthus exhaled slowly, combing a hand through his mane. “I hate Arceus. There’s no changing that. He shouldn’t have let us be free to choose evil.” He slowly pointed at the Seal. “But it’s thanks to that that my life’s been ruined. I want nothing more to do with it.”

    Cassia gawked at the Seal, then at Arthus. “…Is this a trick?”

    “If I was trying to trick you, why would I use the Seal?”

    Cassia sat upright and crossed her arms. “So…so I’d trust you.”

    Arthus blinked, then turned away. “Oh.” Both stayed silent, the only sound being the activity of the Guild outside.

    Finally, Arthus turned to face Cassia. “I know why you wouldn’t trust me. I destroyed the Tome, I deceived you in the temple…and I killed your parents.” He held the side of his head. “Not to mention what I hid from you while I raised you. You had every reason to run away—and stay away.”

    Cassia leaned closer and cocked her head. “You…you’re different. You always blamed others for doing something wrong, not yourself. You even said killing was fine because you’d bring everyone back anyway.”

    Arthus grabbed the post of his bed tightly. “That wasn’t me. Not the real me, anyway.” Cassia continued to look at him in confusion.

    He groaned and held his hands. “What I’m going to say here is going to be different than anything else. I know you don’t trust me—or love me either, if I assume correctly.” Cassia went to object, but Arthus held up a claw to stop her. “Just…hear me out. Say all you want afterward…just let me have my piece.”

    Cassia stared, then reluctantly lay down on her bed and motioned for Arthus to continue.

    Arthus nodded, leaned down, and began to speak. “There is a lot more to my story, but I’m…not confident that I’ll be able to say all of it. What you must know, however, is how I gained my power over Life—and, eventually, my split personality.

    “I won’t go into detail about what lead me to seek such a thing, but I will say that I was tired of the constant suffering in the world. Even the Guild, what was the most perfect solution, failed on occasion. Towns got ransacked, Pokemon got trampled or starved. It happened far less frequently, yes, but it still happened.” Arthus grit his teeth. “It didn’t help that Matheus had gone off on his own selfish venture when things turned for the worse. I wanted to prevent that, and in a time of grief, without anyone to help, I determined that only one thing could help me: The Edge of Despair.”

    Arthus searched around for a moment, then opened the drawer to the table next to his bed. A pad of paper and a several pieces of charcoal lay inside. He took them out and briefly sketched on the paper, then held the drawing out to Cassia. It showed a rune-covered dagger with an aura about it.

    He tapped it and said, “This was a tool designed to give Pokemon control over Life. I don’t entirely know how it works, but the fuel to grant the power over Life was simple: The Life of the one you love most.”

    Cassia paled, covering her mouth. “…That’s why you killed Corrina.” Her face burned, and she shouted, “You selfish, horrible—”

    Arthus held his hands up and exclaimed, “No! I never did it for myself! Believe me!” Cassia quieted but continued to give Arthus a cold glare.

    Arthus set aside the pad and continued, “It is a long story on how I found it and worked up the nerve to actually use it. However, on the night my son, Erik, was born, I was told that Corrina was ill—that she’d die within hours, and that nothing could be done.” Cassia lowered the sketchpad, her anger turning to anxiety.

    Arthus squeezed his hands together. “It…it was my last chance to use the Edge. Matheus was the only other one that could work, but by then…our relationship was already souring.” He sighed and pinched between his eyes. “And I doubt I could have done it anyway.”

    Cassia sat upright in disbelief. “So…that’s why you did it? Corrina was just dying anyway?”

    Arthus paused for a moment then his eyes glowed red. He growled and rubbed his eyes. “Yes…but it doesn’t change the fact that I killed her myself.”

    Cassia crossed her arms and frowned. “I know this sounds harsh, but wouldn’t have been better to…let her die?” Arthus winced, then Cassia hurriedly added, “I mean, she’d still be fine in the Tree of Life, I’m sure, but then you…” she trailed off as Arthus stared at the floor, his hands shaking.

    He held one up. “She…she would’ve been fine.” He closed his hand. “But…I wouldn’t have. I never told you this, but almost every time I’ve slept, even when I was a child, I was tortured by nightmares. They changed over the years, but I still had them. Only Matheus and Corrina knew how to help me when I wake. And with Matheus gone…” He choked up, holding a hand over his eyes. “I just…I just couldn’t live without her! Erik would’ve been without a mother, and I would’ve gone insane from my nightmares or my work at the Guild.” A tear trailed down his cheek as he uncovered his eyes. “It…It was only supposed to be temporary. She would’ve been back after I found the Seal and used it. In fact, I didn’t care if I kept Arceus after that; I just wanted Corrina back!” He sobbed, covering his face and heaving. Cassia cringed, nearly hugging him despite how she felt about him.

    After a minute of crying, Arthus forced himself to calm and wiped away his tears. “It…it wasn’t that simple. Gregorius had put a…safety feature into the Edge. Upon use, it would give the owner control over Life…but it would also awaken his shadow.”

    Cassia cocked her head. “Shadow?”

    “Yes, shadow. A Pokémon’s shadow is all their worst qualities—and, to an extent, their opposite—all bundled into one personality. Some things remain constant, such as feelings toward others, but they are blown out of proportion—especially hatred.” Arthus shuddered, holding his hands over his ears. “He came without warning. Suddenly there was another voice inside my head, always goading me to make decisions I’d never make. I resorted to speaking to myself to make sure he didn’t interrupt me mid-thought.”

    Cassia shivered as well, the very idea of her shadow spooking her. ‘All my worst qualities? What would I be like?’ She shivered again. ‘Dreadful.’

    Arthus hung his head, his eyes growing distant. “But that wasn’t the worst of it. The shadow does more than simply toss his voice into your thoughts; it tries to destroy you.” He winced, holding his head. “He…pushes his will…into my body…he tries to be…the dominant mind…” He gasped, falling to his knees.

    “Dad!” Cassia came next to Arthus and watched as Arthus grunted, clutching his head. He gently, barely shook his head, his muttering illegible. He grew louder, and he dug his claws into the wood of the floor. “Stay back…stay back!” He shot upright and screamed, his eyes wide with fright. Cassia fell onto her back, holding an arm in front of her and breathing quickly.

    Arthus twisted his arms while his pupils dilated smaller. “Idiot! Your actions will doom everyone!” He twisted around, his eyes growing larger again. “I’m trying to save their lives!” Cassia’s eyes whisked to the Seal of Creation, which sat just behind Arthus’ feet.

    Arthus twisted around again, cackling wildly. “Says the one who failed not once, but twice! You even failed to kill Matheus when you had the chance!” He screamed again, clutching his injured leg. “Because I was trying to save Cassia!”

    Cassia dove under Arthus, reaching for the Seal. He stamped on the necklace’s chain just as Cassia snatch it back, pinning it between them. He leaned down and smirked, his head jutting to the side. “Can’t have that, now, can we?” Cassia panted, pulling at the necklace, still weak from recovery.

    Arthus shook again, and he panted, grimacing. “You have to get out of here!” My shadow’s…nearly in control!” He seethed, lifting his leg and allowing Cassia to take the Seal. “Take it away! Far away! You can’t let me use it!”

    Cassia scrambled back, holding the Seal up to her chest. She stood up and swallowed hard. “What about you?”

    Arthus winced, looking up at her. “Just know that I love you, and if I had the chance—” He stiffened, and his eyes closed. “I would’ve given up…everything…for you.” He collapsed and fell still.

    Cassia looked left and right, unsure. She ran to her bed and scooped Grom’s bolts from off the side table, then made herself invisible as she opened the window. She gingerly crawled out, granting one final look at Arthus. “…I wish it didn’t have to be like this.” She ducked out and closed the window, then entered the throngs of Guild Pokemon.

    Moments after, Arthus’ eyes snapped open. He shot upright and twisted his neck, popping it. “Where did you go?” He looked under the bed and growled, his eyes glowing red. “You let her escape with the Seal!” He threw a nearby bed up, sending it crashing into another.

    He gasped, clutching his leg. He glared at it, then sat on his bed and sliced right through the silk, revealing the still-swollen limb.

    He wrapped both claws around it, then made it glow red. He clenched his teeth and seethed, “Must…get…that…girl….”

    ~~~~

    Cassia passed between the thronging Guild Pokemon, ranging from Jumpluff delivering messages to Rhydon marching to the training ground. Tauros lugged enormous carts behind them, while Lycanroc snapped at their heels to direct them. Cassia tried her best to avoid them all, but her weakness from waking combined with her invisibility made several stumbles inevitable. Several times she fell, narrowly dodging contact from another. All the while she kept the Seal of Creation tight in her grip.

    She tripped on a dip in the road and spread her arms to catch herself. Her claws grazed the back of an Alakazam in front of her, causing him to stop. Cassia scrambled up to her feet and tried to exit the crowd. The Alakazam lifted a spoon.

    Cassia restrained a yelp as she was swept off her feet and forced to dangle in the air, completely helpless. The Alakazam looked in her direction and walked into a dark alley. Cassia followed, her heart beating rapidly.

    When inside the alley, the Alakazam looked about briefly. He turned back to Cassia’s direction. “Show yourself.”

    Cassia hid the Seal behind her back and let out a shuddering breath. Her illusion dissolved, and the graying Alakazam shook his head. “You shouldn’t have come back.” He lowered Cassia back to the ground.

    She waved her free hand and said, “No, please, don’t say—”

    “What’s behind your back?” The Alakazam grabbed a spoon hanging from his neck and made his eyes glow blue. Cassia’s other hand shot out from behind her back and revealed the Seal.

    The Alakazam stepped back and dropped the spoon, aghast. “How in Equivos did you get that away from Arthus?” he hoarsely said. Before she could reply, he pushed her against the wall. A pair of Heracross passed by the entrance to the alleyway, not noticing them.

    The Alakazam let go of Cassia and looked out the alley. “As much as I want to hear your story, this isn’t the place.” He turned back to her. “I’ll take you to my home. You can tell me everything there.” He grimaced and pointed at the bandages layering her body. “And I can help you heal.”

    Cassia shuffled back, holding the Seal close. “How do I know I can trust you?”

    The Alakazam looked over his shoulder, then pulled down his armband, revealing a weathered, folded piece of paper. He took it out and unfolded it, revealing a younger version of him standing with a Lucario, Electivire, Gothitelle, Conkeldurr and Blissey, all in front of the Master’s Tower.

    As Cassia studied it, the Alakazam said, “I am Trias, Guildmaster Calem’s former advisor.”

    ~~~~

    In a dilapidated house in the corner of the Guild, a smug Sawk chopped fresh lettuce on a chipped countertop, humming merrily. No doors lead in or out of the room save for the main entrance. A bunk bed sagged in the corner, and the kitchen that the Sawk worked within set a stove and washbasin next to each other. On the other side of the room was a table with several stacks of ragged cards, a stuffed chair with a rickety wooden one next to it, and a great window granting a view to the entire rest of the guild. A skylight above allowed the sun to peek out and illuminate the room.

    The Sawk scooped the lettuce off the cutting board and plopped it into a bowl. He held it up and plucked some grape tomatoes out of a basket, then tossed them in the bowl. He then drizzled a bottle of viscous white sauce over it.

    He chuckled and pulled open a drawer. “I love Tapu’s Days.” He pulled out a fork and hopped over to the bunk, then slung himself onto the top and set the bowl on his lap. “Ma always said to eat my greens—and boy, do I!” He stabbed into the salad and held the bite up to his mouth, sighing.

    The door opened, causing the Sawk to lower the fork and frown. Trias hurriedly walked in and waved, a smile plastered on his face. “Afternoon, Searle! I see you’re having your weekly salad bowl.”

    Searle’s eyes flitted between Trias and the bowl. “Uh…yeah.”

    Trias drew the curtains across the window overseeing the Guild, then promptly closed the door. He stroked his silvery mustache and said, “Would you happen to have a problem with…a guest coming over?”

    Searle shrugged and lifted the fork again. “Nobody comes over, so why not?”

    Trias nodded sagely and flicked his head forward. “Go ahead.” The air behind Trias shimmered, then revealed a bandaged-up Zoroark with bright blue eyes sheepishly holding her hands behind her back.

    Searle’s jaw dropped, then his fork. He scooted back in the bed, leaving the bowl to tip over and drench the covers in ranch. “I-It’s you! You nearly killed me!” He focused on Trias and jabbed a finger at Cassia. “What is she doing here?

    Trias held up his hands and said, “Easy, Searle. She’s on the run from Arthus, and she happened to take something we’ve been after for a long time.”

    Searle eyed her suspiciously. “What do you mean?”

    Trias gestured to Cassia. “I mean this.” She held up the Seal of Creation, its perfect gem shining bright.

    “What?” Searle shot upright, only to knock his head against the ceiling. He groaned and held it, seething. “How did she get it?”

    Trias waved down quickly. “Just come down and talk to her, she won’t bite.” Searle cautiously crawled around the spilled salad and climbed down the ladder. He kept his palms straight and ready for attack.

    Cassia lowered the Seal and held her hands behind her back. “Thanks…thanks for telling me about Arthus…about who he really was.”

    Searle blinked and lowered his hands. “…Really? Weren’t you upset?”

    Trias came over to him and set a hand on his shoulder. “Searle, if she didn’t come to us that day, she wouldn’t have spread Arceus’ words across the region as she did. Without her, all of Equivos would be lost.”

    Searle paused a moment, then rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. “Well…that’s true.” He shrugged and slowly let out his breath. “I guess we’re good then. Sorry I put it so rudely before, but I wasn’t in the best mood then.”

    Trias patted Searle’s arm and said, “He got his arm broken by Gardner as punishment for tampering with the tax records of a poor family of Dragonite.” He stopped and looked over Cassia again, remembering her bandages. “Gracious, I’ve had you walk the entire way here and not even offer hospitality.” He turned to Searle and pointed at the door. “Would you mind getting a bag of Sitrus and Oran berries from the warehouse? She is still recovering from some terrible injuries.”

    Searle looked at Cassia up and down and nodded in agreement. He came close to Trias and muttered, “Fill me in on the Seal.” He jogged out of the room and into the Guild, careful to swiftly close the door.

    Trias motioned to the cushioned chair. “Go on, sit.”

    Cassia did so, her tired limbs aching. “Can we trust him?”

    Trias promptly nodded and dug through the cabinets underneath the counter. “Searle might be rash at times, but he is as loyal as can be.”

    She looked around for a moment, then furrowed her brow. “What do you do in the Guild, anyway?”

    Trias pulled out a collection of small bottles and began swirling them, inspecting their contents. “I now work as the treasurer for the Guild. I know everything there is to now about finances.” He gave Cassia a hopeless look. “And what a boring subject it is.”

    Cassia picked at a loose thread in the armchair. “So, you’re pretty high-ranking then?”

    “What are you implying?” Trias replied, closing his hand over a bottle.

    Cassia gestured to the room around her. “This just isn’t very…nice.” She cringed and shrunk into the couch. “Sorry, that was rude.”

    “Say no more, say no more.” Trias took a rag from under the counter, came to Cassia, then sat on his knees, uncorking the bottle. “Even for my humble tastes, this is a rather sorry place to live.” He looked up and sighed. “How grand this Guild used to be. Now it is barely a shadow of its former self.”

    Cassia leaned her head against her hand and said, “I thought that since the Guild was taking everything that they’d use it to make their lives better. I guess I was wrong.”

    “The fools who do the taking don’t use it responsibly, that’s why.” Trias dabbed the contents of the bottle on the rag. “They burn the art and woodwork, gobble the food and drink.” He corked the bottle and slammed it on the floor. “And desecrate everything else.”

    “How did you avoid Arthus when he…massacred, everyone?” Cassia struggled to say such things, now that she knew his true nature.

    Trias gave her a suspicious look, then said, “As you may know, Alakazam such as myself are extremely intelligent. My kind strive to constantly learn so we can keep our minds sharp, and that often leads to reading—and a lot of it.” He held up the rag and said, “Would you mind if you took off your bandages?” Cassia began doing so gratefully; they had grown very irritating against her skin.

    Trias continued. “I’ve always been an avid reader—even when I was an Abra—but the one book I constantly returned to was the Arceist Tome.”

    Cassia tore the bandage off her head and smiled. “You read the Tome?”

    Trias nodded. “Indeed, I can quote the entire book by memory!” He twisted his mustache and looked up wistfully. “But it isn’t as satisfying as reading it personally and experiencing the…peace, it has within its pages.”

    Cassia took a deep breath and lay her head on the back of the couch. “I feel the same way.”

    Trias looked back down and held the rag close to Cassia’s leg. “Would you mind if I used this? It has healing properties.” Cassia nodded quickly, and as Trias rubbed her bruised limbs with it, he said, “There was another skill I learned: healing. I’m quite the herbalist, you know.” He shook his head. “Anyway, back to how I’m still here. While reading from the Tome about a year before Arthus returned, I began making connections with the events prophesied and the present time: weather patterns, rumors, the like. The unusual events that year all began to come together, and I knew that the final age was coming for Equivos. So, naturally, I tried to warn Calem.” He stopped, continuing to apply his solution on Cassia.

    Cassia shifted slightly, unused to such contact. “What happened?”

    He sighed and lowered the rag. “As honorable a Pokemon Calem was—bless his soul—he was very stubborn. He didn’t believe Arthus really existed, let alone that he was coming within a year. Despite my pleas, he ignored me, even if he listened to my advice otherwise.”

    Cassia curled her finger around a length of her mane. “I’m sorry for what happened.”

    Trias waved a hand and continued his application. “Don’t be. You had nothing to do with it; Yveltal was set to come forth at one particular time, one that none could change.” He uncorked the bottle and spread more across the rag. “When the storms hit Serenita, I teleported to my meditation cave in Xilo, and I hid for over a week as I watched Arthus from afar and saw how I could trick him. I introduced myself as a new Pokemon, and I got instated as Treasurer, with Searle as my assistant.” He lowered his head as he rubbed the solution along Cassia’s arms. “I wasn’t sure that I could. Calem was a dear friend, along with many other Pokemon in the Guild. But I knew that I would be needed to help however I could.” He dwelled on that for a moment, then faced Cassia. “But enough about me. I want to know how you got the Seal out of Arthus’ clutches—and how you ended up in such a terrible state.”

    Cassia hesitantly recounted what had happened within the Arceist Temple and what occurred in the medical bay. She highlighted Arthus’ transformation of personality, and how he may not be the Pokemon he appears to be. Trias finished applying his solution on Cassia and had since put away the bottle. He paced around the room and stroked his mustache in thought. Cassia felt heavy and drained as she considered all that had happened to her—such as the loss of Grom.

    When she finished, Trias stopped and held his hands behind his back. “So…Arthus is of two minds…literally.” He closed his eyes and tapped his fingers together. “This makes sense. In the few records that remain from Arthus’ time period, he was described as suffering a sudden change of personality in times of stress or anger. This ‘shadow’ must have taken over at some point and refused the real Arthus any control.” He pointed at the Seal laying on Cassia’s lap. “We can’t allow him to have that. Despite the diminishing Life supply, he can still travel to Deitae and take Arceus’ power. Once you have your strength back, you have to go.”

    “But how?” Cassia asked, shakily coming to her feet. “I have nowhere to go and I have no idea where my friends are if they survived!” She held a hand over her face and sighed, “I can’t even finish teaching about Arceus without a Tome.”

    Trias stopped tapping his fingers. “You need a copy of the Tome?” She nodded.

    He considered for a moment, then said, “I have access to one.”

    “Really?” Cassia ran up to him and said, “Where is it?”

    Trias paced away and bowed his head. “As treasurer of the Guild, I have permission to access the vault to keep track of its inventory, including rare artifacts. Gardner had secured another copy of the Tome to be studied by Martre, but when he found nothing of use, he had it stored away. I read it when I do my daily rounds, so it won’t be much issue to give it to you.”

    Cassia gave Trias a brief hug. “Oh, thank you! Thank you so much!”

    The Alakazam regained his composure and cleared his throat. “However, the vault is within the Master’s Tower, and given that Arthus has likely brought the Guild into high alert to find you and the Seal, that may prove difficult.”

    Cassia wrapped the Seal’s chain around her wrist and kept it tight. “I can hide us both when we go for it, then I can head straight for Saunte afterward. Sound good?”

    The door burst open and Searle rushed in, holding a satchel next to him. He closed the door and shouted, “Better get going quick! Arthus is going to turn every house inside out before long!”

    Trias snatched a spoon around his neck and caused the satchel to fly from Searle’s hand into Cassia’s. “Eat quickly. There’s no telling how long we have before Arthus comes.”

    Cassia looked inside and saw two bags of berries. She opened one and started eating the Oran berries inside, her strength gradually returning to her. All the while, the joy of obtaining a new Arceist Tome, the sadness of her losses, and the fear of Arthus’ shadow conflicted with each other.

    ~~~~

    All throughout the Guild, Pokemon of all shapes and sizes searched for Cassia and the stolen Seal of Creation. Lycanroc and Mightyena tracked her scent, Murkrow flew above, and there were constant checks given to Pokemon entering or exiting their homes to ensure that, disguised or not, Cassia would be found.

    Cassia crept through the pacing crowds of Pokemon as Trias hovered overhead, both completely invisible. Searle paced ahead casually, taking occasional glances above and behind him. Cassia and Trias made way to the Master’s Tower as Searle marched on to the main gate.

    Cassia froze as a Lycanroc squeezed by her, constantly sniffing the ground. It walked away, not seeming to notice her. Cassia stared at it curiously. ‘How didn’t he smell me?’

    ‘My healing solution masks your scent as well—at least with how liberally I used it.’

    Cassia looked up at him in surprise. Before she could say anything, he thought, ‘It’s not impossible for psychics to breach a Dark Pokémon’s immunity; it is only very difficult, hence why I have yet to stand up against Arthus.’ He pointed ahead with a spoon. ‘Stand near the entrance and wait for my signal.’

    She made it to the doorway of the tower, which had echoing clangs emanating from it. Trias hovered higher and looked through the window. He held his hand out for Cassia to stop.

    The door swung open and Martre tromped out in a huff. “Curse Arthus for his irresponsibility.” He soon melted into the crowd.

    Cassia caught the door as it closed and looked up at Trias. He gave a nod and brought himself down. They both slipped into the tower.

    Cassia cast away their invisibility as Trias locked the door. The stairs ascended immediately in front of them while a small hallway wrapped to their left. Trias cautiously stepped into it and thought to Cassia, ‘The vault is just down here.’ She followed.

    At the end of the hallway was a square iron door set with five dials, all with a ‘0’ above them. Trias held his spoon forward and made the dials spin, finally setting them to ‘9-4-3-1-5’. The vault clicked and had a panel slide back, revealing a key-shaped hole. Trias stuck his spoon inside it and thought, “I would ordinarily request for Gardner to open it, but I know how to lock-pick with my powers.’ The inside of the lock clicked, and the door swung outward.

    Cassia peeked inside, expecting to see overflowing piles of coins. Instead, scant bags of gold remained, alongside various weapons and scrolls. At the back of the dark inside of the vault was a gold-colored gate. Beyond it was a vast array of artifacts—along with a familiar book.

    Trias stopped next to the gate and held his spoon up to the lock, but then stopped. He stepped back from the gate. ‘This metal blocks telekinetic abilities; I can’t affect it.’

    Cassia stood in front of the gate. ‘I have a way.’ She held onto the bars and willed Life into her hands. They radiated with energy and made the bars glow red. She grunted and pushed away, and the heat emanating from her hands softened the bars. They pushed apart, allowing enough room for her to cross through.

    She carefully stepped inside, studying the items on the shelves. A wide array of weapons, jars, and other artifacts resided within, all with some vicious aura surrounding them. But she wasn’t focused on those. She cared only for the most important object in the room: the final copy of the Arceist Tome.

    Cassia gingerly picked it up, the arc emblazoned on the cover seeming to glow in the dim light. She smiled and held it tight against her chest. She stared at the shelf it sat on, then at the object covered with a white sheet. Curious, she peeked underneath. Her eyes widened, then she uncovered it completely, revealing the Prison Bottle, the eyes on its cap glowing dimly.

    Trias noticed and thought, ‘Best leave that be, Cassia. Gardner had that secured in here after you and Arthus returned.’ He shuddered. ‘Hoopa is even more dangerous now that Arthus had managed to trick him.’

    She stepped as if to leave but gravitated back to the bottle. ‘Trias…I feel like I need it.’

    ‘Why? He won’t listen to reason, and anything he could grant would come at a severe price.’

    Cassia paused, unsure of what to do.

    My servant is needed. Take him.

    Without hesitation, Cassia took the sheet and wrapped the neck of the bottle in it, negating the vile voice within. She set the bottle next to the Tome, still wrapped in the cloth. ‘I feel as if…Arceus, needs it. Maybe he needs Hoopa to do something for him?’

    Trias sighed and started to turn back. ‘Better it’s out of the Guild’s—’ He froze.

    Martre hovered at the door of the vault, his eyes glowing brightly. “Wrong move, Trias.” The door slammed shut and whirred as it locked.

    “No!” Cassia and Trias cried, both running to the door. Cassia beat against it with her hands while Trias attempted to undo the locks, but both were to no avail. Martre’s muffled shouts came from outside.

    Trias strained against the bolts, but dropped both his arms and said, “It’s useless. Martre’s restricting the bolts and door with his own powers.”

    Cassia breathed quickly as she searched for some way out. She beat against the walls of the vault scraping away the gold and scrolls on them. The vault made no echoing clangs, unlike the door itself.

    Cassia stopped and considered it. “Trias, what’s behind this wall?”

    “Nothing except the outside,” Trias said, closing his eyes. They snapped back open. “Of course!” He held up both his spoons and focused on a single point on the wall. His eyes glowed blue, and the point started to bulge outward. Sweat beaded across Trias’ brow and his hands shook as the wall continued to push outward.

    Cassia noticed the strain and grabbed Trias’ shoulder. Life flowed from her into Trias, filling him with power. He bellowed and slammed the spoons together, sending a psychic surge into the wall. It stretched into a large hole, revealing the dusty exterior of the Guild. Dust and broken bricks littered the ground in front of them, yet no Pokemon seemed to be visible.

    Trias fell to his knees and let his spoons fall. He breathed haggardly as he looked up at Cassia. “Go.” Voices rose beyond the vault as they moved toward the outside.

    Cassia stooped and helped Trias back to his feet. “You can’t stay here; they’ll kill you!”

    Trias broke from her grip and pointed at her bag. “You have to carry the Seal as far away from here as possible! My life isn’t worth that!” He wearily picked up his spoons and crossed them against his chest. “Now go, before they can see you!” Shadows raced toward the vault opening.

    Cassia groaned and turned invisible just as Martre and a mass of Lycanroc and Mightyena surrounded the exit. He burst into the hole and quickly looked left and right. He came up to Trias and stared him down. “Where is she?”

    Trias’ eyes glowed. “Gone.” He roared and sent out a burst of bright violet energy toward Martre.

    Martre dug his feet into the iron and sent out his own burst, and the two clashed, pushing against each other. As the clash continued, Trias’ spoons began to bend, while the cross on Martre’s face shined.

    Martre forcefully stepped closer and said in struggling tones, “You’re foolish…brash…and most of all…” He punched Trias across the chest and made him crumple. His psychic burst immediately dissolved, allowing Martre’s to engulf him and scaled his skin.

    He screamed as Martre punched him over his head and crushed his chest with another leg. He leaned down and made Trias’ squinted eye level to his. “You were always the weak link.” He raised a leg and made the claws glow yellow.

    “Get away from him!” Cassia reappeared from the darkness and leapt on top of Martre. He stumbled back and roared, struggling to reach her. She clawed forward and slashed Martre across his eyes, making him scream in agony and clamp his legs over them.

    The Lycanroc and Mightyena snarled and leapt after her, fangs bared. She dodged each one and scratched each one, making their Life stream to her in gaseous red strings. They fell to the ground and shivered, left with only enough to survive.

    With her foes defeated, Cassia fell next to Trias and lifted his head. She cringed and said, “I—I should have done something sooner, but I—”

    Trias lifted a burned hand, stopping her. He forced a smile. “Martre is…” He stared at the still-screaming Metagross. “…was…a powerful…opponent…you stood little chance…head on.” He held on to Cassia’s hand. “Leave now…before Arthus comes.” He coughed weakly as his eyes lowered. “Arceus…be with you.” He breathed out a final time.

    Cassia cringed as tears came to her eyes, but shouts from the outside caused her to regain her composure. She turned invisible once more and sprinted out of the vault and toward the gate, leaving the other Guild Pokemon in the dust.

    Searle leaned against the gate impatiently, staring at the Tower. “I hope they’re alright…” He felt someone grab his hand.

    He yelped and scrambled away. “Gah! You’re here!”

    Cassia briefly appeared. “Hurry! Get the door open!”

    As she disappeared, Searle squinted his eyes and said, “Where’s Trias?”

    He felt a push against his shoulder. “Just do it!”

    Searle pushed against the door with Cassia’s help and said, “Alright, alright! You can tell me later!” The gate opened just wide enough for them to slip into the outside.

    Both ran toward the deadened tree just outside the gate. Cassia reappeared and started to run down the path to the tree’s right.

    Searle stopped next to the tree and yelled, “Where are you going?”

    Cassia came to a stop and said, “I’m going to Saunte, where else?”

    Searle groaned and pointed to the tree. “This is the way! There’s a big Life Deposit here just waiting to be used!”

    Cassia ran back to him and tugged at his arm. “I can’t go that way!”

    Searle tugged back. “Why?”

    “I never learned, that’s why!” Cassia cried.

    “What?” Searle pulled them both back and caused Cassia to stumble and fall next to the tree, causing the contents of her bag to be visible.

    She coughed, and Searle rubbed pinched the bridge of his crest. “Augh, I should’ve seen this coming.” He knelt next to Cassia and pointed at the base of the tree. “I saw Arthus do this sometimes while I was on guard duty. All you have to do is put your hand in the ground and sort of…hitch a ride, I guess, then just get off at the deposit you want to.” Shouts rose up over the wall, causing Searle to turn back. “Better be quick, or else—”

    He gasped, falling back. A shimmer appeared behind him and darkened into a Zoroark, breathing haggardly and burying his claws into Searle’s back.

    Cassia gasped and scrambled back, focused on the Sawk. “Searle!”

    Arthus tossed him aside and grinned maliciously, crouching low. “Disobedience only leads to Pokemon getting hurt, Cassia.” He held his claws out, shaking like the rest of him. “Give. Me. The. Seal.

    Cassia briefly turned to the bag, then to the ground. “You told me to take it away.” She dug her claws into the ground and forced Life into it. “And you won’t stop me!” Giant red tendrils rose up around her and threatened to engulf her.

    Arthus roared and snatched the revealed Seal from Cassia’s bag. She managed to grab hold of the chain as it flew through the air, and the two fought to keep hold of it as Cassia was being forced into the ground by the crimson tendrils. The veins in Arthus’ arm bulged as he was dragged forward by Cassia. She grit her teeth as she slowly pulled it forward.

    The tendrils collapsed over the chain and broke Cassia’s grip, fully enclosing her in its trap. Her wail was cut off as she became a beam of red light and surged to the east.

    Arthus breathed heavily, then smiled as he held the Seal up to his face. “Finally.” His eyes widened as he realized his mistake. “No…Cassia!” He pulled at his mane and screamed, “Not now! Not now!” He dug his claws into the ground to follow Cassia, but no tendrils rose up to meet his call.

    He shook and stared at the deadened tree. “Curse Arceus…” He stood up. His shoulders tensed. “This is all your fault!” He punched the tree with such great force that it instantly turned to splinters at his feet.

    He seethed as he lowered the Seal around his neck. “No matter…even if she is taken by you, I’ll bring her back.” He ran across the rest of the canyon and to the south, his ice-colored eyes burning.

    “I’m only one deposit away from taking your place.”

    ~~~~

    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 ducked 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: Oct 9, 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

    Loss affects all,

    But some even more,

    Despite the faith and trust

    They may hold dear.

    Yet all will be well

    After this time of woe,

    For soon Arceus will come

    And return his children to him.

    ~~~~

    Cassia coursed through the spidery veins of Life, completely terrified by the scene before her. Crimson threads all interwove within each other in a vast blackness, all joining together at a maelstrom of Life, constantly pulsing in the utter darkness. But as she traveled, the Life unraveled, leaving fewer and fewer threads to travel through—including her own.

    She felt the constant pull of the maelstrom to bring her closer, the light within her core throbbing in response. She struggled to keep her mind focused on finding a means to escape, but the threat of the maelstrom was ever-present in her mind as she traveled eastward.

    She saw the vein she traveled through branch off to different points of light, all fading gradually. ‘Where do I go, where do I go?’ she pleaded, completely within the network.

    There.

    Her eyes snapped to a point of light above her. Its channel was soon approaching and would soon unravel by the disintegrating stream Cassia traveled through.

    Left with no other clues, Cassia willed herself up into the stream and into the dot of light. She shot into it just as the light died.

    She erupted from the ground and gasped for air. She crawled out from the soil and lay on her chest, completely worn from the ordeal. As her mind grew clearer, she recognized the environment to be the fringe of the West Kaena Woods…yet it wasn’t.

    Even well into the autumn, Cassia had never heard the air so still. The trees were all bare of leaves, yet no musty scent accompanied them. No apples or berries were present, no wild Pokemon rushing past. All was lifeless and grey, just like the overcast sky.

    The Minute Plains stretched in front of Cassia and resting in the center was the familiar city of Saunte. Smoke billowed from throughout the city, and light flashed alongside the cries of Pokemon. The grass—bright only several weeks ago—was dull and pale. No wind blew, allowing a foul odor of sickness linger. Autumn hadn’t yet ended, yet the season felt it had.

    Cassia rolled onto her back and forced herself upright. She felt too tired for much else. All she could do was rest.

    She opened her bag and reached for the remaining bag of berries but stopped. The clean leather cover of the Tome caught her attention and held it. Her mind filled with recent events, and a heavy weight set in her chest.

    She reached deeper into the bag and retrieved two worn, brass bolts. She covered them and closed her eyes. ‘Grom…’ Her memories of the Golurk came rushing back, from their first meeting, to his ultimate demise. ‘He…he was always there for me…’ Her hands shook. ‘But now…he’s gone…’ A tear trailed down her cheek. ‘Just like Arianne.’ She held her hands up to her face. ‘Dad is out of control…I’ve lost Matheus and Lawrence…and Trias and Searle died protecting me.’

    Grom’s bolts fell from her hands. ‘And now…I’m alone. Completely alone.’ She sobbed and pulled at her mane. ‘I…I could’ve saved them. If I had gone with her…if I had put back his brace…if I wasn’t so unsure.’

    A connection formed in her mind. She looked up at the blank, grey sky. “Arceus…why? Why did they have to die? Why did Dad have to change, why did I lose Matheus and Lawrence? I’ve devoted my life to you…and here I am…” She stared at the bolts on the ground. “Alone.” She picked them back up and held them close to her chest. ‘I’ve saved so many…’ She lowered them back into the bag. ‘But I can never save the Pokemon I love.’

    She kept crying for the next few minutes, caught in hopelessness. She felt nothing could bring her out of this pit of misery and loneliness—not even Arceus.

    A glow emanated from inside the bag. Cassia wiped away her tears and peered inside, curious. The pages of the Arceist Tome glowed with golden light, so brightly that Cassia squinted.

    She took the Tome out of the bag, and the light dulled. The light gathered into a single point in the pages, then crept into the air, becoming a familiar wisp of light. It swirled in the air, coming level with Cassia’s eyes. She studied it, entranced.

    The wisp pointed at the book and dove between the pages. Cassia blinked and opened the Tome, flipping to the page. ‘Where are you taking me?’ she thought. She came to the page where the wisp resided, and she read the passage it highlighted with itself:

    Pokemon that bear knowledge, emotion and willpower have power to choose evil as much as good. The consequences of any choice affect not just those who make the decision, but those who are directly affected. Evil subjects my creations to pain of all types, and that cannot be changed.

    The wisp shot in between the pages once more, and Cassia followed, gathering an idea of what it was. ‘Arceus?’ She turned to the passage it landed on:

    But I, Arceus, sorrow with those afflicted by others, no matter their pain. I wish only for joy amongst my creations, but the unrighteous desires of the world taint their lives.

    The wisp moved once more, and Cassia began to realize what it was doing.

    Do not think I am not present in your doings. I ensure that no pain is too great and no trial too daunting. Many are lost to the darkness of the world, but those who follow me are saved in the Tree of Life, returned to their loved ones and awaiting those yet to come.

    The wisp moved once more, but before Cassia turned to the page, she considered the words it had shown her. ‘When I felt this way before, there was always someone to help me—Matheus, Arianne, Grom, even Lawrence.’ She rubbed her eyes. ‘They always said I was a good Pokemon, that I did nothing wrong….that I mattered to them.’ She set her claws between the pages the light defined. ‘I always felt better after they said those things…but…do I need them to know that those words are true?’

    She opened the pages and beheld a magnificent work of art depicting Arceus enveloping a Sandslash in hundreds of threads of light. The Sandslash sat behind the body of a young Sand shrew, and tears could be seen on the Sandslash’s face.

    Cassia set a hand against the wisps surrounding the Sandslash, suddenly feeling ashamed. ‘Arceus inspired them to help me. I could never have changed Grom before without him. Arianne would have died alone if Matheus hadn’t taken me to her. Trias and Searle…well, I didn’t know them for long, but at least Trias was content.’

    The wisp circled the words accompanying the image, and as Cassia read them, the weight in her chest grew lighter and lighter.

    Light cannot be seen without darkness to contrast it. Push is known with pull, and good is known from evil. Just as all of these, joy can never be known without despair. As surely as Pokemon will bear the consequences of others, so will they experience my blessings and the joy they bring.

    Know now that you are never alone. I am always present, always listening; whatever trial you may be facing, I will always assist when you call on my name. My arms stretch across the whole of Equivos, touching upon Pokémon’s lives and making them for the better.

    The wisp faded. Cassia studied the words, her smile broadening with every pass. She looked up toward the sun, which now shone through the overcast clouds. ‘I made Grom and Arianne feel joy in the time I knew them—and now they’ve returned to Arceus and the Pokemon they love.’

    She closed the book and stood up, holding it close to her chest. ‘Arceus has always been with me, even as a Zorua! He showed me the light and brought me out of darkness! He helped me show others his light!”

    She swung her bag over her shoulders and set the Tome within. ‘Arianne and Grom are always with me, just like Arceus! I am never alone!’ She ran down the hill toward the smoking city of Saunte. ‘I will find Lawrence and Matheus again, even if I have to go across Equivos all over again!’

    She neared the walls of Saunte, and she narrowed her eyes. ‘And I will bring back the real Arthus.’

    She stopped at the edge of Saunte and coughed, the smoke filling her nose. The buildings crumbled, and bodies littered the streets. Cries and screams echoed from the center of town, alongside the roars of a certain Guildmaster.

    The plume of smoke passed, and Cassia instinctively reached into her bag. Panic flashed across her face as she realized something. “My mask! It’s still in the temple!” She considered what she’d do, but the peace she experienced before soon returned. She stood straight and secured the bag over her shoulder. “No…I don’t need it.’ She turned invisible and ran through the streets, one thought repeating in her mind: ‘I am Cassia Zoroark, daughter of Arthus Zoroark and priestess of Arceus. Arceus is with me, no matter how I appear!’

    She ran through the alleyways and climbed up a stone tower near the plaza. At the top, she saw hundreds of Pokemon crowded together below her with dozens of Guild Pokemon keeping them back. Gardner Dusknoir stood in front of the now-destroyed castle that stood in the center of Saunte, and a certain Rhyperior and Feraligatr lay on the ground in front of him, scrambling away from him. Both were badly wounded, unlike Gardner, who remained free of injury.

    Gardner’s fist rumbled with electricity as he approached them, his scarred eye glowing fiercely. “An entire city destroyed by your antics! I should have killed you long ago!”

    Derak Feraligatr came to his feet and backed away, holding his wounded shoulder. “I-I-It ain’t our fault! Nobody listened to us!”

    “Liars!” Gardner puffed into violet gas and surged toward them, a glowing fist within the center of the cloud. Valder and Derak both screeched and shot into the open door of a shack and slammed it shut. Gardner funneled into it and made the entire shack shake, along with making Valder and Derak scream further. It fell still and quiet, just like the remaining population of Saunte.

    The cloud streamed back out and formed into Gardner. He rolled his neck and returned to the plaza. “Now with them taken care of, it’s time to bring this place back to order.” He paced in front of them and held his hands behind his back. “I have obviously grown soft to allow such idiots manage this place, but no longer! I will personally command the Guild here in Saunte and make it worthy of being the new Guild headquarters!”

    “But what about us?” a certain Simisear cried.

    Gardner searched the crowd for him, but to no avail. He held two fingers in front of his eye. “Either you’re with me.” He pinched them together. “Or you’re dead.”

    Amidst the horrified gasps, a red ball of light gathered at the top of the tower. Gardner looked up and his maw dropped. “Arthus!” The Life Sphere shot toward him, threatening to consume him. The Dusknoir rolled to his right and watched the sphere bash through the castle and create a sizable hole through the solid stone.

    All looked up to see a Zoroark standing at the top with a single hand extended. It leapt from the tower onto the roof of another house, then down another, and yet one more, until it finally leapt in front of Gardner and towered over him.

    Gardner’s brow furrowed as he stood level with the Zoroark. “You.”

    She leaned forward and said, “Leave. Now.”

    Gardner reared back his head and laughed, much to Saunte’s confusion. He whirled on Cassia and swatted her away, then crossed his arms and said, “I don’t listen to the brat that scarred me for life!” He pointed at the jagged white scar across his eye and added, “Not to mention Arthus’ traitorous whelp!”

    Saunte instantly murmured about Cassia’s identity, but she ignored them and stood straight, unfazed by Gardner’s blow. “Enough is enough, Gardner! You’ve ruined Pokémon’s lives for too long!”

    Gardner slowly approached her, cracking his knuckles. “What, because I wiped those lying Arceists off the face of the earth? Because I burned all your precious Arceist Tomes?”

    Cassia backed away, her claws glowing red. “Hate only leads to more hate. History repeats itself because Pokemon like you refuse to change.”

    Gardner stiffened. Violet mist surrounded him. “So that’s it…hate.” He quaked as the mist grew larger. “I was imprisoned for over a decade…for snuffing out the children of the ghosts that tortured me. The ghosts that killed my guardians, the ghosts that nearly starved me. I scraped my way out, only for them to try and steal my success.” A pitch-black ball of electricity grew in his palm. “And you expect me to let weaker Pokemon conquer me?” He aimed the sphere at Cassia and spat, “There’s only room for one law: mine!” The sphere shot toward Cassia.

    She ducked under it and ran forward, leaving the sphere to explode on a ruined shop and make it explode, causing Saunte to cry out in fear. She met Gardner head on and slashed across his chest. He melted into mist just as she struck and formed around her head, causing her to cough and wheeze.

    A glowing fist thrust toward her face. She ducked once more and took in breaths of clean air. He dove toward her again, but she rolled across and shot a Life Sphere into the cloud. He screamed and spiraled back into the form, crackling with red electricity. Cassia leapt up to strike him, her eyes glowing red.

    Gardner swung a left hook and clipped Cassia across her jaw, sending her into the roof of a tavern. Gardner hovered toward her and sent another punch toward her head. She twisted out of reach and made Gardner punch into the roof. He swung again with the same result. He finally swung his head forward and forced Cassia to slide farther underneath him. The entire roof collapsed on itself as Cassia leapt off and rolled onto the streets.

    As the dust settled, Gardner erupted from the ruins and bellowed, throwing another Shadow Ball at Cassia. She narrowly dodged it and ran for him again. He threw another and clipped Cassia across her shoulder, causing her to cringe as she leapt forward. Gardner puffed into mist again and allowed Cassia to land right in his noxious body.

    She coughed and wheezed once more, scrambling to escape his grasp. Gardner’s fist appeared once more and slugged Cassia across her face. Another did the same, and another. She fell to the ground and coughed as blood fell from her lip.

    Gardner rematerialized and laughed haggardly, cracking his neck. He stood over Cassia and caused his arm to become enveloped in bright, crackling lightning. “I expected more from Arthus’ pet!” He threw his fist down toward Cassia’s head.

    It passed through her and made her dissipate. Gardner’s eye widened, then narrowed as he searched. “You can’t hide forever, brat.” He kept his fists up, ready to contend with her.

    Claws raked across his back, leaving viscous, black gas. Gardner seethed and whirled around, throwing a series of Shadow Balls behind him. All flew harmlessly into the air.

    Gardner stood still, then held out a hand and belched out a puce fog, filling the entire area. He peered through it and saw a shape crossing through it, sprinting toward him.

    Gardner swept to the left and allowed the shape to pass by him harmlessly. He grabbed its ‘tail’ and yanked it back, causing Cassia to scream and rematerialize. Gardner grabbed her neck and held her high. “Is that really the best you can do?” He threw her into the air and shot a Shadow Ball into her chest, sending her beyond the walls of the city and into the Minute Plains.

    She landed in an explosion of soil. She groaned slowly pushed herself up, barely standing. Gardner barreled closer, but his slow gait allowed Cassia time to think. She looked to the heavens and cried, “Please, Arceus, do something!” A shadow ball spiraled directly toward her.

    She leapt back and began running toward the forest. Gardner followed and continued throwing shadow balls, his scarred eye flaring with each one. She soon disappeared, but Gardner knew that she would inevitably go into the forest.

    He entered and carefully searched around him “I know you’re here, brat.” Wind whistled through the bare branches, and the skies darkened with the thickening clouds.

    A twig snapped. Gardner swung around and threw a shadow ball. It exploded against a tree and consumed it in a black explosion. Leaves rustled, and Gardner continued throwing shadow balls, each one failing to meet their target.

    A blue light blinked into existence. Gardner extended his hand to throw a sphere but froze. His eye widened. “It can’t be.”

    The light drew closer, and it revealed itself to be a Chandelure, moaning with the wind and creaking with every movement. It waved its many flames threateningly, each jetting forward to singe the Dusknoir. Gardner drew away, bumping into a fabric-like wall.

    He swerved around and gasped, discovering that it was a large Banette, its floppy hands thrown into the air. Its zipper mouth opened and let out a mad cackle as it tried to snatch Gardner’s hand.

    Gardner cried out and shot through the branches into the sky. He breathed quickly, his Life rising to a high.

    A sword swung toward his throat.

    Narrowly ducked underneath it and saw it was a Doublade, spiraling through the air with three others, all with their blades drawn. They all screeched a single word: “Liiiiife!”

    Gardner returned below and puffed into gas, scrambling to run away. Other gaseous shapes joined him—a giant cluster of Haunter, all cackling wildly. Other denizens from the Ythereal Swamp followed it, all hunting down the Dusknoir.

    Gardner threw back a shadow ball as he ran, which bashed into a Haunter and made it explode in black light. Two others replaced it and continued to close the gap between them. Their ethereal hands snatched Gardner out of the air. He screamed one final time.

    Cassia oversaw his ordeal from the top of one of Saunte’s watchtowers. She turned away and muttered, “‘So shall your choices haunt you for destroying the lives of others.’” She slowly climbed down, eating the last of the berries she had.

    Back in the plaza, the Guild Pokemon grew uneasy. A Gumshoos’ teeth chattered, a Hitmonlee’s legs quivered, a Skuntank nervously released noxious gas. That final, haunting scream lingered in their minds. Gardner had yet to return, and without his terrifying presence, their confidence waned.

    Cassia suddenly appeared in the center of the plaza, and all turned to face her. Her face was bruised, and her body was scraped, but she was otherwise unharmed. “Gardner is dead.” The Guild Pokemon paled.

    She pointed west. “Go back to the Guild and never come back, or I’ll make you go.”

    They took off into the streets with no hesitation. They all ran into the plains toward the woods and the desert beyond, all wishing they never encountered her.

    The Pokemon of Saunte remained standing where they were, unsure of what to think of Cassia. She took a deep breath, then sat on a pile of stone bricks at the edge of the plaza. She held a hand up to her face and made it flash red, much to Saunte’s surprise. She pulled it away moments later, and her face only had minor scratches, all closing rapidly.

    She looked over to Saunte and smiled. “I can heal anyone who’s hurt.” She held a hand out toward them. “I won’t hurt you.”

    None stirred. Faint mutterings spread throughout the crowd, and Cassia’s smile faded as her fears set in.

    An Eevee emerged from the gathering, limping forward. She kept a foreleg close to her chest as she drew closer to Cassia. The Zoroark saw no fear in the child’s expression but could sense anxiety—especially from the Leafeon at the front of the crowd, who she figured was the Eevee’s mother.

    The Eevee stopped at Cassia’s feet and looked up at her. She held up her injured leg. “Mama says I sprained it. Can you help me?”

    Cassia smiled and gently lifted the Eevee onto her lap. “Yes.” She gently held the Eevee’s leg up and let Life flow from her palm into the injured limb.

    The Eevee stared at the Life in wonder, but soon faced Cassia. “What’s your name?”

    “Cassia.” She could feel the tissue beneath the Eevee’s skin healing.

    The Eevee lowered her ears and turned away. “Mama always said I shouldn’t trust Zoroark.”

    Knowing that they could both be heard, Cassia replied, “Well, what do you think?”

    The Eevee hopped up and exclaimed, “You beat up that mean old Gardner for us! A bad Pokemon wouldn’t do that!” She winced and returned to sitting as Cassia continued to heal. “You even sound nice…not like that Arthus guy I hear about in stories.”

    Cassia finished healing the Eevee’s leg, then leaned in close and said, “There’s good in everyone—especially Arthus.” She waved her off. “Now how about you show your mama?”

    The Eevee stared at her leg in astonishment and flexed it, feeling no pain. She beamed and hopped off Cassia’s lap and to the Leafeon. “Look Mama, the nice Zoroark made my leg better!”

    The Leafeon nuzzled her daughter’s head and laughed. She briefly looked over to Cassia and said, “Thank you.”

    Cassia smiled and nodded. “You’re welcome.”

    Slowly but surely, other Pokemon from the crowd came to Cassia with all manners of injuries—cuts, bruises, broken bones, stomach pains—anything that they thought could be healed by her. And she did, draining her stored life until she only had a small fraction of what she formerly had.

    After the Pokemon of Saunte quieted their talk about their miraculous recovery, Cassia took the Arceist Tome out from her bag and leafed through it. “I have a message from Arceus for you. In Proclamation 21, Arceus tells us that light cannot be seen without darkness, good cannot be known without evil—right cannot be without wrong. There will always be Pokemon who choose the wrong decisions, just as there are those who make the right.” She closed the Tome, smiling as she studied its cover. “Whether we’re as happy as can be, or are in deepest sorrow, Arceus is with us. In this time of trial, Arceus saw your pain. He sent me to stop Gardner, and now that he and the Guild are gone, you are free.” She looked up and saw gracious smiles across everyone’s faces. “If you remember nothing else from me, please know that Arceus is always here. Many have tried to make you forget him, but they are wrong; he is as real as you and me.” She returned the Tome to her bag. “Do you understand?” Murmurs of agreement rung out throughout the crowd, and Cassia bowed her head and smiled.

    Excited whispers and murmurs rose up from the back and traveled to the front as a someone passed through them toward Cassia. She lifted her head to see who it was. A silver-furred Lucario pushed through the crowd, wearing a leather cloak and hat.

    He turned around to a Watchog and said, “Could you tell me what just ha—” He saw Cassia and stopped. His arms fell limp. “…Cassia?”

    Cassia stood up in astonishment. “Matheus?”

    Matheus processed her presence for a moment, then a smile stretched across his face. He held his arms out and exclaimed, “Cassia! You’re alive!”

    Cassia ran up to Matheus and laughed, hugging him close. “I missed you!”

    Matheus returned the hug, wincing as he wheezed, “I can tell. I missed you too.”

    Cassia pulled away and laughed again, then said, “Where did you go to? And where’s—” She stopped, her smile dissipating. Standing behind Matheus, several feet away, was Lawrence Stephenson, holding a bag in either paw.

    The bag dropped from his paws. “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.

    Matheus stared upward, idling toward them. He tapped them both on the shoulder and whispered, “I know this is your sweet moment, but how about you catch up with each other,” he took a glance behind him, “away from prying eyes?” He nodded his head toward the crowd of Saunte Pokémon 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 Gardner.

    At the end, she shakenly said, “I never realized how…conflicted Arthus truly is. He literally has another mind controlling him, and it’s thanks to his own grief that he did all this.” She hugged herself, bowing her head. “I wish there was something I could do to help him.”

    Lawrence leaned closer to her. “There…might still be a chance?”

    “…Maybe” 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 Pokémon 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 her bag.

    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.” Lawrence made as if to stand up.

    Cassia helped him to his feet. “I saw him as we were going away; he was going to the south part of the city.” They walked together through the now-crowded streets, making way to the southern wall.

    At the top of the southern wall, Matheus sat on a large brick, deep in thought. The citizens of Saunte had since begun gathering their belongings from the wreckage, their livelihoods ruined by the Guild—but their hearts were full, thanks to Cassia and Lawrence.

    Lawrence and Cassia came up to him. Matheus turned around, grim. Lawrence said, “Matheus, the storm—”

    “Is getting worse by the minute, I know.” He groaned and said, “As you said, that isn’t any ordinary storm. It heralds Yveltal’s flight across Serenita. Soon, he’ll take the life of every Pokémon here; nothing will stop him.”

    Mortified, Cassia exclaimed, “There must be something we can do! There’s so many good and honest Pokémon living here! It wouldn’t be right for them to die!”

    Matheus looked down at sighed, slapping his paws against his legs. “There’s only one way: The Prison Bottle. Hoopa was supposed to go retrieve it and complete his duty, but now that he’s entirely in the bottle, he can’t.” He rubbed his face and moaned.

    Cassia perked up, then hurriedly reached inside her bag. “Wait, Matheus!” He turned to face her. She held up Hoopa’s prison with the cloth, it’s eyes continuing to shine fiercely.

    Both Matheus and Lawrence staggered back in surprise. The Legend scrambled to his feet and pried the Bottle away from Cassia. “When in Equivos did you get this?” he exclaimed, holding his paw over the cap.

    “I felt compelled to take it back when I was in the Guild, but I didn’t know why,” Cassia explained. “But I guess I know now.”

    Matheus sighed in relief and smiled. “Thanks to you, many will live.” He started down the stairs of the wall, toward the gate of the city.

    Lawrence and Cassia followed, with Lawrence rearing away from the bottle. “Are you sure this is a good plan?”

    Matheus solemnly nodded. “It’s the only one we have.” They exited the city and stopped in the middle of the field.

    Matheus held the cap of the Prison Bottle, and after a moment of hesitation, he held it 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…”

    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. Cassia went to support him, but Lawrence held her 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. Another two hoops followed suit, capturing Lawrence and Cassia 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. “Isn’t this place lethal for non-Legends? You know, the glowing lights?” Cassia asked

    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 Pokémon 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!

    Matheus pointed at Lawrence. “It’s coming from you! What is that infernal noise?”

    Lawrence’s heart skipped a beat. “It couldn’t be!” He scrambled to remove the Pokédex 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.

    ~~~~

    On the southern coast of Serenita, near the islands of Cretea, the winds grew as the clouds advanced to the north. The seas rose and stirred to meet the gathering storm. No sea creatures fought against the tide, for all had gone, to the safety far beyond the borders of Equivos—where there may be none.

    Arthus meditated above a dark circle of sand, gradually feeding the deposit beneath to keep it in existence. All while he did, he thought of those he had lost—first Corrina, then Matheus, Erik, even Cassia. All to the same, uncaring god: Arceus.

    Arthus clutched the Seal, the pulsing light growing brighter with each passing moment. “Soon, Cassia…soon, we’ll be together again.” He swung his head to the left and seethed, “And you won’t be there to stop me. I’ll make sure of it!” He slammed his claws into the sand, and tendrils rose up to drag him into the earth. A beam of red light surged under the seas toward the continent of Deitae, all to complete the Usurper’s final desire.

    As he coursed through the vast network of Life, the small, weak voice in the back of his mind thought of only one thing:

    ‘I have nothing to live for. Let me die so I don’t ruin the lives of everyone living and dead.”
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 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

    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 Pokémon through one in front of him. He carefully avoided the Pokémon 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 who 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 Pokédex. He and Cassia and Matheus stood away from the growing crowd of Pokémon surrounding the Tree of Life.

    “What do you mean ‘a call’?” Matheus asked, his voice growing stronger. The Pokédex continued to beep, waiting for Lawrence to accept the transmission.

    Lawrence pointed at the Pokédex 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 Pokémon like ourselves.” He looked around him, everything coming clear to him. “Those words were never meant for the Pokémon of my world…they were meant for the Pokémon of this one!”

    He stared at the Pokédex 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 Pokémon. “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 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 Pokédex 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 Pokédex. “He knows Arthus best. If anyone’s got a chance to stop him, it’s Matheus.” He turned back to the Pokédex, gripping it tighter. “I just hope we can do our part.”

    Cassia cocked her head, looking over Lawrence’s shoulder. “Why?” The Pokédex 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon…” 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 and ran 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 grin 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon come from Equivos.”

    ~~~~

    Amidst the thundering of the storm, a portion of the coastline emanated red light. Soaking sand erupted into the air, and Arthus was thrown out from the ground. Sand coated his fur as he took deep, desperate breaths. He wearily came to his feet and studied the turmoil around him. He faced the Tree of Life and grinned, then knelt down and held his hand under the sand. He absorbed the rich well of Life the Tree had gathered, so much that he felt fit to burst.

    He stood straight and looked up at the Tree once more. “Soon, this will all be over.”

    “Yes, it all will.”

    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-Pokémon, 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, Pokémon 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 Zoroark.” 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 Pokémon escaping from a giant column of crimson energy spiraling into the sky. It rapidly enveloped the Pokémon 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 Pokémon of Serenita underneath the Tree of Life, the multi-colored leaves continuing to shine bright despite the storm. Lawrence distributed the supply bags from the shed while Cassia lined them up, preparing for the wormhole. 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 Pokémon 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 coming toward him, sopping wet from the rain. Cassia pointed at the end of the line of Pokémon. “We’ve organized everyone and got them ready. Where’s the wormhole?”

    Lawrence glanced at the Pokédex 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.”

    Cassia squinted her eyes, looking up. “Better make it quick. It looks like Yveltal is finished.”

    The Legend flew over their heads in a rush of wind, causing many of the other Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon, 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.

    Lawrence’s Pokédex 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, nodding his head. He ran to the front of the line of Pokémon, 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 Pokédex 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 Pokédex 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 Pokémon.

    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 hastily joined Lawrence at the foot of the wormhole, blocking it from the onslaught of Pokémon. Lawrence held out his arms and exclaimed, “One at a time!” The Pokemon stopped, looking over Lawrence’s shoulder uneasily.

    Once they fell still, Lawrence stepped away from the portal and gestured to it. “I don’t know what will happen if more than one goes through, so just…keep it reasonable.” He retracted his arm. “And 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, “I have to go help Matheus.”

    “What?” Cassia exclaimed. “But he’s—”

    “Probably in trouble with Arthus!” He jumped across the line of Pokémon 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.

    Cassia remained behind, but inwardly, she fought between going with him and maintaining her position. ‘I can save him…I can save Arthus.’ Reluctantly, she turned away toward the fleeing Pokemon of Equivos. ‘But I must make sure they are all safe.’ She bowed her head and held her claws together. ‘Oh Arceus…save Lawrence…save Matheus.’ She opened her eyes.

    ‘Save my father.’

    ~~~~

    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 Pokémon. 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 Pokémon!” 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 Pokémon, ranging from Luxray to Machamp, Arcanine to Pangoro—all powerful Pokémon, 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 Pokémon through!” The scientist plinked away at a keyboard, shouting orders to his associates. The wormhole soon calmed, allowing more Pokémon 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.

    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’ was blown back, the soil churning behind his paws. Arthus ran forward and roared, swinging the Seal toward him once more. Matheus struck the Zoroark’s arm and punched him in the stomach, causing him to double over and breathe heavily.

    Matheus cautiously stepped away, keeping his arms up. “Not as long as the Tree stands.”

    Arthus suddenly sprung forward and slashed Matheus’ thigh. He screamed and fell to one knee, clutching the bleeding leg. Arthus stood and kicked him to the ground, a wide grin plastered across his face.

    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 them, 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, favoring his uninjured limb. “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—”

    They both stopped as Arthus ran around them and toward the clearing, the Seal illuminating the path.

    Matheus pulled away from Lawrence and chased Arthus, his injured leg severely slowing his gait. “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 Pokémon 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. “It’s thanks to you that Cassia died!” He raised a claw, aiming it at Lawrence’s heart.

    “Father!”

    Arthus stopped inches away from the killing blow. His head snapped up to see Cassia standing at the fringe of the woods and the clearing, her drenched fur billowing in the growing gale.

    He stood straight, allowing Lawrence to scramble back to his feet and to Cassia. Arthus took a single step forward. “You’re alive…I thought you died…when you travelled through the Life.”

    Thunder boomed across the sky. Cassia lowered her gaze and said, “Let me talk to my father. Now.”

    Lawrence leaned close and hissed, “What are you doing? He nearly killed me!”

    Arthus’ head jerked to the left, then to the right. He seethed and pulled at his mane. “No, no, no! You’re ruining everything!” He jerked back to the left. “Cassia! I’m here!”

    Cassia held on to Arthus’ hands. “Fight him! Fight the shadow! Come back!”

    Lawrence stepped back, horrified. “What is wrong with him?”

    Arthus’ head snapped to the right, then he grabbed Cassia’s hands and bellowed, “What have you done?” He snapped to the left and pushed her away, falling to the ground. “It’s too late for me! You have to go, now!”

    Cassia returned to him and tried to help him back to his feet. “No! It’s not too late! You can still come back!”

    Arthus snapped back to the left and snarled, then clawed Cassia’s arm. She grunted and backed away, holding the injured limb.

    Lawrence pulled her away and held her close. “What is he doing?”

    Arthus spasmed a moment longer, then fell still. Cassia wheezed a sigh of relief. “Arthus—the real Arthus—is coming back.”

    Lawrence dwelled on this, but soon looked back to the clearing. “Has everyone made it out?”

    “Yes, everyone. I was going to run out to you and—” Her eyes widened. She held onto Lawrence’s arm. “Where’s Matheus?”

    Arthus gasped and sat upright, his eyes closed as he breathed. Cassia broke away from Lawrence and sat next to him. Lawrence reluctantly followed as Arthus held his head.

    Cassia sat close and said, “Dad…are you alright?”

    He sat still. The rains pelted their fur. The Legends marched closer. The ground shook.

    Arthus slowly opened his eyes. “Yes…” They opened wide, revealing their cold, malevolent nature. He pushed Cassia and Lawrence away and stood straight. “He’s dead!” He reared on Cassia and snarled, “That weak, idiotic fool won’t stop me anymore!

    Cassia grabbed onto his arm and cried, “No! No, he isn’t gone! He can’t be!”

    Lawrence came to his feet and surged Aura into his paws. Arthus whirled around and threw Cassia into Lawrence, sending them both sprawling. He faced the Tree of Life and crouched for one final sprint.

    “Arthus!”

    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! I’ll keep him down!”

    Lawrence and Cassia came to their feet, distressed. “We’re not leaving without you!” Lawrence cried. Cassia stood in shock at what Arthus had become.

    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 and Zoroark. “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. “We can’t leave you to die.”

    “Father…” Cassia whimpered, staring at the savage face of Arthus’ shadow.

    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 and took Cassia with him, leaving him to restrain Arthus despite the coming death. She reached back toward them and screamed, “Father!”

    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. The wind and rain blinded Lawrence as he charged toward it, the warping, twisted light his only guide. Cassia looked up at the sky 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 Cassia into Lawrence, 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. “Matheus…Arthus…they’re…they’re gone.”

    Lawrence swallowed, his throat tightening. He made a shuddering sigh, lowering his head. “I…I wanted to save them…but…but Matheus”

    Cassia set a hand against his face, forcing a smile. “It—it was his choice.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “He was always reckless…and Arthus.” She fell into Lawrence’s shoulder and sobbed. Together, they mourned for the loss of their dear friend, and Cassia’s lost ancestor, in the vast emptiness of white.

    “Do not sorrow, my children.”

    They both looked up and turned to witness a marvelous sight. A magnificent Pokémon 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 Pokémon he was?”

    “He was such a good Pokémon…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 glared at them. “Do not ask his fate. He has defied me in many ways, 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon. 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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon. 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: Oct 16, 2018
  20. lucarioknight56

    lucarioknight56 Recorder of Tales

    Act 5: The Aftermath
    Chapter 27: Turning


    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, unkempt brown mess. His elation rose as it fell from his fingers, 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 an Ambipom as he threw punches everywhere, but the Mightyena forced him into a cage with an infant Aipom. His shouts were drowned out by the cries of the more Pokemon were forced into cages, all to be carried away.

    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. “That Ambipom was making things difficult…along with some others.” 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.

    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. ‘I was right that this world’s Pokemon weren’t supposed to be treated like people, but the Arcean Texts never said that; it was meant to make way for the Equivosians. Everyone else never realized that—only I made 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, hot shower in the stall. But he felt no peace.

    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 bare 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 traffic 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, broad-brimmed 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, labeled, ‘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 Lonny Ambipom pressed up against the ceiling of his own. His little Aipom lay nestled in his arms, sleeping uneasily.

    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. "And here I thought we’d be in paradise.” He spat in the corner. “And we’ve got no idea where Lawrence is.” He sighed again, looking down at his son. “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. “Doctor 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 labeled ‘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 labeled as ‘Classroom’. A door labeled ‘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 labeled ‘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. ‘I could go back. But what can I do? I don’t know how to break in, and even if I did pull everyone out, where would they go? Moving two thousand Pokemon out of sight is nearly impossible.’ He shrugged and stepped forward. ‘Until I figure it out, might as well talk to her. He 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: Oct 16, 2018

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