Chapter 30: Exodus
Down at the docks, Erica sat on her suitcase, tapping her feet against its side. She bundled her coat tightly around her, the breeze growing stronger on the shore. The five docks remained free of ships, with only the Wingull perched underneath them any indication of activity.
She coughed, covering her nose. “I hate staying out here like this.” She looked out to sea briefly, finding nothing. “When is that ship supposed to be here? I’ve been waiting for hours!” She sighed, then muttered, “Lawrence better not have been pranking me…”
Erica perked up her head; a low rush echoed from beyond the harbor. From the right, a white prow jutted out from behind the buildings lining the coast. A massive white ship with three decks along its sides churned the water, edging forward as the prow tipped toward the harbor.
Erica stood up, eyes wide and jaw dropped. The liner stopped along the center dock, its engine quieting and crew rushing. Several men sent out a gangplank, and a burly man wearing a black trenchcoat strode down, a colorful Chatot sitting on his shoulder.
He continued up the dock and stopped in front of Erica, his matted, grey beard and grimy exterior more visible. He tipped his cap and said, “Good evening, young lass! Would you happen to know where a man named Lawrence Stephenson is?”
Erica shook herself briefly, regaining her composure. “Y-Yes, but he’s not here right now; he’s getting the rest of the…passengers.” She took a step back, eyeing the staring Chatot. “And you are?”
“Rawk! Debbie talks, Debbie talks!” the Chatot squawked, flapping its wings.
Sheffield chuckled, stroking the Chatot’s note-shaped head. “Aye, that’s her name alright. As for mine, call me Captain Sheffield. I was called by Lawrence to take him to Sinnoh, and he said for me to bring an ocean liner of all things!” He laughed heartily, craning back his head. “I thought he was kidding, but when he explained that there were more coming with him, I went ahead and got one for him.” He blew out his breath, scratching his beard blankly. “Although, it wasn’t easy. Had a few friends who were able to snag one for me, but I won’t be able to use it for long—upcoming cruise and all that. I’ll have to leave tonight if I expect to make it all the way to Sunyshore.”
“Lawrence said I could come along too,” Erica added, grabbing her suitcase.
Sheffield studied her for a moment, then nodded. “Won’t deny anyone the pleasure of riding a ship such as this—especially if they’re a friend of Lawrence.” He waved over to the men walking about, carrying crates and other ship materials. “My crew will treat you well, no need to worry about that. Go on aboard and choose a room, and we’ll wait for Lawrence together.”
“Thank you very much, sir.” Erica curtsied as she took her suitcase and rolled it toward the deck, still finding it difficult to believe that Lawrence indeed managed to hire an ocean liner.
She stopped at the foot of the gangplank, then turned back to Sheffield, who followed some distance away. “Um…just so you know, he told me all about this today, so if I seem a bit skeptical…”
Sheffield nodded sagely, stroking Debbie’s feathers once more. “You have every right to be. I mean, look at me, some old grimy man inviting one such as you aboard!” He chuckled momentarily, then said, “Seriously though, you can trust me. If I do something wrong, feel free to walk off whenever you please.” He grinned, stroking his beard. “Until we cast off, of course, but Lawrence and whoever he’s bringing with him ought to be fine.”
“He…he hasn’t told you who he’s bringing?” Erica asked dubiously.
“Said it was on a need-to-know basis. Honestly, I’d rather know, but I guess we’ll find out the crowd when he gets here.” Sheffield stepped around Erica and marched back onto his ship. “Now come on aboard! Lawrence surely won’t take long!”
Erica paused, then slowly advanced onto the gangplank. Midway up, she looked back at the Valence Tech building, the glowing ‘V’ eerie in the cloudy night sky.
“I sure hope so…”
At the top floor of Facility D, Lawrence gaped at the Haxorus that towered over him. Despite the unlit atmosphere, its scales seemed to gleam—yet its eyes were soulless, just like every Pokemon he had seen in this world. And it could speak.
Lawrence stepped forward, away from the crater behind him. “How…how can it do that? How?” He kept a paw close to the Master Ball around his belt, where he had stored a burned Cassia.
Hanson stood behind the Haxorus, looking around it to study Lawrence’s expression. “Astounding, isn’t it? After forty years of being an inventor, I’ve finally found the means to grant speech to Pokemon.” He smiled, looking up at the Haxorus. “Isn’t that right, Razor?”
“Yes, Master,” the Haxorus replied, scraping its feet against the concrete floor, screeching and sending sparks.
Hanson sighed, pacing around Razor and closer to Lawrence. “Unfortunately, the process still needs adjustments. He has some personality, but certainly nothing like the Equivosians.”
“How did you do this?” Lawrence roared. “You said you couldn’t! You said you needed a Pokemon from Equivos! All other ways failed!” He stamped his foot and bared his teeth. “You put all of them through that for a lie?”
Hanson pointed at Razor and wagged his finger. “Careful, Lawrence. He may be a bit lacking in intellect, but he makes up for it in strength. And I’d rather not end this moment with his way of doing things.” Razor snorted, the blades around his mouth cleaving in the air.
Lawrence seethed, crossing his arms and stepping aside. “Why?”
Hanson held his hands up as he continued toward Lawrence. “I’ll admit, I should have been more open with you. You deserve an explanation—as much as it pains me to say, considering how much trouble you’ve given me.” He pulled the ruby-embedded Pokeball from his belt, tossing it in the air and giving the still Razor a glance. “Would you mind if I recalled poor Bruiser? Razor and I would appreciate it.”
Lawrence did nothing at first, then stepped further away, allowing Hanson to stand at the edge of the enormous hole in the floor and point the ball at the Emboar buried beneath the rock, unconscious. He tapped the white button on the ball’s underside, causing a red stream of light to come from the main button and strike the Emboar. The Emboar turned into a ball of light, then streamed back into the ball.
Hanson shrunk the ball and clipped back into his belt, nodding his head toward Lawrence. “It is good to see a gentleman in battle.” Now mere feet from Lawrence, the Lucario could see the president’s eye studying him, whizzing left and right, surely thinking of the sheer conundrum that was him.
Almost as soon as he came, Hanson returned to Razor, his pace slowing as the Haxorus drew nearer. “It started a year after the Pokedex 2.0 released. I was searching for the next big leap in communication, one that could dwarf even the Pokedex. I won’t bore you with the details, but I eventually concluded that we had to make a product to allow Pokemon to speak—a dream I’ve had ever since I failed the Pokemon league as a young man.”
Hanson rested a hand against Razor, reaching his side. “By the way, don’t think of going anywhere while I talk; Razor will strike you down faster than you can say ‘ouch’.” Lawrence glanced at the trashcan in the corner, knowing already that he couldn’t afford to do that.
Hanson continued, “I had a series of basements built with the main Valence building for storage and lab purposes, but I had yet to use them. I ended up converting them into the research facility we call Facility D—the ‘D’ representing ‘discovery’. I set my scientists to work on developing a machine that could translate speech.” He frowned. “That came to nothing. Against my better judgement, I directed Vaun and the other scientists to experiment with Pokemon to devise a means. Nothing worked.
“This continued for around two years, and I was running short on my patience—until I noticed an article. It advertised that the Aether Foundation was selling its dimensional technology to help offset the costs of allowing the Ultra Beasts to ravage their region. I went ahead and bought it, thinking I could use it to further my project—even if I had no idea how.”
“What does this have to do with the Haxorus?” Lawrence seethed, eyeing the trash container.
Hanson held up a finger. “Patience.” He lowered it, then said, “After training my employees on how to use the technology, we set about searching for different dimensions with it. We found many worlds while the generator was still being built, and several contained the known Ultra Beasts. Nothing held a clear view, mind you, but with the glimpses we had of these worlds, we had a good idea of what it had.
“Several months after I acquired the technology, we found a lush dimension, full of Pokemon—at least, from what we could tell from our overhead views. By that time, the generator had finished construction, and so we decided to test it in this dimension.” He grimaced, standing away from Razor. “It worked well—so well that we accidentally brought something here.”
Lawrence’s eyes widened. “You mean…you took a Pokemon? From Equivos?”
“Yes…but it was completely accidental. We never meant for it to happen.” He blew out his breath and said, “The wormhole was close enough to the ground to drag in a Marill and bring her to us. When she came, we were all shocked, and I sent for medical help—she was covered in wounds of all sorts.”
“Where is she now?” Lawrence asked, suddenly worried.
Hanson lowered his head. “She died soon after, unfortunately. But before they did, we discovered she could speak. She said, ‘What in Equivos is this place?’ Stunned, I asked if she had a name. In her last breaths, she said, “I…Draena Marill.”
Lawrence grit his teeth. “So that’s how you got that file…”
“Yes. We later sent satellites into Equivos’ atmosphere, as we wanted to see the terrain. We didn’t want to try taking another Pokemon until we could guarantee it would be safe.” Hanson held a hand against his head. “The Marill’s death was tragic…but not entirely in vain.”
Lawrence narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”
Hanson paced next to Razor, folding his hands behind his back. “When I learned that the Equivos Pokemon could speak, I had my scientists investigate the Marill’s DNA. Upon comparing it with a standard Marill’s DNA, it turned out that there was another set of genes embedded there, likely to allow speech—but they were severely damaged from the radiation in the wormhole. It was determined that the genes could be copied to other Pokemon if they were intact, provided that we develop new technology and obtain another subject.
“So you made something to copy the genes…” Lawrence suggested.
Hanson smiled. “Yes. Up until we hired you to capture the Pokemon, I had the facility developing the machine and tweaking the wormhole, so that we can be ready to test it.” He gestured to Razor. “When you came with the Equivosians, I had one of them used for the first extraction—and the recipient was Razor. It was a success, if at the cost of the Bibarel’s health. With time, the machine can be perfected, so that it won’t be near as stressful or painful for the Pokemon involved.”
Razor huffed, scratching the back of his neck. Hanson sighed and looked away. “Although, I can’t say I am entirely pleased. He is now able to speak, yes, but he lacks a certain…charm.” He shrugged. “Something that can be fixed, I’m sure.”
“How would that even work? Everyone will see the Pokemon and not want to use it!” Lawrence exclaimed, his anger rising.
“Yes, the approach I mentioned before wouldn’t work. Instead, I’d have customers send in their Pokemon for a few days, and when they get them back, they will be able to speak just like you or myself,” Hanson said. He stepped back, returning to his position from the previous battle. “This is where I stop my little tangent and ask you nicely: stand down, or I’ll have Razor make you.” He leered at Lawrence and said, “And this time, the language barrier won’t prevent me from succeeding.”
Lawrence remained still. Wires fizzed, and fans whirred, muting anything else in the background. His tail hung low, and he kept himself in a combat-ready stance. “You were never planning on giving them a better place to live, were you? You just wanted to keep them down here, giving all your Pokemon something unnatural to them.”
“Unnatural?” Hanson asked. He turned to Razor. “Do you think having speech is unnatural?”
“No, Master. My mind is clear; I understand what you are saying, and I remember my life more clearly than before.” the Haxorus said in a neutral tone.
Hanson stared for a moment. “Hmm…” He rubbed his chin. “As I’ve said before, there isn’t the same…spark, like the Equivosian Pokemon have. It’s as if there’s something missing, something that needs to be present.” He shrugged. “It matters little. Given enough time, the process can be perfected, and that spark will come.”
Lawrence crouched, holding his paws up defensively. “I won’t let that happen. They need to live their own life, not satisfy yours.”
Hanson sighed, shaking his head. “And here I thought you were a reasonable man—or Pokemon, I should say. It is a shame to have to do this to one of my former employees.” He pointed at Lawrence and called out, “Razor, use Dragon Pulse!”
“Understood. I will destroy this opponent!” Razor reared back as purple light grew in his mouth, gathering into a ball of violet flame.
Lawrence ran forward, aura coating his paws. Razor fired the Dragon Pulse, rocketing toward Lawrence. He deftly leapt to the right, narrowly dodging the beam. He gathered an Aura Sphere and shot it at Razor, striking across his chest.
The Haxorus angled back slightly but was otherwise unharmed. His eyes suddenly brightened. “Bluepaws…are no match for me!” he bellowed, stomping forward and roaring. He swung his tail powerfully, meeting with Lawrence’s chest and throwing him to a wall.
Lawrence shakily pushed himself up from the floor, groaning. Razor continued stomping toward him, holding his head high as his blades glowed white. Lawrence cringed and ducked under him, the Haxorus head clipping just above his own.
Lawrence clambered onto Razor’s leg and onto his back, struggling to hold on to his scales. Razor attempted to reach back and strike him with his tusks and claws. Lawrence held on, latching onto his neck. He wrapped his legs around him and punched repeatedly at his head, creating dents in his hardened armor.
“Use your tail to bat him off!” Hanson ordered, his fists tight.
“Yes!” Razor’s tail swung toward his own head, meeting with Lawrence’s back. Lawrence wheezed as his chest was crushed between back and tail. Razor swung his tail again, and Lawrence fell of his side, holding his side.
The Haxorus turned around and held his head high, readying to strike. “With Master’s mind, I cannot lose!” Lawrence held his paws out, wincing. Razor swung, and a rod of pure blue light appeared between Lawrence’s paws, blocking the tusks just before they could strike.
As Razor continued pushing forward, they locked eyes, each trying to overpower the other. Razor huffed and seethed, “You cannot win. Master wishes others to have my gift. I no longer have to remain untested.” The Lucario’s eyes drifted to the corner, where the trash container was. The corner stood empty.
Lawrence smirked, returning his gaze to Razor. “Thanks for the distraction,” he wheezed. He shouted and pushed the Haxorus’ head away, causing him to step back awkwardly to regain balance. Lawrence jabbed the pole into the Haxorus’ chest, pushing him onto his back with a slam.
Hanson eyes whizzed left and right as Lawrence advanced, his Haxorus rolling back onto his feet. He looked to the left and froze. The container was gone—and all the Pokemon inside.
His breathing quickened. “Where are they?” he muttered. He focused on Lawrence and bellowed, “Where are they?”
Lawrence beat away Razor’s claws with his pole, taking glances back at Hanson. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Hanson gripped Razor’s Pokeball so tight his knuckles turned white. “He couldn’t have taken them himself…unless…” He narrowed his eyes and shouted, “Grab the Master Ball on Lawrence’s belt!”
“Understood!” Razor called, reaching toward Lawrence’s waist. The Lucario leapt out of the way and cracked his pole across the Haxorus’ head, receiving a guttural roar.
Hanson rushed to the warehouse door, searching suspiciously. “You won’t get away with them that easily...”
In the midst of their traded blows, Razor spun around and beat his tail across Lawrence, throwing him to the ground and dissipating his pole. Lawrence attempted to push himself up but was pinned to the ground by the Haxorus’ foot, which narrowly avoided his belt.
Razor reached down and took the Master Ball, then threw it toward Hanson. “As requested, Master.”
Hanson deftly caught the ball and nodded to Razor. “Well done. Now I can confirm my suspicions.” He enlarged the ball and threw it to the ground in front of him. It bounced upward with no reaction.
Hanson scooped up the ball and yelled, “I knew it! You never caught that Zoroark! You just had her make it look like you did.” He eyed the walls. “She’s still lurking around here, and she’s got the Pokemon with her as well! Well, your little plan isn’t going to work!” He tossed the ball in his hand, removing his other from Razor’s Pokeball. “I can just capture her—or you even.” He stared, considering it as Razor kept Lawrence on the ground, nearly pressing him to death.
Hanson tossed the ball again and caught it at its peak. “Yes, far simpler. Zoroark are tricky, but they can hardly be considered strong fighters. Razor can keep her at bay quite easily. Isn’t that right?”
Razor looked over to Hanson. “Yes. Shinefurs are only tricksters.”
Hanson sighed, carefully walking toward Lawrence. “I really have to have your personality worked on, Razor. It isn’t at all like talking with a person.”
Lawrence forced a laugh, holding his palms away from Razor’s leg. “Yeah…a world full of Pokemon like him…a dream come true.”
Hanson stopped, frowning. “You can still change your mind, you know. Just give me the Pokemon, and—”
“And what? Expect to be imprisoned for the rest of my life? Like everyone else?” Lawrence wheezed. “Not gonna happen. Ever.” He jabbed the spike on the back of his paws into Razor’s foot, driving them deep.
Razor screeched and stepped back, stepping back toward the hole in the floor. Lawrence weakly pushed himself up and punched Razor’s chest, pushing him back further.
Hanson’s eyes widened. “No, Razor! Fight back! Fight back!” He reared back the Master Ball, aiming toward Lawrence.
Razor attempted to gain footing, swinging his arms to counter Lawrence’s blows. “You will pay!” The Lucario dodged them, continuing to push the Haxorus toward the hole.
Hanson’s brow beaded with sweat. “This can’t be happening…” He reached for Razor’s Pokeball. “I can recall him and send him away from—”
He groped empty space, then looked down. The gilded Pokeball was gone.
The Master Ball was knocked from his hand, suddenly floating away. A Zoroark appeared and ran away from him, her back missing patches of fur and revealing raw, red skin.
Hanson looked down at his hand, then back at Razor. “Don’t fail me, Razor! We can’t lose, not again!” he bellowed, running awkwardly toward Cassia.
The Haxorus—now perched at the edge of the hole, suddenly punched Lawrence across his jaw, knocking him to the floor. His mouth glowed violet once more, preparing to strike Lawrence with another Dragon Pulse.
He suddenly glowed red, then shrunk into a sphere of light. He returned to the Pokeball in Cassia’s outstretched claws, which hung over the edge of the pit. She dropped it.
Hanson fell to the edge of the pit and reached out to the falling ball, his finger grazing its surface. “No!” It clattered against the rubble below, useless to its owner.
Hanson seethed, holding his hand in the air. “That’s…that’s…” He leered at Cassia and hissed, “Conniving, deceitful, savage—”
Cassia held her claws underneath his chin, cutting him short. “You just described yourself.” She studied the Master Ball, then dropped it into the pit as well. “You say you want the best for the world, but you’re willing to do the worst to obtain it.” She removed her claws, then set them against her bag. “If it wasn’t for me, you would have made the worst mistake in your life.”
“If it wasn’t for you, every trainer in the world would have exactly what they wanted!” Hanson roared, standing up. “I devoted my life to creating communication between Pokemon and humans, and you are taking away the only way to that!” He jabbed a finger at Lawrence, who now stood straight with his arms crossed. “And you! You betrayed my company, leaving it for Pokemon! You left me for pets!”
“They are not pets. You know it,” Lawrence replied. He paced around the pit and grabbed Hanson’s collar, bringing his eyes close to his. “I’m warning you now: don’t try to find us. I’m taking them somewhere far away, somewhere where they can be safe from men like you.” His other paw glowed blue. “I’ll make you pay if you do.” He released Hanson’s collar, then looked over to Cassia. “I’m sick of this place. Let’s get out of here.” He walked away from Hanson, leaving the shaken, defeated man.
He and Cassia stepped in front of the warehouse door, where the trash container materialized. He leaned over to Cassia’s ear and whispered, “Good thing you had those Rawst berries.” He held an aura sphere in his paws and sent it straight through the warehouse door, punching a sizable hole inside it. They rolled the container out into the cold air of Castelia, hastening their pace to the dock.
As the can clattered away, Hanson quaked, staring at the hole. “All that money…all that time…wasted…” He balled his fists, continuing to stare. “Mark my words, Lawrence Stephenson, I will find you and take my Pokemon back. Project Babel will continue, no matter what it takes!”
On Sheffield’s ship, he and Erica stood on the railing, looking out across Castelia. Debbie the Chatot flew overhead, occasionally squawking as the crew paced across the decks.
“When do you think he’ll be here?” Erica asked.
“Not got a clue. Ought to get here soon though; I’m just loaning this beauty till she sets sail for some fancy cruise,” Sheffield replied. He pulled at his collar, coughing slightly. “Yeah, I had to pull a few punches to get the guy to lend it to me. Good thing he trusted me with it—for a little while at least.” He squinted, gripping the guiderail. “Oi, is that Lawrence coming?”
Erica squinted as well, noticing a large, clattering shape approaching from the darkness. They grew closer, and a bruised and battered man came into view, pushing a trash container alongside an equally beaten Zoroark.
Sheffield waved his hands and bellowed, “Ahoy, Lawrence! High time you showed up! I was about to set sail without you!”
“Get ready to leave, now!” he cried, carefully wheeling the container down the steps to the dock.
Sheffield nodded and stomped away, shouting. “Oi, you heard the man! Get this ship ready for leavin’!” As his crew shouted orders and prepared to leave, he turned back and cocked his head curiously. “Erica here said you’d be bringin’ a bunch of people with ya or somethin. Where are they?”
Lawrence and the Zoroark wheeled the container up the gangplank, heading toward Sheffield and Erica. “Just go!” Lawrence said as he stopped in front of him, the container screeching to a halt.
Sheffield stepped around them and tipped his cap off to the Zoroark. “Pretty Pokemon you have there, Lawrence. I wasn’t aware you had one.”
“Thank you,” she replied, smiling.
Sheffield’s jaw dropped. “Did…did she just—”
“I’ll explain later!” Lawrence hastily said, pushing Sheffield toward the stairs. He looked back to the Zoroark and said, “Erica, could you help Cassia get the Pokemon below deck?”
Erica, equally stunned, nodded slowly as Lawrence ascended the stairs with a stricken Sheffield. She turned to Cassia, who gripped the trashcan and adjusted the bag over her shoulder.
The Zoroark looked over to the stairs, then leaned over Erica. “Erica, right?”
Erica blinked, then shook herself and said, “Y-Yes.”
Cassia held out her claws, beaming. “Cassia Zoroark. It’s nice to see a friendly face around here for once.”
Erica accepted her hand dumbly, shaking it. “Nice to meet you too.” She fiddled with a length of hair and said, “When Lawrence said there were Pokemon who could talk, I didn’t believe him. But now…”
“Everyone else is in here.” Cassia opened the trash can lid, revealing the thousands of Master Balls inside.
Erica’s eyes widened. “T-That’s a lot.”
“I know, and they’re sure to want out,” Cassia said, closing the lid. “Can you take me down to the…hold, was it?”
Erica swallowed, the nodded her head and said, “Yeah, sure. Had the tour and everything.” She pointed down the deck with a quivering finger. “Just head on that way and go to the big door. Can’t miss it.”
Cassia began pushing the trash can, then came next to Erica and said, “Could you, um…help me, a bit later?”
Erica eyed her curiously. “With what?”
“You never told me you had Pokemon that could talk!” Sheffield blasted, storming up the stairs and past sailors rushing back and forth.
Lawrence struggled to keep up, feeling uneasy as it was. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but I was sort of pressed for time. Plus, you wouldn’t have believed me anyway.”
Sheffield threw open the door to the navigation room, then pointed Lawrence. “Darn right, I wouldn’t. Till now.” He crossed around the table covered in maps and around various navigation systems to the single wheel at the front, with a full top-down view of the ship and the ocean beyond. “You better tell me what you’ve been doing for the past month!” He adjusted some controls, and the ship lurched backward.
Lawrence stumbled to a seat as Sheffield remained as still as a plank. He sighed and zipped up his jacket. “It’s a long story…”
Bright, orange light flooded the sky, brightening for a brand-new day. The ocean remained still, the waves barely coming across. Wingull cawed above, flying over the sea in search of food. Goldeen and Wishiwashi swam beneath the surface, cutting between the seaweed and rocks. Kingler and Krabby bubbled on the sandy seafloor, skittering past Mareanie and other deep sea Pokemon.
A triple-decked liner cleaved through the ocean, leaving behind the distant coast of Unova. Its pristine white reflected the sun’s rays, meshing with the dark windows of the numerous suites. Occasional footsteps clattered against the salt-covered deck, mostly quiet except for the thrumming motor in its heart. Trolleys laden with food wheeled to the various doors on the decks, all being pushed be Sheffield’s crew. They silently entered each room and visited the Pokemon inside, offering them refreshment on their long voyage to Sinnoh.
Lawrence sat on the deck at the prow of the ship, breathing deeply. His brown hair was neatly swept to the side, and his face sported several bandages. He was unbothered by the smell of the sea and the swaying of the ship—comforted by the fact he was returning home.
Boots clapped across the deck behind him, and Sheffield appeared, holding two glasses of dark liquid in his hands. He chuckled, sitting alongside Lawrence and setting the glasses between them. “You tell some tall tales, Lawrence, and I like that. A whole tribe of talking Pokemon, in this very ship. Can’t say I saw it coming.” He pointed at the glass closest to Lawrence. “Want one?”
Lawrence shook his head. “I don’t drink.”
Sheffield shrugged, taking them both for himself. “More for me then.” He took a swig from one and sighed contentedly, then looked over to Lawrence. “You told me where you’ve been. Now where are you heading? You brought nothing except those Pokemon from ‘Equivos’—you didn’t even bring an extra shirt.”
“I didn’t have all that much in my apartment, so I didn’t bother packing; I have more clothes waiting for me at my parent’s house.” He leaned his arms against the floor and continued, “I’ll just head over to Solaceon town and bring everyone with me. I plan on making a home for them in the Mount Coronet reserve. There’s plenty of space there, and as long as we lay low, the rangers won’t be any trouble.”
“And how do you plan on doing that? I doubt you’ll be able to just hide in the bushes with that crowd you’ve got, and you certainly can’t build a few houses.”
“Funny thing; there’s this cave system I found one day that’s connected to the range. With enough money, I can convert it to a colony of sorts. Rig it up with lighting, buildings, all sorts of things.”
Sheffield chuckled, taking another drink. “While clever, it ain’t cheap, and in case you weren’t aware, you’re out of a job.”
Lawrence smiled, sitting straight. “I’ll be fine for a while. Turned out that Hanson paid me soon after I came back. I just transferred it to a separate account, so he couldn’t take it back.”
Sheffield laughed again, patting Lawrence on the back. “Well played and serves ole Hanson right.” He leaned over and said, “How much did he give you?”
Lawrence came closer and whispered, “Five-hundred grand.”
Sheffield gawked, leaning away. “You can’t be serious.”’
“I’m serious. He said he was giving me a bonus for me going to Equivos, but I never thought it’d be that much.” Lawrence leaned back again, his smile fading. “You know…Hanson isn’t that bad of a person. He did some bad things, but he was always trying to do the right thing.” He sighed. “But that doesn’t mean I can just let him do what he likes.”
They remained silent for a moment, then Sheffield raised his glasses and said, “Well…I’ll be headin’ back up to the wheel. Feel free to come up and have a chat when you get the chance.” He plodded away, with Debbie flapping down and landing on shoulder with a squawk.
Soon after, soft footsteps echoed behind Lawrence. He looked behind him and saw Erica, wearing a light blue shirt with a white skirt, with a Pokeball clipped to the belt. Her red hair was bundled together and lay across her shoulder.
She sat on her knees, looking out to the sky. “Thanks.”
Lawrence cocked his head. “For what?”
“For letting me come. I’ve been wanting to go home for years now, but I could never pull together the money to do it. Now I can see my family in person again.” She smiled, nodding toward the suites. “Plus, there’s also your ‘company’.”
“You like them?”
“Of course I do! They’re all wonderful Pokemon, all with their own stories and interests! And they all believe in Arceus too!” She huffed, tapping her fingers against her knee. “Honestly, I wish I had a people like them in my church.” She stared for a moment, then asked, “I asked a bunch of them about you, and they all said you were a great Lucario, even greater than some other one named Matheus. Why’s that?”
Lawrence straightened, smiling sheepishly. “T-They really said that?”
“Why would I lie about something like that?”
He blew out his breath, then held out his wrist and pulled back his sleeve, revealing the mark of Arceus. “I can turn into a Lucario by holding this symbol down.”
Erica gawked at it, then closed her eyes and shook her head, backing away. “One crazy thing after another…” She looked around for a moment, then said, “I’ll…I’ll be going down to see if Cassia’s doing better.” She paused, then added, “I’m surprised she grew her fur back so fast with that red light.” She walked away, leaving Lawrence alone once more.
He remained for several minutes, until feet padded up from the same direction Erica left. Without looking back, Lawrence said, “How’s Cassia doing?”
“I’m doing just fine.”
Caught by surprise, Lawrence looked behind him and froze. A pale-skinned woman stood with bare feet, wearing a simple white dress and a golden brooch in the shape of the arc of Arceus. Her hair was a dark, pure red, with black streaks scattered throughout it. She smiled beautifully, complementing her warm, blue eyes.
Lawrence stood up, studying her eyes. “…Cassia?”
She held up her wrist, revealing a symbol exactly like Lawrence’s. “Looks like we’re joined together after all. Just like he said.” She stepped forward unsteadily, stumbling. Lawrence caught her, and she laughed uneasily, looking down at her fingers. “I’ll have to get used to having hands like this.” She stood straight and rubbed the skin on her arm. “And it’s so strange not having fur.”
Lawrence remained still, considering his own hand. “Similar sort of thing with me—except I had to deal with a tail”
Cassia laughed and sat at the prow, gently pulling him down to sit next to her. “I’m a lot like you. In a strange place, filled with people I have never known—all in a body that’s unfamiliar to me.” She hugged Lawrence across his shoulder, closing her eyes. “And you happened to meet me, to have me be your guide.” She nestled her head onto his other shoulder. “And now I want you to be mine. Will you?”
Lawrence’s surprise melted away for peace, and he returned the embrace. “Of course.”
They sat together at the prow, journeying to their home, fully trusting in Arceus that all would be well.
In a different world, a vast sea stretched on for eternity, crystal-clear and endlessly deep. The sky was a pure light blue, yet no sun could be seen. A slow, gentle wind blew, yet no tides appeared on the water’s surface.
An island rose from the depths, made of pure, white stone. An enormous, shining tree grew on top of it, its roots wrapping eternally around the stone and its branches fanning to great distances. Light threaded through its bark, pulsing at varying degrees. No mark or blemish lay anywhere on its surface, completely perfect.
Pokémon roamed through the vast canopy, crossing walkways made solely from the branches. Plateaus arose from the trunk and other branches, and spires sprung up. Berry bushes and fruit trees erupted from the bark, and springs of pure, fresh water flowed into pools. An entire world of Pokémon resided here, each with an aura of light surrounding them.
The Pokémon spoke and played with each other, no purer joys to be found. No houses or belongings existed in the tree—Pokémon rested in the nests of leaves when needed, only to continue their life of peace. They could craft what they wished with only a thought, from a plaything to a delicious meal, thanks to the wisps of light that rose from the center of the tree and sought to assist.
The Legends trod amongst them, each sharing glimpses of their storied past. All had completed their duty, and now they were free to be with the Pokémon they had helped create and protect. Water Pokémon swam in the pools, flying Pokémon soared through the trees—every environment a Pokémon would need existed here.
Near the center of the tree, a Lucario sat, watching others of his kind congregate and laugh with each other. He waved to them, receiving a wave back from them. He passed by a group of Golurk, where one told of his time with a young Zoroark.
At the center of the canopy, where a natural stairwell descended. Veins of light pulsed all around. The narrow stairwell wrapped continuously around itself, descending for what seemed like eternity. A single exit appeared in the center of the soft wooden steps, then continued to descend.
The circuits of light gradually dimmed, the bark of the tree turning coarse and rigid. It was dark save for the spheres of violet light that floated above sconces of wood, flickering.
A gate of intertwined branches stood between the stairs and a hallway. Beyond it, numerous hallways stretched before him, all with rooms and gates of their own. Each held only a single Pokémon, with no light surrounding their bodies. Instead of a peaceful, cheering demeanor of those in the canopy, they were silent, ashamed, and miserable.
The hallways branched and extended downward, the atmosphere turning grimmer the farther he went. One held the almighty Mewtwo, languishing in his cell for attempting to control the world. Farther down, a Xatu stared in contemplation, dwelling on how he proposed a world without evil, and created the blade necessary to make it come to pass.
Down toward the bottom of the cells, a Zoroark sat in the center of the ridged, rooted room. His thoughts seemed to echo all around him, free to float after years of madness: “I failed…but I don’t care. Arceus has won, and now I have no chance of seeing my family again…ever.”
Arthus made no movement, staring at the floor. “I only wanted everyone to be free from sorrow, the sorrow that I brought upon myself and others. I wanted to prevent that, but no one listened.” He let his head fall against the wall. “And now here I stay, to waste away for the rest of eternity.”
Time passed, and he did nothing. Nothing but consider his actions, and the situation he now stood in. “The afterlife is…brighter, than I expected. In the branches, at least. In the brief moments I had there when I died, it felt joyous. But when I came here…” He shuddered.
He remembered the crowd he saw surrounding those that died in the final destruction of Equivos. He thought he saw his beloved wife, standing amongst them and witnessing his banishment. He cringed, clutching his head. “If…if I had followed through with Arceus’ plan, none of this would have happened. Even with Corrina gone, I could have turned a new leaf, renounced everything Gregorius ever taught me. Then, I would have at least been together with her in the canopy, along with Cassia and the rest of my descendants.”
He glared at the wall. “But it was never to be. Not with what I did.”
More time passed, and his memories haunted him. Every death, every betrayal, every evil act remained in his consciousness on their own accord. He tried to block them out, using his mental strength, but they continued to bash against, as if they were empowered by an unseen force. He screamed throughout the nightmares, the guilt and shame empowered by the roots of the Tree of Life driving away any justification he may have had. The sadness of never seeing his family—the core of his actions in life—only amplified his pain.
In a brief moment of peace, he huddled in the corner, rocking on his feet. His eyes closed, he couldn’t bear to see the realm he had doomed himself to, all while saying in his mind: “I deserve this—all the death, carnage, and loss brought me here. All of it.” He dug his claws into his skin, but nothing bled; his body was immune to harm. He cursed and thought, “Let me fade and die…I don’t deserve to exist. I should never have been born.”
The nightmares returned, and he screamed once more. He banged his head against the walls, feeling no pain, yet receiving temporary respite from the plaguing memories. Yet it did nothing to drive away the overflowing guilt of his life, no matter the good he had done before his spiraling downfall.
In one moment of agony, Arthus stood erect and screamed, “I should never have taken you, Arceus! I should never have denied you! You are the only way to joy! You are the only way to peace! I beg of you—make it stop! AAUUGH!” He pounded his fists against the floor and sobbed, his final memories with Cassia returning to him in a torrent.
What felt like years later, the memories stopped. He kept praying for Arceus to save him, just as he had done as a child, years ago. He realized that his torture had ended and stood upright.
Unsure he looked up. “Ar…Arceus? Is it…over?”
The gate of his cell lifted, and the Zoroark paused, opening his eyes and lowering his arms. The pure, blue eyes stared at the Lucario, no anger or chill in their gaze.
Arthus wrapped his arms around himself, looking away from the Lucario. “Matheus…you’ve come.”
Matheus remained still. “Yes, Arthus. I’ve come.”
Arthus turned away from him, burying his face in his arms. “Leave…please. I can’t bear seeing a Pokémon I hurt—especially you.”
Matheus stepped inside. “You aren’t the same Pokémon that died.”
Arthus paused. “Torture…that’s what it was. All the Pokémon I killed return to haunt me. All the lives I ruined, all the families I broke…all because I claimed I had a better way.” He shook his head. “But I couldn’t rely on myself in that torture, or anyone else. Only when I pleaded for Arceus did I feel peace.” He slumped his shoulders. “It feels…strange, for me to say it. Arceus never made a mistake; I did. I strove for good things, and good things happened. He let us have choice so we could make a better future than he ever could. He can create, but we can aspire.”
He turned back to Matheus, avoiding his gaze. “I always knew it…I just let the darkness of the world crowd my vision.” He pressed a hand against his forehead and groaned, “You…Azure…Cassia…Erik…Laryon…everyone suffered because of me. I became the darkness I wanted to destroy. Gregorius tempted me, and I took his bait. I acted under his beliefs…and look what happened.”
He fell to his knees, sobbing. “Just leave me, Matheus. I’m worthless. Pathetic. All that rage and death was a means to hide my sorrow. The only thing that made me happy after I emerged from the cocoon was my sweet Cassia…and even she saw the monster I was.”
Matheus remained silent. He slowly walked to Arthus and set a paw on his shoulder. Arthus flinched, staring at Matheus, then at his paw.
Matheus stood still. “Arthus…do you remember what we always said about each other?”
Arthus sniffed, nodding. “That you kept me from madness—”
“And you kept me from killing myself. We meant it in a joking way, but it was true. We kept each other in check, with your concern for others’ wellbeing countering my recklessness, and my positive outlook on Equivos countering your negative. Without each other, we both fell from grace.”
Matheus lowered his head and closed his eyes. “It was my fault you changed. If I had never left for the Isle of Regret to complete the Trials, none of this would have happened.”
“No.” Arthus pulled away. “I’m the one who found Gregorius. I’m the one who used the Edge. I’m the one who stole Arceus. None of it was your fault. None of it.” He retreated to the other corner and said, “If you’re here to apologize, then it’s no use. I’m the one who needs to apologize. Not you.”
Matheus remained at the corner. “…You remind me of myself. Broken, dejected—I felt like no one loved me because I had abandoned them in their time of need, and to an extent, it was true. I wanted to hide, to be destroyed, to become nothing if only to avoid guilt.”
“Unlike you, I deserve it,” Arthus croaked.
Matheus stood at the door and pointed at Arthus. “You do. There is no denying that. But unlike most Pokémon here in the roots, you have a chance to redeem yourself—all because you realized that Arceus could save you.”
Arthus’ eyes widened. He threw himself at Matheus’ paws and pleaded, “Please, please, let me be free! I will do anything, anything, to get rid of this guilt, this sadness, everything!”
Matheus grimaced, shaking his head slowly. “If only it were so simple. First, I must ask you a question.” He leaned in close and held Arthus’ head still. “Will you renounce everything you previously believed, and proclaim Arceus to be your only path, even if it means you remain down here forever?”
Arthus hesitated. He considered all he had fought for in the past two-thousand years: to fight Arceus and bring his own vision of perfect world to be. It had been all he wanted, but his ulterior motive was to reverse the consequence of his worst mistake—of killing Corrina.
He thought of this—but then of when he followed Arceus. In his youth, he imprisoned outlaws, created the Guild, had his family. He had everything he had longed for and could wish for nothing else.
Yet he had fled the individual who made it all possible: Arceus.
Slowly, Arthus nodded his head.
Matheus stared, then smiled. He stepped away and held up his paw. “I cannot guarantee you can exit the roots…but I can assure you that I will come once every month, to reeducate you about Arceus. If and when he sees fit, he will call you to the canopy to join his other followers.”
Arthus remained on the ground, tear-stricken. He shakily looked up at Matheus. “Can…can I see Corrina? Or Erik? They are all I’ve wanted since I’ve come here…I don’t know how much more I can take without them.
Matheus’ smile faded. “Those in punishment are not allowed to see those who have proven worthy for Arceus’ presence.” Arthus closed his eyes, fully expecting it.
Suddenly, Matheus smiled. “But, as servant of Arceus, I asked him to make an exception—but only one.” He rapped his paw against the gate, and it rose, revealing a young female Zoroark wearing a golden pendant around her neck.
Arthus froze. She stepped inside, bright, contrasting with his stale appearance. He stood up slowly, completely stunned.
Quietly, Matheus said, “This is the one time you may meet with her before you must continue with your confinement. With time, Arceus may release you.” He paused, then smiled “I look forward to when we can stand together as friends once more.”
Arthus embraced his wife, rocking with her in his arms “Corrina…I’ve…I’ve missed you.”
She nodded her head, crying as well. “I missed you too.” She stepped back and clutched his shoulders. “Promise me…come back. Live with me, and Erik, and everyone else. I’ve gone two thousand years without you, and I don’t want to wait two-thousand more.”
Arthus nodded his head constantly as she stepped away, falling to his knees once more. “Yes…yes…yes…”
Corrina stepped out of the room, and Matheus followed. As the gate lowered once more, Matheus said, “I will see you next month.”
The gate gently fell on the wood, and Arthus forced himself to calm. He looked up at the ceiling, and for once in his afterlife, he smiled. “Thank you…Arceus…for letting me see her again…even if it will take me an eternity to truly be with her…” He sat cross-legged in the floor, a familiar wisp of light entering through the gaps of the gate and touching his chest.
In the center of the tree of life, Arceus watched Arthus from a clear sphere, motionless. He stood in a room with walls thick with books, drifting in and out of their shelves to be written into by golden threads, all joining with Arceus’ arc. They wrote golden letters inside the different works, recording the events of entire worlds in their pages. The shelves spiraled high into the canopy and low into the roots, spreading even into the branches.
In front of Arceus was a table with designs of all the Pokémon he had created, interwoven with humans amongst them, all beautifully intertwined. A thick tome lay on top of the table, its last few pages being written into by several threads.
As the last words trailed onto the paper, Arceus said, “All may be brought to happiness as long as they follow my direction, one of peace and love. Treat others like yourself; a simple, yet powerful way to live. If all follow these words, evil shall be no more. Some who follow my words—the most devoted and worthy—may earn the privilege to learn my works, and to create worlds of their own.”
He closed the book, and another materialized next to it, its pages blank. “The children of Equivos live on with their Keeper and Priestess. Their story has ended, only for another to begin.” His lights began writing rapidly inside as he stamped his foot.
“My word shall never die, and my work shall never end.”
End of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Unequivocant