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The Legendarian Chronicles [Revision 11]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Chibi Pika, Oct 2, 2011.

  1. 3DSRed

    3DSRed Alias RedAgent14

    Sebastian in a disguise, no doubt.

    Jokes aside: this chapter seems very fast-paced to me compared to the other Legendary and Rocket battles up to now. There were times where I had to go back and reread to make sure that I was following the flow of the action correctly. That being said, I feel like the fast pacing works to convey how Jade needs to keep up with all of this action going on around her.
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  2. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Ok the story behind this is too funny and I'm just gonna quote what I said to Dragonfree:

    "I wanted to put more rockets on flying-types and then consulted the list of rideable flying-types and realized "wow this is kind of small without giving grunts pseudo-legends" or having the 8 billionth pidgeot in the fic. then I realized "hey I should be giving more people charizard to finally lend some credence to the whole 'no one would see any reason to connect the rebel team leader having a charizard back to the johto commander' thing" except this has now spectacularly backfired thanks to the law of conservation of detail."

    Yeah, it was tricky to balance how disoriented Jade felt with the need to describe things to the reader. But I'm glad the fast-pace came through strongly!

    And now, Chapter 39. The instant you see the title card, you'll know exactly what's about to happen. But I kinda like that. Enjoy~



    ~Chapter 39: Burning Spirit~

    [​IMG]

    A bright quarter moon pierced the sky overhead, which was now reddened with twilight. Our group—me, Ajia, Starr, Rudy, and Darren—had just arrived at a large cabin deeper in the woods west of the Ranger Union HQ. I was riding with Ajia on Aerodactyl since all three of my fliers were out of commission. I’d basically felt numb ever since we left Indigo, and was looking forward to not doing anything for the rest of the night. The day had been far, far too long. Watching Rudy’s last preliminary match this morning felt like it had happened a lifetime ago. In a way, it had. I was chosen now. That life was in the past.

    “This watch station isn’t currently in active use, so we should have some privacy,” Ajia explained as we all dismounted the fliers and made our way inside. “Dad said we could crash here since the tournament site is still an emergency zone, and probably won’t be cleared for a while.”

    The cabin was two stories tall with an array of antennas and platforms on the roof. Inside was a cozy interior with a common room to the right, a kitchen to the left, and a wall covered in belts, tools, and other gear just ahead of us.

    “Just don’t touch any equipment or anything,” Ajia added with a wink.

    Darren elbowed Rudy, who had just picked up some kind of colorful, remote-like device from a shelf. It looked a lot like the ones that rangers used to calm raging Pokémon on TV. (Granted, it probably didn’t work anything like it did on TV, but the device itself was real.) Rudy hastily set it down, then opted to go raid the kitchen cupboards for whatever nonperishable foods had been left here. I considered following him—I was pretty ravenous after all—but exhaustion ended up winning out. I shuffled over to one of the common room chairs and sank into it, feeling vaguely lightheaded. Absentmindedly, I reached for my Pokéballs, only to remember that they weren’t there.

    I’d dropped my team off at the main Ranger HQ healing station. My memory of the encounter was a bit fuzzy. After the adrenaline from the mission had worn off, it’d been replaced by a wave of sheer panic as I’d rushed straight there and made them swear that they absolutely would not open Swift’s Pokéball until they were ready to stabilize him. And they’d reassured me, over and over, that yes, they’d be able to handle it, and yes, from my description of the injury and the speed he’d been recalled, he was almost certainly going to recover. And now, an hour later, their words were starting to stick, and I could feel myself relaxing slightly. But the mental image of what had happened still burned, leaving a sickly anxiety worming through my insides.

    <You really shouldn’t work yourself up so much about it,> Lugia had said. <Didn’t they say he was going to be fine?> And I knew that it was right, but my brain didn’t want to listen to that right now. Especially since it was coming from Lugia.

    I could have died. My whole team could have died, and having contact with Lugia hadn’t helped one bit. I wanted to say something, but what was there to say? We’d all known, going into that mission, that the Legendaries wouldn’t be able to fight by our side. Obviously that meant that they couldn’t step in to save us without putting themselves at risk. But we were the ones risking our lives to save them. It wasn’t fair.

    But that was what I’d signed up for when I agreed to be chosen.

    Looking for something to busy myself with, I found myself idly reaching for my bag, which was currently sitting on the coffee table. At least Mew had managed to recover our stuff from the hotel in Indigo. Something told me that returning to the emergency zone a second time for such a stupid reason would be slightly frowned upon.

    I dragged the bag closer to my chair and started digging through it, like I was looking for something. I wasn’t really sure what, but I continued to shove the bag’s contents to the side until I reached the bottom. And there it was. Like I’d been looking for it all along. The strange metallic orb that I’d recovered from the basement of the Midnight Island ruins. I’d been carrying this thing around for nearly a year now, and I still had no idea what it was. I slowly clasped my fingers around it, feeling its cool, airy surface, a metallic tingle running through my fingertips.

    When I’d first gotten it, there wasn’t anyone I could ask about it other than Stalker. And I’d never gotten the chance to ask him. But now? I was acquainted with multiple Legendary Pokemon, all of whom were familiar with the chosen pact. They’d definitely know something about the orb, right?

    Something else prodded at the back of my mind. What had that pedestal said? That the alliance between human and legend… would fail? I hadn’t paid it much thought at the time. But now I’d seen the proof that the alliance itself was more than just a myth. Now the idea was a lot more unpleasant. Lugia and Mew didn’t seem to be under the impression that our efforts would fail. And we’d just had a major success too…

    Something bumped my chair and I glanced over my shoulder to see that Starr was leaning against it with her arms crossed over the headrest.

    As expected, Starr’s mood had bounced between outrage and worry ever since we’d gotten back from Indigo. It wasn’t as if I could pretend we hadn’t just hurled ourselves into another deadly situation when she wasn’t looking—the evidence was written all over my arms. In between her ranting over the way we’d just up and left the moment her back was turned, she’d dragged me off to the medical office so I could get my arms bandaged up. None of the cuts were too deep—not like the bullet wound from last year. Still, it was probably good that she made me do something about it, because I sure as hell wasn’t in the mood for it after what my team had gone through.

    “I still can’t believe you guys just went and did that,” Starr said with a rather unimpressed tone. “Could have at least told me.”

    I rubbed the back of my head. “I thought Ajia tried to.”

    Starr opened her mouth to speak but then froze. “Yeah. She did.” Something in her voice told me that fact didn’t really make a difference.

    I exhaled slowly through my nose, unsure what I was supposed to be feeling right now. I hadn’t meant to just turn my back on everything I’d said to her when we were back at the Ranger HQ. But… becoming chosen kind of changed things a bit.

    “I’m guessing it went alright?” Starr asked, trying too hard to make it sound casual.

    I blinked. “Well yeah—like Ajia said, we did it. We freed Moltres.” We freed Moltres. We freed Moltres. Saying it out loud made the reality of it sink into my mind a bit deeper. In spite of everything, we’d succeeded.

    “I know that,” she said with a slight huff. “But you’re okay, right?”

    “I mean…”—I gestured to myself—“I’m here, aren’t I?”

    Starr groaned exasperatedly and rubbed her knuckles against my scalp. “Alive and alright are two different things. Quit being dense.”

    Okay, she had a point there. I’d made it back from all the Rebellion missions alive too, but… not entirely alright. And the various injuries I’d received were nothing compared to the anxious nausea from what my team had gone through.

    “Yeah. I’m fine,” I said, my mouth dry.

    She seemed to realize how I’d said it. “But someone else isn’t?”

    I wrapped my arms around my knees, pulling them close to my chest. “Swift was… injured.” Everyone was injured, but… not like that.

    Starr paused. “Is he gonna be alright?”

    “The rangers said he would be, but…”

    “But you’re worrying yourself about it ‘cause that’s what you do,” she finished.

    I tilted my head back to look at her directly. “Kinda like what you’ve been doing.”

    To my immense surprise, she let out a snort. “Got me there.” She sank against the back of the chair so that her chin was resting on the top of my head. “Just tell me we’re done for the day, alright? No more surprises.”

    Given the fact that I had absolutely no desire to do anything else for the rest of the day—heck, the rest of the week—I said, “I’m okay with that, yeah.”

    Eventually we’d have to deal with the fallout from all this. Eventually, Mew and Lugia would come up with the next plan of action, and I’d have to help them with it. But for now, I was content to just stay here like this.

    There was a knock against the wooden doorframe. I glanced around the side of the armchair to see a ranger now standing in the entryway. My heart leaped for a moment upon seeing a Pidgeot behind her. But no, it wasn’t Swift—darker belly, longer markings, shorter crest. The moment I gave it a second thought, I felt like an idiot for getting my hopes up. Obviously he wouldn’t have recovered yet. I don’t know what I was expecting.

    “You really are something else, you know that, Ajia?” Kari said. Her voice was half accusatory, half reluctantly impressed.

    Ajia spun around to face her. “Oh yeah?” she asked, in a tone suggesting that she knew exactly what was coming.

    Kari leaned against the doorframe, arms folded. “It’s pretty obvious you guys are working together with the guardians. No idea how, but it’s the only way you could have pulled that last mission off.”

    Ajia grinned sheepishly. “Saw through that, huh?”

    The Rockets had seen through it too. What was it that Ender had said? ‘We’ll have to take that into consideration next time.’ I didn’t like the sound of that.

    Something else was bothering me. From what the others had said, Raven and Ender were the only executives at that mission. Only two. Two top-class, legendary-handing executives, sure. But only two? Where were the rest of them? Did the Rockets really care so little about that mission? They’d taken a huge gamble by putting Moltres in such a vulnerable position… there had to be a good reason.

    Kari’s expression turned darkly serious. “How long have you all had contact with the guardians? Was it since before the Viridian attack?”

    Starr stood bolt upright. “Yeah, hold up. That’s Ajia’s deal, alright? The rest of us aren’t insane.” I found myself sinking lower into my chair.

    Kari’s gaze slid back to Ajia, looking weary. “Please don’t tell me you had contact with them during the attack.”

    What? She didn’t seriously think that we’d just stood by and let that happen, did she?

    I threw myself around the side of the chair so that I was staring straight at her. “We tried to stop the Viridian incident! If all it took was just talking to the Legendaries, don’t you think we would have tried that?”

    Kari paused, considering me closely. “…Fair. Sorry for jumping to conclusions.”

    I sank back into the chair, still feeling a bit on-edge. The Legendary I had just made an alliance with… was one of the ones responsible for the attack on Viridian. And I didn’t feel remotely comfortable talking to it about that. Besides, Mew had been 100% against the attack. Mew had confronted Lugia about it, right?

    I was chosen now. I was supposed to protect the Legendaries. Even if...

    “So, looks like the big secret is out… again,” Ajia said, looking more relieved than anything. She’d been holding onto Legendary secrets a lot longer than I had. It had to be getting tiring, especially having to hide things from friends or allies.

    At the point I finally noticed Rudy standing at the entrance to the kitchen, staring at Ajia with his mouth hanging open. And from the looks of things, he’d been like that for the past minute or so.

    He blinked a few times to regain himself before saying, “You’ve been working with the Legendaries?”

    Ajia gave him an amused smile. “What’s with that look? You’ve helped save them yourself, haven’t you?”

    He shook his head. “That’s not the same. It’s not like I’ve ever talked to them.”

    “Guess this explains why you guys were so sure we could pull off freeing Moltres, huh?” Darren asked me with a sideways grin. “Seemed like a crazy plan otherwise.”

    “You went along with the plan,” I pointed out.

    He shrugged. “Never said I was smart.”

    “Okay, hang on,” Kari said, putting a hand to her forehead like she was still trying to work something out. “The guardians. If you’re working with them, they’re still nearby, aren’t they? What about Moltres? Are you actually keeping it here? Where is it?”

    Whoa. Okay, this was a lot of questions, how were we supposed to explain any of this? We couldn’t just tell everyone about the chosen pact. But now Rudy, Darren, and Kari were staring at Ajia expectantly. And heck, even Starr of all people was giving Ajia a curious glance, waiting to see what her response would be.

    Kari walked over to Ajia, staring her straight in the eyes. “Where. Is. Moltres?”

    Ajia let out a defeated sigh. “Alright, alright. I’ll show you.”


    ~~~~~


    The five of us trudged through the darkening woods on our way to a nearby clearing, where Latias had apparently released Moltres from its Master Ball. Mew led the way, trotting in front of us as an Espeon. I kept expecting someone to question why Espeon of all people knew where the Legendaries were, but no one did. As for me, I was just conveniently going along with the fact that Starr had pinned the blame on Ajia to avoid bringing up the fact that I was chosen as well. Not that it did much to stave off the avalanche of questions from Rudy.

    “This is nuts. I can’t believe your friend knows Legendaries. Which ones? How did she meet them? Have you met them?

    “Look, one thing at a time, alright?” I said, though I wasn’t exactly sure which one to start with.

    “Yeah, give Jade time to make something up,” Darren added with a chuckle. I glared at him and he just gave me a wry grin.

    It also didn’t help that I was having a hard time thinking on account of Lugia complaining in my head the entire time.

    <It’s not like we have a choice,> I reminded the legend. <They’re not going to leave us alone until we give them answers.>

    <Of course you have a choice,> Lugia snapped. <You can refuse to tell them anything. Simple.>

    I rubbed my eyes in frustration. <How are we supposed to explain why?>

    <They do not require an explanation.>

    <Um, yes, they do. If you want someone to help you then they have to be able to trust you,> I said flatly.

    Lugia paused, unwilling to agree with what I’d said, but also struggling to think of a shutdown. It finally settled on, <Well… those two interlopers are one thing, but what about the others? What about her?>

    I raised an eyebrow. <You’re gonna need to be a little more specific.>

    <I’m not good with human names,> Lugia mumbled. <The one that you and Mew’s chosen are close to.>

    I tensed up, feeling uneasy. <Starr? What about her. She already knows about the chosen pact, remember?>

    <I’m aware,> Lugia said sharply. <That doesn’t give her the right to be privy to our plans. Particularly considering her… colorful past.>

    I bristled. So Lugia knew about that. <Look, I don’t want to have this conversation. Starr betrayed Team Rocket. I trust her with my life.>

    Lugia was silent for some time. Scattered bubbles of frustration drifted through its thoughts, but it didn’t put any of them into words. <…Fine,> it said grudgingly, and then its presence retreated into the corner of my mind where I had a harder time feeling it.

    I let out a deep sigh of relief, already feeling a lot better. Dealing with my own emotions was one thing, but getting a double dose of anxiety was too much to handle.

    “Oh crap, is that it?” Rudy said, suddenly breaking into a run.

    I squinted. Some fifty yards ahead of us, a dull orange glow was visible through the trees. We emerged into a warm, brightly-lit clearing, and there it was. The gigantic firebird lay on its side, flames flickering gently on its head, wings, and tail. There was something oddly peaceful about it. I was so used to seeing it flying overhead, raining down death and destruction. I’d seen it used to kill escaping rebels. Earlier today, I’d barely escaped from it with my life. And even though I knew none of that was its own doing… it was still hard not to feel uncomfortable being so close to it.

    The ground had been swept free of any leaves, needles, or other forest debris, which made it all the easier to spot the purple shards that lay next to Moltres. So Latias had destroyed the Master Ball. Well, of course she had, that was the only way to deactivate the mind control. She also must have healed Moltres, as most of its battle injuries were gone. Was she still nearby, guarding the firebird invisibly? I couldn’t help letting my eyes scan the air above the clearing, hunting for the telltale distortion.

    Rudy was slowly inching closer to Moltres with a look of disturbed fascination. Meanwhile, Starr was glancing around the scene with a disapproving look on her face.

    “So we’ve just got the Legendary bird of fire unconscious right here, huh?” she said. “No big deal, right?”

    I gave her a look. “You’re acting like this is the first time you’ve seen Moltres.”

    “Yeah, well, I am not letting myself get desensitized to this crap,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “This is not normal, okay?”

    Kari and her Pidgeot hadn’t moved since we got here. The former was staring at Moltres with a somber look. Pidgeot’s head was lowered, eyes trained on the ground. It was easy to forget that those two—and most people, for that matter—weren’t used to being in the presence of Legendaries. Starr was right. We really had gotten desensitized to it.

    After a minute of silence, Kari straightened suddenly, turning toward Ajia. “So what’s your plan?” she asked. “Moltres gonna be staying here or what?”

    Ajia laughed. “No way. The other Legendaries are gonna explain the situation to Moltres when it wakes up. And… I guess it’ll go with them.”

    Kari gave her a sideways glance. “So what, does everything go back to normal now? Moltres is free, the day is saved, no more Legendary attacks?” From the look on her face, it was obvious she didn’t trust that for a second.

    Ajia rubbed the back of her head. “Not… exactly. But Indigo should be safe now.”

    Kari nodded distantly, not taking her eyes off Moltres. “Don’t suppose you know where the next attack is gonna be?”

    “The next one?” Ajia said, looking confused. “I mean… the goal is to prevent this from happening again.”

    “Hm,” Kari just said, absentmindedly running a hand through Pidgeot’s crest. “Well. I guess I’ll let everyone know that there shouldn’t be any more trouble from Moltres. I should be getting back to base anyway.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “God, this is gonna be hard to explain. And you haven’t even given me half of it, I can tell.”

    The ranger motioned to Pidgeot, who leaned forward for her to climb onto its back. She paused, glancing over the five of us in turn. “You know there were news crews at Indigo, right? I dunno if they saw you, but… whatever you’re hiding, word’s gonna get out eventually.”

    “We’ll deal with that when the time comes,” Ajia said simply.

    Kari was silent for several seconds. Finally, she threw one last glance at Moltres before nodding. “Alright. Good luck,” she said with a small wave. “And try not to cause any more trouble.”

    With a few powerful flaps, Pidgeot took off from the forest floor and the two of them flew off into the twilight skies.

    “You two seem like real great friends,” Starr said dryly.

    Ajia waved a hand dismissively. “Ah, don’t worry about her, I’m always getting into trouble and making things hard for her, and she’s always giving me crap about it. It’s kind of our thing.”

    Starr just shrugged. Still, despite Ajia’s casual tone, I couldn’t help feeling bad. It was another reminder of just how badly this whole Rocket mess was stressing the rangers out. We could fight the Rockets, but they were the ones that had to deal with the fallout.

    I was jolted from my thoughts by Rudy’s voice: “Oh crap, it’s waking up.”

    What? Moltres was—?! I threw a hurried look back at the firebird, whose eyelids were twitching. Its head shifted slightly. Flames burned a bit brighter. Ajia glanced sharply at Mew, and the two of them nodded to each other for a bit while they talked mind-to-mind.

    Starr took a few steps back, raising both arms. “Allllright, I’m good. I’ve seen enough. Heading back to the cabin now. I do not need to be near that thing when it wakes up.”

    She turned and walked off into the forest, making it abound thirty feet before pausing like she’d just realized something. Then she turned to look back at me expectantly, waiting. She was expecting me to follow her. But if the Legendaries were going to be explaining the situation to Moltres soon, wouldn’t it be best if the chosen were present for it? Not that I could say I was chosen, but…

    I gave Starr a helpless shrug that hopefully conveyed the fact that I wanted to follow her but couldn’t. She scowled and turned away, walking further away until she was out of sight.

    I sighed, turning to face Rudy and Darren. “You two should probably head back too.”

    Rudy gaped at me like he’d never been more insulted in his life. “What? Why are you allowed to stay here, then?”

    I was spared the trouble of having to invent a reason when Ajia jumped in with, “At least hide then, we don’t want to freak it out, alright?”

    Rudy paused, still looking dissatisfied, but struggling to think of a counterargument.

    “Come on, let’s listen to her,” Darren said, grabbing the back of his shirt and dragging him off toward the trees, ignoring his protests.

    Ajia and I were the last ones to step back, leaving Moltres alone in the center of the clearing. Well, alone except for Mew. She threw a glance back at us to make sure we were all out of the way, then vanished. Several seconds passed. And then, in a flash, she reappeared—in her normal body—with Lugia and Ho-oh. Even though I’d been expecting them, it was still jarring to see two gigantic birds suddenly appear out of thin air, making the clearing feel that much smaller. I couldn’t help letting my eyes slide over to Rudy who was now gaping at the trio of Legendaries in stunned disbelief.

    Ho-oh nodded toward us, then took a slow, cautious step towards Moltres, leaning down to tap its beak against the smaller firebird’s shoulder.

    “Can you hear me?” it asked.

    Moltres stirred slightly. “*What’s going on…?*” it mumbled. “*Everything hurts…*”

    “Easy,” Ho-oh said in a calm, measured voice. “You’re safe now.”

    Moltres took several slow, shuddering breaths, struggling to fold its wings and pull its talons under its body. Then its eyes shot open. “*Wait, what?*” It glanced down at itself frantically, flames intensifying with a crackle. Then it threw an incredulous look back at Ho-oh, eyes wide with shock. “*I’m… how?*”

    “The humans no longer control you. You are free now.”

    The flames slowly lowered to a calm smolder. Moltres blinked a few times, lost for words.

    “How are you feeling?” Ho-oh asked.

    Moltres opened its beak to answer, but then it tilted its head at Ho-oh, squinting at the larger phoenix like it had only just realized something. “*Why are you speaking as though—?*” And then the firebird paused sharply, its eyes tracing the clearing and the humans standing nearby. It tensed, letting the flames on its body flare up once again. I felt a sudden desire to melt into the ground.

    “Ah. That would be why,” Moltres said dryly, and it took me a second to realize that it had switched from Pokéspeech to common. “Seems we have humans in our midst.” It turned back to face Ho-oh. “Why is this acceptable?”

    “These humans freed you from your capture,” the larger phoenix replied simply.

    Moltres glanced back at us once more, narrowing its eyes. “I see. I would like to leave now.”

    “You can if you must, but I would quite prefer if you’d remain,” Ho-oh said, closing its eyes matter-of-factly.

    Moltres didn’t respond to that. But it also didn’t move. It just sat there, eyeing us suspiciously. I kept my eyes on the ground to avoid making eye contact.

    Ho-oh turned to face the rest of us, the four humans standing at the edge of the trees. “I must thank you all for your assistance.” Its gaze fell on me, and I couldn’t help shrinking back a bit. “I don’t believe I’ve made your acquaintance,” the phoenix said, bowing its head. “You are aligned with my sibling, are you not?”

    I blinked in surprise. It took me a second to realize it was talking about my chosen pact with Lugia. “Oh, uh, that’s right.” Unsure of what else to do, I bowed back and said, “It’s nice to meet you?”

    Ho-oh nodded. “Likewise.”

    “Where are my siblings?” Moltres spoke up suddenly, its expression somewhat conflicted.

    Ho-oh shifted its wings uncomfortably. “Articuno is still within their grasp. We weren’t given an opportunity to free them like we were with you.”

    Moltres was silent for several seconds. “I see…” it said, the emotion in its voice hard to place. It then glanced at each of the Legendaries in turn. “And what of Zapdos? Were they not a part of this effort?”

    Ho-oh’s face fell. It glanced back at Mew imploringly.

    <Zapdos has… not been speaking with me,> she said softly, curling her tail around herself.

    Moltres blinked, and this time it was easier to see the heaviness that had taken hold in its eyes. But then its gaze hardened and it said, “Never mind them. What happens next?”

    <Well… now that we’ve freed you, we’ll be setting our sights on freeing the others,> Mew said. She gestured for Ajia to step forward, who did so with all the confidence of someone who wasn’t surrounded by Legendaries.

    “The Rockets still have four Legendaries in their possession,” Ajia explained. “We’re not going to stop until we’ve freed them all. If we can pull it off, that will definitely prevent the war, won’t it?”

    <That’s optimistic,> Lugia said with a snort.

    <We need the optimism,> Mew replied, giving the dragon-bird a hard look.

    “Well, that’s one way of looking at it,” Ho-oh said, considering her carefully. “But we must also prepare for the worst—if we are unable to prevent the war, we must ensure that the pact is completed. It may become difficult to locate more suitable candidates. We will have to take that into consideration.”

    Moltres glanced between the other legends, mulling something over in its mind. “Still aiming to fulfill the chosen pact, are you?”

    <Of course,> Mew said, as though nothing were more obvious. <Why would we stray from that path now?>

    “Hm,” Moltres just said, disapproval crossing its face. “And how do any of you know that your… selected humans will remain by your side when this conflict escalates and their small lives are threatened?” I couldn’t help but notice its eyes briefly slide toward me.

    Mew shook her head. <Moltres. You are like the rest of us. You’ll have to select an interloper eventually.>

    The firebird narrowed its eyes. “So you say. I still am not convinced that humans possess the resolve necessary for something like this.”

    <The humans freed you,> Mew pointed out.

    Moltres tossed its head indignantly. “Your point? It’s one thing to naively charge forward into danger with no grasp of what it means. It’s another thing to see the reality of it, and to continue putting one’s life on the line.”

    I… hated to admit it, but Moltres’s words did strike a chord inside me. It had been easy to agree to joining the Rebellion, knowing that it was dangerous, but not truly grasping the reality of risking my life for this cause. It had been a lot harder to keep pressing on after seeing that reality firsthand. But… I’d done it anyway. And I wasn’t exactly the strongest-willed person around. That had to count for something, right?

    But no one had said anything to the contrary, so Moltres gave a smug grin and went on, “Humans don’t have the resolve necessary for something like this. They lack passion.”

    “You’re wrong.”

    Just those two words brought the world crashing to a halt. Everyone’s eyes widened in shock, even Moltres’s. I whirled around to locate the source… and saw the one person whose expression was one of anger rather than shock.

    It was Rudy. Rudy was the one who had said it.

    Moltres blinked, clearly not used to having a human talk back to it. “Excuse me?” it said, slowly striding across the clearing. I felt a chill run through me as the great firebird towered over Rudy, bearing down on him.

    Rudy took a deep breath to steel himself and then said, “You’re wrong about humans. We’re not gonna run away just because it’s dangerous. We already know what’s at stake. We’ve been a part of this for too long.” There was pain in his words. That heaviness that I knew all too well.

    “There is no true reason for you to be involved in this war,” Moltres said, waving a wing dismissively. “I cannot expect you to risk your life for this cause when you could leave at any time with no personal cost.”

    Rudy clenched his fists. “What’ll it take for me to prove it?”

    Moltres tilted its head at him, bemused. “Is… is that a challenge?”

    “I guess it is,” Rudy said with a forced laugh. Like he wasn’t really planning on it, but wasn’t about to back down now.

    The firebird stared blankly, almost like it was having a hard time processing his reaction. “Do you… honestly believe you can defeat me?”

    He scoffed. “Like that matters to me.”

    Moltres paused, and for once, it didn’t have an immediate comeback. Several seconds passed. Then, the firebird began to laugh. “I like that. Alright. Come at me, then.”

    Rudy was going to fight Moltres. What even was any of this. My brain refused to accept it, even though I’d seen the entire conversation leading up to it.

    <Is this really necessary?> Lugia asked, taking a step forward.

    “You’re invited to keep quiet,” Moltres snapped. Lugia rolled its eyes, but said nothing.

    Rudy spun around and let out his team. Six Pokéballs opened with a flash and materialized into Fearow, Raichu, Tauros, Nidoking, Ebony, and Pupitar. All six of them immediately snapped their attention to the huge fiery Legendary standing right in front of them, varying degrees of fear and awe crossing their features.

    “In case some of you didn’t know, we freed Moltres from the Rockets,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder unnecessarily. “Except now it apparently doesn’t think we’re good enough to help it.” (Moltres raised a brow at that, but didn’t interject.) “Who wants to show it that we know what we’re getting into?”

    Ebony’s mouth hung open, stars in her eyes. Raichu gave a devilish smirk, sparks leaping from her cheeks. Nidoking cocked an eyebrow but put up his fists just the same. Pupitar didn’t complain, which was about as close to a yes as she ever gave. Tauros glanced uncertainly at Moltres. He hadn’t been on the team during the Rebellion days; seeing Legendaries in person was totally new to him. And the idea of fighting them had to be equally weird. But after several seconds’ hesitation, the bull’s eyes sharpened. He pawed the ground and let out a snort, leveling his horns at the Legendary.

    And then, in the midst of it all, Fearow glanced back and forth at her teammates incredulously. She drew herself back, ruffling her feathers. “*I’m out. This is crazy.*”

    Rudy closed his eyes. “That’s fine. I’m the crazy one here,” he said, taking her Pokéball in his hand. He gave her a soft look. “But I don’t want you to have any regrets.”

    Fearow scoffed, turning away dismissively. But then she glanced back at him out of the corner of her eye with just the slightest bit of uncertainty. Rudy held out her ball, and she snapped her gaze to him.

    “*Stop,*” Fearow said sharply. “*You’re right.*” She took a deep breath, throwing a sideways glance at Pupitar. “*No regrets this time.*”

    Rudy nodded forcefully, replacing her Pokéball on his belt. Then he spun around to face Moltres and said, “We’re ready.”

    Such conviction,” the firebird said mockingly. But then it crouched low and spread its wings, flames intensifying with a crackle.

    Rudy pointed forward and the team leaped into action—Nidoking and Raichu firing off bolts of lightning, Fearow letting blades of wind fly from her wingtips, Ebony barking out a pulsing wave of dark energy, Tauros charging powerfully, sparks coursing through his mane. Moltres lazily waved a wing to raise a wall of flame in front of its face, blocking the attacks. It then swept both wings forward, unleashing a hail of fireballs from its blazing feathers.

    “Fearow, Nidoking, shield the others with Protect!” Rudy yelled.

    The two of them banded together in the center with practiced coordination, and everyone else didn’t waste a second ducking behind the duo. Flames spilled out around the pair of shields, the entire group of Pokémon flinching from the waves of heat that scorched the air. I stepped back instinctively, but the fireballs rebounded off a psychic barrier that Mew had raised to keep the forest around us from catching fire.

    “What sort of conviction does it take to risk your companions in a pointless battle?” Moltres called out. “What does this say of you?”

    Rudy clenched his teeth, glaring at the Legendary. “They’ve got the same conviction as me. We’ve all got each other’s back; we all make each other stronger.”

    “Such statements are meaningless,” Moltres said with a scoff. “Any risk you would take is borne by them, not you!”

    The hail of fireballs lessened. But before any of them could prepare for another attack, Moltres swept its wings together, and another wall of flames burst up from the ground, right in front of Rudy’s team. The firebird stared down at them with a smirk as though daring them to break past the wall.

    “Fearow, carry Raichu over the flames!” Rudy yelled.

    Fearow paused just long enough to let Raichu leap onto her back before flapping harder to gain altitude. The electric-type leaped down from above, landing on Moltres’s back and discharging a flood of lightning. The firebird squinted for a moment as the electricity surged through it. It began to glow. Then a beam of red shot forward, dissolving Raichu just seconds before flames erupted from the spot where she’d been standing.

    Rudy re-released Raichu next to himself. Moltres snapped its attention to the two, starting slightly upon seeing that its target was standing right next to him. Then its eyes narrowed.

    “You think I’ll hold back simply because you’re in the way?” it demanded.

    Rudy smirked. “It made you pause, didn’t it?” Did he seriously just say that?

    Moltres’s eyes went wide for a second. And in that moment’s hesitation, Nidoking burst up from the dirt, horn already crackling with electricity. A bolt of lightning shot through the Legendary. Moltres kicked the ground-type away, annoyed, but then Tauros slammed into it at full force, sparks leaping from his mane.

    “I’ve made that mistake before,” Rudy muttered, staring downward, fists clenched. “I put my Pokémon at risk when I wasn’t willing to do the same for him. I’m not letting anything like that happen ever again.”

    Moltres tilted its head incredulously, but then the corners of its beak turned up. “Oh? Then how will you protect them? How will you protect anyone? What strength can the legends possibly derive from you?”

    “I…”—he grit his teeth—“I can’t answer that.”

    Moltres smirked. “Better find an answer, then.” It unleashed another torrent of fire. “Before my patience is through!”

    This time Ebony leaped in front, struggling to shield her teammates. Her pelt glowed red, absorbing the flames, but it was too much for her. Fearow flapped her wings, trying in vain to blow away the wall of fire. Raichu retaliated with bursts of lightning. It wasn’t enough. Ebony let out a whimper and sank to the ground. Nidoking struggled to raise a Protect, but it hadn’t been long enough since the last time he’d used it. The barrier flickered with the heat of the flames, then sputtered and died. The lineup broke, Nidoking retreating underground and Raichu hopping on Tauros’s back to escape the Flamethrower.

    “I suppose you think that teaching this lot a few amusing tricks makes you worth something, is that it?” Moltres asked, eyes lit with anticipation. Like it couldn’t wait to see how he’d respond.

    But Rudy didn’t give an answer. He just kept his eyes on his team and called out, “Tauros, power up Raichu; Fearow cover them with Mirror Move!”

    Sparks coursed through Tauros’s mane, this time flowing into Raichu. She used the boost to fire off another lightning bolt, twice as thick as the last one. Moltres’s eyes twitched from the hit, and it swept another wing forward, sending more fireballs raining down from above. Fearow copied its motions exactly—a shimmering, reflective surface trailed from her wings, spawning an identical barrage to intercept Moltres’s attack. Nidoking used that opportunity to emerge from underground and fire off yet another Thunderbolt at the Legendary.

    “Enough!” Moltres snapped, stamping the ground with a talon. The dirt began to glow.

    “Get back!” Rudy yelled.

    Fearow shot back to him with a Quick Attack while Tauros and Nidoking dashed after her. Seconds later, flames erupted from the ground where they’d been standing. Rudy staggered backward, shielding his face from the waves of hot air rushing outward. Even from where I was standing, the heat was stifling.

    Finally, the flames cleared. I could see Tauros panting hard, Raichu clinging to his mane. Nidoking holding a tuckered-out Ebony under one arm. Fearow landing next to them, feathers scorched. They were still standing. But only because Moltres wasn’t remotely using its full power. How long until it got bored with this game? What would it do then? It wouldn’t… actually attack Rudy, would it? Mew would put a stop to things if it came to that… right?

    Moltres chuckled lowly. “Such passion you instill in your comrades. Truly a sight to behold.” Its eyes scanned Rudy’s battered and tired lineup… and settled on Pupitar, who hadn’t moved this entire time.

    “What of this one?” Moltres asked, cocking its head. “Has your stirring inspiration failed to move them?” It would’ve been easy to miss the way Pupitar’s eyes twitched slightly at the Legendary’s words.

    Rudy scowled. “Leave her alone, she can do what she wants.”

    “Oh? What happened to your talk of shared conviction?” Moltres asked eagerly. “Clearly you are not the great motivator you believe yourself to be.”

    Rudy opened his mouth like he was about to say something, but then clenched his teeth and remained silent. His team glared daggers at the firebird, but none of them had the strength to do anything about it.

    At least, not until Pupitar hopped in front of all of them, facing down Moltres alone.

    Rudy stared. “You don’t…” he struggled to find the words. “You don’t have to if you don’t wanna.” But Pupitar didn’t acknowledge that he’d said anything.

    “Am I wrong?” Moltres asked her. “Why don’t you show me?”

    Without warning, Pupitar fired a burst of gas and shot forward, plowing into the firebird’s belly. Moltres stopped laughing. The Legendary opened its beak and retaliated with a vicious Flamethrower, completely enveloping the rock-type in an overwhelming blaze.

    “Use Protect!” Rudy yelled.

    A shimmering white barrier formed around the pupa’s body, but the swirling torrent of fire completely surrounded her on all sides, immobilizing her. It was only a matter of time before the Protect shattered from sheer force of it, and then what? Moltres grinned wildly, adding more and more fire to the vortex. Flames spilled out around the barrier relentlessly. Pupitar’s armor glowed white-hot from the heat.

    Wait. That glow. It wasn’t the heat—Pupitar’s body was glowing by itself. Suddenly, her armor split open with a resounding crack. Arms and legs shot out, claws digging into the dirt. Rows upon rows of spikes erupted though the shell. Moltres paused its fire breath, staring down at its opponent with intrigue. Where there had once been a limbless pupa, a rock-armored beast slowly raised herself from the dirt, shaking bits of broken armor to the ground. Her eyes snapped open. She looked down at herself, flexing her claws experimentally.

    She’d evolved. She’d evolved!! I didn’t think she’d have the strength to pull that off for several more months. Maybe it was the sheer pressure of fighting a Legendary. Maybe it was the force of taking Moltres’s attack. Maybe it was determination alone. But however it happened, she’d evolved.

    All five of her teammates suddenly broke into wild cheering—Ebony practically jumping for joy in spite of her burns and Nidoking pounding his chest wildly and Raichu firing sparks into the air. Rudy stared at the dinosaur, eyes wide with awe and pride. Finally he jumped several feet into the air, throwing both arms up. “I told you you could do it! I told you! You did it!”

    And then Pupitar, or rather Tyranitar—who had always looked perpetually bored with everything, even battling—flashed a toothy grin back at them all and said, “*I like this.*”

    And then she charged forward. Every footfall sent jagged blades of stone ripping up from the earth, and for the first time, I saw a flicker of alarm flash in Moltres’s eyes before the Stone Edge dug into its body. The firebird recoiled backwards, screeching in pain and rage before unleashing an explosive burst of flame from itself, shattering the stones to bits and consuming Tyranitar in a whirlwind of fire. The rock-type stood her ground, pushing on through the raging inferno, raising both arms straight up, calling a hail of boulders up from the dirt and sending them crashing into Moltres.

    But the tips of Tyranitar’s spikes had started to melt away. The rock-type sank to her knees. She glanced back at Rudy, and his hand hovered over his Pokéball belt.

    Tyranitar shook her head. “*Not yet. Took this long to get this body. Might as well see what it can do.*” She stomped the ground again and more rocks exploded up from under Moltres. The Legendary easily could have avoided the rocks. But it didn’t. Almost as if it was making a point by sitting there and taking them. Stones dug into it over and over, but it kept up the relentless stream of fire, waiting until Tyranitar was doubled over, panting hard. The dinosaur screwed her eyes shut, digging her claws into the dirt. One last rock ripped itself from the ground, smacking Moltres in the side of the face. Then another fireball and she was down. Sprawled out on the dirt, the faintest trace of a grin still visible on her face.

    “You were badass, Tyranitar,” Rudy whispered before recalling her in a beam of red light.

    They’d lost. Well, there was never any question that they would. But Rudy didn’t seem bothered by that fact. He’d known full well there was zero chance of him coming out ahead, and he’d done it anyway, and he obviously wanted it to mean something, though I wasn’t sure what.

    Moltres took several slow, menacing steps forward, eyes glued to Rudy the entire time. Part of me wanted to run over to him, but the other part was glued to the spot, unable to do anything but watch.

    “I should kill you for such a foolish move,” it said poisonously, looming over him.

    Rudy craned his neck upward to glare at the phoenix, defiance written all over his face. “I thought you wanted to see some passion. Now you’re saying it’s foolish?”

    Moltres laughed, and the sound echoed around us with an eerie reverberating quality.

    Rudy wasn’t fazed. “I want to make a difference. So if you won’t believe me, then let me prove that humans aren’t weak.”

    The firebird tilted its head back, looking genuinely surprised. “Such conviction… but I wonder… will it be able to endure the flames of war?”

    Rudy grinned. “We’ll find out, won’t we?”

    Moltres opened its eyes wide as though it had been slapped, but then immediately broke into reverberating laughter once more. “Speaking as though I have already decided?! Ha! Very well! Let us see how you handle it!”

    And in a flash, Rudy was completely engulfed in flames.

    “Rudy!!” I screamed, eyes wide, but then Ajia held me back with a knowing look.

    “Just watch,” she said quietly.

    Just watch?! Just watch as Rudy was—wait. The flames swirled around in a vortex, sending waves of heat radiating around the clearing. Every few seconds, a gap appeared, and I caught a glimpse of him in the center. Face scrunched up in pain, but still standing, not charred to ash. And then I saw myself in his shoes, that moment when I felt myself torn apart as Lugia and I were joined together.

    Mew had to stop Rudy’s team from rushing in to pull him from the flames. They all stared at her wide-eyed as she explained something to them. Rudy was on his knees now, fists clenched at his side. Moltres’s eyes were closed in deep concentration. A faint red glow emanated from the firebird, visible even through all the firelight.

    And then, in a flash, the flames cleared. Moltres’s eyes snapped open. Rudy fell forward onto all fours, breathing hard. At once, his team crowded around him, Nidoking helping him stand while Ebony nuzzled his side.

    “What… what the hell just happened?” Rudy asked, sounding dazed.

    Moltres folded its wings, peering down at him. “You wanted the chance to prove yourself. You have gotten it. You are now my chosen. You will fight by my side until the end of the war.”

    He grinned weakly. “Sounds good.”

    “Do not take this commitment lightly,” Moltres snapped, its voice heating up.

    Rudy’s expression sharpened. “That’s not it. I know it’s a big deal.” His eyes slid to the ground. “I just… I know I’ll be able to help out a lot more if I combine my strength with yours. This is my chance to do something right. I wanna feel good about it.”

    Moltres considered his response carefully. Finally it nodded and straightened itself, glancing around at the rest of us for the first time in a while. All of us were frozen, staring at the two of them with varying degrees of shock.

    “So. I’ve sealed my pact, as you wished,” Moltres announced, throwing a sideways glance at Mew. “Does this satisfy you?”

    Mew chuckled slightly. <There’s no need to put it like that,> she said with a smile. <But yes… I’m glad.>

    Lugia gave an unimpressed snort. <So I suppose we are completely throwing secrecy to the winds, then?>

    Mew curled her tail around herself. <For our missions to work from now on, we might have to. It was a great advantage in rescuing Moltres, but now the Rockets know that their enemies are getting help from the legends, one way or another.>

    Lugia squinted at her. <Need I remind you that you were the one so insistent on keeping the secrecy in the first place?>

    <I know…> she said, closing her eyes. <Times have changed.> She refused to look at Lugia.

    <Why are you so worried about secrecy, anyway?> I asked Lugia privately. <I understand that it’s dangerous to let too many people too close, but everyone in our group has already proved they’re trying to help, haven’t they?>

    Lugia was silent for some time, its mind flitting between two different things. It felt conflicted. <With humans, you can never know when they will turn on you. The Order has already learned that lesson the hard way.>

    I blinked. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to take that. <So what you’re saying is, you don’t trust us.>

    A prickle of annoyance. <You have had more dealings with humans than I. Can you honestly say that they have never betrayed you?>

    I paused. Memories from last year surfaced in my mind. I’d trusted that Stalker wanted to help the Legendaries, and that had turned out to be a lie. Lugia must have sensed my doubts, because I felt a wisp of self-satisfaction from it.

    <No. I can’t. But…> But I didn’t have a good argument. There wasn’t much point in continuing this conversation, so I decided to drop it for now.

    “Today has brought us not one, but two great victories,” Ho-oh said, nodding toward Rudy and Moltres. “I wish you both nothing but the best.”

    The latter tossed its head indifferently. “So what next?”

    Next? After everything we’d been through today, the idea of there even being a ‘next’ was too exhausting to think about.

    Fortunately, Ajia was on the same page. She jumped in with, “We’ve all had a long dayWe should call it a night; worry about tomorrow when it comes, alright?” She looked up at the Legendaries imploringly.

    Mew nodded. <I agree. You all deserve rest.>

    Thank god. Even if we’d be sleeping in tiny cabin bunks as opposed to the plush beds in the hotel room back at Indigo, it still sounded like heaven after all this. And… some of us had gone through more than others.

    I glanced back at Rudy. He was giving his team a reassuring smile as he talked with them, having to hold Ebony down from licking his face repeatedly.

    “You guys were awesome, you know that?” I said as I walked over. Ebony beamed up at me while Fearow closed her eyes with just the slightest bit of a self-satisfied grin. Rudy smiled faintly, holding a hand against his temple. I couldn’t help noticing him swaying a bit, like he might lose his balance at any moment.

    “Hey, so… congrats,” I added, unsure if that was an appropriate thing to say in this situation. “How you feeling?”

    “It’s wild,” Rudy said distantly. “I saw… things.” He closed his eyes and shuddered. All the negative emotions associated with the fight, all at once—that’s what he’d just had to endure. Having gone through that myself, I couldn’t blame him for feeling out of it.

    When Rudy finally opened his eyes, he forced a smile. “I made a lot of stupid mistakes, huh?”

    “We all did,” I said slowly. “You could say that joining the Rebellion was the stupidest mistake of all.”

    Rudy shook his head. “That’s the one thing I don’t regret. I mean… I know what it led to. But that was my fault. Just joining the team in the first place? I don’t regret that.”

    I paused, meeting his eye. “Me neither.”

    As we walked toward the edge of the clearing, I happened to glance over and see Darren leaning against a tree, hands buried in his pockets and an awkward look plastered on his face.

    “Right, so… this is a thing, I guess,” he said with a forced laugh, his eyes tracing the various Legendaries still standing around the clearing, discussing things amongst each other. He then looked back at me. “Should I really be here?”

    “Why the hell not?” Rudy asked heatedly. “You’re on our team, aren’t you?”

    Darren chuckled. “The Rebellion ended a long time ago.”

    “That doesn’t matter,” Rudy said, waving a hand like he didn’t want to hear it. “The Rebellion’s over but that Rocket mess is still happening, yeah? That didn’t magically go away.”

    Darren gave a noncommittal shrug. Then his eyes fell on me, and he gave me a curious look. “So Jade… you’re obviously one of the ones who’s allowed to be here, I guess. Did you… make a deal with one of them?”

    I swallowed. No point in hiding it. “Yeah.” Rudy snapped his head toward me in surprise—he must not have pieced that together yet.

    “Which one?” Darren asked.

    “Huh?” I hadn’t been expecting that question to sound so casual. “Oh, uh… Lugia.”

    He folded his arms behind his head and gave a crooked smile. “You know, that’s pretty sweet.”

    My brain had a hard time framing it like that, but... yeah. It kind of was.

    “Wait, seriously? You’re partnered with Lugia?!” Rudy exclaimed, and his tone ripped me back to a distant time. Back when he’d gush about meeting Legendaries and proving himself to them. Back before the weight of the world had crashed down on us.

    Unsure of how else to respond, I just said, “Yeah.”

    “Why didn’t you tell us?” Rudy demanded.

    I almost laughed out loud. “Why do you think? I wasn’t allowed to, that’s why.”

    He scowled. “That’s dumb, why not?”

    I opened my mouth to speak… and then realized that Moltres really hadn’t explained much of anything about the chosen pact to Rudy. Maybe it planned on doing so privately later. Either way, silly as it was, Rudy had a point. While it made sense that we couldn’t go blabbing Legendary secrets to the world, I was absolutely fed up with keeping secrets from friends and allies. No more.

    “You’re right. I guess it was dumb.”

    Rudy nodded sharply like he’d sure showed me. Like I hadn’t just agreed with him.

    “C’mon, let’s head back now. You look like you’re about to pass out,” Darren said.

    “I’m just fine,” Rudy snapped. Nidoking rolled his eyes at that, as he was probably the only thing keeping his trainer standing.

    It had been a very, very long day. But in the end, I couldn’t help feeling pretty okay about how it had all turned out.






    ~End Chapter 39~

    Next Chapter: Sebastian's here. And he has news for everyone.

    ~Chibi~
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2019
  3. 3DSRed

    3DSRed Alias RedAgent14

    This chapter made me appreciate Rudy more than I realized. Though the "anime protagonist"-esque origin of Rudy's character is still present, you've developed him in a way that (to me at least) results in Rudy's being Chosen not coming off as a generic "Shonen good guy becomes super powerful" trope.

    Also: If Darren ends up being Chosen to complete the trifecta of Ajia-related Chosen, I expect Raikou.
    (I'd personally like to see Starr get Chosen given how adamant she is about her position, but said position would probably compel her to refuse.)
     
  4. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Rudy is absolutely this fic's anime protagonist. xD But he had to endure more than his fair share of misery to get here.

    Honestly, at this point I'm 100% aware that the mystery is not "who will be chosen" but rather "who will be their patrons." :V I'll be curious to see people's guesses! (Though I do think the identity of two of the chosen will be surprising.)

    ~Chibi~
     
  5. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Review of Chapters 1-4 (including Prologue)

    Okay, so I thought I'd check this out, seeing how I've been interested in LC's progress for a while. While I heard a lot of good things about it, I also knew that it would constantly be under revision, and that I should probably wait to jump in until then. And 11 revisions, holy crap. So, now you've started revising it from the start again, I figured it was a good time to get started, and I'm glad I did, since this fic has so much potential and so much stuff to build towards. I can tell this is going to be one hell of a ride already.

    There's some foreshadowing from Lugia at the beginning, which, while verging on exposition, provided a nice and atmospheric opening to the fic as a whole. And when we go into Jade's segment, I instantly identified with her and her worries with the trainer school, as well as how that sets up things for the later chapters with Starr from what I can tell. Certainly some ominous stuff going on there, but anyway. We get time to see what Jade is like by letting her bounce off the other characters as well as just enjoying herself with the bike ride and Swift. We know her goals as well as her fears, as her friends are all leaving her to go on their trainer journeys. All in all, it was a pretty peaceful way to start things off. Surely, nothing can go wrong here, right?

    Welp. Crap.

    Okay, so the pacing of this story has been relentless so far. Of course, it has a good reason to be, and the early chapters do a great job to establish that this version of Team Rocket isn't ****ing around. They have guns. They have experiments. They have plans of world domination, but they now have the means to do it, and we see the effects of just what they're capable of. There is a constant feeling of peril here, from how desperate they are in their quest to capture the Legendaries, as well as the stakes of the fights so far. This makes fight scenes all the more exhilarating, and also makes Jade easier to relate to, as she's suddenly thrust into a desperate situation while she's pretty much at the mercy of her teammates or the grunts antagonising them. That isn't to say she hasn't proved useful so far, as she does great with the tools she's been given. Overall, the choice of her as a protagonist has proven smart so far, as it eases readers into what's in store for future chapters to come while keeping that sense of danger. The side characters have been nice counterpoints to her, and I especially like Spencer. Even though he is a fountain of corny one-liners, I can't help but love him for it, and he alleviates some of the tension of the battles without being too annoying, since he's able to think on the fly under pressure.

    The Pokemon characters have been great so far as well, especially the Zapdos-Pikachu experiment (however edgy he seems so far), and while there's still time to flesh them out of course, I'm interested to see where it will go and how much focus they're given as the story goes on. Still, I like it when Pokemon are actually given personalities of their own in fics, and they're definitely done justice here so far. It's actually the first time I've seen this take on Pokemon speech in a fic, but it's also refreshing, as the casual mentions of it in the trainer school segment establish how seriously the subject is taken and how they're pretty much essential for Pokemon trainers to learn. I also like how the Pokespeech mechanic is used and how little nuances like body language help readers to infer what they're saying without needing to be translated all the time.

    I get the feeling that things have only just started for our characters though. These opening four chapters feel like an introduction to the world, since we've only seen a small part of it, given how the escape from Team Rocket's ship has been stretched out for 3 chapters. While these have been great so far, I'm hoping the chapters after this will provide more of a breather to develop the characters and the worldbuilding. Still, the confrontation was a good taster for the fic, providing enough stakes and action to keep the readers on their toes while also not being too harsh on the characters with Ajia's convenient intervention. From here on out though, I can only expect things will go downhill from here, and that the enemies will be much harsher the next time around.

    Still, I'm really enjoying this, and have high hopes for the rest of the chapters so far. Good luck with the rest of the revisions.
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  6. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Thanks for the review, @NebulaDreams ! Already replied to ya elsewhere, but your comments were a lot of fun to read and it's great to have you on board! ^^

    Now then, with this chapter, we've hit an important milestone. LC is officially halfway done. I've said that the whole thing is gonna be 80 chapters, haven't I? It's wild to finally be at this point. The next four chapters after this one are all one big mega fight, and I'm really excited to finally write it for real (NaNo doesn't count.) Is everyone ready? Let's dive in~



    ~Chapter 40: Crisis in Hoenn~

    [​IMG]

    By the end of the night, Mew had teleported the other Legendaries back to their respective homes. It was kind of strange to feel Lugia’s restless, distracted mind slowly settle into a calm, gentle flow, almost like a river slowing down. The feeling was… relaxing in a way. If Lugia could sleep soundly, then so could I.

    Ajia showed us the barn behind the cabin, which was set up as a Pokémon sleeping quarters, and everyone let their teams out for the night (with a few exceptions like Pichu, who preferred to stay with their trainers). Then we were finally free to head inside and get ready to crash. My head hit the pillow and I was out almost immediately

    Then, what felt like seconds later, a high-pitched cry jerked me awake.

    “What the heck…” I muttered to myself, burying my head under the pillow. The noise didn’t stop. And then, for whatever reason, my brain finally processed that it was Latias’s voice.

    “Latias?” I blurted out, sitting up straight and blinking in the darkness. Then the light switch flipped on and I had to shield my face from the sudden brightness assaulting my eyes. Squinting through nearly-closed eyelids, I could just barely make out the crimson dragon flying circles near the ceiling.

    “*There’s an intruder!*” she cried.

    An intruder? What? Who? The Rockets? How did they find us here? Did they follow us? Were we under attack?

    “Who is it?” I asked her.

    “*It’s him! The one who stole my brother!*” the dragon cried.

    My heart skipped a beat. Stalker? Stalker was here? No way. I hadn’t seen him in over nine months. I was hoping I could just forget about him. What on earth was he doing here? Why now?

    I rubbed my eyes aggressively until I was finally able to see, then threw a glance at Ajia and Starr. Ajia already had a look of deep concentration as she spoke mind-to-mind with Mew. Starr’s eyes were screwed shut and she looked tired enough to murder someone for more sleep.

    “Someone gonna tell me what the hell is—”

    “Sebastian,” Ajia cut in.

    Starr’s eyes snapped open. “What the hell is he doing here?” she said.

    “Guess we’re about to find out,” Ajia said, jumping to her feet. She paused long enough for Pichu to leap onto her shoulder before bolting out the door. With a heavy groan, Starr followed.

    I leapt out of bed and glanced around for Chibi… and then remembered that he and the rest of my team were back at the main ranger station. Dammit. I mean, I’d had to, they were injured, but still, dammit. Then again, it wasn’t like we had any reason to expect a fight… right?

    I rushed down the stairs, my head a confused, distorted mess of conflicting emotions. Stalker was here, and I had absolutely no idea how I was supposed to feel about that. Wary? Anxious? Scared? Angry? This wasn’t how I’d imagined things would be the next time I saw him. But what had I imagined? That we’d somehow get the chance to talk things out and come to an understanding? Of course that was unrealistic. But had I wanted that?

    Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I registered the fact that we were running downstairs to confront a Rocket commander while wearing pajamas. So now embarrassment could get added to that pile of conflicting emotions.

    My footsteps slowed as I reached the ground floor. The front door was open, light spilling out into the front walkway; Ajia and Starr were out on the steps. And there he was, right in front of us. Former leader of the Rebellion. Current head of the Johto combat unit. The one who’d used us for months, playing with our lives, all just to serve his power play with the Kanto force. Standing at our there in a long, white executive’s coat, arms folded behind his back, Charizard sitting calmly at his side. He raised his hands disarmingly, casting an amused glance around at the lineup of both human and Pokémon that had rushed out to confront him.

    “I believe congratulations are in order,” he said. “You all did quite the masterful job stealing Moltres from the Kanto force.”

    Part of me wanted to say something. It had been over nine months since I’d last seen him. Nine months since he’d abruptly gone from trusted ally to cold manipulator in the span of a single night. But the words wouldn’t come.

    “What do you want, Sebastian?” Ajia asked, her voice tired and exasperated. Pichu punctuated her words with a jolt of sparks.

    “Wait… Stalker? He’s the one you’re all so worked up about?” a voice called out.

    I spun around to see the two faces that weren’t scowling at him. Rudy gaping incredulously and Darren squinting like he was trying to put together what was going on.

    “What are you doing here, man?” Rudy asked, taking a few steps forward.

    “More like what the hell are you doing here,” Starr snapped.

    Rudy froze, staring at her in bewilderment. He glanced back and forth between Stalker and me, waiting for answers.

    Oh geez, he didn’t know. I’d never told him. He had no idea that Stalker wasn’t on our side after all. On top of that, I could now see a couple of Rudy and Darren’s Pokémon inching into view from around the side of the cabin, looking equally confused. Ebony and Weavile in particular were frozen mid-step, like they’d been about to run over and say hi until everyone started acting so hostile.

    I made eye contact with Rudy and frantically shook my head back and forth while swiping a hand from side to side. But he just stared back, completely oblivious. Darren seemed to realize what I was getting at though. He grabbed Rudy’s shoulder, and when the latter turned toward him in confusion, he just shook his head and put a finger over his mouth.

    “There’s no need for hostility. I’ve just come to talk,” Stalker said.

    “You’ve got some nerve showing up here like this and expecting a warm welcome,” Ajia said cooly. Starr distinctly looked like she was holding back from saying much harsher things.

    And then out of nowhere, Latias shot forward, stopping right in front of him and staring him straight in the eyes. “*Let my brother go!*”

    Stalker stared back, unflinching. “I’m afraid that I can’t do that. I still need to utilize his strength for my plans.”

    “*How is what you’re doing any different from what they’re doing?!*” she cried, voice breaking slightly.

    Stalker closed his eyes in frustration. “I am not going to explain this again. I need Latios. Now do you want to hear what I have to say or not?”

    Latias drew herself back, eyes wide and shining. And for a second I was half-convinced that she was about to attack him. But then she screwed her eyes shut and bolted away from him, ducking behind Mew, who was hovering over Ajia’s head, watching him carefully.

    “I believe your other Legendary allies will want to hear this. Why don’t you bring them here?” Stalker offered.

    “You really think we’ll fall for that?” Ajia asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “They have nothing to fear from me,” he said simply. “I’m the one who’s outmatched here.”

    It didn’t… seem like he was lying. After all, what could he possibly do to us when he was so ridiculously outnumbered? Heck, even without the Legendaries, all Starr had to do was snap her fingers and her team would be on him in an instant. And from the look on her face, she was about five seconds away from doing that.

    Ajia let out a sigh, then glanced over at Mew and nodded. The psychic cat considered her carefully, then nodded back and vanished. Several seconds passed. I felt a sudden spike of irritation in the back of my mind as Mew no doubt had just invaded Lugia’s sanctum. Another minute passed, and Mew suddenly reappeared, this time joined by three gigantic birds—Lugia looking cross, Ho-oh concerned, and Moltres intrigued.

    “Who is this human?” Moltres asked once it had gotten a good look at the standoff. “If he has stolen the power of a legend, why do we not simply kill him?”

    Stalker stared unflinchingly up at the firebird. “Killing me won’t free Latios. It would only ensure that you never find him. And I have information that you require.”

    “Bold of you to assume I would not kill you anyway,” Moltres said coolly.

    “I would not have come here if I hadn’t prepared for that possibility.” The unspoken implication was clear—he knew for a fact that his life was not in danger.

    Moltres considered him for some time before drawing itself back, looking satisfied. “Very well. Say what you have to say.”

    Stalker turned to face the rest of us, surveying the faces on our group. “I’m sure by now you’ve all realized the purpose of the Rockets’ attack on Indigo.”

    I hesitated. I thought we knew, but hearing him say it like that, I was suddenly unsure.

    “They were… using it as bait to capture the other Legendaries,” I said, eyeing him closely.

    Stalker folded his arms behind his back. “That’s one reason, certainly. Far from the main one, however.”

    “So quit playing your dumbass games and tell us already,” Starr spat.

    He made eye contact with Starr briefly, looking vaguely amused by her wording, before turning his gaze back to Ajia. “It’s more that they wished to draw attention away from something else.”

    “So it was a distraction,” Ajia said flatly. Stalker nodded.

    Nothing but a distraction. God, that explained everything. No wonder the mission didn’t make any sense. Trying to lure the others into a trap and capture them? And sending only a single squad of Rockets with two executives to do it? What a joke. Of course the Rockets didn’t really have an agenda at Indigo. No wonder it felt like the attack just kept going for hours with no end goal, more about putting on a spectacle than actually accomplishing anything. We were idiots.

    “What are they really planning?” I asked, a sinking feeling building in my stomach.

    Even after all this time, I had no trouble spotting that subtle gleam in his eye when I asked that. Like he was already relishing the chance to explain. I hated it—all it did was remind me of how I used to know him.

    “The attack on Viridian last year put the Rockets in a dangerous position,” Stalker began slowly, carefully watching for our reactions, “and without Mewtwo, it would be too difficult for them to proceed with their plans, unless they manage to obtain a weapon on par with Mewtwo.”

    A Legendary Pokémon… on par with Mewtwo? Did such a Pokémon exist?

    “What, so like Mew?” I asked, looking back at the psychic cat.

    “Mewtwo was engineered to be stronger than Mew,” Starr cut in, folding her arms. “And Mew is too difficult to hunt down. Trust me, it’s not Mew.”

    <Some Legendary Pokémon are more powerful than others,> Mew explained, gesturing to Lugia and Ho-oh. <They are the higher legends. It’s likely that Mewtwo matches even them in strength.>

    That some Legendaries were even stronger than the rest… the idea had honestly never even occurred to me. Then again, it made sense, thinking back to when Lugia had attacked Viridian—Articuno and Moltres had barely been able to put a scratch on it. But somehow it was comforting that, as powerful as Mewtwo was, he wasn’t stronger than the higher legends. His power wasn’t unprecedented.

    <Let them try for me. I dare them,> Lugia said coldly.

    Ho-oh gave the silver bird a tired look. “It’s not wise to tempt fate.”

    Stalker shook his head. “Fortunately, neither of you is the target,” he said matter-of-factly. “The Rockets have set their sights on Hoenn.”

    A heavy silence fell over the surrounding. Slowly, each of us turned toward Latias, whose eyes had gone wide with dread.

    “*What do you mean?*” she asked, her voice quivering slightly.

    Stalker paused for several seconds, waiting until all eyes were back on him. Satisfied that he had everyone’s attention, he went on, “They’re going to reawaken Groudon and Kyogre.”

    Groudon… and… Kyogre? I’d… vaguely heard of them. Ancient gods of Hoenn, or something like that? Not exactly the kind of Legendaries that anyone ever saw.

    Latias was still staring. “*But… how? They’d need the red and blue orbs, but... those are…*”

    “Currently held inside the Magma and Aqua bases, yes,” Stalker finished. “The Rockets aim to steal them.”

    “Wait, wait wait wait,” I said, grabbing my forehead while I tried to make sense of this sudden revelation. “What the heck are you guys talking about? Orbs? Reawaken?”

    Latias paused, realizing that the rest of us had no idea what they were talking about. She tapped her claws together and said, “*Two years ago, there was a terrible event in my home region. You might have heard of it—the humans called it the Hoenn weather crisis.*”

    Okay, that definitely sounded familiar. Memories of seeing footage of a crazy weather catastrophe on the news suddenly drifted back to me. Supposedly caused by a gang of environmental extremists, although how exactly they’d been able to cause such a thing had always been conveniently danced around.

    “*Two rival organizations sought to shape the Hoenn region in their own image,*” she went on. “*One sought to expand the land; the other, the sea. So they set their sights on awakening the ancient gods Groudon and Kyogre, to realize their dream.*” She paused, shivering. “*But… that dream would have been nothing but an unending hell for the world.*”

    I stared at her, a chill running down my spine. “Are you saying that Team Rocket’s trying to recreate that disaster?”

    “Only as long as it takes to capture them,” Stalker said simply.

    I gaped at him, still struggling to process the weight of it all. “And these Magma and Aqua guys… we’ve gotta deal with them now?”

    Latias frowned. “*I… don’t believe so. When the Hoenn region was in crisis, both teams’ leaders saw the error of their ways, and lent their efforts toward sealing Groudon and Kyogre once more. After the crisis was resolved, they announced that they wished to make amends, and to push their organizations in a more respectable direction. Latios and I kept a close eye on them—the Hoenn region has not seen any trouble from them since.*”

    “Well they’re gonna be in for a nasty surprise when the Rockets shows up on their doorstep,” Ajia said grimly.

    “The Rockets have been sending agents to Hoenn, gathering information for months,” Stalker went on, pacing slowly in front of us. “The Indigo attack was only to hide the fact that their entire combat unit began mobilizing yesterday. The mission is already underway. They’ve sent squads to both teams’ headquarters, as well as to the mountain where the two Legendaries now sleep, so I’d recommend splitting up.”

    I jolted. “Hang on, what? Right now?! Why didn’t you tell us sooner?!”

    “You sent Lexx to warn us but you couldn’t tell us that it was all just a goddamn distraction?” Starr snarled. “You wanted us to fall for it!”

    Stalker stared at her, his gaze cold and unyielding. “I need you all to make things more difficult for them. But it wouldn’t do me any good if you stopped them outright before they even started.”

    “The hell?!”

    Ajia shook her head. “Just like the good old days, huh?” Her tone was disappointed, but unsurprised. “Getting everyone else to do your dirty work. Is that ever going to change?”

    “I still need to appear loyal to the boss,” he replied, holding both palms up. “It would be a complete waste if I gave myself away now.”

    I was speechless. I wanted to say something. Hell, I almost wanted to lash out like Starr. But all I could do was stare at him in stunned disbelief. It shouldn’t have been surprising. It shouldn’t have. But part of me had still been hoping that Ajia and Starr’s perception of Stalker had been… had been wrong. That the person I’d known on the Rebellion had been real. But no. Stalker was fake. It had only ever been Sebastian.

    “You know, I’m surprised to see all of you here together,” Stalker said offhandedly. “Or rather, I’m surprised to see the Legendaries willingly accepting help from humans. Of course, I’m sure at least some of you are here by contract. I wonder which ones.” His eyes lingered on me a little longer than they should have. I kept my expression perfectly neutral.

    “Anyway. I have business I need to attend to,” he said, turning to walk away, Charizard following close behind. “I expect I’ll be seeing you all in Hoenn soon. After all,”—he turned to face us one last time—“the clock is ticking.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    “What the hell was any of that?”

    Rudy’s voice echoed throughout the yard, the only words anyone has spoken since Stalker had left.

    “Like, I don’t even know where to start,” he went on, bracing himself against the side of the cabin. “Why was everyone treating Stalker like a bad guy? Why was he talking like that? What the hell is going on?”

    “Your precious rebel team leader is the leader of the Johto combat unit,” Starr muttered, rubbing her eyes. The anger from Stalker’s arrival had largely worn off, and she mostly just looked exhausted.

    Rudy gaped at her. “But… that doesn’t make any sense!”

    I felt a nudge at my side; Darren had sidled over to me when I wasn’t looking. “Hey, quick question: when did you find out about that?” he whispered.

    I jerked my head toward him. “Eh?”

    “Well, you obviously already knew,” he said with a knowing look.

    Oh. I guess it was obvious, yeah. I swallowed hard and said, “Last year.”

    Darren clicked his tongue. “You could’ve mentioned it.”

    I put a hand to my forehead. “I didn’t want to think about it, alright? I was hoping I’d never have to deal with him again, but then all this stuff happened and… yeah.” God, I’d turned into Ajia. When had that happened?

    Rudy was pacing back and forth in the driveway, arms swinging at his side. Finally, he snapped his head toward the rest of us and asked, “So what are we gonna do about what he said?”

    “Excuse me?” Starr said, staring at him incredulously.

    He glanced back and forth between us like we were all insane. “We’re not just gonna let them catch Groudon and Kyogre, are we?”

    “Yeah, why don’t you just charge right into an obvious trap. Sure,” Starr said, throwing her arms in the air.

    “Starr, I’m not saying we should trust Sebastian or anything—” Ajia began carefully.

    “But you’re all just gonna play into his hands like usual,” Starr finished, not bothering to hide the disgusted tone in her voice.

    “Look, I was just chosen, alright!” Rudy shot back, giving her a fierce glare. “And I don’t really get what that means yet, but I know I can’t ignore this.”

    I was in the same boat as him. I’d only been chosen for… geez, only about four hours longer than him. God, it felt weird putting that in perspective.

    “Guess this means we’re getting the rebel team back together then,” Darren said, crossing his arms behind his head. “Unless you don’t need my help? I dunno if I can really measure up now that you’ve got Moltres.” He gave Rudy a sideways glance.

    “You’re not getting out of it that easy,” Rudy snapped, grabbing the back of Darren’s shirt before he could walk back inside.

    Starr stared at us, shaking her head. “So what am I supposed to do?”

    Ajia gave her a soft look. “I’m not gonna pressure you to help us,” she said. “It’s up to you.”

    “If I may interject,” a booming voice suddenly said. I looked up to see Ho-oh focusing its large, amber eyes on us. “If you wish to help your companions, you should say so.”

    Starr stared up at the legend incredulously. “I don’t want to. I want nothing to do with this stupid war.”

    “If that were true, you would not be here,” it said, with a rather matter-of-fact tone.

    “The hell do you know?” she snapped.

    Ho-oh’s expression was calm, unyielding. “My apologies,” it said, stepping back from us.

    Starr’s eyes flickered back and forth between the various Legendaries, eyes narrowing suspiciously. Then she spun around to grab me by the shoulders, and I flinched.

    Please tell me you’re not going to do this,” she said, her voice breaking.

    I stared back, feeling my heart crumple inward. I didn’t want to do this to her. I really didn’t. But I didn’t have a choice.

    “I have to,” I said weakly.

    “It’s this stupid chosen thing again, isn’t it?” she asked, her voice low and cold, but with blades of anger digging into it. “Tell me the truth. You were chosen too, weren’t you?”

    There it was. She’d already guessed, so there was no use denying it.

    I swallowed hard. “Yeah.”

    Starr clenched her fists, muttering various obscenities about the Legendaries. She glanced over at Ho-oh. Then to Ajia. Then screwed her eyes shut with a pained expression. “Then. I’m going with you.”

    I opened my mouth to speak, but she cut me off with, “Don’t say anything before I change my mind.”

    Unsure of what else to do, I just nodded. There wasn’t anything I could say that would make things better anyway.

    “Where are we going, exactly?” I asked, throwing a glance over at the Legendaries. Lugia tilted its head sort of like a shrug and then gave Mew an expectant look.

    Mew put a paw to her chin. <Latias, do you know?>

    At those words, Latias slowly drifted out through the cabin’s front door, eyes glued to the floor. (She must have hidden inside at some point.) Several times, she opened her mouth to speak, only for the words to fail. Finally, she managed to say, “*The Magma building is on the slopes of the great volcano, and the Aqua building is off the northeastern shore. I can show them to you, but…*” Her words trailed off. She stared downward, trembling slightly. “*I should have known about this. My home region is under attack and I didn’t even know. What kind of guardian am I?*”

    I blinked. “Hey, hey this isn’t your fault,” I said, gently touching her shoulder.

    “*This is all so much… I don’t know what to do,*” the dragon cried, burying her face in her claws.

    I flashed a helpless expression at Mew. She flew down and embraced Latias, wrapping her arms around the dragon’s neck, and I took a few steps back to give the two some space.

    For some time, no one said anything. We just stood there, awkwardly avoiding each other’s eye. It was a weird feeling—the first time an imminent Legendary mission had seemed so… personal.

    Ajia watched the two with a solemn look on her face, then turned to the rest of us. “We don’t have much time. Let’s get ready.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    After we got dressed, Mew teleported us over to the main Ranger HQ. It was 4 in the morning, so Ajia first had to get someone on night shift to wake her dad up, then he woke up all the other senior rangers onsite. I wasn’t entirely sure, but it looked like she was having him break the news to the others so that she wouldn’t have to explain to everyone why we even knew about this in the first place. Being on a first-name basis with the Johto commander was hardly something to be proud of.

    My half-asleep brain was still having a hard time processing the fact that we suddenly had to travel to a region clear on the southern end of the archipelago. It was nuts. The sun wasn’t even up yet, and we hadn’t gotten to fully recover from yesterday, and now this? Why the hell did we have to deal with this now? A voice in the back of my head said that was exactly the reason the Rockets had chosen to execute this mission in the dead of night after mobilizing all their troops while the entire region had its eyes on a Legendary attack. It made perfect sense, but I wasn’t exactly in the mood to admit that.

    While struggling just to keep my eyes open, I spotted Starr making a break for the coffee pot, pouring herself a large cup and downing it almost instantly, without even adding any sugar or anything. I wandered over to her, and she must have mistaken that as me wanting to get coffee too, because she poured a second cup and held it out to me.

    “I’ll pass,” I said, sticking out my tongue.

    “I’ll take it,” Rudy said, suddenly appearing from behind me.

    Starr raised an eyebrow, but handed it to him anyway. “Aren’t you like twelve?”

    “I’m fourteen,” he snapped, shooting a glare at her.

    Starr rolled her eyes—it was clear that she didn’t really see the difference.

    “You like that stuff?” I asked, gaping at him as he started chugging it.

    He grimaced. “No. But I think I’m gonna need it.” He did proceed to drown it in sugar, though.

    Ajia broke off from the gathering of rangers and jogged over to us, moving far more quickly than anyone should at this hour. Her eyes held an obvious tiredness though, like she was forcing herself to be more energetic than she really felt.

    “Okay, they’re gonna contact the Sootopolis rangers, have them start evacuating the city. So that’s all good there, I’m gonna see if I can snag some healing supplies for us,” she said, gesturing to a nearby closet. “Something tells me this is gonna be a long fight.”

    Good. The last thing I needed was to be stuck with my entire team incapacitated like yesterday. I didn’t exactly have a stash of revive crystals lying around, given how expensive they were. Not that it would have done much to heal the massive wounds that my team had sustained… although it probably would have helped Chibi.

    Speaking of my team… I glanced over at the healing station and… yes! A ranger had just walked behind the counter. I practically flew over to it, slamming both hands on the countertop and loudly asking, “Is my team healed?” It had been ten hours or so—that was enough time, right?

    The ranger blinked at me in tired confusion. (I guess it was kind of weird for a trainer to be using this facility.) “...Your name?” he asked.

    “Jade Arens.”

    He shuffled through the Pokéball trays behind the counter before finding a tray with six balls, one of them the telltale black experiment ball.

    “Looks like their wounds are closed up, for the most part. They were due for a few more hours on the machine to be back at 100%, but it’s safe to let them out, at least.”

    No sooner had he set the tray down had I grabbed all six balls—three in each hand—and ran outside. All six of my Pokémon appeared in flashes of light, and I found myself immediately inspecting them for signs of damage. Jet, Chibi, and Stygian were okay—they’d gotten off easy. Firestorm and Aros had some raw skin where their wounds had closed up but not fully recovered yet. Swift… looked completely fine. Feathers clean, eyes alert, no sign of what had happened.

    “Are you guys alright?” I asked.

    Swift gave me a curious look while Firestorm stretched widely and yawned.

    “*Still sore,*” the Charizard said, inspecting the wingtip that had been torn yesterday. “*At least we all made it out okay.*”

    Chibi fixed me with a serious look. “*What about the mission?*” Right, it wasn’t like he could ask the rangers how it went.

    “It went fine, Moltres is free, everyone else made it out okay,” I said quickly.

    The hybrid eyed me closely. “*Something’s wrong. What is it?*” Of course he’d noticed right away. I don’t know why I expected anything less.

    “I’m going on another mission,” I said flatly.

    “*Another one?*” Stygian asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “Stalker showed up, turns out that the entire Moltres situation was some kind of BS distraction,” I said quickly, trying not to think about it too much because it only made me feel even more frustrated about the way he’d played us for fools. “Two more Legendaries in the Hoenn region are in danger. I need to know who’s not feeling up to it so I know who’s okay to send out.”

    “*Which ones?*” Firestorm asked, frowning.

    “Groudon and Kyogre.”

    Most of them showed no reaction to the names—stories of the two weren’t very common in our region, and that must have gone for both humans and Pokémon. At least… aside from the Floatzel now staring up at me with starry eyes.

    “*We’re gonna rescue gods now?*” she said, mouth hanging open.

    Ughh, I didn’t want to encourage that line of thinking, but I didn’t have the time or energy to shut it down.

    “Yep, we’re rescuing gods. Big important stuff. Is everyone in fighting shape?” My eyes lingered over Swift. He tilted his head quizzically, and I quickly broke eye contact.

    “*Well I’m fine,*” Jet said, sticking her nose in the air. “*That Gengar’s Thunderbolt wasn’t that bad.*”

    Stygian closed her eyes. “*I’ve had worse.*”

    “*You got off easy,*” Aros muttered, flicking her with his tail fan.

    I stared at the Flygon, unsure of how I was supposed to take that. “So were you wanting to sit out or…?”

    “*Who the hell do you take me for?*” Okay, never mind, I’d just failed at reading him again, that was fine.

    “*I guess we don’t have a choice,*” Firestorm said, tapping his claws together. “*We can’t just let those two get caught.*” He paused for a bit, flame crackling. “*But we didn’t exactly stand a chance in that last fight,*” he went on, grimacing. “*This isn’t just gonna be a repeat of that, is it?*”

    At his words, all six of them looked back at me, waiting for my answer. The answer I wasn’t sure I could give. Of course I didn’t want it to be a repeat of last time, but…

    I swallowed. “We won’t be alone this time, we’ll have the others for support,” I said firmly. “And the Legendaries. They’ll actually be able to help us this time.”

    The Charizard considered me carefully. “*Alright.*”

    So that was everyone. I grabbed their Pokéballs and recalled each of them… and then found my hand frozen when Swift was the last one out.

    “You’re… sure you’re alright?” I asked. It was hard to look at him without imagining that gaping wound across his neck. Even if it had only been for a few seconds… they were some of the most terrifying seconds in my life.

    “*I’m fine,*” Swift insisted. “*You recalled me so quickly that I didn’t lose much blood. And it was a clean slice—easy to mend.*”

    “Okay.” I took a deep breath. “I really don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.” Wait. That almost sounded like—“Not that I’d be fine with losing any of the others, that’s not it at all!” I added quickly. “I just…”

    “*I know what you mean,*” the Pidgeot said, pressing his forehead against my arm.

    I exhaled slowly, wrapping my arms around his neck.

    “*But… I do worry,*” he said, shuffling a talon against the dirt. “*The possibility of losing any of us is a very real one. We can’t pretend otherwise.*”

    I let go of him, glancing away. “I know that. I’ve always known that, I’ve just… shoved it aside. Rudy had to learn that truth the hard way, and here I’ve been hiding from it.” God, it hadn’t even been a full day yet, and here we were marching into mortal danger again. And I’d already accepted it as an inevitability. How screwed up was that?

    “Do you… think maybe we shouldn’t be doing this?”

    Swift paused, mulling the question over. “*It’s like you said. You were chosen. It’s a commitment you cannot back down from.*”

    I rubbed my arms, eyes sliding to the ground. “Yeah, but… the rest of you aren’t bound to that or anything.”

    He gave a patient sigh. “*Each of us has our own reasons for being here. And we’re not going to abandon you in your time of need. This is too important.*”

    I knew that. I’d always known that. And yet there was still that small part of me that doubted it. That worried they were just going along with it because I was their trainer. Even if half of them were the sort to immediately call me out on that sort of thing.

    “*Also, you really shouldn’t have recalled me while you were on my back,*” Swift added, giving me a look like he didn’t know what to do with me.

    I smiled weakly. “I knew one of the others could catch me.” It was still a pretty stupid move, yeah. Just waiting the few extra seconds for Swift to glide down so I could recall him on the ground wouldn’t have resulted in that much more blood loss. But in the moment, it had just been the obvious thing to do.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    “We’re gonna have to split up. Have half of us tackle the Magma base and the other half do the Aqua base,” Ajia announced once we’d all regrouped back at the cabin, where we could talk with the Legendaries without catching the eye of every ranger in the union.

    “So, what, me and Jade take one base, you and the twerps take the other base?” Starr asked, with a tone that was trying too hard to be casual.

    Rudy gave her an incredulous glare. “What? No way, the three of us are mission partners, you’re not splitting us.”

    “That supposed to mean anything to me?” she said flatly, giving him an unimpressed look.

    “It means,” Darren cut in, before Rudy could say anything hasty, “that we trained together and our teams already know how to support each other.”

    “Yeah, well, if both of you come with me and Jade, then Ajia’s stuck by herself, and—”

    “Look, our teams are gonna be uneven no matter what since there’s five of us,” Ajia said carefully, giving Starr a meaningful look. “Since those three have trained together and the two of us are more experienced, why don’t we just split it like that?”

    Starr was silent for some time. “Fine,” she said grudgingly, folding her arms and glancing away. Though she hadn’t said so, it was pretty obvious that she was only coming along because she didn’t want me to get myself killed. But Rudy, Darren, and I had faced the combat unit together before. Our teams were a whole lot stronger now, plus we’d have Legendaries backing us up—actually backing us up, not like that crap from yesterday. I’d be fine without her.

    …Somehow, I already didn’t believe that.

    <Now it’s just a matter of which of us should go where,> Mew said turning to face her fellow legends. <Obviously, patrons and chosen will want to stick together, but—>

    “Forgive my interruption, but what of the island where Groudon and Kyogre rest?” Ho-oh asked. “It seems reasonable to assume that the most powerful enemy forces will be the ones preparing to confront the legends directly.”

    Ajia paused to consider it. “Actually, wouldn’t it work best if you and Lugia take that one? You wouldn’t be able to come with us inside the bases,” she pointed out.

    <My abilities will be best utilized at sea anyway,> Lugia said simply. <And separating from my chosen will allow our groups a line of communication.>

    Ajia tapped a fist against her open palm. “Alright so me, Mew, and Starr will hit the Aqua base. Lugia and Ho-oh will guard Sootopolis and make sure no one comes close.”

    Rudy nodded sharply. “Then me, Jade, and Darren will hit the Magma base, and Moltres can be our backup.”

    Moltres gave Rudy a sideways glance. “Time to prove that you’re not all talk, eh?”

    “That’s the plan,” he replied shortly.

    “*What about me?*” a small, high-pitched voice asked. I glanced over to see Latias hovering off by the bushes, her posture small and restrained.

    “Are you… feeling up to it?” I asked cautiously.

    The dragon’s eyes sharpened. “*I want to help. My home is in danger. This is my responsibility.*”

    Mew gave her a soft smile. <Of course. We’ll be glad to—>

    “Go with these three,” Starr cut in, gesturing toward me, Rudy, and Darren.

    I blinked. “Eh?”

    She fixed me with a hard stare. “You’re not gonna have your… ‘patron’ or whatever. And his will be stuck outside,” she added, jerking a thumb toward Rudy and Moltres. “So you three could use more firepower.”

    Latias glanced at Mew, unsure, but the psychic cat gave her an encouraging smile. “*Alright. I’ll do it.*”

    <Very well. Are you ready?> Mew asked, holding out her tail.

    It took me a few seconds to realize that was directed at our entire group, and that this was it—she was seriously about to teleport us to Hoenn. I barely had time to process that reality before me, Rudy, Darren, Moltres, and Latias were all crowded around the tiny psychic cat. I grabbed hold of her tail tip.

    And with that, our surrounding melted into distorted light before immediately reforming into a rocky, sloping terrain. If the sudden lack of trees didn’t give away how far we’d travelled, the stiflingly warm, humid air would have done it. Not to mention the volcano peak towering over the horizon. Smoke gently drifted up into the sky, blotting out the stars, and the moon had long since set.

    And then I saw it. Not too far from us, built into the side of a sheer rock face, was a large, black and red building. A bright red light flashed angrily over the front entrance. From inside, I could hear the muffled sound of an alarm blaring. My stomach curled in on itself. The Rockets were already here.

    Mew stared at the building, concern etched all over her face.

    I took a deep breath. “Go on. The others will need you,” I told her.

    <But…>

    “The situation with the Aquas has gotta be just as bad. Go!”

    She paused for several seconds, then nodded. <Good luck.> Then she vanished.






    ~End Chapter 40~

    Next Chapter: The race for the Red Orb is on.

    ~Chibi~
     
  7. 3DSRed

    3DSRed Alias RedAgent14

    "You can fall in line or step aside, but don't get in my way." -Commander Shepard, Mass Effect 2 (I couldn't resist)

    That's an interesting way to look at it.

    aka Lugia

    Looking forward to seeing the giant battle to come in the next chapters!
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  8. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    So a couple reviewers on Bulba pointed out that the teleport mechanics in the early chapters were pretty inconsistent, and while it obviously got a lot better later on, it still gave me the kick in the pants that I needed to finally write up an official extra outlining the teleport mechanics in this fic:



    Teleportation mechanics in LC
    “Because the people demanded it!”

    Teleportation, like most things, costs energy. Pokémon, being energy-based beings, are pretty good at the whole “throwing energy at something to make stuff happen” thing.

    Pokémon have a pool of energy that their bodies naturally produce which can then be applied to produce certain desired effects. This can be thought of as analogous to Power Points, but more global. (If you spend all your lightning on ten Thunders, do you really have any power left for a Thunderbolt?) Teleportation uses psychic energy, of course, therefore using other psychic skills will cut into the pool of energy available for teleporting. Psychic-types are the only Pokémon that can learn to teleport naturally, but a select few non-psychics can learn it artificially.

    The skill level required for teleporting scales with distance:
    • Line-of-sight: Very easy. Costs such a small amount of energy that it’s almost negligible. Basically a cantrip.
    • Up to 10km: Not too hard. Most low-level psychics can manage this with only a little practice. Barring no other use of psychic power, the average Pokémon can do 40 or so of these before growing exhausted.
    • Up to 25km: Probably the maximum for non-psychic types. These take an increase in focus and spatial awareness, but not that much more energy, making them ideal for breaking a longer jump into shorter chunks. (Worth noting that having multiple jumps requires multiple memorized locations—see below.)
    • Up to 50km: More difficult. Takes some real dedicated training to learn. This reaches the category of “long-range teleport.”
    • Up to 100km: Only the most advanced psychics with years of specialized training can pull this off.
    Anything beyond 100km is nearly unheard-of, and mostly pointless when you can just make multiple smaller jumps anyway. The way teleportation works is that the psychic projects its awareness outward, reaching with its mind across space to locate a memorized location, ‘grabs’ onto it mentally, and then exerts energy to force the physical body to that location. Past a certain distance, however, the limiting factor is not so much the energy cost, but simply the fact that the mind can’t project that far.

    Extra people increases the energy cost exponentially. Now, of course this varies based on the mass involved, but as a rule of thumb:
    • +1 person: x2 cost
    • +2 person: x4 cost
    • +3 person: x8 cost
    Anything beyond that starts to run up against the point where it’s not a matter of having the energy, it’s being able to manifest it at once. (Pokémon don’t make a habit of expending most of their energy in a single instant, save for our favorite mutant Pikachu.)

    The other thing to keep in mind is that it’s all relative—stronger Pokémon can not only teleport further but also have a larger pool of energy to work with. So it’s not quite like the games where teleport always has 40pp regardless of the user’s level (barring pp up of course). A weaker psychic might only have 20, while a stronger one might have up to 80.

    The additional restriction, of course, is that teleports outside of line-of-sight require the Pokémon to have visited the location and “memorized” it: concentrating very hard on the feel of the location to produce a strong spatial awareness of it. This process can take anywhere from thirty seconds to a minute, but once complete, the Pokémon can return to it at will (provided the distance/energy cost are not too great.) Memorized locations can fade over time unless regularly visited. Stronger psychics can remember more locations at once. (An Abra’s max might be two, but an Alakazam might be able to handle up to ten.)

    The act of teleporting itself also requires a solid focus, but is of course much faster than the memorizing. Again depends on the skill of the psychic, but a good five seconds should be all it takes. This does mean that it’s possible to interrupt a teleport though.

    Teleporting within city limits is regulated by the League. It’s prohibited to teleport to anywhere other than one’s own property, or a designated public teleport stop (traditionally at Pokémon Centers, though some larger cities might also have them in parks). Secure locations will almost always have anti-teleport fields installed.

    Also worth noting is the fact that psychics are notoriously proud, and unlikely to stay with a human that only uses them as glorified transportation. (All Pokémon have the legal right to leave their trainer for any reason.) It’s simply uncommon to see anyone with a teleporter other than a dedicated psychic trainer or a competitive battler. Well-trained psychics willing to lend their strength to human society are highly-valued, and most often employed by emergency response teams.

    ~Chibi~
     
  9. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    There's an extra on Teleport mechanics in the previous post! And sorry this one took so long. I basically had to rewrite the entire battle after I got back from Worlds. But, it is done. And 42 is almost done as well.



    ~Chapter 41: Team Magma~

    [​IMG]

    With a flash of light, Alakazam materialized from his Pokéball in front of us. The psychic-type observed our rocky surroundings, then held both spoons to his forehead, humming to himself for half a minute or so.

    “Got it memorized?” Darren asked.

    Alakazam held up a spoon and gave a grunt of approval.

    Darren nodded. “Alright good.” He turned to Moltres and said, “If anything goes wrong, we’ll teleport out to you.”

    The firebird blinked, apparently not expecting anyone other than its chosen to address it. “Very well. Should any enemy forces appear out here, I will not allow them to escape.” With that, Moltres spread its wings to take off, scattering embers as it ascended.

    We turned our attention to the base. The front entrance had already been broken down by the Rockets; nothing stopping us from walking right inside. We stepped forward into a wide, open lobby with dark, glossy stone floors. Glowing tubes filled with what honestly looked like magma (it couldn’t really be magma, could it?) lined the walls. Flashing red lights illuminated the way forward, leading to the start of several long, narrow corridors. Not the best environment for all my broad-winged flying Pokémon. We’d need maneuverability.

    I grabbed two Pokéballs and let out Chibi and Stygian. I’d keep Jet in reserve, that way I could let her out if anything happened to the other two, and she could hold off the enemy while I healed them. Rudy responded by letting out Ebony and Raichu. Then Darren took a few seconds to consider our lineup before letting out Weavile to stand alongside Alakazam.

    Three Faint Attack users for surprise hits, a teleporter, two electric-types that could boost each other’s lightning; all small and maneuverable, but three of them big enough that we could duck behind their Protect if needed. A good roster for being in the line of fire. I hated how quickly and naturally that assessment came to us.

    “Everyone’s good on their Protect training, right?” Darren asked. There was a murmur of approval from all of them.

    “Good, cause we’re gonna need it,” he said grimly.

    I turned to Latias. “It’s probably best if you stay invisible for most of this. The last thing we want is you getting captured.” The dragon nodded before vanishing in a wave of rippling light.

    “*I’ve been wondering something,*” Ebony spoke up suddenly, her words hesitant. Everyone turned to face her, and she pawed at the floor sheepishly. “*We’re not going to lose anyone this time, are we?*” the Houndoom asked, and my heart tore itself in half.

    Rudy froze, staring at the ground with an expression I couldn’t place. Finally, he leaned forward and put his hand on her head. “We’re not. I promise.”

    I gave him a sideways glance. He couldn’t promise that. I couldn’t promise that. None of us could. But pretending was the only thing we could do.

    We set off down one of the corridors, not running, but not moving slowly either. I didn’t really know what we were looking for. Some sign of the Rockets’ presence? The alarm continued to buzz angrily in the background, but I willed my brain to tune it out and just focus on what was right in front of us. No Rockets yet… and no Magmas either, for that matter…

    Almost as if on cue, a pair of soot-black wolves rounded the corner and stopped right in front of us, crouching low and snarling.

    “Hold it right there!” a voice ordered from somewhere.

    I whirled around in time to see two more wolves dart up from behind, cutting off our escape. This didn’t feel like the Rockets’ style. Why would they warn us? In this sort of mission, there was no point in taking prisoners.

    “Are you guys Team Magma?” I called out.

    No answer. The two Mightyena in front lunged. Weavile and Stygian jumped in front of us, colliding with the opposing dark-types and enduring the dark aura that flared up from the impact. Behind us, I heard a snarl and the crackle of flames as Ebony took up the rear defense, followed by sparks as Raichu must have joined her.

    “We’re not here to fight!” I yelled.

    “Yeah, well, you’re gonna get a fight!” the voice retorted. Oh my god, seriously? We didn’t have time for this!

    A flock of Golbat descended from the ceiling, spitting out globs of poison. I ducked immediately, covering my head, but the sludge splattered off a psychic barrier above our heads (Latias?). Chibi fired off a wave of sparks at the flying-types and they seized up, muscles twitching with paralysis, struggling to stay airborne. One dove right at us and I dropped to the floor as it chomped down right where my arm had been just a second ago.

    “Stop it, we’re trying to help you guys!” But I could barely hear my own voice over all the chaos, so I doubted that they heard it either.

    “We’ve gotta get their attention,” Rudy muttered into my ear. “Something flashy, without hurting ‘em.”

    Something flashy, something flashy… something like Flash?

    “Shut your eyes, both of you,” I hissed to my teammates, and then, to Chibi: “Use Flash!”

    Chibi took off running down my outstretched arm, and the last thing I saw before I shut my eyes was the hybrid leaping into the air, feathers glowing brightly. Then a blinding brightness assaulted my eyelids, and I had to hold a hand over my face to shut it out completely.

    The sounds of startled yips and fluttering of wings filled the air. I opened my eyes a crack and saw the Mightyena staggering backward, ears pinned and eyes screwed shut. The Golbat weren’t affected (did they use sound to navigate?) but they were currently trapped by some kind of psychic aura, most likely Latias again.

    “Stop attacking and just listen to us!” I yelled as loud as I possibly could.

    Footsteps approaching. I spun around to see a group of people running up behind us, all of them dressed in hooded red uniforms emblazoned with a black M logo. They all looked tense, guarded, but the moment they got a good look at us, their expressions suddenly morphed into confusion.

    “Wait, it’s just a bunch of kids?” one of them said, shooting a glance at her teammates.

    “What are you doing here?” a second one asked, fixing us with a rather unimpressed glare.

    “We’re here because Team Rocket is invading your freaking base!” Rudy shot back.

    “Why were you sneaking around?”

    “The front door wasn’t exactly locked,” Darren pointed out flatly.

    One of the Magmas turned around and hollered, “Hey Courtney! They’re not with the intruders!”

    At his words, a side door further down the hallway opened. And from inside, a short, purple-haired woman emerged. The other Magmas all backed away slowly as she approached us, wearing an icy, inscrutable expression.

    “You three… came to help?” she asked simply.

    I looked at each of the Magmas in turn, who were all staring at her. They obviously held her in high regard. And… she didn’t seem like the kind of person we wanted to say the wrong thing to.

    I took a deep breath and said, “The Rockets are after the Red Orb. We have to stop them no matter what.”

    Courtney stared at us for several seconds before giving a curt nod. Then she turned around and gestured for us to follow her. “Come. This way.”

    I glanced back and forth between Rudy and Darren, who both just shrugged before motioning to our Pokémon. Chibi jumped back on my shoulder while Raichu hopped onto Ebony’s back. Weavile gave her a dirty look and then opted to ride Stygian, while Alakazam hovered lightly across the floor. The other Magmas stopped to feed their Mightyena and Golbat squads some berries, and then our group set off, Courtney taking the lead. No one said anything as she led us down a maze of corridors, taking us deeper into the mountain.

    “Where are we going, exactly?” I asked finally.

    “The others… need help,” Courtney replied, her words terse. That really didn’t answer my question at all.

    One of the Magma agents must have noticed the confused look on my face, because she added, “We got separated from the others. Last we saw, Admin Tabitha was trying to fight the intruders off, but he…” Her words trailed off.

    “He’s fine,” Courtney snapped, a slight edge to her voice. She didn’t look back at any of us and just kept marching forward with the same forceful air.

    An uncomfortable flicker of unease started to creep up the back of my neck. This situation… was a lot more familiar than I’d realized. An ambush in the dead of night, alarms blaring, scared rebels fleeing down dark hallways, desperate to regroup, Rockets lurking out of sight. I’d been so preoccupied with thinking of this like another Legendary mission. Protect the orb; stop the Rockets from catching more Legendaries. But now that we were here, it was feeling a lot more like that night on Midnight—

    No. No, it wouldn’t end up like that. The Magmas were clearly capable of defending themselves. But had they ever had to go up against an enemy as ruthless as the Rockets? And did we really have enough firepower to help them?

    Light was streaming down the corridor ahead of us. My blood ran cold—I could hear gunfire in this direction. Courtney slowed to a stop when she reached the corner and held up a hand for everyone else to stop.

    “Here,” she said.

    I wasn’t sure what awaited us in the next area, but I already knew it wasn’t good. I crept closer to the corner, peeked around it and—

    And then immediately jerked my head back. A squad of Rockets had guns trained on the entryway, ready to fire at any moment. I’d caught a brief glimpse of some kind of commotion behind them. Other Rockets and their Pokémon, fighting an unseen enemy—the other Magmas?

    “Okay, yeah, we walk around that corner, we’re super dead,” I said flatly.

    Darren nodded sagely. “The worst kind of dead.”

    There was no way to get past that many armed Rockets, not when all they had to do was open fire on the entryway. Had to disable them somehow. Maybe Chibi could rush out with Quick Attack, paralyze a few of them… Although if he got targeted by their Pokémon forces, the last thing I needed was for him to go down first. Maybe…

    Wait. What was I doing. We had the perfect surprise attacker right by our side.

    “Latias, are you there?” I whispered. I wasn’t entirely sure if she could hear me or not, but seconds later, I felt a light claw tap on my shoulder.

    “Can you disarm the Rockets in the entryway?”

    Two taps. Then a small whoosh of air that felt like her darting around the corner. I let out a breath. Okay good, I was not in the mood to go running through the line of fire.

    I made eye contact with Rudy and Darren. “She’s clearing the way. You guys ready to run?”

    The two nodded and proceeded to give instructions to their Pokémon. I turned to face the Magmas and said, “When the Rockets go down, we’re gonna make a break for it and try to find your teammates.”

    Half the group gaped at us in surprise. But Courtney just nodded with the same sharp, unreadable expression as before.

    “*Go now!*” Latias cried suddenly.

    “Now!” I repeated, breaking into a run.

    Around the corner and I could now see the squad that had been guarding the hall, all flat on their backs, no guns within sight. I leaped over them and emerged into a large, cavernous room filled with heavy machinery that had been turned into a total warzone. Attacks tore through the air across the center of the room, ripping through the rocky floor and crashing against the machines as both sides traded blows while keeping behind cover. Which side was which?

    “Over there!” one of the Magmas yelled, pointing.

    I jerked my head to the left to catch a glimpse of someone in a red-hooded uniform peeking around the edge of a huge drill. Which meant the horde of Pokémon to the right was Rocket, with their trainers hiding out of sight. I wasn’t sure if Latias had gotten the chance to disarm that squad yet—not with so many enemy Pokémon in the way—and I wasn’t too keen on finding out.

    “We gotta move!” I yelled.

    Darren nodded to Weavile before he and Alakazam teleported ahead, and the dark-type took off, already breathing out an Icy Wind toward the first three Pokémon that had broken from the Rockets’ lineup. At Rudy’s command, Raichu jumped down from Ebony’s back, her form already blurring into several copies of herself.

    I made eye contact with Chibi and said, “Go with Raichu; power each other’s Lightning Rod and then go for Discharge.”

    The two electric rodents dashed after Weavile, and then Rudy and I sprinted in the opposite direction, Ebony and Stygian racing alongside us and the Magma squad following not far behind. Just had to focus on reaching the Magmas’ side of the cavern. I tried not to look at the scattered Pokémon that had fallen in the middle of the makeshift battlefield. Tried not to think about how they would have been recalled if they were able to be. Just had to keep running. I heard the familiar sound of bullets striking Protect—dammit why was that so familiar—and screwed my eyes shut, willing my legs toward the space that I’d last seen.

    I reached our goal and ducked behind a machine—some kind of huge drill—before sinking to the ground, heart pounding. Rudy jumped past me a second later, followed by Courtney and her Magma squad. I counted them out and—okay good, we hadn’t lost anyone. Whether that was luck or thanks to Latias playing defense, I wasn’t sure.

    Once I’d recovered, my eyes wandered over the nearby Pokémon. I saw lots more Mightyena, but also plenty of Magcargo, Camerupt, Golbat, Rhydon, all keeping a constant barrage—rocks, fireballs, sludge—arcing through the air and raining down on the opposing side. Then I suddenly realized that about half the Magmas were staring at us in confusion. Right, they’d just seen a couple of random kids break through the Rockets’ defense out of nowhere, with no clue who we were or why. The only indicator we were even on their side had to be the Magmas running with us.

    “Courtney!” a loud, nasally voice called out.

    I looked up just in time to see a large, round-faced man charging toward us—or rather, charging past us and clapping his hands on Courtney’s shoulders. “You’re alive!”

    “Yes, Tabitha. We’re fine,” she replied dryly.

    “H-how did you make it here?” he stammered.

    She turned to gesture at me, Rudy, and Darren. “New friends,” she said in a singsong tone.

    The man blinked in surprise. “What?” His head snapped toward us, like he’d only just noticed we were here. “H-how did you kids get in here? And why?

    “Why does everyone keep asking that?!” Rudy yelled, stamping a foot against the dirt.

    But before any of us could answer, Courtney cut in with, “Where’s Leader Maxie?”

    Tabitha’s face fell. “We—we haven’t seen him. I think he’s still in his office. We’ve been trying to reach him, but the intruders haven’t yielded one bit.”

    Their leader? The Rockets would no doubt be gunning for him if he was the one with the Red Orb. Had they already reached him? Were we too late?

    “Which way to his office?” I asked hurriedly.

    Tabitha blinked at me, apparently still confused that we were even here, but willing to overlook it for now. “It’s… on the far side of the cavern. Past where the intruders have taken up their defense.”

    Rudy tapped a fist against his palm. “So we’ve gotta break through to get to him.”

    My eyes slid back to the opposing side. Now that I was paying attention, the Rockets’ forces were clearly focusing on two things: keeping the pressure on the Magmas and preventing anyone from making it out of this room. If that pressure faltered for even an instant, they’d be overrun. No amount of gunfire could stop a horde of charging Rhydon.

    On that note, it was now obvious that the water-types on the opposing side were hanging back to stay out of the line of fire. Could always tell Chibi to focus them down, but they were circled by a squad of Dugtrio, keeping their speed boosted with Agility.

    Dammit. The Rockets had really thought this through.

    “We could try to teleport past them?” Darren suggested, casting an inquisitive glance at Alakazam.

    “*Too many in the way,*” the psychic said flatly. “*Need a clearer view.*”

    He made a face. “Of course. Don’t know why I thought it could be easy.”

    So we had to split their attention. Give them enough opposition that they couldn’t hold us back with just a single unified defense. The Rockets’ Pokémon were all clustered together, defending each other from the Magmas’ overhead barrage while the Rockets themselves kept behind cover. And while they couldn’t let loose any big attacks without hitting each other, they didn’t need to beat us—all they had to do was keep us from getting past.

    Wait, but that meant… they almost definitely had other agents already confronting the Magma leader. Dammit. We had to get to him now.

    I whipped out two more Pokéballs to let out Aros and Jet (too many rocks for Firestorm and Swift, better to keep them in reserve). I turned to each of them one after another and said, “Stygian, go for a Swords Dance and then slip through their defenses with Feint Attack. Chibi, stay on the move, paralyze everyone you can. Keep your power use low, go for Iron Tail when you get an opening. Aros, Jet—if you can pull anyone away from the center lineup, do it, then follow up with trapping moves. We don’t have to beat them, we just have to break their guard as fast as possible, got it?”

    Chibi didn’t even answer, he just bolted away faster than I could see. The others nodded sharply before taking off after him. I could only hope that Latias had managed to disarm the rest of the Rockets. Even if she hadn’t… it wasn’t like they could fire on the melee with their own Pokémon in the way, right? Had to keep telling myself that.

    Rudy and Darren had sent out more reinforcements and were quickly relaying strategies. The usual hit-and-run style, keeping out of sight, using disruption moves. Most of their Pokémon didn’t waste a second finding a good spot where they could duck behind one of the many large machines and start firing off attacks from behind cover. The only one who hadn’t moved was Tyranitar, who stood silently with an expression somewhere between impatience and disapproval.

    Rudy stared blankly at her. “Tyrani—?”

    “*That plan would take too long,*” she grumbled.

    Then, before Rudy could say anything else, the rock-type broke into a lumbering run, charging straight into the center of the battlefield.

    “Wait, get back, you’re just gonna be a target!” he yelled.

    But the dinosaur ignored him and kept going. A few Rockets fired on her. Then, upon seeing how useless that was, they started ordering their Pokémon into formation. At least, until a huge stone pillar erupted from the ground, right in the middle of that formation, forcing those on either side to back away from the center. Tyranitar didn’t waver—she just kept going, punching her own Stone Edge and shattering it to pieces, driving the Rocket’s Pokémon further to either side to avoid the hail of rocks.

    Wait. She’d basically just cut a huge gap right through the middle of the Rocket’s defenses, forcing them to target her or else. If we could keep going with that, draw more of them away from the exit, then—!

    “Change of plans! Everyone, support Tyranitar!!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.

    “You guys too!” Rudy called out, turning to the Magmas behind us. “Light Screen, Reflect, Helping Hand, anything! This is Hoenn, right? Your ‘mons know multi battle tactics, yeah?”

    Tabitha looked unbelievably offended at being ordered around by a teenager, but Courtney just nodded and let out her Camerupt, ordering it to use Rock Tomb. Then the rest of the Magmas leaped into action, letting out Pokémon and calling out attacks. A duo of Claydol’s eyes glowed, and several walls of shimmering light went up around Tyranitar, diffusing the numerous attacks now flying right at her. The Mightyena squad that had first confronted us all rushed forward in formation, eyes flashing with the glare of Intimidate—half of them snarling viciously to cut the potency of the enemies’ moves, the other half barking out insults at the opposition, taunting them into an all-out offense, not giving them a chance to use the same support tactics we were using.

    But an all-out offense wasn’t exactly outside the Rockets’ area of expertise. A squad of Dugtrio turned and shot toward Tyranitar, sending rippling waves through the ground and pulling her legs into a sinkhole until Weavile intercepted them with a few well-aimed ice chunks. They were followed by a squad of fighting-types, all rushing at her. A couple fireballs and mist balls from above knocked down two or three but rest kept going. A Machamp took the lead, reaching Tyranitar first and slamming all four fists into her belly. The rock-type reeled backwards, grunting in pain, but before Machamp could follow up with a second hit, Alakazam fired off a psychic pulse from both spoons, striking it right in the face. Its muscles strained, fighting against the telepathic hold, movements slowing just enough for Tyranitar to swing her tail and knock it off its feet before smashing it into the ground with her foot.

    I dragged my eyes away from Tyranitar to take stock of all my Pokémon. Aros, trapping a pair of Poliwrath in a swirling Sand Tomb while a Claydol pelted the two with multicolored Psybeams. Stygian, slipping in and out of the shadows behind the machinery, slashing at a Hypno who’d been raising protective barriers around its teammates and then ducking out of view just as quickly. Jet, adding more water to a growing Whirlpool while Raichu electrocuted anything that fell in.

    They were all holding their own. But we had to do more than that. For all we knew the Rockets could already have the orb, and we were stuck here dealing with—

    Movement, in my peripheral. Alakazam snapped his gaze behind us and then suddenly brought both spoons together, raising a Protect just in time to block the shadowy orb that had flown right at his face.

    What? Where had that—my eyes suddenly locked onto a shadow tracing the wall behind us. Was that…? Alakazam narrowed his eyes and pointed forward, firing a psychic pulse at the rock surface. A spiky, implike shadow fell out, immediately flashing a wide grin and snickering. Gengar! Already charging up a ball of ghostly aura in its paws.

    A string of lightning shot from nowhere and Gengar cried out in alarm as the orb flew wild. Chibi! In a flash, the Pikachu raced into view, sparking threateningly, fur and feathers standing straight up. Gengar glowered at him, but it knew better than to take him on. It dissolved into shadow again, darting across the floor and out of sight. Chibi paused, nodding to me before dashing back into the fray.

    I jerked my attention back to Tyranitar just in time to see a Linoone run up and tag her leg, washing her in a shower of white sparks. A surge of energy shot through her. The dinosaur’s next stomp packed enough of a punch to tear a hail of boulders up from the ground, burying three or four opponents right in front of her. Then, without warning, her whole body shook as a heavy punch slammed into the side of her face. Machamp—it had pulled itself free and was now pummeling her relentlessly while she fought to keep her balance. Other fighters dragged themselves out from under the Rock Slide. Seeing Machamp holding its own, they launched into their own counterattack, flinging chunks of earth, launching huge waterspouts, focusing every effort into taking her down.

    My heart sank, and my eyes frantically swept over each of my Pokémon, one after the other, all of them busy struggling with their own opponents. None in any position to help her. But we couldn’t let her go down, not now, not when she’d done the most of anyone.

    And then a ball of brightly glowing mist ball shot down from above, exploding right in Tyranitar’s face, knocking all of her attackers flying. The rock-type blinked—either from confusion, or from the sudden brightness in her face, I couldn’t tell. Either way, the attack hadn’t caused her any pain. It was psychic.

    Machamp was flat on its back, out cold. The other attackers picked themselves up from where they had fallen before glancing around, trying to locate their attacker. But before they could even make a move, another mist ball rained down on them, followed by a dazzling flash of light exploding outward that knocked the entire squad out instantly.

    Hooooly crap was I glad we had Latias on our side. It was easy to forget that despite her timid, soft-spoken nature, she was still a Legendary Pokémon.

    But the Rockets—they had to have realized that the invisible thing there was the one dishing out the most damage right now. The reaction was obvious. The still-standing fighting-types retreated, trading off for line of ghost-types, all firing off bursts of shadowy aura toward the last place they’d seen her. The attacks flew wild; Latias had already swooped behind them, breathing out a sparkling cloud of violet and gold dragonfire. The ghosts fell to the ground, twitching wildly as sparks leapt from their bodies.

    Then a black orb shot through the air, striking her dead-on. That Dragonbreath—it had given away her position. Latias gave a yelp, recoiling in surprise, and with a rippling of distorted light, her red, jetlike form suddenly snapped into view. I threw a glance in the direction the ball had fired from and saw—dammit, that same Gengar and its stupid smug face, cackling from its perch atop one of the Magmas’ drilling machines. I called Chibi’s name and he appeared from the opposite end of the cavern this time, firing off a huge lightning bolt—bigger than he probably should have—and striking it right in the face. I glanced back at Latias to see if she was alright and—

    …And suddenly became aware of the fact that at least half of the fighters near her were frozen, staring openmouthed. Oh. They’d literally just seen a Legendary Pokémon appear out of thin air. That was a bit shocking, yeah.

    The pause was only for a second. A lightning bolt broke the standstill, and then everyone was back to barking orders or dishing out attacks. But now the Rockets knew we had a Legendary supporting us. They weren’t here on a capture mission. None of them had Master Ball cannons. Still, something told me that we really, really didn’t want them all targeting Latias at once.

    Sure enough, the few remaining fighting-types on the opposing side tagged out for dark-types, all firing off pulsing shockwaves of dark energy. Latias looped around the first two but the third one was too fast and caught the side of her wing, sending wisps of darkness trailing across her feathers. Latias shivered, struggling to pull herself free. The momentary pause slowed her flight just enough for her to get bombarded by three more Dark Pulses, followed by a barrage of Shadow Balls from the ghosts that had targeted her earlier. The dragon recoiled backward, eyes shut, struggling to block the attacks with her psychic power, but the dark energy cut right through it. Chibi fired at her attackers, dropped a Honchkrow, then had to dart away as a Marowak slammed its club into the spot where he’d been standing.

    “Tyranitar, support Latias!” Rudy yelled.

    With a huge effort, Tyranitar threw a Primeape off her back and weakly lumbered forward to stand in front of Latias, taking the dark attacks that were meant for her. The rock-type let out a low growl before stomping the ground. Pointed stoned burst up through the earth, driving the three opposing dark-types into the side of a machine and pinning them there. Then the dinosaur let out a deep, resounding roar that echoed through the cavern.

    I clenched my teeth. That move was obviously just for show. I could see the deep cracks all over her armor. The eye swollen and bleeding. She wouldn’t last much longer.

    Rudy’s hand hovered over her Pokéball. “Tyranitar, are you—?!”

    “*Fine,*” the rock-type growled. “*Worry ‘bout the others.*” She glanced over her shoulder, but she wasn’t looking at us—her gaze was firmly on Latias. The dragon’s eyes were closed, and a healing glow washed over her, mending the blackened patches of skin and feathers. Then she thrust both arms forward and the same glow poured over Tyranitar. The bleeding stopped. Cracks in the armor slowly filled…

    Wait—Latias could heal others? Not just herself!

    Tyranitar blinked in surprise, staring down at herself. Then the corners of her mouth turned up slightly. She let out a roar before swinging her tail at the ground, tearing our more chunks of rock to use as ammunition while Latias darted around her, deflecting as many attacks as possible. How could it have taken us this long to realize that those two were the perfect team in this situation?

    The battle raged on around them, too many details to possibly take it all in. I saw Darren recalling the fainted Weavile and sending out Golduck. Rudy spraying down Nidoking with a potion. Tyranitar enduring high-pressure waterspouts until Chibi and Raichu took the entire water squad down with a tag team lightning strike—both of their fur standing on end from a Lightning Rod charge. The ground-types, where were the—

    Trapped. All of them trapped. Aros and Jet had combined their Whirlpool and Sand Tomb into a sprawling quagmire of mud (I’d never taught them how to do that!) and held them there while the Magmas’ fire-types poured flames onto them nonstop.

    How long had we been at this? I hadn’t thought to check when we started. No idea if we were too late. No idea if the Rockets already had the orb. But we had to keep going until—

    Darren tapped my shoulder. “Hey, enough of them are down that it’s probably safe for us to teleport over to the door.”

    What? I peeked around the edge of the drill, and—he was right. The Rockets’ lineup had been completely scattered from having to split their attention between Latias and Tyranitar, and still fend off scattered blows from the rest of our teams and the hail of attacks from the Magma Pokémon. At this point we finally had a clear view of the doorway that led out of the cavern, now almost entirely unguarded.

    Almost as if she had sensed what we were planning, Courtney said, “Go. Help Maxie. We’ll hold them off.”

    I snapped my head toward her. “Are you guys gonna be alright?”

    “Help our leader!” she snapped.

    I nodded, then recalled everyone except Chibi, calling out, “Time to go!”

    The hybrid fired one last bolt at the opposition before dashing across the torn-up earth, dodging several rocks along the way. He leaped onto my shoulder and I grabbed Alakazam’s hand, and then everything dissolved into a vortex of light and color, reforming seconds later into a darkened hallway. It was weirdly jarring for the sounds of the battle to be suddenly behind us instead of in front.

    A nearby Rocket spun around and was about to call for his teammates, but a single jolt from Chibi and he went down. Seconds later, there was another flash as Alakazam reappeared with Rudy. Then a few more seconds and it was Darren’s turn, and we didn’t waste a second. The three of us took off sprinting in the opposite direction, the sounds of the raging battle slowly fading behind us.

    Tabitha hadn’t said where exactly their leader’s office was, but the first turn on the left led to a pair of large, important-looking double doors. This had to be it. I pushed the doors open to reveal a short passage with more magma tubes lining the walls. What immediately grabbed me was the fact that the floor was almost completely covered in scorch marks. There’d been a battle here. Dark masses littered the ground all around, but I couldn’t tell what they—oh geez. I screwed my eyes shut, but couldn’t block out that smell. Charred flesh. I opened my eyes a crack. Honestly couldn’t even tell if they were Rockets or Magmas. My stomach clenched up, and I closed my eyes again until we reached the end of the hall.

    When I next opened them, we were there—standing in front of us stood the doors to the leader’s office. My ears caught the sound of voices from the other side:

    “I’m not going to ask again. Give me what we came here for or I’ll burn this entire place to the ground.” My heart skipped a beat. I recognized that voice.

    “I know very well why you want it. I’ve used it myself for that very purpose. I will not allow anyone else to repeat my mistakes.”

    “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”

    A wave of tension flooded my body, and Chibi’s paws clenched my shoulder reassuringly. I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply. Then I went ahead and released Stygian once more. Rudy let out Nidoking and Raichu, while Darren opted to go with Golduck and Sandslash.

    I made eye contact with Rudy and Darren. This was it.

    We pushed open the doors to reveal a large, red-carpeted office. There’d been a battle. More scorch marks marred the walls and floor; large stones were lodged into the side of an overturned desk. To our left was a short, slender man wearing a long red overcoat and a stoic expression, standing behind an enormous Camerupt. To our right, the Rocket executive I’d fought several times yesterday. Her Flygon wrestled with a Mightyena while Kabutops—that Kaputops, I noted, feeling an uncomfortable lurch in my stomach—slashed at a Crobat that was relentlessly fluttering around, trying to get at the executive directly.

    Just Raven and her team. No other Rockets. She must have ordered the others to stay behind and prevent the Magmas from coming to their leader’s aid. That, or… back in the hallway…

    Both of the two noticed us at the same time, turning toward us in surprise. The Magma leader tilted his head ever so slightly, looking perplexed. The Rocket executive’s eyes widened. “You again?!”

    Not wasting a second, Chibi leaped forward sent a Thunderbolt right at Raven, but her Flygon managed to dart into its path at the last moment, smirking at him as the lightning coursed harmlessly across its scales.

    Chibi’s claws gripped my shoulder. “*Dammit. That was my last bolt,*” he muttered.

    What? He was out of power? In retrospect, I should have realized that—he’d been expending energy like crazy back in the cavern melee. Still, we had the advantage here—Stygian, Raichu, Nidoking, Alakazam, Golduck, and Sandslash out, with half our teams still in reserve. Raven glanced back and forth between us and Maxie, clenching her teeth in a wide-eyed rage. She had to realize she was outmatched. Her hand flew to a belt pouch and whipped out a Pokédex, pressing a few buttons on it.

    “I didn’t want to do this. This is your fault,” she hissed, pointing at us. What? What was that supposed to—

    A purple Pokéball materialized from the Pokédex’s transfer port. My jaw fell open. A Master Ball. Why did she have a Master Ball? We’d freed Moltres! Who—?!

    She opened the ball, unleashing a burst of light. And then my stomach plummeted through the floor when that light took the form of a huge, auburn beast. Blank, mindless eyes stared at us from a brightly colored face. Huge blue paws stamped the ground, radiating shimmering waves of heat.

    Entei. She had Entei. The three of us had fought our way here, and now we had to fight Entei.

    “The orb. Now,” Raven said.

    Maxie’s calm demeanor had slipped, and he was now visibly sweating, staring down the volcano beast. Camerupt let out a snort and took a few steps forward, its movements shaky but its eyes unyielding.

    Then, in the midst of it all, I just barely caught the sound of Darren hissing, “Alakazam!” under his breath. It took a second, but then I realized—the Master Ball, it was right there, we could steal it, we could—

    Raven pointed at the psychic before he could even raise his spoons, and Entei immediately spat a fireball directly into his face. Alakazam’s eyes went wide right before it struck him dead-on, right in the chest. With a weak, sputtering cough, he sank to the floor almost instantly.

    “Not this time,” Raven muttered darkly.

    With a few more button presses, the Master Ball vanished. Deposited back into the online Pokéball storage, most likely. Then she signaled to Entei. The beast drew itself back, gathering flames in its throat. I stared at it in horror as Darren frantically scrambled to hold a revive crystal to Alakazam’s forehead, even though there was no way it would work in time. Chibi had run over to Raichu, holding a paw against her cheek as sparks rapidly coursed between them. Not enough time. Not enough—

    Wait. Had I seriously forgotten our best defense?!

    “Latias!” I cried.

    She was still back in the cavern, helping the Magmas. She wouldn’t hear us, she wouldn’t make it in time, there was no way—

    I was wrong.

    Latias shot into the room overhead, firing a mist ball right into the fireball’s path. The two exploded in a wave of steam and sparks, and when it cleared, Latias was hovering lightly in front of us, staring down the volcano beast.

    Raven stared at the jetlike dragon with a look of disturbed fascination, but then her gaze hardened. She signaled something else to Entei, and the legend opened its jaws wide, gathering a ball of black, shadowy aura in its mouth. Wait—Shadow Ball?!

    Latias’s eyes went wide. She brought her claws together, generating psychic energy between them, but she wasn’t fast enough. Entei fired. The Shadow Ball struck her right in the chest, knocking her flying back. With a weak cry, she crashed against the wall hard and sank to the floor, looking dazed. My heart curled inward. Just how many attacks had she been taking to protect everyone back there?

    Raven turned back toward Maxie, glaring. “I warned you.” Then she snapped her fingers, and her Pokémon encircled her, taking defensive stances. The air around Entei started to shimmer. Blue embers flared up within its long, shaggy coat. I felt a wave of cold dread come over me. Something told me we weren’t going to like what was coming.

    “Get back, everyone!” Rudy shouted. Stygian, Raichu, Nidoking, Golduck, and Sandslash all gathered together, preparing to use Protect. Then he turned toward the Magma leader and added, “You too!”

    Maxie blinked at him, too stunned to respond, but his Camerupt shoved him over to us while Mightyena and Crobat joined our Pokémon’s defensive line. Suddenly a wall of light—larger, sparkling, more transparent than a Protect—surrounded us. I glanced back at Latias, whose eyes were shut in concentration. All of the Pokémon on our side raised their Protect shields at once.

    The embers in Entei’s coat burst into full flame. Then it stamped the ground, and the room exploded.

    Even through the Light Screen, even with that many Protect shields all blocking the flames, the waves of heat were beyond overwhelming. I clenched my teeth hard, covering my face with both arms as the sweltering air rushed over me. I could feel the skin starting to burn. I could hear the telltale spark of Protect shields flickering, about to shatter. My brain immediately visualized it—all of us, consumed by unrelenting flames, flesh melting, bones charred—

    No—no, it had to stop before then. If it went on too long, Raven and her own Pokémon would be incinerated. It had to stop before their defenses ran out. It had to.

    Then, in an instant, the air settled. Through closed eyes, I could tell that the blinding brightness was gone. The heat lingered, but it was weaker. Tolerable. Slowly, I opened my eyes a crack. The entire far side of the room—everything beyond our protective wall—was just gone. Incinerated. The walls scorched black and warped from the intense heat. The banner hanging from the back wall had been turned to ash, revealing what looked like the door to a safe. Raven’s attention snapped to it suddenly. She pointed it out to her beast, who obediently walked forward, stepping over what had once been Maxie’s desk, now reduced to scorched, ashen hunks. With fangs glowing like hot iron, the beast tore into the safe, ripping the door from its hinges. Raven proceeded to reach a gloved hand inside, pulling out a glossy, translucent red sphere.

    The orb. There it was. And if we didn’t think of something within the next few seconds, the Rockets were going to have it.

    “Do it now!” a voice hissed.

    I whirled around to see Darren… staring very intently at nothing. I blinked cluelessly. What was he—wait. Alakazam was gone. Had he been recalled, or…?

    “Darren…?” I asked slowly.

    A burst of shimmering light and suddenly that space was far from empty. I jumped back, jaw hanging open. A fresh wave of heat radiated outward as Moltres was crammed into the corner of the room, wings folded, neck craned down to avoid hitting the ceiling. And in front of it stood Alakazam—eyes half-lidded, barely standing, and covered in burns… but conscious. He gripped both spoons in trembling claws, the tiniest trace of a smug grin playing at the edge of his muzzle.

    He’d managed to teleport Moltres.

    Maxie blanched, taking a step back. His Camerupt stared open-mouthed. Raven glared murderously. Moltres had been hers, and we’d stolen it.

    Moltres really couldn’t maneuver in here at all. And it would be difficult for it to let loose any flames without incinerating the rest of us. Still, there was something undoubtedly intimidating about being cornered with Latias on one side and Moltres on the other. The firebird opened its mouth, letting flames lick the edges of its beak threateningly.

    “We got what we came for,” Raven hissed, recalling her team and leaping onto Entei’s back in one smooth motion. She pointed forward, and suddenly the beast was charging right for us. I threw myself out of the way, landing awkwardly on my side and throwing a frantic glance over my shoulder just in time to see the volcano beast barrel straight past us and through the open doorway. They weren’t attacking—they were escaping.

    “Take me outside now!” Moltres demanded, slamming a talon against the floor. “They had an airship parked at the entrance to the base. If we do not follow them now, we could lose them.”

    Rudy clenched both fists. “Then I’m coming with you!” he yelled, running over to it.

    His patron drew itself back in surprise. “What?”

    “I’m your chosen, aren’t I?” he said forcefully. “If the Rockets try to catch you, someone’s gotta get in their way.”

    Moltres chuckled to itself. “Very well. We shall pursue the enemy together.” It leaned forward and Rudy vaulted onto its neck. Then the legend turned to us and barked, “Take us out!”

    Alakazam blanched. Darren had been spraying him with potions, but he still looked just about ready to pass out. Still, he raised his spoons, screwing his eyes shut and clenching his teeth, and in a few seconds, the three of them flickered once, twice, then finally vanished. Seconds passed in silence with Darren intently watching the spot where they’d left. Then Alakazam reappeared and immediately fell forward onto his face. Teleporting something as huge as Moltres, even such a short distance, had to have taken a crazy amount of energy when he was already in bad shape.

    “Sorry ‘bout that, bud.” Darren said, recalling him.

    “Should we go after them?” I asked, picking myself up from the floor. We couldn’t let the Rockets take the orb, but picking fights with a Legendary was just about the stupidest move possible. I glanced back at Latias. The dragon was silent, resting on the floor, eyes closed as a healing glow washed over her body.

    Darren sighed, staring at Alakazam’s Pokéball. “We’d never make it in time. And I’m not too sure any of our Pokémon could keep up with an airship. This is on Rudy and Moltres now.”

    Footsteps, echoing in the hall behind us. I immediately tensed up, but then Courtney and Tabitha burst through the door into Maxie’s office, panting hard and out of breath.

    “The intruders are... retreating!” Tabitha managed between gasps for breath. Then his eyes flew open when he noticed the state of the office. “Wh-what happened here?! Leader Maxie are you alright?!”

    And that was enough to finally pull Maxie from his stupor. He blinked a few times, Camerupt nudging his side, until he finally managed to say, “They took the Orb.” His eyes wandered across the destroyed office before finally settling on me and Darren. “Why was that group after it in the first place? Are they really trying to follow the path that I so foolishly chased two years ago?”

    “Not… exactly,” I said, wincing. “They’re only trying to recreate the Hoenn crisis so they can capture Groudon and Kyogre.”

    Maxie paused, processing this information with a look of distaste. “Why is a group of children the ones to inform us of this?” he asked dryly.

    I put a hand to my forehead. “Look, it’s a bit of a long story, but we’ve dealt with Team Rocket before. We spent literal months infiltrating their bases and crap.”

    “That, and you seem to have enlisted the help of the guardians yourselves.” He nodded toward Latias. The dragon ruffled her feathers and turned away shyly.

    The leader of Team Magma turned to walk away from us, folding his arms behind his back. “I certainly don’t want to see that disaster repeat itself. Not after everything it took to put things right again. However…” He turned around, fixing us with a very serious look. “It has taken too long to get the Magma group on its way to being a respectable organization, and, understandably, the public still does not fully trust us, even if we have the backing of the champion.” He sighed, running his hand along a display cabinet that had miraculously escaped Entei’s blast. “I would prefer to keep us out of this.”

    I opened my mouth to speak, but then froze. I hadn’t exactly implied that I wanted him to get involved, but… wasn’t preventing another Hoenn crisis just as relevant to their interests as ours?

    I struggled to find the right words. “Wouldn’t… wouldn’t opposing the Rockets now look better?”

    “There is also… much to attend to here,” Maxie said slowly.

    My eyes traced the walls of his scorched office. And then my mind drifted back to the rest of the base. The no doubt countless injured people and Pokémon…

    I exhaled slowly. “Yeah… that’s fair.”

    “I’ll go. In your place.”

    I don’t think anyone was quite expecting that. Slowly, we all turned to look at Courtney, who was staring at Maxie with a look of cold resolution.

    Tabitha glanced back and forth between the two, looking flustered. “Oh! And I shall accompany her, of course!” he hastily added, stepping forward alongside her.

    Maxie considered them for some time, then finally sighed and removed his glasses, popping out a multicolored stone that had been embedded in the rim.

    “Take this. You’ll need it.” He walked over to Courtney and dropped the stone into her palm. She stared at it in shock, glancing up at him as though asking if he was serious. He nodded. Then she slowly curled her fingers around it, nodding softly in return. I had no idea what that was supposed to be, but it obviously carried a large importance for the two of them.

    Maxie straightened, turning back toward us. He laid eyes on Latias, and a curious expression crossed his face—something between intrigue and guilt. “I never did get to apologize for before. Though perhaps no apology could suffice.”

    Latias closed her eyes. “*That time is behind us,*” she replied softly.

    Right, she’d fought back against Team Magma to save her home once before. This reunion had to be a bit awkward for both of them.

    Maxie’s gaze was on me and Darren again, and his expression was back to the same stoicism as before. “You lot look exhausted.”

    “We’re fine,” I replied automatically, even if I could feel exhaustion creeping up on me now that the adrenaline was wearing off. “We’ve got to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to the Blue Orb.”

    “It will do no good to rush into a conflict unprepared,” he said firmly. “Take a moment to recover your stamina.”

    “Team Rocket is infiltrating the Aqua base right now,” I said exasperatedly.

    But Maxie was steadfast. “The Aquas won’t fall to them so easily—they’re more formidable than that.” The corners of his lips curled up ever so slightly. “Trust us—we’d know.”






    ~End Chapter 41~

    Next Chapter: The Aquas are prepared to take on most of the Rockets' Legendaries. Except that one.

    ~Chibi~
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
    3DSRed likes this.
  10. 3DSRed

    3DSRed Alias RedAgent14

    I really thought that this was only here to provide a basic example of "here's a scenario where teleporting won't work" but then it turned out to be the impetus for the entire battle scene, which I appreciate.

    On a completely different note: this is one of those scenes that I'd absolutely love to see illustrated. (I'm also hoping that we'll see some of the airship chase in a future chapter, but I don't know off the top of my head whether or not it can provide enough action for a good combat scene.)

    To me, the bolded sentence reads weirdly; given that the extra on teleporting was in the post right above this one and that the sentences before established that Alakazam was already tired and low on energy, I feel like it's too blatantly stating the obvious.
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.
  11. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Ooh, I wasn't planning on it, but it sure is tempting now!

    Ah, yeah, a bit redundant, I can clean that up!

    Normally I'd just bundle this reply into the chapter update post, but the chapter itself is dangerously long, and only barely fits in one post. xD It took way longer than I was planning, but it also has a lot of really good stuff in it. Hope you enjoy!

    ~Chibi~
     
  12. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    ~Chapter 42: Team Aqua~

    [​IMG]

    A click and a fizz rang out as I popped the top on a can of energy drink. I grimaced, then proceeded to chug it down. It was sour and awful but I didn’t care. I was gonna need something to keep me going who-knows-how-much longer we had to fight.

    I still had to give Lugia the bad news. Couldn’t put it off forever, even if I would have liked to. Since Lugia and Ho-oh were at Sootopolis, they were now the only thing standing between the Rockets and Groudon awakening.

    I took a deep breath and said, <The Rockets got the Red Orb.>

    <What? How?> Lugia immediately demanded.

    <The executive had Entei!> I replied heatedly, my face burning with shame. <I don’t even know how; it’s supposed to be with the Johto force.>

    <Are we to assume the Johto force has nothing to do with this?>

    <I—> I paused. My gut instinct was to say no, because the two halves of Team Rocket never seemed to work together on anything. But in light of what I knew about Stalker, I couldn’t rule it out. For all we knew, he only warned us about this mission so that he could capture Groudon and Kyogre himself.

    <No, not really,> I admitted. <In any case, how’s the situation at Sootopolis?>

    <There’s a fleet of airships here. They haven’t made a move on the city yet.> Lugia’s mind was calm, yet tense. Guarded. <We’ve tried attacking them from afar, but our attacks simply lance off their shields.>

    <Rudy and Moltres are chasing the airship that left the Magma base,> I said. <He’s gonna keep me updated, but we should assume they’re heading to Sootopolis with the orb.>

    I felt an affirmation from Lugia, almost like the mental equivalent of a nod. <Right. No matter what, we won’t allow them to approach the island.>

    So that was settled. Nothing more I could do, so it was best if I put the Red Orb situation out of my mind. If I could.

    “*How did Lugia take the news?*” Chibi asked, staring intently at me from the nearby snack counter. He’d obviously gotten the hang of spotting the face I made when talking to Lugia.

    “Better than I expected, honestly.” I wasn’t even sure what I had been expecting. Anger? We’d failed to protect the orb. It should have been angry. I was angry. We should’ve been expecting that we might have to face a Legendary. We should’ve been ready for it.

    I had to keep telling myself that it wasn’t a lost cause. We had Rudy and Moltres pursuing the airship that had left. And Lugia and Ho-oh were ready to stop them once they reached the island. This wasn’t over.

    And… at least we were all okay. That was something.

    I glanced over at Darren, who was currently raiding the Magmas’ break room fridge. Not for himself, on second look—he was mostly just holding the fridge open and watching helplessly while Weavile shoveled rice balls into her mouth.

    The small break had given us a chance to heal our teams at least. No one was too badly injured, aside from Alakazam, who’d suffered some severe burning from Entei’s fireball—the sort of thing that really needed Pokécenter treatment, not just a brief stint on a healing machine.

    “Think Rudy’s gonna be okay?” Darren asked offhandedly.

    I tilted my head. “Yeah?” Then something hit me about the way he’d said it, and I added, “Why, do you think he’s not?”

    Darren shoved a hand in his pocket. “I mean. He is riding a Legendary into a literal warzone.”

    Oh. I guess it sounded pretty ridiculous when worded like that. Yet another thing that I just took for granted as reality, without stopping to think about it.

    I shuffled a foot against the floor, trying to think of what to say. I finally settled on, “Does it feel weird that this is normal to us?”

    Darren laughed. “All the time. I seriously forget that it’s not normal. And then someone like Maxie comes along and is like, ‘Why are a bunch of kids here?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah… this is weird.’”

    ‘Why are a bunch of kids here?’—that question still felt bizarre. We were just kids. I hadn’t felt like one in a while. Not since that night on Midnight Island.

    “Before we went on the Moltres mission,” Darren went on, “when I explained it to my team… everyone was pretty familiar with that kind of situation, y’know? They were just like, ‘oh yeah, this again.’ Except Skarmory—he wasn’t on the Rebellion, so for him, it was like, ‘what the heck, why are we doing this?’” he said, chuckling under his breath.

    I took a swig of energy drink. It was slowly becoming more tolerable. “I wish Jet had been like ‘what the heck.’ She’s got it in her head that we’re like, a bunch of war heroes and that this is all some kind of—” I paused suddenly as the realization hit me. “She’s basically us, when we started out. We were like that back then, weren’t we?”

    Darren shrugged. “Probably. I know I had it in my head that I was doing something big and important. Not that it’s not, but… well, you know.”

    I knew that feeling all too well. I’d joined the Rebellion because I wanted to feel important. Maybe the feeling would eventually pass for her, like it had for us. Although… given what had caused us to lose that view…

    “The weirdest thing is that I have a hard time imagining life without all this,” Darren added. “What would I do with myself? Just walking into a building, I start calculating escape routes… imagining how quickly I could react if the person next to me got shot.” He closed his eyes with an ironic half-smile. “Pretty sure if we told anyone else, they’d think we were insane.”

    It was the same for me. Seemingly random things still called back those memories and instincts, no matter how much time had passed. Flashes of lightning, and I’d suddenly feel concrete on my skin and acid in my mouth when neither were really there. The heat of flames, and my ears would ring with gunshots and screaming kids. Catching a side glance of my best friend from just the wrong angle, and I’d feel a spike of adrenaline from nowhere and a fist locking around my collar and…

    “We’re pretty messed up, yeah,” I said. “It helps not being the only one, I guess.”

    Darren nodded distantly. “Yeah.” His mouth curled into a smirk. “But you guys being partnered with Legendaries? That’s still weird. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.”

    I snorted. “That’s fair.” Then I glanced at my watch. It’d been fifteen minutes since Rudy left. Each minute we spent here was another minute for things to go downhill at the Aqua base. “Come on. We shouldn’t waste any more time.” Chibi jumped back onto my shoulder. I downed the rest of my drink in one unpleasant gulp and tossed the can before walking toward the door. Darren shut the fridge door with Weavile still inside, waited five seconds, then opened it again, which finally prompted her to jump out from inside and follow us out of the break room.

    As we walked down the hallway, I felt Chibi’s paws grip my shoulder. “*I couldn’t understand…*” he said quietly.

    I glanced at the hybrid out of the corner of my eye. “Hm?”

    “*Before yesterday… when I thought you were trying to hide from this mess,*” he clarified. “*It didn’t make any sense to me. But… you had a life before all this. I forgot because I didn’t have a life before all this.*”

    Oh. That did make sense, what with the way that he’d been constantly badgering me for information on Team Rocket for the past nine months. I’d been frustrated at him for being unable to let it go, but… obviously that wasn’t so easy for him.

    His paws clenched my shirt. “*I said I wanted to find something else to live for, but then I was angry with you for trying to do just that.*”

    I reached over my shoulder to put a hand on his back. Felt his body tense up, and then slowly relax. “It’s alright. I understand. And… I’m sorry I haven’t been able to help you move on.”

    “*Not your fault,*” he replied immediately. “*I wasn’t letting you. Some things I have to figure out on my own.*” I didn’t necessarily agree with that, but… saying so wouldn’t help, I knew that much. All I could do was be there when he needed me.

    We regrouped in Maxie’s half-destroyed office. Several Magmas were already hard at work cleaning up (I’d noticed that they’d already gotten to the hallway just outside). Maxie was currently discussing something with his admins, but then glanced up at me and Darren when we entered.

    “So you two will need to reach the Aqua base as quickly as possible, correct?” the Magma leader asked.

    I nodded. How far was that, anyway? I wasn’t too good with Hoennian geography, but if it was off the northeastern shore… that had to be at least 150 miles away. Or even more? Maybe I could text Ajia and have her send Mew to get us? But if they were in the middle of a fight, the last thing I wanted to do was distract them.

    Maxie must have seen the dismayed look on my face, because he went on to say, “In the past, our team had… frequent need to teleport to the Aqua base for infiltration purposes. And while those days are behind us, some of our teleporters still have the location memorized.” Good. We couldn’t afford to waste any time flying all the way there.

    The admins who’d be going with us—Courtney and Tabitha—stepped forward, flanked by a squad of four Magmas and three Pokémon—a Kirlia and two Claydol. So they’d be teleporting eight humans total, plus Latias, whom everyone had pretty much just accepted was here at this point. No point hiding herself anymore.

    Courtney gave one last bow to her leader before taking the Kirlia’s hand. I placed my hand against the rough, earthen surface of one Claydol while Darren did the same with the other one.

    This was it. Barely done recovering from our first failure, already rushing into another fight. No way of knowing how much longer the night would last. God, that thought was exhausting.

    “I wish you all the best of luck,” Maxie said, nodding.

    Then the office melted into distorted light. Two jumps later, we appeared on a wide, rocky platform surrounded by water on three sides. Ocean waves lapped at its edge, and a cool sea breeze swept through the air. The sky had lightened noticeably compared to when we’d arrived at the Magma base—I turned in the direction of the open sea and was met with the first light of dawn peeking over the horizon.

    The teleporters vanished and reappeared twice more until all of us were here, including Latias. Courtney gestured for us to follow her before silently leading us down a rough path along the water’s edge, skirting the perimeter of a sheer rock face, past sharp crags jutting up from the shallow sea. We rounded a particularly narrow ledge where the rock protruded out into the path, and there it was, the entrance to the Aqua base—a wide opening carved into the side of the rock down by the water’s edge. How were things going in there? Were Ajia and Starr alright?

    The path we’d been following didn’t reach the entrance. In fact, there were no visible walkways at all, just an open waterway for boats or water-types. I was just puzzling over the best way to get in when a grinding, metallic sound suddenly reached my ears. It almost sounded like… a garage door opening, coming from the direction of the Aqua base. Was it inside the waterway, out of view?

    After several seconds, the door sound grinded to a halt, and in its place, I could hear an alarm blaring, mixed in with the sounds of… an engine revving? No, multiple engines revving. Getting louder.

    Then, without warning, a huge blue and black speedboat shot out of the opening at top speed.

    “After them!” a voice shouted.

    A flock of flying-types bolted out the hangar next, half of them with riders. Following close behind them was a fleet of smaller boats that broke off from each other the moment they exited, swerving wildly, dodging Pokémon attacks. Almost like half of them were trying to avoid the other half.

    “What the heck?” I muttered under my breath. Was Team Aqua… making a break for it? Taking the fight to the ocean?

    “Hey! Over here!” Tabitha called out, waving his arms over his head. At first it didn’t seem like any of the boats had noticed him. But then one of them abruptly swerved into full u-turn, zooming straight at us. It didn’t make any effort to slow down as it approached, instead braking hard right as it pulled up. I flinched as a spray of seawater washed over all of us, then stared up to see that the boat was full of people wearing striped shirts and black bandanas, all staring at us—or rather, the Magmas—in total confusion.

    “The hell are you punks doing here?” a tall, burly man called out to us from the helm. He was shirtless, heavily tanned, and wearing the lower half of a wetsuit with a large, stylized ‘A’ tattooed on his chest. So… an Aqua, if that was anything to go off.

    “We came here to help you ungrateful whelps!” Tabitha called back, stamping a boot against the rocks.

    The man captaining the ship scoffed. “You think we forgot how to fight off invaders? Always managed to send your group packing, no sweat!”

    Courtney narrowed her eyes but didn’t say anything. Tabitha shook his head and stammered, “W-well I know you Aquas are physically incapable of taking anything seriously, but these Rockets are bad news!”

    “Ha! Couldn’t defend your base?” the man said with a hearty laugh. “Figures!” Tabitha’s face went red.

    “Matt, dear, they came all this way to help, the least we can do is give them a lift,” a voice called out. I glanced over at the ship’s bow to see a slender, dark-skinned woman with long, black hair streaked with blue. She was currently leaning against the guardrail, eyeing our group with an amused look.

    “If you say so, Shelly,” Matt said with an exaggerated eye roll. Then he turned back to us and said, “Get on board, and hurry it up, will ya?”

    One of the Aqua members extended a ladder down the side of the boat. Tabitha started climbing aboard, muttering to himself the entire time, followed by Courtney, the other Magmas, and finally me and Darren.

    “What’s with the kids?” one of the Aquas asked loudly the moment he got a good look at us.

    “Child soldiers recruited to fight a war with the Rockets,” Darren answered without missing a beat.

    That caught Matt off guard. He blinked at us for a second before bursting out laughing once more. “Jesus, Kanto’s not as boring as I thought!” Then he whirled around and gripped the wheel tightly with his giant hands. “Alright, we’re setting off. Hang on tight! I ain’t turning this thing around if any of y’all fall overboard!” he called out. I barely had time to cling to the side of the railing before the boat abruptly lurched into a tight u-turn and began accelerating to top speed.

    The Aqua ship practically flew across the water, scattering sea spray into my face and whipping my hair around like crazy. Far ahead of us, I could see the rest of the boats, as well as the aerial squads of Rockets. We were rapidly gaining on them.

    Tabitha struggled to make his way toward the helm, fighting against the air pushing him back. “Do you even know what they’re after?!” he yelled over the roar of the wind in his face.

    Matt scoffed. “They’re tryin’ to get their hands on the Blue Orb, what else? That’s why Archie took it and made a break for it. He knew we’d be way better off fighting back in our element.” He gestured to the fleet of boats ahead of us, now circling around to confront their pursuers.

    And then it was like every single Aqua let out all their Pokémon at once, because dozens upon dozens of Pokéball flashes rang out, and I was suddenly staring at an absolute horde of water-types. Wailmer, Carvanha, Sharpedo, Wailmer, even a few Wailord—all launching high-pressure waterspouts outward, crashing into the Rocket boats, toppling half of them, knocking flying-types out of the air. The skies near-instantly filled with a nonstop barrage of water so relentless it might as well have been raining. Heck, in a few spots it actually was raining, as some of the water-types had generated rain clouds to help fuel their attacks.

    Gunfire rang out a few times, but the onslaught of waves radiating out from the Aqua fleet kept the Rockets from getting close enough for a clear shot. Bolts of lightning shot out from some of the electric-types, but they were too far to target the heart of the Aquas’ forces, and could only pick off the outliers.

    Holy crap. Maxie wasn’t kidding when he said the Aquas in their element were scary effective.

    And then, in the midst of the chaos, my eyes locked onto a gray-scaled blur zipping in and out of the Rockets’ aerial lineup. Aerodactyl! Ajia was okay! I couldn’t see her clearly, but I could see the small jolts of lightning that Pichu fired off every few seconds, and the Rockets’ Pokémon falling around her, wings twitching with paralysis. Mew was probably here too, disguised as one of the multitudes of water Pokémon. (And Latias, I wasn’t even sure where she’d flown off to after we’d arrived.)

    But then what about—my eyes scanned the army of water-types, struggling to pick out individual Pokémon. There! A Feraligatr and a Gyarados adding to the torrential onslaught keeping the Rockets’ boats from getting close to the Aqua leader—and the latter had a trainer on his back. So Starr was okay too. Thank god. After me, Rudy, and Darren had only barely made it, I hadn’t even wanted to think about the idea that Ajia or Starr might not have survived the Aqua base.

    A high-pitched trill suddenly broke the air and my stomach instinctively tied into a knot. I knew that sound. I glanced upward and sure enough, there it was. An icy, cobalt falcon circling overhead, ribbonlike tail swirling snow behind it.

    Articuno. God, I was sick of facing down Legendaries.

    “Yeah, that thing gave us trouble back at the base,” Matt said grimly, staring up at the ice bird. “Some Kanto girl—a friend o’ yours?—she kept it busy while the rest of us hightailed it outta there so we could fight back on our own turf.”

    My mouth went dry. If Ajia had managed to stand up to Articuno, then it was because she had Mew, and no other reason. “Don’t… don’t underestimate Legendaries.”

    Matt grinned. “Don’t underestimate Team Aqua.”

    Several dozen water-types all fired on Articuno at once, from all sides. It retaliated with Ice Beam after Ice Beam, freezing countless waterspouts into jagged spires of ice. But for every attack it froze, ten more filled the air, forcing it to stay on the move, constantly looping out of the way, struggling to control its flight with waterlogged feathers.

    Articuno was limited to picking off opponents with single shots. It couldn’t just let a vicious Blizzard rip through the air without hitting its own forces. And now it was stuck spiraling around, struggling to find an opening. It shrugged off a few of the waterspouts, freezing a group of water-types solid, but for each squad that it took down, there were five more to take its place. There were actually too many for it to break through. And really, that shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, before the Rockets had legends at their disposal, they’d had to take them down with huge numbers of ordinary Pokémon. This was the same thing.

    Matt jerked the boat to the left and I snapped my hands to the railing again as we only narrowly avoided a sudden patch of ice that sprung up from a rogue Ice Beam. Then, with another swerve, he pulled our boat into a wide arc heading straight for the center of the Aqua fleet. The water-type forces parted to let us through, and Matt took us further in until our boat was traveling right alongside the largest ship in the fleet.

    “Hey Archie! Get a load o’ the reinforcements we picked up!” he called out.

    Archie? Wait, that was their leader, right? I leaned out over the railing and stared up at the larger ship. There he was at the helm—a tall, wild-eyed man in a navy wetsuit with a cape of netting trailing from his belt and a huge golden anchor hanging from a chain around his neck.

    Archie turned in our direction and blinked at us for a few seconds before breaking into an amused grin upon seeing that the ‘reinforcements’ were, in fact, a bunch of Magmas and some kids.

    “Ha! You came to help us? That’s rich!” Tabitha folded his arms but didn’t bother responding. Archie smirked. “Appreciate the offer and all, but we’ll be taking care of this lot on our own!” He leaned over the ship’s railing and called out, “Whaddya say, bud? Let’s show these punks we mean business!”

    At first, I wasn’t sure who he was addressing with that last bit. But then, several seconds later, a Sharpedo burst out of the water, right alongside his ship. Archie grabbed at the golden anchor around his neck, and in an instant, beams of light burst out from it, streaming through his fingertips in a dazzling array of colors. What on earth? Was that… normal? None of the Aquas looked surprised—they were all staring in anticipation, like they couldn’t wait for what was about to happen. On its next leap from the water, the same rainbow light erupted from Sharpedo—from a polished stone strapped to its dorsal fin. And the instant the light crossed paths with Archie’s, it flared to life, completely engulfing the shark, swirling around it so thickly that I could barely see it, Archie grinning wildly the entire time.

    Suddenly, the light exploded outward from the two in a dazzling prismatic flash, fading into shimmering rainbow strands drifting upward from Sharpedo. The Aquas burst into wild cheering. And all I could do was stare openmouthed. It was like a Sharpedo but more, body covered in bright yellow patterns and scar-like marks, with jagged, toothy protrusions jutting from its snout.

    “What the hell just happened?” I muttered under my breath.

    Archie slammed a foot against the ship’s railing, thrusting a finger toward the Rockets. “Get a taste of Mega Sharpedo.”

    Mega… Sharpedo? That light… that was a mega evolution? I’d heard vague stories about it—real important to Kalosian history, practically a myth for the longest time—but I never thought I’d ever actually see it.

    Sharpedo burst from the water almost too fast to see, launching itself clear through the air, striking one of the Rockets’ flying-types and knocking it and its rider into the sea. Then the shark fired a burst of water behind it and cut through the sea like a torpedo, honing in on one of the ships that had been stolen by the Rockets, tearing a wide gash through the hull with its jaws.

    The sudden counterattack didn’t go unnoticed. With a high-pitched cry, Articuno swooped down, firing a beam of ice, freezing the water in Sharpedo’s path. But the shark barely noticed. It shattered the ice with the spikes on its snout and kept going, tearing through the water at high speed, smashing ice wherever it could, freeing the frozen water-types so they could go right back to launching brutal Hydro Pumps at the Rockets.

    “See? What’d I tell ya,” Matt said, a hint of pride in his voice. “My bro’s got us covered.”

    They actually had a shot. And even if Raven showed up with Entei, it wouldn’t exactly be a big help at sea, would it? We actually had a shot. This wasn’t over.

    And then Lugia’s voice was in my head saying, <It’s awake. Groudon is awake,> and the world came crashing to a halt. I stood frozen, gripping the ship’s railing so hard my knuckles turned white, numbly processing the sudden announcement from nowhere.

    <Wh… what?> I asked shakily.

    <Did you not hear me?> the legend said.

    I shook my head. <No, I—I heard you, but—how?>

    <I’m unsure. None of the airships here have made a move on the island. We’ve been watching them the entire time.>

    <There is no way in hell the ship that left the Magma base could have made it there by now; it’s clear on the other end of the region. And Rudy hasn’t messaged me yet either, so—> And then the answer hit me. The single, blatantly obvious truth that none of us had considered yet.

    <Oh my god, we’re idiots. They didn’t need to get their entire force there! The instant they had the orb, all they had to do was just teleport a single person to the cave to awaken it. They probably already had a teleporter ready to go with the location memorized and everything!>

    Lugia’s mind crackled with frustration. It hadn’t made that connection yet either. <So staking out the entrance was for nothing, then.>

    <We would’ve needed someone waiting to confront them inside the cave.> I slammed a fist against the railing. <Damn it.>

    Lugia steeled itself, as through suppressing the frustration and trying to focus. <Ho-oh and I will protect Groudon. Do not let them recover the Blue Orb!>

    “Hey. You okay?” Darren asked, putting a hand on my shoulder. Though he hadn’t heard the conversation, he’d definitely seen my random outburst and the sudden wave of anger crossing my face.

    “Groudon is awake,” I said, holding a hand against my temple.

    His eyes widened for a second with surprise. He opened his mouth like he was about to say something, but then froze, processing. “Oh. They sent someone ahead to—”

    “Yeah,” I said flatly.

    Darren closed his eyes, exhaling slowly. “…Rudy’s gonna be pissed when we tell him.”

    I’m pissed.”

    “Yeah, that’s kinda unlike you.”

    I was not remotely in the mood to care about that. We couldn’t afford to let them get the Blue Orb too. Even if the Aquas were holding their own now, I didn’t trust for a second that the Rockets didn’t have more tricks in store for us.

    “So I’ve been meaning to ask—how do y’all plan on fighting here, anyway?” Matt asked, glancing back at the Magmas. With a smirk, he added, “Unless you’re telling me you finally figured out that water is the best type?”

    Courtney glared at him, but then turned and looked out at the waters surrounding us. I followed her gaze and couldn’t help noticing that the seaway here was unbelievably shallow, with rocks and sandbars scattered between random pockets of deep water. Matt’s near-constant swerving wasn’t pointless—he pretty much had to do it to avoid beaching us.

    “There. Let us off there,” Courtney said abruptly, pointing at a particularly large sandbar along the outskirts of the sea battle.

    Matt shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

    The boat swerved again, but by this point I was getting used to it. Matt pulled us over as close as we could without getting stuck, and then I immediately bolted down the ladder and jumped off from it to land in the sand. Darren, Courtney, Tabitha, and the Magma grunts dismounted after me.

    Matt gave us one last incredulous glance and said, “Y’all are determined, I’ll give ya that. Good luck!” before the boat sped off.

    Darren turned around, quickly grabbing two Pokéballs from his belt. “Alllright, I know everything looks good right now, but let’s be real—we know that’s not lasting.” He let out Skarmory and Weavile, then climbed onto the metal bird’s back, with Weavile riding in front of him.

    I let out Swift, Jet, and Aros in a flash, keeping Firestorm in reserve—better to not have him out with all the water flying through the air, plus I’d need a backup flyer if Swift went down. “Jet, hop in the water and defend those boats. Aros, give them air support, and keep away from the ice. Chibi, go with him—make sure your lightning doesn’t hit the water, we don’t want to fry any Aqua forces. Precision strikes only—no Discharge.”

    Jet gave a mock salute and dove into the sea. Aros glanced at Chibi with a look like he wanted to say something but couldn’t find the right words. The Pikachu either didn’t notice or didn’t care, jumping onto his back like usual and clinging tightly. After a few seconds’ pause, Aros turned to face the Aqua fleet before taking off.

    I climbed on Swift’s back and said, “We’ll want to stay clear of Articuno. Take us over the Aqua forces so we can support them however we can.” The Pidgeot nodded wordlessly. Then he flapped his wings and we were off, circling the airspace above the sandbar. Below us, the Magmas had sent out all their ranged fighters, and plumes of fire had already begun to rain down over the Rockets. Below us, Skarmory swept a flurry of pointed stones into the air that hovered around the Aqua fleet, ready to dig into any Rocket forces that came too close.

    Time to enter the melee then. A burst of Quick Attack and we were off. We flew past a group of Pelipper that was busily whipping up a Tailwind, forcing the Rockets to fight against the wind. I scanned the waters below and spotted a squad of enemy Pokémon that had darted in from behind, zeroing in on Archie’s ship. In one smooth motion, Swift swooped down and nailed two or three of them with Air Cutter, which caught the Aquas’ attention and led to a barrage of Dark Pulse from the Mightyena pack onboard.

    No time to stop and focus down any opponents, no time to land any big moves. Just darting in, small strikes, then darting out. Movement caught my eye, and I threw a glance upward to see a squad of Crobat above us, already paralyzed by Chibi, Aros tearing through them in a blaze of dragonfire. To our left, another squad of fliers. Two of them had just gone down to a Hydro Pump, but a Yanmega deftly zipped past the waterjets, eyes glowing as it shot a multicolored beam and took down one of the Mightyena. Swift fired off an Air Slash, knocking it back, and that took it too close to Skarmory’s rocks, which immediately dug into the dragonfly. A Gliscor powered through, shrugging off the rocks, but a rush of Icy Wind from Weavile coated its wings in frost. Then, while it was stunned, Swift dove down and smacked it with his wings, knocking it into the waves, where it was immediately frozen by one of the Aquas’ Walrein.

    I felt a burst of cold air behind me—Articuno?—and whirled around in a panic, but no, it was just Weavile, slowing another group of Crobat with Icy Wind. Then a loud crash snapped my attention back to the ship just in time to see a Blastoise ramming the hull with a high-speed headbutt. I pointed Swift downward, and he immediately caught it between the eyes with a blade of wind. And in the moment’s pause while the tortoise was clutching its face in pain, a duo of Lanturn surfaced right next to it and unleashed a flood of electricity.

    They just kept coming. We could hold our own, but for how long? Even with the Aquas’ impressive fleet, Rocket forces still kept managing to slip through. Swift struck down a Beedrill, stirred up a whirlwind, and tossed a few more Crobat into the floating rocks. He was just flaring up his wings with light, about to go for an Aerial Ace when something orange glinted in the corner of my vision. A Dragonair, facing Archie’s ship, charging something in its mouth—a ball of orange light.

    Oh no. Hyper Beam.

    “Guard them with Protect!” I cried.

    Swift dove, and the Dragonair fired, and time seemed to slow as the blinding beam lanced straight for the ship. Swift flared his wings at the last second, white light shimmering in front of us. I screwed my eyes shut right as the beam struck the barrier with a piercing screech. Ears ringing, I felt a spray of water from something surfacing beneath us, and dared to open my eyes a crack. Another Dragonair below. Couldn’t Protect.

    “Quick Att—”

    Too late; a burst of dragonfire exploded from below, pouring over Swift’s feathers and sending a jolt of raw, heatless pain shooting through my arms. I clung to him for dear life as he struggled to regain his flight, firing off blades of air at everything around us. Through blurred vision I caught a glimpse of the Dragonair recoiling backward, then darting in for another attack.

    I coughed, eyes watering, and yelled, “Tw-twister!”

    Swift whipped up a whirlwind streaked with white flares, catching the dragon in its center and whipping it around mercilessly. But, wait… what about the first one? I spun around and there it was—behind us, its horn crackling with sparks. My stomach curled inward, already anticipating the burst of lightning, already seeing it before it had even—

    And then a giant, blue-scaled head lunged out of nowhere, grabbing the Dragonair in its icy jaws and hurling it so far that it was practically a speck when it landed in the water. I blinked in shock at our sudden rescuer, eyes falling on the person riding on its head, who was currently giving me a rather unamused look.

    “Starr?” I blurted out.

    She pointed forward, and her Gyarados snaked his way through the water until he was alongside us, giving Swift the chance to land on his back and rest his wings. The Pidgeot hummed gently as a healing glow washed over him from Roost.

    Starr spun around to face me. “What’d I say about getting yourself killed?”

    I flinched. “We were doing fine,” I replied automatically. Then my brain caught up with my mouth and I added, “But… thanks.”

    Her expression softened. “Just giving you crap. I’m glad you’re okay.” She turned back to face the same direction as Gyarados, pointing out a few targets that were getting dangerously close. “We’ve been doing alright here.”

    “Better than alright. Way better than we did at the Magma base,” I said.

    She gave me a sideways look over her shoulder. “Do I even wanna know?”

    I wasn’t too keen on sharing the details anyway. “Not really. They got the orb and woke Groudon, that’s all that matters.”

    “Does Ajia know?”

    I paused. “I’m… not sure.” Both she and Mew had been here the whole time, so not likely. I only knew because my patron had seen it happen.

    My eyes wandered over to Ajia’s Aerodactyl as he looped through the air, sending blades of air from his wingtips and knocking the Rockets Pokémon back as they attempted to take aim. Near him, a green blur flickered in and out of shadow, the Pikachu on his back firing bolts at anyone who got too close.

    And then, for whatever reason, I noticed that the seas around us were a lot less… hectic than they had been only a few minutes ago. Most of the skirmishes had died down. The Rocket boats had all pulled back, putting a wide berth between them and the Aquas’ forces.

    “Wait… what’s going on?” I muttered under my breath. Were they… retreating? That didn’t make any sense. Sure, we were holding our own well enough, but there was no way they’d give up that easily. They had to have something else in store.

    And then I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye and turned to see several large somethings in the air. I squinted, struggling to make out the details. Then my eyes widened—it was a fleet of airships, rapidly approaching us from the northern horizon. Fighting back against Rockets on stolen Aqua boats was one thing, but airships?

    “Crap. They’ve got reinforcements coming,” I said, a sinking feeling building inside me.

    At my words, Starr whirled around. Her eyes narrowed. “Sh‌it. It’s the Johto force.”

    A few of the Aquas started cheering as the Kanto Rockets pulled back, but it wasn’t long before they spotted the new threat. Within seconds, all eyes were on the approaching airships. A crowd of waterjets fired on the nearest one, but the water just lanced off to the side, deflected invisibly. So the airships had ALR shields, huh? Then again, that did match what Lugia had said. But what was powering the shield? ALRs were useless without Pokémon energy to fuel them.

    A large, metallic door on one’s side began sliding open with a metallic creak. A flicker of sparks shone from within. And then a gigantic golden beast leapt down from the ship, landing on the nearest boat with a heavy thud that shook it so hard I thought it would capsize. Aqua grunts stumbled back from the impact, toppling over the side and into the water. Those still on board recoiled in fear.

    I stared frozenly, mouth hanging open. It was Raikou. The Legendary Beast of Thunder that I hadn’t seen since that night a year ago, when we’d actually managed to save it from the Rockets. And it had a human on its back. A young man wearing an Executive’s outfit, surveying the Aqua forces with a half-bored, half-amused expression.

    “Lexx?!” Starr’s voice rang in outrage.

    He jerked slightly upon hearing his name, then slowly turned to face us, face splitting into a wide grin. “Oh hey! Nice job keeping the Kanto force busy. But we’ll be taking it from here.”

    Raikou crouched low before leaping high into the air, instantly letting a hail of lightning rain down on the Aquas’ forces. Dozens of Pokémon cried out at once and then fell silent. And that was just the first attack. Raikou kept going, leaping from Aqua ship to ship, positioning itself behind the Aquas, so the water-types would have to attack their own trainers to get at it. Bolts rained down from above, spreading like a web across the surface of the water, forcing the remaining Pokémon to dive under to avoid it.

    My heart sank as I numbly watched it all unfold. “But… he warned us about their attack…” I uttered weakly.

    “‘Warned us’ my ass, he was just trying to distract us with pointless bullsh‌it so we wouldn’t know what was really up,” Starr growled.

    And what had I been expecting, really? That Stalker sending us here to sabotage this mission meant that the Johto force wasn’t involved? Of course that was a joke.

    I was dragged out my thoughts by Starr tapping a fist against her Gyarados’s armored scales, then pointing forcefully toward Lexx. “We’re going after him.” The sea monster nodded sharply, and I had to throw my arms around Swift as our ride lunged forward, cutting a line through the seaway, straight toward Lexx and Raikou.

    I stared up at Starr, speechless. She wasn’t serious, was she? But neither she nor Gyarados showed any sign of stopping. I couldn’t let her go after him alone, but… after seeing the devastation that Raikou had just unleashed… I wasn’t sure if I had to protect her… or hold her back.

    “*This seems… unwise,*” Swift said, quiet enough that only I could hear him.

    “You’re telling me,” I whispered. Then I called out, “Starr, are you sure we should be doing this?”

    Starr didn’t respond. Or acknowledge that I’d said anything, for that matter. Her gaze was firmly locked on her brother, who was still antagonizing the Aqua forces. A couple of ground-types had endured the lightning and were attempting to strike back, sending waves of muddy water crashing down on him. But Raikou just raised a Protect barrier around itself and its trainer, the mud splattering off harmlessly. Then it retaliated by opening its jaws wide and launching a volley of shadowy orbs toward them, picking them off one by one before they had a chance to counterattack.

    “Hey!!” Starr belted out. She pointed forward, and Gyarados spat out a narrow jet of water that splashed against the thunder beast’s side, only narrowly missing Lexx himself. “Why don’t you get over here and fight me you little worm!”

    Raikou slowly turned in our direction, staring expressionlessly. Lexx gave his sister a crooked smile. “Starr, I want you to think about the fact that you’re challenging Raikou while riding a Gyarados.”

    “Like I care,” she spat. “Do you even have the balls to attack me?”

    Oh my god, what was she doing. My hand hovered over Firestorm’s Pokéball—I could let him out at a moment’s notice, he could grab her, we could make a break for it. But Lexx ignored her, turning around and focusing on the Aquas once more. Above us, the squads of Rockets pouring out of the Johto airships had grouped together in an aerial formation, with the Pokémon in front putting up Reflect and Light Screen to protect those in the back. There were still a decent number of water-types bombarding their shields with high-pressure waterspouts. At Lexx’s command, Raikou fired another string of lightning from its forehead, straight upward, calling down a bout of thunder from the sky, right in the center of the Aquas’ broken lineup.

    Without warning, a hulking blue shape with crimson spikes burst up from the water with a violent splash. Feraligatr! Her jagged, toothy jaws dug into the tiger’s leg, staining its pelt red. But the legend only barely flinched. Lexx glanced at her out of the corner of his eye and sighed before motioning to Raikou. Strings of electricity danced across its mane, then suddenly flew into the gator, who let out a garbled cry and fell overboard with a splash.

    Really, Starr?” Lexx said, giving her a tired look. “This will all go a lot faster if you guys don’t get in our way. We’re facing a common enemy.”

    “Looks to me like you’re helping the enemy right now,” she snarled, recalling her fallen starter.

    Lexx paused. “Well… yes. But not for long.”

    “The hell is that supposed to—”

    But her words cut off sharply at the whistle of something flying through the air, rapidly approaching. Gyarados noticed it first, darting to the right. Swift flared his wings to keep his balance, and I flattened myself to his back right as a hunk of molten earth slammed into the side of the ship, knocking Raikou off balance and nearly throwing Lexx from its back. I whirled around to see Courtney, standing at the edge of the water, arm outstretched. Her Camerupt stood next to her, snorting steam from its nostrils.

    “What is it with people wanting to fight Legendaries today?!” Lexx yelled to no one in particular as he regained himself and pointed for Raikou to disembark. “Do you guys seriously not know how strong they are?” The lightning beast gave a mighty leap and hurtled through the air, landing on the nearest island with a spray of sand.

    “Strong,” Courtney mused to herself. “Alright then.” She held out the multicolored stone that Maxie had given her. Beams of light suddenly burst out from Camerupt’s collar—the same light that we’d seen from Sharpedo not that long ago. But then, that could only mean—!

    The light consumed Camerupt, swirling around it like a raging vortex. And then it exploded outward all at once, dissolving into multicolored strands radiating upward. With a loud snort, Camerupt stamped the sand, melting it beneath its hooves. Its thick, crimson coat ruffled with every movement. Glowing, molten lines of magma traced the volcanic peak that had burst up through its back.

    “She can’t beat you… you say?” Courtney asked. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. “Perhaps I can.”

    Lexx let out a low whistle. “Never seen a mega evolution in person.” He smirked. “Well this just got slightly more interesting. Alright, I’ll play your game.” He jumped down from Raikou’s back, gesturing for it to go ahead, and the lightning beast took a few steps forward until it was standing directly across from its opponent.

    “I’ve always wanted to know just how much lightning it would take to hurt a ground-type.” Lexx grinned darkly. “Should we test it?”

    Courtney’s eyes flickered with interest. “An experiment?” She stepped back and motioned to Camerupt… or rather, Mega Camerupt. “Let’s begin.”

    The volcanic Pokémon let out a snort, rearing up and stamping both forelegs into the sand, and an explosion of molten energy burst up from under Raikou, consuming the beast. Raikou kept walking through it, a twinge in its eyes and the slightest shudder in its steps. Then, with little more than a flicker of sparks as a warning, it unleashed an absolute deluge of Thunderbolts.

    I’d seen floods of lightning before. I’d seen Chibi pour his entire power supply in a single move, more than once. But this? It sent me reeling back to that night we destroyed the Thunder Field, giving Raikou that chance to use its full thunderous might against the Rockets. All of that, directed on just one Pokémon. Camerupt staggered back, teeth clenched, pain in its eyes, the air shimmering from the sheer heat of the lightning. But it was enduring, and forcing itself forward, stamping the sand again and sending another wave of energy through the ground, erupting from beneath its opponent.

    This was the power of mega evolution.

    Raikou waited for the earth to settle beneath its claws. It tensed itself, strings of lightning coursing through its mane. Only before it could strike, a huge chunk of mud crashed into the back of its head, knocking it forward a few steps. What? Where had that…?

    The beast threw a glance over its shoulder to locate its attacker. There, on the far opposite side of the sandbar, stood a Swampert, shaking the water from its fins and eyeing Raikou. The only one out of the crowd of ground-types that hadn’t fallen to a single Shadow Ball.

    Raikou turned toward it. Then it closed its eyes. The air shimmered and warped, condensing into rippling waves of light digging into the mudfish. It didn’t even flinch. Raikou blinked in surprise. Then Swampert lunged forward, striking the ground with its palm, sending a rolling wave of sand forward that crashed against the tiger’s legs and brought it to its knees, giving Camerupt the chance to call forth another eruption right from underneath it.

    Right. So the Swampert was Mew. Got it.

    Starr was watching this all unfold with a look of distaste. Finally, she turned away and said, “Well, the creepy Magma chick is dealing with sh‌ithead over there. Come on, we’ve got other problems to worry about.” Gyarados gave a flick of his tail, and suddenly we were moving again.

    I blinked at her in surprise. She was actually willing to let it go? I’d been half expecting to have to drag her away from a fight with him. Still, I wasn’t about to question it. I threw one last glance back at Courtney as we left. Even though there was no way she could beat Raikou, she was helping keep it busy. That was important. We couldn’t waste their distraction—we had to protect Archie’s ship. My eyes scanned the waters around us and—dammit, Raikou had really screwed us over. What little remained of the Aqua forces were regrouping in the center. In the air, I spotted Darren flying on Skarmory, the metal bird stirring up whirlwinds and knocking approaching Rockets into the pointed stones. Saw Aros and Chibi still going strong, along with Aerodactyl and the Pelipper flock, all of them working to keep the Rockets from getting any closer.

    I was just about to have Swift take off and help them when a high-pitched whistle filled the air and a frantic voice yelled, “Get down!” I tilted my head back to stare straight upward and—holy crap, what?

    Meteors. The sky was full of meteors.

    “P—protect?!” I yelled.

    Swift leaped into the air, and with a few flaps he took us right above where Starr was sitting on Gyarados’s head before spreading his wings wide and forming a wall of light above us. Not even a second later, dozens of projectiles—sparkling red and blue flares that honestly looked like dragonfire—rained down on the entire seaway, clattering off barriers, knocking flying-types out of the air, and tearing holes in ships. I held tight to Swift’s neck, burying my face in his feathers and feeling the shock waves from all over and just willing it to be over.

    After what felt like forever, the countless impact sounds began to die down. I lifted my head right as the Protect wore off and Swift leveled off our flight, gliding in a low circle above the water. A chill fell over me—the skies were disturbingly bare. Half the aerial fighters had been knocked into the sea from the meteor shower (what even was that move?) and most of the Aqua fleet now had gaping holes in their boats. I threw a frantic glance back at Archie’s ship to see a Walrein hard at work freezing the openings shut, but the hull had already taken on so much water that it was too late. The Aquas on board were frantically discussing something amongst themselves when Archie suddenly made a hard right turn, beaching the ship against the closest sandbar before they could sink any further.

    Crap. This was bad. There went their mobility. And with half the water-types down… I whirled around to see Articuno rapidly closing in on us. No, no, no. If it got too close, that was it, game over. Had to do something.

    …Articuno should have taken some damage by now, right? Between all the water and fire and lightning and—

    Chibi. He was the only one that could put a dent in Articuno, besides Mew—and Mew was still dealing with Raikou. Even if it was just for an instant, it’d give us the opportunity to get Archie to safety.

    “We’ve gotta find Aros and Chibi, fast!” I hissed into Swift’s ear, and the Pidgeot instantly put on a burst of speed. I flattened myself to his back, holding tight as he ducked and weaved around the few remaining fliers, scanning them all with a growing feeling of dread. He hadn’t been hit by the meteors, had he? Or the ice? Or any one of a dozen other things that could have taken him down and I wouldn’t have even seen it and—there! A wave of relief crashed over me when I caught the flutter of green wings out of the corner of my eye. Swift had already spotted him, diving down to where the Flygon was helping fish unconscious Pelipper from the water.

    “How much power do you have left?” I immediately asked Chibi.

    “*Borrowed some from Pichu. I’m at around half,*” the hybrid replied.

    Would that be enough? Didn’t matter, had to try it. “It’s a long shot, but we don’t have a choice,” I said, pointing toward Articuno. “Use Mega Bolt!”

    The Pikachu turned to face the ice bird, eyes narrowing. He drew himself back, poised to take a flying leap, when—

    “*Wait,*” Swift cut in sharply. “*They’ve got hostages.*”

    What? What was he talking abou—oh hell. Articuno was actually carrying the Aqua admins in its talons. Of all the dirty moves. Couldn’t hurt Articuno without hurting the hostages, at least, not with lightning. But who else could possibly put a scratch on it?

    I felt a rush of wind shoot past me and saw the brief flash of red feathers in the sunlight. Wait… Latias! Of course! She could do it—she could save them! Glimmering mist balls formed from thin air, pelting Articuno right in the chest repeatedly. The ice bird recoiled backward with each blow, instinctively retaliating with an Ice Beam that missed its mark completely.

    Now they were close enough that I could make out the fact that it had a rider—the executive, Ender. He pointed forward, and the legend responded by flapping its wings, sending a rush of cold air forward. Frost formed around a jetlike shape in the air, flickering red before Latias snapped into full view, her illusion broken. Shivering, she pressed on through the storm, still forming more mist ball attacks, still pelting Articuno with them, forcing it back from the ship below. And then, when she was mid-move, Ender snapped his arm forward, and a jagged Ice Beam split the air, striking her dead-on.

    My heart jumped into my throat. No!

    Latias cried out in pain, her attack fading into mist. She struggled to bring her claws together for a Protect, but the ice crystals were too thick, her arms frozen solid. Then the ice made its way to her wings, and with a pitiful cry, the crimson dragon went limp, spiraling downward before landing in the sea with a splash.

    I stared in horror. She’d be a sitting duck! Any one of the Rockets could capture her!

    “Firestorm, grab her!” I yelled, opening his Pokéball.

    The Charizard materialized in thin air, immediately pitching his wings back into a steep dive. I held my breath as he flared his wings just above the water, then let it out as he reached down to wrap his arms around Latias and lifted her from the sea.

    “Don’t let anyone near her!!” I cried.

    But the Rockets weren’t paying attention to them at all. Everyone’s attention was firmly on Ender and Articuno. The ice legend spiraled down over us, then proceeded to land on Archie’s ship, pinning the Aqua admins to the deck with its talons. Archie let out a roar and lunged forward, held back at the last second by four of his crewmates grabbing him by the arms.

    “One wrong move from any of you and these two get impaled,” Ender announced to the crowd. “Or frozen solid. Take your pick. Hell, I could even shoot them if you wanted me to give them a clean death, but that’s the boring option.”

    Archie’s entire body trembled with rage so thick that I half expected him to throw his crew off and rush the Legendary by himself. But then his eyes slid to the trapped admins, and he slowly deflated, relaxing against his crew’s hold.

    “I believe you know what we want,” Ender said, holding out his hand.

    Every inch of me was screaming to do something, anything. But what? There were Rockets facing in all directions, watching our every move. Even if Mew just teleported right up to them, all it would take was a slight twitch for Articuno to drive its foot-long talons into the admins.

    Silence hung over the surrounding. No one dared to move. All eyes were on Archie, waiting to see what he would do.

    “Don’t give it to him, bro!” Matt yelled.

    Ender snapped his fingers and a garbled cry of agony rang out from the deck and Archie belted out a desperate, “No!!” and oh god. A daggerlike claw had just pierced Matt’s side. Blood flowed from the wound, dripping onto the deck.

    “Whoops. Such a clumsy bird,” Ender said, delicately stroking Articuno’s neck feathers. “Looks shallow, though. He’ll probably pull through. Sure would be a shame if it happened again.” He lifted his face to give the Aquas a pointed look.

    For several seconds, Archie didn’t respond. He just stood there, teeth clenched, eyes lit with fury. Until finally, he took a few slow, resentful steps back until he was inside the ship’s bridge. I couldn’t see what he was doing inside—all I knew was that it felt like ages until he returned holding a polished, glassy orb of the deepest cerulean. And there it was. The Blue Orb with the power to awaken Kyogre. And we had to just sit and watch as he handed it over to the Rockets.

    With hateful resignation written all over his face, Archie took a step forward. Then another. Each one forced, like it was taking all of his effort. Until finally, he was standing right before the overbearing form of the giant ice bird. Ender motioned for Articuno to lean down, then held out his hand. There was a moment’s hesitation. But then Archie steeled himself, forcing his arm forward and dropping the orb into Ender’s open hand.

    “See how much easier that was?” Ender said as he held the orb up to the sun, admiring the light glimmering off its surface. “Can’t believe it took me that long to think of it!” He tapped Articuno’s side and it spread its wings to take off, ascending from the ship’s deck with heavy wingbeats. Once they’d gotten some distance from the ship, the ice bird released the two admins from its talons, dropping them unceremoniously into the sea, where the Aquas’ Pokémon immediately rushed to retrieve them.

    “Show’s about to start, everyone!” Ender called out, releasing his Xatu. Then he and the psychic blinked out of sight.






    ~End Chapter 42~

    Next Chapter: The showdown in Sootopolis is nigh.

    ~Chibi~
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2019 at 3:38 AM
  13. 3DSRed

    3DSRed Alias RedAgent14

    sees new chapter

    well given that I'm the first one here, I might as well pull a Dragonfree and note any things that stick out while reading.

    "proceeded"

    This reads choppily to me as two separate sentences. Personally, I'd remove the bolded sentence entirely since you have Jade telling Lugia that the Rockets got the Red Orb a few lines later; if kept, it might be better to combine it with the sentence before.

    grammar teacher mode activated
    ...or I could just quietly assume that said fridge belongs to one specific person in Team Magma

    Missing a word at the end here (Island), I think.

    Multiple-sentence choppiness again. While this technically works, I personally think that combining the two sentences into one (example: "I took a swig of energy drink which was slowly becoming more tolerable" for the first quoted sentences) would be better.

    Personally, I'd change the bolded section to "and we silently followed her down"

    There's a lot of description here that makes the sentence feel like a run-on, though I'm not 100% certain if it's actually a problem or not.


    Having this where it is seems to break the flow of the sentence.

    Same "group vs member of group" thing as "the Magma's"

    The "and" at the beginning of the sentences reads weirdly to me. Compare it to this sentence, where it works in context:

    Next up, mid-sentence breaks:
    I think that the "—" in the first and last sentences is unneeded. For the middle two, the part after (or between) the "—" doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the sentence.

    Following on from above: this phrase, on the other hand, might work better with the "—" instead of parentheses.


    YES one of the Most Underdeveloped Characters (imo, at least) of the fic is finally getting time in the spotlight (and he's Chosen, to boot)!

    He has a point, y'know...
    maybe in the heat of the moment Starr forgot that Electric-type attacks are 4x effective against Gyarados (and not 2x) because Water/Flying?

    The pacing is definitely really well done in this chapter; I commend you for that.

    One overall thing I've noticed over the course of the fic is that you tend to use the passive voice more than the active voice, though as the fic goes on the balance is getting better.

    looks back
    Holy crap that's the longest review I've done so far. the duties of being the first to review XD
    Looking forward to the Sootopolis showdown (and more Lexx) :D
     
    Chibi Pika likes this.

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