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The Legendarian Chronicles [Revision 11]

3DSRed

Alias RedAgent14
I blinked. <What? Some kind of battle enhancements?> It never would have occurred to me to use those on Legendaries.
Reminds me of the first time I saw bright powder used in the SuMo battle tree. "What do you mean it missed, it's 100% accuracy... oh."

Just what the hell was Lexx doing, playing like he was our friend every time we saw him.
“Oh look, the Sakari brat’s involved in this too, why am I not surprised?” he called out.

“Just keeping things interesting!” Lexx called back.
Lexx continues to be my favorite not-currently-a-protagonist character of the fic (though, given that from what I remember it's never been said outright that Raikou is under the Legendary control tech, his status may very well change).

I blinked. A compliment? Coming from Lugia? Well, I wasn’t complaining.
Jade, you do remember that you have a mental link with Lugia and they probably "heard" that last thought/feeling...


I'm looking forward to how the dynamic between Jade, Lexx, Ajia, and Starr is going to change when Jade finds out that
Ajia knows Lexx (and possibly works with Sebastian as well, given what she says in the chatlog)
(which I assume based on the chapter titles is going to be 3-4 chapters from now)
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Lexx continues to be my favorite not-currently-a-protagonist character of the fic (though, given that from what I remember it's never been said outright that Raikou is under the Legendary control tech, his status may very well change).
I'm really glad you enjoy Lexx so much. Honestly, it's helped me remember to give him plenty of fun moments in this arc.
Jade, you do remember that you have a mental link with Lugia and they probably "heard" that last thought/feeling...
Aha, well, Lugia wouldn't hear every word of her inner monologue, just the stuff directed at it. That said, it definitely felt her skepticism and was annoyed by it. :P
I'm looking forward to how the dynamic between Jade, Lexx, Ajia, and Starr is going to change when Jade finds out that Ajia knows Lexx (and possibly works with Sebastian as well, given what she says in the chatlog)
No worries, it's not a spoiler--Jade noticed that they knew each other when Lexx came to warn them about the Indigo attack. Buuuut she hasn't really gotten to find out how well they know each other or anything.

Thanks for the review! Chapter 45 is in its final editing stage, after being thoroughly sidelined in May due to copious amounts of 3D modeling for Smogon and contest judging for Thousand Roads. Hopefully June is less busy!

~Chibi~
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
The grand finale of the Hoenn arc is here at last! One way or another, the fight ends here.



~CHAPTER 45: DELUGE AND DESOLATION~


We shot through skies torn with fire and lightning, ducking and weaving past blades of wind as meteors rained down all around us. Swift nimbly dodged every single one, fueling his flight with bursts of Agility that almost made me lose my grip. The whole time I kept my eyes focused on the red streak shooting through the air just ahead of us. A Shadow Ball shot from nowhere, passing so close to Latias I thought she’d been hit. But she deftly looped around it, keeping Latios in her sights the entire time.

“We can’t lose them,” I muttered.

“*Will you be able to hold on?*” Swift asked, glancing back at me with concern.

“Doesn’t matter, we gotta keep up.” If Stalker caught Rayquaza now, this entire mission would be for nothing. All the pain, all the failure, for nothing. Couldn’t let that happen.

In the center of the sky battle, Mew swooped closer to Rayquaza, cautiously approaching. It almost looked like she was offering something, but the serpent just smacked her aside with its tail. It was too agitated, too anxious to distinguish between friend or foe, angrily flinging blades of wind at anything that got close. The airships converging inward weren’t deterred, though. An ALR beam fired; Rayquaza snarled in agony. Then the crack of a Master Ball cannon split the air, and my heart stopped. But there was no red beam—Rayquaza was still intact. My eyes locked onto the gray blur of an Aerodactyl zipping around it. Then a second one—Mew had switched her form. She wasn’t teleporting. (Did the airships still have an anti-teleport field up?) And for another thing—why didn’t Mew and Ajia have any backup? Where the hell were the rest of our Legendaries?

<He’s going to catch Rayquaza!> I yelled to Lugia.

I couldn’t even see where Lugia was right now, but I could feel the apprehension in its mind. <There are capture balls flying everywhere,> Lugia said sharply. <It’s too risky to interfere, one of us could get captured instead.>

What?! Seriously? Sure, it was something to watch out for, but that didn’t mean we could just leave Rayquaza!

I threw a frantic glance around at the other Legendaries. Even Ho-oh was hovering some distance from the battle, eyeing the airships closely. We had more of a reason to be afraid than them!

<We’ll attack them from afar to weaken their forces. Don’t let that human out of your sight!>

Ugh, fine. Guess we were on our own, then.

Swift’s wings were a blur at my side. Every few seconds we’d accelerate with another burst of Agility. It wouldn’t last long, I knew that much—this was a ridiculous waste of energy. Every so often, his flight stuttered for just a fraction of a second. I’d been pushing him this hard, and he had to be exhausted. But Firestorm and Aros would never be able to catch up with Stalker. And they’d never be able to avoid all the crap flying through the air. Only Swift could do it.

Latios dove. Latias fired a Dragon Pulse right into his path, forcing him to brake hard just to keep from flying into it. Then he ducked behind an airship to avoid an Air Slash that shot out from inside the circle. It was only for a second—the instant his path was clear, Latios darted back into the open, Stalker already leveling his arm cannon at Rayquaza. But the winds were too vicious, there was no way he’d land a hit. Then Latios had to duck to avoid a spurt of dragonfire that went right over Stalker’s head.

“*Let my brother go!*” Latias cried.

I honestly didn’t expect a response. But he yelled back, “I need his strength! Stay out of the way or we’re all done for!”

“*I’m not giving up!*” she exclaimed, shooting right at him. Latios put on a burst of speed and dove into the center of the Legendary melee, trying to lose Latias in the chaos.

I clung tightly to Swift as he pursued while the fighting raged on all around us. Rayquaza swerved to avoid a bolt of lightning fired by Raikou but wasn’t fast enough to avoid the Flamethrower that followed from Entei. In the chaos, with how much I’d been focused on Stalker, I’d actually forgotten that we still had to deal with the Kanto force.

By now, the airships themselves were firing on Stalker, forcing Latios to swerve wildly in and out of the beams, slowing him down. Raikou countered as many of them as it could with strings of lightning while the Johto airships fired back on the Kanto ones. Altaria swooped around behind Raikou, breathing out a Dragonbreath at Lexx, only for it to be blocked by… a Magnezone? Yeah, a Magnezone was guarding the pair from behind so Raikou could keep up the offensive.

In the midst of it all was Rayquaza, and it was clearly tiring. Its spiraling flight grew slower, the winds less turbulent. With Latios’s speed… Stalker would easily have a clear shot. But no, he was still struggling to evade Latias, who’d been doing a much better job keeping up with him than we were.

“*Latios! Latios can you hear me!*” Latias’s voice called out. Latios’s flight path faltered slightly, but he kept going.

She was gaining on them, having to dodge just as much fire, but having the advantage of being smaller and more maneuverable and not carrying a rider.

A sudden blizzard ripped through the air within the circle, forcing Latios to fall back. Swift flared his wings to avoid flying straight into it, but even from here, the icy chill made my hairs stand on end. I glanced below us to see Articuno flying back up—what? Hadn’t Raikou taken it down earlier? Wait, obviously Ender had flown down to heal it.

Rayquaza was clearly sick of being the target, because it immediately shot toward Articuno, smashing it down with its tail before spiraling away from attacks launched by Raikou and Entei. Latios closed in from behind. My heart stopped as Stalker pointed his arm forward.

And after all this, I couldn’t just let that be the end of it.

“Twister!” I yelled.

With great effort, Swift snapped his wings together in front of us, slowing our flight but kicking up a vicious whirlwind lit with dragonfire. I didn’t expect it to hit. But Swift never missed his mark. The whirlwind swept into Latios, and though the jet dragon’s flight didn’t waver, he wasn’t the one I was aiming to disrupt. Stalker yanked his arm back with a wince. We locked eye contact for a moment.

Then a golden blur smashed a fist into the side of Swift’s head.

The blow knocked us reeling. A rush of cold swept over me as ice crystals flared up around the impact point. My hands clutched at Swift’s feathers, brain struggling to process what the hell had just happened. I saw Stalker, his eyes cold and expressionless. Saw Dragonite, her expression mirroring her trainer’s. Then Swift’s wings gave out, and we were falling.

I was weightless, the wind rushing past me as I tumbled through the air, the back of my head screaming even as my hands flew to my belt. I fumbled with my Pokéballs until I found Swift’s and managed to recall him, then grabbed Firestorm’s ball just as quickly. Orange wings spread at my side and immediately pitched back the moment their owner realized what was going on. The Charizard swooped under me, matching speeds with my fall until I managed to reach out and grab his shoulders.

“Got to catch Stalker. Got to stop him,” I said breathlessly. He’d attacked us. He’d attacked us.

Firestorm’s eyes fell on Stalker, and I felt his shoulders tense up. “*I’ll stop him,*” he growled.

“We don’t have to beat him, we just have to distract him until…” Until what? When would this end?

Firestorm put on a burst of speed, ascending as powerfully as he could. But by now it felt like Latios was miles away, a pinprick high above us. He blasted out a stream of fire, aiming straight at Stalker. But Latios drifted around it effortlessly. With a growl, Firestorm blasted out another stream, and another, but these ones had less power, and they didn’t even reach.

Firestorm wasn’t fast enough. No Quick Attack, no Agility. Stalker outstretched his arm, preparing to fire. I couldn’t reach him in time. Had no way to stop him.

And in the moment that the two had slowed enough for him to take the shot, a red-winged blur shot from nowhere, impossibly fast.

“*Please!*” Latias cried.

She clutched the larger dragon’s tail fin with her claws, his flight jerked, Stalker pitched forward, and his Master Ball shot wildly off into the distance. Not a second later, he spun around, staring at her in disbelief.

And then, above us, Rayquaza was transformed into blood-red energy. Sucked inside the Master Ball. I stared in horror, feeling like my brain had to restart. What. What. How?! He’d missed, he’d definitely—

My eyes suddenly locked onto Articuno, not too far from us. On its back was Ender, and he was wearing a Master Ball cannon. He pointed, and the ice bird swooped forward, clutching the ball in its talons before immediately banking around and flying back to the airship fleet as fast as its wings would take it.

My whole body went numb. We hadn’t saved Rayquaza. We’d only ensured that the Kanto force got it instead of the Johto force.

Stalker whirled around, his eyes lit with more fury than I’d ever seen. “Do you have any idea what you just did?!”

Latias shrank back slightly, looking devastated. But then her gaze hardened, and she darted around to face the larger blue dragon, whose eyes were shut.

“*Latios, please.*” She pressed her forehead against his, willing him to respond. But Latios said nothing.

Stalker stared wordlessly at her for several seconds. Then, without warning, he swung his arm forward and fired a Master Ball point-blank.

It was like I’d just been punched in the face. I gaped stupidly as the smaller dragon instantly transformed into blood-red energy before she was sucked into the ball. He caught the ball before it could drop and held it tight as it shook furiously before finally growing still.

I was frozen in mute horror, struggling to find something to say, but the words kept dying in my throat.

“W-why would you do that?!” I shouted, my voice breaking.

Stalker glanced at me out of the corner of one eye. The fury was gone from his face, replaced with an icy cold stare. He didn’t answer me. He just motioned to Latios, and the pair of them shot off.

No. No, I was not going to let him get away with that without an explanation. No!

Without me even saying anything, Firestorm blasted out a Flamethrower at the retreating dragon. When that failed, he shot forward as fast as he could, but Latios was already miles ahead of us, and there was no way we’d ever catch up.

Dammit. He couldn’t get away with that! No! We couldn’t let him!

A Flamethrower from above cut right across our path. I threw a glance upward to see Stalker’s Charizard glaring at us. Firestorm froze, staring at her in disbelief. I didn’t even know whether to order an attack or what. What was I even going to do when we caught up to Stalker? Attack him? Knock him off his Legendary? As if I could do any of that. I couldn’t do anything to him, and he knew it.

I’d thought I was prepared for the idea of fighting Stalker. I was wrong.

<I’ve got a message from Mew. They’re saying we should use this chaos to steal the orbs.>

Lugia’s words were a cold, hard blow back to reality, dragging me out of the all-consuming focus on Stalker. Even though half of me was screaming that no, we had to go after him, he had to pay. So loud that I was afraid Lugia would hear it.

But Mew was counting on us… I couldn’t get wrapped up in what I wanted. Had to do this for the sake of the mission.

<On it,> I replied, grabbing Firestorm’s shoulder. His flight slowed, and he glanced back at me in confusion.

“*We’re not going after him?*” he asked.

“Lugia said we have to get the orbs,” I said, my voice dead.

“*We’re—we’re just letting him get away with that?*” he asked in disbelief.

I screwed my eyes shut. “We’re not, we’re just—” I took a deep breath, forcing my breathing to stay level even though my blood wanted to boil. “We’ve got to put a stop to all this, and getting the orbs is the only way to do it.”

“*I… okay,*” he said reluctantly, banking around.

I scanned the aerial battlefield. Did we still know which ship had the orbs? They’d all been circling around in a frenzy, there was no way it was still in the same place we’d last seen it. But a glance back down at Groudon and Kyogre made it obvious—the duo’s attention was locked onto one ship in particular. Even though their attacks fell short, there was no mistaking their target.

The only problem was how to approach it. The sky was still a warzone, and I couldn’t rely on Swift’s speed anymore. We’d need more firepower. Some way to get close without just throwing our lives away.

And then Starr’s words drifted to the front of my mind: You’ve got a Legendary. Use it.

My eyes slid to Lugia. It was just hovering right below us, some ways away from the chaotic sky battle between the Kanto and Johto Rockets. Launching attacks at the airships while also steering clear just in case any of them decided to fire a Master Ball out of the blue.

What if I just…

It was a stupid idea. Just stupid enough that I had to try it. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

I grabbed Firestorm’s Pokéball. “I’ve got a plan, I need you to trust me,” I said. Had to do it before I changed my mind.

Firestorm turned. His gaze slid between his Pokéball, and what was below us, and I felt him tense up. I could tell he didn’t want to do it. But then he said, “*Alright.*”

I recalled Firestorm and let myself fall. A single, heart-stopping moment of weightlessness later, I landed on Lugia’s back and immediately clung to its neck as tightly as I could.

Lugia jolted, turning its head to stare right at me. <What are you—?>

“I need you to take me to that airship,” I said.

<Take… you to?> it said blankly. Like it had never remotely expected me to ask that.

“We need to get the orbs, and I need your power to have a shot at getting close enough to that ship to do it,” I said as firmly as I could. Like the fact that I’d already made up my mind meant that it couldn’t argue.

Lugia was stupefied, still struggling to process my words. And its confusion was bleeding over into my head so much that even I was starting to wonder why I’d done it.

<F… fine,> Lugia said finally, and with a mighty flap, it turned and took off for the airship.

Man, riding Lugia was weird. My fingers slipped against sleek, densely-packed feathers. Each wingbeat was like a thunderclap echoing through my body. Lugia was way too big for me to move with it like any of my team. I was just along for the ride, and I couldn’t help immediately wishing I could switch back to Firestorm. But this was what I’d chosen.

We traced a wide arc around the sky battle, approaching our target from behind. Hopefully both it and the rest of the Kanto force would be too busy with the Johto force (and hopefully the Johto force just plain wouldn’t care). A blur of red and green wings caught my eye alongside us—Aros, with Chibi still on his back. Of course they’d be nearby— I had told them to protect Lugia. And I felt better having them near, as there was no way I could keep watch for enemies in every direction.

As we neared our target, the telltale shimmer of a barrier flickered to life. But they’d have a lot harder time standing up to a Legendary without the whole fleet in defense mode. I felt Lugia scoff internally before drawing power from within. It focused the energy into its mouth, preparing to fire a piercing beam attack.

Then a heavy impact struck from behind, knocking Lugia askew. I pitched forward, clinging desperately to Lugia’s neck just in time to keep myself from being thrown off. A wave of pain shot through my entire body, but that was nothing compared to the torrent of outrage and confusion assaulting my mind through the psychic link. Lugia flapped its wings wildly to regain itself, glancing around in a frenzy.

“What the hell was—” I froze, shaking. The feathers on Lugia’s back were charred black. I’d just felt the shock wave from the blast. If it had hit me directly, I’d have been toast.

My eyes locked onto the culprit—two airships had broken from the battle against the Johto force and were fast approaching us. The panic in Lugia’s mind melted into anger. The dragon-bird focused its energy again, firing a blindingly orange beam right at them. But the Rockets had obviously seen that coming, because Lugia’s target seamlessly switched back into defense mode, and the attack went sliding off the barrier and out into the open air. The second ship fired, and I felt a split second of dread as that deadly beam shot right for us… until a huge lightning bolt struck out of nowhere, and the two attacks collided with explosive force.

I covered my eyes as the smoke washed over us, and when it cleared, I could see Chibi sparking wildly on Aros’s back. I let out a huge sigh of relief. But that attack must have taken a huge amount of power, and there was no way he could keep that up.

The first ship’s barrier dropped. A jolt of alarm flickered through Lugia, and it raised a Protect around us just as both ships fired at once. I screwed my eyes shut as sound of the beams crashing against Lugia’s shield assaulted my ears. When the sounds had let up, I opened my eyes to see the ships already preparing to fire again, and Lugia struggling to call up the energy for a second barrier back-to-back.

<I’ll have to dodge, brace yourself!>

Lugia dove. I clung to its neck for dear life and felt the tingle of that searing energy shooting right overhead. The ships pivoted in midair, following us with their cannons, readying another shot—

Which meant they were completely unprepared for the all-out Fire Blast consuming them from above in a raging inferno. Both ships fell backward, sparks leaping from their melted shield projectors.

“Need help?!” a voice called out.

I spun around to see Moltres soaring over to meet us, Rudy perched on its back with all the confidence of someone who’d ridden a legend into battle a hundred times.

“Rudy!” I yelled, waving to him. “We’ve gotta get inside that airship!”

He nodded sharply, then turned to motion over his shoulder. “Come on!” Who was he talking to?

I got my answer a few seconds later when Fearow soared into view, and it took me a bit to realize that she had a rider. Darren was riding Fearow, Weavile sitting in front of him.

“Darren? What are you doing up here?” I asked blankly.

“Thanks, I feel super wanted,” he said dryly. Before I could protest, he added, “We finished things up in the crater. Figured I could make myself somewhat useful up here, maybe. Also this one might have dragged me into it.”

“Shut up!” Rudy yelled, face going red. “I needed the ice support against that Flygon, okay?!” Weavile flashed a toothy grin at his words.

The two airships that had been attacking us pulled back. With their shield projectors damaged, they had no way of defending themselves or absorbing more power to fire at us. That just left the third—the one that held the orbs. Lugia nodded to Moltres, and the two of them unleashed a relentless barrage of raging flames and psychic blasts. Way too much power for it to absorb on its own—the shield projectors shorted out right away.

Satisfaction flooded my mind from Lugia, and I couldn’t help letting it bleed into my own thoughts. The dragon bird swooped closer until it was right above the ship, and I slid down its tail to land on the flat metal platform that Entei and Raikou had been using as a perch.

<I’ll let you know once we’ve got em!> I said to Lugia, pulling my focus away from our link. Then I waved to Rudy and Darren and yelled, “Come on!”

Moltres and Fearow flew close enough for Rudy and Darren to jump down after me before recalling their Pokémon. What surprised me was the Pikachu that took a flying leap and landed right in front of us.

“*I’m coming with you,*” Chibi said firmly.

I blinked. “Weren’t you gonna stick to protecting Lugia?”

He glanced back at the dragon-bird, eyes narrowed. “*I don’t expect it to stay in the line of fire once we’re inside. You deserve the help more.*”

I gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks.”

There was an entry hatch on the far end of the platform. I pointed it out and Chibi swung an Iron Tail at it, cleaving through the lock. Pulling the hatch aside revealed a set of rungs leading downward. I lowered myself down the passage as quickly as possible, closely followed by Rudy, then Darren.

The three of us found ourselves in a cramped, narrow passage lined with pipes. The air was filled with the roar of the engines. We followed the hallway toward the front of the ship, footsteps slowing as we approached the bridge. Two Rockets were in there, from what I could see. They hadn’t noticed us yet, not with the engine noise.

Chibi’s feathers crackled before he leaped from my shoulder. I shut my eyes, but I could still hear the jolt of lightning and the garbled cries from the Rockets. A few seconds after they fell silent, I opened my eyes to see them passed out in their seats.

“*They obviously weren’t expecting an attack from the inside,*” Chibi said with a bit of a scoff.

He was right. No combat unit to speak of. Then again with the ship’s defenses, and how little space there was inside...

“So, we made it. Now’s probably a good time to find out why we’re here.” Darren said, crossing his arms behind his head and giving me a sideways glance.

Oh. Right.

“We’ve got to find the orbs,” I said. “Groudon and Kyogre promised they could defeat the Rockets if we could get them the orbs.”

Darren just nodded in a ‘that makes sense’ kind of way, while Rudy fixed me with an incredulous glare. “You’re telling me you talked with those things?” he asked, gaping at me.

“They’re Pokémon,” I just said.

Rudy made a face like that was the farthest thing from an explanation. Then Darren cut in with, “Alright, let’s hurry up and find ‘em.”

We jumped to work, throwing open every drawer and compartment we could get our hands on. They were here, they had to be here. Groudon and Kyogre had sensed them, and there was no way those two could be mistaken, not when their entire world seemed to revolve around getting these orbs.

My eyes fell on a metal case wedged under the main console. I tugged on its handle, sliding it out into the open. My pulse quickened as my fingers hurriedly undid all the latches before throwing the lid open, and—

“Here they are,” I said breathlessly.

I was staring down at two glossy, translucent orbs, each bearing some kind of rune inside them. I reached out to grab the red one and felt a tingle run through my fingers, making the hairs on my arm stand on end. The power emanating from this thing was almost tangible.

“The same person shouldn’t hold both,” Darren pointed out. “That way if one of us gets taken out, the others can at least get the second orb to them.”

Good point. I was just about to hand him the Blue Orb but then happened to catch a glimpse of Rudy’s disapproving face.

“Don’t talk like that,” he muttered, eyes firmly on the floor.

Darren shrugged. “It’s just how it is.”

“And I’m saying that’s not how it is,” Rudy snapped, rounding on him. “No one’s allowed to die, got it?!”

Darren didn’t reply, he just turned and gave me a knowing look. I wasn’t about to tell Rudy that I’d been thinking the same thing. Still, I went ahead and handed the Blue Orb to Darren, who pocketed it.

Chibi’s ears twitched. Before I could ask why, he leaped from my shoulder and raised a Protect behind me. A sudden burst of heat washed over us, and I spun around to see flames crashing against the shield, spilling out all around it.

“Aiming to unleash the primals? And I suppose that makes you the heroes?” a voice drawled.

The flames cleared, revealing Ender and his Ninetales, standing there in the hallway, staring us down. In a flash, Rudy let out Ebony, and Darren let out Golduck. The six of us all facing him, ready to attack at any moment, and he didn’t look remotely concerned by that.

“Power like what the legends have can’t be allowed to run wild,” he said, all amusement gone from his voice. “You’re running down a losing path if you think it should be unrestrained.”

A chill ran down my spine. What was he…? Never mind, I wasn’t gonna let myself think about it. It was just more garbage trying to sound like any of this was justified.

“You’re outnumbered. You can’t beat all three of us,” Rudy said.

Ender just shrugged. “I don’t have to beat you, I just have to stop you from getting out before the other squads finish up their work.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. Had to get out of here as soon as possible. He’d been relying on Articuno throughout most of the fight, so his team was likely still in good shape. And that was assuming he didn’t have reinforcements on the way right now.

Wait. Of course he did, Rockets always did. He was stalling.

Without warning, Chibi jumped up and fired a thin bolt over our heads. There was a flash of light followed by Nidoqueen standing in front of Ender, blocking him. He snapped his fingers—Ninetales’s eyes flashed an eerie red. The Pikachu dropped to the ground and, to my horror, he’d gone slightly cross-eyed, lights dancing around his head. Was Ender insane? Throwing off Chibi’s aim with all of us crammed into a narrow passage where a single stray bolt could blow the place? Chibi shook his head, sparks crackling across his feathers, and I couldn’t risk it—I recalled him in an instant.

Ebony jumped in front of us so that she could absorb any more flames from Ninetales, but that just made it all the easier for Nidoqueen to nail her in the face with a jet of water. Golduck retaliated with a Water Pulse of his own that splashed across the corridor, soaking both opponents. Seconds later, he was slammed into the wall when a glowing orb of green energy exploded into his face. Ninetales flashed a smirk as the water-type sank to his knees, then proceeded to fix Ebony with a hypnotic stare, tails swaying behind it.

God, we didn’t have time for this. Or the space. Had to get out of here. Needed some other way out besides the exit hatch. Some way to make our own exit.

And then a terrible, brilliant idea dawned on me.

<Lugia,> I said.

<Yes?>

<Use your psychic power to rip the airship open.>

The silence was tangible. <…Are you joking?>

<Does it sound like I am?> I asked.

Lugia’s mind was silent with stunned disbelief and total bafflement.

<Alright. Brace yourself.>

“Recall your Pokémon,” I hissed under my breath.

What?” Rudy snapped.

I didn’t get a chance to say anything else. With the squealing of metal as our only warning, the floor suddenly split open. Ninetales leaped away in a panic, practically bowling its trainer over as the hole in the floor stretched wider and wider.

“What the heelllll?!” Rudy cried.

A mess of recall beams filled the room as all the Pokémon got recalled. The crack was practically a chasm now, and everything not bolted down had started sliding into it. Rudy clawed at the slick metal floor, desperately trying and failing to grab hold of something. Darren flashed a tired look my way, like he knew I was somehow responsible for this. That was the last thing I saw before all of us slid out into the open air.

Falling. But this time I was ready for it. This time I was able to fight back the panic flaring up in the back of my head, because we’d escaped—we’d escaped!—and that was all that mattered. A giant pair of white wings swooped past, taking up my entire field of vision. I landed on Lugia’s back with a thud that knocked the wind out of me, then felt two thuds behind me that signified Rudy and Darren landing as well, before Lugia spread its wings and leveled our flight.

<That was… surprisingly efficient,> Lugia said, its voice somewhat shaken.

“Hoooly crap. That was awesome. Insane, but awesome,” Rudy said, eyes wide with exhilaration like that was the best thing he’d ever experienced.

“Okay, gotta admit I didn’t see that coming,” Darren said with a wry grin. “Be honest, did you know that was going to work?”

I didn’t reply. I was too busy watching Ender and the two pilots falling through the air behind us. Twin flashes of light appeared as the former let out his Xatu and Altaria. The dragon-bird caught him, and then Xatu teleported the pilots away.

They’d made it. Okay. I wasn’t… I wasn’t ready to think about something like that being my fault. In any case, we did it. We got the orbs. Lugia was already making a beeline for the crater, flapping its wings as powerfully as it could. We were going to make it. We were going to—

An earth-shattering roar tore the air, echoing in my ears and gripping my body from all over. I glanced around hurriedly to find its source and—what? Rayquaza had just appeared from within the circle of airships. It had escaped? How?! Unless… they let it out on purpose? But that could only mean…

My stomach tied itself into a knot. They’d already managed to program the mind control for it. That’s why the Rockets didn’t retreat after they caught it. They were preparing to use it against the others! If we didn’t do something fast, the Rockets would walk away from here with a lot more than just two Legendaries.

The serpent shot toward us like a green lightning bolt, and I felt my insides dissolve. Lugia swerved to the side at the last second, just in time for it to go barreling past us like a train, so close I could have reached out and touched it. I was sure that it was going to loop around instantly and catch up with us, striking Lugia down and tearing through the rest of us in a blaze. But Rayquaza hadn’t followed. It paused for a moment, then began twisting and turning in midair, greenish-red dragonfire wreathing its body.

The black hole of dread inside me somehow grew even bigger. “It’s powering itself up!”

<I’ll try to hold it back. Get the orbs to those two, now!> Lugia demanded.

Our flight slowed, and the flicker of embers caught my eye to our left. Moltres was gliding just under us, matching speeds with Lugia. Oh geez. Yet again, I had to switch rides in midair. I was really getting sick of it. Rudy didn’t waste a second; he hurled himself toward his patron, landing so smoothly you’d think he was used to this. Next was my turn—I swallowed hard and took a flying leap. A half second of falling later, I hit Moltres’s back with a thud, immediately grabbing Rudy’s shoulder to steady myself. Then Darren grabbed hold of me, and Lugia immediately banked around to confront Rayquaza.

“What now?” Moltres asked.

“We have to get to Groudon and Kyogre!” Rudy yelled.

Moltres pitched its wings back and shot downward, and suddenly I was clinging to Rudy for dear life. I couldn’t help glancing back at Lugia, who was lunging into battle with blue dragonfire streaking its body. But compared to Rayquaza, it was practically standing still. The serpent looped around, dodging effortlessly, moving so fast it was like the wind. Lugia swung its tail, trying to snag Rayquaza in a whirlwind, but the serpent cut through like it was nothing, slashing across the seabird’s back. Lugia’s pained cries echoed through my head.

It would be okay. We just had to make it to Groudon and Kyogre, and we could end this.

Moltres beat its wings as fast as it could. Past Raikou and Entei and Articuno and the fleet of airships, weaving around bolts and beams, flames and ice. It was fast, but I couldn’t help feeling less safe on Moltres’s back from how big of a target it was. My hand had just started inching toward a Pokéball when an ALR beam struck.

Moltres screeched in pain, its flight jerking erratically. My heart jumped into my throat as we pitched forward, all three of us clinging desperately to each other to keep from being thrown off. My eyes fell on Moltres’s side, where the feathers had disintegrated, leaving raw, torn flesh behind.

Moltres grunted in pain. “I’m… fine. I just…” Its wings faltered slightly. Moltres shook its head as though trying to get its bearings, but then its eyes went unfocused. (God, it’d flown halfway across the region and then had to endure this crap?)

“Where’s Mew, she can do it,” the firebird said, its voice weak.

Mew, where was Mew? I scanned the air for a Charizard but couldn’t see one anymore. No wait, she’d switched to Aerodactyl—gray wings, gray wings… Then again, she could have transformed into anything by now. And that was assuming that she hadn’t been cap—

Another beam struck. Moltres went limp, and then we were falling.

“Moltres!” Rudy screamed. But the phoenix didn’t respond. He turned to me and Darren and yelled, “We gotta bail!”

He pushed off from Moltres’s back before releasing Fearow and letting her catch him in the freefall. I let out Firestorm, awkwardly flailing toward him in midair the moment he’d appeared. His eyes went wide once he realized I was falling again, and the Charizard immediately pitched his wings back to swoop under me. I threw my arms around his neck, and he reached out to grab Darren by the wrists before flaring his wings to level our flight.

Moltres spiraled past us, freefalling downward before crashing into the side of a house in a mangled heap. Rudy went pale. He nudged Fearow, and she dove as quickly as she could. The instant the two touched down, Rudy practically tripped over himself jumping from her back.

“Moltres!” he yelled, sprinting over to the firebird and already pulling out a revive for it.

Firestorm glided down after them to land in the flooded streets. I slid from his back and landed in water up to my ankles. This whole block had been flooded from Kyogre’s arrival. Clouds of steam drifted up from where Moltres lay.

And then in a flash of light, Mew suddenly appeared right in front of us.

<Lugia just informed me. You got the orbs?> Mew asked.

I pulled the orb from my pocket and held it up to her, and she gave a sigh of relief. <Good. I fear those two may not be able to hold Rayquaza at bay for much longer.> She glanced upward at Lugia and Ho-oh struggling to fend off Rayquaza. The emerald serpent circled around them so blazingly fast it was a green blur. I winced as it tore across Lugia, slashing wildly. Even from here I could see the bright red streaks staining its feathers.

The fluttering of wings caught my eye. I turned to see Aerodactyl touching down around a block away, limbs trembling. Ajia jumped down from his back right before he collapsed, wings splayed out across the ground. Injured? No, just exhausted. She recalled him, then ran over to us.

“You guys did it! I’m so glad you’re okay!” she exclaimed, grabbing my shoulder and practically collapsing against it.

I blinked. “Ajia…”

She looked up at me, eyes dead with exhaustion. “I’m so, so sorry I wasn’t able to help, but Mew and I have been busy with all this and—”

“It’s—it’s okay,” I said, putting my hand on hers. She’d been having to deal with so much today. “It’s not your fault.”

“Are you all alright?” a voice called out.

I turned to look behind us, back up the slopes of the crater, where Steven Stone was riding towards us on the back of his Metagross. Its limbs were folded inward as it hovered just above the ground, weaving around crumbled buildings and crushed vehicles.

“I saw you falling from the cliffs up there,” he said once he reached us. “I was unsure what to believe before… until I saw you riding the guardian of fire just now,” he said, like he was still having a hard time believing it. Then his eyes went wide when he saw what I was holding. “How did you get that?”

I instinctively clutched the orb a bit tighter. “Groudon and Kyogre asked us to get them.”

“They asked you?” The look on his face made it clear that he’d never remotely considered that talking to them was even an option.

“We’ve got to get the orbs to them,” I said, hoping that my voice sounded firm. We couldn’t think about him right now. I turned my back to him, taking a few steps toward the lake.

“Wait,” Steven said, stepping in front of me. “The orbs will revert those two back to the form they had when they shaped the earth’s surface… or so the legend goes.” He gazed out at where Groudon and Kyogre were still firing waterspouts and lava bursts into the air with just as much vigor as they’d had when this all started. “That’s not the sort of power we should be trifling with.”

Rudy looked up from where he was tending to Moltres. For the first time throughout all this, his eyes had lost some of their fire. “That’s… that’s not…”

“Mm, I’m pretty sure more lives will be lost if we let that kind of power fall into Team Rocket’s hands,” Darren said flatly.

Steven was silent for some time. He sighed, shaking his head. “I’m going to regret this.” He turned to face Ajia. “Your guardians will keep this under control? That kind of power… I don’t want to think about how many lives would be lost if it ran wild,” he said, giving her a very serious look.

Power running wild… the words echoed in my head. My thoughts drifted back to what Ender had said, and… no. No, I wasn’t going to let myself think about anything that he’d said. This whole mess was their fault.

<We’ll make sure they know they can’t stay like that,> Mew said. <You have my word.>

Steven turned to face her. It looked like he was having a hard time coming up with what to say. Finally, he nodded, averting his eyes like he didn’t think he could address her directly.

The ground shook, sending sent ripples through the flooded streets. Groudon and Kyogre were approaching us now—Kyogre cutting a trail through the water and Groudon walking across fresh earth that bloomed in its path. Even though I knew they weren’t going to attack us, there was something undeniably intimidating about seeing those two ancient beasts approaching.

Mew took an orb in each paw. She hovered out to the duo, who had almost reached the edge of the lake.

<We need your help,> she said.

Groudon nodded. “*You need our power to defeat those humans, yes?*”

<It’s not just that,> the psychic cat went on, her tail twisting restlessly. <We need you to use your true power to stop Rayquaza.>

Both titans recoiled visibly at her words, their eyes widening with shock and outrage.

“*Stop… the messenger?*” Groudon asked. Like such a thought had never remotely occurred to it.

“*That was not our deal!*” Kyogre hissed.

<Please—>

“*Attacking the messenger from the heavens is unthinkable,*” Groudon said with a heavy shake of its head. “*Their word is the divine will. The only thing that can halt the ceaseless urging of our dance.*”

<I know that, but their mind is not their own!> Mew exclaimed, struggling to keep the exasperation out of her voice.

Groudon gave a low rumble of contemplation. “*What does this mean?*”

<They aren’t in control of their actions.>

“*How is such a thing possible?*” Kyogre demanded.

<Those humans up there have created weapons that let them enslave their minds,> Mew said carefully. <Including those as powerful as the great messenger.>

Both titans paused, processing Mew’s words. I honestly wasn’t sure if either of them would have any idea what that was supposed to mean, but then—

Groudon hung its head. “*Such a thing… would be a most detestable act. That which never should be done.*” Its words held a faint sorrow.

“*The Orb,*” Kyogre said, nudging Groudon aside, forcing itself to the front.

Mew recoiled backward slightly, clutching the orbs tighter. <You have to promise that you will return to your sanctum afterward.>

Kyogre stared long and hard at her. “*That was the agreement,*” it said, hating every word.

Mew paused, taking a deep breath. Then she slowly levitated the two orbs over to them. Both orbs touched Groudon and Kyogre’s heads at the same time. In an instant, waves of rippling light spread across their bodies. The light strengthened, solidifying, encasing them in radiant cocoons of faceted glass. We watched with bated breath as their bodies turned molten within, shifting, changing, growing, pulsing with unimaginable power. Then, without warning, the cocoons shattered. I squinted through steam at the pair of titans before us, their silhouettes familiar, but the details strange and new. Kyogre’s skin glowed, glassy, transparent in places, revealing the energy pulsing vibrantly inside its core. Groudon’s craggy hide had split open, traced by piercingly bright lines of molten magma flowing freely underneath. It was almost like… like their bodies were struggling to contain the sheer, monstrous power.

And then I felt the heat wave begin to radiate outward.

<We must leave,> Mew said, and without waiting for an answer, she teleported us out.

All of us—me, Ajia, Rudy, Darren, Moltres, Steven, and Metagross—reappeared on the crater’s edge, looking down on the lake. Groudon and Kyogre glowed like twin stars, red and blue, below us. And then the unnaturally still air that Rayquaza had brought was shattered instantly. The clouds covering half of Sootopolis shifted to pitch black. Rain burst forth, so thick it was like a solid wall of water crashing down onto Sootopolis. The other half of the sky was on fire, shimmering with a heat haze so dense I could barely see through it. The lakewater boiled. The roads and buildings of Sootopolis twisted and distorted, then glowed, finally melting under the relentless heat.

Lugia and Ho-oh swooped downward to land awkwardly next to us, both of them bleeding profusely, staining the gleaming white rocks a vibrant red. I could feel Lugia fighting back its exhaustion, doing everything in its power not to let it show. The dragon bird slowly pulled itself into a more dignified posture, forcing a healing energy through its body. Mew joined Ho-oh’s side, and the two of them raised a shimmering veil around our group, keeping the scorching heat at bay. Then Lugia flicked its wings, and I felt a cool ocean breeze wash over us from behind, despite the fact that I could see the lethal heat right below.

Everyone… they’d made it outside the crater, right? But even beyond Sootopolis wasn’t safe. This level of power… Steven was right. We shouldn’t have done it. But we’d had no choice—we couldn’t let the battle keep going. It had to end. Had to keep telling myself that.

The Rocket airships quickly pulled back beyond the edge of the crater. That just left Rayquaza alone, circling overhead. A pulsing blast of dragonfire rained down on Groudon and Kyogre, and neither flinched. They’d been on par with the other higher legends before, but this? This was a whole new level.

“*Forgive us,*” Groudon said, its voice a low tremor.

Shock waves radiated from the crater, vibrating through my feet even from way up here. Six piercing lights encircled Kyogre, pulling water toward its body, collapsing it into tiny pinpricks. Then the light exploded into a barrage of piercingly blue beams, looping over Rayquaza before slamming into its back. The serpent had no time to react. It let out a cry as the waterjets smashed it down into a fresh lava field of Groudon’s, just in time for the volcano beast to slam a foot into the earth. Jagged spires of molten rock erupted from the ground, digging into its body from every direction. Again and again, water pummeling it from above, earth stabbing it from below. The serpent flailed against their hold, but there was nothing it could do. It was almost pitiful seeing the great messenger from the heavens so utterly dominated like this.

A high-pitched tone sounded from one of the airships. There was a flicker of light next to Rayquaza—something teleporting next to it? And then it was gone.

The Rocket fleet accelerated suddenly, leaving the crater at last. They were retreating. They’d gotten their prize, no need to stick around and fight a losing battle. With a thunderous roar, Groudon stamped the earth, calling up a towering surge of lava hundreds of feet into the air, catching the airship at the back of the formation and incinerating it in an instant.

Ajia glanced at Mew, her eyes wide and face pale. The psychic cat gave a somber nod and vanished. A pulse of light signaled her reappearing next to the pair of titans below. Lugia tensed up. Readying itself in case it needed to fly down after her. But then, after several agonizingly long moments, there was a flicker of light. It started as a pinprick, then grew into a blazing wave of red and blue, swirling around in a vortex. The clouds lightened; the sunlight dimmed. And then, when the light faded, there they were—Groudon and Kyogre, in their normal forms once more, looking almost tame compared to the nightmares they’d become. That terrifying, unearthly glow was gone, contained within the orbs once more.

Mew reappeared in front of us, one orb in each paw, both pulsing softly.

<It’s over,> she said.






~End Chapter 45~

Next Chapter: Jade and Sebastian have a chat.

~Chibi~
 
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Chibi Pika

Stay positive
I've been waiting a long, long time for this one. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.



~Chapter 46: Meeting with the Commander~


The aftermath passed by in a blur of sights and sounds that didn’t fully register in my head. I saw Groudon and Kyogre slowly making their way back to the cave. Lugia, Ho-oh, and Mew escorted them. Steven Stone said some things to us. Ajia talked with him a lot. We followed him down to the crowded docks where the Magmas and Aquas were helping the evacuees. Tabitha video called Maxie to update him, and Archie stole the tablet at one point, shouting boisterously. Ships came and went; teleporters regularly blinked in and out near the designated jump point. Even with the disaster over, tons of people were clamoring to get off the island, and I could hardly blame them.

At some point we found ourselves inside the Pokécenter on the southern shore of the island. We were finally able to drop off our teams for healing—out of everyone, Skarmory, Alakazam, and Aerodactyl were in the worst shape. Jet technically didn’t have that many wounds, but… I still worried about her. After how badly she’d been shaken up by the Aqua fight…

I sat there in a daze, staring numbly at the wall, my hair tangled to hell, my skin sunburnt, clothes stiff from salt, shoes full of sand. I had the urge to get up, to walk around, to help, to do something, but I couldn’t muster the will. Not after everything that had happened. Not with how little energy I had left in me. It was a wonder I’d managed to keep going this long.

Ajia and Steven were just finishing up their conversation in the middle of the Pokécenter lobby. I decided to actually try listening to it as opposed to letting the words bounce off my ears.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to give you some way of contacting me,” Steven said. “This Legendary business… I suspect there’s a lot more to it than I’m aware. I understand if you’re not comfortable speaking to me about it, but—”

“It’s fine,” Ajia said quickly. “I know we’re probably not gonna hear the end of what happened here today.”

They exchanged Pokégear numbers and Steven paused there with a hesitant look on his face. Like there were a dozen questions he wanted to ask, but he couldn’t bring himself to impose. In the end, he settled on, “Take care,” before turning and walking outside.

Ajia sat down on the couch next to me, looking pensive. A shadow had fallen over her usual bright, energetic air. For some time, she just sat there in silence, drumming her fingers on her knees.

“She said that it might be a few hours before she’s recovered enough energy to teleport us all the way home,” Ajia said offhandedly, and it took me a second to realize who she was talking about. This was the first time I’d properly registered just how far Mew had brought us. Hoenn and Kanto weren’t all that close—it was something like a 6-hour train ride. Teleporting clear to another region was literally unheard of.

“I’m not really worried about getting home all that soon,” I admitted. “Besides, we could always just find another way home. There’s probably a ferry.” Although… most ships in and out of the area were most likely delayed from the disaster. Maybe we could fly to Lilycove, and then… well, maybe it didn’t matter right now.

Ajia shook her head softly. “Mew doesn’t want to inconvenience us any more than she already has. She just needs a rest.”

I stared blankly. “It’s not that big an inconvenience.”

“That’s what I told her. But no, she wants to teleport us home, she just needs a rest now.”

Mew, insisting on helping everyone even though she was so clearly overwhelmed. Almost like…

With perfect timing, Ajia said, “I sometimes worry that I’m asking too much of her.”

I gave her a serious look. “She was asking a lot of you too.”

Ajia smiled weakly. “I have to help Mew, though. It’s my job to support her. However I can.”

“I dunno. I think it’s okay if you can’t always do that,” I mumbled. But was I only saying that because I wasn’t close with my patron? Things would probably be different if I were friends with Lugia the way that Ajia and Mew were.

…Yeah. If I were in her situation, I’d almost certainly be feeling the same thing.

“It’s what I signed up for. I can’t back down now,” she said quietly.

It was weird hearing her voice the same doubts that had been plaguing me all day. Weird to realize that maybe she was just as overwhelmed by it all as me. No matter how much she seemed in control.

The Pokécenter doors slid open and in walked Starr, looking every bit as tired and irritated as when she’d left to go on a walk earlier. With a heavy sigh, she flopped down onto the couch in between me and Ajia.

“Y’know what I could go for right now?” Starr announced.

I shrugged. “Sleep?”

She gave me a sideways glance. “Well, I was gonna say a week-long bubble bath, but sure, let’s go with that.” She exhaled long and slow, idly tapping her boots against the edge of the couch. “So this shit is life from now on, huh? No getting around it.”

Ajia blanched. “I wasn’t trying to drag you in, I swear.”

Starr waved an arm like she didn’t want to hear it. “Calm down, not everything’s about you, jeez.” She leaned her head back against the sofa so that she was staring at the ceiling. “I always just kinda brushed this stuff off or tried not to think about it, or figured that that was so far in the future that it basically didn’t matter. Not like I’d ever see it.”

Something flickered across Ajia’s expression, and she opened her mouth to say something, but then decided against it.

“God, I just… hate everything about this,” Starr said bitterly, clenching her fists. “Why should you two have to risk your lives like this? It’s not fair.”

“It’s not like we’re being forced,” Ajia said reassuringly. “We did agree to it. It’s our job.”

“It shouldn’t have to be your job,” Starr snapped. “Make the stupid Legendaries save their own damn skins.”

Ajia clasped her hands in her lap, considering her words carefully. “If it helps, we’re not just doing it for them,” she said gently. “It’s for everyone’s sake.”

“I know, I know,” Starr said, waving a hand dismissively. “Really wish you’d be a little more selfish sometimes so I wouldn’t have to look like a dick.” She exhaled slowly, rubbing her temples. “I don’t even know where I’m going with any of this, I just…” She put an arm around each of our shoulders. “All in favor of moving to Unova?”

Ajia laughed. “Unova? Do you even know much Galarian?”

Starr snorted. “Nah. Figure anywhere’s better than here though. Anyway, there’s three of us. Aren’t triples the big format over there? We enter a few tournaments, kick some ass, make a ton of cash, get lots of fans… sounds like a plan to me.”

I couldn’t help chuckling a bit. Well, it was a nice thought at least.

Starr glanced between me and Ajia. “Yeah, I’m sure the moment we did, someone would start causing shit with the legends over there, if they aren’t already. And you two can’t exactly up and leave, so… guess I’m stuck here dealing with this mess whether I like it or not.”

“There’s nothing saying you have to be a part of it too,” I mumbled, doing my best to avoid her eyes.

Starr let out an exasperated sigh. “Jade, don’t be an idiot,” she said, tightening her arm around me. “I’m not going anywhere.”

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

Mew teleported us back to Kanto later that evening. Spirits weren’t exactly high. Not with two more Legendaries captured and Sootopolis City wiped from the map. Starr crashed the instant we got back. Ajia went to talk with her dad at the main Ranger HQ. Rudy wanted to check on a few other competitors at Indigo, and Darren went with him.

I couldn’t sleep. Too much had happened. So much my head felt like it was going to burst. And I didn’t feel like talking with anyone either, including my team. I let them all out when we got back to the ranger cabin, numbly recounted what had happened, and then wandered off in the woods by myself before I could be tempted to talk it out.

The Rockets had gotten Rayquaza. Because of course that had been their plan all along, and we’d only realized once it was too late. And… Stalker had gotten Latias. Not only that, but he’d done it purely out of spite, because she’d stopped him from catching Rayquaza.

Would it have been better if he’d gotten Rayquaza instead of Ender? No, I wasn’t going to let myself consider that. It was wrong either way.

He’d used us. Played us. I’d known for almost a year. Ever since the night that Starr revealed who he really was. And I’d known that she and Ajia despised him for things that had happened in the past. But those things didn’t feel real until I saw it happen right in front of me.

I told myself I was going to think about anything else. Anything other than how betrayed I felt. I knew that I’d get over it in time, but part of me didn’t want to get over it. I wanted to be angry at the things he’d done.

Probably the most annoying and confusing part was the random flashes of calm that came seemingly from nowhere, almost like an insult. It took me some time to figure out that I was feeling them from Lugia. It was probably sleeping at the bottom of the ocean right now, recovering its strength from that brutal fight. Which made sense, but it was still annoying. How could Lugia be so calm? After everything that had happened? All our failure… Latias gone… Sootopolis destroyed… Stalker using us, and—

<Your anger is distracting. What do you want?>

Dammit, I’d let my focus drift to Lugia too hard. I really was gonna need to get a better handle on that.

<Nothing. I wasn’t trying to talk,> I said shortly.

<You’re clearly bothered by something,> Lugia said flatly. <What is it?>

I groaned. <What do you mean, ‘what is it?’ What else would it be? We failed. We didn’t stop them. Latias got captured, and I was right there, and I couldn’t save her.>

I felt Lugia struggling with its words. <I’m bothered by what happened to Latias as well,> it said slowly and deliberately, and there was a noticeable heaviness to its words. <Mew is particularly devastated. They were quite close with Latias. I don’t… feel that I’m in the best position to comfort them.>

A twinge of guilt hit me. I wasn’t even thinking about how Mew had lost a friend. I hadn’t even known Latias that long, but… she’d been trying her hardest to protect us. And she was someone else that Stalker had hurt, so I guess I’d… related to her in a way.

But it wasn’t just what happened to her. It wasn’t just the way Stalker had strung us along and played us for fools. No, it was the fact that after all of this, I still didn’t have any clue why he’d done it. He kept talking like it was so important for us to stop the Rockets, and I refused to believe that it was all just an act. There was something missing there. And I knew I needed to forget about it, I knew, but…

No. I couldn’t just let this go. Not without getting answers. Even if I had to march right up to the Johto HQ and demand them.

And then for whatever reason, it dawned on me—I could actually do that. What was stopping me? Mahogany wasn’t that far. Stalker wouldn’t turn me away.

<I’m going to talk with the Johto commander,> I said without warning.

<Why?> Lugia asked, utterly perplexed.

<Because I need to give him a piece of my mind,> I said

Lugia was unimpressed. <That sounds like a pointless and unnecessary risk.>

<Look, I know him, alright? He’s not going to do anything to me.> Did I know that? Did I? <And it’s not pointless, I need answers.>

Lugia was silent for some time. <You intend to inform Mew of this, then?>

What? Mew? Why—<I’m flying, not teleporting,> I said heatedly. The last thing I wanted to do was inconvenience Mew with my own personal BS. And contacting Mew would mean telling Ajia what I was doing, and I really didn’t want to do that either.

Lugia made the mental equivalent of an eye roll. <I’ll inform Mew of it anyway.> It considered something for a bit and then added, <Also you must remain in contact with me while you are there.>

I exhaled slowly through my teeth. <Alright, fine.> That probably wouldn’t be possible anyway. I was heading to a Rocket base. There’d be a psychic shield, like always. I didn’t feel like telling Lugia that, though.

Lugia’s presence faded into the back of my mind, and I was alone once more. Standing in the middle of the darkening woods, forced to stop and think about what I’d just said. I’d barely put any thought into it at the time, but now I was committed.

“Guess I’m… going to visit Stalker,” I said to myself.

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

The flight to Mahogany was longer than I’d been acting—nearly an hour. Maybe it was stupid of me to pass up the opportunity to save that hour by teleporting, but it was too late to change that. I opted to fly on Aros. Even though everyone was fully healed, he’d been the least worn out by the end of the mission. And he seemed like the least likely to ask questions. Swift and Firestorm both probably would have had reasonable things to say. And I didn’t want to risk getting talked out of this.

Aros didn’t even complain that much at first. For most of the trip, the only sound was the buzzing of his wings as we crossed the Tohjo Mountains, following the light of the moon in the darkening sky. It wasn’t until we were descending on Mahogany that he finally spoke up.

“*I still don’t get what the point of this is,*” the Flygon said after we landed in a quiet, semi-wooded area on the eastern edge of town. “*I mean, we already knew Stalker lied to us. What’s talking supposed to do?*”

“I need answers,” I replied shortly, sliding down from his back. “I need to know why he’s doing all this.”

“*Humans lie all the time. Why is this instance so special?*”

I spun around. “We trained with him for months, you can’t possibly be surprised that I’m upset.” Maybe he was used to being let down by humans, but we’d trusted Stalker.

“*I’m just saying, you might want to chill,*” Aros said with a bored tone.

“You’re telling me to chill?” I said incredulously. “You’re like the least chill one on the team.”

Aros was silent for several seconds. “*I’ve been trying to work on that,*” he mumbled.

I froze. He sounded genuinely hurt. I’d crossed a line, hadn’t I?

“I… you’re right, I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.” It wasn’t the only uncalled for thing I’d said within the past day, either. I exhaled slowly and added, “I was kind of a jerk yesterday.”

Aros didn’t say anything. The only sound was the gentle swaying of leaves in the night air. I found myself racking my brain for something positive to say. It was hard, shoving all the residual anger and confusion from the Hoenn mission out of my head, but…

“Hey, so… from what I saw, you were pretty awesome protecting the Aquas,” I said.

“*I did alright,*” he said gruffly.

“Better than alright,” I insisted. “There was ice freaking everywhere and you avoided all of it.”

Aros paused, considering it. “*Yeah. Guess I did,*” he said with the smallest bit of pride leaking through in his voice. “*It’s nothing special though.*”

I gave him my best attempt at a smirk. “I’ve never known you to say that you’re nothing special.”

His expression hardened. “*I’m an experiment. I’m supposed to be better than regular Pokémon. That’s not bragging, that’s just how it is.*”

I blinked. Oh. This was… more involved than I’d thought.

“*Back on the Rebellion, I was the strongest. Everyone looked up to me,*” he said, staring off at the half moon hanging over Mahogany. “*If I’m not, then… what am I?*”

Stygian had always said that the two of them weren’t enhanced clones. They had no special powers, no exceptional strength. Just a hard life full of harsh training that had left them tougher than normal.

I glanced away, unable to meet his eye. “You can’t just be you?” I said awkwardly.

He scoffed. “*What good is that?*”

“Good enough to me,” I murmured.

“*Yeah, what’s that worth,*” he said with a snort. I glanced away, unsure of how to respond.

Several seconds passed. Aros’s wings flattened with embarrassment. “*I didn’t… mean that.*”

“I know.”

Another awkward silence. The Flygon’s tail swished back and forth distractedly.

“*I know everyone else thinks it’s stupid,*” he said bitterly. “*Stygian definitely thinks it’s stupid,*” he added with a wince.

I shoved my hands in my pockets. “It’s really not that weird. Being strong is pretty important to a lot of Pokémon, and—”

“*Stop.*”

I froze, staring at the irritated scowl on his face.

“*Don’t… don’t try to fix this. You’re always trying to fix everything,*” Aros muttered.

I rubbed the back of my head. “Sorry.” I shuffled a foot against the dirt, biting back several comments that would probably just make things worse. I settled on, “Can I at least apologize for being a jerk in Sootopolis?”

The Flygon considered me for a bit before tossing his head like he was rolling his eyes. “*Fine, apology accepted or whatever,*” he said disinterestedly, but I’d known him long enough to catch the genuine tone underneath it. “*So what now? You go yell at this guy and then we head back?*”

I couldn’t help chuckling. “Yeah. Sounds good.”

We set off down the streets of Mahogany. It was a quiet, forested town—the kind of place that probably wouldn’t have many people at all if it weren’t for trainers and tourists. My memory of the Rocket base’s location was pretty fuzzy. Starr had pointed it out once when we’d stopped by here, but that was over a month ago. I got lost, of course. But eventually, I felt the stirrings of déjà vu in the back of my head as I passed by a certain shady-looking tourist shop. The tiny red R in the corner of the window gave it away.

I turned to Aros. “You staying out here?”

He tilted his head. “*You’re going in alone?*”

Right, the rest of my team was still back at the cabin. I was entering a Rocket base with no Pokémon. And yet somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to care.

I nodded and Aros shrugged. “*Suit yourself. I’ll check back later,*” he said before taking off.

If this was anything like the other Rocket bases, there had to be a members-only back entrance. I wandered around back and sure enough, there it was—a large metallic door that looked way too heavy-duty for such a shabby building. I pressed the pager button on the door’s keypad. No response. I knocked on the door. Still nothing. I slammed my fist to the metal repeatedly. Come on. There had to be someone guarding this entrance.

I was just about to turn around and try bothering the shop owner when the viewhole slid open. A tired pair of eyes surveyed me irritably. “Get lost, kid,” their owner said.

“I’m here to see the commander,” I said as forcefully as I could.

The guard raised an eyebrow. “On whose orders?”

“Just tell him Jade’s here, dammit. He’ll want to talk to me.”

There was a long pause while the Rocket peered at me closely. “You better be right,” he growled.

The viewhole shut and I was left alone. For how long, I wasn’t quite sure. Eventually, I heard what sounded like mechanical latches being undone. Then the entire door slid open, and suddenly I was face-to-face with Raikou, staring the hulking tiger straight in the eyes.

“Why, hello there,” a voice said. My eyes slid upward to see the person sitting on Raikou’s back, fixing me with an amused look. Lexx glanced around the alley behind me and added, “Came here alone, didja?”

“Yeah, I did,” I replied flatly.

“Well then, right this way,” he said, motioning for me to walk inside.

My eyes lingered on Raikou as I stepped into the base, the door sliding shut behind me.

“Sorry ‘bout security,” Lexx said casually. “We’ve just got to be careful. Now that the Kanto force knows we’re traitors, they’re gonna be out for our heads.”

“Not strong enough to fight them off?” I asked dryly.

“They’ve got three Legendaries and we’ve got three,” Lexx answered simply. “Unfortunately, one of theirs is a higher legend that could wipe the floor with all three of ours.”

That he could talk so callously about how they just captured Latias. Disgusting.

Lexx led me into a service elevator large enough to fit… well, to fit a six-foot tiger. He tapped his ID to the scanner, and the lift descended. A few seconds later, the door opened on a wide metallic corridor, and Lexx gestured for me to take the lead. I walked out in front, followed closely by Raikou. The sound of its heavy claws clicking on the tile floor echoed through the hallway, announcing our arrival. Any Rockets ahead of us darted out of our path. I kept my eyes focused straight ahead but still caught glimpses of huge tech labs through the side windows, with scattered Rockets staring at us from the doorways.

“Stand down, Sebastian gave the all clear,” Lexx said cheerfully. Half of the Rockets visibly relaxed, though a fair number of them were still staring in admiration at the Legendary in their midst.

“Do you normally just parade Raikou around the base like this?” I asked in a tone that maybe sounded too much like I was trying to start a fight.

Either Lexx didn’t notice or didn’t care. “Nah. Folks need the morale boost after that mission, though. Need to remember how far we’ve come.”

“Sakari,” a stern voice snapped. “Any reason you’re bringing a known rebel into the base?”

I turned to see a tall, middle-aged man standing around the corner, fixing us with a rather unimpressed scowl.

“She’s got an audience with Seb,” Lexx answered with a wave.

The man rolled his eyes. “Why am I not surprised,” he said dismissively before turning to walk back into his office. “Tell Shepard to run this kinda shit past me next time, got it?”

“Head of base operations,” Lexx explained in a hushed voice. “Don’t mind him, he’s just on edge after the mission.”

In a way, it was mildly satisfying that even Stalker’s superiors were frustrated with the way he just did whatever the hell he wanted without caring if it bothered anyone else.

“Hey, so… no hard feelings about what happened in Hoenn, right?”

I jerked my head toward Lexx. “What?” Had I misheard him, or had he really just said that?

Lexx gave me a sideways glance. “You know, how we had to be on opposite sides, attacking each other and such. It wasn’t personal.”

‘Wasn’t personal’? Was he for real? Was that supposed to make it okay? He was saying it like it was a given that I wasn’t going to take it personally, and I didn’t have the slightest clue what to say to that, so I didn’t say anything. I just kept my eyes glued straight ahead so I wouldn’t be tempted to look at him.

<Have you arrived yet?>

I practically jumped through my skin. <Lugia?!>

<What’s that surprise for?> it replied, mild irritation in its words.

<I’m inside the Rocket base!> I almost shouted, immediately attempting to wipe the shock from my face so that no one would see it.

<Yes. And?>

<‘And’?? All Rocket bases have psychic blockers, that’s the whole reason we can’t teleport inside. That should include telepathy.>

Exasperation prodded at me. <I told you this wasn’t telepathy, didn’t I?>

I paused. <Yeah, but you said it worked the same.>

<It does work the same.>

I scowled. <Clearly it doesn’t!>

<Well, it’s helpful for us, isn’t it?> Lugia replied defensively. <Don’t dwell on it too much.>

Ha. That was rich coming from Lugia. But still, it did bother me. The patron-chosen bond was not psychic, like everyone said it was. What was it? The Legendaries themselves didn’t even know. How could they not?

We reached the end of the corridor, where Lexx hopped down from Raikou’s back and strode over to a door on our left, scanning his ID. I could feel myself starting to sweat. This was it. This was why I’d come here.

<I’m almost to the commander,> I told Lugia. <I’m gonna have to pay attention to him, so I won’t be able to reply.>

Lugia gave a mental affirmation, and I felt its presence fade into the back of my mind.

The door slid open, and Lexx motioned for me to enter. Slowly, hesitantly, I did. And there he was. Seated behind a computer desk, talking with two other Rockets, wearing that same infuriatingly calm expression he always did.

“Stalker,” I growled.

He turned, staring at me with those cold eyes of his, and in an instant, all of the anger that I’d been suppressing for the past hour flared up at once. I stormed forward, oblivious to everyone else in the room, and slammed both palms down on the desk. “Why did you have to capture Latias?!”

Stalker was unfazed by my outburst. “She was in the way,” he answered simply. “And her antics are the reason the Kanto force has Rayquaza now.”

“Don’t give me that,” I said, glaring at him. “We were trying to stop them too. If you really gave a damn, you would have helped us!”

His gaze was unflinching. “The only thing that mattered was keeping Rayquaza out of their hands,” he said, like nothing was more true. “Gaining its power would have given my forces an edge over theirs. It would have benefited your side as well.”

“That doesn’t…” I shook my head, grabbing my hair. “Why can’t you just let us do this? You said you wanted the chosen to stop them, right? Then why do you need to keep catching more Legendaries?!”

I wasn’t expecting an answer. Part of me was convinced this was a waste of time. Why on earth had I ever expected him to tell me anything? But then, out of nowhere, he said, “Do you want to know what my plans were?”

I stopped, blinking. “What?”

“I’ve openly betrayed the Kanto force,” he said. “There aren’t many secrets left.”

Just that one question shattered my expectations to pieces. Here I was, ready to beat the truth out of him, and he just went and offered to tell me everything?

While I was still staring dumbstruck, Stalker stood up from his desk, gesturing for me to follow him. “Come on. Let’s go where we can talk privately.”

I stood frozen for several seconds, still unable to process what had just happened. Without waiting for my answer, Stalker turned and walked out of the room. After a few seconds, I finally shook my head to get ahold of myself before following.

Stalker took me to the lowest floor of the base and led me into a room containing a large, stark-white Pokémon holding cell, with tall glass panes that were probably reinforced with energy shields. He motioned me toward a seating area with a couple of armchairs around a small, circular table. I waited for him to sit down, then took the chair across from him.

“Where should I begin?” he asked, and it sounded like a genuine question.

Now that I was finally here, I couldn’t actually figure out what I wanted from him. My thoughts were a swirling torrent of anger and confusion, and it was too hard to get any of it straight.

“I just… why are you doing all of this? Are you really trying to take over as head of Team Rocket? Or do you just want control of the Legendaries that badly?”

Stalker raised an eyebrow. “Weren’t you accusing me of just that?”

I gave him a hard stare. “I want to know if it’s true.”

“Intent is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is action. You’ve seen my actions. Don’t you have your own conclusions?”

“No,” I said flatly. “I don’t have a clue what you’re really going for. Everything you do is weird and contradictory.”

His face fell slightly. It was almost like he was hoping I’d be able to figure it out on my own. With a sigh, he leaned back in his chair and said, “I’ll start from the beginning, then. I’ve known for a long time that I’d need to use the power of the Legendaries. Ever since I first learned about the Legendary project, and—”

“How long,” I cut in.

He paused. “Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know, from the way you talk, it seems like you’ve been planning to take over Team Rocket since the day you joined.”

Stalker closed his eyes. “Of course not. I was only thirteen when I joined. Too young to make a difference on the team, and too young to even think about doing anything like that. I joined the team to get a Pokémon and a trainers’ license, that’s all.”

Only thirteen. It was hard to imagine that at one point, he’d been a scared, clueless kid just like the rest of us. But then, something didn’t add up…

“Why did you need to join Team Rocket to get a license?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. There was no way… he hadn’t failed the test like me, had he?

Stalker paused, looking contemplative. “I suppose that does sound odd.” He considered it for a bit, then added, “I was only passing for thirteen. I wasn’t old enough to get a license, so I must have been eleven.”

What? Was he seriously implying that he didn’t remember his own age? But… wait, if he was passing for two years older, then that meant—

“You’re only seventeen?!” I blurted out.

He furrowed his brow. “I suppose I am.”

I couldn’t help staring. He was only sixteen when the Rebellion began, not eighteen like I had thought. He was only fifteen when he became commander. That seemed completely ridiculous, but how could anyone have known better? He easily looked that old. Older, even. And if that was his age on his trainer ID, then who would question it? And who exactly was going to argue that he wasn’t strong enough for the position when he’d single-handedly captured two Legendaries?

Either he didn’t notice the way I was gaping at him, or he didn’t care. He continued with, “Regardless, I didn’t begin pursuing this path until I reached officer rank and joined the combat unit. That was when I learned about the Legendary project, and when I realized that I needed to capture the Legendaries to keep them out of the Kanto force’s hands.”

There he was, talking like he needed to take control of Team Rocket in order to… prevent them from doing the same thing he was doing. It didn’t make any sense.

“You already know all about the revolt thanks to Starr and Ajia. While the revolt was useful in weakening the Kanto force, I didn’t gain many allies from it. The people most likely to betray Team Rocket were those who’d already had their spirits crushed. They didn’t want to fight back—they wanted to escape. I’d thought that the Kanto commander would be different… but in the end, even he left.” He paused, eyes lowered, but everything else about his expression was perfectly neutral. I couldn’t tell if he was angry, or disappointed, or intrigued, or what.

After a few seconds, he continued, “It was in my best interest to leave the deserters alone, and start over with a new team where I could forge the ideal allies from scratch.”

“The Rebellion,” I said quietly, and Stalker nodded. Of course we were only ever pawns in his power play with the Kanto force. Why was I still looking for evidence otherwise? I knew there wasn’t any.

Stalker held up two fingers. “I created the Rebellion for two reasons. You already know the first goal: I needed to weaken the Kanto force, and strengthen my position within the Johto force. Preventing them from having access to the legends’ power was the simplest means.”

“Why kids,” I snapped.

He paused, staring me in the eyes. The corner of his mouth twitched almost invisibly.

“Why’d you go out of your way to recruit kids?” I repeated. “Was it just because we’d be less likely to question you?” I’d never questioned it at all until Starr called him out for it that night. And sure, it was slightly less weird now that I knew he wasn’t even two years older than me, but still.

Stalker eyed me carefully. “I wasn’t lying when I said that I wanted to shape my recruits’ fighting style from the ground up. But also… kids would be more likely to have no previous history with Team Rocket. They would be more easily underestimated by the Rockets. And, yes, they’d be more likely to take me at my word.”

“So you were fine with getting a bunch of kids killed then,” I said coldly.

Stalker closed his eyes. “I understand that you’re upset, but I just said that my intent was to create allies. Recklessly throwing their lives away would have been counterproductive.”

A bit of the anger leaked out of me, and I couldn’t help wanting it back. “Did you… actually expect a bunch of kids to be able stop Team Rocket?”

“Of course not,” he said, and his words were yet another slap to the face. “There were dozens of things that could have gone wrong. And even if everything went right, it was still entirely possible that the Rebellion might not have managed to save a single Legendary.”

“Then why…?”

Stalker surveyed me closely in that way he always did before he was about to say something big, and I hated how easily I recognized it. “Weakening the Kanto force was only one goal. Arguably the less important one. My true goal was to create the ideal candidates for becoming chosen.”

Silence. Twice, I tried to say something in response, but the words wouldn’t come. It was like a bucket of ice had just been dumped on my head.

“Wh-what?”

“In creating the Rebellion, I assembled a group of dedicated and impressionable young trainers, allied them to my cause, and gave them the tools they needed to fight the Rockets. Their innocence, idealism, and lack of previous history with Team Rocket would make them ideal candidates for becoming chosen. Even if the rebels hadn’t succeeded at a single mission, the Rebellion would have gotten the Legendaries’ attention in a big way, and handed them a large group of interlopers on a silver platter.”

Me being chosen. Rudy being chosen. That had been engineered by him? Now even the Legendaries themselves were unknowing pawns in his game?

“Of course, the ideal scenario would have been for the rebels to join the Johto force eventually,” he went on. “Unfortunately, the attack on Midnight Stadium was a setback there. It wasn’t the worst-case scenario, because I knew the survivors were already primed for becoming chosen. But it did mean that I could no longer assume that I’d have access to any of the patron legends.”

We were just pawns. He’d never cared. He’d never cared. And yet…

“The attack on Midnight wasn’t the worst-case scenario?” I said incredulously, struggling to keep my voice level. “Then why the hell did you risk yourself for us? You fought Moltres for crying out loud!”

Stalker looked unimpressed. “You were all valuable players in the fight against the Kanto force. Of course I was willing to risk myself. All that effort would have gone to waste if the Rockets had killed all of you.”

I sat back in my chair and clicked my tongue. “All of us, huh? But some of us dying was fine.”

Stalker folded his arms. “You keep changing your position on this. What are you trying to prove?”

“I don’t know, that Starr and Ajia were wrong about you? But you seem determined to prove them right.”

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and peering at me closely. “Let me ask you this: what will it change if they are right?”

“Huh?”

His gaze was unyielding. “My past actions aren’t going to be changed regardless of whether or not I thought of the rebels as nothing more than pawns.”

“Knowing how you felt about us might change how we feel about you, ever thought of that?” I said heatedly.

A long pause followed. Something shifted in Stalker’s eyes. “I did not wish for harm to come to the rebels,” he finally said, his voice cold and serious.

I snorted. “Yeah, that’s a committed answer.”

“It’s no concern of mine whether you find it to be an acceptable answer or not.”

God, talking to him was like pulling teeth. I was getting too heated. I couldn’t get distracted by my personal issues with what he’d done back then. Not when I still had so many questions.

So everything he’d done… it all came back to making sure the chosen pact went through. That still didn’t explain what he was doing now.

I took a deep breath. “Why did you spend all that time and effort helping the Legendaries find chosen humans if you’re not going to help us now?”

“I have nothing against working together with the patrons,” Stalker said matter-of-factly. “They don’t seem too eager to work with me, though.”

“Then just let your captive Legendaries go free.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Why not??” I demanded, slamming a fist to my knee. “You keep saying that you need to use their power to topple the Kanto force. Why can’t you just work with the Legendaries instead of using them?”

“Do you honestly believe that the chosen and patrons working together will be enough?” he asked, fixing me with a stare so intense that it felt like his eyes were burning right through me. “You’ve read the Midnight Island legend. ‘Though none may prevail, what is set into motion shall be much greater indeed.’”

I froze. The Midnight Island legend—I’d barely even thought about those ruins since last year. “You… you really think that legend was predicting the future?” Lugia didn’t seem to think so.

Stalker raised an eyebrow. “Predicting? No, I don’t think it was a prediction at all. I think it was instructions. And I’m the one making sure that it happens. Nothing that’s happened so far would have been possible if it weren’t for me.”

What? He was… making sure that legend came true? All the lies, all the manipulation, and it all came back to some 3000-year-old inscription on a rock, and no matter how badly I wanted to yell that that was ridiculous, the words wouldn’t come. I’d seen the proof—the chosen pact was real. I was a part of it, whether I liked it or not.

And there was also… the second legend. The writings in the basement, with the metallic orb that I’d taken. The writings that said the chosen pact would fail. Did he know? I sure as hell didn’t feel like telling him about the orb now, but…

Why do you want the chosen pact to work?” I asked. “What is it for?

Stalker tilted his head, gazing at me curiously. “Do you not realize what all of this is really about?”

I threw my hands in the air. “No? Obviously??”

“I’m trying to prevent the Revolution.”

A heavy silence followed. I could practically feel the context struggling to piece itself together in my head.

“The Revolution?”

Stalker leaned forward, staring me straight in the eyes. “What do you think this war is really about? Stopping Team Rocket? It goes a lot deeper than that. The Revolution is described as the total collapse of the balance between human and Legendary. That sounds like it goes a lot further than just stopping an organization from gaining too much power, don’t you think?”

I stared at him, and no matter how hard I tried to resist, I could feel my guard slipping. I wanted to just disregard everything he was saying, but…

“How is the Revolution supposed to happen? How do we stop it?”

And then I was yanked out of the moment by a rather obnoxious telepathic intrusion.

<You have been silent for far too long. What is he telling you?> Lugia demanded.

I groaned internally. <Hang on, he’s just getting to the good stuff.>

“You’re communicating psychically right now, aren’t you?”

I froze. Of course I hadn’t been able to keep my reaction off my face. Of course he’d seen it and knew what it meant. Dammit.

That, by the way, is part of the reason I can’t tell you everything,” he said, simply, closing his eyes. “There’s no reason you wouldn’t pass it on to your patron.”

I tilted my head. “What, so it’s perfectly fine for me to know all this stuff, but you don’t want the Legendaries to know?”

“Exactly.”

I had no idea what to make of that. Knowing him, he wouldn’t have said that if it wasn’t important. Was he worried something would… happen if the Legendaries knew his true motives? Would that make it easier for them to stop him?

“You know, I’m impressed you managed to become chosen,” Stalker went on with an offhand tone, even though I doubted it was genuine. “And also… surprised.”

I snorted. “Something you didn’t see coming? I was starting to think that wasn’t possible.”

“I was surprised,” he continued, “because I didn’t think you had the resolve to follow a path like that for your own reasons.” I couldn’t even tell if I was supposed to be offended by that or what. When I didn’t respond, he added: “What are you fighting for? What is your ambition?

I hesitated. Was that a trick question? “I… I want to save the Legendaries.”

“Why?”

Why? Was he for real? He was the one who put the idea of saving Legendaries in my head, and now he wanted me to justify it?

“Your ambition is sourced from others,” Stalker continued. “From Ajia. From your team. From your patron.” He paused, making eye contact. “From me.” I glanced away, refusing to meet his eye. “You’re using others to guide your path.”

“Hang on, hang on, and you’re not?” I shot back.

Stalker was unfazed. No, not just unfazed, he looked pleased. Was he trying to get me to call him out? “I will use whatever resources I can to achieve my goals, but my goals are mine, and mine alone. I know what I’m working toward. Do you?”

Dammit. He knew that I’d been reluctant to rejoin the fight. Of course he knew.

“Is that supposed to excuse the way you’ve been using everyone?” I said with my best attempt at defiance.

“You can say whatever you like about me, but do you think that the chosen pact is any less exploitative?”

I jolted. “Wait, what? Are you seriously trying to argue that catching the Legendaries is the same thing as being chosen by them?”

“No. I understand that catching the legends is different than being chosen by them. When I say it’s the same, what I actually mean is that it’s the same as them choosing you.”

“Wrong again,” I shot back. “The chosen pact doesn’t even work if both patron and chosen don’t consent.” Ugh, I probably shouldn’t have revealed that, but I was too determined to prove him wrong.

Stalker looked unsurprised—had he already known? “They’re still using you for their own self-interest. Do you really see yourselves as equals?”

I froze. Equals? How… how could we ever be equals? They were Legendaries. And I was… I was just a human.

“How confident are you in your bond with your patron?” Stalker asked.

Why was he asking that? “I… It’s fine. Why?”

It was plain from the look on his face that he wasn’t fooled in the slightest. “I’d recommend working on that before this conflict has a chance to worsen.”

Whatever. Maybe it was true. I still didn’t need him of all people saying it.

Neither of us said anything for some time after that. I kept my eyes firmly on the tile floor, refusing to look at him. Trying to come up with more things to say, more questions, more accusations, but none would come.

“I think we’ll leave it at that for now,” he said.

I immediately felt the urge to protest. To demand more answers. But somehow, it just felt like all the fight in me was gone. Stalker stood up and walked toward the door. My legs were on autopilot as I followed him.

“You’re welcome to come here whenever you like,” Stalker said. “Provided, of course, that you come alone.”

I gave him a suspicious glare. “Why?”

“It’s useful for me to have someone on the other side that I can talk to.”

“More like you can use me to get to the Lugia and the other Legendaries,” I muttered.

“Lugia is a patron. I have no desire to capture the patrons,” Stalker said, as if the very idea were ridiculous.

“Lexx has Raikou!” I shot back. “How do you explain that?!”

He fixed me with an unreadable expression. “Lexx captured Raikou of his own volition. For now, we’ll continue to make use of its strength.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Does that mean you’ll let it go eventually?”

“I make no promises.”

I shook my head. “Unbelievable.” I shouldn’t have been surprised. I really shouldn’t have.

Stalker opened the door to reveal Lexx waiting alone in the hallway outside, leaning with one foot propped against the wall. Raikou was no longer with him.

“Lexx will escort you out.”

At those words, Lexx glanced up from his phone, still wearing that stupid cheerful expression. I didn’t look at him or anyone else the entire time he led me out of the base. When we reached the entrance, he said something that my ears didn’t register, and then the door shut behind me.

I was left standing there in the cool nighttime air, staring blankly at the sky for several minutes. I just didn’t have the desire to move or think or anything. But I couldn’t stay there forever. Eventually, I let my focus drift back to Lugia and said, <I’m outside the base now.>

<Finally. What have you learned?>

What had I learned, indeed. A whole lot of garbage. A whole lot of personal stuff that wouldn’t be of any interest to Lugia. But there was one thing…

<Stalker said that… he’s doing all this to prevent the Revolution.>

<What?>

I rubbed my eyes. <Don’t tell me you don’t know what it is either.>

<No, of course I’ve heard of it,> Lugia replied in annoyance. <It was spoken of in numerous legends. That just doesn’t make any sense. The Revolution is supposed to be the conflict between human and Legendary. Well, that’s what’s going on right now—how the hell does he plan to ‘prevent’ it if it’s already happening?>

I blinked. <What? I didn’t think it was happening now. I thought things were supposed to get worse soon. Maybe that’s what he’s trying to prevent.>

<Decimating our numbers is a strange way of doing so,> Lugia replied dryly.

Anger suddenly flared up within me. <Why don’t you Legendaries have any idea what’s going on?>

<Excuse me?>

<You don’t know how the chosen pact works, why you were picked for it, what it’s even for. And now you don’t know anything about the Revolution? Maybe Sebastian is preventing it! It’s not like we would know any better!>

A part of my brain just wanted to let him catch all the Legendaries and be done with it because at least he had a goal he was working toward, unlike the rest of us. And yeah, I knew that was stupid. I knew it spit in the face of the anger I felt over what happened to Latias, but right now I was too pissed off to care.

I felt a sense of heavy, heavy restraint coming from Lugia. It wanted to lash out. And I wanted it to fight back. I couldn’t feel scared of Lugia while I was miles and miles away. Lugia couldn’t do anything to me. Not here. Not now. Not this time.

But in the end, all of Lugia’s anger and annoyance and indignation melted into a tired, smothering apathy. It just didn’t have the energy to care anymore.

<You are compromised. You should return to your allies.>

<I’m just fine,> I snapped.

<You are tired, you are hungry, and you are exhausted. You are not thinking straight,> Lugia said, slowly and deliberately.

Immediately, my brain struggled to generate comebacks, each one feebler than the last. I could actually feel the fight draining out of me.

<I was going to return to them anyway,> I mumbled. A wisp of smug self-satisfaction drifted from Lugia, and I did my best to ignore it.

<Are you going to fly back?> it asked.

I sighed. <No. There’s no sense tiring my Pokémon pointlessly. You can tell Mew I’m here now.>

<All right.>








Sebastian sat unmoving for some time after Jade left, replaying their conversation in his mind, over and over. Considering the things he’d said, the ways she’d responded. He’d told her more than he’d initially planned to—that was intriguing. He couldn’t explain why, but it felt right that she should know. And it wasn’t as though it wouldn’t be useful. She was willing to listen. That alone would make her more valuable than the others.

Perhaps he should have told her more… But given the obviously volatile nature of her chosen bond, that was risky. The last thing he needed was to unintentionally fuel the events he was trying to prevent.

It felt strange to lay so much out in the open. Even if he hadn’t told her the true reason… the source of it all. He’d gone so long only able to talk about it with two others. Bringing in another was a tantalizing prospect. Maybe she could be a confidant someday.

No. He knew the reason why she couldn’t.

Slowly, Sebastian reached into his pocket and retrieved a minimized Master Ball. With the press of a button, he expanded it to the size of his palm and rolled it around gently. He’d been carrying this ball with him all day, and no one had even attempted to steal it from him. Had they just assumed that he wouldn’t be stupid enough to carry it around? Not that losing his friend’s Pokéball would have mattered too much, but it still would have been inconvenient.

Sebastian tapped the button again, and Latios appeared in a burst of white light. He gave a brief shake of his head before glancing around the room, realizing that they were back home now. His eyes were alert, his breathing steady. Nothing appeared pained.

Sebastian reached out to run a hand along the dragon’s neck. “Are you alright?”

Latios winced. “*Getting hit by Rayquaza wasn’t fun… but I feel fine now.*”

“Good. There’s something I need to tell you. I have your sister here.” He held up a second Master Ball. “I’m going to speak with her.”

Latios’s eyes flickered with some sort of conflicted emotions. Guilt, perhaps. Or longing.

“You miss her, don’t you?” Sebastian asked quietly.

Latios nodded, his eyes shifting back and forth. “*I… don’t suppose I could… *”

“I’m going to talk privately with her. Afterward, you two will be reunited.”

Relief washed over the dragon’s cobalt face. “*Thank you.*”

“I’m sorry that you two had to be separated in the first place. And that you couldn’t say anything when you two met on the battlefield.” He gave the dragon a pointed look, waiting for his response.

Latios stared downward. “*Our mission was more important.*”

Sebastian nodded approvingly. “Good. I’m going to recall you now. The next time you’re released, it will be with her.”

Latios paused, as though he wished to say something more, but then gave a nod of acceptance before he was recalled.

Sebastian was alone. He replaced Latios’s ball in his pocket, then stared long and hard at Latias’s, gripping the ball tightly with shaking fingers.

She’d ruined everything. Everything has been going perfectly, only for it to all fall apart at the last second. Why didn’t she understand? Why didn’t anyone understand? Why did everyone need everything explained to them? Things he couldn’t afford to explain. Things that would ruin everything if they knew. He couldn’t tell them. He had to be their enemy. That was just how it was.

He should have captured Latias long ago. That was his miscalculation. He’d been prepared to deal with being an enemy to the chosen. But a rogue element like Latias fixating on him and only him—it was bound to backfire. Months of planning, all wasted, because she couldn’t see the obvious truth.

Sebastian closed his eyes, forcing himself to take a deep breath. Anger wasn’t useful. He couldn’t allow it to color his interactions with her. That would only make it harder to gain her cooperation. She was here now. That meant he could explain everything to her—at least, so long as she had no way of telling the others. And he had the means to ensure that.

If he could make her feel special, trusted… she could become an ally. And he did have her brother, after all. That was all the leverage he needed.

Sebastian approached the holding cell with slow, deliberate steps. He pressed a button on the control panel to slide open the release hatch, then held the Master Ball through the gap and opened it. Light spilled out of the ball, condensing into the form of a crimson dragon. She shook her head vigorously, feathers ruffling all over. Then her eyes snapped open. She jerked her head left and right, a look of dread slowly dawning on her face. And then her gaze fell on Sebastian. For several seconds, she didn’t move—she just stared up at him with those wide, golden eyes. Without warning, her claws snapped together, beads of light forming between them, expanding into an orb that she fired straight at his face. He stared unflinching as the Mist Ball crashed against the glass, exploding into glittering droplets. A ripple of soft light spread out from the impact, shimmering across the artificial Protect.

Latias recoiled backward slightly, eyes watering. She then took off zooming around the perimeter of the cell, claws digging into walls, dragonfire razing the corners. Latios had done the same when he’d first been brought here. Every inch of the cell was reinforced with the same shields. There was no escape.

After several minutes’ effort, Latias finally slowed to a stop in the center of the room, breathing heavily. Her eyes continued to dart around, searching for anything she’d overlooked, some weakness she could exploit.

“I’m sorry to keep you in here,” Sebastian said to her. “It’s just a necessary precaution. You have every reason to attack me, but I would obviously prefer if you didn’t. You won’t be trapped in here forever. Just long enough to have a conversation.”

The dragon glared up at him incredulously for several seconds. But then she turned away sharply and said nothing.

“I just want to talk. You’ll get to see your brother soon if you do,” he said, letting his tone rise a bit at the end.

Feathery ears twitched. Her wings trembled slightly. But Latias still kept her back firmly to him.

Sebastian closed his eyes. So she was going to be difficult about this. That was fine. He had more than enough patience to outlast her stubbornness, and this was far too important to let slide.

From what he’d seen, and how desperate she was to free her brother, he could guess that she wasn’t accustomed to being alone. She would not handle isolation well. So it likely wouldn’t take long for her to cooperate. Then they could begin forging something long-term.

He sat himself into the closest armchair and let his eyes slide toward a clock on the wall. Nine pm. It had been a very, very long day, and exhaustion was beginning to creep up on him. Normally, he wouldn’t expect sleep to come. But the tiredness was like a smothering tidal wave. His mind grew foggy, and within the fog, images of when it all began started drifting to the surface. The day that he lost everything. The day that he discovered his purpose. The day that he first began pursuing this all-consuming goal.

Until the haze of sleep eventually started to overtake him. His eyelids fluttered, then finally shut.



Nothing.

And yet, everything.

Threads of light sprawl out in an infinite web, twisting and twirling across the void. Each time he lays eyes on one, its light blinks out of existence, only to be replaced with uncountably more. And yet there’s still the same number.

Possibilities. Nothing but possibilities wrapping him up, surrounding him, penetrating every fiber of his being. He has no body. He’s nothing more than a presence. At the same time, the threads are his body, and they always have been. Endless energy and light and possibility, spiraling in on themselves into infinity.

Infinity. Such a terrifying and beautiful concept. Something about it gives him an instinctive shudder. As if he’s seen it. Tasted it. Been torn apart by it.

The threads̊ begin to snap. Just one at first. ̈́Then another. Each one shakes him to his very core, as though it’s ̸ripping out a piece of his soul. He tries to cry out, but no one can hear him. There’s no one else around. Bǘt then who’s doing thḭs? ̲ Why won’t ̔they stop? The threads are snapping so fas᷊t, at this rate ͔there’ll be nothing̻ left. He can’t let ͎that happen. H̲e has to stop it. He tries reachi̼ng out with hands that aren’t there an̾d f̻eels nothing but fray͐͡ed cloth at th͗e᷅ e͘dge̼ of existence. ̨ This is wrong̺. It’᷿͐s nö́t jusͅt him, it’s ̔everyt͔ͩhing. ͂ Everything. S͙omeone has to stop it. ̿͢T̪here’ll be nothing left. No̴th̃͜ing l̹eft. Not̡hing—᷃

T᷾oo la̡te.̮ The̹ͨr͙e’̖͠s̉ no ͠going ba̺ck. ̪ No ͙r͙eturņing what ͈ẉ̵͐᷄as ̉lost. ̜No un̴doi͎ng ͍what’s᷄ al͝ready̿ ͢be͔en ͎ͮͯdo᷀̚n̷e. ̯It͑’s b̿een l̐ike͇ thi̜s ͬfor ̞as lon͟g̽ as he ͎can remem͋be͖̒r, b̺̤uṫ͓… w̿᷅h̢y?

“W̰̺įl̹lͭͅ it͖̝ en̫d?”̚ som͔ͥ̈eon̮͡e ask̰᷾s.͒̾

In ȓẹͥ͟plýͭ, a tȩ̄r̘rif̤᷆yi̓ng̯̎͗ ̓and̘ ͏ͫha᷊teful͑ v̰̕o͉̥̒ī̬͏c̹͉e͈ rͩ͜e̕vȇ̱r̾berͅatḙ̗s ̹acro̠ss̻ ͖t̞h̔e ͡v͌oi̙ͤd:᷂͝

I̖̺̜̞͖͛̂᷅̑ͨ̈́̀̕̚͢N͖͏̴̖͓̰̬͛́᷅͛᷇͟͜͞F̧̻͔̱͙̟̑̈͌͐̋᷾͜͞͡I̛᷊͇͖̻̗̖͓̋̇ͥ͒̽̄̕N̶̦̠᷅̄́͐̀͆᷾̊͢͠͞ͅİ̵̤̦̼̪̬͂ͥͧ᷉͂᷾̌͢Ţ̢̳̣̖̪̤͍̗̝̱͑ͧ̾̄Ȳ̸̷̢̩͎̠̳̱ͤ̉᷅᷄̓᷃ Ȟ̢͔̮͚̯̤̘̱͕ͫͥ̄ͥ͞A̘̹͍̹̩̾᷉̌ͭ̍̈̔̋̍̍S̸͇̟̱͇̖̫̤̪̬᷄᷃̋̋͞ N̰̰͕᷿̬᷿͓ͣ͊̍ͦ̈́̇͌̉O͖᷊̟͔͈᷄̋̍͐̓̎᷾̌͘͢ E̫͉͖̰̬̟᷄̆́ͬ̎̑͜͢ͅN̝̠͕͕̯͚᷊͎᷂͎᷉̅ͬͩ͢Ḋ̶͈͎͍̍ͩ͊̄̀̇ͩ








~End Chapter 46~

Next Chapter: A boy sets himself an impossible quest.

~Chibi~
 
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3DSRed

Alias RedAgent14
I̖̺̜̞͖͛̂᷅̑ͨ̈́̀̕̚͢N͖͏̴̖͓̰̬͛́᷅͛᷇͟͜͞F̧̻͔̱͙̟̑̈͌͐̋᷾͜͞͡I̛᷊͇͖̻̗̖͓̋̇ͥ͒̽̄̕N̶̦̠᷅̄́͐̀͆᷾̊͢͠͞ͅİ̵̤̦̼̪̬͂ͥͧ᷉͂᷾̌͢Ţ̢̳̣̖̪̤͍̗̝̱͑ͧ̾̄Ȳ̸̷̢̩͎̠̳̱ͤ̉᷅᷄̓᷃ Ȟ̢͔̮͚̯̤̘̱͕ͫͥ̄ͥ͞A̘̹͍̹̩̾᷉̌ͭ̍̈̔̋̍̍S̸͇̟̱͇̖̫̤̪̬᷄᷃̋̋͞ N̰̰͕᷿̬᷿͓ͣ͊̍ͦ̈́̇͌̉O͖᷊̟͔͈᷄̋̍͐̓̎᷾̌͘͢ E̫͉͖̰̬̟᷄̆́ͬ̎̑͜͢ͅN̝̠͕͕̯͚᷊͎᷂͎᷉̅ͬͩ͢Ḋ̶͈͎͍̍ͩ͊̄̀̇ͩ
To clarify quickly: is this supposed to be unintelligible at this point in the story, or is my browser just not displaying stuff properly?
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
To clarify quickly: is this supposed to be unintelligible at this point in the story, or is my browser just not displaying stuff properly?
Yeah it's intentional. Hence the slow, gradual degradation throughout the final scene.
 

Kindoflame

Active Member
I just finished chapters 43 to 46 and it was amazing! The fighting was intense and fastpaced, with each combatant's particular talents and fighting style on full display. The relationship between Jade and Lugia is everything I hoped it would be. Most of all, I am beyond impressed with how Stalker has developed just with the most recent chapter. He is basically me! There is really only 2 difference between him and an idealized version of myself. First, he is much better socially than me, which makes him much better at manipulating people and predicting their actions. Second, he is an act utilitarian (does the action that leads to the best results) while I am Kantian (the inherent value of a person must always be respected). I can't even say that he is an evil me. It is more like he is what I would be if I made a different decision. It is just beyond unbelievable.
 

3DSRed

Alias RedAgent14
Yeah it's intentional. Hence the slow, gradual degradation throughout the final scene.
I was referring more to the fact that it shows up as a bunch of boxes on my web browser, whereas it shows up as
"Infinity has no end"
when I put it into a text editor
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
I was referring more to the fact that it shows up as a bunch of boxes on my web browser, whereas it shows up as
"Infinity has no end"
when I put it into a text editor
OH. I didn't realize, because the bit that you quoted was supposed to look distorted, but not totally obscured. That's interesting! I went to a lot of effort to make sure it would show up right across all the websites I post on, but I didn't even think about potential browser issues. What browser are you using, anyway?

Also, I'm curious, does it show up correctly on FFN?

Anyway, here's a screenshot of what it looks like for me:
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
Hi Chibi! I actually read chapters 5 and 5.5 a few weeks ago, but I got sidetracked before I could read on or review. Gonna drop my review now before the memory of them stops being fresh.
Wow! I think this was the first actual breather we've had since the opening. We needed it.
Wonderful art as always. Even if I didn't already know Chibi was to become a staple character, I think it would be a forgone conclusion that he'll join the anti-Rocket efforts. It's simply that he's a broody, moody son of a gun who can't or won't communicate as much until the last second. Meanwhile, it's interesting to me how different the characterisation is for the pokémon we've seen so far and the limits of communication between them and the humans. Firestorm strikes me as not particularly contemplative, given his straightforward attitude towards being caught and his frank assessment of Jade's communication concerns. She seems like a practical learner and I'm glad to see her making an effort, even if Firestorm is dismissive of the problem. Meanwhile, Swift seems to fit the "pet" archetype more than the other two. Excited to see how the team grows.
The overall vibe for this chapter is one of seeing grey skies and anticipating rain, yet walking out without a raincoat on all the same. I want to celebrate Jade's progress as a character and her decision to commit to a heroic objective, but she seems outmatched, naive, and ill-prepared. Is this the dawn of the "fight against impossible odds" Chibicore vibe I've heard so much about? Sure seems like it.
As for "5.5" - I really liked that for once the "admitting to doing something forbidden" scene doesn't go absolutely terribly. Pretty fresh to have a parental figure make a concession to their child's dreams while still laying down some expectations instead of just shutting the whole thing down and severing ties. I wonder if this means there'll be ongoing communication between Jade and her mum? I also like that even though, having followed Jade through her experiences so far, it makes total sense for her to commit to this, she still sounds pretty daft explaining her plans to someone. It's entirely believable and a reminder of the more mundane risks at hand, let alone the more serious danger she's getting into, while still being pretty funny.
Looking forward to reading more!
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
I grabbed a revive crystal, cracked it, and held it to her forehead.
Maybe you've mentioned whether or not it does, and my memory of the answer has just fricked off to who knows where, but I kind of hope the revive lights up like a glow stick when cracked.

Jet didn’t know Protect. Just like Skarmory. I’d let her go out into a warzone, and I hadn’t even considered the fact that she wasn’t trained for it like the rest of us.
Yeah, that's the thing exactly, isn't it. Training for sports and training for war are two very different things. Doesn't matter much whether or not a pokémon is strong if they're not the right kind of ready.

Archie turned from his conversation with Shelly. “We’ll catch up as soon as we can.” Then, as an afterthought, he added, “And don’t worry, we’ll keep this lot safe,” jerking a thumb toward the Magmas. Tabitha glared at him like he was trying to find a way to feel insulted.
Tabitha pls

“God, they’ve really done it now,” Starr muttered under her breath. “Going after the legends back home was one thing but this?
Now imagine if they look toward Sinnoh.

“Well… it’s good to see the Rockets didn’t catch Groudon,” I said. That was at least one good thing, right?

Lugia shifted its wings uncomfortably. <They didn’t try to.>

I tilted my head. “What?”

<Nothing happened. The airships stayed outside the crater the entire time. They didn’t even attempt to approach Groudon.> It gestured a wing behind us, away from the crater.
Oh hell. Are they trying to lure down the sky noodle? Because it sounds like they might be trying to lure down the sky noodle.

I threw another glance back at the red beast, watching as it called a giant plume of magma up from beneath the lake, forming a large hill.
Oh my god that thing is basically just playing in a sandbox. That's kind of adorable.

Latias tapped her claws together. “*Perhaps they didn’t think they had the power to challenge the earth directly. If they awakened the sea as well, and let the two fight, then both would be much easier to capture, yes?*”
Maybe they intend to let them beat each other up, then nab them and the noodle all at once.

(and the heat was making my head feel fuzzy and my thoughts didn’t want to flow straight)
For real, being around Groudon when they're not bothering to lay off the heat would suuuuuuuuck.

I paused, unsure of how much to tell him. “We thought we’d have to fight the Rockets to protect Groudon, but… they haven’t targeted it yet.”

His face faltered, like he was having a hard time working through what I said. “Why would something like that be your responsibility?” His words weren’t judgmental, just… perplexed.

I took a deep breath and said, “We didn’t… enlist the Legendaries. It’s more like they enlisted us.”

Something shifted in his expression. After several seconds, he replied, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Good response.

Groudon jerked its head toward the northern edge of the crater, fixing its blazing yellow eyes on the hole—the same hole it had emerged from—with rapt attention. Alarm spiked in the back of Lugia’s mind. With a mighty flap, the dragon-bird swooped down in front of Groudon’s face, spreading its wings as wide as it could.

<No, no, no!!> it yelled. <Pay attention to us, dammit, not them!>
<DON'T LOOK AT THE WHALE, DO NOT LOOK AT THE WH--I MEAN ****, THERE'S NO WHALE HERE, NO, NOPE, NOTHING CETACEAN GOING DOWN IN THESE PARTS, NOPEROONI>

Then Mew—still a Ninetales— reappeared and offered a tail to each of us. I took one, unsure of where it would lead, and then suddenly we appeared in a deserted side street.
There is probably exactly ONE situation in which it's a good idea to grab a ninetales tail, and this is it.

Latias blinked at Lugia in confusion. “*Are… you doubting the great messenger’s existence?*”
I bet the Rockets aren't!

“Well, hang on,” Ajia said, raising a hand. “If the messenger showed up last time, then it’s possible for it to help out here, yeah? If we can just find it, and get it to—” Her words cut off sharply, and her face suddenly transformed into a look of disturbed realization.

I blinked. “…Ajia?”

“It’s a trap. This was all a trap.”

Starr scoffed. “Yeah, no kidding. And we walked right into it.”

“Not for us!” Ajia exclaimed, shaking her head. “For Rayquaza. The Rockets were never after Groudon or Kyogre at all, they were just trying to lure Rayquaza here. It’s the real target.”
Woo-hoo, I wasn't off-track with my suspicions! :D

I glanced over my shoulder to see Darren wandering over with his hands in his pockets. His team wasn’t with him (mostly likely still helping the rangers), aside from Weavile. She seemed to have gone a bit overboard with the whole ‘keeping cool’ thing, as Darren’s hair and clothes were coated in bits of snow, even though we weren’t standing in one of the patches of harsh sun.
I could use someone like Weavile. The weather here is gross. >:v

And then a terrifying and unearthly roar brought the world crashing to a halt. Everyone froze instantly. I could feel it echoing through my whole body; pure, paralyzing anger so thick I could hardly breathe.

“*WHY DOES HUMANITY NOT LEARN FROM ITS MISTAKES?*”
Okay but imagine this line in the "WHY DOES SOMEBODY NOT KNOW TO FLUSH THE TOILET AFTER THEY'VE HAD A ****?" voice.

“Quick Attack!” I yelled, and Swift put on a sudden burst of speed. Just enough that the next Flamethrower went sailing past.
I like the idea of priority moves being used for evasion purposes. Makes sense!

Articuno had a massive advantage, and… now that I was paying attention, I could see that the ice bird was wearing some kind of orange goggles. For protection? For enhancement?
For being on the cutting edge of bird fashion?

So I buried myself under the skin of the earth, allowing myself to sleep, and in my dreams, I have guided the flow of the earth’s blood and the journey of the continents ever since.
Referring to magma as the earth's blood is frankly badass.

Groudon fixed me with a serious gaze. “*You require our strength to save the messenger. Let us regain our true might, and we can easily do this.*”
This seems like the sort of thing that could potentially backfire...

Latias had reappeared at my side, staring at the ongoing chaos with a perplexed look. “*I don’t understand, why are they—*” She froze sharply, eyes wide with… fear? No, anger. I’d never seen that kind of expression on her face. It was actually chilling.

I followed her gaze to see her staring straight at Latios. Or rather, straight at the human riding on his back.

Oh no.

“*Latios!*”

“Wait—” I began.

“*He’s right there!*” she exclaimed, throwing a desperate look at me. “*I’m going to get him back this time!*” she cried, folding back her forelegs and shooting off.

“Wait, don’t go!” I yelled, reaching for her. But she was already gone.
You know, I've thought for a while that Latias might well be screwed. And this looks like it could easily be the beginning of an end for her...

And then, above us, Rayquaza was transformed into blood-red energy. Sucked inside the Master Ball. I stared in horror, feeling like my brain had to restart. What. What. How?! He’d missed, he’d definitely—

My eyes suddenly locked onto Articuno, not too far from us. On its back was Ender, and he was wearing a Master Ball cannon. He pointed, and the ice bird swooped forward, clutching the ball in its talons before immediately banking around and flying back to the airship fleet as fast as its wings would take it.
Well, frick.

Stalker whirled around, his eyes lit with more fury than I’d ever seen. “Do you have any idea what you just did?!”

Latias shrank back slightly, looking devastated. But then her gaze hardened, and she darted around to face the larger blue dragon, whose eyes were shut.

“*Latios, please.*” She pressed her forehead against his, willing him to respond. But Latios said nothing.

Stalker stared wordlessly at her for several seconds. Then, without warning, he swung his arm forward and fired a Master Ball point-blank.

It was like I’d just been punched in the face. I gaped stupidly as the smaller dragon instantly transformed into blood-red energy before she was sucked into the ball. He caught the ball before it could drop and held it tight as it shook furiously before finally growing still.
Well, frick.

Lugia was stupefied, still struggling to process my words. And its confusion was bleeding over into my head so much that even I was starting to wonder why I’d done it.
Again I will say: being linked to someone like that would suck.

“*Back on the Rebellion, I was the strongest. Everyone looked up to me,*” he said, staring off at the half moon hanging over Mahogany. “*If I’m not, then… what am I?*”

Stygian had always said that the two of them weren’t enhanced clones. They had no special powers, no exceptional strength. Just a hard life full of harsh training that had left them tougher than normal.

I glanced away, unable to meet his eye. “You can’t just be you?” I said awkwardly.

He scoffed. “*What good is that?*”

“Good enough to me,” I murmured.

“*Yeah, what’s that worth,*” he said with a snort. I glanced away, unsure of how to respond.

Several seconds passed. Aros’s wings flattened with embarrassment. “*I didn’t… mean that.*”

“I know.”
Omg. Precious things.

Stalker surveyed me closely in that way he always did before he was about to say something big, and I hated how easily I recognized it. “Weakening the Kanto force was only one goal. Arguably the less important one. My true goal was to create the ideal candidates for becoming chosen.”

Silence. Twice, I tried to say something in response, but the words wouldn’t come. It was like a bucket of ice had just been dumped on my head.

“Wh-what?”

“In creating the Rebellion, I assembled a group of dedicated and impressionable young trainers, allied them to my cause, and gave them the tools they needed to fight the Rockets. Their innocence, idealism, and lack of previous history with Team Rocket would make them ideal candidates for becoming chosen. Even if the rebels hadn’t succeeded at a single mission, the Rebellion would have gotten the Legendaries’ attention in a big way, and handed them a large group of interlopers on a silver platter.”

Me being chosen. Rudy being chosen. That had been engineered by him? Now even the Legendaries themselves were unknowing pawns in his game?
Ohhhh I suspect Lugia is gonna be pissed.

“I have nothing against working together with the patrons,” Stalker said matter-of-factly. “They don’t seem too eager to work with me, though.”
Gee, I wonder why.

T᷾oo la̡te.̮ The̹ͨr͙e’̖͠s̉ no ͠going ba̺ck. ̪ No ͙r͙eturņing what ͈ẉ̵͐᷄as ̉lost. ̜No un̴doi͎ng ͍what’s᷄ al͝ready̿ ͢be͔en ͎ͮͯdo᷀̚n̷e. ̯It͑’s b̿een l̐ike͇ thi̜s ͬfor ̞as lon͟g̽ as he ͎can remem͋be͖̒r, b̺̤uṫ͓… w̿᷅h̢y?

“W̰̺įl̹lͭͅ it͖̝ en̫d?”̚ som͔ͥ̈eon̮͡e ask̰᷾s.͒̾

In ȓẹͥ͟plýͭ, a tȩ̄r̘rif̤᷆yi̓ng̯̎͗ ̓and̘ ͏ͫha᷊teful͑ v̰̕o͉̥̒ī̬͏c̹͉e͈ rͩ͜e̕vȇ̱r̾berͅatḙ̗s ̹acro̠ss̻ ͖t̞h̔e ͡v͌oi̙ͤd:᷂͝

I̖̺̜̞͖͛̂᷅̑ͨ̈́̀̕̚͢N͖͏̴̖͓̰̬͛́᷅͛᷇͟͜͞F̧̻͔̱͙̟̑̈͌͐̋᷾͜͞͡I̛᷊͇͖̻̗̖͓̋̇ͥ͒̽̄̕N̶̦̠᷅̄́͐̀͆᷾̊͢͠͞ͅİ̵̤̦̼̪̬͂ͥͧ᷉͂᷾̌͢Ţ̢̳̣̖̪̤͍̗̝̱͑ͧ̾̄Ȳ̸̷̢̩͎̠̳̱ͤ̉᷅᷄̓᷃ Ȟ̢͔̮͚̯̤̘̱͕ͫͥ̄ͥ͞A̘̹͍̹̩̾᷉̌ͭ̍̈̔̋̍̍S̸͇̟̱͇̖̫̤̪̬᷄᷃̋̋͞ N̰̰͕᷿̬᷿͓ͣ͊̍ͦ̈́̇͌̉O͖᷊̟͔͈᷄̋̍͐̓̎᷾̌͘͢ E̫͉͖̰̬̟᷄̆́ͬ̎̑͜͢ͅN̝̠͕͕̯͚᷊͎᷂͎᷉̅ͬͩ͢Ḋ̶͈͎͍̍ͩ͊̄̀̇ͩ
o________________o

Well then.


So. Latias being out of the protags' hands means that basically, among other things, they've lost one heck of a medic. And Sebastian's gained one--provided she ends up cooperating with him. Which I imagine she will do, since even if he didn't have Latios on his side, he seems really, really good at getting into people's heads. At manipulating them.

Speaking of Sebastian...

That chapter ending. Was... was that him being subjected to... that? To something that feels, to the best of my interpretation, the way that the text gradually getting glitchier and glitchier looks? If so, damn. No wonder he believes so much in what he's doing.

At any rate, what even in the **** was that thing speaking at the end, I wonder? Some Big Damn Higher Legendary, maybe something on the scale that makes Rayqueso and company look like wurmple or some ****? I wonder what might qualify as that. Giratina? Necrozma? Eternatus? Arceus?

...

What if not necessarily a legendary or mythical. What if not exactly a pokémon in the traditional sense.

What if missingno.

What can I say, when I see glitchy text some part of me is liable to wonder what if a literal glitch. :B


OH. I didn't realize, because the bit that you quoted was supposed to look distorted, but not totally obscured. That's interesting! I went to a lot of effort to make sure it would show up right across all the websites I post on, but I didn't even think about potential browser issues. What browser are you using, anyway?

Also, I'm curious, does it show up correctly on FFN?

Anyway, here's a screenshot of what it looks like for me:
On ffn I can see the "y" and the "s"; the rest are boxes. They're all boxes for me here, meanwhile, so imagine my surprise when i copypasted that bit into my reply-in-progress document and SUDDENLY WORDS, heh.

(Incidentally, I didn't think it was broken when I thought we were only getting a bunch of boxes; before I saw the words, I just figured that we were getting boxes because the thing speaking was just that alien. :B)
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
Quituple review, **********er. Review policy at present is to make note of any scenes that leave a particular impression and comment on those.

Chapter 6
Honestly Jade has such dumbass energy half the time. Getting all the way to the end of the queue before realising you don't have ID or anything. My god. I hope she switches into a higher gear soon or she'll be in trouble, bless. I was excited to see that there was some cruise ship content, as I've been on a few and I finally get a rare opportunity to scrutinise you for plausibility! As it happens, you did a great job, pretty much everything is spot on. I was half expecting you to write that quintessential cruise ship experience of "please don't put your life jacket on before we show you how" [half the passengers put their life jackets on immediately], which I've seen every damn time I've been on a cruise.

I liked the way Chibi ran off and Jade had that confrontation with him. It played well. I also like how damn brutal he is with the Rockets, it allows for some serious action and shock without Jade being there yet. However, Chibi honestly feels more sapient than I generally expect even from pokémon with a translation trope at hand. This guy is also so clearly traumatised, wow. It's fun, but I'm still getting used to the assumptions I need to have, and I keep visualising his dialogue concerning violence and PTSD as being "pika pika pika" speak, which is of course canon in this fic. It makes for odd imaginings. Anyway, once again Jade demonstrates she isn't too quick by trying to make a call out at sea. "Better at strategic thinking," my ass, Chibi is the one training Jade. He's the real protagonist, I say! I kid, I kid.

"Slow chapter" "first actually good chapter" lmao Chibi if this is your idea of a slow chapter I guess everything I write is absolute molasses huh? Anyway, either you worry too much or the chapters to come are going to really climb in quality. I hope it's the latter, but that's not to say I'm not having a great time~

Chapter 7
Nice to see Jade stepping up to the plate in a crisis! The bomb plan is a lovely spanner in the gears, I thought Jade was just going to have to lie low or something, but here she is in the thick of some serious action. This story is wild, I love it! The fighting in close quarters and the physical danger she and her team are in is great stuff, and I love how the environment informed the fight. I also really enjoyed how later on in this chapter, superheated air affects Swift's aerial mobility. Love stuff like that that! So much more interesting than trading blows. I also really loved the strategy in play with Chibi and the Rockets not wanting to use special attacks and risk setting off bombs early or anything. Great combat.

Some things I found amusing this chapter included: the moment lampshading the number of Rocket encounter coincidences Jade runs into! I have a feeling it won't stop there. Poor Firestorm really wants to be a good boy and his trainer's favourite, bless him. I believe in you, Firestorm! It's nice to have a mon so serious about instant loyalty to his trainer when she's so unwilling to assume she can make demands of him. Incidentally, I wasn't expecting him to evolve so early! Not that I'm complaining, charmeleon is good. The evolution and his subsequent displays of ego have made me realise that Jade's team is presently comprised entirely of mon at one time posessed by Ash in the anime. Oof. To be fair, Chibi is significantly unlike any other 'chu, and I know we have a couple of my very fave mon, from Hoenn no less, coming in due time.

"Breaking legendaries" was delivered in a somewhat hammy and contrived way, but I don't care because it's such an interesting point. Chibi isn't an experimental weapon at all, he's an experiment in bending legendaries to the will of Team Rocket! That's so dark and so different, I love it!

I really love how Jade spends half this chapter making desperate exhortations at other characters, mostly in relation to a ****ing bomb threat. It's a lot for her to deal with, and I really felt it. Great fun to read.

Chapter 8
I had a misapprehension in my head about the scale of the bombs. I was under the impression they'd pretty much obliterate the boat, and the five minute timer felt awfully low for an evacuation. It still does, but realising that they would merely begin the process of sinking the ship made it more plausible in my head. In any case, it's ever such a grim outlook! Actual dead kids, a bunch of survivors choosing to turn tail, and the general sense of failure are a truly heavy element. The stakes feel utterly mental, and we're not even to the double digit chapters yet!

Some misc notes. Lugia's appearance was honestly pretty sick. A real cinematic moment that called to mind the relevant scenes from M02. Nice work. The sense of relief, awe, and unabated lingering anxiety after that fearful ordeal concluded was powerful. Rudy at the age of ten was all of us fanfiction nerds at the age of ten, huh? Hilarious. Interesting that teleport is an amenity of sorts in this setting, but it would seem there are some logistical costs involved. I like a lot of the tempered, plausible fantasy elements like this that you have. 48 trainers seems like a ton, especially after the deaths and early quitters, but I guess Stalker has been hard at work recruiting every young trainer in the region. Pfft, 'Stalker.' Get a load of this guy.

Looking forward to seeing how Midnight training goes!

Ch9
Jade is still a ****ing dumbass, I see. Learned nothing in battle class, I guess, oof. Her pokémon hardly seem to need her, even. Still, she's self-admittedly making progress, which I love to see. She's just a practical learner, that's all! And I also really like that she credits Swift for the victory. Love to see the humility and integrity, I hope it stays with her.

2983, huh? Is the implication here that this takes place in the future relative to our time, or just that they have a fantasy date system? I'm used to thinking of the pokémon world as having a date that corresponds to our own.

I like that we're getting a little more substantial characterisation for Firestorm, now. He was stolen, so he wants to prove himself and be super loyal. Makes sense! I snorted at his indignation at not battling, although I remain torn between enjoying the pokéspeech convos and feeling weird about their appreciable sapience. With Chibi, I accredited his articulacy to his legendary genes, at least.

Genuinely loved to read the stuff about multi battles in aggregate. I guess the Kanto kids are really provincial, wow. I actually had to go google for tag battles, feeling I'd forgotten a Gen 4 feature, which was disruptive to my reading, but besdies that it was a lovely bit of worldbuilding and an indication of what the story holds. Also really cool to see pokémon from other regions! I've been waiting for those!

The staged battle was absolutely kick-ass. I told myself it must be staged, and was delighted when Stalker confessed that it really was, and I think it served its purpose in the narrative really well. You're already proving to be battles georg, but it's fine, they're great fun to read. This is really digging up my buried "wow cool pokémon" feelings that have been mostly dormant for some years now. Thanks for that!

Genuinely pretty funny to me that these guys are the 'Rebellion' considering that Team Rocket are an insurgent group and have no sovereignty. Same 'problem' as the Rebellion in She-Ra — you're only rebels if your armed group are fighting a legitimate authority! This is just me being picky, rebellion is awesome.

Ch10
Was the evasive combat exercise at the beginning a 'tag battle' as mentioned last chapter? I'm uncertain.

My notes say while reading this that I was excited to see more non-Kanto mon as in last chapter, that pokémon are still super sapient as previously noted, and that Jade is still an idiot as usual. That checks out! Don't recall what I was gonna elaborate on, but I feel I should note that despite roasting Jade constantly in these, I'm actually really fond of her. She kind of has that Adora vibe, of being determined to do good and feeling the need to solo every problem, while also trying to get by on a single braincell. I love her, lmao.

I loved to see non-sweeper moves get some serious tactical use this chapter, stuff like scary face, smokescreen, and whatnot. The flavour was delicious, seeing them used to actually affect the outcome of a battle and to achieve objectives other than reducing HP to zero. Really appreciated how interesting the fighting was, and the full involvement of Jade in the trainer role! Great stuff. I especially liked her tactic or recalling and releasing a pokémon for rapid battlefield transit, which feels like the sort of move most trainers wouldn't think of because it's unconventional. Good going, Jade!

Stalker is an impressive individual, I see. He gives orders to Jade's pokémon, seeking to push them personally. He must be familiar with almost a couple hundred pokémon, I guess? That's astonishing.

Lastly, I think I had a good chuckle at 'how do we tell who wins that bet', lmao. There are some golden lines here and there for humour.

Alright, next chapter(s) concern a real mission and a legendary pokémon! I'm almost as excited as these rebels are! Great stuff so far, Chibi, hype for more. See you then!
 

3DSRed

Alias RedAgent14
OH. I didn't realize, because the bit that you quoted was supposed to look distorted, but not totally obscured. That's interesting! I went to a lot of effort to make sure it would show up right across all the websites I post on, but I didn't even think about potential browser issues. What browser are you using, anyway?

Also, I'm curious, does it show up correctly on FFN?
I'm using the new version of MS Edge (so Chromium-based); doesn't show up correctly on either site for me.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
I just finished chapters 43 to 46 and it was amazing! The fighting was intense and fastpaced, with each combatant's particular talents and fighting style on full display. The relationship between Jade and Lugia is everything I hoped it would be. Most of all, I am beyond impressed with how Stalker has developed just with the most recent chapter. He is basically me! There is really only 2 difference between him and an idealized version of myself. First, he is much better socially than me, which makes him much better at manipulating people and predicting their actions. Second, he is an act utilitarian (does the action that leads to the best results) while I am Kantian (the inherent value of a person must always be respected). I can't even say that he is an evil me. It is more like he is what I would be if I made a different decision. It is just beyond unbelievable.
All I can say is that I'm thrilled that you enjoyed him so much! Stalker is actually my favorite character in the fic, but I've never been able to tell people why. I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear that Chapter 47, which is the longest chapter in the fic so far, is entirely from his point of view!

I'm using the new version of MS Edge (so Chromium-based); doesn't show up correctly on either site for me.
Yeah, we eventually figured it out after a discussion on the Thousand Roads discord--it was indeed a browser thing! Chrome isn't able to display wide letters. Firefox users were able to see it. A lot of people thought it was 100% intentional, and thematically it does actually make sense with what is happening there, in-universe.

Maybe you've mentioned whether or not it does, and my memory of the answer has just fricked off to who knows where, but I kind of hope the revive lights up like a glow stick when cracked.
.......headcanon accepted.

Yeah, that's the thing exactly, isn't it. Training for sports and training for war are two very different things. Doesn't matter much whether or not a pokémon is strong if they're not the right kind of ready.
Yeeeeppppp. That's something I really wanted to emphasize in Book 2. The rebellion kids and their teams were basically trained for war. Their newer teammates, while strong, had no way of knowing what they were getting into. Even though they all chose to help, how much did that choice really mean?

Oh my god that thing is basically just playing in a sandbox. That's kind of adorable.
"I came out to have good time and I am honestly feeling so attacked right now."

For real, being around Groudon when they're not bothering to lay off the heat would suuuuuuuuck.
I always had to laugh when playing Ruby, where the NPC's are all like "It's horrible!" at... the screen being kinda bright. So I really wanted to play up just what kind of horrible we were talking about.

Woo-hoo, I wasn't off-track with my suspicions!
The only thing better than shitpost theories is correct shitpost theories. >8D

Again I will say: being linked to someone like that would suck.
There will plenty more opportunities for Jade's chosen bond to suck. :3

That chapter ending. Was... was that him being subjected to... that? To something that feels, to the best of my interpretation, the way that the text gradually getting glitchier and glitchier looks? If so, damn. No wonder he believes so much in what he's doing.
I like this.

At any rate, what even in the **** was that thing speaking at the end, I wonder? Some Big Damn Higher Legendary, maybe something on the scale that makes Rayqueso and company look like wurmple or some ****? I wonder what might qualify as that. Giratina? Necrozma? Eternatus? Arceus?
I like this a lot.

On ffn I can see the "y" and the "s"; the rest are boxes. They're all boxes for me here, meanwhile, so imagine my surprise when i copypasted that bit into my reply-in-progress document and SUDDENLY WORDS, heh.)
I still love that this is how you discovered that. That's like some ARG nonsense right there, and even more meta than I intended!

Sorry for the long wait everyone, but chapter 47 is nearly done! I've been working on it regularly, but it's a staggering 12k words long and is one of the most important chapters in the whole fic, so I'm really not too surprised it took 2 months. It was very important to get it just right, and I think the results paid off!

~Chibi~
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Fair warning, this one is 12k words. It's worth it, trust me.



~Chapter 47: Sebastian Shepard~


It had been two days since the world came apart. A boy wandered through the wreckage alone. Each step was slow and arduous. His feet caught on chunks of concrete and charred wood as they made the journey without him telling them where to go. He’d walked this path a dozen times already. Enough times that he could see his own footprints in the hardened mud.

The boy wasn’t supposed to be out here. The rescue teams had cleared the area, and it was still dangerous. But he didn’t want to go back to the emergency shelter. He didn’t want to talk to the rangers, with their prodding and their questions and their insistence on finding some way for everything to be alright when it wasn’t. He just wanted to be alone.

After some time, the boy stopped. He glanced around at the surrounding, and at the houses all burned so thoroughly that it was hard to tell them apart. His eyes locked onto one in particular, tracing the familiar pattern on the charred door. He then sat down quietly in the middle of the ruin and didn’t move for some time.

He hadn’t slept since it happened, and he’d barely eaten. His sense of time was gone. It was like it had happened both two hours and two months ago. He tried to recall images of what had happened but they wouldn’t come. The sights and sounds had all melted into a nightmarish haze. There was… the freak storm that had rolled in from nowhere. Flashes of lightning and fire. Screaming. A terrifying, overwhelming presence, and then…

The boy clutched his head. The memories were there, they were right there, but it was like he couldn’t reach them, and he’d been left with this gaping hole in his heart that he didn’t know how to process. He’d already felt everything a hundred times over. He didn’t think he had any room left in himself to feel anything else.

His face was suddenly wet with hot tears. He rubbed them away furiously but they wouldn’t stop. This was wrong. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He wasn’t sure how he knew that, but it was like nothing was more true in the world.

The only thing he knew was that he couldn’t stay here. There was something burning within him, driving him forward. He wasn’t sure where it’d come from or what it was, but it was the only thing pushing him through the pain.

Keep moving. Become strong. This pain is nothing compared to…

Compared to what? The boy didn’t know. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever know.

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

That one, he thought, eyeing the storefront. The one with the logo in the corner of the window. He’d seen it before, knew what it meant. He also knew that it would be his ticket to moving forward.

The bell jingled as he pushed the door open, then slammed shut behind him with what felt like way too much force. He glanced around at the collection of knickknacks lining dusty shelves. The shop was hot and musty, and the slowly-turning ceiling fan didn’t help much with that. A Houndour leered at him from its bed in the corner.

At the far counter, two men had been chatting with bored faces. When they heard the jingle, they looked up, fixing the boy with expressions that were both curious and… predatory. Like they were sizing him up.

“Well lookie what we have here. How old are you, kid?” the man behind the counter asked.

The boy paused. Eleven was too young. Too naïve-sounding. Everyone had always said he looked older—tall enough to be a teenager.

“Thirteen,” he replied.

The man nodded absentmindedly, like he was thinking about something else. “I see. And what brings you here today?”

“I’m looking to sell some things.”

The man chuckled. “Are you, now? Well, why don’t you come on over and we’ll take a look?”

The boy hesitated. But then he adjusted his grip on his shoulder strap and walked across the shop to pour the contents of his bag on the counter. He hadn’t found much. Some Pokéballs that had escaped the blaze (all empty). Some evolution stones. A rare-looking crownlike rock that he’d found inside a melted glass case, whose owners might not be alive anymore. He wasn’t expecting much for any of it. A place like this, they were guaranteed to rip him off, if they even gave him anything at all. But that wasn’t the real reason he was here.

The shopkeeper and his assistant browsed the items for a few minutes, discussing some things between themselves. Occasionally they glanced at him, and he tried not to let his attention wander. After a few minutes, the shopkeeper fixed him with an incredulous look.

“Now, I’m gonna offer my honest opinion here, kid: you look like shit. What’re you even looking to do with the money you get from this?”

The boy’s expression was cold and unflinching. “I want to get a Pokémon. Preferably from the kind of place that doesn’t ask too many questions.”

At these words, a slow, satisfied grin crept across the man’s features. “I think I might be able to help you out. Hey Jenner, lock the front door, why dont’cha.”

The shop assistant stood up from his seat and casually strode across the shop to turn the lock. Satisfied, the man behind the counter then focused on the boy. “First of all, what’s a kid like you needin’ to come to a place like this to get a Pokémon? Don’t they just give ‘em away at your age?”

“I don’t have a home to go back to and I don’t have a license.”

The man’s eyes seemed to bore a hole right through the boy, searching for anything to latch onto. Any evidence that this could be a lie. Finally, he folded his hands in front of his face and said, “I see. And what if I were to make you a business proposal? I represent an… organization that could get you your license, no problem. And in return, all we ask is that you use your newfound trainer status to perform various services for us. Now, I think those are some generous terms, wouldn’t you agree?”

It would look too desperate to agree to anything right away. He dared to try for more info. “What kind of services?”

The man’s eyes narrowed. “See, that’s not exactly the kind of question you’re supposed to ask in your position. It doesn’t sound very grateful.”

He should have expected that. Time to twist it into something that looked better. “It’s not that. I think it’s a nice offer,” he said, idly twirling one of the Pokéballs on the counter. “I just want to have all the details for something so important.”

The man laughed. It was a condescending sort of laugh. “Would you get a load of this kid?” he said, still chuckling as he cast an amused glance at the assistant. He turned back toward the boy and went on, sneering. “You’ll be a part of some… moneymaking endeavors. Namely in the Pokémon attaining department. Trainers catch Pokémon, right?”

The boy stared. “If I’m going to be doing anything criminal, just say so. I wouldn’t be asking to get my license illegally if I was afraid of that.”

Another roar of laughter. The boy was tired of being laughed at, but he didn’t let it show on his face.

“Doesn’t miss a thing, this one!” the shopkeeper boomed. When he regained his composure, his words grew quieter, sharper. “Let’s say this were something outside the law. I don’t suppose you’d have a problem with that, now would you?”

The boy shook his head. There really wasn’t any other answer he could give, was there?

The man leaned back in his seat, satisfied. “Good, good. It looks like we have an agreement, then. I’ll just hand you off to my superiors, and they’ll handle your registration.” He grabbed a phone from the counter and punched a few buttons. A few seconds passed, then: “Hey send someone from recruit processing up.”

After hanging up, the man surveyed the boy again, an odd look on his face, like he was trying to figure something out. “I think you’ll be a good fit for serving us. There’s something about you, kid. Can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m taking a risk on my recruiting metrics with you. So you better look good on me, you hear?”

The boy nodded. He wasn’t sure what else to do.

After a few minutes, the wall behind the shop counter slid open to reveal a secret passage. A woman stepped through the entrance and glanced at the shopkeeper, who pointed at the boy. She then motioned for him to follow her, and he did, descending a dimly lit staircase.

“What’s your name anyway, kid?” the shopkeeper’s voice called after him.

This was the start of a new life. His old life, and anything from it, was now meaningless. There was no reason to hold onto any of it.

“My name, it’s… Sebastian. Sebastian Shepard.”

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

“Alright kid, looks like you’ve been assigned to my squad,” his commanding officer said, pacing in front of him. “It’s my job to make you useful to us as fast as possible, so the sooner we get you on missions, the better.”

Sebastian said nothing. He’d learned by now that was usually the best course of action as a new recruit.

“You got a Pokémon, right?” When Sebastian nodded, she went on, “Alright, let’s see it.”

Sebastian unclipped the lone Pokéball from his belt and opened it. He couldn’t help enjoying the look of shock on his officer’s face once the light took shape.

“A Charmander? Damn, what kinda favors did you have to do to get one of those? Guess they let you have him since he’s a runt.”

“She,” Sebastian said immediately. Charmander was a girl. She’d told him so when he first let her out.

His officer looked at him like he’d just said the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. “The hell? There is no way they’d give some brat a female Charmander, those things are way too valuable.”

“She’s a girl,” he just said.

The officer waved an arm like she didn’t remotely care enough to argue. “Fine, call it whatever the hell you want, I don’t give a shit. Let’s see some precision fire moves.”

They spent the afternoon running through drills. Basic stuff—target practice, evasion, endurance tests. It was exhausting. His officer was definitely trying get him to complain, which was why he didn’t. And Vesta didn’t either.

Sebastian could have chosen a common Pokémon, like a Rattata or an Ekans or a Nidoran. But he’d had his heart set on getting a proper starter Pokémon, and he refused to settle for anything less. And it wasn’t like they’d just given him one, either. He’d had to steal her for himself. He was pretty sure no one expected him to succeed. And even once he’d surprised everyone by pulling it off, he still had to sign away two months’ pay to keep her. He didn’t mind, though. Nothing worth having came easy.

Being on Team Rocket would mean following orders. Following orders would mean doing things he wasn’t proud of. He’d known that going in, and he knew that he couldn’t afford to have second thoughts. But that also meant that he’d need to be on the same page as any of his allies. Starting with Vesta.

“Do you want to be strong?” he asked her a few days into their training.

“*I volunteered to get a trainer,*” the Charmander replied simply. “*I got you instead. Not much different.*”

“There’s a lot of reasons why someone would do that,” Sebastian mused. “The League circuit is a bit different than what we’ll be doing.”

Vesta just shrugged. He wasn’t sure if she just wasn’t thinking through the full implications, or didn’t care.

Sebastian leaned back in his chair slightly, folding his arms behind his head. “I’ve decided I’m going to be the strongest on the team.”

Vesta’s large blue eyes stared at him, unblinking. “*That’s bold. You just started.*”

It wasn’t like he didn’t know how unrealistic it was. He definitely had no intention of telling anyone but her. Though he didn’t enjoy the way no one took him seriously, it would be useful if they didn’t expect anything from him.

“I know it won’t happen overnight,” Sebastian said. “It’s just something I need to do.”

The fire lizard’s gaze was unyielding. “*Why?*”

Why, indeed. He was sure he’d thought about it, but trying to call back the memory of how he’d come up with it was like wandering through a fog. He just… knew it was there. That’s all he really had to go off.

“My old life was destroyed,” Sebastian finally said, and for a moment it was like he was looking through her. “Getting strong is the only thing I have.”

No more feeling. He’d already felt it a hundred times over. No more.

Vesta blinked. Her tail flame flickered a bit, but he didn’t yet know what that meant. “*Strongest on the team,*” she said airily, like she was trying out the idea in her head. “*There’s an appeal to that, if you can pull it off.*”

Sebastian relaxed slightly. “Yeah. I’m glad you agree.”

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

Months passed. Sebastian busied himself with jobs for the Rockets. For his first year on the team, that mostly involved catching Pokémon to be sold later. Occasionally they let him join heists. Most likely as a scapegoat in case things went wrong, but it never came to that. There wouldn’t be any opportunities to impress anyone while he was a grunt, but he was content to wait.

Getting more team members was going to be a slow process. He wasn’t aiming for rare or valuable. He wanted power. Unfortunately, power cost a lot of money, and even when he went and got it for himself, his superiors weren’t about to let him hold onto any of it for free.

Not all the Pokémon that Team Rocket obtained got sold. Some were kept in reserve, usually handed off to the combat unit to train into enforcers. Which meant that getting onto the combat unit would be Sebastian’s first goal. Until then, his only focus was paying off his debt for getting to keep Vesta. After that, every ounce of his earnings that didn’t go toward necessities went toward saving up for more team members later.

Kaida came to him from the Dratini that he’d taken from the Dragon’s Den. He chose her because she was curious about humans and wanted to get stronger—not to mention the way that she’d bonded with Vesta right away.

Silvan and Tako came to him during a trip to Hoenn. Silvan, from a League starter house. Tako, from a cave where Sebastian hadn’t really gone on a job—he’d gone because he’d heard about the historic cave paintings deep within. Silvan just wanted a trainer and didn’t care exactly how he came into possession of one. Tako wanted to see the world. Sebastian gave them both what they wanted in exchange for their strength.

Typhon was the last—stolen from a breeder and raised in secret. They’d only discovered him after Sebastian had been training him for six months, after which point Typhon wouldn’t listen to anyone else. Sebastian had to give up his entire savings just to train him.

None of his team members were really his. He’d only been allowed train them because it was useful to the combat unit. And the deal was obviously designed so that they could bleed him dry for years to come. So his plan was simple: he’d just use his team’s strength to rise up the ranks until he became strong enough that no one could tell him they weren’t his.

Two years after joining the team, Sebastian found himself turning fifteen and up for an officer position. That is, they hadn’t offered the position, he’d demanded it. He could tell the executives were skeptical. Reaching officer rank at age fifteen wasn’t unheard of, but it was limited to the extraordinarily talented. So he’d decided that he would be one of them. It was the combat unit. He just had to prove himself strong. That’s what he was good at.

The initial evaluation pit him against the other prospective agents up for promotion. Vesta wiped the floor with them. Grunts weren’t even a challenge anymore. His team would need to rise up the ranks just to keep their skills from stagnating.

Sebastian took his position at one end of the training field before letting out Vesta. Across from him, a combat unit officer sized him up, looking unimpressed. After a few seconds’ thought, she grabbed a Pokéball and let out a Rhydon. Well, if he wasn’t sure before, this sure confirmed it. They didn’t intend to let him advance.

There was no fanfare. The executive overseeing them waved a flag, and the match was on. The two combatants faced each other in an explosive burst of rock and fire. His opponent didn’t just have the overwhelming type advantage. Rhydon was higher level too. He had decent precision, and he liked to anticipate where Vesta would approach from. Lots of ranging, trying to control her movements—he could keep her at bay, hold her back from afar. Vesta’s specialty was long range, but all the moves she needed for the win condition were close-range. Sebastian tried having her feint with Flame Burst before swooping around for a Steel Wing. But his opponent saw that coming, and Vesta took a bad hit from Rock Throw, only narrowly avoiding the Stone Edge that burst up right after. Sebastian could feel his pulse pounding uncomfortably hard. He inhaled deeply, centering himself. Focus only on the win condition. Nothing else.

He changed tactics. Smokescreen first to cut visibility—Stone Edge was hard to aim at the best of times. That’d give Vesta the ability to close the distance without giving Rhydon an opening. It did mean that he couldn’t give play-by-play orders. But he didn’t mind. He had faith in her.

His eyes caught the glimmer of wings glowing white. Metallic blows rang out, chipping through rocky armor with each strike. Her growl split the air as she took a hit in return. But it was worth it to set up the expectation that she’d continue with that move. One more wing strike and the Charizard burst out from the smoke. For a brief moment they made eye contact, and he said, “Keep going with that,” but the look he gave her said otherwise. She read him and dove back into the smoke, where his opponent couldn’t see Vesta’s actions, couldn’t warn Rhydon. Though Sebastian couldn’t see her either, he could hear the rhythmic swishing of her claws sharpening her movements.

Win condition set. Rocks clanged off metal wings. A vicious flurry of strikes followed, then a heavy impact hitting the floor, and when the smoke cleared, Rhydon lay prone.

Sebastian did his best to keep the grin off his face. He turned and met eyes with the executives expectantly. They spoke to each other for a bit, then motioned for him to follow. He kept his face neutral, but inside his heart was pounding with anticipation.

The executives brought Sebastian to the office of the base’s head of operations. They spoke to her in private while he waited outside. Naturally, he listened at the door.

“Not a fan of doing this,” Sebastian heard her mutter.

“The kid’s scary as hell, and his Pokémon are stupid loyal,” his CO said in hushed tones.

“He’s a kid,” came the unimpressed reply.

There was some stammering, followed by, “The way I see it, this gives us the chance to see what he can really do for us.”

When the door finally opened, Sebastian was standing stock-still like he hadn’t moved from where they’d left him. The base head gestured for him to enter, and he did, taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of her desk.

Her eyes bored into his. “This position ain’t just about being some kind of tough guy. You have to be able to lead. You need a commanding presence.”

Sebastian nodded. “I look forward to it.”

She let out an incredulous scoff. But it was obvious that part of her was impressed all the same. She reached into a drawer, rummaged around for something, and then tossed it across the desk. He caught it, and found himself looking down at an officer patch.

“Alright kid, you got your wish,” the base head said, folding her arms. “Welcome to the combat unit. Your training starts at 0600 tomorrow.”

His heart skipped. Holding his excitement back, he bowed deeply and said, “I look forward to it,” before exiting the office.

He’d done it. Not that he’d really been worried about it, but still, it was proof that he could do it. One step closer. He just had to keep working his way up. Two more years until he could try for executive. That’d be a lot harder. He would need some real leverage. But he didn’t have to worry about that until then.

It wasn’t until he’d gone to bed that he remembered that he was only thirteen and no one could ever know.

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

Being an officer meant being privy to more combat unit matters. At first it was just small-scale stuff. Higher-profile targets. Riskier missions with more powerful defenses. But after a few months, Sebastian was invited to an orientation meeting that was somewhat unusual for not having the subject announced ahead of time.

As he sat himself into a chair against the back wall, it struck him that he must have been the youngest one in the room. It wasn’t something he paid much attention to on missions (he was almost as tall as the adults by now anyway). But it was still odd to think that he was being trusted with something so exclusive.

How would it feel giving orders as the youngest one in the room?

…Maybe it was a bit early to be entertaining that idea.

After a few minutes, one of the combat unit heads walked up to the front of the room, and under his stern gaze, most of the chatter died down.

“The Legendary Project. I’m just gonna cut to the chase: I know you’ve all heard of it.”

He’d certainly heard rumors. Even if it wasn’t the sort of thing grunts were supposed to concern themselves with, he’d heard talk of it ever since he joined. Before then, even. Town gossip about restless gods and natural disasters. How much of it was true, he couldn’t say.

“All Pokémon exist for the glory of Team Rocket,” the executive said, his expression total stone. “And yet, somehow, no one ever extends that to the strongest Pokémon of all. Commanding their power would be the ultimate symbol of humanity’s triumph.”

His tone was hard to make out, but it almost sounded like he believed what he was saying.

“Anyone able to wield their power would be unquestioned,” the man went on, and by now the room was hanging on his every word. “Just think of how much the League would be willing to pay to anyone that could control the power of nature itself.”

It was a wild, dangerous idea. Sebastian hardly knew how to process it. Humans capturing legends. Was it even possible? Could they even go into a Pokéball? He suddenly wanted to know everything there was to know about the subject. Had their power been formally studied? Did they have energy signatures like ordinary Pokémon?

He only got the answers to some of those things throughout the rest of the meeting. The combat executive was more concerned with practical matters—the missions that had been carried out, the strategies that had been developed, the technology that would be used. There’d even been attempts to create artificial Legendaries, though none had panned out so far. (Artificial Legendaries! Built from DNA just like anything else! It was unreal.) And the team did have some idea of what kind of power they were dealing with from the samples that had been taken. It was a power far beyond what any ordinary Pokémon could dream of. But it wasn’t limitless.

Legendaries were living beings of flesh and blood, physical enough that they could be attacked. Captured. Commanded. Anyone able to wield their power would be unquestioned. Those words echoed in his mind, and even though they’d been referring to the team, he couldn’t help but wonder.

“I understand some of you may have reservations,” the executive told them at the end of the meeting. “I invite you to keep those reservations to yourself until you get over them. The Legendaries might be seen as gods, but the truth is, they’re just Pokémon.”

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

In his downtime, Sebastian began researching Legendary Pokémon religiously. He wanted to know everything there was to know about them. Everything from modern accounts of encounters with them to speculative essays on their biology to ancient records of the impact they’d had on human culture.

The latter subject was the most fascinating to him. Almost all of his research brought him back to the cataclysmic era. The time period that had given birth to so many myths and legends that it was sometimes dubbed ‘the times of legend.’ The world was in turmoil. The training pact hadn’t even been settled yet; humans and Pokémon clashed everywhere they crossed paths. Wars raged without end. Legends were called upon to bring peace, but their power had only brought more destruction. Sure, some of the tales were no doubt embellished, but there were records for enough of them. The Great Kalosian War. The Unovan Civil Wars. Legendary power used and abused, time and time again until the legends finally stopped interfering altogether. They’d been secluded ever since. It was hard to imagine there ever was a time when humans and legends interacted freely.

There was one set of writings from back then that intrigued him more than the others. Namely because it spoke of the conflict between human and legend as if it would happen again. And, well… it was hard not to see the parallels with today. Team Rocket was aiming to capture Legendaries. That was exactly the kind of thing that would trigger a Legendary war. And it had been a long time coming too, ever since that mess that had to get covered up eighteen years ago. It was hard to find info on it, but he’d at least found a few sources since joining the project. They were all noticeably one-sided on the topic of who was responsible—he’d have to ask about that at some point. He was sure the answer would be nothing but propaganda, but it would be interesting all the same.

He closed one of his books and picked up another, flipping to a memorized page number and continuing to read. It was a nice day. The weather was starting to get cold how he liked it, but not yet cold enough that he couldn’t sit outside and enjoy the fresh air with his team. Kaida and Typhon were sparring. What had started as just a light warmup had gradually progressed into a violent all-out brawl. The two weren’t very good at holding back. And Tako cheering them on wasn’t helping things.

Typhon was winning. Kaida was getting flustered, her movements growing sloppier. Sebastian’s eye couldn’t help locking onto the flaws. Letting herself get off-balanced when she could have lowered her center of gravity further. Miscalculating how long it would take Typhon to charge up and rushing her moves as a result. But he didn’t say anything. He just made a mental note on feedback for later before returning to his book.

Occasionally he voiced some passages aloud. It helped him think. And part of him expected at least a little feedback from his starter, who was sprawled out on the grass next to him, her tail flame a beacon of warmth in the autumn chill. She didn’t appear to be paying any attention to him, though—she’d been watching Kaida, naturally.

“What did you think about that passage?” Sebastian asked.

The Charizard craned her neck back to look at him, eyes half-lidded. “*Hm? Wasn’t paying attention.*”

“Vesta. You should be more diligent, this is important,” he chided.

She rolled her eyes and nudged him with her wing. Settling the book in his lap, he repeated the passage for her.

Vesta tapped a claw to her scales, mulling it over. “*We already knew humans were gonna clash with the legends. Doesn’t change much.*”

Sebastian chuckled. “I suppose not.” She never did have the patience for abstraction. Still, to him, hearing about the Rockets’ imminent plans, and reading about the same events in 3000-year-old writings was a little bit different. It was no wonder most Legendary enthusiasts online talked about it like it was a prophecy.

He’d never really believed in prophecies. And yet…

At some point Kaida yielded to Typhon and stumbled away from the battle clearing, doing her best to look dignified and professional, like she hadn’t just lost. The Dragonite flopped to the ground with a slight huff and began licking her wounds. Sebastian knew better than to say anything to her when she’d just lost—he’d offer her a potion later. Besides, Vesta didn’t waste a moment before she abandoned his side and went to curl up against the larger dragon. Kaida huddled close to Vesta’s tail flame, closing her eyes in contentment.

A sudden thud hit the dirt, jolting him slightly. He turned to see Silvan, who had apparently just leapt down from a tree, crawling over to him on all fours.

“*Got ya,*” the Sceptile said, leering.

“Is that so?” Sebastian asked, mouth curling slightly.

“*Can’t fool me,*” Silvan replied with a toothy grin, flopping to the grass and closing his eyes contentedly in the sunlight.

Sebastian’s eye was drawn to the glint of red along the edge of Silvan’s wrist blades. “You’ve forgotten to clean up.”

“*Was gonna do it later,*” the Sceptile mumbled, waving a claw dismissively. He rolled over onto his back and crossed his arms behind his head, humming to himself. “*What’cha thinkin’ bout?*” he asked suddenly.

Sebastian looked up at the sky. “Just trying to think of where I want to go from here,” he said distantly.

For the past three years, his path had been clear. Just keep working his way up the ranks. What would he do once he reached the top? Now that it was actually within reach, he had to consider what the answer to that was. Where would he be when the team managed to catch a legend for real?

How strange that he was already thinking of it like it was an inevitability. The tech wasn’t quite there yet. All the past attempts had failed. And yet…

“We all decided we were aiming to be the strongest on the team. That won’t be possible once the combat unit have Legendaries at their disposal,” he went on, talking to no one in particular.

Silvan gave no sign that he’d been paying any attention. The Sceptile’s eyes were closed like he was dozing off. But then, rather unexpectedly, he said, “*Maybe you should do it. Then you can make them do anything you want.*”

A single person, capturing a legend for themselves. What an idea. Most people would call it blasphemy. Catching the Legendaries. It wasn’t supposed to be done. It wasn’t supposed to be possible. There were even some of his fellow Rockets that found the idea horrifying. It was just that deeply ingrained.

“A lot of people might be upset,” he replied, in a casual tone.

“*You’d be the boss,*” Silvan said, grinning all the wider. “*Could just tell them not to be.*”

Sebastian chuckled. “You always have such interesting ideas.”

There was no denying the simplicity of it. As if the higher ups could really refuse the demands of anyone who’d gotten a legend by themselves. But it was ridiculous all the same. It was impossible, right?

These days, he was starting to wonder.

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

Sebastian was busier than ever. Same amount of jobs as usual, but with the added pressure of combat unit training. He didn’t mind the latter—both he and his team benefitted. They were getting stronger every day, pouring all their effort into surpassing their peers. Sometimes they even beat executives. They still couldn’t beat the commander though. He was on a whole other level. There hadn’t been many opportunities to fight him lately though—he’d seemed distracted.

Sebastian had been distracted too. His legend research hung over his mind. Especially that one legend in particular. It was starting to feel like it occupied almost all of his thoughts. Especially with most of the combat unit training revolving around the unspoken point that they’d be fighting Legendaries soon.

He couldn’t get it out of his head, no matter how much he tried. Finally, enough was enough. He had to get some closure. And the best way he could think of to do that was to pay a visit to the place where it was written—Midnight Island. He’d take the first magnet train to Kanto in the morning, then fly to the island. He could be back before noon. No one would even notice he was gone.

The sun was still low in the sky when he and Vesta reached the eastern coastline of Kanto. A small island lay ahead, several miles offshore. As they approached, Sebastian’s eyes traced the forests on the island’s northern half. It was impossible to miss—a clearing stripped of trees, with a great stone structure at its center. He pointed it out and Vesta descended, touching down on the dry, dead grass at the clearing’s edge.

The ruins here were off-limits to the public. Apparently there’d been… conflicts in the past. The Legendaries obviously considered it sacred ground. Well, it wasn’t like he minded pushing his luck a bit. If a legend confronted him, all the better.

A heavy feeling hung over him as he approached, looking up at the stone structure looming over him. He’d seen the photos, but that didn’t compare to seeing it here in person. These ruins had been here for 3000 years. He was standing in the same structure that had first been built at the end of the cataclysm.

Sebastian wandered all over the ruins, searching for any new details or information. Something that would hopefully help him make sense of how he was supposed to be feeling about that legend. But the writings were exactly the same as they’d been in his books. Nothing new or unexpected here. Maybe it was a waste of time after all. Still, he did feel he’d gained a sense of appreciation. It all felt more… real than just looking at a bunch of photos in books. These ancient ruins with their inscriptions in modern Tohjoan—more arguments in favor of it being a prophecy. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

A sudden cold wind rushed through the trees, and he pulled his coat tighter to himself. Nothing more to see here—maybe it was best for him to head back now. A bit disappointing, but maybe he’d at least be able to clear his mind from now on.

Sebastian turned around to walk back to where Vesta was napping. No sooner had he taken five steps away from the ruin when it hit him—the distinct feeling of being watched. His heart rate suddenly spiked. He spun around, hand flying to his Pokéball belt, ready to attack at a moment’s notice. But there was no one.

“Hello?” he called out.

No response. Sebastian took a few steps forward until he reached the stone steps once again. For several seconds he didn’t move. He just stood there, eyes scanning the clearing for the tiniest sign of movement. A flicker of purple caught his eye. Then a Gastly peeked around the corner of one of the stone pillars and flicked its tongue at him before vanishing into the woods.

He wasn’t satisfied. There was something else. If he stayed here longer… maybe one of them would confront him. It was a long shot, but…

No, what was he thinking? He wasn’t ready. He couldn’t risk it all now. What if it killed him? He’d have wasted all that time for nothing.

He turned and strode away from the ruins. Not yet. He had to be patient.

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

The night was a restless one, just like all the others. He found himself back at the ruins that he’d visited all those months ago. He’d misplaced something here, but he was having a hard time finding it. Searching every inch of the ruin had proved futile. It was here, he was sure of it. He just had to look harder.

His legs were growing tired. Each step felt like it took more effort than the last, until he finally realized that it was because he was sinking. The stone floor had liquefied; his feet were disappearing into the sludge. He tried to pull himself free, but faceless ghosts clung to his jacket, their fingers digging into the fabric, merging with it. Panic started to overtake him. He reached out, trying to free himself, but everything he touched began smoldering, burning brighter and brighter until he couldn’t see anything, and then—

Sebastian’s eyes snapped open. He blinked in the darkness of his dormitory, feeling his pulse pounding in his ears. His mind scrambled to cling to the shreds of dream, but they’d already faded into nothingness.

More nightmares. It had been nothing but nightmares ever since that day. It hadn’t been like that before… right?

He paused, blinking slowly. Before. What had it been like before? Something about the question didn’t make sense. That was ridiculous. Obviously there was a before. But at the same time, it didn’t feel like he’d just forgotten. Trying to think about it was like trudging through fog, though. He was sure he knew the answer, but.

Well, either way, he wasn’t going to be getting any more sleep. Best to use the time as much as he could. Sebastian slid out of bed, grabbed his books from the shelf, and made his way to the lounge.

It was empty. As usual for 2am. He liked being able to read undisturbed anyway. Sebastian settled himself into his favorite armchair (he’d gotten too tall to curl up in it like he used to), and his fingers flipped to right page as if on autopilot. And then he sank into the writings that he’d read at least a dozen times before.

The hours ticked by. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. He’d been drawn to researching this subject for as long as he could remember. He couldn’t even really explain why. He just was. His mind kept drifting back to that one legend in particular. He’d read up on it extensively ever since his visit to Midnight Island. It was considered a bit of an anomaly in the mythology community. No other writings referenced the same things it did. There was no overlap with any other stories. It stood alone. It was important. He could feel it.

The time, in the ruins. That odd feeling that had come over him. The feeling of being watched…

Even as the fires of war subside, the balance that they fought so hard to preserve is already on the inevitable path to being torn apart once again.

Legendaries had been spotted on Midnight Island occasionally. That made the ruins an area of Legendary significance, which automatically gave him reason to suspect that the author wasn’t human. So if they did have an agenda, then he could assume it was one that would benefit the legends.

But then… the part about Legendaries making an alliance with humanity. If they’d been doing something like that, wouldn’t word have gotten out? He hadn’t heard of any activity that matched that pattern. On the contrary, the Legendaries were more elusive than ever. And any humans foolish enough to approach them were met with their demise a lot more frequently these days. There had been a lot of debates about it in the online legend-spotting circles. Many people had retired from the hobby as a result.

Seven among the Order—the ones who dedicated both mind, body, and spirit toward ending the war—shall be empowered to forge an alliance with humankind so that both might endure.

Most Legendary enthusiasts regarded the shrine’s writings as a prophecy. Unsurprising—there were a lot of prophecies from the cataclysmic era. Except… the writer had made no intent to state that any of it would happen. Only that it should. A pedantic distinction maybe, but one that stood out to him.

…What if it wasn’t a prophecy at all? What if it was instructions?

He sat there blinking as he processed the thought. If that was true, it changed everything. Instructions. Saying that the alliance needed to happen. Why would the Legendaries need to be told in such a roundabout way? Wouldn’t they already know? Unless it wasn’t aimed at them. But then who…

The seven are bound by their duty to seek out the interlopers to protect the balance of power in the coming era.

Was it… aimed at the reader? Anyone who’d read the legend and had the power to make it happen? That only made sense if the author this didn’t think the alliance would be completed on its own. Someone had to make it happen?

…What if that person could be him?

It was a ridiculous thought. But some part of him wanted to indulge it.

Sebastian stood up and paced back and forth across the lounge, mulling things over. The clock ticked by on the wall. He had no idea how long he’d been here, and didn’t care to check.

Crafting an alliance between human and legend. What would that entail? The Legendaries would need to feel threatened enough that they’d be motivated to do it. They’d need to be put into a situation where they’d have the opportunity to encounter humans who’d make good partners. Humans who had the strength and drive to protect the Legendaries.

No, that wasn’t quite right. How would the Legendaries be able to identify that, anyway?

‘Interlopers’… Those who had interfered in the conflict. People who had protected the legends? Did such people exist?

…If they didn’t, could he make them? He’d already been toying with the idea of finding more allies after what happened with the revolt. If he couldn’t find people who’d protected the legends… why not create them? Recruit trainers to his cause, use his inside knowledge to give them all the tools they’d need to save the Legendaries from his own team. Wouldn’t that make them the perfect candidates?

He was close. He could feel it. Conflicts between human and legendary. An imminent war. An alliance between the two sides. But there was something else that he was missing. What was the purpose of the alliance? Why was it necessary?

For though none may prevail, what is set into motion shall be much greater indeed.

Sebastian stood frozen in the middle of the room, repeating it to himself, over and over. It seemed impossible. But it all fit. The attacks nineteen years ago. Everything that had followed. He had it all backwards. It wasn’t just that he had to keep the legends’ power out of the Kanto force’s hands. That wasn’t it at all. It was—

The realization lifted him up. He felt lighter than air. It wasn’t just that someone had to make sure the alliance happened. Someone also had to be ready for when it failed. If the alliance couldn’t prevent the Revolution, then… someone else needed to have access to the power of the legends. Why not him?

Team Rocket was going to capture the legends. He could rise up the ranks, use all their resources, get to them first. If he had that kind of power… would he be able to handle things when the alliance fell apart? If he was creating the ideal candidates for being chosen, he could also ensure that they were on his side. That way, when the alliance fell apart, he’d have a fallback.

But then… if it was going to fail anyway, then what was the point of it happening? That was a glaring hole. He was still missing some pieces there. Still, this was huge.

Of course, the Legendaries wouldn’t want to be captured—there was no doubt about that. Not at first, anyway. But if he could somehow contain them, explain the situation to them, get them to see things his way. It could be done.

“I’m going to do it,” he whispered to himself, tapping a fist to his palm. “I’m going to capture the Legendaries.” How many, he wasn’t quite sure. But enough of them that he’d have the leverage he needed. It would be difficult. There was a reason no one had ever managed it. He’d have to use all of Team Rocket’s resources to pull it off.

The other issue was the seven. The seven would have to remain uncaptured, no matter what. Or if they did get captured, it would need to be by his side. He would need to figure out who the seven were, first of all. That would be difficult, considering no other writings made any mention of them. He’d have to analyze the patterns of Legendary sightings, try to find a pattern. Something to go off. He’d start with the Tohjo guardians, the obvious candidates since the writings themselves were in Tohjo.

It would be a monumental task.

He couldn’t wait to get started.

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

( Continued in next post )
 
Last edited:

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Lexx walked into the office to find papers completely covering every inch of furniture. Sebastian paced back and forth behind his desk, muttering to himself, occasionally flipping through one of the many books that sat propped open on the shelves, which he hadn’t put away in case he needed them again. There was no visible organization to any of it, though he seemed to have no trouble finding what he needed at a moment’s notice.

“Take it I should come back later?” Lexx said, moving to shut the door.

“No,” Sebastian immediately replied without looking up.

Lexx watched as he flipped through a stack of papers until seemingly coming to what he was looking for, scanned it for all of two seconds, and then spun around to look at something entirely different.

“Just taking a stab in the dark, but… when was the last time you slept?”

“Three days ago,” Sebastian replied promptly.

“Mhm,” Lexx replied, letting his eyes trace the pages that had spilled onto the floor. “Wouldn’t it be easier to do all this on the computer?”

“It’s easier for me to visualize like this,” Sebastian answered simply. He’d long since stopped trying to explain.

Lexx shrugged and leaned back against the doorframe while Sebastian refocused his attention on his work. He’d been cross-referencing all the reported Legendary sightings in Tohjo—comparing the frequency, location, time within the past nineteen years versus the years before that. There was a definite shift. He had a few suspects. He just had to rule out a few more factors, and then he’d know for sure who to target, and then—

“So, not that I don’t love being kept in suspense like this, but you said you needed me for something.”

Sebastian started slightly and jerked his head up like he’d just been pulled from a trance. “Right. I need all the info you can get me on the Legendary Project.”

Lexx blinked. “Why?”

“Because,” he went on, “the Kanto force will be moving ahead with their mission plan soon, and I don’t have any way to stop them. There aren’t enough double agents left, and I can’t risk giving myself away yet.”

Lexx clicked his tongue. “I figured that was what the rebel team was for—stopping them before they can get off the ground.”

“It wouldn’t be ready before then,” Sebastian replied, shaking his head. “The training high season hasn’t even started yet. I was planning on starting in May.”

Lexx folded his arms. “Uh huh, so… if you can’t stop them, then what good’s this intel gonna do?”

“I’ll beat them to it,” he answered simply. “I’m going to be the first one to catch a legend.”

Lexx gaped at him incredulously. Words seemed to have failed him.

“If this works, we’ll have the edge on them,” Sebastian explained.

Lexx blinked a bit, finally regaining himself. “I mean… yeah?” he said, rubbing the back of his head. “But we kind of already have the edge on them after that stunt you pulled with Leo.”

Sebastian shook his head. “We could lose that edge just as easily if they capture a legend before us.” He wasn’t willing to take that risk. Not with Legendaries on the line now. The revolt had bought them some time, but it hadn’t taken him any closer to his goals—especially not regarding the legend. Out of the revolt, there was really only one person who had a reasonable shot at becoming chosen. It wasn’t a sure thing at all.

And besides… she’d never side with him. He’d botched that chance. Maybe it was a mistake to tell her the truth, but he wasn’t going to let himself regret being honest. Lying to others only made it easier to lie to yourself. He couldn’t afford to lose sight of who he was and what he was doing.

Lexx was still reeling. He paced back and forth across the office with a hand to his temple. “You’re basically asking me to break into their highest-security systems and steal god-knows how much data without anyone noticing.”

“As soon as possible, yes,” Sebastian replied, completely deadpan. “Unless you don’t think you can,” he added, the edges of his mouth curling slightly.

Lexx snorted. “Ha ha. Look, these things take time, finesse. If I just blunder in, everyone’s gonna know I did it, and…” He paused, shaking his head. “I kinda enjoy my freedom, y’know? Not exactly keen on being under the same level of watch as my sis.”

Sebastian was silent for some time. “This is too important. And they’ll already suspect us once I show up with a legend anyway.”

Lexx chuckled. “So sure you’ll succeed, then?”

“I can’t afford not to be sure. I have to get one first, so I will.”

“Oh my god, always with the drama,” Lexx said, sighing exaggeratedly. “Alright, I’ll see what I can do,” he said, adding in a dismissive wave for good measure.

Sebastian relaxed slightly. “I appreciate your efforts.”

Lexx rolled his eyes. “Ah, don’t go acting all formal on me now. So, let’s hear it—what’s the plan?”

Sebastian paused. He wasn’t entirely prepared to be vetted this early, but… “I’ve been narrowing down potential targets. There’s still more work to be done there, but I have a few leads, so I’ve been making trips to Hoenn in my downtime.”

“Hoenn?” Lexx cut in, blinking in confusion. “What the heck, how? With your schedule? They’ve been working you to death.”

“I’ve been able to make it there and back in the same day,” Sebastian replied casually. “It only gives me a few hours to search, but I’ve made progress.”

Lexx gave a low whistle. “God, you weren’t kidding with the no sleep.”

“In any case,” he went on, locating the relevant stack of papers and handing them to Lexx, “here are the locations I’ve searched. Lots of dead ends, but a few look promising. I need the Kanto force’s research to be sure though, and…” He sighed. “Well, we all know they won’t be sharing it with us after the revolt.”

Having some way to track the legends would make things so much easier. They all had distinct energy signatures. He was sure the Kanto force had been planning to exploit that somehow, but he needed to know for sure.

Lexx shuffled through the notes, skimming them quickly. “You’ve really thought this through, huh.”

Sebastian’s mouth curled slightly. “You won’t find any holes this time.”

“Ah, that’s no fun,” Lexx said with a mischievous glint. “Just means I gotta try harder.”

“I look forward to it,” Sebastian said calmly, collecting some of his books and stacking them, clearing some space on his desk. “I have no intention of making you deal with the fallout if you’re found out,” he added. “I’ll take the brunt of it. We’ll have a much easier time dealing with it once I’ve succeeded.”

“There’s some bold talk,” Lexx said, folding his arms behind his head. “You’re acting like you’ve already gone and done it.”

Sebastian gave a wry grin. “You’re the one who said you wanted to see me turn things upside down.”

Lexx smirked. “Did I say that? You’ll have to refresh my memory. Anyway, I’m not letting you charge ahead without running the final plan by me first. I’m sure I can find some holes if I really try.”

Sebastian chuckled. “That’s what I was banking on.”

Lexx gave a mock salute, then spun on his heels and exited the office. No more than five seconds later, he poked his head back in through the doorway and added, “Can’t promise any all-nighters, though. Some of us actually need sleep.” Then he vanished before Sebastian could say anything else.

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

Sebastian was keenly aware of all the eyes on him. Whispers and rumors surrounded him as he walked down the halls of Mahogany base. He’d known that the news would spread fast. He hadn’t expected it to be this fast, though.

“You can’t be serious.”

“What kinda favors is that kid doing?”

“They’re screwing with us. Gotta be.”

He reached the training center and walked off to the side, perfectly aware of the way that everyone else in the room was staring at him. He ignored them all and prepared for another day of training. Perfectly normal. If they wanted to make a big deal out of it, that was on them.

“This is some kind of joke, right?” a voice called out behind him.

He knew that tone. He knew better than to give it the satisfaction of engagement.

“I mean really, what were the higher-ups thinking?” the voice went on, drawling, amused. “Expecting us to take orders from some teenage brat?”

He’d learned a long time ago not to get defensive. There were some things he’d be judged for, and that was that. Words were meaningless with no power to back them up.

“Don’t you know who you’re talking to?” another voice asked in mock reverence. “That’s the great Sebastian Shepard. You know…”—she paused for maximum effect—“our new commander.”

The man scoffed. “‘Commander.’ Yeah, give that a week.”

Sebastian turned to face him. “Would you like me to show you why?” he asked, and he meant it as a genuine question. No force, no anger in his voice. Those things were unnecessary.

The combat officer hesitated, taking a step back. The snide grin had vanished from his face, and Sebastian couldn’t help feeling a twinge of satisfaction. “That’s not… they said you got one of the guardians.”

“That’s right.”

The man scowled. “Yeah, real tough guy, hiding behind that monster. How about you take me on without it?”

“Why?”

He blinked. “…What?”

Sebastian stared back, unyielding. “Why should I lower myself to your level?” Again, perfectly neutral—no anger, no defensiveness. They’d be easier to set off if he didn’t show any of those things.

It worked. The man’s face contorted into a snarl. “Oh, screw you,” he spat, grabbing a Pokéball. “I’ve had it up to here with you waltzing around like you own the place.” He threw the ball forward, and a Gyarados appeared. Better than Sebastian had been expecting, honestly. He decided to give them a chance.

“Alright. We’ll battle on your terms, then.” He retrieved a Pokéball and let out Vesta.

The two lunged, locked in combat almost instantly, steam filling the air from the clashing of fire and water. Vesta circled her opponent gracefully, always keeping just out of reach. By comparison, the sea serpent’s movements were rough, unpolished, made of poorly timed lunges and waterspouts that lacked focus. Disappointing. Sebastian held back from giving orders. He’d let Vesta decide how to handle it.

She was more direct that he would have been. Barely a minute of intermittent fireballs and she’d already grown bored. Her fist crackled with sparks as she swooped in to end the fight. And then three more bursts of light came from nowhere. Sebastian stared coldly as a Gliscor, Magneton, and Golem materialized behind Vesta. The Charizard spun around on a dime, lashing out with her tail, then when that missed, drawing back a still-sparking fist. An impact, strings of lightning—Gliscor had intercepted her. She followed up with a vicious Heat Wave; Gliscor and Magneton fell back. The latter managed to fire off a Thunderbolt, but Vesta looped around it effortlessly. Then rocks. Then more water. Dodging, weaving, flawless, until a sudden swerve to avoid a second bolt took her too close to the rocks. A Stone Edge clipped her wing, her flight path faltered for just a moment, and another torrent crashed down on her from above. Water streamed over the battlefield. In the end, the Charizard lay on the ground, defeated.

Sebastian sighed disappointedly. “You cheated,” he said as he recalled her.

The man chuckled uneasily. The glint of victory in his eyes was decidedly halfhearted, like he already knew it meant nothing.

Sebastian reached into his pocket and retrieved the Master Ball. “I’ll cheat as well, then.”

His opponent’s face contorted with horror, and it would have been a lie to say that he didn’t enjoy it. The ball opened, a burst of light appeared, and before it had even taken shape, an azure blur was shooting across the battlefield.

He took in each moment. The flicker of alarm on each Pokémon as they just barely had the chance to register something coming before the ball of radiant light struck them down. Four hits, four Pokémon hitting the floor, then his opponent tripped backward as the light came for him. He lay there trembling, staring up at the cobalt dragon floating right above him. Latios’s piercing crimson eyes stared back.

No one moved. No one breathed. Just perfect, unbroken silence. Sebastian let the moment sit. All eyes on him.

“Is there anything else you’d like to say to me?” he asked calmly.

The man was frozen, not taking his eyes off Latios. It took several seconds for him to respond. Finally, he swallowed and shook his head gently.

Sebastian waved his hand, and Latios pulled back. Satisfied, he then turned his back to the others and strode out of the battlefield, Latios following lightly behind him.

He’d never expected anyone to follow him without proving himself. Words were meaningless with no power to back them up.

He strode down the hallway, which was noticeably empty compared to earlier. A flash caught his attention from out of the corner of one eye. He turned and it was Mewtwo. It took him several seconds to process the sight. Mewtwo, standing there alone, in an empty hallway. Sebastian had already begun walking towards the clone when something nagged at the back of his head. This didn’t make sense, did it? But he wasn’t sure why.

He tried to say something, but the words wouldn’t come. Mewtwo was staring right at him, but it was more like he was staring through him, not even noticing him. Sebastian turned around. The hallway he’d come down was gone. The base was gone. Behind him stretched a path winding its way through a landscape straight out of a dream. Chunks of terrain lay suspended in midair around him. The sky twisted and distorted in colors he didn’t have names for. Ethereal light shone down through clouds torn with violet lightning.

A chill runs through him. He has to get out of here. Something terrible is going to happen. He reaches for his belt and—his Pokéballs, where are they? Latios and Latias, they can—

He stops, blinking. Latias? He doesn’t have Latias, just Latios. Why did he think that…?

But then, with a glimmer of red and blue light, the duo appears before him anyway. A wave of relief rushes through him as he starts toward them, each step taking far too long, like he’s walking on clouds. The dragons stare back, their eyes twinkling red and gold in the void. Almost there. He reaches out to them.

And then their faces split open, eyes burning like hot coals, fangs protruding through the sides of their mouths, bodies unraveling into fabric and merging with the walls. Their hearts, still beating in the void that was their chests, crystalize into gleaming gemstones, red and blue. He pulls away in revulsion, every inch of him screaming to get away. But then he’s overtaken by a sudden, powerful, burning need to grab them. He reaches forward, plunging both arms straight through their chests, like the two are made of liquid. He can’t see his hands. He can only grope blindly in the darkness until his fingers clench around his prize.

He rips the gems out of what had previously been the dragons’ chests and holds them close, staring as they pulse with an otherworldly light. Then the gems begin to dissolve. He jumps back, tries to throw them away, but they’re stuck to his hands, molten glass burning through his skin, seeping into his bloodstream. A piercing light shines through his veins, the glow burning brighter and brighter until it’s searing through his flesh. It hurts. He tries to scream, but his voi̬ce is tattered, distor̡ted, like a ̬badly edited aud̘io recording. ̽More ̹voice̻s join in, pressing in from all aroun̈́d. Smothering. Threatening to crush him with their᷉ sheer weight. He feels the words more than he͟ sees̭ ͯth̏em, ̗feels ͆them wea͊ving thems͇elves̪ thro̘ugh his being, dro̹wn᷿i̳ng him, u̾nͤt̹iͮl͠ a͟ s̫iͦn͜g̶l̓e̥ͯ᷃,͉ ̠̙o͖v͓eͦr᷃w͑h͚ėl̑m͋ȋ̶̘n̞g̹ p̮r͟e̯s̛e͞n̆c᷂e̸ a̍p̦p̕e̥ảr᷾s̥,̑ tͫủr̽n͔i͠n̜ḡ i̲t̞s͖ h͞a̜t̿ͬ̆e̪f͈u̽͢͝l̎ ̺̣̳͈͗ͅg̰a͈z᷄e̹ ṭ᷁ͧo͞ h͡i̖m̭ a͍n̳̘᷇͡ͅd̰͍̹̦́ ͎̮r͉͍͎o͇̱͉̕a̡Ĕ̪̰̺͈͍̕ʭ̲̦̣̫͖ͅ£̹̖͙͇̬̲̯̀᷄ʨ̶̯͈̗̹̞Ķ̟͍̙͉̌͝Å̴̷͔͘ă͖̝̭͢m̴̧̛̜̪̫̹͚̜ȅ̴̷̻̣̼̗̖̗̫̟ͅĢ̟̜̱͚͍͉̘̭͈́᷾̕|̸̭̺̣̜̝̜̩̱̪̺̦̕͟͜͞ͅͅĭ̴̠̻̣̦̳͓̜̭͉̣̰̼̣̪̺̳͔̩̗̙̣᷅́͘͢͝ú̵̷͈̗̘͈̮̯̲͓̥́̕ƈ̵̡̧͉͚͍̱͔m̵͎̲̫͇̹̫̯͔͕̫̲͔͇͕͖̪̕͢͝ͅŞ̪͉̠̝̼̯̺͓͉̘̬̕͟ą̧̡̡͏̬̼̱̥̩̜̱͙m̵̶̷̨͉͉̲̮̬͉̼̜̠̹̲᷿̝͕̩̥̪̰͖̜͔̪̙̱̪͓





Sebastian’s eyes jolted open. He sat frozen for a few seconds, breathing heavily while his heart pounded in his chest. Gradually, the room stopped spinning, and his fingers unclenched from the arms of his chair.

Just… just the usual nightmares. Nothing to concern himself with.

Then a voice broke the silence. “*Did you hear me?*”

Oh. It was Latias who’d woken him up. Sebastian rubbed his eyes, turning his gaze to the clock on the wall. 2am. That hadn’t taken long. He stretched before standing up and walking over to the glass pane overlooking the holding cell. Latias stared back at him, her gaze defiant.

“*I said I’ll talk to you. What do you want to talk about?*” Her voice was cold, tinged with blades of anger.

Sebastian closed his eyes, taking a moment to center himself. “I want the chance to explain myself.”

Latias glowered at him. “*What is there to explain? You are no different than the others who seek to enslave us.*”

Was that her argument? This was too easy. “It’s true that I need to borrow the power of the Legendaries, but I don’t want to enslave them.”

She tilted her head incredulously. “*Why would you tell such an obvious lie? You’ve captured and controlled my brother and—*”

“Latios isn’t under mind control,” Sebastian immediately said.

The dragon blinked up at him in shock. “*He has his mind?*”

Sebastian nodded. “Yes. I can prove it to you after this.”

Latias stared downward, struggling to process the revelation. “*But… that can’t be… why didn’t he say anything to me?*”

“He wanted to. But he knew the mission was more important.” Perhaps he shouldn’t have said that. He couldn’t position himself as the thing holding Latios back.

“*What mission?*” She hadn’t noticed. Good.

“Stopping the Kanto Rockets from getting more Legendaries,” he said matter-of-factly. “Nothing is more important than that right now.”

“*Then why not work together with the patrons? You could have helped them! You could have been chosen.*” The same questions Jade had asked. Tedious.

“I didn’t want to be chosen,” Sebastian said firmly. “I’ve known for a long time that wasn’t the best way for me to accomplish my goals.”

Latias stared up at him, utterly perplexed.

“Someone had to take over Team Rocket from within,” he went on, running his fingers gently across the glass. “Someone had to use their own methods against them. And most importantly… someone separate from the chosen had to have control over the Legendaries’ power.”

She stared downward, shaking her head slightly in disbelief. “*But… that doesn’t… why not help them now? You already declared your betrayal.*”

Sebastian was quiet for several seconds. “…I can’t. I still need the Johto Force, and I still need the resources that come with it. Especially if I’m right about what is going to happen next.”

“*What’s going to happen next?*” she asked in a small voice.

The tiniest trace of a grin appeared on his face. She was curious, was she? That would be his way in.

“Right now, I can only tell the ones closest to me—the ones I trust the most. It’s too dangerous to reveal too much.”

She tilted her head. “*Does Latios know?*”

“Yes.” He paused, then added, “He is my most trusted ally.”

Something flickered in her eyes, like he’d been hoping. Her brow was furrowed, like she couldn’t believe that was possible. Then her expression hardened. “*I’ve talked with you like you wanted. Can I see him now?*”

His first instinct was to say no. There was still more he wanted to say. But fulfilling her request would build trust. She’d be more likely to take him at his word later. It was worth it, to sow the seeds of loyalty.

Sebastian nodded. He couldn’t trust her not to kill him if he let her out, so he opened the release hatch again and let Latios out through it. The cobalt dragon had barely taken shape before the smaller red dragon tackled him, throwing her arms around his neck. Latios blinked for a few moments, clearly a bit disoriented. Then his eyes went wide when he realized what was happening, and he embraced Latias back, both dragons chirping happily.

“*I’ve missed you so much,*” Latias said, tearing up.

“*I know,*” Latios replied, screwing his eyes shut. “*I’m so sorry.*”

Latias blinked. “*Don’t apologize!*” she cried, hugging him tighter.

Latios opened his mouth to speak, but it took him several tries to find the right words. “*I’m just so glad that you’re here,*” he said softly. “*Even if it meant you had to be captured.*”

Latias frowned. “*I didn’t… I didn’t realize I’d get to see you again. Otherwise…*” She flattened her ears, looking conflicted. On the one hand, capture. On the other hand, reunion.

Sebastian watched silently. Against his better judgment, he felt conflicted as well. Obtaining Rayquaza still would have been the preferred outcome. But… bringing some comfort to his friend was a benefit as well.

When the two finally pulled away, Latias glanced around like she had just remembered that they were still in a cell. She looked up at Sebastian, her expression noticeably less hostile than it had been before, but still suspicious.

“*What are you going to do with us now?*” she asked coldly.

He decided to turn the question back on her. “Latios is helping me with my plans. He will be remaining by my side. What do you want to do now?” Keep the question vague. Don’t ask her to join outright.

Latias tilted her head, skeptical. She glanced back at Latios imploringly, and he avoided her gaze. “*It’s true,*” he managed.

The red dragon sank lower. “*You’re really going to stay here? Why?*” she asked quietly.

Latios kept his eyes on the floor. “*It’s important,*” he just said.

Sebastian exhaled slowly. Good. He could work with this.

“It’s like I said. We have to be very careful about who knows what we’re doing,” he said, pacing slowly in front of the glass. “That’s why we couldn’t say anything during the Hoenn mission.”

Latias glanced back and forth between him and Latios, utterly perplexed.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to recover from Rayquaza being taken by the Kanto force,” Sebastian went on. “That was a heavy blow.” He gave her a soft yet meaningful look.

Latias’s wings fell. “*I… I had to,*” she said, but she appeared to have some doubts.

“What’s done is done,” Sebastian said simply. “We can’t change our past mistakes, we can only try to move forward and put things right.”

Latias looked down, obviously troubled by his words, and looking like she wanted to say something in protest, but couldn’t figure out what. What argument could she give? If she believed it was her fault, then she had no choice.

But maybe she was feeling too troubled. He would need to give her some encouragement.

“Will you stay here with me and Latios? Will you help us fight? I know the two of you together will be able to make a difference.” Yes. They’d be stronger together.

“*I…*” She glanced at Latios. He tapped his claws together, saying nothing. Obviously, he wanted her to stay, but he didn’t want to tell her that she should.

Latias took a deep breath. “*I still don’t know about this. And I don’t trust you,*” she added, throwing a glare at Sebastian. “*But…*”—she turned back to Latios—“*this is important to you, so… I’ll believe in you.*”

She’d said yes. Of course she had. Was there ever any doubt that she would, in the end? He had her brother. That was all the leverage he needed. It was a small consolation for losing Rayquaza. But at least it was something.

“I have to go. Will you rest for the night in your Pokéball, or in here?” It wasn’t much of a choice. But offering it was good all the same.

“*In here,*” Latios replied.

Sebastian nodded. “Good night.” He turned and strode out of the room, pausing to shut the lights off before he did.

Five months of planning may have gone to waste, but it wasn’t a total loss. There was no changing the past. Only moving forward.






~End Chapter 47~

Next Chapter: The chosen and patrons level with each other.

~Chibi~
 
Last edited:

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Well that was certainly fascinating! I enjoyed getting a look at Sebastian's thought processes; I feel like I understand him more, but not too much more at once, if that makes sense? There's still some mystery, and now that the picture I've got of him has a few more details to it, I'm all the more invested in what's still to be explored.

Anyway, he's a smart one, isn't he. Smart, with a level of clarity that actually makes that intelligence usable and a very keen sense of how other people tick. It's no wonder at all that he advanced through the ranks as fast and as efficiently as he did; people like him, people who are super cognizant of others' inner workings without being overly affected by them, tend to excel in general, don't they. I have pretty much no doubt that he could've climbed the ladder just fine without a magic dragonplane on his side; there just wasn't time to dawdle around like that, and he knew it.

Nice nightmare scenes, especially the latter one. Heck yeah, body horror. :D Also I liked the little moment of semi-lucidity he had in that dream (thinking about Latias despite not having her yet in the time period where most of the dream took place and subsequently wondering why he would think he had her). What a cool, realistic detail. I'm not exactly a stickler for fictional dreams actually working the way real ones might, but when they do, it's extra neat. :D

Oh. And I happened to notice something in the garble at the end of that nightmare.
A name, there at the very end.
Coincidence? Red herring? Maybe. Maybe not. Time may tell...

Also, it was great to get a little better acquainted with his team! Silvan's kind of adorkable, and Vesta and Kaida are precious together (especially the cute autumn snuggles!).
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
I have a little less to say about Chapter 11, seeing as it's a less intense chapter than most. I think chapters like this are important! Downtime matters, transitional periods of time are key for context and to take a breath.

It was nice to see a trio of mid-stage kanto starters cooperating in a combat training scenario. Mid-stage starters deserve more love! It's so much more interesting than league-style practice matches, and as usual, you did a great job having the moves be more tactical and interesting than a test of strength.

Karen lol

It's good to see Jade learning. She might struggle with the study of theory and thinking stuff out, but she definitely picks stuff up in practice. Good going, kid. "Kid" is right—everyone in the rebellion is such a kid. It's so obvious when they pipe up and interact with each other than they're fairly immature adolescents. I can feel that "kids in war" floodwater approaching, oh gods. I will note that it felt like there were a ton of characters to keep track of this chapter, but I don't know whether that's likely to keep up for long or not. All I'll say is that it was a bit of a struggle to be sure of who each name actually was, but it wasn't a huge bother or anything.

I thought the food debt was a brilliant piece of worldbuilding to throw in. It's not just that Team Rocket are exploitative bastards who wring their employees' money out of them, it's that it explains why the grunts don't end up with any real spending money.

Chapter 12 has the sickest cover art yet! Damn! Wow! That bloodied Raikou! I especially like that it's well within reasonable limits, which has a lot more impact than just splattering the creature with gore.

Mostly I remember reading this being super hype and tense. You got the sense of urgency and danger down really well, I was low key so stressed for Jade. Once again she slips by people because they aren't paying attention, but surely that can't keep working!! Speaking of tension, it helps that I always seem to luck out with Haikyuu music when I read. Always a fitting track~

Big fan of that "none of us should get caught" attitude. The sunk costs aren't high enough to start considering yourself or your fellow teens as acceptable casualties~ ...yet~

The fight itself was awesome, in the "my inner adolescent thinks this is so epic" kinda way, but also in the sense that Raikou's legendary power really came through, even when they were on the back foot. I found myself terrified for the rebels, for Raikou, for the TR pokémon... big fan of the line about "Some could be recalled, others couldn't." That hit pretty hard!

I have to say that the actual plan they ended up going with was super badass, but also kindof an ass-pull? Don't get me wrong, it was so sick I was practically hand-flapping, and it came as a huge relief that they could still pull something off, but the degree of dexterity involved sounded near-superhuman. I also found myself wondering why the TR grunts didn't open the fight by launching some master balls, but it's one of those "because then there wouldn't be a kickass fight, dumbass" questions. I just assumed that a legendary would be strong enough to resist or destroy incoming capture devices unless weakened.

"Interlopers" is an interesting term to use for the rebels. I wonder if it has any more significance than "intruders on the fight."

I'm glad that it went well, but so nervous for Jade and her allies. I keep expecting them to get rumbled practically every paragraph! Excited to keep going, and sure Starr will turn up soon...

Ch13:
The mission is complete, and they get new pokémon! I'm almost as excited and happy as they are. Sucks about Jade's new pikachu, and I really like that this is what gets her to ask Stalker to approve the upcoming mission. I'm almost surprised Stalker approved the mission, but he seems all-in on expecting astonishing feats from young, inexperienced trainers. Alright!
Time to be Sneaky. Good stuff. Surely this is the last time she gets away with it...
Razors! Love to see him. This is gonna be good, I'm sure. His situation is so damn tragic!

Ch14:
Oops, ya ****ed up again. Always with the blunders. Gotta have disasters so the story can stay gripping!
Trauma and whump!! Love to see it.
Stracion finally appears! She was pretty fun, although I did feel she rather went on a bit justifying herself, and it felt odd for such a young Rocket to be complaining about the good old days. Despite the slightly weird dialogue, the battle itself was cool as hell. I would make an OTP joke, but I don't think you need that rigt now, bud!
I like that Jade gets to grab a couple of extremely cool experimental pokémon and that this is cool as ****, but they neither fall into her lap, nor present a particular asset for her it seems. They manage to be very exciting but without being contrived or anything, y'know?

Teleport Extra:
This was pretty cool! Surprised it's not threadmarked but you do you. Nice to learn a little more about it and its limits and why it's not a major logistics solution, and the presented justifications made plenty of sense. Good stuff, love to see a worldbuilding.

Ch15:
Mewtwo!!!! Very good miserable cat. Love to see him. The chapter art is very good as always: a moody, classic, musing Mewtwo moment.
Pretty terrified about Team Rocket possessing a mind-controlled super-psychic, which it looks like they have.
Loads of tension this chapter, I was so scared for Jade!
Astrid finally appears! I bet she's the one responsible for all this pain and trauma I've been anticipating. She is genuinely terrifying. "I never forget a face," holy ****. Oh **** oh **** oh god, Jade isn't gonna be able to sneak around any more! Jade please wear a ****-ton of cosmetics and coloured contacts and dye your hair. Different look every mission, please.
Loved that Astrid called Jade a little **** lmfao
The way you described Mewtwo's Pressure and how overwhelming his presence was one of my fave things about this chapter.

Misc. from above, **** my disorganised notes:
Ohohohohoho, I'm a big fan of Jade finally getting electrocuted. Good description, the pain is really gonna come now.
Also, Chibi being in pain as he tanks electric attacks. That was great stuff. I love stoic characters suffering through it, y'know?
(It is still so ****ing weird knowing two "Chibis" who are linked as author and character but have almost nothing in common besides!)
I'm very hype about the team of hybrid experiments. I want to know what their genetic deal is! I like how ****ing disagreeable they are and I get the feeling they're gonna be a handful.
I had a great time reading this chapter and I'm big fear.jpg about things getting much worse very soon. Great job by Chibi Q. Pika.

Ch16
Loved the reunion of Chibi and Razors, it was very touching. And painful! The way Chibi is struggling to come to terms with the fact that he'd got to the point of trying to kill Razors when this outcome was still possible... I love it.
Love that Flygon/Aros is so oppositional that he considers sleeping outside just to be difficult.
"Yes yes and yes" got a snort.
Jade's emerging trauma about thunder shock is very good, the way her narration puts it makes the horror of it plain and sickening.
Making a deal with the experiments was a fun scene. Stalker really is quite a character. What's his ****in deal?
Hooray, Chibi stays! I thought it might go that way, and I'm glad it did. Really pleased for them both.
Chibi's chronic pain is delicious. I don't have his pain, but the vibe is spot on.
Bless Jade! She is so sweet and humble. What the ****. What a likeable girl.
Firestorm also has trauma from helplessness! Excellent. Poor lad.
Jade helping him to learn a way to use fire punch was such a great scene! I haven't had the pleasure of reading many scenes like this, and I'm glad we get some besides TMs and that TMs aren't perfect anyway. Great stuff. Really cute.
FIRESTORM PAWNCH!
Lastly, I am ****in snorting at Firestorm's obvious crush and Jade's total smugness at spotting it. Wonderful.

Ch17
Sick chapter art as always!
Love a good threeway fight, this one was a lot of fun.
Go team Jade! I'll cheer for you guys!
Autumn! Love a good bit of Autumn, and a sense of time and place and sensory input.
I'm so touched and proud of them! I love them a lot, I'm gonna cry. It's really special to feel so fond of these guys.
Swift's interest in human affairs and contemplative temperament makes me suspect he'd take an offer from Perihelion.
INTERLOPERS! Very excited to know what that's about.
It's been 3000 years... since the last war. I'm guessing this element was introduced after Gen VI.
Desperate for the timeline where LC is an anime. I know it gets grimmer later, but ch17 is peak 'this should be an anime'.
The legend is so wordy! Very much a weird piece of writing. Intriguing.
Totally agree with Jade that Suicune and other Legends are pretty damn scary. Wonderful sense of presence.
Ah yes, this is a chosen one fic, oh my. I've not really read any chosen one fic, but this is still my favourite chosen one fiction I've ever read tbh. And that's this far in. I know there's so much wonderful content to come. I love your notes about avoiding pitfalls and will try to speculate as I read, even though speculation is hard for me!
Ah yes, explorers of pain and suffering. My heart is gonna break in the best way.
I'm so ****in' hype!

Ch18
Viridian base is pretty huge! It has a real sense of scale and a military vibe. Team Rocket really does feel like a paramilitary organisation here, and not a glorified crime cabal. I like that take on them, you know.
Darren's banter with Jade is good and funny here.
**** yeah, this mission has that vibe like when you return to tutorial level where you had a scripted loss to a boss and now you get to **** em up!
Lmfao I spotted a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. It's been memed on too much for me not to just grin at it.
**** they got accidentally captured I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN.
Jade has opinions about high tech plausibility that surprise me. It feels weirdly intrusive and unimmersive that she should be commenting on whether electric type energy is easier to handle with tech, or how plausible these devices are.
The escape from the truck was tense as hell, very good, exciting.
Brainwashed legendaries are really ****ing scary and really ****ing sad. That's a good plot element right there.
Hi Chibi's bird parent! I like that he gets a little moment to touch his feathers. I like that the birbs each have their own takes on entei turning up and are distinct personalities.
The word 'wave' gets used 4x in a single paragraph and that's egregious Sorry!! It feels mean to point out but I still gotta arrest you for repetition crimes.
Aros and Stygian but no Razors... surely there's a reason? Poor Chibi wants his bro and I feel for him.
"Protect each other" is a lovely phrase. I hope this is a theme getting name-dropped. I'd use it in the trailer for LC anime. It gave me emotions.
The word 'crap' sure gets thrown around a lot and helps cement these kids as being kids. It's a little harder to remember that many Rockets are actually also super young.
Super battle! Very fun! The sheer tension! The close call! Mew! It Mew!!
My hype levels at the end of this chapter closely matched how tired I was at the time, sorry!

Ch19
Mew's characterisation as a sad god is good, I'm convinced they're complacent and gonna get completely curbstomped by TR.
The way Mewtwo doesn't even have the agency to take out Mew without orders is killing me. All his agency is gone in the worst way.
Jade is a more competent trainer! Ya love to see it! So proud of her.
Hooray for Stalker! I'm glad we don't spend too much time drooling over his awesomeness in the heat of battle, however.
Oh man the situation got so much worse so fast. I have a feeling that I'll be saying this a lot going forward.
Pretty hype about Chibi's power and its potential. I thought Jade might use him to drain the forcefield, actually.
Lmfao Aros only cares about Stygian. It's endearing even though it's kindof an asshole trait.
The return of jeep forcefields! Not a bad continuity moment there.
The return of ****ing suicune! Oh man. Epic.
The ebb and flow of battle is wild, holy **** this is intense. Great stuff.
Dude so many guys are ****in dead and I bet Team Rocket doesn't even have dental. How can you expect grunts to stay loyal when you don't even give them dental and they might get burned or electrocuted to death in the line of duty?
Mew's teleporting in the battle is a great way to use their signature trick in an effective way. Good stuff.
Jade is empathetic and I love her. She really cares. I love characters who care.
The return of Astrid!! Terrifying. Whenever she turns up, I can really feel Jade's fear.
Aros gets owned in this holy ****. I kindof expected him to be overconfident and get stomped, but it's really brutal and I love how it goes down.
Jade is bold, I love it.
Chibi is protective, I love it.
The wounds are brutal, I love it.
WHUMP YEEEAAAHHH!
Big fan of how Jade performs at her highest level ever at heroism only to get absolutely stomped at the last minute. Oof.
Wonderful finish to the chapter, absolutely losing my nut at this point to get to the next.

Ch20
Love this chapter art a lot. Goddamn. The anticipation is thick.
Oh, the fear Jade is going through is exquisite, oh my.
You mattered, Jade! You made a difference! I'm so proud! Sucks that you're gonna get ****ING TORTURED FOR IT.
INJURIES YEAH! Big fan of some nasty descriptions of characters having been thumped badly.
Wind up watch sounds like a brilliant idea lmfao.
Planning for your inevitable next electrocution? Oh HONEY. oh nooooo. We're about to be well beyond planning for the next time you suffer a quick jolt.
I'm scared for her! Torture is scary!! Astrid's presence is deeply intimidating.
Love that Jade is nauseated looking at Raichu. Not panicky, but sick. It's an interesting little distinction.
Love that she takes the first hit on purpose, love that defiance. Big fan of that.
Love that she starts being incapable of answering and just mumbles nonsense. Oh, Astrid. Torture doesn't work. She's just a kid. You're going about this with such little thought. You must be really torn up about this to be so sloppy.
I didn't notice at first, but the implicit clothes-wetting is an excellent line. How dreadfully sad that is.
Oh no, I love her, she's trying so hard and so scared. I want her to succeed. I feel like I wouldn't do any better in this situation.
Love when Stracion turns up and the sound of footsteps is terrifying. I actually also expected it to be Astrid back for round two.
Very surprised at the rescue but very excited. It's good stuff.
Poor Jade. She did her best but she feels so humiliated.
Love the stuff about the shower and burning the clothes it happened in.
Love her cluster bomb of negative emotions and confusion at being exempted.
Love how awful everything is even after it went as well as could be expected.
The shock Jade's in is handled really well, and we truly are in The Good **** now. Delighted to have finally reached this point.
...
So.
That was the electrocution.
I'd been wondering for a few chapters if Astrid would turn out to be Starr, given the stellar names, similar appearance, and the whole electrocution thing. I don't think I actually suspected anything until Astrid's second(?) appearance, in which she electrocutes Jade for the first time. The line about never forgetting a face helped, but I also overthought it a bit. I still felt there was a 20% chance that Astrid was Starr's colleague, and not her alias.
My expectation for the scene, albeit one based on nothing, was that Jade would finally realise this person was her former friend during the interrogation, and although I knew there was a possibility that she wouldn't realise until later, I wasn't sure why the deception was in play, or why Jade hadn't realised by now. As it turned out, I had misunderstood or misremembered the timeline, and thought it had only been three years for some reason. Five is a lot more, and that tracks.
I can also think of plenty of reasons why Starr wouldn't reveal her identity, but I was expecting it to be confirmed unambiguously to give me something concrete to react to. The way things went down, I was very sure that Astrid was actually Starr as early as chapter 15, and just waiting for hard evidence out of fear of being wrong. I read through the interrogation waiting for the realisation to hit, and when it didn't, I doubted myself even though it literally couldn't have had another reasonable explanation. I'm genuinely sorry that my reaction wasn't what you were hoping for! I wish I'd told you on the phone like a week ago what my theory was, damnit. I'd have felt so ****ing clever!
Anyway. The torture was excellent, albeit not quite how I had expected. I didn't get a kinky vibe at all, you may be happy to hear. I love a good scene like this, and I'm desperate at this point to read on and get the rest of the Astrid-Starr content. Part of me wonders if there's more torture to come...

Ch21
It's the depression pit chapter! It's a good pit.
Lmao at the forcible reminder that pokémon speak anime-style. I tend not to think about it much.
Jade is very sad, Firestorm is trying so hard to help in his dumbass way, my heart hurts.
Looooove the depression. It's a leviathan mood. Really well-handled.
Swift can exchange money for goods and services. Swift is the MVP and I love him and his epic patience.
And I love Jade's 'depression brain', it's really well written and the bullshit logic is very familiar.
Lmao at how Chibi waits for days to talk to Jade and he's just venting about Razors. Get a load of this guy.
Hooray mantis ptsd is tasty. Really enjoy his very specific flavour of traumatisation.
Battle was good fun. Always enjoy an LC battle, and I love how Razors holds back in a sortof bullshit way bc of his fear.
Don't worry, Razors isn't suicidal, haha! He only doesn't care about living except to not further **** up Chibi! Surely that'll pay off! Haha!
I've been waiting for a real discussion about the former commander before deciding, and I reckon Stalker isn't that person. I don't think this is the kind of fic that drops mention of a plot point like this three times only for it to be confirmed somehow later. I think it's a bigger twist.
I'm so hype for ch22 after that ominous ending A/N, wtf, WILL THERE BE AN WHUMP?

Ch22
Gorgeous terrifying chapter art on this one.
Omg it's an attack on the base?? I'm a fan of this sort of sequence, they're really terrifying.
How did they get the intel? Who squealed? I must know.
Holy **** kid death I have been waiting for this and it is DARK. It's not too much of a tonal drop off a cliff, but it's still a gutwrenching transition.
This is really nailing the terror oh wow. Everything is so terrible and confusing.
It's painful to hear dialogue from a kid not realising their friends are ****in dead yet.
Moltres is epic and terrifying, Stalker is really cool.
Holy **** it's Astrid and she's scary. Her appearances are increasingly fearsome.
Massive copyka at Jade's freakout and Astrid's hesitation. How must she FEEL to hear that horrified "stay away from me" from her friend?
Man I know what this is all setting up for, oh my god.
The Tyson scene is ****ed up. I'm a fan of horrifying use of mindcontrol to turn allies against each other.
OH MY GOD WHAT A BUTTON THAT JUST PUSHED. I don't even know if I knew I had that button, but the throat-slitting moment was incredibly intense. Goddamn.
Holy ****? That murder sure just happened. It's... just barely within my schema for taking seriously, though. The leg crunch was fantastic, but something felt slightly off about the repeated iron tail and extended screaming. Not sure what, I'm afraid.
Trauma brain really well written here.
Everything is so awful and it's a lot and I love it.
Chibi you **********er. The long game you played with wartortle was perfect and I'm upset. I particularly love how Firestorm thinks it's a matter of strength, even though he knows that even Legendaries are vulnerable to Team Rocket. What a little idiot.
There is so much I love about Jade's state of shock. It's a perfect sequence. Horrifying things occurring to her, blank responses. Great stuff.
There is nothing Stalker could have said that would have been okay after all that. The message he left almost feels... shameless. But this was always a guy using kids for espionage against a ruthless paramilitary organisation, no matter how badass he is.
Wow Jade sure has noooooo choice now about continuing with the rebellion oh god. She's talking about it like she has a choice, but she's not safe any more.
Also, the "I'm sorry" extra comic is amazing. I love it so much, and my favourite thing about it is Chibi's expressions.

Ch23
Sucks that jade was only just getting progress on trauma and now everything is so much worse
Hooray for experiments officially joining her
"Razors wasn't my pokemon" BUT YOU CAAAAARRRRE! It's okay to grieve him!
"Meeting up with Starr" lmfao you don't KNOW. She's about to REALISE. AAAA.
Jade is almost as slow to internalise new things about herself as I am lmfao. You moron, you're a proficient trainer now!
Chibi's return is rough. What did this dude do, go beat up randoms until he was ready to drop dead?
Jade's grief brain is well-written. You've managed to pull off the most incredible shock brain, trauma brain, depression brain, and now grief brain. It's solid stuff. I'm especially a fan of how Jade keeps telling herself that her reactions aren't reasonable or fair or logical. Bless this poor girl.
The fact that Jade assumes if she's not about to die she's about to be tortured, and her reaction to this is worse, is agonising.
I really enjoy how Astrid-Starr is just at her wits' end in this. I think organically it would just come off as an executive under enormous pressure after her interrogation subject escaped, but knowing what I do, it comes off as absolutely heartbreaking.
Aaaaaaaaa I love that you put so many delicious parallels in BLC.
Aaaaaaaaa THE REVEAL THE REVEAL IT IS GOOD IT IS GOOD. What a great delivery. Perfect.
I can't believe Jade came this close to realising in Ch15. Omg.
I love that you were dropping little bits of info as early as Ch1, with that whole "17yo executive" thing.
Wow there's a lot in this that I love, especially with what I already know from elsewhere. I'm really enjoying these little notes about Starr's emotional state, what matters to her, the turmoil... it's all fantastic. It actually made me go back and read various scenes from both LC and BLC.
Big fan of Astrid-Starr's angry recriminations and defenciveness and it makes me excited to see more of her and how this subplot will go. I'ts my favourite thing.
I wonder if Jade could have thought of Starr a few more times over the course of the previous chapters. I recall she mentions Starr just a very little in the opening chapters, but that's all that comes to mind. I've been continually wondering if this would happen, actually.
Holy **** that extra was so ****ing good. I love everything you write from Starr's POV. It's delicious. It's very Duskcore, but easily distinct enough that I don't feel I'm cribbing, which just means it's especially tasty.
I love Starr, I love this fic, aaaaaaa I am just full of feelings holy ****.

The Experience of Binging 19-23 In One Night:
As you know, because I liveblogged draft versions of most of the above to you last night, I stayed up until 4:40am reading LC. I've very rarely done that sort of thing, and though I was sleepless to begin with last night, it is the compelling nature of LC that made me stay up so late. It was a rough experience to be awake that long reading brutal stuff happening to Jade, but I loved it. No regrets whatsoever, and I can see myself doing it again.
I am very very much enjoying this story.
I love it, in fact.
The experience of loving this story is doing weird things to my head and heart, also.
It's a fun adventure fic which deconstructs a lot of established tropes, has dark content written well, fun battles, hits countless buttons to the point of qualifying as a sister fic to my own, is really long with sick art and characters I'm fond of, a redemption arc not based in romance but in being better for one of my favourite characters I've ever read, I'm close enough friends with the author to stay up all night babbling about my reactions, and there's still so much left to go
Not to mention I have a unique and exciting relationship to the story by way of BLC.
It's an incredible experience for me. I'm deeply emotional as I write this. My heart aches. I've wanted this experience of really, really, REALLY caring about a fic to the point of sacrificing sleep to it and exchanging feelings with the author, for years and years.
I feel very lucky, and very grateful.
And I can't wait to keep reading.
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
Ugh, finally got around to reading ch24! Gonna avoid cluttering my reading list until I'm caught up with LC, I think. Right, here goes:

The dialogue about the Starr reveal is just slightly off, somehow. I think it's the incredibly direct way Jade drops the info, since Ajia's reaction tracks. No biggie, though.
Ajia is good, I love her. I can already tell at this point that she's going to be fun to read, she's got this ludicrous boldness that comes with clowning on Rockets for too long while going unscathed. I'm confident it will blow up in her face eventually. Or Jade's!
Espeon! It's just nice to see another of my faves.
Aww hugs!!!! I love to see a hug, and I don't think we've had any special hug moments yet. Fleeting, but nice.
Ajia is picking up where they left off but I'm glad Jade gets to feel like a stranger. It's lovely, but perhaps naive, that Ajia treats Jade the way she does, and it really shows how big the gap between them is. Sure, it's closed a little now that Jade is a trainer with experience fighting Rockets, but just as that's closed the gap, a new one has opened in the form of Jade's traumatic experiences which Ajia sure doesn't seem to intuit.
Holy ****. Jade is really hammering herself about Moltres. That paragraph about how Moltres will never make any further benevolent appearances ever again almost feels like too didactic a paragraph, except that it really suits Jade's brain gremlins tbh.

Love that Jade wishes she'd gone with Ajia even though she can't know how it would have gone. I somehow doubt that Ajia would have been able to give her the same value of experience as the Rebellion (for all that the Rebellion damaged her), and Ajia sure seems like the sort of person to be incautious about Jade's safety in the name of mad plans. AU where they travelled together and got captured due to Ajia's overconfidence in Jade's rookie abilities, that sounds delightfully painful. Speaking of AUs, I'd love to read some of those noncanon indulgences you keep mentioning.

Lmfao Ajia can harass Starr literally whenever she likes, apparently. I'd honestly be surprised if she hasn't done something like this already, given her near-nonchalance about it.
It's very interesting that Starr doesn't distinguish between believing in the Rocket cause and coerced loyalty. I mean, I don't know yet but I definitely know that she was raised to be part of TR, so I already understand that it's a matter of never having a choice in membership, a matter of being groomed, a matter of not having it in her to discard her family however awful it is, and so on. She's crazy young to be an executive, and I totally get what that means. And of course in order to live with that, she has to deal, psychologically, with the incompatibility between her situation and stuff like compassion, friendship, mercy, and even a desire to choose her own life. She can't entertain those thoughts, it isn't safe in the evironment she's stuck in. Ajia's interference is the sort of thing it would take to force her out at this point, clearly, but at this point I'm wondering just how bad the fallout will be...

Ajia holy **** are you gonna blackmail Starr into leaving? Apparently. This sucks because she's removing Starr from a terrible situation where she has no agency (child soldier), via a terrible situation where she has no agency (framed as traitor), to put her in a terrible situation where she has no agency (on the run from Super Mafia).
Ajia's plan is absolutely bullshit oh my god I have no idea how this is gonna go and I'm scared!! If this goes even close to how she intends, it definitely won't be a good thing, and there are so many ways it can go worse.
Jade snooping around a TR base while terrified of being caught is nostalgic by now, given how many times it's happened.
Umbreon! Love an umbreon. Ajia has those Wes vibes, what with being a cool but somewhat shady trainer with Johto eeveelutions fighting an evil gang.
Pichu is impressive! Love to see unevolved pokémon kicking some ass.
There is totally a need to be so sappy. Recent events have been dreadful and we need some friendship and comfort, goddamnit.
I'm a fan of them using plans like Espeon's return and teleport gambit and combat supplements, it's nice to see nonstandard methods of dealing with problems via pokémon.
Lampshading texting Giovanni doesn't make it less wild that Ajia totally just texted Giovanni. Wow.
Starr's swearing text!! Love to get to things you've told me about in advance.
Oh my god it actually happened, Giovanni turned up, the plan worked? And he thinks Starr is a double agent. Still pretty sure she's his daughter and I would be sure even if it was just for the Viridian thing in the prologue, of course. But anyway that's rough as hell, oh god. He's not even phased. He just sics his goons on her.
"I can't believe I actually cared about you two" is such a rough line, it has related energy to "stay away from me!" Lines like that where friendships crumble are so rough on my heart.
Chatlog is pretty interesting. I guess Lexx came up in the prologue, huh? Everyone from that school is probably either a Rocket or a resistance fighter in some way, ha.

Excited to be on the Starr redemption arc at last! Oh boy. Seeya next chapter.
 
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