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Fanfiction The Redwood Saga

Discussion in 'Literature Library' started by Sahqoreyth, Mar 2, 2019.

  1. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 18: The Way of the Hyper Voice

    Hrothofkiin – The Seidr's Isle, Norstad

    On the Seidr's Isle, there is an order of men, rather than Pokémon, who make their home in the volcano-riddled hellscape and use the power of their Voices to keep the elements from annihilating their fortress. It is known, as Hrothofkiin.

    Pokémon do inhabit this fiery island. Species like Magmar, Magcargo, even a smaller breed of Charizard, but they take little notice of the humans within their midst. Indeed, most have no idea what humans even look like. This balanced ecosystem of fire and ice is one of the last places on the planet free of human meddling.

    In this high fortress among the volcanic peaks of flame and ash, the 'Graybeards' as the locals call them, watch over their homeland of Norstad, from one of the three highest locations in the region, the other two being Ymir's Wahlom, and Valaskjalf, the home of those who ride Articuno.

    It is as their nearest and greatest of volcanic peaks erupts, with a fury they've not seen in generations, that the Graybeards consult with the two elder members of their order. Koraaviik, the only man known to be able to read the Dragon Scrolls, and Zuwuth, the leader of their order.

    The assembled men, all gray, bearded, and cloaked in similarly colored gray robes, bow to their leader. Zuwuth's Voice is rarely heard, for he rarely speaks. His power is truly fearsome, but today, he must speak. Luckily, all those assembled can withstand the power of his Voice. For a time.

    "My brothers…" He says, speaking the tongue of Dragons in but a whisper that causes the innermost chamber of their fortress to shudder, and shake loose dust and rock, "The Fairy King has passed on his knowledge of the Voice…to an outsider…and it has awoken something… something perhaps better left...asleep."

    A few of the younger and not-so-gray bearded men murmured softly to each other, but the elders continued to listen. "Hush." The command from their leader filled the room, and silenced all other tongues with his thunderous whisper.

    He spoke again, once more in soft and hoarse tones. "The Scrolls have been consulted…Koraaviik senses not malice from this outsider, but hope. For our people. For the future. Clad in the bones of dragons...he brings change wherever he goes. This is only part of what the Scrolls foretell. Koraaviik believes that now, where the Scrolls become vague...is our best chance to positively influence...this new Speaker. If we do not...the power of his Voice may unbalance everything. According to what we know...he hunts a foul presence, recently come to our lands. You have all felt the presence I speak of."

    Indeed they had, for a brief moment. Pure, undiluted anger, rage, fury, all backed up by a power that, to their finely honed senses, had seemed utterly foul. "For this reason...this outsider must be brought here." Zuwuth continued to speak, and the soft, but powerful reverberations of his Voice continued to shake them all. "He must be taught our Way. His Voice must become stronger, for this outsider's presence has been noticed by more than just us. Ymir has sent word. The World Eater stirs once more...and we must venture to the mainland to give what aid we can, preferably before He rises again."

    The bearded men shared several looks, and then, as one, nodded, and waited for their leader to appoint someone to leave. They did not leave often, and did not do so lightly. The people of their land had a tendency to worship them as minor deities because of the power their Voices had, something none of them wanted, but admittedly enjoyed. While it lasted. Always, they returned to Hrothofkiin.

    "Koraaviik shall fetch him." The murmurs started up again, largely in protest, but Zuwuth cut through them once more with the power of his authority, and his Voice. "Koraaviik has yet to leave this place...but there is none more skilled in our Way. He will bring this outsider to us as quickly as he can...and then we shall test his Voice."

    The murmuring stopped. There was a reason only twenty or so Graybeards existed. They rarely recruited, and often, those they did recruit would be torn apart in this very test. The applicants needed to survive the unbridled power of four Voices for as long as they could. The minimum was thirty seconds.

    Only Zuwuth had lasted longer, though how long exactly, nobody knew. He was a private old man, and kept to himself. Often, applicants would barely last five seconds, and be torn apart by the sheer power of their better's Hyper Voice. That was simply how it was, and the people of Norstad knew this. Yet every year they came regardless, seeking power. It was their way.

    This stranger, whoever it was, would likely die if tested so quickly. The fact that Zuwuth knew this, and proceeded anyway, was odd. Their order valued all life, an unpopular opinion in Norstad, and thus they thoroughly disliked testing applicants. Often, the masters who did the testing needed months to recover from the sadness of losing a promising pupil.

    This was a stranger, though. A foreigner. It was likely that only a few would feel sadness if he failed. The universal dislike of outsiders pervaded even here, in this fortress of tolerance and ancient knowledge.

    Koraaviik departed then and with his Voice, tamed one of the Charizard in the nearby volcanic areas. Though they were small, due to a lack of berries, their forms were actually capable of diving into the freezing sea, for what they truly lived on. Fish. Like most Charizard, their tail flames could handle being under water, for a brief time. This offshoot's tail's burned even in the water, making longer dives possible. Their wings had also adapted to cut through not only air, but water, and would not freeze.

    They were strong fliers as well, for often they had to range many miles from the island just to find enough fish to satiate their hunger. Koraaviik's mount had been forced to aid him, but in appreciation of the strength of his Voice, agreed to bear him for as long as his journey lasted. The Charizard of the isle often did this when the Graybeards needed to leave, as they were the only local species with wings. They didn't mind, provided they were fed.

    Koraaviik had seen the nature of this new force of change within the Dragon Scrolls. Once they'd been returned from Unova's Elite Four history specialist, who had deciphered new passages about future events, he had been eager to meet the hero described, face to face. Zuwuth had, at first, denied him. But his skill at Tinvaak was unmatched in their order, and finally, the aged elder had agreed to let him go. He hadn't been back to Norstad's mainland in decades. He was eager to see his home.

    A sound like thunder boomed for miles as the seer and his mount approached the fierce winds surrounding the mountains between the island and the mainland. The wind stopped. The snow halted. His Charizard flew through, unfazed. The Pokémon had sometimes seen the powerful humans stop volcanoes with their voices. Wind, by comparison, was nothing.

    The Revak Feykro - Norstad Region

    After several nights of sleep while Alex and Jess crossed the incredibly vast, barren tracts of icy tundra, Alex finally felt better after his encounter with Percival. Indeed, at that very moment, as he rode atop Shruikan's head, he felt wonderful.

    He could feel this new power, and whatever it had awakened, eager to push forth. To be used. But both he and Jess had agreed that until he knew what he was doing, he shouldn't try using the Hyper Voice.

    The desire to do so anyway burned brightly despite this. He was like a spoiled child on Festivus Eve, staring at a large present that he had an inkling about the contents of, and wanted to enjoy. He wanted to shout to the heavens in this new, strange, tongue. Just to see what would happen. But he resisted, and patiently rode on. Bad things tended to happen to those who just blindly jumped into using new powers and Alex had read enough comics to know better. That didn't curb the temptation, though.

    After two days of hearing his thoughts, Jess was rather sick of reminding him not to start using this new power. They'd agreed to go and get Connor, before trying to find out where Xerneas was. It made sense to visit the Articuno riders first. They had implied they knew where Xerneas was after all. Pravus would likely seek them out as well. Probably in a disguise. It's what Alex would've done, in his situation, now that he was evidently stripped of Yveltal.

    Finally, Shruikan brought his riders over the 'sacred woods' they'd stumbled onto previously. The downed airship was all but buried in snow. There was no sign of human life. Alex swore quietly, and continued on. If Pravus had beat them here, this could get a lot harder. Shruikan circled the downed ship thrice before skirting around the eastern edge of the woods.

    They flew slowly, obviously, unthreatening, or as unthreatening as a black Salamence could be. Alex had even tried taking the helmet off, only to discover that it wouldn't budge. None of their glamoured armor would, it seemed, unless they needed to relieve themselves. It seemed they'd be wearing it forcibly until they brought Xerneas to Percy. The lack of freedom to copulate would speed their journey considerably. The 'High King' had read them well.

    Alex's neck hairs rose as they flew further alongside the edge of the forest. He could feel eyes on them and more than one Articuno could overpower Shruikan. He'd hit them as well though, with an electric attack, before they plummeted to an icy death. The clouds were always stormy in this region, and his electric bolts were quite strong. To attack the intrusive dragon was to ensure fainting of all parties, and a likely fatal drop for their riders.

    "Jess…you should join me up here, and do the talking. I get the feeling they don't care for men, and right now, I look like a local." He sensed her amusement at his mental words, and Shruikan slowed again, as the woman floated up to hold onto the free head spike, limned with her deep scarlet pinkish aura. They could both fly true, but Tao had warned them ceaselessly, almost to the point of madness, that they were not to, under any circumstance, waste their power.

    Small tricks like glowing eyes were easy. Flying, especially for Alex and his larger form, wasted too much energy at the moment. Jess had a smaller build though, and thus could fly whenever she pleased. In terms of psychic power, she had gained an advantage. Her Delphox had favored her, and Arthur was bound by the Swamp Sage not to teach Alex any more until he was told to do so.

    Not long after Jess joined him upon Shruikan's larger head spikes, a pair of Articuno gracefully arced down to them, and flew on either side of their dragon. He eyed the Articuno, as they eyed him, ready to attack if provoked. Though as they saw the ferocity of the dragon's gaze and the sparks around his intimidating fangs, the birds seemed to drift away, slightly.

    They spoke the tongue of Norstad, and for the first time, Jess was glad Alex had pushed Percy into sharing it with both of them. It had seriously affected her lover, enough to make him too exhausted for copulation. Even though he'd recovered now, she still had suspicions about Percy, no matter how well he made a Sunrise.

    "Hail, strangers. Why are you flying in this region?" The blonde haired female rider on their right had spoken first. The left rider, a severe looking woman with raven hair, simply stared at Alex, and he gave a slight nod. The severe expression lessened slightly from outright disgust to cold ambivalence.

    Jess answered, as they'd both mentally agreed she was the one being addressed. "Well met, rider. We fought alongside your clan at the airship by the edge of the forest. We've come to see my brother, Connor."

    Alex and Jess shared a look as they saw the blonde woman blush. Her stony demeanor melted in an instant, and she looked almost shy. "Right…Connor…right…he's umm, this way." The Trainers shared another look as the two riders pulled ahead of their dragon, who sped up to match them. Shruikan knew if he lost sight of them, this mountainous area would make them hopelessly lost. He had no idea what Norstad looked like, he'd seen no maps, and his Trainer hadn't thought to ask for one.

    Thankfully, he kept pace easily. They banked up, suddenly, and Shruikan followed, every bit as graceful. At least to Alex's eyes. They could both sense Jess watching the birds, and felt how badly she wanted one. She didn't know what one had to do to acquire such a partner, but she was so very willing.

    The two riders paused at the edge of a sheer cliff, and waved them over. The three looked down, and took in their first view of the rider's home. "Welcome…to Valaskjalf."

    Thus far, Norstad had looked like a frozen wasteland, acted like a frozen wasteland, and felt like a frozen wasteland. It was cold. Barren. Cold. Icy. And cold. Alex sighed in relief as he felt the warmth coming from below, and spied the source of it. Hot springs. A village full of lovely Legendary Bird riders, and they, even now, were bathing in hot springs.

    Jess punched him, hard, as she knew where his eyes were wandering, driven by instincts older than their race. While the women below were indeed as lovely as their icy mounts, he knew they couldn't compare to his love. Even if their 'endowments' put hers to shame, he was glad he didn't feel any temptation to try to seduce one. Partly because he guessed how that would go, but mostly because Jess was all he needed and he refused to even contemplate an action that might ruin things with her. He didn't care about size of 'assets', either as by this point he knew how to handle her body. After so many days of camping in icy caves he was tempted to find a secluded hot spring for them, but that wouldn't happen, so long as their damned armor didn't come off.

    He just smirked, looking up from the mostly steam-shrouded ladies below to meet Jess and her eyes. "Connor must not want to leave. I can't say I blame him."

    Unlike the rest of Norstad, Valaskjalf was nestled in a lush clifftop valley of green grass, trees with leaves of gold and red, and below, in the depths of the fjord it occupied, was a massive black lake, dark and foreboding. Both he and Shruikan felt their gazes drawn there.

    Their view was interrupted by the massive form of a white Articuno flying up in front of them. There was a screeching sound as the Articuno's rider brought her spear up to Alex's neck, covered mostly by the horned dragon bone helmet. His staff, which was now disguised as a Greatsword, had caught the spear, and the weapons shivered as they pushed against each other.

    "Lokra! Stop! We're allies!" The spear lowered at the sound of his voice, and the words of the dragon's tongue. The ice and electric attacks that had formed in their mount's maws faded. Neither had wanted to take the first shot. Lokra, however, never hesitated.

    She eyed him for a moment, then smirked. "I know those eyes. You're the Trainer. An…interesting outfit you've chosen...and you know our words, too...so quickly..." The massive white bird flapped backwards, twice, and was over the village again. "Come! Your friend awaits!"

    The large bird arced then, swooping back down into the village, where Alex finally got a sense of scale for it. Next to Iizlokraan, the buildings were quite large. She was too big for most of them, though, as he got a sense of her size against fellow Articuno as well. They seemed to be thriving here, and he was glad places like this still existed, even if there was a bit of a confusing bias towards men. In fact, looking around, he saw exactly zero males, but every woman he stared at too long seemed to glare back at him.

    They landed soon after Lokra did, and much of the villagers, entirely women and small children, who were also female, stared at the massive black Salamence in their midst. Some murmured whispers of Alduin, and Shruikan finally asked who this Alduin was, according to these humans. Alex gave him a mental explanation of what he knew of the character, but warned that there was likely more to it. Reality always had more to it. If a dragon type had earned that name even from humans who flew on Legendary Birds, it had to be formidable indeed. A nugget of Percy wisdom floated up from his brain then, and he shared that, as well with his dragon. The people of Norstad often used many names for their gods, demigods, and Pokémon of importance. Alduin's other names, ones not influenced by Percy's nerdiness, would give more clues as to the dragon's nature, though, Alduin the World Eater seemed to sum him up in the local's eyes.

    Jess spoke for them, only half paying attention to his mental words. "So. Lokra. What has my brother been up to, exactly?"

    The aged woman smirked, hopping down from the lofty perch her mount had taken. "See for yourself." She led the way into the largest building, one that had steam leaking from the roof of it, and with one look inside, Alex knew they'd found the center of this village.

    "And that's how we recombined the three Legendary Dragons of Unova into One Dragon, and brought about a new golden age for our people." Connor's voice wafted out nearby, and Alex smirked. Someone might as well use that line. He didn't need it.

    There was Connor, his friend, half nude, and surrounded by a spring's worth of similarly un-clad women. Many didn't even have clothes on, and the steam did nothing to hide any of it. Looking up, Connor saw the fuming face of his suddenly-brunette sister, and the smirk of his rival, underneath what looked like a helmet straight from a video game that he too was quite familiar with. "Oh, Muk."

    The girl's attention suddenly shifted towards them, and Alex crossed his arms, staying silent, and hopefully imposing. His instinct said to let Jess talk here. This was clearly a matriarchal society, and he didn't want to know what they did with the males of their tribe. Historically, such villages never had very humane methods used for regulating the gender not in power, and as pretty as the village was, this was still Norstad. Everything was earned here, including reputation, and often done so through violence.

    "Making maps are we, brother?" Jess walked up to the edge of the spring, which was still the natural rock that it had formed in. The villagers had built around it, and carved it a bit in certain places. Being a main spring, this one had depictions of Articuno all over it.

    Connor laughed, scratched the back of his head, and shrugged. Alex had rarely seen him in such good spirits since their reunion. He'd been edgy, short tempered, and sharp tongued. Apparently steam and breasts had returned him to something resembling his younger self. "Yes, well, there was no need for a map. After I rescued Billy, there was nothing to really…do…until you two returned. So. What did I miss?"

    Jess looked ready to chew him out some more, when her brother snapped his fingers. Gren appeared, suddenly, and judging by the gazes of the many women in the spring with him, they were impressed.

    Gren offered an egg to Jess, not fooled by the illusion around her, and she stared at it as it began to shiver in her hands. A crack appeared on the shell, and she looked slightly panicked, thinking her touch had somehow ruined an egg, until she looked at the women sharing the spring with her brother for guidance. The girl's faces had gained smiles at the sight of the egg, their eyes wide with wonder. This was expected, then.

    Realizing what was likely about to hatch, Alex put a hand on her shoulder, and told her his suspicions, via their link. She grinned. No one on record had ever seen a baby Articuno. No one, on record, had even seen an egg, let alone a hatching one. The sound of lovely chirping filled the immediate room, and the shell didn't last long as it glowed a bright white, before a small burst of icy breath split it apart, shattering it into tiny frozen chunks of ice.

    Like her kin in this feminine paradise, the little female was a lighter blue than the Articuno seen in other parts of the world. Each talon stood unsteadily on Jess' hands as the baby bird met her Trainer's lovely eyes. She chirped happily, and lifted her damp wings towards Jess' face. Her Trainer didn't seem to care that the baby was covered in egg juice still, they nuzzled each other, and knew their bond was permanent. She named the baby Articuno in the tongue of her homeland. Folokraan, or Fo, for short. She pressed a blue and gold Luxury Ball to the little Pokémon, and it dinged shut almost immediately. The bond was cemented.

    She let the baby out again immediately, and it chirped, happy to see her again, and now suddenly more dry and fluffy than damp and gooey. It was a lovely sound. Jess walked out of the hall then, completely forgetting her brother as intended, and onto the unoccupied wooden walkways that surrounded the main hall of the village, and allowed its inhabitants to traverse it by foot. Not that many of them walked.

    She pulled out her Froslass, and showed her the Articuno. Then, Jess asked the Froslass to consider staying in this place, to train, and live. There were signs all over the village about missing daughters, but nobody seemed to be investigating them.

    Lassi looked around at the entirely female paradise, and then at one of the posters. She nodded. Using her powers over the night, and over the cold, would likely overwhelm whoever was stealing little girls. This village was, also, beautiful. She could spend eternity looking at it. It truly was the ideal place for an icy, female ghost to spend an afterlife.

    She looked at her Trainer, and then her Articuno. She would be safe with a Legendary Bird by her side. Her voice was light and airy in Jess' head as she floated away into the paradise. "This is where I shall spend my eternity. Thank you, Trainer, for bringing me. The Snorunt will always be your friends."

    Jess turned to find Alex behind her, watching the ghost float away. "It's quite an honor, you know, to be allowed to spend your afterlife in Sovallah. This place…this is the hall that guards the gate, according to Percy's lore."

    Jess and the adorable little bird stared at him. Alex had a feeling the hatchling understood them perfectly. Jess spoke then, "I don't know about you, but I don't see a hall…I mean the village is nice, but it's not exactly Thor's Hall." She knew the legends as well as he did. They both could trace at least half of their lineage to Germania, a land known for worship of the 'old gods'. They'd been stamped out, buried, lost to time, and then recovered, but the stories had never left. With the recovery of the Old Net, they had simply regained their old names, which was fine, for the 'gods' in this area of the planet had always possessed many monikers.

    Alex found his gaze drawn back to the ominous lake of dark water below the village. "There's...something off about this place. You deal with Connor. I need to...look around." He'd been feeling a pull towards the lake below the village since they arrived. As if something in there demanded to see him. Shruikan felt it as well. Exactly as his Trainer did. It was a call to the dragon, and one who would call himself such. A challenge. He knew it then, as he watched Jess with her newest, and now fluffiest, party member. Percival's gift was calling to one of them more than the other. He'd altered or awakened something in Alex that simply hadn't happened with Jess.

    He stepped close to Jess then, and lifted his helmet, effortlessly. His eyes snared hers for once, and they kissed. The helmet came back down by itself once they'd parted, and he winked at her. "Train your new partner. I have a feeling this is going to take a while."

    With that, he raised a fist toward the heavens. He spoke the tongue of the dragons. "Rise."

    Shruikan's massive form shot past him, and he grabbed a head spike as it did. He climbed atop the dragon's thick neck, and the two flew out, slowly, over the basin below. Their senses tingled as they spied hundreds of icy, watchful eyes from the Articuno above.

    As they hovered over the lake, Alex sighed. He saw the telling shimmer of massive white feathers, and Lokra, upon her mighty mount, descended to their level. She spoke in the tongue of Norstad as well. "I thought I recognized your armor. It is not what you wore last time, Unova Champion."

    Alex nodded. "I went to see your High King. He gave me this outfit, and the...title of Dragonborn." He turned so she could see his cape, and its symbol. "Apparently it's in my blood. This...Well is calling to me…I must face it."

    Lokra regarded him for a long time. "The High King…pagh…fine. If Oberon thinks you are ready, by all means, awaken Nidhogg."

    Alex tilted his helmet-horned head at her. It seemed Percy also had other names, so he let that slide, and instead asked, "Sorry…Nidhogg?"

    Lokra nodded. "The dragon we sometimes call Alduin. The World Eater. He Who Sleeps At The Foot Of Yggdrasil. Go on then, Dragonborn. Summon him with your Voice!"

    Alex looked down at the well's churning, black waters, and nodded. Lokra ascended, and raised her hand. The riders, and their mounts, began to sing. He let the breath build within him as he prepared his Hyper Voice. His first Hyper Voice.

    He didn't know what he would say, and as he hesitated, he noticed something. A small flame, coming fast over the mountains to the west. Only one flying species had a flame-tail like that, and Alex let the breath go. That Charizard was coming straight for him. He decided to wait.

    The song faded as the fiery tailed intruder soared down beside the bone-covered Trainer, and his black scaled partner. As the song started to pick up again at Lokra's command, the man upon the smaller Charizard's back opened his mouth.

    Thunder boomed. The air itself shook, and any trace of the song the riders had been singing faded under the force of his power.

    "Not. Yet." The old man said, his voice echoing through the fjord. The very air shimmered between himself and Alex as they locked eyes.

    Alex nodded, and looked to Lokra. She swooped down to them, saw the man, sighed, and then flew up once more. "Sisters! The Graybeards come to interrupt our challenger. They mean to train him before the test commences." She turned to the old man. "You have two weeks. That is how long Nidhogg can wait for his meal, now that he has their scent."

    With a grunt that was more of a snarl, the gray-robed man motioned for Shruikan to come along as he and the Charizard took off. Alex looked at Jess, finding her easily despite not having the hair of flame to catch his eye. He nodded, and she did the same.

    They would stay connected, but it wouldn't be as…intimate as a connection was when in close proximity. That had been one of the first tricks Alex had asked Tao to teach him properly. Jess had asked as well, and he'd finally relented. Tao had also generally refrained from giving Alex too many advancements where his psychic power was concerned, as he was well aware the Sage was teaching him, but communicating across thousands of miles was useful, and, the dragon had surmised, necessary for Norstad.

    Shruikan followed the smaller Charizard until they came over the stormy peaks of the western mountains, sometimes referred to as 'Alduin's Wings'. The sky darkened, and the man on the Charizard began to speak.

    An approximation of his face appeared in the clouds as they rode along, and Alex just stared, impressed.

    "This is the only method by which I may speak without a whisper…"

    His words boomed for miles, but luckily, this was Norstad. Nobody was around. These mountains were deadly, and inhospitable.

    "I understand." Alex said in a more normal tone. Shruikan was next to the Charizard now, and the bearded man's ears would be able to hear him without having to shout. "Can you tell me how to use the Hyper Voice?"

    The old man looked at him for a moment, and then Shouted. A wave of Unrelenting Force pushed against Shruikan, and while it hurt, his flight was uninterrupted. Alex and his dragon shared a look.

    "I guess he doesn't understand." Alex smirked, and looked back at the bearded man with sunken eyes as he reached for his own power, inhaled, and finally Shouted as he chose three random words, "Dovah! Nagah! Qo!" His thus far suppressed Voice harnessed the power he and Shruikan had at their disposal, dragon, psychic, and electric. The Sediidah, or Threefold Attack.

    Shruikan channeled the summoned power as Rayquaza had against Groudon, and unleashed a Hyper Beam level move. The man and Charizard were blown away by the Taijitu move as the three energies combined into one intensely powerful attack. To Alex, it seemed that the long hours of endless training under Tao had finally started paying off where it mattered. In battle. It was also useful to know what shouting an element's name in this tongue caused. Shruikan had taken command of that summoned power with ease.

    Zuwuth hadn't appointed Koraaviik the Scroll Reader for nothing, though. His Charizard was damaged, but was revived by a whisper from the old man. His gray form bent slightly, and the Charizard was fully healed once more, almost instantly.

    They faced off again against the dragon and his equally fearsome rider. The clouds spoke once more. "My apologies…Dragonborn. You are as the Scrolls have foretold. Forgive our… skepticism. The Fairy King Oberon is devious and sly."

    Alex simply nodded. It made sense that men like this would fear Percy. The gray cloaked and bearded man was dual typed, as normal and dragon. The inherent fear of fairy types was ingrained in all dragons. Not because of their cute, fluffy, adorable shapes, but because of their total immunity to dragon energy, which as a rule, could bind or enhance the other types as its wielders saw fit. When he'd asked the First Dragon why Arceus had decided to make his most powerful creations weak to such fluffy, but rather rare creatures, he'd simply rumbled something about humility, being brought down a few notches by Arceus, and had moved on with his lesson. In human form, Alex had first hand experience of how irritating such energy could be. He was after all, at that moment, encased by a glamour that would not come off. He'd lifted his helmet by pure instinct earlier, but hadn't actually expected it to move.

    "Oberon shared his knowledge of your Speech with me, and the knowledge of Hyper Voice. Combining the elemental energy of combination Moves is something I've long since mastered." Alex let his eyes flare with his psychic power. "Go ahead. Test me. And when I pass…you share your knowledge of a particular ability…"

    A single agreeable boom of thunder answered him from the clouds, as the face disappeared. The Graybeard and the Trainer flew on, back to the fortress of Hrothofkiin. As they landed, the clouds darkened to signal the speech of the Graybeard, but Alex paused him with a tap on his shoulder.

    He gave Shruikan a nod, and had him continue on behind the fortress. Alex guessed there was probably a training area back there. The fortress shook as the massive dragon landed, and as the inhabitants of the fortress rushed to the main chamber to investigate the shudders, they came upon a sight straight from legend. They had all heard the scroll-read prophecy of how the next dragon-blooded human would appear.

    A figure clad in the bones of dragons, his brothers, who his Force had overpowered, would come to the summit of this fortress, and shake the island to its core with his training in the Voice.

    Zuwuth stepped forward from the crowd of men, and Alex faced him down, standing several inches over him, as he did with most humans. He opened his mouth, and requested a taste of his Voice. Traditionally, that would be his shouting of Force, which was essentially what a regular Hyper Voice attack was, but Alex had tapped into another word he knew quite well, thanks to Koraaviik. Yol.

    The small wave of flame that appeared from nowhere singed the bearded man, and Alex chuckled. The fortress chuckled with him. Shruikan found the little human's reactions amusing. They thought themselves powerful because they had learned an old trick of the dragons.

    His kind had legends of Nidhogg too, and the mocking tone of his downfall in these human's songs irritated Shruikan. Humans always knew just enough of the truth to be dangerous. They couldn't all be like his Trainer, it seemed.

    Zuwuth eyed the shaking fortress suspiciously. Then looked at Alex again. "You are the foreigner the Fairy King has shared our knowledge of Hyper Voice with…I admit your Voice is powerful…" He paused as Koraaviik whispered to him. "Yes. Right. Quite powerful. Oh?"

    He looked at the foreigner again, his face as unreadable as a cliff side. "Let the Trials begin, then."

    Four Graybeards, Zuwuth, Koraaviik, Arngeir, and Bjorn surrounded him, and as one, unleashed the power of their Hyper Voices. And with it, they awakened something that, until that moment, had been mostly asleep within Alex. Alex looked down at himself as the smoke and dust of the shivering fortress obscured him for a moment. The sheer power these men were producing with this attack appeared, visibly, as waves of air, and from four directions, they slammed into his form relentlessly. More than that though, their Voices were empowered with draconic energy, something his own Shouts hadn't had. Yet.

    Yet, he was unhurt. He stood before the unbridled power of four trained Hyper Voices, and didn't flinch. Instead, his eyes flared, and the familiar deep blue glow of his aura deepened into something else entirely, becoming a potent mix of blue and purple. His irises retained the light blue of his psychic typing, but the power of dragons was surging within him, and radiating off his larger form. The overwhelming presence he was giving off as he mentally pushed the change further almost overpowered the men responsible for testing him. There were limits yet to break with this energy, he thought as he clenched a glowing fist with immense satisfaction, but for now, this would do.

    He blinked, and as he looked down, he couldn't deny it anymore. It had been staring him in the face, really, throughout his journey. Dragon types always seemed to have a connection with him. He could even, technically, breathe fire now. Soon, that ember would become an inferno, in the form of a Flamethrower. Gone was the normal typing common to almost every member of his race that his psychic eyes had seen. To his eyes, he was part dragon, part psychic now. He'd never seen a human with anything other than normal typing, and wondered what that meant for him.

    He eyed his skin, but no changes were visible. As far as he knew, he would appear normal amongst humans. He felt he could tap into this new power though. Push it to its limits. Who knew, perhaps he'd even gain a proper dragon form. His granduncle had investigated rumors of people who could change their shapes into those of dragons. It was a myth of Draconid tribes from foreign lands, but it had ended in disappointment, and with the assumption that such things simply weren't possible.

    As he looked around the chamber, Alex realized the sound had vanished. The fortress still shook, as the Graybeards focused their power on him, and he stood in the midst of it, unfazed. Shruikan's voice echoed in his skull. "Finally…I knew there was power akin to mine in you. I knew it from the moment we locked eyes…dragon and psychic…hmm. You will be strong, even among our kind…few are able to combine those types together."

    He thanked his draconic brother, and as the old men ceased Shouting, for they'd done so for roughly a minute by now, their leader stepped forward. "You are, indeed, Dragonborn! The blood of the Clans flows within you!" He said, shaking the fortress with his proclamation in the tongue of the Dovah. "I dub thee Dragon of the West…it is an honor to be in your presence."

    As their leader bowed, so too did the other bearded men. "Alok." Rise. Alex said the word, and it rippled through the gathered men. None could deny that his Voice had serious power…but it still needed training and refinement.

    "Come." Zuwuth said, turning and heading for the courtyard. "We begin your training immediately." Koraaviik had informed him of what the Dragonborn had started, and they had little time to waste. Every few hundred years Nidhogg would awaken to try to break his ancient prison. Each time, the Articuno riders of Valaskjalf were able to lull him back to sleep with their own Shouts. In years past, they had begun to summon the Graybeards to help them. His last attempt for freedom had taken the lives of Lokra and Zuwuth's predecessors.

    "Brother…you might want to see this…" Alex heard Shruikan's voice again as he headed up the steps within the fortress, to the doors leading to the back. Even the design of this temple was uncannily similar. His suspicions rose as he sensed his dragon bow his head to…whatever awaited them outside. That was strange. Shruikan had only ever bowed to Tao.

    As Alex joined the Graybeards outside, they looked up, startled by both the huge, black scaled Salamence, and the figure it was bowing towards. Arcing through the ash-filled sky was the green form of the First Rayquaza.

    "So." His own Voice thundered in the sky, clearing it of smoke and ash. "I see you have found my home away from Unova." His mouth moved as he spoke the language of Norstad better than Alex did, as if he'd been born to it.

    The Graybeards had all bowed as well, but the Dragonborn walked towards the large dragon, smirking. "It's been a while. How is Brad's-"

    "There will be time for that later." The Rayquaza snarled. "You have set into motion events you cannot understand. Because of that, I must train you far sooner than we had intended."

    "Y-you intend to train him, master? Personally?" Zuwuth asked, daring to look upon the jade colored dragon.

    The Rayquaza nodded. "The training of his Voice will be left to me, and me alone. You are strong, for mortals, but you are not worthy of the name dragon. Not yet. Shruikan, join us." A giant green paw enveloped Alex as he stepped into it.

    The great dragon then arced into the sky, and headed for his home on this island, the biggest volcano, recently erupted. It was also close to the fortress. Within the volcano, in the lava below, which glowed blue for some reason, not red, was the resting form of the red Rayquaza that Brad had tamed. It was still injured, as the battle with Groudon had been somewhat recent.

    Once they landed, the Rayquaza looked them over, and nodded. "I see. Tao trained you. That makes some sense. In any case, you were not supposed to learn of this for several years yet…you've only just acquired psychic abilities. But now the power in your blood has woken up…and in turn it has been noticed by Nidhogg. Know that the World Eater enjoys the taste of Dragonblooded Humans. In the past, he traveled far and consumed many of them. The Draconids never completely recovered from that."

    The massive green dragon brought his eye to their level then. It was as tall as Shruikan. "You have shown remarkable restraint, control, and prowess already…Dragonborn…" The large dragon chuckled. "I hardly even recognize you. You've changed much in the space of a few weeks."

    Alex had to agree. He'd been expecting to relax with this time away from the Swamp. Not that he minded getting stronger. His team was full of powerhouses, and he knew that he was the weakest link in it. Oranguru had said as much, but had refused to make him stronger. Now, in some ways, he'd made up for his weakness.

    Alex met the dragon's eye, nodding. He could see the similarity to Tao's. Not in color, for none had the golden eyes burning with inner light like Tao possessed, but in the very shape. This Rayquaza, more than any other, was as close to a copy of the First Dragon as one could get. Others had been formed from their surroundings, like Brad's, and had taken on different attributes based upon which mineral essences they formed from. This one had evidently been a piece of Tao himself, and like the dragon, did not require a female to procreate.

    "Train us." Alex said in the tongue of their kin, "Teach us to use this power."

    The dragon eyed the two young ones, and smirked. "Very well. Let us transform your Hyper Voice into what it was meant to be. The Strunzul. The Storm Voice."

    Valaskjalf, Upper Cliffs - Norstad Region

    The armored form of Shor, the God of Thunder, looked down upon the village below, and grinned. These women were notoriously…eager…when powerful male strangers visited. Or so his sources had said. He would blend in quietly, and work his way to their leader.

    As he walked into the first inn he found, the eyes of every female rider there stared at him. He walked up to the counter, smirked, and said, "By Woden's saggy left testicle, give me some Nord Mead."

    That brought on a familiar drinking song, and he proved he could 'chugga'mugga'mead' like no mortal could ever hope to. In short, he blended perfectly, despite his choice of character. The intel about Shor sometimes visiting the taverns of Norstad had proven accurate. Several weeks passed and the season slowly shifted to the heat of spring in the small village. Jess didn't mind it though, her 'Lil' Fo' kept her quite comfy when it came to temperature.

    There had been some hesitation when Connor suggested the villagers give his sister an Articuno as thanks for him giving them many daughters. The village's seeress had eventually agreed to his skillful persuasion. She was the only one he'd been denied carnal access to, to keep her 'pure' or something. Apparently, like most ancient cultures, these riders valued the preservation of 'innocence' that they attributed to certain aspects of the female genitalia.

    With her golden locks, she was easily one of the loveliest women around. She was a strong fighter, too, and often she and Connor would spar for roughly eight hours at a time. He would be lying if he'd claimed that he hadn't been interested in the seeress. He'd had more than a few partners in the days Alex and Jess had been away, and like any breathing male, he'd enjoyed himself. The whole situation had gotten stale quickly though, as he realized that, while the riders enjoyed themselves, reproduction was regarded as necessary, and emotions were kept out of it. It was hard not to feel like a dispensary after the twentieth such visit, gorgeous as his partners were. It was just as he'd been tiring of being a reusable seed bag that he'd met her.

    The seeress was different, for out of all of the women he'd had the pleasure of speaking with, she'd actually regarded him with more than lust, and had proven to be as skilled at battling as he was. Jess had explained, poorly, the thrill she got from sparring with Alex, but Connor hadn't quite understood what she'd been referring to until he battled the seeress. Judging by the looks she'd given him in return, the attraction was mutual, but custom kept him from pushing their dynamic further.

    Then, 'Shor' had appeared, and his golden-haired beauty had been stolen away with little more than a glance and a pointed finger. Connor was furious, but none of the elders seemed to care. One did not deny a 'god' his desires, and it was well known that Shor needed a wife. From a legal standpoint, Connor was an outsider, and worse, a male. He was for reproduction and genetic diversity in the clan, nothing more. He had no voice.

    After his threat to simply stop procreating, they'd given him an egg, and said that if it hatched for his sister, she could keep it, provided she raised it for two weeks around the village, to learn how to properly handle a Legendary Bird's care.

    As time passed, Connor grew to have doubts about this Shor character. Like his sister, and Alex, he had learned the old stories as well. They were the myths of their ancestors, carried on by songs. Those mythical beings had many names. Shor also went by Thor. Woden was sometimes Odin.

    This Shor acted nothing like the character portrayed in the legends. He was dark, brooding, and clearly hiding something. Connor was not alone in his suspicion. Lokra suspected this figure as well. He was far too interested in her daughter, the aforementioned seeress, who she'd skillfully paired with the strong Trainer for a reason. She knew men well, as she knew her offspring, and the taboo denial would only, eventually, result in a vigorous, and likely fruitful furthering of their bloodline. Someone would have to replace her eventually, after all. Iizlokraan would need a new rider, and someone else would become the Konaar Boiik. Despite the expected pairing with Norstad's favored god, the seeress avoided Shor whenever she could, and Lokra kept him from their sacred spaces, declaring they were very much for women only.

    It was hard to deny him without offending his divine authority but the more they interacted, the more Lokra was sure that this man had taken Shor's visage through some kind of magic.

    Lokra was one of the few to have actually seen Shor before. While this pale imitation made a good visual recreation, it lacked the thunderous power the true being emanated. She did not have the words to describe a holographic projector, but she could smell Bouffalant stool a mile away.

    Finally, when she had kept him from her daughter for as long as she could manage over the course of several weeks, Lokra challenged him. "Mighty Shor. If you have truly returned to us to rule in Woden's stead, open the Gates to your Hall, and the Life Pokémon." That, had got his attention, and he asked to be reminded of the exact procedure required to open the gate. He didn't want to mess up. Pravus also acted quite drunk at the time, but that wasn't unusual for Shor.

    Shor had stood once he heard the relatively simple steps involved, and nodded, then walked outside. He had sensed the growing power of the presence in this place over the weeks he'd stayed here. He had a feeling subduing it would lead to what he truly sought. The Shadow whispered to him, telling him that what he needed was right here, in the village. He was too obsessed with his prize however, to fully heed what it was telling him.

    What looked like storm clouds surrounded him then, and he floated out over the deep lake. The riders watched, but Lokra stayed perched, shaking her head. "Nidhogg does not want this one. He wants the Dragonborn that was promised."

    Pravus looked at the elderly chief, and noticed a small Pachirisu chattering to her, on her shoulder. It then ran away, disappearing into a crack in the ice her mount perched on.

    She grinned, continuing. "He says this one has an aura that would taste foul. Nidhogg desires a human with Dragonblood."

    Shor looked at the Well, fuming. He couldn't just whip out Pokéballs as the God of Thunder. He only had one option. He drew his hammer, and pitifully small sparks of electricity played over it. They had impressed in the taverns, but right now, he needed more. More his belt simply could not provide.

    A familiar Voice cracked the air over the fjord. "If the World Eater wants a Dragonborn…he shall get one!" Thunder boomed, and then, riding a bolt of electricity down to the disguised Pravus, Shruikan appeared, carrying the large dragonbone armored form of his Trainer.

    They pulled to a stop in front of him, but held off on attacking. He was still Shor, God of Thunder…for the moment. Shor gestured to the Well, but Alex shook his head. His Voice reached every rider, who like before, had gathered on the cliffs. "I would dishonor myself and our hosts by taking a God's sport from him. By all means, summon the World Eater, mighty Thor." At his words, Lokra had the riders begin singing again. Their song quickly filled the fjord.

    Pravus stared in disbelief. He knew that smirk. He'd faced this human before…but something was different. Just different enough for him not to realize who was playing the part of hero. For the moment. It was as the look of recognition came over his now-helmetless red-bearded face, that Alex Shouted, "Al! Du! In!" Destroyer. Devour. Master. Thunder boomed as the fury of the three words echoed into the water, and unbound the World Eater.

    A dark chuckle echoed through the fjord. "Heh…heh…heh…ahst laat…" A pair of truly enormous wings lifted out of the well, and as they rose, they expanded, darkening the sky as the leathery appendages unfolded. Rayquaza had warned them of the World Eater's size, but he'd left out just how gargantuan he really was. Massive serrated black scales made up his crest, which like Tao's went from his curled horns pointing upwards all the way to his tail, which seemed more like a mace. The waters of his prison glowed an icy white blue with the rider's song, but the World Eater ignored it. He was not going back to sleep, this time. This time, he was free. A Dragonborn had undone his binding.

    The rider's song faded as they realized not even the magic of old could cage this dragon now. He would either be defeated here, or once more rule over their land with a scaled fist. His power had, after millennia, finally built up enough for this. The Dragonborn whelp would help him regain what he had lost over the eons.

    Every aspect of him was black. Wings, scales, everything but his eyes, which burned yellow, and seemed to spark with electricity. He was a Black Salamence, though his similarity to Shruikan ended there. Massive plates of hardened, jagged scale covered his gargantuan body, from snout to tail tip. Even the wings were edged with razor sharp spines, though the leather parts of the appendages remained free of such scales, indicating that the World Eater could likely fly. Air filled the massive wings as they pulled his titanic girth from the bowels of Norstad.

    The fjord shook as the beast's head rose, and then, after four thunderous booms from each clawed foot, the dragon was standing in the well's water, finally free of his icy prison. The fjord was barely big enough for him anymore. "Go ahead, mighty Shor!" Alex let his voice carry. "Show us all the power of Woden's own son! Mjolnir can handle the serpent!" His words reached everyone watching, and as Shor remained motionless, murmurs began to rise. The true God of Thunder would never hesitate to battle his nemesis. Or battle in general, really.

    Shor was instead staring down Alex as he hovered in the air, fists locked in what was undoubtedly white-knuckled fury. Alex smirked at him. After several weeks of training, he could do many things with his Voice now, and not all of them had to split the sky with thunderous power. Those kinds of Shouts were, admittedly, his favorite though. He could also sense the mad mind of Pravus, or rather, the dark absence it left in reality. He was not the only dark typed human, but each human who acquired that typing gave off their own personal 'wavelength' of darkness and Alex recognized his. It was hard to forget after their encounter on top of the PNN building.

    In a desperate attempt to stay in character, Shor twirled his sparkling hammer, and shot towards Nidhogg. It was like trying to take a brick wall down with a small coin. His 'hammer' bounced off the dragon's snout harmlessly, and it didn't take long for the dragon's massive black paw to swat him into a nearby building.

    Alex saw Jess and her Articuno, who was almost half her height now, head for the ruined building. She knew Alex had a plan, as right before arriving they'd psychically shared information, amongst the feelings of joy now that they were close again. Now she played her part: keeping the disguised entity that was probably Pravus, or some other Arcean, from slipping away.

    With the nuisance gone, Alex turned to his own part of the plan. Subduing Alduin so that the way into Uppsalir would be open once more. Permanently.

    Before he could act, the dragon turned his gaze up, and snarled in the tongue of dragons. "For your words, you will Die!" His roar shook the entire mountain chain. In this instance, his fury was well justified. There were two last lines of defense for Valaskjalf, a Braviary, and a Talonflame, a pair of birds charged with guarding the gate and the lake by Woden himself.

    Over the years, they had, naturally, become bored, and had convinced a Pachirisu to ferry messages to the trapped Nidhogg for them. Or be eaten. The electric squirrel had done as it was told, but the contents of what it had said to the caged dragon, via electric shock, was always antagonizing, infuriating, and mocking in nature.

    In that moment, the Pachirisu in question had fled when it realized Nidhogg was going to probably be free soon. The pair of birds had only seconds to cry their rage at the betrayal before a blast of lightning obliterated them. They had been told Nidhogg was actually doing fine, trapped beneath the water, and was grateful the birds bothered to speak to him at all in his solitude. They had been wrong in their assumptions, and now the Pachirisu in question was nowhere to be seen.

    His millennia long irritant disposed of, the dragon turned his focus back to Alex, and the other Black Salamence that dared to challenge him. Another amused chuckle filled the fjord, and the dragon pulled in his wings. They still blocked out most of the sky, for Alex, but keeping them extended constantly was unnecessary.

    His words shook the entire fjord as two gargantuan yellow eyes stared them down. "You are the Dragonblood? Ha! I thought you'd be bigger…"

    Alex looked up at the massive dragon, arms crossed. "I could honestly say the same thing. The songs say your wings 'darken the sky', but from what I can tell, you could maybe block the sun for a few miles. If that."

    The dragon snarled. "Ignorant worm…I am the Night!" He puffed his chest up, and roared again. Everyone and everything held their ear orifices as the dragon's furious Hyper Voice raged through the area.

    Alex waited until he was done, unfazed. "You are the night, hmm? Impressive, considering this is the land of the midnight sun. You are aware it doesn't set at this time of year, right?" His Voice echoed in every ear gathered, especially the dragon's, the hate filled eyes focused on him, and his smirk, as he stood arms crossed atop a smaller version of his own kind.

    There were chuckles from the surrounding village on the walls, and the dragon glared at the human females. The World Eater's Voice needed no enhancement to be heard, but somehow, this gnat's words were just as loud. The dragon snarled again. He'd had enough Tinvaak.

    Alex and Shruikan had been waiting for the very moment his eyes narrowed and began to spark again. They zipped up, high, and Alex Shouted down at the still land-bound dragon. "Come, wyrm! Your destiny is upon you!"

    Alduin's massive wings flapped downwards, and the concussive blast tore apart several of the houses near the water. He flapped again as he gained air, and every thatched roof in the village blew away like dandelion seeds. His head turned towards his prison, and his Shout was heard for miles. "Viidost! Praakem! Fonaar!"

    The well of water bubbled, and then, slowly, the heads of thousands of Pokémon began to break the surface. Arbok and Ekans, though they were dual poison and ice types. They dwelt in the lowest parts of Norstad, preferring to hunt in the dark, but over the long centuries, Nidhogg had become a source of warmth and life for them and his Shadow was only too eager to corrupt them, as well.

    Then he had left, only to call them to the surface. The day had finally come. The gate would open, and the snake's rage would ravage the land as much as their draconic master's.

    "Blaze Kick!"

    As the first slithering intruder crept forth from the Well, it found itself facing down a flaming foot, which fainted it easily. In large numbers, the snakes were unbeatable, but there was only so much room on this shoreline.

    Ardor flipped back into the line of defense on the fjord's beach as his opponent fell, and pounded his chest as he stood side-by-side with Gar, and Sophos, the Alakazam. Being the Champion of Kalos, Connor was more than capable of handling a swarming mass of poisonous, icy snakes.

    As the eternal light of the midnight sun shone down on them, more than a few slithered back to the water, rather than faint. They lived underground, and the light was irritating. As was the heat from the fire ape. Their master did not notice however, for the massive dragon had followed his dinner into the clouds.

    Only then did he realize his mistake. Norstad's airspace was always full of dark, snowy clouds that never completely stopped dumping snow on the region, and today was no exception. Even over Valaskjalf, they were present. Though the steam from the village was one of the few places that melted the snow before it ever came close to its inhabitants.

    Given his massive size, Nidhogg had long since lost the rapid speed and maneuverability most Salamence had, but there was another advantage Shruikan and his Trainer had that the large dragon did not. Mega Evolution.

    The dragon's eyes widened as he saw the smaller dragon change, and grow considerably stronger, and faster. "What!? No! How has a mortal gained such power!?"

    The clouds lit with his fury as he fired a Charge Beam, but it might as well have been moving in slow motion against the smaller, faster dragon, who barrel rolled out of the way, and responded with his own mocking roar, goading the beast further as he followed them.

    As the apocalyptic battle raged above, giving only brief glimpses of the massive dragon's form hidden within the clouds as it discharged another Charge Beam, the snakes of the Hvergelom began to slowly overwhelm Connor, and his three defenders. The cleverer ones had slithered up the rocks, and the less clever ones had followed. The cries of Articuno filled the air as they joined the battle, and pelted the snakes with their Ancient Power.

    Jess stood beside Folokraan, glancing at the two battles. Alex could use ice against a dragon, but Connor needed all the aid he could get. He was already burning through elixirs. Jess looked down at her newest partner, and then nodded. There was really only one choice they could make in a situation like this.
    #21 Mar 4, 2019
    Last edited: May 28, 2023
  2. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 19: The World Eater

    The World Forge – Mountain Adjacent to Hrothofkiin, Two Weeks Earlier

    "Show me what you already know. Let me taste of your Voice, Champion of Unova." His Rayquaza's semi-mocking tone echoed throughout the volcano. For some reason, Alex could not sense the Legendary Dragon, and it made battling him much more difficult. Even Shruikan could not follow his stealthy movements through the smoke-filled air.

    The inside of the volcano was largely obscured, and had Alex not spent so much time around smoke, both from the Leaf and a certain super powerful dragon, he likely would've coughed himself raw, but it didn't seem to bother him. Whatever the Graybeards had done had changed him, it seemed. He was eager to test his new limits.

    Suddenly, Alex's vision shifted, and he recognized sight through Leo's eyes, which cut through the obscuring smoke, and were all but immune to trickery. Alex gave the mental equivalent of a glance to his Luxray, who preferred to keep his eyes closed and napping.

    "Teach me this 'dragon-tongue' of yours and Shruikan's. In return for my Sight Beyond Sight." Alex rolled his eyes. He was really nicknaming his ability. He wasn't the only team member to do so. Blaze echoed that he wanted to speak it as well. The fact that he couldn't speak the language of what his own species supposedly was, was irritating.

    Arthur wanted in as well, and soon the entirety of their team had made their wish to understand this strange tongue for themselves known. They had second-hand knowledge of what was going on in this region from Alex's interpretation of what he saw and shared, but it wasn't enough.

    Eventually, Shruikan caved to their wishes, and shared with all of them, the trick many dragon types used to make themselves seem Legendary. Not the Hyper Voice, but the very words it used to shape reality. Tao informed Alex that he would be drawing on his knowledge of this tongue as well. It was a strangely familiar power, but it was also new and unexplored. The Dragon's Tamer could only imagine how the white scaled behemoth was using this new power. He found it odd that the Original Dragon did not seem to recall his own species' language.

    Alex glanced at his disguised staff, wondering if what he sensed about Tao, and this language, was true, but he put that thought on hold for now. Tao could wait, his patience was literally infinite. It was good that he focused, for as his eyes had moved, distracted by his internal shenanigans, Rayquaza had decided to strike his distracted pupil, and his Dragon Tail, limned with purplish-blue energy, came hurtling towards Alex.

    He was reminded of Lizardon's attack, and had a feeling the similarities were purposeful. Using his borrowed visual prowess, he dodged the tail, which seemed to move in slow motion to Leo's vision. It really was almost unfair how much slower everything else was to him these days. No wonder he napped so often.

    His eyes tracked the Rayquaza, and as requested, he unleashed his Hyper Voice. "Yol! Toor! SHUL!" The Rayquaza raised his brow at his pupil's choice of words as a torrent of bright flame, on par with a Flamethrower, not an ember, hit the dragon squarely in the face.

    He was singed, clearly, and even had small, but still irritating burns. So much for fire not harming dragons. The burns healed instantly, but the dragon was still impressed he'd even needed his regenerative ability at all. Every human he had trained over his long life had always started with small Voices.

    Then again, he realized, he had never actually properly felt the Voice of a true Dragonblooded mortal. They were rather rare. He'd been in their presence, but none had unleashed their power on him. It sent a chill through his ancient bones, bones so similar to his apprentice's attire. This power, unchecked, could devastate his fellow dragons. It had before. He grumbled. Tao had been right, the Sages were indeed crucial to dragons, and every other living thing on the planet.

    They kept events like that from ever occurring again, trusting that their powerful human pupils would not, if put in a true position of leadership, abuse the powers that set them so far above most of their kin. Oranguru had told the green scaled dragon, on his latest visit to the Swamp, of the human from Unova and his potential, and so far, he had been correct. The human showed no signs of dark temptation. Yet.

    He was calm, easygoing, sarcastically witty, and clever. When he needed to be. His use of this newest power would be a truer test of his right to rule. Dragonborn always had an inborn desire to lead. Power was intoxicating to them. That did not always end well for them, and more than one empire had been founded by such a person across the epochs. The linage of the Draconids may have been shattered by Alduin, but their bloodlines continued all over the world.

    "Good. Very good. You understand the nature of Fire…" The dragon eyed his pupil and Alex shrugged, smirking.

    "I had the Graybeard who collected me share his knowledge of stringing a few particular words together…though, I knew what these, when combined, would do." The dragon raised his scaly brow further, and Alex chuckled once more. "Well…it was more like an educated guess."

    The dragon stayed silent, hovering in the air as he usually did, resting on his coils.

    After several long minutes in the sweltering heat of the volcano, he finally spoke. "I see. That silly game has prepared you already, somewhat, but you must have noticed by now. The reality of using the Hyper Voice is a bit different, isn't it."

    Alex nodded. The first chance he had, he'd tried breathing ice, electricity, speaking words of death, combining words of death into three-word Shouts that, in his experience, were devastating. Many had not worked. The few that did either did something completely different, or didn't have a visible effect.

    Moreover, there were words in Norstad's tongue that he simply didn't recognize the origin of, though he knew the meaning. Many times, as he'd mentally examined his new vocabulary, he had noticed that there were often two words, with identical meanings, but were definitely not rooted in prior languages, like so many other languagess were. The most universal was 'Common', originating from Galar, but it was standard practice to teach youngsters the language of their homeland as well as Common. In Unova's case, Common was the only tongue they had ever needed.

    Tao's voice echoed in his head again. "When your kinsmen worshiped me, and followed my guidance to govern them, they too spoke the dragon tongue…my memories of that time are…still clouded."

    Alex focused on the dragon, as he was being unusually talkative. He'd sensed Tao's thoughts, more or less, through their bond, and this 'dragon tongue' was naggingly familiar. "I shall help you gain clarity…when I return."

    He heard the Tao's chuckle echo in his skull. "If you return. You've stepped in it this time, apprentice." The human's unease swelled, but the First Dragon continued, "But, you are more or less prepared…or you will be, once Rayquaza trains you. Listen well, do as instructed, and you will find victory again."

    The large, coiled green dragon sighed again. "You are not the first Human to have some prior knowledge of this power, but you need to listen, and listen well. This is not the Shouting you know, forget everything you were taught by your fantasy world. The real one is quite a bit different and if you continue blindly with guesses and improper verbiage, you are going to kill someone."

    Alex stared at the dragon in return for a moment, and then nodded, deciding to trust Tao's advice as well. Neither of them had steered him wrong. He regarded Rayquaza again, and for the first time, sensed just how much stronger the dragon was. He was a dragon type now as well, but Rayquaza was far older. Wiser. And his looks matched his typing. Alex still appeared as a normal human, albeit one in heavy bone armor.

    Alex bowed in the Unovan style, fist to palm, towards the dragon. "Teach me properly. Master."

    The dragon grinned, and acquiesced.

    Over the next several weeks, Rayquaza began molding the flood of knowledge Alex had gained, giving it the structure of an actual language. The difference between learning this one and, say, Japanese, was that after each lesson he could use these new words in varying combinations. Between that and repetition, his Hyper Voice grew stronger at an alarming rate. The Graybeards would have feared such rapid progress, but Rayquaza had other fears. Nidhogg, Alduin, The World Eater, this being had many names even amongst dragons. Even with such rapid progress, he feared it would not be enough.

    It was through this ancient tongue that Arceus had imbued his dragons with the ability to manipulate their world with ease that no other Pokémon type had. With naught but their Voice, they could stop natural disasters, provide water for humans and Pokémon alike, even heal. Evidently, the humans of old had also discovered it at one point, but thankfully, none had possessed the power of Hyper Voice needed to activate them.

    The Hyper Voice, when empowered with draconic energy, had the ability to manipulate the other types, provided there was a source for them. Alex had then realized that his crystals could serve as such sources, and just like that, he felt the need to collect the rest. He knew he'd eventually need all of them, but had put them from his mind when Tao warned him of greed.

    With this great ability, the dragons of their world had kept the peace, devastated violent armies bent on conquest, and had even battled against the Successor's minions. But few of those yet lived, and those that did, did so in prisons no mortal was likely to find.

    Unless they gained knowledge from a fairy king and flew to one such prison that happened to have a village around it.

    Alduin was another subject of his training, for the human had blundered onto him, and the imprisoned dragon had finally sensed a source of raw, unrefined power that he could use to regain his own. Even when newly awakened, Dragonborn had immense power buried within them. Alex had felt it during the long hours of training under Rayquaza. The dragon warned him that his newfound strength was indeed finite, but even after hours of Shouting, he felt he could do more, if he needed to.

    To better prepare him against his foe, Rayquaza gave the human and his team a crash course in history. Not human history, full of holes, inaccuracies, lies, and agenda's, but history as viewed through the very eyes of the Sky Guardian, and his kin, over uncountable years.

    He started, with Giratina. Ever since the discovery by humanity that the white Arceus both did exist and were actually clones of the true Arceus, which presumably resided within his own dimension, the rumors and legends around the ghostly dragon had only increased.

    Some said he was the destroyer, the opposite force of Arceus, who brought creation and life. That could only mean Giratina was the harbinger of death and destruction, surely. The truth was much more complicated, and as they were short on time, Rayquaza gave the young human just enough to whet his appetite for the full legend.

    Arceus was as much a force of destruction as he was creation. He did as he pleased. He was the Alpha. From him, he had created Guardians, or as humans called them, Legendary Pokémon. There were twenty-three other such powerful Pokémon, or so Rayquaza said, each coming from a piece of Arceus' infinite power. Despite some being older and some younger, they were all more or less matched when it came to power, but all fell short of Arceus. Twenty-three beings on Tao's level was still a lot to grasp, but Alex filed much of this information away for later. His Gruncle would love it.

    Giratina had been designated the Omega, but instead of being created last, had spent much of the early ages of creation as a valued, loved, and trusted friend of the masters of reality, time, and space. Then, came his betrayal. For reasons Rayquaza had glossed over, despite loud protests from the human and his partners, Giratina had been imprisoned.

    This imprisonment came with a cost, however. Beings that held his kind of power were not so easily un-made, as Arceus soon learned, and thus, an entire dimension had been created to imprison Giratina. From there, he could watch as creation grew ever-brighter. That hadn't been enough for Giratina though, Rayquaza had said, so he had used his dimensional prison to his advantage, infecting one world after another with the essence of his new power, acquired after falling from Arceus' good graces. Shadow energy.

    All throughout creation, aberrations had begun appearing. Pokémon sometimes turned inexplicably dark, enraged, powerful, but the cost was high. Their very minds were warped by this new force, and often, those infected with the Shadow would eventually fade back into the nothingness from whence they were created. Some Pokémon possessed the ability to cleanse them, but they were usually on par with Legendary Pokémon, and as such, weren't commonly found. Much like their creator, they required long naps to keep their power from fading entirely.

    This Shadow energy was not like the dark type energy some Pokémon had, and such Pokémon were not, automatically, drawn towards those with evil intentions. In reality, it was the very antithesis of existence. Anti-matter. The domain over which Giratina claimed lordship, for not even Arceus could handle the volatile substance with ease. With enough anti-matter, ghost energy, and dark energy, one could manifest the Shadow's power. The Aura Guardians of the past had abandoned such research when the Shadow had started talking to them, but the not so wise had listened eagerly, and grabbed at power as soon as they had the chance.

    Nidhogg was, in Rayquaza's own words, a 'unique' situation. As a Black Salamence, he had been extremely strong, especially amongst his own kin, and like most dragons with such an advantage, had come to rule over them. Norstad had, once, been green and lush, with marshes, ancient forests, and fertile coastal islands.

    A human wielding the power of Giratina had come then, and through trickery, infused the black dragon with Shadow. Unlike the Arceans, this wielder had known what she was doing, and thus, the Shadow and the dragon had become one, a perfectly closed heart that science still could not quite replicate.

    Nidhogg, then named Alduin by the locals, had entered into an unstoppable frenzy of raw emotion, a true tyrant, a second tyrant, for he first appeared not long after Arceus had Judged the primitive human warlord from Norstad, his Tyrantrum, and his army of bloodthirsty conquerors. Up until his infusion, Alduin had killed the humans that tried to slay or tame him, but otherwise let them go about their insignificant lives in relative peace. Dragons did not often concern themselves with the opinions, or lives, of humans. Many in that age had considered them lesser beings, hampered by their mortality.

    Rayquaza had been tasked by Tao with helping to put Alduin down once it had been devised that the Renegade's Shadow had infected him. Indeed, forces from across the planet had united, at the Sage's behest usually, and the battle had been epic…but costly. Norstad had become a frozen wasteland after that conflict. Xerneas had gone to sleep, expending her remaining energy to save her land from becoming entirely desolate, and the Dark Times had begun in earnest.

    Alex had been eager to know more, but his mentor would not budge. The rest of that tale was too long to speak of at the moment. He knew what he needed to know about Nidhogg. Now, he would gain the power that might suffice against his weakened, imprisoned form.

    Rayquaza warned that even with the Strunzul, or Storm Voice, Alduin was unlikely to be an easy opponent. He was not at his peak, but each moment he spent free of his cage would see his dark power restored. This would not be a battle to the faint. There was only one outcome now.

    In truth, they had simply not possessed the strength to end Alduin back when he was first imprisoned. He had been too unstoppable. After millennia in the Hvergelom though, he might have been weak enough for a Dragonborn to handle. Taming, subduing, and in unfortunate cases, slaying, was something they were literally born to do. A counter-balance to the dragon's powerful Voices, so that one evil minded dragon did not dominate humanity with no hope of ever unseating such a beast.

    Slowly, Alex began to grasp how to properly wield the dragon's tongue, and with that understanding came a new level of strength. The entire fiery island had quaked as he practiced his Hyper Voice, and eventually, even the sky thundered at his words. That was when Rayquaza had deemed him ready.

    The red scaled Rayquaza, now somewhat healed after a few items from Alex's bag helped stabilize him, had vacated the pool of blue lava in the caldera known as the World Forge. Rayquaza claimed to live here, but Alex didn't entirely believe him. His mentors were sly, and the details they gave about themselves were usually lies to avoid the question entirely. He didn't know what the Rayquaza was avoiding, but mountains were large, and he was well familiar with just how many caverns they could have.

    The two dragons circled the volcano's peak, and once more, the Graybeards had gathered in their courtyard. Something was about to happen, they just did not know what, exactly. "Step into the lava." The green dragon's voice echoed in his head, and Alex nodded.

    He would've stripped, but aside from his helmet, his armor was thoroughly stubborn when it came to removal. He'd found that it would shift when he needed to badly relieve himself, but then it would reform shortly after, and once more be unmovable. As it was, he'd left his bag with Shruikan, as well as his belt.

    His team watched him now, from the relative safety of the circular rock ledge surrounding the pool of strange blue lava. Whatever this was, he'd said, he would face it alone. He'd kept his staff however, and it still looked like a greatsword, strapped to his back.

    He'd expected heat once he stepped into the pool, but was instead met with a tolerable, invigorating warmth. "You know the Words." His Rayquaza thundered. "Use them."

    Alex glanced at the sky then, and inhaled slowly, then exhaled. Using this attack, he'd learned, required near-perfect breath control. Something he'd long since unknowingly mastered thanks to his shenanigans with the Leaf.

    He drew in a deep breath then, and the clouds darkened. His Rayquaza smirked. It was time. Alex's trained Voice rocked the skies. "Naal viilut do dii sos, faal Strun Du'ul engein wah zey!"

    The clouds parted with each word of his Hyper Voice, forming a circular hole in the stormy gray clouds. Then, from the center of the hole in the dark clouds, a massive bolt of pure white lightning shot down, striking his form. As his mentor had instructed, he called upon both his psychic and dragon power for this moment. It was a good thing he had, for his form was still very much susceptible to that much raw energy, and being torn apart by it.

    He looked down as the pool glowed bright with a fierce bluish-purple color, electricity sparked over it and his own body, and Alex lifted his head to the sky again through the massive pain he felt, and endured. A torrent of flame erupted from the volcano as his human yell became something much deeper, a true roar that ended in fire.

    He looked down again as the pain subsided and his shout ended, but aside from a few admittedly cool looking sparks of electricity arcing over his armored façade at various points across his body, there was no physical change. Mentally though, he felt renewed. The long green form of Rayquaza, followed by the red-scaled form of his younger western counterpart, descended to the lava pool once more.

    "The Storm Crown has accepted you, Dragonborn. Cherish it, for in these times, you will be challenged for it. Unique individuals are appearing all over the world lately, even in Norstad." Alex nodded, listening to the dragon carefully. Rayquaza was usually not so forthcoming with facts like this. More and more he had a feeling there was some sort of global communication setup used by Sages and other such powerful Pokémon, but he kept his curiosity in check for the moment.

    "So what exactly does this 'Storm Crown' do?" The dragon sighed at the Trainer. Humans truly understood little, and always having to re-educate them was tedious. Then again, now, this one would actually live long enough to pass on this knowledge to many generations, but he too would eventually end. Dragons, while functionally immortal, could still be slain.

    "You are a newly formed Dragonborn, and while your Voice is strong, it alone is not enough. The Graybeards awakened your potential to wear this, and now that you have it, you can harness the power to bring down the World Eater. Doing so will make you worthy of keeping it upon your head." The large green snake brought his giant eye so close to Alex, it towered over him. This seemed to be some sort of 'thing' dragons did for emphasis in Tinvaak.

    "I know of the Sage's reluctance to enhance your psychic potential. Dragons, however, are beholden to no psychic type. And you, now, are a dragon as well. As you grow older, this 'crown' will keep your body from degrading. It takes time for Humans to gain the immortality of this typing, and many Dragonborn before you have failed to attain it. Mostly because they tried building an empire too early, and were slain in the name of greed."

    Alex looked down, but even then, the giant eye was unavoidable. He started to understand. To dragons like Tao and this Rayquaza, he was a hatchling. All dragons helped younger ones, when they were this small. It was a general fact amongst their kind that their numbers had dwindled during the Dark Times. All newborns needed to be given the chance to fully mature, at least. Where they would live was another matter, but any dragon worth their scales could defend their territory from a young upstart, and if they couldn't, many simply disappeared to pass on quietly, knowing their time was ending. This behavior had been observed by the humans, of course, but none had so far figured out where exactly the elder dragon types went, when their end was upon them.

    Once the Pokédex became a standard item to hand out to new Trainers, many of the myths about dragon types had faded. Professor Dracaena, of Fornia supposedly, was the one responsible for discovering most of the new info on them. Nobody knew where her lab was, though, for Caleb Pravus and the Arcean Church had labeled her a heretic. For Trainers clever enough to find her, it was rumored she gave out rare dragon types.

    "So…it makes me immortal? Just like that? I don't think I believe it…" He met the eye's stare, then.

    "You were just struck by the natural fury of lightning and lived, unscathed, while standing in a pool of molten rock." The dragon smirked as he spoke.

    "Good point…" Alex sighed, and Rayquaza rose again as he spoke. "Moreover, you can now summon the power of your crystals, with naught but your Voice. You won't have to rely on your partner's power alone to fire beams of energy at my Scroll Reader."

    As Alex awkwardly chuckled, he noticed six bright flashes from the ring around the pool of lava he still stood in. He smirked. His team had, upon hearing this news, attempted to speak the name of the elemental type they controlled, and the result had been mega evolution.

    No longer did they have to wait for him to connect them to the power. They were always connected, and as long as the stones were on his person, they could draw from them with the right draconic word. Doing so took far more stamina than having Alex help them ascend, though. Still, it was a useful ability to have, when needed. Only Terra and Blaze had done this previously, on their own, but they'd both admitted it had been pure instinct, and had been unable to do it again.

    Alex looked up at the large green dragon once more. "This will likely make us stronger, true, but from what you told me, it took an entire planet's worth of unique and powerful Pokémon to bring Alduin down before. How are seven of us going to manage that?"

    The dragon again smirked, and then, hatched a plan.

    Valaskjalf – Present Day, Norstad Region

    Folokraan and Chari launched into the air, and since Fo was still too small to ride, Jess remained on her almost red Charizard, who even then, mega evolved as they headed towards Alex, and the monstrous outline of Alduin in the clouds. The rest of her team had followed her orders, joining Connor's below against the horde of ice and poison snakes.

    Delphi alone was making short work of them with her cunning mind. Her flames bathed the cliffs in fire, and when that wasn't enough, she and Gar combined their power to rain fiery meteors on the lake. Along with Sophos, she was also distributing items to those who needed them via telekinesis. With the cliffs out of the fight, the snakes soon found themselves in a very large barrel, pelted from above by Articuno's Ancient Power and hit from the shore by the now reinforced team following Connor's orders. Seeing their tides turn, many fled beneath the water before ice or fire or ground attacks could make them faint. Getting her own stash of healing potions and elixirs had been the first thing Jess had done once she'd left Alex for the first half of her own final semester, and now, the decision to build up her own stockpile was paying off.

    As her Charizard took her up into the dark clouds, she came upon a sight straight out of a legend passed down from her ancestors. Many Unovans hailed from the supercontinent, and in the northern parts, full of mountains, snow, and danger, the people had, in the absence of society, reverted to following the beliefs of their ancestors, preserved in stories older than any existing civilization.

    It was in this way, with a bit of help from the Old Net, that the stories of the 'old gods' as they were commonly called, lived on. Now, she saw the bone-armored form of the awkward, tall farmer next door facing down a dragon that could probably eat a mountain, and still hunger.

    There was something different this time though, and as Jess took a closer look at Alex and his dragon, she sighed. He'd gotten stronger. Again. Just when she finally had an edge thanks to Delphi and Folokraan, he'd gone and unlocked something new.

    Then, she saw it with her psychic gaze. His shiny new typing. He'd told her that most humans had normal as a default, and he'd never seen anyone that proved otherwise. Somehow, it seemed, he'd either gained a dragon's power, or awakened what had already been inside. Her own psychic power had given her vision akin to a psychic type's, a useful trick for someone who hadn't memorized the Pokédex. Unlike some Trainers, she'd had a social life, while her brother and Alex spent their days playing games in between bouts of extensively reading Pokédex entries. They claimed it was the best way to study. Given their top tier grades in subjects relating to common Pokémon knowledge, she couldn't really argue.

    The plan they'd cooked up rather quickly soon became void as she realized even an ice attack from Fo would do next to nothing against a beast like this. She felt her lover's focus turn to her for a moment, as his dragon continued the admittedly beautiful spectacle of dodging and weaving between Charge Beams that could likely tear apart mountain ranges. With each dodge, a Dragon Pulse would slam into Alduin's face, hitting his eyes or nose. It was full of soft parts, and breaks in the armor that was his massive scales.

    "Don't worry, the plan will still work. Find Terra below. Rayquaza gave us a strategy to bring him down, and we're going to need ice." His focus shifted again as Alduin's maw lit up with electricity, and the dragon, enraged, charged at the irritating gnat with enough persistent rage to keep him attacking constantly. Seeing this, Shruikan began flying ahead of him, only outpacing the massive beast thanks to the speed of his Mega Form.

    While Jess was initially worried for them, she'd felt better once she'd heard his Rayquaza returned, and had trained his 'voice'. Whatever that meant. She'd tried using Percy's knowledge too of course, but nothing had happened, and the riders hadn't taught her their songs. She looked down again, and spied the three riders that Lokra had left to keep 'Shor' confined. He was, to all appearances, still encased in ice.

    Nodding to herself, she took off towards where she sensed Alex's earth turtle was patiently waiting in the cold. He'd been reluctant to come out during this adventure, as he had no desire to experience winter, and while he had Thick Fat to protect against attacks, that did little to mitigate the freezing temperatures of Norstad. He was, after all, still a grass type, and they hated the cold.

    While his lover may have been worried about the gargantuan dragon snapping at them now, it was in truth what Alex and Shruikan had been goading the Shadow infused dragon into. Blind rage.

    In this way he would hopefully waste his power, enough for their final attacks to bring him down. For once, his belt was empty, as the rest of his team was positioned around a perimeter that was several miles long, and just outside the sacred forest. He'd been leading the dragon from the Hvergelom for several long minutes now, mocking him with his words with each missed bite from the massive Thunder Fangs and Charge Beams. Just one hit was likely to seriously injure both of them but Shruikan was too small for Alduin's slow attacks.

    He glanced back again, and the scene had not changed. Alduin was still furious, and still using his Thunder Fang to snap uselessly at where he thought his opponent would be. He was having a hard time adjusting for the speed of Shruikan's Mega Form, and while he was smaller, he was definitely faster. Though, as their course had been somewhat straight, the massive dragon had gained more and more speed. It seemed, in a straight line and with enough build-up, a dragon this massive could indeed still be fast. Alex expected no less of a black Salamence.

    Finally, Alex took Shruikan down below the clouds, emerging right over the remains of the Arcean's ship. He felt his team sound off as they caught sight of them, and then felt the numerous reactions to the sight of an enormous Black Salamence descending right behind them from the clouds, attacking with blind fury. The massive jaws snapped shut again with an ominous crash of teeth, but both Alex and Shruikan were focused on getting where they needed to be, as quickly as possible.

    "He's using a Charge Beam!" The warning came from Arthur, who had perched in one of the forest's trees. Already in his own Mega Form, as were the rest of them, he began moving towards where he felt the dragon was likely to fall. His role was the most important, for out of all of them, only he possessed a weapon capable of truly ending Alduin's rage. Or so they hoped.

    Now only feet from the snow-covered ground, Shruikan turned in mid-flight, and saw the familiar build-up of the move in question. He launched his own Charge Beam into the sphere, and the cancellation of the moves caused an explosion within the beast's mouth. The dragon roared in pain, and Alex spied serious burns on the insides of his mouth. "Hmm…not so fireproof on the inside…noted."

    Pained as he was, the angry, hungry, and now wounded dragon slammed into the ground, from his perspective, out of nowhere. He let his left front limb stop his momentum, and as he slid along the frozen tundra, he made giant hills of ice and dirt in his wake. Alduin looked around, and paused as what little of his former self remained stared in horror at the wasteland his home had become. Even when he'd been locked away, it had never been this bad. What little ember of hope had remained for his homeland faded. It was all dead. There was no point in holding back anymore.

    The dragon's shock was short-lived, as he felt a super-effective attack slam into him. The gnat had launched a Dragon Pulse, rather than use his own electric power against his. If he wanted a battle of type advantages, that was no problem for Alduin. He raised his massive, spined tail and it began to glow with the purplish-blue energy of dragon type moves.

    "Dragon Pulse!" The command came from Alex who, atop Shruikan's head, had a good view of the dragon. Shruikan, Blaze, and Chari all responded, and as the Dragon Tail came moving forward, it faltered, and the power faded as Alduin's tail was left minus the power he'd summoned. It slammed into the ground uselessly, as Shruikan once more avoided it.

    The dragon's sparking eyes looked around, but failed to find the source of the other two pulses. Then, he remembered he was on the ground. His wings rose to propel himself up once more, and then stopped, frozen in place. He looked up only to find his wings lifting into a Blizzard attack, followed closely by three more Dragon Pulses. The attacks tore through the thin wing membranes, and he roared in pain. A quick look at the damage told him he wouldn't be flying for a while. That was fine. These gnats would taste just as good on the ground.

    Another Charge Beam lit the area, as the dragon shot in vain at where he suspected his enemies were hiding. The massive torrent of electricity tore a half circle of destruction in the landscape just north of the sacred forest, but Blaze and Chari had kept moving as soon as they'd attacked. Because they had such useful moves, and were ranged special attackers, they were key to bringing this dragon down. Now that he couldn't fly, Alex felt victory was more realistic. When he'd seen the sheer size of the World Eater, he'd been half convinced they would fail, and everyone would die, but now…they had a chance.

    As the Charge Beam faded, the Dragon Pulses came once more, from three different directions. Furious, Alduin ignored the other two, and charged the one he could see. Shruikan. Alex and his dragon had chosen their location in his eye line for a reason, though.

    The earth shook whenever he breathed, and after millennia of such things, Alduin rarely took notice of it anymore. He flew in battle, and did not fear ground attacks, he'd grown in Norstad, and did not fear the ice, and dragons alone could not hope to outmatch him. Not with the power the witch had bestowed on him. He'd been reluctant to accept it at first, but he could not, in that moment, recall why.

    It was as the ground shattered that he remembered the warning of the Black Witch. If he stayed on the ground against clever opponents, he would die. She had seen it. Suddenly finding himself knee deep in rubble, and at least fifty feet below the surface of Norstad's tundra, the dragon snarled, deep and low. Deep as the hole was, his head still poked out of it, and he glared at the smaller Salamence, and his rider who were standing on the new cliff's edge, smirking at him. He was tiring of these games. This Dragonborn had more than one creature at his command, and this fight, while initially in his favor, was rapidly turning.

    He saw the earth turtle with the massive Ash Tree in the center of its shell stomp out through the snow, where it was soon joined by four other Pokémon, all surrounding the new pit the turtle had created. It was large, for a gnat, and powerful judging by the size of the hole its Earthquake had caused. But that would not be enough.

    Shadows began rising from Alduin's scales, and a purple fog leaked from his mouth. He'd never gotten a chance to truly use the dark powers the witch had granted him, but now was as good a time as any. He would not be imprisoned again, and if he was truly to fall here, he would make the songs of his death worthy of his glorious life.

    The dragon roared, and a foul stench filled the air, one Alex, Shruikan, and Blaze were all instinctively familiar with. They'd scented it before, though this was far more…pungent. Lizardon had given off a similar stink…right before mega evolving.

    "All of you! Attack! NOW!" Using his Voice rather than telepathy, there was no hesitation. Even Fo joined in with her own Ice Beam alongside the Taijitu swirls of numerous dual-typed spheres of power that were even then slamming into the dragon. Many had a type advantage over him…and yet, they did little to stop Alduin.

    One massive black claw gripped the edge of the pit. Then another. The dragon's head rose further from it as well, into the sky, and where once there had been remarkable eyes of pure electricity, there were now only two vacant sockets leaking what could only be described as pure Shadow energy. Rayquaza had been correct then. Someone had infected Alduin with it, and now, he was benefiting from it.

    Alex raised a hand, and the attacks stopped. The dragon continued to rise over them. His wings stretched once more, and blobs of shadow filled in the holes in his wings. "Umm…Alex…do something!" Jess' voice filled his mind, but he stayed motionless. They needed perfect timing. There wouldn't be a second chance.

    The dragon rose further, and his horned head blocked out the midnight sun of Norstad, blanketing the upturned snowy battlefield in darkness similar, but different from the night's. The dragon opened his maw, and a ball of pure black energy formed within it. Anti-matter.

    Basic physics was a staple of any education in their world, and one did not need to be a scientist to know that an attack composed of that many antiparticles slamming into normal ones would create an explosion far greater than one caused by slamming a single regular particle into its' opposite. The ball forming in this dragon's maw could, quite possibly, literally eat the world, and at the very least, decimate Norstad. It seemed the ancient people of Norstad had been quite literal when they named him 'World Eater'.

    Alex nodded at Shruikan. Now was the time. He raised a fist and shouted a word, and from the sky, a bolt of white lightning struck and illuminated both of them. "Dragon Rush!" Shruikan shot forward, sparking all over, and limned in the energy of his kind, straight towards the dragon, but as he came close, his trajectory shifted, and the attack shot past the dragon's head with no effect.

    Jess stared for a moment, shocked, awed, and then terrified. The attack had missed, and that ball of death was only growing. Yet, all she sensed from Alex was calm, and intense focus usually only required for Taijitu moves…suddenly suspicious, she glanced at the massive dragon's neck, and grinned.

    While Alex wished to comfort his lover, and the few others he sensed watching this battle, he didn't have the luxury. He and Shruikan had a part to play, if Arthur was to have a chance. The electricity still sparked over them, and Shruikan held the power.

    Then, with a roar of 'Dovah', the smaller dragon shot back towards Alduin. Instead of a Dragon Pulse or Claw however, his fangs were limned with the bluish-purple energy this time. They sank into the scales of the dragon's neck easily, and then, Shruikan's form began to grow. Fifteen feet…twenty…as he absorbed the millennia of built up draconic energy, Alduin rapidly shrunk. Rayquaza had not lied when he said the prison had weakened the beast. Only consuming a Dragonborn would let Alduin's body stay as large as it had been. Now, Shruikan and his rider took a piece for themselves, leaving the dragon withered.

    He was still large, almost forty feet tall, and as Shruikan's fangs left his neck, he began to plummet into the pit. Arthur, who had jumped onto Shruikan and then Alduin, suddenly found himself without a dragon to stand on.

    That too however, was part of the plan. Sacred Sword alone was not enough…but a Sacred Sword attack from several stories up might be. Arthur glanced at the shriveled dragon below him. He was smaller, his muscle gone, and his skin hung on the ancient bones of his frame loosely. Their eyes met, and the World Eater closed his as the Shadow left him. He knew this was his end. Arthur smirked. His friends had given him a perfect target. Now, all he had to do was let gravity make the hit connect.

    He poured as much power as he could manage into his right arm, and then combined the fighting type energy with his psychic power. Neither had an advantage, but Sacred Sword was not a normal move, and the additional psychic power only sped his form towards his target. He was a streak of blue and blinding gold in an otherwise gray sky as he shot down towards his prey with a burst of speed.

    He drove the sword home, into the dragon's skull, right between his massive horns, and his Sacred Sword cut through Shadow, scale, sinew, bone, and then brain. With a final, terrible, almost pitiable cry, the World Eater departed from the mortal plane. His last act was to launch the death sphere he'd been building up towards the sky. Eventually, it would connect with something that would spark a reaction. What it met first though, was Arthur's second sword arm. Satisfied that he'd stabbed the dragon's brain, he'd launched himself back upwards at the ball of antimatter and with a perfect thrust, the ball of darkness dissipated harmlessly before the Light.

    Alex recalled the rest of his team, save Arthur and Shruikan. His Gallade floated victoriously over the pit, Excalibur raised in victory, as Shruikan landed beside Chari, Folokraan, and her rider. They had all had attacks hit the dragon, the victory belonged to all of them. Alone, they would've surely perished.

    As Alex dropped from Shruikan's new lofty height of thirty feet, at his best guess, and landed on the snowy ground with a thump, he felt himself immediately tackled into it by a familiar presence, in feel if not looks. "Forget what I said earlier. I'm glad you got stronger. You had me worried for a minute…"

    Alex sighed, relaxing into the snow which, against his otherworldly garb and 'enchanted' armor, felt cool, not freezing. He brushed a brown lock of hair from her face, only to realize it was mostly braided now, not unlike the other riders. Evidently, they'd accepted her into their fold quite easily. It hadn't been especially hard, as she now looked like a native, retained her beauty, and had a knack for battling. Upon hearing Unova had many female Trainers, held in just as high regard as their males, the riders had considered, for the first time, making use of the outside world's technology. Having multiple magical Pokémon on hand was, as demonstrated, incredibly useful in preventing world-ending disasters. Perhaps if they had held more Pokémon, then Norstad would've been able to handle this reawakened menace with its own power.

    "Pfft. No need to worry. This is what top-tier Trainers do." He let his speech switch to telepathy, which was by its very nature, far more intimate. "Besides…you should know by now, I'd die, gladly, before I let anything harm you. Even world-devouring dragons." She rolled her eyes, but her face flushed regardless, which was all he'd been trying to see, really. A few weeks apart hadn't seemed all that long, but he had, quite literally, missed her face.

    Once the following session of intense kissing had ended, the two headed towards the pit, and looked down. Shruikan and Arthur joined them. Alex spoke softly, glancing down at their fallen foe. "I know he was destruction incarnate…but it's still a shame such a powerful dragon had to die like this…"

    A mental voice thundered in their skulls, and the four looked up to see a pair of Rayquaza descending from the clouds, one crimson colored, and one that was jade. "Do not mourn him. His tale may seem tragic, but that traitorous egg-breaker deserved far worse than this. We will take care of his remains." The green dragon winked at Alex as he and his red counterpart used their combined telekinesis to lift the massive form from its grave. "We will bury him where he hatched. It is the very least we can do…and even that he does not deserve." As they eyed the body, Jess winced in disgust as the green Rayquaza reached a claw into the dead dragon's skull, through his eye socket, and pulled from it a small, shining orb. He tossed it to Alex, who pocketed it in his bag without a word.

    Alex and the pair of Legendary Dragons had discussed what was to be done in the event of their success, namely with the World Eater's corpse. They had also made contingency plans for failure, but those were no longer needed. Alex had been the one to argue against burning the corpse. Dragons had their own rituals for death, and while he did not know them, Tao had offhandedly mentioned it during the training on his extra-dimensional plane. The pair of Legendary Dragons would set what remained of his essence to rest, and then they would make good use of the World Forge, and all that spare dragonbone.

    With the body safely handled, Alex and Jess headed back to Valaskjalf on their Charizard. Shruikan was exhausted, and needed time for his body to adjust to the sudden growth spurt. The rest of his team was tired as well, but Blaze always had strength to fly with Chari. Many of his partners had fired multiple Taijitu attacks, and Alex had no illusions that, without them, and the final Sacred Sword, it wouldn't have been enough to end Alduin.

    The village was mostly intact, save for where a few of the ice snakes had climbed up. As they reappeared, Alex withdrew the orb Rayquaza had tossed to him. Jess eyed him quietly, as he'd promised to explain it later. As they flew over the Hvergelom, every eye in the village once more was drawn to the lake.

    The orb in Alex's hand flared, and then shot forward, arcing over the village, and slamming into a stone wall behind the main hall. Runes appeared around it, a door became visible, and the massive stone slabs that comprised it slid open.

    For the first time in quite a few centuries, a male Voice rang through the village of the riders. "Behold, Riders of Valaskjalf! The way to Uppsalir is open once more! Your charge remains the same: guard it with your lives." Shor's Voice reached all of them, but none moved towards the shining doorway. Beyond it, even more red and gold leaves could be seen. Green, untouched grass made a path through it, but beyond that, the view was obscured by light.

    Lokra's massive Articuno met them over the lake. "You…you retrieved Woden's Eye? We thought it lost forever." Alex nodded, and the Chief Flyer looked him over again, as if just then gaining a measure of true respect for him. Both siblings had spoken of his strength, but Lokra was the kind of woman that believed what her eyes told her, and the Trainer had not appeared all that intimidating when they'd first met. Strong, yes, enough for breeding, but respect was another matter entirely. "You will be sung about for all of our days…Dovahkiin."

    Alex chuckled. "Thank you. I've always wanted that, honestly. Your songs will outlive all of us. They've done so before."

    Lokra glanced at Jess then, and sighed. "You were right. I will not doubt your words again. All of you, despite being foreigners, did everything in your power to keep this village intact. To keep this world intact. You may consider the Riders of Valaskjalf your friends until your days end."

    Alex smirked, and enjoyed the moment, but soon, the smirk faded to a look of dark determination. "There is one more matter we must address…the changeling in your midst…"

    The two women followed his eyes, and Lokra's narrowed. "Aye, you speak true. The deceiver will pay for his crimes. None may imitate the gods, and live."

    The three flew towards where Folokraan had imprisoned the 'mighty' Shor with her Ice Beam. The armored man stayed silent as they landed, and then grinned, showing blinding white teeth once he saw Alex.

    "You've much to answer for, Pravus." Alex said, as he made a three-point landing from Blaze's neck. "You can't wriggle free this time. Unova knows your true colors, as does Kalos, and by now, the world. Your cult will never recover from this."

    "Won't it?"

    The voice came from behind them, and not from the figure trapped in ice. Alex turned, and glared. Of course he'd escaped. Arceans always managed to slip free. "No tangible evidence exists to tie the deaths in Kalos to me, or my people. They're casualties of the mighty Yveltal…and as for Unova…well, the world knows how you people view my glorious western coastline." Pravus was floating as he spoke, and the disguise was gone. His figure was outlined in darkness, and his grin was entirely too confident. "Imagine what they'll think when they hear fair, equal Unova has denounced Fornia for their beliefs."

    Alex raised a brow. "We haven't-"

    Pravus cut him off with his sinister, almost greasy baritone. "Oh but you have." He held up a black baton that had hung at his side, and presumably served as a base for the hammer he'd used earlier. He clicked a button just above the handle. Alex's voice came out, easily recognizable, but filled with pauses, and clearly out of context. "I- swear, I will- see- the- Arceans- fall! Their- cult will never recover from this!"

    The Prophet laughed as he saw the rage in the boy's eyes. "You must thank your granduncle for me, he gave me the idea. Having recording devices on hand is so very convenient…"

    "Yol! Yolos! Sook!" Though his Shout was quick, Pravus' form easily moved to the side as a spinning torrent of flames shot up around the space he'd just been floating in. "I see you've learned a new trick…irritating, but it matters not. You cannot hit me…and I have better places to be."

    He moved like Arthur did in the air, quickly, and able to suddenly adjust his trajectory. In the space of an eye blink, he was out over the Hvergelom again, and heading straight for the newly made door. Alex made a move to follow, as did Jess, but Lokra held them both back with a hand on their shoulders. "Patience, young ones. Do not think us unprepared for filth of his kind."

    Alex looked at her. "He's after Xerneas! If he gets through that door, he may very well attain immortality!"

    Lokra shook her head. "You should listen well to my words, Dovahkiin. I know my home better than you do. Besides…our King wishes a word with that one."

    Alex and Jess shared a look. "King?"

    Faarangar, Hall of The King - Uppsalir, Norstad Region

    Pravus sailed victoriously through the gap in the stone walls. He'd discovered the spot days earlier, but had known it needed a key of some description. He'd wheedled the information from some of the more infatuated riders, about the key's location. The dragon Nidhogg held it, and had done so since his imprisonment. The way to Uppsalir had been closed for millennia, and though the riders were loath to admit it, without the Life Pokémon's power freely flowing from that sacred place, Valaskjalf would eventually suffer the fate of the rest of Norstad. Only the Articuno had prevented it thus far.

    He ignored the beauty of the place, the large, gorgeous trees with their equally gorgeous leaves, the warm, green grass that seemed to invite him to lie upon it and rest. His Darkrai, ever present in his shadow, propelled him through all of it, until they came before a massive hall. "What is it? Xerneas? Why do you stop?" Pravus' words were directed towards his 'mount', but his questions were answered as thunder boomed, and lightning cracked the sky.

    A massive torrent of volatile plasma arced down from the top of the hall, and slammed into the ground before Pravus' hovering form. It was a figure, male, by the build, clad in a dark brown cloak and hood. He rose slowly from the smoking crater his arrival created. A strong baritone echoed through the glade surrounding the nordic hall. "No further will ye tread here, Shadow minion."

    Pravus glared at the man. "Who are you, to bar my way?"

    A light breeze blew the hood back, revealing an all-too-familiar face. Long, red hair, a long, red beard, and burning crimson eyes met his own. For the first time in a long while, fear crawled up Pravus' spine. The man grinned, letting the cloak fall behind him, and as it fell, he drew a weapon.

    It was, of course, a hammer. The hammer. The true God of Thunder raised it towards the ever-present gray clouds that surrounded Norstad, and bolts of electricity arced down towards it. Electricity sparked over the God's heavily muscled and armored form. He gripped the hammer by a sturdy looking bit of leather hanging from the short handle. The weapon began to spin, glowing with the white-blue shine of lightning as it did, and Pravus swore, silently.
    #22 Mar 4, 2019
    Last edited: May 28, 2023
  3. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 20: The Best Laid Plans

    Valaskjalf's Main Hall - Uppsalir, Norstad

    Alex and Jess looked up at the sky, as the clouds had suddenly turned dark, not dissimilar from when he used the Strunzul. Then, the sounds of battle became clear. Heavy booms of thunder echoed from the gap in the newly formed door behind the village's main hall.

    Alex shouldered his way free of Lokra's grip, and met her weathered gaze. "No offense to your…King, but Pravus is our quarry on this hunt."

    He glanced at the sky again, as the clouds arced with streaks of lightning. He remembered then, something his granduncle had told him once about this particular weather formation, when he'd been younger. When the clouds boomed and lightning cracked the sky, it meant Thor was hammering away at something. Growing older, he'd learned his ancestors had also considered it a sign of rage sometimes, and a bad omen at sea.

    Jess picked up on his thoughts, and the same underlying excitement was shared by her as well. She'd heard the same legends, and the chance to see one literally smiting evil before their very eyes could not be passed up. She gently moved the Chief's hand as well. "We will try not to interfere with, or disrespect your King…but Alex is correct. Pravus is the sole reason we came here. We cannot let him gain what he seeks."

    Lokra sighed, and then shrugged. "Fine." Then, she jerked a thumb at the red haired, red bearded figure behind her, still grinning, and still encased in ice. "What do we do with this?"

    Alex opened his mouth to say something, but Arthur popped free of his ball instead, his voice echoed to all within earshot, but his mouth did not move. His arms extended into swords as he glared down at the figure. "I will handle this." His eyes narrowed, and Alex raised a brow as he sensed his partner's thoughts. "I am well acquainted with the trickery of Zoroark…the one thing they can never hide is their foul stench."

    The man hissed at Arthur's words, and then, changed form. As the form that had been entrapped was rather bulky and muscled, the lithe form it took then was easily able to slip free of the ice, but not before Arthur had mega evolved, and leapt after it, arms shining gold. As was the running theme with Pravus' team, the Zoroark had not been the color most of its species shared, appearing instead with fur that was black and purple. It had also appeared infected with Shadow, but of all of his team, Arthur was best prepared for that. His sword arm had, after all, stabbed Alduin's ball of dark matter, and dissipated it.

    "I…think he can handle it." Alex said, watching as the malleable form of his Gallade caught up to the creature easily, and delivered a spinning roundhouse kick, whilst hovering, to its jaw, sending it sailing into one of the many rock cliff faces that surrounded the village.

    The women nodded, and Lokra spoke then, "If you are intent on intruding upon the King's sport, I shall go with you. He is not aware that you are allies…and he sometimes sees treachery where there is none."

    Alex and Jess shared a glance. If the legends were true, the god in question had a 'brother' well known for mischief and redirection. Such a sibling would make anyone paranoid. The excitement only grew, and they had to struggle not to fly ahead, propelled by their power. Lokra could've kept up with them regardless, as she was quite fast, and ran in a manner similar to Connor with her center of gravity forward and her arms out to the sides, though where his form was perfected, hers was still somewhat unsteady.

    Eventually, the trio came upon a sight that awed them, as it seemed straight out of an old legend. It was indeed Thor, or Shor, as the locals had named him, and he was going blow for blow with Pravus, whose form had…mutated, into an approximation of himself, and what looked like parts of a Darkrai.

    Massive fists of dark energy met the thunderous fury of what could only be Mjolnir, and as the three watched, smiles slowly came to their faces. The God of Thunder was toying with the man, laughing as he swung away at the energy hands. As they arrived, he glanced their way, eyes widening as he saw Lokra. The glance was exactly what Pravus had been waiting for.

    The wind picked up and howled with ominous fury, as Pravus' arms, which were purple and identical to a Darkrai's, spun in slow, circular motions as balls of pure black energy formed within them, and then merged together, growing larger. Alex's eyes widened, as he recognized the move. "Watch out! That attack will put you to sleep!"

    The ball of darkness shot forth, and Shor swung his hammer, sending it skyward, where it dissipated harmlessly.

    Snarling in irritation, Pravus glanced his way, noticing the intruders for the first time. His eyes were glowing a lighter green, but the irises were still human, and still as dark as ever.

    The God of Thunder gave him what seemed like an appreciative nod, and Alex had to fight down the fanboyish excitement. It was just a nod. No reason to lose his cool. "If you start calling him 'Senpai', we're over." His love's mocking tone echoed in his head, and he fought down a chuckle.

    Instead of rushing forward with his hammer, Shor raised it above his head, and began spinning it by the leather bit attached to the handle. "You like to play with the wind…let us see if you truly know its fury…" At his words, a tornado rapidly formed and surrounded the pair, almost obscuring them from sight. Thankfully, Leo was interested in watching as well, and he shared his sight freely. He was an electric Pokémon after all. This 'God of Thunder' could be a fantastic opponent.

    Pravus and his opponent glared at each other, and slowly, a black haze began to fill the swirling air, coming from Pravus' own body. Even to Leo's sight, it made things murky. It seemed that the Prophet had yet more up his sleeve.

    For his part, Pravus had deemed this whole venture a failure. He had not expected a God, or whatever this red haired being really was, to be waiting at the threshold of his prize. He was so close, he could feel the Fairy Aura. It permeated everything in this place. Life bloomed all around him. He needed that power.

    At that moment, two things happened at exactly the same time. An airship, no doubt Percy's borrowed one, de-cloaked over the forest, further in, and dark figures began dropping from it. Pravus grinned. Perhaps his minions weren't as inherently useless as he'd thought…though he'd need to keep their task from being interfered with. The Unova Champion and that older woman with him were fierce fighters. He did not recognize the brunette beside the Champion, but assumed she would be capable of defeating his people as well. Why else would they bring her?

    As he took a moment to ponder his options, his Darkrai's instinct caused it to suddenly shrivel up, and fade back into his shadow. Pravus fell to the ground, powerless, and snarled at his shadow. Then, he noticed. The area around himself and Shor had turned pink and glowed with the power of the fairy typing. He recognized the move as one of Xerneas' own.

    Then, it appeared. The clattering of hooves echoed through the glade, and a kind, almost motherly voice echoed to all within earshot. "You come for that which your foul form cannot take in, human."

    Shor looked up as well, at the topmost roof of his hall, and he caught his hammer, causing the tornado to fade as well. The gold and red leaves of the glade swirled atop Shor's Hall in a miniature cyclone, and slowly, a form manifested within them. Within moments, Xerneas, she who gave life eternal, stood upon the hall's roof, and gazed down at them with x-shaped irises.

    She was, in a word, lovely. White fur, light blue in some places, and deep blue horns that lacked the rainbow coloring at that moment. Xerneas' grace was unmatched as she leapt down to the pair of fighters, and trotted right up to Pravus.

    Nobody moved.

    "You have gained the dark typing. My power would drive you to utter, crippling madness. Forever. Take your forces, and leave. I will not have senseless fighting in my own grove." The hind spoke, and as she did, Shor grimaced, but otherwise stayed silent.

    Pravus stared at Xerneas, his own expression unreadable, save for an eye twitch. Here she was, the one Pokémon capable of granting him what he'd sought for years, and now, it was beyond him because of his past choices. He was furious. His shadow formed a perfect circle around his feet, and the air grew colder. The stench of death filled the area, and the pure, undiluted rage that was of his very core, surfaced.

    "It…matters…not…" Pravus snarled, glaring at the Life Pokémon. "I will draw what I need from you by force…if necessary. Or, you could give me what I seek, and I shall leave…"

    Xerneas stared the human down, towering above him. "Your kind has not changed. You do not listen. You do not heed those Arceus himself put in charge of balancing your planet. You are as greedy and vile as every other human who has come here before you, seeking my power, all but drooling at the thought of living forever…" The hind lowered her head to Pravus' height, meeting his gaze directly. "You know not what you meddle with…nor what you are truly asking for..." Her horns began to glow with every color of Infinity, and Shor stepped back several paces. "It is better for all, if you simply…cease."

    "You Guardians are all the same…" Pravus said, looking down at the pink terrain surrounding him. "You think you have a choice in any of this…you think the decision is yours…" He looked up again, and Xerneas flinched, visibly. His eyes shifted color, and now burned with red energy, radiating from them in wavy lines of power. "You are tools on my belt…nothing more…" He drew a Pokéball that was entirely black from his pocket. "Now, get into your ball…"

    The Life Pokémon brought her head up again, horns radiating with power. Being so close, Alex resisted the urge to fidget. Then, he remembered. Fairy types and dragons mixed poorly. What she said of Pravus was likely true of himself, as well.

    The sky, for once, cleared over the area above them, and Xerneas was no doubt responsible. From behind the clouds, the moon appeared, despite the ever-present light of the sun during this season. It was full, and seemed to glow as Xerneas drew more and more power.

    "Cease." Xerneas answered. An orb of light blue, similar in appearance to the moon in many ways, formed between Xerneas' horns, and at almost point-blank range, the Life Pokémon launched the Moonblast at Pravus. The man grinned, and opened his Dark Ball.

    Much like the Ultra Ball, the Dark Ball had undergone a series of advancements as well over the years, despite being highly illegal. In the Fornia region, they had increased its ability to capture Pokémon beyond that of any other Pokéball, going as far as to include move-dampeners, and not even require it to touch the Pokémon it was aimed at. In a show of cleverness, Doctor Ein had turned the opening of the ball into a vortex, of a kind, that had the power to draw in even those considered Legendary. The first Pokémon it absorbed would be the one it caught, and Xerneas was directly in front of him.

    Pravus grinned as the ball began to drag the massive hind towards it. The fairy type attack had been completely swallowed, and it looked as though the Life Pokémon would be as well. The four onlookers leapt into action, as they'd been waiting for the man to either retreat, or try something.

    Alex and Jess, having expected Pravus to attempt a final, desperate act to catch Xerneas, launched a combined Psychic attack at Pravus' ball. It was the immediate threat, after all, but it was intercepted as his Darkrai rose from his shadow, and canceled the attacks with a Dark Pulse.

    Jess' eyes widened as she met the Darkrai's gaze. "Wait…that Darkrai has-" Her words were cut off by the sound of thunder, booming almost directly beside them. Both Shor and Lokra had leapt into action as well. Shor's hammer created a fissure in the ground, and Pravus' Darkrai retreated into his shadow once more, levitating him above the attack.

    Xerneas' hooves dug deep into the lush grass, but the ball's pull was incredibly strong. It had been made with the sole intention of capturing Legendary Pokémon, and Alex began to understand how the Arceans always seemed to have a Legendary up their sleeve. Even Tao would be susceptible to such a thing, if his defenses were down.

    Seeing his attack had failed, Shor spun the hammer quickly, and let it pull him through the air towards his target. Lokra, for her part, had kept her spear handy, but the dark limned man moved away from it easily as she cast it towards him. She pulled it back to her hand with a yank upon what looked like a rope of some kind, but was pure white. Fallen tail feathers from Iizlokraan no doubt, tied to her weapon for easy retrieval. The spear nicked Pravus' face as it returned, but he didn't seem to notice or care.

    The ball pulled Xerneas ever closer, and the Life Pokémon became truly desperate as her capture became inevitable. Before anyone had time to do anything more, she turned into a swirl of black light, entered the ball, and after a violent series of shakes, was caught with a ding that sounded more like a tolling bell than anything else. The Fairy Terrain faded, and Pravus grinned, eyeing his prize, only then remembering that an increasingly furious 'God' was hurtling towards him. The fun was over now, and it was time for this foul entity to feel his wrath.

    Shor's hammer smashed into the Dark Ball with unerring accuracy, causing it to smoke and spark in Pravus' equally smashed hand. It released its occupant as the man dropped the ball, and snarled in pain. The Life Pokémon appeared again, horns once more lacking their golden color. She was motionless, and her head was lowered, but she seemed unharmed.

    With a battle cry that echoed through the glade, Shor brought Mjolnir around in all its sparking glory once more, intent on finishing this, but Pravus dodged it gracefully in the air, and once he did, a familiar looking hand reached out from Pravus' knee, and grabbed the god's leg. Pravus spun, and the hand threw Shor towards his hall. The armored form of the Thunder God's body sailed through the air, and smashed through the wood of his hall easily, as he disappeared from sight.

    Pravus' triumph was short-lived though. Alex had called out the first ball he reached for, which meant Terra was now on the scene, and had mega evolved. An Energy Ball containing the power of the ground and grass typing slammed into Pravus, and with its sheer size, drove him into the air, and over the trees. He snarled and pushed, but could not free himself from the massive, spinning Taijitu sphere of balanced grass and ground energy. Of all his team, Terra remained the best at condensing the layers of his Energy Ball.

    All eyes went to Xerneas, but she hadn't moved, and looked more like a statue than a living Pokémon. Her x-shaped irises didn't move either, her gaze was locked on the spot Pravus had been. In the distance, they heard a pained yell, and a loud boom. Then, from the trees, a pillar of swirling dark energy rose into the sky. They could all guess its source.

    Dark energy began to rise from Xerneas' form in small wisps, but before anyone could notice, Pravus once more appeared in the air, furious, and hurtling towards them. He was changed again. Alex began to wonder just how many transformations he had.

    Dark energy covered his body like a robe, flaring out behind him as he flew through the air towards them, eyes burning with rage. Literally. The sound of splintering wood and thunder boomed from behind them as once more Shor flew into the air, and met the man wrapped in darkness hammer-first. Finally, Mjolnir met its' mark on the Fornian autocrat's cheek, and Pravus sailed towards the ground, impacting with a boom that shook the area.

    Shor followed, as did more thunderous crashes, the sound of truly titanic combat. It said much that Pravus was able to hold his own at all against a being that was called a God, and had, if the legends were to be believed, been alive for countless millennia. The sound of cracking branches filled the area near them, and seconds later, the two men came hurtling out of the nearby forest, and back to the front of the hall. Pravus' jaw was askew, and already bruising, no doubt from a hammer blow.

    Pravus bounced across the grass once Shor stopped, and groaned as he slowly rose again. His face was partially caved in on the left side, but that didn't seem to be stopping him. "I don't know…what you are…but you will not…win this…" He raised both hands towards the red-haired figure, and a look of pure rage came across his frightening countenance, black and red lightning arced from each fingertip towards his quarry.

    At first, Shor laughed, loud and booming, until the first sparks touched his form. His visage grew grim then. "You meddle with power you do not comprehend…" He spoke through gritted teeth, and slowly raised Mjolnir to intercept the streams of burning plasma. Though it arced across his skin, it left almost no trace upon it, in fact, his skin appeared more like metal than anything else, in that moment.

    "I am Power!" The lightning grew larger, more uncontrolled as Pravus poured everything he had into it. It was striking Mjolnir now, and Shor was doing everything he could to not be blown away by the ferocity of the attack. It had definitely caught him off guard.

    Xerneas watched the display while remaining motionless.

    "Qo! Ner! Kaask!" The Storm Voice boomed through the glade, louder than anything so far, and the power of it warped Pravus' lightning back on himself. It formed a spherical cage of volatile plasma, and burned both the ground and the air as it entrapped Pravus. He turned, slowly, towards Alex.

    "You…are going to die…slowly…" His entire form was trembling, and small cracks had appeared by his burning red eyes, sundering his very skin. Blood had begun to drip from each of them. Finally, he was reaching a limit of some kind. Hopefully.

    "Not today…" Pravus' head turned suddenly at the voice to behold Shor, hammer in hand, smirking. With another mighty upwards swing, Mjolnir sent the spherical cage of lightning into the air, but this time, in the direction of Valaskjalf itself.

    Pravus gripped the electric 'bars' of his cage, searing his hands as he screamed at them in a manic frenzy, "You will all perish for this! Grrrraaagh!" He shook the bars with a rage that could only be described as manic, but the Storm Voice had effectively entrapped him. For now.

    "For the Prophet!" A new cry from a new voice came from their left, in the woods, and from the trees came Pravus' lackeys, surrounded by their Pokémon. By this point, anything resembling the 'rules of battle' had long since been discarded. Every Pokémon they had was out, and the sheer numbers looked to be ready to overwhelm them.

    That is, until an enormous beam of ice formed a massive wall in front of the newcomers, and around Shor and the three humans. Iizlokraan's telepathic voice echoed to all as she spread her wide white wings and shrieked, "They are safe, begin the Purge!"

    The four looked up as the sky filled with what seemed to be all of Valaskjalf's riders. Ice Beams and flying type attacks began to rain down upon the comparatively small group of Arceans. Hydrus and Leo joined Terra, as they were the ones with the most energy left, and soon the Arceans had once more been effectively corralled by the riders.

    More than a few openly and loudly complained about being frozen in the same manner twice, but before anyone could give orders for what to do with these new captives, a blur of black and purple zipped through them, freeing many of the Trainers, but only some of the Pokémon. As before, many had been cleansed of the Shadow's influence by the Articuno, but those who hadn't were now free, and were quickly recalled as cries of "Retreat!" echoed through their ranks.

    A green and white blur followed the black and purple one, and they began to clash atop the wall of ice. It was, of course, Arthur, still engaged in battle with Pravus' Zoroark. At first it had seemed at a disadvantage, but now, the cunning fox-like creature was taunting the Gallade, who despite his speed, could not land his sword strike on it.

    In seconds, Leo joined Arthur atop the ice wall, and with a combination of Iron Tail and Sacred Sword, kept the Zoroark from escaping. The tail of Leo's Mega Form, when using Iron Tail, became shaped like a scythe. He also gained saber-teeth, which made his Thunder Fang quite a bit stronger. He was even just as fast as the other two, a fact the Zoroark soon became aware of.

    Alex glanced at how the dark fox fought, and then noticed something. It was using Night Slash to cancel out Leo's Iron Tail, but the other claw was bright with white energy, which parried the Sacred Sword, and kept Arthur at bay. Of course it knew Aerial Ace.

    Iizlokraan landed before them, and Lokra hopped on her back, and then nodded at Shor. The Thunder God gave a nod as well, and then the Chief joined her fliers in the air. Various fire and rock attacks kept most of the Articuno at bay, but the dwindling group of Arceans soon found themselves between two walls of ice, as Iizlokraan created another, and prevented retreat into the forest.

    The few who had gotten away were dropped back amongst their fellows, and their hard landings caused havoc and broken bones as they slammed into their comrades. It was as close to seriously attacking the Trainers as the Articuno came. Seeing the tide turning, the battling Zoroark suddenly vanished as Sacred Sword and Iron Tail bisected the dark, grinning figure. It vanished in a wisp of darkness, little more than an illusion. One that had fooled even Leo's eyes. The sly fox appeared again atop the Thunder God's hall, and let out a chilling howl that echoed for miles.

    Arthur and Leo quickly leapt after their prey, only to find it recalled into a Dark Ball. They looked up, and beheld a very haggard, very burned Caleb Pravus. He called down to his minions, "Enough. We have what we need. Retreat." With that the man, who was still clad in a robe of dark energy, flew further upwards, before vanishing entirely.

    Leo shared his sight with his Trainer, and Alex grimaced. "Their ship is above us."

    "Not for long!" Lokra and Iizlokraan launched into the air beside Shor, at the same time the Arceans were ascending towards the ship as well. Some had what appeared to be jetpacks, but most rode their Pokémon up.

    "Sandstorm…" The air around the ship became filled with harsh sand, enough to make even the massive Articuno, and Shor, pause. "Power Gem." The voice was Pravus', and it echoed through the area, but the Pokémon launching these attacks was nowhere to be found. Thus, the rock type energy slammed into Iizlokraan from seemingly out of nowhere, and brought the massive bird down, hard. She was wounded, by the joint that connected her left wing to her body, but she managed to land relatively safely on the grass below.

    Shor, for his part, had smashed the beam meant for him away with Mjolnir, and continued upwards, towards the faint outline of the ship in the whirling sand. Suddenly, with no warning, a massive Gigalith appeared above Shor, and though he paused for a moment, he continued towards the dropping mass of rock Pokémon.


    The grin on the God's face faded as the Shadow infused Pokémon did the only thing it could do: obey. A massive explosion usually would not have harmed him so much, but at that point, it was too close to avoid. Shor took the hit full force. The sound of engines burning filled the air as the smoking form of Shor fell earthward, alongside the fainted form of the Gigalith, which slowly faded into nothingness as the Shadow energy claimed another life. Pravus did not even bother trying to recall it. There were plenty of replacements in the Fornia region. The ship powered through the fading vestiges of the Sandstorm, and then, was gone.

    Before Alex could spring into action to save the Thunder God, he felt a soft hand on his shoulder, and glanced at Jess, who pointed. In the ensuing battle and confusion, Xerneas had been momentarily forgotten. Now, it was evident that ignoring her had been a mistake. The Life Pokémon was almost entirely dark purple, and Shadow was radiating from her form. Her white fur was slowly turning purple, and still, she remained utterly motionless.

    Alex moved towards Iizlokraan, potion in hand. If anyone could cleanse the Life Pokémon, it surely would be this Articuno, but another of the Legendary Birds got to the massive hind before he even reached her, and her rider. Up above, a pair of riders caught the falling form of their King, and carried him to the ground. He too would need healing.

    Jess and Folokraan approached the Life Pokémon. She remembered the last time she'd faced down a Legendary Pokémon battling with the corruptive power of the Shadow. The Life Pokémon's horns glowed with a dark power, and a ball of bluish-purple energy formed between them. Jess' eyes widened. She'd recalled reading about Xerneas being able to use Outrage, but nobody had ever survived seeing such a thing. She'd hesitated the last time, against Tao, when Alex hadn't. She would not make the same error twice.

    She nodded at Fo, and despite being young, the little Articuno flapped towards the Life Pokémon, and touched her beak to the hind's snout. The purifying light was all Xerneas needed. The orb of dragon energy faded back into her body, and the Shadow burned away in the face of her multicolored power as it surged across and down her form. With her horns once more golden, the giant deer shook her antlered head before regarding the ones who had saved her.

    "Thank you, little ones…I almost lost myself…" She looked between Jess and Fo and almost seemed to smile.

    "We should've acted sooner…we're sorry for not doing so." Jess bowed low, and her Articuno copied her Trainer as best she could.

    The Life Pokémon eyed them for a long moment, and then seemed to nod. "I understand, human…things often become confused in Battle…now tell me…why do you and your mate wear a veil of Percival's power atop your clothing? What has the Fairy King done now?"

    Jess began explaining the events leading up to the most recent battle, while Alex tended Iizlokraan's wing with a Max Potion. The great bird nuzzled him in thanks, and he gave the under feathers of her chin a good scratch. Soon after, he rejoined Jess, patting the smaller Articuno once he did. She chirped, and pushed into his hand. It was nice to see even Legendary Pokémon enjoyed it when he patted them. Magic fingers indeed. "…and that's how we ended up here." Jess finished.

    "Percy asked us to try to convince you to end his imprisonment…" Alex said, picking up the conversation, "He wanted us to capture you, but I have a feeling doing so would be the wrong way to free him."

    The large Pokémon brought her gaze to him now, eyes widening slightly as she saw his typing. As with all Legendary Pokémon, she too had the sight psychic types used. "And do you believe the Fairy King has changed? Will letting him out benefit, or cause strife to the world? From what I have heard, you have not known him long."

    Alex shrugged. "I can't claim to understand fairy types, but I do know this: His mind and mine touched, briefly, and in that moment, I saw true, honest regret. It's buried, but it's there, and he feels it daily. He's desperate to be free again…desperate enough to ally with a lunatic like Pravus, and convince him to bring you to the tower. The thought of freedom consumes him. If he was actually released, he'd probably be fine." Alex looked down for a moment, subconsciously stroking his beard as he thought. "How about a compromise? Free him, and if he returns to his darker persuasions, I will personally help you jail him again, in a much smaller tower."

    Xerneas took a moment to think as well. She had curled up on the grass as Jess had told the story, and then, finally, nodded. "Very well, Dragonblood. If you speak true, I will release him from his imprisonment…in truth, I did not intend it to last so long…but I was…waylaid. If you speak true, and he has repented, I shall grant him his freedom. But I will need to see this for myself, before I believe it."

    Alex nodded, glad that they'd at least managed to fulfill one mission successfully. He had no idea why Pravus had suddenly retreated, but it couldn't be a good thing. He wasn't the type to leave empty handed. Even in Castelia, the smoking remnants of his tri-energy cannon had disappeared after the battle, and building camera footage caught him taking it into his shadow, and then vanishing instantly. "Thank you…I'm sure he will do anything to avoid imprisonment again, even if it means behaving…now that's settled…can you make these outfits disappear?"

    The Life Pokémon seemed to chuckle, a light huffing sound, and then nodded. Her horns glowed for an instant, and Alex and Jess sighed in relief as the armor faded away. They made a show of stretching, and Alex shoved his now once more iron helmet into his bag, trading it for his hat. He avoided holding eye contact with Jess though. Now that they were free of the armor, weeks of suppressed urges were rapidly bubbling to the surface. The danger was gone, but the adrenaline was still pumping.

    Xerneas stood and a small smirk appeared on her mouth. "I will grant another favor. To the both of you." She focused her x-shaped irises on Jess. "Your mate has acquired the immortality of the Storm Crown. For saving me from that…pestilence, I grant you the same. You can still be wounded, maimed, or slain, but should you avoid such things, you will live a span of years akin to Percival's." The antlers upon her head began to shine. "Be warned, human. That which I give, I can also take. Do not squander this gift. And always remember…every living thing has an end…do not think you have avoided death. It comes for us all, eventually."

    Jess knelt, both knees resting on the grass. "I understand. You have my word…I will not waste my chance for a longer life."

    The golden light flared, and from each of the seven multicolored orbs on Xerneas' antlers, a drop fell to the ground, halting before it hit. Slowly, each drop formed above Jess' head into a multicolored orb that radiated life energy. It was pleasant, warm, but inherently infused with fairy power. It descended into Jess' head, and then she began to glow as well, though it soon faded.

    "It is done." Xerneas said, looking slightly exhausted, "Now pardon me…I must see to Shor."

    Alex thanked her again, and then knelt beside his love. "How do you feel?"

    She shrugged. "Rejuvenated…but otherwise…the same."

    Alex nodded, smirking. "I felt the same way. Who knew immortality would be so easily found…"

    Jess raised a brow at him. "You call all of this easy?"

    He shrugged. "No…but think about it. Some people spend their entire lives seeking out what we've gained in the space of a few weeks…

    "The difference is obvious, love." She put a hand on his cheek, "We weren't looking for it. You gained yours to fight Alduin and save the world. I gained mine by keeping the balance in check. A Shadow infused Xerneas awake at the same time as Percy's Yveltal would bring even more death to this land…" She looked at the white and light blue hind. "The balance would've been disrupted, and the repercussions…worse than I can imagine, I'm sure."

    She flushed as Alex's arms wrapped around her. "Tao would b- er, is proud." He said, as the dragon corrected his speech with the speed of thought. "Apparently, we've done well."

    Percival's Airship – Somewhere Over Norstad's Western Edge

    "S-sir? Not that I'm not glad but…why did we run? Xerneas was righ-" The sentence was cut off as the haggard looking Prophet of the Arceans struck his lieutenant across the other side of his jaw. Now he'd have matching bruises.

    "Listen when I speak, Samson. I said we had what we needed." Pravus grinned, a macabre expression given that half of his face had a hammer indentation. The cloak of Shadow was gone, and the streaks under his eyes had scabbed over, the blood that had wept from them had also been washed away, yet he still knew he would need time to recover. His hands were a mess, but he had repaired them. Somewhat. Battling Shor had been more taxing than he'd anticipated, and the 'God' had very nearly killed him.

    Pravus held up an object then, and Samson managed a small smile as well. It was damaged, sparking, and utterly useless for its original purpose, but they'd done more with less. His favored Zoroark had, out of all of his tools, performed the best. Not only had he deceived the riders, and kept the Gallade with the irritating sword at bay, he'd retrieved the Dark Ball from where Shor's hammer had knocked it to the ground without the 'heroes' even noticing.

    This new generation of Dark Balls was tied directly to their lab back home, and sent a full genetic profile of whatever it captured to their lab in Sacreus. They didn't often try cloning Pokémon from said profiles, as it was a long, arduous process, but in this case, the replication of the Life Pokémon would be worth it. Though it was no longer bound to the ball, Xerneas had been within just long enough to be infected with Shadow. The ball had finally run out of power once Xerneas cleansed itself, but that no longer mattered. They would make their own Xerneas, and from it, draw the secret of immortality.

    The Fairy King's Tower – Northern Norstad

    Several days had passed since the fall of the World Eater. Alex, Jess, and Connor had all been welcomed as heroes in the hall of Faarangar, and had earned the aid of Shor as well, should they one day require it. Naturally, Alex had been fascinated with the 'God', for upon getting a proper look at him, not distracted by a major battle, he'd discovered that he too had a dual typing. Fighting, and electric.

    Shor, who preferred to go by Thor in private, had soon realized that humans were no longer as…gullible as they had been in the past. They had grown up, fallen, and then rose again. Even the Earth was vastly different to how he remembered it. Eventually, after several mugs of mead, Shor hinted that his origins were in the stars, but beyond that, refused to reveal more. That night had been spent singing songs, drinking mead, smoking plants, and enjoying the hard-won victory against the dragon, and the Prophet. The fact that he'd retreated at all still nagged at Alex, but he was too comfortably numb to care at that moment.

    Then, when the dawn came, they'd met once more with Xerneas, who offered Alex and Connor a reward for their part in keeping herself and her home free of the shadow's taint. For Connor, she gave a Flame Plate crystal, and though it wasn't immortality, he still appreciated it. He'd been given an Icicle crystal by the riders, and had two more for his allies as well. A gift from the village they'd helped defend. For Alex, Xerneas' gift was a bit different, as his body was incompatible with her power, but his team's was not. For each of their Pokémon, she gave a gift of strength, and life saying, "A reward for their part in bringing down the World Eater. So long as your humans continue to live, you will be allowed to stay by their sides, well past your own normal span."

    The two humans again thanked the immortality granting Legend, and then departed. That had, in truth, been their biggest fear in earning immortality. Now, that fear was somewhat allayed, and Alex fully intended to return the Life Pokémon's kindness, when he was able.

    Shruikan received enough energy to forgo recuperating and adjusting to his new size entirely, while Blaze had been healed, and had grown several feet taller as well, reaching a new height of fifteen feet. Such was the power of the Life Pokémon. Shruikan and Blaze had, naturally, begun to spar, eager to test their new strength. Despite it, Blaze remained more than a match for him, for he was a cunning flier, and by far the best battler on their team. In his opinion at least.

    Terra had received power as well, in his Mega Form, and the tree upon his shell had grown. He had grown bulkier, and was now easily one of the largest Torterra on record. He'd nicknamed the tree 'Yggdrasil', after Xerneas, which was what Shor called her. Much like Nidhogg, she had many names. Hydrus had been given a similar boost, and now the massive mud-fish was large in his own right. He was now as tall as his Trainer, who had gained three inches of height himself, from drawing power from the World Eater. They were both 6,5 now, and Alex guessed correctly that his Mega Form would be even taller. His little Mudkip wasn't so little anymore.

    Leo had accepted a healing from the Life Pokémon and had filled out with muscle as well, but otherwise was content with his strength. Upon hearing Blaze's 'best battler' thought, he'd joined in the sparring match between the two fliers, and had brought both down rather easily, demonstrating that Shruikan had not mastered his electric power as well as he thought, and Blaze would always be weak to it. Though their pride had been bruised, the lesson appeared to stick.

    Arthur had been a different story altogether. He asked not for healing or power, but rather knowledge. Unfortunately, Xerneas had not been able to answer his questions, which were focused on his true identity, or his mother's, but with her latent psychic ability, she pointed him towards one who did know such things. The Foggy Swamp Sage. Needless to say, he was now even more determined to get back to the Swamp quickly. Out of all of them, the Sage had taught him the most, and after battling that Zoroark, he knew he needed to get stronger.

    Before they could all return home though, they had one last thing to take care of. Xerneas accompanied them to Percival's tower, and a trail of life stretched all the way from Valaskjalf to the circular northern wind wall. It would no doubt fade, in time, but wherever Xerneas walked, life followed. Once the three humans and the Legendary Pokémon reached the wall of wind, Xerneas took the lead. She summoned a wind of her own, and opened a path through the howling barrier. As she passed through, it faded entirely, and they continued north to the tower.

    That too was surrounded by wind, but this time, Xerneas approached the north-western side of it, and waited. Then, after several minutes, the wind rapidly increased. The circular tornado surrounding the tower moved, condensing, and reaching far above into the clouds. A figure descended from them then, spinning rapidly in the wind. Down it came with blinding speed, rising again just above the group as it spread its wings. The red-finned Lugia responsible for keeping Percival and his descendants behind the wind walls appeared, and dispersed the last wall of wind with a single flap.

    "Yggdrasil. You come, at last. The Fairy King suffers greatly. I did not think you would jail him for so long." The Lugia's telepathy reached all of them, and his baritone was soothing, and full of concern.

    Xerneas responded in the same manner. "I was…waylaid. Shortly after I left, my Kalos counterpart was awakened early, forcing me into slumber. While that region grew lush, ours all but died…the time has come for Norstad to be reborn…and I would have Percival's help…if he allows it."

    The Lugia descended as she spoke, and then landed, folding in his massive wing-arms. He briefly glanced at the humans, and then ignored them, focusing on the Life Pokémon. "He may not…long has his hatred of his jailors burned…he wants nothing more to do with me…" The Lugia looked down, but the expression of sadness was easy to read.

    "He may have spoken out of desperation, Sea Guardian. Do not lose hope so quickly. It is in his nature to despise being caged." The white Pokémon seemed to perk up slightly at her words, but the look remained unchanged. The three humans watched quietly, but said nothing. Alex noticed Connor fidgeting, and guessed he was eager to finally capture a Lugia. This one, however, already seemed to have a Trainer.

    "I will open the tower…but do not expect warmth from him…being imprisoned for so long has…changed our King." The Lugia turned then in a single graceful motion, and raised its arms. Alex held onto his hat, as he could guess what was coming next. The air moved rapidly as the Legendary Pokémon flapped its wings, and the resulting wind forced the tower's lower doors open in an instant with a loud boom.

    Then, they waited. Several minutes later, Percy appeared in the doorway, Kurama was behind him, tails extended. The fire fox snarled, but Percy patted him. He stayed put as his Trainer walked out of the tower, or rather, stopped at the very edge. As he did, a faint barrier of pink energy appeared. It had been invisible before, and now began to glow in front of him as he approached. He was still trapped, for the moment.

    Xerneas started forward as she saw him. "Percival…" She stopped as she noticed a Pokéball in his hand. It was entirely black, and disturbingly similar to the one that had entrapped her.

    "Yggdrasil…you finally come…but what brings you, I wonder? You are not in a ball…nor do you appear forced…have you come to gloat, then? To mock your Trainer as he rots in this Hel?" Alex and Jess shared a look as they noticed his body language. He was tense, like a coiled spring. Or a trapped animal. Connor reached for Gren's ball. He had no doubt they could strike before this 'fairy king' tried calling out whatever was inside that ball. From what Alex and Jess had mentioned of their meeting with him, he could guess at what was within.

    Xerneas seemed to sigh, and then, her deep blue horns began to glow gold. The barrier of pink energy appeared in its entirety then, and it encased the whole building. Then, it began to shrink. The energy flowed into Xerneas' horns, and once it had faded entirely, the Life Pokémon looked renewed. To Alex's eyes, she'd seemed fine, but only now did he realize how strained she'd been. And she'd bore that strain for millennia. The power of Legendary Pokémon never ceased to amaze him.

    Percy stepped into the snow, and gave a short bark of laughter, his expression one of disbelief. He then looked up at Xerneas. "Why…why, Yggy…why set me free now? I could be just as evil as before for all you know…just as twisted…"

    Xerneas' horns glowed with psychic power then. A Heal Pulse. It washed over Percy, and he visibly relaxed. "I did not wish you to be entrapped for so long…there was a war, in Kalos…my counterpart was awakened, and thus, I was…"

    "Turned into a tree…" Percy finished, sighing. "Of course…nobody could reach you while comatose, and I would guess you only awakened recently…I took your silence as a sign that you were ignoring me, content to let me rot, but you had no say in any of it…"

    Xerneas nodded. "Several years ago, I awoke once more…but I was drained. It took a long time for my form to adjust to maintaining this barrier, and staying awake…I am sorry, Percy…you did not deserve to be trapped for so very long…"

    Percy looked down. "I didn't…but that's just how things happened…and nothing can change it now." He met the Life Pokémon's gaze again, and pocketed the Dark Ball. "It matters not, I suppose…I am immortal, after all…what's a few millennia to someone like me?" He managed a weak smile.

    "A very long time…" Xerneas said, and she brought her snout to his forehead. "Far too long…I knew you would snap out of it eventually…now, we can finally bring our family back together." She gave a meaningful look towards the Lugia, who still sat several yards away, and kept his gaze fixed on the ground.

    Percy walked over to the Lugia, and gave a sad smile. "You deserve an apology old friend…the things I said to you…I was not myself. Will you join me once more on our journey?"

    The Lugia regarded him for a long time, and then nodded. "That is all I have longed for over these long centuries…" Then, the Lugia brought one of its large hands forward, and with a blink of psychic power, three Pokéballs appeared in his hand. Percy took them, and put them on his belt, before finally regarding Alex and Jess. He didn't even glance Connor's way.

    "You two made good on your promise, and for that, you have gained an ally." He took his hat off, and bowed low. It was formal, perfect, the kind of bow one gives to a king. "I am at your service, whenever you require it."

    Alex nodded, and Jess thanked him. Alex spoke then, "You should know, Percy…there is a condition to your release…if you turn out to have not changed at all, if all of this is a trick of some sort…" He leaned in close to the man's face, eye to eye, as he mimicked Tao and Rayquaza. His tongue shifted to the language of Norstad. "I will jail you again myself, in a much, much smaller prison. Do you hear me, Fairy King?"

    Percy grinned, despite the chills running down his spine from that glare. "Ooo. The little dragon has teeth now…very well. I've no desire to be imprisoned again, nor to make an enemy of a Dragonborn. I'll be on my best behavior…" He offered his hand, and Alex glanced at it for a moment, before grasping his wrist. They shook once. "One final token, Dragonborn." Percy said, reaching into his pockets. "A reward for setting me free." He pulled out a white crystal, with the symbol of flying types within it, alongside a pink one with the symbol of fairies. "Flying for you, and Fairy for your lady. Make good use of them."

    Alex eyed the pale crystal even as Jess eyed hers. "Oh…I intend to…" He could already feel Blaze's excitement. Being the only one not able to use a Taijitu move had been…irritating for the proud Charizard. Now, they could finally practice combining the two types he embodied most.

    Percy brought out a blue and white Luxury Ball then, and offered it to Xerneas, who entered willingly after bidding the foreigners farewell. He hopped on his Lugia then, and called down to them. "I'm leaving, I've spent far too long in this frozen Hel. You have my number. If you need me, I'll be in Alola!" By that point, Kurama had been recalled as well, and with his belt now five members heavier, Percy took off on his Lugia, and shot into the sky with a loud whooping shout, arms stretched wide as he breathed the free air again.

    The three Unovans decided to leave as well then, and they traveled aboard Shruikan's now much roomier metallic undercarriage. Once they'd made it halfway down the trail of life Xerneas left, Connor announced that he had a few more loose ends to tie up, and that he was leaving. He wished his sister good luck with school, gave Alex a nod with the promise of seeing him soon in the Swamp, and then leapt off of Shruikan, and into the air. His Garchomp appeared then, mega evolved, and carried him southwards, towards Valaskjalf.

    The flight back to Unova was a long one, but since they were no longer in a hurry, the massive Salamence took his time. His speed, when moving in a single direction at least, had increased as well, but the whole trip still took several hours. Several hours less than it previously had. Alex knew traveling the world would be much easier with such a fast flier.

    Once they were back in Unova, Alex did much the same as Connor did in Kalos. They'd had a chat in Faarangar after the battle, and had agreed that they needed to cement their reputations as Champions in their respective regions as soon as possible. Both Alain and N were still around, and they knew from past Champions that the passing of that torch would not be so easy. They were both legends and heroes in their own right. They agreed that Unova and Kalos should remain friendly rivals, but Connor made it clear that he had his own path to tread now, and he wouldn't be following Alex and his sister everywhere like a third wheel.

    Unova had, thankfully, been calm in the short month or so that Alex had been gone. N had only remained for a few days after the New Year, before leaving to travel the world. With him gone, Tao had kept the region in balance, and the region had prospered as a result. Ancient ruins had been cleared out and raised, old buildings repaired, and expanded upon. Unova had always had a knack for building, but with the return of their dragon, the desire to regain their position as the head of a legitimate continent-spanning empire had returned.

    Since there was yet a month remaining before Alex had to return to the Swamp and the University's second half began, he spent the time resting. For about three days, he and his team recuperated from Norstad, mostly by sleeping. They were still recovering from the effects of Tao's world as well, and Jess did the same thing he did, as did her team. Folokraan was the only one who wanted to be awake, but she learned to be patient in those long days. With nothing pressing to deal with, they and their Pokémon enjoyed a well-earned break.

    Eventually, they'd started to get fidgety, it was back to training. The training weights returned, and once they were adjusted for size, Alex realized there was a limit to how effective their original method would be. At some point, the weights would simply be too heavy to transport, and even now, they were already incredibly hard to move. Still, they trained with them daily, both at the Redwood's ranch, and across Unova.

    Alex and Jess had landed in Castelia upon returning home, and had spent three days there in a spare room that John Crimson offered them. It was there that Alex first got the news. His granduncle had finally passed on. It was a sour blow after all he'd accomplished in Norstad, and he realized just how distant he was from his relatives once he understood he now had nobody to call home to. He returned home then, and his better half kept his family distracted as he went to have a chat with his brother.

    Eric was, as usual, at the local swimming center, riding around on his Blastoise. When he saw his brother, clad in strange white and black clothes, arms crossed by the edge of the pool, he'd guided Squirt over to him, and gave the water turtle a rest. The pool was only so big, but they often swam hundreds of laps, which tired out even the strongest of his swimmers.

    "Let me change. Then we can talk." His brother blew past, and headed to the locker room, while Alex was left to stand awkwardly beside his Blastoise. Several minutes passed in silence, and eventually, Squirt leapt back into the water with a content sigh.

    Once he'd changed, his brother returned, wearing their granduncle's lab coat over his usual blue attire. He'd gotten glasses as well, and almost looked like a Professor. He was still too young to pull it off though. Alex also spied a familiar diamond-shaped blue crystal pinned by the collar. It seemed the new method for mega evolution had reached even their backwater region.

    "Where the Hel have you been?" Eric said, arms crossed. Alex raised a brow. He could count the number of times Eric had genuinely been angry with him on one hand, but he still knew that look.

    "Norstad. There was…pressing business to deal with, after the New Year. Maybe you missed it, but the Arceans decided to give Ghetsis an airship, and throw him at us. Along with the Forces of Nature." Eric pinched his brow at his brother's word, and Alex only smirked. Even that looked grim, however.

    He'd been more depressed than usual of late, but had put off proper mourning. Castelia had been full of fans, friends, and Trainers he'd battled on his first pass through the region, and Unova had required their Champion to keep his composure.

    "You missed the funeral, you know. You missed quite a bit, actually. Malina came back, and she wasn't the only one wondering where you were." Eric's tone wavered as he spoke, and Alex looked closer at his brother. His cool demeanor was gone, and then he realized, this was hitting him just as hard. He supposed it would. His Gruncle had taught many Trainers, and had been hard not to like. He and Alex had been close, but so had the rest of their generation. The Professor had taught all of them.

    Alex sighed, and they stood in silence for a moment, before he gestured for his brother to follow him outside, behind the pool building. Their conversation had been attracting too many eyes for his liking. It was especially unnerving since he knew many of those who were staring. "How did it happen?"

    Alex knew he'd asked the right question as he saw his brother wince. "I…found him. He'd been missing for several days, nothing new, but he missed John Crimson's news report. Twice. When I went into his lab, I knew…I could…smell him."

    Alex did the math. Two weeks. It had taken two weeks for someone to notice the Professor wasn't around. Alex fought down the sudden rage that had been mixing with his sorrow for the past three days at the thought of his favored relative literally rotting, alone and forgotten. He fought the emotions down into a clenched fist as Eric continued, "He opened the old door to his room in the basement…I found him in the bed."

    Alex stayed silent for a long while. They were outside now, and he stared at the countryside of their hometown. The sky was gray, but the grass had remained gold, even under the harsh snow of winter, which was now almost entirely melted. "This is the price. He said being Champion would come with a cost. I'd even bet the old bastard knew this would happen. I'd be off on some epic journey, and he'd pass on while I was away." He swore silently.

    "Have you been home yet?" Eric asked, his eyes also on the countryside. Alex shook his head. "You should go home…Malina might still be around. She missed you."

    The thought of facing his favorite cousin after missing her father's funeral was too much right then. He shook his head again. "No…I'm going to leave again. Soon. There's nothing left for me here. I should've moved out years ago anyways."

    "So you're just going to leave your family behind?" Eric said, turning to him.

    Alex sighed. "No. Not entirely. I'll keep in touch, specifically with you. His lab is yours now. Go home, clean it up, use it. He left it for you, and knowing you, it's still a dusty mess covered in white sheets."

    Eric shifted in place uncomfortably. Once more his brother's words had been unerringly accurate, and for some reason he could not fathom, they were ringing with an indescribable truth that he couldn't ignore, even if he'd wanted to. "I'm no Professor…" He mumbled, "And you should stick around."

    Alex let his eyes flare blue, and his voice came out changed as the power added reverb to his voice. His brother flinched. "I have larger concerns to deal with now." He let the power fade just as quickly as it came. "He knew that. You should all know that too. N was always the one keeping the region safe, and not just ours. The entire eastern half of the continent has been saved by him, and the other Champions. More than once. That's my job now. Keeping the world in balance."

    Eric rolled his eyes. "And who gave you that job? Does it pay well? What do you earn in a year? Will it pay for the house? How about the ranch? The lab?" Alex raised a brow, but his brother continued his tirade. "You have responsibilities here that you haven't even begun to deal with, brother of mine. You need to take care of those, too."

    Alex shook his head. "No, I don't think I do." Eric opened his mouth again, but Alex cut him off and Eric found his forming words crushed by the forceful tone of his brother's voice. Something had definitely changed him, in Norstad. "You have always been the favored son. We both know you are first in line to inherit the house. Not me." Eric pinched his brow again, and turned back to the view. "And yes, it does pay rather well." Alex said, resisting a smirk. While his allies in Norstad didn't use traditional currency, they had given him several artifacts that were useless to them, but were priceless to the right collectors, or museums, here in Unova. Having currency was useful, sometimes.

    He watched as his brother looked up again. His demeanor had changed. The cool façade was back. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that…the whole 'favorite son' thing." Alex stared him down now, arms crossed. He'd been expecting something like this for a while, now that he'd essentially proven his skill. "You're right, of course…in hindsight, you've been right quite a few times. You are the better Trainer, Pokémon listen to you more than they do with me. You have a talent for this…and I should've helped you out a long time ago. I'm sorry."

    Alex let his eyes soften. Eric had turned to him as he spoke, and Alex waved his words away. "You had your own pressures to deal with. I understand the fear of dad's wrath quite well. Even if you had gotten me a Pokémon or something…we both know what he would've done with it." He offered a hand then, and Eric went to shake it, but Alex shook his head. "Not like that. Here…"

    He showed his little brother how men shared a sign of trust in Norstad, and then began regaling him with the tale of his adventure. He hadn't seemed too interested at first, shifting uncomfortably at his harsh words towards the Arceans, but after he mentioned a certain hammer-wielding 'God', Eric's attention was hooked.

    Once they'd finished talking, the two brothers went home, and set about cleaning up the lab. Eric agreed to take over maintaining the PC dimensions holding their other Pokémon, something he'd been doing anyways since the Professor passed. They both avoided the basement. Alex did so because he still couldn't stomach the thought of his Gruncle rotting down there, Eric did so because he hated the stink of Leaf and dead human. Eventually he'd brought in their cousin Aria's Bellossom to fill the basement with a more tolerable odor, but without windows, it would likely hang around for a while.

    The rest of the family welcomed him home, as Jess had used her charms to cut through their anger, and explain why they'd needed to be away from Unova. What had started out as a trip that would take a few days had extended once Pravus had disappeared, and Alduin had woken up. His own parents were noticeably quiet, distant, and it took Alex a whole evening to realize they were avoiding him.

    He guessed correctly that they were somewhat ashamed for holding him back for so long, something he'd confirmed after briefly sensing their thoughts, but he made no effort to forgive them for it. Evidently his battle against N had finally proven that he was, in fact, really good at being a Trainer. He'd spent most of his life ostracized thanks to them, a guilty conscience was the least they deserved. Twenty years, and a day. That was what he decided they could guiltily wait through, before he let the past go completely, and made any kind of attempt to reconcile.

    He spent the next several days resting more, between bouts of training, alone in the lab's basement with Jess, and sometimes Eric. The door to his granduncle's room had been shut once more, and he had no desire to open it. He was more determined to fill the room with the stench of the Leaf, and after a few sessions with his Gruncle's old bong, the room returned to its usual odor. For him, at least.

    Alex and his team had been home for a week when Leo discovered something that would once more further their journey. He'd been prowling through the barn behind the house, enjoying the unease he caused in the Tauros, Miltank, and Bouffalant. It was only right that prey should fear him, after all. That was when he noticed a pair of sad yellow eyes watching him from the rafters.

    A quick sniff told him it was a Noctowl, and he briefly recalled hearing that his Trainer's now deceased relative had owned one. He was by no means the most articulate member of their little family, but he felt he should at least try to say something. Reaching out with telepathy was Arthur's domain however, so instead, he settled for 'Pokéspeech', the universally understood tongue that only Pokémon could truly speak.

    "I heard of your loss, feathered one. You have my sympathy." The eyes blinked at his series of growls, and a voice echoed in his head as the Noctowl responded.

    "Thank you…my partner had something for yours. Some…information. Papers. That sort of thing. He tasked me with passing it on before he…" The voice trailed off, and even Leo's usually cold hunter heart lurched for the sadness emanating from the bird.

    Before he could try to comfort the Noctowl, it fluttered down from the rafters, a wooden box in one taloned foot. "Here." Came the voice again. "It is his. Now…leave me to my grief."

    Leo moved towards the bird, and gave a low, rumbling purr as he nuzzled it. It was his kind's way of sharing affection, and the electrical current, while normally damaging to a flying type, only brought warmth then. The owl blinked again in thanks, and then flew out of the barn, and into the night. Leo then began the arduous task of trying to lift a large, square object with his fangs, but found his mouth too small. In this form, at least.

    He mega evolved then, and picked the box up, lifting it easily. His actions did, however, draw notice from his Trainer. He brought the box outside the old man's lab then, and soon, his Trainer appeared from within with damp eyes that were also rather bloodshot. The rest of his team were asleep, as only Leo ever prowled around at this hour. He dropped the box before Alex, and then let the power of the Plate crystal fade.

    Alex gave the large cat a thorough scratch as he wiped the slime from the box, and opened it. Once he saw what was within, he walked into the abandoned lab, and took a seat in one of the lounging chairs by the back window. Inside was what the Noctowl had promised. Documents, yellow with age, but atop them was a much newer device. A Holociever, the resulting combination of the Cross-transceiver and Lysander's Holocaster technology. Alex had one of his own of course, everyone over the age of thirteen usually did, but this one was the familiar mahogany brown of his Gruncle's.

    His team had taken to lounging around outside their balls since coming home, and all of them focused as Alex got their attention. Terra and Hydrus woke from the naps they'd been taking in the puddle of mud they'd made just outside the lab. Shruikan opened one giant, yellow eye which was visible from the lab's window, and though he was otherwise occupied, Blaze paid as much attention as he could.

    Arthur and Leo usually stuck by their Trainer. Arthur did so because he was fond of speaking with the other humans, especially the little ones, and Leo did so for much the same reason, though he was mainly after belly scratches and many pets. Alex looked up at his Gallade, who had just taken a decent hit of the Leaf, and had put a sword-arm on his shoulder. The Holociever was, of course, capable of recording messages as well as sending them, and as Alex powered it on, his Gruncle's voice filled the room.

    He heard dainty footsteps rushing up the stairs from the basement, and he looked up to see Jess. He paused the message, and started it over for her. He hadn't really listened anyways, after hearing a voice he was sure he'd missed ever hearing again. He wiped away the tears in his eyes he hadn't even noticed had formed, and then played the message again, for them.

    "Alex…by the time you hear this, I'll likely be gone. Cliché, I know, but it is the truth, and a sad one at that. I can only imagine what you've achieved in Norstad. Knowing you, it's something you're not ready for, but have already somewhat mastered." Alex fought down a laugh as the holo-image of the old man coughed and wheezed, then looked at the hand that had covered his mouth. He wiped the bloody smear on his coat absentmindedly, and continued on.

    "I can only hope that what the Dragon taught you has helped you survive that barbaric land. And yes, I was the one who asked him to train you up. He thought you needed more time to mature, but I know better. I've seen how you get when you have new knowledge to devour. Just remember that not everyone is used to seeing supernatural power. Humans have a history of persecuting those with psychic abilities, so keep them secret, if you can." Judging by the Professor's smirk, he knew how well that would go.

    The old man coughed again, and thumped his chest. He took a hit then, and Alex realized he'd recorded this in the very chair he now sat in. "Ah…I've so much to say…and not enough breath to say it. Good thing these silly devices don't have hard time limits." The bong in the image went away, and the Professor entwined his fingers. A serious look came over his old, haggard face, and Alex leaned in subconsciously. He knew that look. What came next was important.

    "I don't need psychic power to guess that Pravus wormed his way away from you. He's escaped professional Pokémon Rangers with ease, and Fornia is essentially a fortress. Try not to dwell on it. I can say that if he did retreat, it's because he found a way to get what he wanted. Eternal life. Don't look so surprised, he's been after that for years." Jess chuckled then, as they had both looked surprised by the Professor's knowledge. "Listen. If he gets what he wants, then our species is doomed. Pravus has mastered the art of indoctrination through his cult, and once he has this continent, he'll move on to another. He already has roots in Sinnoh, but that's Japan's problem. Let their Champions handle it. You have more important things to do."

    Alex raised a brow, but the Professor continued on, "In this box, and in my room, are several hundred hard documents that are essentially a record of what that bastard has done. You'd think anyone with a brain would burn that kind of information rather than record it, but that's just how the Arceans operate. They record everything so they can use it later. On their enemies, and their own. It's part of what keeps people in their cult. Blackmail and fear are powerful tools…and with them you can finally dismantle this foul cult."

    A Noctowl flew into the scene then, and landed on the chair. The Professor gave him a scratch, pondering his words before speaking again. "I tried exposing the Arceans for what they were, and was labeled a pedophile for my trouble. I caught one of their 'teachers' diddling students, and they put me on a PokéMeter until I 'confessed' to only having accused the man because of my own supposed desires. I said whatever I had to, to get out of that room. But this isn't about my name anymore. After this latest attack, Unova has a good idea of what the Arceans are about, and that means the end-game is coming. Unova was never meant to be indoctrinated, it was always a scapegoat. A focus for loyal Arceans to center their hatred on. Ghetsis was supposed to lay the foundations for future conversion of Unovans, but you stopped that plan cold when you united the dragons. Now that Tao is back, Unova will never follow Pravus. He learned that the hard way when he captured Tao, and all but started a war."

    The Noctowl hooted once, and the Professor nodded. "I'm getting to that, Soren." The old man shook his head. "I've already told Tao of this, and he assured me that Unova would be ready for a surprise invasion. He said he could rally the entire eastern coast if needed, but that remains to be seen. In any case, it's not where you're needed. You need to travel to Fornia, and expose this bastard for the slime he is. Without the support of his people, his empire will crumble. Pravus has always underestimated the value of his own supporters, and that is the weak point that you need to strike at."

    The Professor made an imitation of a building falling with his hands. "Expose Pravus beyond the shadow of doubt, and the entire thing comes crumbling down. The trick, as I'm sure you know, is getting Arceans to see, and believe, that their Prophet is a lunatic. I can only give you the tools lad. You'll have to figure out the rest. My advice? Start from the ground up. Most Arceans have never seen the PokéNet. They have no accurate idea of how the world sees their home. From their perspective, their cult is helping people all over the world, rooting out 'psychic warlords', and even curing 'drug addiction'." He demonstrated how effective that had been on him, by once more toking on his bong. "You'll understand how deep the indoctrination goes once you get to Fornia, and meet them. But don't give up on our western brothers. They may have their brains baked by all that sun and wildfire, but the people of the western regions were a part of what made the Dragon Empire so feared. If you intend to unite us, Hero of Unova, you'll need them on your side too."

    The Professor let out a hacking cough again, and frowned into his hand. Blood trickled from either side of his mouth, and he wiped it on his sleeve. "It seems my mortality is catching up with me, so I'll end this, and hope you return from your journey alive. I've recorded other messages on here, for the rest of the family. This is the last. Pass them on once you're done with this." Soren hooted again, and it was a low, mournful sound.

    The Professor leaned back into the chair, and sighed. "I don't know what the future holds for you, lad. All I can do is help you with this enemy, but you need to understand something…there will always be another Pravus. Another madman, another power-hungry intelligent being bent on dominating the entirety of mankind. Knowing you, you're going to stop quite a few of them, but eventually, one of them will find a way to break you. This is a task too big for one Trainer, even a Champion, to handle alone."

    Soren's eyes widened and his head turned rapidly towards his Trainer, but the Professor continued on, "The Pokémon League has a group of people within it, specifically, people who run things behind the scenes, and operate in the shadows against other, more…dark-minded people, in the same shadows. There's a reason only a limited number of Mewtwo clones were ever made. There's a reason there always happens to be a heroic Trainer at the right place, at the right time, to stop a disaster. Someday, this group is going to contact you, as they did me, and when they do, I'm going to ask you to do something I told you never to do. Trust them. They may not be perfect, they're as human as we are, but they're the best hope for our race's future. At least in this old man's opinion."

    The old man coughed again, and gave a weak smile to the camera. "I can't guide you on your future adventures…but they might be able to help. Good luck, lad…remember what I taught you…keep your greed in check…and don't spend too long mourning my wrinkled ass…I've lived long enough." He held up his right hand then, and split his pointer and middle fingers from his ring and pinky finger, making a V-shape as the thumb curled up against his hand. He winked. "Live long, and prosper." With that, the recording ended.

    Alex choked back a laugh. Tears had started flowing down his cheeks, and his repressed emotions were rapidly demanding a release. "I can't…did he really just…ugh…he would go out on a note like that… nerdy old bastard…" He wiped his face dry, only to look up and see that Jess and Arthur had done the same.

    "I…I do not understand his last sentence." Arthur said, tilting his head at his Trainer. He'd tried mimicking the symbol the old man had made, but it was hard to do with three fingers.

    Alex laughed again. "Don't…don't worry about it." He shook his head, and met Jess' gaze. "Shall we have a look in the basement?"

    He could see the worry she was trying to hide. She more than anyone could feel the emotional turmoil within him, but as always, his practiced stone-faced façade stayed passive and unreadable, if a bit tear-stained. Only his eyes gave him away, as he had to blink back more tears. "Sure…" she said, after a long moment, "Let's…see what the old nerd left for us."

    Alex raised a brow towards her as the four of them headed into the basement. "Does that mean you're coming with me to Fornia?"

    He knew the slap was coming, but didn't dodge it. It was a good distraction from the pain everywhere else. The back of his head still hurt, though, and he adjusted his hat. "Like you even have to ask. That old nerd should've predicted I'd be going too. Besides, I know how golden coast girls act around Trainers like you. I'm not letting you out of my sight."

    The four approached the door, and as they entered the old bedroom, Leo snarled in disgust. It was faint, but the smell of decay still lingered. To his keen senses though, it seemed almost fresh. Alex gave him a pat. "Wait upstairs…but lend your eyes. I'll need them." Leo did as he was bid, and soon, the night hunter's vision became Alex's.

    With a glance, he could now make out shuffling foot marks on the old brown carpet. The indentation on the bed where his granduncle had laid down. There were clues all around the room to his hiding spots. A hand on his shoulder brought his focus away from the bed, and to the closet instead. It had been opened recently, judging by the pattern on the floor, and he knew nobody but his favored relative had reason to go digging in there.

    Within, he found a much larger cache of papers, and after a bit more searching, found back-ups as well. He personally wouldn't have hidden them all in the same room, but it was good enough. He dug through the first box, and at the bottom, found a folder labeled 'Elaine'. Within, he discovered why his granduncle had been so Hel-bent on bringing the Arceans into the light, if not bringing them down entirely.

    It was clearly a covert report, detailing the actions of one 'Doctor Ein' as he infiltrated a large soon-to-be-purchased hospital in New Tork City in an effort to collect more stem cells for Shadow infusion into Pokémon eggs, in order to create a Pokémon that was both monstrously strong, and could still evolve. Apparently, something had gone wrong while he was collecting from an unnamed 'female subject', but Alex could guess who they were talking about. The fools had even listed her room number, if not her name. Given the number was manually highlighted, Alex guessed his granduncle had known it was his wife's.

    He shared what he'd found with Jess, and they both agreed then. These people needed to be stopped, or there would be more cases like Elaine's of collections gone wrong. For all they knew, there already had been in the intervening years. They hid the back-up caches away in different spots, and made digital copies as well. It was as they were finishing up that Alex decided to check his Gruncle's Holociever for other messages.

    There were indeed more as his Gruncle had promised, including a smaller text based one for him, apparently. It read "Send these to their intended recipients lad. No peeking." There was one for everyone in the family, even his father, and he had to resist the temptation to open that one. He could only imagine what the old man had to say to him. He did as the note instructed, and knew it was likely to cause a stir in the main house.

    Once everything was ready, Alex and Jess agreed that they'd need to leave at the start of the summer. That would give them time to finish school, study with the Sage a bit more, stock up on items, and prepare disguises to enter Fornia with. The last few days of their break went by swiftly, and though parting again was sad, it was made bearable by the fact that they could, if needed, reach out telepathically to each other, despite the distance.

    Alex had an idea to solve the issue of distance, and after he'd helped her move into her room for the latter half of the semester, he began traveling south along the coast once more, heading for the Swamp.
  4. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 21: Tales and Teleportation

    Jinia Town - Transylveticut Region


    The first thing Alex had done on his way south from dropping Jess at Unova University was return home, to show Eric the cache of documents their granduncle had found on the Arceans. Once he'd read through several, including those detailing what had happened to their aunt Elaine, Eric understood his brother's disdain for the group, and admitted he'd been skeptical about what Alex had told him a few days earlier about Norstad. It seemed like something out of an old legend, a cult that powerful, led by a man so blatantly evil, but he couldn't deny hard evidence when it was right in front of him. He still didn't buy into that bit about Thor though. The World Eater seemed believable enough, given what he knew of how those northern regions matched the power of Mega Evolution, and the size Shruikan had gained. What fascinated him was that for Alex and his dragon, their size gain was permanent, which meant it wasn't Dynamaxing.

    Eric had offered to go to Fornia as well, but Alex had convinced him to stay in Unova, to study, and run the lab instead. He also gave him a method of contacting Tao, and once he'd announced that the Redwood Lab was open again, something strange had happened. Applications from potential aides, who were really just students roughly Eric's age, came flooding in. Apparently, working at the lab of a Champion was a big deal, even if said Champion wasn't really running it. In fact, many people had started moving to Derrion Town, and the surrounding areas.

    Curiosity about their region's newest defender brought them, but they stayed for the gorgeous views, and clean air. Alex headed south again once he'd said his farewells to his family after a last home-cooked meal, and before he left his home region, he found Tao, who was helping to repair New Tork City, resting atop the Empire building. It was the tallest skyscraper in New Tork City, and gave a decent view of most of the Unova region's capital. From up there, the damage from the 'civil war' became easier to see. It had been extensive, and expensive. Saboteurs were also still an issue, as what few Arceans remained refused to give up on their Prophet's dream of bringing New Tork down.

    Aside from that, Tao had things well under control. Rosa and Nate were busy hunting the cabal down, and the sly dragon had informed his Trainer that he'd ordered them to do so together because, once upon a time, he had helped Unovans find love, as well as balance. He had sensed that hunting the remaining Arceans would bring those two closer together. Hearing that from Tao had caused Alex to laugh for a full minute. Not just because after extensive discussion, Alex knew he had no conception whatsoever of what instinctual drive sparked most human relationships, but because many Unovans had been waiting for that exact development between those two Champions. It was obvious to anyone that saw them together, except them, apparently.

    Hilda, he'd been told, had remained at the Plateau, and had a winning streak that was getting to be as long as his own. He'd rolled his eyes at that. He did actually lose battles. Most were one on one, but a full six on six usually saw him the victor. Only in the Swamp, against much more seasoned Champions, had he had trouble claiming the win.

    He asked the dragon what his infinite wisdom said about his own romantic entanglement, but the First Dragon refused to answer. That, was when Alex proposed a trade of information. He claimed to know why Tao was having such a hard time remembering the so-called 'dragon tongue', despite having access to Alex's knowledge of it, and also claimed he could solve said problem. In return for wisdom.

    The dragon could easily tell when Alex was lying, but he'd agreed after a long few moments regardless. In this case, Alex wasn't bluffing. There was a benefit to being part psychic type, and sometimes, even Legendary Dragons needed an extra pair of eyes to see what their own could not. Through their mental connection, Alex had sensed a block on what he assumed was Tao's speech center, buried deep in his brain, and locked by…something. He also sensed his new Voice could remove said block, and make the dragon even stronger. Had it been any other Legendary, he might've paused, but the last Pokémon he worried about having more power was Tao. He had always ruled fairly. There was a reason Arceus had placed him in charge of an entire continent.

    Instead of shouting, Alex whispered a series of dragon-words into the ear slit of his white scaled friend, words relating to memory, blockage, and the recovering of such things. For a moment, the dragon's eyes turned half white, and half black, before swirling into a familiar circular pattern, and regaining their pure golden color. The dragon thanked his Trainer, as that particular memory block had been a result of being torn in three parts for thousands of years, and then haphazardly shoved back together as two thirds of a whole Pokémon several times. It was enough to scramble anyone's mind, and Tao had simply hadn't noticed the block upon regaining balance.

    He also quickly demonstrated that, while Alex may have had the Voice of a dragon, the Original Dragon's would always be superior. He did more with one word than Alex ever could, but then, that was par for the course with Legendary Pokémon. That word had been 'Yol', and the torrent of fire Tao shot into the air around them burned hotter than any Flamethrower.

    What exactly he remembered of the past, he did not say. Instead, he addressed the knowledge Alex had wanted in regard to his own relationship. His response was thus: "To understand how I guide lovers to each other, you must first dismiss the fanciful nonsense your species has created around the entire institution. There is no such thing as a 'soul-mate'. The concept of 'souls' is an ancient, outdated, and entirely human one. The body and mind are always connected, not separate, and what affects one will affect the other. This is how all of existence functions. In Balance. This is why maintaining it is so important. Death. Un-death. Immortality." He grinned knowingly at his Trainer, who rolled his eyes. "They all affect the body and mind in different ways, but they affect both the body and the mind. One cannot be, without the other. Usually. The reality of my ability is simple. I use my Divine Sight to gaze into the…core…of a human, and then use my psychic abilities to divine something about their strongest, and closest, potential match. Then, I lead them to each other. The result is usually positive. But there are always exceptions. Sometimes, running across another strong match can tear the first apart."

    He leaned down to his Trainer, his massive golden eye towering over him as his soothing psychic baritone thundered in his skull. "You will be hard pressed to find a better match than that of fire and dragon. Though she may not have the typing, yours is as fiery a human as I've ever seen. She burns brightest in your presence, and you in turn are fueled by hers. It is a rare match, but a good one. Cherish it, for it will not come twice."

    Alex pondered the dragon's words, and then finally bowed, thanking him for his insight. Evidently his opinion of Jessica Gladstone had risen during their training in his home dimension. It's not that he wasn't glad, he was more curious as to how he hadn't noticed, and then, slowly, he recalled the long hours he'd spent focused on perfecting his martial arts forms while his love and Tao had been off in the rock garden on top of the tower. He'd assumed they were meditating, but evidently, they'd talked as well. It hadn't seemed strange, as the dragon had often isolated them from each other when teaching.

    Once Alex departed from the building, he continued on his way south, riding on Shruikan, who had never seen their home continent from the air. Not with his own eyes, anyways. The eastern coast of the States was, in a word, gorgeous. New Tork was not the only metropolis on the way south, but Alex had no intention of going near a city. He got enough challenges from flying Trainers as it was. Something as unique as a Black Salamence would be mobbed in a foreign city. In Unova, the locals had quickly learned to associate the massive dragon with the Champion who rode on his back, clad in white. While many still wanted battles, far more often he was asked for autographs, or given Holociever numbers so he could set up future battles.

    Jinia Town was the largest town on the eastern coast, and the last one of significance before the Swamp. Alex hadn't stopped there last time, as he'd been in a rush, but this time, he decided to pay a visit. He rode in atop Leo, though that didn't really do much to stay subtle. His golden-furred Luxray attracted almost as much attention as his giant black dragon. They stayed at the Pokémon Center that night, before heading further south towards the grassy plains north of the Swamp in the morning.

    He soon discovered that he was not the only returning Trainer who wanted to continue south the next day. There were tons of other Trainers, some he knew from the last time he'd been down here. They had made it to the Sage. The vast majority however, had not, and were new Trainers who had been invited due to their skill, and not their station as Champion. Evidently, Oranguru had lowered the standards one had to meet to attempt to cross into the Swamp.

    Not only that, but Alex soon discovered, over a bowl of Leaf with several other Champions, that these new Trainers were all given guides of some sort to the Sage himself, rather than wandering the Swamp aimlessly until they had a vision, or went mad from having too many. Eventually, Alex had, at the behest of the other primarily grass type favoring Champions, singled out a girl, clearly from Unova, and used his 'natural charisma' to find out why she was here. Said charisma consisted of 'Hey', and the question 'What brings you down here?' He was clearly a wordsmith.

    It was clear she recognized him, and she even claimed that they'd battled once, but after a few hundred road battles, the faces start to blur. She didn't seem to mind his lack of recognition, and answered his blunt question about her purpose for being here, claiming that she had come to learn from the Sage. He was half tempted to ask why she hadn't gone to Tao instead, but he had a feeling that it was none of his business, and wisely avoided prying.

    The returning trainees shared a look once Alex explained what he'd heard, and a few were understandably irritated. Getting to the Sage in the first place had been difficult for all of them, many had experienced their own personal Hel as they'd relived past traumatic events, and came through them, again, unscathed. But now these new Trainers, not even Champions, were getting a free pass to an island that had been cramped with a few hundred humans. Now, there would likely be thousands.

    They decided to head out at midnight, while the newbies slept, and found they weren't the only Champions with that idea. The returning students had figured space would be limited, and Arceus only knew how many had already reached the Sage. By the time their mixed group of flying types reached the Swamp's edge, the first light of dawn was filling the sky. Then, they saw her.

    The purple-haired woman from their last exam was standing on the open plains before the Swamp, arms crossed, her Dragonite by her side. She waved down the group of twenty or so Champions, and once they landed, she began explaining what they'd evidently missed in the two months they'd been gone.

    "I know many of you may have mixed feelings about these newcomers," she began, eyeing those who nodded at her words. Alex remained impassive, stone-faced. This woman had acted like a sifter before, separating the skilled from the unworthy. He had no doubt she was doing the same thing now. "Understand that they are here because they wish to learn from the Sage, and nothing else. They will not be competing to become his top student, though they have that option, many have chosen to avoid potential death, and simply be guided to the Sage."

    She looked ready to say more, but a familiar sound cut her off as a helicopter, blades whirring away with obnoxiously loud noise and wind, set down beside the group of Champions. They collectively groaned as they saw the symbol on the side of the machine, and Alex looked down, embarrassed. There was only one news network global enough to be interested in a story in this place. Naturally, they had a HQ in one of the largest tech-savvy cities on the planet. New Tork.

    Thankfully, it wasn't John Crimson who stepped out of the chopper, but rather a woman, blonde hair, curves in all the right places. The men amongst the group eyed her openly. Some looked away quickly, fighting their instincts. Others did not. Alex just chuckled, as he recognized the woman who'd been summoned by Joey after his first attempt at an interview. He couldn't really blame the others for staring, her cleavage remained glorious, but he'd already developed an immunity. Praise Arceus.

    The purple haired woman crossed her arms, and glared at the blonde, her harsh voice cutting through the sound of the whirling blades with unusual ease. "We've already had this discussion. No."

    The blonde frowned, and then turned her gaze to the crowd of Trainers, several of whom looked ready and able to 'assist' her in whatever way they could. A familiar feeling of 'oh shit' tingled up Alex's spine as he saw her eyes catch his hat, and then his face. She smiled, and waved obviously. "Champion! Alex Redwood! Remember me?" The group slooowly turned to look at the white and black clad Trainer as Alex moved up to the two women.

    The examiner eyed him with a severe look. "You know this…floozy?"

    Alex gave the blonde a nod, and then met the examiner's sharp gaze. He had no earthly idea what a 'floozy' was, but knew a derogatory term when he heard one. "I do. She's from Unova. In fact, if it wasn't for her and her cameraman, I might never have run into Ghetsis at the PNN, Reshiram and Kyurem wouldn't have been freed, and the Original Dragon would not have been reunited."

    The cameraman in question was, of course, Joey, who had evidently stopped training at the Dragonspiral Tower, and was now outfitted with a camera on his shoulder. His Raticate had a similar device strapped to its back. The symbol of balance remained on his t-shirt, and his shorts, as always, remained the same. He grinned, and waved over-excitedly at Alex as he saw him. Alex waved back, smirking. He knew how badly Joey was crushing on his coworker. Evidently Tao had guided him, as well.

    The purple-haired proctor looked between the three of them, and then settled on Alex. That same nervous feeling returned. He had no idea why this woman always put him on edge. "They want access to the Sage, so they can…'document' his training with their devices."

    At that, Alex frowned. The last thing they needed at the compound was the distraction of being on live TV. Especially with so many new, untrained recruits. He turned to the blonde then, and met her gaze evenly. "Go home, Haley. I'll give you a story when I come back, but this…this place isn't for the modern world. There's no PokéMart in there. It's literally just a Swamp. A girl like you wouldn't last five minutes in there. The Krokoroks here are human eaters."

    "And this clearly dangerous Swamp is taking in thousands of skilled Trainers." Haley countered, "The world has a right to know where their loved ones are disappearing to."

    Alex nodded. "It does. I agree, but this is something to learn about after the training is done. Not during it. You have my word, exclusive interview. With you, not John Crimson. But only after we're done here. It could take a while, though, so you should go home, and find a better story. Like where the Swords of Justice have run off to."

    She raised a manicured brow at him. "What, they've disappeared?"

    He raised a not-so-well-kept brow at her. "Nobody has seen them since that Beheeyem invasion fiasco. Anywhere. They're not around Unova. If you really want to give people a story, find out where they've gone. We could've used their aid this year, no?"

    The blonde nodded, sighed, and then snapped her fingers. "Joey, we're going home." She glanced back at Alex as she left, and he resisted watching anything but the back of her head. The view was, of course, glorious, but he had never been an 'ass man' as his fellow males so eloquently put it. He had endeavored to understand all aspects of the great mystery that was the female gender. "You'd better keep your word, Champion."

    "When have I ever not?" Alex said as the chopper began taking off again, and headed north. He sighed. "Bloody reporters…"

    "They're not the only ones to try to enter." The woman said, once they could hear themselves think. "But I do appreciate you getting rid of them. They've been pestering me for two weeks."

    "You were about to tell us something else…?" Alex prompted, smirking.

    The purple haired woman brought her plain wooden staff down towards his head. By pure instinct, he caught it, and she seemed genuinely impressed. "Not bad. You've improved."

    Alex smirked. "I try."

    The staff spun with a blur, and he grunted as it slammed into his stomach. He'd seen it coming, but he wasn't nearly fast enough to block it. He was however, fast enough to tighten his abdominals to take the hit. It had moved past his guard far too easily. "Do. Or do not." The woman said, smirking down at him.

    "There is no try…" The Champions groaned, in unison. It was a lesson Oranguru had drilled into all of them. Painfully.

    "Right, listen up!" She began again, pushing Alex back to the front of the crowd. "Things are a lot different this time around. For you veteran disciples, you have the chance to gain access to the air space over the Swamp." The Trainers shared a look. More than a few had been shot down by absurdly powerful Hyper Beams because they'd tried flying. "Don't worry, our snipers know who to target, and who to let pass…of course, this gift does not come free." She grinned down at them, and Alex noticed it was similar in many ways to the way Leo grinned at his prey before pouncing. He felt the large cat's ball hum on his belt. Evidently that was a compliment.

    "To gain access to flight in the Swamp, your task is very simple." The woman gestured to her Dragonite. "Beat him, and you may fly with the best." The Champions murmured again. This woman had been absent during their first stay here, but the few times she had appeared, usually after shooting down a student breaking the 'no flying' rule, she'd let her Dragonite battle some of the more eager Champions with their own dragons.

    While the absurdly proportioned dragon looked silly, its power had been monstrous. On the level of the Sage, or at least very close to it. It had taken down renowned dragon types belonging to rather strong Champions from across the States with a single blow, usually a Dragon Claw. Naturally, this had made everyone even more uneasy in her presence. Alex stepped forward unfazed, and smirking. "Challenge accepted. One on one?"

    The purple haired woman grinned as her unnerving stare fell on him. "No substitutions. Will you be using your Charizard? Or perhaps that lumbering black beast you rode in on?" Blaze and Shruikan immediately began arguing, via their telepathic link, over who would fight the Dragonite. Blaze had seen it first, but Shruikan needed the battle experience. They were silenced and shared their surprise with the examiner as Leo sprang forth from his ball, and snarled at the Dragonite.

    The woman raised both eyebrows, and walked towards the Luxray, who was sparking with electricity already. "I didn't know you had such a…fierce warrior on your team…oooh…his eyes are…uncannily similar to yours, actually, now that I look..." She said, looking up at Alex, comparing the two.

    Alex smirked, and his normally blue eyes turned red and gold as Leo shared his sight through their link. "They are, aren't they? I like his colors, too. Black and gold just…it just works."

    The look of awe at his Luxray's coloring faded, but the smirk remained. It was his turn to unnerve her with his gaze, and though she'd never admit it, a chill went up her spine. Those eyes had fire in them, even when they returned to being blue. "Dragonite. Go." She gave the command once she returned to her side of the imaginary field they were using. There would be no 'ring outs' here.

    Leo's form had begun to glow as she'd walked back, and the two fliers on their team protested. Leo had fought Kurama after all, and this Dragonite deserved to face a dragon. Leo roared as his saber-toothed Mega Form crouched down into a battle stance. "He who strikes first, gets the meal…" Leo's mental voice growled to the other two. Alex chuckled, and his two overeager battlers quieted. They had argued, while he had struck. It was too late to change now.

    Seeing his opponent had mega evolved, the Dragonite glanced at his Trainer. She shook her head. Alex fought down his disappointment. He hadn't seen a Dragonite's Mega Form, and Draco Plate crystals were exceedingly rare. If anyone had one though, it would be a Trainer like this. He smirked at her. "Not a wise choice. Leo's Mega Form is…deadly."

    The purple woman rolled her eyes. "You'll excuse me if I'm not intimidated. He may have a unique color, but I'll bet he's spent most of his life fighting flying and water types. He's never faced down a Dragonite." Alex just shook his head. A Black Salamence was, in his opinion at least, far deadlier than a Dragonite, and Leo often sparred with Shruikan.

    Leo snarled at the woman's words, and she raised a brow. His new form's mane was, unlike his normal one, sleeker, though it extended under his jaw as well, not unlike a Pyroar's. Electricity shot through it, and it flared out in an array of black with gold streaked fur. It would provide the conduit that would guide the plasma he generated with his attacks. There was, in truth, a reason Alex had let his proud cat take the lead again. None of his team were as good at night battling, and though the sun was coming, the night was still their ally.

    The Dragonite assumed the battle was on, and launched forward, its fists encased in fire and lightning, one claw for each. Alex frowned, as Leo dodged the fire one. The electric claw hit, and he snarled in surprise and pain. Usually such attacks didn't damage him much, but then his Trainer realized, these weren't actually punches. Fire and electric type energy had covered the dragon's true attack, Dragon Claw.

    He saw the purple haired woman moving her mouth, but no sound came out. The electric claw turned to ice, and he swore as he and Leo reached the same conclusion. She knew the dragon tongue. Since returning to battling regularly, Alex didn't use it in battles, as it put a target on his back, and was unfair against Trainers who couldn't power their partners up with their Voice. He did much the same with telepathy, though he kept their battle strategy silent, only shouting moves verbally.

    He whispered his own words, and the sky darkened again, as dark, ominous clouds rolled in from seemingly nowhere, and covered the rising sun. His Luxray grinned, and melted into the much heavier shadows as an Ice Claw sliced through an apparition of his form. Then, like the night hunter he was, Leo came out of the shadows from seemingly nowhere, his massive saber-teeth wreathed in lightning. They sank into the Dragonite's bulky leg, and then the cat disappeared just as quickly.

    The woman frowned, but said nothing about his tactics. As far as using the Voice went, augmenting one's Pokémon was more of a legitimate rule violation than changing the weather. Plenty of Pokémon did that anyway, just by appearing. Leo struck again, this time with his claws. He and Alex had discovered that his bones were actually quite good at conducting electricity, and since his claws had the same composition as his teeth, they'd figured out how to use an entirely new move. Thunder Claw, they called it. He was still getting the hang of it without mega evolving, but in this form, Leo had no issues controlling his elemental typing.

    Three red gashes appeared across the Dragonite's chest and exploded with electric energy, and it roared in frustration, then glanced back suddenly at its Trainer. It nodded once, and Alex knew they were shifting strategies. "Careful, Leo…use a ranged attack this time."

    While Leo much preferred physical attacks, his special ones were just as strong. He agreed with his Trainer, and did as ordered. He didn't take opponents this strong lightly. A bolt of Thunder arced down from the sky, and the Dragonite hissed as he narrowly dodged it. The searing plasma had struck his tail, but it was a glancing blow.

    Suddenly, the woman shifted her head, right towards where Leo was hiding. Alex had enough time to swear, and his lithe cat was already moving in the shadows, but they might as well have been in slow motion.

    The Hyper Beam tore across the grassy plains they were battling upon, and hit Leo directly. He began panting, and winced. It had hit his bulky abdomen, namely the muscles, and while nothing was broken, he'd almost been taken out in a single hit. Had he not been in his Mega Form, he would not have held on, but a sliver of strength was all he needed for a counter attack.

    The Dragonite was panting as well, and Leo took the chance to hit him directly with Thunder. That was the downside of Hyper Beam. Monstrous power, but it left a Pokémon unable to dodge, or attack for a moment. In a battle like this, that was a dangerous strategy. Evidently, the examiner had expected it to take Leo down.

    She reached the conclusion the same time he did. Alex could see it on her face. The next hit would decide this, and he knew what move she'd be using. "Hold your breath…" Alex said, watching her. "She found you somehow, last time. Shield your mind, and hold your breath. Don't move."

    Moments passed, as the Dragonite waited, a smirk that mirrored his Trainer's on his face. Alex growled softly. They were waiting for him to strike, but, they didn't know where Leo was. He hoped. "Use it." He finally said to his partner. They might as well try. Their spherical Taijitu attacks had stopped Hyper Beams before, after all.

    Leo formed the Electro Ball, and Alex's Zap Plate crystal flared from within his pocket. Leo would provide the dark type energy, as in this form, it was a part of him. The examiner narrowed her eyes. She had once mentioned her distaste for 'Z-Moves', after thrashing a particularly cheeky trainee on one of the rare times she'd visited. He had a feeling she didn't consider his new variant any better.

    Darkness formed one half of the condensed ball, and the Electric shard flared, powering the Energy Ball that made up the other half. Leo swirled the energy in his maw, condensing it. That, more than anything, was what made these moves so deadly. Unfortunately, they were also a bit flashy.

    The Dragonite leapt into the air and hovered there on his tiny wings as the orange sphere that was his Hyper Beam built in his own maw, and Alex suddenly had an idea. Leo growled, but affirmed that he could at least try to do it. As expected, the Hyper Beam blew away their Taijitu sphere formed in haste and partial stealth in a massive explosion that sent a concussive wave billowing for miles across the largely uninhabited grasslands this close to the Swamp.

    Moments later, the sky boomed, and had the clouds not been overhead, Leo likely would've had a much harder time calling electricity down from it. Especially while he was trying to use a complicated move. The Thunder attack slammed into the Dragonite, and it gave a pitiable whine as the electricity struck its wings.

    Leo appeared behind the Dragonite as it readied another Hyper Beam, not dissimilar to the way a Greninja did. The condensed Electro Ball was smaller than he could make it if he had time to properly focus and prepare, but it was still quite powerful. Powerful enough to slam into the Dragonite's back, and send him spinning into the soft earth below them.

    When the dust cleared, a crater with horizontal swirling patterns surrounded the fainted Dragonite, who was lying on the bottom. Leo landed, and let his Mega Form fade as he trotted towards his Trainer. Alex fed him one of his preferred treats, Moomoo Milk from back home, and the large cat purred, then rolled on his back, expecting a belly rub.

    Alex obliged him, smirking, even as he felt the static charge run up his arms, and make his hair flair out. It was curly, so often it was deceptive as to how much he actually had up there, but when he pet his electric lion, it became quite obvious. He needed a trim. "How did you keep dodging, anyways?" Alex said, speaking mentally to his large cat. "You looked like a Zoroark for a minute."

    Leo didn't respond for some time, during which the purple-haired examiner healed her partner, and made her way towards the two. "I did what the fox did. Used dark energy to make an approximation of my image that's so lifelike, it can fool the eyes of a Luxray. I call them Shadow Clones."

    He purred as Alex broke into a laugh. "No. Just…no. Call them Anything but that. Please." Leo rolled onto his stomach then, purred against his Trainer, and tapped his ball's button with his nose. He rather enjoyed the inside of his Pokéball, and he'd earned a nap. And he was definitely still calling them Shadow Clones. Alex sighed. Felines.

    Looking up, Alex noticed the examiner waiting for his focus to return, and once he stood, she spoke. "Well done…I admit, I didn't think you had a chance. Not without your Charizard, and a type advantage. You've improved while you've been away."

    Alex nodded. "I got some training from Tao and my Rayquaza…who should be here by now…but yea. I went to Norstad, too. Saved the world. Met some Legendary Pokémon."

    She gave him a smirk, and that feeling of nervousness returned. "So basically, the same thing every other Disciple did."

    Alex smirked. "It really is the best job in the world."

    A smile cracked the usually stone-faced woman's weathered features, and she gestured to the Swamp behind her. "Fly on in. The others know not to shoot you down."

    As he stood atop his massive dragon's head, holding onto a head-spike that was taller than him, he could see he needn't have worried about Shruikan being able to fit in the Swamp. The Swamp's trees were gargantuan. They might leave a dragon-sized hole in the canopy wherever they descended, but he should be fine battling.

    The air above the Swamp was, surprisingly, full of Trainers. Evidently, he really wasn't the only one who'd improved. The examiner had demonstrated early in their training that they had no chance against her, something the usually proud Champions had not accepted until they'd actually lost to her. Alex had been no exception. Now, it seemed, many had passed the test to earn the right to fly. He sensed many more Trainers below, as they flew over.

    There were likely some who assumed they could follow the guides to the Sage without attracting attention, but Alex knew better. He'd spent three months in this Swamp, and had learned early on that the Swamp did what the Swamp wanted. There were no shortcuts to the Sage, not for those who, like the other Champions, had come to try and become his honored student.

    Shruikan, as always, gathered looks wherever he flew, and thanks to his size, they created a swathe through the many flying types in the air. More than a few looked irritated enough to attack, but a glare from the massive dragon usually made them think otherwise. Deciding to check on his 'home' first, Alex had the large dragon descend on the western side of the Sage's Isle, only to find that his home away from home was occupied.

    Alex felt Arthur's irritation rising, and sighed. He also spotted Red, and figured he could let the second most well-known Trainer in the world give a chance to explain why his Mewtwo was sitting suspended in the air atop his wrecked home. The cat-like psychic type was meditating in the midst of the ruins of their little 'house' that had been made of wood, bark, and no small number of vines. A psychic barrier encircled the meditating Pokémon, who had evidently landed on the roof, and then pushed it downwards, demolishing everything.

    It was repairable, but it would never be the same. Hydrus was just as irritated as Arthur, and as the rest of his team noticed, all except Terra were genuinely mad that their sleeping space had been crushed by the Pokémon arrogant enough to claim to be as strong as Arceus. Red's Mewtwo was something of a legend, and after Blaine had passed on and given his ball to Red, the only Trainer he trusted with Mewtwo, the psychic type had grown…vocal. And disobedient. There was a reason Red usually kept him in his ball.

    As Shruikan landed, he snarled at the meditating Pokémon, who opened one eye, and then the other as he did a double take. "You're going to pay for crushing our home…" Shruikan's snarls only made the Mewtwo smirk, and Alex patted his horn, before leaping down.

    "Peace, Shruikan…" he said, speaking to the dragon's mind. "This is Arthur's fight…"

    The dragon grumbled, but spoke mentally to their Gallade. "Make sure my words ring true, sword-hands."

    As if in response, Arthur popped free of his ball. He'd been quiet on the trip south, and Alex knew Xerneas' words still rang in his head. The Sage knew who he was. Why had he not told him? That thought had steadily grown more and more irritating. Thus, now that they were finally here, he was ready for some answers, and was in no mood to deal with Red's Mewtwo.

    Blue psychic power surrounded Arthur as he walked up to Mewtwo, who blinked in irritation as the Gallade marched through his Barrier with ease. Arthur stared him down, his face an inch from the genetic Pokémon's. "Get. Out. I won't ask nicely again." There was a low 'oooo' sound from the few Trainers besides Red that had come to, evidently, see what the Mewtwo would do next.

    Red came up to Alex who was already moving towards the two psychic types. "I'm sorry, he just…he randomly popped free of his Pokéball a few minutes ago and vanished. Then I found him here. I have no idea why he's doing this…"

    The Mewtwo gave his Trainer a brief, irritated glance. "This does not concern humans. Go away. This is between me, and the little prince. The Dragonslayer." Mewtwo smirked again, and before anyone could blink, he was suddenly sent flying to his right, and everyone else's left. Arthur's Night Slash was humming, and radiating dark type energy.

    He glared towards the hole in the foliage the Mewtwo's body had caused. "I told you...to get out." His right arm, the arm which had struck first, was shaking, and Alex blinked as he sensed his Gallade was dangerously close to losing himself to rage. Where had that come from?

    Given that their telepathy was being broadcast audibly, everyone noticed how mad Arthur looked. Around the compound he'd been, by far, the most active of Alex's team. Sparring every day, with humans, Pokémon, anyone really. He'd trained relentlessly, as he had been convinced that he was their team's weak link at the time, due to his inability to mega evolve. That was no longer the case now, though.

    This Mewtwo in particular had often mocked the Gallade, 'sparring' with him in his Mega Form, which gained the fighting type. Arthur had withstood the verbal abuse though, and kept his cool, something everyone had admired, even as the Gallade lost consistently. Arthur's noble demeanor and nickname had only irritated Mewtwo, and Arthur had become the focus of his irritation on a daily basis. It had been good training, but the harsh words often struck a nerve he had, until now, ignored.

    The other Champions around the area, evidently brought by Red, or just curious to see what his Mewtwo was doing, all visibly flinched as the Genetic Pokémon's voice rang through the area. "So…you've gotten proper training…" The two sides of the Mewtwo-sized hole in the foliage were wrenched apart with psychic power. His eyes were shining deep blue, and the Mewtwo approached Arthur slowly, levitating above the ground.

    The gathered Trainers, Alex included, winced again as the Mewtwo turned his gaze towards Red, lifted the human into the air, and forcibly drew a Mega Stone from his bag. They all knew which one it was. Mewtwo raised a finger, and Red's keystone activated the Mewtwonite X. He sighed contently, as he finished mega evolving, and flexed his larger muscles as he landed before the Gallade. "Go on then, little prince. Hit me with everything you have. Make your dead mother proud."

    Arthur's eyes flared blue, and the area between the two psychic types began to break apart as each one called on their power. Sparks flared as their auras brushed against each other. Arthur did not mega evolve however, despite being given the chance to do so. Mewtwo's eyes narrowed, and he began to form a sphere of black energy between his palms. Arthur did the same, and his sword arms were glowing gold.

    The gold light formed a similar orb between his palms as he condensed the energy into a sphere he knew his opponent could not match, and though Mewtwo's grew darker as he poured more of his awesome power into it, Arthur's only grew brighter.


    The force of the psychic shout disrupted Mewtwo's concentration, but Arthur's held fast. He gave his opponent a grim smirk as the Shadow Ball Mewtwo had been forming vanished without his focus. The Foggy Swamp Sage descended through the canopy above them, staring down each fighter, before focusing on Arthur, who had kept the shining ball of power between his hands. "I said that's enough, Arthur…"

    The Gallade seemed to growl, but then paused as a single, massive claw rested on his shoulder. Shruikan brought his head down to the Gallade's level, and met his gaze, blinking once. Arthur sighed, and let the energy go.

    The Sage sighed, and pointed at Red, specifically one of his Pokéballs. A red light shot at the Mewtwo, who seemed ready to attack the Sage, but was forcibly returned to his ball instead. It shook violently, but the Sage's deep pinkish aura of psychic power kept it shut. He turned his gaze to the Gallade, and his Trainer.

    "You two. Come with me."

    Alex gave a nod, and bowed, but the Sage had vanished with what he assumed was Teleport. He let the rest of his team out of their balls, and then turned to Red. "They're going to start reconstructing my home. Help them out, if you can, hmm?" He gestured to his wrecked hovel. "This is partly your fault." Red simply nodded, keeping the brim of his hat covering his face.

    Arthur gave Red a pat on the shoulder before following Alex. "Know that I blame your Mewtwo for this. I know you wouldn't do something like this with no provocation. You're a good Trainer. One of the best, in fact, if what Alex says is true. Many have failed to tame a Mewtwo. Don't let this incident keep you from trying. You'll reach him…eventually." Red met the Gallade's gaze for a moment, and then nodded.

    The walk to the Sage's chamber would take several minutes, and Alex spoke quietly to his Gallade as they moved. "Are you okay? I've never seen you that angry…"

    The Gallade flinched, a frown on his usually happy face. "I…I just…I have no excuse. I lost control, for a moment…I let his words get to me…"

    Alex stopped, and faced his Gallade, putting a hand on each shoulder. "Anyone would have. I know how much you liked meditating in your room, and I know my own emotional turmoil hasn't helped with yours."

    Arthur looked up, at that. "That's no-"

    Alex cut him off. "We've had a rough week, my friend. Focus on the positive. Nobody got hurt, and you kept your head, in the end. Which is good because that attack, which was incredibly cool by the way, would've seriously hurt an Oranguru."

    Arthur looked down again, and sighed. "I don't know what it was…I just used Sacred Sword and pooled the energy…"

    Alex smirked. He'd thought that's what had happened. "We'll work on it. Now let's go."

    The Sage's compound was, they realized, much larger now. Several more dorm buildings had been added, and several others were yet being built, just to accommodate all the new people. There was even a second mess hall, built onto the side of the first.

    The Sage's chamber seemed unchanged, at least. They found him where he usually was, meditating in his wooden bowl-throne, perfectly balanced upon one of Swamp Tree's roots. Alex mentally reached out to the tree, grinning. "Hey, Swamp Tree."

    "Redwood, my man. Welcome back."

    The tree's voice was as casually chill as it always was. "Thanks Swamp Tree. How've you been?"

    A hint of sarcasm entered the tree's voice as it responded. "Pretty good, you know, pretty good. I've just been sitting here for two months. Being a tree. Winters over, so that's good. I love spring. It makes me grow taller."

    "Yea?" Alex said, resisting a chuckle. "Do you ever, y'know, consider maybe not growing? You're already pretty large, Swamp Tree."

    "Asking a tree not to grow is like asking the sun not to shine, Redwood. Trees gotta do what a trees gotta do." Even the Sage was smirking now, though Alex could tell he was trying to hide it. "You're one to talk. Look at you. Last I saw you, you could barely lift a pebble. You were smaller, too. What happened?"

    "I'll tell you all about it." Alex said, as he walked up to the throne, and bowed. Arthur did the same.

    The Sage opened his eyes, examined his student, and raised a brow. "So. You awakened your Dragon blood. Well, nobody saw that coming, I'm sure." He shifted his gaze to one of the rafters in the hall, and the lead Passimian guard dropped down, and reluctantly handed over a very large, very juicy looking Sitrus Berry.

    Alex had a feeling he'd just seen the conclusion of some sort of berry bet. The Sage split the fruit in half, and offered some to Alex, who broke his piece in half, and gave some to Arthur. They munched quietly, sitting together as Alex recounted their adventures in the land of ice and snow.

    "So. Tao trained you to use your psychic powers, did he." Alex nodded, and the Sage sighed. "Well, he didn't teach you anything too damaging, so that's something. Besides, you showed control in Norstad. You could have that region worshiping you as a dragon-god hero, but you didn't stay."

    Alex nodded again. "Norstad's better off being led by a hero of their own. And, Jess was better at using her powers. She surpassed me during our training. She also had help from her partner. Mine refused to teach me anything because you forbade him from doing so."

    "For good reason," the Sage mumbled, "You had yet to unlock the other half of your potential. Now, we can move forward. Arthur, consider my ban lifted. Teach him whatever he wants."

    Arthur smirked, as did his Trainer. "With respect, master," he said, "I think you already know what he wants. He's determined to learn it from you, and if I'm honest…it's been a while. I've kind of forgotten how…and I wouldn't have the first clue about teaching it to a human…I can move fast enough to make it seem like the real thing, but that's just a ninja technique I picked up from Gren."

    The Sage raised a brow, and looked between the two. "What does he wish to learn now?"

    Alex's smirk widened. He'd been shielding his thoughts, and it was nice to know the Sage hadn't pried, though he had no doubt his mental defenses would be no match for his power. "I want to Teleport, master. It seems like something that could be incredibly useful, to a Trainer. Especially one with a power base to manage."

    The Sage tossed the last of the fruit into his mouth, and raised a brow. "How?" It was weird, seeing his mouth occupied, and yet hearing him speak, undeterred by it.

    Alex blinked. "Well, for one thing, I could continue my duties as Champion, and study here."

    The Sage nodded, and then a look of understanding came over his face. "I see what you're after…it also lets you visit your woman. And anywhere else you can remember. Hmmmm." The large Pokémon stroked his chin, which had a respectable white-furred beard on it. "Very well. I see no reason to keep you from such a skill. You have proven that you can handle power. The World Eater was no small threat. I'll expect you to bring her here, for training. If what you say about Pravus is true, she will need it as well, before you venture to Fornia."

    Learning to Teleport wasn't exactly difficult, as he was, after all, a psychic type. It was an ability most of them had, and one Arthur was glad to remember. It would be incredibly useful in a battle. The trick, as the Sage showed them, was to tap into the global field of energy surrounding their planet, and use their psychic power to move along it. It was, in actuality, quite simple. All you needed was a clear image of your imprinted destination, though Alex soon realized, he could only go to places he'd already been, and remembered quite well.

    That was fine, as it gave him a reason to travel the world. He'd gone back to his room once he'd gotten the hang of it, and while there, grabbed extra clothes, and shoved them into his bag. His shirt, pants, and robe didn't really need washing since they were clothes from Tao's world, but having extra underwear was always a good thing. He appeared back in the Sage's hall, grinning like a child. "This…is amazing. Thank you, master." He bowed low.

    The Sage seemed amused that the human was so glad to get underwear. Naturally, the Sage didn't need any. Teleportation was something most unevolved psychic types did with ease. Seeing a human use it was interesting, but his student had no issues picking it up. Once he'd done it successfully, he had the move down. "Remember there's a limit to how many times you can use it. Don't forget. Or you'll have to spend time resting wherever you end up."

    Arthur glanced at his Trainer once he sat back down, and Alex nodded. "Master, there's something else…when Xerneas thanked us for saving her, and her home, she told Arthur about his origins…or rather, she told him that you knew of them."

    The Sage sighed, but shifted his gaze to the Gallade, who was looking down at his crossed legs. "She was correct. Since the moment you arrived, I had a feeling, but seeing you both now…it's clear my instinct was spot on. I did not tell you because…the situation is…complicated."

    Arthur looked up at the Sage. "Who am I?"

    Oranguru usually prided himself on being emotionally distant. Unattached. Wise. But seeing this Gallade, the sadness in his eyes, the lack of understanding…it moved him in ways he thought he'd been immune to. "Settle in, both of you." The Sage said, "This is going to be a long story…"

    "Arthur, you hail from the land known as Albion. I'm sure you've heard of it. Small, just north of Wyndon City. It's a nice place, really. Rolling fields of green, kind people, the weather is terrible, but then, that's just a part of living there. In actual fact, Albion is where your species first originated from, though you've all spread out over the eons. Your ancestral roots are in Albion, and your egg, young Arthur, was likely created there." The Gallade looked ready to respond, but stayed quiet. He needed to hear this.

    "As I said…the situation in Albion is…complicated. Fragile. You see, the humans of that land have lived there for uncountable millennia, but, unlike any other society on the planet, they actually allowed Pokémon to rule over them, and hold positions of governmental power. Specifically, your line, Arthur. You are, in my best guess, the Lost Prince of Albion."

    Arthur blinked. "What…? I…hmm…tell me about my mother."

    The Sage nodded. "Your instinct serves you well. Several years ago, there was…a shift in the balance of Albion's power. A group of humans, for no discernible reason, rose up against you and your family. I know for a fact that your line always ruled with the inherent grace and kindness your species is so naturally imbued with. These humans though…they had a benefactor. A woman in the shadows, pulling their strings. She became Queen once your mother was forced to run, with no mate, a fresh egg, and a Houndoom on her heels."

    The Sage sighed, and sank into his throne. "I will be honest…when they drove your mother to flee her home after they'd killed your father, I did not allow her to stay in the Swamp. She came to me with an egg, I'm assuming it was yours, but I could not let her stay. You see, to this day, there is a…dedicated…group of humans and Pokémon alike under the new Queen whose sole purpose is to hunt you down, and end any chance of the old line returning to power. Anyone who helps refugees of the 'royal family', is severely punished. I wasn't willing to start a war. They would've torn the Swamp apart to find her, and keep you from hatching." The Sage kept his gaze on the floor. "I know that her egg hatched, and that she fled to Unova, seeking the protection of four Pokémon, three of which had, in the past, served her family."

    Alex broke in then. There was only one quartet that could possibly fill that role. "The Swords of Justice…but they've-"

    "Disappeared." Oranguru said, nodding. "I am aware. I know this much, young Arthur. Your mother fell to the hands of this group that hunts you, even now. I also know that shortly after she died, the Swords went missing. When you return to Unova, go to their Pledge Grove. That is where my Future Sight led my gaze when I meditated on this. If there are answers, you will find them there."

    The Gallade glanced at his Trainer, and Alex nodded. There was no question. Arthur was going to the Grove immediately, to remember what he'd forgotten. He Teleported away, and Alex sighed at his master. "He never stops."

    The Sage smirked. "I know. I wonder who he gets that from."

    Later that night, as Arthur handled his business, Alex returned to his 'home' to find that Terra had seriously outdone himself with reforging their hovel. The design was essentially the same, but the combined mastery of the earth and water that made up the Swamp from Terra and Hyrdrus allowed it to be molded in ways humans could never dream of achieving. Not without years of work. It was even big enough for Jess, and had passable shelter from the rain that would no doubt come as summer approached.

    He recalled his tired team, amazed at their work. Blaze and Leo had also helped sculpt the stone, so everyone was thoroughly exhausted, which was perfect, because Alex had a feeling his belt wouldn't be on all night.

    Alex was finally free to Teleport wherever he wished. His possibilities were limitless. He went to Alola first, and bumped into Percy at a restaurant his family had visited on an earlier trip. Percy suggested he get something for his lover, and deciding to actually trust the fairy type's advice, he let his random, wandering gaze, and the universe, guide him. It was a trick he'd picked up from Tao, and was often a good way to make decisions his conscious mind focused too hard on. Once his eyes read the familiar, and hilarious words on the random package they'd settled on behind the counter, Alex knew what he'd be getting her.

    Unova University - Unova Region

    "Thanks for the Tapu Cocoa." Jess said, smirking. He'd returned to his lady's dorm, only to find that her new roommate had invited her boyfriend as well. Naturally, Alex had enough to share.

    Her roommate smirked. "Yes, thank you…it's seriously good." She pouted at her partner. "He never gets me anything."

    Jess buried her face in his chest suddenly, and she stifled a giggle fit as Alex nonchalantly sipped his drink, and said, "I know what the ladies like." The boyfriend, whose name he hadn't been told, nodded, as he got the reference. Alex chuckled as well.

    They'd Teleported away then, as upon hearing he could take her anywhere, his better half had demanded to see Lumiose again, namely because she needed to shop, or something. He didn't mind, and managed to use her own memory of the city to appear there, right outside Lumiose Tower. The great thing about Kalos, he discovered, was that everyone was ready to battle, and usually with mega evolution. Those battles were always interesting. Especially since he was down to Hydrus and Terra, whose stamina was quite impressive. Everyone else was still tired from constructing their home again.

    Alex and Jess gave themselves three months, before they headed out for Fornia, as upon prodding its outer defenses they had learned the Professor had been correct. Fornia was a fortress, and entering it was not simple, even for Arceans. Training in the Swamp by day, and adventuring at night Alex was battling tons of Trainers, and seeing many battle styles. More than once, a wandering blackbelt had even challenged him to a battle of martial arts, and not Pokémon. Some, had even fought alongside their fighting types, and both he and Arthur found those kinds of matches rather enjoyable.

    Arthur, after returning from his Pledge Grove adventure in which he reunited with Keldeo, but was no closer to finding the missing Swords, he informed his Trainer that there were many Gallade who were considered great knights in the Pokémon Leagues throughout the States. For a reason he kept private, he wanted to travel to those Leagues, and battle those Gallade. Having read the same legends Arthur had, Alex could guess why.

    The Sage had been right, as always. His species had a thing for tournament battling. Shruikan and Blaze helped expand the number of places they could Teleport to, by the day. Alex was making a trail essentially, slowly reaching ever closer to Fornia. It was impressive just how massive the continent was, and he knew once he got in range of Fornia that he'd be battling Leagues all the way back to the Swamp. He wasn't trying to become Champion, but he did have a series of six on six wins against the Champions he came across randomly on his travels west.

    Jess was with him, of course, and despite being trained by Alex, Arthur, and even Delphi, she just could not grasp how they used Teleport so easily. She'd had the hardest time grasping the universal energy web that she was supposed to reach out to, and move along. She hadn't realized just how connected she was to the planet at large, and Alex teased her for it all the time. Being a rancher, he'd always known he was a part of a larger, interconnected web of life.

    One night, they'd visited Percy, who'd heard about Jess' inability to learn Teleport. He gave them Tapu Cocoa, and had then told Jess that the key to understanding teleportation was understanding how every living thing was connected, and tapping into that web to move through space. He'd finished his lecture with the words "Life needs life, to live." She giggled for a moment, pondered his words, and then blinked away. Moments later, she returned, still smirking.

    Once she learned how to Teleport, Alex brought her towards the Swamp, as instructed. She was eager to learn, of course, but with their new ability to be literally anywhere at any time, they'd been rather distracted on the way down.

    With sudden access to places the world over, Alex felt less guilty about catching multiple partners. Being able to Teleport, and only needing four hours of sleep, meant he could finally train his other partners, or at least tell his cousins to let them out. It was summer, after all. He'd found the right evolutions for each of the Eevee he'd caught together, and once they were all trained up, he set them to guard the ranch from their tree-home in the nearby forest. With powerful moves learned by way of TM, and perfected with training.

    At first, the proud group of genetic variants claimed to have better things to do. Then, they'd realized just how many reporters, tourists, rabid fans, and even wild Pokémon came around the Redwood Ranch lately, and would, if ignored, trample the wild Pokémon's homes. More than once a Pokémon intelligent enough to pay attention to human media had sought him out, for training. Sometimes they wished to be caught, other times, they left after learning to incorporate elements of the Dragon Style into their battles. His eeveelutions grew stronger as they battled off more and more people, but the two that shone strongest were his Espeon and Umbreon. He wasn't all that surprised. One guarded the ranch during the day, and the other took the night. Always their patrols were in balance. He was glad at least two had picked up his lessons.

    Of all his eeveelutions, only his Leafeon had asked to switch Trainers. He gladly gave her to his cousin Aria, as the two had become close, and his little cousin was rapidly becoming a decent grass type Trainer. He'd spent several days sharpening her growing team against the blades of his newly evolved Grovyle, Arbor.

    Alex gave similar tasks to his other partners as he had with the Eevee, and slowly, his family noticed that certain chores were just randomly being taken care of by his Pokémon. His Muk and Garbodor cleared the garbage by splitting it between themselves fairly, before wandering away to find more. His Machamp helped with ranching. His Squirtle and Chikorita tended the plants. He also knew that his cousins could find uses for those he sent over. More than once now, they'd bonded with the Pokémon in question, and he'd simply given them to the relative in question. Slowly and subtly, the younger generation of Redwoods gained full belts from the prolific Champion. Evidently, all those hours chucking pebbles at the now-exploded stump just outside their home were paying off.

    Thus, it was well into summer by the time Alex and Jess finally arrived at the edge of the massive Swamp. She too battled the dragon woman, and earned the right to fly in on her Articuno. Folokraan was quite large now, and had proven herself by beating down a certain Dragonite with icy ease born of a quadruple weakness. Once they returned to their swampy abode, Arthur had popped out, just in case a certain Mewtwo decided to make an appearance again. It didn't.

    Connor eventually made his way to the Sage, and then back through the Swamp again to earn the right to fly. There was a reason Garchomp was feared, and a favorite of Champion level teams. He'd smirked at Alex and his sister, who were in the middle of sparring, as he sliced down through the canopy of the island. Evidently, he'd been victorious against the Dragonite as well, and had also acquired power he supposedly wasn't ready for.

    Once Alex, Jess, and Connor had all arrived, finally, it wasn't long until Hilbert showed up as well. N remained nowhere to be found. Since Alex could Teleport now, Hilda didn't have to battle quite so many Trainers, which had given her time to finally visit this Swamp her brother constantly pestered her about. She was surprised to learn that the Champion could travel so far so fast, and hadn't expected him in the Swamp, but her brother was glad she'd finally made it down. Naturally, the other Champions were quite eager to 'get to know' the girl who'd beaten down the original Team Plasma. When they asked Alex for an introduction, he'd smirk, and send them to Hilbert. He knew how that would end. The elder twin was overprotective, quiet, and ruthlessly strong.

    When everyone had finally returned, they were almost halfway through the summer. The Sage gathered his first generation of pupils, and told them, and other worthy disciples, why so many regular Trainers had been allowed to the Swamp. They weren't unskilled persay, they just hadn't all won a League yet.

    Part of proving one could be the honored student of a Sage was being able to teach, as well as learn. In fact, often the advanced lessons on inner peace were based solely on how well you could train a pupil.

    Alex had been doing this already, in a fashion, and once he had time, he'd organized the Trainers who wanted to learn from the man who'd united the Unovan Dragon. A change happened in the training ground over the next few weeks, after the Sage told them to let those who wished to learn, do so. With the influx of Trainers had come plenty of fan bases, and Unova's was, naturally, rather large. Even though all the Champions had not come down, the Trainers who showed seemed more than eager to learn from the twins, and Alex as well.

    Some Champions had convinced others to learn from them, but the more Alex taught about balance and especially the martial arts of the Dragon Style, and how they were related, the more trainees he had who were both newcomers, and old Champions. Everyone was eager to learn a new style of 'Kung Fu', which was where Connor had chimed in.

    His meteoric rise to the rank of being able to fly had been gotten him rapid recognition among the other Champions, and he too claimed that he could teach Kung Fu. Apparently, he'd also said the Tiger Style could easily beat the Dragon, but Alex hadn't much cared. His disciples spoke for themselves. It also helped having Jess around, for her skills were almost as good as his. When it came to using psychic power however, Alex was entirely outclassed.

    In truth, he'd essentially copied Tao's method of instruction, though it would take much, much longer to complete on this plane. Some students didn't care, and went weeks without rest, determined to master everything they could be taught.

    Those were the disciples who soon unlocked a second typing, like their mentor had. Dragon and psychic was rare enough that Alex was the only human around the Sage's compound who'd had that combination, and most of the combinations that did appear in the Champions were normal, and something else. He also soon noticed that the Sage didn't care if his honored disciple was a psychic type or not. He trained and groomed many Trainers personally, Champions and regular Trainers alike, and Alex gained a bad habit of beating them in battles of Pokémon, and fist.

    Eventually, Oranguru suggested Alex battle his longtime neighbor, and the scarlet headed Champion of Kalos had grinned at the offer to battle. He opted for a battle of fists. Evidently, he knew how a six on six would go. The so-called 'masters' of the Tiger and Dragon styles met on the Pokémon field towards the back of the island. It was surrounded by trainee housing made from the bamboo that grew in the swamp, and almost felt like a stadium.

    Connor summoned his Raikou, and Alex rolled his eyes. Evidently, he wanted his mentor to watch. That was fine by him. Tao appeared in a psychic Teleportation flash, towering over Alex, and setting the crowd watching them abuzz with murmuring. Many people still hadn't seen the Original Dragon in the flesh, but he always made an impression. The massive white and black dragon grinned at the tiger-like Legendary. This was a bet long in the making.

    As the two humans clashed after sharing a nod, it soon became obvious who the more skilled fighter was. Alex hit Connor's balance points with every move, and the explosive strikes, which made Raikou's style so deadly, simply couldn't hit his opponent in return. The Champion of Unova was a black and white blur. He moved like water, and struck like thunder. He almost reached for his staff, but Connor hadn't allowed that.

    Seeing defeat looming too quickly for his ego, Connor had given a shout of "Haaaa!", and flared his second typing's power, and as fighting type energy claws formed around his fists, Alex smirked at him, and mouthed a word in the tongue of the Dragons.


    His eyes shifted from shades of light blue and bluish-purple to almost pure white as he pushed his limits. His power flared, and then condensed around his form in a shield of aura, and the smirking Unovan Champion launched forward again, as he began to, finally, attack without pulling his punches. Everything thus far had been a warm up.

    Though Connor scratched his opponent many times, his claws never seemed to leave much more than a few marks, and each time Alex struck in return, Connor nearly doubled over. He glared at his rival, and wondered when he'd gotten this good.

    Connor flared his fighting type aura again, with more shouting, and as he did, it turned yellow, and began sparking with electricity. Alex's smirk grew as he recognized the trick Thor used in battle. "Really? Are we going there?"

    Connor grinned. "Come and find out." He dropped into his stance again, and Alex sighed. His opponent didn't seem to get it.

    Though the Kalos Champion's muscles had grown exponentially, he was simply not fast enough for the advantage Teleport gave to his opponent. Each strike from Alex slammed into his target's weak points, and given that he had limited uses of Teleport, he didn't pull his punches.

    As his fighting type energy faded, revealing just how hurt his body was, Connor grinned at his rival, who remained seemingly immune to the bloodless slashes all over his face, chest, back, and legs. "Alright, I give. I know when I'm beaten."

    Alex let the power fade, and smirked at his rival. "You've become rather good with fists. You almost had me." The numerous slashes sparked as the skin sewed itself closed, and the tears in his robe sewed themselves shut. He stretched then, and glanced at Tao, who glanced at Raikou, who snarled in irritation.

    The large tiger stalked over, and placed something at Alex's feet. Ghost, Dark, Steel, and Fighting type crystals, shards of Plates from Arceus himself. Each flared as Alex connected to them, and lifted them up via telekinesis. "Thank you. We should battle again in the future. I still need more of these." The tiger glared at the human, and then blinked, as Tao growled at him in return.

    Raikou stalked back to Connor, and returned to his ball without a word. He'd had enough of draconic smugness for one day.

    The dragon had followed Alex back to his 'home' of course, and watched him pocket his new prizes. "You should have Arthur bond with them. And there is more to know, before you set off for Fornia."

    The retrieval of these particular Plate crystals had been the final step in their plan to leave. The Swamp was unbearably hot, as it was the middle of the summer, but they knew Fornia would be hotter. Alex had mentioned that they planned to look at Albion eventually, assuming they survived Fornia, and the Dragon hadn't missed a beat.

    Arthur had practiced forming 'energy balls' of many types now, but only ghost and psychic ever really worked. Once he had access to a fighting crystal, his 'Excalibur Sphere' as he called it, was easy to use. Especially in his Mega Form. He knew he needed to be stronger than Mordred. He'd read the legends, and, he remembered just how close their first encounter had been.

    Once he'd bonded to each, and formed spheres with each, the Gallade had returned to his ball to continue practicing. It was safer in there, and it was designed to help his power grow. Perfect for training. Alex and Tao chuckled at his behavior. He really was always on the move.

    Jess had been busy gathering crystals as well, like Steel, Water, Electric, and Grass. They would need to find more before reaching Fornia, but they'd manage. It was no secret that the regions Fornia controlled around the Stoney Mountains were literally brimming with ancient stones and fossils. Blissfully ignorant Archaeologists were more than willing to join the Church, if it meant discovering and reviving an extinct species of Pokémon.

    Scientists had hypothesized that the Stoney Mountains were some of the first places Mew began to copy DNA from. Life flourished in those regions, but the Arceans kept a lock on all of it. One thing Alex was looking forward to most, was finding all those new species nobody had yet been able to freely catalogue.

    Tao looked between the two Trainers, and sighed. "You're ready to leave, and yet you aren't disguised." Jess smirked at the dragon, and summoned the fairy type energy from her crystal. Ever since being immortalized by Xerneas, she'd had a knack for using it to disguise things, which was good, for she had no Pokémon that could make use of it. Yet.

    With a wave, their appearance changed, and they gained the dark tanned skin, and golden hair so common in the Fornia region. At least among Arceans, which was who they were trying to infiltrate. Their features had changed as well, though to those who knew them, like family, they were still recognizable.

    The dragon nodded, seemingly satisfied by their attempt at disguise. "Very well. The first thing you'll want to do is gather the other Plate crystals. If you do that, Pravus will never overpower you. Next, comes having Pokémon who can use those crystals. In times long passed, Battlers carried ten partners, and the strongest among them was decided by going head to head in clashes of ten on ten. This will be the same rule set in the upcoming World Tournament: Ten partners, no substitutions, and the freedom to use whatever move your Partner can learn. The limit of four will be removed, for World Tournament battles."

    The Sage descended then, floating down through the foliage on his fan, and yawned before giving Tao a nod of respect that was returned in kind. "Mm. You're telling him? Fine." The tired eyes shifted to Alex, and the Sage spoke again. "For this particular tournament, Trainers and Pokémon are encouraged to use as many moves as they're capable of remembering, in whatever style they wish. Items and healing implements will not be allowed, with the exception of Full Heals. Status conditions should not decide strength, so the League decided to give every Trainer three, per round."

    Alex arched a brow at his two towering mentors. "What's the purpose of such a tournament? Ten Pokémon? Most people can barely go six on six."

    The Oranguru chuckled, and munched on what appeared to be a Pinap berry, seemingly immune to the rough exterior, the massive, flat teeth crushed it without a thought. "This tournament is meant to draw out the strongest Trainer in the world. What happens after will be for that individual to find out. To that end, the League's founder wanted this particular test to be as fair as possible, with a focus on making participants rely on strategizing with what abilities their Pokémon have, without item usage getting in the way. Essentially...it will be a contest in the style of the ancient world, in a time when humans were able to draw much, much more from Pokémon in terms of power. This competition will reawaken that knowledge, and set the stage for the final act."

    Alex's brow rose further. "Final act?"

    The Sage chuckled. "You'll find out, if you manage to win. For now...gather your four new team members, and prepare. I will inform the other Champions. Most will already have four more partners ready to fill out their belts. Once more, you are behind, Redwood."

    Alex nodded, as the Sage floated off to dispense more wisdom, and Tao returned home with a 'bamf' sound common to Teleporting. He already had several Pokémon in mind for his four new slots.

    His original six would be used for full battles, and the other four would be useful in Fornia. He fully intended on training the new four just as hard as the rest of his team. He needed battle-hardened partners who could use the other crystals in his possession, and most of his thus far captured partners back home simply didn't want to battle as much as his main six did. Jess was still trying to decide what she wanted for her team, but Alex already had his first pick. He needed an Aron. An Aron from the mountains around his home region, of course. He and Jess bamfed to Unova as well, and parted, to go about finding more partners. Having four new ones would further help hide their identities in Fornia, as they could pretend to be mediocre Trainers who had Pokémon more as pets and friends than as competitors.

    It was as he began searching the mountain closest to the ranch, and caught the gaze of a particularly ravenous Aron, that he knew he'd found his partner. He needed an Aggron that was powerful, and hungry. It was literally the key to his plan working. He offered the Aron an Ultra Ball, once he'd convinced him that it wasn't food. The little Pokémon asked to see his team, and Alex took his request by reading his thoughts as he spoke.

    They appeared behind him in a multicolored flash, smirking, and the little steel type's eyes widened as he saw just how outclassed he was by his new teammates. Hydrus terrified the little one, but the others he didn't mind. Blaze was only slightly impressed at how fearless the little Pokémon seemed around him. Steel types usually took one look at the Charizard and refused to battle. His flames often turned blue against real opponents.

    Alex knelt down to the still-chewing Aron, and smirked. "Come with me. The time is right, and there's no better team." The Aron blinked, and then pushed the Ultra Ball button, which dinged shut. One down. Alex smirked at the ball. "I'll call you Cenomons."
    #24 Apr 28, 2022
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2022
  5. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 22: Rise With the Storm

    Unova University - Northern Unova Region

    Once Alex had his Aron, he'd visited his brother, who was in the middle of a summer-long experiment at the University's lab. He looked around as he entered the lab building, and he felt his team drawing his gaze towards one of the lab's habitats. Then, he saw why.

    It was an Amaura, clearly a hatchling, and it was as white as the snow within its habitat. It looked to have once produced berries, like the other Amaura and Aurorus habitats nearby, but evidently the little one had frozen all of it. He was huddled up, alone, and shivering.

    Each of his team told him to go to the little one, and Alex hopped into the habitat, and approached the Pokémon, reaching out to it in a manner not unlike a Ralts, with emotion. Good feels flowed into the shivering Pokémon and his tiny head rose to look at the large intruding human. That was when Alex noticed. This Amaura was pure ice type. That explained why the air around it was noticeably colder.

    "He's the most recent hatchling in this line that we've been breeding specifically for Special Attack power. Moreover, like most 'fossil' Pokémon these days, the rock typing impurities have been lost. We have their entire genome, finally." Eric said, approaching as he noticed his brother, staring at the tiny Pokémon.

    Alex smirked. "My team insisted that I pet him. He doesn't seem to mind." Indeed, the habitat had started to look slightly greener since the Trainer had started scratching the hatchling. The sounds of enjoyment the little male was making were adorable.

    He'd almost thought the little one was female, but he had then noticed the tips of the frilly ridges along his neck. They were more of a deep blue, rather than pink. There was that, and the electronic sign on the door of the habitat that had listed his gender with true Pokédex accuracy. The ridges had been pure white a moment before, but the blue was actually working nicely with the pure white of the skin. He was adorable.

    He felt Terra give the mental equivalent of a nudge. "Can we keep him?"

    Alex smirked. His team was becoming clever. They knew he'd be reluctant to take an ice type because of Terra's dislike for it. Having him ask, was supposed to remove that hesitation, apparently.

    He spoke directly to his first Pokémon then, and stared at his oldest partner, with his third eye for a long moment. "They freeze the air around them, and you heard Eric. He'll be strong. Are you sure you want an ice type like that around?"

    Terra seemed to chuckle. "If I did not, I would not have asked." He gave the mental equivalent of an eyeroll. "Humans."

    Eric handed the Pokémon an Oran berry as Alex's focus snapped back to his surroundings, and the little long-neck stared at the lab-coated student, motionless. Alex scratched the spot under his chin again, and then gave him a Sitrus berry. It made adorable sounds of enjoyment as it devoured the fruit, and Alex smirked at his brother. "Is this the first time he hasn't frozen what you've given him to eat?"

    Eric rolled his eyes. "We get it. You're psychic."

    Alex smirked. "You don't need psychic power to know a hungry hatchling. Where's the mother?"

    Eric's expression grew dark for a moment. "Frozen. Passed on. The others abandoned him after that. He needs a social learning environment, or he's going to end up losing control of that power. He needs to learn his limit, and not fear it…"

    The Professor-in-training paused, as he saw his brother's smirk shift to a grin.


    "Oh come on!" Alex said, chuckling as the tiny Pokémon rolled on its back, and demanded a belly rub. Leo had joined him, for that. They all enjoyed their Trainer's hand scratches, but sadly, they all could not fit in the lab. "Look at him, he needs us. And, I need an ice type. As well as my Plate crystal."

    He looked at Eric, and Eric sighed, pinching his brow. After a moment, he pushed his glasses up, and the lighting in the lab turned them white. Alex resisted laughing. "Fine. He's yours to take care of. But I expect regular reports on his health. I'll get your crystal." Since returning from Norstad, the lab had three whole months while Alex was off 'preparing' to study it. Evidently, it had come from a village of Articuno riders. Eric supposed if anyone would have shards of an Icicle Plate, it would be such a village.

    Alex was painting a Luxury Ball in the white and blue colors of his new partner, who seemed eager to enter the ball for some reason. Finally, he booped his nose against the button, and it dinged shut immediately. It twitched in his hand then, and made sounds of enjoyment as the little Pokémon ran around within his new home. Alex smirked. Hatchlings. At least this one wouldn't eat his ball. Four times.

    Cenomons, or 'Ceno' for short, was now in a Heavy Ball, one that had stood up to his jaw strength. Evidently the Ultra Ball had been unacceptable, so the little Pokémon kept eating through them until his Trainer got the message. Alex had brought him into the mental 'web' that made up his team then, and the little one learned to use words, rather than brute force. At least with them.

    As Eric finally returned, crystal in hand, he eyed the newly painted ball. It wasn't so much 'paint' as it was using a stylus to draw, color, and pattern Pokéballs to suit their Trainer's preferences. Naturally, the woman who'd invented this tech had made a fortune when the Pokéball companies bought it from her. By this point, it was standard with most balls. Styluses were, of course, sold separately.

    Alex eyed the Icium crystal, and Eric sighed again as he handed it over. "Don't teach him anything ridiculously powerful right off. His affinity for special attacks is…off the charts." Alex rolled his eyes, and his brother glared at him. "Seriously. Don't teach him Ice Beam until he learns it on his own."

    Alex smirked, and gave Leo a scratch. The large cat had come for the belly rub, but had stayed, waiting for a moment like this. He gave Eric a feral grin, and the Professor-in-training shifted uncomfortably as he recalled how well Leo had handled such attacks, despite being fresh from the shop.

    Alex smirked. "I think he can handle it. If he can't, I'll teach him." In reality, he was planning to let the little one mature a bit. Pokémon grew faster than humans, as a rule, so a few weeks wouldn't be too long of a wait.

    Eric raised a brow. "Teach him what? Those overpowered C-Moves?"

    Alex held up a finger. "No. Just no."

    Eric's brow rose higher. "But the 'c' is for cryst-"

    Alex's finger pushed against his brother's nose, booping it. "I said…No."

    The younger brother waved his sibling's finger away in disgust. It reeked of Leaf. Of course he'd had a bowl before coming. Typical Alex. "Fine. Tye-jee-too moves." He mumbled something about 'foreign moon languages', and then his gaze fell to the crystal. "Do you really need it so soon? We're learning so much. That thing literally gave us the perfected Aurorus genome. I touched it to mine, and it turned pure ice type. It rewrote strands of DNA! With a touch! It's incredible."

    Alex shrugged. "I'm sorry, I need it back. It's high time we got to Fornia. We've given Pravus far too much time with…whatever he managed to escape with."

    Though he'd gone over the events a hundred times, Alex still couldn't figure out why the Arcean Prophet had retreated. He'd gained the upper hand with his Gigalith, and then just vanished. It defied logic. Most likely because Pravus knew something he was as yet unaware of. Finding out what he'd learned or retrieved was one of their main objectives. For now. And it required quite a bit of stealth.

    Eric pushed his glasses up by the center rim again, and sighed. "Alex, those crystals are shooting pure Arceus-level Infinity Energy into the Pokémon who use them. For attacks, and for evolution. It can't be healthy."

    "If it isn't, we'll soon find out." Alex said, eyeing his new Pokéball, as he teased it with his mind. It glowed blue, and was rocking slowly. The hatchling within was already sleepy. After going so long without food, or family, he needed a nap. "I've been monitoring those using the crystals for evolution for a while now. Where I can, anyways. There's rumors of problems with Mega Evolution in general, but I can never find anything solid on it. When and if there is a case, I'll deal with it. Personally. Then I'll stop it from repeating."

    Eric stared his brother down. "And what if your 'case' ends up being unfixable? What if every case results in a death? Will it be worth the risk then? What if it can't be fixed?"

    Alex smirked at his brother. "Can't? There is no can't. There is no try. If something needs to be fixed, I'll find a way to fix it. It's that simple."

    Eric sighed at his brother. "Tell your Sage that giving you Teleport was a bad idea." Alex smirked.

    Several Days Later – Victory Plateau, Unova

    Alex waited patiently at the top of the Victory Plateau. He'd Teleported in five minutes ago, and this Challenger was still walking up the stairs. The Unova League tournament had just ended, and this summer's newest hotshot had fast tracked his way to the Champion. Through the Four, and through Rosa.

    Five minutes became ten, and though the wind howled across the barren battlefield, Alex didn't mind it. It was cold on the plateau, true, but Norstad was much colder, he could wait hours up here, despite the relatively hard wind. It was rather nice, when one had it to oneself. Finally, the Challenger came in, looking confident. They always did.

    Being the Champion of the hardest League in the world, Alex had the option to give his challengers a choice.

    Battle six on six against his team, and claim victory over the entire Victory Plateau, or, battle six on one…against the Original Dragon, and become the Champion. Given that they had enough Champions already, Tao had come up with this system early on in Alex's reign, and nobody in the League had objected. Tao knew what having too many Champions could do, and even Hilbert had agreed that there were enough, for their League at least. The Victory League was not the only League in Unova, but it was home to the strongest Trainers they had. With this system, genuinely good Trainers could challenge and potentially beat two of Unova's Champions, one former, and the current one, and move on with that kind of record on their Trainer Card. Those who wanted to dethrone Redwood could still make an attempt, but would accept the likelihood that they'd leave the Victory Plateau without two Champion level victories.

    All who fought the First Dragon, lost. Alex refused to battle them again immediately after that, not that the six on six match would've helped. Alex's team was, supposedly, just as strong as Tao. Stronger even, if one believed such rumors. Most Challengers went for the dragon, always staring blankly in surprise as their Master Balls failed to capture the dragon that already had an 'owner'. It was depressing how many Trainers with enough skill to beat the Four and one of the four past Champions opted to try for an easy victory to claim the title of reigning Champion. Those, did not get invited to the Dragonspiral Tower.

    What few Challengers that did decide to battle Alex, or whichever Champion pair was available, also usually lost. Alex had a perfect record in such battles, and only Hilbert's record, who had a much, much longer string of wins and a single digit number of losses, came close to the newest Champion's win streak. He privately counted his most memorable loss from the Swamp, which would always keep him below a perfect streak, but they remained far above the other Champions, each of whom had many more losses. Evidently Hilbert had not been the 'easy pick', though Nate and the others were very much on his level. Being the Champion, Alex had naturally practiced with each of them, and the Four. After several hours long sessions, and with training from Tao as well, challenging Trainers were usually sent home, or if they showed promise and a compatible attitude, to the tower. Some came solely because they'd heard that was one way to receive training from the Original Dragon.

    Others simply wanted the prestige of beating the Victory Plateau's Elite Four would bring them. A record like that, especially with a win against a pair of Unovan Champions, could open doors for a Trainer. Alex's own record had caught more than a few eyes over the past several months, as he had many wins. He'd stopped keeping track of the exact numbers ages ago, but evidently one of his devices was just automatically recording the data.

    Hilda had all but ordered him to start 'marketing himself', and once he realized just how much demand there was for random Champ-themed merchandise, for some reason. He'd allowed her 'marketing guy' to start 'selling his image' or whatever. Evidently, that meant giving him shelf space next to the other Champions on the Join Boulevard.

    He didn't understand half of the obscure business-like nature of selling these random products, so he'd left it to the strange man who seemed to gleefully enjoy and revel in it. As long as the impressively large paychecks kept coming in from the sales, he didn't mind doing the occasional cameo in Pokéstar Studios, either. Whenever the strange man called, it was usually with such an offer. Or to talk about how comfortable his 'ballroom pants' were. How they had plenty of ball room. He really liked that joke.

    Finally, the Challenger crested the top of the stairs, but before Alex had a chance to speak, the Trainer on the opposite end of the field spoke first, as he stepped into the light, and pointed a finger at the Champion. "I want your team, Redwood. Not the Dragon."

    Alex glanced at the Trainer harder. He seemed familiar…and then the Emboar on his undershirt, below the black leather biker jacket, reminded him. The kid from Aspertia, with the Tepig he'd passed over for Terra.

    He hadn't lost any of his protagonistic charm. The flame tips of his hair were now done all the way to the roots. He'd acquired black sunglasses, and Alex didn't need psychic power to know he had a motorcycle downstairs.

    Alex shrugged, still clad in the robes from Tao's otherworldly tower. "Fine. Single or double? I don't do triple battles up here, or any of that rotating nonsense…sometimes, less is more."

    The flame haired kid, who had to be fifteen going on sixteen, swiped his thumb across his nose, and smirked. "Double, then. Doesn't matter, I'll crush you in any Battle!"

    Alex rolled his eyes. Then again, for all he knew, he was about to be blindsided by a plot armored protagonist. Unova had a habit of making Trainers who, sometimes literally, bulldozed through every Trainer they met on the road. He kept his guard up, suspiciously. The kid was only normal typed…still, he had managed to beat the Four, and Rosa. While Rosa was more acting focused than battle focused, she was still easily strong enough to stand with the other Champions.

    Alex had recently begun to help each of them, including Nick, to embrace their inner power, and gain the ability to use Plate crystals. Then, he'd taught them how to do one Taijitu move. The others, they would need to learn on their own, if indeed they could learn them at all. Most Trainers seemed to be able to handle one or two.

    Down in the Swamp, it was another story. Everyone there was a professional, and almost all of them had every kind of Plate crystal already. Alex hadn't believed there were so many crystal users in one place, until he'd lost several one on one matches to Trainers who outmatched him because of their versatility with attacks and combinations, all fueled by crystal power.

    Alex had surmised that there were only a limited number of types, and thus, a limited combination of balanced energy attacks. Some, like fire and flying, he'd discovered, had simply been incompatible. Blaze could power up his Flamethrower with the flight crystal, but forming a balanced sphere of fire and air was quite difficult. The result was usually an explosion.

    Many Trainers had begun to spread word of what this supposedly super-strong Champion had on his team, and he knew there would be Trainers designed to break him, but that was what his other four were for. Honestly, they needed the experience more than his original six.

    They were his best kept secret, though they were still quite young. His newly evolved Lairon had lived up to his name, and devoured everything he could in the obscure, unmineable mountains Alex discovered via Teleport. He'd needed quite a bit of metal ore to evolve, but there was always metal being formed on this planet. The humans of this era did not want for resources, and Arceus' gift of Infinity Energy continued to replenish them, no matter how fast humanity mined.

    The Aron species was often where builders got their materials from. They were super strong, literally shed usable sheets of steel, and were quite good at battling. It was just common sense to have them around work sites. There were more than a few decent Trainers who also worked construction.

    Focusing on the Challenger again, Alex shrugged. He hadn't noticed that he'd been silent for a good minute. The intimidation factor was starting to wear off as the Challenger waited, impatiently.

    Hilda and Rosa always gave him crap for not being 'menacing enough' to scare off most Challengers. Back when Kanto had held the title for 'hardest League in the world', Lance, their leader, had been shrouded in mystery, and dragon types. The Champions who beat him were likewise rumored to be strong. After battling against Red in the Swamp, Alex understood the hype, as that had been one of his one on one losses.

    Alex decided he could always attempt the 'edgy but cool' thing Lance and even Gary Oak had done, at one time, and this poor kid would help spread his reputation. He'd send him to Tao, as well. He'd be fierce, with a bit of training.

    "Very well. A double. That'll make it shorter." The flame kid's smirk faltered, as he saw Alex's. It was way too confident.

    A flash of green and black came from the belt of the Champion, and he spoke to his team, "Hold off. Let's see if this one is worth evolving for." He could hear the cameras whirring around them as they floated into the air, and began recording as his Pokémon took the field.

    The League ref's voice came over the intercom, hidden both out of sight, and away from anything the Champion could break. "This League match will be a Double Battle. The Champion may not substitute. The Challenger may do so as often as he desires. Begin!"

    "Verrignus! Leif! Go!" The same Emboar from last time appeared alongside a Leafeon now. They both looked strong, but Alex saw no reason to worry. Terra and Shruikan were quite tough, and made an excellent team.


    Shruikan flapped into the air, and as he bathed the plateau in flame, Terra looked unfazed. Ground types could handle fire easily, and this wasn't directed at him. The air became distorted by the heat. The Leafeon countered with a Razor Leaf, only to find that in the new heat of their battlefield, the leaves were all but useless, as they turned to ash halfway across.

    That applied to Terra's leaves as well, but that didn't matter much for this battle. He wasn't using Razor Leaf, or kid gloves. "Earthquake." Alex spoke again, and his starter reared up onto his hind legs, before coming down. The force of the slam shattered the ground. Massive, steaming boulders rocked both of their opponents as the entire mountain shuddered.

    "Verr, punch the boulders!" The Emboar turned, smashing them apart with Brick Break as the attack rocked him. He managed to take less damage, but his Leafeon partner was down. "Bufo, you're up!"

    A Seismitoad appeared next to the Emboar now. "Hyper Voice!" Alex tried not to smirk, and failed.

    The large frog's seismic tones were rather impressive, as they shattered the rest of the boulders, flattening the field once more, and while his Voice was untrained, it was actually somewhat strong. The Emboar ignited his fists on the flaming beard around his chin, and charged as his Trainer pointed at Terra and shouted, "Fire Punch!"

    "Aerial Ace." Alex kept his arms crossed as he gave the orders, and stayed completely unreadable. Both Terra and Shruikan knew many moves by now, in preparation for the World Tournament. So did his entire team, but usually he tried to limit himself to four. In League battles, at least. Perhaps if the World Tournament proved appealing enough, he'd change Unova's ruleset, it would certainly make things more interesting, but also had the potential for abuse. He made a note to find a specific rule book on the next World Tournament. Since it had been officially planned for the following summer, Trainers the world over had embraced the new ten Pokémon limit with eagerness, and many claimed that the ruleset the World Tournament would be adhering to this time was rather exciting.

    Thunder boomed through the clouds above the plateau as his enormous black dragon arced down, and slammed the fire pig, hard, with a type advantaged move. His punch never even came close to searing his scales, such was Shruikan's speed, even with all his added size. The darkness of the night also helped. Shruikan was quite hard to see, when he didn't want to be seen.

    The Emboar smashed into what was left of the stairs Challengers ascended to reach the plateau, and Alex sighed. Aside from not being menacing, constantly breaking the plateau's marble foundations was another thing he received crap for. He could fix the earth of the field itself, but marble and stone were different. Apparently. He took Terra's word for it.

    "Seed Bomb." Terra's attack bombarded the Seismitoad, who managed to catch one of the dense energy spheres, for a moment, with the vibrations from his hands. The other 'bombs' landed around the valiant toad, and the resulting explosion of grass energy knocked him out.

    Alex glanced at the fainted pair of Pokémon. He knew one of them was the kid's starter, and when your first Pokémon went down, it usually meant the battle was as good as done. He'd been wrong before, though.

    "You can back out now, if you like. Your record will still have four victories, and a Champion level win on it. Nothing to sneeze at, since they're from this League." The Champion still had his arms crossed, as he waited for the Trainer's response.

    "I still have three left-"

    Alex cut him off. "That's your first Pokémon lying by the stairs there. Do you really want to make your other three fight a battle your strongest couldn't win?"

    The spiky, flame haired kid called his three out then, and Alex eyed them. A Noivern, Weavile, and Aegislash, all fairly strong. He had to admit, the kid's team had most of the types covered for. It was balanced well.

    "What do you guys think?" The kid asked, as the three eyed their opponents.

    Alex gave the command, mentally, and had to resist a smirk. "Rise with storm, my 'Viking Gods'." It was the nickname Percival had given the pair when he'd wanted a double battle, thinking it would be any different from a single. Given that it had been practice, they had decided against mega evolving. Terra had actually fainted, as he usually did against ice Trainers, when he didn't mega evolve, but Shruikan had won the day in fiery retaliation.

    The Plate on his Salamence's chest flared, and his form became that of a Mega Salamence. The storm clouds around the Plateau increased in size and darkness. The heavens thundered at his arrival, and his roar was just as loud and intimidating as the fury of nature. Terra was similarly changed as the light from the Meadow Plate crystal shot into his form, and helped him ascend to the next level. The tree on his back moved to the center, and three more spikes, the same size as his others, sprouted from the shell. The now clubbed tail, ideal for Woodhammer, rose into the air.

    One roared, and the heavens roared with him. The sky flashed, and the massive form of the Mega Salamence glared down at the three remaining Pokémon. Terra, for his part, slammed the plateau with his clubbed tail, shaking the entire conical mountain their League was perched upon. The very earth felt ready to shatter under the power of that Torterra.

    Whatever enduring confidence the kid's team had, vanished in the face of these masters of the earth and sky. These battles were as much a head game as they were a contest of strength and skill. Too many people forgot that.

    He was being kind again, though, and he knew it. Lance would've crushed his opponent's entire team with the ferocity of his dragons, and sent them back to the Pokémon Center. Laughing.

    He decided then to be the Champion he'd always wanted to be. A kind one, a strong one, someone Unova could rely on, just like N. If everyone became too afraid to battle, he'd never get challenged. Still, there were times, like now, when a Challenger's team simply had no chance, and needed more training, lest they get seriously hurt.

    "Go to the Dragonspiral Tower. Train there. The Original Dragon will make you strong enough to challenge me, team to team." The two Trainers locked eyes. "After all, that's what made my team so strong." He left out the whole traveling dimensions and space-time differentials thing. Years of training had the same effect, no matter the plane you were on.

    The kid glanced at his Emboar again, then nodded. "Right…we'll be back for you. My Emboar will never stop until he proves that you should've chosen him."

    Alex raised a brow. "Your Emboar will never win until he accepts the Trainer he has, not the Trainer he wanted, a very long time ago. Good luck getting that through to him, though. There's a reason I didn't choose a stubborn Tepig."

    The kid chuckled, wearily. "A wise choice…but I can handle his stubbornness. I'll take your advice, Champion. Then we will return, and win." The two bowed in the Unovan style, fist to palm, grinning. They shared a vegemite sandwich and a bowl of Leaf grown on Terra's shell before parting, in true Unovan Trainer fashion. Alex had even given him a small bag of it. He called this strain 'Green Monster'. Terra didn't seem to mind.

    Alex watched them go, and let the power fade, and his partners returned to normal. He patted each of them. "Well done, you two. At this rate, we'll run out of Challengers."

    "You've got to be Mukking kidding me! Again!?" Alex shared a look with his partners as the enraged tones of Rosa climbed up the stairs to the mostly-smashed entrance. He sniffed, and the familiar scent of burned Leaf was still hanging around. That too was another thing Rosa had forbidden both him and Hilbert from doing up here. He glared at the cameras, which were still on. Bloody robots never turned off.

    He chuckled, "Time to go!" With that, he recalled his partners, and Teleported himself and his team back to Jess' room. It had become their unofficial preparation area for the impending cross-continent journey. She'd gotten the room to herself, as after a month of listening to the 'famous couple' going at it in the privacy of the bathroom (what little there was), her roommate had requested a transfer. Being ultra-rich, Jess hadn't seemed to mind that the price of renting her room doubled for the rest of the semester.

    They'd spent a lot of time in the room over the course of the semester, though it was mostly sans clothing. Being able to Teleport almost anywhere gave them a wide range of places to enjoy each other, but they both agreed her room was nicer. Cozier.

    Final exams were over by now, and the only students left on campus were either flunkies, or people who really needed to take a break. Eric was in the latter category, as were his lab buddies. Alex had taken to calling them the 'Brain Trust', and the nickname had stuck. Even amongst their Professors.

    With him sleeping at the campus of his alma mater, Alex's hovel in the Swamp had turned into the island's local recreational area, and had grown to include more beds, most of which were hammocks, designed solely for relaxation. Battles were held, Leaf was smoked, naps were taken, and it wasn't long at all before it was unofficially dubbed 'The House of Perpetual Chill'.

    After finding crumbs and what he sincerely hoped was jam in the hammock that passed as his own bed, Alex had decided to sleep in civilized quarters at night from then on. Jess hadn't seemed to mind. They'd tried looking for a real house somewhere, but the prices were truly insane, and the upkeep was even more so. And, why should they pay for a view they could get just by visiting a memorable spot they could Teleport to?

    Eventually he'd offered to build her a house, something his instincts immediately regretted, as he saw the look in her eye. She'd kept her thoughts on the matter hidden as well, a hard thing to do given that they were but a thought away from each other all the time these days. She'd accepted his offer, which had led to research, some math, and the conclusion that Cenomons would need well over forty years of shedding, as an Aggron, just to get him some of the materials he'd need for such an endeavor.

    Then there was everything else that went into buildings that he'd never considered, as he'd literally built a home out of mud and vines, and had been content with it. Now he had to account for plumbing, wiring, heating, power, air flow, location, and thousands of other tiny yet important things.

    Needless to say, he put it on the back burner. They'd be camping for a while anyways, until they found lodging in Fornia, though he supposed they could always sleep elsewhere, and Teleport back in the morning. The only problem with that was risking not remembering where they'd stopped the day before, and losing yet more time playing catch-up.

    Thus, they'd decided to try to camp out as they crossed the Stoney Mountains, sneak into Fornia, and then find a hotel or something they could use as an anchor. The reason they didn't already have one had been yet another factor in what had kept them waiting well into June to depart. The only way to get into Fornia was by land, or sea.

    The sea routes were all thoroughly patrolled by the many battle-capable yachts that the Arceans used to advertise how well-off and prosperous being one of them was. Given how well their airships had been constructed, Alex didn't really consider their navy a threat. Not yet, anyways. Sacreus, Fornia's capital, was landlocked so it made little difference.

    With the sea cut off, and no desire for plane travel and the level of danger it brought, as Arceans had a bad habit of bringing down unfriendly aircraft, that left traveling over the land, and after a test-incursion, they realized just how famous Blaze had become. He'd been recognized and chased for miles outside Fornian territory, and only a quick recall and Teleport had saved their bacon.

    The footage of him battling Lizardon was still one of the most popular things on the PokéNet, even though a year had almost passed. Evidently, they'd seen it in Fornia too. Alex hadn't even tried Shruikan, much to the dragon's dislike. He'd claimed the night could conceal him, and Alex had countered that his 'hundred-foot wingspan' blotting out the stars would give them away. As would literally any light, for the night was dark blue, not entirely black.

    Thus, they'd decided on going full tourist, and playing the role of conversion-friendly newlyweds. Two tan, blonde, blue eyed strangers on the precipice of breeding. The Arcean who'd approved them for travel in their territories had practically drooled when he realized the potential. Evidently, recruiting couples was a big deal.

    Now, everything was ready, packed, and as Alex bamfed into the dorm room again, he blinked, as he noticed his love, talking to a strange man. It took him longer than it should have to recognize the student in charge of dorm housing, but he was kind of proud that his paranoid, skeptical mind hadn't immediately leapt to worries of backstabbing.

    The man just stared at him, and Jess sighed. They'd tried keeping the ability to Teleport somewhat secret. Like most secrets, it had gotten out almost immediately that the Champion could get where he needed to instantaneously. Apparently, Unovans thought that was a good idea, and he supposed having a defender who could pop in literally whenever was a somewhat comforting thought. And probably a decent deterrent against crime.

    "Don't mind him. He's carrying the bags. Here's the key." Jess said, as she handed it over. The man nodded, and then promptly left.

    He was glad to be rid of them, honestly. They were quite loud, and had stayed well over a month past the end of the year. Since the girl was rich, the increasingly absurd room rent hadn't driven her off, and since her lover was the Champion, and an Alumni, they couldn't really just tell him to scram. Especially since he could just poof right back five seconds later, and nobody would be the wiser. Thus, the University had quietly accepted the ever increasing rent, and had then proceeded to do what schools usually did in the summer months.

    There were four bags in all, their usual two, and two solely for sleeping bags. They hadn't bothered with a tent, as that was what Shruikan's massive wings were for. Arthur popped free of his ball to grab the extra bags, and then they all Teleported once more, to the rendezvous spot.

    The Sage had informed them, after some deep meditation, that their journey would go as well as it needed to if there were three entering Fornia, not two. Tao had divined much the same, and even had a suggestion as to who else should come along. He'd grown up in Fornia after all, and though he'd needed a better disguise than tanned skin, Brad had still proven himself somewhat capable.

    He'd had only a Charmeleon when Alex first found him, and as the son sparred with his father, Blaze, the two humans had talked. Brad had been reluctant, at first, to go back to the region that had essentially controlled his entire life. After only a few months in Unova, he'd started to understand just how bad things were back home. Just how strong the delusion really was, and what kind of effort would be needed to remove it.

    Alex had reminded him that his family, though they likely claimed to be willing to serve, were still under that regime, and his disappearance had likely made life difficult for them. That, more than anything else, was what convinced the Trainer to come along. If they'd been mistreated, there was a good chance some of them would defect as well. Alex had tasked his rival with securing aid from the north of the massive region, and while he was doing so, he could find his family as well, for that was where they'd lived. Once he had them, he'd send word to Alex and Jess, and they would help free them.

    Alex hadn't really wanted a third wheel, but he supposed it would keep himself and his woman from lusting after each other all day on the golden coast's famous beaches. They'd still be doing that, of course. They were 'honeymooning' after all, and he had no doubt the Arceans watched everybody they let in.

    Brad had promised to build up his team, in preparation for the journey west. With only three months, he'd actually managed to pull a decent one together. There were several species most Fornians had, like Lycanroc, Ursaring, Gogoat, and the regional variant of Marowak that was both fire, and ghost. Alola and Fornia were culturally similar, but Alolans always said their neighbors were a bit…weird. They too could see through the devout façade. This hadn't stopped the Fornians from acquiring, and then breeding, the rare variants of known species found on the islands, though.

    For her part in gaining four new members, Jess had found a Swablu, who she'd called Aria after they sang together, near the University's campus while Alex had been hunting for an Aron. The randomness of the universe had guided him to the little Amaura, who he'd nicknamed Gelauros. Eric had immediately shortened it further to 'lil G', and it had been Alex's turn to sigh as every other lab student had agreed it was better than using Imperium High Gothic for 'ice lizard'. This was the future of the scientific world.

    Brad was surprised when that Alex and Jess had showed up with belts carrying over six Pokémon. Then, he saw them unstrap their bags, and begin to pack their main six balls away.

    Alex put his balls in his bag, as Jess did the same, leaving them with their newer partners. The others hadn't particularly liked being shoved in darkness, as they wanted to see what was going on themselves, but until the plan came to fruition, they could wait. For now, their function was helping their newer, younger teammates, and Alex was glad that his team was mature enough to be okay with waiting a few weeks. Of course, if he needed them, they could pop free and help, but they had all agreed that should be a last resort.

    Once the balls were away, they donned their disguises. Brad's had gained pale skin, and blue hair, for some reason. He'd stick out in Fornia, but nobody would recognize him. No Arcean would associate with such a person, or so the former Champion had said. As long as nobody official took a harder look at him, he could blend in perfectly.

    He entered the region at the northern port where the Kanadia, Fornia, and Dakota regions all intersected. Being one of the larger ports of entry, Brad could slip in amongst the hordes of people unnoticed, and once in Arcean territory, he could once more act like a loyal Arcean. He was more worried about the 'newlyweds' blending in.

    The other pair had gone in the southern route, and had been forced to blend in to the mind-numbing obliviousness of the local population of the Sippi region, which was heavily influenced by the Arceans, and would likely join them soon. Some of the hardcore ideologies, and the mindless undiluted hatred, towards Unova in particular, had given the pair pause as they started to subtly listen for rumors of rebellion.

    Evidently, the residents of the Sippi region believed that the Unovans had, somehow, caused the massive Swamp that now covered their ancestral homelands to grow out of control. Apparently, many of the people here had once lived in those southern areas near Floria, or what was left of it.

    Since they couldn't actually blame nature for stealing their homes, this conspiracy theory of how and why the Swamp had grown so large had gained massive popularity once the Prophet claimed, through 'Divine Insight' apparently, to know beyond the shadow of doubt that Unova and the Swamp's rapid growth were connected. From there, the people of Sippi had run with the theories, and hadn't stopped.

    As the two realized the extent of this kind of zealot-like thinking, they both agreed that, even though they had to gain allies, they were better off working towards ideological change from the inside out. The people here were angry over a 'crime' that had likely been 'committed' millennia past, and were speaking of war with Unova based on what essentially amounted to a rumor from a foreign government. If Fornia changed, it was likely that these 'support states' as they referred to them, would change as well. Eventually.

    Thus, they did not actually look for trouble on their way through the lush Arciana region's plains once they crossed the border. Despite this purposeful obliviousness, cracks in the Arcean façade were literally everywhere, as were posters of their faces, untanned, and unchanged, listing them as 'threats to the Prophet'. Those, more than anything, had forced them to silently, angrily, ignore the perversions they came across, even here.

    They could've gone through Utado, which had once owned the Arciana region, but anyone who entered Nevouri from Utado was closely watched by the Arceans. Being as yet 'unconverted', the further they went into Nevouri, the more looks they received.

    They would've gladly pretended to convert to blend in, the only problem was that doing so took months, and thousands of units of currency. They had an alternate plan.

    After a last look through his granduncle's room, Alex discovered a note, with a name, location, and Holociever number. The words 'Do not call until in Fornia' were underlined below it. As were the words 'trusted contact'.

    This, more than anything, was the riskiest part of their plan. They had no idea what this contact could do for them, and planning alternate routes of hiding in Fornia's wild, Stoney Mountains had taken time, but they had agreed having multiple places to flee to was always a good idea.

    Fading into the background of Nevouri had been simple, and as Cenomons dug them a tunnel towards the iron-rich mountains, he was all but drooling. Usually, he was hard to motivate, but the promise of these ore rich mountains had always gotten him going again, as he learned to battle. His patience was finally being rewarded.

    Once the voracious Lairon had found his way into an ore-rich cave within the massive mountain chain, the two humans had made camp. Cenomons continued munching away, until he discovered something that was rock, but unlike anything he'd seen before.

    He grunted for his human, as he'd learned to show things like this to him, and the human stared back at the Pokémon. "Holy…Ceno just found a fossil. A Pokémon fossil." He held up his Pokédex, and the device scanned it, then came up blank. It beeped loudly then, echoing through the cave, and the words: New Species appeared on the screen.

    Then, came a blank space, for a name. The two humans just stared, and shared a look. "Let's find out what it is before we start naming species…"

    "Redwoodsaurus." Alex said, smirking. He grunted, as an Iron Tail sent him flying towards the tunnel they'd entered through. He'd just laughed, as it had been kind of fun, smashing through various rock formations and feeling almost none of it. He hadn't realized how much tougher his body had become since Norstad, but evidently, the Storm Crown was doing its work in making him more durable, and eventually immortal.

    Once he returned, he found Jess scouring the Pokéweb, and then as he sat down, she showed him what she'd found. "I thought it looked familiar. See? The ancients have data on this. The horns are identical."

    Alex glanced at the name, and then at the creature. Three horns, located on the western part of the very same continent, herbivore, quadrupedal, and not actually unlike an Aggron, save that it apparently couldn't stand on two legs.

    While the two humans stared at the glowing noise maker, Ceno returned to eating, as he was ravenous. His Trainer's regimen was exhausting, but the results showed, and he'd rather enjoyed winning what few road battles they'd come across.

    Even Fornians challenged each other, it seemed. None offered to share a bowl, however. The Leaf was strictly outlawed, but Alexander Redwood had long ago perfected hiding his stash. It was nice to see his instinct for choosing smoking spots held up to even oppressive government-level scrutiny.

    It was as Ceno returned to the fossil's spot, that he noticed something. Another one. Another horn shape, all but identical to the first. He was both curious, and ravenous, though mostly ravenous. With about a second of hesitation, he began loudly crunching the rock and bones, and as he did, he ingested the crystallized life-force of the Pokémon that had once been. Since the Pokémon had been a direct descendant of one of the first Mew, as were most fossil Pokémon, the latent gene-altering power had a peculiar reaction with the Lairon's own genetic make-up.

    He didn't notice any immediate changes, except that now some ores looked more appealing than others. Pure instinct guided him to a specific blend, but his Trainer barely noticed as he and his counterpart smoked a bowl, and then fell into their usual grunting session. Ceno had also learned to not bug them during those. Humans could be gross.

    The next day was mostly spent waiting for Ceno, who hadn't slept, to stop eating, so he could tunnel them out again. Alex had asked for patience from his lover, as he'd seen the look in his young partner's eye, and his responses, and emotions, labeled the meticulous munching of specific ores as incredibly important. Something was up, but Alex didn't bug him. When a Pokémon did something seemingly odd, there was always a good reason.

    Jess was eager to get back to society, because she'd found a Shield fossil. She'd never resurrected one before, but Alex had a feeling it wouldn't be so easy in Fornia. They had the technology, the problem, was getting someone to lend it to them. He didn't let that dampen her excitement though. A Bastiodon would fill out her team nicely. As they were forced to wait for the mountain eater, Alex and Jess decided to split the party, and explore. The Pokémon of the Stoney Mountains could be quite strong.

    As Jess began to wander, she found a lone Nidoran, and while she hadn't been entirely newborn, she'd still been a bit young to be on her own. Jess had decided to copy Alex at that moment, and tried asking if she wanted to come along. While she was off winning a partner through trust, Alex had decided to ignore his methods for once, as he spotted something unique within the many cave tunnels.

    Typically, Drapion on the eastern side of the continent were more popular, as they were strong, versatile, and purple. Many good teams had Drapion, many villains also seemed to enjoy using them. Alex had spied a red Skorupi however, and realized that was simply the color they took here in Fornia, as he spotted a whole nest's worth with identical red tones. Like their eastern counterparts, they varied in shades, but he saw no purple among them.

    Now the trick would be isolating one that wasn't too young, or too weak. Seeing his Trainer hesitate, Gelauros, or Gel, as he'd started being called, simply walked into the nest, all smiles. All of the Skorupi immediately began hissing at it, but backed down when they felt the young one's Frost Breath freeze the air. They backed away as the human followed. Many had learned not to attack Trainers if they wanted to continue living here unbothered. Most humans threw first and asked questions later, and the Stoney Mountains were a popular tourist spot. They had seen many resorts, but very few people using them, on their way in.

    Gel went from one crimson Skorupi to another, his Trainer in tow, until eventually he pointed at one Skorupi in particular. It had been near the back of the nest, silently working on perfecting its strikes. Alex noticed it was a male, though he guessed he couldn't have been too much older than Gel.

    The two had locked eyes, and it had taken Alex a moment to realize that his little long neck wanted to battle as badly as the Skorupi. The others watched, the hissing muted as they took in the strange white Pokémon, and the human it dragged with it.

    The Skorupi accepted the challenge, and the battle was fierce, but short. Thankfully, the pair had practiced turning the little dinosaur's Rock Throw into a Rock Slide, and thus, the advantage was his. The Skorupi was utterly blindsided by the rocks, buried even, and the little long neck essentially pounded him with Rock Throw, for fun, until he agreed to give up, and let the hatchling win.

    Gelauros crowed, triumphant, and before he could blink, there was a maroon-colored Net Ball freeing the Skorupi from the rocks by taking it inside. Surprisingly, the ball dinged shut with only a few shakes, and Alex quietly retrieved it as he suddenly noticed the thousands of eyes staring at him. Gel nudged him, and they left quickly, but unharmed. The battle had been fair, after all, and their brother had accepted the challenge against a Trainer. Trainers caught Pokémon. If he hadn't wanted a Trainer, he could've refused easily.

    Despite all of that, Alex called him out anyways as they began the trek back to their camp, and explained exactly what he needed from the Skorupi, and if that was too much, he could easily return home. Much like Ceno, he'd asked to see his teammates, but was less impressed by the Lairon and Amaura. Gel's hatchling eyes had eventually convinced the scorpion, at which point, it returned to the ball. With only one member left, and since he really only needed a ghost type now, Alex decided to let the universe guide him to his last partner.

    Jess had been somewhat disappointed when she returned with Nidoran of both genders, only to find Alex already had a poison type in his crimson Skorupi. She'd named her Nidoran Maria, and had called her partner Tony, because it was adorable and nostalgic. Alex agreed to let the Nidoran male stay regardless. Neither of the humans wanted to split them up. There was more room in Jess' bag, so he typically stayed there as they moved through the mountains, but Alex trained him as well. He was a good sparring partner for his team of younger Pokémon, and he knew he would never mind having a Nidoking around, in the future. Tony didn't seem to mind, as his female partner was clearly the better battler. He was just happy to stay with her, grow stronger, and be a part of a larger family.

    Once they'd packed up camp, Ceno had agreed to tunnel, and eat as they went. He was still picky about what he ate, so the going was slow, but Alex had a feeling it would be worth it. Eventually, he'd had to let the Lairon roam solo, just so progress could be made through the caves.

    Being what he was, he had no trouble finding the group for an occasional nap, but for most of those long days under millions of tons of rock, Cenomons was absent, eating away at the endless supply of ore. The other Lairon he encountered were more relaxed, and less willing to battle, given the abundance of food. Ceno ignored those too weak willed to fight for good ore, and thrashed those who tried to take it from him. In this way, he beat those Lairon worth beating, and earned his experience. His Trainer had taught him useful moves, but he did notice that without him, battling was a lot harder. Despite that, Cenomons found that he relished the challenge.

    Finally, after almost a week within the mountainous tunnels, which were Pokémon habitats, and largely quite far away from any kind of dig site, the two humans emerged from the darkness, and several minutes later, Ceno joined them. He was finally content, his voracious appetite sated…for now. It was good timing.

    Ceno used his mastery of the rock to make a platform for the humans to stand on, as they'd been clinging to a relatively steep cliff side, and as they took in their first look at Fornia, Alex burst out laughing. His hand, halfway to his Holociever, paused.

    Before him was a valley filled with trees, and not just any trees, of course. The tallest, the oldest, the biggest. The species from which his family was named. A stand of Sequoia sempervirens trailed through the valley below them, in a very obvious line, only visible from such a high perch, or from the air. As oblivious as he was, Alex knew a sign from the universe when he saw one. He pocketed the Holociever number, and then the pair began to follow the very obvious line of massive but also rather young trees.

    Several Hours Later...


    "There's no sign of them. Report back to HQ. The Rebels have them."

    The captain of the Arcean Task Force, or A.T.F. as it was sometimes called, spoke into his Holociever. He'd been perched up here for hours, alongside his Mega Lucario, keeping tabs on the strange 'married couple' that had gotten quite deep in Arcean lands, without joining the Church, before vanishing for almost a week.

    When they'd reappeared, he'd almost missed them, but their classic Fornian looks made them stick out against the gray stone of the mountain they'd perched on. Once they disappeared into the Redwoods, he knew it was only a matter of time. The only people who went to such places were those who wished to rebel against the Church.

    Once the new face of Fornia's so called 'great enemy' had actually forced their Prophet out of Norstad, a strange thing had occurred in the Fornia region. Those who were tired of the blatant lies and mistreatment gathered in groves of ancient Redwood trees, where they met other people who shared their views on the rulers of their lands.

    Though it had been centuries since any of the Tribes had been recognized as a people by the Fornian government, they still remained in what areas of the massive Fornia region the Arceans had not yet plundered in the name of resources. Together, those Fornians who wished to rebel made an alliance, a Rebellion of sorts, and small bases and outposts full of these so-called Rebels had been popping up all over the region, causing havoc to the Church.

    Tourists were especially dangerous, for the A.F.O was in charge of keeping them oblivious to the goings on of the government. Once the Arcean Fossil Organization had lost track of the couple, they'd called in the Task Force. They dealt with threats to security.

    A response came over his Holociever, "Stay where you are. This hunt is being given to the Hand of Death." The captain stared at his communication device, mouth agape. A Hand of the Prophet? For two random tourist Trainers who probably got lost in the caves? At most, they'd meet the native tribes and find a way to go home, he didn't understand why such a response was warranted, but then, this was a Hand who was coming, the Hand of Death, who was supposed to be a rumor. A bad nightmare.

    Despite the grisly nature his missions no doubt entailed, if he was being sent in, it meant the Prophet himself wanted these tourists dead. He nodded at his Lucario, and the loyal hound leapt down from their own perch to follow the tourist's scent. They needed to be useful to the Hand, or he would likely dispatch them as well, for incompetence. Given the strength of the couple's aura, something the Lucario found strange, but was unable to comment on, tracking them was easy. When the Hand appeared, he would have a strong trail to follow, and hopefully, his Trainer would continue to live.

    Yavano Tribe Lands - Eastern Fornia Region

    Alex and Jess had all but stumbled into the local Yavano Tribe's main camp, and after giving them a moment to cool their surprise and lower their strange metal spears, they'd used words to avoid a conflict, though, as he'd told them something of who they really were, and that they were Pokémon Trainers, several of the 'red-skinned' men had grinned. Even here, there were people up for a battle.

    After hearing they were from Unova, the tribe's Chief, Long-Fang, had made an appearance, and invited them to enjoy some of their Leaf. It was quite a bit stronger than anything they usually smoked, but it went a long way to easing the tension of a first contact. The Chief himself had unusually large canine teeth, but given that Alex had a fair bit of strangeness himself, most notably the tips of his ears which became more pointed by the day, he didn't comment, or stare. Jess hadn't seemed to mind either, and found his ears amusing, claiming that now, he could follow his granduncle, and become a 'full Vulcan'. He considered that a noble goal, but his hair usually kept them hidden all the same.

    The tribesmen, over the flames of Chari's tail, explained the current state of Fornia, and the Rebellion they'd created with other 'pale-skins', and after a night of rest and a proper wake-and-bake, the tribe gave them food, supplies, and then pointed them towards the nearest 'Rebel Base'.

    The base, as it turned out, was none other than the Majestic Canyon. Surrounded by the massive Great Mohave Desert, the canyon was a massive series of red rock walls, carved away by a river that was older than any tree, person, or Pokémon alive, and would likely outlast them all. It was at least a thousand miles long, or so the Yavano had said, and if you didn't have a guide, getting lost was easy. Many Pokémon also lived in the canyons and waters of the area, which had no qualms about killing humans. Usually, they were fine with subsisting on the enormous Wepear berries that grew in abundance amongst the rocky crags.

    Within one of the many smaller canyons that made up the massive one, the local Tribes and Fornians had created a base from which to operate. In an amusing twist of fate, they'd also given them a Holociever number to call to get in contact with the Rebel's headquarters, and it was identical to the one they'd been given by Alex's granduncle. They'd told him to use it near the canyon, so he'd waited to do so.

    Jess had found a Heracross on their way down to the Canyon, and the powerful female, who she'd called Hera, had been quite useful. Not being able to fly was rather irritating, especially for skilled Trainers. Having a partner that could carry you really was incredibly useful. Especially on stealth missions. She'd proven her strength to the skeptical Redwood by carrying both of them to the Canyon. Evidently, drinking the essence of Redwood trees had made these Heracross quite strong. Jess had remarked that she had done something similar, and had also grown stronger soon after. They'd had to land, as the ensuing laughing fit from the pair made flying hard. Thankfully, they had already arrived.

    Alex ignored the giggling females as he dialed the number. The conversation was as awkward and brief as any random phone call, but once he'd mentioned the Yavano, and his granduncle, he'd been told to stay put. Someone was coming out to meet them, apparently.

    That someone turned out to be the Dragon Type Expert, Professor Dracaena. She'd rode in on a female Charizard that truly highlighted just how much of a runt Chari was, despite her strength and almost crimson coloring.

    More than that, there was something familiar about her coloration. It took Alex longer than it should have to notice that it was identical to Blaze's, which had always been a bit more red-orange than most. Considering the amount of variation in scale patterns Charizard had these days, that hadn't been too noticeable. Pokémaniacs didn't exactly ooze excitement when facing a slightly-deeper-orange-than-normal Charizard.

    The Professor approached, leaving her own Charizard to laze in the hot sun. She was an older woman, who looked ready to raid a tomb, and had the gear to do it. The traditional white lab coat was shortened, just barely longer than her beige shorts, and a pair of what looked like a hybrid of goggles and glasses hung from the neck of her ordinary white undershirt.

    As she looked the pair of them over, she focused on Alex, and smirked. "Now that's a Redwood. I'd know those eyes anywhere. I'm Professor Dracaena, an expert on dragon types. I knew your granduncle. I heard he passed on."

    Alex nodded, his face as impassive as ever. He nodded at Jess. "This is Jessica Gladstone. She's helping me liberate this region." The two women shook hands, but otherwise didn't speak. He couldn't tell if they liked each other or not. They were as unreadable as cats, and he had long since given up trying to divine the many moods of the fairer sex.

    The Professor raised an eyebrow. "Liberation, hmm?" She glanced at Jess again, who kept her own face as impassive as Alex's, and then, the Professor shrugged. "If that really is your goal…you've come to the right base."

    They all flew in on their Charizard then, as the Professor had assured them that this was one place Arceans avoided. The Charizard that called the Majestic Canyon home gave no Muks about chasing off humans, and retaliating by burning Arcean crop fields. Jess left Alex to take the lead in asking questions this time, and after explaining why they'd come, the Professor agreed to help them. When asked why the Arceans avoided such a gorgeous canyon, she answered.

    "There was once a city out here, in the desert, around three centuries ago now. Vega City. Or so the ruin experts call it. It was a hub of…entertainment. Music. Lights. Food. Water shortages. People from all over the world came to enjoy themselves in Vega City. Then, in the space of one night, the Prophet himself obliterated the city, claiming that it was the 'Will of Arceus' that such a hive of scum and villainy be erased from the world. They declared the Canyon a preserve, after trying to mine it, and being burnt out by the local Charizard. What remains of Vega now is just a desert."

    Alex raised a brow. "Was it actually the will of Arceus, or his human mouthpiece?"

    The Professor smirked. "The word came from Pravus...spend long enough in Fornia, and you will find he's quite fond of speeches, and hearing himself talk. Officially, the Church blamed the tragedy on the 'unknowable will of Arceus', but the Tribes remember who committed the act. They have a good idea of exactly how Vega became a ruin."

    Jess chimed in then, "Could we hear the tale as well? From them?"

    The Professor smirked. "If you really want to know, all you need to do is ask. Chief Sike has a powerful Noctowl. With his help, they've shared what they know of the 'Vega Event' with whoever wishes to see."

    Having learned several of the customs from the Yavano, such as how to properly greet a Chief, and interact with their fellow tribespeople, the couple had managed to surprise the local tribe here, as well, by showing genuine respect. They were led into one of the many caves the tribespeople used for smoking, and once they'd settled into a circle around Blaze's tail, as he'd offered it freely, the flames shifted to blue, and the napping fire lizard smirked. Alex rolled his eyes. At least he hadn't mega evolved in the middle of the Chief's toke on the pipe.

    Chief Sike was an elderly man, though whether he was actually feeling his age, or just had wrinkled, weathered skin from the sun and desert, was hard to say. His hair was entirely black, but then, Alex had yet to see a tribal elder with grays.

    A smirk appeared on the old man's weathered face as he eyed the Charizard supplying their fire. He looked harder, as he recognized something he hadn't seen for a long, long time, but then remembered he was in the presence of foreigners. He kept his composure as he spoke, "His fire is strong. Eastern Trainers are as powerful as the legends say they are."

    Alex shrugged, and then looked around the circle. Jess glared at him as she read his intentions, but he ignored her, for the moment, as he took in the people they were sitting with. A brief, cautious glance at their minds told him all he needed to know about these people.

    Their mental defenses were quite strong, as strong as their own at least, and actually reading their thoughts would be a challenge. Unlike most humans, it seemed the Tribes had learned long ago to guard themselves on that level, even if they did not possess psychic ability. He'd seen Trainers use Aura, and still lack a psychic typing. Alex had discovered a new dislike for crowds after acquiring and developing his psychic senses, for many of the huddled masses of Unova kept their minds completely unguarded. It was hard to ignore, and he'd begun to understand why the Sage lived isolated in a Swamp.

    That was when he finally noticed, since actually going undercover and suppressing his power, everything was so much quieter. It was strange, in a good way. "Thank you. I was wondering, Chief Sike, if you wouldn't mind sharing the tale of Vega's destruction with us. We haven't heard of it in the east, and I have a feeling we should have already."

    The Chief eyed the stereotypical Fornian tan and blonde hair, but those blue eyes…those, looked genuine, and they possessed the fire of a Trainer. The Chief nodded, and as he did, there was a low hoot above them. As his grizzled Noctowl used its power on the fire, images appeared in the flames, and they shifted as the Chief spoke. "To understand Vega, you must understand the history of Fornia. Long ago, there was peace between the entirety of the western lands. We had peace with the east as well, for the Dragon God ruled us fairly, and maintained the balance of nature, upon which all of us live. His Empire was vast, and his Tamers fair in judgement. Those were good days."

    Alex looked down then. He knew what came next, and resisted sighing as the Chief continued to speak, "Then, over time, the Dragon was passed down his Tamer's family line, and after a few generations, most ignored his wisdom entirely, until finally, the Original Dragon was torn apart by his current Tamer's two sons. Their rivalry split the dragon in three, darkness chose one brother, light championed the other, and the balance was lost to war." He packed a long, wooden pipe as he spoke, but Alex couldn't get a clear look at it.

    "At first, we of the western regions did not experience any noticeable difference. Indeed, after several centuries of peace and prosperity, the Dragon became a myth, and the fertility of the planet was attributed to the planet itself, and its connection with Nature, rather than a Pokémon that may or may not have existed, long ago. Protecting the wilderness became a top priority of the newly forming governments who, since the Dragon Empire had collapsed, began to govern themselves."

    "We were a naïve group of nations, young, enjoying the new freedom from heavy imperial taxes. No longer did we have to fund a war in the capital that did not concern us. Our wealthy grew great in number...but we had no idea what our wealth would attract. Eventually, these new, rich, former farmers gathered in a single place to enjoy their surplus of currency from selling their surplus crops. Without an empire to give them to, they had seized the power from the dead empire's infrastructure, and set themselves up as large kingdoms."

    The Chief's eyes narrowed, slightly. "Basically…we were a region ripe for conquest. Nobody remembers exactly how long ago Caleb Pravus took power, but he's well past his normal span of years, even by today's standards of old age. Though, recently, it's been rumored that his 'immortality' is fading."

    The old man focused on the two foreigners then, "When he first arrived here, he was weak. He destroyed Vega, and all living things around it for thousands and thousands of miles. This desert quadrupled in size because of him, and this Canyon is but a shadow of what this land used to look like. I have a feeling he's going to try something more drastic, now. To make sure he doesn't have to deal with the consequences of destroying a city again. Immortality is his sole desire, and he would gladly disrupt the Balance of the world to gain it."

    Alex's eyes narrowed then. He'd had a feeling this might be the case. "He's dangerous, and he has to go down. I understand."

    He looked around the circle again, and decided to trust these people, if only a little. He knew removing his disguise would be painful, for it was fairy typed in nature, and Jess could always force him to keep it on, for she had no issues using the crystal. For him, it seared his skin, and ignored his attempts to connect with it. He'd had difficulty with the ice crystal as well, for it made him quite chilled, but in Fornia's heat, it was a perfect balance of temperature.

    "Thank you, for sharing that with us. There is something you should know, too. The Original Dragon has returned, and I am the one who made him whole once more. Understand who you're allying with, because the only way a Cult like this comes down is with coordinated strikes at its foundations." Jess gave him the mental equivalent of a hard pinch, but he resisted wincing as he took his own toke on the 'peace pipe', and let those gathered absorb that information.

    That, was when his obedient partner and friend for life decided to tap into the power of Arceus, and take his Mega Form. Alex barely dodged the sudden increase of the blue flames, but the other tribe members just stared in awe. He still had eyebrows, but the pipe had been a bit scorched. He glared at Blaze, who continued to nap, and smirk.

    The chief was silent for a long while, and as the silence grew, he felt the room's eyes upon him. Unova's newest Champion was, supposedly, as strong as the dragon he'd reunited. A dragon in his own right, apparently, or so the newest rumors claimed. Those rumors had also come with a title. The Dragon of the West.

    A long look at the awakened form of the Charizard bonded to this Trainer finally convinced him of what was needed. "The Arceans have much hate for you, Champion… I don't know what you did to Pravus, but I have never seen him so…openly furious at a person. You are, quite literally, the face of the Unovan threat he's preparing his people to fight against. Normally, I would decline your aid, for it is costly, but you come to us with trust, titles, and a Charizard from this very region. Even your surname hails from here. I would be a fool to ignore these signs, but I would also be a fool to ally with you, for when the Arceans discover you, and it is a when, not an if, they will use everything they have to eradicate you. Their Prophet recently labeled you as the Spawn of Giratina, and commanded your death. You'll be hard pressed to find true allies among his Cult."

    Alex passed the pipe on as the Chief spoke, and the Trainer beside him, a member of the tribe, took his own toke from the newer, stronger flames eagerly. The scent of their Leaf was similar to the Unovan variants, but stronger. Alex eyed the Chief, but his weathered face was as unreadable as his own usually was. "So…what will you do?"

    The Chief grinned as the Redwood spoke. "I'll test you, and your Charizard, and if you prove worthy, you will have our support, now, and should your mission succeed, forever."

    One of the female tribe members around their fire coughed hard, as she'd been in the middle of a toke of her own when she'd heard the Chief's idea. "But they're ignorant foreigners! They can't face that Trial. They'll be crushed."

    The Chief smirked at the woman. "Our Alolan cousins survived it."

    The young woman's brown eyes narrowed. "They had a full set of Z Crystals. And Plates. You know well that these two do not.

    The Chief eyed the foreigners again, and Alex suppressed a shiver up his spine as he felt the man's gaze staring straight through his disguise. The Chief smiled slightly, and shrugged. "They have what they need."

    The Majestic Canyon - Fornia Region

    After some sleep and some breakfast, the Chief led the two foreigners to where the Trial was held. Deep within the Majestic Canyon, even deeper than the Rebel's base, was a series of large valleys that were home to Fornia's Charizard. They were known for being hard to control, as well as for their love of battling. The only other concentration of their species large enough to rival these canyons was the Charicific Valley, in Japan, who were known for exactly the same thing. This was a place for their species to grow stronger.

    The Dragon Mountain of Unova was considered a home for them as well, but in truth, Charizard were not as abundant there as they were in these valleys, given that the mountain was shared by many species. Here, only one predator reigned supreme, and the only other carnivorous species were ones who fed on the remains of what the fire lizards ate. When it wasn't entirely ash.

    It was a perfect environment for them, really. The sun burned brightly, and made the battles that much more intense. Alex stared down into one valley in particular. Most of them were lush and green on their narrow bottoms, save for the dots of orange and red that marked the younger members of their species. Caves marked the sides of these fertile areas, and flashes of orange could be seen within them, as well. Nests, then. Avoiding them would be a good idea.

    The tribespeople had a tradition of battling the strong Charizard, and instead of capturing them in Pokéballs, they were given an egg, if victorious, and judged worthy. It was what made this particular tribe able to live so close to Arcean territory. As long as nobody outright attacked them, their partner's flames wouldn't be a threat to 'civilized society'. That hadn't stopped Pravus from trying, but in recent years, he had focused on fossil hunting, rather than the potential ore the Canyon could give.

    The threat of annihilation didn't stop the tribes from helping the Rebels, for they knew well that there needed to be peace, trust, and above all unity between their people, and their pale-skinned neighbors. They could not ignore Pravus. He wasn't going away. Tales from eras so far past the modern world had forgotten them, always kept the tribespeople wary, and while in the beginning there had been suffering, eventually, peace had been reached. The fall of the human race had ensured that. In the chaotic aftermath of humanity's downfall, they had been faced with a similar decision: ally and work together with the pale-skins, or die.

    "Why do your people wish to help the Rebellion?" Alex asked the Chief, as they hiked. Though it was easy to mistake from up above, these valleys were truly massive in scale, and traversing them on foot was sweaty work under the blazing sun. Still, this too, was a tradition. He had no intention of disrespecting the tribe's ways. From what he'd learned of them, there was likely a very good reason they needed to walk.

    "Caleb Pravus is a blight upon the land. His Cult has mined the earth relentlessly for fossils, though, recently they've lessened…rumor is, they found what they were mining for. But they've ignored the cost. Homes, destroyed. Pokémon, captured…or worse. This land needs to heal, and it will not be able to until the Arceans are no longer spurred into destroying it in the name of their leader." The Chief's tone was even, calm, but Alex could feel the latent tension in his words, a simmering rage. The Arcean's Prophet had done…something to earn the Tribe's fury.

    "If you'll pardon my bluntness, Chief…this seems to go beyond a simple desire for a change in leadership. Your people are as involved in the base's operations as the former Cult members. The Yavano educated me, somewhat, on my way here. I know how much you're risking."

    The Chief paused in his walking, and then turned his head towards Alex. Given that they were at the back of their group, which included several other Trainers, the others kept going. "Mmmmm. Your words are indeed blunt…but honest. Your…insight…serves you well, Champion of Unova." He continued walking, and speaking, for their journey was long. "You are correct. My people have a personal stake in seeing Pravus brought down."

    Alex kept his words short, and direct. "Why?"

    The Chief did not answer for a long time, but eventually, he spoke, "When he first came here, Pravus convinced your fellow pale-skins to follow him with…disturbing ease. We suspected treachery, for even then the Arceans began slandering us, despite our long-standing friendship. Their attitudes changed…almost overnight. Then, Vega was destroyed. For well over a century, he had his minions persecute and belittle our people, making us out to be worse than savages. Any who associated with us, were shunned. Trade stopped, and tensions grew…then, one day, many years ago, we received a message. An offer for peace, an apology, and the promise of trade. The first in generations."

    He was silent for a long time again, but Alex let him think. He hadn't been lying when he said he'd understood just how much they risked by helping the Rebels so much. His entire tribe, if things went poorly, would likely be wiped out. All their history, stories, practices unique to them, and their home, gone. He was, in short, risking everything to help stop a tyrant. They all were.

    "My…daughter offered to meet with Pravus when he sent word that he wished to establish more…concrete ties to the Tribes, and to stop the slanderous lies his followers perpetrated about us. I told her not to go. I told her it was a trap. She did not listen. She went to the Oasis of Glory, and for a while…we had peace." He almost spat the word.

    Alex couldn't see his face, but he did notice the reddish skin on the Chief's knuckles turn white as he gripped the strange metal staff that marked his station, a long silvery metal rod essentially, decorated and carved with runes he couldn't rightly place. It also served as his 'belt', for Pokéballs in the colors of his tribe, brownish red, yellow, green, and blue, filled each slot on the staff. Alex did a double take as he noticed there were ten balls, not six.

    His distracted gaze took in something else, a symbol of sorts on each ball. A circle split into four parts, depicting what looked like the waterfall that hid the entrance to the Rebel's base, rocky outcroppings in the red stone of their home, an image of the food they grew, Cornn Berries, amongst other things, and an image of a Gogoat with a Charizard circling above it in the sky. Each image surrounded another circle in the center, and he had to resist a smile. He'd know that symbol anywhere. Tao's influence still remained here, even after so very long.

    It was good that the Chief paused for long periods of time between speaking, but as he spoke again, Alex's attention refocused. "One day…we received a summons to the Oasis, the place where, supposedly, Arceans go to relax and enjoy the fruits of their toil, for a time. Pravus and my daughter had decided to wed, and he invited every member of every tribe in the region..." The Chief sighed, heavily. "With his natural charisma, he offered peace, and all the while his followers continued to call us savages. I did not go, as I did not approve. I could not speak to my daughter either, for Pravus had his claws in her, and she refused to speak to someone who wasn't a part of 'Arceus' calling'."

    "Obviously, it was a trap. I warned my fellow Chieftains, but even our combined words of caution could not dissuade all of our people who were curious, angry, or a mix of both, from going. I…am told that my…my daughter addressed the crowd of her own people who came to see a ceremony our tribes simply do not practice, and with a word…betrayed them. The Arceans in this 'Oasis of Glory' are little more than soldiers, and underneath the pretty resort façade, lies a labor camp, full of prisoners…and anyone Pravus doesn't want causing trouble. To this day, he claims my people can leave whenever they wish, and yet they do not return. The bars and electric fences make that rather difficult, as do the armed humans, and their Pokémon. Only a few have managed to escape, and apparently, many do not survive their attempts."

    The Chief glanced at Alex again, as their group stopped before the edge of the flame-marked valley of rock that served as the arena for the fearsome fire lizards that called this place home. "This is why every tribe has agreed to help this Rebellion. We must free our people…and theirs. Fornia must be free, again. Then, perhaps, balance can return to our home."

    Alex pulled out Tao's Pokéball, and he resisted a smirk as he heard the other Trainers, mainly those of the tribe, inhale sharply at the symbol upon it. They had all listened quietly as they realized the Chief was telling a story, essentially. Now, this foreigner pulled out a ball that, to their eyes, was infused with the Original Dragon's aura. Or rather, a trace of it.

    This ball had held him at one time, evidently, but this Trainer had wisely kept him free of it. Alex offered the ball, and the Chief eyed it closer, and then handed it back. Alex held his hand on it, for a moment, as he spoke "I am the bringer of that balance. The Dragon's will works through me. You have my word, Chieftain, I will see your people free. We will set them all free."

    He took the ball back then, pocketing it. The Chief nodded, once, and then stopped walking, and raised his staff. "We shall see. Behold. We are here."

    The valley in the center of this area was a canyon in its own right. It was also where most of the contests of strength were held, and as a result, the once red rocks had turned black from centuries of fire duels. As they looked into the blackened valley of stone, they saw him. Every colony has a leader, and this one was no exception to the rule that such leaders were, usually, large, powerful, and stronger than normal.

    The Charizard that served as the king of these fierce Pokémon, for no other title fit his bearing, was massive, and napping. As the group approached the edge of the blackened canyon, the massive fire lizard opened one eye, and in an instant, a fiery aura of red and white surrounded his form. Alex swore, loudly. He had no illusions as to what this trial would likely entail. Battling a beast like that, that had mastered its own power to such a degree, promised to be a challenge.

    The Charizard of the tribe's Trainers popped free of their balls as they watched, and the two foreigner's partners were called out. Blaze and Chari twisted high into the air, before heading down towards the Totem Pokémon. Apparently, that was what they were called here, as well.

    As Blaze landed before his opponent, he glanced at his Trainer, and nodded. Alex called on the crystal again, and empowered his partner, who took what he needed to reach his Mega Form, and then cloak himself in a similar aura. The power faded, and the magma colored aura held perfectly. Alex smirked. Blaze had been trying to perfect that for months. Naturally, he understood it when he needed to. That was how he'd always learned, after all.

    As the older Charizard stood, Alex noticed that they weren't all that different in appearance and skin tone. It was the shape that was different. The king's wings were smaller, but his claws were enormous. He could likely fly when he needed to, but this Charizard obviously preferred the ground. That meant he likely preferred physical moves as well.

    A torrent of Flamethrower burned over Blaze, and the fire lizard yawned, as he inhaled the intense flames, and grinned. His tail flame turned blue, and his claws became shrouded in deep sparking red, and orange colored energy. The same as the magma from which he'd evolved.

    The younger Pokémon shot forward, and after a flash of red, Chari was behind him. The older Charizard glanced at the pair, and snarled. Technically, one's mate could join a duel. If it was to the death, or for leadership. He glanced at the humans, and then understood. They wanted his help for something, and they were fighting to prove they were worthy of it.

    The older Charizard smirked, and rapidly spun in place. A tornado of flames shot into the air, then, a similarly dark red and sparking pair of Dragon Claws rose out of the flames, towards the two fighters. Though the claws were massive, they missed Blaze, or rather, skirled off his aura. Chari went down, landing hard, but relatively uninjured, save for her wing which had taken the impact. Blaze eyed her, and then bid her to stay put as he rejoined the battle and roared.

    The female did as she'd been asked, as she'd smashed a wing into the canyon's hard rock wall after being hit. There was no reason to go in now. In the air, Blaze would have to defend her and also attack, and on the ground…well, this Charizard could handle her there, too. She stayed back, as the two males smashed together repeatedly.

    For all the fire and claws, neither one seemed to be damaged much, and once it was clear they were drawing towards a stalemate, Alex gave his partner useful information, and a strategy. Battles were as much mind games as they were fights, in contests like this, anyways. A moment's distraction would tip it.

    Blaze smirked as he heard and agreed with the plan. His Trainer was convinced that this Charizard was his sire, or at the very least, related by blood. They shared the same facial features, though Blaze's wings were nowhere near as small.

    Blaze's Dragon Tail canceled out another Dragon Claw, and the younger fire lizard snarled in the tongue of their species to the older one. "You…are related to me, aren't you…we are similar…"

    The elder paused, and the battle did as well, as he eyed his opponent properly, and then nodded. "I did not smell it, but now I see it. You are of my blood…a son I thought lost." He raised a claw and it burst to life with red draconic energy, "But that changes nothing. You started this contest…I will finish it!"

    Blaze then did his best imitation of a human shrug, which actually looked halfway decent. He fell backwards in the air as he dodged under the enormous claw. His own Dragon Claw ran along the outer edge of his opponent's. "Very well. I just thought you should know, I have offspring as well."

    The older fire lizard's attack paused, eyes widening at the news, for it was always a wonderful thing to have more family. Blaze took the second he needed, and slid his Dragon claw up the older Charizard's burly arm, neck, and then face, in a powerful upwards slash.

    The two broke apart then, and the elder was panting. A critical hit, and one that had taken out an eye. Not permanently, but it would need to heal. The claws hadn't actually cut his skin, either. Only faint black marks showed where they'd passed, scraping against the elder's aura shield. Blaze had actually gotten through it around the neck area, and it had not re-formed. In fact, the aura had dissipated entirely now, once he'd broken through.

    Slightly irritated with this new injury, the elder snarled. "Enough, whelp. What do you and your humans want of me?"

    Blaze glanced up at his Trainer as he mumbled softer growls. "Something about a Trial…"

    The older fire lizard grinned. "Ahh. The Trial…why didn't you say so?" He rose again, and though the aura didn't re-form, two other, smaller, Charizard stepped forward to join him. They were comparatively large, but against the King and his offspring, everyone was small. The two arrivals engaged Blaze immediately, but he had fought battles like this before. He could handle a pair of his kin, but he flew higher into the smoky air regardless, as their flames followed him. He didn't want his sire interfering as he dispatched these two.

    Occupied as he was, for the two the King had chosen were skilled aerial fighters, Blaze did not notice what went on below. Five other Charizard, each an elder in their own right, surrounded their king, and tented their wings as they freely gave their power…so that he might attain the same level as one bonded to a human. Focused fire type energy poured into the massive Charizard, and like his offspring, he retained his typing and colors as he Mega Evolved. He was stronger now yes, but most importantly, his wings were now capable of lifting his massive form, which was mostly muscle.

    The air boomed as he lifted off, and the weakened elders below curled into circular piles of orange scale, their wings forming a tent above them as they meditated, and kept their own power supplying their King's.

    Luckily for Blaze, he had a pair of eyes with a cliff-side view, and saw his sire coming. There was a layer of thin cloud between them, though it was mostly just smoke, it obscured one's vision regardless. Blaze maneuvered his opponents into position, and then kept them there, as his father ascended.

    He burst through the clouds with a powerful Dragon Tail, unable to pause as he realized who he was swinging at. The two new opponents went down, and once more, the battle was even. Like Chari, they had smashed into the stone canyon walls, and would need time to recover in order to battle again.

    Father and son clashed again and again as the sun turned the sky red, and began to set. Getting here had taken almost a full day, and the days had begun to grow shorter. The summer was halfway finished, and the days were once more shortening to reasonable length.

    Seeing another stalemate approaching, Blaze knew this would likely be it. Though he wouldn't admit it, those two had damaged him, almost as much as he'd damaged his sire. The next decisive blow would finish this contest, and he intended to win.

    "Wait for an opening…do not rush…" His Trainer's words echoed in his skull, and this time, he listened. His partner had become a skilled fighter of his own kind, and what worked well in battle for him had often translated just as well into his team's battles. "Move with the wind, and let him strike the air. He is tired, though his stamina will likely outlast yours. Use your speed to deliver a blow, you can't match him physically."

    Blaze did as ordered, looping through the air as his sire's claws furiously slashed through it. He was picking up speed now, and could feel his wings starting to strain. Moving fast enough just to dodge was taking a lot of focus. He would need that focus for a useful attack. Then, he had an idea of his own. His Trainer smirked, and encouraged him to go for it. His Charizard's battle instincts were great, after all.

    He flew high then, high into the smog-filled clouds over this part of the Canyon. Each wing beat cleared it away, and Blaze knew he couldn't use it a second time. He'd need a different trick.

    Finally, he flew straight up, and in a masterful display of aerial maneuvering, he came down at his still ascending opponent with a Dragon Tail propelled by gravity. Two large claws came towards him, and then his sire launched them at his progeny in an x-shaped cris-cross of their uniquely colored dragon type energy that flew through the air. Blaze smashed through the energy claws with his tail, and rolled in the air until he was soaring downwards with his own pair of Dragon Claws. He used the momentum and opening from the Dragon Tail to minimize the damage, and then roll into an attack from above.

    The elder had let his upwards momentum stop, but Blaze had far more speed. Smashing through the dragon energy had slowed him only slightly, and once more the offspring scored a hit upon the king, who grunted, and fell back first towards the ground. He turned slowly in the air, and let his massive wings stop him, but he still slammed onto the ground quite hard, and did not rise to battle again. His Mega Form faded, and he lifted his tail up into the air, the sign amongst their species that told their enemy they were done battling. Charizard did not typically kill fellow Charizard, after all.

    Up on the cliff's edge, the Chief turned to Alex, and smiled. "You have trained that one well. If all of your partners are that strong, Pravus is doomed."

    Alex shrugged, scratching his blonde hair. "Well, six of them are. The other three are a work in progress…and I still need my last one."

    The Chief eyed him again, and then nodded. "A ghost type…I think I know one who will work well with you…if you can convince him to Battle."

    Alex raised a brow, but the Chief spoke before he could. "But we will see to that in the morning. For now, let us feast among our fiery brethren!" The other fire lizards shot their flames into the air, and as they did, Blaze flew past them, spinning into the air, and then fanning his wings out as he came down again, and landed on the cliff. Chari followed soon after, favoring her wing, but still capable of flying straight up. It was, after all, one of the easier maneuvers fliers used.

    That night was spent around the King's tail flames, and as the entire group of humans gathered around, their own partners joined their tails with his. Blaze did as well, and together, they shared and recovered energy as the humans partook of their intense fire to burn and inhale their smelly plants.
    #25 Apr 29, 2022
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2022
  6. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 23: The Long Night Begins

    Lab Ein – Fornia Region
    "Tell me the odds again, Ein." Caleb Pravus said, as he stared down at his prize, grinning.

    The lab coated doctor would've flipped his brown hair flick, if Pravus hadn't made him cut it off. For amusement. Instead, he pushed his glasses up by the brim. "Given the species' popularity, incompetent archeological preservation methods of our race at the time, and the tectonic upheaval of the Stoney Mountains, the odds of finding an intact specimen, let alone one a Mew fused with..."

    He was silent for a good thirty seconds as his brain mathed out the numbers. Finally, he sighed, his monotone voice sounded bored. "Astronomically small."

    Pravus gave him a look, but let it slide. They had other things to discuss. "Gender?"

    "He hasn't figured that out yet." Ein said, smirking.

    Pravus rolled his eyes. "Spare me the politically correct BS, and just say 'male', or 'plug' if we must use analogies."

    Ein sighed, looking down at his creation. "It doesn't really matter. He's the only one we can make. We used all the other samples to make this one. And he's still part rock type."

    Pravus grinned. "Oh, don't worry, we'll have a Draco Plate soon enough. It's on its way here as we speak." Ein rolled his eyes. Given the absurd rarity of Draco Plate shards, let alone full Plates, his deranged boss planned to take one from the reigning Unovan Champion. One didn't need to be a genius to know how that encounter would go. Hundreds of team bosses, every bit as strong as Pravus, had fallen to younger Trainers, with less experience. All of whom had also gone on to be Champions as well. Unova especially, had a habit of forging strong Champions. As did Kalos.

    Ein looked down at his creation again, and sighed. Pravus did have numbers though, and when it came to Pokémon, that was all one really needed. Empires like this cult were what made creating beings like his Veloraptar possible, and he would be perfect to lead their numbers... when he was finished.

    The Pokémon being admired by the two men high above his paddock looked up at the pair of humans. They smelled delicious to the creature within. He eyed them, still hungry after devouring the Gogoat they'd all but dangled in front of him. He knew they'd been testing his leaping height, and soon after that first meal, the metal bar had been built overhead.

    He hated how it loomed over him, but he especially hated the 'human' with dark eyes that eyed him like a meal. When he had been alive before, the humans had run from him in terror, but then, he'd been much faster, almost able to fly in those days. This new body, while physically stronger, was still flawed. He could run roughly the same, but he always felt slow. Imperfect.

    His intelligent eyes turned to thin vertical slits as he scented more prey. Evidently, this…circular…thing they'd trapped him in had prey within it. He trotted off through the foliage, wincing at how loud his steps were as the new rocky protrusions across his bipedal form brushed and scraped against the foliage. How was he supposed to hunt like this?

    Colville - Northern Fornia Region

    Brad had, like his partners on this stealthy endeavor, made contact with friendly allies in Fornia's northern areas. The north was a natural forested buffer between the Takoma region and most of Fornia, and with the exception of the city of Pravia to the east, the Arceans didn't seem to mind the tribe's presence to the west.

    Brad had trained his Charmeleon against the Rebel Trainers, and he had finally evolved the previous evening. They'd camped out that night, with the young Charizard folding his wings into a tent, as his father had shown him. Evidently, it was something Alex had him do often, though usually Shruikan was the better choice, as he was now enormous.

    It had been a jarring thing, being shoved back into Arcean society, falling into old habits, like praising the Prophet in every sentence he was mentioned. From his new perspective, Brad now saw how deviously ingenious Pravus' set-up was. It was designed for subtle, effective brainwashing. So subtle, the average person couldn't even tell they were being molded, if living the life of an Arcean was all they knew. Some resisted, of course…but they soon either fit in the mold, or vanished. This was why everyone wanted to stay out of trouble. Justice in Fornia had a tendency to be swift.

    Though he'd initially entertained thoughts of rejoining his people, the corruption in the world Pravus had built soon became obvious, and fear no longer made him ignore it. Taking a cover job as a member of one of the Church's many 'media branches' had been tedious, but the monotony of doing seemingly meaningless tasks had been broken up one day when a group of Task Force members entered the writing room of their little studio, by force.

    They'd asked for a specific writer of a specific article that, evidently, Pravus himself had read, and not liked. The consequences for producing 'sub-par work' involved every member of the twenty-man squad taking their chance to mercilessly beat the writer in question, long after he'd lost consciousness.

    The job, which Brad had admittedly lingered at due to his feelings of nostalgia, was quickly abandoned soon after that incident. Indeed, Brad had simply vanished one day, and nobody, not even the security in charge of keeping the writers writing, could tell how he'd left. Nobody knew what Pokémon he had at home, as he was new, and Pokémon were not for the workplace. Not at their level, anyways. Those who allowed their Pokémon to be infused with Shadow were granted a higher rank, and since Brad had refused to subject his Rayquaza to the infusion process again after it had failed the first time, he had been sent to discover if the rumors of a 'Heretic Sage' in the Great Swamp were true.

    Oranguru had figured him out in seconds, but had convinced the Trainer, with aid from his Rayquaza, to stay, and learn the psychic arts. They had promised the powers he possessed, if awakened, would be enough to help him attain the power he'd craved. He had witnessed the raw power of one of the east coast's Trainers, twice, after being beaten by the Charmander he'd left for dead in the Great Mohave Desert, now a Charizard. Alex's mercy, and indeed the strength of the other Trainers in Unova, had been a good example of how a free society could make seriously powerful Trainers. As he'd trained his Charmander, the bond they'd formed had awakened his potential, enough to lift small objects, at least. That too had been another factor in keeping him from returning to the Arcean fold. He was a 'psychic half-breed' now, at best. If not a traitor.

    Brad had put the Sage's training to good use, and eventually, had discovered the northernmost Tribe in Fornia after wandering blindly through the wilderness. The more he had thought during his trek, the more he'd noticed. The Arceans had seemingly no interest in this beautiful, fertile land. It was hard to find in southern Fornia, but the areas he'd hiked through were full of mountains, forests, and even rare Pokémon. It was entirely out of character for Pravus to ignore it.

    When he discovered Colville, a city among the massive trees that grew throughout the region, he began to understand. The Okanagan tribespeople here were not only expert Trainers, they could also move stealthily through the trees of their land with almost unnatural skill. Their guerrilla tactics were all but unstoppable, and every time the Arceans had tried setting up a site to dig for fossils or cut lumber, the tribe had stopped them. Given how far they had to transport everything, the losses in equipment, fuel, and even manpower were significant.

    Eventually, Pravus had given up on the area, though why, nobody quite knew. Some guessed he would deal with it later, after the Unova threat was taken care of. Most Arceans didn't seem to care either, for they only had cities on their large water sources, and were happy to leave the mountainous wilderness to the 'savages'.

    Colville was not unlike the base hidden within the Majestic Canyon. Though most of the people and supplies moved through the massive trees with a relatively complex pulley system, those who could, preferred having their partners use Vine Whip to swing through the trees. These were usually the stronger Trainers, sent on guerilla strike missions at supply lines.

    Like Alex and Jess, Brad had acquired a fossil on his way to this surprisingly modernized city in the trees, and after some training, his new Archeops moved through them just as silently. Once his newly assembled team was ready, after he'd caught, trained, and evolved the partners he needed, Brad asked the Tribe to help him with another mission that required stealth.

    Tracking down his family had taken days, and he'd already stayed in Colville longer than planned. Alex and Jess were likely on their way to Mewsia, the only city on Fornia's lovely coast that wasn't entirely under Pravus' thumb. It was through this port that foreigners were allowed to trade and converse with specially selected Arceans, who would give the best impression of the culture their leader envisioned. Their loyalty was, apparently, unbreakable.

    Alex had said to take as long as he needed, though. They were going to contact him when they made their move. Until then, Brad didn't have to rendezvous, so he stayed, and he searched. The Pineus family, to which Bradley belonged, had owned a simple estate in the mountainous area of north-western Fornia. An entire mountainside, which had been in their family for generations.

    Proud Arceans had been raised there, but none had risen like Bradley. He'd been the only Hand of the Prophet, but not the only Champion level Trainer to come out of their family. He could only imagine what was left of his home after defecting, but he wasn't expecting what he found. Ash covered everything, and the entire mountain had been burned bare. Machinery belonging to the Arcean's fossil recovery branch was already boring into the mountain, and from the looks of the lights over where his home had stood, they had met with success.

    Brad smirked, as he mentally whispered to his Archeops. "What do you want to bet they've found elemental Plates and crystals?" His smirk widened. He'd memorized what the three of them still needed, and aside from dragon, and probably psychic, the other crystals could be found.

    Brad had always known that his family's mountain contained power. The Pokémon raised on those once fertile slopes had always been powerful. He had not, however, expected to find at least ten of every elemental Plate, including Mind but excluding Draco, just lying around the camp. It made some sense, as in reality, nobody but Brad and his family lived out here, but it still seemed careless. Evidently, the leader of this operation was a 'fun boss', and rewarded hard work before safely storing assets. Brad's smirk grew grim as he eyed the Plates haphazardly stacked about. That was definitely against protocol.

    Taking them all but guaranteed ruining someone's life, career, even marriage potentially. Some worker here would talk, the overseer would be replaced…ruined, and the digging would continue. But then, if he did nothing, what had already been dug up would be exploited further. The Arcean Fossil Organization was famous for digging deeper than they should.

    A familiar voice echoed in his head. "Examine the man whose life you fear to ruin. He has no mental defenses. These people's minds are wide open. Go. Look. But do not influence."

    Brad tensed atop his mount as he replied in the same manner. "Yes, Master." He reached out, and examined the man's mind. Thankfully, the illegal alcoholic beverages, and other substances, were clouding what senses the man did possess. Brad's intrusion went unnoticed, as he examined each memory, each thought, feeling, emotion.

    What he found sickened him. This was a man who enjoyed his power, and while he could keep his workers happy, he enjoyed those who needed to be punished in truly disturbing ways. He reached for the Plates, when he paused. "I'm not seeing every angle." He felt the Sage's approval.

    The bad emotions were easy to notice because they stood out. Among the kinder memories were his children. But even here, Brad was disappointed. They were far too reminiscent of his own childhood. He'd never seen his parents enough, as he'd been off being educated, at their expense. It had all paid off when he'd become Champion of the Arceus League, and had attained the rank of Hand of the Prophet, but that had almost been worse than being a strong Trainer with a Rayquaza.

    He saw that this man's own offspring truly mattered little to him. Beyond making sure they were decent Arceans, he didn't seem to acknowledge their existence. The work he did, for the fate of the planet, was far more important. Finally, Brad left the man's head, his hope in humanity fading slightly after such a thorough look. He shoved the Plates into his bag, but surprisingly, they were incredibly light. His eyes counted each of the types, three times over. No need to be greedy after all.

    As he looked at just how many there were though, he reconsidered. The Rebellion could use Trainers with Plates…and the knowledge of how to tap them. Between his Marowak and Scizor, the stealthy trio managed to grab many sets of Plates, before he'd felt they'd pushed their luck. They left when someone shouted, drunkenly, that the pile of Plates had shrunk.

    The overseer had laughed, and said they'd just dig up more, but nobody had cheered at that. They'd just finished working, dammit. They needed, earned, this reprieve. As the mood in the camp turned dark and mutinous under the influence of the alcohol, Brad and his loyal flying, stealthy partner headed south.

    He'd found the remains of his home, of course, and had been able to access some of the tech that survived in the mostly stone and metal interior. They may have been isolated out here, but his family had never lacked for gadgets. The last record, from several months prior, said they'd been moved south. So south they went, following the trail.

    Though the area around the massive Mohave Desert in the region was sparsely populated by humans, what towns did exist, Brad searched through. There had indeed been a large truck with his family name on it that passed through. On their way to Sacreus, or so they said. Brad resisted swearing aloud once he found out.

    Sacreus was a unique city, in that it had once existed in an age before Pokémon. Then, a meteor-like object had struck it, leaving nothing but death and destruction. Some said it was that event that sparked the final fall for humanity, but nobody really remembered why their race had fallen anymore. The ancient past was the ancient past. They hadn't even had Pokémon, so why learn about them? The ancient's way of life had failed. To most modern people, they were irrelevant, save for the rebooted entertainment franchises resurrected from the remains of the Old Net. As before, the Pokémon Wars Saga was an instant hit, and had again become a cultural icon. That had been the first of many rebooted movies, with Pokémon added in as either support or the main characters, and Unova was to this day still churning out more of them.

    Sacreus itself had been rebuilt over time, as people came to live in the crater. It had once been fertile, but the city that grew within the crater soon drowned out what natural life had come from the ancient impact and destruction. Sacreus had natural defenses, massive crater walls for miles around it, and a plasma shield that could cover the upper airspace of the city in times of need. Just in case of impending meteor strikes.

    The city had, over the years, also extended downwards. For hundreds of miles, it was said to be a steel under-city that people actually lived in, sometimes for their entire lives. Pravus' headquarters was at the bottom-most level, and reaching it any other way but through the Cult required one to magically dig through tons of rock, and then several feet of metal. Thankfully, they'd brought a mountain-eater with them. But he was, if the plan was on track, still training.

    Alex had wanted to avoid Sacreus entirely, as being recognized in Pravus' home turf would be quite bad. The city was thoroughly checked for traitors, and people were switched out all the time if they became suspects of some usually imaginary crime.

    Ignoring the upper levels and going for the head of the snake via Cenomons was the best option while they had stealth on their side. Brad had agreed. Much of Arcean society depended on the Prophet. He was a 'holy' man, touched by Arceus, and blessed with apparent immortality. He was the will of the 'God Pokémon' as the locals called Arceus, made manifest. He was also what everyone secretly feared.

    Anyone who went against Pravus tended to vanish. But the mere thought of betraying their leader was, to many Arceans, unimaginable. A concept they couldn't even consider…not while he yet lived, at least. Oddly enough though, a few of the latest generation had begun to outright leave because of the rampant abuse within the system. Brad hadn't seen many of them in Colville, but those Fornians were the ones who'd sparked this Rebellion. He did wonder how they might react to seeing their cult leader fall, for from his point of view, anyone who'd suffered at his hands knew there could only be one fate for such a person.

    With his parents likely sequestered within the fortress crater-city, Brad resigned himself to waiting. As for his siblings, he knew exactly where they'd be. He was quite familiar with where the Church put children with 'suppressive' relatives. He'd wanted more than his parent's aid to free them, as he was familiar with how heavy security was at the living quarters for children, but he could manage on his own now that he had a team of partners that grew stronger with every battle against wild Pokémon.

    He had his stealthy Scizor zip around the camp, once he'd reached it. They called it a dig site, but in reality, it was a work camp, where children of loyal Arceans toiled away, mostly mining useless rocks for enough shards to make a Plate. They were considered done when they found enough shards for Plates of every type, but naturally, 'accidents' regularly occurred, and kept those mining from freedom when their caches of mined shards 'vanished' from the storage sheds, and returned their count to zero. Occasionally some would find a fossil, but those were always taken away quickly. His Scizor returned several minutes later. It had been hard finding two specific blonde, blue-eyed, tan skinned children amongst so many others, but the intelligent bug type had managed it.

    Brad eyed the building for a long time, and eventually recalled his Scizor. He would do this himself. He reached out with the psychic power he'd previously ignored. It was a part of him, and now one he embraced. Upon learning from the other Champions in the Swamp that humans could not, in fact, reproduce with Pokémon, he'd come to terms with psychic types. It was hard to claim they were evil when they could speak to you, and emanated genuine kind emotions. It was more emotion than his Arcean handlers had ever shown, and after failing twice against Redwood, he'd accepted the truth. With the truth, had come research of the many claims Pravus himself often spewed at his crowds of brainwashed cultists. Using the PokéNet, he'd gained answers to most of his worldly questions, and also learned that checking one's sources was always a good idea. Biased views existed outside of the Church too, it seemed. After several minutes of mental scanning, Brad found the mind that he recognized as his youngest brother's, and made contact.

    "Sam. Wake up. It's your brother. Think your responses, and I'll hear them. Do you understand?" It took a few moments for the groggy preteen to come to consciousness, and realize he was not in fact dreaming.

    "Brad? How are you…"

    "Later. Listen to me, you need to get ready to leave. Bring our sister." He sensed their youngest sister lying near him, but of the elder there was no sign.

    The boy's mind lit up at the thought of not being in the living hell that was the labor camp, but fear kept him hesitant. It was, after all, the Church's strongest tool. "We can't just walk out. The guards will see us. The others will tell. We'll get beaten again..."

    "Don't worry about them, just pack your bags. I'm getting you both far away from here. Where's Lisa?"

    The younger brother paused for a moment, and then thought, "I don't know…she's…changed, Brad. She's on the fast track to becoming a Hand of the Prophet."

    Brad sighed. He knew what that meant. His defection had only served to inspire 'loyalty' to the cause, and Pravus was all too glad to keep a potential hostage nearby. The fact that she was also rather attractive certainly had nothing to do with her meteoric rise to the Prophet's side.

    That meant that over half of his family, his parents and sister, as well as any aunts or other relatives who hadn't cut ties already were likely to disconnect from them once it was discovered they'd escaped. Still, he'd decided early on that if he could only save a few, he'd want to get the young ones out first. He knew far too well what teenage years in the Arcean Church were really like.

    His Lycanroc and Cloyster had taken out the guards around this particular building, and while those who were unconscious would recover, those frozen in ice would have a long wait to melt, at least until the sun rose over Fornia. But sunrise was far off. Brad had his Lycanroc guide the two children out, and once they were out of the building, he put them on the wolf's back, and had him carry them to Archeops.

    He covered their tracks, mended the barbed wire fence that surrounded the work camp, and left no trace of which direction they'd gone. The security here was competent enough to follow tracks, but if there were no tracks to follow, they'd be significantly slowed. Enough for them to get away.

    As his large, female Archeops carried them into the sky, his brother babbled away about fossil Pokémon he'd found, while his youngest sister, who was six and considered old enough to work, simply clung to her big brother. She would likely be pretty as well, though Brad also knew the camps were home to many with darker perversions. Such people had an unfortunate tendency to rise to positions of power within the Church. He sincerely hoped she'd avoided such men, but didn't have the courage to sift through her memories and find out. She'd been through enough already.

    As his Archeops flew north, towards the relative safety of Colville, she flew just high enough for Sam to reach up into a cloud, and discover they were rather wet, not fluffy. Then, the large Pokémon stopped, and squawked for her Trainer's attention.

    They went into a steep, gliding dive and came out over the forests of the north-eastern part of Fornia. Brad swore, and quickly turned the ancient bird around. It would be a longer flight, but he could use his Charizard if necessary. The Canyon Base was now the largest one the Rebellion had left.

    Deep Within the Majestic Canyon – Fornia Region

    Alex approached the strange orb at the end of the cave the Chief had led them to. Jess had remained at the base, and began the arduous task of learning who everyone was. She wasn't irritated though, as she knew he'd be joining her very soon.

    As he looked at the orb, he noticed that it was black on the edges, and white within. Alex glanced at the Chief, who watched him, silently, probably musing to himself with his inner monologue. He did that a lot, and never noticed his tendency to mutter aloud when he mused after toking his pipe.

    Alex put a hand on the orb, and smirked. The strange sphere shifted to a familiar swirling pattern of Eternal Balance, and the Pokémon within woke up.

    Electric and ghost. That was the first thing Alex saw, and then he realized what he was looking at. It was Rotom, of course, but its black and white form was tied to a similarly colored crystal at the bottom. As the ghost saw the human, it reflexively melded with its crystal, and a pair of golden eyes stared at him from the object he currently possessed.

    Alex knelt down and lifted the crystal up. The ghost within eyed him the entire time. "Hello there." The crystal blinked its golden eyes once. "I'm Alex. The Champion of Unova. The one who reunited the Original Dragon." At the dragon's title, the eyes grew brighter.

    "The dragon is whole?" The voice was almost incoherent, and faint.

    "He is, Old One." The Chief said from the back of the cave, waiting patiently.

    The Rotom seemed to stare through him as it processed his words. Alex had no illusions about the intelligence of the Pokémon before him. He could sense the power the ghost had, and knew it was at least as intelligent as Tao, and probably almost as old. The ghost's mind felt ancient.

    The crystal suddenly flared with electricity, searing his skin, and he winced. He'd learned to hold in a reaction to pain early in his martial training with the dragon. He noticed the small crystal mirroring his smirk, and Alex arched a brow. "Is that it?"

    The Pokémon stared at him, and the voltage increased. He was ready now, though. His eyes flared as he guided the current harmlessly through the parts of his body that could handle such intense shock, and into the stone below him.

    The ground flared in a familiar Taijitu swirl as electricity poured into it, and revealed a hidden carving below them, as the two bonded. Sparks began arcing through the air as the tiny Pokémon gave the human as much as he dared. The equivalent of a Thunder attack. Hopefully, it would only knock the human out, but he could never judge how much they could really take.

    Finally, it stopped. The crystal shivered in approval, and then glowed entirely white. Alex stared at the crystal for a long time before deciding it was too similar. He tossed the crystal into the air, on a hunch, and the Rotom within burst free with a satisfying, and sparky, yawn. "I really hate not being able to leave that thing! At least you figured out how to open it. The last guy took two weeks." His voice was higher now that he was free, and he sounded vaguely like his new Trainer when he spoke. It was, somehow, both familiar and strange at the same time.

    The small ghost type continued arcing his plasma body in ever more twisted shapes. Alex's eyes were on the crystal though. He'd heard of ancient devices that could contain Pokémon, and those that still existed always had unusual Pokémon within.

    Alex pocketed the strange crystal, and shrugged. A Pokéball was a Pokéball. It was common knowledge that ancient civilizations from the early years of the Dark Times had been able to capture and battle with Pokémon. Devices like the crystal had been common, and far more unique than Pokéballs could ever really be. Battling, as a sport, was ancient in their world. An honored tradition that went back to the rebirth of the human race. In a time of chaos, it had united the world. For a while.

    He found the small ghost eyeing him, and where his crystal went. He valued it, clearly. Alex reached out then, and brought the new member of their team into the mental web that connected his partners. He could tell the ghost was impressed, and Alex smirked. The plasma being was already conversing with several of his partners, and giving them battle advice.

    The Chief approached the suddenly still pair of Trainer and Pokémon, tapping Alex's shoulder. The two blinked, in unison. "He sounds like you..." the Chief remarked. Alex simply nodded, flexing his hand as he focused on healing the burns. Recover was, unfortunately, still a mystery to him, move wise. He could make it seem easy, as he had against Connor, but if he was honest, Tao had mainly healed those wounds. They'd been rather serious. "We should return to the base. Your partner apparently just checked in…with news."

    Alex raised a brow, momentarily blank on who was being referred to. "My partner…? Not Jess…then…oh. Ohhhh. Brad? What news does he bring?"

    The Chief stared at the Unovan for a long moment, then sighed. "Nothing good…" He pointed to the north then, as they'd reached the top of the footpath that led up the canyon wall.

    Alex's team joined them, staring in disbelief, and perhaps for the first time understanding just how depraved their foe was, and the lengths he would go to in order to crush rebellion.

    The entire sky was turning black, and not with electricity. That, he could've handled. These clouds had something dark drifting down from them, and they were blowing in from the north. The Chief grimaced. "It has begun. Colville has fallen."

    Alex shared the Chief's grim look. He recalled everyone, Rotom included, as Shruikan leapt into the valley below, and circled around for rapid ascension. "I need a better look. I'll meet you back at the base." Before the Chief could respond, the Unovan Champion had grabbed his Salamence's tail, and was already in the air, climbing the massive back of his black dragon. The huge beast flapped into the sky, through the ashy clouds, and then above them.

    Shruikan picked up speed by the time Alex had grabbed onto one of his head horns. Dragon energy surrounded both of them as he mega evolved, and accelerated. A normal Salamence in this form could cross continents in mere hours. Flying a few hundred miles north was easy.

    It took an hour, but eventually they figured out where the smoke was coming from. Ash clouds blanketed the area for miles around them, and as Alex recalled his dragon, he fell through the foul clouds, and let gravity control him for a minute.

    He had time before he'd need to float, so he fell, and as he plummeted, he saw the land below him. Normally, he imagined, the trees that had made up this base of tribespeople were likely indistinguishable from the rest of the massive, ancient forest. Now though, there was a disturbingly perfect circle of charred trees, miles in diameter, that had encompassed the entire settlement based near a slope of a well forested mountain. Nobody had run away unscathed.

    Just as he was wondering what sort of Pokémon could unleash this kind of flame in such a perfect circle, he felt eyes upon him from below, and reached for his power. His large form stopped, hovering in the air, and he rapidly ascended towards the clouds again.

    It was already too late, though. Blaze popped free of his ball, wings and body enveloping his Trainer as the cone of flames shot up at them from the ground. Though they were intense, it would take far more than that to take his Charizard down. Alex slid onto his back, as his partner glowed with red energy from the Plate shard on his Trainer's hand. They shot into the clouds, and waited above.

    They heard the wing flaps as whatever had struck at them rose into the clouds, and Alex felt a familiar sensation of 'oh shit' run up his spine as he spied his opponent, and what he was riding. It was a Noivern, but something about it was…off. It had traded the flying typing for dark, and Shadow energy emanated from it. Its eyes only wanted to kill, and as it saw Blaze, it began to drool. Its mouth was covered in blood, and it took Alex a moment to realize where it was likely from. Picking off stragglers of a disaster. This was a special kind of depraved Trainer then, and likely one of Pravus' chosen Hands. He fit the description.

    The man atop the monstrous dragon was clad in similar garb to what the examiners in the Swamp wore, though where theirs was 'camouflaged' this man's was entirely black. Though he wore a similarly colored beret, and though Alex had always found them a bit silly, it did nothing to detract from the imposing presence he gave off. A familiar chill filled the air. The sense of dread that so often accompanied death. It seemed Pravus wasn't the only one with tricks.

    The man wore a green monocle-type device over his left eye, and as he stared at Blaze, his smile grew. "That's the one." He said to the Noivern. He raised a gloved hand, and it flared with dark type energy. "Feast, Carporian."

    At the man's words, an almost invisible Plate crystal, for it blended well with the man's choice of attire, began to glow, and the Noivern began to change. A smaller pair of wings sprouted from its sides, and the tail gained fin-like appendages. Most notable however, were the pair of massive fangs the dragon now sported. It panted as the change finished, ready to run wild. It's eyes were a mixture of rage and pain in equal amounts, with one fueling the other.

    Normally, Alex would've enjoyed seeing a new Mega Form, but he knew a bit about Noivern, and could only imagine what their Mega Form was like, let alone under such a dark Trainer. It was very likely that he'd lose control of that dragon. Even Blaze could tell it was growing annoyed with its rider. It had grown larger, angrier, as his Trainer formed a leash of dark energy from the crystal, and wrapped it about the dragon's neck.

    Shruikan, for his part, agreed with their assessment, and used it to his advantage. He'd been called out again once they'd come up in the clouds, and had been told to fly even higher. Now, the low thrumming sound of his wings slicing through the air was the only prelude to the Charge Beam that followed. The Noivern glared at where the sound came from, but did not expect what was streaking down from the sky to be a Salamence of massive scale.

    The electric beam struck the Noivern with deadly precision as the massive dragon zipped past. Not only was the beast weakened, but his rider was struggling to stay on, and cursing at his mount for being so blind. Preoccupied with his Trainer and their shared paralysis, the Noivern did not see the Dragon Hammer Shruikan aimed their way as he zipped past them again. The more heavily plated tail wreathed in dragon type energy hit with expert aim on the Noivern. The sheer size of it caused the bat-like dragon to sail rapidly through the air before slamming into the ground below with a thunderous boom.

    "Time to leave." Alex said, as he recalled Blaze, and hopped once more on Shruikan. He headed south again, before the Noivern could recover. By the time it did eventually fly up again, they were long gone. The bat-like dragon was furious, and with a single sonic-flap accompanied by a Hyper Voice mixed with a Boomburst, it cleared the ash clouds for miles. It hadn't had a chance to use its power at all, and thus the enraged dragon type struck out at the obscuring clouds with obvious rage. The Salamence had robbed it of a battle with a rather strong looking Charizard.

    The Hand of Death, now once more perched on the dragon, grimaced. He hadn't even had time for banter. He loved banter. Of course to him, banter was the screams of pain he drew from his targets. His dark expression shifted from an unusually jovial mood fresh from the slaughter of Traitors, to one more accustomed to the hunt. His sharp eyes searched the skies as his mount threw a temper tantrum, and then, a grin appeared on his face. The grin of a hunter who sees prey. By pure chance, the clouds obscuring the black Salamence had been within Carporian's range. Though the attack probably hadn't damaged the dragon from so far away, it had revealed him, and his rider. They had yet further to go until the undisturbed clouds of ash could cover them again.

    The Hand's mount was already moving, for he'd spotted the prey as well. Though to him this would be more of a match between rivals, rather than a hunt. The Noivern had felt the thunder of that dragon first hand, and he would not underestimate him again. Each flap of his wings propelled him towards his target, and from below, he heard the obvious tread of the annoyingly fast hatchling that followed them. So far, the promise of food had kept it obedient, and it seemed to like the idea of getting stronger. What they had done after Colville's burning had been sport, to the newly revived Fossil Pokémon. It was bound to the land, but had proven effective in hunting down the humans that had fled from the tree-city.

    The Noivern ignored the hatchling, and instead unleashed the power of his Voice, now that they were in range. The boom had shocked Shruikan, making his entire system tense up from the sheer power of the vibrations behind the attack. The dragon had continued soaring, but was slowly descending, and couldn't dodge. Alex had been trying to find the pressure point by the back of his skull that would release his tensed muscles for several minutes, but his scales were too thick in his Mega Form.

    He'd had Shruikan drop it, and of course as soon as he let the power go, the damned Noivern noticed them. By the time Alex pressed the pressure point, causing Shruikan's wings to work again, they had fallen several hundred feet, and the fanged dragon had gained on them with the kind of speed all Mega Forms tended to have. Then, they heard its Hyper Voice. It was untrained, but the sheer power of it was all that was really needed. Shruikan took the hit hard, and Alex knew they needed to turn this around quickly.

    Shruikan used his own Hyper Voice, and Alex smirked at his choice of words as the Black Salamence roared, "Dovah Envok!" The dragon's eyes flared, and an aura of bluish-purple energy formed around him as he circled in the air, and rapidly moved towards the Noivern.

    A perfect circle of flame came hurtling towards them, but Shruikan cut through it. His Dragon Ascent wasn't perfect like Rayquaza's, but it was still strong. Where the Legendary dragons like Rayquaza could use such a move to Mega Evolve, other dragons manifested it as a powerful physical attack, and used dragon-typed energy to fuel it.

    The energy surrounding the Salamence hit the Noivern hard, and this time, his Trainer knew there would be no second wind. The Hand leapt off his mount, and let it crash below in the mountainous forests that made up much of this part of the region, and had not yet caught fire. The Hand himself floated, a dark aura surrounding him. Much like his servant, he simply hadn't had time to use it before. The black dragon had been too quick.

    He drew another ball from his belt, and Alex recalled his own partner, as he floated with his own power as well. Apparently, this battle was happening. He could just Teleport, but he wanted to see how strong the goons Pravus had at his disposal really were. The black clad man grinned at him. "There's no running from Trainer Battles."

    Alex rolled his eyes, and as he did, the man threw a Dark Ball. An Absol appeared, as dark and shadowy as the Noivern it was partnered with. This one's expression was entirely different. It took one look at Alex, and began trying to resist its Trainer. To no avail. The power that controlled it now, and bonded it to the Hand, was too strong. It looked on helplessly as its Trainer commanded a Razor Wind.

    Arthur appeared in a flash of purple then, from the ball Alex had drawn as well. A Psycho Cut canceled out the attack, but that didn't stop the Absol. It kept shooting the bursts of wind, but luckily, Arthur could use Psycho Cut just as much. It was one of his favored moves now, mostly because of its versatility as a ranged or close up attack.

    Eventually, the fight had devolved into a Night Slash tradeoff, between the Absol's horn, and Arthur's blades. When he tried a Shadow Ball to gain some distance, the Absol copied him, and the resulting explosion pushed both back. That, was when they mega evolved. Arthur's arms began burning with gold as soon as he finished, but the Absol looked downright miserable as the power of Infinity Energy forced it to the next stage.

    Arthur reached out to it. "It's okay…I know you can't stop attacking. Don't stop fighting his control. I can free you of this curse, but you need to keep resisting!" The Absol blinked as it processed the words.

    "Aerial Ace." The Absol shot forward at the command, and Arthur met the attack with a Night Slash, cancelling it out. The stalemate resumed, and the usually smirking knight, this time, had a look of irritation on his face as the battle dragged on. Neither Pokémon could get an edge, and what kindness Arthur had shown at first had melted away in the ferocity of the pointless, yet epic clash. "Dammit...it's not working...the Shadow is too ingrained..." His irritation echoed in his telepathy.

    Each Night Slash counter parried the attacking Absol, and as it continued to strike, it grew more and more berserk. Finally, the Shadow in its aura flared, as it entered the frenzied state commonly known as Reverse Mode. Arthur's eyes narrowed, as he realized the Absol was too far gone to the Shadow. The dark type energy shifted back to gold, and the Gallade focused his fighting energy into his blades. The almost fiery cascade of Light energy hardened into a glowing pair of golden Sacred Swords. "This ends. Now."

    Alex watched his Gallade, one eyebrow raised, as he noted the typing of the energy radiating off of his Gallade once again, the symbol of the Alpha Pokémon. Arthur glanced at his Trainer and smirked, before shooting forward with his Sacred Sword assault. The Absol, seemingly seeing an opening, powered up an Aerial Ace. Or rather, he tried. His horn simply didn't glow as he charged forward and struck regardless. He'd run out of power, but his Trainer's commands were still absolute. Arthur's strike caught the Absol as they passed in the air, and the Mega Form dissolved.

    The Gallade wasn't done, though. He refused to give up on this Pokémon. He landed and turned in one smooth movement, arms once more seemingly burning with golden light. He dropped into a fighting crouch then, and with a shout, began building the fighting type energy in his arms. As he used his intense focus to push past his limits, he turned the fighting type energy into something else entirely as his sword-arms began shining. His Trainer nodded, as he understood what his eyes were showing him.

    He'd suspected for some time now that his Gallade had a tie to the Light. He supposed it made some sense… legendary fighters usually ascended to the heavens, in the legends. He guessed it was fairly rare though, but if anything could counteract Dark Matter…that would be it. It'd worked before, after all. This move he was readying now seemed different, though. Stronger. More focused. Perhaps, enough to free the Absol of the Shadow. He knew how much Arthur wanted that ability, as he viewed Shadow Infusion as an unforgivable crime. Like most Pokémon.

    The Gallade touched a burning sword tip to the downed Absol's bluish-black oval on its forehead. The Shadow faded, in the face of the Light. The Pokémon sighed, then collapsed, fainted. It could've gone several more rounds, like Arthur, but the sudden removal of the Shadow had knocked it out cold.

    The smile Arthur had gained shifted to an expression of cold rage as a black light hit the Absol, and recalled it. "Pointless." The Hand said, smirking, as the ball dinged with the immediate sound of a renewed infusion of the occupant. "I admit…I did not expect this kind of strength. I should've brought my Legendaries. Pravus suggested as much. You're yet another monstrously strong Trainer that's appeared from nowhere. I get it. But that doesn't mean we'll give up. Not even someone like you can take all of us down. We are relentless. We are immortal. We are legion. You cannot win."

    He flung another ball. "Go! Tyrannus!" The Tyranitar had barely appeared, before it's master forced it to the next level of power. It roared not in rage, but agony. Alex stared, trying not to wince. He'd wanted to see what mega evolving with these stones could cause, and now, it was obvious. He had no illusions about who had started this Plate crystal evolution trend. The Arceans were the kind of group to analyze and then copy their enemies. What didn't take them out, made them stronger.

    He'd battled other Tyranitar, though, who'd achieved this state the right way. Their power had been even greater, because the crystals could empower attacks. What had been learned in the Swamp was spreading, but it didn't have to result in harm. They just needed a way to keep this kind of power away from people like Pravus and his Hands.

    "Send as many as you want, I'll take them all down!" Arthur shouted as he rushed in again, swords blazing, and right as the Tyranitar loomed over him, the Gallade Teleported, and reappeared behind the Hand himself. The swords crossed over his neck like a blazing guillotine. He stared down at the Tyranitar then, as they were still floating in the air. "You don't need to obey him anymore." His arms moved, and the man's head fell. Then, it started to chuckle.

    "That's adorable. So righteous. Tyrannus, remove the princeling. Sweep his legs." As ordered, the giant Pokémon turned his sights on Arthur, who frowned. It was clearly obeying, not rampaging. "It's not out of control…it's loyal…" Arthur confirmed mentally to his Trainer, as his opponent's form charged forward, claws wreathed in ghost type energy.

    Where a normal Sacred Sword used fighting energy, Light energy evidently had a strong effect on ghost types. The attacks cancelled out, but the Tyranitar was relentless. Several claws got through Arthur's guard as they traded more Sacred Swords and Shadow Claws. Tyrannus was unstoppable, and monstrously strong. Eventually, Arthur was cornered from the relentless assault hammering him onto his knees. Alex recalled him as the Tyranitar formed a Hyper Beam with one intent. It shot the energy anyway, not caring that its opponent had escaped as it blew apart the land around it, roared in fury, and set its sights on the Trainer that had robbed him of his kill.

    His master's head, which had been caught by his body, now smirked from the palm of his hand. "End him."

    The Tyranitar paused, panting, which gave Alex the time he needed. "Hydrus. Finish this." He drew the ball, smirked, and then threw.

    The Swampert in question shifted almost as rapidly as the Tyranitar had. Their method was definitely slower, though. The dark shift had been almost instant. Tyrannus recovered, and charged once more. The dark claws returned, but Hydrus smashed the blazing limbs away with well placed Hammer Arms, and followed that with a Water Pulse immediately after opening his opponent's guard.

    The Tyranitar took the condensed energy pulse to its face, and went soaring back into the wilderness they were fighting in, unable to stop the powerful and dense ball of water energy from driving him away. The flames from Colville and the dark clouds made the setting ominous. All it needed was lightning. An Ice Beam shot at the Tyranitar, and then arced towards his Trainer, freezing both, as Hydrus burned power to make the beam last. He'd also created a small ice ridge on the landscape, but it would undoubtedly melt, if the ominous orange embers in the distance were any indication.

    Alex recalled Hydrus and Teleported before the Hand broke free, to the tent he'd been given at the Rebel's base. He'd recalled everyone and left quickly more times than he'd like to admit, but being able to be somewhere else instantly made terrifying situations a lot more interesting.

    He looked around the tent, and then smirked, as he spied his lover. It shifted to a frown of disapproval as he saw his newest partner was here as well, and not in his ball…crystal…thing. Apparently, he'd snuck away with the Chief, rather than join the others in danger.

    "You need a name, don't you… hmm." He eyed the ghost, who shook its head as it spoke.

    "If you rename me, I'll have to change crystals. It's an ancient tech thing. Just call me Rotom, human. It's easy, and you can pronounce it."

    Alex raised a brow. "Are you telling me I couldn't pronounce your name?"

    The ghost stared at him, deadpan. "I'm saying my name, and your language, aren't even compatible."

    Alex smirked. "You're not a Terran Pokémon are you…" The Rotom's eyes went wide. "Hah! I knew it. Your mind felt different to any other Pokémon I'd sensed, but after that battle we just had, I noticed. Your life energy, what's left of it, is from a different world."

    The Rotom sighed. "I mean…technically…not really…but if that's how you want to understand it, you can work with that." The Plasma ghost yawned then, and twirled something between his plasma appendages. Alex blinked.

    "You little…did you steal my staff!?" Jess giggled from across the room doing…whatever she was doing to her hair. Beauty products. Girl things. It was foreign to him. She usually didn't speak during these morning rituals, but now, she did. "He totally stole your staff. We've been toying with it all morning."

    He eyed it, but it didn't appear to be covered in unidentifiable liquids. So that was something. He stared at the Pokémon holding it, and then got an idea. An idea that just felt right. He sent it to Tao, who approved, and chuckled as he did so.

    "Phaspiro." He said, smirking. "That's your name."

    "Phaspiro? Did you take 'phasma' and add 'piro' to it? Why? Because it sounded cool? If we're going for cool, why not call me Stormageddon, Destroyer of Worlds? Honestly, you Trainers-"

    Alex shrugged, cutting him off. "I like it. Round Table?" He said to their partners. Arthur had been given a Max Revive, but was still tired. He gave an 'aye', though. Everyone did. Alex smirked, and responded mentally to the snarky sparky ghost type. "It is decided. I dub thee Stormageddon. Welcome to the team, Stormy…you can reside in this, now."

    He made a gesture with his hand, and wrenched the staff free of the ghost's grip easily. With a thought, it formed an opening just the size of the ghost's crystal. The Rotom's eyes went wide. "Waaaiiit wait wait, that crystal has untapped electrical power, to control it you'd need-"

    Alex cut him off again. "The essence of the Master of Fire, Ice, and Electricity." The Rotom tilted his head, then nodded, as he agreed that would probably work. Before he could say as much, the plasma ghost was recalled into the crystal, as Alex pushed it in, and the staff closed around it.

    It gained a pair of eyes, and grinned at the Trainer. "Oh, I can work with this…" The staff began to change from within from something simple, to a container with much more…potential. It retained the colors, but shrunk. There was a hollow center, through which, Alex could see the shine of the crystal. Something was obscuring it though, that almost looked like…wiring? "Don't look directly into it, you idiot." Stormy growled.

    Alex turned the strange device away from him, and then noticed a button on the small object. He hadn't been expecting the Rotom to change his staff so much, but he let the Pokémon do as he wished. Their newest ally only wanted to make them stronger, or so he'd claimed. Stormy's eyes and smirk appeared above the button he'd created. "Push it. Push the button, little human."

    Alex gave the ghost a look. "It's not going to fire some plasma projectile, right?" He asked, remembering how the ghost Pokémon was classified.

    The ghost grinned. "Not a projectile."

    Alex's eyes went wide as he realized what he was probably holding. "Ohhh…yes. So very much yes…" He looked around, realizing their tent was a bit cramped. "This needed a more dramatic reveal anyway. Outside we go!"

    He ran out, object in hand, grinning like a child. Jess was behind him, more curious than anything. Evidently, she'd fixed whatever needed fixing. "What exactly are you up to? I was only half paying attention in there."

    Alex simply smirked. "You'll see." He ran to the topmost cliff of the base, and then shot into the air, not caring about hiding his power at that moment. Once he found a suitably far, suitably high ledge to perch on, he pressed the button.

    The smaller former-staff blazed to life, as a dual colored beam of plasma extended from the hilt where the crystal now resided. Alex laughed in disbelief. It was a fairly long black and white blade. Deadly looking. It hummed as he twirled it around, still not quite believing this was actually happening.

    The hilt of the sword-like weapon smirked at him. "You can call me Lux. Luxundus is the closest approximation in your tongue, but literally everybody calls me Lux. You probably should've asked my name, rather than assumed I needed one."

    Alex rolled his eyes. "I was irritated. You stole my staff."

    The hilt grinned. "And turned it into a plasma sword."

    "Fair point." Alex twirled it around again. "You know…I've heard some of these can extend from both ends…"

    The ghost laughed. "Find another super rare extraterrestrial crystal whose origins are a mystery to you, then. I'll make another blade."

    Alex smirked, and lifted his sleeve, revealing where he kept most of his crystals. Each fit into the edge of his gloves, around his wrists in an obvious homage to a certain first season of a certain old Earth anime involving cards, dueling, and monsters, but were less bulky. The gloves were, like the rest of Tao's clothing, super comfortable, and form fitting. "I have thirteen."

    The ghost eyed them, then blinked affirmatively. "I can use all of those. With this container, anyways."

    Alex chuckled, "I like the sound of that. I'm probably better with a saberstaff anyways." He turned to Jess, who'd followed him, and had thus far been staring with a knowing smirk. She'd been in his head. He'd always wanted a laser sword. They were iconic. And so very useful.

    He pressed the button again, and let the hilt hang from his belt. Under his robe-like jacket. He smirked, trying not to laugh at the similarities to his childhood heroes, specifically a combination of the Aura Guardians, and several people from the Pokémon Wars Saga. There were some differences, though. The nine miniaturized balls that hung alongside the hilt on his belt. He wasn't going to hide them anymore. Their surprise advantage had literally gone up in smoke. Had he been wearing regular pants, they would've surely fallen with all the extra weight, and he wondered if that was why the League limited Trainers, usually, to six partners. Alder, one of Unova's now passed Champions, had carried at least nine openly, but then, they had been on his shoulders.

    He turned his gaze northward, towards the clouds of ash. "I found one of Pravus' Hands. He managed to take Arthur down. Hydrus cleaned up, though. Whatever chance we had at stealth is gone, now. We don't have time to wait in enemy territory while we train Ceno."

    Jess stood next to him, eyes wide as she saw the sheer scope of it. "That just came from Colville alone?"

    Alex shook his head. "It's spreading. The entire northern part of the region is probably catching fire."

    She looked up at him, eyebrow raised. "So, what do we do now, wise leader?"

    He gave her a look. "Plan B, obviously. That one's more fun anyways."

    Jess rolled her lovely blue eyes. "You only think it's fun because you and the Council of Dorks like smoking together."

    He winked at her. "You could join us…but I know how you get around that much testosterone. And Leaf."

    She sighed. "Just tell your dragon. I'll go talk to the people I already know. You get the Chief."

    Alex nodded, and then reached out to Tao. While he was a part of their mental web, he was more…web-adjacent, if only so the stray thoughts of a Legendary and ancient mind, full of things sometimes best left forgotten, did not reach the ears of his impressionable hatchling of a Trainer.

    "Plan A failed. Pravus burned the north." Alex gave the dragon a moment, either to process his words, or finish whatever business he was in the middle of.

    Finally, a response. "Plan B it is, then. Come home, young hero…there's something you need to face here. A challenge that you are finally ready for, I think."

    Alex let the contact fall, and smirked. There was always something else to face. It had a habit of making him stronger. He opened his Pokédex, out of habit as he checked the time, then paused as he saw the date. They'd been in Fornia much longer than he'd realized. Almost half the summer, which was now ending. "Two years to the day…huh. It feels longer. Right Terra?"

    The giant grass tortoise joined him with a flash of green, and inhaled the warmth of the late summer day as he gave his slow, measured, mental reply. "It does…but I would not change a second of it."

    His Trainer gave him a scratch under his mossy, dirty chin, and then hopped on his back. He began packing a bowl of the Leaf as the turtle brought him down towards the other humans the long way, so he could enjoy the sunlight while the sun yet shone. The clouds were clearly unnatural, and they were spreading. Alex knew this was likely the first step of whatever Pravus had planned for Unova, and knowing him, it would be brutally effective.
  7. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 24: Into the Abyss

    Three Days After Colville's Burning – Unova Region

    Word reached the One Dragon that the Governors of the thirteen 'States' that had come when he'd called, had finally arrived. Tao had expected the first plan to fail. They'd given Pravus too much time while trying to penetrate Fornia's defenses. Time to mobilize his Cult. His armies. Whatever he'd escaped Norstad with. He'd had half a summer to set things in motion, and he certainly had now. As soon as Alex entered Fornia, the Prophet had started mobilizing. The Rebel spies had been fed false information, and the 'holy army' formed undisturbed. Now, they'd illegally invaded Orre, made their way up Mount Battle, and had claimed it in the name of the Arcean Church. Evidently, it was now a part of Fornia.

    Almost immediately after hearing this news of aggressive action by the massive Fornian army that numbered in the millions, the other Governors not under Pravus' thumb had received the Original Dragon's summons to the ancient seat of his empire. The Dragonspiral Tower. It was now much as it had once been in ancient times, a castle that awed those who looked upon it, as well as a fortified seat of power that could, if necessary, house the citizens of Unova in times of strife. Tao had been working to clear the underground levels as well, which were just as numerous as the upper levels, and much wider. Much of Icirrus Town's plumbing and other services had been disrupted by the excavation, but Tao had been able to re-work them with minimal inconvenience.

    The followers of the dragon attended to their guests between martial and Pokémon sparring sessions. After a night of rest, for many Governors had traveled far, they'd gathered at the top of the tower, which now acted as an open-air meditation area under a dragon-sized pagoda-esque structure. Like his tower in his separate dimension, this area not for training or learning was covered with trees and grass at its top, and typically served as a place to meditate. Today though, it held a meeting of the strongest political figures on the eastern coast.

    "Thank you for coming. We've much to discuss." Tao was upright, resting on his coiled body much like a Rayquaza did whilst sleeping. "As you've no doubt heard, the Church of Arceus is mobilizing. They're determined to spark a war with the east. They've raised a massive army to do so. Make no mistake, their ultimate goal is to conquer us, State by State, region by region, until they can reform the old empire under their Prophet."

    The leader of the Kanadians spoke then, an elderly man of tribal descent with the classic black hair, and darker skin tones. Kanadia had several tribes that sailed on its frosty oceans, and this man's garb marked him as one of them. "Is there no way for peace to be maintained?"

    The dragon shook his head. "They're marketing it as a 'holy war'. Their soldiers are devout, and fanatical, to the point of violence. Evidently, my powers and philosophy are the antithesis of everything the Alpha Pokémon stands for. So sayeth the Arcean Church."

    The room stayed awkwardly quiet before someone among the crowd of leaders spoke. "Are they?"

    The golden eyes of the massive dragon arced over the suddenly slightly terrified men who, in that moment, suddenly remembered they were very very small compared to this Pokémon straight from prehistory. His massive golden eye stopped beside the Governor of Transylveticut. A thin man in a nice suit, with a thin moustache, that curled up at the edges into little swirls.

    Of course. The man who lived in daily fear of the Swamp. Transylveticut was famous for its massive Swamp, which was too deadly to enter, and its superstitions, that most of the other States simply found silly in this age of rationality and reality-bending science. The dragon spoke once more. "I will forgive that impertinent question, for it has been millennia since I was last whole, and you humans have a tendency to forget, what with your short life spans."

    The dragon rose slowly as he spoke, wings expanding, as he towered over all of them. His eyes flashed with psychic power. "See now, leaders of the States, and behold the history you have forgotten." He linked to each of their minds, and was pleased to see that among the many emotions the group of leaders were feeling, treachery was not one of them. These were hard-working men who wanted to see their people safe, and live through a time of peace. Unfortunately, nobody ever really wanted to be the target of a madman with an army. This was simply another stumbling block they needed to surpass. Tao had a feeling it would make them stronger.

    The scenes he displayed for the gathered leaders showed the details, at least some, of his own creation by Arceus himself, a melding of three dying dragons, unified in a single balanced whole. Time skipped forward, and next the humans watched as Tao was bid to guard this continent, and use his awesome power to promote peace, and balance. Of course, in those days, the people who lived upon the continent had other ideas as to who should rule it. The wars of the ancient past had been large, and brutal, but Tao had sought out those who did not want to fight, who did not give in to their anger, bigotry, and base, greedy emotions. He taught them the secret of true power. They were his first students, and they were legendary for being all but unstoppable in those ancient conflicts. The combination of divine wisdom, and power had made them superior to any foe.

    Tao spoke then, to each of them. "I have always been a peaceful minded being. I do not like violence. I do not like killing that which I've no intention of eating. I do not enjoy wasting the potential of a life. But mark me, if the balance is disturbed, I will do what I must. Every time, regardless of who my foe is."

    "What if Arceus broke the balance?" Someone asked.

    Tao gave a heavy sigh, and the smoke from his nostrils filled the pagoda, and covered the round wooden table they'd gathered at. Thankfully the windy benefits of being thousands of feet high meant that it didn't linger. He didn't bother looking for the speaker. "If the Alpha Pokémon ever willingly disrupts the balance, then weep, little human. For the end of existence will be nigh."

    What he showed next was a series of disturbing images. Humans, and Pokémon, who could not be dissuaded, lay dead by the thousands as Tao hovered over their battlefield. His sparking claws were covered in blood, as was his maw, and he wept openly at what he'd been forced to do to quell the senseless bloodlust of those ancient days, and restore balance to his new land.

    From that senseless destruction though, came something truly impressive. The Dragon Empire. The golden age of the land whose capital would eventually be known as Unova, had stretched from coast to coast, and flourished under the One Dragon's guidance. Each of the leaders was treated to a sped-up view of the Empire growing, flourishing, and many could not believe just how large it had truly been. The history books didn't do it justice. Coast to coast, their continent had once glowed with the light of civilization, and peace, for the Dragon Empire was not once successfully invaded in all its long years.

    As the visions began to fade, the men were given an aerial view of three spires on a recognizable chunk of land. Unova's center, the capital, so created and named in the days of the Dragon Empire's apex, the glorified capital alienated many, and would eventually become the stage upon which all Tao had wrought was undone. The Dragonspiral Tower stood to the west, the Imperial Palace had stood on the easternmost coast, and finally, one massive tower that, to this day, stood over Castelia as a home to visiting foreigners of political importance. Unity Tower. There had even been a city around the one in the past, as well. In fact, as the men looked closer, they saw that all of what was generally referred to as Unova's capital had, at one point, been one single massive city. Seeing this, and knowing what the region currently looked like, was humbling. Nature had reclaimed their dying ruins of an empire in the chaos that had followed the dragon's split.

    "You asked if my power and philosophy went against the Alpha." The dragon spoke, "My power is of the Alpha, as are my teachings. None understands the importance of maintaining balance, and the price it takes to do so, better than Arceus."

    The Governors looked amongst themselves, as they spoke quietly, even though many assumed the dragon could hear them anyways, which of course, he could. He let them bicker though. They were politicians after all. Arguing was their forte. Finally, Unova's Governor stepped forward. He gave a bow in the old style, right fist to left open palm. The dragon returned it, and then, the man spoke. "What do you suggest we do, Dragon of Unova?"

    The dragon, who had remained hovering over the group, now returned to the coiled position he'd started in, and gave the man a grin that sent…not fear, but a chill of what could almost be excitement up his spine. It only grew as he processed what the ancient Pokémon said.

    "Reform the Empire."

    Thankfully, nobody seemed to outright reject the dragon's words, though there were more than a few rumbles of discontent. It warranted discussion at least, and it wasn't like everyone in the room hadn't considered it before. There had always been one point of contention, though. The Unovan Governor repeated it to the One Dragon. "And who would be our Emperor?"

    The dragon's grin only grew. He found it amusing that humans, even after thousands of years, had changed so little. A taste of power, real power, and many would salivate at the thought of ruling it all. He could sense the building greed in several of the humans before him, right that very moment, their twisted egos mentally listing reasons they just knew the dragon would say their name, and catapult them into the position they deserved over their rivals. His response shattered their ambitions. "I've already chosen my Champion. And given that he's just spent the summer in enemy territory, and is quite frankly the strongest Trainer we have available, he's the right General to lead our forces."

    "What about N?" Someone asked. The Dragon's eyes softened.

    "He has returned to the wilds…defending Unova for so many years against the shadow of his father…it took a toll on him. He realized that his obsession with hunting Ghetsis down had caused him to ignore something as obvious as reforming three dragons into One. Once Ghetsis finally passed, his drive to battle faded. Consider him unavailable, for this conflict. It will take time for his Pokémon team to draw him out of this state, but when they do, he will be...fierce." The dragon retained his unsettling and entirely too confident grin as he mused, silently. The men took in his words, and began to bicker. Ghetsis himself had almost managed to recombine the dragon, albeit in a twisted manner. Yet, the idea had avoided the former Champion's notice entirely.

    Every aspect of Tao had liked N. He'd saved Unova, and several other regions, many times over the years. He'd said he was leaving to train, to find a new level of power the bond between humans and Pokémon could give, but Tao doubted he would have success. Not any time soon, at least. Only one other power truly rivaled the potential of Infinity Energy, and Mega Evolution, but nobody had rediscovered that method. It had been effectively purged from history, and for good reason. Some things were best left forgotten.

    The Governor's debate was far more intense this time. The majority were opposed to the dragon's suggestion. Unova, and a few other State leaders, remained neutral for the moment. There would need to be a vote, but it seemed obvious how that would go. The leader of the eastern half of Texico spoke up then. "We've always seen fit t'govern ourselves, pard. Why would we put a whelp in cherge of our people? Any ijit can battle Pokémon."

    The dragon's golden gaze fixed on the man with the classic Texican hat, which was white, and matched the rest of his fancy suit. Few of these men had issues with flaunting their material wealth. He resisted a sigh. "Because he is the one among you who proved himself worthy. Billions of humans on this continent. Thousands of years, and yet not one of you managed to do what he did. I lost count of how many times the balance of the world nearly fell because one of your kind found one of the Orbs and tried to use it to take over. Even when both parts of me were awake, you all viewed me as two separate dragons, and that was how I remained. Even N did this, though he more than anyone understood my situation, and was aware of my reclusive shell."

    The dragon stared at each of them as his commanding mental voice rang through their skulls. "Redwood is…different. He looked at me, and saw a being torn apart. He had the power, and the instinct, to reunite what was sundered, and ever since, he's done nothing but use his considerable strength to keep the peace. Only one other human has ever absorbed my lessons so…thoroughly. The First Dragon Emperor." The Governors who opposed, quieted then. All knew the legends of the last Emperors who had ruled the Empire. They'd been reduced to kings after the Original Dragon was torn apart, but the difference in authority had been minimal. Their descendants had still held power enough to call up armies, and sunder their land in a chaotic, violent final battle, after which, the Orbs were hidden.

    But the first Emperor had been a dragon of a different scale. Wise, powerful, and fair he had crossed the continent on foot, and slowly, convinced the warring people to unite. It had taken a lifetime, but when he'd finished, his offspring had inherited the largest empire the Earth had seen since the old civilizations fell six millennia earlier.

    Were it not for the curse of mortality, he could have gone on to unite the planet. Alas, his daughter did not possess his abilities, and despite Tao's best efforts, her...desires...had led the burgeoning superpower to the brink of civil war when the time came to name a successor. Thus, the Trials had been devised, first by humans, then by the dragon. Seven times they'd passed the rules between them, until it was finally done, but the results spoke for themselves. Peace and prosperity reigned for millennia in a world darkened by madness, until the dragon was torn apart, but given that the last Emperor's after the dragon's split had not faced the Trials, many Unovans still believed them to be infallible at picking a successor. They had never failed.

    The men huddled again, and while a few had changed their minds at the dragon's words, most remained unconvinced. Unova's Governor spoke again. "Wise dragon, we would like the opportunity to examine your choice, if we may, if only so that those with doubts may have them assuaged. I know how strong your Champion is, I've met him. I agree with your choice. With guidance from us, and yourself, he could be a fine Emperor, but the others are proud, independent leaders. They need more than a verbal voucher for something this…monumental. With your blessing, we wish to test his capabilities. As we did in the old days."

    The dragon pretended to ponder for a moment, and hid his smirk. He did feel slightly guilty using the human leaders like this, cleverly baiting them down the path he wished this conversation to take. It was necessary though. Fornia was a legitimate threat, and the east needed a figure to rally around, if they were to have any chance of stopping Pravus. "Very well. How will you test him?" He already knew, but he knew how humans got when they realized he could read their minds.

    After another huddle, though this one only lasted five minutes instead of twenty, they agreed, and told the dragon what they intended. He'd tried not to break into laughter, and as always, kept his composure. He told the group that he would summon the Champion, and that they were free to enjoy his tower as his honored guests.

    Once they'd all left, he began packing a bowl in his favored piece, the storm-forged glass he'd made but recently. Though it was new, it was growing on him. He'd almost decided on a nickname for it, even. He chuckled quietly to himself as he puffed the clouds of smoke into the cold autumn afternoon. "Humanssss…sssso very predictable." He shook his head, and then turned his golden gaze east across his barely recognizable lands. His divine gaze could just make out the murk of what the humans now called the Abyssal Ruins. Once, it had been a palace so lovely, even Arceus had enjoyed visiting it. Now…nothing remained but sand and ruin. The dragon grinned to himself. For now.

    Rebel Canyon Base - Fornia Region

    Alex stood from the shell of his Torterra, who received many looks from the gathered Rebels. He was rather pleasant to observe. The perfect melding of earth and nature was…calming, almost. This was fortunate, for his Trainer's words would likely confirm their worst fears.

    "Fornians, Tribespeople, Rebels, I know I am new here, but bend your ears for a moment. It's important." He was in the main room of the base, a massive cave, really. It was full of tech, supplies, and equipment. A gleam of something bright and multicolored caught his eye. He did a double take. Were those Plates? What were elemental Plates doing here? And how were there so many? So many questions. He buried them, for the moment, as the base gathered around. The Chief had told several of his underlings to run down the halls when the Unovan began speaking, and they had done so. Within minutes, the entirety of the Rebellion, or most of it, had gathered in the cave. There was almost not enough room.

    "Many of you have seen the clouds." He started, and the murmurs began immediately. The sun had just begun to set, but rumor was that the sky had been darkening unnaturally all day. Given the intense and oppressive heat outside the canyon, many did not leave the caves. "They are ash clouds, from the trees of Colville. That's where it started. I saw the destruction first hand, when I ventured north. The northern Tribe's lands burn, and the Prophet's own Hand lit the blaze." He'd kept his battle cam recorder on, as it had proven incredibly useful, and now was no exception. He expected footage of what was basically a zombie would go viral quite quickly. He'd let someone else put it on the PokéNet this time. Like the media. He had enough eyes on him already.

    The murmurs increased to panic, as the most common first thought was 'what if we're next?' A few former Arceans even started shaking where they stood. "This is what we get for defying the Prophet!" Someone shouted, but she quickly clamped her hands on her mouth as everyone glared in her general direction. "Sorry…old habits…" She was trying not to break down completely. Fear had that effect.

    "Rest easy, Rebels. I did not say he'd come here next, though he will eventually." The growing hysteria died down slightly as Alex used his Voice in a different manner. Tao had taught him the trick, and he had to admit, it was useful. A bit of power, the right tone, and humans were naturally, subtly influenced to focus harder on what he was saying. Naturally, the result was silence.

    "I have a way out of this place, a direct line to Unova. We can get there today. All of us, even those in the other bases." He gave them his best smirk, and tried not to shudder with anticipation himself. He'd been preparing for this for months, and now, the war scenario was actually happening. A bit quicker than any of them had expected Pravus to attempt, but it was happening all the same.

    "How?" Someone asked.

    Alex gave the dragon the mental equivalent of a nudge, and in an instant, the One Dragon appeared within the massive cave. He floated above them in a long circle, and had just enough space between the crowd and the pointy, potentially deadly stalactites above him. His scales would protect him, but the humans below looked somewhat fragile. But then, they always did.

    The dragon smiled as, almost in unison, the people put their fists to their palms, and bowed in the old style. It was a style that was universal on this continent. Vestiges of his Empire were everywhere. If he could but unite them, they could rebuild rather quickly. His serpentine form arced gracefully over all of them, taking in their faces, and already noticing some hereditary features from his time, faces so familiar, he could likely guess family names with accuracy. For whatever reason, even with Arceus' own blessing, the human race seemed unable to physically change their form much. Their minds had grown, but their bodies remained largely the same. All that really changed was how well the humans took care of them in this age. Though he supposed that millennia of eating nothing but berries and Pokémon, two things Arceus' gift had directly effected on a genetic level, might also be a factor in their longer, if still pitiful life spans.

    "Hello again, children of the land. It has been some time. Come, and I will once more take you to the safety of Unova, with the promise that we will one day return. Though your homes may be burned…" He trailed off, hoping one among them would yet remember the ancient words.

    Chief Sike stepped forward, and smiled. "The land endures. We remember your lessons, great dragon. Our loyalty is, as it was in those golden years, yours. And your Tamer's. We will follow your counsel, and the ancient accords, when the conflict ends."

    The Dragon eyed the Chief. "If this conflict goes poorly, it may mean the enslavement of everyone that is not an 'Arcean'. That is how close we are to Unbalancing, my friends."

    The Chief's eyes were wide, as were all of the tribe's. "Are we so far gone already? How did we not see?"

    A massive talon, currently not on fire or sparking with electricity, rested upon the Chief's shoulder, and a golden light filled the cavern. Every human there, sighed softly as it filled them. "Have hope. Every night must have a dawn." With that, he lifted back into his circling in the air, and then spoke to them all. "Gather your possessions, little humans. We Teleport to safety in five minutes." He knew it would likely take them longer, but he could wait. His patience was infinite. He scanned for his Tamer, and sensed his thoughts.

    The dragon's voice echoed in his skull. "Where are these Plates? Show me."

    Alex directed his gaze, and the dragon followed it. He floated over, and the people around watched, clearly interested, but also tried to pack at the same time. The dragon looked at each, and then glanced to his left. "These are from a cache. Evidently, one of those tasked with safeguarding these did not do their job well enough."

    "Do not be in a rush to judge, mighty dragon." Came Brad's voice, as he came around the left corner, and stepped next to the pile. "The Arceans dug these up, and I can guarantee you that if they had a guardian, it's either enslaved and corrupted with Shadow energy, or was killed off for resisting too much."

    The dragon's eyes went wide. "They would not dare kill mythical species. They are unique, precious, powerful. Pokémon born of the fusion of Arceus and the infinite potential of the evolutionary spiral."

    Alex blinked. "The what now?"

    The dragon literally brushed him off, with his massive tail, the way a male Pyroar did to its cubs. He forgot how attentive his latest Tamer was. It was almost irritating, not being worshiped as a deity anymore. In the past, humans had simply smiled, nodded, and accepted that he sometimes used strange terms they could not dream of understanding. But then, he'd never asked to be deified in the first place. The humans had done that by themselves, and they'd outgrown most of those tendencies over the millennia. He had no intention of dragging them backwards. "Never mind. You, Fornian, are familiar with where these were dug up. Now tell me. Did you ever hear legends of who specifically guarded your mountain?"

    The once more tan and blonde Trainer thought for a moment. Like Alex and Jess, he'd ditched the disguise once subtlety had been thrown out the window. "Azelf, I think. There was a crater-lake atop the mountain…but I guess the Arceans drained it. Before they burned everything."

    The dragon sighed. "If they have one of the Lake Guardians, we may be in serious trouble." The two Trainers raised a brow as the dragon spoke to them, and them alone. "As you know, Mew was one of the first Pokémon Arceus created. As such, it's quite powerful, and you've seen how messing with the base genetics can increase its strength. The Lake Guardians appeared not long after interacting with humans, and they settled by lakes the world over. Typically, there are three on every continental landmass."

    Brad spoke then, also within his mind. "So they're strong. And? Pravus has plenty of Pokémon stronger than Azelf."

    The dragon sighed, as he shook his massive head. "You don't understand, and I do not have time to enlighten you. Just know that if Pravus has Azelf, and the other two, he could very well tame me, and force me to obey him. Like the Spear Pillar incident."

    The two Trainers shared a look, as they both very much understood. Everyone had heard the rumors of the mysterious power that had literally bound Time and Space in one place, and summoned Giratina's epic wrath. Pravus could not be allowed to replicate those events. This time Alex spoke. "I have an idea of where Uxie resides. Jess knows about Mesprit…but she refuses to talk about it."

    The dragon stared at him. "Have her go confirm whether Mesprit is still in her lake. You do the same for Uxie. Send Arthur to check."

    Alex nodded, and called the Gallade out. He affixed a Psychic Plate to the horn on his chest, and the two merged, turning it to a more scarlet color. Then, Arthur mega evolved, and Teleported to where they'd once come across traces of the mythical psychic type, as they were traveling west. Alex picked up a crystal from the nearby pile, and raised a brow at the dragon. "I thought these felt weird…they're dead. Just rock. Fakes?"

    The dragon shook his head. "Merely dormant. Their energy is infinite. It would take divine energy, like mine, to wake them up again."

    Alex nodded. "Then we should take what we need, and you can give the rest to the Trainers you deem worthy of leading. I trust your judgment, oh wise dragon." He couldn't resist his smirk.

    The dragon sighed, and stretched a massive claw over the pile. The plates and crystals were illuminated by a golden circle of light that appeared on the rock surrounding them. A golden triangle outlined it, and various runes not based on Unown filled in the gaps between as the dragon, offhandedly, constructed this magic circle. The Light flared, and then, Alex felt it. Any human within a hundred miles that had any kind of latent psychic senses, felt it. It was power. The infinite power of the Alpha Pokémon.

    As Alex and Brad took what Plates they needed, Brad eyed one of them. "What do these even do, anyways? I get how the crystals work, but these seem…different."

    Tao took the Plates and crystals the two Champions did not require, and with a twist of his claw, hid them somewhere safe. A temporal pocket dimension that he alone could reach into from anywhere. "The Plates are essentially just crystals, and the crystals are shards of one of Arceus' own Plates."

    Alex blinked. "What? What do you mean? How are there so many if they belonged to the Alpha?"

    The dragon's massive eye focused on him, as it usually did when the dragon grew irritated at his constant questions. "Arceus had to shrink his form to interact with this planet, and even then, he was still so large, his mass accidentally pulled in a planet-killer of a meteor towards the Earth. He shattered it with ease, and then noted how the remnants covered the planet, albeit briefly, before burning up. He then decided to give this fallen world a gift. He used his Judgement, and found the Earth worth saving. Then, he combined each of his Plates into a single orb, and shattered it above your planet, not unlike the meteor he'd dealt with. That, little human, is why there are so many shards over your planet. With them scattered, the Alpha infused them with enough Infinity Energy to restore the Earth ten times over, and the result is the fecundity of Pokémon and natural resources that your race continues to squander."

    Alex opened his mouth to speak again, but Tao cut him off, reading his thoughts, and simply answering. As he did, when the questions of the secret history of their world could not cease from spewing from his Tamer's mouth. His hunger for knowledge was ravenous, but then, most of his student's shared that trait. The promising ones, anyways. "Your burned, frozen, and drowned husk of a world was so out of balance when the Alpha found it, his gift was necessary. It was the sorry state of your world that had even garnered his notice at all. This is why most of these Plates have grown dormant over millennia. Much of the Light powering them was drained to help nature regain balance, but that which was lost can be re-awakened, by a being such as myself."

    Alex simply nodded then, as Tao continued. "Your ancestors, while not as advanced technologically, had a very good grasp of how to wield and manipulate the energy introduced to them by the Alpha. With this knowledge, they took the broken shards of Arceus' power, and made them into items that boost the power of a Pokémon's attacks just by holding them. They mistakenly named them Plates, as they assumed that was what they originally looked like. The real ones were much, much bigger, and had differing shapes, but the re-forged ones work with about twenty percent of the power they once had, while attached to the Alpha."

    The two Champions shared a look again, and Brad nodded, then spoke again. "I knew that much…but given what they are, I figured there was…more…to them."

    The dragon brought his massive golden eye down to the humans, and they remembered just how small they were. "There is more to them, but if you wish to draw out that power, you will have to figure out how by yourselves."

    The two simply nodded, and began attaching the Plates to their partners. All save Shruikan, who could not fit in this cavern anyways, and Gelauros, who was still a bit young for such power. As with Shruikan, each of the plates bonded to the Pokémon it touched, and infused them with power. They stayed where they'd been affixed, melding seamlessly, and apparently painlessly, to the Pokémon in question.

    Once everything was finally gathered, Tao Teleported.

    Icirrus City - Unova Region

    Moving objects and humans to a space thousands of miles away wasn't hard, persay, it simply took energy, depending on what was being Teleported. After several trips back and forth to each of the bases, Tao was genuinely tired. The results though, were impressive.

    The entirety of the Fornian Rebellion sat in the shadow of the Dragonspiral Tower. There was a wide, circular moat that enclosed the base of the massive structure now, and to the immediate north, a forest. One which had grown to immense size, despite the upheaval the raising of the tower had caused. The Pokémon that had once resided within the tower had been relocated, at the behest of Tao, to the forest. They hadn't seemed to mind.

    Icirrus Town had changed quite a bit since Tao's return. In the space of a year, the population of the usually remote town had exploded, and the locals soon became a minority, forgotten in the flood of Unovans desperate for the dragon's wisdom. Now, the newly crowded town, and all its inhabitants, surrounded the new arrivals as word spread that the One Dragon arrived. His long snaking body was obvious, even from a distance.

    There were a few murmurs as the Unovans noticed the Rebel's weapons and tech, which had been Teleported with them, when possible. There was a flash of green in front of the new arrivals, and then the very earth shook.

    Slowly, the unmistakable form of the Champion rose above them all on a rising pillar of earth. He was standing, arms crossed, on his Torterra's shell, newly adorned with a beautiful jade colored Plate. Once he was high enough, the turtle stopped lifting the ground. "Unova! Welcome our friends from the west. These are the people who stood against Caleb Pravus when fear held back all others. Consider them our allies." The crowd murmured, at first, but it wasn't long before those of the east walked forward to help those of the west move their supplies and technology to the old fighting gym that had only served as a place to smoke Leaf and practice martial arts thus far. Now, it seemed like a good place to house these Rebels, for the moment.

    Alex reached out to his media connections then, reporters and the like that he'd met and befriended as he'd traveled towards Fornia over the course of the summer. It didn't take long for them to respond to his summons, as Alex had advised each of them via text messages, Haley included, to stay around Icirrus once Plan B had been pushed into effect. As he saw the blonde amongst the varying trendy neon colored hair styles her cohorts were sporting walking through the crowd, he smirked. They stopped at the edge of his 'pillar', and then they gasped in unison as their bodies were raised into the air by a strange blue power.

    Once they reached the top, a few looked disgruntled, but Haley cut off any words of anger with her eagerness. "Champion! You've…returned." The look of excitement faded into one of disbelief as she saw their mysterious Champion sitting on the shell of his Torterra, several cups of steaming tea floating by his head.

    He sipped his own nonchalantly, and smirked as the cups floated to each of them. "I did promise a story…"

    "You said you'd tell us about the Swamp." She remarked, crossing her arms as the others joined her, each taking their cup.

    "Wow! This is good…sorry…" Haley glared at the one who'd spoken, and sipped her own tea. She blinked. It was actually delicious, and her brain said, 'drink more of this immediately', but there was a story here. That came before all else. She raised a brow at the Champion, expectantly.

    "And I will tell you of the Swamp, for it's a point of contention among those who would war with us. But right now I need all of you rolling. This is important. For those of you who haven't noticed yet, there's a reporter here from every State not currently under the sway of the Arcean Church." A few of them shifted uncomfortably at his words. He took another sip as the cameramen with the reporters switched their equipment on.

    "Look, Alex, we don't want to get in the mid-"

    "It's too late for that." Alex interrupted whoever had started speaking. "War has broken out, and the front lines are already being drawn. The east and the west are once more headed towards war." He gave them a moment to process. "This isn't about me, or my feelings on the Church. Or their issues with me. This is about Caleb Pravus' ambition to become the next Emperor."

    Haley spoke, once they were ready to start recording, "What do you mean?"

    "Tao has informed me; the time has come. One way or another, this continent will once more be united. Either under the Dragon, and whoever he names Emperor, or under Pravus, who will force his doctrine on all of his subjects, one way or another."

    "Wait a minute," the man he'd invited from Kanadia spoke up now, "Are you saying there's a chance Tao would name you our Emperor? Politics and Pokémon are two very different things, Redwood. I will freely admit you're very good at battling, but what do you know of running an Empire? Our Emperors of old were trained from birth to rule fairly."

    "And look how that turned out." Alex retorted. "It doesn't matter if it's me, or N, or Hilbert, or any other worthy candidate in the eastern states at the moment. The point, is that we're on the brink of war. The Governors are in the Dragonspiral Tower at this very moment, waiting for word on who the Dragon will name."

    "Not quite."

    The two words thundered in the air as the massive serpentine form of Tao arced down from the fog of wonderful smelling clouds that had subtly sprung up around him as the humans dithered. "You have their eyes?" He spoke mentally, to his Tamer. Alex nodded.

    "Behold humans!" His telepathic baritone thundered for all to hear then, "Your leaders have an announcement." The massive dragon circled the entirety of Icirrus, his equivalent to hovering, and the fog he'd created faded under the beat of his enormous wings. The gathered leaders of the eastern States had come onto the balcony right above the tower's entrance for their announcement.

    Unova's Governor stepped forward then, and bowed to the dragon above before addressing the Champion, and the gathered media representatives. By now, most eyes were upon them. Word of war traveled like wildfire. "After some advice from the One Dragon, we have agreed. With this brazen move by Pravus and his Church, especially after the unprovoked burning of Colville, we cannot ignore it any longer. War is inevitable."

    Kanadia's Governor spoke then, looking down at the new arrivals. "Fornians, brothers of the west, who would you follow in reclaiming your home?"

    Each of the Chiefs had been gathered, all save for Colville's, and it was the Canyon's Chief, Sike, who spoke for them then. "We support the Dragon, my northern brother. We will support his Tamer, the one you call Redwood."

    "We are all in agreement, then." Unova's Governor said again, "The Dragon has chosen, and as in ancient times, his candidate will be tested. Champion, do you accept this test? Understand that you may very well die if you even attempt it."

    Alex finished his tea, and placed it on Terra's shell. The grassy surface covering the shell swirled around the cup, holding it in place as his Trainer launched into the air, surrounded by psychic energy. He floated up to the tower, and bowed in the air, fist to palm. "If you are all in agreement with Tao's choice, then I accept. What is my task?"

    The Governor nodded at the Champion. "Go to the Abyssal Ruins. Find the centermost chamber, and retrieve what lies within. You will know it when you see it. If you are worthy, we will know. If you are not…you will never leave that place. Good luck."

    If the Champion was concerned, he didn't show it. He instead nodded, and floated back down beside Terra. He motioned for the gathered representatives of the media to come down from the shell. Luckily, they'd finished their tea. The cups were rather tiny.

    Haley crossed her arms under the ever-impressive cleavage. "You promised a story."

    Alex smirked, and flashed a pair of UPBs, or Universal Poké Bus. "On these, you will find a firsthand account not only of hard evidence that Caleb Pravus' own Hand lit the fire that burned Colville, the source of the darkness that now blankets Fornia, but also of several…let's call them 'indiscretions' committed by several of the Arcean Church's own higher ups." He offered them to the group. None of them moved. At the mention of the Prophet, all but Haley and Joey, who was still filming all of this, had gained expressions of reluctance.

    "Listen, Champion, I know I owe you and your Swampert for stopping that avalanche back in Ontarec, but I don't want to get involved with the Arceans. The rest of Unova has no interest in this ego war between you and their holy man." The man who spoke then looked little different from most other Unovans with his black hair, pale skin, medium build and brown eyes, but then, beyond incorporating elements of black and white in their outfits, they didn't really have 'cultural clothing'. Unova was huge, and humans came in many varieties.

    Alex sighed, and then walked forward to the only one of them who still had fire in her eyes, that instinctive need that would drive her to dig into this. He nodded once at Haley, and then looked at the man who'd spoken. "Watch the videos, Kyle. You'll understand then what Tao and I already know. What our enemy really is. This is unedited, first-person viewing of the people Pravus knowingly puts in positions of power. You can't fake this level of realism." He looked down at the pair of devices in his comparatively oversized, white gloved hand. "I wasn't able to stop any of it over the summer. Not without revealing myself neck deep in unfriendly lands. But I did leave my BR in the rooms they used to commit these acts. Triggered by the door opening. I had to shorten the recordings to thirty minutes, rather than just let them record indefinitely. The battery burnt out the first few times…but I soon discovered I didn't need thirty minutes. These…pathetic excuses for men didn't waste time. Ever."

    After a reluctant nod from Kyle, Alex recalled Terra, packed his cups and teapot away into his bag, and shot into the air on his own power, headed east. He hadn't noticed at first, but flying was ridiculously easy now. In fact, most of his abilities had seemed stronger, since he'd stopped hiding them.

    Picking up on his thoughts, he heard the dragon, who yet circled the city, speak to him as they passed in the air, with the speed of thought.

    "It's the build-up. You've expanded your reserves by not constantly draining them with training. Now, lifting even your large form is easy. You'll find your special attacks are stronger as well."

    The Champion smirked, and patted his unlit plasma sword. "I'm better in close range anyways. I always wondered why you taught me the sword and the staff. Did you foresee this or something?"

    He saw the dragon smirk, "No. I trained you in the sword because, if you recall, you were so bad with the staff, you accidentally knocked Arthur out while practicing basic moves. Twice. A practice sword is essentially half of a staff. If you could master one, I knew you could grasp the other. Eventually."

    Alex rolled his eyes, and continued flying further away from Icirrus. The dragon coiled directly above the growing city, and shot an awe-inspiring spectacle of ice, fire, and lightning into the air with a single breath. "Go. I know you will overcome this. Dovahkiin."

    The Word reverberated in his head in a familiar, and not unpleasant way. He'd gone far too long without practicing his Shouting, too. Tao had stirred the urges he'd buried through the long summer, but now, he felt like one peep could crack open the sky. He decided to take a minute to balance the motivation with the calm he needed for battle. That, more than anything else, was the key to Tao's fighting style.

    The gathered crowd of people, which had only grown larger as word had spread like a Fornian wildfire across the region, gave wild cheers. Some even chanted, though they didn't seem to be able to agree on shouting 'champion', 'emperor', his name, or any of the other titles he'd evidently gained, but couldn't make out in the din. The people seemed to agree with the dragon's choice as well. He only hoped he was worthy of their admiration.

    The cheers audibly faded as he flew away from the town, and he hovered on the outskirts. After discovering a shared love of the Leaf, the Fornian Trainers within the Rebellion had introduced the Unovan to something they called a 'vape'. With this strange pen-like device, they inhaled the oils derived from the Leaf in a relatively harmless fashion. It had a stronger effect, a lack of smell, and was incredibly portable. He had to admit he liked the ease of access, but he'd always prefer a bong.

    Still, it was convenient to have on hand, for times like now, when he had to give Jess a minute or five to realize that they were leaving. He'd just finished packing the absurdly portable device back in its safety-container within his backpack when a familiar ball of red hurtled into him with the full speed of a psychic-powered tackle.

    By pure coincidence, he'd parked himself by a clearing within the forest that spread between Icirrus and the center of the region. They landed hard on soft grass, but since he'd manage to toss his pack somewhat safely out of harm's way, Alex didn't mind taking the hit on his back. Nor did he mind the beautiful, smirking redhead who shifted into a straddling position atop him.

    "Emperor!? Seriously? When the hel did you two come up with this?" She was trying to sound irritated, but she kept giggling. The good mood was infectious. Their surroundings also helped. Golden grass, leaves with fall colors all around. As spots went, it was not bad at all.

    "It was Tao's idea. He said the east needed someone to rally behind, or they'd end up fighting each other." Alex smirked up at her, though it faded slightly. "Even with me leading our forces, he thinks there's a strong chance Pravus could win this. Fornia is a fortress. The best the east has is Unova, and they've attacked directly several times now. The closest thing we have to Sacreus is the Dragonspiral, and that's surrounded by innocent bystanders these days."

    Jess shook her head, and suddenly, Alex found himself surrounded by hair. Not that he minded. She always managed to smell amazing. "You'll be fine. You have a plasma sword. That pretty much beats everything. Especially when combined with psychic powers."

    Alex rolled his eyes. "We don't even know what Pravus is. From what the Chief showed us, he seemed to devour the very life around Vega. What kind of…thing…can even do that?"

    "Whatever it is, I'm willing to bet it's susceptible to being sliced in half. By plasma. Have I mentioned how much I love your sword?" She sighed, and laid her head on his chest.

    "You know, some people could take that as innuendo." His words had a sarcastic tinge to them.

    "With you, everything is innuendo." The redhead tilted vertically to look at him. "Make me an Empress. Then you can have your 'innuendo'."

    He let the quiet grow for a moment, holding his tongue until he felt her gasp slightly. He smirked, and winked for good measure. "If that is what you wish." He reached for the power needed for Teleportation, but she stopped him, with the speed of thought.

    Her face was crimson after that. "On second thought…you should probably take care of that before you go wandering into underwater ruins…that you might not come back from…"

    He rolled his eyes, and their bodies as well, and smirked down at her. "Stop. You know my tendency to survive these things. Besides, every other Unovan Champion has already gone down there. I'm probably not going to be able to find anything, they picked it clean."

    Mentally, they both doubted that, as he always found something, but it was having that same thought at the same time that made them pause in amusement. She smirked up at him. "Stop talking."

    Sacreus – Fornia Region

    "Turn it off."

    It was a brief command, but like all of his commands, it was obeyed with machine-like swiftness. Caleb Pravus, Arceus' own Prophet, sat on the obsidian throne-like structure within his command center, thousands of miles below the fortress that was Sacreus. Shrouded as he was in a spherical blob of darkness that was deeper than the rest of the red tinted command room, all that was visible to his obedient minions of their Prophet was his eyes, which flared a deep purple when he spoke.

    The glow faded, as it did when he went silent, and the room waited for his commands. His Hands, the important ones anyways, flanked him on either side. The room was octagonal, and filled with various screens showing different data. The one that was now silenced, had been broadcasting one of several eastern media networks.

    Redwood's message had reached the entirety of the east, which presented an opportunity. "Why didn't you interrupt it?" A female voice, belonging to the sister of his former Right Hand, a position she had now willingly filled, broke the silence. It was a long moment before the eyes flared again, and the prophet answered, his mental, ethereal sounding baritone echoed in their ears with sarcasm and hints of mirth.

    "Did you not hear? War is...inevitable. And their Champion is on his way to the ruins." The eyes shifted in the shadowy blob, and stared down the Hand of Death. "Make sure the ruins act as a tomb to yet another failed candidate. Understand that there will be no more 'mistakes'. Accomplish your mission, or die trying."

    The Hand in question was sporting a new scar on his neck, the edges of which peeked just enough over his uniform to be seen. His pale skin made the sutures holding his head on stand out rather obviously. His words were monotone, and low as they rumbled through the room. "What is dead, may never die." His eyes narrowed. "But…the Redwood whelp yet lives. I will correct this...oversight. They do tend to happen when I am not properly equipped. I need my team. For all the ridiculous rumors around him, I will grant that his tools are quite strong."

    After a long moment, the eyes blinked once in acceptance. "Granted. Use them well. I do not have time to waste replacing them." The Hand bowed, and left the chamber to begin the long trip to Sacreus' surface. The eyes turned to one of the minions working the tech that served as a direct line to the Arcean forces currently in Orre. The posturing had done exactly what he'd wanted. His enemies had gathered. Now all he needed on this fire was fuel.

    "Tell General Marius the time has come. I want the stone as soon as possible. Don't let the locals hide it." His words were followed by the usual 'yes sir', and those assembled watched as the blips representing their troops surged down Mount Battle. Taking it had been easy, and after cutting power to Phenac City, the residents of Orre were essentially blind to their presence, and even if they had noticed the army, they had no method of sending word of the attack to their allies. None that would arrive in time, anyways.

    In one move, Fornia gained thousands of miles of land. Most of it was desert true, but the border was all the Arcean Prophet was focused on. For the first time in centuries, the western states had a hard border. They also could now easily defend Fornia from both sides. It had taken longer than he'd wanted, to solidify his western coast, but it had been done. Now, he didn't have to worry about an attack from two sides.

    It was about five hours before the 'mission accomplished' signal came from the General in charge of the southern lines. If the shadowy Prophet was pleased, he didn't show it. "Good. Have them split in half. Reinforce Texico City, and Utado's border. Any word from the Dakota region?"

    The response was quick. "Yes, my Prophet. The Dakotans have pledged fealty. All criteria have been met."

    The shadowy ball that had encased the Prophet since the burning of Colville swelled, and then faded away. Pravus sat comfortably on his throne, and the grin upon his unblemished face could cause nightmares. "Send word to our media, then. The time has come."

    The shadows faded as the tech crew set up the lighting the public would need to see their leader on screen. Finally, the lights turned green, and the Prophet stood. He was the picture of what every Arcean strived to be, and as his charismatic crowd-wooing tone began being echoed across the western states, it wasn't hard to see why his people loved him so much. While in public, he was quite charming.

    "My people! Faithful Arceans, trainees, converts, and new allies, I have an announcement. The Alpha spoke to me last night, by way of a vision. He showed me who was responsible for burning our forests, and blackening our skies." He paused for effect, and then focused his dark eyes on the camera directly. "Unova. More specifically, their Champion. My own Hand confirmed his presence in the area. His crimes are obvious, and he cares not. Now, I know many of you have heard rumors, of our 'aggressive actions' in Orre, but know this. The people of Orre have always claimed to be peaceful. Loving. Uninterested in politics between the east and west. This reputation is nothing but a farce. After sending my own Hands to figure out the true intentions of our neighboring region, we found hard evidence of correspondence with Unova, and those who would oppose our Alpha. They were the ones who let the psychic puppet into our lands so he could enact his nefarious deed for his deranged psychic overlords."

    The Prophet's tone grew grim as he steepled his fingers, and leaned towards the main camera. "Though it pained me to do so, my only option was to take their lands quickly, before the Unovans entrenched themselves, and began spreading their psychic heresies to the populace of Orre. I am proud to report that our forces were able to take the region without the loss of life. Now, we have a strong, united eastern border that will keep our enemies at bay."

    The Prophet stood then, raising both arms as he continued orating. "This is not the only news. With the blessing of the Alpha, the Church has decided to erase the borders separating our allies' lands. They are no longer necessary. Nor is any reading material, digital or otherwise, originating from Rebellious sources, like Unova. Stay tuned to your Church-approved channels, and you will know the Alpha's rewards." Pravus lowered his left arm, and the right's hand curled into a fist as he continued his tirade. "The Alpha has decreed it! With the removal of these restrictive, unnecessary borders and new policies, once more, our land will be whole. We will not roll over for the Unovans, we will take their lands, by force if necessary, and show them the true Path to the Alpha! One Fornia, under Arceus, now and forever!"

    The Prophet made a motion across his throat with his hand, and the recording lights switched off. "Send word to the Kipnuk and Arciana regions. The time has come. They know their objectives." The person he'd commanded fiddled with his device for a moment, before nodding to his Prophet. The word was given. Pravus grinned. "Now then…give me a report on our star player."

    A female minion, clad in the usual navy-blue suit that bore all sorts of medals, proving her years of dedication and loyalty to the Church, and the Prophet, came forward at his words. "The subject was extremely effective in combat, exceeding even our lowest parameters as he hunted stragglers from Colville…however…he did hit…a snag...on his return from Colville..."

    The Prophet's eyes flared red as he recognized the tone of fear that accompanied news of incompetence in his subordinates. "What kind of snag…"
  8. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 25: The Trial of Eight Paths


    The White Wolf looked down upon the Dakota region's capital city of Fargo as the latest blast of freezing winter air slammed into him. Judging by how early the winds were rising, he knew this one would be a bad one. Typical. Winter was always worse during wars, and nobody had ever really wondered why. Close as they were to Kanadia, the city was almost perpetually covered in snow, and the gray stone buildings made the entire city look bleak, and sketchy. Tonight though, something had changed. The streets were alight with golden beacons bearing a symbol that once stood for peace. The people rallied around these light-bearers, despite the cold.

    Even in the howling wind of the year's first snowstorm, Geralt Redwood's enhanced ears could hear the chanting, and it wasn't staying civil. Quickly it had gone from Arceus, to something about Unova, which involved blood, and then devolved into continued, unnerving chants of just 'blood' as they started marching en mass towards the west. He pressed the device in his ear. "This is Wolf. You can consider the Prophet's words in this regard to be true. Fargo is lit up with their symbol. They're whipping the locals into a frenzy, and taking them west..."

    A woman's voice responded in his ear after a large yawn. "Copy, Wolf. You can go to sleep now, you know. It's four in the morning."

    He tried to think of a clever quip, and then realized he had nothing. Being awake for over a hundred and fifty hours took a toll on one's creativity and wittiness. "Perhaps you're right." He muttered into the device. "Wolf out."

    His ears twitched as he heard crunching snow behind him. Two footsteps. Then, as it came closer, the two became four. His partner's evolved form had taken on an appearance similar to their species' Day Form, but anyone with eyes could see that Ghost was special. By the time they figured out how, the battle was usually over. Geralt gave his huge, pure white Lycanroc a thorough neck scratch as they eyed the city. "Find anything?" The wolf huffed, irritated. "Lycan."

    Geralt sighed. "I figured…come, Ghost. Let's get some rest. You've more than earned it." The large ice and rock type yawned, displaying his long, sharp fangs, before huffing in agreement. Though neither would ever admit it, they were both exhausted.

    Scouting Arcean territory had become quite difficult of late, but the Pokémon Rangers were a part of the League as a whole, and they didn't skimp on winter gear. It wasn't his usual dark leather, but he didn't mind. It was warm enough.

    Geralt and Ghost had been all along the 'new' border between east and west, and what they'd seen had not been promising. The League had wanted a situation report, before deciding whether to aid a side, or withdraw from the north-western quadrant of the world until things calmed down.

    Either way, it seemed that either Fornia or Unova would become the next superpower to control these lands. He wished them luck. Those who claimed that mantle, with the exception of the divinely created One Dragon, had a tendency to overreach with their power, and eventually collapse. It was a historical fact that, before the dragon first came, humanity's ancestors had tried re-establishing old world powers, with little success. Once the land had fractured, it had stayed that way until Tao appeared, despite humanity's best efforts.

    Everyone had, apparently, had their own idea of how to govern properly. The eastern cities had wanted to retain their control of the continent, but the western cities had refused. Sides formed, but oddly enough, a line of States in between both agreed to not war with either side. In the end though, they hadn't had a choice. History was vague on how exactly they got involved, but all anyone knew these days was that east, west, and center had collapsed into senseless wars of revenge, and their factions grew more and more splintered as greed and betrayal in a fallen society ran rampant. Naturally, the result had been a war that ravaged the land from coast to coast. It had taken another war declared by the One Dragon and his first Tamer, the man who would become the first Dragon Emperor, to unite them all again. Before that, no one had been able to stop the carnage

    Despite Tao's best efforts, it was only after taking out almost all of the armies who'd opposed him that the war was brought to a blood-soaked end. Even then, the ideologies of the past had persisted, and when the Dragon Empire fell, east and west resumed their feuding, though admittedly, their conflicts had been little more than skirmishes. The forced migration from Floria and formation of several new middle States had reinforced the buffer between east and west, and the fighting had been with Pokémon, rather than firearms. Bullets did little against most final evolutions, and they certainly had never matched a Hyper Beam's power, or destruction.

    Geralt sighed in disgust at the city below, and turned, heading towards his partner's massive form, easily big enough for a human or two to ride comfortably. "And so once more, humanity repeats the past, blood is spilled, families are torn apart…and none of them will remember how terrible it truly was in about three centuries."

    He felt a freezing nose push at his ear, for Ghost stood as tall as his shoulders. "Lycanroc. Roc, Lycanroc."

    "Hmph. If you say so, but whatever hope I had in them vanished a long time ago. Be honest, Ghost. You've seen what I've seen. Humanity's only special power is to step on the backs of their fellow man so they can spend their brief span in obscene luxury. Over and over, we repeat this." The wolf grabbed his fuzzy white hood, and stopped him for a moment. He made a high-pitched sound, almost like a whine, but with more of a questioning inflection.

    Geralt laughed, yanked his hood free from his partner's jaws, and then shook his head. "What about him? The goofy kid I knew was always more interested in where his supply of Leaf was going to come from, than politics. His first decree as Emperor would probably be Leaf dispensaries in every high school. No. I don't believe Alex can handle this. He is in way, way over his head."

    Ghost snorted, and then moved his massive head between his Trainer's legs, lifting him up effortlessly onto his back. The white furred and primarily ice typed wolf trotted atop the snow, which was reaching four feet of height, minimum, as they headed down a slope, through the dead trees. "Lycan. Lycanroc."

    Geralt settled into his usual riding position, and sighed. "Sure, he might've changed and gotten quite a bit stronger, but what if he's changed for the worse? What if who he's become is little better than the man he's fighting?" The wolf turned his head, looking at his Trainer with one eye, while the other navigated. "Roc? Lycan. Lycanroc." Ghost snorted, and picked up his pace. Evidently, he remembered the kindness he'd sensed in his Trainer's relative, and doubted it had turned so sour so quickly.

    It was Geralt's turn to snort now. "I suppose you have a point…and last I saw him, he didn't seem too different...but again, that just means our new 'Emperor' is probably more focused on Leaf than politics." He felt the growl from his partner, and sighed, letting the issue drop. "Fine. I'll be skeptically optimistic, but you know what those ruins hold. If nobody tells him, he's going to die in there."

    Ghost gave a softer growl, of agreement, as they cleared the trees that covered the rise they'd perched on for several hours now. Any further conversation was put on hold as the wind began to pick up again, and howl. Ghost howled in return, and then began sprinting across the snow. It was risky, but in a storm like this, especially at night, he doubted any Arcean would see their white-furred figures against the blinding white of the snow. This was a satellite territory for them, and a newly gained one at that.

    His doubts were proven incorrect as, after several hours of running towards their rendezvous, a hail of red tipped arrows arced down in front of Ghost, forcing the large wolf to stop hard. A quick glance told the Ranger that they were being toyed with. The arrows had formed a perfect circle around them, and then he saw the brown feathers that served as the arrow's fletching. "Muk."

    They came quickly then, roughly six Trainers, each with a Decidueye. The leader of this merry band of soldiers, atop a blue and black feathered Decidueye, hopped down into the snow, and crossed his arms as he looked Geralt over. "What business have you in the Prophet's lands, stranger?"

    He was thankful the gear he had on was concealing the League emblem on his usual attire. Not only did it show who he served, it marked him as a Top Ranger. One of two, assigned to this part of the world. He raised his hands, showing open, empty palms. "I'm just passing through with my partner here. We're not looking for trouble."

    The man, who was as blonde and tan as most other Fornians Geralt had seen, gave a smirk that told Geralt this was going to devolve quickly. Still, he might as well attempt to avoid a fight. The officer speaking was as tall as Geralt, and clad in similarly white clothing, suited for winter. He was still deep in the Dakota region, as they'd been heading east after moving far enough south of Fargo to, he had hoped, avoid detection. The fact that they'd even seen himself and ghost in the snow and storm in the dark of night was a credit to their Pokémon's sharp eyes.

    "Trouble has found you, stranger. I'll need to see your ID. War is brewing, and we can't abide spies. You understand." He gave another smirk, and then raised a fist. His squad was garbed much the same as he was, and though they lacked the adornments that marked their leader as an officer of the Church, they each had helmets, whereas their leader only had what appeared to be a naval beret that didn't look like it could repel the cold very well. Arceus' emblem was emblazoned on the forehead of each of the squad's white helmets, and though he hated to admit it, he rather liked the look of their black T-shaped visors. Sleek, intimidating, and likely made of something strong. What they lacked in manners was made up for in aesthetic, and as he looked closer, he grimaced. Cipher's hand was in their armor's design. It made some sense, given where they'd fled to avoid the Jennies. Had he been a normal Trainer, he might've been intimidated.

    Ghost gave a low growl as the men approached, and Geralt hopped off of him, patting his raised hackles. "Easy, boy. They're just doing their jobs." He looked at the soldiers, and then their leader. "I'll cooperate, there's no need to get rough."

    The man chuckled, and Geralt fell to his knees as one of the men smashed the stave he carried against the Ranger's back. Each had ten slots for Pokéballs, and was adorned with Arceus' symbol at the top. Just below that, were three bars of some kind of material that could light with the power of fire, ice, or lightning as their wielders desired. He doubted the metal was high quality, but then, that didn't make it hurt any less.

    "There isn't. But we're going to be rough anyways…search him." Their leader had approached, seemingly immune to the ever-increasing sound of Ghost's snarls. Ghost was eyeing the Decidueye, each of whom had an arrow trained on the large Lycanroc.

    Geralt smirked as two of the soldiers tried to find pockets on his jacket, and then remove said jacket, but doing that while he was on his hands and knees was rather difficult. He met their leader's eye, and in that moment, decided he'd had enough of playing nice. He sat up onto his knees, slowly. "One would think…with all that 'divine guidance' you people wouldn't la-"

    He was cut off as the squad leader backhanded his face with a clenched fist. "I'm sorry, I missed that last bit. What were you saying?" The smirk had returned, and Geralt's reluctance to injure these men was rapidly fading. He'd been awake too long, and these idiots were keeping him from his bunk. Worse, his mouth was going to taste like blood for quite some time. The bastard hadn't been gentle.

    His eyes met the leader's, and the man flinched, as they'd turned into thin vertical slits, like a cat's. The irises around his thin vertical pupils had turned an icy blue. "I said…you lack Manners." At his words, Ghost lunged, and the snow around them turned red with blood and feathers.

    Unova University – Unova Region

    The tumble in the autumnal trees and golden grass had lasted well into the night, and though Alex had been eager to move on to the ruins, a text from his brother via his Holociever stopped him. He was needed at the University's lab. Immediately. The time stamp marked the missed calls and message itself around right after he'd flown out of Icirrus, and he hoped whatever his brother needed didn't take too long, but then he remembered he needed to pay the lab a visit regardless. The sooner the better.

    Thankfully, Teleporting cut his travel time down to nothing. He appeared in the middle of Gelauros' old pen, and the little Amaura popped free of his ball, crying with delight as he recognized his old home.

    He looked up at his Trainer, and made a questioning noise. "Go ahead, bud. But don't get too distracted. We're leaving soon." The little Pokémon had run off to the other nearby members of his species as soon as he'd heard 'go ahead'. For all his training, he still had the ability to ignore commands that all hatchlings and young Pokémon seemed to share. They did as they pleased, and had a blast doing so.

    "Finally." Came the irritated tone of his brother. "I sent that four hours ago. I thought you'd be in the ruins by now, and that we'd missed you. What were you doing?" Eric's arms were crossed, and the blue eyes, so similar to his own, examined him through the glasses on his face.

    Alex coughed. "Things. Stuff. What do you want? I'm kind of on a short timeline."

    Eric rolled his eyes. "You're the one that found four hours to…jump in a pile of leaves?"

    Alex looked down at his clothes, and sighed. He'd removed the leaves in his hair, but a few had evidently managed to hide in his pants. It wasn't all that surprising. He'd tossed them aside, and the wind had picked up several times. He yanked them free of his belt and pockets as he spoke. "Something like that. What do you want, brother?"

    "Well, first, I guess I should congratulate you? Does this make us royalty now?" He had a teasing tone and smirk. Alex had no patience for either. He'd dallied enough, and only because Jess had kept refusing to let him get dressed. Not that he'd minded.

    "I have no idea. What. Do. You. Want?" He repeated, letting the irritation show, slightly.

    Finally, the all-business-no-nonsense look came over his brother. "Your plasma sword. Jess mentioned you had one. May I see it?"

    Alex gave the mental equivalent of a glance to Lux, who gave the mental equivalent of a nod. He tossed the hilt to his brother. "I was planning to show it to you anyways. I want you to-"

    Eric cut him off as he examined the hilt. "Reverse engineer it, and distribute copies to those the dragon deems worthy?" Alex nodded. "Well…we'll take a scan, and then see what we can do."

    "Lux." Alex said, as Eric turned towards the part of the lab that held the equipment, as well as the rest of the still-working Brain Trust. "Come on out. I don't want your energy messing with their scans."

    "Oh fine." Eric jumped in surprise as the black and white Rotom departed his container. "I was going to have some fun with them. The smart humans always get so panicky when their little machines stop working."

    "I know." Alex said, smirking. "But we just don't have time, and they need these machines. War is brewing, and knowledge is going to help us more than pranks."

    The ghost, much like his Amaura, had stopped listening and floated over to the group of Aurorus and their young who had welcomed Gel back with reserved warmth. When it became clear he wasn't going to freeze them all by accident, they each nuzzled him, murmuring apologies for their past behavior. Gel, from his emotions, just seemed happy to finally be able to socialize and not freeze everything solid. Teaching him to control his power had taken Fornia's heat, and most of the summer though.

    Alex sighed. "Champion of Unova…Tamer of the One Dragon…and these are my ever-loyal partners." He shook his head. They were still new. He wandered over to the rest of the Brain Trust. There were five in all, including his brother, who was currently working on the scanning device. It would examine his plasma sword's composition down to the core, and more importantly, provide the bones of what would become a schematic, hopefully.

    "How goes it, Frankie?" He asked, casually leaning against the side of his workstation.

    Frankie was as thin as Eric, though he lacked glasses, and a proper lab coat. His attire was sufficiently nerdy though. The green eyes met his, and the Professor-in-training grinned. "Alex. Always a pleasure. In short…it's not going well. But it could be worse."

    Alex raised a brow. "Oh? What have I missed?"

    "Professor Juniper came out of retirement for this, and Professor Bianca gave us the Elektross data you said we'd need. Moreover, Professors from all the other eastern states are arriving every day. I could name them for you, but we don't have all night. Tao is putting them to good use, or so I hear, but we're still woefully unprepared for this war. There's already been blood."

    Alex's eyes went wide. "Already? Where?"

    Frankie shrugged. "Not sure, but skirmishes are happening all over. Utado has already fallen, and Texico is apparently where most of the fighting is happening for the moment."

    Alex chuckled. "Well that's not too surprising. They've been ready for this for centuries."

    "True, and that's why they're still holding." Frankie nodded, and then sighed. "But everyone else is not. The Illinowa and Tenina regions are also reporting attacks, asking for aid. They're likely to be overrun before we can reach them, though. The Prophet's army is enormous, early estimates are saying they number in the millions, and those are the low estimates of those on the border."

    Alex glanced at his brother. "Then I need to move quicker. I could be out there, on Tao, stopping them. We could halt their advance fairly easily…"

    David, another of the Brain Trust, chimed in then as his station was next to Frankie's. "Are you insane? That's the worst thing you could do!"

    Alex raised a brow, and David continued. "What kind of General marches onto the front lines, no army, no support? Even if you do become the King, it's wasted effort if you're killed off in the first skirmishes." The Champion shifted uncomfortably. The words rang with logic.

    "You really think they could take on the One Dragon?" He said, quietly.

    David, who was as pale and nerdy as the rest of them, made even more so by his green sweater-vest and tan khaki-esque pants, simply shrugged. "You'd know that better than I would, Tamer, but this isn't the ancient past. Generals don't go one on one in this era. We have weapons capable of handling Legendary class Pokémon. You need to assume Pravus already has access to such things, and is hoping you fly out to make yourself, and the dragon, a target."

    Alex sighed. "I bow to your wisdom. Regardless, I need to move. Brother, are you done yet?"

    "Annnnd…yes." Eric said, as the scan dinged, and flashed a green light, showing a successful compositional analysis. He tossed the hilt back to Alex. "As expected, the scans indicate that we can indeed reverse-engineer these. The power source is going to be an issue, though. Your Rotom's crystal is…unlike anything I've ever seen. It's from the old civilizations. We won't be able to replicate that. Their technology might as well be magic, to us."

    Alex nodded, and pointed the hilt at Lux, who was absorbed by the black and white beam of light, not dissimilar to a Pokéball's, that recalled him. He recalled Gel as well, giving the young Pokémon a moment to say his goodbyes. He chirped cheerfully once he had, and returned to his ball as well. "Hmm. Call up the scan data."

    His brother did so, and the two eyed the information, which was now displayed on the large screen that each of their work stations was placed around.

    Eric began chattering away, as he assumed it was too complicated for his brother to grasp with a glance. "You can see here how each of these…let's call them wires…connect to the crystal. It acts as both the focusing lens, and the power source. I can make a suitably sized replacement for focusing the beam, the real issue is a suitable power source."

    Alex eyed the data. While it was, for the most part, beyond him, he'd had enough basic engineering lessons from his Gruncle, who'd given them while he'd worked on his old car. During his years in high school and then University, it had been his main mode of transportation, and fixing it had been his job. His father refused to pay for maintenance, and had told him he could always walk if he didn't want to bother learning how to fix various car parts. That had backfired, when he'd not only maintained the vehicle, but upgraded it with tandem rotors, and hover technology.

    "So…if I'm reading this right, it's going to require a crystal regardless?" He was absentmindedly stroking his bearded chin, eyes still on the data.

    Eric nodded. "I tried punching in the calculations for the Plate crystals, but for some reason, they won't work, apparently."

    Alex reached out to Lux. "Is there a way around this?"

    The ghost seemed to chuckle in his head, and the hilt of his sword floated before him, the face once more appearing on the handle as it spoke to all of them. "Those crystals contain Infinite energy. Without a Pokémon to control them inhabiting the weapon, activating it would be like turning on an infinitely powerful laser. It would slice through anything in whatever direction you pointed it at. Before exploding with overloaded energy."

    "So we need crystals like yours…or with less power…damn." Eric sighed, and pushed the brim of his glasses up. "I don't think this is realistically possible anymore, brother."

    Alex, however, was smirking. He walked over to the machine, and began typing in commands. It was easy enough to run a simulation. Such things were covered in the basic science classes the University taught. "I disagree. You forget, we're in Unova. We have an entire mountain's worth of…viable crystals." He said, as the simulation flashed green with acceptable parameters.

    Frankie spoke up then. "Of course! Chargestones! That's…kind of brilliant."

    Alex continued on. "They should have enough energy to last twelve hours, and if you add a way of recharging them, we'll be fine. Moreover, the crystals grow quick enough to give us a suitable supply without ruining the cave. The Pokémon that rely on the magnetic field they give off will likely be undisturbed."

    Eric shook his head. "Mining them is going to be tricky. If anything disturbs the Pokémon, it'll be the equipment."

    The six of them sighed, quiet in thought as they tried to think of a way to avoid permanent damage. Alex spoke first. "Then don't mine them."

    Five pairs of eyes looked at them, and more than a few had eyebrows raised to Spockian levels. He continued on when nobody interrupted. "These blades shouldn't be mass-produced. In fact…" He punched in more numbers to the simulation, a base estimate cost for the materials they would need. They all gasped at the number of zeros. "That's what I thought. The metal components are precious, but we should have enough in reserve to arm those Tao wants to lead our troops. Have the Trainers go into the cave themselves. They can find their own crystal. If they're competent enough for the dragon, they should be able to retrieve one without harming the local wildlife. Hmm...we could even make a test out of it, were we so inclined...maybe when we're not on the precipice of war."

    Eric nodded, and then took over, punching in yet more to the simulation. "It'll take some time to finalize the schematics but…this could work." His voice took on a tone of command, and Alex watched, somewhat impressed, as he started giving orders. "Sarah, get to work on the recharging station. It'll have to be in the hilt, and don't skimp on the quality. We can't have these become unusable with wear and tear. They need to last. Also, account for the effect of temperature. It's going to be a long winter, and our leaders shouldn't need to worry about the battery dying from the cold."

    Sarah, who looked as masculine as the rest of them thanks to her short haircut, nodded, and then Eric pointed towards Frankie. "David, you and Frank focus on the emitter. It shouldn't be too complicated, but make sure the length of the blade can be adjusted. The people using these are going to come in various sizes." The two nodded, and then began chatting quietly as they called up the data, and began to work. "Zack," Eric said, turning to the last of their group. "You and I are on materials. We need to figure out what these components are going to be made from, they need to be relatively cheap, durable, and easy to acquire. Furthermore, we need to make sure that, when combined, the metal doesn't melt, or negatively impact the weapon's function."

    Zack, the only one among them who didn't have brown hair, but instead sported a fauxhawk of light blonde got to work as well, and Eric turned back to his brother. "Why are you still here? Go! Become an Emperor. All of this is pointless if you can't rally the people."

    "Good luck!" The Brain Trust said, with remarkable cohesion and timing, despite the fact they were working. "Don't die." Eric added. Alex gave a nod, put Lux's hilt back on his belt, and then Teleported.

    Scandaga Lake – Unova Region

    While Alex had focused on getting the Fornian Rebellion to Unova, Arthur had been tasked with finding Uxie, the Lake Guardian of Knowledge. During the first part of the summer, Alex and Jess had come to this lake for a few days, mainly to recover from Norstad. During said stay, the Giver of Knowledge had made himself known to the Gallade, and his Trainer. He'd even had a name, given to him by a Trainer, now long passed.

    "Merlin!" Arthur let his telepathy echo over the water. "Wake up! Azelf has been captured!"

    The lake was silent, the water calm. Arthur scanned it with his third eye, and found nothing. He was still sleeping, then. Sitting cross-legged by the lovely shore, Arthur began to meditate, keeping track of his Trainer, while simultaneously scanning the lake, inch by inch, for the telltale disturbance that would mark where the mythical Uxie rested.

    It took the better part of the day, and the sun had set before Arthur finally located the mythical being. He nudged the sleeping Uxie mentally, and felt the mind of the creature stir. He nudged again, but it remained asleep. Having an idea then, Arthur tapped into his newly acquired Psychic Plate, which had fused with the now scarlet horn on his chest, and let the energy flow through him, as he mega evolved.

    He raised an arm then, and moved it in a slow circle. Within minutes, the water of the lake was churning in a clockwise spiral around where he sensed Merlin resting. This, combined with a third persistent nudge, awakened the Lake Guardian.

    Uxie appeared, rising from the waters by the shore. "Well well. The young prince returns. Alone this time, are you?" Arthur nodded as the small Pokémon stretched and yawned, but his eyes remained closed. "I know of Azelf already. I also know that Mesprit has been caught, though not by the humans who took Azelf."

    Arthur's eyes went wide. "Caught!? By who?"

    The powerful psychic type smirked. "It's not important. What matters, is that she is safe. Now, given these developments, I have decided. You and your Trainer could benefit from my wisdom, especially in this, a time of war. Take me to him."

    Arthur shook his head. "I'm to take you to the One Dragon. He asked for you specifically. By name."

    The Uxie tilted his head at that, though his eyes remained shut. "Did he now? I see. Very well, take me to Tao, then." Merlin floated over, and one of his tails touched the Gallade's unsharpened hand. With that, they Teleported.

    The Dragonspiral Tower – Unova Region

    They appeared instantly before the Dragonspiral Tower, and there were murmurs around them as they did. Arthur sensed his Trainer nearby, rapidly heading east over Unova. He'd only half focused on what Alex had been doing once he finally got a response.

    As he looked around, he noticed the humans from Fornia had set up in the old fighting type gym, and since it had largely been empty, it suited them well. The two psychic types floated into the air then, and shot towards the top of the tower, where the massive form of Tao encircled the top. He was meeting with the human leaders, and even at rest, his length encircled the topmost tower of the castle-like structure three times over.

    "Here they are now." Came the dragon's pleasant mental baritone. "Welcome back to civilization, Merlin. Your skills are sorely needed."

    The Uxie made a bow to the dragon, and then to the humans, who seemed surprised by it. "My knowledge is at your service, great dragon."

    "Let me bring you up to speed." One of Tao's tendril-like whiskers, which dangled down from his snout, reached out to tap the psychic type on his forehead.

    Merlin nodded, then. "I see. Things are dire indeed if they're strong enough to block your vision. Let us determine the state of Illinowa and Tenina."

    Merlin raised his stubby arms, and between them, an orb of psychic energy formed, not unlike the various ball attacks that served as the base for Taijitu moves. It floated over the round mahogany wood table the humans were sitting around, and expanded. Electricity sparked over the orb at first, but then Merlin opened his eyes, focusing them on the orb alone, and the sparks faded, revealing the two regions.

    They all gasped, collectively. The view was aerial, and even from the height Uxie displayed, they could make out many of the cities and towns of the two regions, engulfed in flame. A low growl rumbled through the pagoda as Tao saw the destruction.

    "He burns territory he would claim as his own?" Unova's Governor spoke, disbelief in his voice. "How does he expect to quell rebellion?" He spoke again, as Uxie's view zoomed in, and showed what must have been the Illinowa region's militia being marched towards an encampment surrounded by strong bars of metal, and covered with razor wire. Within, the citizens of the region were huddled together. It was cramped, cold, and muddy as most prison camps historically were. Such things had not been used in ages, however. They'd been deemed too cruel. In wartime, non-combatant civilians were supposed to be locked in their homes, but evidently the Church was done pretending to care.

    Merlin answered the Governor, as he enjoyed answering questions. It was his nature to share knowledge. "The Arcean Church will likely subject them to long hours of indoctrination. Given their past success rate, the locals will likely bend the knee to the Prophet in a matter of days."

    Illinowa's Governor, who had attended this meeting late, and out of desperation spoke up then. "Surely his people will decry this…barbarism. Burning homes? Imprisoning soldiers? Indoctrination? The Arceans I know would never stand for any of this."

    Tao's eyes flashed, and gathered the attention of the group. "The Arceans you know are little more than delusional puppets, fed only enough information to keep them sincere. Most of the Prophet's followers are completely oblivious to what their army is actually doing, and Caleb Pravus is a master of manipulation. Observe."

    They sat in silence for a moment, before a portable Television set floated up to the pagoda by way of telekinesis. One of Tao's tendrils switched it on, revealing the dark suited form of the ever-charismatic Prophet of Arceus. He'd added to his attire, presumably under the pretext of being at war. A symbol of the Alpha Pokémon now hovered directly behind his head, encircling the man's head like a halo of sorts. Tao's nose tendrils lashed, angrily sparking with blue at the sight of the Alpha's symbol adorning the head of a madman willing to trade lives for property.

    He had his hands raised, as he was in the middle of orating. The soothing tone of the Prophet's words filled the small building. "Many of you have sent in questions. The most common of these is 'Do the Tenina and Illinowa regions belong to the Arcean Church?'" The Prophet chuckled for a moment. "Do you think Arceus wonders if this tiny ball of a planet is loyal to him? No! Because it does not matter. Tenina and Illinowa are both a part of the world we're going to build with the power of our righteous Crusaders!"

    He raised his hands higher, and the cheesy triumphant-sounding music that had been in the background as he spoke swelled. "The future belongs to Arceus' chosen people! We will do whatever we must to achieve the world we dream of!" A grim look came over his face. "No matter how many psychic heretics stand in our path."

    The broadcast ended, returning to a view of a standard media news set, with a pair of Church officials dispensing news to the populace. As they started gushing over their 'brave Prophet's words of wisdom' Tao flicked the screen off, in disgust. "We are dealing with a man who has mastered illusions, and has been preparing for this conflict for over a century at least. Do not expect aid or sympathy from his people. To them, we are all heretical blasphemers, and short of Church-officiated rehabilitation, all we have earned for our 'sinful actions' is death."

    Unova's Governor looked around the table, meeting the gaze of each of his counterparts, and nodding. "We are agreed, great dragon. Our forces will answer to you, and your Tamer."

    Tao nodded, but otherwise remained silent, his eyes instead focused on Merlin. "Arthur." He said suddenly, breaking the silence, "Your brother has arrived at the ruins. Join him. He's going to need your aid." With a formal bow, the still mega evolved Gallade Teleported to the city closest to the ruins, one he was thankfully familiar with. Humilau.

    Merlin tilted his head at the dragon. "You never told them? Either of them?"

    Tao shook his head. "If they are to be proven worthy, they must overcome the Trial by themselves. We've given all the aid we can. Now, it is up to them."

    The Abyssal Ruins – Unova Region

    Arthur zipped through the air with impressive speed. By levitating his lighter body, he was able to fly faster than either of the humans with whom he usually spent his time. As he came over Undella Bay, the full moon was reflected on the water's surface, and in the bright night, the primarily white robed form of his Trainer hovered over the gentle sea.

    The Gallade joined his Trainer, and the two eyed the ruins below. From where they hovered, the structure was little more than a slightly darker blue blob, just barely visible thanks to the faint glow of the Marine Tube. "This lack of light is going to hinder us." Arthur spoke through their link, and the rest of their team welcomed him back. Gelauros had been included now as well, though his mental voice was still child-like, he was learning as quickly as Cenomons had.

    Alex nodded, and then descended. Arthur lowered himself as well, and the two stood on what passed for a beach in this area. Arthur whirled, glaring at the cliffside above and behind them. "Alex…we have gawkers."

    He gave the mental equivalent of a nonchalant hand wave. He'd sensed them as well. "Let them gawk. As long as nobody interferes, I don't really care who watches." He wasn't all that surprised they had a crowd. Undella Town was right behind them, for the ruins were directly east of the coastal town. They'd had time to gather, and despite the late hour, his ears told him many had made the trek. This did, he realized, have the potential to make history. He was only reviving the ancient culture of his entire people. No pressure.

    "Alright boys." Alex spoke softly, "Come on out."

    At his words, nine Pokémon appeared beside him and his Gallade, and all but Gel ignored the murmurs of the crowd behind them. Shruikan flew over them all, and circled in the air as the sliver of a sandbar would never support his size. The little Amaura gave a happy shout, and when those watching waved at him, he let loose a Frost Breath, which received a smattering of applause.

    Alex chuckled, and let the youngling do as he wished, for the moment. The others would be enough. "Terra. We've never been able to get a proper scan of these ruins. Reach deep. I want to know how far down this structure has been covered by three thousand years of silt and dirt." The earth turtle slammed his feet into the beach, and closed his eyes. His entire form glowed with brown energy as he merged with the earth.

    "Arthur, take Lux, and Blaze. Clear the water of bystanders, as well as the beach to our south. Don't terrify them. Be polite." He eyed his Charizard more than his Gallade, but they both nodded, and flew off.

    Lux stayed, however. "I think you're going to be needing the sparky kitten and I." He said, yawning, and stretching his plasma arms.

    Alex shrugged, for once, not in the mood to argue with the plasma ghost. "Ictus, Ceno, Leo, keep an eye on Gel. I'll let you know if we need you. And make sure nobody comes down the beach."

    At his words, his Lairon moved towards the sliver of sand that connected their sandbar to Undella Town. One Rockslide later, and the path was sufficiently blocked from bystanders. Ceno marched back then, and dug into the sand, which was still warm just under the surface. Leo joined him, thoroughly enjoying the sand, as felines do, while the crimson Skorupi and Amaura had a sparring match, much to the delight of the onlooking crowd.

    For his part, Alex had Hydrus mega evolve, and then set off across the water, the white and black ghost trailing behind him. Eventually, he zipped back into the hilt, as Hydrus' swim speed made it hard to keep pace while floating.

    Under the darkened water they went, and Alex's eyes flared blue as he looked around. The glow kept the water from interfering, and his vision was surprisingly decent. He attributed it to the brilliant full moon above the bay. On any other night, he would've preferred to find a solitary spot and enjoy the stars.

    Instead, he moved through the cold water, ignoring the foul salty taste leaking into his mouth, thanks to the speed at which Hydrus was zipping through the water. There were faint traces of power all over, and as they approached the first, he knew what he had to do.

    Each of the other Champions had visited these ruins before, or so they'd told him, and they had all agreed that while the area certainly had an interesting and mysterious history, anything of worth had already been 'recovered' by themselves, and other divers.

    As usual though, his eyes spotted something the others had missed. To him, someone who had grown up with RPGs, and the various puzzles therein, it was obvious. To Trainers who'd been doing little else but battling since they were teens, he could understand how they might miss something like this.

    He turned Hydrus towards the Marine Tube, and smirked as he saw the unnaturally triangular 'rocks' by the edge of the enormous trench the tube had been built over. He'd always thought their sides were too perfect to be natural. Evidently, they had not been disturbed, which was fortunate. He spoke mentally to his mudfish, "Can you lift those?" He gestured at the stone pyramids, and the Mega Swampert swam over.

    He nodded. "Heavy…but not too heavy. I'll be slow, though."

    "That's fine." Alex said, hopping off his back. "I can swim on my own. Big hands. Bring these to each entrance of the Ruins. I think you'll find there's exactly enough for two apiece."

    The mudfish blinked, and then raised a brow at his Trainer. "How did you know these were here?"

    Alex smirked, crossing his arms. "Every kid sees the Marine Tube at least once. I did tell you we've vacationed here, did I not?" Hydrus shook his head. "Hmm. Well, you were still a bit young the last time we came through. Right before Nimbasa, remember?"

    Hydrus thought for a moment, then nodded, and smiled. "I was so…small."

    Alex gave his head fins a pat. "We were all small. Now get moving, bud. The others should be done by now." Hydrus nodded, and then further impressed his Trainer by lifting two of the pyramidal objects at once.

    Though his hands, and thus the jets on his upper wrists, were occupied Hydrus could alternate between which sacs held his oxygen, and which propelled him through the water. The ones on his shoulders folded open, and two streams of water shot behind him from his shoulders as they propelled his hulking form towards the dark outline of the ruins, his large tail-fin guiding his trajectory.

    After surfacing, and inhaling deeply, Alex propelled himself over towards the ruins once more, hovering above them. His unearthly clothes were already dry, and his bag was watertight. It made diving much easier. Lux floated beside him, his ghostly tail still attached to the hilt of the blade he called home. "What makes you so certain those pyramids belong by the ruins?"

    Alex shrugged. "I noticed that when I was younger. My brother and I went diving by the ruins. I couldn't go inside, as I didn't have a Pokémon, which meant wandering around underwater for a few hours."

    The floating ghost raised what passed for an eyebrow for his species. "Wait…you're guessing?"

    He smirked. "Something like that. Just trust my instincts on this." The small ghost sighed, and returned to the hilt. Alex flew back towards the sandbar, and took a closer look at the people occupying the cliff.

    They were cheering, as the rest of his team had indeed finished, and now Arthur and Blaze were sparring, though they'd refrained from using moves. It was an impressive display, seeing a Mega Gallade go hand-to-claw with a Mega Charizard. He gave Ictus and Gel an Elixir, and then recalled everyone but Terra, Leo, and Cenomons. Shruikan still circled above them, his massive form occasionally blocking out the moon.

    The giant earth turtle blinked once at his Trainer, and his Lairon yawned, then trotted over. He scratched them both under the chin. "How does it look, Terra?"

    "It goes down quite far…further than the records say it should. There is a secret within, and the land below feels…odd." He looked over at the dark blob beneath the moonlit waves. "I sense much power within…old power. The kind the Sage warned us not to test."

    Alex nodded. "I expected as much. Well done." He shifted his eyes to Ceno. "Can you make eight long, straight rods of metal?"

    The Lairon tilted his head. "Why?"

    "I…you know what? You'll see." He winked at his partner. "Trust me. It'll be quite the show."

    Ceno grunted. "Mmph. How long?"

    Alex glanced back towards the bay, and made a generous guess. "Fifty feet apiece should do it. They don't need to be high quality, they just need to break the ocean's surface."

    The Lairon looked at the mountains just west of the bay, then nodded. "I can do it. Will take some time."

    His Trainer nodded. "Go then, find the ore. We can wait."

    It took the better part of several hours, during which Alex meditated, floating over the sand and sitting cross-legged in the air. The voices from the cliff had grown quieter, and he resisted the smell of food that occasionally wafted down. Evidently there was a party up there. Finally, he blinked out of his trance-like state as he felt the cold metal nose of his Lairon nudge him. "It is done." Ceno yawned. "I need a nap." He pushed the button to his ball, and returned to it.

    Alex stood, and stretched. Hydrus had finished some time ago, and contented himself by burrowing into the sand by the edge of the risen tide. Now, he rose as well, and lumbered over, still in his Mega Form. Each of the long rods floated into the air, surrounded by blue energy, and he ignored the shouts from above as he set out across the bay again.

    The speed of his Swampert made placing each of the unwieldy rods relatively easy, though if he was honest, Hydrus did all the work. They placed each one in front of the pyramids, and once that was done, he gave his mudfish a well-earned rest.

    Floating into the air, he got the attention of his team. Lux and Leo woke from their naps, and after a few moments, Shruikan appeared in the sky once more. He'd been hunting while they'd waited. Thankfully, Wailord was not an endangered species in this part of the world.

    "Leo, you have the one closest to the shore. Shruikan, take the north. Lux, the south. I'll get the eastern one." As each of his team moved into position, he nodded at his dragon, and the black Salamence turned his maw to the sky. With a roar that sounded more like a thunderclap, dark clouds rolled across the otherwise beautiful night sky. "Ready? All together now…Thunder!"

    His Pokémon summoned the energy for the attack with ease, and with a Shout of his own, Alex managed a similar effect. Eight bolts of searing plasma struck the rods, traveling down their length, and into the sand below. Then, eight glowing triangles appeared in the dark water.

    "Again!" The Thunder attacks struck once more, and the glow increased. It took five in all, but eventually, eight beams of white-blue light shone up from below the water, and into the sky. He didn't feel the earth rumble, but he could hear it, and once it stopped, he smirked. It was the ever-welcome sound of a door, far away for the moment, being opened. "Well done, all of you. Return."

    Lux didn't need to be told twice, and once Leo and Shruikan were in their balls as well, the Champion flew over the ruins. Thunder sounded again, but this time, it cleared the roiling clouds the dragon had summoned, once more illuminating the bay. The full bright white moon was hanging low in the sky by now, but he was finally ready.

    He raised two fingers in the victory sign towards the cliff full of gawking Trainers, and then dove into the water. Originally, people had been against excavating the ruins, but over the years, and completely by accident, the eight square stones by each entrance had been uncovered. Usually, one's path through the ruins depended on where one dived into the water, but now, the deceptive structure revealed its four entrances, and from each one, a soft light radiated.

    Alex smirked, and headed in. He waited for the telltale click that would signal he'd set off whatever trap lurked in these ruins, and expelled would-be trespassers, but evidently powering the pyramids had not only disabled said trap, but drained the water from the interior as well.

    Each entrance was covered by a strange, malleable membrane that admitted his form with ease, and after seeing that, and the cuneiform symbols on the wall, he realized which written language they belonged to. "Atlantican? Odd…nothing in our history suggests we had much contact with them…" There was a theory proposed by leading anthropologists that suggested the people of Atlantica had migrated from Unova, but both Unovans and Atlanticans had found said theory either ridiculous, or unlikely. Then again, he realized, Unova and Atlantica both had lost large portions of their history when the old empire fell. It couldn't be a coincidence that both had gaps in their history centered around three millennia past.

    The Dragon Empire had been little more than a small kingdom, in the end. Who knew how many people had fractured away from it over the course of its violent decline? He walked through the ruins at his leisure, navigating by way of one of the numerous maps that detailed the insides. As expected, the area had indeed been picked clean by scavengers, but now that the water had vanished, and the trap was inactive, he could explore at his leisure.

    Eventually, he made his way to where the map marked a path upwards, and while there was indeed a hole in the ceiling, there was one in the floor, as well. Given that it appeared to be new, Alex jumped in, and floated down slowly. Or rather, he started slow. About halfway down, something interrupted his power.

    Thankfully, he only dropped ten feet or so, landing in a three-point pose, hard enough to bruise his knee, but otherwise unscathed. He stood slowly, looking around, and as he did the blocks that made up the chamber began to glow with the same whitish-blue energy as the fields above. Comparing this room to the ones he'd gotten maps for, he realized he was indeed off the map.

    It was a smaller room than the maze of tunnels upstairs, but like the upstairs, it had several blocks containing script. Thankfully, the cuneiform did not seem to extend down here. Instead, he noticed the letters were written with the shapes of Unown, the very creatures that the language spoken the world over, known only as 'Common', were derived from.

    There was only one exit from this room, only one path forward. Above it, he softly spoke the words that had been placed there. "To restore Balance to the world, you must first find Balance within yourself. Hmm…"

    He crossed the threshold into the next room, and stared in awe. There was no doubt now. This was the Throne of the Dragon Emperor. One of them, at least. The last heirs to that legacy had both claimed that title, and had both sat upon thrones, but history claimed the one that supposedly sat within the Relic Castle was the newer one. This one, was thought to be the one used by the First Emperor, and most others throughout their civilization's reign. The chamber itself was large, larger than anything the maps had detailed, and the room was shaped much the same as a ziggurat, save for the ceiling, which was flat. No doubt, that was what served as a floor for the upper levels. As with most pyramidal structures, it became much, much wider underneath.

    Perched atop a smaller, and yet equally flat-topped ziggurat within the chamber was the throne itself. The rooms above had to be newer additions, because despite three millennia of ocean currents passing over them, the stones that made up this room were much, much older, judging by how eroded everything was.

    The throne was in a state of disrepair as well. He'd begun climbing the smooth-edged steps, and found that the back part of it had been shattered in some other time. The armrests and seat itself were also rounded and marked with signs of wear.

    Who dares to approach the Dragon Throne?

    The voice echoed through the ancient chamber, sourceless by its very nature, though Alex was sure he'd heard multiple voices layered within the question. He stepped before the throne, and then turned, eyeing the vast chamber beyond.

    He let his Voice echo through the chamber, as he Shouted back. "One who would be King!"

    The white-blue energy suffusing the ancient stones shifted then, almost seeming to move. Then, he noticed, it was moving. Towards him. It gathered in eight spherical blobs on the stones around him, as the light was drawn from the entirety of the chamber, darkening it to his eyes, and illuminating only the throne now. The orbs rose into the air, and he could tell most were different colors. Red, blue, white, green, black and white, gray, gold, and in the middle, pale yellow

    He is no Harmonia. It was the centermost orb of pale yellow light that spoke now, Leave, intruder. You are not welcome here. Be glad to have seen what you have seen, and depart with your life intact. Seemingly finished, the central orb floated away from him, but the other seven remained. It paused, almost like it was watching them. The seven spoke in unison.

    Speak, Tamer. Why have you so diligently sought out this chamber? What quest brings you here?

    "The One Dragon has been revived."

    Each of the orbs seemed to shimmer, and glow a little brighter at his words. The one that had floated away coalesced into a humanoid figure, a ghostly shape of a man, tinted the same color.

    Each of the orbs did the same, and Alex knew as he saw their robes that these were the Sages upon which Ghetsis had based his own. The central figure wore a crown, though it was as phantasmal as the rest of his form. That marked him as the last true Harmonia. N had declined to even examine the Relic Crown, and when Rosa had found one as well, he suggested they were fakes, though their purpose was beyond him. Who would put a fake crown deep within a maze?

    The ancient King floated back towards him, hovering over all of them, above the final steps before the throne itself. His hair was long, and unremarkably styled, and his beard went about halfway down his chest. His eyes though, were what held Alex's attention. He knew them. There was no mistaking the familial similarities, the inherent kindness, and sadness as well. This had to be one of N's ancestors.

    As his form coalesced, so too did his words. "Who? Who has reunited the dragon? Name him, so that we may prepare the Trial."

    Alex bowed properly, as Jess had shown him, and then glanced upward at the King, smirking. "You're looking at him. Alexander Redwood, at your service."

    The King blinked. "You? Impossible. You are nothing. Where is my heir? He's the one who really reunited the dragon, isn't he?"

    Alex shook his head, slowly. "I'm not surprised that you do not know, but I can guess how you came by what little knowledge you seem to possess. I'm not the first human to come here in recent times, am I?" The ghostly King looked away, frowning, and then glared at Alex once more as he spoke. "I thought so. The man who came to you, Ghetsis I presume, you entrusted him with finding and training your heir, didn't you? The man who could reunite the dragon and rebuild the ancient empire."

    "A lucky guess." The King snarled, and the Sages looked at him, several raising eyebrows at the venom in his tone. "Speak then, if you know so much. Where is my heir?"

    Alex sighed, softly. "Gone, now. Traveling the world, seeking greater wisdom and power to draw forth from his partners."

    The King's eyes narrowed. "Then we shall await his return as he gathers wisdom. Your news is appreciated. Now leave, and be glad you do so with your life. We usually take it from those who see this place. Leave the dead to rest."

    Alex shook his head, and continued speaking. "I cannot. Your heir, known to us only as N, failed to unite the dragon. He couldn't even envision it, after what Ghetsis subjected him to." The King's eyes went wide, and the rage in them was obvious, but he kept speaking. "I'm guessing you told Ghetsis where to find your heir, but I know what he did after. All of Unova does, N himself told us as much." In reality, it had been more due to John Crimson's determination to unveil the story of Unova's greatest hero, but the result was the same. Unova had only cheered their Champion more once they knew his origins.

    He went on then, to explain what he knew of N's history, how he'd grown up, and what Ghetsis had forged him into. How he'd eventually freed himself of that destiny, but never quite finished walking that path. How he'd become the Champion, and kept Unova safe from Ghetsis' madness for years. How he'd traveled across the lands that had once also been called a part of Unova with Zekrom, and kept them safe as well, and finally, how he and N had battled for the title of Unova's Champion, faced down the rampaging Kyurem, and reunited the dragon.

    "So you see," Alex said, finishing his tale, "He never had the chance to become the King you wished for. He was diverted from that path the moment Ghetsis found him, turned into little more than a puppet with just enough knowledge to be a competent leader. He never understood humans, he barely understood Pokémon, and even as the Champion, the idea that the three dragons were One was simply never pursued. Mankind attempted to fuse them again, and only managed it with Kyurem."

    The rage in the King's eyes had faded to sorrow once more as the tale had continued. Once Alex finished speaking, he resumed the form of an orb, and left without a word, sinking deeper into the pyramidal structure, to the floors that were presumably below.

    The seven remaining figures shared a look, and then as one, nodded. One of the Sages, whose green tinged clothing bore a green circle with a square within it on his shoulders and chest spoke then. "You have proven your worth, Tamer. By your hand you restored the dragon's balance, and kept Unova safe. You succeeded where our King's own bloodline failed. At the very least, you have proven worthy of taking the Trial of Eight Paths. We will determine if you are worthy of bearing the crown."

    "And if I fail?" Alex asked.

    The man's countenance grew grim, and this time the Sage whose red tinged clothing bore a circle with a red flame within it spoke. "Failure means death. You must be willing to give everything, to become this land's rightful King. Will you face the Trial?"

    Alex nodded.

    The man with the green markings spoke again, as the seven other ghosts did as the King had, and floated into the lower levels. "Come, then. I will be your first challenge." With that, he vanished as well, and below the steps leading to the throne, another staircase of stone appeared. Though it seemed just as old, it had not been exposed to millennia of water, that much was evident.

    The Path of Earth

    Alex descended the stairs, until he came to a doorway that lacked a door. Above it, the words 'Path of Earth' appeared in the language of the Unown. He stepped through the doorway, and a wall of hardened stone rose behind him, sealing it off.

    The ghost from before appeared again. Though it was hard to tell in the light of the throne room, he'd noticed each of the sage's phantasmal forms had a colored tint to them. This was what had made their clothing appeared colored, despite being ghosts. "Welcome. I expect you have many questions."

    Alex smirked. "You have no idea."

    The ghost seemed to chuckle at that. "Ask then, and I will do my best to sate your curiosity."

    Though a torrent of questions came to mind, Alex paused, until he thought of one that seemed more important on an instinctual level. "What is the nature of this Trial?"

    The ghost tilted his transparent head, as if eyeing the Trainer for the first time. "What a question. This Trial was designed by the Original Dragon, and ourselves, to test the aptitude of those who would be King of Unova."

    Alex smirked. "But there's more to it, isn't there?"

    The ghost nodded. "By traveling each of the Eight Paths successfully, you will unlock your true power. Each of the dragon's candidates possesses such potential, always, but only this Trial will draw it forth."

    "How, exactly?" Alex said, arching a brow. "I'm already stronger than most humans, and I don't really need more strength. Nor do I desire it."

    "Oh, but you will require it, and soon, should you succeed here." The ghost said, nodding as only a Sage could, "There are many humans who can match, and surpass, your current level. A true King must transcend all others. Now, let us begin."

    The ghost's form sank into the floor, and the square blocks that made up the simple chamber flared green, before fading away to white nothingness. Alex looked around, reminded of Tao's world. The Sage's voice echoed again, "Kings are brave. Kings never lose hope. No matter what they face."

    The blankness shifted, and an image straight from his memory appeared around him. The green tinged ghost stood beside him, as they watched the memory unfold. There he was, younger and with a patchy face full of newly grown beard, as he stood in the midst of an icy cavern, surrounded by two Legendary Dragons, and his childhood hero. Kyurem stared him down, and beckoned him forward for battle.

    The scene shifted again. Arceus floated before him this time, and the Sage gasped in shock as it unleashed a Judgement attack upon the figure before it, who spread his arms wide, and welcomed it. Only now, seeing it from a different perspective, did Alex recall actually raising his arms. He'd done it on instinct, then. He hadn't even noticed. He'd been more focused on his failure and imminent death at the time.

    More scenes followed. He faced down Tao himself, on the verge of rampaging, and calmed him. He flew into battle atop his Charizard as they faced down a golden Groudon. He faced down the Forces of Nature, and willingly battled them. He dove headlong into the enormous wind wall that surrounded Norstad, atop his black Salamence.

    As the scene shifted to him stepping into Rayquaza's volcano and being struck by the Storm Crown's power, the Sage turned and looked at him. The scene paused, and stopped moving forward. "You bear the Storm Crown?" Alex nodded. "I see…then the dragon's will is made clearer." He waved a hand, and the visions continued.

    Another slight gasp came as he saw the maw of the World Eater snap behind Alex and Shruikan, as they led the great beast towards his doom. He'd never realized just how close those jaws had come. It was a matter of inches. The memories increased in speed as they flew by, more for the ghost's benefit than his own by this point, or so he assumed. His journey across the continent had included several close calls, and eventually, the room portrayed his current predicament.

    The shadowy form of what could only be Caleb Pravus loomed over him, and those terrifying red eyes he'd displayed in Uppsalir filled the room. The ghost nodded. "I understand now. War has come once more. You were right to take this Trial." He pondered for a minute, and then spoke again. "You have faced down dangers most Tamers of my era would have run from. Even some of our Kings would not have held fast before the World Eater himself."

    He gestured to the still-looming presence of Pravus. "This fear is different, though. You've seen the effect he has on the common people, and how easily he controls them. You've seen him go toe-to-toe with a being our species once labeled a deity. Your fear is justified, but you must let it go. Do not allow it to hinder you, to cause you to pause. You faced down each of these tests by remaining steadfast. Your actions were well-intentioned, and honorable. Hold true to your courage, Tamer, and you will make a fine King."

    Alex, for his part, nodded, and let the apprehension he'd had about facing Pravus down melt away. He might very well die if he faced him as Thor had. But if nobody faced him at all, his home, his people, his allies, would all be turned to little more than slaves. Jess entered his thoughts. There were worse fates as well. He felt his resolve burn to life, and a surge of energy ran up his spine from its base, giving him chills.

    "What…what was that?" He asked the ghost.

    The green tinged figure grinned. "That, was the first step on your path to awakening. You have traversed the Path of Earth. Go on, Champion. Face your next trial, and be aware, my counterparts share my knowledge. The more they learn of you, the harder this will become."

    The Path of Fire

    "Great…" Alex muttered, as the room returned to normal. One of the walls opened, and he moved towards it. Another doorway without a door. Another inscription in the language of the ancients. 'Path of Fire'.

    Within the next room, he found the red tinged ghost, bearing the mark of fire, meditating the same way he did. Legs crossed, floating in the air. Though each of the Sages looked different, this one had been the only one to have a long, thin mustache that dangled down past his chin. Long beards that would be at home on a storybook mage's countenance had been the norm with his peers.

    The Sage did not waste time as Alex stepped before him. "A true King has the willpower to remain good and moral in the face of overwhelming evil. Shame, doubt, anger, fear, sorrow, these emotions will cloud your judgement, and make you susceptible to corrupting influences." He opened his eyes, and examined Alex. "I sense much anger in you, though you bury it well."

    The room flared white, and once more, an image from his memory came forth. One he'd repressed. He couldn't be more than four or five, but unlike some of the other visions he'd seen in the previous chamber, this one had crystal clarity to it. It made sense. Negative events always left a larger impression, and were more easily recalled.

    His younger self was on the playground of his local school, building a castle that, he realized now, looked remarkably similar to the Dragonspiral Tower. An ordinary day, at least for him. And like most of his early days, this one included the arrival of a group of older children, each flanked by a Pokémon, as they circled him.

    Their leader, a typical brat with a bandage across his nose, clad in red and black, stepped forward, stomping on his castle. "Alright Redwood. What've you got for us today?" His younger self held up handfuls of now-crushed sand, that slipped through his fingers. "Not good enough." The older boy bent to lift him up by his shirt, but his younger self stood, instead.

    He'd been taller than most, even back then, and he glared the boy down, before pushing him away, and freeing his shirt collar. The boy stumbled back, and gave a command. "String Shot!" The boy's Cascoon sprayed his younger self with the sticky, purple substance, and his younger self struggled to move. The boy pushed him over then, and delivered a swift kick to his stomach. Alex winced, and he could swear he felt something stir in his stomach as well, but he was too focused on the image of his younger self.

    With each kick, the sensation increased. That had been but one day, in the middle of years of such taunting. Always he was at a disadvantage, for he'd always lacked a partner. He felt sympathy from his team, but he ignored it. The old feeling of painful solitude was returning with a vengeance within him.

    The red ghost eyed him, and the scene shifted. It was his father's study, back in their house, and he immediately knew which memory this was. His father had not been pleased that he'd earned a Trainer Card. "What were you thinking!?" His father shouted, slamming the desk angrily. "Sneaking off after we told you not to! Shirking your chores for weeks! All so you could do what, play around in the woods!? You are not a Trainer, Alex. You will never be a Trainer!"

    The memory faded suddenly, and the room was empty. Normal. Even the red tinged ghost had vanished.

    "We sure showed him, didn't we."

    A cold chill went up Alex's spine, as his own voice came from behind him. He turned, and beheld a perfect likeness of himself, but something was off. He couldn't figure out what, though. The doppelganger kept speaking. "We were quite the little rebel! Playing with Pokémon every chance we had. Trying to battle…though it wasn't like real battling, was it?"

    His clone chuckled. "Oh no, nothing could compare to that thrill. Well, almost nothing, right Leafhead?" Alex glared at himself. "Don't deny it. I'm you. We spent our wonderful teenage years getting stoned in Gruncle's basement, just so that we could get through every single Mukking day we were forced to live through without a Pokémon of our own."

    Despite himself, Alex looked away from his clone. His words rang with too much truth. The copy of himself was in his vision though, no matter where he turned. "Now now, don't ignore me…I've been ignored enough! You remember, don't you? The pure, undiluted rage we felt for father…you never wanted to admit it, but it felt good to hate him. It was right. He wronged us, and you know it. It's his fault we spent half our life in misery! You might have repressed the past, but I recall it clearly! A few good years will never change that…"

    "And what are you?" Alex said, finally forcing himself to speak. "An illusion, nothing more. A trick. An amalgamation of bad memories."

    The red ghost appeared then, standing between the two of them. "Not quite." He gestured to the clone. "He is as real as you are. He feels your feelings, thinks your thoughts, and if you fail to overcome him, it is he who will go on to walk the other paths. You, will remain here, and when he leaves, you will vanish into nothingness." The ghost grinned. "This is your Trial…" he raised his ghostly hands, and Alex looked down, noticing a familiar looking hilt in his palm. His plasma sword.

    The snap-hiss of his blade filled the room, but it had not come from his weapon. Though similar to Lux's container, it was simpler in design, a combination of gray and black metal. His doppelganger's blade was pure red, and it sparked with electricity. He activated his own, and found it to be similar, though the color was blue.

    He barely moved his blade up in time, as the red-illuminated face of his clone struck, and forced a blade-lock, as he sneered. "Finally…I will be free…no more repression…no more being buried under your other emotions, forgotten, and left to fester…I will right the wrongs done to us, and I'll start with our dear old dad." The clone struck again, and it took Alex a second to realize his fighting style was the same as his own. His clone's eyes flared with psychic power, and the two identical humans clashed within the small room, moving with impressive speed. They spun into a blade lock, and then spun away, each using the spiraling motions that made up Tao's fighting style.

    "Perhaps some music, to make this more appropriate!" His clone said, grinning as he gestured to the room. A familiar tune echoed in the chamber, and his opponent grinned, dragging the crimson blade along the stone of the floor as he stalked ever closer, not caring for the damage it did. "Remember this? From those old Earth games you enjoyed so much. You immersed yourself in them to dull the ache of your life, your lack of friends and Pokémon. Do you remember what this one was called?" His clone smirked.

    Alex grimaced. He knew as well as his doppelganger did, the name of this particular song, and as the music swelled, he finally gave in. He hated fighting. Battling was one thing. It was sport, to his people. A contest of strength and honor, but always one that had good natured emotions behind it. It wasn't about winning or losing. It never had been. It was about the thrill of battling alongside the partners of one's heart and mind. Of understanding one's opponent, and overcoming them with the bond Trainer and Pokémon shared. This, however, was not a battle. This was a duel.

    He took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, letting his nerves fade as he found his center. He met his own gaze, and smirked, as he saw an unnerved expression cross his own face. His clone hid it well, but these were his own features. He knew what he looked like when he was worried. He fell into the stance Tao had drilled into his muscle memory, and let his power course through him. It flared off his large form in waves of aura.

    "Duel of the Fates." He looked down at his sword, and his smirk widened. "Appropriate. I couldn't have chosen better."

    Rage came over his clone's expression, and with a yell, the two clashed once more. Sparks flew from their blades each time they hit. The speed of the music increased, and so did their strikes. The room shook, and Alex realized that his clone was every bit as good as he was. He needed an edge.

    "Is this really the best I can do?" Alex smirked, as he yawned, and made a circular motion, disentangling their latest blade lock with one hand, as the other covered his mouth. "I thought you were supposed to be the embodiment of my wrath." He smirked at his clone, and raised his sword above his head, holding it horizontally, as his free hand made the universal gesture for 'bring it'.

    "You want wrath!?" The veins in the clone's head bulged, and his psychic aura of power coalesced from faint waves, to a proper aura, not unlike Connor's had been. It was rounded at the bottom, and flared uncontrollably at the top. The color changed as well, from a lighter blue, to a deeper bluish-purple, more akin to dragon energy. Then it began to turn dark red, and his clone's form sparked with red lightning. "Repress this!"

    His clone lunged again, and Alex barely managed to deflect the first strike. The others were just as strong, and his arms ached as they took the repeated impacts. Still, it had the desired effect. His form was sloppier. Slightly. He needed more goading. Alex gripped the blade with both hands now, and the impacts were slightly easier to handle. He forced them into a lock again, and the plasma hissed and screeched as the swords met.

    "Is that it?" Alex managed, still outwardly smirking. "Years of being kicked around. Mocked. Insulted daily. Cast aside like a worthless dimwit without even being given a chance! Perhaps you're not as full of rage as you let on." He swallowed, as he saw the look in his clone's eyes change from incoherent fury, to the cold stare he'd reserved for those who had truly managed to piss him off. A chill went up his spine. Was that what he'd done to those who'd been on the business end of this glare?

    "You want to see our rage? I'll show you our Mukking rage!" A wave of psychic and draconic energy slammed into the real Alex, sending him flying back into the stonework by the entrance to this chamber. He hadn't noticed, but this time, the door was blocked by fire. Another chill went up his spine as his doppelganger began speaking in the Dragon Tongue.

    The draconic energy flared as the clone Shouted. "Mul! Qah! Diiv!" While the effects were not identical, they were close enough to the original Shout his other self was purposefully copying. His teeth grew longer, sharper, his hands were clawed, and red scales appeared across his face, and presumably, the rest of his body. His ears were pointed, and a pair of horns jutted up from his brow, and curled backwards, slightly. The copy of his hat had fallen to the ground, and his hair had become a similarly colored crest of red scales that trailed down under the white robe that covered his clone.

    Alex grimaced as he looked over that which had once been himself. Twisted, and evil. That was what he would become if this clone was allowed to leave. Though, whether he could match him anymore was a mystery. He got his answer, as the crimson scaled form of his clone seemed to vanish, and he barely had time to duck as the crimson blade cut horizontally across the wall where he'd been standing a moment before.

    He spun away, once more in his dragon stance, but he might as well have been hopping on one foot for all the good it did him. "They will all PAY!" His clone screeched as he slammed their blades together, and effortlessly forced his large form toward the other end of the room. Looking down, he saw that the clone's shoes had been torn apart by a pair of massive, clawed feet that could only be described as draconic. There were only three claws on them, but they had better traction than his shoes, and Alex grunted as the draconic aspect of himself slammed him into the other wall. He could feel the heat of his own blade pushing ever closer.

    That, was when he recalled a useful trick from the aforementioned games their epic music had originated from. He Teleported behind the furious copy of himself, and once more fell into his stance. His own power flared, and instead of wildly billowing above him, it coalesced around him like armor, outlining his form with at least an inch of protection. Though how well it would hold up against focused plasma remained to be seen.

    His clone charged him again, and once more, their blades locked. Once more, he was being driven towards a wall. A corner, this time. Evidently his clone planned on doing this as many times as it took to work. He knew as well as Alex did that his Teleport had limited uses, and he'd used quite a few of them today.

    That was when he switched his blade off, ducked under the slash that followed with his opponent's momentum, and elbowed his clone in the abdomen. Despite being scaled and durable, his strike had hit with enough force to make the dragon-man gasp and let out a hacking cough. It stopped midway through, becoming a soft sigh as Alex reignited his weapon under his opponent's guard, and felt his sword slash across the abdomen, dealing a serious, if not fatal blow. Evidently, not even his scales would protect him from a weapon like this.

    The power faded in a red mist, as his clone doubled over. His eyes were bloodshot, but they still retained some of the blue. Alex caught his clone as he fell, letting the blade he'd used for this fall to the ground. His doppelganger still seethed with rage, but it was dying out quickly. "Make…them pay…make all of them…suffer for…putting us through that…hell. We never…we never deserved it…"

    Alex nodded, sagely. "We didn't. But we never gave up, did we? Every single person in our life, save one relative, told us to give up on being a Trainer. And we became the Champion anyways. These emotions you revel in…they helped get us there." He brought his clone close, in an embrace. "I never forgot you. All the rage, anger, sorrow…I always felt it. But I balanced it with the joy and love we gained once we finally had our chance…" He met his own eyes. "You are as much a part of me as every other emotion. Now come home." There was a warm sensation in his stomach as he felt the weight in his arms vanish, and once more, he felt power surge through his entire being, originating from his stomach.

    The soft sigh of his clone was all that was left of him as his body vanished. Alex found himself kneeling in the red tinged chamber, and the similarly colored ghost rose up from the floor, arms crossed, one hand stroking his thin chin in thought. "I've rarely seen a manifestation with such raw power…and you still tamed it. You have walked the Path of Fire and come through unburnt. Advance to your next challenge."

    The Path of Water

    Alex bowed, and moved on to the door that appeared on one of the chamber's walls. Once he approached the next chamber, he looked up, reading the words once more. 'Path of Water'. He entered the chamber, and found it cooler, more refreshing than the previous one. The orb of spectral energy that was the blue ghost coalesced before him, and he blinked in surprise.

    He hadn't noticed before, as he'd been placating the former King, but this ghost was undeniably female. Her voice was softer than the others, but just as confident and inherently wise. "Hmm. I was sure the fire would end you."

    Alex raised a brow, and then smirked. "Fire cannot truly harm a dragon. Let alone one who would be King."

    The ghost seemed to chuckle. "Keep telling yourself that, 'your highness'. A true King acts with love, and accepts all of his subjects. I've seen your memories. How do you expect to rule a people whose defining aspect of their society is the antithesis to everything you believe?"

    Alex tilted his head. "I don't follow your thinking…"

    The blue ghost walked around him in a clockwise circle. Like her counterparts, her ornate robes bore a symbol within a circle. A crescent moon, and three wavy lines that no doubt represented water, or the ocean. Like the others, it marked her shoulders, and her chest. There was no cleavage to speak of, which was in line with the clothing of ancient times, if he recalled correctly.

    "The people of the west view Arceus in a manner that is entirely foreign, both to you, and the dragon. They worship him with blind devotion, and are so bound to their Prophet, they would, and have, gladly maimed themselves to demonstrate their loyalty." As she spoke, the room shifted with her words, though this time, the image was not from his memory.

    It was the interior of an Arcean Church. Having never been inside one, Alex looked around, curious, and realized that it was disturbingly similar in layout to the numerous Pokémon Stadiums that littered the world. A circle of plain chairs in rows that stretched to the building's ceiling surrounded a central raised dais, upon which was a pulpit for speaking. Behind it, was the Arcean Cross, supporting the Alpha's symbol for all to see. Around the chairs, images of Caleb Pravus' admittedly appealing features, a bit exaggerated naturally, adorned the walls and free spaces in the form of paintings, and statues.

    The ghost spoke again. "You've seen how the Church negatively impacts its followers, but you've completely ignored the beneficial aspects of cult worship that the Fornians have incorporated into their cultural psyche."

    Alex frowned. "I fail to see how forced brainwashing is beneficial to anyone."

    The ghost nodded. "And thus you've remained blind to a potential weak spot in an enemy, or even a beneficial way of thinking for your own would-be empire."

    Alex's frown deepened. "I will not subject my people to brainwashing. Of any kind. I couldn't care less what they believe in, it's what that belief drives them to do that I intend to stop."

    The ghost's arms were linked in her kimono-esque robes. She raised a perfect eyebrow at him. "And what happens when you claim victory over Fornia? Let us pretend for a moment that you win this war you are not prepared for. You march into Sacreus, burn the city, and kill the Prophet in an epic clash that will be sung about in Unova for millennia to come. Is the Church going to disappear because you've cut off its' head?"

    "Well I-" Alex started, but the ghost cut him off.

    "Is the faith and belief in Arceus going to vanish from the hearts of Fornians simply because you, an invading and victorious conqueror, tell them to stop believing so blindly? What are you going to offer them in its place? Science? They know more about genetics than your Professors could learn in a lifetime. They have machines capable of shooting elemental energy as easily as projectile weapons fire bullets. Your scientific mindset is not going to sway them. Pravus has already blended their beliefs with the basic truths of the universe. Are they going to stop following the Prophet of Arceus' command to kill you on sight simply because you dismantle their Church?" The ghost eyed him expectantly, and he was allowed to answer this time.

    "I expect not."

    The ghost sighed. "Consider this your Trial then, you who would be King. Half of a continent's worth of human lives will be affected by your actions. Many already have been. The people of Fornia have held these beliefs for centuries. How do you expect to free them from this?"

    "I don't know!" Alex finally said, raising his voice. He looked down at his feet. "If I had my way, they would have never been subjected to this foulness in the first place."

    "And many would likely be happier for that." The ghost said. "But you cannot change what has already happened. Not without angering the God of Time. Bad things happen. All over the world, and many of these things are much, much worse than indoctrination into a Cult that fills the basic needs of living for millions of people. What do you intend to do about these terrible things? As King, your actions will eventually affect the world as a whole as well. Can you truly handle that responsibility?"

    Alex thought for a long moment, and as he always did when faced with a philosophical question that stumped him, he relied on Tao's teachings. "What can I do, but try to prevent what atrocities I am able to stop? I can't be everywhere. Even as a King. Even if I could Teleport freely, anywhere in the world, I could never stop all of it."

    The ghost nodded, and smiled. "The dragon's wisdom has reached you, then. That is promising. Now, answer the question I first posed. How do you expect to free the people of Fornia from the stranglehold their Church has on them? How will you prevent the rise of another Pravus?"

    He thought again, and then the ghost's own words echoed in his skull. "A true King acts with love, and accepts his subjects, no matter who, or what, they are." He nodded, feeling more confident in his answer, though the ghost's face was as impassive as his own usually was. "All I can do is try to show the people of Fornia what they have lost in their blind pursuit of their Church's 'divine truth'. Families torn asunder. Childhoods ruined. Genetic experiments. Murder, destruction of the land, these are just a few of the Church's own actions that, without Pravus, I can illuminate. They can't ignore my words forever. Even if I have to go to every single one of them and convince them face to face, I will free them from this oppressive mindset."

    As he spoke, he felt a strange sensation in his stomach. Then, he realized it wasn't his stomach, but his abdomen. A surge of energy moved through him, cooling the heat that the Path of Fire had seared him with. The ghost smiled again. "I believe you. I've seen the strength of your willpower, as well as the power of your Voice. If anyone can reach the Fornians and help them rejoin the world in peace and prosperity, I believe it is you. The dragon has, as always, chosen well. Remember my words, Champion, and move on to your next test."

    The Path of Air

    The wall of water that blocked his path backward remained in place, and another entrance appeared on the opposite wall of the chamber. Alex bowed, and continued on. If he was being truthful, the issue of the Fornian's indoctrination had been one both he and Tao had been unable to find a solution to, but after this, he expected the dragon would agree with using Words over violence.

    He was, like Alex, not a violent creature. Pravus had earned his fate, but his followers yet had a chance to be redeemed. He sighed, pausing against the wall of the tunnel that connected the Path of Water to wherever he was heading next. He almost would've preferred another plasma duel. Almost. He hummed the tune of the Duel of the Fates as he moved on to the next room.

    As with the others, the door to the next room bore the same lettering. It read 'Path of Air'. He moved into the room, and blinked, as it resembled, strongly, the rock garden that Tao had in his other Tower, the one that resided on another plane.

    "Look familiar?"

    The voice that echoed through the square room was lighter, but unmistakably masculine. An airy spherical orb floated before him, and coalesced into the pale gray form of a bald man, with a short beard that resembled a chin strap. On his robes was a circle similar to the other three, though this one had a swirl of gray and blue within it, that evidently represented air.

    Alex nodded. "It looks like the one Tao has in his…other tower."

    "So it does." The ghost nodded, and smiled. "What brings you to me, you who would be King?"

    Alex blinked. "Erm. I'm trying to complete the Trial. I'm here to walk the Path of Air."

    The ghost nodded, still smiling. He was sitting cross-legged in the air, and his hands, both curled into fists, joined at the knuckles. They weren't threatening, however, as the pose seemed more meditative than anything. "And how do you think one walks such a Path?"

    Alex thought for a moment, and then floated into the air, mimicking the ghost's sitting position with a smirk. This brought a chuckle from him, that devolved into a full-bellied laugh. "Oh…oh that's good. I set myself up for that one. It's been an age since I've had such a clever challenger. Literally."

    Alex smiled as well. This ghost was one he inherently liked, and he suspected he'd been friendly with Tao as well. Had he yet lived, he expected the two of them would've become good friends. "I'm glad I could entertain you. Now then, might I ask what this test will entail?"

    The ghost nodded. "To open your next Chakra, there are several lessons you need to know, though judging by your partners, you already know them!" He chuckled again.

    Alex blinked. "Open my what now?"

    The ghost blinked as well. "Has…nobody told you? Surely you've studied the secret behind the ancient King's powers. Nay, you must have felt them opening. You wouldn't be here if they were still closed."

    Alex shook his head. "Most of the knowledge of the old empire was lost in the war that the two brothers started. What we know now was only kept alive via oral traditions, until someone wrote it all down again, but much of that is considered historically questionable, and with the return of Tao, much has been revealed to be false."

    The ghost sighed. "I see. I never liked those boys, but I believe the one who sought truth would have ruled us better. I have always been partial to living in the light, though." He shook his head, and put aside the topic of the ancient 'heroes' for a moment. "The surges of power you've been feeling after each test. Have you not wondered what they are? Has the increase in your strength not been significant?"

    Alex shrugged. "I was told that this test would grant me more power. I just assumed it came in bursts. Evidently there's more to it…?"

    "So much more!" The ghost exclaimed. "I would've thought the dragon would tell you of what exactly this Trial does, no?" His eyes went wide. "You do know what happens if you fail to open them all, right?" Seeing the blank look on Alex's face, the man frowned. "How has nobody explained this to you!? This is why I should go first. Air is first in the cycle anyways!" He sighed again.

    "Perhaps…" Alex said carefully, "You should start from the beginning. Explain it now. Knowledge acquired late is better than total ignorance."

    That brightened the ghost's expression, and his demeanor became cheerful again. His moods seemed to shift as often as the wind changed direction. Which was appropriate, he assumed. "True enough! Knowledge is indeed power, and if the empire's knowledge is gone, you must not know anything! Do we at least still have contact with Koria?"

    Alex raised a brow. "Koria? They're on the other side of the planet. Moreover, that's Imperium territory. If you value your freedom, you avoid the Imperium. That's just common sense."

    The ghost stared at him for a minute. "Imperium? Wait…the Imperium of Man? They're still around!? How in the name of the Dragon's divine dong did the Imperium of Man outlast our own empire!?"

    Alex blinked. "The Original Dragon has a dong? Odd. He implied he didn't have…parts." When it came to typically genderless Legendary Pokémon, he went by the tone of their psychic voice. They could, after all, change it on a whim. He'd always assumed it was based on preference.

    The ghost laughed again. "Oh, he does, hence the masculine terms we use to refer to him. He simply lacks the urges that drive humanity. Well. Not so much 'lacks' as ignores entirely. Anyways!" he said, waving a hand, "On to the topic of Chakras."

    Alex nodded, listening attentively. It wasn't all that different from how he'd been educated by Tao himself. Many of their philosophical lessons had occurred in his rock garden. The ghost began explaining. "Chakras are pools of energy within oneself. They flow throughout your body…much like a river. Unfortunately, some aspects of this material world can block the flow of this energy, and without training, it becomes blocked off, and useless, trapped behind the emotional baggage of one's life."

    Understanding flooded Alex, and he spoke as the ghost paused. "And this Trial is meant to unclog those…energy pools, and thus, the King appears to be powerful…"

    "When in reality, he is as strong as anyone who has learned to let their energy flow." The ghost finished. "For you though, there is much more energy than normal. Such is always the case with the candidates the dragon chooses. This too, is why the Kings of old were so strong. The dragon would seek out these powerful individuals, and teach them his ways, unlock their power, and with it, they maintained peace in the Empire. The last King's sons never took this Trial, and while they were educated in the dragon's teachings, they never proved worthy of the crown, or attained the power their father did. Instead of making one of them face the Trial, the dragon chose to side with both of them, rather than tear the empire apart with civil war... Alas…it tore apart anyway."

    Alex nodded. Their offspring had gone on to have a war anyways, with Unova as their battlefield. The final conflict had seen both Reshiram and Zekrom, emboldened by rage, truth, and ideals, clash repeatedly, and destroy much of Unova in the process. "I think I get it…so how do I open this…Air Chakra?"

    The ghost chuckled. "A true King lets love and good emotions guide his actions. He uses them, to fight against the hatred that is unfortunately so common in the world. Or rather…used to be. I sense much has changed over the millennia. This is not a bad thing. This Chakra's energy is located in the heart, and is blocked by grief. I sense much grief within you, though you've buried it deep. What makes your heart so heavy?"

    Alex looked away, face becoming impassive. "My…granduncle. He passed, recently. Not even Tao could heal him."

    The ghost tilted his head. "Tao?"

    Alex nodded. "The Original Dragon. I gave him a nickname."

    At that, the ghost burst into laughter again. "Oh! The stones on this one! You gave a nickname to a creature of the Alpha, formed from the energy of Creation itself! Oh, oh ho ho. That is…genuinely amusing. But fitting! Very well. Tao. It works, I think." He made an 'ahem' sound. "Now then, you were speaking of your granduncle?"

    Alex looked away again, then sighed. It had taken a Trial he couldn't afford to fail to finally face this particular demon, and as he felt the grief, he understood how it was blocking his energy. "He was the only family I had that believed I could be a Trainer...the only adult, annyways. He never gave up on me. He taught me everything I know. It's…a darker world without him in it."

    The ghost nodded, his jovial amusement faded now. "I see. You are versed in…Tao's teachings, yes?" Alex nodded. "Then you know about the energy that makes up…" He gestured to Alex.

    Alex blinked. "You just gestured to all of me."

    The ghost chuckled lightly. "Indeed, and that is exactly the point. All of what makes you who you are, the energy that formed in the unique pattern that is your conscious mind, that never truly fades away. Energy cannot be destroyed, young Redwood. Only changed in form. The energy of life is infinite." He gave the Trainer a minute to process his words. It was something he'd already learned, as it was literally basic science, but hearing it again drove the ghost's point home.

    An ephemeral hand touched his shoulder. "The love your granduncle had for you has not left this world. It still lives, within you, within your memories of him, and perhaps, even in Arceus' own realm. He is a loving Alpha, and if your granduncle is the kind of man who could produce a student that has passed three of these Trials, I think he has found a spot amongst those of our kin the Alpha deems worthy to spend eternity with.

    Alex smirked. "I don't think he'd like spending an eternity with a deity."

    The ghost nodded. "Indeed, I got the sense from your recollections that he was a man of science and knowledge. Fret not though, Arceus is a being who can be...very rational. Now, as I said, energy can only change in form, and should one wish it, one may re-enter the world as whatever they wish. A bug. A Pokémon. Another human. Some stay in the Alpha's realm for uncountable millennia, but eventually, everyone wants to experience this prime material plane once more. Even if doing so causes them to forget who they are…for a time. The urge to live…it's instinctual, even for a ghost."

    Alex raised a brow. "What of you then? Do you not want to re-enter the cycle?"

    The ghost nodded. "I feel the pull every day. The urge to come back. But if I did, the Trial would be incomplete. My knowledge would vanish until whatever I returned as passed on, and even then, who knows if I would ever remember all of it. No, the dragon commanded I stay to test and educate the Kings of the future, and if my happiness must pay the price for that, then I pay it gladly."

    "Thank you…" Alex said, forcing himself to smile. Slightly. "Perhaps someday I can find another to take your place. Then you can all, finally, move on, hmm?"

    The ghost shook his head. "My duty is eternal, young Redwood. I will be here, even after you and your long legacy are gone. But I appreciate the sentiment."

    The ghost removed his hand, and nodded at the Trainer. "Now, let the sorrow and the grief flow away. You may yet meet your granduncle again. Or you may not. Either way, I do not believe he would want your thoughts of him to hinder you. Remember the kindness he showed you, and go forward knowing that it will never truly leave you. More than most, it has shaped who you have become."

    It took several minutes, but eventually, as the ghost said, the memories of the many, many fun times they'd shared eased the heaviness in his heart. He felt the energy surge again, and noticed that it was indeed quite a large pool. If the ghost was to be believed, it would only grow larger. He hoped he could contain it.

    "So passes another walker on the Path of Air. Move forward, Champion, and remember what you have learned." Alex stood as the ghost spoke, and let his feet touch the ground once more, though if he wished it, he felt he could've floated with ease. Even with his oversized body.

    He bowed, fist to palm. "Thank you, wise ghost. I will keep what you've taught me in my heart."

    The Path of Light

    He moved on to the next room, genuinely curious as to what it would be, now the four basic elements had been covered. He read the letters at the entrance of the next door. 'Path of Light'. That, more than anything, piqued his interest. Learning about Light energy would be invaluable against a man who'd found a way to infuse Shadow into eggs, amongst other things. He stepped quickly past the threshold, into yet another square room. At least, he assumed it was square. The blinding golden light within seared his vision, and he brought the brim of his hat down, though it did little to help.

    Eventually, the light coalesced into a golden colored ghost, who bowed to him in the Unovan style. Arceus' symbol adorned his robes where the elemental symbols had adorned the others, on the shoulders, and the front of the chest. His beard easily went down to his waist, and his ephemeral eyes were kind. "Greetings, you who would be King. Welcome, to the Path of the Light."

    Alex bowed as well. "Thank you. Tell me, what must I do to…wait a minute…I know you!"

    The ghost blinked. "What? You…do?"

    Alex nodded. "We lost much knowledge in the ancient war, but not all. Not the face of the man who advanced our world's technological capabilities by leaps and bounds thank to his scientific research!" He bowed again, lower this time, and in the formal style Jess had made him practice to perfection. "It is an honor to meet you, Professor Aristole."

    The man smirked under his golden beard. It was full and curly, and unlike the other ghosts, he'd apparently kept his hair fairly short. "It is…a relief, I will admit, to know my work has not been forgotten, or unappreciated. Now then, on to the Trial. I've learned much of you, Alexander Redwood, over the course of these trials. I know you have the ability to Teleport, as I once did, and this means you must already possess part of the understanding required to unlock this Chakra."

    Alex nodded, and the ghost continued on, one finger raised, as if he were lecturing. It was, in fact, the exact pose the Aristole Archive in Castelia City had him immortalized in by way of a statue. "Tell me, Tamer. Why do you wish to be King?"

    Alex tilted his head. "Unova needs a leader, and the dragon has deemed that the time to reunite our fractured land has finally come. He's chosen me to lead them. Until I die, or he finds someone better."

    The golden ghost nodded, and looked him over a second time. "And what of when this war ends, hmm? For one way or another, it must surely end. What then will you do with your Kingly title? Pass it off to another?"

    Alex blinked. "I…hadn't really considered that."

    "Consider it now, young defender of men. One must always be mindful of the future, especially a King." The ghost gave him another smile, but there was a glint of light in his eyes that seemed to indicate he was enjoying this.

    Alex thought over what he knew of the man, and then nodded. He'd been famous for teaching, and his students had been a large part of what held Unova together after the empire fell apart. Now, he was likely going to try to educate him, as well. He met the ghost's eyes. "Defender of men?"

    The ghost nodded. "Your name. Were you not aware of its meaning?"

    Alex shook his head. "No…but it's starting to seem appropriate…very well…once this war ends, I suppose I'll do my best to rule. If I turn out to be terrible at it, someone else will be taking this Trial I imagine."

    The ancient Professor chuckled. "And what if you turn out to be great at it? What if, under your rule, this continent flourishes in a manner it hasn't experienced since last the dragon was whole?"

    Alex frowned, slightly. "Speak plainly, Professor. If there's a point you're trying to get at, I'm not seeing it."

    The room shifted to blinding white, and then, as with the others, displayed an image. An image of the world. "Consider our planet." The ghost began, gesturing at the world. Lines appeared across it, and it took him a minute to realize they were the boundaries humans had drawn on their maps. "Many cultures, many peoples, many civilizations. For eons, we have fought each other in the name of one of these things. One culture does not like another. One kingdom invades a neighbor to gain more resources, power, and land." The lines shifted as he spoke, and he blinked at Unova and Fornia. They were the more recently drawn ones. "Over and over the cycle repeats, and when a leader dies, the result is usually a fracturing of everything said leader created. Our last King is no exception to this rule. Nor, I expect, will you be."

    Alex shrugged. "Tao told me the Storm Crown would turn my body immortal, provided I'm not slain by way of a weapon. In fact, he implied disintegration would be the only thing that would stop my regeneration."

    The ghost nodded. "Such is the power of the Storm Crown. What do you know of its history?"

    Alex shrugged again. "Very little. Rayquaza and Tao have never told me much of it."

    The ghost chuckled. "I expect they haven't. If you were aware of it, you might not want to bear it. Yet bear it you must." Alex raised a brow, but the ghost continued on. "Once donned, the Crown cannot be removed. In you, our wise dragon has finally created a human with a lifespan long enough to, perhaps, realize his ultimate dream."

    Alex crossed his arms. "He hasn't mentioned this dream to me."

    Another chuckle. "I expect he wouldn't. The dragon is a private being, always waiting for the right moment to impart knowledge so that he may turn things in his favor, but always remember, his dream is what guides his actions and words. It is the base of his truths, the heart of his ideals."

    "And what dream would that be?" Alex asked.

    The ghostly Professor gestured at the world, and Alex watched. Slowly, the lines began to shift. First, Unova covered the whole continent it had once reigned over. Then, the border stretched south. Then across the ocean. Slowly, to every region, land, and government. The end result was a single, unified empire.

    Alex stared, not quite believing what he was seeing. "Are you telling me the most peaceful being I know is ultimately after world domination?"

    The ghost laughed then, and nodded. "Indeed. Though I imagine that phrase still carries the negative connotations it once did. The dragon confided in me during my life, and told me of the world he envisioned. A utopia, where all of humanity and Pokémon could live and flourish together. But not just on this planet. Across the stars, as well."

    Alex shook his head. "I…I don't believe it. Humanity already tried the interstellar empire thing. It didn't even last a century before the colonies demanded independence, and started a war. That's basic history."

    A subtle change came over the ghost, and Alex had a feeling he was about to finally reach his main point. "This is true. But do you know what happened to those colonies, after their war?"

    Alex shrugged. "I imagine the old governments of Earth eradicated them, their families, and then nuked their planets. We were…a very violent people. Nothing good happened to them."

    The Professor shook his head. "In actual fact, one of my students discovered an ancient document. 'The Mars Accord'. Evidently, all of the colonies, and the Earth, agreed to a ceasefire and to cut all communications and trade. Given what we know of ancient history, this was likely around the time our home planet was rapidly falling into chaos as the environment lost its balance, and pushed humanity to the edge of survival."

    Alex stared at the ghost. "So…what, you expect me to conquer the world, head into space, reunite the old colonies, if they even live still, and then…what? Spread across the universe?"

    "If you manage to achieve world peace on Earth, would you not want that to be shared by our forgotten brethren? What of other sentient species? What if our human methods of unity could help them keep from murdering each other as well? What of primitive races, still growing? What if we could enlighten them, and lift them up to join us in the stars? Is this not an ideal future to pursue?" The ghost eyed him, expectantly.

    "I mean…" Alex thought for a moment. Then a longer moment. A minute. Five. The more he thought about it, the less absurd it seemed. He was, according to beings created by a genuine deity, a human who'd achieved immortality. At the very least, his span of years would be longer than most. He asked himself, for the first time since donning the Storm Crown, what kind of immortal he intended to be. One like Percy? Going around the world, influencing people, entire cultures, with knowledge from old video games? He could, he realized, do more. A lot more.

    Then, his realistic skeptic side kicked in. Humanity would never stop killing each other long enough to get along. There was too much hate. He'd likely be killed by it long before he ever made it to space. "It is a good dream." He said, finally, "But no more than a dream. You are not an idiot, you know how our species acts. Our default is violence. We stab each other in the back the first chance we get, all so that we may climb to heights of power and wealth on the backs of others, and live in absurd comfort for our brief span of years. Humanity will never overcome its greed."

    "Those…" the ghost said, "Are not your words. They are your granduncle's. Realism can be a useful thing to have. Skepticism has it uses as well, but you should know by now, all it takes for the greedy to control our world is good men, like you, with the power to change what we are, standing aside and doing nothing to stop them. Do you intend to spend your years watching humanity devour itself over and over again?"

    "No." Alex said, before he could contemplate the question. He knew he was the kind of person who would act. He'd never hesitated in trying to help before.

    "Will you stand idly by as unworthy men try to achieve this dream before you?" The ghost asked.

    Alex blinked. "What do you mean?"

    "The Storm Crown is a unique item. It was bestowed by the Alpha unto the human he deemed worthy of Taming him." Alex's eyes went wide, but the ghost continued, "Once he died, it passed to another, the Successor, who reveled in its power and brought destruction wherever he went. Others saw this power, and claimed it for themselves. Ninety-nine times it passed through the hands of different humans, each one killing their predecessor just so that they could enjoy the crown's gifts. Eventually, Tao had your Rayquaza take it from them, the way a parent takes a dangerous item from a child. We were not ready to bear it during the Dark Times, but now, here you stand, crowned and tested. Unless my instincts are wrong for the first time in my afterlife, you will pass this Trial."

    Alex stayed silent as the Professor continued. "I ask again, Champion of Unova. What do you intend to do with these gifts of life and power?"

    He sighed. "What can I do that better men have not already tried? I can't erase the borders." He said, gesturing to the Earth. At his words, the lines reappeared. "We're too divided. The Imperium and Eous alone would be impossible. They've been fighting for centuries. There is too much hate. Too many divisions. One person can't remove all of them."

    "The last one to Tame Arceus did." The Professor's words were quiet, and Alex realized his tone had risen above civilized levels. "For a brief time, he managed to unite the world. Would that the Storm Crown had been on his head longer. By the time he donned it, he was already lost to our mortal coil. You, though, have a chance to succeed where he failed."

    Alex opened his mouth to speak, but the ghost cut him off, and gestured at their planet. "You should know this already, you who would be King. These lines…" He gestured at them, and they vanished, revealing the Earth as it was. "They are human inventions. Little more than an illusion. A true King accepts all beings. Something you are more than capable of doing, based on your training so far."

    Seeing it before him drove it home, and he felt a surge of energy in his forehead. His third eye opened, and the world took on a new appearance. He gasped. Lines of energy surrounded and connected the planet, gathering at various points across the globe. Everything was connected, and he realized that unless he did something, humans and Pokémon would continue to walk down the same violent path they always came back to. They'd be trapped in this cycle forever, as they had for the past ten millennia since Arceus departed. They would continue to rise and fall in an endless cycle. Unless someone broke it.

    "I understand." He said, finally. "I will remember your words, Professor. I have to ask, though…N seems like he was far, far better prepared to achieve this…ultimate destiny of our people. He can do things with numbers that make my head throb. How am I supposed to lead without that kind of knowledge?"

    At his words, the Professor frowned. "That knowledge was passed to the one you call Ghetsis by our last King, but this did not ensure Ghetsis in turn prepared the Harmonia heir with everything he learned here. The King is capable of passing it to you, as well. He has the means. Whether he will actually give it, is another question entirely. One that depends on you, and your actions. Now go. Your next challenge awaits."

    The Path of Resonance

    Alex continued on from the chamber, pondering the ancient Professor's words. After that, he genuinely had no idea what awaited him next, and as he approached the next doorway, every bit as identical as the other five had been, he read the words at the top. The 'Path of Resonance'. He blinked. A sound-based trial?

    He supposed he'd find out, and he continued on to the chamber itself. He found yet another square room, and the only thing that made it unique was a spiraling staircase that ascended upwards, with no railing to keep one who ascended it safely on the steps. A familiar orb of gray light hovered by the stairs, and it gave off a twinkling sound as it bobbed in the air, and then ascended upwards.

    Alex followed, and soon realized the stairs did not require a railing. They were surrounded on all sides by rock once they reached the ceiling. He kept climbing, eventually floating as the monotony of climbing steps was straining even his legs, made strong by countless hours of training and travel.

    Finally, he came to a much larger room, and as he glanced at the floor, he realized it was the very room he'd entered through when he'd first come to the ruins. It had changed, though. The maze of walls had sunk into the floor, and a staircase had appeared in the center, not far from the one he'd just left.

    The gray ghost manifested before the stairs, and he was greeted not by a man or woman, but by a mask, plain and unreadable. The figure's robes bore a G-clef on the chest and shoulders, and said robes did much to hide the shape of the ghost.

    As it spoke, Alex's usual method of determining gender failed, as it had two voices, and they blended together perfectly. "Welcome, you who would be King. You have already unlocked your Voice's power, so for this Trial, you shall aid me in setting the stage for your final tests."

    Alex gave a short bow to the figure. "I am at your service."

    The ghost seemed to chuckle, and its voice switched to the Dragon Tongue. "A true King can stir the hearts of their people with their Words. A true King does not speak lies, and refrains from divisive speech. This is something you have not always succeeded with, and even now, your Voice is being twisted, Dragonborn."

    Alex blinked, but before he could ask how, the chamber was alight with Pravus' voice, crowing to his followers about how he'd captured 'hard evidence' of the Unovan Champion's supposed bigotry. Said evidence was, quite obviously, pieced together from different recordings but he supposed with enough fear and delusion, one could believe it was genuine.

    The ghost's mask shifted to a sly, smirking expression as it watched him fidget uncomfortably. "Is your skill at Tinvaak so weak that you will let it be turned by a machine?"


    The Word reverberated through the chamber, and the ghost shuddered visibly. "Interesting…the Storm Voice has grown strong within you, who would be King…unleash it! Raise this ancient ruin, this seat of our people's ancient power, and show your people the strength of your Voice!"

    Alex looked around the room, but saw no other path forward. He only hoped the raising of this structure didn't accidentally hurt anyone. He let his Su'um build, and then, began to speak. As he did, he felt the newly gathered energy in his body flow through his throat, and his Words seemed stronger than they ever had before.

    "Alok, hil do faal Lokoltei.

    (Rise, heart of the Empire.)

    Naal dii Zul dreh hi daal wah lein. Alok.

    (By my Voice do you return to the world. Rise.)

    Naal dii Su'um fen faal Dovah Lokoltei daal. Alok.

    (By my Breath will the Dragon Empire return. Rise.)

    Naal dii Fen dreh faal Dovah Krund daasin ont zos. Alok.

    (By my Will does the Dragon Throne surface once more. Rise.)

    Aal nunon bahlaan praal voknau nii."

    (May only the worthy sit upon it.)

    The ghost eyed him as he spoke, head tilting at his choice of words. The mask shifted to a smile though, so he assumed that was a good thing. It took a moment for the reverberating Words to stop echoing in the chamber, but as they did, the entire room began to shine, and the ghost gave a bow as the entire structure rumbled, and did as it was commanded.

    "You have mastered the ancient tongue. Normally, this part of the Trial would take days. I have never seen it finished so quickly." The ghost bowed. "Ascend to the final challenge, you who would be King. Rise…or die." The figure vanished then with a genuinely disturbing giggle, and Alex headed towards the staircase to the top, even as the building continued to shake of millennia of silt and dirt build-up. It said much of his Voice that it continued to rise, despite the metric tons of weight upon it. Not even Tao's tower had been so deeply buried, but then, nobody had wanted to bury the Dragonspiral.

    The last King Harmonia had not been a popular man, once his sons and grandsons tore their capital, and their dragon, apart with genuinely senseless war for centuries.

    The Path of Battle

    The stairs led up to another level, and seemed to continue. Alex would have gone straight up, had something not caught his Trainer's eye. A familiar shape, a battlefield, and an opponent upon it. Their eyes met, and Alex stopped ascending. It was too late to back off now. He didn't need a sign to guess what kind of Trial this would be. His team, thus far watching his progress, stirred from their earned rest, ready to battle. Their Trainer's awakening power had revitalized them, and the surging energy had only made them all eager to prove their worth. Even the young ones.

    The palace structure stopped shaking by the time Alex reached his side of the field. His opponent was another ghost, one Alex hadn't been able to make out clearly before. Now, he knew why. An appearance like this would've distracted him. She was clad as he was, in robes from Tao's tower, in the same pattern of white and black. Her hair was as black and curly as his, though it was longer. Even her eyes were blue, and intense, like a Luxray's. The woman smirked at him. "Hello there. Care to battle?"

    Alex decided to take the advantage. If this ghost, presumably some sort of shape changer, was going to mock him by gender-bending his own appearance, he was going to make use of the absurdity. "Ladies first."

    The ghost chuckled, and as she did, her skin turned pale white, and the rest of her became equal parts black. The most noticeable change was her eyes, unnerving, and devoid of pupils. "So be it. One on one...no substitutions. Best of three." She called out a Pokémon then, and it coalesced in a flash of green. A Tropius appeared, and he found his hand drawn on instinct to Gel's ball. He paused, as he saw the smirk on his opponent's face. He had a feeling then, that she knew exactly what was on his team, and what was needed to counter it. The Tropius was a lure, judging by how strong it was. It had been trained, but not nearly as thoroughly as his team.

    He sent Gel out then, and nodded at the ice type, as they joined their minds. Alex shivered, but he could endure the close contact for this. "If you feel the urge this time, my friend, do not repress it. The time has come. Give it all you have."

    The white and blue Amaura gave a battle cry, and the air around the field turned cold. The Tropius fidgeted in discomfort. "Sunny Day!" The long-necked grass type, no doubt a distant genetic relation to the Amaurus before it, raised its head high in the room, and suddenly, heat filled the field. It felt not entirely unlike Fornia had, during the daytime hours of the summer.

    That, was what Gelauros had trained in. He breathed deep, and exhaled frost, keeping his core as cold as he needed. The Amaurus had a feeling he knew what was coming next. Against orders, he fired an Ice Beam at the Solar Beam the Tropius shot towards him, and the two moves canceled out in an explosion of energy.

    The two Pokémon fired another series of beams, each one colliding with the other, and Alex found himself smirking. The ghosts knew what was on his team, but they hadn't accounted for Gel not having the rock typing that evidently even their era had been unable to remove entirely. In short, they were not as omnipotent as they appeared. He gave Gel the plan then, and the Amaura sighed, but agreed it would be worth it.

    The Tropius prepared another Solar Beam, and this time Gel took the hit as he leapt into the air, and found a shot on this particular opponent's weak spot. For Tropius, it was usually between their wings, or their fruit. Either would do. The blast from the solar beam faded, leaving the white skin of the Amaura smoking with heat, but otherwise, he seemed unharmed. Barely inconvenienced.

    The little mouth opened, and a powerful orb of ice formed within it. With pinpoint accuracy, a thin beam of ice slammed into the Tropius, and froze it solid. Given how much damage it had done, the battle was over. Gel began to glow as he ascended to his adult phase, and grew larger, taller, Alex guessed, than even his kin back at the lab. He pulled out the Pokédex, and it listed his height at an impressive nine feet, five inches. Growth patterns suggested he'd max out at twelve, when he'd aged a bit.

    The air around them, despite the move from Tropius that yet lingered, was freezing cold. Especially on Alex's side of the field. He gave Gel the affectionate scratch he was looking for, and then recalled the tall Aurorus, who'd retained his coloring of pure white, and deep blue.

    Next up came a Feraligator, and Alex answered with Hydrus, rather than his Torterra, to the evident surprise of his opponent. Within moments, the two Pokémon mega evolved. Having not seen a Feraligator ascend before, both he and Hydrus took it in. It was most comfortable on all fours now, and seemed to have reversed along its evolutionary path, rather than gone forward.

    Now part water, part rock, the light blue plates of armor covered the Pokémon's form completely, but the muscle beneath suggested the Mega Feraligator could still move rather quickly despite them. Hydrus charged forward, only to, in the blink of an eye, find both hands occupied and wounded as the bulging arms struggled to keep the predator's deadly jaws from crunching shut. They had barely seen it move, and Hydrus had relied more on instinct than battle technique to avoid being seriously chomped.

    Hydrus glanced at his Trainer, and Alex nodded. The Swampert focused then, as Pokémon and Trainer glowed a deep blue, and an aura of power settled over his Mega Form. Hydrus wrenched the jaws open with sudden strength, and then rotated in place, tossing the Feraligator into the nearest wall with a seismic impact. With a new unfamiliar weakness to fighting moves, the gator winced in pain, long enough for the aura-covered form of the Swampert to appear behind him as he struggled to stand.

    Hydrus eyes shone an ominous blue as the bulky mudfish ended the match with one swift, merciless punch.

    Alex flashed the victory sign. "Best of three. What am I unlocking next?"

    The black and white figure turned into a blur of gray then, vaguely in the shape of a humanoid. A mouth appeared on the head, but only when it spoke. It was unnerving to watch it move as the ghost spoke. "This Trial is not for a Chakra. The others do not care for me, because I represent something they all detest. Combat. Conflict. And the honor inherent to battling in this world. If they had their way, I would simply not exist, but they cannot deny our species' will to compete. This is the drive I test in all applicants. Tell me, you who would be King, are they right? Would our world be less prone to violence if battling for sport was not so commonplace?"

    Alex smirked. Unovans in particular had already had this dilemma before, not surprisingly, from N. "I would argue that because everyone, more or less, knows how to battle, the world is less...unfair. Those who are otherwise weak can become strong with the right partner. They don't need to sit idly by, trampled by those who are stronger. They have a chance to resist, and it is that very chance that dissuades so many would-be criminals."

    "And what of Trainers like you? Do you not crush all who oppose you? I know your record, you know. Not bad at all. But to an average Trainer, they have a better experience not facing you at all. Defeat stings." The ghost paused, which was the only way Alex knew it was time for a response. There was no face to read, which was also unnerving.

    "Defeat does sting...but I generally try to leave those I beat with some sort of wisdom. If they want it. If they don't ask, I don't push it on them." He shrugged. "Sometimes a reality check is useful. I've needed one more than once, and I've lost as well. I know exactly where my strength is, more or less, I know my limits, and how to surpass them...though I expect I'll have to re-evaluate them once I'm out of here."

    The strange mouth smirked. "Do not assume you will get out so easily...our King is not likely to surrender his family's legacy."

    Alex glanced towards the stairs then, "We will see about that." He turned back to the ghost. "To answer your question, Trainers like me have an obligation to not run around crushing the hopes and dreams of whoever we meet. Obviously, sometimes only a battle from someone on their level is the only thing that can set them straight. Those are the kind of Trainers I enjoy beating the most. They're always a challenge."

    The ghost-smirk widened. "You understand, then, the responsibility of power. Intriguing. If only there was an organization in this world that could monitor and keep such Trainers in check."

    Alex smirked back at the ghost. "If only." He headed for the stairs then, more than ready to finally pass this test, and start turning the tide of this conflict.

    The Path of the King

    Alex glanced briefly at the words above the door to this, the final challenge. He knew he should've felt tired, but seven pools of energy within his large form had been awakened, and now flowed freely. They demanded release, though he knew not what would occur when and if they were finally freed.

    He stepped into the final chamber, and knew from his map that it was where Hilda had first found the Relic Crown. Evidently, that had not been the real one. The ancient King from earlier stood before him now, crownless. He gripped the ethereal crown with his right hand, and as Alex eyed it, it became corporeal.

    "So. You've actually made it." The ancient King gestured at the walls of the room, and they lowered, revealing the topmost room of the ancient ruins for what it was. The ancient lighthouse of Unova's eastern coast, once regarded as one of the Wonders of the ancient world, and one thought lost to war. Four pillars supported the crest of the ruins, and as the King gestured again, blinding light formed where the walls once stood.

    "A true King must always be mindful of how their actions can, and will, affect the world at large. They see the consequences of said actions, and with that sight, are able to guide their people towards the path they deem worth following." The ghost had his back to Alex, but then, he turned, and the two locked their gazes. "A true King remains detached, impartial, and chooses what he believes to be the right course of action. This is his duty. His curse."

    Alex met the ghost's eyes evenly. "I accept the burden."

    The ghost chuckled. "Do you? Heavy is the head that wears the crown. You will never be rid of it. As long as you live, and you will live for a very, very long time, Redwood, you will be bound to Unova in ways you cannot possibly understand. Not yet, anyways."

    Alex let his smirk play across his normally impassive face. "I accept the burden."

    The King's sad eyes narrowed. "A true King inspires hope. In himself. In the future. Do you have any comprehension of what that means? Do you have any idea of what awaits you, once you take this crown?"

    Before he knew it, Alex was standing directly before the old man. He could read every line on his face. His psychic gaze was telling him far more than ever before. Each of the ghosts had possessed dual typing, not surprising, given who must have trained them, and the King was no exception. Ghost and psychic. He could tell this specter of a bygone age longed for his own heir to be here, standing before him, but that was simply not how events had unfolded.

    "I accept the burden."

    With those words, the ancient King sighed, and the crown vanished from his hand. His ghostly form faded into nothingness as he whispered his final words. "Then may you carry it better than we did. For Unova."

    Alex bowed again. "For Unova." As he straightened, he felt the gathered power surge once more, rising high into the sky where it touched...something. The normally blue aura of his psychic energy shifted to gold, and his power formed in a familiar shape atop his head. The crown reappeared, and thunder boomed while lightning cracked the sky outside the now risen palace.

    Eight bolts of plasma arced down from the heavens, and struck the glowing chamber, and its sole occupant. The crown pulsed with power, as the incorporeal Storm Crown merged with the corporeal vessel that could contain its awesome power. A circular opening appeared in the top of the room, and Alex ascended through it, lifting his form easily. He didn't even notice the weight of his large build anymore. Indeed, as the energy flowed freely through his body, his eyes saw what he imagined N must see regularly. Numbers that would have made his head spin but a few hours earlier. Patterns. Shapes. Paths half seen, and yet still very much there. It would take time to be able to read them properly.

    Then, he looked down, and his good mood shifted to one of unease. Undella Town was thoroughly wrecked. The Marine Tube had shattered, and now only a small salty lake, directly south of the upturned town, was what remained of the beautiful bay that had once drawn crowds of rich tourists. The pyramidal structure that was the Dragon Palace rested atop a newly risen land mass, and as golden light shone through it from the inside out, the weathered stone renewed.

    Ancient carvings made themselves clear again, and the damage of eons of water flow faded before the energy surging through the building. Seven orbs of light joined him in the air above the palace, forming into the various ghosts he'd seen below.

    For your service, a second life I grant. Use it well.

    A quick glance at the Sages told Alex that they had not, in fact, expected the hauntingly familiar tone of pure power that came from the heavens at that moment. Each of their multicolored forms shone bright with blinding gold light, and in the space of an eye blink, the seven of them were transported to the main entrance of the palace, now once more revealed and made whole. A pair of dragons were carved into both sides of it, one black, one white, and both reminiscent of the Original they'd no doubt been made to resemble.

    Alex looked again at the Sages, and smirked. Each now once more possessed a body, though their skin tone remained the same color their ghostly forms had been. Evidently their 'service' would continue, even after these new forms expired. But for now, the pleasures of corporeal existence were theirs to once more enjoy.

    As one, they bowed towards him in Unovan fashion, and with one voice said, "All hail the return of the King!" A roar followed their words, and Alex glanced up to see a familiar dragon, arcing through the sky. Tao smiled down at them, and then, went sailing through the air as a purple colored Outrage attack slammed into his left side, catching him completely off guard. Alex followed the trail of the beam, and spied a familiar Noivern, with a familiar Trainer on its back, head once more attached. Pravus' Hand of Death. Below him, running quickly over the mountains in the distance, he made out figures garbed entirely in black armored suits, their features covered by helmets with T-shaped visors.

  9. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 26: The Fornian Blitz

    Unova University, Main Lab – Unova Region

    "Work, damn you." Eric Redwood muttered to himself as the fabrication machine, which usually produced Pokéballs, attempted to create yet another plasma sword hilt.

    The screen before him flashed green, all the components were in place, but once more it all shifted to red, and gave an error message. The probability of the finished product exploding on ignition had lowered by three percent, but unfortunately the whole number remained in the low eighties. An almost assured malfunction. Unacceptable for war.

    The younger Redwood sighed, and ran the faulty blade through the machine dedicated to deconstructing the parts, and it spat them back out in small reusable piles. The rest of his team had long since passed out, and the sun was rising on a new day. He knew his brother would likely be done soon, one way or another, and he was determined to not be completely outshone.

    A loud, powerful, and yet somehow calming mental baritone thundered in his skull, "How goes the work?"

    Eric didn't need to ask who or what was speaking, as this was at least the eighth time the Dragon God of his homeland had asked. All night he'd been putting off giving up completely, but he was at his limit now. The last configuration had failed.

    He knew it was no coincidence that Tao had reached out to him moments later. His understanding of focusing the power of Chargestones had helped reduce the probability of failure from the ninety-nine percent that had demoralized his team into mental exhaustion after almost a day of consistent failure to create a suitable hilt.

    Beyond that though, the dragon's knowledge ended. Eric responded in his head, somewhat familiar with it by now. He could almost vaguely sense the same feeling he had when in the dragon's presence, but in his head.

    It was a strange feeling, and he had no idea how his brother had gotten used to it so quickly. It was almost too calm. "I'm out of ideas, great Dragon. The Tesla lenses are converting plasma fine, and the crystals can handle the energy flow. The insulators keep overheating though, and we simply don't have the kind of heat sink necessary to handle focused plasma. The emitters are fine, theoretically, but with such limited insulators we haven't really been able to test them. As it stands, they'll blow apart in our hand after roughly five seconds. The containment field has the same heat problem."

    The dragon seemed to rumble in his head, a noise he'd come to associate with pondering. "I think I know how to give you some aid. Only one other, that I know of, has wielded a weapon like this before."

    Eric waited patiently, but Tao remained silent. Five minutes passed. Then ten. Eric began to drift off, and soon, he'd joined the rest of his team in deep slumber. They were all awoken by a thunderous bampf from the back of the lab, near Gelauros' old pen. Eric groggily made his way towards the noise, and his brow rose to Spockian heights as he beheld the smoking form of the figure that had appeared in their lab.

    He was a thin man, skin as pale as snow, which almost matched his hair. That, however, was tinged with the golden color of a pale blonde. His clothes were a strange mix of white, cyan, and whitish-gold, and as he rose from the three-point stance he'd landed in, he raised a fist in the air.

    "You'll pay for that, you pompous lizard! Bloody dragon ty-" His words paused, as he saw the five nerds standing before him, half asleep. "Hmm. So you're the 'group of experts' trying to cash in on my expertise, eh?" His eyes settled on Eric. "You must be the little brother. He wasn't kidding when he said you were total opposites. Same eyes, though."

    The man sighed, then glanced skyward. "Fine. But you owe me, Dragon. You, and your whelp. Twice now I've had to get involved in his affairs." He paused, as Tao presumably responded. A genuine smile came over the man's features. "Now that is the kind of gratitude I deserve! Very well." His gaze turned back to the Brain Trust, and he gave a flourishing bow. "Percival von Guterstein Velhavende Locuples the Third, at your service." He grinned up at them, golden eyes alight with mischief and maybe a hint of madness. "But you can call me-"

    "Percy." Eric said, breaking the 'spell' the charismatic figure had over them, that had kept them silent through his shenanigans. He gave a bow in the Unovan style, and the other members of the Brain Trust did the same.

    Alex had, in recounting his frankly ridiculous trip to Norstad involving demigods and giant dragons, mentioned the aid and irritation the 'fairy king' had given them. He'd also mentioned that he was Xerneas' Tamer. That likely meant that he was immortal. Eric only knew of one other such Trainer, blessed by the Legendary hind's Kalosian counterpart, the once more enthroned King AZ.

    Percy's unsettling grin focused on Eric, and the younger Redwood again wondered how his brother kept meeting such ancient beings. And befriending them. "So, my fame runs before me. Alright little Redwood, show me what you have so far, and I'll make it work."

    Eric's brow rose higher. "Just like that?"

    Percy nodded. "I am now extremely invested in getting the lizard's minions properly outfitted, though, if you ask me, you're all doomed. Pravus' troops carry mass-produced weapons that are essentially advanced, portable versions of what they used to keep all of Unova from retrieving the One Dragon, in the middle of New Tork City. Pravus may be madder than a hatter, but he's been preparing for this. By the time Unova is ready, assuming you get even that far, you'll be in for a long, bloody, war."

    Eric pushed his glasses up with one finger, and let the fluorescent lighting hide his eyes. "With respect, 'Fairy King', we're not going to lay down and let him conquer us. This is Unova. We bow only to One. Before we're through, the Fornians will remember why."

    Percy's grin widened. "Even if that One is your brother?"

    Eric flinched, but nodded again. "If even half of what he told me about Norstad is true, he can…handle it. With the Dragon's help."

    Percy chuckled softly. "Fighting spirit in the face of hopeless odds. I like it."

    By now, they'd walked over to the machine responsible solely for testing the components that would make up the blades. Percy's golden eyes flew over the data, and he smirked. "Having heat trouble, hmm? I ran into a similar problem. And Chargestones? Interesting choice...but it works. I guess. If you like blue."

    A tired looking Frankie yawned, and joined the two, followed by the others. "Can you fix it?"

    Percy's grin returned. "Do Ursaring defecate in forests? I have a solution, little nerd, but you're not going to like it."

    The group looked at him expectantly, and he continued. "There exists on this planet a type of metal suitable for handling high powered currents of energy. It's actually quite plentiful...if you know where to look."

    Eric spoke up then. "And where, exactly, would we find this metal?"

    Percy chuckled. "On this continent? Only one source exists, and Caleb Pravus has been...thorough... in keeping it all for himself. Where do you think he got so much for Sacreus' bunker city? His troop's armor and weapons? Where do you think all that ore the Church has been mining goes?" The five tired nerds stared at the Fairy King, too tired to deal with this kind of high-energy pep at the break of dawn.

    Percy raised a finger, and gave his best impression of a Professor. "There exists a special Pokémon, in some parts of the world, worshiped since ancient times for giving humanity the means to rebuild their towers that scrape the sky. On this continent, they exist only in one place, and any others that are discovered, or that manage to escape, are rounded up by the Prophet's own Hands."

    Eric pinched the bridge of his nose. "Muk."

    They'd all heard the stories, of course. Of the supposed living fields of metal that the Arcean Church used to build their infrastructure so quickly. Naturally, such absurdities were common amongst the many conspiracy theories made by those who claimed to have successfully left the Church, and were convinced that they needed to 'spread the truth'. The problem, was that the Church had countered them by releasing pretend conspiracists, until any and all rumor involving them was seen as most likely baseless. They'd buried the truth behind nonsense. It was brilliant, really.

    The Church had, of course, denied the existence of such efforts, or people making them. Now though, much of what had once been considered 'hate speech' from 'disgruntled thieves, unworthy of the Church' now rang with an unnerving air of truth.

    Percy gave a dark chuckle. "The word came from the Church's own members. At Unova's peril, you all ignored it. I mean, even I knew about the metal fields, and I've been locked in a tower for thousands of years." He glanced at the main monitor, and smirked. "Here. Pictures will do better than words. You lot have at least one satellite, aye?"

    "Yes..." Eric said, recalling how Alex had spoken of the reason Percy had been in his tower. "But they don't like us using it..."

    Percy immediately began typing commands into the console, grinning like a madman. "Please. They won't even know I was in here." The screen flashed, as he easily bypassed the passwords both for the computer, and control of the satellite. Usually used by students whose goal was to one day report the weather with some accuracy, it didn't have the best zooming-in capabilities, but Percy made do.

    The screen lit up with the University's campus, and then moved thousands of miles in the space of a few seconds. They gasped, as they saw Fornia, and the thin man swore in a language that none of them knew. "Draaf. I knew it was bad, but…" Fornia was, in a word, on fire. The entire northern part of the region now burned, with the exception of a few small patches of green, due to water Pokémon no doubt.

    The problem, was that most of the sky was now covered in smoke, for the winds favored Pravus' plan, and were blowing in a southern and eastern direction. They were winter winds, and they had come early this year. Once over the Stoney Mountains, the air currents brought it all east, in an ever-encroaching blanket of ash-filled darkness. The cloud avoided the populated areas of the regions under Arcean control, namely the cities, but as it moved ever eastward it would, eventually, cover Unova as well.

    After zooming in through the ash clouds, they witnessed a scene straight out of one of old Earth's fairytales. It looked, for all intents and purposes, like a scene from tales of Armageddon, or Ragnarok. Fire, smoke, entire herds of local Pokémon heading in whatever direction they thought would provide safety. Too many hadn't escaped the flames, but thankfully, the region's many ground types seemed to be capable of extinguishing the wounded, and clearing temporary paths in the flames.

    "Enough." Eric finally managed, after noticing the looks on the faces of his team. Those images would likely haunt them, but as Percy shifted the camera, a new horror covered the screen. Fornia's southernmost peninsula, to the west of their half of Texico, was mostly desert and scrub.

    The only city of note that far south was Arcino, but with their aerial view, they spotted something else, silver against the reddish brown of the ground. Percy zoomed in, and again, the group gasped.

    While a relatively new discovery, the Hex Nut Pokémon had exploded in popularity…on other continents. Unovans, amongst others, had eagerly waited for more to appear in their regions after their discovery in Alola, and yet, very few had. Within a few years, the Meltan had all seemingly vanished completely, even from the islands. Now, from an aerial view, they saw where they'd all wound up.

    Meltan had a tendency to explode in population, and their evolution was, in some places, considered a mythical Pokémon. The large silver pools, visible from orbit, appeared to be filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of the species, all forced together as molten ooze, stuffed in giant craters upon the ground. Unable to form singular bodies, the nuts that passed for their heads floated helplessly in the pools.

    Percy's tone was grim. "This, is where the Arceans get their metal from. I have it on good authority that, through means I'll leave you all to imagine, they've managed to make the Melmetal produce something much stronger than iron. In my day, such a thing was accomplished by a bond with a Tamer, and an appropriate diet. They just toss in the ore, and these pools produce a building material on par with ceracrete."

    David spoke up then, looking just as pale and disturbed as the other four. "S-so how are we supposed to get what we need?"

    Percy chuckled. "Leave that to the professionals." He set the satellite back to its original position, and left as tracelessly as he'd entered, even going as far as deleting the logs of the machine's use and movement. He turned then, to the fabrication machine, and examined the in-progress schematic. "I'll handle it, at any rate, but first…let's adjust this…"

    His fingers flew over the keyboard, and the other five watched, somewhat amazed, as the strange man with the fancy clothes and hat reduced the percentage of failure upon completion to acceptable parameters. Once they had the materials they needed. "The holy lizard wants you five focused on armor, now. The east has great Trainers, and strong Pokémon, but they keep dying because their opponents are far better equipped. Solve that, while I get your metal."

    "And how do we do that?" One of the nerds asked.

    Percy chuckled again. "Speak with Rayquaza. The older one…er, you may know it as the 'eastern one' as well. He's the one in charge of supplying your…materials. Get to it!"

    Percy gave another flourish with his hat as he bowed, and then vanished with a flash of energy the five had come to associate with those who could Teleport. "Bloody psychics…" Eric muttered, still eyeing the schematic, and what changes had been made. He couldn't argue with the fact that Percy was either brilliant, or knew what he was doing. Or both. He glanced at the others. "You heard him. Back to work. I'm going to take a nap."

    The Dragon Emperor's Palace – Unova Region

    Tao, thankfully, was not so weak as to go down from one Outrage attack. His scales were scorched, but he managed to right himself over the ruined, empty buildings of Undella, only to find that the focus of his awakened fury was already going claw-to-claw with Shruikan, in a rematch both had evidently wanted. A Tyranitar and the Swampert called Hydrus were engaged as well, trading titanic punches. Both were surrounded in a shield of aura, but the Tyranitar's was blackish purple, and shocked to the touch. Thankfully, Hydrus was part ground type, but it still stung with every hit.

    Alex had been surrounded by seven multicolored lights once the mega evolved Noivern had struck Tao. His team had popped free on their own, their power surging as their Trainer's did. He split his mental focus with ease, and helped each of them fight simultaneously as they moved to engage the Hand's team, including his younger members, who had teamed up, and taken on a group of black clad Arceans that had made their way onto the remnants of the beach.

    He'd worried, for a moment, until he sensed Ictus. Evidently the surge of power, and fresh victory with Fell Stinger, had been enough for the crimson scorpion to evolve. Between him, Gelauros, and Cenomons, they could handle things.

    Alex's eyes were still burning with golden light, and the Sages each withdrew a crystalline spherical 'Pokéball' that was evidently common to their era three millennia past. They had called out their revived partners once the Arceans had begun charging the palace. Evidently, they were here for the new 'Dragon Emperor', but capturing the newly risen seat of the Empire would deal a telling blow to morale.

    The nearby Trainers perched on the cliffs above Undella, who'd sensibly hauled ass once the ground started shaking, were now engaged as well. From seemingly nowhere, the Hand had appeared with a small army of elite Trainers. Blaze joined Shruikan in the sky, and the three dragons cartwheeled over the former bay, lighting the area up with their flames and beams of energy.

    The Seven Sage's Pokémon went forth to help as well, only to be met by three figures who appeared seemingly out of nowhere, in the blink of an eye. Evidently, the Shadow Triad had found new employers.

    Lux spoke then, eyes widening at what he sensed. "Go to the dragon! Merge your power with his. That will…handle this." The ghost flitted back into the hilt, which Alex then ignited, as he sailed through the air towards the One Dragon.

    The Hand of Death chuckled, appearing before him from seemingly nowhere. Alex shifted in mid-air, and zipped past him, but he followed behind, shouting, "What is it with you, and running from Battle? I bet N never turned his back to his enemies so frequently!"

    Alex ignored the obvious goading, meant only to distract him from uniting with the dragon. He was Tao's Tamer, and it was time Fornia understood exactly what that meant. It was a lesson Unova had learned long ago, and it was one that had stuck in their cultural psyche.

    Spiraling through the air towards Alex, the two met, and the human landed atop his icy crest, that made up his horns, and formed a ridge down his back. Ice swirled up around his shoes, holding him in place. The dragon snarled, glaring at the sky. "We're too low…"

    Alex was busy focusing on his plasma sword, as the base opened to admit his Dragonium crystal, when an ear-splitting screech tore through the sky. His focus was broken. There was power in that cry, that could only have been a Hyper Voice. From above the clouds gathered by the lightning that had struck the still-glowing lighthouse atop the palace, a figure straight from pre-history appeared.

    Where the east coast had Tao, the western coast had, quite by accident, found a Legendary Guardian of their own, in the distant past. Legends said that the Pokémon known only as Ignavis had been the product of 'dark sorcerers' in the western regions, created by infusing Shadow into a Moltres egg via ancient and lost magical arts from another region. The stories claimed that Tao had slain the bird after it scorched half the Empire, but evidently, it had risen again.

    Where once flames of red, orange and white had covered the wings, purple now dominated. Alex could see the resemblance to Moltres in the gold and red feathers, now tainted with blackish purple, but this creature was now far beyond that species and seemed more similar in appearance to the Galarian variant of the Legendary bird, cursed to an existence of constant and painful rebirth if the legends were true. Evidently, Tao had clashed with the beast many times, over the centuries. The enormous bird's blue eyes were, even from this distance, filled with pain. The dark form of the Hand of Death appeared atop the bird's head, and he guided it towards the pair. It let out a shriek of rage as it spotted Tao, and once more, the dragon and the firebird dueled in the sky.

    Ice formed in a protective block around Alex as he knelt low to avoid the flaming, razor sharp beak of the Legendary bird. "Focus on empowering the crystal." Tao's voice came, calm as ever, even though he currently was whirling and slashing about in the clouds so quickly Alex could hardly follow his spiraling movements. "It will take much for me to achieve the next level."

    Alex smirked. He'd figured as much. He began chanting low, in the dragon tongue, hilt grasped with both hands as dark fire met the three elements at the dragon's command just beyond his icy protection. Finally, he felt Lux give him the signal. It was ready.

    His eyes shifted back to blue, though he hardly noticed, as he raised the hilt, ignited it, and sliced through his shield. Tao had just forced the Shadow-infused bird back with a torrent of fire that sparkled with blue electricity, and the hilt flared as the One Dragon's Tamer finished his incantation, and activated the power with a final Shout. "Dovah Envok!"

    The Light energy that had been surging through him now transferred into the Original Dragon though his sword's hilt, and his form turned pure white as the infinite power of the Alpha remade him. A second pair of wings jutted out from above his hind legs, looking more akin to Reshiram's than Zekrom's. An aura of brilliant gold formed around Tao's altered form, which was significantly larger in size, at almost a hundred and fifty feet in length. His facial tendrils now constantly sparked, and a pair of blue flames that looked suspiciously like eyebrows now adorned the dragon's scaly brow.

    The most notable change however, aside from a noticeable increase in size, was his tail. Where before it had resembled a lizard's save for the icy crest on the end, it now was entirely encased in sparking ice, and took the shape of a wicked looking serpent-like appendage that resembled a tail with the sharp head of a lance. Despite the ice, it seemed to move as fluidly as his regular form's appendage. His wings were covered on their edges with icy spikes, and his claws were now much the same as the crest running down his back, in that they too burned with fire.

    Tao gave a roar that echoed across the former bay, now embroiled in a proper skirmish. That got everyone's attention, and many paused to stare in awe at the dragon above them. The Unovans cheered, and the tide began to turn as Tao's tail rearranged the ice surrounding it, momentarily obscuring the deadly weapon that was the tip as a mix of Zekrom and Reshiram's tails formed around the serpentine appendage, and roared like a rocket engine, sending the dragon and his Tamer straight towards the dark bird at unmatchable speed.

    Like Alex, Pravus' Hand had come prepared, and while each of their teams were battling, the two of them were yet perched atop their Legendary partners. That is, until a powerful Air Slash, which was also somehow sporting dark purple flames, slammed into the dragon's head as he charged, and sent his Trainer plummeting.

    Tao focused on fighting the dark phoenix, as he assumed his human would be fine. He'd survived the Trials after all, and had successfully walked each path. He could handle the corpse-being that, at that very moment, followed the Champion through the air, down into the forests just south of Undella. The two massive Pokémon had drifted further west, as they clashed, and there was no doubt that Nimbasa was getting quite a show.

    Alex managed to halt his fall, stopping his momentum at the last second, and then landing gently. The Hand of Death had no such respect for their terrain. He came hurtling down, and his landing left a crater within the small, wooded clearing they'd found. There was a small river just behind it, that sounded like it connected to a waterfall of some description not far from them.

    Finally down to just his sword, but still, even then, aiding his team in their own respective battles, Alex ignited the blade once more, as he connected with his Rotom, and fell into his usual fighting stance. He had no doubt the Hand had orders to take him alive. Though he imagined dead would work just as well.

    The man gave a dark chuckle, and black energy swirled in his palms, coalescing into a deadly, and admittedly cool looking pair of scythes that curved up along each of the man's arms perfectly. Fighting him in melee combat would be unwise, it seemed. "Come quietly, Redwood…I don't want to be in this backwater region when the army gets here. The Blitz has already begun. It's not going to be pretty…but you were all given plenty of time to join us."

    Alex gave the plasma sword a twirl as he shifted his stance, and the lower end of it sprang to life as well. The new blade remained the same black and white color, but an aura of draconic energy surrounded the entire weapon as Lux drew on the crystal still within the hilt. "We were never going to join your cult…not by force. We value our freedoms too much on this side of the continent."

    "Exactly…" One of the dark blades sliced towards him, but it seemed to be moving in slow motion to his new, strange vision, and he dodged it with ease. Alex chalked it up to the recent power-increase, and let the energy of the universe flow through his eight opened chakra points. His eyes shifted to dark blue as he reached for the energy, and formed an aura shield of dragon and psychic typing over his form. Not unlike the ones most of his team were slowly getting the hang of controlling. "You all value your pointless freedoms far too much…you have no structure, no goals, your governments are weak, and your Trainers…leave much to be desired."

    Alex decided to strike then, or try to, only to find that the strange black metal repelled his dual-bladed sword. So far, it was the only thing it hadn't cut clean through. Their exchange of blows occurred faster than normal eyes could follow, but in the end, Alex only managed a small singe mark on the man's thigh. It healed before his eyes, and he grimaced.

    The Hand found it amusing, though. "Cut me as much as you like…it will make no difference. I'm just toying with you." Another furious exchange of blows came then, and the truth of the Hand's words became evident as Alex realized who the better fighter was.

    He forced himself to smirk, despite the increasingly dire circumstances. "I had a feeling you were holding back…time to stop playing around, then." Though his words were confident, the bravado was empty, as yet another lightning fast exchange resulted in yet another stalemate. He couldn't break the man's guard, but neither did he seem able to get through his own as easily as he claimed.

    The Hand chuckled. "If that's the best you've got, we started this war early for nothing."

    "You haven't even seen a glimpse of what I have in store for your Prophet…and I'm not expending it on you." Alex's smirk widened, and the Hand's face went cold, neutral, unreadable.

    "Then you shall die."

    The blows came faster then, and the man assaulted Alex's dual-bladed guard with the relentless power only undeath could give. He was a corpse. He would keep fighting long after Redwood was exhausted. For his part, Alex tried every combination of moves he could, but it was never enough. No shift in fighting style worked, and he could barely keep the incoming blows from cutting him.

    The Hand's scythes dripped with crimson, and the pale man licked one. His eyes widened, slightly. "So…that's the difference…interesting…but not enough, Dragonborn." The Prophet's Hand stopped playing around then, as both blades forced the dual-bladed plasma sword up, leaving the little hero's midsection open, for a moment. A moment was all he needed.

    Alex watched the scythes twirl impossibly fast. His new, and still unfamiliar heightened perception could track such things easily, but his body was nowhere near fast enough to dodge this. Not after the injuries he'd taken. His arms and legs bore the most cuts, but Tao's clothing really was invaluable, as it stitched back together, it also mended his skin with makeshift stitching, made of pieces of the strange fabric. It would need tending later, but for the battle at hand, it was useful, and kept him from bleeding out.

    The Hand's weapons did something strange as he arced his weapons up for the finishing blow. They came together at each handle, and formed a proper length dual-bladed scythe, right as the man brought it down towards his tired opponent with a vertical two-handed strike. The pale Hand growled in his throat as he saw his weapon stopped by a blade similar in curve to his own, one that was black, and bore streaks of red.

    "Not today!" A triumphant voice crowed. Alex glanced up to see a black scaled Haxorus blocking the path of the deadly scythe's blade with a blade of his own. "Dual-Chop!" The dragon began smashing his head at the man, who struggled to hold it off, for a moment. Long enough for the Haxorus' Trainer to jump down, grab the large form of the Champion, and leap away.

    Alex only got a brief glance at his would-be rescuer, before their escape was halted. A gleaming metal shackle had the man around the ankle, and as Alex got a proper look at him, his eyes widened. "Lance!?"

    It was indeed the blue haired boy he'd battled some years before, the grandson who'd been named for his famous relative, and apparently puberty had finally hit him. Moreover, his attire seemed familiar, and it took Alex a minute to recognize the Opelucid Gym's new outfits.

    "Glad you remember me." The Dragon Tamer said, somewhat sarcastically. "The Dragon called for reinforcements. Nate answered." He gestured at the sky then, and Alex stared, as did Pravus' Hand. The skies over Undella, and the area immediately south and west, were teeming with dragon types, each fully evolved, and raised by Nate's own hand. Leading them, arms crossed atop his Hydreigon, was the Champion turned Gym Leader, and one of Unova's many heroes. A man arguably as ruthlessly strong as Hilbert, who was set on becoming a true Dragon Tamer.

    The battle between Tao and his shadowy opponent quickly turned. A hard crunch on the phoenix's neck stunned it long enough for the ice-covered, sparking appendage to stab it in the heart. Blue flames overwhelmed purple, and the firebird fell from the sky, landing in the salty puddle just south of Undella's ruins, and all that remained of the bay. The heat from the Pokémon's passing burned away any remaining water, but thankfully, any Pokémon in the bay had quickly followed their instincts, and swam east, towards Unova's harbor once the ruins had begun shaking. There was plenty of room for them there.

    Sensing the conflict had shifted, the Hand of Death began to move to escape, only to find himself wrapped up by a pair of Dragonair. Lance's equally blue-haired sister came through the foliage surrounding their little clearing then, and gave a nod towards Alex. "I'll make sure he stays put. With the others we've captured."

    "Keep him wrapped up." Alex said, caution in his tone, "If we give him a chance to flee, he will take it. My team has his Pokémon handled." Indeed, each of them had subdued the Hand's Pokémon, usually by way of fainting. Only the Tyranitar had escaped underground, quickly outpacing his Lairon in digging speed.

    Blue light surrounded their little group, as Alex lifted them into the air, ignoring the cries of surprise. They paused, as they saw the field of battle. Plenty of Trainers had, evidently, fallen to the surprise attack. Most had been out hoping to see history, not die in the first skirmish of the war. Only the strong had survived the Arcean's unified brutality. This would not be the first time their better equipment and tactics would kill all but the strong, and indeed, it was happening even at that moment, all along the newly established front between east and west.

    Alex landed them next to Tao, who was still in his Mega Form. His long neck turned towards them, and focused on the prisoner they'd brought with them. The eyes narrowed, and began to glow with bright golden Purging Light as they focused on the Hand of Death, who began to laugh.

    It was an unnerving sound, one that almost hurt to hear, but eventually it was silenced by the thundering Voice of the One Dragon. "Ahvakaar…" The eyes flared, burning with impossibly bright Light energy, and the laughs turned to a brief, pitiable scream as the Hand was incinerated. The Dragonair, who to their credit had not moved, had been untouched, and even healed, in the Light the Original Dragon now wielded.

    Tao raised his head again, and snorted in distaste. His eyes focused on his Tamer, and he spoke only to him, then. "If ever you doubt why Pravus needs to die…remember the creature you just saw. Undeath is the antithesis of what we stand for. There is life, there is death, always in balance. Undeath disrupts that balance, usually by increasing the amount of death, and the world around such creatures suffers as a result. They are beings to be pitied, for they should not be, but are."

    Alex nodded, responding the same way. "I hadn't intended to like it, but…it really is inevitable. If he takes total control, the number of things like that Hand is only going to increase. But that does make me wonder…what of ghost types?"

    The dragon's eyes glanced away, "They…are quite different. Mainly for guiding the dead who get lost or diverted on their path to Arceus' realm, though they can also be lost themselves, and be very powerful because of it. Some, like your little spark, were simply composed of ghost type energy originally, and imbued with sentience by something. What gives it varies between ghosts. Undeath is…different. Ghost types come to be when those with normal typing pass on. Usually, their energy goes straight to the Spirit World, but there are always exceptions. Abominations are…different. They can only be raised with the Shadow energy you've seen, given the freedom to once more roam among the living, but do not forget, always their goal is to empower the Shadow. It's not surprising Pravus figured out how to bind the dead to his will. There may yet be more of these."

    Alex raised a brow at that, his third eye glaring at the dragon. "And if I encounter them, what am I supposed to do? Slicing this one didn't really work."

    The dragon sighed. "It would have, if you'd found an opening…but his form was impressive, even I have to admit. Most cannot use dual-scythes so effectively. If you want to put these creatures down, you will need to Purge them, as I did. You meet their gaze, you hold it, and then you summon the Light. If they are not part of the natural order, they will be burned away. It has other uses as well, but stick to using it to cleanse the abomination's partners for now. I will make sure they do not cause more trouble."

    Alex mulled that over as he did as instructed. The Hand's team had eventually been corralled, and all but the Noivern had accepted being bound. Once they were free of the Shadow's taint, they each apologized for what they'd been unable to control, and Alex found he understood them completely when they spoke. Likely a result of King Harmonia's gift. With the team cleansed and the purple egg of the phoenix in the Sage's capable hands, Alex climbed onto the One Dragon's back, after thanking the siblings, and the two soared towards the palace. It was covered with lazing dragon types, all who had an eye on the massive form of Shruikan circling them overhead, like death itself. Alex spied Nate by the front entrance, speaking with the Sages.

    The newly raised palace had been hit quite hard, but the Sages had earned their keep, and had kept any Arceans from entering. Now, they were barring Nate's way. Alex hopped off of Tao, who then perched by wrapping around the building. In his evolved state, he encircled all of it, easily. The dragon gave Shruikan a look then, and the massive dragon landed on the newly raised earth, then curled up for a nap.

    Nate glanced at the Champion, and the two shared nods of mutual respect. He hadn't been around as often as Hilbert, and Alex hadn't made too strong of an effort to hang more. Namely because of the man's obnoxiously loud friend Hugh, who hung around him almost every day, trying to beat the Champion turned Gym Leader. He had not, according to Hilda, beaten Nate even once, but that hadn't stopped him. Nate hadn't seemed to mind their lack of contact, as he'd been focused on Rosa at the time, and little else.

    Alex spoke first, "Thank you, for responding so quickly. Without the dragons, we would've tasted defeat, not victory."

    Tao chuckled, and a murmur of draconic laughter rumbled from those also perched on the steps of the enormous pyramidal palace. The two humans stared up at him. "Victory? No…not victory. Not yet. This is only the first of many sparks that will ignite the flames Pravus craves." The dragon's eyes focused on the Gym Leader then. "We are going to need her. Wake her up." Nate bowed, and nodded.

    He turned to Alex then, and shrugged. "Tao told me to guard our homeland. That's what I've been doing. I hunt them, and Rosa jails them." His expression seemed to indicate he didn't care for the current state of affairs, and neither, frankly, did Alex. Tao sent a mental wave of agreement as well, though his mind was engaged now with the Sages, who had each floated up to him, and bowed in unison.

    Alex spoke then, "I think it's time we change that. I don't need Arceans in Unova. Not while we're at war, at least. They've demonstrated that they'll do whatever their cult leaders order them to. No matter how morally questionable. They're a risk to our people, while this conflict exists."

    Nate raised an eyebrow of his own as the Champion spoke. "So what do you intend to do about them?"

    Alex gave the man a grim smirk. "I'm going to give them a chance to redeem themselves…and I have a feeling many will take it."

    Nate flinched as the Champion summoned his massive, napping Salamence with little more than a glance. The man leapt atop the dragon's head with a jump that no normal human could ever match as he flew by the formerly buried palace, Nate followed on his Hydreigon, as Tao and the Seven Sages properly conversed for the first time in millennia. Other dragons followed them into the sky, each carrying several prisoners bound to their backs by rope.

    Now cleansed of the Shadow, the Hand's formerly enslaved Pokémon had agreed that, with their master gone, their loyalty to the human's cult was void. They'd taken off south, to the verdant forests, with Absol leading them.

    The thunder of dragons headed north, towards Opelucid City once more, and as Alex and Nate peeled off and landed in Lacunosa Town just to the east of New Tork City's northern borough, he grimaced at what the town had become. Gone was the sleepy little walled village. After being turned into a prison by the Arceans under Ghetsis, and then reclaimed by the Unovan residents, the town had become the unofficial holding area for any Arceans that had been deemed a threat by the Unovan's police forces, and newly expanding military.

    Conditions were, compared to the Church's prisons, luxurious. Three meals, time for exercise, and even access to TV. Nobody…official had come to the quietly forgotten town, and thus the 'prisoners' had never been interrogated.

    "I'll need to see them one at a time." Alex said to Nate, as they headed toward the now militaristic camp's main building.

    Nate chuckled, as he saw who'd come out to meet them. "That's not really my call."

    The two Champions were as awkward and flustered as they'd ever been in the other's presence, and Alex waited patiently as the awkward small talk between he and Rosa dragged on. When there was a painful pause, he spoke. "It's time we freed up these people for the front line. You included, Rosa. One way or another, today, these Arceans are no longer our burden. I need a room. Soundproofed. Send them to me one at a time."

    The woman glanced between him, and then Nate, who just shrugged, and then she nodded, seemingly glad for the chance to be free of watching these people. After weeks of hearing them whine and threaten litigation, which due to the current state of war, and governmental reorganization, would be pointless, she was ready to push them on someone else.

    He ended up being given the mess hall, which had once been one of the townspeople's homes. The original occupants had been 'transferred' to Fornia, and the new Arcean occupants had been trampled to death in an icy stampede from Kyurem. Thus, it had been repurposed.

    The first of the two hundred or so people he'd be forced to speak with came in, and set the tone for how most of the 'interrogations' would go. She was evidently someone who'd been captured from Castelia, in the sewers, amongst other militant Arceans who had been planning sabotage for use in this very conflict.

    To his credit, Alex tried every other method first. He asked about her family. She had a husband, and three children. He asked where they were, and found they'd been scattered effectively around the Church's territory. He asked when she'd last seen them. She hadn't answered. He asked if that was what she'd wanted, and he came to learn that she'd been raised in this cult, and didn't know better. Staying apart was what families did. Saving the planet was too important.

    He turned on the TV he'd had brought in then, and showed her the video that he'd asked Haley to work on over the summer. A guide for someone who'd been brainwashed into the Arcean cult and the many, many things they didn't know about it. He knew it needed some updating now, but it got the point across, once she watched. She saw how easily Pravus had whipped her deluded countrymen into a bloody frenzy. Getting her to watch had been a conflict in itself. Only by forcing her eyes and ears open by way of a brief, controlled burst of psychic power did she finally literally see the long history of sketchy violence and practices her Church was party to.

    In truth, he'd only forced her eyes for a moment. Once they'd seen the screen, they'd stayed open out of pure human curiosity, and she'd been engrossed in the hard, disturbing evidence behind the Church's activities, much of which she knew the Church had already very specifically denied. From her perspective, it had been a little odd. At random times, the Church-run news network would make announcements about events they hadn't been openly linked to, with no other information about why they denied these claims officially being released. Most of their people hadn't known about the incidents in the first place, but they just assumed that the Prophet, for whatever reason, knew they had to be aware of this information. If they were going to Save the world.

    It took several hours, but eventually, he felt certain that the woman understood, to a degree, the truth of things. Her resistance towards him had eroded to irritated acceptance, rather than outright shunning. He gave her a choice then, in exchange for turning infiltrator, Unova would find her relations, free them, and show them what she'd seen as well. He offered to help de-program them to the falsehoods they'd been fed, and eventually she agreed. She would claim to have escaped custody, and would be churned back into the machine that was the Church.

    From there, the Rebels would guide her, as they were most familiar with what they needed to find. Tao had them focused on gathering as much intel on their foes as possible, though those among the Tribe that had wanted to fight, had been encouraged to do so. They were the ones currently in charge of whipping Unova's many skilled Trainers into physical fighting shape, and some semblance of an army.

    Alex called in the next candidate, and after a few more hours of similar tactics, he'd convinced the man in question to settle a farm somewhere in Unova, and leave saving his family from the Church to the Dragon Emperor himself. He suddenly had a long list of names and locations to memorize, but Alex found that it was actually quite easy. His mind categorized information in a useful, and entirely new way since his trials. He found he could feasibly Teleport close enough to many of the people in question, and for those he couldn't, he always had other methods of travel.

    Sorting through the entire 'camp' took several days, but Tao assured him that he had the war handled, for the moment, and that what he was doing was more important. There were billions of Fornians under the Church. The better he became at breaking their delusions, the quicker this war would end.

    In the end only eighteen had refused his offers, even after learning, and more disturbingly, accepting, what their Church had done. They'd told him that it was the only way the Prophet could Save the planet. Before he could, he needed to dominate it, and because he was immortal, in time, he would. They had believed that they were the first generation of an army that would one day spread Arceus' Word to the stars as well. A Star Crusade, they called it. Where humanity would expand rapidly under the Church's influence, and cleanse any unworthy sentients or psychic-heretics they encountered. According to them, Pravus already had a working ship as well, one that could travel the stars in hours, rather than years.

    It was a convincing tale, Alex admitted, and one he might very well have believed if he, like these people, had grown up with indoctrination in every hour of his early life. The more he broke their illusions however, the more he wondered. His granduncle had nurtured his skeptic side, but he'd always had a rational outlook on things. He'd figured out Santa shared Mom's handwriting when he was five. He probably wouldn't have fit in, in Fornia.

    That thought prompted a final round of interrogation. He let the now all but belligerent prisoners each ramble on for five minutes exactly, before cutting through whatever parroted nonsense they were spewing with a Word that silenced them as it shook the very air. He'd then asked what became of kids who had been like him, who were inherently skeptical. Or at the very least doubtful, of what the adults claimed was truth.

    Each of the men had grinned at the question. It was a disturbing look, one his instincts told him was genuinely evil. The worst side humanity had to offer. What they told him was, in so many words, the same. Children like him were shipped off, sometimes for years at a time, to the Navy. There, trapped on a ship with naught but open sea for miles, they would learn to obey…or be thrown overboard to the Sharpedo swarms that acted as their battle-yacht's engines.

    Many of the Sharpedo grew quite massive, and the strongest of those, were captured and infused with Shadow. The Navy had held their largely unnecessary blockade of the ocean for years. Japan had no interest in their land, and Eous was busy fighting the Imperium. Alola was isolated, but they hadn't weighed in on the current conflict yet. Word of it probably hadn't even reached them.

    It seemed once again the Prophet had engineered a useful tool that accomplished several things at once. A powerful navy, which would keep the Alolans from going anywhere near the western coast regardless of what they decided, and a system that sorted the weak, and created strong water type Trainers. Still unnerved, he'd finally asked Tao what he thought, and the dragon seemed surprised. Evidently emperors of old believed their decisions were the right ones. Rarely did they consult him, after taking power.

    The dragon had mentally watched his protégé interrogate the Fornians, and he had quietly grown cold in dread. This rhetoric was being spewed from low-level information gatherers. He knew, based on what he'd learned of the organization, that this 'devotion' would only be stronger the higher ranked one was. The army of 'Crusaders' were considered soldiers, and therefor were relatively high in the pecking order. They, and their families, were given the best lives the Church could offer in return for service, and thus, their loyalty was quite strong.

    Finally, he gave his Tamer an answer. "Men like these are going to be the majority in those who've taken up arms against us. Their…certainty will be much stronger, their faith unquestioning. You will need your Voice to make them listen…or…you can try to Purge them. It is not always an attack, but can sometimes remove a being's inner conflict with…let's call it 'divine insight'. Once purged, even their Bishops are likely to bow to you."

    He could feel the dislike of the option in the human, and it was a long while before he responded. "And what would those I Purged be like, when this war ends? Will I be ruling over a bunch of devoutly loyal subjects missing half their natural emotions?" The dragon let silence speak for itself, and he sensed the human sigh. "That's what I thought. I can Purge men like these…the infiltrators, the soldiers, if we must…they'll never turn…but for the general masses, the civilians, I will need the right Words. First, I think I need to visit someone whose likely found them before…"

    Shor's Hall, Uppsalir – Norstad Region

    The grip hurt less, Alex noticed, as he and the Thunder God clasped the other by the wrist, in the manner of his people. "Welcome back, Dovahkiin. What brings you again into mine hall?"

    He met the god's eyes then, and saw them widen. "You may have heard…I recently became the ruler of my people. You may have also heard that we're at war…and it is not going well. Not yet, anyways, or so the Dragon says. He claims to have a plan, and I trust his word." He saw the being casually rest a hand on the hilt of his hammer as he listened and nodded. "I come seeking your help with…a matter of the Voice. I know your people would usually just charge in, fight, and let nature decide who the strongest is, but I don't want to kill millions of people. Especially as I intend to rule them, as well. If I don't kill as many of their relatives, I'll have less…revenge-driven enemies, in the long run."

    The Thunder God nodded his golden-haired head once more, "I understand. You believe the power of the Storm Voice will sway them from their…religious indoctrination. You would be correct. This means you are also aware, or at least assume, my people did something similar once."

    Alex nodded. "Something like that…but from what the legends say, it wasn't a hostile takeover. The Aesir and humans interacted plenty without…too much senseless violence."

    That got a chuckle from the Asgardian, as they sat, and ate of the feast that took up most of the central room of the hall. To Alex's knowledge, the food was always fresh, and always present. And always delicious.

    "The humans were not that difficult to bend…we came to this world, shooting lightning and healing wounds, stopping natural disasters with skills we all, to a degree, possess. The belief that we were superior, and therefor divine, came naturally, in many cases, and it was not something we discouraged." The gold-skinned being put a hand on his shoulder then. "I know you hesitate to cause more bloodshed, and more violent cycles of revenge, but you need to understand something. These…Fornians, they are not like the humans we encountered so very, very long ago shivering in the cold of this very land under straw-thatched roofs. They are smart. Cunning. Aware of the natural forces, and unnatural ones, at work around them. They are more like the Jotuns. And I assume you have heard tell of how many of those we had to kill. Many by mine own hammer. There are some minions of Shadow that will not break, not even to a Hyper Voice."

    Alex munched quietly on a random piece of meat, attached to a perfectly sized bone jutting from it. It was delicious, easy to chew, and none of the meat got on his hand, for the bone-like protrusion accommodated his ridiculously large fingers. Seeing the young human still in distress, Thor sighed.

    "Very well…to know the Word to break them, you must know who they are. What the bedrock of their belief is. You must shatter the wrongness of it in an impactful way…then, at least, they will be confused, and hesitant to fight. They will think, and in that moment, many will understand what they are a part of. The good ones will rebel, and the number of dead will…lessen. The good news is that you are fighting a cult mentality. What breaks one thoroughly enough will likely work on most of them. But first…"

    The Dragon Emperor smirked then, as the understanding slowly came across his features. "I must know my enemy. Thank you, Thor…I do appreciate the wisdom. And the food." They both chuckled at that, and bit into their respective hunks of meat. Alex caught the god's eye then, and saw the crimson eyebrow rise. He rolled his eyes, but swung his backpack around anyways.

    After several minutes of casual chatting, and setting up the instruments involved with enjoying the Leaf, the Aesir spoke, "And you say this…bong…can be fashioned of thunderclouds?"

    Alex shrugged, but then nodded. "That's how the Dragon made this one. It's practically unbreakable. Do not." He said, as he saw the grinning god reaching for his hammer. He had a bad habit of smashing it into unbreakable things.

    "I will forge you a new one!" Thor said, grinning at the dark grey instrument. He wanted to try Mjolnir's strength against that of the One Dragon's. He'd heard the legend of the serpent's power, and now there was a chance to test himself against it right in front of him.

    "After we smoke. I have a spare he made as well, just as useful, and a bit cleaner if I'm honest. It is always wise to carry a spare. You can bang on that one." That, thankfully, kept the God of Thunder from smashing the already packed instrument, and the two enjoyed the brief hours of peace, before the war that was to come.

    Norstad had changed quite a bit since Alduin fell. The Everwinter had finally broken. Sun returned to the land, and Percy had made great efforts to regrow the forests. It was still cold, of course, but nothing compared to what had once been. While the Fairy King had rounded up the strongest of Norstad's new Trainers, each of whom had been inspired by the songs regarding the Fall of Alduin, and the role a Trainer had played in it, Thor had promised himself, his host of warriors, and a squad of Articuno flyers to reinforce their Unovan friends as well. He claimed to have a score to settle, with the Prophet. They were due to rendezvous with Professor Buckeye's forces in Ohiana over the next few days.

    That only left Kalos unusually quiet. In all the long years the two had been allies, whenever the Imperium threatened Kalos, Unova would come to aid. When previous incarnations of Fornia had done the same as the current one, Kalos had come to Unova's aid, but now, after four attacks on the capital, and the outbreak of war, there was naught from Kalos but silence.

    Lumiose City – Kalos Region

    "It is time, Venu. Dark Burst." Four shadowy wings, akin to a Venomoth's, surrounded the figure under the full moon. He was a man, garbed now in a skin-tight suit that looked quite breathable, despite the skin-tightness. It was mainly purple in color, though there were hints of black as well. In the night sky, he was hard to see.

    He soared high over Lumiose, and grinned. "Finally…those Hearts will be mine…"

    The darkness in his wings flared as they continued to carry him ever higher. A voice came quietly from them, one he'd rarely heard of late. Do not forget to whom you promised those artifacts, Dark Moth…

    "I remember, hag…" The man muttered. The legends said that whoever possessed both would be granted unlimited power, and while he'd been tempted to use that himself, another had made her interest in them known. She had been quite persuasive in convincing him that having ultimate power all the time was something that, inevitably, would ruin his relationship with the one he wanted revived. Therefor, he would bring the Hearts of Life and Death to her, and she would revive, in all capacities, the woman he'd lost. He did not doubt her skill, and did not desire any errors in such a revival process.

    "It is time…Shadow Spore!" The wings flared again, and orbs of darkness descended upon the sleeping citizens of Lumiose. Over the past few weeks, incidents involving people turned into 'super villains' had been an almost daily occurrence. It hadn't been long before most of the city had been affected by the oddness.

    Normally, the Gym Leader would call in the League's help, but Clemont had, supposedly, locked himself in Lumiose Tower. In reality, nobody had seen him in public for quite a while. It wasn't all that unusual, as he'd created an automatic Gym Leader to handle his challengers while he invented, but it had been months now with no word from anyone in the Gym. Aside from the machine, who wasn't programmed to answer questions about his maker.

    With the absence of any official response, two Trainers answered the call to action. In their own words, these citizens turned dark called themselves villains. The two who stood against them figured there might as well be heroes, too. Nobody knew how the two heroes had acquired the Hearts the turned citizens always seemed obsessed with stealing, but they'd given the ability to fuse a Trainer with their Pokémon, and become something new altogether. When normal Mega Evolution had failed, they'd stepped up, continuously, to drive off the unnaturally powerful opponents, and eventually cleanse them of the Shadow.

    Now, most of those who'd been cleansed were once more given the power, and once more, the Dark Moth's minions rose. The abilities his own Heart gave him empowered both the citizen in question, and their Pokémon partner with varied supernatural abilities that made them quite strong. As expected, this usually led to chaos, but thus far, it had been relatively isolated chaos as the Moth tested his powers. It wasn't long before Lumiose was alight with the sounds of battle, as the local Trainers rose to meet the overwhelming numbers of brainwashed 'villains'.

    Thankfully, the two Trainers who had become Kalos' newest faces of justice hadn't been slouching when it came to figuring out what was causing these transformations. They'd discussed the possibility of what might happen if the Shadows hit more than one person at once. After that, they'd reached out to the League itself by physically visiting the Elite Four's home, and in response, the Champion had been sent.

    He'd rallied the other Gym Leaders of course, and their mission was to break into the Lumiose Tower, to find Clemont, and have him activate the city's defenses. They had a stun setting, as well as a violent one, for when the invaders came for blood, and plunder. Given that the people attacking currently were citizens, stunning would be enough.

    Connor Gladstone had joined the two 'heroes', and quickly realized this…'Heart power' was easily as strong as Mega Evolution. Ardor had put up a good fight against the dark-winged moth man, but it was soon clear that their side needed a boost. That was when the female Trainer, who was part Ledian at that moment, handed him an empty Heart. Since it belonged to another, they could only use it once, but given that it was empty, it would work. Maybe.

    The fused combination of Trainer and Pokémon on a Champion's level quickly brought the villain down, hard. They'd only traded a few blows, and that had been all the burning ape man had needed. Raikou's fighting style, and their shared fighting typing, had enhanced the fusion, and Connor was almost disappointed that they could only use it this once. It would definitely smash through Alex's aura shield.

    The 'Ledi Girl' proceeded to use what appeared to be some variation of a bright Silver Wind, and managed to engulf all of Lumiose within it, effectively cleansing the town of the shadowy balls of energy driving the citizens mad. Connor let the power fade, and both he and Ardor stretched, still in sync, as they became themselves once more.

    "Oof. That's going to be sore for a bit. You two do this all the time, hmm?" He approached the girl, and her partner, a Trainer who evidently had a Liepard, who'd held the swarm of powerful minions off while the Champion removed the source of their power. He handed the girl the empty Heart, and she stuffed it away.

    The Liepard boy spoke then, "Our Pokémon fused with the Hearts when we found them. One was, apparently, once Xerneas', and the other held Yveltal. We inherited some of their power. When a Pokémon becomes tied to a Heart, it's…painful to remove them from it. But it can be done, the plus side though, is no lingering side-effects. Borrowing the power of a Heart not your own can be…strenuous, on both the Trainer and the Heart crystal. It's best not to do it too often."

    Connor frowned at that, mulling over the information. Kalos' entities of life and destruction had likely been subjected to significant pain, if it was true. Perhaps that was what made them so much more shy than their Norstad counterparts. The heroes left then, to protect their 'secret identity', and Connor joined the Gym Leaders in Lumiose Tower.

    They were in the midst of tying up a struggling Clemont, whose entire body was radiating a dark, visible aura. His eyes were constantly rolled back, and he appeared to be unconscious, like a puppet almost, when he moved. The struggling ceased as Connor stood before him. Clemont grinned then, but an elderly woman's voice came from his mouth. "Ahh! The Champion…good, good. I'm glad you are here. Now my collection of Heroes is complete…I finally have the entire Kalosian set!"

    Connor raised a dark crimson brow, as the others readied their Pokéballs. Despite being tied up, Clemont rose into the air, and his face's grin was…unsettling. "What do you mean? You're speaking nonsense…" Connor said, also readying a ball.

    Clemont raised his arms then, and the Champion swore as the three heroes of his homeland, the Swords of Justice, stepped from the shadow. They were engulfed in the same purple energy as Clemont, but none more so than Cobalion. The steel and fighting type's eyes looked tortured, and the veins around them had taken on the same color as the energy coursing through him, and his counterparts.

    "Fall back!" Connor ordered, and the Gym Leaders quickly did so, before the Swords could strike. Kalos was no stranger to strategic withdrawal. They moved into the Gym's battle arena then, and summoned their partners. All of them. Clemont's own team of a Diggersby and a Luxray joined the Swords, burning as dark as they did, and the battle quickly devolved into chaos.

    Then, tearing through all of it, came a dark purple Flamethrower that threatened to engulf the Champion's whole party. An aura of scarlet-pink energy surrounded each of them before it hit, as well as their partners, and moved each of them away as another equally large, but normal colored Flamethrower collided with the first.

    The pair of Delphox who'd cast the attacks stepped onto the Gym's field then, and Connor stared as a member of his own Elite Four, and hero in her own right, came shambling out to stand beside Clemont. He was busy reviving his partners, who had not been shielded or moved. The Swords had each defended themselves, seemingly on pure instinct, with their Sacred Swords. It had diverted most of the flames from them.

    Kalos' newest Champion turned to see their rescuer then, and pinched his brow. It was, of course, his sister, once more in a different outfit. It was frilly and Kalosian, but she'd kept the black and white color scheme. "I had it handled, sister."

    Jess smirked at him as she joined her partner in the Trainer's box. It seemed they'd be doing this properly, as Clemont had shambled backwards alongside the Swords, leaving only Serena to face her. "If you'd had that handled, you wouldn't have been falling back to this entrance. Take care of Clemont, would you? Bind him. I can cleanse them all once we settle this…"

    Connor followed his sister's gaze, and raised a brow as he eyed the two Delphox. They both had unsettling grins on their sly features, and their eyes burned with psychic power. He summoned his Garchomp, and moved for the electric type Gym Leader.

    The two foxes made an unseeable motion with their arms, and two more massive Flamethrowers collided. By now, their field was clear, which was good, for the intense heat had charred it, thoroughly.

    The Delphox who opposed them had an aura that seethed with Shadow, and it flared as the voice from before spoke again in the same unsettling tones, tilting the Fox's head sideways as it spoke. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours…"

    She brought out a staff of dark wood then, another Flamethrower already prepared. Delphi brought her own staff out, a similar attack readied as well, which manifested as a small but intense burning sphere within the reddish brown colored wood claws that made up the tip.

    The voice's owner laughed. "What the Hel is that supposed to be? Everyone knows Ash staves are the best."

    Delphi glanced at her Trainer, nodded, then turned her sly eyes back to her opponent. "I prefer Redwood." She seemed to chuckle as she attacked, and her opponent quickly did the same, only to find that she'd been outclassed. The Blast Burn tore through the Flamethrower, and hit the enemy fox, her Trainer, and Clemont as well. Of the Swords, there was no sign.

    Gar had been handling the Luxray, and Connor let him battle on his own instinct, as he knew it would be good practice for the real Luxray they were preparing for. Gren had struck the Diggersby from the shadows, only to be countered by a quick Thunder from the electric lion.

    Strong as Gren was, he was not the hardiest of Pokémon, and though he managed to hang on through the critical hit, Connor recalled him. Gar could handle the Luxray alone, and as Clemont fell, singed by magical fire, The Luxray in mid Thunder Fang had paused, instinctually drawn by the pain from his Trainer despite his being possessed. Gar gained the distraction he needed to strike, and he brought the thunder cat down, hard, shaking the entire gym with his Earthquake.

    The dragon type roared triumphantly, and Connor used an escape rope to bind the possessed Gym Leader, as Jess did the same to Serena. She brought out her Articuno, then. Though it was nearing winter, it very much felt as though it had arrived as Folokraan materialized from her ball.

    Gone was the hatchling, as after she'd begun to battle, she'd grown rapidly in size. Few could withstand the power of a Legendary bird. Compared to her kin in her village, she was still noticeably young, but given that most people never got the chance to see an Articuno this close, it wasn't very noticeable.

    The spectacle she put on was enough of a distraction. Icy blue light enveloped the Trainers, and their partners, and the Shadow burned away as it burned intensely white. The humans regained consciousness, but their partners remained fainted.

    Connor stared at his sister in disbelief. "When did she learn that? Is that a move?"

    Jess nodded. "Purge. The sisters already know it. The strongest of them can cleanse Shadow with it." She left out picking it up from the Original Dragon, when he'd assigned her to call on Kalos' aid. Officially. She'd dressed for Kalos, but hadn't expected to be ambushed by civilian 'super villains', and then face down one of the Elite Four in Clemont's gym. Despite all the flames, she'd managed to remain unsinged.

    "Useful…" Connor muttered. His own lover, the village's seeress, hadn't mentioned that it was an actual move. She'd claimed it was just something Articuno could do. Moves could be shared, with enough training, and having a partner that could cleanse Shadow would be useful. He glanced at their cleansed allies, and then back to her. "Why are you here, anyway?"

    She raised a crimson brow at him. "Because Pravus is invading us, idiote. Unova calls for aid."

    Connor chuckled. "The 'Dragon Emperor' needs help eh? Well I'm employed by the Pokémon League. And they are, for the moment, taking a neutral stance. If you want Kalos' aid, you need to speak to their Prince."

    Jess rolled her eyes at them, patting her Articuno, and then recalling her to the recolored Luxury Ball that she seemed to enjoy. "And where is Calem, hmm? I'd heard he vanished."

    Connor glared at her. The only ones who knew the Prince's public identity were the Elite Four, and the Champion, and he had a feeling she'd been reading minds again. The League had an agreement with those who governed Kalos. Their people would both protect and train their royalty, and nobility, and in return the League had gotten to use one of the region's oldest castles for their Elite Four to face challengers in.

    Calem had certainly proved that the region's royals could still battle with the best of them after he'd gone from helping Professor Sycamore to being dragged into the Flare Incident, but after his Chesnaught had fallen to Alain's flames, he'd simply vanished. "Probably at the palace. Good luck getting in." Connor muttered, as he looked around for the Swords of Justice. It seemed in the chaos, whoever was puppeting them had made a strategic retreat.

    Jess smirked, recalled her partner, and headed for the exit. "Compared to this, getting in there will be cake."

    Unity Tower, Castelia City – Unova Region

    The encircling form of the Original Dragon shifted outside of the window as the room within was a mix of chaos and activity. From the tower, the eastern forces had been coordinating. They were retreating on all fronts, save for the Kanadian one. Their border wall proved quite useful in repelling the Crusaders, and the Trainers manning it were some of the best Kanadia had produced.

    Each of the eastern Trainers who now found themselves soldiers in a reborn empire were given leave to, if they desired, take ten partners, rather than six. Their enemies had capitalized on the trend once the World Tournament had announced the raised Pokémon limit cap. Most serious Trainers had enough partners in their storage systems to fill four extra slots, and the Original Dragon himself had given them leave to expand their belts, as soon as possible. Statistically, larger teams meant more squads surviving. Being the largest population on the planet had its advantages, and new Trainers from the 'homeland' were arriving to reinforce what remained of the State's militias by the day. Slowly, something resembling a proper front had formed, but the Fornian advance was relentless. It was also slow.

    It had troubled Tao that these Crusaders, all decent Trainers who had full teams of ten, only ever walked towards their forces, on foot. Plenty had capable mounts, who would make useful firepower as well, but the Church's legions remained on foot as they marched. When his Tamer had mentioned the abomination's talk of a Blitz, he'd called in his ace in this war.

    From the east, Norstad specifically, Rayquaza came at the head of roughly fifty Graybeards, each of whom had been trained for, and seen, war. They had been busy as, at Tao's request, they had taken the Bones of World Eater, purified them of any potentially lingering taint, and then forged them into armor the likes of which had never been seen this far west.

    It wasn't long before Texico too eventually called in the retreat east. Despite being prepared, the Crusaders were too relentless, and the desert didn't provide the kind of food the greener lands to the north did. Tao had told them to retreat towards the Swamp, which had, of course, been met with trepidation.

    Many who lived in the central areas of the continent could trace their roots back to that salty, ever-growing Swamp. It had forced their ancestors west, towards lands not occupied by humans for quite some time. They had flourished, especially under the dragon's empire, but they never forgot, and the Swamp grew larger all the time.

    It was from the Swamp, that their secret weapons were coming. The Champions of the east, many of whom had thus far been forced to sit by, training, as their homes were invaded, had been summoned. The Sage had given them a choice when war broke out, and panic, as well as anger at those whose States had willingly turned, surged through the now bustling island-city. They could stay, and be considered allies in the war to come, or they could go home, be found out for their psychic powers, end up in a camp, and help no one. Only a few had left, and contact with them had quickly been lost.

    Gone were the mud huts that had littered the island, as the clever Champions, ever in search of more ideal places to chill, had learned that combining certain energies created useful, sturdy building material. The dormitories had changed as well, becoming properly furnished apartments that eventually rivaled the Swamp Tree in size as more floors were added to them, simple in design, small, but private.

    With such a large surge in population, getting everyone comfortable had been their first priority, and everyone had helped build, if they wanted a roof over their head when the rain came. Slowly, the long days of hard work, and equally frustrating training, drove out many who had come to the Sage seeking 'magic powers'.

    By the time Tao called on the Sage, they were mostly ready. A squad of the hundred strongest Champions had been drawn together, Trainers who had, like their 'Emperor', awakened a typing-based power. Some had even changed their normal typing as well. It was these hundred that Tao had called to the tower in their capital.

    There, they had met the new Dragon Emperor, and had each, eventually, pledged to help. In some capacity. He wasn't the only Unovan there, however. Nate, Rosa, Hilda, and even her brother were there with him. Evidently, they were all being given command, as they had all successfully bonded with the Dragon of Unova at some point, and understood his methods and battle style quite well by this point.

    Their confidence was reinforced when Tao addressed them with his thundering mental baritone. "Champions. Each of you has been called here because the very Balance of our land now lies with whoever wins this unfortunate conflict." His head rose slowly as he spoke, and his Tamer smirked, long familiar with how the dragon manipulated his fellow humans during Tinvaak.

    "I am forming a force of…elite fighters, in both martial combat, and battling. You have each demonstrated a gift for both. Now, I am calling on you to fight. Unova requires your aid…and should you choose to accept, we will outfit you with the…appropriate gear for the station you'll be holding." The dragon gave his Tamer a nod, and the Champions of Unova each smirked.

    Eric had explained how the armor was compressed into the device on his belt, but Alex had lost track after he'd sidetracked into explaining something involving 'nanofiber-bots'. Evidently, he'd copied the usefulness of Tao's clothing into the mesh joint-coverings each suit had, and the suits would, upon being damaged, attempt to repair both the wearer and itself. The pieces of dragonbone had been forged into unique designs, and given 'enchantments', based on the Champion who'd be wearing the armor. Many had held their titles for years, but nobody had questioned how the Graybeards had acquired a list of traits and abilities that could only have come from the League.

    The Dragon Emperor stepped forward then, and addressed the group as he hit the new bone-white belt, and activated the armor. It covered his tall form from head to toe, and the white bone armor made a good contrast with the black mesh beneath it, and strongly resembled what Percy had garbed him in. Each forearm sported a carved Salamence head with its jaws open, though thankfully the carved teeth didn't obstruct his hand's mobility. His helmet covered most of his face, but kept the classic styled horns as well. Each step clanked heavily on the metal roof as he strode towards them. His fellow Champions activated their own armor, which formed up from their belts in the same manner that his had, namely with a flash of energy as the belts reconstructed the protective coverings around their wearers.

    Alex saw many of the hundred gathered smirk, as they recognized his helmet's design, as well as the armor's. Spiky protrusions of dragonbone in Percy's aesthetic adorned the man's wide shoulders now, and he brought forward the leathery black cloak that hung from the back, concealing most of the armor from sight. He raised his right hand then, and the other Champions did the same. "Who will join us?" They ignited their plasma blades then, all but one of them as light-blue as the Chargestone powering them.

    The hands rose quickly, and the Dragon Emperor smirked. His lower jaw was the only part of his face still visible, aside from the intense, and bluish-purple eyes, now burning with energy. "I'm glad you're all ready…you'll have to find your own Chargestones, but once you do…you will have your sword. It will be a symbol of your rank out in the field. Do. Not. Lose. It. And don't forget to keep it charged."

    They were each given armor then, and they soon discovered that each suit had already been tailored to their fighting styles. Their emperor then bid them to go into the Chargestone caves, and come out with a crystal that felt right to their senses. They had each gained a heightened perception from the Sage's training, despite it not always being psychic. It took several hours, but eventually each candidate returned with a crystal. No one was harmed, and the wildlife remained somewhat undisturbed. Galvantula had a reputation as a fast special attacker, and many 'foreign' Champions had been eager to add an electric spider to their teams.

    When they returned to the top of the Unity tower, they found the Unovan Champions, each covered with a leathery black cloak similar to the Dragon Emperor's, in that it concealed their forms well and hung down from their armored shoulders. Each set of the armor came with one, but nobody else had figured out how to activate theirs yet. They were called down to a certain level of the tower then, and it didn't take long for the Champions to realize they were being sorted by region, as each floor of the tower had been repurposed to connect with and coordinate the forces in the corresponding region.

    The Dragon Emperor met with them once they came in, and gave each a freshly fabricated hilt. Evidently, Percy had returned only hours earlier, but his Melmetal were already proving invaluable. He'd been given a blade as well, though according to Eric, he'd somehow changed it to be pink, before rushing off somewhere else.

    Once the Champion in question managed to ignite their new blade, Alex welcomed them into the Scales of Balance. They were then sorted, by preference, to one of the Unovan Champions, and put into their squad. After some minor shuffling, they each had sixteen fellow Champions under their banner. Nate and Rosa were deployed to reinforce the south then, and would be getting those the Sage next deemed ready. There were several who were worthy, but an even hundred had been required first. Now, the others would be called up, outfitted, and split between the two commanders in the south.

    The twins were sent to the north and center part of the lines, where they had been told to dig in when possible, and combine the local militias into a proper force. Jess had left picking her squad to Alex while she was off in Kalos, and naturally, she'd ended up with an all-female team, with an even split of Champions and Articuno Riders she'd befriended. Quite a large group of riders had agreed to join this new fighting force, and were given blades as well. Armor, they declined, as they claimed they did not need to wear Alduin's bones to be safe. Alex's own squad was comprised of mostly men, for there hadn't been an even split in sexes. Many of the female Champions had learned quicker than their male counterparts, and thus, there were more of them amongst the first hundred.

    Those under him were the comrades he'd known best while training, and fellow Leaf heads, one from each of the eastern regions currently being invaded. By no coincidence, they were also, usually, the strongest of the Champions from their homeland. For the moment, he led both his squad and his lover's. They would be in charge of relieving the Kanadians in the far west, and taking the arctic regions there. Then, they would push down into Fornia itself, and force the Church to defend, rather than attack. The Blitz had, according to the dragon, begun in earnest. Crusaders had begun running down exposed eastern camps, and the Scales were needed desperately. Within five days, the Dragon Empire had managed to provide an answer to the soldiers charging towards them. It remained to be seen if they would be enough.
  10. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Melting Point

    (The following is a short story that fits snugly into Chapter 28, which is also done, and introduces several important characters. Skipping is not advised, for this one.)

    Sacreus Bunker Base – Fornia Region


    Doctor Ein made a noise of disgust, as the name 'Wes' was read aloud from the report that had just come in. Their scouts had discovered where the Veloraptar had gone in only a few short days. Evidently, the presumed-dead Trainer had come out of retirement for this conflict, and somehow, had stolen his prized creation. Ein assumed he felt somewhat embarrassed that his own state of Orre had fallen so…quickly. This was retaliation. His precious Veloraptar had been 'snagged' apparently, or so the locals who'd witnessed the event claimed.

    Though the beast had been fast, the time power of a nearby Celebi, one thought previously to be only rumor, had given the aged Trainer a fair chance at catching the Pokémon. He was too young, and frankly unstable, to handle a Dark Ball, and thus the capture had worked. The promised Dragon Plates had been delayed by some seemingly random act of thievery, and now, the chance to mold the Pokémon's mind, and evolution, was gone.

    He turned to his ridiculously garbed employer, who quite literally fancied himself a demigod, and said with all the reverence he could muster, "We need to retrieve him, my Prophet. Without that specimen, we have no chance of de-thr-"

    The doctor was interrupted by a fist, encased in Shadow energy, slamming across his cheek. He was on the ground then, and Pravus loomed over him, glaring down with those awful eyes of red. "Do not presume to give me orders, Doctor. You'll get your pet back…or we'll mine up another. Our destiny is before us…do not spoil it by having such a loose tongue. His eyes glared at the technicians around them, working at their stations. Most, the smart ones, simply tuned out events like this, and focused on work, unless specifically called by name.

    The ones who did not last long at their posts, and there were always a few, were the ones who listened too obviously, or in some cases, dared to watch said events unfold.

    The room turned an eerie red, as black and red arcs of lightning flew from the Prophet's outstretched fingers, and into the workers who'd let their eyes wander. The Prophet had not been gentle, and many of the burns were serious. He had expected things in Unova to, finally, work to his advantage. But evidently, a sky full of enemy dragons was impossible to fool.

    "It is time we put the whelp in his place. Begin marching the lines east. Tell the Generals the time for the Blitz has come. No stopping! No rest! I want this land conquered before the Unovans can form a hard defensive line." The Prophet's words had a hard edge, and his loyal minions worked rather quickly, despite their injuries, to accomplish the Leader's orders, and send out messages to the commanders on the border.

    They had already begun pushing, though in reality, they had been marching rather slowly. Now, each of the Crusaders would summon a Pokémon to ride into battle, and the already retreating easterners would quickly be overwhelmed by their combined speed. All across the border, the Arceans advanced.

    His lieutenant, Samson, stepped forward then. "My Prophet." He bowed his head. "The Texicans have known this was coming for a while…their Champion learned far more than he should have in Orre. I'm afraid this has caused a drive for unity amongst their people. As far north as Kentu's borders, we've had reports of organized resistance…and Ohiana has Professor Buckeye, and his Suicune."

    That got the Prophet's attention. "He's summoned the North Wind? It seems the first part of this war may begin in earnest. Prepare a ship, a fighter. Make sure there are plenty of Dark Balls. I'm going to declaw his forces, too."

    The lieutenant saluted, quietly glad that, for once, relatively bad news hadn't been met with a random, brutal beating. "Yes, my Prophet." The man might've felt sympathy for the Trainers about to lose their beloved partners to the Shadow, but they were heretics. They deserved no less for daring to oppose the savior of mankind.

    Fifty Miles East of Arcino – Fornia Region

    "You know, when I said you could disguise me, I had something else in mind…" The voice belonged to Wes, the unofficial 'hero' of the Orre region, and the man he was speaking to was quite a long way from home. But Percy had a task to complete. And a promise to cash in on.

    The Fairy King smirked at his last-minute partner, who was now guised as a little girl. Cute, blonde, and complete with pigtails. He'd bumped into Percy on the only road that went into this part of the desert, and they'd found that their destinations were the same. Thus, they had joined forces, for a time. Everything had gone smoothly until they came closer to their goal. Percy had insisted on disguises, and though they'd made good time with them, Wes had been demanding a different guise for over an hour now, as they'd traveled across the dry brush landscape to their destination.

    Percy was guised as an old man, with a beard of gray that covered most of his face. He'd even gone with an eyepatch, over his right eye. The story was, supposedly, that this random grandfather just happened to be wandering through a desert with his relative. Completely believable.

    His argument had been that people in Norstad traveled across vast swathes of wastes just to survive all the time, but Wes had a feeling Arceans avoided that. Their Church paid for everything, which included transportation to wherever they were 'assigned'.

    In the end, it hadn't mattered. They came upon their destination without encountering anyone. Now up close, Percy could see many details his abrupt satellite scan of the area hadn't picked up on. The facility was in what had once been a crater, which could only have come from a meteoric impact. Pools of undulating silvery metal were all over the crater, and had plenty of space between them. Oddly enough, there was no wall, not even a fence, surrounding the crater. Only several large, and easily avoidable turrets, placed about the rim.

    "I can feel the heat from here…" Wes muttered, his adult man's voice sounding entirely unnatural coming from the little girl he currently was.

    "Hush." Old Percy said, smirking. The Trainer had a point, though. It was hot down there. That was likely what was keeping the Meltan, and their evolutions, in a constant liquid state. Then, the wind shifted, and the two shared a look. There was a…noise, of a kind, on the wind. A terrible high pitched groaning sound. The sound of hundreds of Melmetal, and their prior evolutions, crying out in pain. Apparently being forcibly melted together in burning holes in the ground was something they didn't like. "If we can free them…they would make powerful allies."

    The little girl glared at the old man. "Or, they could run amok, and be disintegrated by those turrets. We need to find a way to help them out of those holes and disable the heat, as well as take out those guns. Seems we have two tasks."

    Percy was already moving. "Dibs on the heater. Have fun with the giant guns!" He gave a casual wave as he strolled down the crater's steep edge, moving slowly, and letting his magic camouflage him. Wes was on his own. As a rare act of mercy, he dispelled the poor man's fairy typed disguise, and gave him a robe of shadows instead. It wasn't as stealthy as a genuine one, but tricking one's perception was a trademark of fairy energy.

    Knowing the Arceans as he did, for Caleb Pravus had sent many a brainwasher to his tower, over the years, he knew their buildings typically went for a fortified underground approach. After many failed attempts to convert him, Percy had been 'given' inside secrets usually only reserved for Church members who'd put in their time, and worked for it. Evidently Pravus' reasoning was that he'd already done his time, and was still doing it, thus he could be trusted. If he joined. The Prophet himself never actually visited him though, not until he'd been useful.

    Eventually, Percy had acquiesced to their requests to 'ally' with their organization. It was better than rotting away in that tower, forgotten by the mortals of all but his home region. Technically, he was considered to be at 'stage eight' of twelve on their Church's 'path to enlightenment'. The completion of which, made one 'immune' to disease, and supposedly death. There was, of course, not one shred of evidence that completing each stage, something the people had to pay thousands, if not millions, of units of currency for, actually worked. The first Prophet, the man who'd founded the cult, and set up most of the current rules and regulations, had himself died of a sudden heart attack. Then, Pravus had seized control, and those who questioned him disappeared. Or so the rumors claimed.

    It was an unusual death, to non-Arceans at least. In those early days, they'd been the largest of several regions in what was now Fornia, and the east kept an eye on them. Under Pravus, they had dominated, and expanded, uniting the Fornia region under one banner in a matter of years. The Prophet's.

    Evidently the first Prophet, a normal, if charismatic human by all accounts, had been sequestered on one of his naval ships after their cult was sued into becoming ocean-bound refugees, and the advanced medical technology that could've saved him was too far away to do anything. Or so Pravus had told his mourning followers. All anyone knew of the man assuming control of what the original Prophet left behind was that he'd appeared one day on the coastal beaches, and had been helped by the original Prophet, who'd just happened to be strolling by that morning.

    It wasn't long before the strange castaway had befriended the first Prophet, become his confidant, and upon his death, took over the, at that point, almost entirely naval cult whose only land holding had been Port: Land, close to the Kanadian border. The official Church statement had been that Pravus' predecessor had been called to Arceus' side, and therefor had to abandon his body. Or something. Getting those details had been a slog, for many had not wished to speak of the first Prophet. Only the current one mattered, apparently. After well over two centuries of control, it wasn't surprising that the current generation was so unflinchingly loyal. Percy knew how malleable humans could be, if one influenced them young enough. It was why immortals and long-lived tyrants were so effective.

    Once Percy finally found a bunker entrance, he used what skill he'd honed over the long millennia to subdue a guard, examine his mind, and take his place in the order of things by way of disguise. In this manner, he slowly made his way through the rank and file, until he made his way lower into the facility, broke a machine, and then found a maintenance worker, and took his identity as well. The illusions hiding their unconscious (and possibly deceased) bodies would hopefully last as long as their mission here would.

    The room he was looking for, he had learned, was indeed located deep underground. A furnace, evidently powered by not one, but two male Heatran. As he finally came upon the chamber in question however, he found the armed guards, in standard soldier attire, already dispatched. Someone was inside, mumbling to themselves.

    The room only had one entrance, from a walkway that, thanks to the technician's knowledge, Percy knew was over sixty percent Dolomite, a durable, heat resistant blending of metal. The walkway was above the chamber, most of which was taken up by the machine within. The two Heatran were there, and they were massive, held unmoving in some kind of stasis, constantly giving off as much heat as they could manage.

    Percy decided on stealth at that moment, and listened in. "No…No. No. Nonono. Where the hell are they? I know there's *burp* some here." The man speaking, and belching in between sentences, looked like a Professor, and had the hair for it. Wild, spiky, with a bald spot only visible from behind. It was pink, save for faint streaks of white within. For the most part, he seemed like a normal human, but he'd already taken down four soldiers of the Church's Task Force, who lay unmoving on the floor of the underground prison. Looks were deceiving.

    Another, far more annoying voice came then. "Aw geeze, Rick. I don't think this guy is alive. Rick? Rick! I don't want to be an accomplice to murder, Rick! I want- I want to go to school!"

    A loud belch filled the small underground cavern, followed by more speech from this Rick person. "School? You want be some *belch* miiiindless sheep that comes at the call of a *burp* bell? Fine. If all you're going to do is *burp* biiiitch, then you can go. Here. Go on, Grampa is right behind you." Percy glanced down, and his eyes widened as he saw the man fire a device with a pink crystal embedded in the top. At the push of a button, it tore open a portal in reality. It was a pinkish scarlet color, but the smaller owner of the annoying voice walked through without complaint.

    The belching figure went back to rummaging, and moments later exclaimed, "Woahoho! Jackpot!"

    Deciding he'd had enough stealth Percy dispelled his illusion as he leapt the stairs down to the machine, and winced at the intensity of the heat. He turned to his fellow intruder, who hadn't noticed him, and said, "Hello there."

    Rick stood and turned slowly, and Percy got his first good look at him. Bored expression. Bloodshot eyes. Pink hair. Professor's labcoat. In one hand was the device that had torn a hole in the very fabric of space for travel. In the other was a large, almost plant-like seed looking object that seemed to pulse with heat. Rick handed him the seed then.

    "Here. *Burp* Hoooold this. I can only carry two." He reached down to grab more of the strange objects, and Percy winced as he examined it in his reluctant grasp.

    "I'm Percy by the way… erm, What…exactly am I holding? And why?"

    "Heatran Seeds. The only thing that *burp* burns hotter than these babies is my eternal devotion to Szechuan Sauce. I need them for my…uhh…science. Just follow me through the *burp* pooortal, quick trip, in and out." Rick stood then, and Percy observed that his 'seeds' seemed to be more…fresh, as they were dripping some kind of ichor.

    "Not so fast…" A new voice crowed from above them. The two men looked up to behold a new figure, another man, though almost as flamboyant as Percy. He had a long brown coat, and under it, a suit of clothes whose color scheme seemed oddly familiar. Deep blue, steel gray, and a light blue as well.

    He too held a device. It was thinner than Rick's and had a blue crystal embedded at the tip that was the same light blue hue as his clothes. He was staring at them with what seemed like disbelief, as he pointed it at them, and it buzzed for a moment, then stopped. Percy felt a brief intrusion into his mind, but it was so quick, he almost missed it.

    The crimson, almost scarlet haired man spoke again, then. "Ahh…humans. Of course, it's humans." He stared down at them with sad, angry eyes. "I thought you'd been wiped out…all that effort, and you destroyed yourselves anyways. Gave in to your 'inevitable doom'. It's enough to make a man give up…for a time. The running never really stops."

    Percy raised a brow at him, ignoring the unsettling throbbing from the seed that, the more he looked at it, seemed more flesh than plant. "You seem to have outdated information. We bounced back. Have you really not seen a human since Old Earth fell? How old are you?"

    The red headed man adjusted his bowtie then and smirked, "Old enough, actually…right. Humans. Earth. House call. Imprisoned Meltan in a hellish crater." He looked down at his side then. "You never said you were from Earth. But I'm here now. The Doctor is in."

    He strode down the steps then, past Percy and a silent, unnerved Rick. He had visibly tensed at the man's words, specifically 'Doctor', and was looking at the strange man like he knew him, but the newcomer no longer seemed to care that they existed. Standing next to the redhead was a Meltan, who was struggling to stay somewhat solid in the intense heat the machine holding the Heatran gave off.

    There was a familiar noise as a pink portal opened, and then closed rapidly, as Rick stepped through, leaving Percy holding the throbbing seed. "That's not a plant seed you know." The 'doctor' said as he scanned the machine with his tiny stick, and appeared to, somehow, read what it had to say about it.

    "What is it then?" Percy asked, holding it away from him.

    "It seems humanity is as brutal as ever. Heatran give off the most heat when they're in intense pain. What you're holding in your hand is what whoever put these poor fellows in there had cut off, to keep that pain fresh, to keep the heat coming, to keep…the Meltan melted." He stared at Percy then, as if noticing him for the first time. It wasn't an unpleasant stare, nor was the man ugly. Not Percy's type, for he'd had both sexes in his time, but attractive enough. "Where am I, anyway? Location, Year, etcetera? All I found was empty tunnels on the way in."

    Percy set the 'seed' down, and then summoned his Glaceon, who formed a Water Pulse in a small, spinning sphere that he could wash his hands clean with. "You're some miles west of Arcino, in the Fornia region, some giant underground crater facility. The people running this operation are called Arceans. They're a…religious group. Big on militancy."

    The doctor sighed, voice dripping with sarcasm as he examined the machine's controls. "Fan-tas-tic. I love a cult. Militant, eh? Let me guess. Plenty of guns?"

    Percy shrugged. "A few firearms, like pistols perhaps, but their main weapon is the staves they make from the metal here. They're capable of shooting elemental beam attacks in the form of flame, ice, or lightning. They're quite strong. Are you telling me you just appeared in this place with no idea what was going on?"

    The redhead nodded again, then blinked. "That's kind of my MO. Wait. What? Are you telling me you've all already gone and surpassed projectile weaponry for beam energy?" He looked at his bare wrist the way one might look for a watch, paused for a moment, then shook his head clear of old habits.

    Percy chuckled. "Most modern regions are capable of producing capture-spheres that hold their partners in their own pocket dimensions. They're quite cozy, too. Beam weapons aren't that hard to reproduce, but it's cheaper to just teach a Pokémon how to use Hyper Beam."

    The doctor raised a brow, and then lifted his dark brown long jacket, revealing a team of his own. "Capture-spheres? You mean like these?"

    The Pokéballs looked rather old, to Percy's eyes, a bit knackered, but ordinary, to him. A nice combination of red and white in the classic style. He'd quickly reacquainted himself with the modern world's capture technology, and had even begun sneaking it to those in Norstad he knew could benefit from having them. This 'doctor' and his team looked several decades off, but then, some claimed the older balls worked better than the new. He hadn't been around for that era, so he didn't know if such things were true.

    "Humans who can Battle…right. That…complicates matters. Deal with that later…for now, friend Percy, white-clothed, pale-skinned Percy, you have ice types yes? I want you to have them use Ice Beam on this console here." He gestured to it, and then took several steps back.

    Percy's Glaceon, who was already out and listening, used Ice Beam then. While it did cool, it evidently wasn't enough. His Beartic got involved as well then, and that was when the doctor deemed it ready. "Alright…we should be all set. L-9 would you do the honors?"

    A Lucario materialized from his belt then, shaking his head as he once more became corporeal, and not energy. He gave his partner a nod, and with a motion so fast even Percy's eyes had trouble following, the console split in half diagonally. The Lucario gave his aura-bone a twirl, and it faded then. The redhead gave his friend a pat on the head, and then eyed the tanks.

    "Oh…that seems to have woken them up…" He slowly turned to Percy, awkward smile on his face. The kind one makes when they know they've accidentally messed up.

    His Glaceon began growling at the tanks, and Percy glanced from her, to the doctor. "What does that mean?"

    "Well, do you know what happens to cold glass when it's rapidly heated?" The glass on both tanks began to crack, as the fluid holding the Heatran began to boil once more. The two angry males were awake, in agony, and the area around them would boil for it. It didn't take long before the entire holding cell began splitting apart.

    "It means run!" The Doctor shouted as he bolted for the stairs and Percy sprinted after the redhead. He wasn't all that worried about stealth, for not many people were authorized to be this far down, and the roars of the pained Heatran began echoing through the tunnels as they broke free of their prison, incoherent with rage. Anyone with sense, would run from a sound like that.

    "Not that I don't like exercise…" Percy said, panting after several minutes of running, "But do we have a destination in mind?"

    "We do!" The Doctor said, taking a sudden right. He led them into a large cavern, big enough for aircraft, and with an equally large exit, which was open. On the 'landing area' outside, little more than a slab of poorly made metal, was the sleeping form of a God. Or the closest thing Pokémon, and humans, had to one. The beast that controlled and maintained the very flow of the Time Vortex. Dialga.

    They sprinted out of the enormous hangar, for indeed there were several aircraft which were currently stored away in the walls of the red stone common to the area. Behind them, almost forty feet of wall rapidly melted, as a pair of massive Heatran, eyes burning with purple shadows, came charging after them.

    Dialga opened one eye as the Doctor approached it, and Percy, who had run before with other Tamers of Legendary Pokémon, found himself suddenly cautious as he saw the sad, angry eyes of the Time Deity.

    "Right…" The Doctor said, as he raised a hand. The two massive Heatran prepared another Magma Storm as they rapidly approached. "This is where it gets complicated." The man snapped his fingers, and Dialga Roared.


    Wes had decided to test his recently snagged Pokémon on the Arceans guarding the large, imposing energy cannons that encircled the base. Having had an interest in fossils and the creatures his ancestors had named 'dinosaurs' since he learned that was what Orre was most famous for, he knew exactly what species this Pokémon had come from. That was why he'd laughed when he saw the ID on the vest he'd been wearing, and the name the Arceans had evidently given this revived species. He'd called the Pokémon out some hours after escaping the Arcean onslaught, but quickly realized that bonding with a Pokémon like this could help turn the tide of the oncoming war.

    After taking down the entire crater rim's defenses in less than twenty minutes, he knew he'd made the right choice. Oddly enough, he hadn't been tainted with Shadow, which was a nice change of pace from the ones he usually took from Arceans. He'd tied them to continued Shadow infusion for years, had even told the League, but nobody had acted on the information. Now, his home had paid the price.

    He gave the raptor a scratch under his thin chin as he came trotting back, and the beast made a trilling sound that anyone could tell contained joy. "Not bad. Not bad at all. Now we go get ready to help the Meltan. This way."

    The creature did something then that surprised the Trainer. It crouched low, and stared directly at him with an unnerving amount of intelligence. He wondered what exactly the Arceans had dug up, but decided to trust the inherent kindness of every Pokémon he'd ever befriended. He climbed onto the creature's back, and wrapped his arms around his neck.

    They began running then, and though he was slowed by the weight, the Pokémon's speed was still, especially for a part rock type, quite impressive. They assaulted each pool quickly, and Wes called out his Espeon and Umbreon to give them a hand once they quickly found their opponents overwhelming them by disregarding any kind of battle etiquette, or rules.

    There was a reason he was a top-ranked Trainer, even if he did come from the sparsely populated Orre region. He'd handled far more grunts in his time than the Church had garrisoned here. Thankfully, this was only half of the population. The others were, he had learned after studying a map and shift schedule by one of the turrets, all garrisoned in the tunnels below, and were off-duty.

    Once they were done, they could only sit and wait, until Percy disabled the heat. A few of the Nut Pokémon had, upon seeing their torturers beaten, tried climbing out of their rocky prison. The heat always melted them however, and they oozed back down into the pool of silver and eyes.

    After five minutes of pacing, Wes sighed. "I'm done waiting. I'm doing what I came here to do." His Pokémon perked up at his words, which had broken the 'silence' between them. In truth, this close to the pools, the Meltan and their evolutions drowned out the chance for conversation. They sensed freedom near, and all of them yearned for it. The sound was overpowering. "You three stand guard, and help them up when the heat goes off. I'll be back."

    With that, he dashed into the nearest tunnel. His connections had given him a map of the complex that revealed enough of the structure to get him where he wanted to go, and nowhere else. Thankfully, it was easy enough to follow.

    When the Arcean Crusaders had overwhelmed Mt. Battle, and then the entire Orre region in a few hours, and claimed the region theirs, they had taken prisoners to ensure that the 'heroes' of the region didn't stir up any trouble.

    Naturally, this had meant kidnapping the girl who could see auras. Rui. Dear to both her cousin Michael and Wes, the Church had claimed that she was in a safe place, being well treated, as long as everyone obeyed the new order. Before long, what few residents the region had were suddenly giving their conquerors their hard-earned money, to take 'classes' on the cult they were now paying to be part of. Those who resisted usually conformed once they were threatened with being shipped away to a mining camp in Fornia. Even in Orre, the locals had heard dark rumors of the Church's protocols in such places. War had, undoubtedly, made them worse. It always did.

    Only a few had persistently resisted the Church, but it was enough for Wes to decide he'd had enough of sitting around. The disappearances had started slow, but eventually, he kept an eye on those who did defy the Church, and it wasn't long before he had tailed the black clad Task Force members to the only road that existed in this part of the desert.

    Now, finally, he was here. After hearing the Meltan's cries, he doubted these people were treating her well. Humans who could do that to innocent Pokémon were the worst kind of scum. He needed to free as many people as possible.

    The tunnel before him read 'Prison', but the letters were in the shape of Unown. After hearing several rumors about such things, Wes moved slowly past them, down the hall, and towards the cells, which were little more than Iron bars and melted out caves. It was oppressively hot, and the entire place stank of unwashed, sweaty human.

    Forcing himself to ignore the stink, he listened, and his ears caught a hint of her voice. He knew it quite well. Wes stalked towards the noise, until finally, he found Rui's cell.

    She was repeating something. Over and over, hunched in a corner of the small cage carved into the rock. As cells went, it was rather nice. A real bed. A real pillow. A toilet that evidently had been cleaned, and recently. He raised a brow as he tried to make out what she was mumbling. "Rui?"

    She twitched at the sound of his voice, and began rocking in place. "I can't see them, I promise…I can't see them… I can't…"

    Wes glanced at the bars, and then called out his Typhlosion. The air shimmered, and the bars melted quickly as the Pokémon turned his back to them, and snorted, causing his flames to rise. He then moved to stand guard in the tunnel, hiding low on all fours.

    Wes gave the bars a second to cool, and then stepped into the cell. The entire time, she had kept repeating the same words. "Rui? It's me. I'm getting you out of here."

    She stopped rocking in place, and glanced at him, eyes wide in terror. "No…please Doctor…I can't see them, I promise…I can't…"

    Wes' eyes narrowed. "Doctor who?"

    Rui looked back at the corner, still repeating the words. He moved to touch her, and when she didn't strike at him, he picked her up, and set her on his Typhlosion. "Typho…get her out of here. Run all the way back home if you have to. But keep her safe."

    The Pokémon nodded, but followed behind his Trainer as they tried to quietly move back through the tunnels. Rui kept whispering however, and every few minutes, she'd grow louder. Typho would calm her by generating some heat from his neck, but it never stopped her mouth from moving.

    They parted as they returned to the central hallway of the prison. After examining the locks he hadn't melted, Wes figured there was an electronic 'open' switch somewhere, and indeed there was. He defeated the man guarding it, who called himself a 'Bishop', and had claimed superiority to a Trainer like him. After a quick battle, Wes took the man's ID card with the bored expression of a man who'd done this several hundred times, and eventually, found the switch to open the cells. He smirked as he saw many residents of Orre stumbling free.

    They each looked tired, but determined as they recognized the Snatcher, and it wasn't long before they began rushing for the exit. Wes joined them, and led them out of the tunnels. Right as they ran out, and returned to the craters of Meltan, the entire complex began to shake, and roars of pure rage echoed throughout.

    Wes told everyone not fit to battle to flee, and all but a small group of Trainers did. They had Pokémon partners that had been taken, and refused to give up on them. Wes had explained that they were likely infused with Shadow now, and lent them his Snag Machine. At least until they recaptured their friends, and left this hellish place.

    Once they'd left, his Espeon got his attention. The Melmetal were climbing up, forming cohesive bodies. The craters glowed with the white energy of evolution, as many of the Meltan came together to reach the next stage. They'd been unable while melted, but now, they all sought revenge.

    In the end, the craters produced roughly twenty of the giant living metal beings, who began moving, unified, in each compass direction of their crater prison. They would cleanse all of it. They moved into the shaking tunnels, and exacted revenge upon the humans that had inflicted unimaginable pain upon them for decades now. Each giant had been surrounded by a crowd of Meltan at their feet, who aided their evolved kin with unified and timely Flash Cannons. Collapsed tunnels were easily fixed as they moved through the complex, but the metal used to prop them open was weak, and would eventually break if the shaking continued.

    With Typho and the residents of Orre on their long way home, Wes recalled his eeveelutions, and decided to try to find Percy. He had no love for the man, but it felt wrong to abandon a fellow traveler when they'd come here together, and he wouldn't wish being captured by this cult on anyone after getting a firsthand look at their prison. Thankfully, he didn't have to look far once he climbed to the crater's rim again. The exploding hangar caught his attention, as did the unmistakable figure of Dialga, facing down two giant Heatran.

    He was already moving towards the massive figures atop his raptor, but quickly realized he was too far to do anything. Dialga roared, and Wes watched as he ran. The two Heatran shrank in size as the Roar's power surrounded them, and seemed to calm them, slightly, though they still attacked with a pair of Magma Storms. He saw a Glaceon freeze the waves, and then watched as a Lucario smashed them to pieces with a single strike from a bone club that looked like it was made of pure energy.

    Things seemed to calm down then, and by the time Wes had run over, the same Lucario had subdued the pair by using its aura waves to keep them calm, and somewhat docile. Percy was speaking to a red-haired man with a unique fashion sense. "And they won't remember any of it?"

    The man grinned. "Nope. It's like their trauma never happened. Now, all I have to do is bring them home, and their sense of time will return fairly quick. They'll have a few nightmares…but in time, they'll fade. Provided they're not disturbed."

    The doctor chuckled as he saw Wes approach them, and raised a brow at his choice of mount. "Is that...what I think it is? Oh you are...gorgeous!" Wes opened his mouth to warn the stranger away, but the initially hesitant Veloraptar allowed the man to touch his snout, and then trilled as he began scratching the underside of his neck. "You'll want to get him right under the jaw, back here...that's the spot he likes best. Isn't it you beauty."

    Wes raised a brow at the man. "How do you know that, exactly?"

    The man winked at him as he gave the beast, whose tongue now lolled out of his razor-sharp maw, a thorough scratching. "I speak raptor."

    Wes shifted, and he glanced down at the raptor's legs. Dangerous looking claws adorned each limb, perfect for gripping and tearing prey, but now, one of them was twitching, in direct time to the man's attentions. He felt himself laugh, despite the absurdity of the situation, and the looming form of the Time God above them.

    Percy and Wes gave a bow as the man made his way towards Dialga, though they didn't quite know why. It seemed right. The doctor placed a hand on Dialga then and gave them a wave with the other. The two were then encased in a cube of blue energy that floated into the air, and shot skyward, where it shortly disappeared. Percy smirked, as he'd heard the strange doctor shout with glee as they vanished.

    Wes raised a brow at him. "Was…was that Dialga's Tamer?"

    Percy nodded. "He called himself the doctor…"

    Wes' eyes slowly hardened, and he glared up at where the cube had vanished. "Doctor who, exactly?"

    The Fairy King shrugged. "He never gave a name, just…doctor. Why?"

    Wes went on to fill in the events he'd dealt with while Percy had chatted up strangers who seemed to be able to warp space and time as they pleased.

    Once he was finished, the light blonde man shook his head, and recalled his Glaceon. "I don't think that doctor was the one your Rui mentioned…he's not tied to this place, in fact, he seemed surprised that humans still even existed on Earth."

    They had begun walking again, on their way from the base. The crater now smoked from every entrance, and destruction was everywhere. Wes followed Percy, as he seemed to have a destination in mind for them. "Really? Well then who was she talking about?"

    Percy glanced at him. "Like you have to ask. There's only one doctor I know of that meddles with Shadow infusion. That would have the...depraved idea of creating a place like this. You've met him, if the legends are true."

    "Ein…" Wes spoke the name like a curse.

    "Exactly." Percy said as he crossed his arms, and stopped. The Meltan beside him jiggled with excitement. They were before one of the larger rock formations just outside of the crater. Before Wes could ask why they'd come to stare at a rock, he got an answer.

    The stone exploded outward, as a roughly ten-foot-tall hole appeared in the side of it. From it, came no less than twenty lumbering Melmetal, all surrounded by small groups of their prior evolution. Dark red drops circulated through each of their bodies, and Percy didn't have to ask where they'd come from. There was a reason humans had been warned not to anger powerful Pokémon. This was often the result. The Meltan that had been with them thus far rejoined its kin, and was soon lost in the swarm of golden hex nut heads, and silver.

    Percy spread his arms as each of the giants stood before them, forming a semicircle. "Hello Melmetal! And hello Meltan as well. I expect your revenge went well, aye?"

    Each of the creatures began readying an all-too-familiar sphere of normal type energy that presaged the use of a move absurdly common to powerful Pokémon like these. "Now now, no need for that…I'm Percy. This is Wes. With efforts from both of us, we freed you, and now, we'd like your help."

    The balls of energy stopped growing in size, but still remained. One of the Meltan by the centermost giant wobbled forward, and Percy touched its mind.

    Gratitude for freedom. Let us live in peace.

    The Pokémon let their attacks fade, and turned then, but not before Percy spoke. "I'm afraid it's not that simple. Hear me out, please." The giant's eyes moved back to him, and waited, motionless.

    Percy took the pause to speak, "I for one, am fully behind letting you all get back to what you were doing before you were imprisoned here, however, I imagine quite a few of you still yet hunger for revenge, yes? I saw…I saw the data for how many Meltan had simply fallen, dissolved to the heat. You have my condolences…as well as an opportunity to strike back at those who've been abusing you. Unova and Fornia are at war, and the east could use a supply of metal, gathered properly of course. In return for your aid, I'm told that the One Dragon intends to give you land in which to live, undisturbed, once this is all over."

    The Melmetal looked at each other, and three of them wandered away, evidently not interested in revenge, only rest. Percy didn't blame them for leaving, but thankfully, the Meltan following them stayed, and began to shine, as they combined with the other swarms around the giants to form another Melmetal. That left them with eighteen.

    "Good." Percy said, smirking now that he had their attention. "The lizard will work out the details with each of you. You will have your chance for revenge."

    The newest Melmetal intruded on his mind then, and Percy winced. The contact was powerful, and, he realized slowly, boiling with rage for all those who'd died senselessly. There are others. Must find them.

    "Leave that to myself, and my allies. Your prison was obvious, easily found from orbit, but if there are others, they will be harder to track. They're all likely underground. We'll begin searching for them as soon as we return to Unova." A single Meltan oozed from one of the giants as Percy spoke.

    This one knows of others. Give them same agreement? Land? Home?

    Percy nodded. "I'm sure the dragon won't have an issue with that. I'll use this one's memories to find the others. Now prepare yourselves…this might feel strange."

    Each of the Melmetal placed their fists on the ground, and knelt on both 'knees', as they sensed what Percy was about to do. He turned to Wes then, and chuckled. "It seems this is where we part ways. Tao will move you to Orre…since apparently that's what you want. Are you sure you wouldn't prefer somewhere less…hostilely occupied?"

    It was Wes' turn to chuckle. "If I wanted unoccupied, I wouldn't go east. That's where the soldiers went. My moneys on south. No Church down there."

    Percy shrugged. "South of Orre, and free of Arceans eh? Well, if you really want to test the legend of the 'Dark Continent', you go right ahead. I'm bound for Unova…I've a debt to collect on." Percy offered a hand then, and Wes gave it a shake, before taking the three-point stance he'd been told, by Percy, was the best way to survive Teleporting, as it could be tricky.

    He reached out to Tao, then linked with each of the Melmetal, and with the dragon's aid, Teleported all of them to Unova.

    Wes was redirected to Orre with little more than a thought from the One Dragon. It was where he'd wanted to go, and he didn't mind when he reappeared in Phenac City. It was close enough, and, his ride was parked here, conveniently.

    The Trainers from earlier approached him, and returned his Snag machine. Evidently they had gotten their partners back and flown home. They had even cleared them of Shadow with nothing but the strength of their bonds, and rather quickly at that. The local Trainers had learned how from the best, after all.

    He'd half expected them to take the machine for themselves, but the people of Orre had come to associate such things with two particular Trainers they considered heroes. Nobody would willingly rob their remote region's icons of their ability to cleanse captured Shadow Pokémon.

    Back in Unova, Percy set to work on getting the Melmetal comfortable, and it wasn't long at all until the Brain Trust began fabricating the war's first plasma swords. Only time would tell if they would be enough to shift the oncoming tide in the east's favor.
  11. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 27: The Red Winter

    Parfum Palace – Kalos Region

    There was a knock on the ancient mahogany door that marked the entrance to the quarters that had, historically, played host to all manner of Kalosian nobility. "My Prince your, erm, Grandfather has requested your presence in the…'space between war and peace'… He said you would know what that meant…"

    "Of course he did…" Calem muttered, but the servant who'd delivered the message was already gone. He was no longer the young teen he'd been when he'd first met his 'legendary' relative. After they'd battled before most of Lumiose, he'd revealed that they shared blood, though how many generations separated them was a mystery. Realizing Lysander was likely also a relative had taken a long time to come to terms with, but it made sense, in hindsight. He too had been tall. Calem hadn't gained bulk however, just size. He'd already been tall before Xerneas had blessed him, but in the years following, he'd grown to one hundred and ninety-six centimeters last he'd checked, which admittedly, had been some time ago.

    After regaining his beloved partner, the returned King of Kalos had reclaimed his Palace from Calem's cousin Allie, and took charge of the complex and delicate system of power the Kalosians had been peacefully ruled under since the last war, three centuries past. Nobles of their region were expected to be expert Trainers, for the King had decreed that only those with strong bonds with their partners were fit to lead.

    Up until the Team Flare incident, Mega Evolution had been a closely guarded secret of the Kalos nobility, several Gym Leaders, and usually the region's Champion. When the young prince had gone to aid the very man who made Kalos' secret power so popular with his research, Calem had gained a bad reputation with the nobles, which had included his parents. That hadn't stopped him from thrashing them, however.

    He'd been given the title of Grand Duke thanks to his skills, but any influence he might've had only became significant when the King returned, and publicly revealed their blood ties. Kalos was now once more ruled by a single figure, and he'd suddenly found himself a target of every noble in the region, who had, for the past three centuries, enjoyed the absence of taxes to a giant, ill-tempered monarch.

    He might've been crushed, had his Chesnaught not become his bodyguard. Surprise hit-and-run Hyper Beam attacks had become far too common, and lately, he'd been forced to stay in his room.

    "Come, Chesalier. I expect we have more Battles to win…" The sleeping form of his Chesnaught, which took up a large portion of his palatial quarters with his size, slowly unfolded, and the irritated, half-awake eyes of the massive Pokémon fell upon his Trainer. He opened his mouth expectantly, and received an Oran Berry.

    Now smirking, and munching happily, he wiped the sleep from his eyes and lumbered after his Trainer, ready to form a protective shield around him at a second's notice. Calem glanced up at the ceiling as they walked, and were joined by the only missing member of their newly extended party of ten. Like many Trainers, he definitely intended to join the next World Tournament, since he'd missed the last one, though lately, it seemed like the next site for it would be a war zone before long. Or so the rumors said.

    "Anything, Guivre?" The Noivern dropped from the ceiling in an elegant and spiraling movement that, in the dim lighting of the Palace, was hard to follow. He gave the dragon a jaw scratch as he rose up before his Trainer, and blinked his eyes once. Nobody around, this time. It seemed his route to the Hall would be clear today.

    He recalled the dragon into his Luxury Ball, and continued on. The Hall of Mirrors, as it was sometimes called, was typically used, in ages past, to hold peace summits. The one that had ended the last war had been held here, and ever since, the nobles had preferred it when battling each other for political power, as they did almost daily, to further their personal agendas.

    It seemed it was empty today though, save for his gigantic relative. AZ had said that, thanks to Xerneas, he too would one day grow to tower over his fellow humans, that like him, the power of the Legendary Pokémon had done more than make him immortal. He had been proven correct, despite Calem's initial skepticism. He'd also hinted at some strange power related to their blood, but they'd been interrupted before he could say more, and they hadn't spoken of it since.

    The King had cleaned up since his return to power, and looked eerily similar to how he had several centuries past, though his hair was definitely grayer. Calem had walked by giant paintings of the man's face numerous times in his childhood, and talking to the man himself often made things seem surreal to the young Prince.

    The ancient King was staring out of one of the windows that were as tall as he was, his Floette perched on his shoulder, as usual. AZ's attire once more befit a ruler, though his young relative still looked like a Trainer, albeit a well-dressed one. He'd matched his Chesnaught's color scheme, and hadn't regretted the change.

    "Good. You've come quickly…there is much to say. As you may have noticed…we have a guest." The giant man gestured, and a new figure joined them, separating smoothly from the few shadows in the room. Calem beheld the only other woman he'd ever classify as being anywhere near Serena's level of beauty, though comparatively she was still rather young, and a decade at the very least separated them in age. The more he looked, the more he realized the two women really were quite similar, though this one had sharper eyes, a satisfied smirk, and hair as red as fire.

    Jessica Gladstone introduced herself with all the proper manners of one born to high society, and though she hid it well, Calem knew a Kalosian accent when he heard one. He returned the introduction with a bow, and his own list of titles. Once the niceties were done, a silent pause filled the room, and Calem resisted smirking. He knew a bit about the current Champion's sister. She was a good Trainer too, or so rumor said.

    He quickly glanced between them, as his Chesnaught, sensing no danger, curled up into a spiky sphere once more to snooze while the humans talked endlessly. They both wanted him to speak first, or so it seemed, and he did. "So. What brings the youngest Kalos Queen in a decade back home, hmm? Your…crown was already claimed by another. A long time ago, actually. Last I heard, you and that new Unovan Champion were enjoying the homeland… though I expect things have changed…"

    "They have." She absently ran a hand through the fiery mane, and adjusted her hat. That was when the Prince's instinct-driven eyes finally noticed the color scheme of her outfit. Black and white. Of course. Unovans never changed, it seemed. "Fornia has declared all-out war…and they're letting their Church pay for the whole thing. Their…'Crusaders' are hitting us hard…in short, my Prince, Unova calls for aid."

    Calem glanced at AZ, who had resumed staring out the window. He nodded, once. Calem gave his best smile, and as always, it drew a faint flush to the woman on the receiving end of it. "Then Kalos will answer. Though what aid we give will be up to the King…"

    AZ finally turned then, and regarded the woman properly for the first time since meeting her, as his gaze often drifted towards the sky. Slowly, his eyes widened. "So…the Tree of Life gave another gift…let us hope you wield its power better than her first choice…" The giant began pacing then, and the two humans watched, and waited. "Unova has ever been our ally…and in ages past, even when split, the Dragon has aided my people against the Imperium's encroachment…I will send our Prince, and a legion of our best Trainers. I will ready them myself. Will that satisfy your needs, Dragon Empress?"

    The woman blinked once, and then smirked. Her voice seemed to purr as she bowed low, in the Unovan style. "Thoroughly. Thus, the ancient pact is honored again. You have our gratitude, King of Kalos."

    "That's…the thing." AZ said, interrupting what sounded like the woman's exit. She seemed eager to get moving, and given the current dire situation, or what little Kalos knew of it, it made some sense. "I no longer desire to be the King of this region, indeed, even the nobles grow tired of my ancient games. My Kalos has moved on in my…absence. This is no longer my little kingdom…it's grown much larger…but it still requires a leader."

    The giant turned and approached the redhead. "Send your…Dragon Emperor…to speak with me, when this conflict abides… I wish to…test his mettle. If it's good enough for your Dragon…it may be good enough for my Kalos."

    Calem and Jess' eyes went wide at his words, and their implication. "I-I'll inform him as soon as possible. You have my word…thank you, again. Truly. It's nice to have reliable allies."

    With that, and to the Prince's shock, the woman vanished in a flash of light that he'd only ever seen his Gallade use. "Did…did she just Teleport?"

    AZ chuckled at the Prince's expression. "Yes…it seems the next stage of our species' evolution is upon us my young Prince…those with intensified psychic power are becoming more and more common."

    His eyes began to shine with a familiar blue and white glow. "It is a trait you too possess…and before we honor our ancient alliance, I will unlock your…potential."

    The Prince raised a brow. "Is it just psychic powers that have been appearing? Or are there other types as well?"

    The King grinned. "Clever clever grandson. Come…summon your Gallade…we are short on time…"

    Calem threw the Luxury Ball, colored green and white, into the air. "Sol! Come." He turned to his relative as his partner appeared. He'd almost gone with a Meowstic, but when he'd learned his old neighbor Serena had acquired a Gardevoir from traveling in Hoenn, a Gallade had been the only logical choice for him. "Do you really intend to hand over Kalos to the Dragon Empire?"

    AZ shrugged, as he finished bumping forearms with the young, but eager Gallade. "Potentially…yes. I do have a method to my madness…but we'll deal with all of that when and if he manages to make it here...for now, focus."

    Calem nodded, and with a flash, his Gallade mega evolved. Nodding in approval, the giant human met the Gallade's eye and said, "Show him."

    Meanwhile, in Unova…

    They were tearing the eastern forces apart. The Arcean's Crusaders were almost unstoppable, for each of them had strong teams of ten Pokémon, as well as a staff that could fire three kinds of energy. The same three that had subjugated an empire in ages past. Fire, ice, and lightning. Evidently, the Arceans brief, strange, and also completely denied capture of the Original Dragon had yielded something. Most of the Arceans never had to draw their Pokémon, so outmatched were the Unovans, in those early days.

    As in all conflicts, the hard toll of war separated the weak from the strong, but the eastern forces could never muster a force to match their foes in a proper battle line. Their superior weapons, literal beams of energy that could take out squads of ten humans in a single shot, had forced a hard retreat in every such conflict, and the eastern commanders who survived had been forced to adapt. The mainly militia forces had been quite effective at evacuating, though.

    Every Gym Leader throughout the eastern states had, without a word from the League, acted in unison, and moved as many people as possible eastward, towards the supposed 'capital' of this newly reconstituted empire. Those soldiers who had been Trainers tended to excel, and many suspected they were funded by the League, for those who stood out against the invading army were somehow always well equipped.

    In Texico, the east's knowledge of sailing the Texican Gulf came in handy, as the west half of the land had not held control of the waters for some time. Though initially forced into a hard retreat, the tides had changed after Champion Rosa and her Scales had reinforced the Texicans. After scavenging more than a few of the Church's own weapons, the Texicans of the east had forced a hard border line between both sides, one that had extended from Texico up to the center of the continent. That was where Champion Nate and his dragons ruled the air with a string of unbroken and overpowering victories.

    While the Church had manufactured planes equipped for war, they proved inferior to Nate's dragons, who could fell over ten at a time with a well-placed Hyper Beam. It wasn't long before the advancing Crusaders with flying partners were organized into proper air squadrons, but superiority belonged to the dragons, who dove on the ranks of mainly ground-bound Crusaders with devastating Outrage attacks every chance they got. The front lines shifted most in the middle, and Nate was the first to lose Scales under his command when the Church had ordered a regimental shift to ice typing, and filled the sky with beams of ice.

    The Unovan's new elite forces were, thankfully, hard to kill. Their armor proved invaluable, so much so that the head Professors of Unova University had granted their creators the rank of lab assistants. Eric Redwood, the leader of the so-called Brain Trust, was supposedly at that moment taking the exams to become a proper Professor, but while he did, the war raged on.

    Illinowa and Tenina had fallen, willingly according to rumor, but the Kanadian border held as strong as it ever had. Their wall's strength was legend, for it had even resisted the Dragon Empire, though truthfully, Tao himself had never tried to take it. When the Dragon had led armies, they had won, and in the past Kanadia had willingly joined the Empire with the promise that their culture would be kept intact, along with their border, should the empire fall. Kanadians usually laughed, whenever 'southerners' mentioned the wall and asked after its origins. The Kanadians would then tell them, almost verbatim in each encounter, that the two hundred foot tall structure, made mostly of steel and old world building methods, had been built 'ironically' by their ancestors in ages past, to shield Kanadia from insanity. Whatever that meant.

    Their northern neighbors were a bit…odd, but to their credit, they had taken in many who had begun running as soon as they heard the Arcean's 'holy army' was invading. The Kanadians found themselves reinforced by the Dragon Emperor himself, several days into the conflict. He'd led thirty-five of his heavily armored troops along the border, using the Black Salamence called Shruikan to eradicate entire companies of enemy Crusaders with massive Charge Beam attacks.

    They eventually learned to shield themselves, but by the time Shruikan struck, he was usually gone, and the damage was already done. These men too had tried shifting to ice typing, and while effective, Shruikan would always make them regret their choice when he demonstrated that he could unleash a torrent of flame, as well as electricity. Alex charged him with helping to guard the wall, a task he accepted, for it both provided food in the way of Wailord in the icy waters of the north, and entertainment, when the Arceans would try, and then fail, to take his wall.

    While the Kanadians along the massive structure appreciated the reinforcement, the new Emperor was something of an unknown, in their region. Rumor had spread, of course, of the 'first skirmish' of the war, in Unova's own territory. None had been surprised at the outcome, for Unova had always created powerful Trainers, by the dragon-load. While the new Gym Leader of Opelucid City had undoubtedly distinguished himself, their Champion had, quite publicly apparently, dismembered one of the Prophet's own Hands by way of incineration. He never bothered correcting the tale tellers by saying it had actually been Tao who'd removed the abomination. He would've done the same if the dragon hesitated, but Tao never did.

    Indeed, the dragon was proving invaluable as a commander. He had retained his Mega Form, and from Unity Tower, mentally guided the thousands of troops under his command, usually by way of mental contact. Every human he spoke with, and the soldiers under them, fought ten times harder after hearing his Words of inspiration, and though many innocents were saved by noble sacrifice, many more continued to die to the relentless advance of the Arcean's Blitz.

    It was an old practice in Unova, but after several days of besieging the border wall all along their territories, the Kanadians had, at the giant black Salamence's suggestion, adorned the wall with the enemy dead. Those with weak stomachs declined to help, but there were plenty who'd suffered under the relentless march of the Church who were willing to do the grisly work. The corpses placed atop the Kanadian's wall sent a clear message. Death awaited anyone who tried to take the north, and the attacks all but ceased. Any attempts were routed whenever Shruikan would so much as scratch his neck. He had proven he could strike the humans whenever he wished, day or night, but he was defending, and that meant staying put. For the moment.

    Most easterners had latched on to the news of a new Dragon Emperor, for every State had legends involving the first. The governments of each eastern State quickly reaffirmed their loyalty to the Dragon in writing, as they had quite openly supported the trade between the eastern states for years, hoping for this exact development. The people were ready to start growing again, all they had needed, was a spark.

    A spark was exactly what the Dragon Emperor had created. Most didn't believe the rumors, about him taking on a Hand, alone, and living, unless they saw him in battle. The Prophet's 'limbs' had made a lasting and early impression in this war, striking many States on their own turf free of easterners, before vanishing in a hail of destruction, and usually carnage.

    The rumors came to slowly be believed however, once the Scales of Balance arrived to even the odds all across the front. Wielding plasma swords straight from a combination of science fiction and fantasy, as well as 'magic' powers and teams of incredibly strong Pokémon, the Champions who'd survived the Great Swamp were almost impossible to stop, especially when they struck in force. Rumor had it that they could even slice through the energy beams of their enemies, deflecting them from their soldiers, but nobody quite believed that one.

    It took a long, bloody week for the Blitz to ground to a halt against the Scales and the invigorated eastern forces, but it wasn't long before the Church's drums of war thundered once more. The Arceans set their sights on the Ohiana region, and the straightest path towards Unova, by reinforcing the northern border Crusaders with what remained of the attempts on the Kanadian Wall, and charging once more. Conflict erupted, as the head Professor for the region commonly referred to as the 'breadbasket of the north' resisted the invaders with surprisingly effective guerilla attacks.

    Professor Buckeye, the man leading the militia, and Trainers, resisting the invasion quickly became a legend. This was mostly due to the Legend of his own, which he had summoned. As the days had begun turning colder, everyone knew winter was coming, and in the north, it had come early. Though the fact that a Suicune was nearby may have had something to do with the sudden shift in weather. At the very least, the snows were bad enough to make the Crusaders pause. Those who were sent out anyway, returned with ice burns, and tales of a ferocious 'snow demon'. If they returned at all.

    With the north shutting down for the oncoming cold, and the border being held by Unova's Champions, Alex had taken his comrades to where they had been needed most, first. With a brutal takeover of the far north-western state of Kodiak, all the way up in the arctic, the Yukon and Takoma regions had joined the Kanadian soldiers, who had slowly been gathering on their new, unwalled western border, ready to reinforce it.

    Winter was a constant in those lands, but given that these were the harshest months, the Arceans in the far north west seemed content to wait in their metallic bunker-fortresses along the border once they'd taken control of the sparsely populated regions. The Church, in truth, technically owned part of the Kanadian's wall, and were bombarding the men manning it on both sides. The call for help had gone out, and Tao had sent an answer.

    Arcean Northern Command – The Border of the Yukon and Kodiak Regions

    Their black cloaks made them stand out against the snow, though thankfully, with a little psychic manipulation from their Emperor, they were able to walk above the waist deep, or higher, drifts. Each of their feet glowed blue as they walked, yet unlike most armed forces, they left almost no trace of their passing.

    The Arceans, naturally, had them surrounded in short order, popping up from the snow around the entrance to their aesthetically simple tall, round fortresses. Most of their forces had Beartic as partners, for little else could survive this far north, and still be strong enough to meet Church standards. Their leader, the only man with a gold-furred hood surrounding his white T-visor helmet, stepped forward, his staff raised. It was quite imposing, for a mass-produced weapon, and the black-cloaked figures knew, this was the type of man who 'modified' his weaponry for 'effectiveness in battle'.

    "State your purpose here, strangers." He said, leveling the stave at them. Evidently, this far west, the Arceans hadn't yet heard about the east's 'secret weapons'. That, would be their undoing.

    One of the cloaked figures stepped forward, a woman, judging by the shape hidden under the strange, almost leathery garment she seemed to be wearing. It was entirely black, and hid much of the person underneath. The woman spoke, and what could be seen of her mouth beneath the black, leathery hood obscuring her features was smirking. "Haven't you heard? There's a war on."

    The wind gusted then, and even the heavy leather-like cloaks flapped in the ferocity of the arctic blast. The strangers didn't seem to notice, though. After the heat and intense training of the Swamp in summer, arctic blasts were refreshing. What they wore beneath their cloaks was bone white armor, with some sort of black suit beneath the molded bones, and protecting the joints. Evidently, it made moving the incredibly heavy dragonbone less arduous.

    When it came to headwear, some of the cloaked figures had various dragonbone head coverings in a variety of styles, always in a mix of black and white coloring. The one leading them however, needed no helmet. She drew back the leathery hood that hid her face, and her hair billowed like fire in the intensity of the wind as she raised her blade, and ignited it. The Arceans did the same with their weapons, as they switched from ranged to melee. "Come, Champions…we fight!" The low hum of fifteen or so plasma swords burning to life filled the air, and each gave off a pale blue glow against the snow beneath them. The one leading them narrowed her Serperior-esque eyes against the wind, as she marched forward with purpose. "In the Emperor's name."

    Chaos erupted, as the Crusaders found their beams of energy, regardless of type, sliced in half as each of the cloaked figures bisected the attacks of those who had not prepared for close combat. Then, the Scales fell upon their enemies, and gave no quarter. Nearby, a similar conflict had broken out. Alex had split his group of thirty-five into three units, and given command of the third to the leader of the Norstad Trainers Percy had called up, a man by the name of Bjalfari. His group was more of a motley combination, as his people used steel weapons, and the Scales among them had plasma blades.

    After a brief battle, Alex had allowed the eager Norstadder to craft his own plasma blade, since he'd been using a longsword anyway. He knew how not to cut himself, which was valuable, as many were still adjusting their combat styles to avoid accidental loss of limb.

    As the three giant monolithic structures fell to the Scales, the call went out to the Kanadians behind them. It took almost two weeks from that initial encounter, during which much of the rest of the war was stuck in a freezing, bloody stalemate. Alex led his forces all across the north-western territories, and reclaimed them for the Empire. As soon as the sparse regions were claimed and manned with yet more Kanadians, he rushed to aid the Kanadians on the westernmost side of the border wall that had, thus far, been bombarded from two sides.

    Over the course of a day, he and his Scales had eradicated the soldiers north of the wall with brutal efficiency, losing not a single member of their company. This was namely thanks to Jess' skill with using Recover, and the Emperor's refusal to let his comrades die. More than once he'd had to channel energy through his Chakras, and unleash a storm of psychic power on their foes. Confusion and terror had gripped the Crusaders, and their terror was mercifully ended by his Scales. That night, not one of the Scales had joined the celebrations of the men who were no longer besieged, and evidently forgotten this far out west.

    Taking the northern areas had been easy enough, and they'd taken several hundred soldiers as prisoners before they were through. None of the Champions turned super-soldier had yet experienced true, pitched battle against the Crusaders who, as it turned out, were usually just as effective in melee as they were from a distance. That hadn't kept them from being cut down like wheat before the burning plasma of the Scales, and after seeing, and often causing, such horrific wounds the former Champions had recoiled at what they had wrought. In the end, the battlefield had been littered with cauterized limbs and bisected human. What bugged Alex most though, had been the smell. He could still scent it with every breath, and resisting the urge to hurl was growing tiresome.

    That night, as they sat within one of the many barracks that lined the interior of the Kanadian Wall, a familiar voice came to each of them.

    "Now you know the horrors of war, my Champions. I apologize…truly…I could not prepare any of you for this."

    Alex, for his part, had been wearing the same grim 'smirk' since ordering the end of the bloody conflict. His body count had, easily, outstripped those under him as he'd been in the vanguard, and he'd gone quite quiet after they'd returned. As the Sage's words echoed in their heads, he stood, and addressed them all. "Those of you who wish to leave…may do so. None of you signed up for…for that…and I expect that I, and those under me, will have to experience that kind of senseless slaughter quite a few times before we're done. We're the strongest soldiers the east has…which means our body counts will be large indeed. This is your chance to avoid a future of blood and death."

    The gathered humans looked around, and his grim look faded as none moved to leave. He went quiet then, expressionless as he spoke softly. "Run, you fools…avoid this…you still have a chance…"

    One of his Scales stood then, and Alex recognized him as a League Challenger who he'd sent on to the Dragonspiral Tower, and had then apparently made his way to the Swamp. His armor was much the same in general body design as the rest of them, but his helmet had horns that swept up and curved, not unlike Tao's.

    The man, whose name was Nikolai if Alex recalled rightly, saluted him then, by pounding his right fist across his chest, and against his heart. "We already got this speech, Redwood. You weren't there for it…but we knew what we were signing up for. We've had plenty of chances to leave before now…and we haven't. We're fighting for the Empire, for the chance of peace. If that means bloodying my hands on those overzealous Arceans, so be it. They started this…they burned Colville, attacked a crowd of innocents in our own capital by enslaving the Forces of Nature, and even had the nerve to bind our Dragon, and try to use his power against his own people."

    The others stood then, and the Emperor felt each of their eyes on him as the man continued. "I will never enjoy what we had to do today…I know their faces are going to haunt me. Forever. If it means my family stays safe though…I'm okay with that. I'm trusting you to lead us sensibly, so we don't have to do this too often…so if there must be battle…let us make it swift."

    Alex glanced around at each of them, and saw not one single eye waver. "Very well…but understand this…these weapons, this armor, they are going to be central to what the Scales become when and if this conflict ends…you will never be free of them. The only way out of this little group of ours will be death, and it likely will not be a peaceful one…this is your last chance to leave."

    None took it.

    He felt the Sage address him, specifically. "Heed their advice, student of mine. Revel not in battle, but accept the necessity of it."

    Alex looked at each of them once more as he replied mentally, "I understand the necessity. I am Dragonborn…I have a better idea of what that means, now. I need soldiers who also understand…and it seems that these wonderful Trainers do…thank you, for Instructing them so well."

    He heard the Sage chuckle. "You're quite welcome…it was difficult, and without Instruct we never would've come close to giving an even hundred…but it seems it was all worth it. I'll have more for you before long. Many more." With that, the connection ceased, and the Scales retired for the evening.

    The next day, Tao gave them new orders. It seemed the Arceans were once more fortifying for a hard push straight for Unova, through Ohiana. The winter storm had finally let up, and it was rumored that Pravus himself was leading the attack, alongside no less than ten of his Hands.

    The Border Between Urbe Monachus and Ventosus


    With the reinforced border between Kanadia and the blackened northern Fornia region taken care of, as Shruikan claimed he could guard the entirety of the wall easily thanks to his speed, Alex moved his Scales to join with the defenders in Ohiana. Hilbert and Hilda had been given the northern parts of the border line, and along with Nate, Hilda had kept the center from collapsing. She had evidently, at some point before the conflict, gone through the same training her brother and Alex had, one Champion among many who had been Instructed in the Swamp.

    Hilbert had drawn the short straw, and had been given the northernmost area, the very one Pravus now intended on charging through. The Champion turned General hadn't been idle, though. They had, while the storm raged, built several underground hide-outs for the inhabitants of the region, who were mainly farmers, not fighters. That didn't mean they'd been short on volunteers though. Many had fallen, in the early hours of the Blitz, and until Professor Buckeye arrived, the local forces had been in the process of being routed.

    As Alex brought his combined group of Scales in, he realized that Tao had called in as many special units to this area as possible. The rest of the Norstad forces were already here, and it was mainly they and the Scales who had done the fighting thus far for the defense of Ventosus, the largest city bordering the Great Lake. Neither group had minded the cold winds or heavy snowfall. Newly reinforcing them were Trainers from what he assumed was Kalos, judging by their clothing. They were a small group, but as he looked closer, he recognized several faces. Old or semi-retired Gym Leaders who had been all too eager to come to the aid of their Unovan allies. It seemed Buckeye was leading them, as he appeared to know them, and Alex became more convinced that all old people knew each other. Not that it was a bad thing, given their circumstances.

    He met with Hilbert, and found that he too had not lost anyone in his squad yet. This was mostly because they had, for the majority of the early weeks of the war, been stuck in a blizzard. Festivus would have already begun, had a war not been raging. Ventosus had the unique benefit of bordering the Great Lake, as well as the Kanadian's wall, and their skirmish lines extended south from the lake's shore.

    Hilda had, apparently, sent word that she was coming from the south, but thus far there had been no news. The rumor was that the central fighting had suddenly flared again. She'd likely been distracted. They weren't alone though, for Kanadia's Champion, who'd diverted from Alex's squad as they'd passed over his sea-bound home island, had brought his own battalion of skilled Trainers from the icy north to reinforce Buckeye as well.

    Alex noted that everyone bowed when he entered the command tent, even the League-employed Professor, who had no reason to, as far as he knew. That was going to take getting used to. Having been mostly among trusted friends who had dropped the 'yes, my Emperor' nonsense on day one, he was still getting used to having authority, and having people many years his senior acknowledge it.

    He sensed the Dragon as he took his place at the rounded table, and had to resist smirking. He felt a current of psychic energy between Tao's imposing mental presence, and his belt. Arthur joined them then, sitting beside his Trainer at the rounded, foldable metal table.

    "You again have my gratitude for coming. I will not forget those who came when I called for aid. Should we prevail, you will not regret joining us. Now then, what spies we do have recently confirmed that the Prophet is in Urbe Monachus. A city that, judging by its name, will have no shortage of his followers." The Dragon went quiet for a moment, presumably to deal with something on his end. "We are expecting him to come to us much the same way the Blitz did. He will be fast, relentless, and if he gets through our line, he could devastate many of our farmer's land. The less damage he does now, the easier recovery will be. With that said, we will likely never have a better chance than now to strike him down, and that is why I have gathered you here. We must stop their advance, and remove their figurehead. Thor will engage him first, as he has experience battling the man in close combat, and Mjolnir can certainly do damage."

    The red-bearded giant with gleaming skin smirked. His eyes were slightly bloodshot, but he seemed focused on the moment. "I may have to break out mine second hammer for this." He chuckled, and then elbow nudged Percy, who was to his right.

    Alex, who had removed the imposing dragonbone helmet, raised a brow at the demigod. "You have two? I thought those stories were made up."

    The God of Thunder laughed, and the booming sound echoed loudly in the ears of those gathered. "I usually only use one because it is more of a challenge! But against that one…yes, I think two should do."

    Percy chimed in then. "Just how many bloody hammers do you have anyways?"

    Thor just winked at him, and laughed again. The others gathered seemed to sigh. He was, thus far, enjoying this war a bit too much. Not that they minded. When he exercised his boredom, enemy troops died. Every little bit helped.

    The group of gathered leaders was interrupted then, as a courier entered the tent. "Sorry to disturb sirs, my Emperor, but you…you need to hear this. It's Pravus." Tao remained quiet, and his Tamer had a feeling the dragon already knew what was going on. The courier produced a miniaturized TV screen then from his giant, square backpack. The 'Dragon Army' as it was being called, didn't have much of a standard uniform yet, but the color scheme was to be expected, and this man was no exception. His heavy leather coat was primarily white, but underneath, his clothes were shades of black, with more white as well. At the very least, they blended with the snow, and could, like most modern clothing, be turned inside out for longer use, or a change of color.

    The screen displayed a feed direct from the Arcean's Church-run media network that was considered mandatory viewing for all 'loyal followers'. Through it, the people living, working, and even flourishing, despite the current 'conflict', were given a steadily monitored version of events as the Church displayed their 'Enlightened Crusade' for all to see from monitors that were in every home, workplace, outpost, work camp, and naval ship. The Prophet had ensured he would always have an audience.

    In reality, what was displayed was indeed battle cam footage, but only scenes that did not contain 'subversive content' were ever allowed to be shown. One of the Prophet's own Hands was in charge of making sure nothing slipped into the public's attention, and her skill was legendary. Despite numerous hacking attempts, she'd thwarted any and all content that would display the war for the atrocity it really was.

    Rumors still spread of course. Of camps, full of civilians from central states that wanted no part of any of it. Of the dark forces the Hands were, allegedly, using to slaughter their enemies wherever they appeared. The Prophet himself often addressed such rumors, live on his own network, and it demonstrated to his people that he was indeed listening to their concerns, and knew what to say to keep them loyal. If his charisma ever failed, there were always PokéMeters on hand for 'private sessions' as well as people who knew how to use them properly.

    It was a touted fact that the Prophet's PokéMeter was different from others, and the Church considered it a holy relic, infallible in its accuracy. All who beheld it agreed, there had to be a touch of Creation in that machine. Only one man had ever successfully used it, or so the legends claimed.

    The screen showed the Prophet in yet another of his 'private chats' with his people, and the PokéMeter in question sat before him. The gathered eastern forces exchanged glances. It was radiating what could only be Light energy, and as Tao sensed the thoughts of his allies, a pair of golden, similarly glowing eyes manifested above the table they'd gathered at.

    The eyes flew into the screen then, and reproduced the video's feed, but in a four-dimensional manner that, no matter what angle you looked at it from, was centered properly, as it had been on the screen. It gave them all a much clearer look at their opponent, and they realized he was on a presumably mobile set, made to look like his 'home quarters'. With their unique display angles, they could see the city around it. A city teeming with the all too familiar T-visored faces of the Church's own armed forces.

    An alarm rang outside their tent, as the military was mobilized by a direct order from the Dragon. It did nothing to impede the leader's view of the scene though. The cheesy, trumpet heavy opening theme music, which strangely lacked the edited in title that usually accompanied this ridiculous 'show', finally finished, and the Prophet smirked at the cameras.

    "Hello again, loyal followers…as is expected in times of war, there are many questions, and each day, more arise. I'll do my best to answer your concerns, going by majority. Many of you have called your Church, warning of a massive fire, raging in the north. Worry not." He winked at the camera. "Forests must sometimes burn away the old, Deadwood so that newer, better trees may grow from the ashes." He smirked, and gestured with a purple, hand-fitting gauntlet that was part of his standard 'war outfit', at what was presumably an image on the screen, that remained empty to the easterners sneaking a peak. "Now, it is true this blaze is particularly large; however, our land has always had enormous fires, and it has always recovered. Your cities will be protected by our strongest water Trainers, and those of you who live in the afflicted area will be relocated, as soon as possible. Until then, we have many Optimal Org building facilities that will not only house you, but allow you to contribute to the cause as well." He paused, to enjoy one of his notoriously long tea sips, common to his broadcasts.

    "Slave labor." Professor Buckeye snarled, before spitting on the dirt 'floor' of the command tent. "The only people who live in forests like that are people tryin' to escape notice. The Church'll tak'em back alright, but they'll be shipped to a mining facility within a week." He shot a glare at Percy. "They've been doing the same to our people, the ones they captured, but in far worse conditions. It's only grown worse as their sources of metal vanish."

    Percy shrugged. "I consider the lives of Mythical Pokémon above those of humans who have absolutely no right to claim they're 'more important' after how they've been treated." He gave the Professor a glare of his own, and the older man flinched at the ice within it. "You haven't seen what I have. Every facility finds a new way to…sicken me."

    "Relax, both of you." Alex said, and his voice cut through the growing argument the Professor was forming. He raised a brow at the now unhelmeted Emperor. "We'll save all of them. Percy, you yourself told me that the number of remaining camps is becoming 'manageable'. Finish freeing the Hex Nuts, and then focus on freeing our people. It's going to take time to find the camps anyways, let alone infiltrate them."

    One of the fliers from Valaskjalf, the right hand of the Chief, who had better things to do than talk endlessly, spoke then. "We have found several, Dovahkiin. My people alone could free all of them."

    Alex smirked at the pale woman with raven hair. "I don't doubt it…but you're too valuable to send in alone. What if they ambush you? What if they manage to capture your mounts, and infect them with Shadow? You really want them to have that kind of power? In the winter? No. Patience. Scout their defenses, learn how many Crusaders the Church has deigned to put on guard duty, and then we will give you enough firepower to overwhelm them in one swift attack. And realistically, by the time we set that up, Percy will likely be done. He's rather fast."

    "That he is…" Buckeye grumbled. "Fine, but just remember, the longer we take, the more of our people break…many might even turn. These are center region dwellers after all, and bowing to the invaders is easier than resisting their new order."

    Tao rumbled then, filling their heads. "The center regions have always chosen the path which grants the most stability, as it suited them. In war, they turned the tide always, and often, and kept both east and west from obliterating each other more than once. Do not underestimate their cleverness. Now quiet, he speaks."

    The Prophet lowered his stein full of…whatever he was drinking. It certainly didn't look like 'tea'. He wiped away the red stain on his mouth, and grinned at the camera with what seemed like genuine, slightly mad, amusement. "Now that's addressed, let us move on to current events! Behold!" A disembodied sound that, for lack of a better description, sounded like lasers from a sci-fi movie, played as the Prophet made a grand gesture, and the set folded down, revealing the entirety of the scene.

    Tao cursed, loudly, and his irritation was felt by all of them. Behind the charismatic ruler, was a large group of seemingly normal people. They had the look of people who did not like where they currently were, and they were kept from leaving by several large men with armor who'd told them to accompany them. Or be dragged.

    "Long have I denied that the policy of disconnecting from family members who leave the Church, quietly or not, exists. My enemies would have you believe that this old, and admittedly abhorrent practice is still very much enforced. The truth, however, is that the only people my Church orders cut off, are those who are traitors to the Holy Arcean Alliance. These people, gathered here before you, had relatives who were chosen by one of my own Hands to live in Unova, and try to show these backward primitives an enlightened way of living. Instead, their relatives largely turned traitor, and tried spying on us…and we all know what happens to spies, unfortunate as it may be. This…is war."

    The Prophet gestured then, and a blade of pure dark type energy formed in his hand. He leveled it at the crowd of guilty-by-relation civilians, and stared into the camera. "Not all of the traitors died, however…" He grinned. "Many came home, to be forgiven…Purged of their sins, you might say."

    His free hand gestured, and each of the eastern leaders flinched as they beheld what a Purged human really looked like. "Behold, those touched by the Light of Arceus! They have ascended to a new form of being, and will now serve the Church more devoutly than ever before! Their Crimes are forgiven, now that the Light has shone upon them!"

    The humans in question lumbered onto the scene then, which had turned out to actually be placed on a raised dais, surrounded by Crusaders, as the Prophet delivered his almost daily 'chat'. It was large, as it had much to fit, and it seemed recently made, but their view was too focused to see much of the city beyond. It certainly looked like Urbe Monachus, going by the ever-present ever-darkening clouds.

    One of the relatives of the Purged cried out as they saw what their loved one had become. As they came into clearer focus, one could see their pale, entirely white eyes, and almost corpse-like gray skin. They moved as if on strings, mouths hanging open, and each breath rasping in their throats.

    The woman who'd shrieked was immediately enveloped in Shadow, and then vanished, with but a wave from the Prophet's weapon. "Those who are guilty of Crimes and dark Sins cannot help but flinch at the sight of those touched by the Creator! Rejoice for them, for they have experienced Divine Truth…though it cost them their sight. They will still be used effectively, for the furtherance of our divine Mission!"

    The gathered Crusaders around the dais, in one uniformed motion, rested their imposing staves in the crook of their left arms, and began to clap in perfect unison. The result was applause that definitely sounded forced.

    "Now, you may be wondering why I have gathered all these people here. As it turns out, the Enemy enticed these people with promises of freedom for their families. He and his psychic Serpent are tyrants indeed, for now, he cannot fulfill his promises. I possess their families, and to be sure we have no heretics or traitors among them, I will be personally Monitoring them over the next few hours, one by one, until their Crimes are revealed, and the traitors among them are Judged." He gave the camera a look then. "As Meter sessions are considered sacred, and one's privacy within one Divinely protected, we will not be airing them. Until then, my loyal followers, enjoy your regularly scheduled cultural entertainment, developed here, in Fornia."

    The scene vanished then as the feed turned off, and the Light faded from the TV, though Tao's mental presence did not. The screen now displayed a movie, a generic superhero tale that, in actual fact, starred Rosa as the protagonist. Which meant it had been made in Unova. Alex heard Hilbert sigh, as he watched. He'd starred in several movies himself, in his time, and reportedly loved acting. The past few years had been focused on training however, as the World Tournament once more approached.

    Tao's voice echoed again in their minds. "I received a report while we've been talking…as it turns out, Pravus does indeed have the families you promised to free, Alex but most of our spies evaded capture. The only Purged are those he showed us…probably. Some may have chosen suicide over capture, and some might have simply run off. Most, however, are reportedly safe. This means his little show was meant for us to see…their network has never been that easy to access."

    "So it's a trap." Percy said, frowning. Thor nodded in agreement. "He's baiting you, Redwood, but, those private sessions are probably going to leave those innocent people worse off than the Purged. Somehow, he has access to a Light wielder. This should not be possible, Diist Dovah." He said, looking upwards.

    "The Alpha's Light works and responds to those who open themselves to it. For psychic types, they can open their energy pools, and absorb it from the general flow of the universe. Fighting types tap into it by embracing their emotions, and pushing their power past its limits. Not unlike Legendary Pokémon who also use Light energy. For normal humans however, at least in this era, devout belief may have a similar enough effect, enough to be usable. Though it depends greatly upon the mind summoning the energy, and their purpose. The Light cannot be used to kill senselessly, but it can most certainly purge a human of thoughts and beliefs another human may consider to be 'corruption'. This is very hard to do though, as the human in question must have both unshakeable trust in the Alpha, and a righteous heart. Whoever Purged those people has been practicing for a while. They're just sentient enough to be profitable. That is no accident. That's practice."

    The Dragon Emperor spoke then, as Alex put the helmet on once more, and the bluish-purple eyes flared to life. "And you said there is no way to save them?"

    The dragon radiated genuine sorrow. "No…what the Light burns away, it burns away entirely, if not properly shielded. It surged through their brain's circuitry. That doesn't grow back, not without focused treatment anyways, and given the Arcean standard of living for prisoners, they will likely deteriorate over time, if they haven't already."

    There was a low rumble in the tent that radiated from their Emperor. The dragonbone sections had begun to glow. Fused by the Voice with elemental Plate shards common enough in the lands of Norstad, Germania, and Kalos, they acted similarly to the crystals. Alex had hidden his usual Plate crystals in a safe place once he realized he couldMega Evolve his partners by using parts of the armor. His set had been customized specifically with his team in mind, and it gave his outline a unique glow of their many colors.

    The cascade of rainbow light hardened into a proper Aura shield as the bluish purple dragon energy in the bones bent the other types to its indomitable will. "Those people are only there because I gave prisoners a chance to be decent humans…they're going to become little better than vegetables, because of my kindness." He looked around at his gathered allies. "I don't know about you all, but I'm not going to sit by and let it happen. I'll charge Monachus alone if I have to. I guess what I'm trying to say is…who wants to come with me?"

    "Aye, I'll come. And I'll bring enough wind to fill the sail of that ego of yours." Professor Buckeye said, smirking. "I only chatted with your granduncle a few times…but I never got the impression the dark rumors were true. I've seen what his wife looked like. Do you think he'd approve of you charging into the enemy's headquarters?"

    Alex smirked. "Not at all. He'd say it was a 'damn fool suicide mission', or something. And he'd keep saying it, all the way there, until he saw people in danger. That's when he'd become a Trainer, and try to save them. He was too good. That's what got him involved in their business in the first place. I guess it runs in the family…"

    Percy chuckled. "I'm out. I have things to do. You have fun fighting in a city though, Redwood. Enjoy urban warfare. Maybe after you get trapped, you'll understand why I forbid them in my region." Thor and the black haired Articuno Rider gave him a look.

    "Valaskjalf is as much a city as any-" The rider had begun to speak, but Thor raised a hand.

    "Do not rise to his bait, Yen." He fixed his red eyes on the Fairy King then, "It does not matter, Percival. Norstad will regrow regardless, and eventually, the humans will form cities. You know this, Fairy King. You are the one who lengthened their lives by lifting the technology ban."

    Percy gave the flame-haired 'god' a blank stare. "I made a promise, didn't I." He stood then, and left with a sigh.

    The Rider of Valaskjalf stood as well, shaking her head. "I have camps to scout. Good luck, Dovahkiin."

    Thor stayed, grinning as he said, "You may consider me 'in', Dovahkiin. Whatever we find in that city, I shall smash! Two hammers!" He left then to go prepare for the imminent glorious combat, and kept laughing all the way to his own tent, his loud voice still very much in their range as he started boasting to his warriors about the last time he and Pravus had dueled.

    "Tao will be ready to join us by way of Teleport, if necessary. And if they block that, somehow, he can also just fly over. Many like to forget, but he can ignite his tail still. He's faster than a Rayquaza." He smirked, and the remaining leaders chuckled. "Go then, you know your assignments…the Scales can handle this with Norstad's aid."

    They each departed then, and all along the line, the word went out. Another strike was coming for Ohiana, and both sides had brought their best. What the north did not know though, was that communications had been cut in the center and southern regions, all the way down to Texico. The Church was leading another simultaneous offensive, and had begun to attack before the Prophet had. It was a good strategy, as those areas had, thus far, held the longest under the onslaught. The Church's best minds had been gathered, along with several Hands, to break the Texican stalemate.

    Alex went to his own tent, and loaded the various ball holder clips spaced evenly along the cloak's inside with many of the partners he had captured in the past, and recently began properly training. The old training weight vests his original six had used had been passed on, and now he slotted in those who had proven themselves strong in the many battles he faced daily. There were always Scales willing to spar with him, which was nice, as they were usually as strong as his trainees. Sometimes, stronger.

    Percy had apparently been consulted for the cloaks as well, and had somehow managed to create a link between one's PC boxes, and the small four-pronged metallic ball holders that lined the interior of the dragonhide cloaks the Scales wore. Once a Trainer put their partner's ball in, they would be ready to be retrieved from their PC, and if the cloak was damaged in battle and the sockets with it, they would remain safe as the PC recalled the ball into storage, though its occupant would remain safe, their ball would need to be retrieved physically at a Pokémon Center.

    Naturally, due to the expensive nature of this foreign technology, only the Scales had been outfitted, and many among them had begun training more partners to fill their cloaks. It was always nice to have backup on the battlefield, if they needed it. Alex hopped onto Blaze, once he was ready, and he'd memorized where each of his partners were with his new, strange mental abilities to compartmentalize basic information in massive quantities.

    It had been a while since he'd ridden his Charizard, and he was surprised at how wide his neck had become over the past few months. He bore his Trainer, armor and all, into the air with ease, and roared into the sky as he ascended to the next level with a flash of red. Echoes came from the Pokémon of the other Scales, and Hilbert joined him on his Braviary. Jess and Chari followed as well, and then the three Unovan's squads ascended after them, each on unique mounts, though there was some species overlap, naturally.

    A horn sounded to their west, and they saw Thor, riding what looked like an iron chariot, pulled by two flaming Gogoat, soaring through the air just above his loyal soldiers. Each of those was armed with a sword and shield, and covered in golden armor that was from the same culture that had created Thor's regalia, judging by aesthetics. They were all mounted atop a Rapidash with blue flames for manes. Though the breeds of Norstad retained their fire, their home region's numerous ice types had made them considerably more burly than their kin across the planet. That, and their additional pair of legs, for a total of six, and evidently, more speed. Their supposedly immortal riders roared as they followed after the Thunder God, and once they left the camp, just outside of Ventosus, they spread out in a proper 'flame wall', as they called it. The Scales joined them, alongside the other fighters from Norstad.

    It was a short trip to the enemy, and they knew they were seen long before they came up to the Sippi river. Thor's men leapt it with ease, as did the Scales. The normal Norstad forces, most of whom had thus far kept pace on foot, steamed in the cold night. Hot as they were though, they knew that entering that river would mean death. It was still flowing, despite the cold.

    Their leader, Bjalfari, stepped forward then, and awed his men by summoning his Wailord from a tiny, almost laughable ball. A generally unchanged species across the world's oceans, the massive creatures had the fecundity of rabbits. This was good, for many ocean dwelling Pokémon were indeed carnivores, and had limited berries to draw from as an alternative. The men climbed atop the creature quickly, and with one flap of its limbs, it crossed the river that all but bisected the continent. They still had to sprint along the slippery length of its back, but none of them had too much trouble.

    The sky above them seemed red, which meant it was dawn, or dusk. Given the nearly perpetual cloud cover that was becoming darker by the day, time had become wobbly for those who'd not seen the sun, only battle and snow, for over a month now. Thor was the brightest object for miles, but Alex wasn't concerned. They'd crossed the river. If the Arceans wanted to stall them, they'd lost their best chance.

    Another horn from Thor split the air, and the Rapidash riders sped up to attack speed as their mounts began uniformly Flame Charging across the snowy plains, leaving their mortal comrades even further behind, but with a melted path to follow. Eventually, they saw the reason for the sudden increase in speed. Urbe Monachus lay before them. It didn't have much in the way of a skyline, being more of a spread-out grid like deal, but they didn't have to wonder where the Prophet's dais was.

    A recently made 'pyramid' of circular edifices, each of which seemed to hold yet more Crusaders, was lit up like a beacon on the city's skyline. A shield of blackish purple energy appeared seemingly from nowhere at the edge of the city limits, where it met the urban sprawl that was, evidently, abandoned. The riders charged through, doing their best not to cause wanton destruction. There would be plenty of that once they got into the city. By that point, each of their mounts had charged enough to reap the benefits of constantly increasing their speed, and the area around them managed to go mostly unburned.

    Thor leapt from his chariot and smashed both hammers into the shield. It wavered, and then reformed itself. A voice rang out above them.

    "Ah yes, the 'thunder deity'. I was hoping the Dragon would send you to me…and with all your precious warriors no less. You haven't yet seen what my Crusaders can do, have you? This weather…inconvenient for war maybe, but not for the determined workers of the Church. I wish to negotiate, Asgardian. Send in your Emperor."

    "Not alone!" Thor shouted, smashing Mjolnir into the shield again. Cracks across the opaque purplish darkness formed where it struck, and lightning moved across the entirety of it in seconds. "Your defense is not so great that it can withstand me, worm…but if ye wish to parlay, I'll…resist killing your men. For a time…"

    The Scales caught up to the host of the Thunder God then, at the edge of the shield. They'd moved in formation, and Blaze had kept pace with them. "By all means…" The Prophet's voice continued. "Bring all your little friends…we've been expecting them." The shield vanished then, and without its opaqueness obscuring their vision, even to their psychically enhanced eyes, they saw now what lay beneath.

    Crusaders lined the main avenue into the city, on each side of the street, where normally citizens parked their vehicular transport. None were around today however, in fact, there was no sign, physical or mental, of anyone, aside from the delusion hardened minds of the Crusaders. They waited for the warriors on foot, and then moved together, through the city, weapons drawn, but relaxed.

    "This be most definitely a trap…" The crimson-haired Asgardian growled under his breath.

    Alex nodded in agreement, as the Scales had easily kept pace on their well trained mounts. "Look at their mouths." The mental words came from Jess, and as he did, his glacially slow to awaken anger, twitched. He knew his smirk well, and whether by individual practice or hidden holoprojector, it was plastered on the face of every helmetless officer they passed.

    Alex ignored it, after a mental nudge from the First Dragon, and continued onward, pretending to ignore the armed enemies around him. He was tense though, and he knew it. It was more due to the cold than anything, as it was low enough in temperature for ice to have formed over the smirking soldier's armor and visors.

    The temperature only lowered as they neared Pravus' monument to the effectiveness of forced labor. The laborers were, like the city's civilians, evidently hidden, likely by dark type energy. Only Merlin's power had, to Alex's knowledge, been able to see through such things before.

    Pravus stood atop the dais, at the end of the only ramp that allowed access to each rim, and of course, the top. "We have a special treat today, loyal viewers." Alex, Jess, Hilbert, Bjalfari, and even Thor sighed in unison, along with their squads and assembled fighters. The Prophet glared at them, and then smiled, continuing on with his shpeal.

    "It seems the Dragon Emperor wishes to have a word about our last broadcast, and being the peaceful man that I am, I've decided to hold a summit, here, in the city of our most devout monks!" He gestured then, and suddenly, those with psychic senses knew exactly where the civilians and laborers were.

    The city had a fair amount of high-rise buildings for one of the smaller cities on the continent, and atop each of the now lit buildings, was the population. They each appeared to be wearing the same blank white robes, adorned only with Arceus' symbol, and nothing else. He felt Tao's revulsion then, and the Dragon's voice echoed among his troops. "They are…they are all Purged…" Righteous fury at the sheer amount of wasted, discarded life spread through each of them, and Thor twirled his hammers as he shouted at the Prophet.

    "Oi! You and I have a score to settle, Vul Sos! Nobody on this good Earth tries to steal Yggdrassil, and lives to tell of it! Privileged am I, to be able to smash your foul face live, on your own bloody show!" The Asgardian bolted forward with the speed of a lightning bolt, and a pair of massive hands, formed of pure dark energy, and shaped like a Darkrai, grabbed the heads of each. Thor pushed him across the dais slowly, grinning as his golden muscles strained under his battle armor. It was Asgardian tech, and was barely distinguishable from his skin in color.

    "See what your beloved Prophet really is, Fornians!" He shouted, and Pravus made a cutting gesture with his own hand. True to form however, 'technical difficulties' had begun as soon as Thor charged. For once, it hadn't been entirely untrue, as the lightning from the god's presence was making the tech atop the dais go wild.

    "Look." Jess said in his mind. "The energy. I saw it last time, but I wasn't sure…it's definitely a Darkrai, but those eyes-" "Are human." Alex finished. They'd been disguised by the usual invisibility of the Pokémon's form which seemed to have been merged to the back of Pravus in an all-encompassing shield. "The question then becomes…whose eyes are those…"

    He had the thought at the same time the Dragon did. "I will show the Chief, do not move your gaze." Thankfully, Pravus and the dual-wielding Thunder God were trading blows, and had, after several minutes, each gained grins of genuine amusement. They were both powerful fighters that rarely, if ever, had a chance to go all out.

    Tao's voice returned a moment later. "We were correct in our suspicions. The Chief was deeply shocked by the sight of that Darkrai, and her eyes…there is only one place in the world that has, ever, successfully created, and fused with, the Pitch Black Pokémon." He paused for effect, and spoke then only to Alex, Hilbert, and Jess.

    "There is a reason the lands on the continent to our south were given the title of 'Dark Continent'. It's mostly covered in jungle, though the coast is taken up by Rio's size, or rather, the ruins of it. It is a place where dark types and grass types flourish. Just south of Fornia's side of Texico, there was a civilization that, around three thousand years ago, began fusing their entire population with Darkrai they created through means that eventually got them wiped out. Zigma, the Guardian of that land was split in the fury of the conflict, but the fused humans were all turned to ghosts, vengeful ones, able only to lash out at those brave, or foolish, enough to venture into their ruined city in the mountains. It was believed that after a few centuries of starving, the ghosts would fade back to the Spirit World. The last I heard, Rio fell into some kind of internal city-wide civil war that wiped out almost all of them. Now their city is mostly in ruins as well, though evidently they still occupy a small part of them."

    "So…you're saying Pravus is what, some kind of Darkrai enhanced human who…swam out to sea? Perhaps to escape whatever wrath was brought on his people…but he was dragged north by the current to…oh…" Alex paused as, the more he thought about it, the more the facts fit into place. It would explain why he'd known how to fuse with a Darkrai, and evidently make one as well. "So if he had to create the one Thor's fighting now…presumably by using energy from Vega, and a…suitable human…"

    Jess finished for him this time. "What happened to the first?"

    They looked up as the two whirling, dueling figures having, and evidently enjoying, their epic clash split apart with a forceful boom that had come from Mjolnir and its twin smashing into a Dark Pulse that Pravus had evidently been attempting to condense into a much heavier, damaging attack. He felt Arthur's amusement, for he too had struggled with the absurd density of condensed dark energy. Until he'd infused a bit of psychic to keep it light enough to move. In his experience, the orb devoured what little psychic energy he put into it long before it made contact with whatever he was striking. Such was the nature between the two types.

    Thor's crimson cape had been torn away in the fierce clashes of energy between electric and dark, but the god himself looked unhurt elsewhere. Pravus similarly was all but unscathed, for whenever Mjolnir came close to smashing him once more, one of the hands would reform, catch it, and push it away.

    Furious at the constant redirection, Thor hit harder, using both hammers at once, over and over. The hands slowly withered as the Darkrai took damage, and seeing his chance for final victory, an end to the war, and even more fame and glory from humanity, Thor swung them both up with a flourish, and brought them down.

    Or he would have, if the dark arms hadn't reformed suddenly, very much still corporeal, and caught Thor's burly arms in each hand. That left his chest open to the Prophet's dark sword, and it was as he struck that the man's private show came back on, the tiny robotic drones once more whizzing to life and recording. On the Fornian's side, the Prophet's aura, powers, and other such abilities were always, always shaded to be portrayed as golden light. The same held true for his Crusaders. Only the soldiers themselves, and those who saw them in person, knew the truth of his 'divine power'.

    The smart ones hadn't questioned the disconnect from television and reality, and had reasoned that one must use both darkness and light to fulfill the Alpha's mission. It wasn't all that different from what Tao taught, though true to form, the cult structure had abused their people's honest devotion at every single turn. The ones who dared to suggest that using the 'essence of evil on our friends' was wrong, were the ones who ended up in labor camps for asking questions above their station about the Leader, and the wisdom of his decisions.

    Thor's armor proved its worth as the Prophet struck the struggling Asgardian, but the Darkrai had a firm grip, and refused to let go. Thor shifted his chest, causing the blade tip to slide harmlessly along his golden breastplate, and kept the sword from piercing him by finding a seam in the alien metal. For the moment.

    Snarling in irritation, and seeing the eastern forces starting to rush in to aid their ally, and potentially end the war, Pravus let the darkness envelop him, the sword grew larger, the hilt formed a v shape just below where the wide, black blade grew, and it took the man two of his own human hands to swing. He thrust up at Thor from a low angle, and the Asgardian gave a breathless gasp as the Shadow blade tore right through him.

    Alex was at the top just in time for the spray that followed, and then the sickening sound of the heavy body hitting the ground as the blade phased through it. He glanced at his armor, covered in the blood of one he considered a friend. He stared Pravus down, and the dark purple-blue energy shifted to golden Light.

    "Now now, little dragon, you might not want to Purge me in front of the entirety of my following…I'll only come back stronger, and the people's faith will be rewarded again and again. I have a different proposition…" He gestured to three bodies that lay, smoking, beside his PokéMeter, at the back part of the rounded stone dais. "Have a session on my PokéMeter. We'll even lift the rules, for this one special circumstance, and show it live for the first time ever…lives are on the line after all, and this is history." His smirk widened to a grin.

    Alex tightened his grip on the ignited plasma sword, and felt Lux' eyes on him. Thor's blood had, apparently, brought out the electric type's rage. He was urging his Trainer to use him, and strike the darkness dead. This game was what he wanted, it was all part of the trap. He took a deep breath, and with naught but a whisper, made a third option. He met the Prophet's grin with his usual smirk, and powered down his sword. Pravus did the same, and they both moved towards the machine, eyes never moving from the other.

    "I don't understand what you get out of…this…" Alex said, gesturing to the elaborate measures that had evidently been taken just to get him on this machine. It was undoubtedly from a source of Light, but this close, his third eye could see how skewed it had become. Twisted, until it could do little more than burn those who touched it, or not, at the reader's command. He resisted laughing, as he had a feeling that was what the Prophet intended. Pretend to give him a fair, honest, meter session, a hallmark of his people's culture and religion, and have him 'die accidentally' as a result. Evidently it wasn't unexpected, on this machine. He supposed it was a good plan, given that his Hand hadn't got the job done.

    "My people consider these sessions sacred, young Redwood." Pravus said, sitting properly, as he powered up the machine. The camera drones buzzed around him, and from behind each of the sitting leaders, Scales and Crusaders flanked their backs, staring the others down, ready to start fighting if something went awry. They all knew it was a trap, there was no way things wouldn't go sideways. They were ready for sideways.

    "This Machine, and those descended from its Most Holy design, are specifically tuned to hone in on one's Crimes, and advise a Judgement for the severity of them. The Light, praise be, is merciful, and usually only leaves small burns that heal in short amounts of time, but sometimes, one's crimes are so great, the Light eradicates them on the spot." He smirked. "Down to the last atom. This Judgement, we have determined through our advanced science and technology, comes straight from the Alpha himself. Therefor…it cannot be wrong. Once we are done here, it is my hope that this war will finally end, and my loyal soldiers can stop dying."

    Alex nodded quietly as the Prophet spoke, and casually glanced upwards at the clouded sky. Reassurance flooded him, and the Scales behind him shifted. "Very well. I agree to your tests. If I prove worthy of the Alpha's Judgement, you will stand down, at once. We all serve the same Maker, we do not need to keep killing each other."

    "My thoughts exactly." Pravus said, grinning, and gesturing to the silvery metal canisters at the opposite end of the PokéMeter. "After this, there will be no reason to keep fighting."

    "You're running out of time, Alex…" Tao muttered in his head, both amused and satisfied that they had just gotten more than enough from the Prophet, in his own words, for future de-escalation. The Dragon had warned that the clever villain might not use his silvered tongue, but in hindsight, there was no way his ego would've let him stay quiet. He appeared confident in victory, or at the very least, winning this part of the battle, and then charging straight for Unova, and total domination.

    "Then let there be peace." Alex said, winking at the floating cameras as he gripped the cylindrical canisters of Melmetal essence. Tao had taught him much about how energy could flow, any energy, theoretically. If one knew how to harness it, one could turn it on their opponent. Such tactics were a trademark of the Dragon's fighting style. Control, balance, and upsetting that balance, in combat, making it work for you instead of your opponent.

    Moreover, he and his enhanced brain had gotten familiar with what they were using to make the plasma swords function, and he could, and had, often repaired those that had been damaged after a hard battle. The best part of the Melmetal's gifts was that, if you used a steel type crystal or plate, you could repair damaged parts in the field relatively quickly.

    Thankfully, such a crystal had been fused by way of the Voice to his armor, as an Aggron would, eventually, be part of his team. Cenomons still had yet to evolve, though he was a good battler in his own right. He braced himself, and felt the cylinders grow hot beneath the black mesh that also protected his hands, as well as his joints.

    The Prophet smirked, and began to read the instrument. "This isn't the first time you've been on a PokéMeter…you've done this before, haven't you?"

    Alex glared at him, and the grip on the canisters tightened. The smirking Prophet knew full damn well what he'd caused with his first meter session. The last time he'd been on such a machine, albeit a normal, non-glowing one, he'd lost his chance to be a Trainer. Or so he'd believed, for a very long time.

    "I have. It may interest your people to know that you sabotage the futures of innocent children, whose only crime is being related to an old man that subverted your 'legendary security' after being wrongfully imprisoned." He stared at the cameras then, for they were indeed still rolling. By the Church's own rules, a session could not be interrupted, and this one had been ordered to be performed live, by the Prophet himself. "I doubt those you've put in your labor camps are seeing this…but if they are, I want them to know that escape is still very much possible…and even if you fail, worry not." He shifted his smirk and gaze back to Pravus. "I'll free you myself, soon enough…"

    "Oh, will you…" A surge of what could only have been Light energy came from the machine then, surprising Alex entirely as it broke through his Aura shield with little to no effort. He quickly guided the energy, and kept it in his arms, before forcing it back from whence it came, through the canisters, but the meter seemed unchanged. Pravus appeared satisfied though, for all intents and purposes, it seemed as though the sturdy Dragon Emperor had been thoroughly shocked. "How about now?"

    Another surge came, and he played along, the snarls of pain were real enough, but he kept his posture, and his grip. His hands were on fire, but he didn't release the canisters. That would give the Prophet an excuse to end things early, rather than continue toying with him. A quick glance at the man's not unpleasant face told him what he needed to know.

    The Darkrai around Pravus, still invisible to normal eyes, seemed to be looking down at him with sorrow. He winked at it, too, as another surge of energy traveled further up his arms than he would've liked. Both were shaking now, and flaring streams of light energy escaped from the joints between the dragonbone of his armor.

    "I've bought you a few minutes…" Tao's voice came, and Alex got the mental image of the dragon, likely from centuries past, bashing a plain leather ball, evidently from a human, higher and higher into the sky with his tail. He started to chuckle, and immediately regretted it as another surge of Light ran up his arms. He controlled it once more, and forced it back into the machine. The pain was intense, and he bit his lip. He couldn't feel it though; his brain was preoccupied with the intense pain in his arms. No distractions, then.

    "Seven bursts, and the Dragon Emperor still retains consciousness. Impressive, to say the least. Only my Hands have ever endured so much. Admit to your Crimes, Alexander Redwood…and you may yet be forgiven…I'll even offer a one-time chance to join me, my people, my Church. We don't need to kill each other, right?" The carefully controlled sarcasm irked Alex, but to his followers, sounded as genuine as everything else their beloved leader said.

    "What…crimes…" He said, surprised at how hard talking had become. Another surge, but he'd been expecting it, this time. Once more he let the energy travel up his tortured limbs, and then guided it back down, which was just as painful, straight into the machine. Finally, he sensed a shift within it. An imbalance, small, but enough.

    Pravus raised an eyebrow at his reading, but continued on anyways. "Come now, use that clever brain…everyone has things they regret. Choices, they wish they could undo. Share yours with us. There is no judgement, at least from us, during a session. You are with friends…"

    The Prophet's voice seemed to cut through the pain he felt in his arms, which trembled every few seconds now. Still, his grip remained iron. He glanced up again, and hid a smirk as he 'pretended' to double over in pain before another surge of Light. He felt a strange, unnatural compulsion in his mind, to share his pain, things he would normally never utter aloud, to let all of it spill out, and let the Light decide if he was too terrible to keep living. He could see why normal people, without crystals or armor or psychic powers, fell to a machine like this so easily.

    The metal cylinders had, he'd slowly realized, formed a direct connection to his nervous system, piercing his gloves, as the session went on. Normally harmless, this connection allowed the reader to measure the potential of the human linked to the machine, though in this era, meter readers had strict orders to extract secrets from their parishioners, which were then used to the Church's benefit, and the result had been the PokéMeters becoming little more than lie detectors. The promise of privacy was, as with so much else in their cult, an illusion meant to reassure the person on the receiving end of the meter that what they said would be kept hidden.

    Thankfully, the Light was not a mindless, all-destroying force that left death in its path when unleashed. It only came from one known source, and Arceus was a merciful deity. Alex knew if it reached his brain, as Pravus likely assumed it already had, he wouldn't be able to recover. Another surge came through his nerves, and the pain was almost too much. He'd retreated from his mental link to Jess and his partners, as he knew them well, and knew they wouldn't be able to sit by if they had any idea of just how bad he was hurting. Arthur knew, of course, as their link was far more ingrained thanks to his typing, but the Gallade also knew he had to resist the urge to charge in and help. For now.

    Sweat fell from his jaw and beard as he panted, but his arms, he forced to stay in place. Slowly, he sat up again. Pravus gave him a magnanimous smile. "Confess, and the session will be over."

    When another burst was slow to come, he waited. A minute passed. He waited. Another, and he knew time was fading fast. He forced himself to sit up. "You want…to hear what I am guilty of? What I regret?" He looked down again, composed himself, only to hunch further forward as another burst of Light surged into him. That was all he needed. Sadistic types like Pravus likely didn't know just how ineffective torture was, as a rule, but instead of lying to end it, he had other plans.

    Part of his leg armor began to glow with steel type energy, but he kept it out of sight below the table, hoping the sadistic man wouldn't notice, enjoying the session as he was. He widened the connection to the cylinders, and redirected as much Light as he could through them. One more, he thought, as he sensed the imbalance in the device grow. One more…he could handle one more. But, he realized, he was out of time.

    The sky above them took on a dark red hue, and the Prophet looked up, eyes narrowing. "All I regret…" Alex said, letting the pain fade from his mind, and replacing it with his growing rage, "Is that I let a worm like you control my life for so long…my biggest regret? Giving up my Venusaur, when I earned my Trainer ID…that's the only time I've ever been forced to abandon a friend…" The eyes narrowed, and the dragon energy flared to life again as he focused his anger. His aura shifted from blue, to a deep crimson, that matched the sky above them. Pravus stood, rage coming over his features as he realized, somehow, his opponent was not as weak as he should be. "And you are the reason I had to in the first place!"

    He focused his power then, empowering his psychic energy until it let the Light energy flow into him from the universe, and his entire form began shining with golden light. He directed it into the machine's imbalanced internal energy, overloading it. "What!?" Pravus switched the knob that powered the machine off, but the needle displaying the energy reading remained where it was, entirely too far to the right side of the display, in the red. Nobody had ever forced the needle into the red before. He took half a step back as he realized he couldn't stop it, only to have it explode in his face with a flash of blinding Light.

    When the flash faded, Alex found himself on his knees, arms hanging limp, still panting. He slowly reconnected to his team, and assured them that he was okay. Jess hadn't waited, reforging their link herself, and shielding him with a Barrier right before the machine went critical. She too, had seen the imbalance, what he'd been trying to do, and as usual, he'd forgotten to leave enough energy to defend himself.

    His entire form was smoking, as he slowly stood, and he looked over at Pravus. The man was on his back, obscured by the table, and smoking more than he was. It was at that moment that his whispered Shout manifested. Coming down from the clouds, seven massive meteor-like objects, wreathed in crimson, sparking flames, hurtled towards the dais, in a disturbingly perfect circle. The Crusaders, who had begun powering up their staves when the light exploded, barely had time to react before the massive spheres of draconic energy, summoned with naught but a whisper hidden in a deep breath at the start of this charade, came down on them.

    The smart ones had shifted their weapons to fire type energy, and formed personal shields around themselves. Unfortunately for their comrades, panic had won out by majority, and once the smoke blew away in the fierce winter wind, the dais stood all but unoccupied, as it was covered with burned, wounded men. The Scales moved through them with brutal efficiency, and ended their pain with merciful strikes to vital organs.

    With the dais suddenly free of their control, and their Prophet's status unknown, the remaining forces in the city began to converge on them, and the eastern forces reinforced the top level of the structure, turning the long ramp down to the street into a killing zone as Pokémon joined the fight. Eventually, Crusaders stopped charging blindly into the various attacks from the gathered Scales, and bided their time to make a concentrated charge.

    In short order, they began climbing, alternating positions to form defensive spheres of elemental energy powered by their armor, which joined together when close enough. The Scales drove them back rather easily though, as those defending were Champions, and had their powerful partners using rock type attacks, which both severely damaged or cut through the Crusader's fire and ice counter-attacks, and were entirely immune to electricity. Moreover, they could also make the ramp very smooth, and difficult for the heavy humans to climb, especially while defending themselves.

    The gathered host of Thor ran to their fallen leader, only to find he was comatose, self-induced to begin the healing process. Evidently, he expected his allies to stabilize him in time, which they did, though how exactly, the others could not see, as the tall riders obscured any foreign eyes from peeking through. When asked how they were going to heal a wound like that, the only answer the stone-faced warriors gave was, "Asgardian technology."

    The remaining eastern forces spread out atop the large stone structure, as Alex and Jess went to examine Pravus, to make sure he'd been fully ended. She'd already managed to use Recover on his right arm, and was tending to his left, as he froze, and shifted back to combat readiness. The spot where Pravus had lain was empty, only a charred mark on the stone remained where he'd been lying only moments before. "Bloody Darkrai…we need to separate him from it. Every time, it saves him."

    "We need…" Jess said, as she focused her scarlet-pink energy on his arm, "To get out of this city alive. And figure out how he fused himself to a Darkrai in the first place."

    Alex reached out to Tao then. "How did that go? Did they cut off broadcasting?"

    "No. The feed is still live, somehow." Tao responded, sounding perplexed. The camera drones were, like everything else after the explosion of power, smoldering wrecks. Alex mentally ordered the most tech savvy of his Scales to secret them away, for they needed a back door into the Church's propaganda machine. "As far as I can tell, they gave your abilities the opposite coloration of the Prophet's."

    "So it looks like I just blew him up with a giant darkness bomb. Great. Even when we win, we lose…" Alex muttered, flexing his hands as Jess finished. He used them both to hug her, murmuring, "I'm fine, really…" before letting her go.

    An irritatingly familiar voice echoed above them. "Win? You have won nothing, half-breed." They looked up at the dark cover of the ash-filled clouds, as a familiar looking ship descended from the upper atmosphere. It was Percy's but it had been given the Arcean treatment. That meant more guns, more shielding, and a giant symbol of the Alpha, jutting up from the rear this time. "I'll give you points for being clever, overloading my machine with too much energy…you would've made a powerful Hand. Now, all you'll make is a corpse. Such a waste…"

    Singing came through the sounds of battle by the edges of the dais, and they glanced to the rooftops of the city's few skyscrapers. The shield from earlier reformed, once the Prophet's ship was low enough. It began heading straight for them.

    The pair of bow-mounted triple barreled cannons on the formerly stealthy airship formed six orbs of energy, two for each typing the Church had adopted as weaponry. Bjalfari gave a sharp whistle then. "Mount up with Thor's men, lads! We're getting out of here!" He met Alex's gaze, and the Unovan tilted his head questioningly. "Thor is severely hurt, and, well…" Bjlafari gestured, and the city below them teemed with the white armor and visored faces of thousands of soldiers, all heading towards them.

    "Right." Alex said, shaking his head. "Of course…fall back, all of you!" Hilbert took his Scales into the air, and headed southeast, over the city, and towards the battle lines that, presumably, needed reinforcing. The rest of them leapt atop their mounts as well, just as the beams from the ship fired. The entire top half of the stone monument was blown away, but the resulting dust and rubble only hindered the Church's troops, and gave the easterners cover to get away.

    Thor's men had retained their Rapidash, and each of the blue-maned beasts had Bounced high into the air with the rest of them, some gaining additional height as massive chunks of stone flew past them. Not all the regular Norstadders escaped unscathed however, but the survivors knew that anyone who fell to the teeming horde of Crusaders below was already lost. They didn't take non-civilian prisoners very often. Alex's squad, which was essentially three in one at this point, saw where the Thunder God's warriors were landing, and battle erupted as they cleared the space for the descending fire horses. They were surrounded before long, all of them fighting and blocking as best they could.

    Each of the Scales had called out their partners then, and many had bolstered their ranks by summoning Pokémon from their cloak holders. With unity acquired through practice in combat, those who could defend, merged their defenses, which were mainly rock type, and any ice attacks that came close to hitting their barriers were burned away by the Charizard, Talonflame, and other aerial fighters as well. Blaze was leading them, and the Scales entire defensive strategy worked like a well-oiled machine as they covered for each other's weaknesses. None of them fell, as the Champions defended the landing host of Thor, and once the Rapidash were all down, they needed an exit.

    As if on cue, a pair of very angry, very on fire Gogoats burst through the Crusaders on their eastern side. Bjalfari and two other warriors helped Thor into his cart, though in the chaos it was hard to see how the red-haired Asgardian was faring. Once loaded up, the Gogoat both reared up, and then began charging back down the path of fire and death they'd created to reach the embattled eastern soldiers. The Rapidash needed no urging, and the gathered forces began moving as they beat a hasty retreat.

    Then, for the first time in their brief history, the Emperor's own squad suffered losses. Moving so quickly back towards their lines had left gaps in their defense, which the Arceans abused to great effect. Bjalfari lost three of his Scales, and ten of his warriors, Jess lost two of her own, and Alex's own squad lost three. The Sippi region had only contributed eight Champions to the cause. Some regions had as many as twenty, others as few as two. They had, evidently, formed a plan in the quiet of their minds, and had chosen to sacrifice themselves, and their partners, to the hordes of angry Crusaders to buy the others more time.

    Alex felt each of them fall, his sense of helplessness and anger rising with each death, and as the third of his own squad gave her life, he'd had enough. Eight Champions, and over eighty Pokémon at their command…all brought down with merciless efficiency by the Church's horde of loyal men, and their own partners. Any rules of battle had been utterly tossed out the window. He reached out to his ace in the hole as they approached the wall of opaque darkness. "Are you here, yet?"

    Alex smirked, as he was answered with a thundering roar, that made the Crusaders pause. Jess had reached the opaque barrier first, and with a single aura enhanced punch, had smashed a usable hole in the darkness with focused fighting energy. Rapidash began streaming through, and she moved to open another. Above them, thunder boomed as the upper part of the shield was blasted apart. Many of the Crusaders stationed within the city had been sent against the Kanadian Wall before now, and that roar haunted their nightmares. A cry escaped from one of the soldiers, a woman, who sounded several rows away from the current mob of chaotic Pokémon battling and combat. "Black Death comes! Switch shields to-"

    The words were cut off as a massive pillar of electricity came down from the darkened heavens, and obliterated the speaker, and any who'd been near her general vicinity. Night had fallen by now, and the night was where the Black Death had earned his nickname. The Charge Beam moved in a tight circle around the easterners, and those fighting made short work of the few who escaped unscathed, before continuing to retreat after the fiery column of Norstadders following the unstoppable charge of Thor's Gogoat.

    For the first time, Alex actually saw the Crusaders pause. They'd switched their weapons to ice typing, but the sky was a mess of reforming smoke, and chaotic Pokémon battles. The moon reappeared abruptly as Shruikan winged away for another destructive pass. As he circled, which took him just outside the city, and out of range, he mega evolved.

    The Crusaders, instead of aiming for him, aimed for the similarly glowing Trainer giving him power, only to find their ice attacks smashed apart by blade arms, burning with Light energy from the Emperor's Gallade. Just as quickly as they'd struck, the Gallade retaliated, and entire squads of Crusaders fell to the whirling dervish of death that was Arthur. There were always more to replace them, though. Alex fell back as he let the others run the final stretch to the suburban outskirts, as he turned in the middle of the main road leading out of the city, and prepared to stall their foes. Otherwise, they'd chase them all the way back to command.

    As Shruikan turned to deal with the advancing airship firing ice beams at him at a rapid pace, Cenomons appeared before his Trainer from underground, where he'd been making well-timed Dig attacks against soldiers who shifted their energy to electric. He'd followed the current then, and struck at the source. Usually, it wasn't an ally, and he'd have to dig again before retaliatory flames hit him. Thankfully, he was still rather fast. When it came to digging, at least.

    "Alright Ceno, just like we practiced. Bearing Shot! Spread it as wide as possible!" The Lairon hunched his entire body, growling as the enemy, and their Pokémon, came closer. With a sound like cannon fire, tiny balls of glowing steel shot from each of the Pokémon's holes, along his back and head. Five times he repeated it, and the Crusaders paused, as the multitude of orbs stuck themselves to the nearest enemy target that the Lairon had marked. It was possible to hit allies with this as well, but he could usually spot friends from foes, with his Trainer's help. A piece of his attention was always there for him, in the back of his mind, if he needed it. It was reassuring to have on hand.

    The Dragon Emperor raised a hand towards the Church forces who, upon seeing the orbs didn't really do anything but stick to them and glow, began charging him once more, intent on ending the war by taking his head. These were no back-woods soldiers that had never heard of the Scales of Balance. They knew how to kill Scales. Overwhelming them with varied melee strikes was the easiest method, while one had their Pokémon firing from mid to long range behind them as well. Their swords couldn't block everything.

    The grimly smirking horn-helmed figure's eyes flared as he summoned the power of electricity, and the surrounding area took on a yellow hue. Sparks flared along every surface, and the internal systems of the Crusader's armor went screwy…for a few moments. They had been built to channel this very element after all. The fingers snapped, and the gathered forces, who were only a Sportball field's distance from him now, glanced skyward as they heard an all too familiar whooshing sound. The sound of Death inhaling. In the quiet before the strike, Alex's Voice reached Shruikan, and his victims as well. "Thunder."

    The now mega evolved Shruikan had once more blocked the moon, and given the nature of formations that were chasing fleeing soldiers, a long line of the fastest had formed while the slower soldiers swarmed in behind them. The dragon opened his maw, but instead of a pillar of electrical death that only left charred, useless armor and smoking skeletons, the very clouds bent to his will as he used his Thunder.

    He took his best shot at the closest opponent who'd been marked, and as the bolt struck home, it spread. Like a line of macabre dominoes, the Crusaders fell one after the other as the deadly energy spread through the silvery orbs, through the line of the fastest soldiers, and then into a good portion of the advancing front. Chaos erupted as divisions were left leaderless, and the charge faltered. Alex raised his hand again, and grabbed onto the black scaled tail that was all but invisible in the dark night to human eyes as Shruikan picked him up, and quickly matched pace with the rest of their war party.

    "Not again! Fire everything!" Pravus' mad voice failed to hide the pain the eruption of Light had evidently caused him. It made some sense, as he'd discovered dark types were weak to that kind of energy. Alex recalled the various partners who had, thanks to his eeveelutions, not lost a single member. Between his Sylveon and Espeon, they had been an effective force, both defending and healing, as well as attacking when the moment came, but now was the time to pull back.

    It was good he did, for Percy's ship had begun firing random beams of energy at any remaining enemy forces, which at this point, were his own partners. Eventually though, he recalled all of them from Shruikan's back. Seeing his prey fleeing, Pravus gave another command. "All soldiers! All ships! Ice type attacks now! Fill the sky with them! Fire at will!"

    Alex swore, and ran up the length of his dragon's neck, leaping off his snout, and recalling him as ice energy filled the air. His aura flared, and he propelled himself towards his troops, who were waiting by the Sippi River. While delayed, the Crusaders had regained marching patterns minutes after the Emperor's attack, and were now marching in pace with Pravus' newest flagship.

    Alex raised a brow as he landed, and saw Jess and her squad ascending into the air. He found Hilbert, and their squads merged as they formed a defensive perimeter. "What are they up to then?"

    Hilbert looked at him. "She said you were the one who gave her orders to fly into the air…"

    Alex glanced up quickly. "I did not…wait, she's shielding herself from me." He went quiet as he gave her the mental equivalent of a loud knocking sound. He knew he'd made her wince. So she could hear him, at least. "Care to tell me where you're going?"

    He sensed her wink at him. "Hush…and enjoy the show."

    Alex raised a brow, and then turned his gaze towards what she'd mentally gestured to. His eyes went wide. He'd never seen a Suicune up close, but there was no way they were supposed to be this big. Moreover, its mane was blue, rather than purple just as Connor's partner was orange furred, and not yellow. Even Connor's Raikou hadn't been so…imposing, though. Professor Buckeye was atop the Legendary Pokémon, and he gave Alex a nod as they trotted by, following after Jess and her Scales.

    She'd found her lover's choice of squadmates for her amusing, and had run with it once she returned from Kalos, going as far as bringing in five additional Articuno riders she'd befriended in her time at their village. They stood out among her Scales, and flew in a V formation just above them. Jess was on Folokraan now, and Chari was with Blaze amongst the Pokémon of Hilbert and Alex's combined Scale force. Below them, there was a soft boom, and a cloud of snow as Suicune accelerated towards the enemy.

    When both it and the Professor were about ten miles from the Sippi river, the old man let out a sharp whistle. The fliers above began circling hisposition, and from the distance, came their foe. Pravus' ship continued to charge towards them as fast as it could. It wass much slower now, laden down as it was with all the upgrades. It had lost any chance of being stealthy, but it still fired ice energy beams as it advanced.

    Below the ship, the Crusaders came as well, once more mounted as they had been for their Blitz. This was, evidently, meant to be their second attempt, a strike all the way through Unova. A howl tore through the air, and the relatively barren grassy plains that made up this part of the continent were flooded with mist that rose from the river and the snow, and encompassed what was supposed to be the battlefield.

    The Asgardian forces led the charge back to Ventosus, their main focus on healing Thor. Alex didn't mind though, for he agreed with their priorities. His Scales could handle this. "Everyone heal up! If you need items, come to me. I want full health, and power on all your partners. Don't worry about how much you use, just give anyone who fought what they need to handle another round."

    Arthur handled using items on their own team, and Shruikan made a brief appearance as well, healed himself, and then rapidly headed north once more to make sure the Church hadn't grown bold in his brief absence from the wall. The air had slowly grown even colder, and snow fell anew from the ash covered sky. He knew Jess had something to do with it, but she was still being dodgy about what they were up to.

    As the Scales under Alex and Hilbert healed and restored their frankly absurd number of usable partners, Jess and her squad prepared to stall the advance, and perhaps end the battle before it properly began. Percy's ship fired beams uselessly into the fog-covered battlefield, and eventually ceased. Beams of ice fired back at the Arcean lines, and the Crusaders adjusted as necessary. Once they had ice shields however, a massive Blast Burn appeared from the mist and tore through most of the Arcean front line. The airship that held Pravus got to experience the power of a Thunder attack from a mega evolved and pure special attacker as Jess ordered Amphi to aim for one of the engines, and shared her psychic sight to account for Thunder's inaccuracy. Other fire moves immediately followed the massive thunderbolt. The Crusaders shifted their shield's typing again, and were met with ground and water moves in response.

    Rightly assuming their attackers were on flying types, beams of electricity filled from the Crusaders soon filled the air, and actually managed to pierce the mist. Only a few of the Articuno were hit, and those managed to land and recover to get back in the fight. The misty cover was invaluable, but Suicune wasn't done.

    Suddenly, the airship halted its forward momentum, as did the winded, and diminished lines of Crusaders. More streamed in from the city, and it became clear Pravus was giving his slower men a chance to mass up. When bunched together and shielding themselves in unison, few attacks could bring down the Church's soldiers. Or even manage to hit them, and as their lines reformed, their shield once more protected the airship from damage. What smoke there had been, ceased, as Fornian engineers handled and solved for the problem. Crafting a new part or six was easy when one had a living metal Pokémon on hand.

    As the Church forces regained their composure and formed a proper battle line, as they had in the first Blitz, they charged again towards Ventosus, and entered the mist covered battlefield. They knew where they were headed, and it was Pravus' belief that they could handle whatever surprise the easterners had prepared. Without the Thunder God, they would be mowed down.

    Another howl filled the air around them, and the mist turned into a Blizzard. There was a faint icy blue flash ahead of them within the storm, and without warning, the Blizzard became something else entirely, as the five remaining Articuno riders took control of the energy. That was when the Crusaders heard something on the wind.

    It wasn't a howl this time, but a song, one in a deep, unknown tongue. Those aboard Pravus' ship knew it well, for many had been in Norstad, and hadn't left their posts in the months since. Flying type energy exploded from the airship in a circular wave that dispelled the clouds, if not the snow. Above them, the large once more full moon hung in the sky, and blocking their view of it was a rider, with fire for hair.

    She raised a dragonbone covered fist, and the following snowstorm blinded the entirety of the Arcean lines with its intensity. The temperature dropped, rapidly, and Pravus gave the command. "All forces, switch to fire typing." The airship, for it had defenses as well, used the energy in its weapons, and merged it with the cohesive fire-shield blob the soldiers made up just below them. The result was a rather warm, comfortable dome that would burn away any ice attack. Or so they'd believed.

    "Kun Iirik!" The Shout echoed across the battlefield, even through the shield of fire, and from the white void surrounding them, came an Ice Beam. It didn't look normal however, and it was Doctor Ein who realized what it was, though he couldn't convey it quick enough to matter.

    When infused with Shadow, an Articuno could use a devastatingly powerful move that was, essentially, just an Ice Beam enhanced by Shadow energy. Now, it seemed, one of the irritating riders from before had thought to combine it with Light energy. The beam shattered the shield, and as a result, the enhanced armor of every Crusader suddenly lost power, burnt out by the overheating power units built into the back of each Crusader's armor. The suits had tried to output enough heat to match the frigid beam, but between it and the rapidly dropping temperature, the heat had been too much for the suits to sustain. Their weapons still worked though, and their leaders immediately ordered a barrage of fire typed beams into the sky.

    It wasn't enough, though. The Sheer Cold attack from no less than five Articuno, each much larger than the one that had broken their enemy's shield, struck home as their defenses failed, and the beams of fire were swallowed up into the howling storm of ice and snow. As the roughly two hundred thousand Crusaders began to freeze, those at the back of their respective division began to flee for the city.

    Seeing the first few lines already frozen solid in painful, horrific death poses, morale shattered, and the entire army began to flee. Or rather, they tried. Suicune had not been idle, and the impossibly fast Pokémon had run around the entirety of the Arcean lines, forming a barrier of ice with its Ice Beam as it ran.

    Buckeye kept his partner healed and energized as they penned in the troops, and closed the jaws around the trap Tao had set. The Dragon had expected his forces would need a fast exit, and fast exits against men like Pravus meant a hard charge to follow. Using the river, and a few Legendary Pokémon, the clever Dragon had cut off his opponent's sight, attack and defense strength, and now had sealed off their escape as well, as the first fleeing soldiers soon found out.

    Regular soldiers from Ohiana itself, made of mostly Trainers and militia who had thus far been under Buckeye's command, quickly traveled along the flat top of the new wall of ice, and began firing down at the soldiers quick-witted enough to realize that this wall was going to turn the battlefield before it into a killing zone if they didn't bring it down.

    Some reinforced it with rock type moves, while others moved all the way to the far end, to make sure everything was covered. They knew it likely wouldn't hold if the entire field army began retreating, but they'd been told most of the soldiers would be frozen before they ever reached the barrier.

    Tao, who had spent several minutes filling in Alex on what exactly the Hel their plan was, sent his Scales back into battle, and Alex and Hilbert's squad's once more joined with the ladies. They charged through the ranks of frozen Crusaders, their armor protecting them from the worst of the still ongoing Sheer Cold.

    They did come upon the edge of it however, and as they saw the Riders of Valaskjalf freezing entire battle companies solid they also once more found the Prophet's ship. It was ascending, rapidly. Evidently Pravus realized his people below were already lost. Jess gave the order for the Sheer Cold to cease, but the damage had been done. Out of the two hundred thousand loyal Crusaders who'd followed their Prophet into the latest battle of this war, only two divisions, roughly fifty thousand men, remained.

    Twin Ice Beams shot from either side of the field then, illuminating the sky with their brilliance as the clouds and snow faded. They struck the airship on each tandem wing rotor, freezing them both solid, and the massive ship began to plummet. This, more than anything, was what killed most of the soldiers.

    Pravus did not, however, go down with his ship. Indeed, it seemed the wreckage was entirely empty of non-frozen or Crusader helmed victims. As usual, the slippery Shadow abomination had a way of quick escape, if it was necessary. Alex knew though, that the fact that he'd had to use it would likely mean incredible rage from the man, and new bruises for his subordinates.

    Once the Prophet's ship crashed and the Scales hit it with several Hyper Beams, and elemental variations of similarly powerful attacks, the remaining Crusaders had surrendered, after a grisly chain of murdered lieutenants, and anyone with any kind of authority in the Church. The man who'd led his fellow soldiers in rebelling against a suicidal charge on the Dragon Emperor, called 'Reggie' or 'Reg' by his companions, had offered conditions to Alex that he'd accepted.

    They would renounce their ties to the Church, and in return, the Unovans would imprison them somewhere far, far away from all the death and murder until the war ended. At that point, he said, he would like to return home, but he would leave that decision to Alex.

    The Dragon Emperor had thoroughly shocked them all when he'd accepted the terms, and began speaking to them. "I know you all have heard plenty of things about me from your Church. Well the leader of that same Church just abandoned you to, presumably, die by my hand. The thing is, I don't want to kill you. Any of you. We never wanted this conflict. We wanted Pravus, for all the atrocities he has allowed in his long reign, and as you will soon see my Fornian foes, we had good reason to want to take him down. I will speak to as many of you as I can, when and if this conflict ends in a Unovan victory…if it doesn't, I'll be sure to leave the coordinates of your prison in a…obvious and easily found database. Somewhere. Maybe the Church will bother rescuing you. But don't count on it." He gestured then to the field around them. "Your frozen comrades who weren't shattered by your own airship will be thawed, but we'll leave convincing them to follow your lead in surrendering up to you…they're not going to believe anything I tell them."

    If he'd made an impact on the Crusaders, it didn't show, but given that they all had visors on, that was expected. He pulled Reg aside once he'd finished addressing their new prisoners. "You're going somewhere near Ontarec. It'll be cold, damp, and probably cloudy, but you'll all be alive. I need you to figure out who the…dangerous ones among the frozen are. We have different facilities for them. You give me their names once you're all settled in, and our deal will stand. If you decide to try to betray me, or escape your new prison, you will all die. Do you understand me, Reggie?"

    The man, who'd removed his own helmet, nodded. He had the usual Fornian features, though the tan had faded back to pasty white skin, from all the snow and near-constant cover from his armor, and his hair was black. "I hear you, Dragon Emperor…you don't need to convince me. I saw what you did…what your woman did…tell me something. Honestly. Are your powers evil?"

    Alex chuckled, and shook his head. "Not…inherently. Obviously, not all with abilities like mine are…good natured, but I like to think I'm good at resisting the urge to brainwash people with them." The man seemed to chuckle at that, but it faded as he saw the Emperor's mouth grow grim. "I think you understand…there are more ways to brainwash people than with psychic abilities, and don't think your Prophet isn't using them, either. He has a Gallade of his own, you know."

    "I'll take your word for it…" The man muttered, seemingly ready to return to his comrades.

    Alex smirked. "You'll see for yourself. We have a video record, developed since this war began, for those Fornians we happen to capture. We show you the unedited truth of what your government and your Church have been up to for the past few centuries."

    That piqued the man's attention again. "And does that kind of tactic work?"

    Alex chuckled again. "About as well as you'd expect. Around fifty percent usually refuse to watch. The other half that do, don't take very long to deconvert. We offer a chance to save their family members then." He gestured again, and the very people Pravus had captured earlier, who'd been spirited away somewhat unwillingly by Thor's riders, were huddled around the Scales, and the fire Pokémon with them. "We don't always succeed. Most of the time, they're already dead, but sometimes…sometimes we have a happy ending, a family reunion, and people who won't try to unravel my government when and if this all ends." He met Reg's eyes then. "I don't want your people to die, Reg. I want your people to flourish, as they should have been, for the past three centuries."

    The Crusader looked down again, shook his head, and sighed. "It's…a lot to process…"

    Alex chuckled. "You'll have time to think it over. But the offer stands for you as well. Soldier or civilian, spy or diplomat. We offer the chance to be free to those who have the will to take it. Good luck…and may the Alpha's Light guide you truly."

    The common Arcean ending to a conversation seemed to startle the Crusader, as it had come from the very man he'd been told had zero respect for his people's culture or beliefs, and wanted to see all of it in ruins. They would all have much to think about.

    For his part, Alex had floated into the air, and headed for the windy city's Encampment, which was serving as the military's headquarters. As he landed and entered the command tent, Tao's voice filled his skull. "We have a problem. The other fronts have been cut off by dark type interference. For all we know, there's several divisions heading our way from the southern lines. All we've been able to divine is that the Church launched a second attack on the south and center lines while we were focused on Monachus."

    "Well…Muk." Alex said, sighing. "Focus on re-establishing our communications. See if Merlin can't pierce whatever barriers are blocking us."

    "Arthur can handle that…" Tao said, sounding slightly amused. The Gallade popped free of his ball then, bumped fists with his Trainer, and then Teleported. "There is more, though…I was wondering why we had such an easy time today…"

    "You call that easy?" Jess said, shaking her head. "You try fusing an Ice Beam with Light energy without being able to 'summon it from the universe'." She'd added air quotes, but mostly for the benefit of the leaders present. Bjalfari had survived, but Hilbert was being treated for a harsh burn to his shoulder. Evidently he'd run afoul of a Crusader's Arcanine while fighting and leading the melee on the ground.

    "I never said you weren't impressive. Regardless, did none of you notice something was missing? What does the Prophet always have with him, according to reports?" Alex glanced at the others, but Jess figured it out first.

    "His Hands…we didn't see any. That is strange. All reports from his past appearances on the field have had him surrounded by at least ten, with five in reserve." She glanced at Alex then, sensing his own thoughts.

    He spoke them aloud for those not psychically connected to him. "I imagine some are leading the offensives in the south, to counter the Scales, but…he's supposed to have thousands right? Where are the rest?"

    "Unfortunately…" Tao said to all of them, "We know that, too…they're in Sinnoh. They've been in Sinnoh this entire time, and until today…Sinnoh's Champions were holding them off but…we just received word from the PNN. Reports are coming in from Japan…there's a second Blitz, apparently, and it's heading down the entire island chain."

    Alex's eyes went wide, "But why? Why make another enemy, fight a war on two fronts, when he's barely been able to secure the land his Church has claimed here?"

    "I imagine this was supposed to happen before we were ever engaged, but given Fornia's industrial might, they can handle two fronts. Especially since one has evidently been planned for a very long time…Sinnoh was betrayed from within, and the locals apparently surrendered without much fighting, in almost every city…the Crusaders there are already heading south, towards Kanto." The Dragon seemed to pause, and as it dragged, Alex fidgeted.

    Finally, he spoke. "I'm sending Red. I'm sending Red, and whoever he wants with him. If Kanto is going to be their ultimate target…let's keep it from them. Japan is no industrial slouch either…and I'd rather not give them a chance to brainwash their stronger Trainers."

    The Dragon radiated agreement, and was silent for several more moments. Then, "It is done. He and a squad's worth of Scales will have to be enough reinforcement for now. He said he would mention the Empire's wish to aid them in this sudden invasion to the local government, but until they actually accept, sending our troops there en masse would technically be an invasion as well."

    Alex glanced back to the map on the table. "So what now? Pravus is probably healing in a bunker somewhere. Where do you need me next?"

    Tao's eyes manifested once more, as he got a better look at his Tamer. "Rio. We need to learn more about that city Pravus came from, and my information is three millennia out of date. Go there, find out what you can, and if possible…bring home some allies."

    Alex stared at the pair of golden orbs. "You're kidding me. Rio? People are going to think I'm vacationing in the middle of a war!"

    Tao's voice was silent to the others then, even to the female he'd bound himself so close to. "You can't hide it from my Divine Gaze. You're exhausted. I can see your eyes. When was the last time you slept?"

    The dragon energy flaring from his eyes shifted to Light, obscuring even Tao's sight, and the others in the tent exchanged looks. Alex responded in the same manner though, so the others heard nothing. "I can sleep when this war is over…or at least, until we free the civilians they've captured."

    "Leave them to me. I have led many wars more difficult than this. Pravus has overextended, as we demonstrated today by taking out the northern part of his army…or most of them, anyways. I'm sure the city is still well fortified. In any case, you are not a military general of my caliber. I can still take you with four moves in chess."

    "Five." Alex interrupted.

    The Dragon continued. "Everyone has a mission to accomplish if we want victory. Yours, right now, is to find out who exactly our enemy is…the people o