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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 ★★★★
    Fate of the Arceans

    The following is a wrap up to the Japan side of the conflict we've been embroiled in for quite some time now. Keep in mind that these events are taking place a few days after the Dragon's jaws closed on Texico City. Skipping is not advised for this one.

    Hearthome City - Sinnoh Region

    The assault had not gone as planned. With overwhelming victory in Sunyshore, the forces from the Dragon Empire's Rio allies had departed, and after aiding with a string of such overwhelming victories all the way up Japan, Red didn't blame them. The word was that Caleb Pravus had been felled, by Alex no less, who seemed to have taken a page from him and Mewtwo. He didn't entirely mind, nor was it unexpected. Redwood was the kind of Trainer that learned from every battle he watched, and in the early days of their Swamp training, he had drawn crowds of curious eyes as he and his Charizard studied the moves of Galar's own unbeatable Champion he'd had recorded on his portable computer, as they tried to replicate them. Red knew well how good Leon was, and he'd seen Redwood's Charizard pick up several maneuvers, and then make them his own.

    Their Burst technique had not, evidently, been a new discovery, for while he'd held that enlightened state, the fused brain of the most powerful psychic type and an awakened human had witnessed visions from the world around them, from the past, from the near future, they had seen once that such techniques had been as common as the rainbow colored stones they required to perform them. There was more to it though, Red had found, as the process of disconnecting Mewtwo from the stone had been arduous. He had refused to undergo it again, but Red's partner had been only too eager to step up instead. He embraced the bond with the stone, and their combined shape was stronger for it.

    The form they took looked similar to his X strand Mega Form, though there had been a few changes. He had thinner legs, and four toes. His tail, formerly up behind his head, had returned to where it usually hung while in his unevolved state, and grown in length and bulk. He had found that applying different types of energy to it while he swung, made it rather effective for physical moves. A burning circle of their crimson power made manifest hung behind their back, and that too, had proven to act as a useful, movable shield when the pair was in the thick of the fighting. Into the back of each shoulder extended a bundle of nerves from their neck, and the backside itself was covered in the dense purple muscles that had appeared on their limbs and body, atop every known pressure point and weak area. Their moves were incredibly quick, when in melee, and they had been able to outpace the Y strand's Mega Form while flying, in their fused state.

    Their weapon, however, usually required two hands to wield. Red's Mewtwo had used its new heightened power to fuse his spoon with the essence of his human's weapon. It didn't seem to actually damage the weapon, so Red had embraced it as well, though actually holding the blazing blue plasma spoon was not feasible. Levitating it took less than no effort for them, though. It was good that they had held the fusion, for as their attack on Hearthome was routed, they were almost solely responsible for keeping the fleeing Japanese forces alive.

    Red shared his partner's irritation, as they slowly fell back, and reflected blast after powerful elemental blast from the Arcean Crusaders that had made the city their foothold in Sinnoh. They'd also taken Mt. Coronet, and each of the towns and cities surrounding the massive mountain were currently held by the Church's forces. This charge had been to test their defensive strength, and as Clay had warned him, they would need the aid of Unova and Kalos to take the city. They were currently coming up to Pastoria City to reinforce Red's army of roughly four million Trainers.

    Clay had an additional two million coming with him, as they'd mopped up behind Red's unstoppable charge up the island, at Alex's request, once the forces in Fornia rendezvoused at the Oasis of Glory. Half of the men were fellow Texicans, eager to follow the famous Gym Leader strong enough to have a Gym in the Victory League. The other million came from Kalos, and had been under Grant, until Tao had sent them to reinforce Japan alongside Clay.

    They'd been playing catch-up since landing, and often, mopping up meant dealing with Arcean holdouts Red had simply not seen as he blazed forward in his combined form with the Genetic Pokémon, and a company of Scales, as well as fellow Champions from across their nation's regions, old and new. The overwhelming power of those Trainers had broken the Arcean lines all the way back to Sinnoh, and the last group under Pravus's Hand in Japan.

    Clay had a bad feeling about leaving the zealots with so much free access to Mt. Coronet, especially when they had remnants of Sinnoh's own Team Galactic in their ranks, if their spies were to be trusted. Caleb Pravus had committed much of his Church's manpower to taking Sinnoh in particular, and the 'holy mountain' had been a great victory for Arceans the world over. At this point, they'd held it for several months, but as far as the Japanese and their allied forces knew, they hadn't achieved anything with it in the time they'd held control of the mountain.

    The masters of Time and Space hadn't appeared in the sky, as they had when Cyrus pulled them from their dimensions, to the top of the mountain. Clay's Holociever went off as he and the forces from the Dragon Empire began to disembark in Sinnoh. When he answered, he found none other than Gary Oak on the other end. "Yo, Clay! The attempt to take Hearthome failed, they've reinforced it too heavily to just charge at it. We're heading for Pastoria now. Red wants us to link up there."

    "Pastoria, eh?" Clay said, arching a weathered eyebrow. "Tha's where we're a'headin' too. Is the city on our side?"

    Gary chuckled. "Crasher Wake was one of the only Gym Leaders that managed to hold on to his city, and that's largely thanks to the swamp and forest surrounding it. Eventually, the Arceans stopped sending men into the Great Marsh, and focused on Mt. Coronet, and the cities surrounding it."

    "Sounds to me like we need a plan, pard. Does Red have one?" Clay asked, sounding more and more reluctant to aid as the call continued. He knew well the advantage an army could have if they holed up within a mountain, and one as large as Mt. Coronet could hold all six million of the troops the Church had committed to Sinnoh. Between Marius's charge and Red's, that number had dropped, but when it came to defending, the Arceans could hold multiple places with only a few Crusaders, thanks to the shields their Staves could form when linked together.

    "Maybe. If he does, he hasn't told me, but then, he doesn't talk much as a rule. Just tell Crasher that we're comin' in hot, if you manage to get there first." Gary looked away from the Holoscreen, as a loud boom sounded around him. "I've gotta go, Clay. Smell ya'!"

    As the Pokémon Professor hung up, Clay turned to his now disembarked troops as they piled onto the deserted beaches of Sinnoh's Route 213. "Listen up lads an' lasses! We're heading for Pastoria. Apparently it's a friendly city. I want you fast fliers to go ahead of us, an' kindly warn their Gym Leader that we're a'comin. We'll be linkin' up with Red's forces, and they'll be comin' in with Crusaders on their tails. Once we get to the city, start fortifyin'!"

    The soldiers responded with their company's usual 'Aye, Field Marshal!', and then began moving. Several with fast flying types took to the air to do as Clay ordered, while the rest began marching through Sinnoh's wilderness, towards the route that led to Pastoria. By the time Clay arrived, he and his forces could see the smoke in the distance from the battle at Hearthome, where Red's seemingly unstoppable charge had finally faltered.

    Clay didn't have to guess who the Gym Leader of Pastoria was, as he was standing in the center of the city once he arrived, a Gyarados behind him, directing his soldiers on where to station themselves, and humming a catchy tune under his breath.

    "Field Marshal Clay!" The man said, upon seeing his hat, and attire. The Imperial military had given him the same black and white colored armor as his troops, but the classic Texican hat adorning his head was something he'd insisted on keeping. The compromise, had made it armor plated, something he found incredibly useful, as he could wear it while mining now, too. Crasher walked towards the Unovan Gym Leader, as his Gyarados watched with fierce eyes. Their faces were unreadable at the best of times, but as a ground type Gym Leader, he'd gone up against them before, and knew what they did before attacking. He doubted a Gym Leader's Pokémon would rampage on its own in a crowded town, but then, it was a Gyarados. The man known as Crasher Wake greeted him with a proper handshake, and a grin. "Welcome to Pastoria City! I'm glad Unova decided to help us with this...I don't like admitting it, but these Fornians are seriously strong."

    "Mm. Tha's what happens when they infuse Shadow into their Pokémon." Clay said, nodding sagely. Upon seeing Wake's confusion, he elaborated. "Shadow Infusion, pard. It takes evil, downright foul energy, and fuses it into a Pokémon's body, makin' them much stronger, meaner, and downright narsty to deal with. Apparently, Caleb Pravus made it a part o' his Crusaders trainin', havin' them master Shadow moves, an' such. They're resistant to regular moves, an' Shadow moves have super effectiveness on non-infused Pokémon. Try not to let yours get hit, yea?"

    Crasher Wake gave the man a thumbs up, and a grin. "We'll just have to drown them with our power before they get the chance to attack! Yea! Gyarados!" The massive water dragon glanced at its Trainer, as he called. "Let's go! I want the first shot at those zealots once they get in range of our city!" The Gyarados roared in response to its Trainer's heightened passion for the imminent battle, and began moving towards the city's western exit. Wake turned back to Clay, then. "I'll leave organizing the rest of the men to you, Mr. Underground Boss. Do whatever you need to, my home is yours!"

    "S'preciated." Clay said, tilting his hat, as the eager water type master followed after his partner. He turned to his men then. "You heard'im! We're fortifyin' and defendin', until Red tells us otherwise. Now 'member, we're here under Japan's authority! Their government wants as li'l city damage as possible!" As his troops made ready, Clay headed for the western exit of the city as well, which was little more than an open route entrance, blocked only by swamp.

    It didn't take long for Red's forces to arrive. The exhausted Japanese Trainers, as well as quite a few rather famous Champions, were singed, wounded, and demoralized after being forced to retreat. Thus far, 'Redtwo', as the troops had nicknamed him, had broken through every defensive posture the Crusaders had taken. Now that something had finally given the insanely strong fusion of human and Pokémon pause, they knew the Arceans would be using the same methods, in the future.

    As Trainers streamed in covered in grime, swamp, and sometimes blood, Clay noticed Crasher Wake's enthusiasm had faded into a grim look. "I heard it was bad throughout Sinnoh, but to be honest, I hadn't heard specifics. The media went silent weeks ago, and I've been defending the Marsh since these zealots landed. How's the rest of the country?" He turned to Clay, as he asked.

    Clay grimaced. "General Marius's Regigigas left a wide wake o' carnage behind it...thankfully, most humans an' Pokémon avoided its initial charge, but the Crusaders're just as bad. They torched every berry grove from Kanto to yer fine region. Easy ta do, when they can launch beams o' fire energy at whatever they darn well please. Yall'r in fer a lot o' cleanup…" Clay met his fellow Gym Leader's eyes then. "But we'll be aidin' ya with that, too, I reckon. The Original Dragon aint the type to leave his allies hangin'."

    At that, Wake arched a brow. "Oh? You've met the First Dragon? I hear his Tamer is a pretty strong Trainer."

    Clay chuckled, and looked down as he recalled their gym match. Like Hilbert and Nate before him, Alex Redwood's eyes had burned with passion, and his Swampert had been brutally effective at taking down fellow ground types. "Aye, I've met'em both. His Tamer challenged my Gym once, though I reckon he's changed a bit since then. He was only a pup when we Battled, but his Swampert was...fierce. He whooped me, an' Chili, one o' the Gym Leaders of Striaton, on the same day. Without so much as a Hyper Potion between matches. Prolly an Elixir though. If the legends are to be believed, the Dragon has only made'im stronger. The Scales of Balance're pretty much all psychics, like your Red." He said, nodding towards the direction the Champion would be coming from. "They're just as powerful, too. I ain't never seen a human able to slice through energy beams like that. Whatever the Dragon's teachin'em, it's workin'."

    Wake's grin returned, as Clay spoke in his Texican accent. "Right. Well, at least we have Trainers to fall back on if these zealots manage to stop us."

    Clay met his grin with one of his own. "Don't go underestimatin' Red now, y'hear. That man is jus' as strong, 'specially with a pair of Mewtwo behind'im."

    Before Wake could reply, they both got a good look at the aforementioned pair of Genetic Pokémon, as they hovered into view. The Y strand was mega evolved, and as it hovered roughly a mile from the entrance to Pastoria, it unleashed a Psystrike, presumably on Arcean forces they couldn't see.

    For his part, Red was deflecting, and often redirecting, energy beams back at the advancing Arceans by empowering the giant glowing plasma spoon with Mirror Coat. "Let's go!" Crasher Wake said, as his Gyarados rose from the muck of the swamp outside the city. With a single leap through the air, the water dragon landed in the part of Route 212 that had a minor lake within it. There, the Gym Leader had been able to keep anyone from crossing that wasn't friendly. His Quagsire and Floatzel came to the surface nearby, ready to aid if Gyarados wasn't enough. He didn't see Clay follow him, but then, he figured someone with 'Underground Boss' as a title probably wouldn't follow too obviously.

    Marsh terrain was nothing for an Excadrill, though getting back through the tunnel they'd made was definitely not going to be possible. Clay waited below, trusting his partner to pop up and attack at the right moment. Up above, the Gyarados and his Trainer waited out of sight. Crasher Wake gave the fused Red a nod as their eyes met, and upon seeing them, he and the other Mewtwo stopped attacking, and headed for the city.

    Then, came the Crusaders. White armored in a design that was foreign to Sinnoh, as they'd never really heard of or seen Cipher's aesthetic, their forward ranks were shielded by a combination of the three elemental types they'd mastered manipulating thanks to the Original Dragon's time as their prisoner. "We'll have one chance to break them…" Wake said, assuming Clay could hear him, and was nearby. "Hit them with everything you have!"

    Both Clay and his Excadrill heard, and readied themselves. In Sinnoh, the use of Plate crystals for Mega Evolution had been a growing trend that had been derailed by the sudden foreign invasion and subsequent takeover by the Fornian forces. Wake and Clay had a different use in mind for theirs, however. Against foes with strong defenses, the Trainers of Japan had focused on mastering 'Ultimate Moves', not all that different to Z-Moves, and the Plate crystals were just as capable of powering those, as they were Mega Forms. Most Trainers used the boost from mega evolving to further strengthen the attack, which more often than not was just a more powerful variation of a move they already knew.

    As the Crusaders reached the edge of the lake, the shield lowered, and the soldiers switched to ice typing, as they prepared to cross. Moments after they froze the surface, the massive form of a Gyarados, and its Trainer, broke through the fresh ice with the force of a great typhoon, and a typhoon was, essentially, what the water and flying typed Gyarados unleashed upon the unshielded humans as his Trainer called the move, "Crashdown Tidal Wave!"

    Nature itself became as enraged as the Gyarados began stirring it up, and Crasher Wake's right fist shone blue as his partner drew on the energy needed to unleash what was essentially a Surf attack, on a much bigger scale. A blast of wind knocked the Crusaders on their rears, and the following wave of water sent them hurtling into the forest that surrounded the Route.

    They took roughly a minute to reform some semblance of a front line, charged with electricity aimed at the Gyarados. With one move, Crasher Wake had reduced the force chasing Red from just over a thousand, to roughly half. Many Crusaders weren't moving, after feeling a Gyarados' rage. As the hastily regrouped soldiers fired their electric beams in unison at the recharging Gyarados, a spinning figure burst up and out from one of the hills that blocked their path over the water, to Pastoria. Clay was standing on the adjacent hill, and tipped his hat as he raised a fist radiating ground typed energy.

    His Excadrill took the electric beams with little to no effect, and then propelled himself towards the still standing Crusaders as Clay called his own Ultimate Move, a practice he and the other foreigners had taken to with much enthusiasm, as they traveled the length of Japan.

    "Subterranean...Smaaaash!" His Excadrill dug into the ground under the Crusaders with speed only a Pokémon could produce, and the ground under them began upheaving. Massive boulders rose up suddenly, and usually right under groups of Crusaders, sending them flying.

    At least ten times the earth exploded with fierce protrusions of hard rock, and the Arceans began to retreat as the Excadrill popped up by his Trainer, and the Gyarados loomed over them all. The power of unleashing such an attack had caused it to mega evolve, and Crasher Wake was not one to let his opponents escape unimpeded. "Destruction Beam!"

    A beam of yellow-orange death flashed across the scattered Arceans, and the following line of explosions ended most of those who had been getting to their feet. Thoroughly routed, the few smoldering survivors that had managed to summon a Pokémon for defense readied more Protects as they gathered what Crusaders still lived, and would survive the trek back up to Hearthome City. The retreating survivors had been reduced to double digits, and neither of the scowling Gym Leaders, upon viewing the carnage they had wrought, felt it was a victory. They'd forestalled a few hundred, but by now they knew better than to go anywhere near the marsh. The two Gym Leaders recalled their partners not on watch duty, and headed back into the city, where they could already see Red talking with the others, seven colored stone in hand as his Mewtwo was beside him.

    Mt. Coronet, Upper Level - Sinnoh Region

    "They have been repelled, my Lady. Hearthome is still ours. You were correct, without Zigma to break our shields, the Mewtwo abomination could not hit us as effectively in an entrenched position." Many hadn't liked retreating after Marius failed, not only in war, but in keeping his men loyal. Whatever the psychic scum had done, it had made their troops under the old General turn.

    Lisa Pineus gave a nod to her female lieutenant, and then looked towards the former Champion of Sinnoh, the woman who'd lost the title to a foreign ten year old from Galar, and his Torterra, before focusing on ancient myths, and eventually becoming a Professor who specialized in exploring them. Lisa knew it was not Cynthia she spoke to though, for the witch controlling her had introduced herself only as Morgana, and had revealed that she'd been an ally of Pravus himself. With him now beheaded, his Darkrai lost to the crushing fathoms, and his Church in the process of being deconstructed by the Original Dragon, Lisa found herself the leader of all five million remaining Arcean troops housed across the six cities they held in Sinnoh.

    "Bring up the map. How many still defy us, now that we've returned?" Her Lieutenant did as ordered, and then spoke once more.

    "Oreburgh City, and the surrounding Coal Valley continue to repel us, with their mastery of rock typed moves at Oreburgh's Gate, and they continue to seal whatever holes we make in Mt. Coronet before, or during, troop movements through them. Sandgem and Twinleaf continue to peacefully protest our presence, but Professor Hikari has shown that she isn't afraid to Battle, if one of our soldiers gets rough. We agreed to put more...foreign friendly Crusaders in their area, and there have been no issues since."

    The Hand had scowled at the mention of Oreburgh. Roark and Byron had protected the combined inhabitants of Canalave City and Oreburgh all at once, moving their people before their Crusaders had bothered with Canalave. The initial focus had been on Jubilife, and somehow, the population of an entire city had managed to sneak past them. Since then, their Trainers had only grown stronger after repelling their attempts to take the Gate, and attack from within Coronet. Any more assaults from that side threatened to collapse part of the massive mountain. "I would consider the Professor's knowledge on Pokémon evolution to be valuable enough to interrogate her...but she was capable of beating the Elite Four, if not Cynthia. No matter. It's not worth the effort at the moment. Who else defies us?"

    As her tan and blonde superior allowed her to continue, her lieutenant was glad that she, at least, did not regularly beat her subordinates. More than a few Hands had copied the Prophet in that regard, but Lisa Pineus was more rational, and viewed her underlings as pieces on a board, rather than punching bags good for little more than venting frustration and carrying out orders. She pushed her square glasses up as she again regarded her data pad, and gestured to the map.

    "Snowpoint continues to be stubborn in its refusal to talk to anyone, and since we already took their Regigigas, there is little left there to worry about. Their Gym Leader raids around Eterna City sometimes, but our soldier's armor can handle what he throws at them. Usually. That leaves Sunyshore, which was reclaimed almost single-handedly by Zigma's Tamer, and all but demolished in the process, and Pastoria, which is where we assume Red has retreated to. Crasher Wake may be getting old, but his Gyarados has no such infirmities. Sending troops into the Great Marsh now, would only result in losses we can't sustain."

    The Hand nodded again, pondering their position. No aid would come from Fornia now. There was a gut wrenching creak as the Shadow puppet that was Cynthia turned towards her, eyes alight with a dim purple, and a downright sinister smile on the aging woman's wrinkled face. "Sounds to me like holding the mountain is no longer...worth the effort. If you give Red and those other...Heroes...a chance to regroup, they will surround your holdings, and take down your troops. Maybe even turning more of them. Bring your soldiers to Albion, and I will make them the guardians of a kingdom all their own. Power you cannot imagine lies in this land...and if someone does not claim it soon, some nosy Trainers undoubtedly will."

    The Hand stood during Morgana's little speech, and she listened closely, knowing the witch for what she was. A psychic wretch that thought herself clever. She could recognize the foul Aura such abominations produced radiating from the old Sinnoh Champion. For all her tricks, the ones she was and was not aware of, she had managed to give them perhaps the only thing that could take on the awesome power of two Mewtwo that had been genetically engineered to be the best.

    "I want the Rayquaza. Give me its ball, and I will send my troops to your Albion." She held out her own hand now, wondering if the witch could see just how many moves ahead she was playing. Her answer would decide the fate of her troops, no small number of Fornians, and would no doubt have ramifications in the future. She may have offered her people to someone that could take control of them the closer they went to her land, but she did have a plan.

    Cynthia's creepy smile remained static on her features, until finally, the voice of the witch controlling her came from her mouth. "Deal." The Champion then awkwardly shifted her hand to her belt, and drew a Dark Ball that now acted as the Rayquaza's home, though Lisa had never seen the witch summon it. Morgana claimed to have found Cynthia training with the Legendary dragon, and had subdued them both with stealth and speed, recalling the mega evolved behemoth of a dragon before it could break free. Transferring it then to a Dark Ball had been as easy as going to a Pokémon Center during low peak hours, and then slipping away just as quickly, before anyone noticed her new, famous puppet.

    The hand stopped, as it grabbed the Dark Ball, and after struggling for a moment, it again moved forward. A high pitched giggle came from the witch. "Apologies, my dear...this one still struggles…" Eventually, she managed to get the ball into the palm of the Hand, who took it eagerly. "You remind me much of myself, when I was your age…" The creepy voice paused to giggle again, and Lisa resisted rolling her eyes. "Take care with that one, now...if it gets Purged by a Light user, you won't enjoy what it does to you."

    Lisa paused at her words, and glanced at the ball. Then, she decided to roll the dice, and hoped that the Light wielder doing the Purging, would keep the dragon's rage in check. Assuming she could get to the top of the mountain with it unimpeded. Plans had a tendency to fall apart right as they started to work, and as she gripped the Dark Ball, she knew she was taking a large gamble, but saw no other path forward for her people. "Why would I let it be Purged? This is our best chance at stopping Red's unholy fusion."

    With that, she turned back to her Lieutenant. "Have the six cities we do control gather every scrap of fuel they can find. We should have enough to reach Albion." She looked back at Morgana then. "I have things to do. You should store your puppet somewhere safe." Morgana said nothing, and she left the room before giving Lisa time to say anything else. The Fornian watched the witch leave, clutching the Dark Ball in her hand rather tightly. Then, she ascended.

    Mt. Coronet's summit was as lifeless and bare as it had been since the Arceans had arrived. All that remained were traces of Pokémon battle that had lingered despite their age. While their old Team Galactic allies had tried to summon the patrons of Space and Time, they had failed completely, as they had when they tried bringing Giratina back as well. There was, as usual, no trace of Arceus.

    Lisa fished in her bag for the item that, she hoped, would summon the aforementioned Light wielder, and the Fornian's last best chance at avoiding whatever grim destiny Morgana had planned for them. The wind around her picked up, as she withdrew an ancient looking Azure colored flute, and put it to her lips.

    She was not a musician, and as she forced air into the flute's mouthpiece, nothing came out. Nothing interesting happened. She tried again, and again, but only soft air was heard, and it seemed to vanish, as she blew into the flute as hard as she could. Lisa fell to her knees, a look of despair on her face, as she looked at the Dark Ball in her hand. She had not expected failure. The old caretakers who had fiercely guarded the Azure Flute had warned her that she could not make use of it, but then, that was a running theme with those who guarded ancient objects of power. Their 'morality' did not keep them from lying, in an attempt to dissuade people from trying to steal such artifacts. Evidently, in this case, the Pokémon she had intended to summon knew who she was, what she had done, and had been part of in her time as a Hand of the Prophet.

    The tears that fell from her eyes surprised her at first, but she knew why they were appearing. Heroes like Red had a long track record of victory in conflicts like this, and now that Pravus was dead, she was on the wrong side of history, as were her people. It didn't matter how benevolent the Original Dragon and his Tamer claimed to be, the Arceans would forever be hated for what they had started, and done to their Pokémon. An appeal to Arceus directly had been their last chance, and as only darkness and Shadow lay before her path ahead, she put the flute to her lips one last time, and filled it with air.

    She nearly jumped, as a note began to echo, and she inhaled through her nose, then exhaled into the instrument, urging it to continue playing. The eerie melody echoed across the Spear Pillar, and as it faded into nothingness...nothing happened. Light did not fill the sky, Palkia and Dialga did not appear, nor did the shadow of Giratina.

    She waited several minutes, her faint flaring hope once more crushed by the lack of an appearance on the part of her deity. It did not take long for anger to replace the sadness and mix with her frustration as she glared accusingly at the Azure Flute. "You were supposed to work!" She raised it then, intending to smash it against the stone floor, but stopped halfway through the motion as tears appeared once more. "This was our last chance...if Arceus cannot save us...nothing can."

    Ye must be the one to save Thyself, child.

    Lisa's eyes went wide as the almost overwhelming tones of Arceus' voice thundered in her skull. She looked up, tears streaming down her cheeks as she squinted at the bright light before her. She made out a familiar outline, and then fell to her hands as well, bowing in the most respectful manner the people of this island nation had. "Please...Alpha Pokémon...save my people! We're doomed to the Shadow if you don't!"

    The red eye of the manifested deity became visible as the light around him faded. It expanded, and shrank, and the woman winced, groveling closer to the ground as the rage in the tone of the Alpha Pokémon shook her very being.

    Ye hath chosen to serve Shadow ere now, and ye hath served it well. Thine mantle of leadership falls now to ye. If 't be true thee didst not truly seeketh redemption, the flute wouldst not have played. Hearken to me, Mortal for there is but one path backeth to the Light, for thy kind.

    Lisa raised her head, and looked upon the Alpha Pokémon as she pleaded. "I will do anything! Please, I...I just want us to live...and remain human."

    Purge the Shadow from every Pokémon thy forces possess, and cleanse it from thine own aura as well. I shall not abide Shadow worshipers using mine own name to further their agenda!

    The blonde and tan woman, face still streaked with tears, spoke only a single word. "How?"

    Arceus descended from the sky, and hovered closer to her. His words still thundered, but they seemed quieter, more inherently kind. The Dragon Emperor hast the means. Submit thyselves to the Human known as Red, and you shall be on the path to redemption.

    At that, Lisa's eyes narrowed. "The Dragon's Puppet? You must be joking...an intolerant Trainer playing politics will only lead us to ruin! To domination by Psychic Types!"

    She had never heard a God sigh, but that was what Arceus did, as he registered her words. Caleb Pravus hast lied to you of many things, child. Psychic types are but one of them. They art not evil, not inherently. There is good, and there is bad among their kind as there is among all my children, and whether thee accepteth it or not, Humanity is rapidly learning of their potential for psychic power. The Dragon Emperor wast given authority by mine own self to dismantle thy leader's cult. Submit to him. There is no other path to the Light for thy people.

    With that admission, Lisa's indoctrination began to kick in, and anger replaced her humility rather quickly. Her left hand gripped the Dark Ball tight, and she glared at the Pokémon before her. "I knew it...you are not Arceus...no divinely good entity would ally themselves with a Human like Unova's leader! The real Arceus is gold and black! You're nothing but a clone created by the Psychics!"

    The deity mirrored her anger, though his was slower to rise, it lay beneath the baritone thundering in her head. This is but a clone of mine original body. All of my doppelgangers share in my Mind. I am the Alpha Pokémon, and I will waste no more words upon a Human blinded by Shadow. The choice is yours, Lisa Pineus. Leadeth thy people to the Light, or doom them in Shadow.

    As Arceus began to ascend then, light flared around him, but his rise was stopped, as the human threw the Dark Ball in her hand, and summoned the Shadow infused Legend within it. The red eye slid back to her, as the black scaled Rayquaza roared into the air, already mad with rage and hate, emotions that were being fueled by the infection within its body.

    The audacity of thy kind... Thou darest infuse one of mine own Guardians with Shadow, and summon it in my presence?

    The Arcean's last remaining leader gave the self-proclaimed deity a grim smirk. "If you will not aid me willingly...you will do so by force!" She readied another Dark Ball then, and shouted, "Shadow Speed!"

    The black scaled Rayquaza could only obey, and it vanished in less than an eyeblink, before reappearing above the Alpha Pokémon, as its body coiled into a circle of black scales, and brought its Shadow infused tail down on the Alpha's form. Arceus typically won his battles by instinctively shifting to typings that resisted whatever move was being used, and then countering. Unfortunately, Shadow Pokémon had only one weakness, and gaining the Light typing took even the Alpha Pokémon a moment to summon. But Lisa Pineus did not give him a moment.

    "Shadow Rage!" The command came immediately after the hit that sent Arceus hovering closer to the ground but didn't seem to faze him, and from above, the enslaved Rayquaza opened its maw, as it bathed the Alpha Pokémon in black and bluish flames.

    A barrier of golden energy surrounded the Alpha Pokémon, and the red eyes moved between the human and her enslaved Guardian, one of the few that had the strength to match his clone's power. Before she could call another move, he Teleported out of the human's sight, and from behind her, golden Light filled the area. The presence of such an intense source of Light energy made the human and Legendary dragon infused with its eternal opposite intensely uncomfortable, but before Lisa could turn and call another move, Arceus had retaliated.

    A sphere of Light soared across the Spear Pillar, and hit the Legendary dragon, encompassing it in the Alpha Pokémon's Light, as he cleansed the Shadow from the dragon's body and aura. A low growl rumbled across the summit, as the no longer purple glowing eyes of the Rayquaza revealed the rage in its golden irises. In shape, the sockets greatly resembled the Original Dragon's, but unlike its forebear, Rayquaza actually had pupils. They shifted from the human to the Alpha Pokémon, and the growl ceased.

    One claw straightened three fingers, while the other curled into a fist. The Legendary Guardian pressed the fist into the straightened palm, and inclined its head in deference. A single word echoed across the suddenly calm mountain peak. "Alpha..."

    Arceus ascended over both of them then, and Lisa was clutching her hand as she watched. The Dark Ball she'd been holding had exploded in the waves of intense Light the deity had given off with his attack, and she had a feeling her belt of Pokémon had been similarly cleansed, like her Rayquaza. She kept them where they were, as the Alpha spoke again.

    I know thy anger, Guardian, but you must retain thine senses for the Battle to come. Do not let the Shadow's followers flee this land.

    With that, Arceus ascended in a bright flash of light, and vanished. The still fuming dragon turned its golden gaze to the human, and its psychic voice echoed in her head, though her stressed mind could not rightly determine if it was male in tone, or female. "Surrender, Human...you did not imprison me in Shadow, and that alone is what is keeping me from ending you. Obey the Alpha. Kneel, and beg for your life. Only then might I show mercy..."

    As Lisa met the Legendary Pokémon's gaze, she could've sworn the divine lizard was smirking at her. That, enraged her, and her eyes narrowed. "Never!" Before the dragon could act, and end her existence for her defiance, she raised the Azure Flute, and smashed it against the stone below her. There was a violent discharge of Light energy as the ancient artifact, a gift to long dead residents of the Sinnoh region, was smashed to pieces.

    The Light did manage to temporarily fool the dragon's eyesight, blinding it, as the human retreated into the mountain. Enraged, the black scaled Rayquaza roared its fury into the heavens, and descended down from Mt. Coronet's peak. This Rayquaza knew Sinnoh rather well, and there were only so many ways humans could flee from this place. It had no intention of defying the Alpha's command, and so it vanished into the clouds, to bide its time, and wait for its prey to attempt an escape.

    Oreburgh City - Sinnoh Region

    Red and Clay had been joined by Crasher Wake as they moved their forces to western Sinnoh, to link up with the locals who had actively rebelled against the foreign occupation of their home. The Champions of Japan's many regions had been welcomed as heroes, and while Professor Hikari of Twinleaf was present among the rebels, Lucas, their Champion, had been absent, missing evidently since the Arceans first took Hearthome City, and Mt. Coronet soon after.

    Byron, Roark, Clay, and Crasher Wake flanked Red as he addressed his troops. He paused, awkwardly and totally silent before the crowd of faces, some familiar, some not, some from Japan, and others clearly foreign. Finally, he spoke. "Today, we free Sinnoh from the last remnants of the Arcean Crusade...! Roark will stay behind with the non-Trainers, while Byron and all who can battle will infiltrate Mt. Coronet, ascend to the upper levels, and begin purging Crusaders from its holy tunnels! I will be taking my squad to the summit...and we will work our way down from there, once we determine what the Arceans have done to the most sacred mountain in this country. Stay on guard...and stay alive!"

    The cheering started from his countrymen, but was eagerly picked up by the foreigners from Kalos and Texico as well. Red raised his hand then, the seven-colored crystal burning in his palm, as he reached out with his mind to his Mewtwo, and once more assumed their fused form. Gary, Leaf, Hibiki, and several other skilled Trainers found themselves surrounded in red psychic aura, as they suddenly ascended, rapidly, towards the summit of Mt. Coronet, high in the sky.

    Clay nodded at Crasher Wake, and those who remained. "Byron'll be leadin' us into the tunnels! Keep an eye on yer backs, and be ready to roll!"

    Byron summoned his Aggron as the amassed force of rebels and soldiers followed the Pokémon's massive tunnel into one of Japan's most iconic peaks. Strangely, as they advanced to the upper levels by carving and crafting their own path, they found the peak empty, seemingly abandoned.

    When they did finally happen upon obvious Arcean trappings, symbols, ration containers left to litter the ground, there was similarly nobody to meet them. Clay's grimace only grew wider each level they ascended, and eventually, they had made it up the entire peak without so much as a battle, for wild Pokémon were scarce as well, though Byron was convinced they were simply hiding. Of the Arceans, there was no sign.

    Up above, Red and his team of six other Trainers looked around the summit, only to find it similarly empty and abandoned. Gary came over to the fusion of human and Mewtwo after several minutes of looking around. "I don't like it, Red...there's signs of recent Battle, a pile of azure shards, but nothing to suggest that anyone is here. Leaf just checked below, too...this mountain seems abandoned. Their command center is empty."

    Saying nothing, as his frown spoke for him, the not unappealing fusion of features on Red and his Pokémon partner evened out as they closed their eyes, and used their third to make sense of what they were seeing. Moments later, aura covered Red's squad once more, and they gathered close to him as he spoke. "The Arceans are making for Canalave...they intend to sail somewhere in Galar...we must stop them."

    The others nodded, and Leaf gave him a smile that emboldened the human, and deeply confused the Mewtwo with which he was fused. "We're ready. We can take them." Red glanced around at the gathered Trainers. Silver, Calem, and Serena had joined them as well, as each had proven to be top tier Trainers in their own right, though they could each claim to have lost a battle against Red's team. Red nodded to Gary, who opened his Holociever, a device that was unimpeded by rock. It soon made contact with Clay's.

    "Field Marshal, the mountain has been abandoned. The upper levels are empty. Red figured out that they're heading for Canalave. We're heading out to stop them. Send your forces to check the surrounding towns, and have the rest start heading there as well. They won't get away." Gary closed the device after he received an 'Aye, 'pard', and with that, Red launched the seven of them into the air, hurtling them out of Mt. Coronet and towards Canalave City as fast as he could manage.

    Canalave City - Sinnoh Region

    "What is our status, Lieutenant?" Lisa Pineus asked, as she looked east, waiting for the ruse to be discovered.

    "Ma'am! The Crusaders are loaded, now we're finishing up with Pokémon food and fuel. The fleet will be ready to move in a few minutes." She gave her superior a salute as she spoke, but the last Hand's eyes stayed on the horizon.

    "Good...tell them to move faster. We may not have the time to...wait...what's that light?" The Hand gestured, and her Lieutenant pulled out a pair of binoculars.

    In the distance, just over Jubilife City, seven crimson lights rose into the sky, and then came hurtling towards them. "It's Red, Ma'am! And he has backup!"

    Lisa swore, and looked at her belt. Only three of ten had thus far been re-infused with Shadow after being cleansed atop Mt. Coronet. She knew it was a corruptive, even evil energy, but Arceus himself had sided with the psychic type's puppet. The darkness was her people's only chance. She took the binoculars, and confirmed it for herself. "Lieutenant, tell the fleet to go. Now!" The woman saluted, and rushed off into the city to do as ordered.

    "Shame you lost my Rayquaza...it would've come in handy...no matter. I will need your aid to distract them, while the fleet escapes." Cynthia was puppeted up next to Lisa, as they stood outside the building that led to Canalave City itself on Route 218. The former Champion's team was summoned all at once, and Lisa summoned her own three that were ready to go, for all the good they would do against bonafide Champions.

    As the seven spheres of crimson came closer, one broke away from the pack, flying forward on a Togetic. Then, moments later after an Extremespeed, it was above them, and a male voice rang out, "Exbo! Eruption!" An old style Pokéball arced down towards the women, and Morgana raised a hand.

    "Coalossal. Exterminate it."

    The ground around them shook, as the Typhlosion appeared, and began his attack, only to have the vents of rising plasma blocked as the Shadow infused Coal Pokémon plugged them with giant rocks, by way of Ancientpower.

    The same voice, sounding irritated, gave another command from above, as the former Champion's Garchomp tried to bring it down with Rock Throw. "Again! Eruption!"

    The Typhlosion made the earth rumble once more, but before Morgana could stop the attack, a Hydro Pump slammed into the massive Coal Pokémon, hammering it onto its back with the force of it. A woman in black and red appeared behind it, riding on the shell of her Blastoise as the rest of the Trainers Red had brought with him began attacking. Chaos erupted, as the Typhlosion got its most powerful move off, and took out Cynthia's Roserade and Glaceon in a single plume of lava.

    Her Shadow infused Togetic Double Edged the one carrying the Trainer Lisa recognized as the man who'd battled Red on Mt. Silver, after becoming a Champion himself. The normal Togetic began to plummet as the man hung on for dear life, but he was saved by a timely Pidgeot belonging to none other than Professor Gary Oak, and the injured Togetic was recalled, as the now encumbered Pidgeot faced down the former Champion's Togetic, and its rage.

    A Gengar and a Delphox from the iconic Kalos Trainers brought down her Spiritomb, and the two women huddled by Lisa's Cloyster, their ticket to escape, once they got the all clear. As the battle continued, Lisa frowned, as she realized their skirmish had yet to involve one very powerful, and very specific enemy. Red's abominable fusion between himself and his Mewtwo was nowhere to be seen.

    Red and Mewtwo left the battle outside the city to the others, while they focused on stopping the Arcean's fleet of battle capable yacht-sized boats. They raised a four fingered hand, and the circular halo of crimson energy that usually hung on their back, or in front of their hand as a shield, now faced the sky, as it hovered above their palm.

    Their arm moved, slowly at first, in circles, and the crimson halo began to spin. As it did, the clouds around the city gathered together, and grew dark, as the power of Mewtwo and his human began influencing the skies and more importantly, the sea. Beside them, the Mewtwo that had thus far aided them had his arms crossed beneath his ragged brown cloak, as he smirked. "Not a bad idea. I like this move."

    The fused pair's eye glanced at him, then back at their targets. The fleet had already pulled out of Canalave's harbor, but they wouldn't be getting very far. As the crimson halo spun faster, thunder boomed across the sky, and the waves rose to massive heights. The wind picked up as well, and they knew it would be a matter of time before the boats sank before the storm's fury.

    As the battle between the Trainers Red had brought with him and the Hand began to shift in the hero's favor, Morgana nodded at Lisa, who gave her Cloyster the command. Throughout the battle she had been Protecting them, and now, she would bring them to safety. Beams of purple light recalled their Pokémon, and the Hand shouted, "Teleport, Cloytser!"

    Just like that, they were gone, and the six Trainers, who had experienced some difficulty despite outnumbering their prey, were left panting and clueless as the two women appeared aboard the flagship of the Arcean's remaining fleet. Morgana crossed Cynthia's arms, as her creepy voice echoed from her mouth. "That was too close. Maybe now, we can-"

    She was interrupted, as several things happened at once, each competing for the attention of their ears. Thunder rolled through the air as lightning split the sky, but it was not the only thing in the clouds. Rushing out onto the top deck that supported their command bridge, Lisa and Morgana found themselves surrounded by unnatural calm, in the midst of the storm.

    They didn't have to guess what was behind it. The ominous shape of the black Rayquaza they'd lost to Arceus's Light cleansing had returned, for vengeance. Morgana forced Cynthia to throw a Dark Ball, and this time, her as yet undefeated Garchomp came forth. She had given the Trainers outside the city a hard time, and now, the Shadow infused Garchomp would buy them time to escape.

    Morgana's voice echoed in Lisa's head, as the Rayquaza met the Garchomp's Dragon Claw, though instead of the usual bluish purple coloring, it was red, and the ground dragon's entire form sparked with crimson lightning. "Sailing is no longer an option. Gather as many as you can in the ship's hold, have others port onto this ship as well. I have an anchor your Pokémon should be able to lock onto, set in Albion."

    Lisa glanced up at the Champion level Garchomp, going claw to claw with a Legendary Guardian. "We can't Teleport that far...it's over...this storm has us, and if Red doesn't get us...that thing will."

    Morgana narrowed Cynthia's eyes, and then stepped close to Lisa, glaring as she snatched an unoccupied Dark Ball from her belt. "Let me handle the Rayquaza. Do as I told you, girl! Now!"

    The Hand's eyes narrowed, as Cynthia's dominated face came infuriatingly close to her own. "And if I refuse?"

    Morgana seemed genuinely angry, as evidenced by the purple swirls of smoke that now sloughed off of the former Champion's body. "We had a deal, Pineus. Do not go back on it now...you will not survive double-crossing me."

    Though she intended to keep arguing, Morgana marched Cynthia out onto the bridge's balcony then, and her unnaturally amplified voice reached her Garchomp. "Shadow Rush, and return to me!" The Garchomp obeyed, hitting the Rayquaza hard, and then zipping back towards her Trainer. Cynthia stared down the Rayquaza. "Come, dragon! Do you not desire your vengeance!?"

    Rayquaza answered her, by lighting up a ship to their port with an Outrage, sinking it in a single shot. It did the same with a ship on their starboard, and then, the final blast was aimed at Cynthia herself, but the Legendary dragon did not see the Dark Ball she'd hurled its way, as it flew within range to destroy the second ship. Furious, and feeling itself once more drawn towards the black abyss that was a Dark Ball, the black scaled Rayquaza turned and focused the Outrage on the ball itself, obliterating it, but confusing itself in the process as the super effective move exploded in its face.

    When it looked back to find its Trainer, now a puppet of some Shadow user, all the Rayquaza saw, was an empty balcony. It roared its fury, and began haphazardly firing draconic beams of energy at anything near it, furious that Morgana had escaped, and frustrated, for it could not free its Trainer from her grip.

    In the bowels of the last Arcean flagship, roughly two million of Fornia's soldiers had managed to fit in the massive yacht's cargo area. Pokémon who knew Teleport were somewhat rare among the Crusaders, as it was a psychic typed move, but one of the few not outlawed by the Prophet, as it wasn't inherently evil, and could even be useful for furthering their plans. Now, those plans seemed silly, idealistic, even.

    Morgana's voice rang out through the hold, as she joined them, somewhat out of breath. "Everyone, link arms! Prepare to Teleport! We are out of time!" Then, she went quiet, as she linked to the Shadow infused minds of the Pokémon that would be bringing the surviving Arceans to Albion. The disciplined soldiers did as they were told, and then with a bamf sound, the crowd was gone, the massive ship was empty, and the last vestiges of the Arcean cult managed to escape. Moments later, a furious, but refocused Rayquaza using Dragon Ascent through the ship itself mega evolved, as it tore through the vessel, and found nothing.

    Enraged, the Legendary dragon arced upwards again, howling at the sky in fury. Then, it whirled in place as it sensed a power that could match its own, right behind it.

    Red and Mewtwo held up a hand in the universal gesture for 'wait', and the dragon paused, eyeing the strange creature before it, golden eyes blinking as it spoke. "They have escaped." The Rayquaza growled, but the creature continued. "Your Trainer was among them when they did...the other Arceans are dead now, either by capsizing to the storm, or blown apart by your rage." The crimson aura covered being floated close to the Legendary dragon then, and met its intense gaze evenly. "If you open your mind to me, I might be able to find out where they are going, and together, we can free your Trainer."

    The dragon stared, irritatedly swishing its body as it pondered, and then finally nodded. A vastly powerful mind touched the fusion of Red's and Mewtwo's, and an impressive, angry baritone thundered in their head. "I...agree. Together...we can do this."

    As the storm around them faded, Red and Mewtwo placed their hand on the Rayquaza's head, searching its memories, both recent, and from when Shadow had infused it. The latter were hard to decipher, but eventually, Red figured out their destination.

    With the Arcean's force again split in half by battle, Sinnoh had been freed, but many were wondering what had become of their oppressors. Officially, the battle at Canalave City had seen their destruction at the hands of 'Redtwo' as the locals had also started calling the fusion of human and Pokémon, and the black scaled Rayquaza, who seemed to have joined the Trainer's party. Of Cynthia, the dragon's Tamer, there was no sign, and nobody was willing to speak on her location. Those who knew it, kept it quiet, so as to discourage any other attempts to track her down, and bring her home. Red knew that Albion would be much harder to reach now that it had Arcean tech defending it, but thankfully, the Scales of Balance were rather well equipped to handle such a threat, and it was to them that Red intended to go, once Japan had healed from the scars the Arcean Blitz had left all along their island.
    #41 May 13, 2022
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2023
  2. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    After All These Years

    Temple of the Mind Sage - Isle of Kazam (circa Chapter 7)

    The entire island rumbled, and the Alakazam sitting before the Trainer suddenly awakened, eyes wide, and entirely obscured by the intense purple that was his aura. Ash Ketchum watched quietly, and observed the Sage's reaction. He did not know what was happening, but his own senses were picking up an immensely powerful mental presence that reminded him very strongly of Sinnoh. He'd had quite a few adventures there though, and he couldn't recall from which he recognized this familiar presence. The last time he'd been that far north in Japan, he'd lacked any real comprehension of his own natural ability. He did at least know it was from a Legendary Pokémon, though for him, that didn't exactly narrow the list of Pokémon he could be sensing.

    For several minutes, that soon became twenty, the usually fidgety Trainer resisted the urge to move as he struggled to remember, and examine the larger presence, but as swiftly as it appeared, it faded. Like his Pikachu, he kept still, though where his Poképal had continued to focus his pools of rather volatile electric energy within his body, Ash had lost focus, and kept staring at his master, eager to know what exactly was transpiring.

    Finally, the glow faded, and the Alakazam, who was usually in his Mega Form, let it drop for the first time in months. After another lengthy period of silence, his calm, but deep booming voice echoed in his head. "You've come far, since you came to this island...young Ash Ketchum...but perhaps not yet far enough, to handle what is to come…"

    At that point, Ash could only hold back his rabid curiosity slightly, and while he didn't fidget, his right toe did tap against his leg, as he was sitting with them crossed. There was an eager look on his lightly bearded face, as he sat patiently, garbed in a deep blue training gi, the standard attire of one of the Sage's pupils still in training. His hat was a classic, dirty, well worn, with a green check mark on its relatively simple red and white color combination. "I can handle any challenge, Master. Bring it!" He was followed by an affirmative "Pi, Pikachu!" It seemed they were, as usual, both ready to learn more.

    The Isle of Kazam was home to one of the more psychically powerful Sages across the world, as his species' potential matched very well with their psychic typing, and the Sage's quiet nature made him that much stronger. Indeed, most of the isle was quiet, and slow. Adapting to that, had been the hardest challenge for a Trainer that was usually always in motion. His team hadn't seemed to mind though, as a change of pace could sometimes be a good thing.

    "The Pokémon League was originally founded by the first human able to Tame Arceus, roughly ten thousand years ago, who used the Alpha Pokémon's might and wisdom to better the human race. When he died, Arceus returned to sleep, and the world spiraled into chaos, that is, until the present era, where most of humanity has managed to live alongside my kind peacefully."

    Ash nodded, as the Sage paused. "Professor Oak always said it was Pokéballs that let us grow so close to them. But I'm not so sure. Pikachu barely uses his, and that was only after I traded his old one in for a Luxury Upgrade."

    The Sage nodded. "The bond between humans and Pokémon can be forged without a capture device, however, it takes much longer. Your sphere inventions allowed your kind to catch many at once, and thus enabled your scientists to understand us better, as well as the role we play on your planet. To a degree, at least. Those who challenged the League back in the old days had such bonds, and many of my peers believe potential candidates have it 'too easy' in this era, now that capture devices have returned, and advanced so rapidly."

    Ash blinked, several times. "Candidates? What's too easy? I don't get it."

    The Alakazam chuckled in his head. "There will be a tournament soon, your people call it the World Tournament, a contest of skill designed to bring out the best Trainers in the world...but it has another purpose. To push the best of the best as high as they can go, high enough perhaps to reach the level needed to tame Arceus himself."

    As the Sage mentioned Arceus, Ash's eyes went wide, as did his Pikachu's. "We've seen Arceus! We helped return the Jewel of Life to him…" He smiled at his Pikachu. "I must've been...what, ten?" "Pika." The electric mouse nodded, and they both looked back to the Alakazam with a smirk, as their mentor eyed them with what seemed like disbelief.

    "Explain this encounter to me." He said.

    And so, they did. Outlining the entire series of events, now that they'd remembered them. The Sage watched the human as he spoke animatedly, and began to wonder if he wasn't looking at the One as he name dropped not only the Alpha Pokémon, but the God of Time, the God of Space, and even the Renegade. From what he knew of the last human to Tame Arceus, he had been exceptionally kind, when the situation had allowed for kindness. He had not lived in peaceful times, as in his era, mankind had just discovered they could forcibly control the new magical creatures around them through science that, in the modern age, seemed more like magic. Naturally, everyone with a capture device had tried to carve out their own personal kingdoms, while the majority of regular humans had embraced the usefulness of having endless water supplies, endless electricity, and the whole host of other useful abilities Pokémon had provided happily, and usually without overbearing control.

    "I see. From what I understand of the Alpha Pokémon, he is not the only one of his kind. As the legend goes, he came into this universe by way of a portal, and when his egg finally hatched, he breathed alone in the void, before our universe even began. My sire was told that the Alpha had never seen another golden Arceus, even when gazing through dimensions. It would make sense that such a species was rare, or hard to find...for humans are not the only Spiralspawn that usurp the usefulness of Pokémon. What you encountered was a clone of our true Alpha, who just now, woke up again. He has decreed that the next World Tournament shall kick off the process of finding the strongest Trainer alive."

    The Alakazam floated towards the enraptured pair as they listened carefully. "Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town...do you have what it takes to become a Master?"

    The Trainer replied, by turning his hat backwards, and the Alakazam chuckled. "Good. Because of this turn of events, we may now advance your training quicker than we would otherwise...you will not be the only one to start, either. All across the world my fellow Sages will be preparing other challengers for the responsibility of Taming the Alpha Pokémon."

    Despite his own comparable lack of psychic training, Ash's eyes were on fire, as were his Pikachu's. "I don't know about catching the Alpha Pokémon...but if I get to Battle super-strong Trainers like I did in the last World Tournament, I'm in! Teach me, please!"

    The Sage paused, at that answer, and then sighed. "Summon as much of your Aura as you can…" He went silent for a moment, and Ash vaguely felt him reach out to the other student who was training on the Isle of Kazam, and had been allowed to stay, despite what staying required of them. Once the doors to the Sage's spartan meditation chamber opened, his voice rang out as he projected it. "Isamu. Welcome. Come, sit with us. Important things are happening, things you must be aware of. Once you know what Ash knows, we will begin training your aura-related abilities as well. The time has come for your power to advance."

    Isamu Midorinoki was from Johto, with fair skin tones, that went well with his black and dark green hair, and similarly green eyes. His own gi was also a match for his aura, a deep green, and sleeveless like Ash's. Though, there was no question as to which human worked out more. Isamu's muscles had been growing for years at Japan's finest Trainer Academy, but it took more than muscle for a destiny like his. He looked as plain to the Alakazam as most humans did, for Pokémon sometimes had issues telling them apart, especially when they gathered in crowds. Isamu glanced between Ash and the Sage, and then frowned. "Why did Ash get to know before me?"

    The Alakazam sighed, heavily. "He was here when they developed. Now sit, young Isamu, and focus on cloaking yourself with your aura, like Ash has done." As Isamu looked, he did indeed see Ash had already managed to project his bright blue aura around his form, in a perfectly layered shield of his power. It didn't wastefully radiate off of him in waves, staying condensed and strong enough to block even Pokémon moves. The usually fidgety Trainer had focused, and now he and his partner were pictures of calm, as they focused their respective powers.

    Isamu sat, and followed suit. His own green aura flared as wildly as his unkempt hairstyle, and as usual, he felt it threatening to run out of control. He took a deep breath then, and focused on each part of his body, forcing the overwhelmingly powerful energy to surround him. It wasn't as perfect as Ash's shield, for it still flared up, but it successfully covered his form. Sweat covered his brow, as he forced himself to hold it in check.

    The Sage sighed again. "Sloppy. And this is...only ten percent of your potential. Mmm. We have much work to do." With a flash, the Alakazam resumed his Mega Form, and the auras of his students dimmed, in the presence of his overwhelming psychic power, which manifested as an intense pressure that would, if they failed, force them to the ground with its power. "Now...keep your shields going. Both of you."

    The overwhelming pressure from the psychic aura only grew, and both Isamu and Ash struggled, as their own psychic potential fought in vain to be present in the space, despite the massive power of their teacher. Alakazam's aura, especially in his Mega Form, took up most of the space within the chamber, manifesting as an omnipresent purple haze that seemed to be focused solely on breaking their barriers. Isamu's aura eventually brushed against it, and with a pitiful spark and a plip, it vanished as he lost control, and swore, as the sheer power of their mentor forced him face down into the floor. Again.

    Ash, did slightly better. As did his Pikachu. The two frowned, as the Sage's attention now focused solely on them, and both of their shields, one bright blue, and one yellowish gold, began sparking as Alakazam's aura threatened to overpower them. Then, Ash did what he'd always done when his back was to the wall in the face of overwhelming strength. He reached out to his partner.

    Pikachu felt his Trainer's mind brush his, and the link that had always existed became more tangible, obvious, as the mind of the Pokémon met the mind of his human, and not for the first time. This time, they both endeavored to maintain the connection, and as they did, their auras shifted together, forming a green one, not unlike Isamu's.

    Minutes passed as the three struggled, and Isamu watched in disbelief as Ash and his starter Pokémon resisted the awesome psychic power of a Sage who was also an Alakazam. Finally, the pressure ceased, and the two let their aura fall, panting and covered with sweat, but grinning.

    Mega Alakazam sat back as he floated in the air. A slight twitch of the Pokémon's impressive beard gave away his smirk, as his voice echoed in their heads. "Well done." Then, the glowing intense blue eyes shifted to Isamu. "Ash, Pikachu, go and rest. Maintain that link between your minds for as long as you are able. You will find it useful."

    Seeing Isamu was about to get a private lesson, and knowing that it would likely involve his Pokémon, Ash nodded, glanced at his newest rival, and then left with his Pikachu on his shoulder.

    "We will try again."

    Isamu shivered, slightly, as he knew what came next. The Sage's words echoed. "Bring him out."

    Isamu summoned his partner, and his inherited Zygarde Core appeared, glanced between them both, and narrowed its eye at the Sage. "You are far from your goal, Isamu Midorinoki. If you are to take up your idol's mantle, you must become stronger. Youta Maito will not live forever. As you well know." The Sage's eyes flared with his aura once more. "Now...push beyond your limits!"

    The Zygarde Core jumped on his Trainer's shoulder, glaring at the Mega Alakazam as his aura became overwhelming once more. Isamu linked with the tiny Pokémon, and focused his energy. This time, the shield around both of them was a deeper green, and significantly stronger, giving off an audible hum, as the intense green manifested to the naked eye. The clashing fields of aura sparked in a circle around the pair, as the Sage's power slowly increased.

    The green aura barrier pressed in on Isamu, and his Core, and the little green creature spoke directly into his mind with a single word for the first time since Isamu had inherited his ball.


    Isamu took a deep breath, and did as he was bid, unwilling to lose, this time. If he failed, the Core would ignore him again, and bonding would become that much harder. Several green lights flashed from within his bag, as the Cells he'd caught so far, finally responded to his call, covering his green training gi, and bonding with the Core. His aura took on a vaguely canine shape, and as the Sage increased his power slowly, his beard twitched, as he smirked. "Good...now attack!"

    Isamu's eyes, slowly turning bloodshot, focused on the Alakazam, as he started a proper Battle. According to Ash, it was one he needed to win, to advance. Thus far he hadn't had the honor of facing the Sage. He had not been strong enough to survive such a match, until this moment, and his Core had refused to help, until now. He and the Zygarde Core howled, and the Cells fused together along his back forming a cape of sorts, and bringing the aura cowl into a clearer intensity. He kept his focus, as he leapt, and formed claws around his hands, focusing an attack, as ordered.

    He arced above the Sage's head, raised his hands, and brought them down with the intent to hit, hard enough for a knockout, at least. His form was stopped by the Sage's Psychic just before the attack landed, and Isamu suddenly found that maintaining the power was becoming more and more difficult to focus, as the Psychic Master focused a powerful move at him. His cowl's outline became vaguely canine once more, but he held it for several moments after the Sage lowered him back to his starting position.

    "Well done. You are ready for the training course. You may use your Core, and only your Core. You should find summoning the cowl easier, now that you've learned to focus your aura into an attack. Rest, for now. Tomorrow, you will begin catching up to Ash." The Sage dropped his Mega Form, as he prepared to rest, and Isamu bowed, before leaving. The Core continued glaring at the psychic type, and leapt for him, as the human made to leave.

    Isamu sighed, and recalled the angry Pokémon into its ball, which twitched, several times, before finally stopping. The appeal of Luxury always calmed the Core eventually, but the longer he stayed out, the angrier he became, and because Isamu still could not completely understand him, as Ash could with his partner, he had no idea why the Core with a deep green hexagon visible within its opaque body lashed out at everyone it locked eyes with.

    As he walked through the Temple of the Mind Sage, he spied Ash, his Pikachu still on his shoulder, staring out at the ocean around them. His hands were in the pockets of his Trainer jacket, a long sleeved blue and white coat that fit over his gi, and was warm enough for cold places. Like most modern clothes, it could become longer and warmer, if one randomly found themselves in colder climates. Isamu heard him speaking, as he approached the pair, not for the first time, seeking insight from them, gained from their quite frankly absurd adventures, if even half of them were true.

    "The World Tournament...that takes me back…"


    "I know we'll see Leon again...I wonder who else will go. We may have to get some old friends back together, for this. I can't leave them idle on the ranch forever."

    "Pi, Pikachu." The electric mouse said, nodding in agreement, before then thwacking his Trainer's head with his tail.

    Isamu joined Ash then, and the pair shared a mutual nod of respect. "I just looked up the rules. Apparently, we can have ten partners. Those matches are going to be so long…and it isn't even being held for a few years. Unova has to build a new stadium, and according to John Crimson, it's going to try to match Wyndon's."

    Isamu trailed off, seeing Ash's face, mouth agape, and then smirking with an expression that was, for lack of a better term, on fire. "Ten!? That settles it…" Ash looked back at his partner, and the two nodded as they smiled. "We have to train harder."

    Two Years Later - The Isle of Kazam (Circa Ch. 30)

    "Reach out, beyond yourselves. Open your hidden Eye, and view the world around you."

    Isamu Midorinoki and Ash Ketchum did as the Sage instructed as they sat before their teacher in his training hall, and both of their auras flared, burning with intensity, before settling around their bodies. Then, they focused their power in their forehead, and looked...beyond.

    "See the energy of the beings around you. See the energy keeping the lights on. It is not so different, and often, one can follow these paths of energy towards a goal they can stay focused on, like a friend, or family member. Everything is connected, even the planet. Reach out further. Beyond the temple. Beyond the island. Expand your perspectives."

    While Isamu did as instructed, starting to see how the entirety of the planet was connected, thanks in no small part to the Zygarde Core on his shoulder. Only two Zygarde existed, which meant there were only enough cores for two fully formed defenders of the planet. Cells and Cores of both color variants had spread across the Earth, and formed lines of rejuvenating ground typed energy that covered the entire globe. As Isamu realized there was likely another who, like him, had inherited a Core from a Tamer of the Land, Ash found himself distracted, on the path to a wider view, as he sensed danger, from a mind he hadn't felt in years, but recognized instantly. Then, he saw what his Greninja was looking at. Serena's face drew his attention, and their surroundings held it.

    He could feel the Sage's eyes narrowing, as Ash remained distracted, but he was determined, now. He reformed the bond with the water and dark type, much easier than he had in the past, and his Greninja gained an aura shield of his own, increasing his speed as he matched Serena's Talonflame, in the race towards their common enemy, what appeared to be some sort of man dressed to resemble a Venomoth. But with far more black and deep purple.

    He continued to remain unfocused on the current task, as he recognized a trap had been laid for Serena, and his Greninja leapt into action, as did some sort of strange, but insanely cool fusion of what had to be a Liepard, and a younger human.

    Ash did not break the connection, until he was sure Serena was safe. Nor did he have a choice in when it ended. His master cut it short, once he saw the danger that had caught his pupil's attention had passed. What Serena had said last still hung in his ears, and he was more eager than ever for the World Tournament to begin. But he had learned patience long ago. It would come, in time, but likely not until Unova itself was far less wartorn.

    He'd wanted to help, of course, when Isamu mentioned the strongly supported rumors of Shadow Infusion on the part of the reconstituted Dragon Empire's adversary, but the Sage had refused, assuring his students that Unova, and all the other regions once separated into States, also had a Psychic Master to watch over them, and help the continent's Guardian once more achieve balance. As Tamers of Legendary Pokémon, they had their own parts to play in other parts of the world.

    "You were drawn to that conflict, weren't you."

    Ash nodded, as the Sage's powerful baritone thundered in his head. "My Greninja...he needed help...and so did my...friend."

    Isamu smirked, as Ash broke eye contact, but stayed quiet. For his part, he had succeeded in the lesson, and was fascinated by just how many energy streams criss-crossed their world. Before the Sage could press Ash on attachments, and removing them, Isamu interrupted with a bold question, before the Sage began speaking. "Why is our planet so thoroughly covered in so many different kinds of energy? I saw so much more than ground type, once I was out far enough."

    The Mega Alakazam's eyes shifted to Isamu, as he answered immediately, as he always did when his students had questions. He encouraged them, though not in the middle of one of his sentences. "When Arceus Judged this planet to be worth saving, the result was an uncountable number of Plate shards embedding themselves in the planet. Humans discovered them eventually, and have begun using Infinite Energy to power their homes, and Pokémon. Too much mining of these shards will eventually remove these lines of power, and this planet will begin to deteriorate once again." He paused, as he noticed the looks on his pupil's faces. "Worry not, humans...many are deeply embedded in the planet's crust. You would have to truly mine out your world to find them all, and your species has come far from that desire, in this era."

    The two Trainers glanced at each other as they shared a worried glance, but by this point in their training, they were aware of how the Sages, Guardians, and even Tamers played a role in maintaining the planet's balance. If some organization ever made a concentrated effort to so brutally ruin the world, they would rise to stop them. Theoretically.

    "The time has come for you two to Battle... You will bond with the Guardian each of you has Tamed, and practice battling alongside them." The Sage spoke again once the silence dragged on, and the two students rose, as he Teleported them to the Isle of Kazam's own battle stadium. The 'stands' if one could call them such, were little more than whitish gray stone slabs, but floating above them, were other members of the Sage's species, of all life stages, crowding the slabs as they Teleported in with multiple bamfs. Unlike a human crowd, they were silent. At least, to their ears.

    The psychic cacophony of so many minds was difficult to battle within, and for Isamu, it would only put himself and his Guardian at a disadvantage. Their connection was weaker than the one Ash had with the Guardian he had convinced to come to his call. The Sage appeared over his usual spot, a massive circle of the same stone, in the exact middle of the field, but out of the boundaries of it, of course. It was large enough to match Galar's stadium's, though it had the unique trait of not taking collateral damage, at least to the audience. The Pokémon watching them would redirect, and otherwise disperse the titanic forces that usually met in this arena.

    The Sage glanced between both of his human students, and then, his voice rang out above them. "Summon them."

    Isamu went first, bringing out his Core, who landed on his head. Over time, he had eventually learned how to understand the creature, though when it revealed it could indeed 'speak human', keeping it calm became easy, as misconceptions were cleared up when they occurred. It had remained opposed to bonding with him for a while, until Ash mentioned another Trainer and rival he knew who had run into a similar problem with his strange, but absurdly powerful Ninetails. The first step, had been asking the creature's name, and it was one step that Zyx had apparently appreciated. Over the past few years, they had maxed out their potential, according to the Sage, and only recently had Isamu finally mastered the cowl at fifty percent of its power, what Zyx called the Dragon Cowl.

    With it, had come extra training, in the form of a martial art that the Sage referred to as the Dragon Style. It was something Zyx already knew, and had sped Isamu's memorization of, once they found inner harmony, and used it to form a bond. Five green 'tails' composed of aura fell behind him, dangling by his legs as the Core manipulated his aura shield into the base of the cowl that gave him, and all his predecessors, ridiculous amounts of strength.

    For his part, Ash simply raised a gloved fist into the air, and with a loud splash, and then hurricane force winds, the Guardian of the Sea, the oldest Lugia alive, flew towards the human who had managed to befriend more of its kin than any human had in generations. The brilliant white psychic and flying type came down in front of its human partner in a whirl of wind and water, flaring its wings and roaring, at the comparatively tiny opponent it was meant to face.

    Lugia and the Sage shared a nod. These battles were more to prepare Zygarde's next Tamer than to hone Ash's skill, but the bond was still formed, and as always, the Trainer from Kanto was eager to win. He shouted a move before Isamu had even taken his stance. "Aeroblast!"

    Hearing the move, and then countering it, Isamu moved right with an impressive leap from a standing position, and then a circular turn out of the path of the wide beam of flying energy, as Lugia shifted its aim at the last moment to still try and score a hit. Isamu managed the dodge though, and charged the Legendary Pokémon, calling out his own move, as he focused Zyx's energy into his fist and leapt surprisingly high, soaring above the Lugia's head. His hand became heavier as the ground energy suffused it, and he brought it down as he shouted, "Land's...SMASH!"

    The Lugia went down, hitting the ground hard as fist-shaped beams of green light pummeled the focus of the move, but before Isamu could follow up with another smash, the Guardian spun in place, righting itself as its scales flashed, and an impossibly strong wall of wind sent him sailing backwards across the field. Below the now once more levitating Legendary, Isamu saw Ash, smirking, hat already backwards. "We're not done yet! Dragon Rush!"

    When cowled, Isamu was technically classifiable as a normal and dragon type, as Zyx's ground energy was directly tied to the Cells, and since their power was finite, they weren't always used for training. Ash was aware of this, and had finally added memorizing the type chart to his improvisational battle style, which meant he wanted to secure the victory. He had done so in every battle they'd had in this arena so far, against his usual team. Isamu was determined to win, this time.

    With the perfection of the fifty percent cowl came access to another Move, one that would give them the same edge Ash was after. The cowl covered Isamu's forehead and skull, leaving only his jaw visible, as well as his eyes, when he wasn't attacking. Naturally, it resembled Zygarde's skull shape, and as the Lugia roared again, and propelled itself forward with a single wing flap, dragon energy surrounded its body.

    Fangs of dark typed energy came down from the cowl's head, as Isamu focused the recently learned Crunch. Lugia came close as it charged them, and then snarled, as it realized it was going to miss. Isamu capitalized on the Legendary's bad luck, and a bottom pair of dark fangs formed just above his midsection, meeting with the top, and causing the volatile clash of darkness to come together around the Guardian's shoulder.

    Isamu rode it down, as the Legendary Pokémon crashed, not quite fainted, but at Isamu's mercy. A hauntingly beautiful tune echoed across the field, as the Trainer from Pallet Town brought out what appeared to be some sort of blue coral flute, and played it. He looked up, once the brief tune ended, and smirked. "Blizzard."

    The rejuvenated Legendary shrieked, and rose into the air, just above its target. This time, it did not miss, as the Guardian summoned the wind and ice with a single flap, surrounding Isamu in freezing cold, namely, arctic level blasts of wind, that eroded his aura down to just his shield, and as that faded, so to did the Blizzard, as the Guardian spun in place, and calmed the skies around the isle.

    "Not bad."

    The two words echoed like a thunderclap as the Guardian projected its voice into the air above the Core and its latest wielder. Isamu waited for the Sage to call the match, glancing his way as only silence followed. Then, he realized why. His shield was still intact, but the cowl had been blown away. He needed a new tactic, if he wanted to win.

    As Ash also realized the Battle was not yet over, Isamu formed his cowl, or rather, the tails, and sank them into the ground, as he closed his eyes, and slowly moved his hands in the air before them. Then, he stomped the ground, and raised both fists, even though they were nowhere near coming close enough to hit Lugia. Ash smirked, thinking victory was his. A point blank Psychic was sure to end Isamu. He was barely standing as it was.

    And yet, as the command formed in his mouth, Isamu's attack manifested rapidly in response to the seemingly useless arm movement, and the Lugia noticed only moments too late as a series of massive rocks rose up from the ground before the Trainer, lancing into Lugia's already injured abdomen, and hitting critically, as one of the rocks struck home on a wound from the Crunch.

    The Lugia fell to the field, fainted, and Isamu was already by its side with a Max Revive in hand as Ash sprinted forward, a grim expression replacing the shock he'd experienced from watching Isamu make a seemingly useless strike, only to have it followed so quickly by a move that seemed like Stone Edge.

    Moments later, the processed medicinal herb, maximized for healing potential, restored the Guardian of the Sea yet again, though the stress of nearly fainting twice in a row still showed. Ash's hands met its head as the indecipherable voice thundered in their skulls again. "I am going to rest." It gave Ash a meaningful look. "It was a good Battle."

    Lugia levitated itself into the air then, and with one flap, purposefully aimed so nothing behind it was obliterated, it returned to the sea. Ash met Isamu's green eyes then, and gave a light smile. "That was impressive, using Stone Edge like that. I've never seen it hit so accurately before."

    Isamu chuckled, but before he could answer his rival, the Sage Teleported them back to his temple's training hall, and answered for him. "That...was not Stone Edge, young Ash Ketchum. But in terms of strength, it is classifiably a Move, and is equally damaging."

    Ketchum's eyes went wide, and he looked at Isamu again, used to rapidly shifting location, by this point. The Sage often brought them to where he was convinced they would excel the most. From Selva Muerta, to the frozen wastes on both North and South poles, their stays were usually brief, but enlightening, and not once had the Sage let real harm come to them. They had been ambushed eventually, of course. Both Isamu and Ash had rather determined enemies, but the Sage had Teleported them back to the isle, and handled the danger personally, often refusing to speak of what had occurred once they left.

    "If it's not Stone Edge, then what is it? I've never seen an attack move like that!" Isamu chuckled as Ash pressed him eagerly for more.

    After a glance at their mentor, he answered. "One of the villains I was tracking back home fled north to Koria, before I ever even knew this island existed. While I was there, I noticed the people didn't always use Pokémon to Battle. Some people battled by themselves, using moves related to specific elemental types. Mine, turned out to be Earth. Once I learned martial arts, Zyx suggested we combine the two styles. It's...effective, but not all that different from how they do it in Koria."

    "Humans...doing Battle? That sounds awfully...Imperial." Ash looked at the Sage as he trailed off.

    "While the Imperium of Man does use humans to Battle, as a method of training their Thunder Warriors, they typically fight alongside their Pokémon partners, and only in coliseums devoted to the art of Battle. In Koria, there are four nations that dominate their region, and each one has ties to different elements. Those without ties to the elements, usually become Pokémon Trainers, while those who can command this energy and bend it to their will tend to battle alone, or with only one partner, usually one that can carry them across the region. There is a reason why these humans have developed these ties, but that's a whole other tale. Your insight serves you well, however, for the humans who embrace Fire and heat have allied with the Imperium, and have spent the past three hundred years subjugating the region in the Imperator's name, giving the Imperium its first real foothold in Eous." The Sage answered Ash's words quickly, as he was still not entirely comfortable discussing the massive empire that was the Imperium. He had tried other methods to cure Ash of his fears, but in the end, it was evident only one thing could help the Trainer overcome his well-earned fear of the Imperium.

    For his part, Ash seemed to have moved on from the disturbing thoughts, focused instead on something new, and interesting, something he did not yet understand. Learning how other regions battled, and just how varied that could become, had fascinated him as he traveled the world. "So...Fire and Earth...are there any other elements that humans have ties to?"

    The Sage nodded. "Those who bend Fire to their will can sometimes also summon electricity, in the form of lightning. Those with an affinity to Earth can enhance that connection, usually by mastering ground or rock energy respectively. Their nation births humans who can control both types, and mastery of both can usually be refined into bending steel as well, though that particular skill is very hard to master. The northern part of the region houses those with a tie to Water and ice, but sometimes, they can manifest control over grass as well, depending on where they're raised, and how skilled they are at manipulating water energy. The southern sea dwellers of the region also have ties to the Water, but they live almost entirely on ships, and trade only with Sinnoh, and other Korians. Lastly...and perhaps most tragically, those with an affinity to Air, who could fly, and sometimes even manifested psychic abilities, were all but wiped out when the Fire nation started their war. They were a peaceful people, though you wouldn't know it these days. The Imperium's propaganda machines have demonized them, and any like them, as mutants that have earned only death. You will have to be wary of them, when you visit."

    Ash's eyes widened. "I'm going?"

    The Mega Alakazam nodded. "For this next stage of your training, you should journey to each nation...but be aware, the Fire Nation considers those with psychic abilities to be mutant abominations of humankind, and one step away from being Air Nation rebels." The Sage closed his eyes and sighed, remembering many, who had been his friends, long ago. His island was not all that far to the east of Koria, and the air nation had seen him as a brother to their people once their more inquisitive psychic nomads followed, and discovered the source of his massive psychic presence. "They did not leave enough alive for a proper rebellion...and they relentlessly hunt for any rumor of survivors."

    Ash's expression grew grim, at the Sage's mental tone, and the sadness that radiated from his powerful mind. "Why? What would drive people to do something like that?"

    This time, Isamu answered. "They're hunting the Avatar. A human who apparently mastered every element, and others besides the main four. Apparently, they could reincarnate themselves, but instead of leaving the cycle of rebirth, and humanity, they stayed, and maintained balance in the region, as they don't have a specific Guardian. The supercontinent is massive, and its Guardian is focused on regions loyal to Eous."

    The Sage spoke again, once Isamu finished, holding up a finger, and presaging a correction to an untrue assertion. "That, is Fire Nation propaganda, twisted by Earth Nation rumors. Their proper title, is the Avatar of Light, and that, Ash Ketchum, is who you must seek out on your journey. The current incarnation of this unique being has been missing for the past century, but with your abilities, and your team's, I am confident that you will find them. The World Tournament is approaching. You should use the partners you intend to Battle with on your journey, but, before you head to Koria, Teleport home to Professor Oak's lab. Gary has something that will make all of your Pokémon partners stronger."

    Ash glanced at Pikachu, who was and had been perched on his shoulder throughout their training match. "A new region...it's been a while since we traveled around." He looked back to the Sage. "I'll head out now!"

    The Mega Alakazam nodded, and with a bamf and a flash of light, Ash and his partner returned to Pallet Town. Then, the Sage focused his gaze on Isamu. "You did well to take on a Lugia, but you will need more power, for what is to come. Travel to the Kalos region, and find another Core of Zygrade willing to aid you. Ask the local nobility where they like to sunbathe. They will know you are coming. If that fails, I hear there are some in Alola as well."

    Isamu nodded, as he levitated his backpack to him within the training hall, and began pulling on his Trainer attire. "I understand. Find the other Cores...and as many Cells as possible. I won't let you down, Master."

    For the first time in Isamu's tenure on the Isle of Kazam, the Sage did something new. He dropped his Mega Form, and hobbled over to Isamu, placing one three-fingered claw on his shoulder from his shorter stature. "Her son will be tracking you, Isamu. Her pawn just escaped Kalos, according to Ash, but you can bet she still has her offspring hiding away over there...and he will be waiting for you to seek out the Cores. Remember your training...and do not be afraid to accept aid...whatever form it takes."

    Isamu pulled on the hood that acted as protection for his identity, a useful feature of his primarily deep green outfit that obviously resembled the head of Zygarde's fifty percent form, not unlike his aura cowl. "I can handle him...I'm ready...the Shadow will not win." He glanced at his shoulder, as Zyx jumped upon it, and made his species best attempt at a growl. "Not this time."
  3. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 36: Right to Rule

    Riker's Island - Unova Region

    Located to the east of Unova's bisected desert, on the waters just south of the Marvelous Bridge, lies a small island that remains a dark spot on Unova's history. While New Tork City eventually retrofitted Black City to house their incarcerated citizens, the isle under the command of Warden William Riker has always had a reputation as a merciless facility that does not tolerate the antics of its inmates, and has historically dealt with insubordination, and even rebellion, with harsh penalties.

    While the people of old New Tork also once used it to house criminals, they eventually relegated the tiny island made mostly of composted garbage and poison to history, and it was only once Unova rose as its own independent region that its leaders again brought the ancient prison into service. Prison Island, as it was once called, was renowned in its day for lawlessness, corruption, and truly foul humans, guards and criminals alike, who populated it. That all changed, when Warden Riker took charge.

    In an unprecedented move, the former military man took the men who'd served under him in war, and gave them guard positions. Within a week, he'd determined the entirety of the facility's staff was irredeemable, and with the help of the Jennies, he relocated every single one of them to cellhouses within Black City. The prisoners were given an ultimatum, then. The days of corruption and 'easy time' were over. They would obey the rules, or they would be punished. Naturally, most assumed that the Warden was not serious. They were wrong.

    Within a year, Riker had the entire prison functioning better than Unova's other holding facilities, and after several decades of maintaining a 'firm but fair' ruling ethic, he was honored by New Tork, when they renamed the island after him. A bit older, but still in the prime of life, Warden Riker was given the command by the One Dragon to ready the facility for millions of potential prisoners. His ordinary charges were moved to fresh cellhouses in Black City, and the island was expanded with aid from the dragon himself, to accommodate as many Crusaders as possible. This was mainly done by digging down, into the planet's crust, and with no small amount of floating barges, also laden with cells, ringing the island.

    Warden Riker handled every single wave of Crusaders that came to his facility with the same iron will that had handled Unova's own brand of scum, and the defeated soldiers usually stayed in line. Those who didn't, he relocated to a special barge, per the dragon's orders. Tao, as the people started calling him, had wanted anyone leading resistance and continuously rebelling to be put in the same place.

    Riker and his guards, Trainers who he had personally instructed in the art of battle, knew the war was ending once Crusaders from Sacreus, covered in ash and thoroughly demoralized, started arriving at the usual spot they were bamfed onto the island from. Throughout the course of the war, the Warden had kept a careful record of what the prisoners said about those who captured them. As expected, Unova's Champions turned Generals had inspired fear, respect, and submission from their subdued enemies, but there was one figure that Riker had consistently had conflicting reports about. Their new Dragon Emperor.

    Some prisoners claimed he was a human-Pokémon half-breed, who used his psychic abilities to bend those around him to his will. Others, claimed he'd treated them fairly, when he'd had every reason, and excuse, not to do so. Eventually, Riker was able to determine who was parroting the Church rhetoric Caleb Pravus had drilled into them, and who was speaking honestly of the man's deeds. He'd made a point of battling each of Unova's rising stars, but Alex Redwood had been remarkably hard to track down, and Riker had been too preoccupied running his island to ever face him in a battle.

    He had his own opinions about reviving the Dragon Empire, and letting a Trainer run it, but he kept them in check until he actually met the man. When the Original Dragon returned to New Tork City at the head of their golden, glowing legions, Riker began to understand what was going to come next. The east had won. He was only mildly surprised when Tao mentally contacted him, telling him that the Dragon Emperor would be arriving to handle the prisoners, but he had underestimated just how fast the man would arrive.

    Within moments of zipping away from the party kicking off in New Tork for the returning soldiers atop his Salamence, he was sighted over the prison, and flew over the island twice, before finding the entrance, and a spot with enough space for the massive dragon he'd somehow managed to train. Warden Riker had some gray in his hair, but had retained his physical shape, and his team of Pokémon partners had done the same. None more so than his first partner, a Lucario, but as the leader of his nation landed before the pair, the aging Lucario perked up, his 'hair' quivering, as he sensed and read the aura of the human hopping down from the massive dragon's neck.

    Riker glanced at his partner, brow furrowed. His Lucario was the main reason they'd only ever had one prisoner escape from the island, and since Ghetsis had enlisted Shadow beings to aid him, it was a mark Riker didn't really count. Nobody had ever even come close to stopping the Shadow Triad. They were gone before one realized they'd arrived, and if they battled you, it was to distract you from what the other two were doing. He and Lucario had managed to take one of their number down, permanently, as it turned out, but the other two had escaped with their boss in the end. Riker glanced up, as the Dragon Emperor flashed with light, and his Salamence took off again, flying south towards the open ocean.

    He was dressed far too casually in the Warden's opinion. A lengthy white robe-like jacket covered black and white pants that extended all the way down to his similarly black and white Trainer shoes, and matched the hat he'd been sporting since he took the title of Unova's Champion. The smirk he was wearing seemed forced, but Riker re-evaluated his opinion of his new leader once they locked eyes. His were tired, exhausted even, but Riker recognized that look, and so did his Lucario, as the well trained Aura Pokémon broke formation to walk up to the Trainer, as he approached.

    That, brought a more genuine smile to the man's face, and Riker's Lucario began to tap his foot as the Trainer found his weak spot, and scratched it, thoroughly. Though he didn't approve of the breach in etiquette, Riker knew his partner to be an excellent judge of character, and the reason he always won Poker Night with the guards. He stepped forward, and offered the new leader of his nation a proper salute. "Emperor Redwood. The Crusaders are awaiting your inspection, sir."

    Alex returned the salute with a far more casual tone to it, less rigidity, though that was likely from exhaustion. If the media was to be believed, they had teleported directly home after besieging Sacreus, and taking it, leaving just enough of a presence to keep it in line until the new government could get to handling it. "Warden Riker. I've heard good things, from Tao. Have there been any incidents while they've been waiting for the war to conclude?"

    The pair began walking as they talked, with Riker leading the way through the maze-like facility. "A few. Usually the new prisoners like to see how far they can push us. They learn quickly enough, but the charismatic troublemakers are the ones we separate out."

    Alex nodded, his expression turning grim, as the smirk faded. "Mm. I see. We'll get to those...it's the main population I need to address, first."

    Riker nodded, and picked up his pace, expecting both his Lucario and his Emperor to do the same to match him. "They're already waiting. They've been watching the celebration. This way."

    Riker Island was home to many holding facilities, but usually, the prisoner's days were spent idle, somewhat comfortable, in this, the main rec facility that boasted both indoor and outdoor stimulation. The food wasn't gourmet, but neither was it garbage, and as long as prisoners followed the rules, and respected the guards, they were allowed to serve their time in relative quiet. There were other places on the island, for those who were determined to be more violent, and active. Naturally, battling was a favorite pastime, and as long as prisoners didn't try using their Pokémon to escape, they were allowed to draw one partner from their box. The battle facility also doubled as the max security wing, for both were Teleport proof, and had numerous other move-cancelling abilities besides. If all that failed, there was always his Lucario, who had yet to be unable to track a prisoner's aura on the rare chance they managed to escape the facilities.

    The main rec room was filled with chairs today, of varying quality, texture, and length, though there weren't nearly enough for the number of Crusaders watching from the multiple levels of the building. Several million of them resided in this facility, and all but one side of the building played home to crowds of milling Fornians. They were arrayed before a massive holo-screen showing New Tork City in the throes of victory. The prisoners had rearranged the furniture on the ground floor to group up with their little social cliques, and as long as they weren't violent or subversive, Riker allowed them. There were cries of protest, once the screen went off, but silence reigned moments later, as the iconic visage of Alex Redwood walked out onto the balcony from which only Warden Riker, usually, addressed them. Riker himself was standing behind the Dragon Emperor, arms behind his back, as he watched the younger man closely. He'd heard rumors of the Trainer's persuasive Voice, some even claimed it was a variation of the Hyper Voice move, but he was the kind of man who believed what he saw, over rumors.

    "Crusaders of Fornia. I did not have the pleasure of putting all of you in here, but if you spoke to one of my fellow Generals, or heard their words, you know the deal. Your surrenders have been accepted, and now that the war is over, Warden Riker and I will begin the process of letting those of you who are ready, return to your families." There were a few cheers at this, amongst skeptical rumbling, and Alex let them die down before he continued. "This process will have two paths. The easy path...and the difficult path. Because you are your own people, with your own will and beliefs, I will not force you to walk either. I will give you a choice, as I gave those of you who understood why surrender was your best option."

    The smirk returned then, and the seemingly far too casual man held up one finger. "First, is the easy path. My Scales and I will use our abilities to determine, rather quickly, whether or not you are ready for reintegration into the society we intend to build. The process will be invasive, but harmless. Only my best Scales will be examining your minds. If you are genuinely willing to support what we are about to build, we will send you home, with a job, to be started when the rebuilding of Fornia begins. Until then, you may do as you please, provided it's...legal."

    The second finger rose, before the grumbles of protest became cries of bigotry towards anything even remotely psychic. "The second path will take longer, and be more difficult. We will be using our abilities for that, as well, but they will not be as...invasive, and will take much longer. Both paths can potentially lead to your freedom, but I will warn you now, that lying, hiding information, and clinging to your fallen Church's doctrine will not be tolerated. I've heard good things about Warden Riker's 'one and done' system. One infraction, and all the comforts you would enjoy otherwise, vanish. I'll be speaking to those who decided to cause such infractions later, but first, I wanted to address you, the people likely the most eager, and willing, to go home. Work with us, and you will see your families soon. Try to take advantage of our kindness…" His eyes burned deep blue as he paused, and he stared down at them, forcing his mental presence to physically manifest within the building, as intense pressure. More than a few Crusaders slumped, under the sheer force of it. "...and you will not enjoy the consequences."

    Riker glanced at his Lucario at that moment, and the Aura Pokémon met his gaze. His voice echoed in his Trainer's head, then. "This aura...it's…vastly stronger than any human I've ever seen…" The Lucario stayed silent for a moment, as he kept reading it, then added, "...but, there is kindness, at its core. Honorable intentions...righteousness...for now." Riker nodded, eyes shifting back to the man who now led his entire nation. He'd known Tao wouldn't have a weak Tamer, but to hear he surpassed the many criminals and enemies they'd faced with strong auras was...unsettling.

    Alex's eyes returned to normal, and his aura shield returned to being invisible, as he smirked once more. "I will do my best to give the people of Fornia, even the men who fought for her under Pravus, the future they deserve. One where we all prosper. Together. Do not waste this opportunity. I can sense the potential each of you has...I would not see it locked away, wasted in a prison."

    With that, Alex left, leaving the rec center largely silent, as the indoctrinated soldiers within processed his words. Caleb Pravus was gone. The Church couldn't punish them for accepting such a deal, at this point. The Church no longer even existed, having publicly disbanded once Sacreus had been taken. They had, according to the last wave of prisoners, been overthrown in no small part by Sacreus' own citizens, once said citizens had learned the truth of Shadow Infusion, and how their trusted government had been systematically turning their Pokémon into mindless, rage-fueled weapons to serve Pravus' ambition.

    "A nice speech…" Riker said, as Redwood began following signs to another part of the facility. "But it will not work on those more opposed to you."

    "Oh, I'm aware." The man said, waving a hand casually. "I'm not going to even try logic, with them. Rosa will be handling the...hardcore believers. All they'd do is spit, on me...and I don't have quite enough patience, for that. She'll be arriving with a few of the Scales who can handle their ideals best. Right now, I am here to see the Light Branded. I was told you'd received them from the Black Hills hideout. How are they?" One deep blue eye turned Riker's way, as the Dragon Emperor continued walking about the place as if he knew where he was going.

    "Well...they're model prisoners...but I wouldn't call them human. Whatever the Church did to them...it changed them on a psychological level, as well as a physical one. You'll understand, once you see them." Riker didn't speak again, until they reached the door to the barge that was currently holding several city's worth of Light branded humans. He unlocked the door, and then gestured, as they came upon yet another balcony, though addressing these prisoners rarely did anything. "Here they are…"

    Alex winced as he looked down at the crowd of people. Some eyes turned towards him, most, stayed unfocused upon whatever their head was looking at. They shambled constantly, in a chaotic pattern of movement, not seeming to mind the cramped space, so long as said movement wasn't impeded. There were no words spoken, but the low near-constant moans from the humans below were demoralizing.

    "Their brains have been thoroughly experimented on, and their bodies have as well…" The feminine voice that spoke, came from one of their sides, cutting through the omnipresent groans. Aurea Juniper was nearing the end of her mortal coil, but she still had enough pep in her step and electricity in her brain for study, and science. "Whoever experimented on them was determined to turn them into Light users...I can't tell if they succeeded. According to the Champions from the Black Hills, these are the rejects. Did you find any enemy Light wielders in your travels, Dragon Emperor?"

    Alex glanced at the Professor as she spoke, and then looked back down at the writhing horde of humans. "No...not many, anyways. Not ones who demonstrated genuine abilities like myself and Rosa. They were usually healers, and I saw no reason to keep them from using their gifts, but I didn't find any using them for Battle."

    Riker spoke up then. "That's concerning. The Professor has determined, and I agree with her, that there are so many rejects because the goal was a perfected, man-made Light wielder. With this many failures, there had to have been a few successes."

    Alex sighed. "Then no one, not I nor my Generals, faced them. We came across undead abominations, Shadow worshipers, even people who'd tried infusing Shadow into their own auras, despite the cost and the risk. The Light is...different. They may have completely failed to manufacture someone who could use it. Or...what they created used the Light to keep themselves hidden. It's a difficult trick, but I've seen Tao bend it to use as camouflage. They could be hiding, by now."

    The Professor stepped up beside Alex then. "Is there anything you can do for them?" She gestured to the crowds below, and his expressions darkened.

    "I can... certainly try. But it may...agitate them. Be ready. Warden, tell your guards to prepare...this may get messy. If anyone regains their sanity, I'll bamf them up here." Riker nodded as Alex spoke, and then the Warden spoke into his comm device, attached to his ear. Moments later, his similarly black and white garbed guards, armed with Pokéballs and simple batons specialized for defense and blocking, joined the group atop the balcony.

    Alex took a deep breath, calmed his mind, and then focused, as he reached out to, and connected with each of the people below. Immediately, he noted that some minds were more intact than others, and his hands clenched the balcony rail tighter, as he saw firsthand what the mad doctors Manchineel and Ein had inflicted on their own people. He also realized he'd have to go through them one by one, and hope his healing attempts did something. While healing with psychic energy was still difficult for him, he could close small wounds now, but he had found that the Light was far more suited for such things. While powerful when fueled by wrath and a desire for justice, when combined with peaceful emotions, the Light's healing effects were second to none, almost miraculous, if draining.

    The tall frame of the Trainer hummed with a deep blue aura, which then burned to gold. Riker heard his Lucario gasp, but he stayed quiet this time, as he sensed the distant-but-present aura of the Alpha Pokémon.

    "Here we go…" Alex started with the more intact brains, focusing a small but direct burst of healing Light on their minds, guiding the regrowth along the neural pathways that had been burned away in whatever gruesome experiment they'd been subject to. The first five, he failed to revive, and while they specifically stopped wandering, and even looked around seemingly more aware, he knew they were a far cry from who they had been. The sixth however, responded best to his healing. With a flash, Alex brought her up to join them, and he vaguely heard the Professor consoling her as he continued to heal, and scan.

    He had no idea how long he stayed at it, and he knew it was quite a length of time, but he was determined to get through the entirety of the crowd. Suffused as he was with Light, he didn't feel the exhaustion yet, and he knew it would only come once he let the connection fade. In the end, just over two hundred of the several thousand people they'd found afflicted managed to regain their senses, and their sanity, to a degree. No mind was the same, and each reacted to awakened awareness differently. Alex left handling them to Riker and Juniper, staying focused on his task the entire time.

    When he did eventually stop, he noticed the light coming through the barge's barred windows was that of the moon, and the bright crescent was already high in the sky. For this time of year though, just past the end of Festivus, that was normal. It wasn't too late, but it was later than he'd wanted to stay. As the Light faded, he resisted the sudden but not entirely unfamiliar drowsiness that hit him, and as his mind compared it to other instances of sudden exhaustion, he felt Jess mentally poke him. He smirked, reaffirmed that he was fine, and would be joining her soon, then turned, to see the Warden eyeing him, along with his Lucario, with an indeterminable expression.

    "So...how did it go, Warden? How are they handling their regained senses?"

    Riker smirked. "Rather well...once we explained what had happened, most were glad the Church was gone...a few were upset that you had...'befouled their mind with psychic heresy', but they eventually realized why you did, and why it was irrefutably a good thing." The older man gave the younger one, who was all but teetering from exhaustion, a pat on the shoulder. "You did well, Dragon Emperor. You gave those people their lives back, more or less...and for the others...well, they can at least feed themselves now, so my guards are rather thankful too. They might even recover, over time."

    Alex nodded, slumping against the balcony railing as he noted the people below had been moved to their cells at some point. While still barred and closed, they were not locked, and while before the Branded had been seemingly unable to open them, now, it seemed quite a few were able to, so they could continue to wander aimlessly. "Tao will be able to help them better than I can. I know their brain's structure more intimately, though. He wanted me guiding their initial regrowth."

    Riker nodded. "I'll expect his arrival one of these days, then. I know there is much to handle, right now." He eyed the younger man again, and the smirk widened. "You seem like you're ready to collapse, lad. You should head home, and rest."

    Alex blinked, at that. Home. Eric had mentioned that his room had finally been taken over by one of their cousins, since he apparently had a giant, ancient palace to sleep in now. He tried to glean where Jess was, and only found his third eye being dragged back to New Tork, which meant a ridiculously lavish hotel, most likely. "I'll do that." He stood then, and gave the Warden a respectful nod. "Until next time, Warden Riker."

    The older man saluted. "Sir." And with a flash of blue, and a bamf sound, he was gone. Riker turned to his Lucario then. "What do you think?"

    Having mastered speaking with his human a long time ago, the Pokémon responded mentally. He couldn't project his words, and he couldn't read human runes, but the Common language was easy enough. "He has...a connection to the Alpha. The rumors were true."

    Riker arched an eyebrow. "And his personality? Will he abuse that power?"

    The Lucario shrugged. "I do not think so. I sensed no malice, or greed. Just determination to do what is right. If the Dragon guides him, he will do well, I think."

    Riker nodded. "Well done, my friend. It's time you had a rest too." The Lucario stifled a yawn, and nodded, as his Trainer recalled him into his ball, and left the old man to ponder the future, and what it would look like after the Dragon Emperor started bending it to his will, as he had an entire barge's worth of people. "I may be out of a job…" He muttered, smirking, before leaving to grab dinner, and his own rest.

    The Great Valley - Transylveticut Region


    Alex slept for three days once he'd returned to New Tork, and he'd awoken to find that his better half had once again left before him, leaving only a note in her wake. Evidently, she and the Riders of Valaskjalf had absconded somewhere quieter to try to help Ho-Oh recover, by way of some ancient song. He left her to it, and instead tracked down his Gallade, who had taken to keeping track of everyone while their Trainer slept. Since bonding with Tao, he'd only needed four hours of rest to be functional, which put into perspective just how much energy he'd burned, before collapsing.

    Arthur gathered their party in short order, all save for Shruikan, who was still hunting. Alex let him, as he had more than earned his rest after his efforts during the war. Each of his team had, but none had singly guarded the entire Kanadian Wall during some of their coldest months. Once Alex had all nine, he Teleported to where Percy had told him to rendezvous when they were ready to attempt his 'Meltan Plan', as he'd started calling it. Alex found the name ridiculous, but it had somehow caught on with his team while he'd been sleeping. The hotel had been more than willing to cater to their whims, given voice by Arthur, who had taken to helping the staff with his powers and demeanor while the others lounged around the areas dedicated to Pokémon within the massive New Tork skyscraper.

    Alex materialized in a massive valley, surrounded on two sides by a mountain range that had long since eroded, and even had been flattened, in the wake of Arceus' reshaping of their planet. Tracking Percy's mind was difficult at the best of times, and he wandered on foot, at a walking pace, for almost an hour before he sighted his svelte friend, amidst several massive forms of what had to be Melmetal.

    A group of Meltan charged him, as he approached their spot in the valley, one close to the ore-rich mountains. They fired several Flash Cannons his way, which he dodged, spinning away from each one with confident, even graceful steps one would not expect from someone with so large a frame. Eventually, he explained why he was there to them, and while he did not understand all their noises, as some were on different sound wavelengths human ears simply couldn't grasp, they did turn from hostile to excited, when he brought out Cenomons.

    His Aggron had grown rather massive after his feast. Alex had left him to munching, once the war ended, and Arthur had eventually gone back for him, with his ball, before returning him to New Tork, as they'd waited for their human to rouse himself. The lumbering steel type gave the Melmetal a greeting, one which was returned with what seemed like strange gestures from the mythical Pokémon before them. Each one towered above them, and there had to be over a hundred Melmetal across the valley.

    "Some of them are more...shy...than these. But they are all eager to see how you intend to revive their brethren." Percy said, once they'd grasped forearms and bantered for several minutes.

    Alex chuckled, at that. "That's the thing though, Percy. Arceus said to come...he never said what to do after I arrived." He glanced up at the Melmetal as he spoke, and sensed their minds turning darker. He stepped between them, and Ceno, as he felt their thoughts turn to removing the metal of their fallen friends by force. "Let's not give up before we've even started, my friends… I am sure that the Al-" He paused, mid sentence, as he realized Percy was staring at something above them, and as the pale white form of Arceus manifested from a portal surrounded by what looked uncannily like a double helix, he settled onto the golden grass of the Great Valley, and each of the massive giants fell to both knees, arms bent, as they bowed to the Alpha Pokémon.

    You did well to gather as much of the metal as you could, Redwood. I can give them new Hex Nuts, but we will need human ingenuity to...retrieve the metal within your partner.

    Alex bowed as low as Percy did before the Alpha Pokémon, before he responded. "I have an idea...but I'll need your power to make it work. Cenomons knows a move that can separate the steel from him in a...painless manner. But it will be up to you to hold it in place. If it hits the ground, it'll be expended...explosively."

    Arceus regarded the human for a moment, then nodded his head. Together, then.

    Alex nodded, and then turned his eyes to Cenomons, pointing at an unoccupied area of the golden grass-filled valley before giving the command. "Bearing Shot!"

    Ceno nodded, seeing his logic thanks in no small part to the bond they shared at a mental level. The Aggron rose onto his hind legs, and fired quite a few small, round, steel typed balls into the air above the golden fields from his mouth. As expected, Arceus held them in place with seemingly no effort. They repeated the move until Ceno was out of power, and he nodded at Alex, as he knew by instinct that was all the steel he could spare.

    Before them, floating in the air, were thousands of tiny silver spheres. Arceus glanced at the human and his chosen partner. Well done, both of you. You continue to impress me, Redwood. This act will not be forgotten...by myself, or the Melmetal.

    Alex bowed, and even Ceno knelt at the Alpha's praise. Then, it was his turn. After seeing the commotion firing numerous Bearing Shots into the air caused, most of the Great Valley's inhabitants had gathered to watch, and bask in the Light of their creator. They all stared, spellbound, as the Alpha Pokémon worked his magic.

    The accents upon his body turned a steel color, and around the humans and the Aggron, several more Melmetal formed via evolution, in the intense outpouring of steel typed energy. It hardly mattered, as they were about to have far more Meltan. A single sphere of energy that even Alex's eyes couldn't tell the type of formed above the Alpha's head, and with a simple shift of his head, it broke into a brilliant cascade of bright white spheres, each shard of which connected with a steel orb suspended in the air.

    With flashes reminiscent of evolution, the balls of steel formed into Meltan, who were then lowered to the golden grass by the Alpha, as he simultaneously focused on recombining all the others. The whole effort took moments, but it was quite a spectacle, and when they were done, every member of the Meltan line had happy eye squiggles, as friends they had thought lost were once more brought back into existence.

    As one, they praised Arceus in what seemed like something between a cheer and a prayer, and just as quickly as he had appeared, the Alpha Pokémon vanished. One of the more massive Melmetal approached Alex then, and Percy grew tense, as he watched the thirty foot steel automaton of a Pokémon. "Careful...this one is...temperamental. The Arceans were...not kind to him."

    Alex nodded, but went to meet the Melmetal halfway anyways, as at his size, his lumbering speed was Torterra levels of slow. Alex bowed, and then resumed standing as the Melmetal spoke both physically, and surprisingly, in his head with a deep, ringing baritone. "We will not forget this act...Dragonblood. You will have the aid of my kind...in all your travels."

    Alex nodded, smiling, as he sensed genuine gratitude from the usually hard to read steel type. "All I desire for your kind is peace, and the ability to spread as far as you desire. I may contact you for metal, in the future...harvested correctly, of course, but for now...rest, my friend. Your long torment is over."

    "So...it...is." With that, the massive steel type lumbered away again, as did the other Melmetal, each with a crowd of revived Meltan swarming around their comparatively tiny feet. Alex turned to Percy then, and smirked.

    "I take it you have questions." He said, nonchalantly examining his cuff, as he spoke.

    "That energy Arceus summoned...what type was it? My eyes told me nothing…" Alex said, watching the Fairy King. Percy did not have many tells, when he spoke, but he liked to think he'd caught on to a few, by now.

    The slender part fairy typed human just laughed, arching a pale blonde eyebrow at his query. "There was no type. What he summoned was energy from nature itself. Nature Energy. It doesn't have a type, unless a Pokémon warps it. But only a few do that, rather than using their own."

    "Nature Energy…" Alex said, pondering. He mentally recalled the other times he'd seen energy, but not its typing, and his brows furrowed. "Could...could you use it for Primal Reversion?"

    Percy's eyebrow arched higher, to Spockian levels, but he still gave what appeared to be a candid answer. "Aye, that's what is required for Primal Reversion...but only the Orbs of Groudon and Kyogre are able to gather enough for that particular transformation...and only after a long time of sitting in a place suffused with it. The amount needed to shift a Pokémon, let alone a Legendary class Pokémon, is...substantial."

    Alex kept pondering, eyes on the ground, as his brain continued to offer tantalizing new formulas, if such power could be harnessed. "How does one summon it without such an Orb? I saw Ghetsis do it...and all he had was a staff he'd shoved the DNA Splicers into."

    Percy nodded. "Lusamine mentioned she'd met you...and N. I never met him myself, but he sure left behind quite a few fans. If Ghetsis used it on Kyurem, I'm betting the Splicers were part of the reason. You also don't know what his staff was made of. Ask your dragon, I'm sure he could tell you more."

    Before Alex had so much as a chance to form the question, Tao gave his answer, to his Tamer and only his Tamer, by way of telepathy. "Nature Energy is difficult to control at the best of times...to date there is only one region whose people have learned to...bend it, for use in Battle. This is something you will learn as well, in time, but first you should make haste to Kalos. AZ will not wait for you forever."

    Alex nodded, recalling what Jess had mentioned about the strange man, and his proposal. He glanced back at Percy, who was waiting patiently, guessing correctly that Alex's Legendary partner had given him an answer. "I see. Apparently, I'm going to be learning about it at a later date." He gave Percy a look, and the Fairy King laughed. "Right now, I have to see a man about a kingdom...stay out of trouble, Percy."

    The svelte man feigned a look of shock. "I'm hurt, Alex! I've been a model world citizen, since being freed."

    "Mm." Alex grumbled, turning to face Kalos as he willed his brain to recall one of the Teleport points he'd used for that region. "I'm sure. Enjoy your currency schemes while you can, Fairy King. Tao means to remove currency altogether, before long. Until next time." Alex bamfed then, leaving the slightly unnerved looking Percy with a cocky salute before he vanished without mentioning how he'd known what the rather stealthy fairy man had been up to of late.

    Percy sighed then, shaking his head. "Bloody dragon types...one does not simply remove the root of all evil."

    Parfum Palace - Kalos Region

    Alex had expected some measure of fame in other regions that had lent their aid to the Unovan's latest war, but the reception he got in Kalos was either one of approval, as many seemed to think he was responsible for saving not only his home, but Japan as well, while others, were not amused, and seemed to be of the opinion that Kalos should've never gotten involved. He'd resisted smirking, at those negative commenters. They were in for a surprise, once he spoke with their King.

    Getting into the palace itself was irritating however, as parts of it had become little better than a tourist trap, while others were yet inhabited by AZ, his descendants, and several nobles of the Kalosian Court. He'd had to draw and ignite Lux, before the guards believed who he was, but once they understood they were quite courteous, and brought him directly to AZ.

    The path led through the large palace, and then out onto a balcony, where the giant of a man was standing, looking out upon the garden mazes. Alex noted a pair of Golurk statues, which his inner gamer was betting weren't really statues, but he had no intention of waking them. Zekrom's obsidian eyes stared at Reshiram's marble ones from the far side of the garden, and AZ turned as the guard announced him, title and all, and then left the two regional leaders to talk.

    Alex bowed, once they'd met eyes, and AZ wasted no time in talking, though his manner was slow, as if every word needed a second, on the way from his brain to his mouth. "Ah yes...the Dragon Emperor...well done, on your first...victory."

    "Thank you, King AZ. Without Kalos' well-trained legions, we would've lost many more lives. Once more, the pact between our regions is honored." He rose from the bow once he finished speaking, and met the giant's gaze equally. He wasn't all that smaller than AZ, but it was rare that he had to look up, when speaking with a human. "Jess mentioned that you wished to speak with me…"

    AZ nodded, slowly. "I did...and still do. My Kalos...is not what it once was. It does not...require my guidance any longer...I would have done away with the titles altogether...but...our region is not entirely out of danger...yet." The giant turned back to face his gardens. "Tell me...Dovahkiin...what have you learned...of the Imperium of Man?"

    Alex arched a brow, but stepped up beside the man all the same. AZ wasn't rude, persay...just tired. Millennia of wandering seemed to have that effect on an immortal mind, but Alex found his manner was similar to his own, and the silence between them was untinged with awkwardness, as he mentally recalled the scraps of information he'd managed to pull from Aristole, and Tao.

    "The Imperium has been around since the last Tamer of Arceus left us...their capital is situated on Olympius, the tallest of the Mediterra Mountains, the Imperator is seen as all but a god to his people, though his rule is...less than divine. The Imperium uses slaves, and lobotomized criminals to gather their hordes of resources, and the Imperator has channeled them into war efforts, conquering most of Old Africa, and most recently, the Ursh Hordes of Varangia. Their Trainers battle alongside their Pokémon, in stadium matches...and they're not very friendly to foreigners. There are many rumors of people being taken as slaves, but no hard evidence has been found to substantiate them."

    AZ nodded. "Oh...you can be sure they were...taken. Though they likely died, soon after. The Imperium...uses hard labor to bend captives to their...dogma. I know this...from firsthand experience. In my...wanderings...I had heard of the Imperator's power...and believed it could return my lost partner to me...alas...I was wrong...it was many years...before I managed to escape him. It very nearly...broke my Will."

    Alex's eyes widened, slightly, as he looked back up at the giant man. "The Imperator made you a slave? You actually saw him? Any hard information about him is...lacking, at best."

    AZ nodded, and sighed. "It...would be. The Imperator...is the most powerful psychic humanity has ever...naturally produced...and time...has only made him stronger." The giant's eyes met Alex's, and the smaller human sensed they were about to arrive at the real reason behind this meeting. "His...Thunder Warriors still seek my...recapture. They are physically strong...psychically resilient...mostly...and, they have been lining the border between Kalos and Germania for the past several months...I know their Corp...their symbol...they have been hunting me...since I escaped. Neither I nor Calem...possess the strength to face them...or their leader...in real combat. You...may just have what it takes."

    Alex bowed his head, and then met AZ's gaze again. "I won't let them take Kalos. They'll have to contend with all of us, if they wish to even try."

    That, made AZ chuckle, a wheezing sound, but genuinely mirthful. "The Ursh Hordes...outnumbered the forces...you could call to your banner. Even with your...allies...they outnumber every other military force on the planet...save one."

    Alex raised a brow, and AZ continued. "Eous' seven kingdoms have stood against the Imperium of Man...for almost as long as the Imperium has existed...they have not always won...but only they possess the manpower...that you would need to meet them in...a fair battle. Even then...you would lose. The Imperium's technology...surpasses the rest of the world...but they are not insurmountable...yet...once they expand to space...that will change."

    At that, Alex smirked. "I feel confident we can beat them to space. At the very least, we can make whatever craft they launch suffer from...technical difficulties. I understand the aerial advantage space would give them...but surely that alone wouldn't be enough to stop everyone else in the world…"

    AZ chuckled again. "You...are assuming the entirety of the world...does not wish to join them. The Imperator's servants...are devout...and they are many. Imperial Iterators are not easy to ignore… Humans will always desire freedom, over slavery...but...more than a few individuals seeking power...have embraced the Imperial Truth, rather than resist it. You will be...hard pressed to unite Earth against them."

    Alex privately thought that, if the alternative was death by enslavement, the world wouldn't be that hard to convince, at the very least it was a worthy goal to aim for, but AZ seemed to pause, before he continued. It took Alex a minute to realize he was inhaling, as if every singular breath was what he used to give life to his words. It almost seemed like he'd had to re-learn how to speak, from how his mind was working, but he resisted prying into the man's thoughts.

    "In truth, I was prepared to simply hand you the power of Kalos...but another has beaten you to it." AZ withdrew something from his rather comfortable looking kingly robe in the colors of his castle. It was a helmet, judging by what was left of it. It had been cut perfectly into identical halves. It looked to have sported a pair of green glasslike eye coverings, that had sat under the crest of the helmet, which covered the forehead, cheeks, and neck all at once. Alex knew the material though, as his Aggron had once tunneled through a bunker made of it. Ceracrete. The Imperium's 'invincible armor' or that was the claim, at least. Compared to what the Arceans had used, this seemed more refined, and likely took more effort to break through. He smirked inwardly as several of his team offered to test the hype around the Imperium's power armor, and Alex assured them that they would, eventually, probably have plenty of time to test themselves against it.

    AZ gave him a moment to examine the trophy, before speaking again, and as he did, Alex noticed the helm was sporting a strange symbol that marked the helmet's face protectors, and crest. A set of crimson fangs shaped in a square, engulfing what looked like the Earth itself. "He...has convinced me that you are not the only powerful human who can face the Imperium...and unlike you...he has already faced their Thunder Warriors in Battle."

    Alex didn't have to think long, about what other powerful Trainer in Kalos would challenge him for this. There were many candidates, but from what he'd seen of the Gym Leaders in the war, they weren't quite on the level of a Champion. Some, who had grown stronger whilst battling Shadow Pokémon were eager to have another Kalos League Tournament, to decide who was currently where, on the Kalosian Trainer's hierarchy, but he knew who was currently sitting at the top, the last he'd heard. He smirked, guessing rightly who was standing in his way now.

    AZ smiled, at his wordless reaction. "So you have figured out who he is...good. Go on then...he is waiting...and the Victor shall rule over Kalos!"

    The King's rather sudden and loud proclamation captured the attention of several hundred people below, touring the gardens, and Alex knew that news of a match like this, especially in Kalos, would spread like wildfire.

    Alex rolled his neck with a satisfying crack, and stretched his stiff limbs, as he met AZ's ancient gaze. "I'm down a member, at the moment, but I have a stand-in, ready and waiting. I'll need a PC."

    AZ nodded, and the pair of tall Trainers headed for the closest terminal.

    Several Minutes Later - Parfum Palace Front Entrance

    As Alex wandered out of the palace and into the bright spring sunlight, he spied a familiar figure, still sporting the black and white of the homeland he hadn't defended. A deep blue scarf hung around his neck, and his new hat was business up front, and flared in the back, a rather popular style in Kalos, though it too matched his outfit's color. His Greninja's ball was in his hand, and as Alex's eyes met Connor's, they knew the battle had begun.

    "For the right to rule Kalos, as King in all capacities…" Connor said, as his own Voice echoed around the semi-crowded courtyard. He raised his starter's ball, then. "I Challenge!"

    AZ responded, before Alex could so much as turn his hat backwards. "Accepted!" His arms spread wide, and blue runic markings appeared on his ancient skin, the parts that were visible anyway, as he met Alex's eyes and winked. "Behold! Parfum Stadium!"

    The ground beneath Connor rumbled, and Kalos' Champion stumbled, as the ground responded to the Will of the King, and moved aside, for what had lain beneath the front entrance, unused for millennia. The stadium rose, and the front gates did as well, revealing functional stadium-style seating, that semi-confused Kalosians eagerly began filing into. Many seemed to grin, as they spied a field below them.

    For his part, Connor found himself on the field, and his eyes went wide as he realized what field it was. In ancient times, the Stadium of Kings had held Battles for the right to rule Kalos, and according to records from that era, AZ had never lost.

    "The rules...are thus! Any move may be used! No Items that aren't being held already! The first one to run out of Pokémon loses!" AZ began inhaling again, as his large lungs ran out of air, and Alex took the opportunity to bamf the short distance to his side of the field, as Connor headed for his own, looking far too confident. "Let the match...begin!"

    Connor returned his rival's smirk as he raised Gren's ball. Alex let his own chosen ten float around and above the back of his shoulders, giving each of them a view, as he brought Terra's to the front. If Connor wanted to start with this particular contest of power, they were more than willing to oblige. At AZ's words, he sent the ball high, as Connor tossed his own upwards, and then kicked it with the softer inside of his foot towards the field.

    It was as it sailed rapidly forward, that Alex noticed it was more of a crimson color, than blue. Gren's was still in Connor's hand. Alex swore silently, and both Trainers gave a command as each Pokémon took the field.

    "Rocket Punch!"


    Ardor popped free of his ball, and with the speed common to Infernape, rocketed towards Terra fist first, who appeared in the air.

    The crimson fire monkey followed his opponent down, as gravity both did its work, and gave the massive earth turtle the momentum for a truly magnificent Earthquake. After using it so many times, he had learned how to make the breaking ground vomit forth an endless wave of not jagged, but sturdy, straight protrusions. They radiated forward from where Terra landed, and though Ardor brought his fist forward, flames encasing it and his body, the type advantage won out, and the overwhelming flood of super effective earthy spikes drove him all the way back to his Trainer, fainted.

    Connor swore, but AZ shouted over him. "The Infernape Ardor is down! The victory goes to the Dragon Emperor!" He looked at Connor then. "Summon...your next Battler." Terra sank his feet into the field, flattening it, as Connor brought out his next ball, and seeing it was orange and black, and knowing his Aggron would fare poorly against an electric typed opponent that much faster, Alex psychically chucked another ball, even as he recalled Terra.

    Connor's Raikou took the field, and the flames around his fangs died down, as he realized he was staring at another thunder cat, and not a grass turtle. Alex spoke before Connor could. "Mega Evolve." The Zap Plate on Leo's back flared in response, and electric energy surrounded him as he advanced to the next stage, and the only level of power likely to be able to combat a Raikou.

    As the pair of thunder cats faced each other down, the stands grew ever more crowded, as word of the hidden stadium's appearance also spread rather quickly to Camphrier Town, and beyond. The crowd that had been visiting the palace were the majority, but since every Trainer in Kalos had a Holociever these days, more were flying in by the minute.

    Alex opened, as he'd won the last round, with a move that he'd had to rename, because his Luxray no longer responded to the words 'Double Team'. "Shadow Clones! Let's go for...twenty."

    "Aura Sphere!" Connor said, after glancing at his Pokédex. The Raikou growled, and between its fangs, a sphere of focused Aura formed, condensed into a tight swirling mass, and began to grow.

    Alex countered, saying "Wait for it...Psychic Fangs!"

    The move came moments after he called something that could block the undodgeable attack, smashing through several tangible illusions as it did, and Leo's fangs lit with psychic blue aura, as he tore through the sphere with a single, perfect bite. The Raikou gave a nod, acknowledging the skill of his adversary, only to open his mouth for another.

    Before Connor called it again, Alex used his own move as the Shadow Clones faded. "Eerie Impulse!" Leo's fur rippled in response, as it sparked, and manifested a noise, one that got to the Raikou mid-sphere, and caused his focus on it to lapse, as his mind became disoriented by the move.

    "Good, now Iron Tail!"

    "Crunch!" Connor answered, as he ordered his own counter. The Mega Luxray's tail formed into a gleaming scythe, and struck at the Raikou, but the faster thunder cat caught it in his jaws. "Now Fire Fang!" The fangs shifted from being covered in dark energy, to fire, burning the still steel-covered tail, unique to the Mega Luxray's form, and doing quite a bit of damage.

    Alex's eyes narrowed, as did Leo's, and he offered a suggestion for their next strategy. Alex nodded, and gave the order, "Break away, and Night Slash!" Leo drew the sharp scythe from the Raikou's jaws, cutting them as he dragged it through the flame fangs. Leo thwacked it against the ground, forcing through the pain, and willing the steel energy to trade with darkness. For good measure, Leo split himself into three, with more Shadow Clones, and while Connor ordered another counter, Raikou missed, tearing into a clone, as the remaining two hit him with a Night Slash, from the scythe-tail.

    Connor glared, and then pointed, as he gave another command. "A good trick, but one we also know. Shadow Clones." The orange and black striped Raikou split into several copies, and Connor followed his move with another. "Now, Bulldoze!"

    Despite being a special attacker, Raikou's mind was still off from the Eerie Impulse, and his physical attacks, at the moment, were likely as strong as his special ones. Over ten clones at least charged Leo, who was smirking, on his side of the field, looking entirely too confident, eyes closed, as he waited.

    It didn't take Alex long to counter the oncoming rush of earth energy cowled electric tigers. "Focus your eyes...then leap and use Night Slash!" The golden Luxray's eyes opened at his Trainer's word, and in an instant, he picked out the real Raikou. That, was the same instant Connor remembered what made Luxray so useful, aside from their versatility with special and physical moves. Leo leapt, and then brought his tail forward, rotating his larger, bulkier frame in the air with the power of his move, slower than usual, but fast enough for what they planned. "Now, bring it down with an Ice Fang!"

    Having learned the moves alongside Ictus, Leo had found commanding fire, ice, and lightning through his fangs to be rather useful, no matter who or what he battled. As the ice encased fangs came down, Connor grinned at his rival, now that he'd once more ordered his Luxray close. Raikou took the hit, but was himself not weak to ice, and the ground typed cowl faded, as Leo chomped into it, and dispersed it, leaving him just before the Legendary Pokémon, as he landed.

    "Thunder!" Connor said, as he raised a triumphant fist to the sky, but it wasn't the clouds above from which Raikou brought the Thunder. From his back, pure undiluted electricity struck the Luxray, who'd taken several hits already. He stayed where the energy had smashed into him with seemingly unstoppable force, fainted, and smoking slightly.

    Alex bamfed over to his partner, Max Revive already in hand, as stocking up had been necessary, before leaving Castelia. Leo's eyes snapped open, and then winced, as the healing took effect. Being stronger meant such things took longer to fully heal. The black and gold Luxury Ball that was his favorite bed recalled him, and Alex rose, eyes never leaving the Raikou's, as he bamfed back to his spot, where his balls had remained hovering.

    A blue and brown one soared into the air, as AZ called the faint, and repeated to him what he'd said to Connor, verbatim. Hydrus took the field, saw the Raikou, and smirked. Two massive, bulky blue fin fists slammed into the ground, as he roared his name and drew on the Splash Plate that was affixed to his softer underbelly, ascending to his Mega Form.

    The hulking mudfish smirked knowingly down at the faster, but weakened legend below him, as his Trainer called the move. "Giga Punch!" Hydrus raised an arm, which began to glow with a familiar intense orange, similar to what was found in moves like Hyper Beam and Giga Impact. Hydrus was essentially using the latter move, but his impacting appendage had the energy focused in his fist, and Connor countered, as he knew the enhanced fist would, at this stage, take his Legendary Pokémon down. If it hit.

    "Reflect!" Raikou looked worn, but he rallied as Connor called the move, and a dense shield of psychic energy manifested just above him, one that would last quite a while, before it degraded. The thunder cat assumed himself quite safe beneath the shield, confident he could weather the hit. That confidence shattered as his shield did, as the unstoppable force that was the Mega Swampert's fist smashed through it, and sent the Raikou skipping across the field, and into the lower edge of the stands behind Connor, with a booming sound that caused all gathered, Hydrus included, to wince.

    AZ was silent this time, as Connor tended to the injured cat, and he perked up quickly, before standing, bowing his head to the crowd, which they loved, and returning to his own Luxury Ball. Hydrus panted across the field, winded from the massive power in his last move, but that didn't stop Alex from giving a command. "Rain Dance." "Swaaaam! Pert!" Hydrus began chanting, slamming his massive forearms against the field in a rhythmic motion, making it rumble slightly, as he summoned the rain.

    Connor, for his part, brought out a green colored ball then, taking advantage of the brief pause. "Itharius...Mega Evolve!" The Sceptile that had been trained by his Greninja in the art of fast physical attacks appeared, and did as his Trainer bid, when he raised his Grassium crystal into the air. Infinite grass energy shot into the grass type, making it grow and change, as the Swampert had.

    Rain began to fall on the field as the two Mega Pokémon eyed each other, and when Alex didn't take the chance to order another move, Connor did. "Leaf Blade Barrage!" The Mega Sceptile's forearms began glowing, forming into a green scythe-like blade on each forearm. The rather fast grass typed dragon launched forward, as Hydrus continued to summon the rain. The Sceptile arrived just before the Swampert, and then rocketed upwards, scoring a strike on one of the large shoulders, and then he came down, scoring another on the left forearm of the hulking mud fish.

    Seeing two hits from a move with quadruple effectiveness had done more than he'd expected, Alex gave the counter, the only one they were likely to be able to use, given the massive disparity in speed. In this case however, he was more than happy to trade speed for power, and Hydrus' strongest ice move required a move to have hit beforehand to be most effective. They could've fired an Ice Beam, but Hydrus was not a special attacker, and the Sceptile would likely dodge it. In the rain, and at this close range, they would not miss.

    "Now...Avalanche!" Alex said, slightly above his regular baritone. His hat had stayed sitting normally upon his head, so far, and his arms remained crossed, while they battled. By the time Itharius realized where the ice was coming from, it was too late to dodge, and it was Connor's turn to learn just how damaging a quadrupled weakness to ice was. Great chunks of it formed rapidly from the rain, slamming down with added intensity, given how close the fast physical attacker had gotten, and when the pile of snow and ice finally settled, turning to slush in the ever increasing rain, AZ spoke again.

    "The Sceptile known as Itharius has fainted! The round goes to the Dragon Emperor, and Hydrus!"

    Frustrated now, and acting quickly, Connor shifted plans. He'd severely underestimated just how strong Alex's little, unassuming Mudkip had become. Hydrus roared triumphantly, hiding the damage he'd taken from the Leaf Blades as he raised his massive fists, and gestured for the crowd to get pumped up.

    The crowd, who had quickly brought out parasols in the face of a sudden rainstorm, cheered in response, and Hydrus resumed slowly pounding the ground with his fists, urging the storm to drop more water down upon them, making him quicker as more and more droplets splashed onto his Mega Form.

    An Alakazam by the name of Sophos took the field next, quickly shifting to its own Mega Form, before opening and locking eyes on the Swampert. It was as Alex remembered what Mega Alakazam could do, that he realized they were in trouble. Hydrus had become faster, as the rain fell, fast enough to one-hit a Sceptile, but Alakazam were just as fast, and could attack at range with devastating power. At this point, a single Energy Ball from a special attacker would finish them. Then, there was Trace, which allowed the psychic type to become even more speedy, as it copied Swift Swim from Hydrus.

    "Energy Ball!"

    "Send it back with Ice Punch!"

    Ice energy formed around Hydrus' fist, since he didn't have enough stamina left to take another quadruple effective hit. Because of his bulk, he'd barely survived the first two. Dense as the grass energy was, Hydrus smashed it back with his massive fist, only for the Alakazam to dodge it, easily. It was only getting faster thanks to its traced ability, and Alex knew that would be a problem, if he didn't stop it here and now.

    "Let's try...five at once!" Connor said, looking confident. He pointed at Hydrus then, "Energy Balls!" Five spheres of green coalesced and condensed above the Mega Alakazam's head, and fired all at once, at the massive target that was Hydrus.

    Alex felt the mud fish ready to give in, but he wasn't done yet. He spoke mentally to his powerful Pokémon, as the balls hurtled towards them. "Dodge them with your next move...and shift into a Giga Punch once you're near him."

    Hydrus nodded, and Alex shouted, "Aqua Jet!" The bulky mud fish surrounded himself with a cowl of water, and with speed enhanced by the rain, he dodged the Energy Ball barrage by going right, and then arcing upwards. It ran out of power just as he was over the Alakazam, whose eyes had widened as it realized what was coming. Hydrus' massive right fist had reared back, and began glowing with an intense orange energy. "Now, Giga Punch!"

    Connor didn't have time to verbalize the move, but the Mega Alakazam was already forming another Energy Ball, just one this time, as the Swampert came close. The punch connected, sending the psychic type sailing into part of the stands that had been adjacent to the front gate. Once more, one of Connor's team impacted hard against the stands, but the mega evolved psychic caught itself, levitating above the ground, as it rose from the admittedly devastating hit, damaged, but still standing. That was more than could be said of Hydrus, whose eyes had gone Poli patterned, with that final close range and quadruple effective Energy Ball.

    He collapsed with a grunt inches from Connor, and Alex recalled him as AZ called the round in Connor's favor. Alex mentally reached for Arthur's ball, until the Gallade spoke up. "Not me. Ictus would do better. This Battle isn't over yet, and you'll need me for the cleanup." Alex nodded, and it was Ictus' ball that sailed forth this time, depositing the crimson Drapion onto the field, with an 'ooo' from the crowd. As a dark bug type, he had plenty of moves that put the already damaged Alakazam in a pickle. If they could hit.

    The rain continued to fall, making the psychic type that much faster still. Ictus' exoskeleton clicked ominously as he lowered into an attack position, arms wide, and then his Dread Plate flared with dark energy, as he too ascended to his Mega Form. He grew larger, gained a third set of legs, and another pair of bulky arms, not unlike a Machamp's. The claws tipping each arm were reminiscent of Pinsir's horns, and his tail grew longer, sharper, and then seemed to coil, with that same clicking sound.

    Indeed, the Mega Drapion's entire body coiled, and Alex smirked as he ordered the move. "Spring into a Hell Thrust!" With speed that belied the ogre scorpion's bulk, he coiled every one of his limbs, before extending them all at once as he leapt across the field at the Mega Alakazam. Connor was already waiting, with a counter.

    "Wonder Shift! Attack and Special!" Sophos nodded his tri-pointed head, and the gem in his forehead flashed, as he employed a special variation of Wonder Room to bring about a shift in form. The floating Pokémon shifted, burning bright white as his spoons melded with his form, and protected his weakened joints, shoulders, and head in silver armor. The lengthy beard became tied in a style of beard braid one would expect of a Pokémon who had mastered both mind and body in the psychic and fighting typing he now bore.

    The Mega Drapion's four claws each radiated a cold, dark energy as they honed in on the psychic Pokémon, and it was then that Connor shouted his counter. "Close Combat!" The Alakazam's arms shifted into an intentionally similar draconic themed style of martial arts, and they moved in a familiar balance pattern, glowing with fighting energy, and blocking the Drapion's strikes. Then, as the two Pokémon continued to use the move until one dominated, the Mega Drapion's tail went for the Alakazam's back, specifically the seam between the silvery back plate, and the natural armor of the Pokémon's lower back.

    The Mega Alakazam shifted, and one three toed foot caught the striking tail, barely, as it too burned with dark typed energy, and as that occurred, Ictus began to compress around the Alakazam, until finally, one of his holds gave, to the five limbs attacking him. Ictus skittered back to his side of the field, as the Alakazam was left fainted. In the wild, he would've preyed upon a Pokémon that had taken so much energy to bring down, but he was not wild any longer. He respected the honor of a real Battle, finding he preferred it to what the humans called 'war', where honor was a fairytale. Ictus considered the instinct to devour a sign of respect, and an urge he needed to suppress. He also knew his Trainer would keep him from going too far, as he had always done, when instinct acted before Ictus could stop it. It was a common problem with some bug types, but his training had eventually dulled it enough for the urge to be safely ignored.

    AZ called the round, as Connor recalled his psychic type, and then brought out his dragon. Gar mega evolved, taking on his Mega Form as Connor gave the order, "Dig! Take it in one hit!"

    Ictus glanced back at his Trainer as the Garchomp dove into the ground, and once he was truly buried, Alex smirked, and nodded at Ictus. The ogre scorpion raised all four of its heavy arms, as his Trainer called the move. "Earthquake!" Four claws slammed into the ground, shaking the entire arena as the move forced the ground and dragon type from hiding. It didn't do too much in the way of damage, but it did put Alex back on the attack, for he followed Ictus' counter with another move. "Use the boulders as cover...then Ice Fang!"

    Ictus skittered into the field's ruined terrain, moving stealthily from boulder to boulder, the ominous clicking of his armor the only thing giving him away. Gar watched, seemingly impatient, but Connor called another move quickly, knowing his dragon would attack on his own if he waited too long. "Wait for the attack...then Earth Power!" The Mega Garchomp lowered its stance, scythes glowing a light brown as he summoned the ground energy. As Ictus came close, his bulk and armor gave away his usually silent approach, and his opponent made him pay for it. An eruption of earth hit him directly under the stomach, sending him flying into the air, but Connor wasn't done. "Grab it with Crunch, and then Seismic Toss!"

    Ictus did not fare well in the air, but he knew Alex expected him to make the most of his opponent closing in for a Crunch. Gar chomped into him, finding the Mega Form's armor immune to piercing. The attack still hit, as Gar latched onto one of the arms, but Ictus attacked in return, fangs limned with ice as he struck the dragon's chest, before being rolled in the air, and sent hurtling towards the ground.

    Alex recalled him before he hit, and knew doing so would count as a loss. That was fine in his opinion, for Ictus wouldn't have stayed conscious after the hit anyways. With Connor's four faints to his three, it was still anyone's battle but both Trainers knew their starters hadn't been significantly damaged yet, and Alex had other potent weapons besides, that without Sophos, his rival's team would be hard pressed to deal with.

    Being the victor, Connor shifted the significantly weakened Gar out for a fresh opponent, as Alex called his next to the field. "Cenomons! You're up!"

    At almost the same time, Connor brought out his replacement, realizing too late that he might regret the choice. "Yami! Mega Evolve!"

    As Ceno appeared, he locked eyes with the Sableye across the field, and both Pokémon took their Mega Forms. Both Trainers glanced at AZ, who nodded, and then proceeded to call moves.

    "Heavy Slam!"

    "Brick Break!"

    Ceno charged on all fours towards the Sableye, his entire bulky form covered in steel energy, as the crystal weighing Yami down glowed with fighting energy. The slam hit the crystal, and as the steel and fighting energy collided, the shockwave was enough to shake the stands, and clear the skies above the battlefield that had remained gray even after the rain faded.

    Seeing the heavy gem was resisting the slam, Alex called another move. "Triple Iron Bash!"

    As the Aggron began smashing into the gem, Yami took the hits, as Connor gave another counter. "Protect! Then Low Kick the legs!"

    Protect saved the encumbered ghost from the wrath of the steel attacks, but as it went for the Low Kick, the Sableye found it didn't have the strength of momentum needed to topple a metal monster weighing in at almost a thousand pounds. Then, it was Cenomons' turn to counter, for the move inflicted some damage, but to a bulky tank with an ability like Filter, it might as well have been Leech Life.

    Alex smirked as he gave the command. "Show them how one sweeps legs. Iron Tail!" Ceno did as ordered, spinning to his right, as he hammered the Mega Sableye's legs, crystal and all, and forced the ghost to collapse against its heavy burden. "Now use Rock Slide!" A hail of rock energy pounded the already weakened ghost type, and Ceno reared up, roaring to the cheering crowd, before lumbering back to his side of the field.

    Next up came Durus, the Bisharp, who leapt in with a series of Night Slashes that Ceno parried with Iron Head, by way of his horns. Both Alex and Connor shouted the same move then, "Brick Break!" And the several hundred pound tail of the Aggron eventually overpowered the Bisharp's blade arm, and with a quadrupled weakness to fighting type energy, Durus did not last long before Ceno's tail caused him to faint. The bulky walking tank lumbered back with another victory, and the tone of the battle seemed to shift, as both Connor and the crowd, which had filled the stands by this point, realized he was on his final three.

    Alex wasn't confident in the win yet though, for he knew Gren was among those three, and he had almost soloed the entire Kalos League, not to mention every gym in the region. Connor threw his next ball, giving a command as he did. "Goliath! Drill Run!" The Golisopod he called forth looked to be a newer catch, but that didn't mean he was weak. The lumbering water bug's claw-fingers began spinning, and he charged at the equally slow Aggron, giving Alex more than enough time to call a counter.

    "Rock Tomb!" Ceno stomped the ground, and four boulders rose, slamming into the Golisopod, and hindering his progress by only moments, as he tore apart the boulders in his path with his claws, and continued advancing. "Good, now follow up with Stone Edge!" This time, Ceno reared onto his back legs, and brought his front down, causing massive stones to rise in response. Goliath tore through them one by one, and as he reached his target, Ceno slammed his tail, summoning a final spike to hit the water bug's back, as the Drill Run hit, hard, digging into his metal armor. Goliath lifted the massive Pokémon despite the pain to his back, and then tossed him. The landing shook the field and the stands, and AZ called the round, as the Aggron fainted. Alex recalled him, eyeing the Golisopod's injury as it returned to his Trainer.

    To his surprise, it returned to its ball, and Connor instead called out his Crobat, Noctem, which left Alex with only one logical option. "Gelauros! Blizzard!" The massive, white and blue Aurorus took the field, retaining his usual form, as Noctem hadn't mega evolved, and Gel preferred a fair battle. Alex smirked, as he knew his Charizard's sense of honor was impacting his whole team, but strangely enough, Blaze seemed content to watch the current battle, and since a Greninja was next, he knew he likely wouldn't even be in this one. His mind was calm, and Alex sensed him watching as attentively as he always had.

    As winter came early to Parfum Palace, the crowd again shifted to compensate, though far fewer had clothes suitable for the chill his Aurorus put out. Eric had been correct in assuming his special attacks would be incredibly powerful, but Gel knew how to focus them, by this point in his training. "Shadow Clones! Then use Steel Wing!" Connor ordered, and the silent Crobat flew forward fearlessly into the Blizzard. As ice and snow pelted its clones, they vanished one by one, leaving only one left, the real one, for the super effective move on the Aurorus.

    As the Crobat came in for the strike, Gelauros used his strongest move, made ice typed by his ability. "Hyper Beam!" Orange energy formed in Gel's mouth, before becoming icy blue, condensing, and launching at the face of the Crobat. Fast as Noctem was, the beam in question was too thick in width to simply dodge, and the overwhelming ice energy snuffed out his attack, and remaining hit points, leaving the Aurorus fresh, and untouched.

    Goliath returned, slightly worse for wear, and opened with a Rock Tomb, as it raised its claws. From within the rocky prison, the hurting, but still very far from fainted Aurorus recharged, and when the confused water bug didn't press the attack, an intense deep brown glow emanated from between the gaps in the rock. The air turned colder, and ice covered the battlefield.

    Alex gave the command, once Gelauros had enough power stored. "Mega Evolve...and then use Primeval Power." His arms were crossed casually, as his titanic ice type broke free of the rocky prison, by lifting it above his Mega Form's head. His pure-energy frills shifted with a rainbow of colors as he channeled the power of the first Pokémon to appear on the Earth.

    The rock typed move was enough to finish the already damaged Golisopod, before he could so much as Dig, and though Gelauros had taken a hit, he was an icy tank, who weighed in around six hundred pounds in his Mega Form.

    Connor stared at his last ball for a long time, and then met Alex's smirk with one of his own. "You should know...compared to my other members, Gren has achieved a new level. I don't want to hurt your Aurorus."

    Alex rolled his eyes. "Yes we know, your Greninja is very impressive. Strong enough to face most of Kalos, solo. Bring him out already...let us see if the hype survives the flames of Battle!" Connor threw the ball as Alex spoke, and he followed up with Gel's move, as he knew it would likely be all they got against a fast attacker with such a disparity in experience, and speed. "Thunder Wave!"

    The Greninja's eyes widened, as he appeared and heard the move, evidently recognizing it. One of the many reasons Greninja were so popular was for their intelligence, as well as an impressive move pool. Many Trainers had embraced the League's World Tournament ruleset partly for practice, and partly because the logistical nightmare of preparing a counter for any move a Pokémon might know added an exciting intensity to Battles that many elite Trainers eventually lost sight of. As Alex eyed the water and dark type, he flinched inwardly. He had the same intensity of aura and purpose as Arthur, and while he'd been strong before, he was certain the ninja frog had been adding to his skills, probably move by move, if he knew Connor.

    As the waves of electricity covered the icy terrain of the battlefield the Greninja's eyes flashed with what Alex saw was psychic energy, and a strange power enveloped the lithe blue frog, as he placed his fins together in a genuine shinobi sign, and weathered the electric waves seeking to paralyze him. Seeing this, Gel kept the waves of electricity emanating, finding it much easier to do, in his Mega Form.

    Beneath his psychic shield, the Greninja reached out to the Plate upon his Trainer's person, incorporated into his attire as armor, hidden from sight, that is, until it began glowing. Connor did something strange then, and Alex's eyes followed the water typed energy, as his rival took it into his own pools of energy within his body, and then activated them all at once. His mind reached out to the Greninja, and the pair ascended together. The smirking bearded face of his crimson haired rival looked far too confident under his now visibly manifested aura shield of gold, and his Greninja had a similar shield, albeit in the form of dark energy.

    Despite this, Alex smirked, content with what they'd achieved. He pressed his advantage, as his rival spent time ascending to this 'new form' that very much just seemed to be the manifestation of an aura shield atop a Mega Form. "Don't let him close. Get ready to fire again!." Connor grimaced as the Aurorus summoned yet more electric energy, in the form of an attack this time.

    His hands rose to match his Greninja's, and he gave the command. "Sage Technique. Dark Spiraling Sphere." Trainer and Pokémon moved in unison as they summoned the darkness with the ease of one born to it. The sphere of black manifested in Gren's palm, and the ninja frog held it out sideways, away from his body, as he leapt towards Gelauros. The Charge Beam burned through where Gren had been a moment before, but he had moved, reappearing above Gel's head as he prepared to fire another Charge Beam, and raise his special attack. It wasn't a bad strategy, Connor thought, it just wasn't going to work, with this match up.

    For his part, Alex had expected the frog to dodge, counted on it, even. Their part of the ploy had worked. Gelauros' frills began shining, as his inner power was increased beyond it's already impressive level. In the space of a moment, he glanced at his Pokédex, and it read his Aurorus' special attack power with three numbers, usually. In that moment, it was giving him three infinity symbols. "Interesting…" He spoke mentally to his partner, who understood, and was emboldened by what the human's machine was saying. As one, their eyes moved to Gren's reappearing form.

    The energy the Greninja and his Trainer had read as a Charge Beam had in reality been a prelude to a much stronger, but less accurate attack. All Alex and Gel had been waiting for, was for the ninja frog to close the distance. His attack would hit, but at this range, so would theirs.


    One of the strongest known electric typed moves lanced forth from the mouth of Gel's Mega Form, nailing the Greninja, even as his own 'sage art' made contact as well. Both Gelauros and his Trainer winced, as the pain was instant, and overwhelming. The massive form of the revived dinosaur Pokémon went speeding into the part of the stands AZ was officiating from. He levitated himself above the wreckage wrought by the long necked saurian's massive form, his skin once more glowing with those blue runes marking his skin.

    Gren bamfed himself back to his side of the field, once more taking the position of channeling a move, as he expected the fixing of such damage to take several moments. Alex also vanished, appearing by his partner's head, and taking several seconds to feed Max Revives to those who he'd had to rapidly switch out to keep their momentum in the battle. He recalled the revived, but tired Aurorus, and then reappeared in his Trainer's box on his side of the field.

    Arthur was on the field before Alex spoke, and the ninja frog's eyes widened, and then narrowed, as he began tensing his body. Gren gave the Gallade a nod, remaining motionless, and a faint smirk broke the passive face of the psychic fighter. His Heart Piece flared as he ascended to his Mega Form, and moments later, the Psychic Plate had covered him in his armor as well.

    Gren's eyes widened, as he sensed what Arthur already knew. Their level of power was more or less equal. "Close Combat!"

    The ninja frog's concentration was broken, as the attack came as quickly as a Teleport, for in a single bamf, Arthur closed the distance halfway through his Trainer's order, and began his fighting typed barrage the exact moment the move was ordered.

    Connor's counter came quickly. "Mat Block." Gren's webbing on his hands and feet puffed up and inflated, and the agile Pokémon used them to block the Gallade's fierce assault.

    Mildly irritated at the delay of the inevitable, Alex spoke again. "Combine it with Teleport." Very quickly, the tone of the battle changed, as the Gallade bamfed, and smashed the ninja frog with an empowered sword arm, sending him hurtling, only to bamf into his trajectory, and smash him again. Though Gren tried blocking, it was impossible to stop a move as rapid as Close Combat from ever making contact.

    "Use Acrobatics! Then Night Slash." At his Trainer's words, Gren acted, suddenly whirling with seemingly psychic senses, as his limbs parried Arthur's blades with flying type energy. Eventually, Arthur had to stop burning Teleports, and the two Pokémon shifted from a one sided barrage to an equally matched slug fest. Finally, the fist of the Greninja met the fist of the Gallade, and the energy of that direct collision sent both of them sliding back across the field as the shockwave rumbled the stands.

    Seeing an opening, Gren leapt above Arthur's guard, as the Gallade had done with his own defenses several times in their clash. This opening was long enough for his Trainer's second command, and he brought the Night Slash down in a vertical line from above Arthur's head.

    "Leaf Blade."

    Arthur leapt straight up, meeting Gren's blade with one of his sword arms, and though the Greninja had shifted to using two hands for the swing, the armored force of Arthur's grass powered attack pushed back against it. His usually golden arm blades were humming with intense grass typed energy now, and it was more than a match for the darkness the ninja frog had coalesced into a sword.

    Before Connor could order another attack, they were ascending, rapidly, as Arthur's aura shield formed around him, and propelled the move-locked pair high into the sky, where eventually, Gren realized even he would lose to this kind of fall, and the damage it would inflict. As they reached the apex of their upwards curve, Arthur shifted his weight downwards, forcing Gren's shadow blade to the side, and following the hole in his guard with the other sword arm, radiating grass energy.

    The hit was immediate, and effective, as Greninja was not the hardiest Pokémon, but to Gren's credit, he did not linger in the impact crater upon the field. He flipped back to his side of the field, taking his pose once more, as the Mega Gallade returned to his own side, arms still burning with grass energy. The armor on one of his arms was scorched from the intensity of the dark energy he'd been pushing against, but otherwise, he seemed little worse for wear. Gren on the other hand, had taken a Thunder to the shoulder, and a Leaf Blade to the jaw, as well as a hard landing on the field's exact center.

    His lengthy tongue scarf had retracted after that hit as Gren was panting hard, and both Trainers knew the next collision would likely be the last. Alex had no doubt that Gren could have swept the rest of his team, but Gelauros had hit him hard enough for Arthur to finish things off. "Let me call my next move." The Gallade said to his Trainer, as the two Pokémon eyed each other. "I want to try a thing." Reading his intent, Alex smirked, and nodded. Arthur let the Plate armoring fade then, as speed was more important for what came next, and he projected his voice for all to hear as he raised and crossed his sword arms before him. "Shine! Excalibur!"

    The entire field became brighter, though it was not solely due to the Mega Gallade's blade arms shifting to an intense golden energy. The sun, previously hidden by Rain Dance, returned once more, and bore down on the field with the intensity of a Sunny Day.

    If Connor knew what the Gallade was up to, he didn't say so. His commands were simple, and swift. "Shadow Clones." Suddenly, his side of the field was inundated with ninja frogs. "Now, use Bounce!" As one, the cloned frogs leapt into the air, surrounding themselves with spheres of flying typed energy as they soared higher.

    While Excalibur continued to burn brighter with the usual golden hue, Alex called the move as the sun empowered his Gallade. "Wait for the descent...then Solar Blade!" The blinding gold turned green on the outer edges of the Gallade's burning arms, and Connor winced, as his guess that Alex's Gallade knew not one but two physical grass type moves was confirmed. It was too late to change now, though.

    As roughly twenty blue frog clones came hurtling towards him, Arthur crouched, as he gave the move even more build up. His sword arms moved in close to his slim form, and the energy they radiated was enough to make his 'cape' flap wildly behind him.

    As the flying typed spheres emanating around the blue ninja frogs began converging on Arthur, he moved, and to all present, their view of the collision of moves was obscured, as type advantage tried to overcome the sheer amount of power Arthur had poured into a move that usually took time to charge up.

    Suddenly, the dust was sliced in half by what Alex saw was Arthur's second arm. The first had cut through the clones, and weathered the Bounce, while the second had continued to charge, and then hit Arthur's target. When the dust settled and the light faded, Arthur was standing over Gren, his still smoldering right arm raised in victory. The crowd exploded with cheers, as for many it was more the intensity of the Battle between two obviously skilled Trainers that had drawn them, more than their respective reputations. Those who had come to Parfum Palace for a day out and then entertainment in the form of fireworks at night had gotten their money's worth. The crowd hushed though, once the floating form of AZ moved down to just above the battered field.

    "With that...the Kalos Champion is out of usable Pokémon...which makes our foreign visitor the victor!" More cheers came, but Alex and Connor both seemed to ignore them, as they tended to their Pokémon. Gren's attacks had managed to leave several marks even through the Plate armor, but the Gallade was far from being finished. Gren, for his part, rose slowly once he had his Max Revive, and then bowed towards Arthur. The Gallade let his Mega Form drop, and returned the bow, after which, Gren returned to his ball.

    To Alex's surprise, it was Connor who offered a hand to shake first. "To be honest, I was half expecting a loss. Most of your team has been training together longer than mine...and as usual, I relied too much on Gren being able to sweep you if things went poorly. I'll keep that in mind, for the World Tournament."

    Alex smirked, and took the hand, shifting his grip to the Norstad style of shaking, as Connor did. He gave his rival a nod. "I look forward to seeing how you improve...you have a good team, there. They'll defend Kalos well."

    Both Trainers looked up, as AZ floated over to and above them. Arms spread wide, he orated once again to the crowd. "With this victory, the Dragon Emperor has demonstrated to me, at least, that he has the power to keep our enemies from our fair Kalos! The right to rule our region is hereby granted to thee, Alexander Redwood."

    The cheers and murmurs died down, and AZ landed on the ground, giving Alex only a nod, and then a glance at the crowd gathered. The Stadium of Kings had reached capacity within the first few rounds of the epic bout, and now, those gathered watched what the victor, and apparently their newest monarch, would do.

    His aura shield manifested as Alex levitated his large frame into the air, smirk never leaving his face. "I give the people of Kalos my word...the Dragon Empire will keep the Imperium from overrunning you...and even if we cannot, we will stand with Kalos to the last all the same. Tao and I have a...plan...for how Kalos and our allies will be incorporated into the...way of things, but for now, be content in knowing that Kalos is not standing against these threats alone. Change will come, with time, but I intend to make it one for the better. Or die trying. Now, if you will all excuse me...I must return home."

    With a bow and a bamf, the newest leader of Kalos vanished, and the Champion followed suit soon after, atop his Garchomp. AZ simply walked away from the palace, only pausing to once more lower the stadium, once the guests had vacated the stands. He too seemed to vanish, and in the weeks to come, the people of Kalos found that the shift in leadership hadn't actually changed all that much. Figures in black and white robes, Scales of Balance, marked their mountainous borders with Germania, but otherwise, life continued to chug along as it had for centuries, without AZ to rule over the people.

    The Imperial Palace - Unova Region

    Alex manifested in his room within the raised palatial structure that was officially his dwelling. Though, as he looked around the chamber he'd decided to take and furnish, he sighed. It wasn't his room back home, far too spacious, open, and still underground, despite the rest of the structure having been raised. It appeared that the last King had built many such chambers, their purpose long forgotten or turned to dust, into his abode in the old days. After the war ended, it had become the unofficial home for the Scales of Balance, as it was the only structure in Unova save for the Dragonspiral that could accommodate them. Many Scales had begun taking positions of authority in Unova's military fort east of Humilau, and the other half of their ever-growing force was housed there, or returned to their homes to await orders, and enjoy their earned leave.

    The Dragonspiral Tower had, as in ages past, focused primarily on training new Scales, and according to Tao, the Foggy Swamp Sage had cut down on his own number of trainees, sending away those who would never learn, but finishing the education of those who strived to master what he Instructed them in.

    His favorite space in the ancient structure was the 'Battle Room' as the Scales had taken to calling it. Situated under the throne above, the space had been wide and empty, and in the long months of war, the Sages of the ancient structure had furnished it with everything a modern Trainer needed. Being no experts in such things, they had turned to the Gym Leaders for suggestions, and it was several such Gym Leaders Alex saw, speaking with the semicircle of multicolored Sages, as he entered the room.

    As one, they began to approach him, and he sighed again, though this time he kept it inward. He'd intended to give those on his team who hadn't battled a thorough workout, alongside himself, but judging by the look in Aristole's eye, that wasn't going to happen. The Sages bowed, as they arrayed themselves before him, and he noted a few were missing. Their more...eccentric members were nowhere to be seen, but those who represented the elements, and the Light, were present. As were Skyla, Cheren, and even Iris. They each gave him a nod, as the Professor spoke.

    "Young Redwood. I see you've returned from Kalos. What news from our fair allies' lands?"

    Alex paused to frame his words, as he often did with the Professor, before meeting his eye. "AZ ceded the throne to me...after making me battle their Champion. Kalos is now ours to defend."

    Aristole frowned. "And now we share yet another border with the Imperium."

    Alex shrugged. "Germania was once free. Maybe they can be again."

    At that, the Earth Sage chimed in. "Germania believes they've become more advanced versions of humanity, and with their science, technology, and seemingly limitless resources they essentially have. Not through any moral means...but they are strong, and they're loyal, despite being a relatively new acquisition. There is an entire Legion of Thunder Warriors based in that region. Many, used to be natives."

    A deep sigh escaped the black and white clad Trainer. "So that is what AZ was so worried about…" He trailed off, as he noticed that, around them, other black and white clad shapes had started creeping not so subtly closer. He smirked, and stared at them. "I need volunteers. Who wants to protect Kalos from a potential invasion?"

    A number of fists went into the air, and their leader's smirk widened. "That will be enough. I want you to establish an outpost there, offer the chance to instruct Kalos' native psychics in what the Dragon has taught us. If we can make them worthy candidates, we could do as the Imperium has." He saw several nodding heads, among the passive, but attentive expressions of his comrades. Several, already had their armor on. "We will be doing something similar all across this continent, as well. If humanity is on the precipice of a psychic awakening, we should offer those with control issues a chance to learn. I'm intending to send you to your home regions, although...that won't work for everyone, it's not a concern. Other such bases will always need extra minds."

    Alex watched their expressions shift to a myriad of emotions, as he sensed Tao mentally handing out assignments with the speed and efficiency of a mind that had quite literally saved the eastern forces from total collapse in the early stages of the Blitz. Seeing that was sorted, the Water Sage spoke up, and snared their leader's gaze. "The local government is asking us for funding. They want to turn Unova's center into a paradise for humans and Pokémon. They're planning on calling it Pokémon Hills."

    "Tell them they have my support. So long as the Pokémon aren't disturbed too much as they build." He paused then, as Tao gave his mind orders. "Apparently...we're also going to centralize the region's energy stations below the park, and open a connecting tunnel to the Chargestone Caves."

    The woman clad in gradients of blue bowed, and summoned one of her Pokémon, a Swanna, and whispered several words to her, before the stark white bird flew off. Once she returned, Alex spoke again. "If that is all, you're free to go about your business."

    The Sages nodded, and departed into the adjoining hallways that made the Battle Room the central hub of the underground complex. Almost alone once more, Alex found that the remaining Scales, Unova locals all of them, were waiting seemingly as a group, to speak with him. They had come to the Swamp long after he and Hilbert had, and as Trainers went, they had become good enough to challenge Champions, even if they didn't hold that title themselves.

    He spoke, as they approached. "Tommy. Gaven. Everyone. You have something for me?"

    "We've...sensed something, Dragonborn. Something in the Desert Resort. Since coming home, we've all been drawn there. I suppose you would have been too, if you'd been conscious, or on this continent."

    Alex eyed the woman who spoke, recalling her name as Cybil, and smirked. "I thought the Relic Castle was buried, by now. Nobody can get in. I understand many of you were...ruin enthusiasts back in the day, but there's not much we can do if there's nothing left to find."

    This time, Tommy spoke up, his tone full of snark. "I'm sorry, for some reason, I assumed a man who could breach not one, but two massive underground bunkers could handle a little sand."

    Alex sighed, then glanced at his belt, and namely, the link to his Box that was his cape, and who was currently attached to it, and therefore, on hand. "Sand, eh? And you're sure this...emanation...is coming from the ruins?"

    "It was strong before, until Champion Nate captured the Volcarona living there. We sensed other minds deep below, but even after collaborating, we couldn't find a way down to them. Now, a new mental presence is growing...and it is...powerful." Tommy gave Alex a look. "Nobody good hides under ruins and manifests powerful psychic entities. I figured this would be up your alley, Champion."

    Unable to find fault with his logic, Alex nodded, but before he could speak, a familiar bamfing sound filled the area. The sound drew the gazes of the psychics, as their minds reacted instinctively to the power of the one joining them so suddenly. Their second leader, who legally held every authority Alex did, if somewhat more subtly, appeared in a flash of energy that Alex noted as being far more red tinged than times past. The Scales didn't question her, for her own battling prowess had been noted, with a win streak a mile long, many wondered why she didn't challenge for the Champion title.

    To the man connected to her mind, he sensed it first. The change that had rocked their own connection unintentionally with its strength. He repaired his side of the mental bridge, once he realized the issue, and in the space of a moment, he saw what Jess had been doing for the past three days. Taming Ho-Oh hadn't been easy, but the ancient bird had managed to draw out a strength in Jess that had always existed. Her entire form seemed to sparkle now, and her hair, he could've sworn, had a rainbow sheen to it when it moved the right way.

    The local psychics had expressions of awe and even envy, as she joined them, for their eyes told them what Alex's told him about her potential, and her awakened fire typing. With their difference in height, she came up to about his shoulder, which is where she put her chin as she smirked at him. "Found another adventure, have we?" With the speed of thought, he caught her up on what he'd been told, and she paused, before turning and addressing the psychics. "This emanation...have any of you felt it before?"

    This time, another woman raised her hand, and Alex sighed inwardly once more. Of course she had sensed it's like. The woman known only as Future spoke then, "I was deployed to Japan along with Red...it feels a lot like a Mewtwo...but I could be wrong. You've sensed them yourself, right Alex? I think you're the only one here whose sensed one in battle besides me."

    Alex thought for a moment, then shrugged. "It was more of a sucker punch than a Battle...but that does not mean it wasn't earned...if someone is making another Mewtwo below the Resort Ruins, I intend to find them, and stop them."

    Jess spoke again then, and her words made the eyebrows of several of the psychics rise. "And if the Mewtwo is too far along to simply kill off?"

    Alex let the question hang in the air, and then shrugged. "That will depend greatly on the circumstance of my meeting it...and its opinion of humans. Ideally...I'll be the first it talks to. I'm reasonably sure I can keep it from going berserk."

    "I believe you." Jess said, returning to his shoulder as she stared him down in that manner he would never get used to, but so very much enjoyed. "We should get going, if that is the plan."

    Desert Resort - Unova Region

    The sandy dunes of Unova's desert, a burning reminder of their past failures, and the potency of Reshiram's flames, seemed to lack Trainers this day, as Alex and Jess flew over it. While most of Alex's team had rested and rapidly healed at a Pokémon Center, he still intended to call on those who hadn't been used to battle Connor. He had also traded out his unused tenth for his Flygon, who he'd caught as a Trapinch in this very desert, when the stubborn crab bug had refused to let him continue on his way.

    Being one of the Pokémon Alex had trained during the war, and whilst marching, Eremus had eventually become a Flygon, and was eager to become strong enough to be a regularly used battler on his team. Eremus flew alongside Folokraan, who was keeping the intense heat of the desert at bay with the natural cooling of her surroundings. Behind them, were the other psychics, each flying on their own partner. As they began descending, Alex brought Eremus down towards where they were headed.

    Alex gave his Flygon a nod, as he and the others disembarked. "Clear the area of locals...then return here." He looked at the psychics, then. "Start outlining where the ruins are buried, if you would...Eremus needs something to aim at." The group nodded, each raising a hand, as together they draw a deep circle in the sand that was rather large in diameter.

    Eremus returned shortly after, his vibrations having summoned, and then scared off the wild Pokémon once he told them what he was about to do to the sand covering the ruins. The largest stumbling block had been a Hippowdon, but she had moved to find deeper sand pits once she heard the Flygon, and correctly judged that a battle between them would only end one way. While initially reluctant to train, after the semi-callous manner he'd been caught with, Eremus had eventually realized that he wanted to be strong, and that he actually enjoyed battling. He wasn't the strongest residing on Alex's cape, but he had worked hard for his present form, and the power it gave.

    Once Alex heard the familiar hum of his wings above him once more, he pointed at the circle. "Eremus! Boomburst!" The gathered psychic humans levitated themselves away from the circle in the sand, and into the air, as the Flygon gathered the energy required for the move, and released it. His wings were an invisible blur, and Eremus traced the circle, before focusing on the center of it as well. When all was finished, the barest top layer of the ruins was visible, though the nearly perpetual sandstorm threatened to cover it again before long.

    Eremus gave Alex a look, and the floating Trainer nodded, fishing in his backpack as he sensed the Flygon's intent. Moments later, he had the Groundium crystal in hand, and he raised it towards his Flygon. "Mega Evolve!" The mind of the Pokémon met his human's, and together, they pushed him beyond this stage of evolution, to one that was on an entirely different level. Eremus shone bright white as his form grew, and shifted. Another pair of wings, set just under his original pair sprouted from his back. His claws grew longer, sharper, and his legs extended as well, looking not too dissimilar from Tao's back legs in shape. They too gained claws, but most interesting about this new form was his tail, which had filled out into a spiked circle of diamond shaped green and red scales.

    The Mega Flygon raised his tail to the sky as he adjusted his height over his now slightly more revealed target. The sandstorm paused, and the harsh sun shone down on the group once more. The coverings of his eyes had become fractaled, giving Eremus the unique vision only bug types could usually take advantage of. His horns had changed as well, shifting further apart, and sprouting two additional spikes near the tip on each horn. They quivered, as the Mega Flygon focused the power he'd need for the task at hand. The sunlight empowered the sand dragon, and when he was ready, another Boomburst slammed into the ground.

    Gouts of sand flew into the air, and the gathered psychics levitated further back, as in the space of a few moments, the Mega Flygon cleared the ruins of sandy buildup. He controlled the vibrations with masterful skill, sending them through the structure, and forcing sand to constantly shoot out of the entrance. A slight depression had been made in the desert, at the bottom of which resided the Resort Ruins, now once more as clear as they had been in Hilda and Hilbert's time as teenaged Trainers.

    Eremus fired several more Boombursts, and soon, the entire outer structure of the ancient kingly abode was revealed, at the depths of what was now a crater of sand and dirt. As Eremus continued to shore up the sides, so that sand and gravity did not undo his work, Alex summoned another Pokémon, as did Jess, for the two were rarely called upon by themselves. They worked best as a team, after all.

    A Nidoking and Nidoqueen respectively appeared on the sand, and Tony's eyes were only for his mate, though they did eventually move to his Trainer. Though not afflicted with the burning desire to battle, Tony had become rather strong since his capture, as he'd trained alongside Jess and Maria. Alex had then offered him as a sparring partner to his newly captured Pokémon, and the Nidoking, while imposing, had been a good teacher, and had pushed many of their Trainer's newer catches beyond their limits. Alex typically didn't call on him for battle, though there had been several moments in the war where his heavy defense and powerful ground typed moves had saved quite a number of eastern lives.

    "Tony, work with Maria on this. I want you to raise that structure, and whatever is under it, to the level the rest of the desert is currently at. Do you think you can handle that?" The Nidoking looked at Maria, who roared, and flexed, and he turned back to his Trainer, slamming his hands together as he spoke his name, but to Alex's ears, the sounds were translated. "Aye...with her, I can."

    Alex smirked, and gestured at the ruins, and the Nido pair lumbered towards them. Eremus watched them from above, fully intending to aid the pair, if raising the ancient structure proved to be too much. As Tony and Maria summoned the power of the earth, it began to shake, for this far below the desert was primarily rock and stone and dirt. Ideal for ground types. The few burrowing Pokémon Eremus had missed quickly vacated the area as it began to rumble, and slowly, the Nido pair raised their arms, encased in ground typed energy.

    With their arms, the ruins rose as well, higher and higher until the structure finally sat several feet above the surrounding desert. Eremus cleared away yet more sand, and once the structure was high enough, flew inside of it. Blasts of sand shot out from the entrance again as the Mega Flygon began excavating. Bits of pottery came out as well, and while the loss of archaeological pottery was sad, the chance to delve into the ancient home of Unova's truth seeking Hero-King was far more important to the historical record than any ancient vase.

    Once Eremus came back, and explained that, eventually, there had been no more sand to clear, Alex nodded to the others. The once hidden sub-layers of the ancient castle, not at all unlike those of the palace he currently resided in, had been free of sand, and were now once more open to exploration. Whatever tunnel had been used to access the lower levels by whoever was down there had undoubtedly already been broken, in the act of raising the structure back to the surface of the desert.

    "Whoever is down there will be disorientated, and cut off from reinforcement. Armor on, and watch your backs. It could be Arcean remnants, it could be a vestige of Team Plasma. We're going in somewhat blind, so be prepared for an ambush. If they have reinforcements, they'll be making their way here soon. I want two of you hidden by the entrance, while a third goes to get our own reinforcement. I know several Rangers like to hang around here. Call on them. The rest of you will be joining Jess and I in the ruins, and will map diverging tunnels as we go. Let's move."

    The other Scales snapped to carry out their General's orders, and while all of the psychics were eager to delve into the ruins, two were eventually made to wait and conceal themselves, while another went to find the local rangers. That left a pair of psychics, the strongest of their little group, to join the Dragon Emperor as he strode into the ancient home of the Hero King of Truth. They guided him as deep as they had ever been, after he recalled his Pokémon, and gave them an earned rest. The four humans kept quiet, suppressing their own psychic presence as they delved deeper into unused tunnels.

    Eventually, it was Jess who spotted footprints that led to a diverging corridor. Both paths seemed to be used somewhat regularly, so the group split into pairs, Alex with Jess, and the psychics on their own. They shared a silent nod, and then proceeded deeper into the subterranean structure that was both similar and yet so very different to the Imperial Palace.

    Alex and Jess soon found that the inhabitants of these hidden rooms were indeed a vestige of a criminal gang, though not the one they expected. Years ago, after being soundly defeated by multiple ten year olds, the gangs of Japan had banded together, and come to Unova, presumably at the behest of Ghetsis' remaining Sages. The banners they found on the ancient walls sported Team Plasma's shield, but emblazoned upon it was not a P, but a rainbow colored pair of Rs.

    The first room they stumbled into seemed to be some kind of lab, though what was being studied was not immediately clear. The room had two adjoining hallways, and Alex went down one, while Jess took the other. Arthur and Delphi joined them, as they split, and it was his Gallade who sensed it first. Without a word, Arthur inexplicably dashed down the hallway, past several closed doors, to a room at the end. With one focused smashing punch, the reinforced stone door toppled, and the Gallade leapt into the room, only to find it empty of enemies.

    It was not entirely empty however, for the only thing of note within the otherwise barren stone chamber was a table of sorts, covered by a simple cloth, and a pedestal supporting and incubating what Alex soon realized was a Pokémon egg. As he approached it, it visibly twitched. Alex and Arthur shared a look, and then the human lifted the case keeping the egg at the ideal temperature. With a hiss, air that smelled very stale wafted free into the room, and the egg shook harder, more insistently.

    Arthur was smiling, as he sensed what was about to happen, and Alex poked Jess mentally, though she seemed distracted by whatever her own search had yielded. She would live to regret not dashing to see this hatching, but for Arthur and Alex, it was a sight. The egg flashed bright white, before popping open with surprising force. Slowly, the occupant rose on unsteady paws, covered in egg goo, as its intense eyes locked with Alex's first.

    For his part, Alex recognized immediately that this was a Riolu, a male, and judging by the mind he sensed probing his own, he had been inside of his egg for a very long time, suspended in time and development when it came to his body, but not his mind. "Finally…" He said, projecting his mental voice. "I have waited a lifetime for a worthy human…" The eyes looked between the pair of human and Gallade, and the little Riolu smirked. "Your auras are...potent." The focus shifted back to Alex, then. "You. You will train me, yes? Humans still Battle, I hope?"

    Alex nodded, and fished out an as yet uncustomized Luxury Ball. "If you wish to become a top rate battler, you would be hard pressed to find a stronger team to be on." He held the ball forward. "If that is what you desire, I will make you as strong as possible." The Riolu looked between them again, and then booped the ball's button.

    He entered with a flash of light, and the ball dinged almost immediately. Having never visited Floccesy Ranch, Alex had never had the chance to find and catch a Riolu, and Arthur had eventually said that, if he ever did find one, it would have to be from somewhere else. For whatever reason, he viewed the packs around the ranch as too wild to ever be properly trained. Such reservations were gone for this Riolu, though. As Alex brought him into their mental web, he could sense the tiny Pokémon's satisfaction. "You did not lie...your partners are strong...loved...and friendly. I think...I will like this team."

    The voice drifted off, and Alex pocketed the ball in his bag, letting the little Pokémon sleep. Hatching after what seemed like years, if not centuries, of waiting took a lot of energy, but he expected the eager fighting puppy would be up before too long. Arthur seemed eager to train him, and it was as he and his Gallade were concocting a training regimen for their newest ally, that Jess found them.

    She looked at the egg remnants, and raised a red eyebrow. "Something hatched for you?"

    Alex nodded. "A Riolu...he's been in his egg for a while...but he'll be strong. I can tell."

    Jess smirked. "Of course he will. I guess that means the Mewtwo is mine." With that, she left just as suddenly as she appeared, though Alex was right behind her. Before he could so much as question her, she was dashing down his corridor, and making the turn into her own. He followed, as did Arthur, and it wasn't long before the boys found what she had discovered on her own. Where their hallway had been more storage related, this one had contained equipment in several rooms, notes on genetic experiments, and once Jess had found the room containing the suspended, still forming Mewtwo, she realized it was the source of the psychic emanation they had sensed up above.

    Delphi was in the process of keeping a pair of scientists, each sporting a Rainbow Rocket badge on their lab coats, subdued. As they saw Alex enter alongside his Gallade though, they struggled harder against her psychic hold, to no avail. Arthur went over to help the psychic fire fox keep them from pressing any 'emergency terminate' buttons, while the humans eyed the tank holding the suspended Genetic Pokémon.

    Alex spoke first. "This one seems...different...to the pair Red has with him. Physically, I mean. The face is rounder...not as narrow and intense…"

    Jess nodded. "The notes called it the XX strand of the Genetic Pokémon. Apparently, it's capable of Mega Evolving by itself, and doesn't need a Trainer like the other two."

    Alex smirked. "Those two barely needed their Trainer for that in the first place...but you're right, this one is quite strong." He placed a hand on the glass, and the occupant twitched. He gave it a gentle mental prod, and as one eye opened, he smiled. "Hello there."

    An intensely bright blue aura surrounded the floating Mewtwo, and the glass container began to crack. Alex and Jess backed up, and with a combined burst from them, they helped the Mewtwo break its container. Glass and goo covered the dusty floor, and the Mewtwo stared at the pair of humans, tail waving slightly behind it as it sat quietly, and looked between the pair.

    Then, a feminine voice filled their minds. "Where...am I...this...this is not…"

    Alex spoke first. "Easy there...I expect you're disorientated. Welcome to Unova." He offered the Mewtwo a genuine smile, and she seemed to lose some of the stiffness in her spine.

    "Unova...I don't...know…" The Mewtwo winced as she saw her hands, and then her humanoid shaped body, closed her eyes, and breathed several times, before opening them again. She briefly eyed Jess, but then the intelligent eyes moved back to Alex. "Who...what...am I?"

    The smile faded slightly, as Alex answered. "You are what we humans call a Pokémon. One of many unique and powerful creatures that inhabit this world." He gestured to Arthur and Delphi who, like their charges, were watching the scene with awe. The Pokémon felt the Mewtwo's psychic power much clearer now, for after being freed, it had only grown in intensity. "They are also Pokémon...and like you, and your predecessor, they are psychic types."

    "Psychic...types?" The Mewtwo asked, tail still waving in a calm, but rhythmic pattern.

    Alex nodded. "There are many types of Pokémon...psychic types are among the strongest...you are what we humans call...Mewtwo."

    "Mew...two?" The psychic cat-like entity tilted her head.

    "Mm. There are only two others like you, that I know of. You were...created by us, by humans, as a clone of one of the most rare and powerful psychic types humanity knows about. The Pokémon we call Mew. Through human science and bio-engineering, you have been revived from a fossil of a Mew, and made into a stronger version of it. Mew two." Alex kept his tone even, and calm as he spoke, watching the psychic type for adverse reactions. He didn't sense the hostility Red's had possessed however. This one simply seemed curious, disorientated, but more and more confident, as she learned more about who and what she was.

    It was then, that one of the scientists spoke up. "You are the most powerful Mewtwo we have ever created! You will serve Rainbow Rocket well!"

    Arthur backhanded the scientist as he spoke, but he had already finished his statement before the sword-arm smacked him. Mewtwo spoke again, her tone gaining an edge. "So...I was created...brought back...to serve another?" The intense blue aura shield returned. It was wavy, unrefined, but immensely powerful. "To serve...humans?"

    Alex held up a hand, and stood in the gaze of the Mewtwo, who had shifted her eyes to the scientist. "You will find, as you live in this world, that there are many kinds of humans. Just as there are many kinds of Pokémon. Some...will be kinder than others. These scientists are criminals, to the rest of human society. Left to their own devices...you likely would have been made into a weapon. They've tried this before, with your fellow Mewtwo...and they failed, both times. Their power was too much to tame, their rage nearly ended the world. But you, Mewtwo, do not have to be their slave."

    The intensity of the aura seemed to lessen, and Alex continued to speak in that same calming tone. "You are alive. The circumstance of your rebirth does not make you lesser. Your path is your own to choose, and if you do wish to partner with a human, who you decide to join in Battle is entirely up to you. You have the intelligence of a human, at least, and by our laws, that means you are worthy of the freedom to make your own choices."

    The tail paused in swaying, and the Mewtwo narrowed her eyes at Alex. "You...do not intend to weaponize me? Is...is that not my purpose? What am I to do, then?"

    "Whatever you wish to do, Mewtwo. For right now...I think you should come with us…" He gestured to Jess, and their psychic types. "There is much about this world that has changed from what you likely remember. In time, you will be free to wander wherever you desire, but I would have you learn, first. How to control your awesome power, and of how this world has changed since the last time you inhabited it. Do you find this agreeable?"

    The Mewtwo pondered for a long moment, examining her three-fingered hand, opening and closing it as she eyed the rest of her new body as well. "Your words...are filled with sense. I will accompany you...for now. But I will not bind myself to something as weak as a human."

    At that, Jess chuckled, which drew the Mewtwo's intense gaze. "Humans are many things...but we are not weak. Do not underestimate us because we lack your power. The humans in the corner lack power, and they made you. Things can often be more powerful than they first appear to be. Blind assumptions will get you hurt...or worse, captured. The world is filled with Pokémon Trainers, and you will be hard pressed to find one who hasn't heard of, or desired their own, Mewtwo. Deflecting their Pokéballs will be easy for you, but if you underestimate their strength or cleverness, you may end up being captured by someone you did not choose. That's not necessarily a bad thing...but...power, and the pursuit of it, can do strange things to otherwise decent humans."

    The psychic type had semi-tuned out the flame haired woman mid speech, as she focused on levitating herself to her feet with her power, since her body still felt weak. "I have sensed the thoughts of three of your cities while I slept. I am not concerned that any of those...dreamers...could genuinely bind me. You two are an exception I was only vaguely aware of. But most humans are not like you."

    "You underestimate them at your peril. But that's enough talking for now...we need to find the others in our group." The Mewtwo's eyes narrowed, and he elaborated. "Trainers, like us. In our society, we're the humans who have the closest bonds with Pokémon. Naturally, this makes us rather good at battling."

    The Mewtwo levitated herself then, as she got a feel for floating. "Battling?"

    Alex nodded, as they began to move, slowly at first, but increasingly faster, as the Mewtwo got a handle on her power, and how much was needed to move at an appropriate pace. "Humans have a tendency to weaponize whatever we can. Naturally, when we discovered Pokémon, we did as we always had, and exerted control against their will, but even in those early days, there were a few who followed a code, were friends with their chosen partners, and found enlightenment in testing themselves against others like them. Some things and stuff happened over a long period of time, and today, it's the philosophy of those Trainers that survived to the present, and is essentially the underlying foundation of everything the Pokémon League is. Not all of us adhere to those philosophies...but the strong Trainers usually reach the level of understanding required to be genuinely powerful, as a team."

    The Mewtwo smirked at his hand waving explanation saying, "You will have to show me, in time." She soon understood the need for the shortened explanation, as they rounded the corner and turned onto the left forking passage, and sensed minds ahead that were not friendly. Delphi levitated their prisoners, and Arthur watched their back, as Alex and Jess doubled back to the path they hadn't taken. It was good that they did, for they arrived at a strange scene just in time to see the other two psychics, Perry and Dua, and the two they'd left guarding up above, captured, and on some sort of simple stage. A man with a dark goatee and a Rainbow Rocket uniform was orating to a crowd of grunts, who after a careful glance, they determined were from gangs all over the world, and Japan. Many had kept their old group's aesthetic in their uniform, but their colors of mainly black and red all matched, and all bore the symbol of Giovanni's last vestige.

    Behind the stage, looming over all of the humans below it, was a sleeping Pokémon. Rather large for a Volcarona, by Pokédex measurements logged likely from Nate's own device, the massive fire bug's body rose and lowered slowly, and somewhat ominously. The Mewtwo with them shrank back, as they did, mistaking stealth for shared fear, in that moment. The creature's mind was anathema to Mewtwo's senses, and only in time would she understand that what she sensed was simply the structure most bug typed minds possessed.

    "These dogs of the Dragon Emperor will be the first to fall to Volcarona's fiery judgement! Their mere presence here proves that the Dragon fears what we have created! It will not take them long to realize they are missing. The time is nigh, my brothers and sisters in crime. Soon, Unova, and this entire 'Empire' will know who we are!"

    The dark haired man was orating, and the crowd was eating it up. He was flanked by two people who had also kept their old gang's aesthetic, that of the Arcean Church, and their Crusaders. These uniforms also shared the black and red base aesthetic with the Rainbow Rocket badge placed in the center of their breastplate, next to Arceus' symbol.

    Jess glanced at Alex, but he shook his head, now helmeted once more, as he donned it and completed the full protection it offered. "We need to wait as long as possible...show her how to hide her presence. If she gets excited, she could wake the Volcarona up…"

    Jess nodded at his mental message, and then linked minds with the Mewtwo, who watched her with wide, intelligent eyes, nodding, to their silent conversation. Soon after, her presence had seemingly vanished, and when Alex glanced over, noticing the sudden lack of presence, he found himself meeting the Mewtwo's gaze with a nod of approval, that made the psychic cat entity smile. He returned to scanning the upper levels as subtly as he could, for he too could awaken the fiery bug, and it was in their best interest to keep it asleep for as long as possible.

    Once he sensed their final psychic return with reinforcement, he contacted the man, whose name was Low, and gave the order to summon all available Scales. Suddenly, up above, there were a lot more minds, who quickly doused their mental presence, as they sensed their Generals had. Alex gave Low a brief overview of things below, and once that was finished, he nodded to Arthur. The others were on their way down, but judging by the speech, things were about to kick off.

    "Let these four be the first of many to fall!" The orating man had summoned a Pokémon to the stage, a Houndoom, who had mega evolved, and began bearing down on the bound Scales. As the man snapped his fingers, giving the salivating dark type the go ahead, a crescent of fighting typed energy surged above the crowd, and smashed into the Mega Houndoom with the force of type advantage, and a significant difference in level. Arthur was on the Crusaders in an instant, and as the Gallade smashed, bamfed, and smashed again, those in the crowd moved to aid their leader.

    Though, instead of Pokéballs, all they found was air. Their belts and ball holders had been uniformly sliced by Delphi, and her subtle and dangerously precise Psychic attack that spread unnoticed through the crowd as the Gallade did his thing. There was a roar at the back of the room, and the Pokéballs on the ground fizzed out, as they sent their occupants back to their Trainer's box, and became temporarily inoperable.

    The electrified terrain only served to empower the Luxray prowling upon it, moving towards the crowd of unarmed Trainers, snarling louder with each step. His stride was purposefully slow, though. Some Pokémon who had been out, mostly Swoobat, charged the golden lion, only to find themselves thoroughly zapped whenever they came within a certain range of him. Leo had combined his superior sight with his precise Thunderbolts, and rarely missed. The grunts of the remnant teams soon found themselves recalling situations where they had received a similarly one-sided thrashing.

    Alex winced, as the hell hound hit the sleeping Volcarona, but the massive Pokémon seemed undisturbed by it. Fainted as it was, it wouldn't be using any flames to wake the massive bug, now. Then, it was Alex's turn to bamf. In the space of a few seconds, he freed his people, and as the orator drew another Pokéball, he found himself face to face with a figure whose armor and plasma sword had all but become a cultural icon after victory had been achieved for the east. His face fell, as he realized what the Dragon Emperor's presence meant. The ball in his hand was wrenched free of his grasp by a foreign mind, and held closed, as the occupant within, who definitely was infused with Shadow, struggled to break free, and rampage.

    The other balls he had on him were similarly taken, and the man raised his hands, once that happened, knowing when he was beaten. Seeing their leader surrender, the two Arceans did the same, and dropped their staves before the Gallade had a chance to disable them. Slowly, hands went up in the crowd, thanks in no small part to the snarling Luxray, and his approach. Some had tried to run, only to find themselves in the tight embrace of Serpi's vines, before they were unceremoniously tossed back into their fellows. She slithered out of one of the adjoining tunnels in the underground room, and in a matter of minutes, the hidden rebellion of the last vestiges of Giovanni's dream were rounded up like Tauros, and driven to the surface by twenty freshly arrived Scales.

    Once the gang members were on their way to be processed by his empire, which was rapidly becoming accustomed to handling large groups of potentially hostile humans and their partners, Alex turned to the Volcarona. He nodded at the Mewtwo, then. "You can poke it now, if you like. Let us see if we can't reason with it, convince it to find a new home."

    Jess arched a crimson brow at him. "You're going to try negotiating with a bug type?"

    Alex shrugged. "You know I prefer it to just shoving them into balls."

    As he finished speaking, the massive mind stirred, at the Mewtwo's gentle touch, and slowly, the gargantuan wingspan of the fiery bug filled the chamber. Alex eyed it carefully, but neither he nor the gathered psychics saw traces of Shadow Infusion. Since Fornia was crushed, they were becoming much harder to infuse for the criminal elements left over in the wake of a war as large as theirs had been.

    "Hello there." Alex started, and he sensed the female bug's eyes shift to him. He didn't detect hostility, but he knew that a misstep could lead to an unpleasant formula, in which he'd have to deal with burns for a few weeks most likely. Endeavoring to avoid that, he began speaking, layering his words with the power Rayquaza had shown him how to harness. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you, but as you can see, the humans who were previously worshiping you have been...removed. They won't be coming back, and seeing as how this building is now once more upon the surface, I would offer you a choice."

    The massive fire moth settled on the stage, felt it rapidly breaking, and decided upon only two legs. Even then, it sagged under her girth. Her mental tone was surprisingly coherent, and calm, with only a hint of irritation that had a healthy mix of curiosity, especially at his mention of the surface. "I see. I liked those humans...they fed me well. But if you have returned the chance to fly the sky to me, I am in your debt, humans."

    A few of the Scales behind Alex murmured as she spoke, but he answered her with the same level of calmness and respect. "I was planning to let you fly away, provided you don't burn everything around you...you see, I lead the humans of this region, and I am responsible for safeguarding no small number of the Pokémon as well. You are welcome to reside here with us, in the harmony we have achieved in this era. Provided you don't burn away our forests or our residents."

    The fire moth seemed to hum, and she did so for a rather tense minute, before she responded. "I find these terms...agreeable. I will take your offer of peace...but warn your people not to intrude upon me. I will not suffer them to live."

    That, caused several Scales to blink, and shift into a more ready stance, but Alex made a low, sweeping, open handed gesture, and they visibly relaxed. "I will warn them...but I am afraid humans, especially Trainers, are very curious...and they're also rather bad at listening. I would ask that you judge the humans who come upon you, rather than just burning them all. And to those you find worth acknowledging, I would ask you to entrust them with one of your eggs."

    The bright, sun colored wings rose high into the chamber, and sparkled ominously. "You would have me give up my own blood...to humans?"

    Alex visibly pondered, and then shrugged. "Kind of. I leave the decision to you, of course, but I would rather have more Larvesta inhabiting our land than we currently do. Giving a few to worthy humans that find you could go a long way towards repopulating your kind, in our region."

    Another hum filled the air, for more than a minute this time, but Alex waited, unfazed, and patient. Finally, she spoke again. "I see the sense in your words, human leader...and I accept."

    At that, Alex smiled, and bowed low. "Your calm and rational demeanor is a...pleasant change of pace. With your permission, I'll move you and yours to the surface with a Teleport. From there, you may nest wherever you prefer. Ideally...far from people. I would also suggest somewhere to the north, for there are many mountains and forests up that way."

    "You may use your Teleport upon us...and I think...yes. The cycle of rebirth shall start here. You are a...Trainer? There is one among my brood I think will pair well with you. He is yours to raise and protect." The massive Volcarona's leg shifted, and from below her, came a tiny, crawling, fuzzy Larvesta. It chirped at him happily, and he offered a Luxury Ball to the relatively young Pokémon, who entered willingly. The Volcarona spoke again, once that occurred. "It is done...take me to the sky."

    Alex gave the Scales leave to return to the surface as well to help with the prisoners, before he, Jess, and their gathered psychic types, Mewtwo included, formed a circle around the massive fire bug. In the space of an instant, they changed locations, from far below, to high up above the raised Relic Castle. Each of them hovered back slightly, levitating themselves as the Volcarona's wings flapped, and filled the air with cinders. She gave a cry that could only be described as half terrifying, half joyous, and then ascended higher into the air. From below, the group spied other huddled fuzzy white forms upon her back.

    Before they descended, another mental presence joined them, and the sensation of such obvious power manifesting beside them so rapidly spooked the young Mewtwo, sending her 'leaping' several feet above them as Tao reached out to them. "There is news. Come. Bring the Mewtwo."

    Just as quickly as he came, he left, and below, Alex spied his Lieutenant giving him a salute, a moment later. The others had their orders, and he had his. He glanced at the Mewtwo, chuckled, and then beckoned her to their level. "That, was Tao. The Original Dragon Pokémon, and the Legendary Guardian of this entire continent. We should go speak with him."

    The Mewtwo seemed to think for a moment, before she nodded. "I would be interested in meeting the body that houses such a strong mind. Lead on."

    Alex nodded, and with another bamf, they were gone from the Desert Resort.

    The Dragonspiral Tower - Unova Region

    Tao intercepted their Teleport, and diverted them to his chamber, at the top of the tower, a place Alex hadn't seen for several months now. Merlin was with him, levitating a stormy gray glass bong between the two. Tao had altered his size to fit better in the chamber, and he confirmed his curious pupil's guess as to whether Legendary Pokémon could shift their size. Evidently, it was easier for the older Guardians, and few others had learned how to safely replicate the process those like Tao used to achieve their shift in size. He was still rather large at twenty five feet, lying in a coil as he was, as he, Merlin, and Laurea passed the instrument around.

    Tao's head rose as Alex, Jess, and their newest Pokémon ally in the form of a Mewtwo approached the three powerful psychics. Each set of ancient eyes were focused on the Mewtwo, and as the humans bowed, she paused for a moment, and then gave the three figures a general nod of respect. As far as she could sense, she was on their level, or near it. The human had implied he knew how to make her even stronger, and in that moment of meeting, she decided she wanted to test herself against each of the three before her.

    Merlin spoke first. "So. This is what...erm, who was giving off the intense psychic emanations beneath the sands." He glanced up at Tao then, the dragon's almost reptilian features as unreadable as ever.

    He was perhaps the most interested in what his students had brought back. A Mewtwo spared a violent birth and a hatred of humans, one without hate in its heart from the beginning. Tao spoke, as Merlin finished. "Once more, your mastery of the Voice and quick thinking have worked in tandem to bring us one who, perhaps, will become a powerful ally...I welcome you, Mewtwo, to Unova, and the world. I know of the agreement you reached with my students. I shall be the one to instruct you, but all present will teach you, eventually." The pupiless golden eyes flared, eyeing her up and down. "Alex. Run her through the first stances...and then return when that is done."

    As he left to do just that, he sensed Tao was about to have a talk with his better half, and the dragon's shielding of their words, and Jess' only confirmed that. He sighed, heavily, and found the training floor just above Tao's preferred meeting chamber. He called out his Riolu as well, who had taken the name Canis, and the punchy puppy yawned, stretched, and looked around with a mild expression, before his eyes settled on the Mewtwo, who narrowed her eyes, and smirked at him.

    The two stared for a long series of moments before Alex finally coughed, and gained their attention. "The key to these stances is controlling when you breathe, and using your body's balance to inflict the most damage on an opponent. Copy me."

    The pair learned quickly, as Alex showed them with the efficiency born of a lot of repetition, how to move through the attacks and poses associated with the Dragon's style of martial arts. Roughly thirty minutes later, Jess joined them as well. Evidently, she'd been given a mission of her own, in Fornia, now that she too had become a Tamer. Once they finished educating the newbies on the first series of movements and punches, Jess took over, and sent Alex up to the waiting psychics.

    They were still in the midst of toking on the bong, and Alex joined their circle, floating into the air on crossed legs as he did. He noticed that Aristole had also joined them at some point, and his lighter gold aura kept him levitating beside the others, though he abstained from partaking of the Leaf. Tao was the first to speak. "Merlin, Laurea, and I have sensed a disturbance...emanating from Koria. Long ago, their Guardian fused with a human, and ever since, that human, and all their reincarnations, have defended the region. Unfortunately, since the Imperium of Man gained a foothold, the region has fallen out of balance, and their Guardian is missing...or rather, they were. This emanation of power is one we recognize...but there is one championing the Shadow rising beside it. Go to Koria. Find the Guardian's Avatar, and help them throw off the yoke of the Imperium."

    Alex slid his eyes towards Aristole. "They're not going to like me getting involved...and I don't think a disguise will be enough to fool them. You said they have psychics of their own. They'll sense me, eventually."

    The Sage of Light nodded. "They will. Unfortunately, conflict is inevitable...we would have you turn it in the Light's favor. Their Guardian is sorely missed." Merlin and Tao both nodded at the Professor's words.

    "Conflict with the Imperium is an inevitability, at this point. Despite that, you should still endeavor to not be too noticeable. A simple Trainer from Unova won't raise too many eyebrows, if you stick to the Earth Nation." Aristole said, as his arms, folded in his robe's sleeves, shifted. He brought forth a map then, and a Pokédrive chip with a slot for a Pokédex.

    Alex fished out his own, and then winced, at all the scratches, scuffing, and use the mahogany casing had taken. Lux poked his mind. "I could hop in that, if you'd like."

    Alex smirked, and responded in kind, mentally. "No, I'm fine...I have a Porygon for that, and I need to finish piecing it together. I haven't really had time." He looked up at Tao then. "Is this urgent? Or can I get a few days?"

    "The longer you take, the harder the Guardian will be to find. You should leave now, if you wish to arrive in time. You will have plenty of hours on the ride to Koria. Even from Mewsia, it is a long trip." Alex sighed, as he knew the trip wasn't that long, and piecing together a Pokédex on the waves seemed like asking for frustration to set in. Tao spoke again, eyes locked on his pupil's. "While you are in Koria...embrace the custom, as well as you are able. Strengthen other Pokémon, ones you haven't used on camera if possible, and learn all that Koria has to teach, before you return."

    Alex bowed, fist to open palm. "Yes, Master. Will the Guardian be returning with me?"

    This time, Laurea spoke. "It is better if they remain, to harry the Imperium from as many sides as possible. Koria must expel the Imperium before that can happen, and you will be of great aid in that struggle. Do as you have done so far, in your foreign adventures, and you will be fine."

    Alex internalized his growing bad mood, as not only did he now have even more work, it was work that would take him across the planet, and for the first time in years, without Jess beside him. They both agreed they'd been due for diverging missions, but that didn't make taking them on any easier. He intended to speed his along, and if there was a war brewing, he would see it end swiftly. "I guess I'm off, then."

    The psychically inclined Legendary Pokémon watched him leave, and while he was slightly annoyed, the chance to journey incognito once more did hold some appeal. As he mentally selected who he would use, he put his main ten on his cape, and therefor connected to his box back home. According to Eric, he ran the Pokémon regularly, letting them roam as they pleased on the ranch land.

    They at least, deserved a chance to lounge around and rest, as Shruikan had been. Arthur and Terra were the most reluctant to leave his belt, but they saw the sense in it. Despite Tao's words, Alex still planned to take a day to train up his chosen party to a respectable level, before setting out. Canis had volunteered himself to lead this new party of ten, and from there, had mentally helped Alex select their nine companions. While he could switch them out, it would require being somewhat out of sight to activate his belt, and in the Imperium, people caught skulking about in shadows were usually arrested first and questioned later, if ever. He was also aware that logging on to his Box from Imperium networks was a bad idea, as more than once the empire's tech specialists had managed to steal the contents of such boxes from top Trainers, or so the rumors went.

    With nine other mighty Pokémon chosen, all still a bit green, but eager to be first in the line-up for the first time, Alex began preparing for what was required for travel in a foreign land occupied by hostile forces.
  4. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 37: The Southern Water Tribe

    Battle Room - Imperial Palace, Unova

    As the newest Professor Redwood descended into the depths of his brother's pyramidal palace alongside one of Unova's own Champions, and now a war hero as well, the sound of the theme track played during Galarian Gym Leader matches boomed through the Battle Room, as the intensity of the more-anime-than-game inspired bop refused to be contained by the ancient stones set by the Hero of Ideals.

    It seemed Blaze was acting as the training partner this time, and the ferocious fire lizard let out a roar, as he beat his wings, and pushed back the Grovyle and Riolu he was facing alone, while their Trainer stood between them, silently giving commands to both sides, as he essentially battled himself. Those they had chosen to join their 'B Team' had initially refused, all save for his Grovyle, who was more than eager to battle. Canis, his Riolu, had opted for minimal supervision, and his Grovyle had claimed he wanted to try battling alongside the newest member of their ever growing family as a team with limited guidance from him, save for move suggestions that were easily ignored, if they felt they wanted to use something else.

    Canis attacked with Vacuum Wave barrage. After a PP Max, Canis could launch seemingly endless flurries of such attacks before he tired out. His Grovyle had a comparatively limited amount of Energy Balls, but over the past half day of training, he'd started to grasp how to condense them, and being a fire type on an entirely different level than the newbies, Blaze could take whatever they dished out. Dodging what he gave back in return was also part of the training.

    The Charizard unleashed a Flamethrower, dragging his head side to side as he aimed it at both of them, though it weakened the move's power. Canis dodged in front of the Grovyle, and punched through the flames after focusing his aura into a Vacuum Wave that Alex knew was coming closer and closer to being what his species line was known for. As the flames parted in the manifested vacuum, Arbor, his Grovyle, fired an Energy Ball from behind the Riolu straight at Blaze, who this time instead of tanking the hit on his stomach, blocked it with a wing, as he noticed the newcomers, and Alex mentally slowed the battle to a standstill.

    He snapped his fingers, and the epic beats ceased. The hat turned back around, as the Dragon Emperor of Unova turned to meet his contemporaries. Beside his brother was Hilda, and behind them, were a pair of women he did not recognize, though one did not have to be psychic to sense their devotion to N. Their bracelets matched his, though it seemed N had taken one from each woman for his own wrists. More than that, their minds were radiating both a similar sense of calm, and constant surface thoughts about the man, and his well being.

    The one with the long pink hair spoke first, with a deep bow. "It is an honor to be in your presence, Dragon Emperor. I am Anthea, and this is Concordia. We are the Goddesses of Love and Peace, chosen by the Seven Sages of Team Plasma to raise N as King." She said, as she gestured to her similarly calm companion. "We cannot sense our Lord N, for though you ultimately won the mantle of Tamer and King, he will always be our leader. Hilda said you may know something about his sudden vanishing."

    Alex nodded, as he kept his face passive, and debriefed them on the events directly following his beheading of the Shadow's latest champion. By the end, their faces had gone through admiration, shock, the verge of tears, and then a bleary eyed determination that he had to admire, even though neither woman seemed to possess a Pokéball.

    Hilda had a reaction that while similar, burned hot enough for Alex to realize there had indeed been some truth to the rumors surrounding her and Unova's strongest Champion. Her eyes were on fire, and he had a feeling that, if for some reason he denied telling her how to reach N, she would battle him right there for the information, and that matchup was one he knew he'd lose at the moment. Most of his team was off enjoying their well earned break, and his team for Koria was still coming together.

    "If you want to reach the dimension he entered, you would have to speak with the Aether Foundation." Alex grumbled. "They control everything related to Ultra Space, and travel through it, for the Empire. Apparently."

    Hilda shared a look with the other two women, before they all nodded, in unison. She met Alex's eyes evenly as she spoke. "We're going in after him...possibly forever. I'm going to take the contents of my boxes with me, on my cloak...I don't expect to come back. Hilbert has already gone off to train, and I don't have time to find him. I don't want to leave N alone any longer than he's been already. Good luck, Dragon Emperor, and give this to my brother when you next see him." She passed him a Pokémail, and he pocketed it for later.

    Alex nodded then, though his eyes narrowed slightly. "Champion Hilda, you are stripped of the rank of General, and are free to pursue whatever mission you choose worth your time. If you ever make it back, Tao and I will gladly welcome you, and N, home."

    The three women bowed again, and then ran from the room at a hurried pace. Alex knew her Pidgeot would carry her to Alola rather quickly, especially now that the airspace over Fornia was friendly. The islands had again become swamped with tourists from both the east and the west now, with all the benefits and detriments they brought, and many Alolans had come to the mainland, to test how they ranked against Fornia's newest rising stars.

    Eric spoke, once the women left, eyeing his brother up and down with a barely hidden sigh. "Is this how you prepare for a new mission? Standard training?"

    Alex smirked. "Clearly our training methods are good, if not the best. Else you would be Champion, brother. I assume there's a reason Tao told you of my classified mission?"

    Eric pinched his brow. "I've essentially become the head of anything scientific that he requires. Our lab is well-funded, but the workload is...extensive."

    Alex nodded. "I heard. Well done, Professor. What else is he making you work on? How many new Trainers have you started from our little home town?"

    Eric met his gaze evenly, and pushed up his glasses. "The next projects we have coming down the line are universal language translators that, when we're done, should be able to translate unknown tongues in real time, and get us a Common equivalent reasonably fast. We're also working on a device that can replicate medicine, food, and spare parts using Infinite Energy...but that one is more complicated."

    Eric glanced at the stairs, then back to his older brother. "As far as new Trainers go...that's one of the two issues I have for you before you go off to get involved in another region's issues...we're running out of eggs. Your...fans...are always clamoring for Turtwigs, Mudkips, and Charmanders. Most of our Trainers have to wait, if they want a fire type. They go the quickest."

    Alex shrugged, glancing at Blaze. "I doubt he and Chari could produce more than they already are. Chafing is an issue for all species, it seems, if certain things are done often enough. See if Brad is willing to lend his to the cause. His Charizard should be of egg-making age by now. As for Hydrus...that won't be a problem. He's settling in just fine in that lake out behind our house. Find your Mudkips there. Terra is another story...Torterra breed slowly, but in great numbers. Maybe you should contact other Professors, or offer other Pokémon. What about Saur, or my Blaziken? He got pretty strong during the war, but he's essentially stopped battling. For now. I can't fault him for needing a break."

    Eric thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I'll check your boxes, see if there aren't worthy substitutes. We may end up giving out different ones on different days."

    Alex recalled Canis and Arbor then, while Blaze left to go answer nature's call outside of the palace, and then return to his lounging. "You said you had something else for me?"

    Eric nodded. "I've been examining the Pokémon used extensively during the war...namely those who regularly used Mega Evolution. Yours are the only ones not suffering DNA degeneration at an alarmingly fast pace. I told you using the power of the Plates was dangerous. At the very least, our data is telling us that their lifespans will be shorter."

    Alex's brows furrowed. "Kalosians have been using Mega Evolution for centuries, and only with truly excessive use has it shown anything life threatening."

    Eric sighed, and pinched his brow again. "The Kalosians have been using a pair of stones, and a bond between a Trainer and usually one Pokémon, for centuries. But their stones are flash-crystalized remnants of other Pokémon with essentially the same genetic sequence, enough to not force the modern Pokémon's strands out of whack. The bond with the Trainer, and their Key Stone, are directly tied to the lack of pain and out of control rage Mega Pokémon sometimes display. Our method just has our Trainers using their latent psychic bond with their partner to guide Infinite Energy of the Pokémon's type into their partner. Take us to my lab, I can show you the data there. I also have something for your journey."

    Alex's face shifted to a frown as his brother spoke, but a dry smirk had returned once Eric finished. He held out a hand. "Are you the one whose going to be outfitting me on missions now?"

    "I already outfitted you, your Scales, and the entire Imperial Dragon Army. You should be so lucky, to have us working on things that will make your excursions easier." Eric grumbled, as he took the offered hand. With a flash of pink and a bamfing noise, they reappeared back in Derrion Town. The rest of the Brain Trust looked up, as the two brothers appeared. Like Eric, they also had lab coats now, and the entire lab had gone from questionable or out of date machines to the most modern equipment a superpower like Unova had access to. It had also been made bigger, and now had three floors. Alex had to fight down the sudden rage he had for his father, as his Granduncle had tried many times to expand his home, but it had never been allowed. Eric's voice cut through his rage and Alex saved it for a later tirade, and his eyes shifted to the screen hanging from the second floor balcony for viewing from the first floor. "Bring up the genetic strands."

    Alex didn't see who typed away at their keyboard, as his eyes were focused on the screen before him. Eric continued. "As you can see, your team's DNA is at the top, and the DNA of ten of your strongest Scale's Pokémon partners are below for comparison. Some are degrading faster than others, but yours remain stable, because the Plates they hold are keeping them that way...without those however, the data suggests they'd have months to live. We need to solve this, Alex. The sooner the better."

    The frown returned, and the Dragon Emperor's voice cut through the hush that had taken over the lab, and its aides as they delivered the bad news to him. "How long do we have before we start losing lives?"

    Eric shrugged, though Alex knew when his brother was panicked, and was suppressing said panic. He didn't blame him for feeling such things. His mind grasped what the data was telling him, perhaps not as detailed as the Brain Trust understood it, but between his Trials and lessons with Professor Aristole, he knew his mind was a lot sharper than it had been at the start of his journey. "Have you consulted the Sages? Perhaps they are aware of what we're doing wrong here...I refuse to accept that using the Plates and shards isn't viable, but for the moment, we should slow down their usage. Tell the Pokémon League to spread the word, and then consult with the Sages. I need to get to Koria...perhaps something I learn there will help us with this...if we're lucky."

    Frankie, one of the other Brain Trustees, spoke up then. "If there's one thing you have on your side Redwood, it's luck."

    Eric shot him a look, before turning back to his brother. His right hand fished in his lab coat as he spoke. "Alex has a point. Koria is renowned for their mastery over energy. Their people have a deeper understanding and tie to several types of energy that other humans simply do not. Be thorough in your investigations, and you'll come back with something we can use, I'm sure. Now then...these, are for your 'B Team'." Eric said, as he fished out three Pokéballs from his coat.

    One was red and white with gold-ish highlights and a dark blue middle, rather than black. The middle one was a combination of purple and yellow, and the last seemed like a normal Pokéball, with the exception of several perfectly circular black spots on the red upper half.

    Alex took the one on the far left first, and tossed it. From within, a Scorbunny materialized, adorable wide eyes taking in the lab as he looked around. Finally, the eyes fell on Alex, who already had his Pokédex out to record the data. He knew Galar produced legitimately strong Trainers thanks to their starters, but until Leon had taken over as Chairman of their League, those matches had largely been focused on Galar, and hosted by Galar for Galarians to participate in. The World Tournament was the one exception to that, and Leon had ruled that challenge as well, until a second Trainer had managed a win against his Charizard, and taken the title of World Champion for himself.

    "Scorbunny, Scor?" The tiny fire type's name was all the others in the lab heard, but Alex heard his question.

    "I am your new Trainer. You should know though, little one, I only take on Pokémon who want to be among the best battlers in the world. It's a long road, with exhaustive training. Do you think you have the will to walk that path with me?" He'd knelt down to the fire rabbit's level, more or less, and held out a fist to bump as he finished speaking. The Scorbunny did a flip, and hit his fist with one of its startlingly warm feet. "I'll take that as a yes." Alex said, smirking. "Get some rest, for now. We'll start training soon."

    The Scorbunny leapt towards Eric then, and bopped his ball's button with the same inverted flip kick, as he returned to it in a flash of white light. Next, came the purple and yellow one, as Eric pushed the release, and found Scorbunny's ball floating from his hand, to Alex's belt. If all three Pokémon here accepted his typically offered terms he gave to new catches, that would leave him halfway to a full team.

    "This one was a bit too...rash...for his Trainer to handle. Since he had almost a thousand other partners, apparently, he was eager to see this one go to a good Trainer." Eric's voice registered in Alex's ears, but he was too busy admiring the Pokémon before him now. He'd never even seen a Toxel outside of the Pokédex.

    The perpetually skeptical looking electric poison type looked at Alex, and tilted its head, as it spoke its name. "What are you supposed to be?"

    Alex smirked. "I'm your Trainer. I'm going to teach you how to battle."

    The Toxel frowned. "Battle. Will it hurt?"

    Alex nodded. "Quite a bit, sometimes. Ground type moves are common, and will be the bane of your existence."

    The frown deepened. "Why battle, if it hurts?"

    "To gain experience. To grow stronger. To evolve. To become as strong as you can be...and then go beyond your limits to heights unheard of." The Unovan Trainer's eyes were on fire, and the rest of the room, upon seeing the conversation, had sudden interest. They'd heard the rumors of course, that their latest leader could also speak to and understand Pokémon, but seeing it first hand was fascinating to any scientist.

    The Toxel still seemed unconvinced, and Alex knelt down to its level, and opened his Pokédex, as he brought up Toxel's data. He swiped the screen, and the Toxel's eyes widened as he saw not one, but two possible evolutions.

    Wide eyes went up to Alex's. "I'll look like mama?"

    Alex shrugged, "Probably more like your dad...bulkier, more muscle mass. But powerful." He winked, and then swiped again, as the seemingly very young Pokémon's eyes went wider.

    "Whaaaat." He said, and Alex chuckled. "That's what happens when you...Gigantamax, apparently. We can add it to our to-do list in Galar, if you want to battle like that. Using that much power is a big responsibility. But together, we can be pretty strong, I think. It's not going to be easy, but it will show results, and quickly. You'll be evolving before you know it."

    The Toxel seemed to think for a second, and his eyes glanced at Eric. The purple electric lizard looked back to Alex then, and nodded. Eric tossed the last ball, and a Blipbug appeared, causing Alex to sigh inwardly.

    Seeing his reaction for what it was, Eric spoke. "This one is perhaps the most important to your mission. You'll be able to trace the Guardian's energy in its Avatar...when it becomes a Dottler."

    Alex glanced at Eric, and then back at the nerdy bugworm. "That won't be hard. Bug types grow quickly...is that something you'd like?"

    The Blipbug blipped, and Alex's brows furrowed, as his ears only translated the noise as a blip as well. "I suppose that means yes…" He muttered, standing as he summoned the Scorbunny again, and looked between the three. "We have some things to do before we set out...first, is giving you names." He pointed at the Scorbunny. "You, will be Cinder. After your final form." The Scorbunny said it to himself a few times, though it just sounded like his own name to everyone else, but then he nodded enthusiastically. Alex looked at the Toxel then. "You will be Temere (Tem-ehr-ay), and you, shall be known as Sensus." He finished, as he then looked to the Blipbug.

    The Pokéballs for all three levitated in the air around him as they expertly pinpointed and recalled their respective targets. The Toxel had started to wander off as he spoke, but had not managed to escape the recall beam, while the other two seemed eager to rest. Alex manifested only his cape then, as it draped down around his shoulders, held up by his psychic power rather than the dragonbone mantle as he grabbed a ball, and then returned the cloak holding his balls, and the link to his PC boxes, back to his belt.

    "Eremus makes six…" Alex put his ball on the belt as well, making his Flygon his secret weapon for Koria, as his level was by far the highest on their growing team. He looked up at Eric then. "Anything else for me, while I'm here?"

    "Fornia is still on fire." The female member of the Brain Trust said, from behind them. "You should probably put that out before you leave."

    "A good suggestion." Alex said, as he envisioned the canyon within which the Fornian Rebellion had once taken shelter. "I'll do that." He mentally contacted Hydrus, before he bamfed to the central cave. Though the Tribes were returning, they were taking the long way home, healing the land as they went. Alex clacked quietly on the PC in the abandoned rebel base as he retrieved his Swampert, and several other water types strong enough to help with what he had planned.

    Eremus carried him swiftly towards the part of Fornia that had once played home to Brad and his family, and atop the mountain, Alex found a deserted, dried out lakebed. With a mental toss, his water types were out. "This was the first of the land that the Church decided to start burning, and from here, it will end. Line the crater, boys." Once the gathered water types had done so, he nodded again. "Now, Rain Dance!"

    Hydrus set the beat, rhythmically pounding his fists against the ground as the Wartortle, Seismitoad, Swanna, Starmie, Vaporeon, Croconaw, and Mantyke he'd summoned to help all matched the rhythm he was beating out, and danced around the edge of the crater. As the sky darkened over Fornia again, the clouds radiated for miles, but he needed the dark clouds to be much, much bigger. "Hydrus. Mega Evolve."

    The Mega Swampert looked skywards once he ascended, and fired a Water Pulse towards the clouds, where Alex was aware that it had burst, and dispersed into the clouds, turning them even darker. For a good thirty minutes the dancing and chanting continued, before Hydrus finally nodded at Alex.

    For his part, the human inhaled, and then bellowed at the clouds which, by Hydrus' reckoning, now covered all of the areas over Fornia that had seen the worst of the flames. Thunderous noise cracked the sky as he Shouted, "Lom Lokluv!" The sound of the Hyper Voice visibly rippled through the clouds, and as it passed through them, they began to pour down the combined Rain Dance's accumulated water onto the parched Fornia region.

    Suddenly, the sky above those gathered on Pineus Peak opened, and sunlight burned down around them, even as the rain continued to fall. Her descent caused a rainbow, and as Ho-Oh hovered above them, leaving both Alex and his partners in awe at her appearance, he spied a familiar flame haired figure atop the restored rainbow phoenix. Jess winked at him, and then murmured something that apparently only Ho-Oh heard.

    The legendariest bird flapped her wings, and a circular wave of Light energy radiated out from her rainbow wings, as it infused the clouds. The water came faster, and all around those on the peak, grass, flowers, and greenery began to appear on the cracked, brown earth. The lake began refilling rapidly. Across all of Fornia in the distance, the green was returning.

    Ho-Oh landed beside her Tamer, but her eyes were focused elsewhere. "And from the east…" It took a moment to see, but all gathered kept staring. His Swanna saw it first, and Alex guided his partner's gazes towards the farthest point on the horizon, from which, a rapid wave of gold was coming, overtaking the green. That which blessed Unova now also covered the entire continent. The fires were ended, according to his Pidgeot who'd been scouting them, and he knew Fornia would want to know why their green plants were suddenly turning golden.

    "You have done well, both of you, in restoring this land to what it once was. Atop the golden continent, the ancient people of these lands built an empire. I look forward to seeing what your minds create of this fresh paradise." With that, Ho-Oh ascended upwards with a single wing flap, and disappeared into the clouds.

    As the Legendary bird vanished, Alex oofed, as he felt arms around his neck and a familiar figure press against him. "I'll handle Fornia...you should get going to Koria. But before that, Ho-Oh suggested I give you a parting gift."

    Alex smirked. "I'd love to, genuinely, but I don't have four hours. I really do have to leave…"

    Jess rolled her eyes, as she searched through her bag, and then pulled out an incubator, holding an egg with red and blue triangular markings. Alex inhaled audibly as he looked at it, and Jess arched a brow. "You know what species it is?"

    Alex eyed the egg, and then peered within it with his third eye, smirking at what he found. "I can guess." He took the incubator then, and placed it within his own bag, in a special slot solely for egg carrying that let it hear and 'experience' the sights around it, but also kept it hidden and safe from potential thieves. "I don't usually go for fairy types, but for this one, I'll make an exception."

    Jess seemed to be trying to remember all the fairy types, as there weren't too many, and which one he might now have, as she summoned Folokraan, and climbed atop the rapidly maturing Articuno. After a moment, Jess shrugged. "Tell me when it hatches. And be safe." Their eyes stayed locked for a good few moments as Fo leapt into the air, but then Jess stoically turned her head towards the sky, and their destination, somewhere on the coast.

    For his part, Alex recalled and replaced his partners, including Hydrus. Only Aero, his Pidgeot, stayed out as he claimed to enjoy flying in Fornia, and was willing to carry Alex to Port: Land, now known as Cascadia, since the Arcean Church was disbanded. The change in name apparently was a sign of the citizen's willingness to embrace their new future without the all-consuming Church of Arceus to steal their money. Fair wages seemed like a lot to people who had previously been forced to give almost ninety percent of what they'd earned in the course of a year to the Church, in 'donations' for their 'charities', building acquisitions, and fundraisers.

    Many people had embraced the Dragon Empire once they not only usually kept their positions, but were given free time, reunited with their families, and more than fair pay. With what the Scales had discovered in Pravus' bunker-city, they had enough funds to keep Fornia employed, on the Empire's dime, for at least three centuries. The hoard of gold and currency had only made Alex slightly nauseous, as he saw just how much had been stolen from Fornia's people, and hoarded for no reason other than greed.

    He tossed Aero an Oran Berry, and tied Hilda's Pokémail to his leg as they parted. "This is where Hilbert is currently" Alex said, as he'd been able to sense his contemporary after expanding his mind to search for him. "Take this mail to him, and then return home. Stay safe, Aero." The Pidgeot cawed, and then launched into the air, winging his way towards Superior Forest, and the Great Lake it surrounded.

    Alex paused in the city by a park to sort out his new team of six, that with time, would fill out to ten. Arbor, Canis, and Eremus already had the moves needed to battle and win, usually. But this was a good opportunity to give the others their vitamins and respective TMs before he could board the ship that would take him to Sinnoh, in Japan, as they stopped to pick up goods, and then the Southern Water Nation city of Katavik.

    After about an hour of trying to keep three younger Pokémon now all with stronger moves, in check, Alex was again on his way. Cinder had found Flame Charge to be very fun, Sensus' Bug Buzz would need some work, but for a young bug type Pokémon, Struggle Bug would have to do for battle. Temere had found that Thunderbolt was a bit more intense than he expected, but the rash baby Pokémon was firing off something closer to a Thundershock.

    Sensus received his Exp. Share, and Alex still barely grasped what he was blipping while he put it on. He gave the tiny worm a pat though, and promised it would make him stronger. At the very least, it seemed he understood his new Trainer even if he initially found the harness restrictive. Alex didn't intend for them to get much experience soon as sailors were only so challenging, but as he went to board his boat, he found it being held up, quite literally, by a pink aura full of fairy typed energy.

    In front of the floating boat were several grumpy looking sailors, a weathered old man who Alex assumed was the Captain, and in front of them, the man undoubtedly responsible for the levitating ship. Percy. The svelte figure gave Alex a bow, before he spoke. "Welcome to Cascadia, Dovahkiin. I have one last challenge for you, before you leave, and a prize, if you manage to win with that team of yours."

    Alex turned his hat backwards, and smirked. "I accept. Standard one V one?"

    Percy arched a brow, then shrugged. "One it is. Choose wisely."

    Alex's smirk widened, and with a nod of his head, he sent out Canis, who he'd put in the point position after realizing his mild punchy puppy was capable of great things in the way his Gallade had been early on. They were already becoming closer, and it wouldn't be long at all before Canis had mastery over his aura, and managed to evolve.

    In the same moment, Percy sent out a Sandslash, of the Alolan variety, which Alex recalled him catching, the last time he and Jess had visited the islands. It greeted Canis with a nod, and a slight bow. His Riolu put a closed fist against an open puppy palm and bowed in return, before dropping into his species' version of a Dragon Stance.

    Alex knew better than to assume the type advantage would win this, but he also knew how painful quadruple weaknesses could be, and how often Trainers underestimated them. He was among their number as well. Terra, Hydrus, and others had all eventually felt the sting of such effective moves, despite his best efforts to shield them from such hits.

    Percy opened by shouting, "Ice Punch!" which Alex countered with, "Brick Break!" As the Riolu and Sandslash met in the air, the fighting move's greater power and type advantage won out, sending the bulky ice shrew awkwardly in one direction, as Canis guided his claw's momentum. The steel appendage slammed into the ground, and froze there, before Alex shouted again, "Now, A flurry of Force Palms, right under the arm!"

    Canis obeyed, and delivered four quadruple effective hits before the Sandslash broke free, and swiped blindly at the already retreating Riolu. He was hurt, but not down yet. "Pin Missile!" Came the command from Percy, and Alex responded quickly, "Dodge them, and counter with a Vacuum Wave for each pin!"

    The two Pokémon traded at least five blows, two of which Canis tanked, and three of which hit the already flagging Sandslash. Looking slightly annoyed by the hand fate dealt each of them, Percy persevered. "Use Rest!" As his Sandslash slept and regained full health, Alex's eyes narrowed. "Brick Break until it's finished."

    Canis nodded, and in a swirl of motion, danced around the sleeping, tanky ice and steel type as his fighting typed punches struck it, but seemed to do little. A low flute sound hummed through the air, and Alex swore as he saw Percy wink at him, before playing the melody that awoke Pokémon from sleep on his Pokéflute. "Fury Cutter!" The Sandslash spun in place, bug type energy glowing around its claws as it struck Canis, who dropped back with a snarl. "Again!" Percy shouted, and his Sandslash responded.

    All Canis could do was dodge, and dodge he did, as he shifted his paws on the pavement in circular but random patterns that the Sandslash couldn't predict. "Focus…" Alex said, as Canis continued to bob and weave through Fury Cutter misses. Even back to regular strength, a move that strong from a Pokémon with such a higher level would likely knock Canis out at this stage. They had one chance left for a win, after the Rest.

    "Now!' Alex shouted, "Focus Blast!" Canis danced around another Fury Cutter, and then put his paws together, one facing up, the other facing down. From between them, an intense orange sphere of power burned to life, and launched into the Sandslash, sending the Alolan Pokémon hurtling across the pier, into a dock post. The post took more damage than the steel typed Pokémon, but he was sufficiently unconscious enough for a win.

    With a sigh, Percy recalled him, and lowered his hat. "Well. A Riolu. I certainly did not see that coming. I thought you were more of a grass Trainer."

    "I have plenty of strong grass types," Alex said, smirking as he and Canis approached the Fairy King of Norstad. "I'm just training Canis here at the moment." With a single leap, the punchy puppy was perched on his shoulder, and he eyed the other human's aura, unable to quite decide if he liked it, or despised it. "Now then, you said you had a prize for me?"

    Percy chuckled, and shrugged. "I thought it would be harder won, but aye, I've a reward for a well-fought Battle." He brought out a Pokéball then, colored a light gray on the center part of the ball's top half, while the rest was a deep blue. The black bits in the middle were more of a yellowish cream color, and it took Alex longer than it should have for him to recognize the pattern the ball's former owner had placed upon it.

    Having an inkling of who laid within, Alex tossed the ball at the ocean, where a rather young Lapras appeared, and chirped, as she saw the humans, and swam up to Percy. "Take good care of her." He said, as he gave the young Pokémon a thorough scritching under the jaw. "Wait until she's a bit bigger before you ride...you're large for a human."

    Alex rolled his eyes. "She'll grow quick enough." He met her eyes, and her mind, to his surprise. Hers actually brushed against his, emanating simple emotions like joy, curiosity, and an overall modesty to her nature that suffused every part of her mental being. "Does she have a name?"

    Percy nodded. "Pruina. She'll become rather strong, like her mother. Koria has many islands, and waterways. Having a Lapras to ride will come in handy. The Imperium and the Fire Nation don't like people flying anywhere, so if you want to stay unnoticed, just Surf."

    Alex nodded, as he quietly asked the Lapras if she was willing to battle, and her response was both enthusiastic and adorable. Her young eyes were on fire though, and that more than anything was what he sought from his teammates. He bid Percy farewell, as the man bamfed away, allowing the crew of his ship to finally board, and prepare to sail.

    Alex spent the time waiting teaching Pruina moves like Ice Beam, Water Pulse, and Protect. Since she'd only known how to Sing, and he had no intention of keeping her from having such a useful move, he gave the same amount of vitamins as he had the others, as well a number of PP Maxes from his already dwindling supply.

    Once Pruina and the others were fed and tired out, he recalled them, and set to work on his Pokédex, as the long ride to Sinnoh began. He soon had to float in place, with the pieces of the disassembled machine, and pieces of his Holociever as well. He was combining them all together into a single machine, and with some help from Lux, whose hilt was in the bag beside the egg, he was able to 'fuse' the devices together into a device his Rotom finally agreed to inhabit semi permanently. He'd claimed that his previous Pokédex and other such Earth devices were too primitive for him, and he'd only end up breaking them, but on this, he had seemed almost eager to finish it.

    It took them most of the trip, but the result was an item unique to them that they dubbed the Holodex, and his Rotom seemed to enjoy being inside of it immensely, as he now would often share tips he found on the PokéNet with members of their team, connected via their mental web. It soon became obvious to his Trainer, that the alien ghost type preferred being a teacher much more than a weapon. Having a wise weapon was a boon though, and Lux understood well the need for the kind of overwhelming defense psychic powers and a blade that could cut through anything provided.

    Several Days Later, The Sea of Kazam - Somewhere North of Sinnoh

    "And what did you say this strain was called?"

    The weathered Japanese captain gave Alex Redwood a knowing grin. "Dream Lotus. A fine blend of lesser strains, culminating in a powerful hybrid."

    Alex shrugged, hit the bong, and then passed it to one of the crewmen who'd agreed to sail him and his team to the southern edge of Koria. The Fire Nation kept a constant naval blockade between Japan and Koria, and reaching Katavik was something of a challenge, if one went by seat. The Imperium's air forces kept a hard border in the sky with their Thunderhawks, while the Fire Navy controlled the sea.

    "So how exactly do we reach Katavik, Captain?" Alex asked, as he noted a long line of battleship sized black colored dots on the horizon.

    The captain nodded to the youthful member of his crew, currently partaking of the happy herb. He declined any more, once the struggle of almost coughing had ended. His eyes, clearly influenced as they were, were then turned towards the horizon. They closed, and Alex stared, watching closely as the young man of darker brown skin tone raised his arms, and through them, controlled the water surrounding their modestly sized ship. He wasn't moving the water though, for Alex's psychic sight revealed his typing, which had until that moment been hidden even to him. The typeless nature energy within his body shifted to water as he summoned reached out to the nearest source of the element, and the ocean responded in kind. It was quite a sight.

    "That there is Akos. He's a native of the Water Nation's southern tribe, and in return for some honest currency, he guides us into Katavik to trade and buy goods neither of our regions can get, with the blockade in place." The Captain winked at Alex then, and the ever-present sack he kept over his shoulder swung around, to reveal quite a massive number of Ultra Balls. "The Water Nation are very good at trading between rebellious Fire Nation elements, and the Earth Nation's military. If those standing in the shadows against the Imperium can learn to be Trainers, and element benders, they can face the invaders with some measure of success. Sinnoh isn't helping officially of course, but the League has...subtly been keeping those of us trusted enough to trade, supplied for several decades."

    Alex watched the boat as the old Sinnoh native rambled on, for it seemed to sink beneath the waves, and a bubble of air kept them still 'floating' on the water around them. Akos brought them deep, and they began moving faster, as the young man windmilled his arms. Then, he frowned. "Captain...they have mines. Hold on to something."

    The Captain bumbled towards his ship's speakers, and Alex knew it would take the teetering old man too long to reach it, for the speed they were going. Thus, he Shouted instead, "Mines!"

    Thankfully, the crew was well aware of what that meant, as the Word reached their ears, and instilled the appropriate amount of panic associated with death by explosive. Many water benders cleared such dangers away, as deep sea battle was not something the Imperium or the Fire Nation had mastered in any capacity. Yet. Sometimes the fields of explosives were a nuisance, sometimes not, but when they did appear, they were numerous, and often based on motion detection, surrounded by others based on touch, and thus easily avoided.

    Masterful benders were able to tell the two deep sea mine variants apart at a glance, but more than a few of the younger ones were known to set off explosive getaways from the blockade. Often, they rode the pressure of the explosion through the water like a wave, and escaped that way, but such tricks were dangerous. One moment of lost concentration could make the water between them and the explosive force come together, and that usually meant death, or a wrecked ship, and a ruined career as a guide.

    Akos' movements became smaller, more close to his body, though they still moved at a fair pace, the field of potential death around them on all sides made everyone tense. It was still interesting to watch, and Alex glanced between him, and the ships above, where his eyes made out vague humanoids radiating a mastery of the fire type. He also sensed the rage that fueled it, and frowned.

    Akos managed to guide them safely through the field, and instead of gunning it as soon as they were away, he continued at an even slower pace for a good mile. Alex spied several buried mines in the floor below them, and above, they would still be in sight of the ships, or a good scope.

    Experienced guides knew the Imperium liked to order varied nets of obvious and subtle sea explosives, in patterns that were both financially practical and most strategic. Some officers took advantage of having nearly limitless resources, but the Imperator prized efficiency over pure results with no thought to the cost. Being somewhat clever Akos was able to read the patterns the Imperium drones had set the mines into easily enough, as he knew the signs of different kinds of dangers. More than once Alex had followed his darting gaze only to notice a different kind of weapon, like an undersea turret, and several nets hung between coral reefs that were bone white and radiating ghost type energy.

    Eventually, they picked up speed once more, and the bubble around them expanded to its original size, rather than the almost cramped shell they had crouched under for what seemed like quite a while. Many of the crew stretched and groaned, but Akos kept bending, and after another hour of travel in the same direction they'd held since leaving Sinnoh, they surfaced again.

    Akos was panting for his efforts, as Alex approached with a water bottle in hand. The young man chugged it rapidly, and Alex let him finish before offering a hand, and saying, "Hello there. I'm Alex." The Water Nation native looked at his hand, and then swallowed his mouthful of water, as he left him hanging. Alex persisted anyways. "So...that was water bending, yes? I've never seen anything like it."

    Akos shrugged. "I do alright...but I am no master. The Fire Nation took our masters, and eventually takes anyone whose outed as an element bender as well. The Imperium claims that they're 'mutants', and as such, under Imperium law, they're subject to constant monitoring. Earth, water, air, it doesn't matter. Only the Fire Nation is allowed to bend openly."

    Alex pondered for a long moment. "Is it possible to learn how to bend? Could you teach me?"

    Akos shrugged. "I've only met Korian benders, and while some people gain the skill to wield two elements, if their parents are from different nations, it's rare. Only the Avatar ever mastered four, and it was by this skill that we knew they spoke with the Guardian's authority each time they reincarnated."

    Alex blinked. "They reincarnate? Who was the last Avatar, then?"

    Akos nodded at his first question, but the second one darkened his face with a frown. "Avatar Kora. She was Water Nation, like me. After the Air Nation nomads had their temples burned, they fled with the help of their Avatar, a fellow nomad called Aang. Kora came next in the cycle...grew up here, apparently. She started finding Fire Nation turncoats, and supplied the Earth Nation with their intel. She got the water tribes involved in strategic warfare and tactics...she kept the fight going for over a century, before the Fire Nation caught up to her. Now, the next Avatar is somewhere in the Earth Nation, but they could be anywhere, from deserted mining towns to the Impenetrable City. It's been over three decades since we lost Kora, but there's no word of the Avatar. Some people are beginning to think the cycle stopped, that after Kora fell, the Guardian lost hope in Koria, and did not reincarnate the Avatar into the Earth Nation."

    Alex nodded as he listened, stroking his bearded chin as he thought. Sensus had gained quite a bit of experience after their battle with Percy, but he wasn't quite ready to evolve yet, and icy terrain made a poor training environment for bug types. By all accounts, Katavik was situated on a massive chunk of ice that was inexplicably stationary, a home base for a tribe of people who lived primarily on ships. "Shuoma...that's one of the Earth Nation's last strongholds, right? How does one reach it?"

    Akos frowned. "Not easily. The Thunderhawks regularly fly around the islands between Katavik and the mainland, and since they can land on water, ships are easily stopped. Sometimes, they're just shot at on sight. Apparently, for target practice." Akos clenched a fist, and his tone told the Unovan that he was sick of the oppression the Imperium offered to those they conquered.

    "Let's say I had a way to reach Shuoma. Would you be interested in joining me? Your skills would be very helpful...and I really want to try water bending." Alex said, as he looked towards the north, and then back at Akos.

    "I am free after we bring this ship in...we're only hired for single voyages, usually...but if we're going to travel together, I have some questions. Like, who are you, for one. The Captain was very tight lipped...but I can tell you're no simple tourist."

    Alex gave his best attempt at an innocent shrug. "Am I not giving off a tourist vibe?"

    Akos looked over the large frame of the Unovan, clad as it usually was in a lengthy white robe that was open in the front, with black stripes down the sleeves. Black pants with white stripes on the outside covered his lower half, and his hat still bore the symbol of Unova's newest government. The same symbols as also on the shirt beneath the white robe. "No...not really, no. I've never seen a tourist dressed like you. And none of them have your...bearing."

    Alex arched a brow. "My bearing?"

    Akos nodded. "You're not gawking at the ocean views or the giant blocks of ice." He said, gesturing to the freezing sea around them. "You stand confidently. You speak intelligently, and the questions you've asked indicate to me that you have seen something as magical as bending before. That there's a specific reason you've come here."

    Alex shrugged again as he smirked. "Guilty. I've seen quite a number of...strange magics. But your bending was genuinely impressive." He glanced around the ship, very much aware that the crew, while they pretended to work, or worked diligently, were dropping eaves. "Is there a place in Katavik that is not easily spied upon? I'd rather not discuss why I've come so...openly."

    "For a water bender surrounded by ice, caves for privacy are easily made." Akos said. "I will make one, and we will talk openly. We still have two days left of sailing though."
    Alex nodded. "In two days, then. You will know why I've come, if you're still curious."

    Two Days Later, Katavik - Koria Region

    In the span of two days, Alex trained his Lapras against the local wildlife, primarily Sealeo, Dewgong, and Sharpedo, which she took down easily with Thunderbolt. Sensus, who rode on her back to get a feel for actual battle, evolved thanks to the shared experience, and had been growing in strength and mental ability ever since. The pair of modest Pokémon both grew rather quickly, especially once a pod of Sharpedo tried swarming their ship. Between Pruina's Thunder and Sensus' Energy Ball, they were driven off, and both gained quite a bit of experience for taking down so many foes. Once Sensus could hold his own, and had grown almost as strong as Pruina by doing so, the Exp. Share harness passed to Temere.

    Once they arrived in Katavik, Alex and Akos had gone to his home which turned out to be a dome of ice bricks that was surprisingly warm inside, where he revealed he already had a sub-ice level chamber. Hidden with water bending, the sparsely decorated room was covered with white furs with black spots, and several tusks that looked to have belonged to a Walrein once. Given the lack of berries on the iceberg, Alex was not surprised the locals had taken to hunting. From what he'd seen, they had established rituals associated with hunting, and those they hunted, if they lost, willingly gave their essence, that the humans might continue to live.

    It was a delicate balance to maintain, and balance was one of the many things Alex highlighted for his water bending ally, as he reiterated the highlights of his journey, since getting his Turtwig. "And then Tao sent me to Koria, to find and aid your Guardian and her Avatar in restoring Koria to what it once was." He gave the water bender a moment to process before speaking again. "Will you help me, Akos?"

    "Will I help you, the Tamer of the Original Dragon, track down the hero of my region so we can defeat our mutual enemies? Absolutely. According to our legends, the First Dragon was the one who taught the Fire Nation to harness the element...back when they had honor. As for joining you on your quest, though...you might want to get someone more skilled." Akos said, as he finished with a downward glance.

    Alex arched an eyebrow. "You seemed skilled enough when we were dodging mines."

    Akos met his gaze evenly again. "You've never seen a real water bender. I have. What I can do...doesn't even come close."

    Alex nodded, as he inferred that, apparently, creating bubbles of air wasn't a hard trick, nor was speeding up a fairly sized ship while bobbing and weaving through fields of death. He knew Akos was no master, but he also recognized a gifted student in need of a teacher. "You need to study with a master of your craft. For me, I studied the best Trainers, while I was forced to sit on the sidelines. Lance. Leon. Red. I watched every battle they had, that was recorded, and I learned the history. Read the PokéDex in its entirety. Battling is so much more than a sport...but the nature of sports is a valuable part of it. It has Greatly curbed humanity's desire for constant violence."

    Akos furrowed his brow. "I wasn't going to say anything but...honestly, Battles always seemed a bit...cruel...to the Pokémon. So does shoving them into a ball. Most benders in this region feel this way, and with the lack of consistent Pokéball access, we don't have many Trainers. The water types are fun to practice with, though. I learned most of what I know by watching them. I couldn't be comfortable, shoving them in a ball."

    Alex suppressed a deep, Unovan sigh, and then smirked. "Their balls are more comfortable than any field, and, there's no chance of them getting randomly ousted by a stronger Pokémon. It's a home they can always come back to, that's directly connected to their Trainer. Pokémon Trainers have a different kind of Pokémon, usually. They're not like the wild ones you're probably imagining, who enjoy their freedom and frolic in it. Those don't typically attack or jump out at humans. The ones who do, are either mad at having their territory invaded, or want to battle the Pokémon in the human's balls, because they know they're stronger. Usually. If they really detest battling, most Trainers release them. Obviously, some don't, but I like to think most Trainers have enough sense to release a Pokémon that doesn't like battling, if battling is all they do. In my experience, as long as they're fed and given enough freedom, they don't mind living with potentially hundreds of other Pokémon of differing species."

    Akos' brow furrowed further. "So...what makes a Trainer's Pokémon different, then? I don't get it."

    Alex nodded, sagely, and then called out Eremus, who immediately crouched, and then curled around the somewhat cramped subterranean room. The desert born dragon shivered against the ice, but connected as he was to his Trainer, he had agreed to prove this point to the man that would, ideally, be their guide as they searched Koria. "Take Eremus, here. I met him as a Trapinch." Alex said, as his Holodex hummed to life and began floating in the air as it displayed what a Trapinch looks like. "Trapinch don't usually let their prey go, so when he trapped me, I had to battle him to the faint, or catch him. I was in a hurry, so I just used a ball. I found out later, once I could understand him fully, that many Trapinch in the Desert Resort seek Trainers out, instead of their usual prey, so that they can evolve, and become a Flygon. Thus, I trained him until he became one, at which point I gave him a choice."

    Alex scritched under the Flygon's chin as the long head finally looped around the small room to his Trainer. "Continue climbing in strength with us, as a Battler, or some other option, based on whatever his preference was, now that his goal was achieved. So far, he's agreed to keep battling. Someday he might leave, true, but even those Pokémon who have left after evolving wanted to keep their tie to their balls, just in case I need them. They're far more compassionate beings than humans give them credit for being, but this...bond, we share. It's there for a reason. The capacity for connections this deep, on a mental level, are by design. They were created, after all."

    Akos snapped his fingers. "Right...that...deity Pokémon the Japanese pay homage to...Arceus, right? You're saying it actually exists?"

    Alex nodded. "Can confirm. He's appeared before me, once or twice. I'm about seventy five percent sure we Battled once, but dream rules are in no way fair. I think reality would prove...different...even if I still end up losing, but I'm not in the business of bothering a deity just so we can Battle. Legendary Pokémon have more important things to do. Most of the time." He recalled his shivering Flygon then, and mentally adjusted the heat within to be even more akin to the desert Eremus preferred.

    Akos thought for a moment. "I do know a Piplup that always wants to follow me around. Even back to the port. Even among people who would look at it and see dinner. Do you think it wants me as its Trainer?"

    Alex smirked, as the almost hopeful tone in the bender's voice gave him away. Having a genuine fondness for Pokémon was what made great Trainers. "I think it's worth asking. I can translate for you."

    Akos nodded then. "Provide me with one of your balls...help me tame this Piplup...and I will journey with you." He offered a hand out then, and Alex did not hesitate to grasp it by the wrist. To his mild surprise, he found Akos reciprocating the Norstad style of handshake, and Alex began to wonder if it was a bit more widespread than he had previously thought.

    "We have an accord, then." Alex said as he let go, and then fished around in his bag for an Ultra Ball. He poked the top of it several times, and Akos watched with childlike let-me-try-it excitement as he watched the westerner color the ball from the original, classic, black and gold to Empoleon colors.

    Akos tossed it several times, as he examined the ball. "It's...heavier than I thought it would be."

    Alex nodded. "A reminder of the weight of the life you're protecting within it. Also, capture technology, and the interior design features, made them heavier over time. Cheap to purchase, expensive to fix. Especially in places without master crafters."

    Akos smirked. "I kind of want to throw it."

    Alex shook his head, as they stood, and exited the igloo, one among many in the surprisingly small settlement. "I have something for that." He fished around in his bag again, and then withdrew a similarly weighted, but squishy, half red half white ball of rubber. "I practiced all the time with this, back in the day. Save yourself years of training, and just spin it into a curveball. It's easier than wildly throwing. Here, watch."

    Alex turned then, as he sensed the ghostly presence behind him move in to strike. This port was full of spirits, though the locals seemed oblivious to them, the Ghastly currently attacking him was clearly after his psychic power. The ghost's mind was hungering for his life essence, and in one smooth motion that came with his turn, he threw an Ultra Ball, and it spun counter-clockwise in the air, adding a curve to its trajectory, which brought it down on the Ghastly's forehead. Then, the ball sucked the ghost within, and bounced onto the ground.

    It bounced up immediately after, did a single flip, and then dinged, as the ball recorded and cemented the catch. Alex pulled it to his hand, and seemed to stare at the ball, from Akos' perspective. Once the ghost understood, and eagerly accepted his part in their team in exchange for food. He and Lux began chatting, and didn't stop for the entire walk out to the ice fields west of the port, where the Empoleon reigned supreme among the wildlife. The Ghastly informed him that he would be called Nox, and his Trainer smirked, as once more, it seemed he'd found balance between light and dark. If Nox wanted to use Dark Pulse and ghost moves, Alex wasn't going to deny him. He was modest about how strong he was, in comparison to the rest of the rather fresh team, and Alex was glad he was almost a Haunter. Training up a Gengar was no easy task.

    "So Akos...you mentioned Koria does have some Trainers...what's their deal? Do you guys have a Pokémon League?" Alex asked, as he kept his head on a constant swivel while they walked. It was a leftover from his days of ranching, and keeping a constant eye out for trouble, that had proven useful in the Forest of Death, in war, and now again on a massive iceberg that his senses were telling him played home to far more than just Piplup, Spheal, and their evolutions.

    Akos had his eyes in a similar pattern, though they were watching their back, and the sky, for many flying types used the iceberg to rest, before flying on, and some species had no qualms about hunting human. "We do...but it's more of an Earth Nation thing...they have the resources to set up Gyms and buy Pokéballs from the rest of the world, so it's usually earth benders and Earth Nation citizens who enter it. We used to have many Trainers...and then the Fire Nation combined the power of their element bending with the power of fire type Pokémon, and all but wiped out the Air Nation's nomads. With a bit of Imperium assistance...officially, the 'Air Rebels' were classified as 'mutants'. The Imperium brought in a Legion of their strongest Thunder Warriors to exterminate all four of their temples, and subjugated the Impenetrable City a week later. The Fire Nation has been in charge ever since."

    Akos stopped then, at the edge of an icy ridge, that below, played home to many variations of the Spheal line, as well as the Seel line, living in harmony. The Empoleon kept watch over the herd as a whole, while the younger ones stayed in the water and snow. The water bender covered his boots in ice, and skated down the ridge, giving the Pokémon fins high fives as he went. As Alex followed, a Sealeo barred his path, until he explained that he was here with Akos, and also came in peace. The Sealeo still wanted a battle though, and Pruina obliged him, drawing attention as a pair of Thunderbolts, spaced out by an Ice Ball from the Sealeo, struck the large Pokémon. Alex gave him an Oran Berry, before moving on, and the Pokémon recovered the rest of his strength by taking a Rest.

    Akos was already by the alpha Emploeon of the herd, by the time Alex caught up, and the westerner bowed in the Imperial style, as he approached. He looked to Akos then, "Let me guess. The Piplup you want is his offspring?"

    The young man's mouth was slightly ajar as Alex spoke. "How did you…"

    "It's a theme." Alex said, smirking, and turning to the Empoleon. "If you have doubts about entrusting a son to this human, let me allay them." He lifted the robe he wore then, suppressing a shiver as the freezing air flowed within his warm shell. "I too am a Trainer...I will make sure Akos knows how to care for a Pokémon, before I am done in this region. You have my word."

    The Empoleon seemed surprised he could understand the human at first, and after a long look into Alex's eyes, found no deceit. "Very well. You may take him. Make him strong."

    The Piplup in question then was summoned with a deep honk from the Empoleon, and the tiny Pokémon strolled over to Akos, then chirped excitedly, as he saw the ball in the human's hand. Akos looked to his translator, as the excited Pokémon chirped at him. "What's he saying?"

    "That he wants to be strong. That he wants to be your partner. Apparently he's wanted that for some time now." Alex replied, smirking slightly.

    Akos bopped the ball against the Piplup's beak, at which point it drew the Pokémon in, and dinged immediately, signaling a successful catch. That was when Lux took the initiative, floated out of Alex's pocket again, and reiterated the basic entries regarding what the scientific world knew of Piplup for the Water Nation native.

    After that, the pair returned to town, Alex purchased overpriced but still useful Earth Nation clothing that, with its subdued black and brown colors, could be from any nation. He even incorporated his cloak into it, as it merged well with the shawl type garment, and hung around his larger frame from his shoulders, trailing in an epic fashion whenever he moved. He also had to put his hat away, and swapped it with one that was more black than white, and still bore the symbol of his homeland. Apparently, getting tourists wasn't unheard of in the Earth Nation, but Akos still advised against wearing it in the Impenetrable City, which was their ultimate destination.

    After a decent amount of training, Pruina had grown large enough to comfortably fit the two men, though her shell still lacked firm handholds, and was more smooth than tough, for now. Their first destination was Shuoma, an Earth Nation city that, according to Akos, was still fighting the good fight against the Fire Nation.

    With food, a disguise, and a ride in the form of Akos' bone and leather rowboat that Akos called an umiak, the two set out on the seas, heading north, towards Shuoma, as Pruina pulled them rapidly through the waves. Alex pondered the map he'd bought alongside their provisions, and his eyes narrowed slightly, as he saw something that looked like a city, with a slash through it. "Akos...this mark here...what is it signifying?"

    Akos saw where he pointed, sighed heavily, and answered as he stared out at the ocean. "One of my tribe's greatest failures. The southern Air Temple once played home to our good friends, the Air Nomads...it was one of the first two temples that the Fire Nation attacked when their war of conquest began...about three hundred years ago, now." He turned to Alex then, and the Unovan quickly realized that this loss was one Akos and his tribe took seriously. "They were our best trading partners. Wise, humorous...and they were slaughtered for no other reason than power. By the time we knew, our fighters were too late to sail to aid them...but they went anyways."

    Alex nodded, listening intently, and he noticed his Lapras was listening as well, though she did not completely understand, she knew a mournful tone when she heard one. Akos continued, "The southern and western temples fell quickly, and the Air Nation lost half of its people in one day. The Avatar of the era, an air bender named Aang, was training at the easternmost temple at the time. He rallied the Earth Nation and the northern tribe of the Water Nation, before heading to the northern Air Temple, and evacuating the people there. The Earth Queen agreed to ferry them eastward, and the war began in earnest. Then, one day, the Avatar vanished, along with his people, and the entire eastern Air Temple. Nobody knows where they went. The Fire Nation likes to pretend they're extinct."

    Alex thought for a long moment, and then spoke. "This Avatar...did he return to fight once his people were safely vanished?"

    Akos nodded. "Avatar Aang led a combination of all three nations to the foot of the Regis Caldera, in the Fire Nation...right into the waiting jaws of a Legion of Thunder Warriors. Their counter-offensive shattered our forces, and drove them all the way back to our current destination. Aang was finally brought low at the Straits of Shuoma...by an entire company of the Imperium's Thunder Warriors. The legends tell that he wiped out most if not all of them...but their Prime Archon eventually managed to kill him, and the cycle continued. The next Avatar was a ferocious warrior, from my own tribe...and for the crime of supporting her, the Fire Nation brought us low next. They took most of our benders, released and drove off our few tamed Pokémon, but we never lost hope. For the next century and a half after the Imperium forces were shifted elsewhere, Avatar Kora waged a secret war against the Fire Nation. She did well. Very well…too well. She brought the Imperium's attention back to Koria, and once more, the Thunder Warriors brought her low. It was a different Prime Archon leading them that time...they lured Avatar Kora into a trap, and then fired until there was nothing left of her. No ashes, no skeleton, nothing. People say the Avatar didn't reincarnate into the Earth Nation after that...but I'm not so sure. The current Avatar should be about thirty by now, if they did reincarnate. Historically...that's how long mastering four elements takes. More or less."

    Alex nodded again, and tapped Pruina. She started picking up speed, and the wind began to affect his mop of curly hair, and Akos' perky ponytail as she swam quicker. "It seems to me, that every time your Guardian manages to strike back at the Fire Nation, the Thunder Warriors arrive to stop them. The Avatar is likely the Earth Nation's best kept secret...I need to speak to the...Earth Monarch. Do you know who currently reigns?"

    Akos thought for a moment, then shrugged. "The last Earth Queen was a big supporter of the war effort...but when she died and was replaced, the Earth Nation seemed to...lose their spine. All I've heard of the current Earth King is that he's never left the Earth Palace. Without stiff resistance from the Earth Nation's army, we've had...peace, as the Imperium's Iterators call it...every few months the Fire Nation arrives to take what they like from the people of Koria. Money, heirlooms, wives, nobody can stop them, and the Thunder Warriors. I don't blame them for losing hope."

    Alex turned his gaze northward, as he stood, and gave Pruina a scratch for the itch that rose behind her ear. "Hope is not going to oust the traitors, or the Imperium. But I'm willing to help." Akos began to say 'how', which was when the black and white plasma sword flew out of his bag, seemingly on its own, and then ignited in his right hand. The ocean around them was empty for miles, and Akos stared in awe as droplets from the waves marking their passage hissed against it. "You are not alone in this fight. Eous continues their long tradition of resisting the Imperium, and now, you have my aid as well."

    Akos pulled out his own weapon then, oddly shaped and made of bone. "All I have is this boomerang...how do I get one of those?" He said, as he gestured to the humming plasma sword.

    Alex smirked, and stowed the blade then, and he felt his Holodex hum to life within his pack as Lux returned to whatever it was he did on the PokéNet. "With training...and practice. Lots of practice." The smirk widened as he saw the young man's eyes narrow, and he continued, "Well...I guess I could look."

    Akos blinked. "Look?"

    Alex chuckled, and then the smirk vanished back into the passiveness he usually wore. "Don't worry, it won't hurt."

    Akos blinked again, as his voice cracked with mild panic. "Hurt!?" But Alex's eyes were already glowing an intense blue, as he focused his Future Sight on Akos. There wasn't enough power for an attack, but he could scry on his target's future, and gain an inkling to how they'd handle a psychic awakening. His eyes, especially his third, showed him many formulas, and it was easy to read those who would shirk their responsibility and go mad with the power.

    Luckily, what he saw of Akos was the young man rising to some position of tribal prominence, being a great leader, and a great friend...to a figure his mind had trouble seeing, as it was cast in Shadow that refused to be removed. He sensed a mental wave of Light from Tao, and the image cleared, focused, and revealed a man in his prime, clad in a green training robe of one who practiced the martial arts. He and Akos had their arms clasped in the Norstad style, and the visions shifted, continuing, as Alex saw the pattern, and what it needed to occur. If he befriended the Guardian's Avatar, Akos would become a powerful ally. He nodded then, and his eyes returned to normal.

    Akos just stared at him, boomerang raised defensively, as he felt nothing. He tried moving, and found it easy enough, though on a fast moving umiak, shifting was a bad idea. He'd met the Lapras' eye as her Trainer's eyes started glowing, and the creature smirked, winked, and then continued speeding through the waves, testing her stamina, and pushing her limits.

    "I will train you, if that is what you want. Only a certain kind of person can handle a sword like that. If you end up following the right path, I will awaken your talents." Alex said, once his eyes were a regular blue again.

    "I kind of just wanted the...wait, I have the talent!?" Akos said, grinning. "Psychic water benders are very powerful...and rare."

    Alex frowned slightly, as he realized Akos had far to go. That explained why he'd been at least two decades older in his vision. "It is a heavy responsibility. I have yet to determine if you would truly be up for it...the future is...always moving. It's hard to see, and what is seen can change greatly...depending on your choices."

    Akos pondered for a moment, and then snapped his fingers, deciding he definitely wanted a sword like that. "How about this: if I'm making the right choices, you give me a nod, yeah? That way you don't influence me too much, and I can tell if I'm straying. You seem...wise, for someone not much older than me...I'd like to learn what you know."

    Alex smirked, and then turned to face their destination, with his arms crossed over his chest. "In time...perhaps. Your path is your own, but...I can provide an occasional sign post. Sure. Why not."

    Pruina let out a cry, which drew the two men's attention towards their destination, and the mountain on the horizon. Before it, were a pair of cliffs, surrounding a waterway. It was almost like a fjord, but it lacked ice, and vegetation. Akos' face grew grim as he spoke. "The Straits of Shuoma...Aang's last stand."

    The Water Nation youth bowed his head, but Alex looked around, keeping silent out of respect. There were craters everywhere, in almost perfect lines, and he knew then that the rumors of the Thunder Warrior's ranged weapons, guns whose projectiles exploded on contact, were not exaggerated. They would need to be dealt with when the time came for battle, otherwise an army of such warriors with those weapons would be unstoppable. There were other marks as well though, and his psychic sight picked up residual energy that almost seemed like Light, and yet it was also different to the Light he knew. "Sensus."

    Akos glanced towards Alex as his Orbeetle appeared, and hopped onto his shoulder. "Get a trace on this energy...it will lead us to the Avatar." Sensus blipped an acknowledgement, and then quietly began blipping, as Pruina glided through the straits. She too was surveying the damage, and as she ducked under the water line, Alex shared their sight. The barren, rocky bed below was also devoid of vegetation, and looked like it too had been used in the battle. He could not yet picture how one person fought with four elements at once, but from what he had seen so far, the fighting had only gotten more intense closer to the mountainous city in the distance.

    Then, right before the straits ended in a small beach, with odd looking stairs leading up the cliffs, Alex saw the final mark of battle. Akos hid his umiak as they slid ashore, and Alex recalled Pruina as Sensus continued to blip. He breathed deep then, and reached out mentally to the shard of a Splash Plate he'd acquired from Connor what seemed like a lifetime ago. It glowed blue, and he let the energy flow through his body's network. Once it was suffused, he raised both hands towards the water, and though he was surprised at how hard it was to move relatively little water, the shallow waves of the strait parted, as Akos stared on in disbelief. "You never said you were a bender!"

    "I'm...not…" Alex managed through the strain of holding the water in place. He took a deep breath as he inhaled, raised his arms higher, and revealed what lay at the bottom. "Look…" Akos did as he was bid before he could point out that the westerner did in fact seem to be bending, and he fell to his knees as he saw the grim reality of his region's situation.

    Within a crater caused by what seemed to have been a massive release of power of some description, was the remnants of a suit of 'rock armor' that Earth Nation benders tended to use when fighting in close quarters. It was cut perfectly in two, but within the rock, were hints of white, the color of bone.

    Sensus flew down towards it, and made a mournful blip, before returning to his Trainer. "I have the trail...this sacrifice was not in vain."

    Alex exhaled, and the waves once more covered the grave of the former Avatar. "Sensus has what he needs. We can track the Avatar now." He put a clenched fist to an open palm, and bowed towards the remains. "The third round of this battle is only just beginning."

    Akos nodded, and his fists were similarly clenched, as the two men ascended the stairs towards the mountain. Alex kept Sensus on his shoulder as they approached, and while he did not sense the Guardian's Avatar in Shuoma, he blipped excitedly as they came closer.

    Akos looked up from staring at the ground as Shuoma loomed over them. "Is he-"

    "No." Alex said, crushing the hope in his companion's eyes. "But they were here at some point...and we need supplies. Information. Someone in this city knows the current Avatar...we just need to figure out who. Keep searching from your ball, Sensus...I don't want anyone trying to steal you while we're here."

    The psychic bug blipped in acknowledgement, and returned to his ball, as the two men began the long climb towards the Earth Nation city of Shuoma.
  5. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 38: Path of the Guardian, Part 1

    Shuoma City - Koria Region

    The sound of hungry Pokémon woke up Akos of the Southern Water Tribe, as the sun rose on a new day. Alex was already up, letting his team frolic, spar, and eat breakfast. Akos's Piplup had joined them, but chirped and ran over once he saw his Trainer had woken up as well. Shuoma loomed over the group in the distance, a city built into a mountain peak, adapted to its shape, to accommodate as many houses, businesses, and other buildings as possible. The Fire Nation's flag flew over the simple but sturdy battlements of the front gate, and the Earth Nation symbol carved into the topmost part of the gate was charred black, but still visible, once one got closer.

    "Initially they had it covered." Akos said, as they approached after feeding and letting their partner Pokémon relax for a bit. One of his darker brown toned hands gestured to the charred symbol. "But people kept burning the flag down, and the Earthbenders refused to remove it. Those who tried to remove it with tools, only found it remade the next morning. The Fire Nation charred it after that, and spent quite a few decades oppressing the citizens...until someone finally managed to convince the Fire Army to withdraw. You'll probably meet him later, once I find my people."

    Alex nodded, eyeing the charred symbol as he did. "Charred, but still visible. Still standing. Much like your region." He quieted, as the pair approached the 'gate', which was really just a section of wall that the earthbenders opened and closed manually.

    Once the pair of guards outside Shuoma's gates bought their somewhat true story of a water tribal innocuously guiding an ignorant westerner through the hotspots of the Koria region, Alex and Akos began their search for the Avatar by splitting off in separate directions. Akos knew many of his fellows in the Water Nation were rebels, but he himself was not one. He tracked down his people, as only a water bender could, using the same codes and tricks Avatar Kora had created for the rebellion in her time, that had passed to Akos from his father, and grandfather before him. There was no way they would ever approach him with a giant pale-skinned foreigner in tow. Even garbed as he was, Alex stuck out as a foreigner. He wasn't the only one in the city, but a flash of hands or cheeks gave him away with his inherited lighter beige skin tones, and the instantly noticeable size. Most Korians averaged around five feet, but he soon found he was not the only foreigner. They seemed Varangian, and given what the Imperium had done to their region, they seemed very much like refugees who were somewhere between trying to start over, and struggling to exist.

    For his part, Alex stuck to what he knew, and what he knew when he saw it, was a Pokémon Gym, right beside a Pokémon Center, in what he soon learned was the central area of the city, and the only part of it that had a Pokémon Center able to treat injured Pokémon.

    He entered the gym, and was greeted by a strange sight, one that soon became evaluated by his psychic sight. A man who looked very much like a Gym Leader of a ground type gym was going toe to toe with a Rhyperior, though neither one of them was using Moves he recognized. As Alex watched, he realized they were bending the ground to strike, and the all out rock themed brawl reminded him of Royal Mask and one of his classically larger opponents, but with rocks.

    The Rhyperior made a motion with both of its arms, filling the air with rocks that Alex watched it effortlessly keep aloft, before a swift shift in motion sent them hurtling towards what appeared to be his Trainer, judging by the Pokémon's surface thoughts. Said Trainer proceeded to plant his feet in a wide stance, and smash all of the projectiles with nothing but his fists, and speed. He then spun, keeping one foot planted as the other lifted a large part of the field that seemed glued to his foot, until gravity and his spin's momentum sent it hurtling at the Rhyperior.

    The rock rhino roared, and spun up its Horn Drill, just before the rock made contact, making the chance of hitting much higher than usual. The boulder broke in half across his horn, but the two halves never hit the ground, as the Rhyperior took control of them, and then sent them back with a powerful Rock Throw. This kind of back and forth continued for several minutes, before finally, the Pokémon ran out of power.

    That didn't stop him, but his struggle was obvious, and while the human was flagging, he still had more left in the tank, and finished the match with several sudden jutting pieces of the ground striking the Pokémon all at once. He planted his feet in the rocky floor as he shifted within it and moved, rather quickly, towards his partner. One hand fished for something within his dark green and brown attire. He pulled out something that looked like a blue Max Revive and tossed it in the weakened Pokémon's mouth.

    After several hundred hours of watching various team members do something similar with the earth, through the Move classified as Earthquake, and this demonstration, Alex felt reasonably confident he could move it as well. As he tried reaching out to the ground however, it remained as silent and still as it always had.

    "Hello there, stranger. I take it you're here to challenge my Gym?" Alex glanced up as the man who'd gone one on one with a Rhyperior, and won, approached him. His hair was a wild, spikey, unkempt mess, but up close, his physique was much more chiseled than Alex had expected. He clearly put effort into his training, though judging by his Rhyperior, he was more focused on bending mastery than Pokémon training.

    Alex spied only one other ball on his belt, and then met the man's gaze evenly, as they seemed to be almost exactly the same height. "I am. I heard there was a Pokémon League in the Koria region. Figured I would try to tackle it."

    The man nodded. "I am your first in this region, foreigner?"

    Alex nodded in return, and the slightly graying man chuckled with a deep, booming laugh.

    "The locals call me Leader Boomi. I'm the only serious Pokémon Trainer in Shuoma. The rest of these wimps don't train nearly as hard as I do! Let us see who has the stronger Pokémon." He crouched then, and the ground depressed, and then erupted, as he used it to leap, flip through the air, and land on his side of the battlefield he'd been facing his Rhyperior on. "I should warn you, we do things a bit differently in Koria. Thanks to our...strong Imperium overtones...the idea of battling alongside our partners has caught on, over the years. Since you're not a bender, I'll face you with just my Pokémon, but in other Gyms, without bending, you will be at a severe disadvantage."

    Alex arched a brow as he took his own spot on the field. "I can handle a handicap... but I see why Pokémon battling has fallen out of style with your non-benders...it's not fun, constantly losing to such an advantage. You can tell I'm not a bender so easily?"

    Boomi chuckled. "Call it a hunch. Most foreigners can't hack it...but there's fire in your eyes. It reminds me of the last foreigner that came to my Gym."

    Alex stroked the curly beard that covered most of his jaw, and half of his cheeks. "If you think you can teach me to bend the earth, I would like to learn."

    That, seemed to pique Boomi's interest, and there was a similar fire in the chiseled man's intense gaze. "Very well...beat my Pokémon team, and I shall try to educate you in the art of Earthbending."

    Everything Alex's eyes were telling him said this was the formulaic path to both his need for a Mega Evolution solution, and finding the Guardian's Avatar. He continued to follow it, as after splitting from Akos, his unique perspective of the world and the randomness of the universe had led him here. He felt Arbor's ball twitch, as Boomi mentioned battle, and he knew the Grovyle, close as he was to evolution, was eager to test himself against such a strong opponent.

    "You're on." He nodded, and Arbor burst free from his ball. He dropped into a battle crouch, and held his palms so they faced the other, as he readied his Energy Ball. The Rhyperior returned, was given a potion, and then eagerly proclaimed how ready he was for battle.

    "Energy Ball."

    "Wedge Block! Then counter!"

    Alex's eyes narrowed at the move his opponent called, as it was unfamiliar. The Rhyperior smashed the ground as Arbor spun up his Energy Ball between his hands, and a rocky wedge shaped shield rose before the Rhyperior, right as the attack fired. It smashed into the shield, as it ricocheted off of it into a wall. Then, half of the wedge suddenly became a sharp flying triangle of rock headed towards the grassy reptile, and Alex knew avoiding it would be a good idea.


    Arbor's eyes lit up with psychic power, and Alex sensed their bond deepen as he drew on the one psychic related ability his species could learn. He moved faster than the eye could track, as the Rhyperior launched the other half of the wedge. The rapidly moving grass lizard dodged both, before Alex ordered another attack. "Good, now Leaf Blade!"

    Boomi smirked. "Getting in close to a Rhyperior with a special attacker. Not the choice I would've made…Megahorn!" The Rhyperior's horn glowed with the familiar light green belonging to bug typed energy, and it swiftly bashed away both of Arbor's Leaf Blades, before the Rhyperior made to strike the quickly backtracking Grovyle's chest.

    "Use Quick Attack to dodge, and then counter with an Energy Ball." Arbor looked back at him, and Alex nodded. "Point blank." The Grovyle smirked, and turned to face the slowly charging Rhyperior. With his heightened perception, even a charging rock rhino seemed slow. Something odd began to happen though, as Arbor moved. Alex felt his heartbeat, and that of his Grovyle, begin to synchronize. Arbor dodged the Megahorn easily, as in that moment it seemed like he could see both through his eyes, and his Trainer's. While Alex had done something similar before with Blaze and others, this felt different somehow. More intimate. He was glad his Grovyle thought so highly of him, and those feels were reciprocated as his Grovyle did as ordered. While the thin aura of white certainly looked like a Quick Attack, the way his Grovyle moved with it was impressive, and since Alex had a direct line to the grass lizard's mind, he realized his partner had dodged the rock rhino's horn jabs with nothing but instinct.

    Then, Arbor seemed to vanish with his quadrupled speed, only to reappear and hit the Rhyperior from behind with his condensed Energy Ball, sending the heavy rock rhino sailing through the air, before he caught himself on his arms as he all but crashed to the ground. In a smooth motion he spun to his feet again, taking two pieces of floor with him as he struck back, throwing them at Arbor as he did. Alex smirked, and called the move that would likely finish the round. "Leaf Blade."

    Arbor's arm blades hummed to life, sliced through both rocks, and then culminated in a final dual-slash right on the Rhyperior's chest. The moderately strong Pokémon let out a cry as he collapsed, but it was Alex who gave him the Max Revive this time. He looked up suddenly, as light blinded his peripheral vision, and he stared, as his Grovyle evolved, his form largening, growing, until it reformed for the last time, as a Sceptile.

    Alex gave his Sceptile a fist bump as the Rhyperior lumbered back, somewhat confused by the fact that the human had responded to his 'thank you' for the Max Revive as if he'd understood his words. Boomi spoke then. "Well done, Challenger...and thank you. My own supply of Revives is...limited. The Imperium keeps Gym Leaders poorly stocked, in case we try helping the Air Rebels...even though the League has stressed its neutrality. I have one more challenge for you."

    He threw his second ball, after recalling his Rhyperior, and revealed instead a Diggersby. Upon seeing the Diggersby, Alex nodded to himself. This was Boomi's first Pokémon, of that he was sure. It was bigger, its ear-arms were thicc and heavily muscled, and as the heavy appendages rhythmically pounded the floor, an aura of ground type energy flared up around the Diggersby.

    Alex nodded as he scratched under Arbor's chin, and recalled him. He was more than a match for the ground pounding bunny, but he had others on his team that could rise to this challenge, and needed the experience. "Canis, you're up. Cinder, you watch."

    From where he'd been hiding, in the shadows by the gym's door, Alex's Riolu padded out, as mild and seemingly chill as ever, onto the battlefield. Beside him, Alex's Scorbunny appeared, eyes wide as he got a proper look at a Pokémon strong enough to manifest its aura as a shield. The Exp. Share harness had switched to him, but his Trainer wanted the eager fire bunny to see how intense battle could be first hand.

    Canis bowed in the Unovan style to the ground typed bunny, who mimicked the movement with his ears, as the battle began, though his eyes darted to the Scorbunny, and narrowed, as he resumed his ready position. Boomi took the initiative this time shouting, "Flopsy, Bulldoze it!" The Diggersby responded enthusiastically by lowering his arm-ears, linking them as they powered up with ground type energy, and charged at Canis.

    If the Riolu was alarmed, his face didn't show it, beyond a widening of his eyes. He dropped into the Dragon Style's ready position, and waited for his own command, which came quickly behind Boomi's. "Go high with Quick Attack, and then bring a Brick Break down on it!" Canis' tiny form lit up with white light, as he dashed towards the bulldozing bunny, only to leap into the air, and dodge the move.

    He shifted direction in the air with an imperfect Vacuum Wave, that was more of a Vacuum Poof, as his paws lit with fighting energy. Flopsy raised an ear to catch the paw that smashed down at him, but the type advantage won out over the Diggersby's aura shield, and left him on the ground, as Canis leapt away, and fell again into his fighting crouch.

    For his part, Boomi stroked his unruly tuft of brown chin hair. "I can tell you're close with your partners, stranger...but I'm curious. Why do you Battle?" As his Trainer spoke, Flopsy rose back up, snarling as he still had plenty left in the tank. By Alex's estimate, Canis's best move would clinch the victory.

    Alex couldn't help himself, as he lowered his furry hood, smirked, and turned his basic Unovan style hat backwards. "To be the best. Ever." Boomi smirked as well, as Alex spoke again. "Canis...Focus Energy…"

    "Dig!" Boomi said, and his partner obeyed, slipping quickly below the gym floor's rocky surface. "I see...and is winning all that matters to you?"

    "Of course not. It's not about winning...or losing." Alex said, as both he and Canis watched for the Diggersby's strike. They were less in sync then he and his Sceptile had been, but Alex knew that would change, with time. "It's about the path we choose to walk...and ours leads to the top of this League, and the top of all the others. Wait for it to surface, Canis…"

    The punchy puppy nodded, as his eyes were closed, and his energy became more focused. Then, suddenly, his 'ears' flared up, and Flopsy emerged, wreathed in ground type aura as he intended to smash the Riolu. "Now! Focus Blast!"

    The fighting energy swirling around his Riolu was skillfully redirected into a ball of dense energy that hammered the Diggersby. To his credit, he fought against the energy, and to Boomi's credit, he didn't give up either. "Try adding a spin to your Dig! Break through!"

    Unfortunately, breaking into the dense sphere of fighting energy only caused it to explode, and the resulting boom left the ground typed bunny unconscious on the gym floor. Canis, for his part, hadn't moved. He stood gracefully from his fighting crouch, and then looked up at his Trainer, as his tail wagged. Alex chuckled, and tossed him something the locals, and Akos, had called a 'meat bun'. Canis had declared them his new favorite thing to shove in his mouth, and it was one such bun Alex gave him now. He sat where he received it, and began munching. His tail did not cease wagging, and only increased in speed after each bite.

    Boomi came over, once his partner was revived and recalled, and he seemed to eye Alex more closely this time. "Seems I've been had...you're no beginner. Neither one of my partners made yours so much as flinch...I guess Unova really does have strong Trainers."

    Alex smirked, and readjusted his hat and hood. "The strongest."

    Boomi nodded, then looked him over again. "Excuse my bluntness...but you seem very familiar. Do you mind if I ask your name, stranger?"

    Right as Alex was about to say 'Lee', as he'd met five people with variations of Lee on his way here, the gym door opened behind him. "Ahh, there he is. I told you he'd be here, the man is obsessed with Battle. Hey, Alex! I found my friends. They're uh, ready to talk with you." Akos came into the gym, followed by two other members of the Water Nation who had similar blue toned outfits that matched Akos. One was a woman with wavy hair the same color as Akos's, who was scowling in Alex's general direction, and an older member of the tribe who was sporting several harsh but long healed burns along the entire left side of his body that looked anything but natural.

    The widening of Boomi's eyes was all that gave away his recognition of the similarity in the face and name of the stranger who'd come to challenge him, and a certain world leader. If he made any connections, he said nothing, and instead looked at his new guests. He broke into a smile. "Ara. Boto. It's been a long time."

    The two arrivals flanking Akos bowed to the man, as Akos seemed alone in not understanding why people were treating the crazy haired and ridiculously shredded shirtless old man with so much respect. Boomi crossed his arms after he returned their bow, as the somewhat manic looking eyes moved back to his latest victor. "I had a feeling you were someone important...one would think such a person would make more of an effort to hide in a potentially hostile region."

    Alex smirked. "I have my hood, since it's rather cold in your region. And my beard is longer. I'd change my skin tone, but fairy type glamours literally burn me when I try forming them so...I make do. I knew you might find out, but I'm willing to take that risk...ever since I learned about your League, I've been wondering...how is a normal Trainer, even with bending, supposed to take on eight masters of other styles, and win? It seems to me like this setup is designed to find a special kind of individual...one the First Dragon wishes to aid."

    The woman introduced as Ara narrowed her eyes at him. "Dragon? What dragon? Boomi, you seem to have more of a clue than my brother. Who is this guy?"

    Boomi stroked his beard, smirking as he answered Ara. "The newest Dragon Emperor of Unova, or a very good lookalike." His eyes shifted to Ara as he spoke, and he then looked to Boto, who glanced at Akos, shrugged, and then smirked back at the Gym Leader. "Very well, Alex...let's say we believe who you are, and what your purpose here is...if you get discovered, you're going to plunge your nation into a war."

    "Perhaps." Alex said, smirk widening. "Or perhaps greater minds than ours are convinced that the Imperator's attention is embroiled elsewhere, and now is the ideal time to liberate Koria. His Prime Archons have all been deployed somewhere I can't mention. But I do know we have some time to prepare, strike the Fire Nation, and free your region from the Imperium's influence. First...we need to find the Guardian's Avatar."

    Ara spoke, scowling with undisguised disbelief at the far too chill foreigner claiming to be someone important. "Oh do we. Do you know how long the Imperator's attention will be occupied?"

    Alex pondered for a moment with a downward glance, before he met the woman's eyes again. "Until the end of the summer at most...I intend to help you all so you're ready much quicker. Just tell me what you need."

    Ara walked towards him then, and by reflex, he stood a little straighter as she peered at him. "You're going to be our rich western uncle? Very well...we need equipment. Weapons. A way of communicating with our allies long distance, that can't be traced. Can you handle that, 'Dragon Emperor'?" She said, finishing with air quotes from her fingers.

    Alex ignored her jibe, and in that moment realized she was quite a bit younger than he'd assumed. Living under the Imperium hardened everyone, but the hormonal roller coaster of puberty had not yet finished with Ara, that much, was clear. "Just tell me where you want it, and I can move it in...do you have a main base of some kind? I need an anchor, for my method of transport."

    The foreigner's seeming indifference to her verbal jab at his credibility drove one of Ara's eyes to twitch, but she turned incredulous as he asked for their base's location. "Like we're just going to take you there!"

    Alex rolled his eyes, and then they fell on Akos, with a meaningful look. Akos stepped up to the woman then, and with the two together, the fairly obvious family resemblance became clearer. "Look sis, I've known him longer. He's good people. Pokémon like him. I think we can trust him."

    "Trust is earned, not given." Ara said, as she quoted one of Avatar Kora's more popular sayings, from the end of her mortal coil. At that, both Boomi and Boto nodded as well, and Alex sighed inwardly, as he knew what came next. A task, likely menial, that would somehow demonstrate his loyalty to the cause.

    With her hands on her hips, the female Southern Water Tribe native met Alex's gaze evenly. "We have allies in the Great Swamp that are having trouble with the Fire Nation. Their Trainers are too strong. If you are who you say you are, and the hype around your strength isn't an exaggeration," Her expression clearly signaled that she believed it was, in fact, exaggerated, "Then you should be able to help them deal with the Firebenders no problem."

    Boomi chimed in as Alex prepared to decline, politely, and emphasize the need for speed, and just how fast he could get them supplies if they'd but lead him to the area they'd defended best. "The Great Swamp is home to another Gym Leader...though he's not so big on Gyms. He's a Waterbender, and you will be hard pressed to match him without bending of your own." Boomi met Ara's eyes then. "He can stay for a while, try to learn the basics of Earthbending, as we agreed before we battled, then he can go see Hyu."

    Ara sighed, deeply. "Fine. Their tactics can buy us a few days, maybe a week, but you know what they'll do if we wait too long, Boomi. The Fire Nation is convinced there's Air Rebels in the swamp."

    Boomi's subtly shrinking smirk vanished altogether, at that. "Then we must begin immediately…" His eyes shifted back to Alex, as he walked closer to the foreigner and extended his hand. Within it was a Badge, green and gold, and shaped in the style of the Earth Nation's symbol. "For winning the Badge of my city, you have earned the right to have your aptitude for Earthbending tested...come with me."

    With a single shift in movement, and before the others could so much as move or reply, Boomi made a motion with his hands, and the entire battlefield flipped. Akos and Boto had hard falls, while the others landed on their feet. The room below was dark, but after a brief scratching sound, Boomi lit a built-in lantern embedded within the rock of the wall with a match. The flame followed the flammable but not easily charred material along what appeared to be a tunnel that led into more darkness. Every few feet, a new lantern lit with the same flame.

    Boomi talked, as the group walked. "Shuoma has been resisting the Imperium ever since the day the Fire Nation betrayed us for power, and slaughtered the Air Nation. I eventually convinced the fire tossers to leave. Made them think the entire city was ridden with plague. Every time they return with one of their Thunderhawks, we give them the same news. Massive death toll, highly infectious, etcetera. If the Imperium is wise to my scam, they haven't done anything about it, and the Fire Nation seems just as eager to leave us alone. Provided we don't cause trouble."

    Alex arched a brow at the old man. "You mean...you're bluffing the military might of the world's largest government? And it's working?"

    Boomi tapped his nose with a pointer finger and a mad gleam in his eye. "As you said, Redwood. It appears that the Imperator is...distracted. Koria is a minor acquisition, and Shuoma is not its largest city. The largest resources we have are people, and maybe cabbages, and if those people are defective by Imperium standards, they think we aren't worth bothering with. Until we become a threat, of course."

    By the time they'd finished speaking, they'd reached the end of the long tunnel, and emerged into a room that, Alex guessed, was ideal for earth bending training. Massive boulders, the kind Arthur had honed his Rock Smash on in their early days, lined one wall. The other was filled with bowls atop pedestals that looked like they were holding various pebbles of rock. In the center was a meditation spot, where Boomi crossed his legs and sat patiently. Surrounding it, engraved into the stone of the floor, was a large depiction of the Earth Nation's symbol.

    "Begin with the bowls." Boomi said, as he placed his closed fists together over his lap, and closed his eyes. "They will get harder to punch through as you go down the line. Don't try to rush...bending the earth requires great patience."

    Alex approached the bowls, and a portion of the wall they were arrayed before slid down, revealing another human. His eyes were narrow, and the set of his face made him seem to perpetually scowl. His skin tone was as dark tan as the rest of his region's people, and he demonstrated what Alex was to do.

    With a wave of his gaunt hand, the man hardened the contents of the first bowl, which to Alex appeared to be little more than dirt and pebbles. Then, he formed his hand into a flat, extended, and stiffened shape, before he plunged both of his hands into the solid rock three times, in rapid succession. He then gestured to Alex to do the same.

    For his part, Alex had watched how the man achieved this task. His network of inner energy, much like Boomi's, was inundated with rock and ground typed energy, but this close, his eyes were telling him the man was evidently normal typed, with a strong tie to ground energy as well. Alex put his hands on the pebbles within the bowl, and focused. His eyes snapped open though, as the man struck him across the face, only to find the foreigner's face did not give an inch. "Not like that."

    Alex chuckled, meeting the man's gaze as he completely ignored the slap. "I'm not born to this like you are...give me a moment."

    The man, for some reason, made to slap him again, when Boomi held up a hand, and spoke simultaneously, stopping the man's strike as he heard Boomi's voice. "Don't. Ki-sai, he is right. If he can do this, it will not be the same way we do. Do as he asks."

    Alex gave Ki-sai a smirk, which seemed to quietly infuriate him more, but Alex put the thin earthbender from his mind as he again focused, and tried to draw in the natural energy of the earth. His Splash Plate crystal had aided him before, outside Shuoma, but he knew Boomi would not allow him to draw on his crystals now, and relying on them too much would defeat the point of learning this kind of energy manipulation. He intended to use them to empower his attacks, like his partners did, but first, he needed to master the basics.

    He sat for many minutes in patient silence, as he mentally drowned out the thoughts echoing around him, rather loudly. Ara was glaring, remarking to herself how dumb his body shape looked, Ki-sai had similar, much more racially biased thoughts, though it seemed meeting his gaze had been what set him off. Evidently looking at a teacher directly was disrespectful in his culture. Only Boomi was truly focused, so Alex focused on his lack of thought, and breathed. Then, he felt it. When he became perfectly still, he was able to draw in the power of the stone below his hands into his own inner energy network. He focused on breathing then, and within ten breaths, had suffused his network with the required power.

    Then, he struck the rock as Ki-sai had, and blinked, as it moved to accommodate his oversized hands rather easily. Ki-sai moved to the next bowl, and seemed to glower at him. "Again!"

    Again Alex struck, only this time, his hand did not sink in as deep. He noticed there was a slow, but steady leak of the gathered energy, and that movement made it leave faster. As he struck the second bowl a second time, he realized he needed to purposefully hold in the energy, as he moved, or the resulting earthbending would be weaker, and it seemed holding his breath during the movement helped.

    He repeated this, making his way down the line, until they reached the final bowl. Ki-sai smirked at Alex, this time. "Even I cannot break this one. It is the hardest rock we have found in this region. You will fail as well."

    Alex rose to the challenge from this new, irritating rival, and he did not see the slight smirk Boomi wore as he continued meditating. Alex drew in as much earth energy as he could, and then like Terra, focused it into his limbs. He only required one limb for this, and with a single chopping motion, his hand slashed through the bowl's contents, the bowl itself, and the pillar. Ki-sai waved away the dust, and his left eye twitched with fury as he saw the mess the arrogant foreigner had made.

    Boomi's commanding tones filled the room, before their antagonizing personalities could spark into a fight. "Good! The rumors are true. You are strong, Redwood." He stood and turned all in one motion, and both Alex and Ki-sai quailed slightly, as they felt the power emanating from Boomi. He fell rapidly into a martial stance with a single motion, and gestured for Alex to 'bring it'. To his psychic eyes, Boomi was holding in, somehow, more earth typed nature energy than Alex could, and he was doing so with ease. "Come, Pokémon Trainer...it is time we dueled again."

    Alex strode forward, drawing in more energy with each step, using the moment in which he stepped, and stood still for an instant between strides, to draw in more earth energy. It was nowhere even close to Boomi's level, but he refused to lose without giving it his all. He fell into his Dragon Stance, and Boomi tutted. "You're going to find that fire and air work far better with your Dragon's martial style. Do you know anything more...power-based?"

    Alex nodded, and shifted stances. He had not completely mastered the Foggy Swamp style that Oranguru taught, but he knew it well enough. Boomi was correct as well, for he felt the gathered nature energy respond and settle much better into this stance than it had with Tao's.

    "Let's start...simple." Boomi said, shifting and bringing one shredded arm forward in a swift punch. A chunk of the floor moved with his motion, and Alex spun into it, in an attempt to chop through the small boulder. It broke apart around his hand as he made it listen and bend, and then like Boomi's Rhyperior, caught the chunks with his own power. He sent them back with a counter spin, and Boomi's fists caught them and turned them into sand in his palms. "Not bad at all, Redwood."

    Alex bowed in the Unovan style. "I'm a fast learner."

    Boomi grinned. "Again!" He said, before sending three rocks this time. As a style developed by an Oranguru and mastered by Passimian, Alex was ideally suited for handling roughly ball shaped rock projectiles. He sent back each rock, making use of his awkwardly long arms and a few Dragon Style spinning motions to give them more heat, not all that different to how the Passimian who'd mastered this style returned punches.

    Boomi spent the next several hours, the rest of the day, moving Alex through the forms of basic earthbending styles, and having him memorize them once he learned that the psychic foreigner had a memory like a bear trap. Finally, Boomi ended their training session. "That will do, I think...you have mastered and memorized all you need to know, to face Hyu and manage a win. Practice what you have been shown, Redwood. You will make a fine Earthbender."

    Alex held up a single finger, and couldn't resist smirking. "There's one more thing I'd like to try...just be ready to stabilize these tunnels if it gets too...strong."

    Boomi cackled. "You don't have the strength to bring down these tunnels, Redwood. I made them myself!"

    Alex just smirked, and focused the earth energy in his bodily energy network into his arms and hands. The idea had come from Terra, but he also sensed he had Hydrus' attention as well. The rest of his main team was busy relaxing or socializing with what Pokémon were around them, but his mudfish and grass tortoise were keeping a mental eye on him with what seemed like amusement, and curiosity. Alex had been able to replicate an Earthquake by hitting the ground before, usually at high speeds, and then breaking it with a wave of psychic energy. It hadn't been as powerful as an Earthquake from a Pokémon, but he had made due, and it had broken the ground under his Arcean targets all the same.

    What he attempted now was, in essence, what his team had done, often, in past battles, and it was their energy flow he copied as he raised his fists, brought them down, and focused the resulting bending of earth towards Boomi, who he assumed could handle it. The room shook, the earth broke, in a straight line towards Boomi, who raised a wild, unkempt eyebrow, and then simply shifted one foot, never letting it leave the floor. The trail of the miniquake arced away from the master earthbender, and dissipated harmlessly.

    Boomi smirked at him. "I look forward to seeing that once you understand the earth a bit better. For now, you have memorized what you need. You should be able to make your way to Hyu and the Great Swamp tomorrow. Tonight though, we shall feast! I haven't had a good feast in ages."

    As Boomi seemingly sank into the ground where he sat, presumably to prepare the feast, Akos came up to Alex. "That's two Elements I've seen you bend now, Alex...are you sure you're not the Guardian's Avatar?"

    Alex smirked. "What I did outside the city was...different. But similar. I think I have the capacity to...imitate your Avatar, but I doubt I'm anywhere near as strong. Even when I master this...from what Tao described, it sounds like your Avatar fused with the Guardian at some point in your history. That would make them as strong as a Legendary Pokémon."

    This time, Boto chimed in, as he walked forward, leaving Ara scowling by the entrance. "Actually, it takes many years for an Avatar to be that strong...only when wielding the four Elements can they hope to stand up to the might of the Imperium. It has been many years since Koria had an Avatar like that, in the spring of youth."

    Alex arched an eyebrow at the man. "If my math is right, the newest Avatar should be...what, early twenties? Younger? I get the feeling you know them, Boto."

    Ara stepped forward then, and the accusation in her tone caused Alex to sigh inwardly, as he resisted the human urge to rise to her bait. "Reading his mind now, are you? I'm still not convinced. For all we know, you could be an Imperium spy!"

    Alex stayed calm as he formed a response, and then tossed it into his mental trash bin, as her brother rose to her bait instead. "Is my word not good enough, Aratak? I said he's good people! When have I ever been wrong? Besides, he's a psychic. The Imperium hates psychics."

    Ara gave her brother a wide smirk. "How about that time those pirates from Eous came to our village? You practically invited their ship into our port, and they almost took it over, Akos. We don't even know that he's psychic, and if you remember, the Imperium has psychics as well. He could be part of the Collegia Psykana." The blue eyes narrowed as they focused on Alex. "A Librarius spy."

    At that point, Alex closed his eyes, and the boulders lining one side of the room began glowing with a deep blue aura, and floating. He opened his eyes then, and Ara flinched, as she saw them burning with deep blue waves of intensity. His voice, slightly shifted by the reverb which accompanied channeling such powers, echoed through the room. "I am no spy. The Imperium requires genetic modification, and alteration to their genes, to achieve that which I was born with." He let the rocks land then, and let the power fade. "This is the first time I've even heard of a...Collegia Psykana. Are you saying the Imperium has an entire school dedicated to training psychics?"

    Ara simply nodded, after that display, and then spoke quietly, mostly to Akos. "I...agree. That is the kind of power the Imperium hates...it reminds me of General Meelo...fine. I'll trust your word Akos," Her eyes shifted back to Alex then and held no less suspicion. "But you, I refuse to trust blindly. You'll need to earn it."

    Alex thought for a moment, and then nodded, and bowed low to her. "All I ask, is for the chance to prove my intentions."

    Ara gave him a grunt, and at that point, Ki-sai reappeared, in slightly less dirty attire that was still keeping with the same shades of green and brown that seemed common to the Earth Nation. The feast was meager, by feast standards, but Alex didn't complain, as he'd seen the poverty many citizens above lived in. The Pokémon were fed, and that was more important to him. Many of his new team were eager, after watching Arbor win, and then evolve.

    Cinder was the most eager, as he bounced around the room with barely contained energy, but was skillful enough to not disturb the feasting humans with his antics. Alex let him practice, and burn off his energy, as he knew Scorbunny were often like this. They needed some kind of outlet, daily, or their inner fire would become too intense to use safely.

    Alex noticed Ara watching his team, from Pruina keeping Temere from wandering off, to the egg he polished with a warm cloth once he'd had his fill. He hadn't eaten much himself, and had decided to forgo seconds in favor of tending to his team. Once he brought the egg from his bag, he saw the watchful teen's eyes light up, but that light faded, as they fell back on him. He wasn't sure why she disliked him so much, but he was somewhere between not caring, and still wanting to make a good impression.

    "Do you know what will hatch from that?" Ara finally asked, and Akos smirked as he gnawed on what was probably his third meat haunch. Given that part of the bone was protruding, he hadn't opted for silverware.

    "Don't waste your time, sis. He doesn't hand out his secrets that easily." Akos muttered.

    Alex just smirked. "I told you I wasn't entirely sure, Akos. I have a guess, based on the pattern, but I do know it's at least part fairy type. That, with the pattern, makes me think he's a Togepi. But again, I could be wrong."

    Akos munched quietly for a moment, then looked at Boto. "Do you know what a Togepi is?"

    Boto shrugged, and it was Ara who answered. "They're fairly common in the Sinnoh region. Or, they used to be...I hear things have changed quite a bit over there. Something about a foreign, hostile takeover?"

    Ara directed her layered question to Alex, who pondered as he wiped down the egg with the warm cloth in the same pattern that had hatched the few other eggs he'd seen and cared for in his time. He was less of a breeder, and more of a catcher when it came to Pokémon, but caring for Miltank and Tauros eggs had been one of the few aspects of his old life that he still missed.

    "Yes...the same force that threatened my region, and the rest of the eastern states, also made landfall in Sinnoh, and then moved south to Kanto and Johto. They had quite a bit of Imperium technology, too. The Trainers of Japan were able to drive them back. With a bit of western assistance. Sinnoh got the brunt of the damage though. It will take a few years to build it back up to what it was." Alex finished wiping down the egg, and sensing the comfort from the life within, carefully put it back into the safety of his bag. "I don't think mine is from Sinnoh...but I can tell he's a good egg. That's good enough for me. Time will tell if he's also a Battler."

    Ara arched a thin eyebrow then. "And if he isn't?"

    Alex shrugged. "Then I let him do whatever it is he wants to do, ideally once he's strong enough and old enough to be on his own."

    Ara's eyebrow rose further. "You'd just let him go? An egg you cared for, hatched, and then raised?"

    Alex chuckled lightly. "Part of being a Trainer is knowing what your partners need, and want. What they want isn't always Battle. It's my job as their Trainer to ensure that they're happy, doing things that make them happy, ideally in a setting where they're also useful to society as a whole. I've yet to meet a Pokémon that was unwilling to help the greater good the Original Dragon is trying to create."

    Ara nodded, seemingly accepting that answer, and shortly after that, the feast was finished, and everyone departed to bed. Alex awoke early the next morning, gave his team breakfast, and then Boomi had them on their way to the Great Swamp in under an hour. It was a straight, southern route to the swamp from Shuoma, and the trip down wasn't too exciting. A few Pokémon jumped out at them on the road, especially when the road became more tall grass than road, but between Akos' Piplup and Alex, who used Cinder and Temere depending on what type of Pokémon they ran into, the group was largely fine.

    Alex noticed that Ara also had Pokéballs, but he hadn't seen her team, and there were only three of them on her belt, hidden away from easy viewing. He'd scanned them mentally enough to know they were water types, which wasn't a surprise. She didn't bring them out on the trip down, though. While it was technically fine to keep Pokémon in their balls indefinitely, as they eventually entered a sort of stasis if kept within long enough, the overwhelming consensus among Trainers was that giving them fresh air and food regularly was the best way to keep them happy.

    When they finally arrived at the Great Swamp, Alex could tell Cinder was close to evolving, and Temere had grown to trust the commands given to him in battle. After dealing with more than a few flying types, he was getting the hang of aiming his Thunderbolts with more accuracy. It was a far cry from his laser-sighted Luxray, but Temere was still young.

    The swamp itself was less hazy than Oranguru's but the stench was still the same. Alex had images of nostalgia flash through his mind as he recalled the last time he'd come to such a place to train. His current team was greener than the others had been, and there had only been six of them at the time, but he had a feeling his 'B Team' would be a bit stronger once they left. No visions of Arceus or impromptu battles with the deity occurred on their trek through. Akos and Alex switched off between having Cinder and his Piplup battle the grass types they came across, and it was after several hours of trekking into the vast swamp that Akos suddenly stopped swinging the Water Nation machete he'd borrowed from Boto, and paused their forward progress.

    Alex, Ara, and Boto stepped forward to see what had stopped him. A massive root blocked their path, and Akos sighed. "I can't cut through this."

    Alex walked up, and placed a hand on the root, then smirked, as it reminded him in many ways of the Swamp Tree. It was older, though. Much older. Its voice was too slow to listen to right then, but he did get a brief psychic impression of just how large the Great Swamp truly was. "We don't need to cut through." He said, after a moment. "In fact...we should stop cutting altogether...there are other ways to move through the swamp."

    Akos sighed. "How are we supposed to get where we're going if we don't make a path?"

    Alex turned his head towards his newest friend, and smirked. "You're focused so much on making your path, that you're not paying attention to the trees. Or tree, in this case. We're already where we wanted to be. The center of the swamp." He raised a hand then, and psychically levitated their group onto the massive root. He looked at Ara and Boto then. "Where is this...Hyu person we're supposed to meet?"

    Boto answered first. "In my experience, he's usually under this very tree...meditating. He probably already knows we're here."

    Boto took the lead, as the group climbed the massive root, which eventually led to a massive trunk. Once they were properly beneath the sky-blocking canopy that had to stretch for at least two miles, Akos spoke again. "So...does anyone see him? What does Hyu even look like?"

    The group turned at once, as Canis leapt from his perch on Alex's pack, and growled, falling into a fighting stance as something large and deep bluish green came hurtling towards them. It was attached to the tree by a vine linked to the canopy, and Alex stepped up behind the Riolu as he sensed the mass was indeed alive. He sensed both a Pokémon mind and a human's within the mix of vines however, and spoke to Canis. "Easy, boy...let them attack first, if attack is their plan." Canis nodded, and his 'ears' flared as he readied himself, but did not strike first.

    The fast-moving blob of vines hurtled past them, and the group watched as it swung up, and then let gravity bring it back. It was aimed towards them, and Canis growled again, but Alex reinforced the order to hold, and wait. Several more times it swung by them, before stopping in front of the Riolu. The vines parted, and seemed to vomit out a man, drenched in water and plant fibers.

    He was stocky and big boned, like Alex, though his body lacked muscle definition and he smelled like a mix of adult human body odor, and swamp water. His feet were coated in hardened brown mud, and the only clothing he was sporting was a leaf wrap and some cloth around his waist, keeping his man bits from showing, to the strangers. His face was round, and bearded, though his mustache was less impressive. His hair was wild and unkempt, with leaves and dirt mixed into it that suggested a natural living style that Alex had a feeling was by choice. His eyes, were on the Tangrowth behind Hyu, still hanging from the canopy. It was strong, that much was obvious, and given how few Tangela ever learned Ancientpower, it suggested the dirty swamp man before him was a decent Trainer.

    Throughout their journey here, Alex had only encountered two other Trainers, who had Pokémon as something more like a pet, than someone they battled with to be the best on the planet. They had provided decent experience for his budding team, but he wished there were more of them. Unova had been home to thousands of Trainers willing to battle him, each with their own style of battling. They had been a large part of why his first team of six had become so strong, so fast.

    Boto stepped forward next to Alex, and Canis lowered his paws, slightly, as it seemed the two were not going to attack them. Like his Trainer, his eyes were also on the Tangrowth, but for an entirely different reason. "Hey there, Hyu. How have you been?" Boto said, as he extended a hand with a genuine smile.

    "Oh, y'know. I've just been hangin' around here, swingin' vines, scarin' off fire tossers. The usual." The two men clasped each other by the forearm, and shared a nod of respect. "Tell me, Boto. Who're yer friends? I reconize Ara, but these other two are…" He trailed off. His examination of Akos had been cursory, but upon meeting Alex's eyes, and getting a nod from the silent Trainer, he got a good sense of what kind of person he was looking at.

    Alex spoke, as he saw Hyu's eyes widen. "I'm Alex. I'm here to challenge your...Gym." He glanced around at the tree and the roots. "I assume this is it?"

    Hyu nodded, and then stepped forward, peering at the Unovan. "Alex, huh? You a Trainer, boy?"

    Canis let out a slight growl at the tone of condescension from the stinky, stocky human, but Alex was unfazed both by his breath and his natural odor. "I am. I'm...considered pretty strong, in Unova. I've been traveling the world, and your region, to improve myself."

    "I'll bet'chu have." Hyu said, chuckling slightly. "C'mon up to the canopy. Our Battle will be up there." Surprising all of them then, Hyu did a backflip, into the mass of vines that was his Tangrowth, and then swung his way up hundreds, if not thousands, of feet to the massive tree's canopy. Alex recalled Canis, and began to follow, climbing on his own ability, rather than using his power. The less he used such things here, the harder it would be for the Imperium to track him down and identify him. Arbor had to help him several times, and he realized just how out of practice he was at climbing, but he eventually reached the top.

    He was sweating as well, in the humid heat of the Great Swamp, but oddly enough, there were almost no bugs constantly trying to suck his blood and transmit a disease as they did. Such pests had been an issue in Oranguru's swamp, but here, it seemed like other bugs and plant life had either eaten them, or their species had simply never made it here.

    Once within the canopy, Alex discovered a battlefield. It was made from the interwoven wood of the tree itself, but something had shaped it, at some point, into a massive circle. Hyu was sitting in the middle of it, with his Tangrowth standing behind him. "Over here, foreigner." Hyu said, patting the wood.

    Alex joined him, sitting cross-legged as well. Up here, the air was cooler, and he removed some of his Water Nation layers to enjoy the breeze, and air out his sweaty shirt. Hyu spoke, as Alex took his place. "You know, most folk don't come here to face me...an' those that do, don't last very long, in the Swamp."

    Alex waved a hand. "Oh, this is nothing. I'm pretty used to most of the things a swamp can throw my way. We have a fairly large one back home."

    Hyu nodded. "I've heard yall have a nice swamp out there in Unova. The swamplands that have taken a portion of your land began here, with a seed, from this very tree, given to...an old friend. The Great Tree has never told me who that friend was, but that lesson helped me reach enlightenment. Everything is connected."

    Alex nodded. "I've learned that lesson as well...though sometimes it's hard to believe. People are so different...even Pokémon can be vastly different from one another, despite looking the same physically."

    Hyu chuckled lightly. "Yer not so different from other humans, Pokémon, or even this here tree. If you listen long enough, you can hear every living thing, growing together. We are all connected, even if some people can't or won't accept that. The actions we take, the choices we make, there's always a price for'em, a reaction somewhere, some place, maybe thousands and thousands of miles away. What affects one of us, affects all of us, in the end."

    Alex nodded sagely. "The actions of a few can easily upset the balance...I've devoted my existence to trying to maintain that balance...as well as I can."

    Hyu chuckled again. "Seems the Original Dragon has been teachin' quite a bit, since he was awakened again. Tell me Trainer...I know yer here for a Badge, and we will be havin' our Battle soon, but I think there's more to you being here than you said, down below."

    Alex was quiet for a long moment, as he pondered. He didn't like revealing who he was so often, but at the same time, building trust required sacrificing secrets. Eventually, his identity would get out, but he assumed one hermit Gym Leader in the middle of a deadly swamp was probably not a huge security risk. "You are right, Leader Hyu...I came to this region looking for the Guardian's Avatar. The person the Imperium is so bent on finding, and destroying once and for all. I...have a close tie to the Original Dragon. He sent me here, to accomplish this, to aid the Avatar, and free Koria. If possible."

    Hyu looked at Alex in return, seemingly studying him, in that manner Gym Leaders had, when they evaluated a Trainer. "I can tell yer not lyin' to me Alex, and you seem pretty enlightened, fer a westerner. I like the vibe you have going, very relaxed, calm, so I'll trust you, since both the Dragon and Boto seem to be vouching for ya. The Avatar was here only a few weeks back, learnin' how to bend water and earth, together. He's a fierce Battler of Pokémon as well. When he left, he did so quickly, quiet-like, an' I dunno where he went off to next...but I can help you find'im. I reckon you're like the Air Rebels...I can sense your mind, an' the power it has...General Meelo came by as well, tryin' to do the same thing you are after he recruited my fellow Waterbenders here in the Swamp, but his connection wasn't as...strong, as yers seems to be. Meditate, after our Battle...follow the connection to Koria's Guardian, and you will find her Avatar."

    Alex listened closely, and then tilted his head at the end. "Her?"

    Hyu winked at him, and then grunted as he got to his feet. "Now then...I assume Boomi told you how we do things in Koria...I won't go easy on ya because yer not a bender."

    Alex smirked, and then stood as well. "Actually, I have Earthbending down...more or less...it's keeping the nature energy inside my body that I can't seem to grasp."

    Hyu chuckled, and paused in turning towards his side of the battlefield. "You just spoke the issue, young'un. Nature isn't meant to be kept, it's meant to flow, freely and continuously. You weren't born a bender, but given your psychic talents, I'm not surprised you've achieved this much...it's rumored that some Air Nation gurus were able to bend the other elements, sometimes, because of their control of their energy network. They eventually realized that bein' so attuned to the air was what kept'em from wieldin' the other elemental types enough to master them...but you...you might just have the skill to use all of them...maybe even more...let the energy of the earth flow through you, and only stop it when you require it to strike. See how that works for ya."

    Alex furrowed his brow, but closed his eyes anyways. There was a surprising amount of dirt and rock this high up, in a tree, but he sensed it was also what had made a battlefield's presence up here possible. He would need to be careful, in how much he used for the battle. He let the ground and rock suffuse his body's network of energy once more, and instead of drawing it in and holding it, he let it flow. The flow itself was naturally slow, but he found he could increase it, and did so, until the required nature energy was shifting through his body's pools of energy in steady waves. Then, he moved, and hurled a piece of hardened dirt and mud towards Hyu, who he sensed was amused by that.

    Alex opened his eyes in time to see the Tangrowth bash the clump away effortlessly, and it was around that time that Ara, Boto, and Akos joined them in the canopy, also sweaty and out of breath from the climb up. Akos was the most out of breath, and Ara seemed to be sweating, but at the same time had no visible sweat on her, just a sheen of moisture. Boto also seemed indifferent to the climb.

    "I really...wish...he would add...some stairs…" Akos grumbled, not for the first time.

    Boto chuckled, in between heavy breaths of his own. "I just wish...he'd add some pants."

    Hyu chuckled as well, seeming to not care about how exposed his stocky body was, as he walked over and gave the three some water, which he drew from a snapped vine of his Tangrowth with a wave of his hand, and guided into their mouths. "Pants are an illusion, and so is death. You three rest, while Alex and I have our match…" He looked at Boto then. "Any advice?"

    Boto smirked. "He's strong. Hold nothing back."

    Hyu nodded, and then strode over to his side of the field. Alex was already on his side, Canis and Temere were beside him, watching, but it was Cinder who was on the field, hopping like a Hitmonlee in place, as he readied himself for some intense, fiery kicking. He'd used Alex's Holociever to watch videos of Nick battling in the Elite Four back home, and how Bruce, his Hitmonlee, constantly beat down challengers to the Victory League with a potent mix of kicks, and even a few punches. Between him and Victor's Cinderace, the young Scorbunny was eager to test what he'd learned by combining the best of both, and someday taking his place among them as one of the best battlers.

    Hyu stepped in front of his Tangrowth, as Alex readied himself as well. "I'm sure Boomi told ya how strong my fellow Leaders and I are...are you ready?" Alex nodded, and then Hyu fell back into his Tangrowth, letting the vines engulf him. The Tangrowth's larger vine-arms started moving then, in shifting circular motions, and Alex watched, kind of fascinated, as his eyes showed him how exactly Hyu used his Waterbending. Vines from below them rose up to join the Tangrowth, and the combination of Pokémon power and human bending caused the Tangrowth to grow taller. Moss and wood joined the mix, and then finally, Hyu's vine-encased figure appeared at the top of the vine mass, clad in a wooden mask with a simple face depicted upon it that he hadn't been wearing before.

    Cinder stared down the massive clump of roiling vines and Pokémon, and then looked to his Trainer as he gulped. Alex could see the tiny fire bunny shaking, and he knelt down to Cinder's level. "You remember the TMs I showed you?" Cinder nodded, and went still, as his Trainer's hand met his head. "Stay calm. Stay focused. Don't worry about their size, it doesn't matter. I'll cover you, you just focus on hitting with your kicks, alright?"

    The Scorbunny took a deep breath, then nodded confidently. "We've got this." Alex nodded as well, and started the battle, as Hyu and Tangrowth loomed ominously over both of them. "Flame Charge!"

    An aura of fire surrounded Cinder, and he dashed forward. Alex had no chance of matching his speed, but he moved as well, ready to counter once Hyu got involved. The Gym Leader's voice rang out over the canopy, even as his partner began swinging a massive vine-arm. "Power Whip." Cinder kept running, eyes constantly shifting between the 'fused' form of their opponent, and the oncoming arm. He winced, braced for a hit mid charge, and then found his forward momentum unimpeded as a square slab of sturdy rock rose between him and the vines, and shielded him, for the moment. The slab broke in half under the powerful vine, but Cinder was already past it.

    He charged into the mass of damp swamp grass and vines, hitting with the Flame Charge. Alex reset his position to the ready stance of the Foggy Swamp style, and gave the next move. "Blaze Kick!"

    Cinder leapt off the mass of vines, backflipped in the air, and then aimed his burning foot for his opponent's face. A massive vine arm blocked the kick, and then hammered Cinder back, but the agile fire bunny had flipped off of the arm again, and landed, panting, but still in the fight. Hyu's voice rang out again, and both Alex and Cinder tensed, as they readied themselves. "Now use Surf!"

    The vine covered combo of human and Pokémon raised their 'arms', and a truly massive wave of water rose up unnaturally, to the canopy of the tree they were battling on, before the topmost part of the wave came crashing towards Cinder, while the rest fell short, and became nutrients for the tree. Alex knew a hit from that would knock them out, so he countered with the only move that might save them. "Cinder! Bounce!"

    The fire bunny wiped his nose, nodded, and then crouched, before leaping high into the air. Alex wasn't done, though. "Come down with a Blaze Kick!" The aura of flying typed energy shifted to fire at the apex of Cinder's jump, and a combination of gravity and propulsion drove the speeding Scorbunny towards his target. He hit with the ferocity of a missile, and then flipped away. Or tried to.

    Hyu's counter was swift, and brutal. "Power Whip!" The Tangrowth did not waste time in smashing the Scorbunny in mid air, sending him hurtling back towards the 'ground' of the canopy battlefield. Alex moved his arms, and a wall of rock seemed to rise to catch the Scorbunny, who saw it, and had enough time to curl into a ball. Thankfully, the middle bit was soft dirt, while the edges were stone, and the structure killed the momentum from the hit without fainting the fire bunny.

    "Giv'em a barrage of Vine Whips!" Hyu called, as Alex and Cinder gained their footing. The two shared a nod, and Alex moved again, using his basic martial arts of both his known styles to keep the vines from hammering Cinder. He swirled, dodged, ducked, and kept any of the vines from his Scorbunny with sharp rock pillars that sliced the Tangrowth's vines when they hit hard enough, as the tiny Pokémon recovered his breath, and readied himself for more.

    "I'm good!" He shouted to his Trainer after several long moments of a constant vine barrage, and Alex nodded. The vines came again, all at once, as Alex had been consistently forcing them to strike at him in unison, pretending that multiple vines at once were something he had trouble deflecting. As they came, he leapt as high as he could and the striking vines buried themselves in the earth of the canopy battlefield. He then hardened the ground as much as possible, holding the vines in place, and giving his fire bunny a ramp straight towards their opponent. "Flame Charge!" He shouted again, as he landed, and struggled to hold the vines. They were resisting his grip, but he was determined to keep them long enough for Cinder to attack.

    Cinder looked up the ramp at his target, and nodded, as he began running. Fire surrounded him again, and time seemed to slow, as he made each step. He felt an unknown but potent power rising within him, one he could stop if he wanted. Thus far, he had stopped it. He knew embracing it would change him quite a bit, but he also knew with that change came strength. The Scorbunny glowed a bright white as the infinite power of the Evolutionary Spiral drove him to the next stage of his life, just in time for him to land the move his Trainer had called for.

    The Flame Charge, now much larger in size and effect, hammered the Tangrowth, and the entirety of the 'fused' human and Pokémon mass shuddered from it. The vines wrenched free of Alex's grip then, and he swore, shouting, "Incoming, Cinder! Use Flame Charge to break free if they grab you!"

    Cinder had enough time to spring off his opponent and glance behind him, when the vines suddenly wrapped around him. They were tight, damp, and smelled truly awful. He tried to Flame Charge, but the fire went out immediately against the rather damp vines, and the Raboot realized the human had used some of their Surf attack to protect his partner as well. Having a human to aid one in battle really did add a whole new dimension to the competition.

    The vines rose ominously with their furry prize wrapped tightly, only to suddenly fall limp, and be burnt away, as a spinning, sharp disk of rock sliced through them. The serrated rock frisbee made several more passes at Alex's behest, as the Tangrowth's vines tried to reclaim its prey, but all it got for its efforts was more damage. Once they needed to regroup for another strike, Alex and Cinder countered. "Blaze Kick!"

    The fire rabbit, still in mid-air, aimed his foot at the mass of vine and human once more, and fell like a comet towards it. More vines rose to try to stop him, but they lacked the watery protection Surf had given, and thus the grass typing fell before fire. Cinder landed the hit, and then sprung high off the Tangrowth, this time with a triple backflip, before he landed back on his side of the field in a three-point landing straight out of the Pokévengers.

    Hyu was blorped out of the soggy vine mass, as his Tangrowth fainted, and he chuckled, as he fell, patting his partner back to semi-consciousness. "Well done, Trainer. You and that rabbit of yours are quite a team."

    Alex smirked at Cinder, who brushed off the praise, as if he was too cool for it now. Alex walked up beside him, and offered a subtle fist bump. "Yea, we really are." He felt the soft press of a Raboot paw, smirked, and tousled the fire rabbit's fur tuft atop his head before heading to Hyu to claim his prize.

    As Cinder despaired, and fixed his fur tuft, to the amusement of Canis and Temere, who were mentally mocking him, Alex met Hyu's gaze with a nod, and offered a Max Revive. "Well thank you kindly, Trainer. I've only got my Tangrowth here for Battlin', so that makes you the victor. Lemme get your Swamp Badge, and then we'll try trackin' down the Guardian's Avatar."

    The Tangrowth also expressed its thanks, as it regained energy, and the vines rumbled and swirled, before they blorped forth a Badge, in the shape of the Great Tree, into Hyu's hand. Hyu turned, and offered the gooey, swamp-smelling piece of metal to Alex, who took it with two fingers, shook it clean, and then nodded his thanks. "Thanks. Now I won't have to go to the Fire Nation capitol to get their Badge. For reasons I can't go into, it's best if I avoid that place...do you know what spot would be best for sensing the Avatar's presence?"

    "Many people avoid the Regis Caldera, son. Don't worry, yer not missin' much. I went there, once. Awful place. No vines at all!" He chuckled, and then looked around, and shrugged at the second part of Alex's sentence. "I s'pose the center of the field here would work best. It doesn't really make. The connection is what's important. Where you are when you make it is just an illusion."

    "Like pants…" Alex muttered, as he walked towards the center of the swampy, dirty, mass of vines that made up this battlefield. He knelt, and placed a hand on the center. He heard an audible gasp from his companions, and an appropriately accented cry of amazement from Hyu as he summoned his power, and focused it into the Great Tree. The battlefield around him lit up with blue psychic aura, in a pattern of Balance that Alex was intimately familiar with, but did not see, as his eyes were closed.

    What...do you seek...Human...

    The impossibly slow tone of the tree, a far cry from Swamp Tree's own inner voice, echoed in Alex's head. "I need to find the Guardian of Koria...I need to find the Avatar." As if in response, Alex felt his third eye's vision drawn across the sky, miles and miles, towards what he realized was a floating pod of Drifblim.

    Follow… Was all the tree said, and just like that, the connection ended.

    Alex's brows furrowed, and he glanced up to see Hyu, Ara, Akos, and Boto all standing in front of him, having a chat. Ara was speaking. "So you scared them off? All of them? Firebenders don't usually give up."

    Hyu waved her words away. "It's handled, Miss Ara. Them fire tossers won't be back fer a long time. I 'preciate the concern, though."

    Alex looked at Hyu as the conversation lulled, and he opened his eyes. "That didn't really help...it just told me to follow some Drifblim."

    Hyu stroked his beard, and then shrugged. "If the tree told you to follow...then follow. You'll find what yer looking for if you do, that much I can guarantee."

    Alex nodded, and stood, towering by several inches over most of them. Only Boto was close to being his height, and he had to be around 5,7. "I'll take your word for it, Hyu. I just don't know how we're supposed to catch them...Drifblim disappear all the time, they're easily spooked, and it's almost dusk. That's when they typically vanish completely. Eremus can carry Akos and I, but he can't fit four humans."

    Ara and Boto shared a look. "Don't worry about us…" Ara said, as she brought out a standard Pokéball he hadn't seen or mentally scanned before from a belt pouch, and enlarged it with a click. "We have our own method of transport...but we can't use it for long...the Fire Nation assumes anyone riding one of these is an Air Nation rebel." With that, she tossed the ball, and in a flash of white appeared a Pokémon that Alex was intimately familiar with, from feeding and care, to shoveling its feces. In Koria however, it seemed the Bouffalant had taken to the sky instead of the plains.

    The coat was less robust around the head, the horns were thinner, and pointed almost straight up from the skull, and the Pokémon had six legs, instead of four, but otherwise, it seemed to be very similar to what Alex was used to. "His name is Oogie. General Meelo loaned him to me...said if the Imperium ever caught him, they'd turn him into a meal...the Firebenders take great pride in how well they roast their Sky Bouffalant steaks...it's sickening."

    "It is." Alex said, as he met the bison's gaze, and gave it a friendly smirk. He held his hand out obviously, and moved slowly as he approached, but it seemed the Pokémon was, in that moment, wondering why it had perfectly understood the human, as if he'd been speaking like another Korian Bouffalant. The wide nostrils snorted, as they took in his scent, and the Bouffalant's eyes widened. It was faint, but it was there. The smell of his own kind...or something very close to it. Out of curiosity, he pressed his nose to the strange, pale human's hand, and rumbled, as he found it radiating quite a bit of heat. "There are many Bouffalant back where I am from...someday, I hope you get to visit them. You would amaze and astound them."

    The sky bison rumbled as he replied. "Long have I dreamt of tasting the golden grass of Unova...but first...Koria must have Balance."

    Alex chuckled. "That's...why I'm here."

    That response, received a massive, gooey lick from the happy Pokémon, and Alex sighed, as he once more smelled quite a lot like bison. It brought back nostalgia, and bitterness, that was soon overshadowed by the thrill of flying on the back of his Flygon to find a group of Drifblim that could take them to the fusion of a human and a Legendary Pokémon.

    As they began to fly, Alex found himself drawn within his mind, falling into a sort of semi-sleep, as he left scanning the sky for Drifblim in the general direction he'd sensed them to Eremus. He opened his mind's eye to find himself in a familiar clearing in Unova, surrounded by golden and crimson leaves, sitting on golden grass. In his lap, was the woman he'd do anything for, or rather, the psychic manifestation of her conscious mind, which had used their bond to create their mental surroundings.

    She didn't look like she had when they'd taken a lengthy break in this particular clearing. Her hair was still shining with a rainbow sheen when it moved, and her face was older. Despite not aging, fighting in a war had taken its toll on her, as much as it had on Alex. "Finally…" He heard her say, "It's amazing how single minded you get when you Battle…"

    She shifted on him then, to a position of straddling, and dominance. He knew the look in her eye, and could guess what she wanted to try, with their psychic manifestations. He could also vaguely sense her surroundings, a rather nice Arcean hotel that had been solely for the higher ups, but now was open to the general public to use as they moved around in the general chaos that followed the dismantling and reorganization of a government. Mostly, it was used to reunite families, separated by work, that hadn't seen each other in years, sometimes decades. More than a bit of drama had erupted over such reunions, but that was why Jess' presence had been required. The Empress in all but 'official' title was rapidly becoming a favored figure of the Fornian public, and a softer pill to swallow than the psychic-powered saber wielding Dragon Emperor that had marched an army down their entire region's coast. The propaganda campaign the Church had launched against him also didn't help.

    "Jess...I'm in the middle of a mission…" Alex began, only to find her mouth on his. His mind actually went blank, as he was shocked, and then awed by how realistic it felt. He let that sensation linger, and then exhaled through his nose, pulling her close to his chest as he parted their lips and struggled to maintain his total bodily calm. "I'm in the middle of finding the Avatar...as in, I'm flying to do so right now."

    "Do you know…" Jess began, grinning up at him, "How long it's been since we've-"

    He kissed her again, cutting her words off, though this one was shorter, his forehead was against hers when they parted. "I'm literally counting the seconds...but I need to finish this so that we can enjoy the real thing."

    He sensed her disappointment, as she wondered if he even wanted to try this at all, to which he responded, immediately, to correct her misconception. "The moment I have time to rest...I will be back for you...I think I can guess how you...arranged this." He blinked then, as he felt someone shaking him. It wasn't Eremus, so he assumed it was Ara or Akos, and that their quarry was in sight. "I mean it. The moment I have time to sleep...I will return here."

    She sighed, deeply, and leaned against him. "I'll hold you to that."

    "You'd better." He said with a smirk, and to Jess' perception, his eyes closed, but a piece of his mental presence stayed. His attention was elsewhere though, focused on the mission Tao had given him. She sighed again, and fell completely to sleep, figuring the rest would be useful if the mental exhaustion was similar to the physical exhaustion coitus usually brought.

    As Alex opened his eyes, he saw them. A group of roughly twenty Drifblim. Beside Eremus, Oogie was flying, and Ara was giving him an odd look. Apparently she had tried to rouse him, from her steering position atop the sky bison's head. "Finally! We found them...also, you had a weird look on your face...this isn't the time to sleep you know."

    Alex sighed, and turned his focus to the Drifblim as he urged Eremus to pick up the pace. "Oh, I know." They zipped ahead of the comparatively slower Bouffalant then, and Alex approached the Drifblim. "Hello there!" He said, letting his Voice carry his words to all of them.

    Eremus gave them a friendly hello as well, and one of the younger ones waved back, as it drifted idly along. "Hello Dragon. Hello Hooman."

    "I was told by a wise swamp tree that your pod could lead me to someone I need to find. Could you help me?" Alex said, as Eremus matched their lazy pace.

    "That depends...depends...on who you seek…" One of the larger Drifblim spoke now, and judging by his place in the floating pod, he was the leader.

    Alex spoke again, bringing Eremus closer as he lowered his Voice, but still propelled it to each of the Drifblim. "I seek the Legendary Pokémon of your region. Your Guardian. The human known as the Avatar."

    One of the other Drifblim spoke this time. "Ahh...Raava. You seek Raava."

    Alex stared for a moment at the older balloon Pokémon that had spoken. Its cloud wisp of hair was wild, and frizzy, its body had several old burn marks, too focused to be anything but Firebending, and its arms were frayed as well. "I...I guess I do. Is that your Guardian's name?"

    At that moment, Oogie pulled up beside the pod as well, and the older Drifblim spoke again, it's simple eyes shifting to the sunset as it answered. "It is," He wheezed as the rest of the group heard only one side of the conversation. "We...do not know...where Raava resides now...but we can take you...to one who does." Alex watched as the lead Drifblim's body, and the energy-filled bodies of the other ghost and flying types all began to glow, in unison. Then, the sun set over the distant horizon. "Hold on tight, Hoomans."

    Suddenly, and out of nowhere for the three humans on Oogie's back, four Drifblim grabbed each human, and the leader grabbed Alex, as he was likely the only one that could carry his heavier form and still float. Akos struggled uselessly against the female who'd entrapped, and then winked at the young waterbender, and upon seeing Alex be taken and not seem concerned about it, Boto and Ara stayed calm as well. Ara recalled Oogie after Alex recalled Eremus, and the older Drifblim spoke again, and their surroundings became pure darkness. "Keep your eyes closed, or you will become lost. Keep your mind focused, or you will wander. Good luck, Hoomans."

    Alex relayed that to his companions, who ceased their struggles, closed their eyes, and waited. For his part, Alex was more focused on finally finding out just where exactly Drifblim went at night, but he closed his eyes as well, trusting the Pokémon to know better than he did in this area. The next thing he felt was soft grass, and energy, rather potent energy, all around him. He got up slowly, eyes still closed, and called out. "Drifblim? Are any of you still here?"

    There was silence, and finally, Alex opened his eyes. What he saw, made no sense, and as he tried to use his psychic sight to figure out just what the actual Muk he was looking at, he found his powers muted. Even the special way of seeing the world, the way a Harmonia did, was lessened. There were vague, half-formed patterns that made little sense in his new surroundings. His neck tingled constantly, like it had in Selva Muerta, and around ghost types. If this was the realm of ghosts, he supposed their natural type advantage over psychics was probably what was limiting him.

    Then, he noticed the ground, and looked around, taking in the area. Two giant beams of light burned from either side of the strangely circular mountainous terrain, and it was as he noticed the terrain, that he smirked. One half of it was grassy, full of life, and light, and the other half burned with an unsettling aura of darkness. The inky blackness hid whatever might be lurking there. Between the two sides separated only by an S shaped line between them, in the exact center, was an ancient tree, not at all dissimilar in shape to the Entree of Unova. At the bottom of the helix-swirled branches with varying shades of light brown and dark brown, was a hollow, bored into the trunk of the tree.

    Alex held his head, as he experienced a sudden headache. His view of the tree fragmented, into what he assumed were different stages of time. In one, what seemed like the earliest to his perception, a thin male human was bending four elemental typings at once as he used them in a spherical combination to trap, and then bind the figure within the sphere of elements inside of the tree. Then, came another vision, as Alex's perception of the area changed. There was a figure in this one, still bound within the tree, held in place by a barrier of psychic, fairy, and fighting typed energy, rather than grass, water, ground, or fire. The figure itself, now more easily seen not surrounded by elements, looked like some sort of edgy black and red evil kite, and sported the dark and ghost typing. His perception shifted again, and this time, a female figure in black robes, with a similarly black hood, stood before the tree, raised both of her long, thin hands, and shattered the barrier with a mix of dark, poison, and ghost energy.

    The evil kite creature and the female then seemed to leave together, as she walked out of sight of the half-vision and into the darker side of the area. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the visions ended, and Alex was left staring at the tree as it currently was. Empty, and unoccupied. Lux and Nox floated out to either side of him, as they sensed the energy disturbance. Alex continued to hold his head, as he realized none of his partners had seen what he had, and he had no rational explanation for why he had seen what he had. All he knew, was that it was a bad thing that the evil kite had escaped. He didn't know how he knew that, he just knew it boded ill for the future of existence. He spoke softly, as his hands rubbed the sides of his skull. "Muk."
  6. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 39: Path of the Guardian, Part 2

    The Ocean Around Wailord Tail Island - Koria Region

    "Incoming landing!" One of the Fire Navy soldiers shouted, and each of them stood at attention on the deck of their Imperium Class Fire Cruiser, as the blue burning tail light from their Princess's black scaled Charizard appeared on the horizon. Each one of the soldiers was garbed in tones of black and varying shades of red, and had a vaguely skull-like white faceplate covering their faces. Their heads shifted, as they saw Prince Okuz emerge from within the ship. His golden eyes were narrow, and intense. His dark hair was bound in a distinctive royal ponytail. His armor was the heavier version of the standard Fire Nation uniform, and it covered his comparatively paler skin in the colder southern climate of their region. He stood between both lines of soldiers on the deck, arms behind his back as he watched his sister approach.

    The door to the inner ship compartments opened and closed again, but the soldiers knew better than to look, this time. Okuz muttered to his uncle, a long retired Fire Admiral, and a Dragon in his own right. "She doesn't look happy, Uncle."

    The old man stroked the longest point of his tri-pointed Fire Nation style beard. "She never is." Being a retired Admiral, Iroh of the Fire Nation had let himself go, just a bit. He'd actually trimmed down recently, as this trip forced him into a diet of primarily noodles and salty pork, while his niece and nephew hunted uselessly for traces of the Avatar. They had been at it for well over four years now. Koria's Guardian had evaded their grandfather Sozin, and their female incarnation, Kora, had encountered and fought their father, Iroh's brother Ozai, many times, without capture. But that had been in his youth. Their final clash had seen Ozai the victor over the aged Water Nation woman. Since declaring himself the 'Phoenix King' after his triumph, Ozai liked to think of himself as the strongest Trainer in the Fire Nation.

    Princess Aluza came in with a landing that could only be described as hot, for her Charizard shared her mood. She ripped off her helmet and slammed it into the metal deck of the ship, as blue colored fire accompanied and propelled it over the side. She stormed towards her family then, and Okuz met her gaze, without letting his eyes linger on the burn mark that covered almost the entire left side of her face. She hid the deformity, usually, with a golden metal face covering, but it was impractical in combat, under a Fire Navy helmet. Her own outfit was lighter, letting her keep her speed and not die of dehydration in the humid swamp.

    She began to storm past Okuz, but her unscarred brother stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. Aluza looked at him, ready to strike, until she saw the cold gleam in his eye, that made her hesitate. "Did you find them?"

    Aluza exhaled, and the air steamed as she did. "No. They were long gone by the time we showed up. The swamp tribe, the Rebels, the only thing we encountered was some sort of fire-resistant swamp spirit. We couldn't even burn it down. The entire place was too damp...but the Rebels have clearly moved on."

    Okuz's thin eyebrows narrowed. "You had orders to burn that swamp to the-"

    "Let's take this discussion inside, Prince Okuz…" Iroh said, intervening. "There's no point in angering a Spirit by burning a swamp nobody lives in. The Fire Nation has enough problems, without retribution from Spirits." Iroh had placed a hand on both of his younger family member's shoulders, and the siblings shared a look, before sighing, and shoving their way free of his grip as they went inside. Aluza paused by the door to glare at the troops. "Be sure that Cae is well fed. Or she will feed on you." Her Charizard gave the soldiers a deeply unsettling grin, as she heard her Trainer.

    Aluza didn't even wait for the cries of 'Yes Princess Aluza!' before she slammed the black iron door and followed after her brother and uncle. The old man had gone to her brother's room, as being the leader of their expedition, he had the largest space. Iroh was brewing a pot of tea as she entered, and Okuz was standing before his wall-covering of the Fire Nation's symbol, arms behind his back as he stared at his sister expectantly. "I hope, for your sake, that you did not return without any kind of trail…"

    Aluza scowled at her brother. "All trails end at the ocean, when dealing with the Rebels. I told you they had Waterbenders. They've probably gone back to Minjujuui City by now."

    Iroh spoke then, as he poured the Jasmine tea, but neither of his nephews moved to take a cup. "I can handle Minjujuui. President Raiko and I have established a working diplomatic relationship."

    Okuz spoke then, and Iroh sighed inwardly at his words. "We've tried playing politics, Uncle. It has gotten us nothing...our father will not tolerate failure forever…"

    Iroh gave his best attempt at a devious smirk then, but whatever evil had infected his brother's side of the family, it had skipped him, entirely. Mostly, he looked constipated to the younger firebenders as he said, "I will occupy Raiko's focus, and the focus of his police. While they're distracted, you two will enter their sewers. It is the most likely place, for Rebels to hide."

    Aluza and Okuz grimaced, and the sister was the one to speak next. "Surely not, Uncle...what sane person would ever hide in a sewer? Being surrounded by a city's worth of filth would invite disease."

    "Not if you can bend the filth out of your way…" Okuz said, as he stroked his chin, and thought it over. "It's out of sight, nobody would willingly go there, and they're surrounded by a favorable element that none of our soldiers would want to be hit with...I agree, Uncle. The sewer does seem like the place this...General Meelo would hide. We'll need a trail to follow first. I don't want to wander the sewers of an entire city without a lead."

    Iroh nonchalantly sipped his tea, as Okuz spoke. "Greed is a powerful motivator for the less fortunate. Give them currency, and they are likely to have information for you."

    Aluza sneered at her uncle. "You expect us to trust some street hobo? We only have Fire Nation coins, and not many of those remain, after keeping you fed, old man. We should dispose of the hobo once they stop being useful. Father would not want loose ends."

    Iroh sighed deeply, but his niece and nephew sat at the table then, and drank from their tea, hiding their enjoyment of it in their own way, as the three continued to strategize.

    The Spirit Portals - Spirit World

    "What's wrong?" Came Lux's concerned tones, but Alex waved him away, as his headache faded.

    "I...saw something…" He looked at the tree again, and at the hollow within.

    Alex fought down a sense of the urge to upchuck his lunch as the mere thought of wanting to see inside of it, brought him to the edge of the tree's hollow. He gripped the edge, and held still for a minute, until the sensation of vertigo faded. He blinked, as he sensed his ghosts floating up behind him. Lux looked around rapidly, as if seeing something above and around them within the tree's hollow, but Nox was focused on his Trainer, with a mutually blank expression, that formed into an unsettling approximation of Alex's own smirk.

    "Interesting...that you would end up here, of all places…what did you see?"

    "Some sort of...evil kite ghost. It was imprisoned here, once. So...you know where we are?" Alex said, arching an eyebrow at his newest ghost, and the Ghastly nodded.

    "The Tree of Souls…" He said in his soft, but haunting baritone, "The exact center of the Spirit World. From here, one can see the past, present, and future all at once...if their spirit is balanced."

    Alex nodded. "Then it's most likely here that I'll find the answer to our Mega Evolution problem…" He looked at Lux, then. "See anything?"

    "Mars." Lux said, frowning as he zipped around. "It seems like a fixed point in the Time Nexus, likely the closest to the present...it keeps popping up. Just a planetary view of the Red Planet."

    Alex frowned as well, and his thoughts drifted back to what Tao had said of the Imperator, and his current distraction. He was obsessed with the Moon, and getting beyond it, to space itself. Humanity's first logical step into space had always been Mars, and it was rumored that some humans still lived on the Moon, from the ages before Pokémon and the old civilizations, but most people treated the stories about 'ancient Moon Men' as fairy tales. According to Tao, they were very real, and worth allying with. They were master politicians, and the Imperator had been forced into constant retreat, personally, with the weapons and technology the Moon residents had access to. Apparently they also had Pokémon, and every member of their society was a Trainer of some description. So far, the Imperium's attempts at space warfare had been pitiful by comparison, so diplomacy had begun, and the process promised to be a long and arduous one.

    Tao himself, now that they were at peace, was focused on winning them allies on the Moon by giving them an alternative to becoming slaves of the Imperium, and that effort was what had taken up most of his time in the few weeks since the conflict ended. Alex glanced outside the tree, and then at his partners. "I need you two on opposite sides of me...here, and here." He said, pointing and guiding them. The two ghosts shifted, and Alex sat cross legged within the center of their opposing energies, as he began to meditate.

    Within the tree, he discovered, his psychic abilities were somewhat more intact. It seemed that within the Tree of Souls, he could use his third eye, at least. With it, he saw what Lux had been staring at, and as he looked around at the various, shifting moments of time around him, fragments of the lives that had and would come to rest in this realm, he saw one in particular that drew his focus.

    Every Trainer worth their balls knew Alain, the now former Champion of Kalos. The vision showed him, mega evolving his Charizard for battle, and as Alex watched, he saw something he'd never noticed back when Mega Bracelets and Mega Stones were still the preferred method. Energy from the two stones connected in the air and gave the Pokémon in question enough energy to evolve past their final form. The scene replayed over and over, and Alex stared, as an idea began to form.

    He hopped out of the tree with a single leap, and called out Arbor, who glanced around at their strange surroundings, and then at his Trainer. "Arbor...we need to try something. I intend to practice this with everyone eventually, but for now, I'd rather have you try this first. I think I've figured out our Mega Evolution problem."

    Since finding a cache of Plates in Fornia, Alex had made sure to keep spare Plate crystals on hand, just in case. Alex handed him a Meadow Plate crystal then, and the Sceptile eyed it for a long time, before clenching it in his claw. Alex held a similar shard from Draconis Mons, theoretically of the same Plate. Instead of just pointing it at Arbor and guiding the energy into him, Alex held it up, as Pokémon and Trainer locked eyes. Then, almost by itself, the two Plate crystals harmonized, and strands of green Infinity Energy leapt from each crystal, and connected the green energy in the air above them. Arbor's eyes widened as he sensed the power of the dragon typing become his, and with a roar, he took the form beyond his final evolution.

    "Seed Bomb!" Alex said, pointing randomly in the distance. The Mega Sceptile responded rapidly to his command, swirling in place, and launching his tail pods, and tip, at the area. The attack left tiny craters in the landscape on the darker side of the area, but given that craters covered the rest of the visible area on the edges of the darkness, Alex assumed the rest of that side's terrain was similar.

    Arbor stepped into the light side of the mountainous encircled area, and inhaled, enjoying the light, warmth, and life as only a grass type could. After a few moments, he let the Mega Form fade, and Alex left him to bask as he entered the tree once more. This time, both Lux and Nox were eyeing the tree's once more invisible visions, and Alex joined them. "That was a good start. If I can teach everyone how to harmonize with the crystals and their partners, we can avoid a crisis. The real issue will be finding enough of them...now then...let us find our path to this...Raava."

    As Alex spoke the name, the fragments of visions coalesced into one massive vision that drew the trio's eyes as it coalesced. An idyllic landscape, still in the Spirit World, filled it. There was a small building that almost looked like a Korian shop of some description, and in the distance, a massive mountain loomed over the scene. Alex swore he saw something yellow flying around the summit, but he knew the focus of their search was at the hut in the foreground, given how the vision centered upon it.

    "That is our destination...now, we have to find the others. If they were here they would've approached by now...which means they've wandered off. Nox, can you guide us to them?" Alex said as he stood, and stepped from the tree.

    Nox nodded his entire 'body' as he floated in place. "I can sense which direction they are in...but they could have wandered far. The Spirit World can be...disorienting to humans."

    Alex gestured for the Gastly to take the lead, as he recalled Lux and Arbor. As they began walking, Alex realized that his connection to his other Pokémon was weaker, almost non-existent, in this realm of ghostly energy. "It is a realm of Dark energy too…" Nox said, as he heard his Trainer's thoughts, "but there is also Light. The spirits live within the balance...but humans, especially corporeal humans, can easily unbalance everything with their wild emotions. Take care to stay calm."

    Alex smirked at the ghost as he spoke within his head. "Don't worry about me...be more concerned about Ara and Akos. Boto is probably fine, but those two...have a ways to go."

    Meanwhile… - Elsewhere in the Spirit World

    Akos and Ara found themselves opening their eyes to what seemed to be another swamp, though this one was darker. The water wasn't wet, as they waded through it, and though they could bend it, they lost control of it shortly after moving it around a bit. If attacked, their counters would need to be swift, single strikes.

    Akos had attempted to hack their way through the Spirit Wilds, but had very quickly learned that plants in this realm fought back. They made their way mostly by moving or holding the brush aside with teamwork, and their progress was only halted, by a discovery. Ara and Akos stared upwards, at the impossible, and frankly magnificent building that was seemingly hanging upside down in the canopy of the spirit trees. Each of the building's corners had a tall, thin spire of stone reaching towards the forest's floor. A domed building sat behind a central one, with a smaller pillar of rock atop it as well.

    Ara called out Oogie, and the two climbed atop his back as the sky bison ascended without becoming entangled in the relatively wide clearing the strange upside-down building created within this forested space. Their perception of their surroundings flipped as they ascended, and Oogie lost his balance, as the world seemed to spin. He flopped onto the stone floor of the building's entrance, and Ara recalled him, as the two siblings ventured within.

    The interior of the building was primarily white, and surprisingly bright. A network of straight crossways provided travel over a seemingly bottomless void to the thousands of shelves of books that filled this grand room. Spiral staircases of what seemed like marble led up to further levels, with even more bookcases. "What...is this place?" Akos wondered aloud, as he stared around in awe.

    A deep, powerful, and feminine voice rang from all around the two humans. "This...is a sanctum of knowledge...a Library for...spirits." The pair didn't have to wait long for the speaker to show herself, for she stepped forward from her unseen hiding place upon realizing what had stumbled into her abode this time. "Humans...interesting...where are you from, mortals?"

    Ara eyed the figure in disbelief. She was vaguely human in appearance, but every sense the young waterbender had was telling her this was in no way a human. Once, perhaps. But no longer. She towered by what seemed to the humans like hundreds of feet above them. Her skin tone was a darker brown than any Korian, and her garments were foreign, and pure white with golden highlights. A pair of unsettling and burning gold eyes glowed from beneath her ornate white hood, but she had a kind smile, and that more than anything made Ara trust her, in that moment.

    "We are Waterbenders...of the Koria region. I am Ara, that's Akos." She said, gesturing to her gawking brother.

    The smile faded, and the woman almost grimaced. "Humans of Koria are no longer welcome in my Library…" At her words, there was a slight flapping noise, barely perceptible, as a shiny Decidueye perched upon the woman's left shoulder. His cloak of feathers was black as the night, and his legs and underbelly were an unsettling white. Instead of a blue cowl, his was the same color of gold as his Trainer's eyes. He screeched at the humans, and flared his wings offensively at them from his perch.

    "Hush, Wan Jian. They are of the water, not the flame." The giant spoke, and the ghostly bird turned his body around in a huff, stood tall again, and then glowered at the pair by turning his neck all the way around as the giant woman spoke again. "I am Kormir, the...caretaker...of the knowledge within this wondrous place. Why have you come here, humans?"

    Akos spoke up this time. "We seek knowledge of the Imperium of Man, and the Fire Nation. Got any books on them?"

    Kormir seemed to give a deep, mournful sigh. "Humans...you never change...the sum of countless sources of knowledge at your fingertips, and you seek only to continue your own cycle of slaughter. I will have no part in it."

    Akos seemed put out by her response, and spoke before Ara could shut him up. "But they murder people! Families! Fathers, brothers...and what they do to our women...I suppose it's too 'uncultured' for a place like this." Akos crossed his arms defiantly, daring the giant woman to tell him otherwise.

    The giant woman's eyes seemed to burn brighter. "Long are the list of atrocities committed by your species, and you have no idea of their scope, or consequence. What has happened to your people is kind, by comparison. The information you seek was burned away, by a Firebender, also of Koria. There was much to be learned from the Imperium's rise, and now, it is ash. Be gone, humans...I will not have my books ruined by your bending as well."

    As Akos let out several choice swears upon hearing that, Ara spoke this time. "Please, noble Kormir, we seek only to help our region. If you will not tell us about our enemies, please, guide us to the Avatar of our region. They are the only hope we have of restoring balance to our home…"

    Kormir glanced at Wan Jian, and the Decidueye shrieked, and turned his beak up in haughty defiance and with a clear air of superiority. The woman scritched under his chin then, and the angry ghost owl could not resist the smile that crept onto his beak. She turned back to Ara, her face and tone calmer. "I refused the Firebender's request for that knowledge because he was a brute...but he brought a sufficient donation to my collection...even if he ended up burning large swathes of it...what do you bring?"

    Ara and Akos shared a look, and Ara shrugged, as she had nothing but water skins for bending and drinking. Akos snapped his fingers then, and smirked. "Have you…" He fished in the pockets of his furry, deep blue attire as he spoke, "Seen one of these?" He held up the ball of his Piplup, who he'd since nicknamed Pado.

    Kormir leaned in to look, and an eyebrow arched as Akos pressed the button, and enlarged the ball. Another press brought the Piplup out, and after a brief yawn, he locked eyes with Wan Jian. The grass and ghost typed owl smirked, and mocked the tiny penguin with a sardonic call of its species name, and Pado took immediate offense, bouncing around and hurling obscenities, until Akos recalled the tiny, angry penguin. Kormir spoke again. "I have heard of the capture technology of your planet...I did not think it would be so...small. You could fit several in a single pocket."

    Akos nodded, still smirking. "And that's why we call them Pokémon. Pocket monsters! Consider that to be my contribution to your knowledge." He said smugly, as he returned the ball to his pocket.

    Kormir didn't blink, but rather just seemed to stare, for a long time, at Akos. Her face might as well have been a cliffside for all that could be gleaned from her neutral expression. Finally, she nodded, slowly. "I suppose that counts." The burning eyes shifted to Ara then. "And you?"

    Ara thought for a long time about what knowledge might be accepted, then, she shrugged. "Can you keep a secret?"

    That, made the giant glowing woman smile at an irony neither of them could ever comprehend. "I can. But why would I? Knowledge should be shared."

    Ara scowled. "Because I don't want what I tell you to be given to the next bender who wanders in here."

    Kormir's smile lessened, but it was still there, as she stared down Ara. "I will be moving soon...too many humans have found this place lately. It is time to move...elsewhere." Wan Jian nodded sagely in agreement. When that did not satisfy the waterbender's scowl, Kormir sighed, lightly. Despite her attitude, she found the young woman likeable, and familiar in many ways to how she had been, as a mortal human. "I will not pass on what you tell me, Ara of the Water Nation. You have my word."

    Ara glanced at the Pokémon on her shoulder, and Kormir murmured to him. Wan Jian dropped from his perch then, sailing down into the pit below the many crossways before using the vast space to arc up again, and fly off to a different part of the building that each of the humans realized, the longer they were here, was bigger on the inside. Once the ghost owl left, Ara spoke. "The Korian rebellion against the Fire Nation, is headquartered within Minjujuui City."

    Kormir nodded, as she understood that this information was valuable, to Ara, and secret to many. That gave it some amount of power, that only Kormir would benefit from. "Your contributions are accepted. You may browse the library until it is time for us to depart, in an attempt to find your regional Guardian. Ask one of the Thievul if you need refreshments."

    Akos tilted his head. "Thievul?"

    From behind them, came a soft padding sound, and the siblings turned to see a red Thievul, tail full of something she had undoubtedly stolen, trotted by them with a greeting of "Thieve." She moved towards Kormir, knelt, and then deposited the tail's worth of acquired books and tomes before her. Kormir nodded, as she looked them over, waved a hand over the pile of books, and sent them sailing away to where they were best suited.

    "Well done, Caithe. Go enjoy a well earned rest, and be aware, we are moving soon. Tell the others to return swiftly, or be left behind."

    The Thievul inclined her head in a slow, respectful nod and then trotted off further into the library. Ara and Akos bowed as well, and the giant woman smiled, and then vanished in a flash of light as she left them to peruse.

    Ara soon became distracted by the wealth of knowledge as most of the Avatar related history had either been burnt or was something she already knew. Eventually, she spent her time practicing her waterbending, near one of the fountains she'd found within a rather lavish room, without a giant gaping hole in the floor. It was its own part of the library, almost entirely different in design to the central chamber, and yet also full of water, and perfect for her needs. She felt several Thievul and Nickit eyes upon her as she practiced, but she made no move to purposely damage the waterbending scrolls in Kormir's collection.

    Akos convinced one of the younger Thievul, after giving it a treat, to get him a Pokédex. In response, the thieving fox had guided him to a room full of the devices, some in disrepair, and many from separate regions, and even separate decades. He settled on a blue Holociever that he knew had a built-in Pokédex, and PokéNet access as well, though there was no service in this plane of existence. Feeling more like a real Trainer, he began wandering, giving his new Thievul friend an occasional scratch behind the ear as he traveled beside Akos and Pado.

    The two stayed for several hours, and Kormir agreed to let Ara keep the scrolls, and Akos keep his new Holociever, but only if they cherished both for as long as they lived, and ensured they were passed on. Their word was honest enough for Kormir, and as the pair left on Oogie, who once more lost his equilibrium mid-flight, they saw the library turned upside down again, and then in an instant, it was gone without so much as a flash.

    Oogie landed in the spirit jungle once more, and Ara rubbed his head as they took a minute to get their bearings. "I know big guy, but we won't have to do that again." "Booouuuuufff." Oogie said, before drenching the Waterbender in a juicy tongue-lick. The sky bison's droopy ears twitched, as something came through the brush towards them. Oogie snorted, and lowered his head, until he saw the human from earlier, and a Gastly, emerge from the foliage.

    "Not bad, Nox." Alex said, as he eyed the pair. "Ara. Akos. We know where this...Raava is. Maybe. Nox can guide us...wait, where's Boto?"

    Ara and Akos shared a look. "He wasn't with you?"

    Alex thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I didn't sense him...but this plane wreaks havoc with psychic abilities. I didn't see him around, but looking around was kind of…vertigo-inducing. It stopped once I left that place. I think I appeared in one of the strongest centers of ghost energy on this plane."

    Akos lowered his head, and then shook it. "We need to focus on finding the Avatar...once we get to wherever you think we need to go, we can look for Boto and circle back. We can't just blindly wander this place...it's...weird."

    Ara pulled water, and quite a bit of it, from the air around them in a swirling rotation of her arms and body, and smirked at her brother as she guided into his face. "I kind of like it here. I've finally gotten the hang of bending the water."

    Whatever Ara had discovered was a mystery to Alex, as his sight was as simple as it had been when he'd first acquired it. He could see her normal and water typing with a glance, but peering into another's energy flow was a technique that required the mind's eye.

    As the group trekked onwards behind Nox, he told his Trainer they were nearing their destination, and when they were a few minutes away, that was when trouble struck. Other ghost types, primarily Dusknoir, had been seen by the humans as they made their way, but most of the inhabitants of the Spirit World ignored the humans in their midst, and the humans in turn did their best not to disturb the spirits.

    The disturbance began when they entered a clearing, near the edge of the latest patch of spirit jungle. In the distance was the mountain Alex had seen in the Tree of Souls, but it was still a ways away. Out of nowhere, a Mismagius appeared before them, with a grin that looked downright unsettling, made only more unsettling by the aura of Shadow she radiated, and the Ultra Ball in her ghostly hand.

    Alex and Nox barely had a second to react, before the Mismagius threw the ball, and revealed a Copperajah, radiating a far stronger aura of Shadow. The tranquility of the Spirit World was shattered with the metallic elephant's shriek, as the Shadow drove the usually rather friendly Pokémon into the kind of mindless rage it only experienced during its mating season. The angry male's shriek echoed for miles, and then, it charged the humans. Behind it, the Mismagius began chanting, low and fast, and too drowned out by the oncoming steel titan to be heard by Alex.

    Nox heard his command though, and moved to enact it as soon as he said, "Confuse Ray." The ball of gas floated before the Copperajah, and his eyes flared as he used a blinding flash to further disorient the Shadow Pokémon. It turned as it charged, mistaking a spirit tree for the humans as it bashed into the tree's trunk, and began to savagely thwack it with its own trunk. That left Nox to handle the Mismagius, and he would have, if the magic wielding ghost hadn't fired off a Psychic attack while Nox was distracted. The wave of psychic energy sent him towards the enraged Copperajah, and he passed through the rampaging steel type, just in time to be hammered hard by a swing of his powerful trunk.

    Wisps of his gaseous body faded away, and seeing this, Nox's eyes narrowed. He expanded his body then, encompassing the Copperajah within the space of two seconds. Alex blinked, as he recognized Fire Punch being used from gaseous arms against their opponent, and after a brutal hammering, the Shadow Pokémon finally fell over, fainted. The struggle had left Nox weakened, but he had enough left for the Mismagius.

    He floated slowly back to face the smirking ghost witch, and then he closed his eyes, and inhaled, drawing in the life essence of the Spirit World itself to capitalize upon the boost that fresh battle experience had given him. His body glowed impossibly bright, and became more corporeal, as he became a Haunter. The grin he gave the Mismagius as the light of evolution faded made her flinch, and Nox used his new hands to summon a ball of shadow, and a sloppily condensed spherical blob of a Dark Pulse. The Haunter's eyes glanced at his Trainer then, and Alex nodded, producing a Spooky Plate crystal, and holding it up as it gave Nox the boost he needed to form, or attempt to form, a Taijitu move. Lux had filled his head with stories and images, and now that Nox had hands, Alex knew exactly how eager he was to try one for himself.

    The shard of Plate gave Nox what he'd required, and both orbs swelled, combined, and were then hurled at the Mismagius all at once. Shadowy flames were sent out from the ghost mage to meet the combined spherical move, but the Shadow Move was overpowered by the dense swirling ball. Nox directed his new limbs upwards with glee, and his Trainer watched the ghost control the energy orb, as it rose and simultaneously pummeled the Mismagius into the 'sky' and then out of the Spirit World entirely, somewhere between it, and the prime plane of existence.

    Alex started a slow clap, which Akos joined, as Ara facepalmed. Nox smirked, and bowed, then opened his toothy maw as Alex tossed a Sitrus Berry his way. There was a heartbreakingly mournful sound that drew the group's attention, as they saw the Copperajah, still wounded from the fiery pummeling Nox had given it. Alex approached, and Nox hovered over his shoulder, still ready to punch it down again if the Shadow drove it to further violence.

    The metallic trunk weakly reached out to the human, and mentally, Alex kept Nox from reacting, as he reached out and touched it. With that contact came memories. Several Cuphant, a herd of its own kind, likely in Galar, at least he assumed it was Galar, until one of its memories of wandering showed him a city that, judging by the architecture, had to be situated in the Indius region. There were more, so very many more memories, many involving a vague half-remembered human shape, but Alex knew he had limited time. "I don't know if this is going to work, in this realm...but I can try to free you of the Shadow...just stay calm, and try to focus on your family." The Copperajah's breathing was ragged, and the raspy sound was echoing through its metallic body. He didn't need a Pokémon Nursing Degree to know it was dying. He could sense how thoroughly the Shadow had been infused, but he reached for the Light anyways, in an attempt to save its life.

    His psychic aura flared, but was pushed down by the constant and oppressive ghost energy in the Spirit World. He tried seven times, before he too was panting, and frustrated. Without a psychic connection, it was impossible to let the Light flow into his chakra network from the surrounding universe, assuming he was still even in his universe. The Copperajah seemed to give in as he nodded at Alex, withdrew his trunk, and closed his eyes. They opened again, as they heard a slapping sound. Alex had enough power to pull the metallic elephant's ball to his hand, and he met the Pokémon's gaze. "Hang on...once we are out of this realm, I will be able to cleanse you...but you will need to fight to stay alive. Don't give up. Your story will not end like this…stay alive, and I will get you home again."

    He recalled the Pokémon then, and minimized the ball. Theoretically, that should've sent it back to whatever storage dimension the ball was linked to, and keep the Pokémon in stasis. Such safeguards were put in place for those the ball's sensors deemed critically wounded. Hopefully whoever had infused it in the first place did not try withdrawing it, as that would teleport the Pokéball to them. To do so was almost certain death for the creature. Alex looked at the others. "We need to move quickly. Nox, guide us forward."

    The Haunter looked around, and then zipped towards the edge of the clearing. "We are already here…" He pulled aside the foliage with his new hands, that he very much seemed to enjoy having, and beyond it, was the building Alex had seen within the Tree of Souls. He walked towards it at a quick pace, and his longer purposeful stride left the Korians needing to almost jog to keep up with him.

    As he stopped outside the house, Alex squinted at the writing, as it wasn't in Common, and didn't use any runes he was familiar with. Their shapes were thin lines mostly, almost reminiscent of buildings or towers, but he recognized written language when he saw it. "That's odd…"

    "What is it?" Akos asked, as he and Ara caught up.

    Alex gestured to the shack. "This writing...I was told once that the last human to tame Arceus made a wish...that all languages would coalesce into one. Some others survived the Dark Times, but not many, and none like this…"

    Akos peered at the runes as well. "Looks almost like Japanese to me. But it isn't, that much I'm sure of. If it was, I could read it."

    "If I had my psychic sight, I could divine its meaning...but I'm less than useless in this realm of ghosts." Alex sighed, and then looked around the front of the shack. There was a table just outside of it, one that could seat six, at least. It was bare, save for a solitary teapot that had been left upon it.

    He looked around the clearing several more times, as did Lux and Nox, and after a minute, Alex noticed Nox staring at the teapot. "What is it?" He asked the Haunter. "Thirsty? I have one of those, but we could use this pot if you prefer."

    "That...would be a bad idea, for me." The poisonous ghost replied in his head, as he chuckled. "That is no ordinary teapot."

    Alex peered closer at it, and then stepped back. "Lux." The plasma ghost hopped in his sword, and Alex soon had the black and white plasma blade leveled at the teapot. Ara and Akos stared at him, wondering if the ghost realm was starting to affect his mind, as he threatened pottery. "Why don't you show yourself?" Alex said, as he spoke to the ancient looking pot. "We won't hurt you...so long as you don't hurt us."

    Silence reigned as the three humans watched the teapot. It was gray in color, with an ancient looking wooden handle, and it seemed to be made of clay. A beige swirl marked either side of it, and after several moments, it sighed, and came to life.

    A tiny white and blue head poked up from under the top of the teapot, and the Polteageist within stared at Alex with its swirly, light blue eyes. He didn't need his Pokédex to know this Polteageist was different, and he blinked, as his eyes brought its type to the fore, for him to see. He and Lux relaxed, as they saw the symbol of the Alpha Pokémon, on what had to be the first genuine Light type, aside from Arceus, that he had encountered.

    The head poked up further, as the black and white plasma sword deactivated, and Lux flew out of it. He bowed, as did Nox. Alex glanced between them, and then inclined his head in a respectful nod towards the inhabited teapot. "That's it. Come on out...I think you can help us."

    The tea ghost's eyes moved between his ghosts, and then fell on Alex. A soft, calming voice echoed in his head. It reminded him very much of Arceus, in that he felt calmer as he heard it within his skull. It was nowhere near as commanding, though. "Why...would I help you, human?"

    Alex hung the plasma sword's hilt back on his belt, and stepped closer, stopping after two steps. "I am Alex, of the Unova region." He gestured to Ara and Akos. "This is Ara and Akos, Waterbenders of the Koria region. We seek Koria's Guardian, Raava, and her Avatar. We wish to aid them in restoring Koria's balance."

    The Polteageist let out a sad sigh. "Unfortunately...that may no longer be possible." Alex's brows furrowed, but before he could respond, tiny white and blue legs popped out of the teapot, and it walked over to Alex, looking up at him, as it continued to wear the removable top part of the pot as a tiny clay hat. "I am Kashiji. Raava was once carried in my pot in a weakened state by her first Avatar, a human called Wan. He was...a good friend to the spirits. Your aura reminds me of him."

    Alex gave another respectful nod. "I'll consider that a compliment."

    The talking teapot gained a slight amount of sass to his tone as he responded. "You should. He was a good human...one of the few decent specimens your race has spawned, over the centuries. Because of Raava's time within this pot, I came into existence, once she left with Wan to bring balance to our home. I have stayed here ever since, watching her adventures through our faint, but lingering connection."

    Akos spoke then. "That's great! So you can tell us where she is now. You're connected to her."

    Kashiji looked at Akos, and shook its head. "Unfortunately, I am no longer connected to her...Avatar Kora had...an intense battle with the Fire Lord, Ozai, at the end of her life. To counter Raava's Light, he embraced the power of the Shadow, and it has since taken him over. With it, he severed Kora's link to her past lives, and Raava's spirit. For a time. Kora was able to reunite with Raava and drive the Fire Lord back, but the effort caused her to eventually reincarnate...the current Avatar has no spiritual connection to their past lives. They probably aren't even aware of Raava. The battle severely weakened her...it may be several cycles before she awakens again. Because the connection to Kora's past selves was severed, their combined knowledge, their power, what made the Avatar such a capable Guardian of Koria, has lessened significantly."

    Alex absently stroked his curly dark brown beard as he absorbed the information. "In my experience, the Shadow has always yielded to the Light. Is it not weak to it?"

    Kashiji nodded. "The Shadow is weak to concentrated Light energy, but Light energy like Raava's is also susceptible to the Shadow, if it is strong enough. Arceus made it all but impossible for Shadow energy to become so concentrated...but there is one entity who embodies the Shadow, that is able to wield it against the Light to great effect. The first and eternal Champion of the Shadow, and the being responsible for our two planes being connected. It was his power that first forged the bridges to your planet, and infected it with Shadow energy. Even if you slay Ozai, it will persist. If you Purge it with Light, it will return. Vaatu is relentless."

    Alex grimaced. "This Vaatu entity wouldn't happen to resemble a seriously evil looking black and red kite, would it?"

    Kashiji chuckled at that, an enjoyable sound that echoed within its pot. "I have...not heard Vaatu referred to like that, but...yes, I suppose he does resemble one of your...kites." The Polteageist chuckled again, and then became more somber. "He is the opposite to Raava in all respects. Vicious where she is kind, ruthless, where she is merciful. Rash, where she is wise. He was able to overtake the greed of the Fire Lord, and merge with him...somehow. It should not have been possible, but he found a way. If he finds the Avatar again, he will provoke them until Raava comes forth, likely by instinct. If the Guardian dies while using her power, she and her human will be split forevermore, the world will descend into darkness as Vaatu grows stronger in her absence, and the cycle of the Avatars shall end."

    This time, Ara spoke up. "All the more reason to guide us to Raava. Please, Kashiji, we need to find them."

    The Polteageist yawned then, and stretched its tiny limbs. "I can...attempt to connect to her...but not for long."

    "All we need, is a location." Alex said, "I came to this region at the behest of the Original Dragon. He told me to aid Raava in restoring Koria to balance."

    Hearing that, Kashiji turned back to Redwood. "Truly? Interesting. The Original Dragon and Wan were also good friends. He passed on the secret of Firebending to Wan, and from Wan, it spread to the people of the Fire Nation. Yes...I can sense his aura on you, now. That is partially what reminded me of Wan. If he is finally One again and ready to aid us, the least I can do is guide you to Raava. This attempt will take some time...please, sit. Enjoy some tea."

    A line of ghostly energy flowed into the shack then, and at that point, the three humans realized it was a tea shop. Relatively simple in design, but well stocked. Three cups came floating from within, and the door closed behind them. Kashiji then poured its essence, combined with its tea, into each cup. "Please enjoy, while I attempt to contact Raava."

    Kashiji went silent then as the tea ghost returned to its pot, and as Alex sipped the tea, he felt some of his own vitality transfer to the teapot. Understanding what Kashiji needed then, he drank more of the tea, and motioned for Ara and Akos to do the same. Warmth filled their bodies, and it seemed only Alex was aware that the Light type was drawing on their life essence to empower itself. If it meant finding Raava, he could spare some energy for the friendly teapot. It helped that the tea itself was also delicious.

    Kashiji glowed a bright bluish white as it focused its energy, and gave off a soft 'bwom' sound. The humans sat around waiting for a good ten minutes, before the teapot stopped glowing. A much more tired looking Kashiji popped its head up, once it stopped. "Agna...Qel'a...that is where...the Avatar currently trains...forgive me, humans...I must rest."

    "Here, have some of these. Restore yourself." Alex said, as he offered three Sitrus berries. Kashiji took them with weak ghost arms one by one into its pot, and then put its tiny hands together as it 'bowed' in thanks.

    "This will...help much. You have my thanks, humans...you are welcome here...any...time." Kashiji yawned then, and returned to its pot, leaving the humans to stare at each other.

    Ara just smirked at Alex. "You...seemed awfully unfazed by the talking teapot."

    Alex gave her a light grin in return. "Honestly, this isn't even the weirdest thing I've seen. You should travel the world someday, Ara. There is much out there that is...far stranger than our new friend here. We have our destination now. The capital city of the Northern Water Tribe...so...do either of you know how to leave this place?"

    Ara and Akos shared a look, and then simultaneously answered. "Nope."

    Alex frowned, and then glanced at Nox, who unlike Lux, had not tasted the tea. "How about you two?"

    Lux shrugged, as Nox drained the rest of his cup into Lux's, as he hadn't ingested any, and nodded. "The portals by the Tree of Souls are one way out. However...they are linked to your planet's poles, which...according to your memories, are very far from Koria. Perhaps we should find our Drifblim friends."

    Alex's grimace grew. "Assuming they haven't returned to reality, yet. We also need to find Boto."

    Nox turned suddenly towards the treeline closest to the mountain in the distance, and then shifted back to Alex with a grin. "Actually, we don't. He has found us, it seems...and he brought our friends."

    Alex's eyes narrowed slightly, in suspicion. "That's convenient…"

    "Ho there!" Came Boto's voice a moment later. "There you are! Finally...we've been walking for hours. Dawn is almost upon us...but we haven't found any trace of Raava in this place. Have you young ones had better luck?"

    Ara and Akos informed Boto of what they had learned, and mentioned to Alex their own library-related adventure, before he'd found them. With Boto, came only three Drifblim, as it seemed the rest had continued to float, while three had gone with Boto to help the dropped humans return. Alex also gave them berries, as thanks, and after that the Drifblim were more than happy to return to the prime material plane with the humans in tow.

    As Ara and Akos shared a Drifblim, and the largest of the trio took Alex in its 'arms', he looked back at the tea shop, and the sleeping Kashiji, as they ascended towards the 'sky'. He had a feeling that, for some reason, they would return to this place again before long, but he trusted the Path he was walking to guide him, as Tao had promised it would.

    They awoke to an awful sight, illuminated by the light of the dawn. All around them was a burned forest, and between the trees were the uniform and darkly methodical footprints of soldiers in a formation. It was something Alex recognized quickly, as he stood and inspected the area. Their armor was as heavy as what his own troops now wore, judging by their tread, but what little firebending he'd seen suggested free movement was a good idea.

    "These prints are old...but nothing has disturbed them since this...atrocity was committed." Alex said, breaking the silence.

    Nox floated out of his shadow then, and looked around with a grim expression. "Many Pokémon were lost here...Alex...what would you say if I was to...track the soldier's essence back to their camp? Give them some...retribution."

    Alex sighed, though internally he too wanted justice. "Revenge is not a motivator that we use, Nox. We Battle when we must, and always attempt to minimize harm to others." The other three had gathered themselves behind the pair as they spoke, and seeing they were ready to depart this sad place, Alex checked his map, and then headed south along the coast. "However, given that this is a semi-occupied region, and we're aiding the Rebellion, I would allow such a thing when combat begins. It's different to Battling...and you'll know when it starts. Incapacitation is always preferable to death, Nox. Do you understand?"

    The Haunter nodded, slowly, as he floated behind his Trainer, and then sank back into his shadow. His eyes could occasionally be seen constantly sweeping, almost eagerly, for signs of the enemy. That night, Ara informed Alex and Akos that their next stop was Minjujuui City, one of the largest and most advanced cities in Koria. Compared to the rest of the world, their technology was actually primitive, but for Korians, after three centuries of licking firebender boots, it was a progressive step forward.

    Ara claimed they had some sort of weapon that could stop even the Fire Nation, but only the city's President, and the high ranking rebels in the Korian Rebellion had access to it. Minjujuui was one of the last free cities that the Fire Nation openly traded with, as opposed to conquering them. They had tried to conquer first, of course, but Avatar Kora had driven them out repeatedly, alongside their superweapon. These days, the Fire Nation found more benefit in trading with them, and keeping Minjujuui friendly, as they funneled troops towards the Earth Nation's failing armies.

    The Impenetrable City of the Earth Kingdom, also known as Ba Sing Se to the locals, which translated as the same name in Common, had been taken shortly after Kora finally fell. Without it, the Earth Nation had been consistently losing large swathes of land, which Ara pointed out for Alex, via his region map. Personally, he felt the fighting should cease, and the Earth Army should hide, collaborate with the rebels, and grow to fight another day, but according to Ara, they were stubborn, and many former Generals of the Impenetrable City refused to give up the fight.

    That night, as they camped in the forest, Alex moved off to a quieter part of the woods, and after asking the local Pokémon not to disturb him, he called out the Copperajah from earlier. It had been resting within the ball, but as it materialized and saw an unfamiliar human, the Shadow-fueled rage kicked in again.

    It all happened in seconds, but Alex's perception was once again enhanced by his psychic abilities. For him, it was all in slow motion, and all pretty well illuminated by the orange crescent moon in the sky. He dodged the massive trunk as the metal elephant reared up, and then levitated into the air as he saw its legs ready for an Earthquake by glowing with ground energy. In the space of an eye blink, that to his credit the Copperajah followed with his eyes, Alex had moved to place his right hand on its metallic forehead, and then, the entire area lit up with the Light.

    Very quickly, he realized this infusion of Shadow was slightly different to the Arcean method, which involved tainting eggs, and raising Shadow Pokémon capable of growing in strength, something Cipher's early methods had been unable to do. This variation was more akin to Cipher's imperfect method, in that it stopped experience from being gained, but it was far more thorough than anything the criminal organization had ever created, in those early days. Alex's brows furrowed, as he understood that this meant someone in another region, somewhere, both knew how to enter the Spirit World, and how to infuse Pokémon with Shadow to a degree rarely seen.

    The golden light burned into the sky, in a pillar, as Alex drew in more of it, and systematically moved it through the Copperajah's body. The whole process took less than five minutes, but Alex felt as though hours had passed. The result was worth it, however. The tired male Pokémon weakly placed his trunk on the human's lap as they both panted, and Alex patted it, before grabbing a Sitrus Berry for the tired metal elephant to munch on. The trunk curled around the gift, and brought it to the Pokémon's mouth. Once it was done, Alex gave him another to hold, and then recalled him to his ball. He eyed the hand painted Ultra Ball that matched the Copperajah's tones for a moment, wondering if there wasn't a way to connect them to his berry pouch, so his partners could nom whenever they wished.

    He felt several mental pings of approval at that thought, and smirked, as he pocketed the Copperajah's ball, and headed back towards their camp. He ran into Ara and Akos on the way. Ara was the first to speak, and she looked ready for a fight. "We saw a giant pillar of light...what happened?"

    Alex let out a tired exhale, and met her gaze evenly. "I Purged the Copperajah from earlier of its Shadow infusion...it required more energy than I thought it would...but it worked. He will live. Now come...I need a rest."

    "We should move on, before that. If there's Firebenders around here, they just saw that." Akos said, and Alex sighed again, but nodded. Eremus, who was comparatively fresh, and Oogie took them to a new campsite under the cover of darkness, and the group slept there for the night. Being rather mentally and physically exhausted, Alex let his body rest, as his mind subconsciously sought out another, half a world away.

    They awoke at dawn, and it took several hours to finally reach Minjujuui City the next day, and what Alex saw on the horizon when they finally arrived raised his hopes. It reminded him of New Tork in size, but he knew the population density was probably lower than back home. Airships patrolled the skies, and Ara had told them many either were for travel, entertainment rides for rich citizens, or belonged to the 'Metal Benders', a police force founded by one of Avatar Aang's friends, full of earthbenders who had learned to bend metal as well as rock and stone. At the very least, the airships would be useful in countering the massive fleets he'd seen from the Fire Navy. Some kind of aerial defense would give Koria a chance in the fight to come.

    Ara had helped Alex with his disguise before entering the city, and like Akos and Boto, he now wore the blue of the Water Nation. His outfit was lined with white fur, but black fur ringed the heavy navy blue hood that he soon realized was not uncommon, even in a city. Minjujuui was home to every kind of people, with the only noticeable exception being members of the Air Nation, and many traveled with hoods, even on a cloudy day like the one they'd awoken to.

    He also noticed many Trainers from other regions, though most of the time, they seemed to be subtly selling western technology, like Pokédexes, or Pokéballs. The prices made him grimace, and he knew the poorer class of the city, by far the largest by his count, were probably not Trainers. Ara led them to one of the city's parks, one of three massive areas that citizens and Pokémon alike were free to enjoy. She claimed the rebels would contact them, and while they waited, she offered to show Alex how to waterbend.

    Eager to learn how to control one of the strongest natural forces on the planet, Alex agreed, and the two practiced streaming the water between them, near one of the park's ponds. It had taken Alex half of an hour to figure out that he needed to let the water typed nature energy constantly flow through him, and guiding and shaping that flow required movements that didn't interrupt it in any way. Eventually, he grasped it thanks in no small part to many of the Dragon Style's more advanced movements. Pruina cheered from the center of the pond, as she watched her Trainer, congratulating him with a Water Gun to the face.

    About two and a half hours into his lesson, as he attempted to master what Ara called the Water Whip, a dingy hobo of a man came up to their group. He had wild gray hair, two splotches of a mustache, and a full beard along his chin that was as wild as his hair. His clothes were soiled and full of patches, and several flies constantly buzzed the man, who seemed to have grown an immunity to being annoyed by them.

    Boto and Akos were relaxing alongside their gathered Pokémon, and it was Canis' ever watchful eyes that first noticed the hobo was singling them out. His low growl reached Alex first, who stopped the water he was bending, arched an eyebrow at the dirty man, and then removed the water from his clothes as he left the pond.

    Ara dashed past him, and went to give the hobo a hug, despite the aura of stink, reminiscent of a sewer, that followed him around. "Gommu! Finally, I was wondering how long it would take one of you to see us."

    The hobo eyed Alex with suspicion, before patting Ara's back, and ending the embrace. "We saw you were with a stranger...but since he's apparently a Waterbender, my superiors decided to take a chance."

    Ara chuckled, and glanced back at Alex, who at that point, was getting mobbed by Sensus, Cinder and Temere, who were all eager for more food. "I didn't trust him at first either...but he's...good people, I think. Nobody that good with Pokémon can be bad, y'know? Akos trusts him."

    Gommu eyed the Unovan, who ignored the stare as he handed out food to each of his team, and nodded. "You can fill me in fully back at HQ...but I'll trust your assessment. Come, all of you. There's an...issue that you might be uniquely suited to help us with."

    Alex recalled his partners as they nommed on their food, and Akos and Boto packed up their camp. Gommu led them through the maze of a city, into increasingly deeper and destitute parts of it. It reminded Alex of New Tork's slums, but Akos seemed more unnerved by it. "I always heard everyone in Minjujuui was...living their best life. This is...not what I expected."

    Gommu, who turned out to have a somewhat cheery disposition about life in general, continued giving them tips about the city and life within it as he answered Akos. "It's not all bad, fella. We may not have much, but we do help each other. Every vagrant in this city does their best to keep others alive. Benders, non-benders, Fire Nation, Water Nation, we're all just people, y'know? Personally, I enjoy the nomadic aspect of this kind of living."

    Akos winced, as Gommu stepped in a pile of what he hoped wasn't human feces, without so much as blinking. "I think I prefer living on an iceberg to living in...this." Boto nodded sagely in agreement. It took thirty more minutes, but eventually they came to a well-hidden passage that led into an underground sewer system. The canals were filled with the usual refuse of humanity such a den of disease and stench often afforded, but at the very least, the canals had been built with walkways beside them, for those unfortunate engineers that sometimes descended to keep the pipes maintained, and functional.

    Gommu didn't blindfold them, and Alex soon realized why, as he recognized the crafty hobo was purposefully leading them in a pattern through the sewers that none of them could easily memorize. Still being attuned to the water, Alex was able to sense they were heading towards a central part of the sewer, from which the water in the canals flowed. Knowing that, he felt reasonably sure he could get back to it, should he become lost.

    The headquarters itself was situated around a near-constant stream of refuse and foul water, falling into the sewers, and being piped around the city before eventually flowing into the ocean. Glass walls kept backsplash from hitting the people here, and Alex noted several that were not dressed as vagabonds, and still seemed affected by the stench. Gommu led them to a dingy campsite surrounding a dead campfire that looked to have been urinated on, as he, Boto, and Ara went to talk shop with their superiors. After about an hour, Ara came back, and it was time for them to meet the rebel's leaders as well.

    Alex was surprised to find the leaders ensconced within an incense-scented room, hidden by earthbending. It was spartan in decoration, having only an old and slightly worn metal table surrounded by moderately comfy metal chairs within the room's center. On each wall, the symbols of each bending Nation were displayed in equal importance, though some of the banners were obviously newer than others, with the oldest being that of the Air Nation. Seated in front of that one, was a man with an arrow tattooed on his forehead. The rest of his head played home to a close cropped and suggestively militaristic hairstyle, wild eyebrows, and an equally wild dark brown beard who Gommu introduced as General Boomi. He and Alex shared a nod of respect, before the hobo introduced the others. "Next to our fearless General is Lin, the Chief of the Metalbender Police Force, beside her is Minami, daughter of Kuzon, one of our most reliable Fire Nation allies."

    The elderly and wrinkled Police Chief glared at him for a long moment, before nodding once, and the Fire Nation local, the first Alex had met, gave him a polite nod. Lin was encased in what was essentially a streamlined suit of armor, not unlike something Galarian knights of old would wear, while Minami was in her nation's classic clothing combination of red...and darker red. Alex gave both women a respectful nod, and they nodded back, as Gommu continued.

    "Across from General Meelo, we have Asami, an engineering genius, and the daughter of one of Minjujuui City's smartest futurists and engineers. She's taken over what her father built, and turned it into marvels we thought Koria would never see. And last, next to her, is our de facto leader, since Avatar Kora left this world, and General Meelo's own dad! Master Tenzin, of the Air Nation." Tenzin and Meelo, now that Alex looked, did share some family resemblance, and though their clothes were very different, they both had arrows upon their heads. Tenzin was bald however, and had on a yellow and orange set of robes, while Meelo had on leather armor covered in scorch marks, and signs of heavy use. Tenzin's beard stuck out from his chin, and was longer than his son's, though his was entirely gray. He seemed to be near Lin's age, and looked very much like a human who'd been alive for over a century.

    For her part, Asami was a perfect ten, with jet black hair that almost reminded him of Jess, save that hers had streaks of gray, as well as curl and volume for days. She spoke the least, and among the gathering of benders, Alex's sight informed him that she was the only one without an elemental tie. The old Air Nomad that led this group of influential people spoke, as his fingers steepled before him. He eyed Akos for a moment, and then settled his gray gaze on Alex.

    "So. You are the foreigner sent to us from the Dragon of Unova...Aratak tells me that you're good with Pokémon, and are worthy of an audience, if not our full trust. Apparently you were going to help our allies in the Great Swamp, but they were already out of danger by the time you arrived."

    Meelo broke in, as his father paused in his speech. "Hyu sensed them coming before they even landed. Thanks to him, we were able to get away without casualties...but that Firebender leading them...the one with the black Charizard...she is going to be a problem." Meelo finished, giving his father a look, as he crossed his arms. His outfit shared a similar color scheme with his father's clothing beneath the armor, but the leather itself seemed designed on purpose to help blend in with foliage.

    "President Raiko has informed me that the Fire Nation has once again sent us envoys...he is meeting them as we speak. Based on what we know of their ship and its last known route, it is likely this Firebender that Meelo encountered is with the delegation. Tell the troops to stay out of the city for the next week, just to be safe...we must be sure that they do not find us. If they are as competent as you say, we cannot risk them getting back here, which leads me to my task for you, Alex." Tenzin said, as he focused on the Unovan. "Lately there has been an Onix causing us no end of trouble down here. Damaging pipes, burrowing through tunnels...those of us with Pokémon have tried to drive it off, but it's too strong for us. It's pretty big, at least several centuries old. Find a way to remove it, and you will have the trust of my people, and the thanks of our city's President. This is a problem for him, as well. The damage it has caused so far is an expense the city can't afford, if it's going to keep supporting our cause."

    Alex nodded at the old man, and resisted smirking, as he considered what an Onix could do for balancing his new team. "I can handle a rampaging Onix. Leave it to me, Master Tenzin...I would ask for something else, once I'm done."

    "Name it." The old airbender replied.

    "I wish to learn how to bend the air...and fire, if possible. I would be honored to learn your ways." He bowed again then, fist to palm, and Meelo shared a look with his father.

    It was Meelo who spoke up next. "Gommu tells us you're a Waterbender. It's unusual, but not unheard of, for a foreigner. The Water Tribes were almost as nomadic as my people, back when Koria had peace."

    Alex nodded. "I can indeed bend the water...to a degree. As well as the earth. My method is...different to how you and your people bend the elements, but it's similar enough to share a label."

    That, made both of General Meelo's eyebrows rise. "Are you telling us you're like the Avatar?"

    Alex chuckled. "No…well...kind of." He looked around the room, and decided to trust these people with a bit of information about himself. "I am what some regions call 'Dragonborn'. Humans like me are rare, but if we manage to awaken our draconic blood's power in our lifetimes, we can become kin to dragon types. It is the nature of dragon energy, to bind and control the other elemental typings, that gives me the control necessary to learn your styles of fighting, among other impressive powers. That, combined with my psychic prowess, has helped me learn your element bending arts rather quickly. Mastering nature energy manipulation is what the Original Dragon claims is the next stage of my training. I have already learned much...I would be honored to study under true masters."

    Tenzin nodded slowly. "I see...well, such a person would be a valuable ally to us." His gaze shifted to his son, then and raised a single bushy gray eyebrow. "There is one thing, however…"

    Meelo's eyes and tattoos began to glow with a white aura, and in his head, Alex heard him say, "Show me your...psychic prowess." His aura appeared around his form then in a shield of white, sending a constant, and heavy breeze through the isolated chamber as the aura expanded. The group held on to their papers, and every single woman at the table sighed, as Meelo started his shenanigans, while Tenzin watched on without a word. Alex was quick to respond to the psychic challenge, and the deep blue of his own aura emanated off of him in a similar manner. The edges of the two auras met above the table, and crackled with psychic sparks as each vied for dominance, but neither overpowered the other.

    "Enough." Tenzin said, and the firmness of his tone shocked both his son and Alex out of the focus needed for matching their psychic strength without harming the others.

    Meelo, for his part, was grinning. He looked at his father. "I'm convinced. He wants to help, he's at least as strong as me...we could really use someone like him on our side."

    Tenzin stroked his beard again, looking first at his son, and then at Alex. "Hmmm…"

    Alex guessed what he was thinking, and spoke. "I will still take care of your Onix problem regardless of whether you trust me or not...but the sooner I can Teleport in supplies for your rebellion, the sooner the occupation of Koria will end."

    The leaders discussed then, and Alex waited patiently as they did. Not all of them shared Meelo's opinion of the newcomer, but he had, quite purposefully, gotten a strong psychic indication of what Alexander Redwood was about in their brief psychic struggle, and Alex had in turn gotten an impression of the General. He was a bit rash, more impulsive than what he'd been told Air Nomads were like, but he was genuinely kind, and a powerful Trainer in his own right. He would make a fine ally, in the wars to come.

    Before the gathered representatives could come to a decision, a messenger was let into the room from the outside, and accompanying him came a fresh whiff of fecal sewage that made all gathered except Gommu grimace. His words cut through the conversation going on between Minami and Asami. "Master Tenzin! The Onix has returned. It's still angry from last time, and our scouts say it's heading straight for us."

    All eyes in the room shifted to the old airbender, and Alex did not envy his position. Trying to hide and run a secret rebellion from a technologically superior enemy with a rampaging Onix on hand was difficult, to say the least. Keeping their operation secret without a base would be double the trouble. Tenzin met Alex's gaze in turn, and raised a bushy gray eyebrow towards him.

    Alex nodded. "Seems like I'm up. Please, my new friends, continue your conversation, and when I return, we can find a spot for these supplies to appear within." He turned to the messenger then. "Show me the last known spot this Onix was sighted."

    The messenger nodded, and he led Alex back into the sewers, taking only a few turns, before Alex felt the earth itself rumbling. "It's close!" The messenger said, slightly panicked.

    "Head back...if I don't succeed in stopping it, you will all soon find out." Alex said, as he faced the direction of the vibrations. He attuned himself to the earth around him, and smirked as he felt the messenger run. Standing in place, he attuned to the rock and stone around him, before suddenly halting the flow of nature energy, and rapidly shifting the earth as he did, to gain the charging rock snake's attention. His eyes opened, as he felt it shift to move towards him.

    "Canis. Arbor." Alex spoke, and the two Pokémon in question popped from their balls, eager for battle. They shared a nod of mutual respect, and fell into a similar style fighting crouch. "Canis, stop its momentum with your strongest Vacuum Wave. Arbor, weaken it with Leaf Blade." As he finished speaking, the head of the rock snake broke the sewer tunnel, and it roared in rage as truly foul water, amongst other things, splashed its face and head as it came up to their level. Seeing them, the Onix slithered forward rapidly, and Canis moved first, placing both his palms together as he charged, and then fired the Vacuum Wave. The fighting typed ball of sparking energy hit the Onix head on, and the rock snake lost his momentum, as he headbutted it. Eventually, the super effective move exploded in his face, which only made the massive rock snake angrier.

    Arbor took that chance to dash into the smoke, and another pained roar echoed through the sewers as his Leaf Blades did their work. Arbor was a green flash within the haze, and the tight quarters gave him plenty of room to zip around, and dodge the Iron Heads it was trying to stop him with. The Onix was quite massive, despite it actually being comparatively young, from what Alex could tell from its mind. He was ambitious, strong, eager to grow stronger, and more than intrigued by this human who so skillfully handled two partners at once.

    The Onix was around the same level of strength as Arbor and Canis, and because of that, the three super effective hits brought it where it needed to be for a successful catch. Massive rocks, from a Rock Throw, hurtled past Arbor, towards Canis and Alex, and the two moved in a unified spiral pattern as their fists broke the rocks. Alex swirled away from the last one, drawing an Ultra Ball as he did, and sent it flying back towards the Onix, adding the usual spin to it that made it curve in the air.

    The rock snake's eyes widened as it saw the ball, and Arbor backflipped away, as the massive tail came forward to try to smash it away. All the tail did was cause more devastation by taking down several walls and flooding the area with dust, before the Ultra Ball drew the Pokémon into it. Arbor turned, catching the ball on his leafy tail, and sparing it from the sewage flowing rapidly into the hole the Onix had made with his entry, as he did. It wiggled several times, angrily, but the weakened state and superior capture technology was enough to keep it in, as it dinged with the sound of a successful catch. Alex psychically pulled the ball to his hand, pocketed it, and then gathered more nature energy for the repair job.

    He glanced at the giant hole, and the chaos it would undoubtedly cause the sewers if left unfixed. Using simple earthbending, he fixed the area around the Onix tunnel's entrance, as well as some of the more structurally necessary walls the rock snake had demolished in his rampage. He glanced up, as both Arbor and Canis growled, alerting him to someone else being down here with them. Canis began to chase them, and Alex swore, shouting at Arbor as he finished the final wall. "Go! Make sure he isn't stolen, or killed!" The grass lizard nodded, and dashed after the punchy puppy.

    Arbor and Canis did not go far, as Canis barked the intruders all the way up a ladder, and out of the sewer. He growled, but did not follow them up into the foreign city he did not know, in an area of the city that would take one look at him, and try to sell him for parts, or as a novelty from Sinnoh. "I have your scent, fire tossers…" He growled, before turning, noticing Arbor, and then storming past him, back to their human tether.

    Alex recalled Arbor, and kept Canis on his shoulder, once he heard that apparently firebenders had gotten unnervingly close to the rebel's base. He headed back to the HQ, only to find it filled with people who cheered as they saw him return triumphant, though really, most were astounded by the adorable Riolu hanging off his shoulder.

    It seemed that Tenzin and the other leaders had come out, likely after hearing what he'd told the messenger, but they too were smiling.

    Tenzin stepped forward, and floated effortlessly over the now once-more flowing river of filth between him and the Unovan. "A quick and masterful display of Trainer ability, young man. I am impressed. Come. The others and I have agreed to let you give us supplies. I am told you need a room to...anchor your powers to. Truth be told, the ability to Teleport is something my people lost, when the Fire Nation almost eradicated us three centuries ago."

    "Well, if we have time, I would be honored to share the trick with you and Meelo." Alex answered, as they walked. "If you're anywhere near as strong as him, it's something you will both be capable of doing."

    Tenzin led him in what seemed like a circle as Alex informed him of what they'd seen in the aftermath of the Onix. Eventually they came to what seemed like a blank rock wall, but actually turned out to be a cleverly hidden room that seemed to be used for storage. Several hobos, Gommu among them, were in the process of clearing space for what he was bringing. "Now, Ara mentioned that the Imperium may detect multiple uses of psychic power. She said you had a way to protect against their discovery of this method of moving supplies and people."

    Alex nodded. "The Original Dragon will hide the energy...I will act as the anchor in the room, and he will bamf the supplies here. He says the Imperium likely won't detect it, if he is the one that does it, but I don't know if there's a difference to how he Teleports, and how we humans manage it."

    Tenzin stroked his beard for a moment, in thought. "The Original Dragon is a master of many arts, and has lived many millennia. I am sure there are quite a few tricks he has yet to show you, young Redwood. In any case, I will stand by outside to keep watch for anything going awry. I have some...psychic prowess myself, you know. You may begin when ready." He finished, with a light smirk.

    Alex nodded, entered the room, and then sat in the center. "This may take a moment…" It took almost ten minutes for him to psychically anchor his mind to the room, but Tenzin seemed to have the patience of a Sage. Finally, once he was ready, Alex mentally poked Tao, and with a minor thought on the dragon's part, the supplies that had been standing by for several days now, were moved halfway across the planet in the space of seconds. Alex suddenly found himself in the midst of a room packed with boxes, and he sucked in his belly as he carefully slid his oversized form free of the now very filled space.

    "There should be more than enough food, fresh clothes, medicine, bandages, things like that. We have a surplus of such things leftover from our most recent war. You are welcome to them, with our thanks for your trust." Alex bowed again to Tenzin, who returned the gesture.

    "We thank you for your aid. I believe Ara told us that you're challenging the Gyms of our region. Asami happens to be the Gym Leader of Minjujuui City. She's extended a challenge to you." Tenzin said, as they began heading back towards the center of the sewer-based headquarters.

    Alex blinked, at that, as it wasn't unheard of for Gym Leaders to call out Trainers. It had simply never happened to him, though, he realized, he had never actually met a Gym Leader outside of their Gym before challenging them before. He felt Cinder's ball twitch, as Alex reasoned that an engineer probably had steel types. Given where they were, she likely also had a few partners that represented her primarily Earth Nation city. "I look forward to challenging her. If you need me for anything else, let me know. I'm here to help."

    Their group was given several hours to rest, as the meeting was scheduled for the morning, and the sun had long set during their journey into the sewers. Alex did not need convincing to fall asleep, and did so easily, letting his tired and drained body rest, as his mind reached out to another, for yet another mental reunion.

    Several Hours Earlier Lord Okuz's Ship - Outside Minjujuui City, Koria Region

    Their ship approached the constant light of Minjujuui City, as night fell, and darkness covered the sky. Okuz and his Blaziken, Ken, were practicing their firebending on the topmost level of the ship, what was essentially a larger crow's nest than one would find on a standard Imperial Fire Navy Cruiser. Okuz was as relentless with his Pokémon as he was with all his sparring opponents, and his flawless form often snuck by the fighting fire chicken's guard. Flames erupted from the top of their ship, and he was sure the locals in the city could see the epic clash of fist to fist fighting as well.

    Ken launched a Blaze Kick that Okuz caught on his crossed arms. He forced them apart then, stopping the kick's momentum, and cancelling out the fire from it all at once. He brought his outstretched hands together then, and two walls of flame crashed on the Blaziken, finally making him drop to a knee. Okuz and Ken panted, eyeing each other, before suddenly, their gaze was drawn to something on the horizon. A massive pillar of golden light lit up the night sky under the orange crescent moon, and Okuz couldn't help but grin, as he finally saw proof of what his semi-mad father had called a 'Light type'. According to Ozai, there was only one, in Koria.

    Most of Ozai's advisors thought he was mad, when he ranted almost daily about finding the Avatar, and tearing them limb from limb, but seeing was believing, and Okuz now knew beyond doubt, that what his father sought, and feared above anything else, was nearby. He formed a small smile as he realized he might finally be able to go home. "Well done Ken, get a good rest." The Blaziken, while initially expecting to continue, bowed, and returned to his ball without complaint.

    Okuz jumped from the crow's nest then, and he whistled as he began to plummet. His falling form was caught by his red-orange scaled Charizard, Druk, and he gave his starter Pokémon a pat, as they circled the roughly hundred or so feet down to the deck. On their descent, they were sent spinning in the air by the black form of Caeruleus, and her rider. Aluza sneered at Okuz as she sped by, and brought Cae in for a landing, giving zero Muks as her ride's claws tore into the deck.

    Druk was fuming as he righted himself, and landed. He snarled at his sister, who smirked at her brother the same way her Trainer did to her own relative. Aluza and her shiny Charizard made quite the pair, but Okuz knew in his heart that Druk was stronger. He hopped off of Druk, and turned to see his uncle appear from within the ship. "So." The old man began. "You two saw it as well."

    Okuz placed a hand on his partner, and drained the excess heat from Druk's agitated state into the night air, as he helped the fire lizard cool off, but the calming of his mind did little for his mood. Druk continued to glare at Caeruleus, who continued to smirk. Aluza was grinning like a madwoman, and her half-covered face only helped that appearance. The golden face covering hid her entire burn, and kept her eye useful. "Forget the feast, Uncle...we should go after that light."

    "I agree with Aluza." Okuz said, as he internally didn't quite believe he was uttering the sentence that just came from his mouth. "We need to figure out if that was the Avatar. Dinner can wait, Uncle."

    Iroh sighed, heavily. "I'm not one to put food above a mission, but this feast is about more than filling our bellies. We must appear to be friends to these people, to keep the peace between us. Minjujuui could make things very difficult for our supply lines if they decide to help their founding Nation." Iroh looked at Okuz, then. "You still have it?"

    Okuz nodded, and produced the 'family heirloom' the old man had given him the day he and his sister had been exiled, and sent on this futile quest. It was an old circular object with a double ended symbol upon the circular surface that reminded Okuz of the decorative Herlemin, a double-ended axe, on display back at the Fire Palace. One of many outdated, but unique weapons his father enjoyed hanging on walls. An S like line looped behind the double ended axe shape connecting the top and bottom parts, and two spheres, with a gem of some description, sat at the northern and southern points on the object. Beneath the symbol, the disk was a faded grayish-blue, and covered in swirling patterns. His uncle had claimed it was a gift, from a far off region close to Galar, that could apparently detect Light types, and glowed in the presence of the Light.

    "Good." Iroh said with a nod. "Bring that tonight. Whoever created that pillar will have moved by now, if they're smart. They may even be in the city by now. We could be having dinner with them, for all we know. If they are in the room tonight, you will be the first to know, Prince Okuz. Now, both of you, go and ready yourselves for the feast. Commander Zhao will be there as well, and the Royal Family will be better behaved than he is." The old man finished, with a glare at Okuz, and then one that lingered on Aluza.

    With a pair of sighs, and an eye roll from Aluza, the pair of young fire royals returned to their cabins, as Iroh and the crew brought the ship into Minjujuui's harbor. They were parked next to what he recognized as Zhao's own vessel, and he subtly shook his head as he noted each of the cannons were manned, and armed, occasionally swiveling, and fraying the nerves of the dockmaster. Iroh gave his crew the night to enjoy the city, before the three royals were led to City Hall, the building that housed events like the feast, and played home to the city's politics during the daylight hours.

    Aluza's outfit was as close to scandalous as a royal could get. Okuz hated to admit it, but compared to the other women he saw as they were announced, and entered the building's main floor, his sister was superior when it came to aesthetics, as evidenced by the entire room's male population unabashedly eyeing her fit and curvy figure as they entered the party with the usual announcement of their presence. Okuz sighed inwardly, and hid his frown, as the half-mask and exposed cleavage drew the eye of every male in the room for a good ten seconds.

    His face shifted, as his mouth formed a thin line. It was almost a look of constipation, as Commander Zhao approached them, two cups of tea in hand. He was a tall man with an aged face covered on either side by burly sideburns, he was as physically fit as Okuz, and still wearing his military outfit, even at a party. "Admiral Iroh, and the Banished Royals. I'm surprised you came to an event like this. Has your search for the Avatar led you to this...city?" He asked, as his tone alone implied what he thought of their current location.

    Iroh took one of the offered cups, sniffed it, and then bowed to Zhao. "Commander Zhao. Unfortunately, we are here for repairs, and rest. Our search has been fruitless. Come, and I will catch you up on all that has transpired." Iroh glanced at his niece and nephew, only to realize Aluza was already in the crowd. An earthbender who was, in a word, unapologetically shredded, and wearing a too-small green vest over his bulging pectoral muscles, already had Aluza chatting and flirting. Okuz simply gave his uncle a nod, and then found a dark corner to brood in.

    He leaned against one of the massive pillars holding up the roof of the building, arms crossed as he examined the crowd, and glanced at his 'heirloom'. More men had crowded Aluza now, and Okuz sighed, as he left her to her amusement. Such behavior had helped her get that scar, and join him in banishment, but if she wanted to fraternize with earthbenders, he wasn't going to stop her from living her life. After denying one of the more attractive serving girl's offer for a tiny piece of meat wrapped in what looked like a bun of some sort for the eighth time, he began planning his exit from the party. Nobody here had any importance to his mission. He needed to investigate that light, alone if possible. He was also obtuse enough to not realize the serving girl seemed smitten by his classic royal family good looks. His mind was too focused on potentially recovering his honor, and returning to the Regiis Caldera to entertain the idea of romance.

    Okuz dodged through the crowd, smiling and nodding to guests as he did. He approached one of the drink tables, and as he left, subtly singed one of the far corners with a small ember. He disappeared again into the crowd, and shortly after, the rapidly building flames caused a small panic. A nearby waterbender security guard handled it quickly enough, but by then, Okuz was gone. His royal garments were carelessly incinerated in one of the alleys outside the building, and below them, was his armor. Mostly dark red and black, it helped him blend into the night, as he skulked through the city with his Greninja, who went only by 'Ninja', leading the way.

    It took two hours of subtle travel, but by the end of his tour through the city, he'd acquired a travel cloak to hide his head and garments, and had rather easily escaped from the city. Getting back in would be harder, but it seemed nobody cared that a random traveler was unofficially leaving in darkness. He called out his Arcanine once he was far enough away, and the fast fire beast carried him towards the area of the coastline around the city from which the light pillar had come.

    After about an hour of running at top speed, Okuz let the panting pooch slow, as he felt his side grow warm. He drew the strange object Iroh had given him from his travel pack, only to find that the gray under patterns with swirling designs had begun to glow with a faint whitish blue. He stared at the symbol as it pulsed in his hands, and using it like a dowsing rod, he walked towards the forested area it seemed to be drawing him towards.

    Eventually, he came to a clearing, and had to blink as he noted a truly massive, unnatural depression, likely made by a Pokémon, on the ground. He couldn't tell which, only that it was evidently far more square, or at least had several more right angles, than he expected a living being to possess. The object was glowing much brighter now, and a quick perimeter walk confirmed that this was the epicenter of the Light pillar. "Alright, Arca. Find me a scent we can track…"

    "Leave that to me, Kuzkuz." Came Aluza's voice from behind him. Arca growled as she met the gaze of Aluza's current partner, free from his own ball, a Houndoom that his brilliant sister had simply dubbed 'Doom'. With a nod from Aluza, the Houndoom trotted forward, and quickly locked in on a scent. Not to be outdone, Arca also followed it, and seemed to find several others as well. "They've got something." Aluza said, as the thrill of the coming hunt added excitement to her sadistic tone. "Let's follow it, capture whoever was stupid enough to light up the sky, and go home."

    "After you." Okuz said, gesturing. His sister brushed past him without so much as a glance. Like him, she was in her armor again, and he wondered if she'd really gone back to the ship before coming out here. He shook his head rapidly, side to side, as the most likely reason for such an early return and outfit swap entered his brain, and was subsequently banished from his thoughts.

    Aluza called out Caeruleus then, and hopped on the shiny Charizard's back, as they followed Doom's rapid pace from above. Arca paused only to let Okuz back on, before catching up to, and matching the Houndoom's pace, much to his irritation. He snapped at one of Arca's legs, and Okuz answered him with a furious flash of fire to his face. He resisted such things, but took the message not to mess with Arca all the same. If Aluza cared that her brother had firebended at her partner, she didn't appear to show it.

    The scent trail led them to another clearing several hours after the sun rose, and after that, the pair surmised that whoever they were tracking had likely arrived in the city by now. They continued to follow the trail back into Minjujuui City, only having to flash their Fire Nation emblems to avoid harassment by the guards. Once inside, they donned cloaks, and let Doom lead the way, as he was less conspicuous than a fully grown Arcanine. Houndour were common within the city as well, though none were as purely bred for battle as Doom, he could blend in as a local, from a distance. Anyone who looked closer would notice his ribs weren't showing, his fur was shiny, and he was in remarkably good health, for a city Pokémon.

    When the trail led them into the slums of the city, Aluza finally cracked under the smell. Okuz could tell the lack of sleep was starting to affect her, and he too felt his eyes growing more tired, but they continued on, convinced that they were close to their target. Eventually, Doom led them to a sewer entrance, and after fashioning barely-efficient face masks for themselves, the pair of firebenders entered the smelly sewage network. About twenty minutes in, still following the trail, they felt a rumble in the earth, and it was Aluza who stopped Okuz from walking straight out into a causeway that, in an instant, became home to a rampaging Onix rising out of the earth, who was doing battle with a green blur, and a Riolu.

    Whoever it battled was skilled enough to catch the rock snake rather quickly, and both firebenders wondered who exactly had the kind of tech for such a thing in Koria. Such technology was prohibited from Korian citizens, and catching Pokémon was not a common skill. As the struggling Onix brought his tail forward to try to stop the ball, he took out a wall near them, and exposed their cover. Slowly, and as quietly as possible, Aluza, Doom, and Okuz moved backwards, but the green blur, revealed to be a Sceptile, spotted them, and was soon followed by the barking Riolu as well. Muttering an expletive under her breath, Aluza recalled Doom, and then dashed away from the scene. Okuz was right behind her, and after a few quick turns, the pair climbed a ladder they'd found to the surface, and passed through a manhole cover, to their freedom.

    They kept running, and deciding subtlety was out, Okuz called out Arca once more, letting the massive flame dog clear a path for them with her bulk, as she used her speed to return them to the harbor at an expedited pace. Neither of the siblings spoke, but they both knew the importance of what they had found. The Light user was likely working with the rebellion, and they had likely been close to the rebel's base. Now they knew where it was, they could press their authority as regional overlords to send troops in, capture everyone there, and question them, until they gave up the Avatar.

    Now that they had the location, marked so conveniently by the Onix, the end of the rebellion was all but assured.
  7. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Foreword: The following is essentially a chapter's worth of information on one of the more fun characters I've shoved into this madness. It took a while to cook up and be somewhat faithful to the original Witcher series, but I'd say we got there. Or got as close as Pokémon can get, anyways. There's more to this Geralt's tale than I can fit here, and we will get to it. Eventually. I would not advise skipping this one. As always, I'll tie any lore back to the main story, it just might take a while.

    Until then, enjoy.

    The Ranger's Path

    Redwood Ranch - Northern Unova Region (Several years before the Trainer Exam)

    The moon was full in the summer sky above the thirteen younger Redwoods who had, after learning the basics of how to approach and capture Pokémon all day, dashed out of the Redwood Lab, eager to find some. Geralt and Malina, being the oldest, were charged by the Professor to keep the littles in line, but despite the later hour, the Professor had a feeling about that night. The tingle of fate was in the air, and it was a good time to catch Pokémon. Once they had all departed, the old man lit his hand-held wooden Leaf pipe, took a long draw, and spoke aloud, seemingly to the darkness. "Soren." He exhaled his cloud of scented smoke reminiscent of a Stunky. "Watch them, would you?"

    A low hoot answered the ancient human as two yellow eyes appeared in the darkness of the nearby tree that sat outside the lab. There wasn't much he wouldn't do for the old man, and keeping track of thirteen slow moving targets in the darkness was nothing to a Noctowl his age. The younger Redwoods soon found themselves in tears, and running to Malina for help, when what they wanted to catch took one look at them, and ran. There was one, however, who had gone with his brother and his cousin, to find something by one of the ponds near the back end of their property, at a pace the toddlers couldn't match. Though Eric constantly repeated that their dad wouldn't like this, he too eagerly clutched a Dive Ball. His brother had admired fire types almost solely because of Leon and Alain. Eric knew that water beat fire, thanks to the lesson earlier, and thus he had decided to catch a water type, before his brother even found a fire type. He was four and a half, but he already liked the 'vibe' as his Gruncle would call it, that water types had.

    It was as they came upon the pond Eric had demanded Alex guide him to, or else he'd tell, that they saw they were not alone. They looked around for Geralt, only to realize the coolest and eldest teen of the group had vanished. Swimming in the pond were a pair of Poliwags, and before Alex could so much as take a step, Eric chucked the Pokéball in his hand as hard as he could at the relatively younger Poliwag with a triumphant cry that mimicked what he'd been taught by his Granduncle, "Yeet da ball!" The ball wiggled on the surface of the pond, once, twice, three times, before suddenly, it burst open in a flash of blue.

    The Poliwag that had almost been captured panted heavily in shock, but its sibling was furious, and launched several Bubbles at the pair of humans. Seeing his ball break had caused Eric to start wailing, but his brother knew how dangerous moves could be, and yanked his tiny sibling out of the path of the weak and slow moving water attack. They dashed into the bushes shouting for Geralt, as the two Poliwags watched them go with angry eyes.

    Geralt, for his part, had been busy. He had only agreed to help his ninety plus year old granduncle watch thirteen smaller humans because the alternative was actually showing up for his 'behavioral correction' night classes at the high school. Given that he was about to graduate, and start training to be a Ranger, he had stopped giving any Muks about his school work, and had focused on training with a Pokémon Ranger's tools.

    The most important tool however, was at least one Pokémon on hand that was versatile enough to help the Ranger in question. Geralt had no intention of being the only Ranger trainee without a partner Pokémon, and his granduncle had given them free balls. He let his little cousins wander and play around the lake, as he didn't really care if they got muddy, and he knew Alex was a natural with everything that lived around here. His sharp eyes had instead noticed something else entirely. A flash of white in the darkness.

    What he found when he followed it, was an oddity. A wild Rockruff, sitting on a rock, chilling, as he stared at the moon. "Hey." Geralt said, as he drew out a Sitrus Berry. "Relax. I'm not going to hurt you. Are you hungry? Do you want food?"

    The initial shock and suspicion at seeing a human made the slightly lighter-than-normal colored male rock puppy jump in place, and narrow his eyes in suspicion. At least, until he saw the human had food. His tail wagged slowly as he watched Geralt carefully approach, and set down the berry. The Rockruff began to gnaw on the comparatively massive fruit, as he subtly looked the human over. His shoulder length hair was entirely white, but his skin wasn't wrinkled, and he was very obviously a human in the end spiral of adolescence, making him not much older than the Rockruff himself. His green eyes were fierce, his clothes were mostly leather, a jacket, Trainer gloves, and durable pants that gave away that he was from farmin' country.

    "I'm Geralt." The eighteen year old said, in his somewhat awkward monotone. "Rockruff." The rock puppy answered, as he gnawed at the tough, but satisfyingly juicy fruit. Geralt waited for the amusing pupper to start chewing on a larger piece, before he spoke again. By the time the Rockruff finally got a piece large enough to nom in his mouth, Geralt's green eyes had shifted to the moon above them. "I don't suppose you know what a Pokémon Ranger is."

    "Rock. Ruff?" The puppy answered, with a mouthful of fruit. "I thought not." Geralt said, pretending to understand the pupper. He kind of did understand more or less, mostly by tone. "A Pokémon Ranger is someone who puts the protection of Pokémon and the natural world first. They hunt down bad humans, who treat Pokémon like tools, and usually try to conquer the planet. But they're not like most Trainers."

    The Rockruff paused in his biting, and asked, "Rockruff?" "Yes. Really." Geralt answered. "I'm about to head off to study and train to become a Ranger. I was hoping you would be the Pokémon I went with." He held up his Ultra Ball then, and the Rockruff stiffened, but slowly relaxed as the human didn't throw it. Moments passed as the two stared at each other, and the Rockruff's eyes widened as he slowly realized the human was asking to catch him. He looked down in confusion at his berry. Humans never asked, they just attacked, and threw. And he usually dodged, and ran.

    The lighter toned Rockruff looked back at the human then, who was still holding up the ball. He didn't know why, but the simple fact that the human had asked made the Pokémon more malleable to being partnered. From his perspective, he'd found a rare human, and he knew how strong human-trained Pokémon could become. He yipped, and wagged his tail, but then looked meaningfully at his berry. "It's alright, you finish first."

    Geralt placed the ball by the Rockruff's snout, and then proceeded to pet the pupper between the ears, which made his rock-filled tail wag more. Suddenly, the Rockruff paused as he finished his last berry bite, and looked upwards. Then, Geralt heard it too. Two high pitched younger male voices shouting his name. "Muk." He said, as he stood up quickly. From behind him, he heard a ding, and he glanced around to see the Rockruff had entered the Ultra Ball. Nodding in immense satisfaction, Geralt grabbed it, and ran towards his cousins.

    As it turned out, the Poliwags had been watched as well, by a comparatively far more attentive Poliwhirl, who now used its superior muscles to run down the small humans. It fired several Hypnosis moves at them, but Alex had continued to dodge by zig zagging, and he dragged his tear-stained, snot-nosed brother behind him as he did. The Poliwhirl jumped in front of the two then, and it was at that moment, that Geralt appeared.

    He slid to a stop as his black Ranger issue boots gripped the dirt, and hurled his Ultra Ball at the Poliwhirl. It bounced off, getting its attention, and releasing his new Rockruff all at once. The Poliwhirl eyed the rock puppy, and then the human. The tense moment passed, as neither side attacked, and it began speaking, gesturing at Eric, and sounding very angry. Geralt nodded along, getting the gist that something the toddler had done had seriously angered the local Poli population.

    "I'm sorry for whatever my cousin did, but as you can see...he's young." Geralt then noticed Eric's Dive Ball was missing. "How about we all...calm down, and have my cousin here apologize? You and your friends can all have some Berries, too." The Poliwhirl eyed Geralt, and his new partner, and then nodded slowly. "Rockruff, go find some Oran Berries. At least two." Geralt said as he approached the Poliwhirl with his last Sitrus berry. "Here you go...now, Alex, bring your brother. And on the way, explain what he did."

    As expected, at least one of the littles had completely ignored the Professor, and just 'yeeted' the ball at whatever they wanted. As they walked, Malina and the swarm of other little humans joined them. The Poliwhirl looked angrily at Geralt as more tiny humans arrived, but he shrugged, and then kept walking, unfazed. Seeing the small humans were more friendly and curious than overeager, the Poliwhirl eventually gave them pats, and seemed to calm down, before it followed Geralt and his two charges.

    Malina had also had some success, as she'd found an adorable Eevee, offered her a berry, and then a ball. Only one of the littles had actually managed to catch something, and that was Aria, who'd enticed a very young Swablu with her singing. Malina had spent her co-opted evening babysitting for her dad while he smoked more Leaf trying to calm down the Altaria that hadn't wanted her baby to leave just yet. Eventually she'd calmed enough to listen, especially once the Swablu was let out of the ball, and Malina had explained that they lived a few yards away, and the Altaria was welcome to fly by any time.

    As she relayed this to Geralt, and he relayed his own Rockruff related experience, they reached the pond. One Poliwag dove underwater in fear, but the other locked eyes on Eric, and bubbles formed around his mouth. That is, until Poliwhirl appeared. After repeating its name half a dozen times, the Poliwag had come towards the human, and Eric offered a berry in each hand. The Poliwag had taken both, and then dove into the water.

    It was as they were about to start playing around the pond, that Geralt heard a hoot from above, and swore under his breath. One of the littles he hadn't noticed, Aria's youngest sister Emily, he was pretty sure, stared up at him with big, blue eyes, and repeated his obscenity with pure, undiluted joy. He quickly picked up the toddler and said, "No, nono, I said 'Poooo'!" Thankfully, the joy she got from repeating poo soon overwrote the other expletive, and Geralt whistled with his fingers to his lips. As agreed, everyone came and gathered by him at the sound. "Listen up. Our parents are coming." He minimized his ball, and looked at Malina and Aria meaningfully. "If they ask, we caught Nothing. Understand?"

    Twenty Minutes Later - Redwood Ranch House

    "This is unacceptable, Gil. Letting them catch Pokémon? We have enough mouths to feed, and most of those are connected to five stomachs! How are you going to pay for their meals, Professor?"

    Gilroy Redwood sighed heavily. Once more, his nephew Frederick was tearing him out, as one of the littles had almost immediately told their parents who had caught what Pokémon, and what they were all doing outside so late. Gil responded with the same sly sarcasm that he knew, on a fundamental level, pushed the uptight businessman's buttons. "It's a genetically unstable fox, a rock puppy, and a bird. The puppy won't even be around much longer. Geralt needed a partner, and it was long past time for the others to have a Pokémon too. You had one as well, Fred."

    The wrinkled eyes of Alex's father closed in irritation, and then glared at the Professor. "And then I grew up! All you've done tonight is introduce my family to a world of heartbreak that I would rather not have them distracted by! You could've at least gotten them something long-lived. Like a turtle Pokémon. There's plenty of those. Birds and canines don't live forever."

    The Professor rolled his eyes. "Altaria are part dragon type, and live for centuries. If anything, I've introduced a baby Swablu to a friend it will never forget, or likely get over. Have you heard how they learn Perish Song? Once their Trainers pass on, every single time without fail, it becomes a Move they can, and often will, use frequently. Eeveelutions last about as long as humans once their base genetics stabilize, and don't worry about the Rockruff...that one is...special. I don't know how, or why, but it is. Geralt was meant to find it, I think. It was very far from the mountains."

    Frederick waved a hand. "Yes yes, you're very well educated about Pokémon, and are half Psychic. Yet you still can't levitate the remote into your lap, can you old man?" The bitterness was obvious in his tone, and the Professor responded by sitting back in his chair, looking smug. The Professor's brother, and Frederick's father, had had a saying. 'Those who resort to insults in arguments have already lost them.'

    Professor Gilroy Redwood had lost a few of such arguments with Fred that way, like when he didn't allow renovations to the lab to make room for his own family. He enjoyed the look on his nephew's face as he realized his error, and Frederick sighed. "Fine. Whatever. At least not all of them caught something, praise Arceus."

    The Professor's victorious demeanor shifted to a hard expression. "Hasn't praising Arceus done enough damage to our family? Particularly to your first born."

    Frederick met his gaze evenly as his eyes narrowed. "Get out."

    The Professor walked out of Fred's office, muttering several choice expletives under his breath involving Miltank rears, Tauros dung, and how they should apply to a man that denied his child a Pokémon in a society that adored them, and idolized Trainers. Surprising no one, Alex had been drawn to the vicarious victories that came from watching the meteoric rises of Champion level Trainers like Leon, and Alain. As Gil walked, he noticed Geralt, leaning all too-cool-for-skool style against the wall. "I take it that went as well as it always does."

    Gilroy grumbled. "Same pile of Tauros Excrement, different decade."

    "The decade isn't over yet, Gruncle." Geralt said, showing a rare expression of positivity. He was right, technically. They were two years in.

    The Professor kept walking, down the stairs, and straight out of the house, where he brought out his Leaf pipe. "And by the end of this decade, your cousin will still be Pokéless, and I will have failed him."

    Geralt arched a white eyebrow. "You haven't failed him. He adores you, and what you teach him. You're third on his list of awesome Trainers."

    Gilroy nodded, expectantly. "The top two being Leon and Alain, of course."

    "Of course." Geralt said, smirking.

    "Is there something you want, lad?" The Professor said, side eyeing the teenager.

    Geralt nodded. "I need a Styler."

    The Professor nodded, and chuckled. "I hoped you'd forget about that promise...very well. I did say you'd need a Pokémon first, and now you've got one. Come along."

    Gilroy led his grandnephew into his Lab, and puttered through the perpetual mess it had been ever since every female influence that wasn't his daughter, had stopped working in it. The Professor plodded along the walls of inventions and projects, most half-finished, or covered in rust, meaning they'd never be finished. He paused, at an open book, and an illustration of a black dragon type that was really just a vaguely drawn blob, against a thundering sky.

    After a moment, he looked Geralt's way, and stood straighter. "Right, Geralt, ermehem...what was I doing?"

    "Styler." He replied in his usual monotone.

    The Professor snapped his wrinkled fingers and nodded. "Right, right. I did make a new variation, though I wouldn't exactly call it original. An old friend, Professor Hastings, helped me with the design. He said I was crazy, that it wouldn't have enough power." He opened a drawer then, closed it, then turned the handle on a completely different drawer vertically, and opened that. He reached in and pulled out something that actually surprised Geralt.

    It was like a Fine Styler, fit to go on a Ranger's arm, but this one's 'launcher' was shaped like a wolf's head. It was mahogany brown with a reddish tinge, and Geralt held it like a newborn as the Professor gave it to him. "You should have seen his face when I shoved a Rotom inside of it!" Geralt's cliff-like visage broke into a smirk as the old man chuckled. "Brilliant and original, I know, but this way, I didn't need to cannibalize one of my Beyblades to make it work. Yours will shoot a tiny ball of plasma, and with some direction from you, that plasma will encircle and bind whatever Pokémon you need, for as long as your Rotom has energy. It's not very high level though, so…"

    The Professor fished through his pockets, and then brought out a small square chip device. "This is essentially a modified, Styler-compatible Exp. Share, that will share the experience it gives among your whole team. Taming them will also give experience, so you don't need to rely solely on your Battle skills to train. You're going to thank me for that someday, Mr. Rock Typed Starter."

    Geralt took the Wolf Styler, as he'd mentally dubbed it, and slid it on his arm. A pair of eyes opened where the wolf's were, carved into the device. "Hello there." Geralt said, smirking. "You need a name, don't you...how about...Fangst?" The Rotom in the Wolf Styler nodded, by moving his arm up and down, for him. Geralt blinked, and then looked back to his crazy relative. "I won't forget this. Thanks. I need to head out now...it's a long way to the Ranger Academy, and I need to practice."

    "You're welcome, lad." The crotchety old Professor said, as he gave a lazy wave, and watched his grandnephew leave. "Stay in touch, eh?"

    Geralt turned his head, nodded, and then exited the lab.

    International Ranger Academy - Somewhere East of Route 20, Kalos Region

    Geralt Redwood had traveled the length of Unova before reaching the borough of Castelia, and the Inter Regional Airport. His Rockruff, since named Ghost for his lighter coloring and his impressive use of Quick Attack, had grown rapidly once the would-be Ranger began traveling, and using his Wolf Styler to help the people he met along the way. Everything from random rockslides, to an actual kidnapping of a farmer's grateful daughter, he had stopped by using his Rockruff, and when that wasn't enough, other Pokémon who happened to be nearby.

    He'd studied many techniques with books borrowed from his granduncle, particularly of the Walker family, and their method of calling for the aid of Pokémon in the States. They'd had a family member in the Top Ranger class for decades, and that had continued after the merge with Interpol.

    Geralt tried battling Trainers on the road, but soon learned very quickly that there was a specific kind of Trainer he was good against, while others he was easily beaten by, thanks to the rock type's weaknesses. Ghost overcame his inherent disadvantage a few times, but given that he was still young and comparatively untrained, he lost more than he won. Except against Bird Keepers. Those, he had no trouble beating, despite the aerial advantage flying types had. Fangst had also grown in level, and acted as a kind of PokéDex, when it wasn't sleeping. If he controlled a Pokémon that the Professor hadn't archived the data for yet, his Wolf Styler added it to the archive anyways.

    Once he arrived in Kalos, Agents of the hybridized Interpol and Ranger Union guided him to a helicopter, which brought him east, deep into the woods, where he noted a surplus of wild Pokémon, surrounding a massive, modern building that had a combined symbol of the Ranger Union atop the IP's golden Pokéball outline adorning the building's front. On the top of the structure was a garden, he assumed, since the roof was obscured by leaves from what looked to be several trees.

    Geralt was brought into a room with roughly twenty other people that he soon realized were also Ranger hopefuls. They eyed him longer than most, thanks to his youthful looks and pure white hair. They didn't stare for long though. One of the Agents that Geralt noted worked more for the IP side of the organization than the Ranger Union guided them into an auditorium, and once they were seated, the lights went out, and were focused on the stage.

    Geralt knew their speaker immediately, for while age had wrinkled her face, the Flying Ranger had been among the Top Rangers of the world for decades longer than anyone else. "Welcome, new Student Rangers! I'm the Flying Ranger, Wendy. Today, we're going to be giving you uniforms and Training Stylers, as well as a roommate who will share a bunk with you. Tomorrow, your training will begin! When I call your name, come on up and get your things."

    Geralt watched quietly as each of the other Ranger Students approached the Top Ranger, and when his name was called, he did the same. If anyone recognized the Redwood name, he didn't hear them murmur about it. When Wendy offered him a Training Styler, he held up his own, and that, got the other students murmuring. "I already have a Wolf Styler. My granduncle is a Professor."

    Wendy's brows furrowed, and Geralt quickly inferred that she did not like when people went off script. "That's...not regulation…"

    Geralt shrugged, as he took the clothes, leaving her holding the green newbie Styler. "He worked with Professor Hastings on the design, and shoved a Rotom inside to compensate for the amount of power needed. Not all of the functions are unlocked yet...but they will be, once Fangst is high enough level."

    Wendy, clearly not knowing what to do, looked off-stage. At that point, one of her handlers joined them in the spotlight. He was an older man, brown hair on his top, while the sides and lower back part of his hair had turned silver. His was true silver, from age, and not white, like Geralt's own head. He was in a long dark brown trench coat, underneath which he was clad in a suit, the same dark brown shade as his coat.

    He smirked at Geralt, and put a reaffirming hand on Wendy's shoulder as he spoke. "Seems like we've got an overachiever in you, Mr. Redwood. We'll need to have our Lab take a look at this...but it seems Professor Redwood did a fine job. And using a Rotom...not exactly original as ideas go, but one that we never thought to try!" He chuckled, and then offered Geralt a hand. "You can call me Looker. I used to be an Agent in the field, but since the merge, I've been keeping track of useful Trainers and helping with new Rangers."

    Geralt shook the man's hand, nodded awkwardly, and then returned to his seat. Looker continued, the moment his rear touched the chair. "I am the one who will ultimately decide if you are International Ranger material! Remember, your goal is to protect nature, and Pokémon alike. From poachers, from evil gangs, from the kinds of threats you can only imagine, and will likely have to experience to believe. The life of a Ranger these days is not guaranteed to be a long one, but the good you do for our planet will not go unappreciated! Your dorm assignments are in the main hall, outside. Good luck, Rangers. You'll need it."

    Geralt followed the others outside to the room assignments, and as he did, he smelled trouble. He figured his Wolf Styler would garner attention. He'd hoped it would be the fun kind, but the fellow student who approached him had a manner he could only describe as 'snake-like'. He was bald with thin black eyebrows, and his ears were pierced a truly obnoxious number of times, all with different earrings and studs, and no two were alike. Some, even seemed to be made for women, but Geralt didn't judge. He was clad in dark purple clothes, and had already replaced his jacket with the Ranger Student one, which was a forest green. "Thatsss quite a Styler you have there...Geralt, was it?"

    Geralt nodded once, and the man with viper-like eyes continued. He didn't know why exactly, but the hairs on his neck straightened with foreboding. There was something off about this man, but Geralt didn't care to pry. He was here to advance to an Area Ranger as fast as possible. "I've never heard of a...Professssor Redwood...I'll have to have a look on the PokéNet…"

    Geralt immediately got the sense that this man, for he seemed several years older than Geralt himself, already knew what he'd find in regards to his relative. Geralt just smirked, and met his gaze evenly. "Don't believe everything you read on the PokéNet."

    The viper-man arched a thin black eyebrow. "What, do you have a...problem...with factsss, Geralt?" He said, shrugging as he spoke.

    Geralt's eyes narrowed, and he felt more vocal, as this snake-man subtly insulted one of his more tolerable family members. "You would be amazed at how easily idiots are led astray by what they believe are facts. Good thing our generation was taught how to cite our sources and verify trustworthy information. So we can account for a biased take on such 'facts'." He said, employing actual air quotes. "We wouldn't want our judgement impeded by, say, the bias of a Cult, now would we? That's how you end up being fleeced like a Wooloo. A fool and his Pokédollar are soon parted."

    The long black-haired viper-man sneered, chuckled, and then walked off to find his assigned room. Geralt exhaled, and watched his back as he left. Something definitely smelled off about that guy, but he resolved to let the other people here deal with their own issues. He found his own way to the room assignment list, and arched a brow at his roommates. Apparently each room had two bunks, which meant he'd have three other people to deal with, not one. Wonderful.

    His bunkmate was a man who went by Greif, and thankfully, he was nothing like the snake in human form he'd encountered in the main hall. Greif was blessed by genetics with a mesomorphic body structure, and the muscles to go with it. He was several years older than Geralt, who was quickly finding he was one of the youngest Ranger hopefuls here. Their roommates were Eskel, a decent enough fellow with blunt features, a blunt attitude, and brown hair, and a lithe sandy blonde man with brown eyes shaped like a cat's, who called himself Levhart.

    They were decent enough, as roommates went, but the real excitement came when Levhart noted that Geralt had a Pokémon with him. He brought out Ghost, and gave him some chow, and despite the catlike manner of Levhart, he gave the rock puppy just as many pets as everyone else, and Ghost didn't seem to dislike him, or any of the others. Levhart revealed that he had a partner as well, and surprising almost no one, he brought out a Liepard. Rather than snarling at Ghost, the two had sniffed each other, and then the friendly Rockruff had offered him some of his food. Eskel didn't have a partner yet, and seemed to sulk when Greif revealed he also had a partner, but refrained from taking it out in such a small room. He also refused to divulge what it was, as he found his new roommate's interest amusing, and wanted it to be a surprise.

    The next day, after working out who would shower in what order in their shared and tiny bathroom, Geralt's roommates found they were one of the first groups to appear ready to train. The others were all women, and after some bold and friendly reconnaissance from Greif, they learned that the ladies had woken up at the crack of dawn. Geralt eyed them, and didn't find one among them that wasn't suitable for his admittedly low standards when it came to women. He'd found that each of them was unique, and thus deserved his whole attention and appreciation, if things turned romantic. He had no intention of starting anything here, though. Romancing coworkers didn't always end well.

    A new face greeted them, as they gathered outside the International Ranger Force building. He was dressed like a man straight from Unova's military, clad in camouflaged clothing that was baggy enough to allow a wide range of movement, like most Ranger clothing. Geralt had also adopted the green clothes of the Ranger students, and found them breathable, roomy, and durable.

    Their instructor's hair was in a military cut, and was seemingly brown or black. His features were intense, and from under his square, black glasses he looked over each of them, as he silently strode down the line. When he reached the end, he half-sighed half-growled. "We have stragglers."

    Geralt was amused to see the snake-man and what he assumed were his roommates, all hastily dressed and cleaned. Evidently they hadn't figured out a system for who showered first. His own roommates had opted to send the quickest first, and Geralt had gone second. Being the largest, Greif had gone last.

    "Trainees are expected to be presentable and in formation by this time every day, Mister Echis!" Their instructor began, shouting, as was typical with Unovan military types, right in the face of the snake-eyed man. Their instructor stepped back then, and began dutifully pacing along their line. "I am your commanding officer. Agent Kriger (Kree-gurr). But you Noobs will call me Sir. Some of you may be under the impression that you are already Rangers in training. You are Not! Until I say otherwise, you are green footed, wet-behind-the-ears, Nooblets! You will not speak, unless I speak to you! You are not dismissed for the day, until I say you are! Am I understood!?"

    Greif and Geralt replied loudest with "Yes sir!" While the rest of the line seemed to mumble, unsure. The females in particular did not seem thrilled with Kriger. Kriger gave Geralt and Greif a slight nod, and then turned his harsh eyes to the rest of the line. "I ASKED IF YOU UNDERSTOOD!"

    That, got a much louder 'Yes sir!' from the rest of the line, at which point, Kriger continued. "Before we begin today, I want to see what you Noobs have on your belts. I was told not all of you have figured out how to catch a Pokémon apparently. So those of you who lack balls may proceed over to the Flying Ranger. Wendy will show you how it's done." When the people lacking Pokémon were slow to move, the vein on Kriger's forehead throbbed and he shouted, "Move it! Move it! Move it! We're burning too much daylight on those without balls!"

    Geralt gave Eskel a sympathetic look, and then snapped his eyes forward again, as Kriger came up to him, upon seeing Geralt's eyes move anywhere but forward. "What in the Sam Hill is wrong with your hair, boy?"

    Geralt shrugged his shoulders, but did not move them from his best attempt at 'standing at attention'. "Nothing, sir. I was born with this color."

    Kriger seemed to nod, and then saw Geralt's wrist as his eyes drifted over the Nooblet before him. "Now what in the name of almighty Arceus is on your wrist?"

    Geralt held up the Wolf Styler for his inspection, and noted every single other Ranger trainee was also watching. He resisted smirking. His Gruncle was likely going to start a trend. Kriger eyed the wolf-headed Styler, and then jumped back, as Fangst manifested his eyes, and winked one at the extremely well muscled and shredded Agent. This close, it was easy to see the man exercised constantly.

    "Boy...is that a Rotom in your Styler?" Kriger said, getting right in Geralt's face.

    "Sir, yes it is, sir! My Granduncle is a Professor. He made the Styler, and the Rotom powers it. Sir." Geralt met the man's glasses-covered gaze evenly, and while one might expect irrational anger from this type of instructor, the stereotype was proven false. Kriger seemed reasonable, rational, the kind of man who demanded excellence, but wasn't deranged enough to break the students under him mentally, emotionally, and physically just to get a blank tablet to mold. Geralt was glad he was the instructor for his class. That was exactly the kind of person he'd wanted, as he intended to excel in every possible way, and this kind of instructor would promote him for that. Ghost was similarly motivated, especially once Geralt had gone into details about the Rangers, and how important they were to a planet ruled by greed and inundated with Pokémon.

    Kriger looked Geralt up and down again, and then shook his head. "Well...that's just crazy enough to work, actually. You said you were a Redwood, right? Like the ranch milk they sell in Pokémarkets? I've never heard of a Professor Redwood."

    Geralt nodded. "He specialized in chasing down mythical Pokémon even more based in conspiracy and rumor than Mew or Celebi, sir. He was never very famous, but he can be clever. Sir."

    Kriger eyed the Wolf Styler again, and then nodded. "We'll see. Alright then. Show us your balls, Redwood. I was told you actually have a pair."

    "Well, Fangst doesn't really like coming out of the Styler...but I do have Ghost." He tossed the recolored Ultra Ball, that was now essentially just a Premier Ball with a black outline, and Ghost appeared. Geralt heard several chuckles, as the Rockruff with lighter coloring than perhaps was normal appeared, and stared up at Kriger, unfazed.

    Kriger's glasses-covered eyes rose slowly, menacingly, towards the arrogant Nooblets that dared to chuckle while he inspected a Trainee's balls. The jokers wisely straightened to attention, mimicking Grief and Geralt, and Kriger looked back at the Rockruff. He crouched down to Ghost's level, and the rock puppy blinked at him, nose twitching as its hypersensitivity told the Pokémon all he'd ever need to know about the human before him. His tail started to wag, and Kriger's stoney demeanor cracked, with a smirk. He gave the Rockruff scritches on his rocky neck collar, and then stood. The smirk was already gone. "You have a good partner, Noob. But you both have a long way to go. You'll have to work to catch up almost as hard as the Ball-less Nooblets over there." He said, jerking a thumb towards Wendy, and her group.

    Geralt met the man's gaze intensely, and nodded. "I intend to, sir!"

    Kriger chuckled softly, and mostly to himself, before turning to the rest of the line. "Now that is motivation, people! You there, Nooblet Grief! I heard you only have half a pair! Let's see what you've got."

    Grief smirked. "One ball is all I need, sir!" He brought out a strangely styled ball then, and Geralt's brow furrowed. It was kind of a common practice to match a Pokémon's ball to their pattern, but this pattern had him stumped. It was a Luxury Ball, that much he knew, but it was a light golden color on the top, still black on the bottom half of the ball, with hints of red, tawny, purple, and green ringing the ball's top and lower half.

    In a flash of golden light, it appeared, sparkling as it roared. Geralt stared in disbelief at the Shiny Silvally, as did Ghost and even Kriger. Most serious Trainers knew of Gladion and the Aether Foundation's Pokéstein project gone right. Geralt had been a fan of his style. He'd seen a Silvally, but this one seemed quite different. The tail was more reminiscent of a Pyroar's, and a massive pair of light golden wings were folded against the Pokémon's back, the same color as its head, though the tips were white, and would presumably change color as well.

    Kriger stared at Grief, and then lowered his glasses, revealing calculating blue eyes beneath them, as he met the Silvally's gaze. The others all murmured now, and Geralt couldn't blame them. A Shiny Silvally was unheard of, as the RKS system designers at the Aether Corp. had been sued, heavily, by the Fornian government for daring to create or replace the Alpha Pokémon with a cheap knockoff. Ultimately, it had actually been Gladion who testified to the legitimacy of Silvally as a Pokémon, and therefore worthy of the basic rights the Earth had agreed to give them, in this modern era. No more were supposed to have been made, and as Geralt guessed at its strength, he figured it was either a prototype, or an upgrade from the few Silvally that had been seen across the world.

    Kriger went down the rest of the line then, though nobody could upstage a golden, winged, Silvally. Echis revealed what he called a Muertan Arbok, a regional variant from Selva Muerta and the Dark Continent that had grown to a massive size of twenty feet in length. Its pattern was a disturbing depiction of a grinning human skull in black, yellow, red, and orange. Kriger frowned, as it hissed and made to bite at him. Echis's roommate, a bear of a man called Bjorn, brought out a fully grown male Ursaring that was taller, and shaggier than most, marking it as being from the Mediterra mountain range.

    Geralt heard Ghost growl, and glanced down, before he noticed that the Ursaring had locked eyes on the Rockruff with an expression that suggested rage. Wondering how many of his fellow 'Noobs' could barely control their partners, he calmed Ghost with a few pets, and then stood rapidly, before Kriger noticed.

    Once everyone's balls had been emptied, Kriger moved back to pacing before them, and their partners. "Today, we're going to introduce you Noobs to something I like to call The Killer. Everyone else just calls it the Trail but...The Killer is more accurate." The Agent said, giving a rare grin to the fresh crop of Noobs. "Both you and your partners will run this course together. You will need your Stylers to advance. You will run this course every day, until you can complete it within the allotted time. Then, you will run it until you can break an average Ranger's time. As you may or may not be aware, we've been inundated with requests to join since our merge with Interpol. We are not lacking for bodies anymore, and the decision has been made to accept only the best."

    Kriger proceeded to outline the trail then, for by that point Wendy had returned with the others, and a map. Geralt was selected as one of the people to help the Pokéless candidates catch something, and thus, he and Eskel were paired, and sent to one of the mountains on the western edge of the Mediterra Mountain Range. The Killer began several miles away from their home building, and the trail itself went across two massive mountains, similar to the one Geralt and Eskel went to, to find a suitable Pokémon.

    Their search took them most of the day, but finally, Ghost smelled something, and led them to another Rockruff. The two sniffed each other's butts, as Geralt and Eskel watched with amusement. "What do you think?" Geralt said, gesturing. "Do you want a Rockruff? They're pretty useful, and our time is almost up. I'm amazed we didn't find anything else up here." He looked around again at the view from the slope, and got a good look at most of Kalos. He could even make out Lumiose Tower in the far, far distance.

    "A Rockruff is good enough for me. Lycanroc are pretty strong, right?" Geralt nodded, and Eskel brought out his ball. "I guess I throw it now...oh, wait, Geralt, have Ghost attack it first."

    Hearing this, Ghost turned and snorted at Eskel, who blinked, and looked at the still-bemused Geralt. "Maybe you should try what I did, and just ask if it wants to come with you. Give it this." He brought out a Sitrus berry then, and handed it to Eskel. Both Rockruff wagged their tails, and Ghost's slowed and went limp as Eskel greeted, and then treated the wild Rockruff to some food.

    The lighter colored Rockruff came back to Geralt, and whined, and Geralt chuckled, before tossing him an Oran berry. Ghost returned to his new friend's side then, and the two nommed, as Eskel made his best attempt at convincing the pupper to come along. Ghost also helped, and Geralt walked over as well, giving him pets and scritches as the two rock puppers ate their berries. Seeing how strong Ghost was, and how kind comparatively the humans appeared to be, the wild Rockruff yipped, once it was done, and entered Eskel's ball. It dinged shut, and the two humans sighed in relief.

    "Maybe now, Kriger won't kill us for taking so long." Eskel said, sounding hopeful.

    Several Weeks Later…

    Kriger had, infact, decided that the two Nooblets had taken their sweet time on purpose, and after only coming back with one Rockruff, a pretty young one no less, he had made Geralt and Eskel run The Killer until the next morning. He almost made them do a new day of training as well, but Wendy reminded him that the Rangers had rules, and the pair had earned an eight hour rest.

    In eight hours exactly, to the minute, one of Kriger's Agents had come to get them, only to find the two men were dressed already, recovered, and their partners were fed. They joined the rest of the group on The Killer, and because of their 'tardiness' Kriger had the entire class run the course longer, until Geralt and Eskel also had at least sixteen hours of exercise. From then on at least, they were caught up, and each day they found that they could do more and more of the obstacles without needing to rely on their Stylers.

    The Pokémon that inhabited The Killer tended to be too strong for a School Styler, or even Geralt's Wolf Styler, most of the time. When he did manage to tame something, like a flying type, he used it to ferry over the rest of the group as well. The ones that were able to keep up with the head of the pack, at least.

    Those who fell behind usually arrived just as Fangst ran out of energy, and the wild Pokémon became wild again. Geralt always thanked them for their aid, but after that, they usually took off quickly, to avoid the other Ranger hopefuls. Within the first two weeks, several candidates had washed out, and left for Kalos on their own power. Geralt's roommates, and the majority of the females in the class, tended to stick together and made a pretty effective team as they did.

    Echis, Bjorn, their roommates, and less of the girls made up the other 'team' and while they were slower, their methods of traversal usually left lasting paths through The Killer that they hid for themselves, and used later. Eskel had named his Rockruff Varg, and both he and Ghost grew stronger, and bigger, as the weeks went by. Varg even evolved one night, howling wildly at the moon as he did, and became a Midnight Lycanroc. He and Eskel practiced sparring then, and though evolution gave Varg an advantage, Ghost managed to make most of their battles a draw by relying on his speed. He never had enough power to beat the fully evolved Lycanroc though.

    Ghost also evolved, eventually.

    It was as Geralt and Ghost were doing some extra time on The Killer that he came across the first hint of his greater destiny. She appeared, in the form of a twelve year old girl, lost, running, and clearly in trouble. Ghost had actually been the one to lead Geralt to her, by suddenly dashing off the trail between obstacles into the brush, and the first thing Geralt noted about the twelve year old was that her hair was as white as his. She stumbled and rolled into the brush as Ghost came upon her, and yipped. She groaned, finding a hand in her field of vision, as Geralt offered to help her up. "Hello there…" He said, giving his best attempt at a smile as she cautiously took the offered hand, after glancing at the symbol on his uniform. "I'm Geralt, a Ranger Student. Are you lost, kid? You shouldn't be on these mountains alone."

    "My name is Ciri," She started, sounding every bit as petulant as Geralt recalled twelve year olds being, "I'm not lost...just...turned around...some weird old guy with pink hair and a lab coat tried to capture me. He appeared out of a weird pink portal, and then said he had to kill me! I haven't been able to find my friend since I ran away."

    Geralt nodded, and a smirk broke his expression as Ghost nuzzled the girl, and she gave him scritches in return. "Who is this friend of yours?"

    Ciri looked the Ranger over again, and a small smile broke through the fear and adrenaline as Ghost demanded belly rubs, and twitched his leg as soon as her hands made contact. "She goes by Triss. She was taking me somewhere that...could teach me. I'm...psychic, or something. Apparently."

    Geralt arched his brow, "Seriously? That's...pretty cool. Can you...move things with your brain?"

    Ciri chuckled. "No...Triss said I have a lot of potential, but I don't know...studying seems boring. What are you doing out here anyways, and why are you so sweaty?"

    Geralt gave the small child a confident smirk. "I was training. Now, I'm helping you find your friend before that weird guy shows up again. What does she look like?"

    Ciri looked Geralt over, one hand on her chin, and her young features shifted into a smirk. "She's around your age, I think...red hair…very...erm...curvy. Yea...I think you two should meet."

    Geralt's other brow joined his first raised one, and then he gazed upwards at the trees. "Red hair...should be easy enough to spot. Do you have anything that belongs to her? Something Ghost could track by smell?"

    "She lent me these clothes...they still smell like her perfume." Ciri said, eyeing the rock puppy. "Are you sure he'll be able to find her?"

    Geralt just smirked. "He'll be fine. Ghost." The Rockruff rolled to attention as his Trainer said his name. "Sniff Ciri. Her clothes. Try to find that scent. We'll get her to safety."

    The Rockruff did as instructed then, sniffing the girl's shirt, arms, legs, and even crotch. There were many smells to sort through, and many were unfamiliar. The girl turned red as Ghost found the scent, but Geralt was too busy scanning the woods for a flash of red, or pink, to notice. "I'm going to get a better view...Ghost, keep her safe."

    The Rockruff yipped, and then sat next to the girl, looking up at her as his tongue lolled, and he panted. He was also rather sweaty. His tail wagged as she pet him once more, and it was moments before he was again in belly rub heaven.

    Geralt climbed one of the closer tall trees, and then looked around, specifically in the direction Ciri had barreled in from. When he saw nothing, he switched to his ears then, and listened. On the wind, came a voice, calling. It sounded female, and the word it was shouting was 'Ciri!'. It was an echo though, which meant her friend was likely in a valley, beneath the canopy.

    Geralt mentally traced Ciri's most likely path from the direction she'd come, and diverted his eyes to the nearest valley. Then, he caught it. A flash of crimson among the green, remarkably close to the part of The Killer that went between the two Mediterra mountains that made up the course.

    Geralt leapt down branch to branch easily, using their species' affinity for grabbing branches to guide and safely direct his momentum. He rolled as he landed, and sprung up to his feet, unharmed. "I've got a direction, and Ghost has the scent. Let's go."

    Geralt followed his Rockruff as they headed for the valley part of The Killer, an area with quite a few obstacles meant to improve strength and agility. Luckily, they'd already done those courses, and getting back to where they'd been distracted from wouldn't be too difficult. They trekked for several hours as they descended, and Geralt almost forgot Ciri was there, until she complained, or almost fell. Several times, Fangst's capture energy whip had wrapped around her to keep her from tumbling down the mountain.

    She was a quick learner though, and after the second time that happened, she copied what Geralt did, eyeing the ground's terrain as they descended. It was around that time that she finally asked a question. "So Geralt...do you have a girlfriend? You must be pretty popular with that hair and Ranger status."

    "I do alright." He muttered, staying focused on his path of descent. He knew Ghost had the scent now, but his partner's tail was upright, stiff, and he was sniffing constantly at the air around them.

    When he didn't say anything else, the twelve year old pushed for more. "Is that a 'no' then?"

    "You should focus on your footwork." He answered, smirking. Several moments of silence passed, and Ciri gave an exasperated sigh. "No. No girlfriend." He said, finally relenting. He subtly eyed the girl's face, and she seemed pleased by his answer for some reason. He didn't get why. She was twelve, and he would likely have a steady partner by the time she was old enough. Even then, it would be weird after having met her as a child.

    They didn't speak again until they reached the bottom of the valley. Noticing she was panting rather hard, Geralt broke the silence. "It's late. Almost dawn. We can rest for a bit, but not too long. It gets cold out here without constant movement."

    Ciri found a rock to perch on, and as she recovered, Ghost approached for more belly rubs. Geralt chuckled, after taking a sip from his Ranger canteen, and passing it to her. "He likes you. Normally only I can pet his belly, and only when he's good."

    Ciri took a swig, and then looked at the Rockruff, splayed before her. "Is that why you love these so much? Does your Trainer not give you enough love?" She started scratching again, tossing the canteen back to him, as she used both hands.

    Suddenly, Geralt whirled, as there was a snapping sound of a twig from somewhere around them. Ghost sat up as well, ears and tail up and alert. "Fangst." He said, and his wrist began to glow, as his Rotom powered up.

    Ciri watched the Wolf Styler's eyes glow an ominous red, but all she could say was, "Cooool…"

    "Shh." Geralt replied, glancing around. Ghost barked, and Geralt whirled towards where his Rockruff was looking. Instead of a redhead, out of the foliage came an old man. His hair was pink, his lower lip was covered in some sort of semi-perpetual pink slime, and he had a lab coat, like a scientist or a Professor. He was stumbling around like he was very drunk, and had the eyes of a man who hated his existence, or perhaps, what he was about to do.

    His pink monobrow rose as he saw Ciri. "Finally. It's about *belch* daaamn time. Stay still, girlie...making this not *belch* huuurt is the least...I can do." The pink haired man shakily raised an object that looked suspiciously like a grocery store scanner at her, and Geralt and Ghost slid between them and the man's unsteady aim. The man lowered the device, and Geralt could tell he was properly wasted, likely from alcohol imbibement. "Thank you for finding my, uh, granddaughter, Ranger. I'll take her from here." He looked Geralt over more, and a smirk formed on the man's face that was downright sleazy as he saw the trainee uniform. "Heheh... You should get back to your training, Nooblet. Kriger doesn't like slackers."

    Geralt's eyes narrowed. "It's my day off...how do you know about Kriger?"

    The old man waved his hand. "It doesn't *belch* maaaatter. I'd like to get home before the sun rises...now, hand over my granddaughter."

    Ciri spoke up then, "I'm not your granddaughter! I don't even know you! Where's Triss?"

    "Triss? She's uh...at the helicopter. Waiting for us. We *belch* aaare going home now little lady…"

    Geralt interposed himself between the man with a persistent burp and Ciri, and Ghost did the same with a snarl, that made him pause. "Ciri says she doesn't know you...go get Triss, and I'll believe you, old man. We'll wait right here. Otherwise, she's not going anywhere."

    The old man gave a deep sigh as he pinched his brow, and his face and demeanor changed to something more serious as his posture straightened, and his eyes became those of a sad killer. "I'm tired of this charade...give me the *belch* giiiirl, Ranger. You have no idea what she is…"

    Ghost snarled, and Geralt's expression mirrored his. "She's twelve…" He said exasperatedly, "She isn't old enough to warrant death...I don't care what she's done."

    The man glared at Ciri, and then met Geralt's gaze again. His eyes had gone from drunk and unfocused to cold and hard in the space of a moment. "She told you that huh? It's not about what she's *belch* dooone, it's about what she's *belch* gooooing to do! You think I want to do this? She's younger than my *belch* graaaaandson, but the future, man...the future needs to happen. It's too dope to let *belch* diiiiie. You're interfering in things that are beyond your comprehension, Noob...she's dangerous. The Lady of Time and Space *belch* muuuust not mature…" The old man took a similar stance to Geralt then, and leveled the device he'd pulled from his lab coat pocket at the Ranger. It was white, shaped like a grocery scanner, and had a small pink crystal in a glass sphere atop the device. "Last chance, kid. *belch* Steeeehhp aside. Only one of you has to end here."

    Geralt snarled this time, "Over my moldering corpse…"

    "So be it…" The old man said, eyes closing. He pointed the device to his right side, and Ghost began to charge for a Crunch attack, as dark energy limned his tiny fangs. The device glowed, and shot forth a ball of pink energy, opening a similarly pink swirling hole in reality a few feet from the old man.

    Through the portal, came a creature of frost and nature, a combination of ice and grass typing. An Abomasnow, and one that was already in its Mega Form. As it stepped out of the portal, the air around the three humans turned frosty. Shards of ice crystals filled the air, as the mere presence of the Mega Abomasnow turned the surrounding pair of mountains into the middle of a truly massive blizzard. "Obamasnooooow!" The old man shouted, getting its attention as the wind began to howl and swirl.

    "Sheer Cold." The old man said as he pointed at Ghost, and the Abomasnow answered with "Abomaaaaa!" As a wall of ice formed from the snow in the air, and surged towards Geralt, Ghost, and Ciri.

    Ghost broke off his charge, and tried to dodge, but it was too little too late. Or, it would have been, if a new and female voice hadn't shouted at that moment, "Phoxi! Flaire! Fire Blast!" A twin pair of vaguely human shaped five-pointed fire attacks slammed into the sheer cold, and exploded into shards of ice, and mist that filled the area amid the hail.

    From the collision came a woman that Geralt's granduncle would've described as a 'perfect ten' as he'd been partial to redheads. Ciri had not lied either, as she was quite curvy, and quite beautiful. Geralt only had a moment to admire her though, before he focused, and sent Ghost in. "Ghost, Quick Attack! Don't let it power up again!"

    Triss and Ciri called each other's names, and met with a hug, behind Geralt. For his part, Ghost had smashed into the Mega Abomasnow's face, and continued to zip by, nipping and hammering the larger Pokémon with each consecutive Quick Attack. He was doing well, until the old man spoke again. "Enough. Obama*belch*snoooow, use Ice Punch!"

    The mega evolved Pokémon moved before Ghost could even attempt a dodge, and the Infinity powered super effective move hammered the tiny rock puppy, freezing it in a block of ice, before sending him hurtling away, where he stuck in the ground.

    Ciri had evidently explained who he was to Triss, because she shouted at him, as Ghost went flying. "Geralt! I'll get her to safety. Use my Flareon!"

    Geralt nodded, and then looked at the Flareon, who nodded at him. "Alright then. Flamethrower!"

    Triss gave a command to her Delphox as well. "Phoxi, Teleport us back!"

    "Nooo!" The old man yelled, but it was too late. The quadruple effective move hit the Abomasnow, and burned it. By the time it could counter, the Delphox, her Trainer, and the child had vanished, leaving Geralt and the borrowed Flareon to stall the old man.

    "Who even are you...why are you trying to murder a child!?" Geralt asked, and the old man sighed.

    "Obamasnow...go home. Eat a berry or somethin'." The mega evolved Pokémon suffering from its burn did so, limping through the pink portal, and vanishing as it closed. There was a definite change in tone, now that his prize was gone. The old man was calm, but Geralt could see the irritation growing in his eyes. Just summoning a fully mega evolved Pokémon to the field was unheard of.

    "My name is *belch* Riiiick. Rick Sanchez. I'm trying to keep the multiverse from imploding, Noob. Quadrillions of lives will be snuffed out if we let that little monster live, and *belch* groooow to maturity. Aren't you Lawful Good types supposed to want to avoid massive *belch* caaaaalamity? Time and Space already have masters, and unlike her, we can control our *belch* poooowers." Rick put his hands in his pockets, as he determined deterring the Ranger with logic would be more useful than battling with the injured Abomasnow.

    "So teach her control!" Geralt said, finding he'd come to like the kid in their short time together, and didn't want her to die. "If you already know how to control some aspect of her power, show her how it's done."

    Rick sighed. "It's *belch* noooot that simple...that's not how it works, and I don't have time to explain it to a Noob. That girl is going to become a monster. It's her fate, Ranger. Right here, right *belch* nooooow, is when she needs to be stopped. The Shadow cannot be allowed to infect her…"

    Geralt's eyes narrowed. "Shadow? What? You're not making sense, Rick Sanchez...and this is no justification for the murder of a child. Under the authority of the International Ranger Force, you are under arrest for attempted murder."

    Rick simply sighed, and then pulled out a Pokéball from his pocket. "I'm *belch* noooot subject to your laws. Beth. Eliminate all of them...then come and find me." He fired another portal into existence, tossed the ball, and then walked through. A Porygon Z appeared as the portal closed, and Geralt opened the new battle immediately. "Fire Blast!"

    Geralt paused hopefully, as the blast of flame landed, but didn't seem to do much. It was then that he realized this Porygon Z was very high leveled, and neither Flaire nor Ghost could hope to contend with it as they were now. It glowed a bright white, that then shifted to blue, and sank back into the Porygon Z. Strong as it was, it had chosen a type resistant to fire, and with a type advantage, upon using Conversion 2.

    Guessing at Flaire's moveset, and hoping Triss was a decent Trainer, Geralt shouted, "Flaire! You need to use Dig!" The Flareon looked back at Geralt with an expression that just seemed...impressed, and then winked at him, before leaping into the air, and spinning down into the ground. Geralt raised a clenched fist before him and shouted, "Yes!" As the move worked.

    Unfortunately for Geralt, he could not possibly hope to know the significance of the man who had actually created this Porygon Z, or why he'd done so, and thus could not anticipate what happened next. The Porygon Z floated over the hole left by Dig, looked down, and began screeching. "REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" The faint blue of the acquired Conversion 2 typing was gathered by Beth's psychic power, and focused into the base of her Hyper Beam, essentially creating a very convincing replica of Hydro Cannon.

    Guessing what was about to happen wasn't good, Geralt shouted, "Flaire! Aim for Ghost!" The light around them in the small wooded clearing grew bright then, as the sun rose over the horizon of the eastern opening of the valley. Time seemed to slow for the Ranger, as several things happened at once. The Porygon Z fired its water lazor into the hole left by Dig, but in the moments it took for the move to pass through Flaire's winding spiral of tunnels, the Flareon broke the surface with Dig, and hammered the ice around Ghost.

    The frozen Rockruff was tossed into the air, right as Flaire was hammered by the force of the Hydro Cannon. She fainted, and had a hard landing, as the pressure of the attack had propelled her into the air. Her sacrifice had not been in vain, however.

    Ghost's ice shell, rather sturdy as it had been endowed by a Mega Abomasnow, had cracked just enough for the Rockruff to move his paw, and then, the rest of him. As the icy prison shattered from his efforts, his eyes went wide. Varg had, like Ghost, not known which Lycanroc he wanted to become. When he did finally advance, he had done so because it felt right. In that moment under a full moon, he had felt the urge to become a midnight fighter.

    Ghost felt a similar urge now. He didn't quite know what he would become, as Varg had, for it was not quite Day, and well past Midnight. If anything, he would call that moment a Dawn. As the sun rose further, the ice around him glowed as white as his body did, and thus became a part of him as he evolved into what would become known as the Dawn Form of Lycanroc.

    Geralt simply watched in awe, and felt a bit of hope as well, as he saw his Rockruff evolve. Seeing a Midnight Lycanroc in action had caused a bit of envy, and he didn't mind being like Eskel, since by his reckoning it was still night. The two had become good friends over the grueling weeks on The Killer, and two Midnight Lycanroc would be quite hard to beat.

    He blinked though, as the light faded, and then, noticed the sun. About twenty two degrees to the left and right of the Sun were subtly colored patches of light, orbiting it like a pair of mini suns. In the light of those 'three suns' he found his Rockruff had indeed become a Lycanroc, but his form still resembled the Midday Form. His fur was snow white, the tips of his ears were red, and his mane had spikes of ice, not rock, jutting from it. His mane resembled the Day Form more than the Dusk Form's did.

    Or at least, it started that way. As he landed, Ghost began to snarl, and grow. It was an almost horrifying process to watch, but the end result was a heavily muscled, ice covered Midnight Form Lycanroc, standing on two legs. Ghost was hunched by the weight of the wildly growing ice crystals on his mane, and as he focused on the Porygon Z, he Howled, and then leaned forward, relieving his back of ice crystals in the form of a hail of icy shards. They tore through the Porygon Z, and seemed to do at least slightly more visible damage than the Fire Blast.

    The crystals on Ghost's coat began to regrow, but Geralt noticed his shoulders were fused to the icy mane that ringed his neck. His movements would be awkward, but powerful. "Ghost!" Geralt flinched as he finally noticed his Pokémon's new eyes. They were yellow, with vertical black slits curved like a crescent moon. Geralt gave his Pokémon a smirk, and said, "Try a dark typed move." He turned, and pointed. "Use Crunch!"

    Ghost snorted a cloud of ice at him, and leapt forward with impressive speed. It wasn't Crunch he used, though, as he closed in on the Porygon Z. It began trying to power Conversion 2 again, but Ghost hit first. He leapt, and spun his entire body to his right, rotating through the air as a red and black tornado of energy poured off of him like flames, and spun him faster. Geralt was a savvy enough Trainer, and a fan of Royal Mask, so he recognized a horizontal Darkest Lariat. Evidently, his Lycanroc, like the others, had learned a move upon evolving.

    Ghost wasn't done though, for as he landed on all fours, he shifted his weight effortlessly, and spun again like a horizontal tornado of icy claws through the air, and hit Beth once more. He repeated this several times, as the Porygon Z tried to use Conversion 2, but couldn't. Ghost didn't give it enough time to do so, and by the seventh hit, she finally fainted.

    The Porygon Z crumbled to pieces, and Geralt left it, as he approached Ghost. He was still panting raggedly, and snarling. While he'd been beating 'Beth' senseless, Geralt had save Flaire, namely by expending one healing item after another. It had taken several Revives, Hyper Potions, and berries, but the Flareon in his arms was alive.

    "Ghost." The Midnight reminiscent Lycanroc whirled towards him, and Geralt noticed the eyes softened as they saw Flaire. "You need to calm down, Ghost. Try taking that other form you had." The Lycanroc stared at him for a full minute as he breathed raggedly, before he nodded, and closed his eyes. Geralt exhaled a breath of relief, as he watched his partner return to 'normal'. He was still massive, at least several feet taller than the average Day Form, but his demeanor was closer to what Geralt expected of his partner.

    As Geralt came closer with Flaire, Ghost leaned down, and it was as his large white body lowered into his range of vision that the Ranger realized he could totally ride atop his Lycanroc. He had the sudden and inexplicable urge to try the Wolf Styler while he rode, but he paced himself. Wolves were not horses, and probably weren't easy to ride.

    He climbed atop Ghost, and looked around. "Take us to Ciri." The icy wolf nodded, and then closed his eyes, as he focused on his incredible hearing and sense of smell. The yellow eyes, still as ferocious as they were at night, shot open, and Ghost let out a chilling howl that split the night, before he ran across the lightly snow-covered mountains. Geralt quickly realized, as they found themselves back on The Killer, that he could set a course record if he figured out what obstacles Ghost couldn't easily handle in his new form.

    The massive white wolf veered suddenly, and then seemed to leap out over a cliff edge, only to fly through the barrier of psychic energy, hiding the scene within. Geralt had a moment to take it in, and all he had time to do, was point. Ghost had intruded violently upon Rick, dragging an unconscious Ciri, towards a pink portal. Around them was what appeared to be a cave, instead of a cliffside.

    As Ghost saw the finger in his upper vision focus on the girl, and not the enemy, he rumbled out a sigh, and snapped at Rick's hand. The weird old man had a second to consider, his hand or his target, before his limb retracted, and dropped the girl, who was quickly snatched up by the wolf's jaws. From the look in that Lycanroc's eye, Rick knew even he might have trouble surviving once it got a hold of him.

    Ghost dragged Ciri over to the equally unconscious Triss, and her Delphox. Geralt used his last revive on the psychic fire fox, as Ciri saw to Triss. Once Phoxi came to, Geralt moved to help Ciri, and got his first out-of-combat look at Triss. He noted that surrounding her fair features were mechanical implants of some description, but he knew just by sight that the Imperium of Man was responsible for creating them. That likely meant they were for prolonging life, or enhancing her some other way.

    His brows furrowed, as he straightened her, and found her gold and red robes marked with two insignias. A red and gold twin headed eagle that shared a body, with a pair of lightning bolts coming down beside its tail, and on her left, an image of a black tower embedded in what had to be a Mediterran mountain, against a background of the purple he and the rest of society most commonly associated with psychic types.

    "Enjoying the view?" Came Ciri's mocking tone as she saw where his eyes appeared to be wandering.

    Geralt blinked, then looked at her. "Do you know where she's taking you?

    Ciri shrugged. "I erm...had an accident, back home. It set off an...alarm or something...so now, I have to go with Triss, or...well, die."

    Geralt pinched his brow. "Small child, why is everyone trying to kill you?"

    It was as her eyes became shinier that Geralt's ears lowered, and he realized he might've been a bit too blunt. "I don't know...I didn't ask for this…"

    Geralt put a hand on her shoulder before the tears could flow, and stared her down. "If you can't control your power, the obvious choice would be to learn how, from someone who knows, right? Once you do, if you don't like what they're teaching you, if they treat you badly, if you want out, you let me know. Through psychic dreams. Or a letter." He blinked. "Ah, right, no, I have a Holociever...somewhere…" He brought out a small black and silver device then, and shook it. "I'll give you the number for this. Make sure whatever you call from can't be traced."

    Ciri nodded quietly, and sniffed. Geralt wrote down the number, and shoved it in her hand. "Don't let them find that. Once you memorize it, burn it." She nodded again, and Geralt waited until she'd hidden the paper away to retrieve his smelling salts, and replace his Holociever.

    Triss snapped awake after a few moments, and blinked. Before her was a white haired, and rather handsome stubble-covered Ranger in trainee clothes and hiking gear, and it took her a minute to recall who he was. She hadn't noticed the handsome features, as last time she'd mainly watched his back. She felt her Flareon lick her face, as her Delphox conjured what seemed to be some sort of barely-visible psychic force, that Triss leaned against, as she sat up. "Ciri? Didn't...didn't he grab you?"

    Ciri nodded. "Ghost came to save us." She waggled her eyebrows then, and smirked. "And so did Geralt."

    Triss met Geralt's gaze then, and to their onlookers, the air between them almost seemed to smolder, that is, until a massive ice wolf came over to the small child, and licked her cheek, after hearing his name. Triss stared. "Oh...wow...is that...is that the little Rockruff that took a punch for us?" She eyed him over, and it was Geralt's turn to smirk, as he knew the expression on his partner's face. It seemed the white wolf didn't mind her eyes. "You sure got...big. Thank you for saving us."

    Ghost glanced at Geralt, who shrugged. "All I did was point. You got us here in time. You grabbed Ciri. He would've killed her, Ghost. Well done."

    He fished in his bag then, and the serious demeanor of the Dawn Form Lycanroc melted, his massive, ice-crystal covered tail swishing with a pleasant jingle as he realized what Geralt was retrieving. Only good things came from that pocket. Ghost panted, as he realized he was very hungry, and Geralt had unwrapped three of what one of the other Rangers students had called a 'meat bun', a delicacy in her home region. Ghost caught the first two that Geralt threw, and nommed, then caught the third, and made wolf-biscuits as he froze the pile of mashed meaty deliciousness with his breath, and then proceeded to gnaw on it.

    Once Triss was able, the two Teleported back to where they'd slept the night before. Apparently, Triss had brought them to a family cabin, when Rick first appeared. It was east far enough to be in Germania's territory, but it was close enough to hike to, from the farthest part of The Killer. Geralt and Ghost returned back to base in time to log their extra hours, and essentially rest all day, as was mandatory. He would resume normal mid-week training the next day, but once he'd rested, he had a rare amount of free time, right as the rest of the slackers returned from the ever-enjoyable first day of the week training.

    Apparently Echis and co. had set a new course record, but despite their gloating, the majority of the Ranger students were too busy admiring the rock and ice typed Lycanroc to care. Geralt and Ghost woke up early the next day, and tested which obstacles the massive wolf could do, and which would be slowing. There were many paths through The Killer, but avoiding obstacles usually meant tangling with an impressively strong 'wild' Pokémon that always seemed perfectly equipped to initiate an inescapable drawn out battles. They were always healed up on the next run through, too.

    Once they made it through twice, they had time to nap, before it was time for training. Very quickly, Geralt's group noticed his absence for a second day, as he and Ghost bolted ahead of all of them. Echis had his Arbok using Dig to cruise through the course, as he gave zero Muks about the trail the massive cobra was leaving. Ghost quickly outpaced them as well, and then used his Quick Attack as they came up on the first obstacle, a rickety bridge. Echis could cross it, but it took his Arbok a moment, and that moment was all the Lycanroc and his partner needed to get ahead.

    Naturally, Kriger was watching for success, and thus he instituted one of his favorite ploys for crushing excellence, a 'natural' disaster. This time, it was a rock slide that didn't fall on them, but instead blocked the path. Geralt and Ghost could tell it was fresh, as it hadn't been there before, but neither seemed worried, as Ghost didn't stop. "Darkest Lariat."

    Once more, Ghost rotated, and Geralt clung for dear life to the ice jutting from his mane on his back, as his Lycanroc single-handedly spun through and cleared the pass for themselves, and those who would follow. After that, they completely outpaced Echis, as their lead was commanding enough for them to catch up to their group as they lapped them, and this time, Geralt and Ghost gave them aid. When they moved past Echis' group stuck trying to pull his titanic Arbok out of a mud pit trap, Geralt and his wolf had winked at the pair, as they helped the others speed through the course.

    Geralt broke Echis' record in half thanks to his rapidly growing white wolf and the others in his group had all improved their times as well. Later that night, he was brought to Kriger's office. He was back in his leather jacket, but he'd kept the black Ranger pants. He lived in them these days, and, they were absurdly comfortable. "Geralt. You and Ghost have been improving a lot lately, and frankly, I knew as soon as he evolved, you'd excel that much further. You've both beaten the times set by the past Rangers already. Ghost still has training to do, and we're preparing a course to play to his strengths and weaknesses, to essentially toughen him up."

    Kriger took off his glasses then, and Geralt met his gaze evenly as he steepled his fingers. "What I am offering to you, and four other Rangers, is the chance to be...something new. I want to turn you into the kind of human that can keep up with a Pokémon like Ghost on The Killer...I want to see what kind of Ranger such a person could become."

    Geralt raised a white eyebrow. "Turn me into what? What are you talking about? How are you going to turn me into anything other than a Ranger?" He sincerely doubted he'd ever keep up with Ghost, but he sensed that this was what Kriger had been waiting for all the long weeks they'd been training. For five individuals to improve enough to be considered for whatever project he had in mind.

    "I'll be honest with you...we want to experiment with creating a kind of...empowered Ranger. You know how the Imperium of Man enhances their citizens and warriors? Through implants, and mechanical upgrades? We want to try something similar...albeit, more natural. The process might kill you. It has claimed the lives of many already without a single success. All volunteers, of course...it has taken years, but we are finally ready to perfect the process, and you are one of the ideal candidates. What do you say?" Kriger asked, lowering his hands to the desk. Geralt stroked the beard stubble adorning his face, also white, that was slowly coming in.

    "I'd need to know more."

    And so, Kriger told him. The idea was to use natural plants, enhanced with Arceus' power, since Pokémon arrived on the planet, and combine them in such a way that they would naturally augment a human's body, making them faster, stronger, able to see in the dark, amongst other abilities. It was not a simple process, it would require some surgery, especially if things went wrong, but the end result promised to turn him and four others into Rangers the likes of which had never been seen before.

    Geralt asked who else was being considered, and frowned at each name. Greif, Echis, Levhart, and Bjorn. Each of them, Kriger claimed, had both the necessary physical prowess and Pokémon partner for what he and his top scientists, who he refused to name, had in mind for them. Individually, their times on The Killer were the best, but Geralt didn't agree.

    "I can understand the others...even Bjorn, but Echis? That guy is the antithesis of everything I was told Rangers stand for. He blasts through the trail without caring what damage his Dig causes, and his Styler...I'm pretty sure he augmented it. Whatever he tames ends up staying paralyzed, once he's done. He tosses aside wild Pokémon allies like tools he's done with." Geralt highlighted his points, and Kriger sighed, nodding as he was forced to agree with the truth.

    "Echis has much to learn, you're right...but the results are clear. He has the aptitude. The way this enhancement process works...it requires a certain kind of bond, with a Pokémon. Say what you want about him, he cares for his Arbok. The fact that it hasn't swallowed him whole indicates the snake probably feels something for him, as well. Either way, you and Greif will be first, if you agree to this. When Echis follows, you can try molding him into a better Ranger." Kriger said, crossing his arms as he finished.

    Geralt pinched his brow. "Isn't that your job?"

    Kriger gave him a grim smirk. "These Noobs are going to need a leader figure, Geralt. You'll be a...team, of sorts. Like the Ultra Guardians. Someone we can call on when the Muk hits the Fan Rotom, and conventional Trainers can't cut it. You and Echis have never Battled, have you. You're going to need to earn his respect, which will be harder after the process...I would Battle him soon...but watch that Iron Tail. They've been perfecting it ever since Ghost evolved."

    Silence reigned then, as Geralt mulled over the man's words. Finally, Kriger spoke again. "Well? Are you interested?"

    Several Months Later… - The Mediterra Mountain Range

    Geralt ultimately agreed to Kriger's request, and had battled Echis as well. Ghost had eventually learned Drill Run, by using the same rotating attacks he did when using Darkest Lariat, but with ground energy, he had easily beaten the poison cobra, and earned a small amount of respect from the snake's Trainer as well.

    With training on The Killer becoming easier for certain Rangers more so than others, many started graduating from Nooblets to Area Rangers. Geralt was one of the ones who stayed, alongside the other five Kriger had mentioned. Eventually, only those five were left, to the confusion of their classmates who were eager to see them advance and succeed.

    Geralt and Ghost had moved then, to a different Ranger facility, hidden deep in the Mediterra Mountains. An ancient castle, in the Germanian style of architecture, had been set aside for the experiments that each of Kriger's chosen five had eventually agreed to. The first of these was relatively easy for Geralt. He had to eat a strict diet of processed plants and berries, some poisonous, all while hiking a trail that seemed to be a spiritual successor to The Killer, save that the obstacles were even more ridiculous, to the point of being impassable, if no other Pokémon were around.

    The diet alone gave Geralt many weeks of hurling, and sleepless nights. His only friend through that, was Grief, who was going through the same thing. His constitution was heartier though, so the effects faded not long after they arrived at Castle Morgraig. Thus, he was the first to begin the next stage of what Kriger was calling 'The Trials'. Geralt didn't hear from Greif for over a week after that, and soon enough, he was deemed ready for the next stage as well.

    Once Geralt's system had adapted to the foul concoction of herbs and whatever else, he was finally brought in to meet the scientists who would be responsible for mutating him into something beyond a human. He recognized two of them from the start, but let Kriger introduce them. "First, we have Professor Fennel, an understudy of Professor Juniper. For the majority of the next week, you'll be under the care of Doctor Colress, and his aides, former students of the renowned Professor Rowan."

    Geralt, knowing Unovan history fairly well, simply glared at Colress. "Aren't you the guy who helped Team Plasma: Pirate Edition capture and convert part of the Original Dragon into a massive ice cannon that was fired on Opelucid?" Fennel averted her eyes at Geralt's sharp tone, and the other aides either seemed to have not known that tidbit, or were aware of it, but unfazed.

    Colress was a thin man, clad in a strange gray suit that covered everything. Legs, chest, even hands were all covered in the same gray material, the only thing free of it was his face, and his halo-like hair flick, dyed blue. He pushed his glasses up with his middle finger, as he cleared his throat. "I was, at the time, seduced by the promise of power Ghetsis said his methods would prove was unbeatable, and yet, a trio of teenagers was able to topple him. Twice. With nothing but hard work, training, and the friendship of Pokémon. Since then, I've devoted my life to uncovering the secret of a Pokémon's true power...your Lycanroc, for example...I believe you and he can make each other stronger. We've discovered a way to both enhance your bond, and make it much more powerful."

    Geralt arched a white eyebrow. "How? What have you learned?"

    Colress gave a genuine smile, and Geralt could tell, this was a passion project for him. He seemed on the level now, at least. If he wasn't, he assumed Kriger would have him in handcuffs, not a laboratory. "Historically, the greatest increases to a Pokémon's power have come from Kalos and Galar. Their methods and bonds bring out not just new forms, but new abilities in Pokémon. Sometimes, ones radically different from their final evolutionary stage."

    Geralt smirked. "I sense a 'but' coming…"

    "But." Colress said, smirking as well, "I discovered a third method of attaining power, one that I believe can transcend even Mega Evolution. During the Dark Times, our scientists, viewed as magicians to common people, were able to use the scientific knowledge of the past to create a series of crystals that were able to contain a Pokémon, much like our Pokéballs. Instead of just holding them however, these crystals induced a fusion of human and Pokémon alike with a strong enough bond, forming them temporarily into a single being with unlimited potential. With the help of the IRF's Rangers, we have been able to successfully recreate one of these 'Burst Hearts' but as of yet have been unable to make them work. The texts imply psychic power is required to activate them, as well as a strong bond."

    Geralt tilted his head. "I'm not exactly psychic, Doc. Nor do I think I want to be, given how close we are to the Imperium."

    Colress gave a nervous giggle. "Oh yes. Wise. You don't want the Imperium to ever discover what we're doing here...they'd annihilate us. And our home regions. Thankfully, you don't need to be psychic. We're going to implant a Burst Heart into your chest, after it's bonded with your Lycanroc. You'll be closer than ever before, and if we succeed, I believe that with time, you will fully unlock its potential, and achieve a fusion of human and Pokémon."

    Geralt was quiet, stroking his now nicely growing in white beard as he eyed the floor, and then met Colress' gaze. "How do we begin?"

    "Drink this." Colress said, handing him a large, clay pitcher. "Every drop. Then...give this to your Lycanroc while you sleep." Colress reached inside his weird one-piece techno-suit, and pulled out a hexagonal crystal, glowing with all the colors of Infinity energy.

    Geralt stared, as he took the rainbow crystal. He could feel the power running through it, and for the first time, started to wonder if Kriger was on to something. "How...did you even make this?"

    Colress tapped his thin nose, and winked at the Ranger. "That's a trade secret even my esteemed colleagues don't know, and if I have my way...they never will. I made a promise after all. The knowledge of how to create these...it must never fall into the hands of men like Ghetsis. That's why I destroyed the ruins that led me to the secret, and have not written down the method to create them anywhere. The only place that information now resides, is in my mind."

    Geralt nodded, agreeing with the man, and now more convinced that he wasn't secretly still evil. It seemed his pursuit of drawing power from Pokémon, while misguided once perhaps, had since found its way back on the path of all that was right and good. That, he could support. "I'll do as you ask. Then what?"

    "You're in for a rough night, Ranger...well, more like a rough month, but by the time you're done...you'll be someone new. Come to the lab once the pitcher is empty, if you can. From there, it's up to us, and your body, to succeed." As Geralt stood to turn and leave the dank basement lab, Colress spoke again. "If you wish to back out Geralt, do so before you finish the pitcher. We won't think less of you for doing so."

    Geralt turned his head slightly, nodded at the Doctor, and then left. Once back in his private room, he gave Ghost the crystal to hold, and the white wolf seemed enamored with it. Then, Geralt sat on his bed, and held the pitcher. He thought of his family, naturally. He had two little sisters, twins named Gina and Gianna, and a little brother as well, called George, who was older than the infants, but still nowhere near Geralt's age. Apparently, Geralt had been the accidental child, and once his parents immigrated from Germania and settled at the Redwood Ranch, they'd finally had more. The result was a large age gap between him and his siblings. He knew they liked him, looked up to him. Now, he wondered if they'd recognize him the next time he went home.

    Assuming he survived.

    Ghost watched him stare at the pitcher, and whined. It was a questioning inflection, but Geralt knew what he was asking. He would be fine with backing out now, especially after what Geralt had told him of the meeting, and scenting the foul liquid within the pitcher. He could live with being an Area Ranger's partner, but Geralt shook his head. "No...we can't turn back now. We've trained too hard for this, Ghost. I want to see where this path of ours will take us...at the very least, I trust Kriger, if not his scientists. There are forces in this world we're going to have to contend with once we get to the top...I want to be ready for them, and whatever they put us through."

    Ghost gave him a short bark, that Geralt figured meant something along the lines of 'Chug it, then', and so, he did. The liquid was every bit as foul as it smelled. There were...chunks, of something, he felt slide down his throat, and roil in his stomach, but he kept chugging anyway. Higher and higher, he tilted the pitcher as tears ran from his eyes. Every instinct he had begged him to stop, but he persisted. Finally, mercifully, it was empty. The pitcher crashed to the floor as he rolled back on the bed, and growled. Ghost curled up on the other side of the bed, surrounding the Burst Heart, as he watched his human. Geralt mumbled that he was fine, but Ghost was not convinced.

    All night, the Ranger rolled and convulsed, drifting in and out of consciousness. His dreams made little sense. Sometimes, they were pleasant. Sometimes, he saw Triss. Sometimes, he saw Triss, and all of his former Ranger classmates, the females anyways, nude, and surrounding him in some sort of hot spring. Other visions were less pleasant, and he shifted from nightmares to pleasantness regularly. Finally, the sun woke him as REM sleep had finally taken over his exhausted form. He dragged himself from the bed, only to stumble, and find himself supported by white fur. "Ghost…" He mumbled hoarsely, "Go...to the lab...bring...the thing…" That, was the last conscious memory he had. What followed next were visions, snippets of things that felt real, and things that had to be made up.

    The next time he became semi-lucid, he heard a voice. "...and Lycansbane. That's all of them...the Heart is bonded in place, and his body is almost ready...now, we wait." Indescribable pain then filled the entirety of his half-aware consciousness for what had to be hours, but felt more like years. Multiple years, of nothing but mind-breaking pain. It encompassed every sense he had, even while unconscious. He faded in and out of it, but every time he became even partially aware, the pain returned, more potent than before.

    That pain was overwritten, as he felt something sharp cut into his chest. His body surged in new agony, as the split nerve endings screamed at his brain, and again, heard a voice. "Dammit, hold him down! I don't want to waste time repairing an artery!" Then, the pain returned, but it was dulled. Everything he felt and experienced was comfortable, blessed numbness, and in that moment of peace, Geralt finally slept.

    He awoke, because a twitch caused by a dream he instantly forgot brought him to reality again. His chest was on fire, and he snarled. Something began beeping, somewhere, and soon, the numbness returned. That process of awakening and numbness, a preferred change to the agony of Before, repeated what felt like a thousand more times, before finally, when he felt aware again, he twitched, and only felt a dull soreness, in his chest. It still hurt, but Geralt's pain tolerance was rather high. He tried to open his eyes, but couldn't. They felt like they were completely crusty, like after a long sleep, but worse. "My eyes…" He growled, as he felt his wrists restrained.

    "He's awake!" Came a voice. Movement happened, and Geralt's ears twitched, as each sound bombarded his senses like never before. Wood scraping on stone had never been so loud, and the door was like thunder as it opened and closed several times. Warm water soon covered his eyes in the form of a cloth, and Geralt rubbed his face against it. His arms tried to move, but couldn't, so he tugged twice, and then fell limp. Moments later, the restraint came off, and Geralt grabbed the towel from whoever had been holding it. A woman, by the smell that entered his nose. Somehow, on some level, his mind processed what he was inhaling, and compared it to previous memories.

    When he'd finally wiped his eyes free of truly narsty slime and goo, Geralt lowered the towel, as his vision blurred, and then focused like never before. He could see every pore on Colress's nose, the well hidden age lines that marked his brow, the streaks of silver in his blonde hair that blended rather well, and likely with chemical aid, but were visible to the Ranger. The older scientist smirked, and as he peered closer, that smirk grew into a grin. "It worked...it only Bloody worked!" He cheered, and the scientists around him, chuckled, some even clapped. Then, they quieted quickly, as Colress spoke again. "Well? How do you feel, Geralt?"

    In truth, he was annoyed. The tone of Colress' voice irritated him, and his underlying obsession with power was more unsettling than it had been at their first meeting. He looked down then, and considered the annoying man's question. Honestly, he felt amazing. His body was on fire, and he had the sudden urge to move. He tossed the towel away, and sat up. As he spoke, he realized he was in nothing but his boxers, but he didn't let it affect his coarse monotone voice. "I feel...pretty good, actually...thirsty…"

    "Professor Fennel, get the man some water, would you?" Colress asked, and Geralt's eyes shifted to the Professor, as she was closest to a prepared pitcher of water. She quickly passed it to him, watching his eyes as he took it. She too, was looking rather proud. Geralt made a concentrated effort not to stare at the woman too long or too obviously, for his male gaze had a tendency to linger on the fairer sex, he noticed. Not that it hadn't before, it was just infinitely harder to ignore, now. For whatever reason, his thoughts were momentarily consumed by the desires that had propelled humanity forward for hundreds of thousands of years, but he wrestled them down, and focused on his drink.

    It was as Geralt chugged the water, and felt a drop slip free, to his tender chest, that he glanced downwards, finally. The cup fell to his lap, and then began to fall. In the space of the second it took for the cup to spiral towards the bed's edge, Geralt saw the product of the lab's work, and what they had wrought on his chest. Embedded within the red, raw skin of his well-muscled and toned chest was the Burst Heart, but it was different now. It was shaped like a Lycanroc's head, but not just any Lycanroc. It was a passable replica of Ghost himself, though thankfully not one that protruded. The crystal was shaped like his mane and jaw, but the face within the crystal and its surface was flat enough for clothing to fit over. Geralt assumed, as he currently had very little. He snatched the cup with a lightning fast grab, and set it back on the table in under a second. That, brought more smiles and words of congratulations to each other from the scientists.

    Noticing his eyes and where they fell, Colress spoke again. "Ah yes...in a few days, that will meld completely with your chest. Don't worry, it's not damaging your organs or bones. It might if you get hit hard enough there...but guard your center, and you'll be fine. As you can see, it's bonded with your Lycanroc. We hypothesize that it will allow you to communicate and understand him better than you could before, or perhaps, with more detail and less guessing. The power from the Heart is currently infusing every cell in your body. Once it's done, you'll be able to run faster, jump higher, and see in the dark, like your partner. You'll age slower, if you age at all, and as long as you live, Ghost lives as well. There is...one final part, to this particular Trial. This is not the last one, either. Right now...you're about half way through."

    Geralt sighed audibly, but it came out as more of a growl. He noticed that, for some reason, growling felt easier. It might've just been his sore throat, but he spoke anyway. "Hurry up, then...the sooner these are done, the sooner I can get out there…"

    Colress eyed Geralt for a long moment, and then nodded. "Very well...Doctor Yuzo, give him the final Mutagenic concoction."

    One of the scientists introduced as one of Professor Rowan's former aides walked up to Geralt, and as he did, brought with him a sparkling wineglass full of a bright orange liquid. He realized it was snow white hair being added to the sparking concoction, and as Geralt took it, sniffed it, and found it revolting on levels he had previously not been aware of, he grimaced at Colress.

    "This will make you more like Ghost...faster, comfortable on all fours, larger canine teeth, nails hard enough to be claws, etcetera...they won't stick around forever, but if you flex them for combat, they will appear. They may also eventually not disappear...so be aware. This is...new territory for us." The scientist's annoying voice sounded genuine enough to Geralt, and he exhaled, then once more, imbibed a foul, foreign, and mostly unknown substance into his body on the word of a stranger with a checkered past.

    Once Geralt had finished, finding this one slightly more palatable than the first pitcher of grossness, his chest flared a bright gold, and a howl from outside the room joined his own cry of pain, as Trainer and Pokémon experienced the painful discomfort of change together. Eventually, mercifully, Geralt whited out again, only to then seemingly moments later, be woken up by a familiar, icy tongue. Geralt absently crushed the ice crystals in his new beard, and brushed them away, as he pushed Ghost off of him.

    "Down, boy...I'm alright...I think I still need to sleep, though…" Geralt said, yawning. He fell back into a relatively peaceful slumber, as soon as his head fell back to the pillow. Ghost looked at Fennel, who was in the process of standing, until she sat back down, and frowned.

    She waved the Lycanroc over, and he came, as the two had become rather friendly over the long days they'd waited by Geralt's bed. "Sleep is a good thing, Ghost. He'll be alright...Kriger worked him pretty hard on The Killer Mark II. He'll be fine once he's up."

    Geralt, naturally, heard every word, but ignored them, and soon forgot them entirely, as he slept and recovered. What he didn't know was that beside him, in another bed, was his friend Greif, also lost in sleep. The two stayed like that, with their Pokémon taking their meals by their sides, for the rest of the expected month, and then some. Finally, Colress and Fennel met to discuss the issue.

    By that point, both subject's bodies had acclimated to the Burst Hearts. By all their tests, both Greif and Geralt should have been up and about and training with their new skills, but something was preventing that. Being a specialist in dreams, Colress let Fennel take the lead in treating them, and it was agreed that both Rangers should be woken simultaneously if possible. The other three candidates had already arrived, and would be ready for the first Trials soon.

    "Let's start with Geralt...Sharni! Use your Dream Mist!" Fennel ordered her Pokémon as she tossed the ball, and the floating pink tapir cried its name, before focusing on Geralt. The pink mist floating from her head filled the lab, and the other scientists watched with interest. "Let's see what he's dreaming, first…" Fennel said, as she calibrated her equipment to account for the Dream Mist, and report and record what it found. She doubted anyone would ever see the recordings of the mutated Ranger's dreams, but posterity was important to Aurea Juniper, and Professor Fennel had taken after her mentor.

    The scene recreated for the scientists was of the encounter with Rick, Ciri, and Triss. Naturally, Kriger had a report on it, but only Ein had been allowed to read it. As the events repeated with the voices as Geralt recalled them, the scientists murmured to each other, with the appearance of this 'Rick Sanchez', and his inexplicable desire to murder a child. It was as Ein remarked on Geralt's strong moral fiber, that Rick mentioned the child, who evidently was psychic, falling to Shadow. The entire group fell quiet, and Fennel spoke quickly. "Sharni...pause the mist flow."

    Colress stood then, and walked over towards the Dream Mist version of Rick. "Now that...is intriguing." The title Rick had given her, the Lady of Time and Space, certainly had implications, and though the mist obscured the color of the crystal in his portal device, Colress was sharp enough to catch that it was probably related to Palkia, as was this Rick character in some way. The impression Colress got from his attitude was one of a man who did not, and would not be replaced by a little girl. If she was in the Imperium now though, for he had recognized Triss' emblems and knew what they meant, Rick Sanchez would have quite a time retrieving her from the Obsidian Keep on Mount Olympius, the tallest mountain in the world at the center of the Imperium's power, and the home of their Imperator.

    One of the other scientists spoke, as Colress pondered. "He mentioned the Shadow, Colress. If the Imperium is playing with-"

    "Don't worry about the Imperium." Colress said, turning, and smirking. "The Imperator knows better than to invite madness into his being...but I wouldn't put attempting to control the Shadow, in another vessel, past him. We should focus on the task at hand...and I think we should bring Geralt in on the danger behind what we're facing. The more he knows, the better he can fight it."

    At that moment, Kriger spoke. "No."

    Colress turned towards the man and arched an eyebrow. "No? But we need champions for the Light, Kriger. That's the entire point of this project."

    "The point of this project is to create Rangers with unmatched tracking skills, speed, and endurance, to better fight poachers and the evil teams of our time. If Geralt comes to the Light, he must do it on his own. The same goes for Greif and the others. They must rise or fall by their own decisions on their own paths, and we will react accordingly based on their choices." Kriger said, crossing his arms as he sat back in his chair, near the wall beside the door to the lab.

    "That's just inviting disaster, Kriger." Colress countered, "You've seen Echis. I would bet money Levhart also falls to Shadow and its temptations, once its minions learn what we're making here."

    "I agree." Kriger said, making the scientist's eye twitch. "Which is why we will condition the Rangers who need it, during their trials. As you said, Geralt has a...strong moral fiber, and Greif...I'm not worried about his. In fact...his Burst Heart's eyes have been golden since the bonding. He's probably already in contact with the Light. Fennel, wake up Geralt. It's time he rose, and got back to work."

    Fennel sighed, and tapped at her keyboard. "Yea, I'll just do that…" She muttered. "Sharni, resume the stream, and then insert me. Let's try waking him that way."

    The Musharna responded with a cry of its own name, and then focused its Dream Mist, using its psychic powers to insert an avatar of her Trainer into the Ranger's dream. Shortly after, Geralt's eyes shot open, and he sat up, panting. Then, he held his head. "Oof…" The Dream Mist retracted, and Colress moved to Geralt's bedside. Fennel and Sharni then focused on Greif, who seemed to be dreaming of running beside Geralt and the others on The Killer.

    "Welcome back, Ranger. You were stuck in your dreams for a while there. How are you feeling?"

    Geralt groaned, as he sat up and looked at Colress. "I feel...better, actually...last time, I felt like I was on fire, eager to move...but now…" He clenched and unclenched his fist, and with a bit of focus, his nails grew, his hand enlarged slightly, and white hair formed over it in a thin coating. "I can control it...it's like a...sixth sense." He retracted the claws then, and the fur and size disappeared with them.

    He looked to his right, as he heard Greif, and saw the burly and far more shredded man sit up. The Trials had only enhanced his physique, among other things. Greif was quicker to stand than Geralt, and as he did, the female scientists flushed, as did a few of the males. It didn't take a degree to figure out why, for the man's undergarments had evidently grown...snug, as his body had grown. Geralt tested his own, which felt exactly the same. Indeed, his body was still around five feet and ten inches, and while Greif had been around six foot two inches before, he had to be pushing six foot nine afterwards.

    Geralt crawled out of his bed, and smirked at Greif. "How come you got to be so tall, while I'm the same height?"

    Colress eyed both of them, and he was also smirking. "The Trials affect everyone differently...Greif is probably stronger than you now, Geralt, but he cannot manifest claws. Yet. With time, you may grow taller too. We really don't know...you two are the first to survive. It's been over a month since you began...now that you're at this stage, all that's left is for you to test your new abilities. But first…"

    Colress whistled sharply, and there was a cacophony of footsteps outside the door. Geralt heard Ghost's whine, and grinned as one of the scientists opened it. His massive Dawn Lycanroc came loping towards him, and Geralt could feel how happy he was that his human was alive, awake, and seemingly alright. Silvally had a similar reaction with Greif, and once the two Pokémon calmed, Kriger stood from his chair, and spoke to both of them.

    "Well done, Rangers...I watched both of you endure that...I have a feeling these Trials will break lesser men. For today, you may test yourselves on the second iteration of The Killer at your own pace...tomorrow...we begin setting records...and breaking them. Your new outfits are in your rooms. You may now consider yourselves fully-fledged Rangers."

    As Kriger finished, Colress tapped Geralt's shoulder. "You'll notice we made some...modifications...to your Wolf Styler. The consumption on Faust should be lessened significantly, and, we've added functionality for the use of Ranger Signs, should you learn any. We've also copied your Granduncle's design, and modified it for the other Rangers who will, with luck, turn out like you. To be honest, your entire class has requests for similar Stylers, you've started a trend already."

    Geralt crossed his arms, as he pondered what Colress intended with his Granduncle's designs. "Wait a second. Are you going to be handing out these devices to everyone that asks for one? That's a lot of Rotom."

    Colress pondered. "You're right, Geralt. They should have a bond with a Rotom, that will bring out the most power. Hmm. Caring for a younger one already imprinted with their Styler should help some of your contemporaries with their...emotional issues." Behind Colress, the other scientists had begun murmuring, and Colress waved Geralt and Greif on their way. "Go on, Rangers. We have work to do."

    Five Years Later… - Somewhere in the Germania Region

    "I kid you not, Triss. He turns himself into a pickle. He's called Pickle Rick. Funniest thing I've seen in a long time."

    Triss Merigold murmured an 'uh huh' as she fixed up her mussed hair in the mirror of the room she and her lover had been staying in for days, now. Geralt had discovered the wonders of Imperium television, and was enjoying the seemingly limitless content as he recovered from his refractory period. Given that they'd been going at it for most of the night, and it was almost noon now, Triss was more than willing to give the man a well deserved rest. He hadn't seemed to need one, even after four rounds in a row, but once they'd reached the double digits for the apexes of his own stimulation, the heavily mutated body of the Area Ranger had finally required a rest.

    That was just as well, for Triss had been trying to muster the courage to tell the handsome Ranger of the Imperium's plans for several days now, and other things had continued to distract her from doing so. It wasn't like she wasn't in trouble already. Not reporting on the extensive mutations the International Ranger Force had caused in Geralt Redwood would make her a Traitor in the eyes of the Obsidian Keep. Despite that, she still hesitated.

    After being assigned to the northernmost part of Galar for his Area Ranger duties, Geralt and Triss had enjoyed several similar trysts over the course of five years, always meeting in a geographically neutral, and unimportant mountain resort, such as the one they were in now, to enjoy each other's company. The difference this time, was that Triss had come with more than her usual desire to be repeatedly left in a pleasure coma. Only recently had she learned what the Imperator was experimenting with, deep below the Mediterra Mountains, and how Ciri was involved in it.

    She subtly eyed the mutated Ranger from the mirror, and sighed inwardly. He likely wouldn't even know what to do with that knowledge, and she knew, as soon as she uttered it, the psychics of the Obsidian Keep would be able to see and hear it. They monitored the planet for the revelation of such secrets, and she knew of no place their eyes could not peer. The Imperator took no chances with his most promising projects, and she had only been brought in on them as an advisory aid. Little more.

    Finally deciding that now was not the right time, she strode back to their bed, as nude as she'd been when she left, and joined the Ranger. He seemed enamored by the current TV content, which seemed to be depicting a universe where every one of the cartoonish characters had somehow been turned into a pickle. Or maybe Pickle Rick had found a sentient pickle dimension. She let out a sigh as her head rested on his shoulder. "How can you watch this drivel?"

    Geralt chuckled. "It's actually pretty high concept stuff. Not the kind of thing you can just jump into and expect to understand. It takes a keen mind to follow this plot, but I have to admit, I'm hooked now."

    Triss sighed again. "How is Albion these days, mister Area Ranger? It seems to keep you busy enough."

    Geralt nodded, his eyes unmoving from the screen. "Oh, y'know, plenty of dark forests, dark typed Pokémon, bandits and other issues. For the most part, I handle guiding the more...wild Pokémon away from the settlements. But the people adore their king, even if he is a Gallade. Uther rules them fairly, and advises me on where the darkness tends to lurk. As areas go, it's fairly easy to keep safe."

    Triss glanced at the gem in his chest, shaped like Ghost, who was at that moment either sleeping on the balcony of their room, or hunting in the Mediterra Mountains. "Is that where you got those Shiny Doublade from? You do know they subsist on life force, right?"

    Geralt nodded again. "I'm aware. But as I'm sure you've noticed, I have life force in spades, and it always comes back. Stal prefers taking down bandits. Srebro handles the more...violent...dark types that lurk in the forest. Albion's Rockruff have taken on the dark typing, and their Lycanroc are vicious. Though, that may be because the more...rustic...people of Albion keep shooting them when they see them."

    "You mean the region run by a Pokémon is technologically and educationally deficient? Color me surprised." Triss said, sarcastically.

    "There's something to be said for a life without technology. Albion doesn't have to enslave its people just to keep its lands functioning, and in check. Nor do they enslave foreigners that wander into their borders." Geralt answered, his warped eyes still unmoving from the screen. He chuckled again, to himself, as Pickle Rick turned himself into a human as a 'big reveal'. Naturally, the pickle people didn't like this abomination, and pickle-based slaughter had ensued. He was convinced this was the height of comedy.

    Triss rolled her eyes, ignoring the graphic pickle slaughter spectacle on the screen. "We don't enslave everybody...just the criminals. Only the truly awful ones become Servitors."

    Geralt paused the show, with a flick of the remote, and turned his gaze on Triss. "Bjorn tells me that every other month he has people going missing all along the Mediterra range, Triss. When your vaunted society runs out of criminals, when your crime prevention methods work too well, your Imperium turns to the 'barbarians' of the wider world for their lobotomized slaves. Somehow, the rest of the world manages to get along just fine without capturing innocent people and turning their brains into obedient machines."

    Triss met his gaze evenly, eyes widening slightly. "I never knew you had such strong opinions about the Imperium."

    Geralt smirked. "One of the people I care for hails from there, and since I can only imagine what they'd do to me in their borders, I figured knowing my enemy was a good idea. I wish you'd leave them. If more people defected, the Imperator might be convinced to change his methods." Geralt resumed the show then, turning his warped eyes back to the screen.

    Triss shook her head. "There will always be more humans to labor for His glory. We're doing important work, Geralt...in fact…" As she made the decision to, if not tell him outright, at least drop a hint about the Imperator's plans, Triss found she couldn't speak. At all. Her body literally seized up, and her vocal chords refused to function. She felt a mechanical whirr within her, and her eyes went wide, for a moment.

    Though the sensation passed quickly, Geralt didn't seem to notice, but Triss understood what had occurred, and the Ranger didn't seem to notice the silence as she trailed off, distracted and sated as he was. His libido had increased significantly with his mutations, but there was something to be said for craving the opposite sex. It kept him sharp, focused, hungry. Many things might've changed, had he but noticed why Triss went from speaking to watching the show with him.

    Naturally, Human Rick had turned other pickle people human as well, but he didn't have enough Deus ex Serum for the whole planet, and so the humans he managed to save had devolved into a war with the pickle people over the rightful rule of Earth. As they binge watched the show, Human Rick and his allies eventually found more serum, but some of the pickle people actually liked being brine based, and so the war continued.

    Triss said no more about Albion or the Imperium, limiting her comments to the show, if only to reaffirm to herself that she could still talk. Geralt remained oblivious, and they spent another three days relaxing and fornicating until they inevitably parted once more. Triss had taken the hint, even if Geralt had missed it completely. Speaking about the Imperator's plans would cause her life-extending implants to either malfunction, or knowing the Imperium, explode, if she forced the information out of her mouth anyways. She resolved to find another way to acquire the Ranger's help, though the form that help would take would only be known once she had a plan to, at the very least, get Ciri out of the project.

    Fifteen Years Later… (Circa Chapter 38)

    Over a decade and a half passed, and in that time, several things changed for Geralt. He gathered more permanent partners on his belt, like a shiny Corviknight, and an Espeon. He also achieved the rank of Top Ranger after keeping not just Albion, but Galar and the surrounding Galish Isles safe as well, once he could easily travel between them. With that promotion had come reassignment, to his home continent no less, and he found keeping the thousands of regions within the States safe was a constant effort that left no time for trysts with Triss.

    Not that there had been any. After that last one, she had gone silent, and despite Geralt's best attempts to reach her or pass a message to her within the Imperium. He eventually learned that, for some reason, she was ignoring his messages completely, and seemed to have moved on, romantically. Though he didn't advertise it, the mutations to his mind and body had also caused a dulling of pain, particularly of the emotional variety. He took Triss's abandonment in stride, for his libido still burned with the passion of a thousand suns, and there was an entire planet full of lovely, and often very grateful women.

    He bounced between meaningless flings and endless Ranger missions, subsisting on food, women, and wine until one day, the monotony was broken. The most recent war between Fornia and Unova absorbed the Ranger, and his cousin Alex, into the events that shaped it, and ultimately, Geralt came out of the fighting alive, and with newly awakened powers.

    He was at the Redwood's manor house again, on a rare bit of R&R demanded by the IRF after his torture sessions while a PoW, lounging with Ghost in his own room within the Redwood's manor, and sampling the latest strain of Leaf his cousin had grown. A strain he was evidently calling Yin Yang. Ghost's ears twitched at the same time Geralt's did, and both of them glanced at his Holociever, one of many gadgets he'd accrued over his years as an active Pokémon Ranger, now scattered on his dresser.

    Not recognizing the number, he answered it. What he got back in response, sent a feeling of dread up his spine. It was Triss's voice, of that he was sure, but the message was garbled. "Geralt...dian Keep. Ciri is...can't...uch time. You ha...us. We'll mee…"

    "Triss? Hello? I can't hear what you're saying!" Geralt said, but just before he could get irritated about it, both he and his Dawn Lycanroc glowed with a whitish blue light, and with a 'bamf' sound, suddenly, they found themselves somewhere else.

    Lantea City - Dark Side of Luna

    "Teleport complete, sir!" Came a female voice from somewhere in the distance.

    Geralt and Ghost looked around, and sensing danger, Srebro and Stahl leapt from their ball to help their Ranger. Geralt whirled, taking in the scene around him, his Doublade crossed defensively over his Burst Heart. This wasn't the first time someone had Teleported him randomly to some other place, and last time, that had turned into a major pain in the Mudbray to escape intact.

    The room around them was filled with people. They seemed to be standing on a pad of some sort. The part of the room he was in was at the lowest point. Stairs at the far center end of the depression led up to the first level, that seemed to have doors and hallways jutting off in different directions. More immediate to his eyes though, was the second floor above them. A pair of balconies were on each side of the room, and he looked to his right, as someone spoke.

    "Now now, Ranger. There's no need for that. You are among friends, here."

    Geralt's eyes widened, as he recognized Colress's voice. Then, he saw the man, a little older and wiser, a little more gray, but otherwise, exactly as he'd been the last time Geralt saw him, save that his suit seemed to have gotten upgraded at some point by technology he didn't recognize. "Doctor Colress...where the Muk am I?"

    At that moment, Ghost whined, but Geralt was still busy taking in the command center full of people in primarily gray outfits, differentiated only by triangular patches of color whose significance Geralt did not know, but seemed to indicate some sort of hierarchy based on color. Black was the most common, but red was also common, and some seemed to have tan versions of the full body suits. They looked sharp, and Geralt recognized hints of military in their design. The tan versions were fewer, and aside from stripes on the sleeves that matched whatever color the suit's patch was, they were uniformly plain overall.

    The Ranger's enhanced sight made out one more thing. There were six black patched men standing on either side of the stairs leading out of the spot he'd been brought into, watching him intently. Each of them had a firearm of some description, and on their shoulders was a patch with an emblem he didn't recognize, but that he surmised was emblematic of whatever organization had just Teleported him here. There were no words on it, but he recognized an equine figure with its forelegs splitting a V shaped emblem, whose tips flared out into a pair of wings, almost making the horse look like a pegasus.

    Finally, he turned to see what had drawn Ghost's attention, as instead of answering him, Colress made his way down a staircase to the first level. What he beheld, left him in awe. It was, in retrospect, very clearly the centerpiece of this command center. A massive, circular arch made of some kind of metal he wasn't familiar with. He lowered Srebro and Stahl as he took it in.

    The outermost edge of the massive metal ring was covered in Unown lettering that made no sense to his eyes, and was unreadable. The inner part of the ring was covered in thirty-nine glyphs that, to his eyes, seemed based on constellations of stars, some vaguely familiar and others completely alien.

    "Welcome to Lantea City, Geralt Redwood. You're currently in a city run by a group known as Pegasus." Colress said, from his left. "This city was created by an ancient race, or so we believe. Their technology was centuries ahead of anything we developed on earth, even before Humanity's fall, and our inevitable rise. Currently, we're parked on the dark side of Luna, what Earthlings refer to more commonly as 'the Moon'. The inhabitants of our moon call it Luna, though."

    Geralt blinked, and looked at the Doctor. "You're saying we're in space right now? Why aren't we floating?"

    Colress pushed his glasses up with his middle finger before he answered. "As I said, this city's technology is...bordering on magical, or rather, it was, before we understood it. We found a similar Gate on an expedition to the thawed southernmost continent on our planet, Atlantica. As it turns out, the locals of that region are descendants of the humans who found this city before we did. At some point, apparently, it was in another Galaxy entirely, one their records refer to as 'Pegasus', the selfsame name of the expedition that traveled there. The Atlanticans let us study their gate decades ago, and it was your granduncle, Professor Gilroy Redwood, who managed to turn the damn thing on. It brought us here, and ever since, we've been working to restore power and functionality to the city. Someday, I want to make this city fly again. It can evidently function as a spaceship as well as a habitable city."

    Geralt sheathed Stahl and Srebro on his back, as he looked around. "This is...a lot."

    Colress hopped the railing then, and landed next to the Ranger. He put a hand on his shoulder, and gave a kind smile. "I'm sure you have questions...come. Let's get some food at the Mess, and we can trade questions. We have a few for you, as well."

    The Doctor led him through a maze of hallways then, until they came into a very basic cafeteria/buffet setup with surprisingly decent food. Seeing Colress load up on some steak and potatoes, Geralt helped himself to two slabs of steak, and a pile of mashed potatoes he'd mixed with corn and peas. Colress stared at his pile of food as they sat. "I take it your body needs a lot to keep it going, now."

    "You have no idea…" Geralt mumbled, as he began to chow down. After a few bites, he slowed, chewed, and then finally asked a question. "So...Pegasus eh? Just like the expedition. What do you people do up here, exactly? Aside from kidnap people on vacation."

    "We monitor the planet. A few decades ago, the people at Interpol contacted the Ranger Union, and Professors the world over with the information around the discovery in Atlantica. They agreed to form a secret, but unified organization dedicated to mitigating the damage of rampaging Pokémon, and those who upset their balance. This wasn't long after the Rainbow Rocket incident, so the idea was popular, in the face of multiple gangs from multiple regions potentially forming together again." Colress paused to eat some of his own meal, before continuing. "So, Geralt. You received an interesting phone call a few minutes ago. Why is someone from the Imperium's Obsidian Keep calling your Holociever?"

    "It's none of your damn business who has my number. All you need to know is that on the other end of that call, people are in danger. Good people, that I care about. Lucky for me...Pegasus can help me rescue them." Geralt said, looking around. "Just beam them up, like you did to me."

    Colress shook his head. "It's not that simple...there's the matter of power to consider, and then there's the issue with them being in Imperium territory. We can't beam up psychic humans when they sense us coming, for some reason, and the Imperium uses their enhanced Librarians, or Imperium-sanctioned psychics, to shield their territory from our efforts. Or, at least the areas they don't want us reaching."

    "And the Obsidian Keep is one of those places. Of course it is. Muk." Geralt proceeded to rage-eat as he thought over ways to get to Triss, and presumably Ciri, as quickly as possible. Then, he perked up. "Cn oo een p th ll?"

    Colress nonchalantly sipped his iced tea-lemonade. "There's food in your mouth, Ranger."

    Geralt growled, and rage-chewed, thankfully with his mouth closed, and swallowed. "The call. Can you play it back and clean it up?"

    Colress tilted his head, then nodded. "There should be a record that Interpol can use. We'd need your express permission and your device, though."

    Geralt looked at him, with an emotionless intensity in his warped frosty blue eyes. "You have them." He shoved the device he barely used at the man, who accessed it with his suit as he ate with his other hand.

    A moment later, the voice of his wayward psychic lover filled the immediate space. "Geralt. It's Triss. I'm outside the Obsidian Keep. Ciri is with me. We can't stay here anymore. There's not much time. You have to help us. We'll meet at the lodge in the mountai-" Her voice cut out as his own overrode her words with useless attempts to hear her.

    Colress finished his potatoes as they listened, took a few more bites of dinner, and then stood up. "We can act on this, but only if I have your word as Top Ranger that these two will comply with our rules. They won't be able to leave, once they're here. Even your vouching for them has limits, Ranger."

    Geralt was already moving towards the command center they'd just come from. "Nowhere on Earth is safe for them, if Ciri is as important as she seems. Keep them from learning where this base is. Then you can beam them back without them being any wiser."

    Colress nodded, and soon, they were back where Geralt had arrived. His tone was full of authority as he spoke. "Power up the Teleporter. Shutter all windows, and form a perimeter around the Gate Room. Lower the curtain, and start scanning the Mediterra mountains for two powerful psychic entities. Try rapid beaming once you find them, don't let them block us."

    Geralt sat in suspense for about five minutes as the technicians spouted technobabble, and attempted to teleport the ladies to safety. A massive sheet fell in front of the Gate that Geralt hadn't had time to even ask about yet. The faint light of space and the celestial display of the stars was shuttered, and the only light became that of the fluorescent fixtures around the command center.

    Many people either raised similar shutters on the glass surrounding their desks, or left the area to continue their work in parts of the city designated for it. Working near the Gate was useful, as one could requisition whatever one needed when they made the connection with Atlantica back on Earth.

    "They're coming in hot!"

    The technician's voice rang out, and everyone but Geralt left the gate area. "Srebro. Stahl." His swords leapt into his hand as the blue light heralding the ladies' arrival glowed brighter, and Geralt carved an elongated lower-case E in the air with his swords as they appeared. They came in with flames, undoubtedly from Triss, and just in time for the Flamethrower, Geralt's sign manifested a golden shield that kept him protected from the flames. "Triss! Stop! It's me!"

    The flames died down, and the lights came back on. Most of the gate area was singed, save for the curtain hiding the monolithic portal gate. Evidently, it wasn't flammable. "Geralt!" Triss ran to him, hugged him, and then looked around at their surroundings, as the security guards and Colress slowly rose from their hiding places. "Where...where are we? I don't sense-"

    "Don't worry about where we are, Triss." He said, tapping his nose. "It's a secret Ranger base. That's all you need to know. Not even the Imperator can find you here." Ciri followed Triss's lead with a hug of her own, and Geralt's stone-face broke a smile, for her. "Hey, kid."

    "I'm twenty-seven, old man." She muttered snarkily, but her smile gave away how glad she was to see him. Though, it slowly shifted to a frown, as she noted certain changes. "By the Throne...Triss told me they'd mutated you, but…"

    "I'm afraid I'm responsible for mutating your handsome Ranger friend, Miss Ciri." Colress said, coming down the stairs to their level, arms wide, open, and empty. "I dreamed of creating the ultimate expression of the power humans and Pokémon can achieve...I'd say I succeeded. Right now, I'm in command of this installation. My name is Colress. Your Ranger friend here is, by far, my greatest success. Or, one of them, anyway." It wasn't all flattery, for Colress was of the opinion that only Grief and Geralt had truly succeeded in becoming what he'd set out to create. Levhart was too self centered and aloof almost to the point of being uncaring, and Bjorn was an isolationist who preferred to live and survive on his own, rather than help humans. It was a waste of a Ranger with his potential, only guarding a specific group of Pokémon in a tiny part of the world, but Bjorn had found his happiness, and the IRF refused to pry him from it with no reason.

    "That reminds me…" Geralt growled. "We need to talk about Echis…"

    "Yes yes." Colress said, waving a hand. "We can do that once we've debriefed your friends here."

    Geralt seemed unsatisfied, as he pulled away from the women's embrace. "We also need to talk about the you-know-what." He gave an almost imperceptible nod at the curtain behind them.

    Colress sighed. "That conversation...is best had with your cousin here, Geralt. He's grown too powerful for us to Teleport in randomly."

    "Fine. Where is he? I'll get him." Geralt said, sheathing his Doublade again. Alex was one of his more tolerable family members, in that he didn't judge his mutations, and was practical enough to follow Geralt where he needed, on naught but his word.

    "It's not that simple…" Colress said, chuckling. "Let us retire to my office. I'm sure these lovely ladies have a tale to spin. Then we'll speak of your cousin."

    Ciri and Triss looked between Geralt and the strangely garbed man, before following him and Geralt presumably towards his office.
  8. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 40: Path of the Guardian, Part 3

    Nomad's Isle, Minjujuui City - Koria Region

    Alex awoke to the pervasive scent of processed fecal matter, among other wonderful smells, like rotting berries, garbage, and what smelled disturbingly like corpses, mixed into the stink. He was grinning though, ear to ear, and had a satisfying stretch as he noted Akos was also rising. Ara and Boto were already up, but Akos had proven to be as late a sleeper as Alex. "I've never known anyone who was so cheery after just waking up." Akos muttered grouchily as he patted his bedhead down, and created a messy 'warrior knot' out of his hair. "How do you do it?"

    Alex smirked, mostly to himself. "I have very enjoyable dreams. It makes waking up to the smell of feces tolerable. We should really ask General Meelo for some of that incense." Akos grumbled something about stingy Air Nomads hogging all the sacred scent sticks, and the two men proceeded to dress themselves, before heading out. Alex had a date with a Gym Leader, though he found the match had evidently been pushed to noon once he had remained very much asleep at the crack of dawn, and Leader Asami had better things to do.

    It was Meelo who informed him of the time change to noon, and thus it was also Meelo who suggested the two Trainers join the other Pokémon Trainers in their city at the rebel's own training field. Their path to Nomad's Isle was underground, and from what Alex could tell, under Full Moon Bay as well. They emerged into a rock-covered cave like area large enough to support three whole Pokémon battlefields. Each one was surrounded by simple wooden stands, and very quickly, Alex realized that the rebellion was probably selling tickets to this kind of thing among the people. Which would make it the worst kept secret, in a city this large.

    Seeing Alex's face, and sensing the train of his thoughts, made Meelo whisper to him from a distance, as the air silently carried his words. "Many Trainers in Koria live in Minjujuui. Modern jobs give them enough currency to afford Pokéballs, and vitamins. Try not to stand out, and we'll do fine."

    Alex arched a brow at him, and responded mentally. "If I'm Battling in some sort of underground tournament, I'd prefer to win it."

    Meelo pinched his brow, sighed, and answered in kind. "You won't like what you win, in a place like this. Some of the...unconnected citizens running this place can get quite vicious. They usually back off if we prove we're with the rebels, but be warned, they are not above cheating to claim a win."

    Hearing that, caused a change to come over Alex's face, as he smirked and his eyes lit up with a mix of eagerness and irritation under the bulky furry hood. "Let them cheat. It won't be enough." He pulled his hood lower over his eyes, not unlike many of the other contestants, and approached the man seeking more Trainers for the fray. Seeing he had some time before his match, as the battles had also seemingly begun at dawn, he called out his newly caught giant rock snake, alongside the Copperajah that had joined them as well in a spot away from the battlefields.

    The Onix's first reaction was anger, but before Alex could move to stop it, the Copperajah swung his trunk, fast and brutal, as steel energy imbued it. The metal elephant beat the Onix down with a single blow, and pinned it with a massive metal foot. "Listen." He said to the Onix, as the damage took effect. The rock snake's eyes shifted to the human, and Alex glanced between him, and the apparently much larger Copperajah. He had grown since the last time he'd been out of his ball, easily now the size of an alpha, and Alex assumed that the experience he'd gained during the course of his Shadow infusion had finally taken effect. He was now almost at the same level of strength that Cenomons had been after their journey through Selva Muerta, proving that he had in fact been trained at one point. That made him much stronger than the rest of his current team, but despite that, and the desire to battle with such a powerful force of nature like a Copperajah, Alex had his heart set on a Steelix, and he had a good feeling about this massive, but relatively young Onix.

    Alex's mind reached out to the rock snake's, and for a rock type, he found it remarkably complex. He also realized he'd never really examined rock typed minds too closely. His new appreciation for the earth made his mental perception of their intelligence adjust itself, as he realized they were, much like him, quiet, reserved, and typically stoic. That didn't mean there wasn't much more beneath the surface. "Hello there. I know you and I had an...interesting first meeting, but I sense in you the same potential that sleeps in pretty much every Pokémon I've caught. I want to offer you the choice to leave now, and return to the wilds far away from the city, or to join my team, and become one of the strongest members of your species."

    The Onix looked at him skeptically once he got over the shock of understanding a human's words perfectly, and rose in place, eyeing the Copperajah as he did. "I demand a rematch. Bring out your noisy fur thing, and the grass type." The Onix's eyes were on fire as he spoke in his species tongue, "I will not give you an answer until I have had my revenge."

    Alex frowned in disapproval. "Revenge is a poor motivator. It blinds you in Battle, makes you sloppy. Gets you captured by tiny humans." The frown shifted to a smirk, and if an Onix's face could say 'how bloody dare you' this one's face was certainly close to expressing a similar sentiment. "But if it's a rematch you desire...Canis. Arbor." Once again, his Riolu and Sceptile appeared and shared a fist bump, before smirking, and falling into an identical battle crouch before the massive Onix. Alex met the Copperajah's gaze then. "Are you feeling better? If so, I would ask you to aid the Onix. I think a fair fight is required, for this." His eyes shifted back to the rock snake. "But first, breakfast. For all of you."

    The Onix looked like he was about to protest, when he suddenly realized he was, in fact, hungry. The hit from the metal elephant had also caused not insignificant damage, and food would bring him back to full strength for the battle ahead. Seeing the Onix's personality was similar to his Cinderace, he let the massive Pokémon's appetite dig into his stash of Figy berries, as his Sitrus berries were still growing. Tenzin had offered a planter for his personal use, and as Akos had no berries, having lived on an iceberg for the majority of his existence, Alex used the planter on his side of their room as well. He massaged his Pokémon egg with a warm towel, as the others ate, and he grew still once the Onix finished, and brought its snout closer to him and his fragile charge.

    He gently touched the egg with a carefulness that belied his size and attitude. "This one is close to joining us…" He hummed as he closed his eyes, and drew in the egg's scent through his rocky nostrils. "You have kept this one warm and safe...hmmmm." The eyes opened again, and Alex met the rock snake's gaze evenly. "You are what you say you are...a good Trainer...interesting. Most humans lie." The Onix slithered away then, coiling a short distance from them, as the other three finished their meals. Rage and a bad mood had been replaced by quiet curiosity. There was definitely something different about this human.

    When they were ready, the rock snake lifted his tail, and then brought it down rapidly. Alex watched, impressed, as he enlarged the area, and gave them enough space for a double battle. The earthbending caught other people's attention, and as they saw the quartet take their starting positions, more than a few came over to watch. Alex smirked from under his hood, as the Onix then slapped the ground, and made an imprint of the field's lines in the dirt, akin to the others, which had been marked with paint.

    Alex's fist glowed green, and similarly green lines of grass energy stretched from his hand, to the ones emanating from the Meadow Plate crystal Arbor was holding. He transitioned smoothly to his Mega Form, as his Trainer spoke, "Seed Bomb! Canis, Focus Blast!" The hail of grass hammered the Onix with critical effectiveness, as it fell from the sky, too fast to be entirely dodged, the rock snake managed to weather the hit, but the opening salvo had brought it to the red, by Alex's estimate.

    Canis charged up his attack, but the Copperajah was there, and he countered hard with an Iron Bash as Canis was charging. He was sent flying towards the nearest wall of rock, but he caught himself, and readied a counter.

    An Earthquake rocked the area as the Onix and his Copperajah ally aimed for both the Sceptile and the Riolu. "Close Combat! Energy Ball!" Alex ordered, and his partners responded. Canis leapt as the wall broke around him, and Arbor's legs were strong enough to jump over the Onix's quake. Canis landed on the massive metal elephant, and began hammering him with fighting energy covered fists. He swung in vain at the punchy puppy as he took significant damage.

    The Onix was another story. His Iron Tail bisected Arbor's hastily condensed attack, and he lunged surprisingly high in the air with a Crunch attack at the grass lizard. Unfortunately for the Onix, he wasn't quite long enough to actually land the hit. Arbor countered hard on his own initiative, landing on his lengthy body, and dragging his pair of Leaf Blades down the Onix's length, scored a victory.

    For his part, Canis was dodging and weaving around the larger Copperajah, and he Howled underneath the metal elephant, before repeating the last move his Trainer had called. Connected as they were, he knew his human meant for him to continue the barrage until he won. Powerful as the Copperajah was, after each of them missed their next attacks, a Play Rough collided with a Metal Claw, and the two parted.

    They both panted, and the Copperajah rumbled at the panting puppy. "You're good...for a twerp."

    Canis's eyes narrowed, as he became irrationally angry at the barb. "I'll show you a twerp…" His 'ears' flared with aura, and his Trainer had a smirk of pride just visible under his blue furry hood. White light surrounded Canis, as he advanced to the next stage in a double helix swirl of Infinity Energy. The largening crowd whooped, as everyone loved an evolution, and the newly evolved, and rejuvenated Lucario faced down the much stronger Pokémon under the light of the noonday sun.

    "Remember, Canis." His Trainer said, "Special moves are now your forte...but your physical ones won't be lacking either. For you, though...stick to special ones as often as possible, and you'll get stronger." The Lucario barked an acknowledgement, and his crouch deepened, as he sensed the move coming. "Now, Aura Sphere!"

    The Copperajah batted the sphere into nonexistence with a powerful Play Rough, as fairy energy filled its trunk. Canis stood his ground, as his double pair of 'ears' flared with power. A ball of steel energy formed in his palm, and as Arthur, and now Eremus had shown him, he layered it in a tight, condensed swirling pattern, finding he could control the steel energy as easily as he did fighting energy. Alex called the move, as he realized what Canis was using. "Flash Cannon!"

    The STAB steel sphere hit the fairy typed trunk, and exploded, and as the Copperajah blinked away the damage. The smoke above him parted in a sudden circle, and Canis was there, both paws by his hip, a spinning sphere of deep blue super effectiveness situated between them. "Aura Sphere!" Canis brought his paws forward, and the automatic hit finally knocked out the Copperajah. Canis Howled again, as he claimed victory, and his Trainer gave him a fist bump and a meat bun as he returned victorious.

    Alex moved to the Copperajah first, handing out a Max Revive. He gave the metal elephant a trunk pat, and an acknowledgement of a good battle, before turning to the Onix, who was awake, and nursing his hurt pride. Arbor stood next to him, as he also got a fist bump, and a berry, and Canis joined them, once he'd scarfed down his snack. "Well? How about it, big guy? We could use a strong steel and ground type on our team."

    The Onix tilted his head, and his eyes shifted to his giant metal 'partner'. "Do you not have him?"

    Alex shook his head. "He belongs to someone else, I'm just holding his new ball, temporarily." He fished in his pack then, and from the same pocket he'd drawn honey from for a hungry Teddiursa, he pulled out a cylinder of metal, and held it up towards the Onix. "This Metal Coat is yours, if you'll join us. I can promise you'll become very strong." The rock snake's eyes shifted over the human's partners, and then the man himself. Finally, he nodded, and touched his rocky snout to the metal cylinder as he rumbled his name. "I accept."

    Alex held up the Metal Coat, and the Onix touched it with his snout, glowing a bright white as the coat of metal became silvery, almost liquid, as it traveled over his body. The bright white energy of the Spiral remade him, as well. The Steelix reared up as he kept his length in his evolved state, and roared at the crowd. Alex waved his head down then, and the large metal snake leaned down towards him, receiving several Sitrus Berries in his toothy iron maw. Alex gave him a potion as well for good measure, and then recalled everyone, to wait for his turn to battle.

    He was lucky, as his first opponent used a whole team of weak first stage birds that Temere and his Dottler gained decent experience from. His streak didn't last long though, as he forfeited his next match upon learning it was at noon, and departed for Asami's gym within the city proper instead. He didn't make as much of an impact as he'd hoped to, but then, he hadn't seen much cheating either. His opponents had been young, naive, but honest in their battle strategies. If one could call using six of the same species a strategy.

    Asami's gym was a strange setup, though not as odd as some of those in Unova. A central platform stood tall above an indoor pool of dark water. Stands for observers surrounded the center platform. The platform was a hexagon, one side black, one white, separated by standard Pokémon battlefield lines. Asami didn't have any warm up Trainers, and her gym actually seemed mostly closed down, with most of the seats covered by sheets. She looked up at Alex as the automatic bridge linked his waiting area to the platform. He took his spot, and the look she gave him suggested that for her, battles were an outlet of some sort.

    "Good. You're finally awake. Let's get this started." She said, drawing a Pokéball unlike those he was used to. It had a golden FI on its black top half in Ultra Ball colors, and as she spun the central button, the ball expanded simultaneously. She tossed it, revealing a Lopunny that Alex quickly realized was stronger than the majority of his team. He really hoped she was leading with her strongest.

    The two females waited for him to draw, and since she already knew his secret, he mentally pulled Canis's ball into his hand. "You're up first, my friend." The newly evolved Lucario appeared in a flash, and rose into his battle stance. A bead of sweat appeared on his head as he too realized the strength of their opponent, but had no intention of backing down.

    "I'm not a Bender, so we'll have a standard League Battle, alright? Not that your bending would help you against us!" Asami raised an arm then, and lowered her black and maroon sleeve, revealing a Mega Bracelet. "Lolo! Mega Evolve!" She pressed her Mega Stone, and gave the bracelet a spin. Infinity Energy flared wildly, as the bracelet continued to spin. She pointed it at her partner, while Alex and Canis watched in awe, impressed as the seemingly ordinary woman focused the power of Infinity, sending it into her partner. The Lopunny ascended to her Mega Form, and bounced on her heels, looking at the boys as she made the universal gesture for 'bring it'.

    Alex and Canis shared a look, and Alex fished for his Iron Plate crystal shard. "Fair warning...this is his first time with a Mega Form. So be ready...I believe he can control it, but the first time is always the hardest. Ready, Canis?" His Lucario nodded, and took a deep breath as he focused his aura. This was the reason he'd wanted this Trainer from the moment he'd felt his aura within his egg. He'd sensed they could reach this stage together, and control its power. His paw moved faster than Lolo could follow as he caught the Iron Plate crystal. Alex mimicked his breathing and synced their heart rates, then raised his own crystal. Several lines of steel typed energy arced through the air, and it was Asami's turn to be impressed, as they connected, and Canis took his own Mega Form. Alex's eyes widened as he sensed the sheer power of his Lucario's mind, and aura. As Canis opened his eyes, his deep blue aura visibly pulsed across the field, and a slight smirk graced Asami's age-wrinkled mouth as it blew back her graying hair, and Lolo's ears.

    She began the battle with a move unfamiliar to the Unovan Champion, but one easy enough to counter, he assumed. "Steel Punch!"

    "Aura Sphere!" Alex answered, and Canis's movement in forming and launching the sphere was almost too fast to follow. A steel energy encased fist met the not too condensed ball of fighting typed aura, and the result was an explosion in the Lopunny's face, which she quickly brushed off, not because she was resistant to the damage, but because even though it was super effective, it hadn't done nearly as much as Alex or Canis hoped.

    Asami smirked. "Dig." Lolo obeyed, leaping into the air, and then spinning into the ground.

    Alex frowned. "Into the air, with Psychic!" Canis levitated himself rather rapidly, which was a new sensation that he got the hang of, as he zipped around the battlefield. Not sensing his feet, Lolo eventually popped her head up, and that was when Canis positioned himself several feet above his side of the platform, and Alex shouted, "Now! Attack!"

    The wave of blue psychic energy moved from surrounding his body to the Lucario's paws as he fired it in a wave of deep blue power towards the Lopunny, and though he hit her head, the only exposed part of her, this too didn't do nearly as much as Alex would've liked. As she crawled out of the ground, and backflipped before her Trainer, Alex recalled Canis. His Mega Form would hold in his ball, but Alex could only keep one of them going at a time, and still focus on battling. Like Arthur, their bond was easier to maintain thanks to the aura hound's mental prowess. "Sensus. Join us."

    On their own, Dottler were not Pokémon with the greatest pool of moves, but the magic of Technical Machines made them capable of at least battling on their own. His bug was close to evolving, and a half-beaten Mega Lopunny, a fast physical attacker, would be the ideal experience to spur him on to the form that would pinpoint their target in this region. Asami seemed to figure out what his Dottler was for, and her eyes hardened. "So that's how you intended to find the Avatar."

    Alex nodded, as the happily buzzing psychic bug landed on his fuzzy hood. He felt his skin crawl at the sensation, but resisted the urge to shake him off. "He can track Light energy. The Avatar's is similar to mine, but Raava has a unique signature, apparently." Sensus had grown to be a very decent battler, for a middle bug evolution. He had more drive than most of his B team. But Alex knew the others would likely rise to the challenge, with time.

    Asami's eyes widened at the name. "You...you know about the Guardian?" Alex nodded again, and she pondered for a moment with his hand on her chin, then nodded, to herself. "There are other things you should know. But first...let us finish this. Fire Punch!"

    "Reflect!" Alex shouted, as Sensus formed two psychic barriers. The Mega Pokémon smashed through one easily, but the second, much stronger one rebounded the attack. Lolo moved with the momentum though, and came at Sensus again, who blocked again, this time with three barriers. They continued back and forth until Lolo realized she was in a half-dome of goldish green Reflect barriers. "Now use Psychic!" Sensus buzzed up to the top of the barriers, and drowned the fighting bunny in a deluge of psychic power, that only increased as his body glowed a bright white from the effort, and assumed his final form as a rather sinister looking big brained ladybug.

    As the Reflects faded, Lolo was revealed to be downed, as evolution made the attack just strong enough to faint her. Asami nodded, and pulled out the only other partner she intended to use for this match. She hadn't specified how many rounds there would be, but two on two was more than enough for her. This Trainer was more than capable. Still, he had one mountain yet to climb. Asami stared at the ball for a long time, and then twisted, and threw. Like Lolo's it had the same FI on the top. "Let's go, Naga."

    Sensus paused in his pattern of sideways eight movements in the air, and looked at his Trainer. His voice had an echo to it that hadn't been there before, but it was certainly a unique mental tone. "This one...Battled for the Light Spirit. They had a bond." Alex nodded, and examined their opponent. The Beartic was truly massive, stronger even than Brycen's, and different in head shape than the Beartic of his continent. It was larger, almost dog-like with a truly massive jaw, and the same icicle beard. Whoever had trained her had done as thorough a job as he had with Terra. Her eyes were round and sad, but fierce, and ready to unleash some pent up energy. Alex spoke then. "I'm afraid Sensus is nowhere near Naga's level...but Canis might fare well." He switched the two again, having heard Asami's mental decision about a two v. two, and Canis took the field in his untouched Mega Form. His aura flared as he rejoined the battle, and eyed his opponent.

    Naga snarled. "Come at me, pup…"

    Canis answered her with a barely restrained retort that Alex didn't want to translate. "Calm down, Canis...you are younger than her." The Lucario turned and glared at his Trainer, but then relented, in the cold reality of his thought process, focusing instead on the battle. "Aura Sphere!" The Lucario's eyes narrowed, as he summoned his signature move, and the ball of energy his Mega Form held in his paws could've been classified as a Focus Blast, were it not for how he condensed and layered the projectile all in the space of a second and a half. The air reverberated as he fired it at the Beartic, but Asami simply smirked.

    "Play Rough with him, Naga."

    Naga's eyes widened as she saw what was, to her eyes, essentially a ball, and her maw lit up with fairy energy as she chomped on it. To her extreme joy, it didn't immediately shatter, and she nommed it for several seconds of pure bliss, before looking at the Lucario, and ending his attack with a single, unsatisfactory poof as her jaws clenched shut. She smacked her large bear lips, which pulled up into a smirk at Canis, whose fur bristled in response.

    "Close Combat!" Alex said, following the attack up quickly, and Canis was all too eager to close the distance between him and the massive polar bear, but Naga wasn't done Playing Rough with the aura hound. Fists encased in fighting energy met claws cloaked in fairy energy, and while his steel typing kept them from being too damaging, Canis found his move completely blocked. He dodged back towards Alex, his far superior speed giving him time for another move as the massive Beartic loped towards them, on four paws still glowing pink. "Flash Cannon!"

    Canis nodded, and this time, the orb between his paws was steel typed, and it grew heavier as he pumped more power into it, thankfully, the projectile did not have far to go. The dense steel sphere spun through the fairy energy around her fangs, and Naga was sent reeling back, but both Alex and Canis watched as she weathered the hit with a building aura of ground typed energy in the form of a Bulldoze, without Asami calling the move herself. Canis was already charging up another one, when Naga stopped her backwards slide, and then began charging, shaking the platform as she Bulldozed towards Canis.

    He did as Naga had, and used a move without it being called, specifically Psychic, as a speed boost to launch himself into the air, and behind her charging form. He let the power go, and then launched his second condensed Flash Cannon before the slow to turn polar bear Pokémon could even begin to block. Naga weathered the hit, and looked up at Canis. She emitted a sound somewhere between a roar and a bark, in the form of a Hyper Voice, hammering him and his sensitive ears hard, as she again battled on her own. Asami seemed to let her, only chiming in when Naga paused long enough to heed a command. "Finish him! Icicle Crash!"

    Alex grinned, knowing his Mega Lucario wasn't nearly done yet. "Close Combat!" Canis righted himself, and then propelled towards the massive Beartic, meeting her ice covered paws with the ferocity of his fighting spirit. The type advantage won out, and the two Pokémon were sent sliding back to their starting points, both panting hard, and equally worn out.

    It was at that moment, that the city exploded, with a massive rumble, and a boom that echoed for miles, shaking the stadium they were in. The pair of Trainers and their Pokémon looked around, as dust and bits of debris fell from the ceiling, and then, the humans locked eyes, nodding simultaneously.

    Minjujuui City Harbor, Several Hours Earlier - Koria Region

    "We will be the epitome of stealth." Aluza said, as she paced in front of their soldiers on the deck of their ship. She was dressed for combat this time, most of her head and face covered by her Fire Nation helmet, and golden faceplate. To say she looked fierce in the pointy, crimson and black raiment was an understatement. "By the time these savages know we're there, I want them to be fully surrounded."

    Behind her, atop his scarlet and crimson armor plate covered Charizard, Okuz let out a sigh. Aluza whirled on him, her visible eye twitching. "Is there an issue brother!?" A few of the soldiers shared looks as the siblings began another fight, but they wisely stayed silent.

    Okuz's eyes narrowed at her. "We don't have the time to get into your issues, sister. We have a more pressing concern." He said, his tone full of mockery as he gestured to the ship's gangplank.

    One of her hands was already burning blue with flames, as she prepared to strike him, but his gesturing turned her gaze, and the flames died as quickly as they rose. Boarding their ship was their uncle, looking none too pleased, and Zhao, who looked far too smug. Iroh spoke, once they were before the soldiers. "The Admiral here is commandeering our forces for the attack on the rebels."

    Aluza let out a series of colorful curses, before Zhao's best attempt at a commanding baritone cut through the profanity. "The Phoenix King has placed Me in charge of both this effort, and our imminent efforts against the Northern Water Tribe. Obey my orders, and you will all reap the rewards of Victory!"

    Okuz took note of which royal guards were so easily swayed by such obviously honeyed words, and crossed his arms atop his Charizard. Still enraged, Aluza jumped onto her own living flamethrower, and ascended rapidly through the air. Zhao shouted uselessly after her, before focusing on Okuz. "Keep your insane sibling from ruining our assault 'Prince', or Ozai will hear of it." He turned then, and left the smaller ship, as their soldiers went with him.

    Okuz looked at his uncle, who slowly shook his head, silently advising against arguing with the newly promoted Admiral. With his own groan of protest, he and Druk also ascended into the air, following the mega evolving black Charizard as they too ascended to the final, but branching evolutionary stage. The pair of fire lizards and their royal riders watched from above, somewhat disappointed, as the column of red from their ship merged with a proper army of Fire Army soldiers, who began marching through the city.

    Almost unanimously, the citizens of Minjujuui got the Muk out of their warpath, though that didn't seem to stop several bold or stupid people from attacking them. Flashes of firebending from below gave away how well resisting the Fire Nation usually went, and the citizens were soon occupied controlling the newly set blazes, so much so that the soldiers marched right past them, and into the poorer districts where Aluza and he had found the nest of rebellious Rattata.

    "We should be down there fighting!" Aluza snarled, and Caeruleus mirrored her Trainer's sentiment. In her Mega Form, her dragon typing made her even more brutal than usual, and she was in a mood to set something ablaze.

    "Watch for stragglers." Okuz said, bringing Druk in next to her. "They will try to run, as Rattata often do." The noonday sun in the clear blue Korian sky made the armored fire lizards obvious, but it also gave them clear sight, and in their Mega Forms, they could easily pounce on anyone trying to flee.

    Sewers of Minjujuui City - Koria Region

    Asami had a backway into the rebellion's HQ which put her and Alex back at the base in time for the pompous baritone of the Fire Nation's leader to begin his speech, as they'd arrived at the same time as the Fire Army soldiers.

    "Rebels of Koria! Hear me! You are completely surrounded, by three of the Fire Nation's finest platoons. Surrender, and your deaths may be short."

    As the angry sounding man delivered his threats, Meelo met Alex and Asami at the entrance to her secret tunnel. "Akos and the rest of your group have already departed. We haven't had long to run, but the hotheads didn't exactly hide their approach."

    Alex arched a brow, as his cover story evaporated. "Where will I be rendezvousing with them?"

    "Agna Qel'a." Meelo answered hurriedly. "Kuzon, one of Aang's friends and an old ally of ours is who you're heading to on the way north. Colonia Ignis is where he operates from. He's also a Gym Leader, and the Leader after him is in Agna Qel'a as well. I'll be going with you, so you don't get lost, and Dad wants me to determine your skill with Airbending as we travel."

    "Here." Asami spoke up, handing him a badge as they readied to leave. "You and your team are more than competent enough for this." He took the badge, as the older woman began following them towards another exit from the tunnels. "You should know...in her last Battle, Kora and Raava were separated, for a time. The consciousness and wisdom of the former Avatars was lost, according to her. Even if you do manage to find the Avatar, they might never be strong enough to contribute to your dragon's plans."

    Alex was quiet for a time, as he sensed Tao's brain in the back of his split mind, already accounting for the loss in firepower. Then, he spoke. "I am aware of what Ozai did to Kora. Where would the detached spirit essence of a former Avatar even go, once separated? Assuming it does not simply disappear."

    Asami shrugged, though he could see his words had caused her some pain, she showed none of it. "The Spirit World? Arceus's realm? A place they favored in life? I'm not a ghost type expert." She stopped then, and wrenched open a hatch on a thick iron door that capped off their tunnel. "Head north from here. You'll have to walk, the Imperium shoots down anyone they see flying. Good luck, Meelo. You as well, Alex. I've read about what you've done for Rio, Norstad, and Fornia. I hope Koria benefits from your presence as well."

    "I try to leave every region I roam through better than it was, as a rule." Alex answered with a nod. It was a practice Jess had started, back during their trek through Arcean territory. In the face of being able to do nothing against the oppressive system the Church had the people under lest they break their cover, she'd done what she'd been able to in order to aid the people, and Alex had followed her lead, as it was a fantastic idea in general.

    "Stay safe, Asami." Meelo said, as he took her hands. "I know the other Avatars of Raava are still intact, somewhere. Have a little faith."

    Asami looked ready to give him a stern reply, when the tunnels shook again. "They're coming. If we want to make this setback work in our favor, we need to leave. Now."

    The two men nodded, and the gym leader closed the sewer hatch behind them. "Hope you're not allergic to Fairy glamour, O Dragon Emperor." Meelo said, as he produced a pink shard of what he assumed was once a Pixie Plate.

    Alex grimaced. "Not allergic...but I can't use them myself. Not without burning my hands. Activating the energy is…painful."

    Meelo nodded, as his psychic sight confirmed that humans who awakened typings tended to awaken their weaknesses too. "I'm amazed you made it this far without one. I'll try to make this one last."

    "I'm surprised you know how to use them. I've only met one other who could. Can all the Air Nomads do it?" Alex asked, as they ducked to the side of the sewer exit.

    "With training, I think they could." Meelo said, confidently. "But right now, I'm one of three who can. We were shown how to use this by... a friend I guess you could call him."

    Alex's eyes widened. "This friend…was he thin, dressed in light blue, white, and gold, and sporting a stylish hat? Strange looking golden eyes?"

    Meelo chuckled as he outlined Alex's bulky frame with the Plate crystal. "He didn't have a hat, or such clothes... but you described his eyes perfectly. Why, do you know him too?"

    "More or less. If we're speaking of the same person, I'm the one who set him free. He wasn't causing trouble, right?" Alex said, as he pinched his brow.

    "Only for the Imperium." Meelo answered as he finished the glamour. "If he's a friend of yours, then my trust in his magic is that much greater."

    Alex examined his new disguise before he answered. He was Korian now, going by skin tone, even if he was taller than any Korian he'd seen thus far. His hair was also a lighter brown, though his face largely remained the same, the natural perception filter fairy energy caused in humans would allow him and Meelo to pass mostly undetected if they wanted to.

    "Mm. Well...sure, yea he's one I would call friend, and a decent ally as well. As far as I know, he's kept his promises...perhaps I'm being too skeptical. Pessimistic. Hmm."

    As Alex mused, several hundred feet above the pair of travelers, a pair of eagle eyed Charizard and their riders were watching for a pair such as them. Only Caeruleus had eyes sharp enough, eager enough, to catch the edge of the natural perception filter fairy typed energy gave those who used it to hide, and though she dove many yards to check, to Aluza's surprise and irritation, she was ultimately not able to spot the two.

    Alex and Meelo made good time away from Minjujuui City, and by the time the wide blue Korian sky turned orange and red, they were several hundred miles away from it. It was only once they camped, with the notable forms of Oogie and the newly dubbed Adamanteus lying around their cookfire that the pair of Charizard riders finally found the source of the scent and footprints they'd been tracking with Okuz's Arcanine.

    Down below, as yet unaware of their incoming guest, Alex and Meelo were enjoying an Air Nomad specialty, cake made from berries, crafted in a stone oven Alex had bent into shape, and infused with their trademark airyness by Meelo. Naturally, the conversation had shifted to airbending, and how one managed it.

    "Air is the element of freedom. We don't really bend the air, so much as we guide it, and it is by no means always under our control. The stronger our minds become, the better an Air Nomad will be at reading the air currents, and moving with them, using them to their advantage. Having a steady breathing rhythm is also important. You have to breathe fast enough for combat, but deep enough for your attacks to be more than a gust of wind."

    Alex smirked, as he listened to the General of the rebellion, and son of the man who represented what was left of their Nation. "Honestly...this sounds like my kind of element. I have years of breath control practice already. I have to admit, I was kind of hoping I could learn how to punch people with mini air tornadoes, but this sounds intriguing as well."

    Meelo chuckled, and shook his head. "You can certainly attempt such a thing...it's just going to take a lot of energy to keep in control. Air is everywhere. It will outlast even the most durable human. You can fight it, force it to bend a certain way, but to be truly powerful as an Airbender, you have to move with it, and expend as little energy as possible. Avoid, and evade. That is our strategy, and it works rather well...when we aren't ambushed."

    Alex nodded, as Meelo referenced the Fire Nation's initial opening strike in their Imperium-supported conflict across Koria, back when they were but one of four Nations, and by no means the largest. "I understand. I think I'll...give it a…"

    His words trailed off, as to their southwest, the burning tail flame of what Alex easily recognized as a Charizard, and one in a Mega Form no less, descending from above. They watched it vanish into the horizon, but the rider was close enough to reach them, especially if they had other Pokémon. The two men shared a look, and Meelo pulled his hood further up. He looked like an Earth Nation civilian now, and they'd agreed that Alex could earthbend for him, if he was asked to prove his lineage. "Probably just a scout...act natural." Meelo said, recalling Oogie. Alex brought Pruina out in his stead, and while she didn't really care for the grassland, she Ice Beamed the earth beneath her, and got comfy.

    It was about twenty minutes before their uninvited guest arrived at their fire. He had a hood on, and his clothes were baggy, a mix of red and black that likely concealed his armor. Alex and Meelo looked his way, but made no threatening moves.

    "Uh, hi." He said, somewhat awkwardly. "Okuz here. That's my uh...name. I was wondering if I could...join your fire."

    Meelo spoke first. "Are you of the Fire Nation, Okuz?"

    The man nodded, though to Alex's eyes he seemed a teenager, or had just left his teens behind, but what interested him was the dual typing the stranger had. Fire and electric. "I hope that's not a problem…"

    Alex spoke then, gesturing at the flame. "On a battlefield it might be...but we are simple travelers, here. Let's consider this fire to be neutral territory, and remain friends, if not acquaintances while gathered around it."

    Okuz nodded, and took his place at the fire. Meelo flinched as he gestured at the flames, and made them stronger. "So, where are a pair like you two headed?"

    "Away from Minjujuui City." Meelo answered vaguely. "Your Nation's army was on the march through the streets when we left."

    "We're heading for Colonia Ignis." Alex said, answering him directly. "I'm challenging the Koria League. My next badge is there."

    Okuz arched a brow at them, before he replied. "The Koria League?" He said, surprised anyone would willingly challenge his father, who reigned as Champion. "You must be quite a Bender. What's your element?" He asked, completely ignoring Meelo's statement.

    "Fire, actually." Alex said, forcing his airbending companion to hide his initial shock. He caught on to what Alex was doing pretty quickly, though. Finding a friendly firebender to teach him would be difficult, but one had just walked up to their campfire and agreed to neutrality. "I heard there was a master at the colony, but if you have any wisdom to pass on, I'd be eager to learn."

    Okuz thought for a moment, and then said, "I might be able to help...but it depends on where your skills are at."

    Alex gave him a genuine smile. "The basics would be a good start. My mother was Fire Nation, but not a Bender. My father was a Bender, but of the earth, not the flame. I've made it this far mostly because of my Pokémon." He finished, gesturing to his lounging team.

    Okuz looked over each of them, from the brooding pair of Lucario and Raboot, to the fake sleeping Lapras. "I could've sworn I saw a Sky Bouffalant from above, but I suppose it was just the ice under your Lapras in the light of the moon. Sure, I can go over the basics of proper Firebending. You'll need it against Champion Ozai."

    He and Alex stood then, and moved to the flat area adjacent to where they'd set camp. The grass on the plains around them was short, and unlikely to burn out of control once they got started. "I'm going to watch as well, if you don't mind." Meelo said, joining them, albeit at a distance.

    Okuz nodded, again, seeming more interested or focused on Alex than him, as he launched into his lesson. "Fire...is not like other elements." Okuz said as he inhaled, and then with his exhale, and a swift punch into the air, unleashed a burst of flame from the tip of his fist. Alex, naturally, was watching every move with his psychic sight, and what he saw confused him. "Fire is alive...every living thing has heat, and relies on it to keep living. Firebenders can control that heat...we can spread it, increase it, or decrease it entirely. The techniques of...my home, rely on combining Firebending with martial arts." He demonstrated then, shifting into another punch, a spinning kick that sent him up into the air, and then down in a fiery ball. Very quickly, Alex realized Okuz was much better at bending than he was. "Emotions fuel our flames. Anger, rage, hate, these produce the strongest flames. They are how my Nation has conquered this region, but they can burn out of control if your will is weak." He turned to Alex then, gracefully spinning back up into a standing position. "Let me see any amount of fire you can currently produce."

    Having watched how Okuz tapped into and utilized his fire typing, Alex wondered if his electric typing was also a part of firebending. It made some sense, as plasma was one of the hottest forms of matter humans were aware of. As he started though, his perception slowed, and he felt Tao and another mind exerting their will to temporarily slow the flow of time itself around them. He recognized the extra mind as 'his' Mewtwo's, and it seemed that together, they managed what they needed to. Tao's voice echoed in his head. "I do not have long so listen well, Tamer of mine. The Fire Nation has perverted everything Firebending was, and should be. Hateful emotions are not the key to bending this element, and as a fellow dragon type, you will need it in your journeys. Power in Firebending comes from the breath, the heat generated as you exhale can be spurred into flames. You can draw from other sources as well, and naturally, our Sun is the easiest. Be careful what you reveal to this human. He has an air of fate around him that...I do not like."

    Alex nodded, to Okuz, and to his silent mentor, as the temporary time diffusion faded. Meelo noticed it but only narrowed his eyes in suspicion. If Okuz sensed the shift in the flow of time, he gave no sign. Alex took his own stance then. "My mother taught me a style of martial arts from the Fire Nation...the Dragon Style. I'll use that, if you don't mind." He took a deep breath then, and as he exhaled, willed the natural heat in his breath and body to manifest into flame. As he struck forward with a 'dragon palm', fire erupted from it, in an uncontrolled, and powerful torrent. Okuz's eyes went wide, as did Meelo's, but Alex did not panic. He let the flames die out on their own, slowly cutting the energy to them, and the torrent decreased in stages of smallness.

    "That...was...it was so...strong. Especially for a novice. What did you do?" Okuz said, crossing his arms as he eyed Alex. His fairy glamour kept the perceptive prince from seeing too much, and it helped that the firebender was more impressed than suspicious in that moment.

    "I...just used the heat generated by my exhale to expand the flames…" Alex said, eyeing his hand. The heat had expanded rapidly, almost out of control. Like it wanted to be free to rage and burn. He started to understand why Blaze always wanted a battle. If his flames were anything like that, he'd need one to keep it in control.

    "Your emotions, though...you didn't seem...angry. How did you generate that kind of fire without them?" Okuz said, still eyeing Alex.

    "I...I think there's more to this than blind hate, Okuz." Alex said as he punched the air again, and this time, was ready for the sudden surge in fire power. It came out as a steady torrent, almost like a Flamethrower. He nodded, and then repeated the moves Okuz had used step for step. When he was done, he swirled back into a standing position, and faced the firebender. "I think I have the hang of it. Let us spar."

    Okuz nodded, and then inhaled deeply, speaking as he exhaled. "I will not hold back. Don't expect any other Firebender to hold back either. It is not our way." He took his own martial stance, and Alex nodded, though personally, he was of the idea that the Fire Nation needed to practice control. He'd seen what they had wrought, and now knew, or at least had an idea, of how they'd done it. Madmen with this kind of power and a lack of morality was a bad combination.

    Alex took his own stance, and as soon as he did, Okuz launched himself forward with flames from his feet, but Alex was already turning, spinning away from his opening strike, only to whirl around and find their arms meeting at the wrist. Flames billowed into the air around them, and Alex grinned. This was an Agni Kai. His battle with Lance at the start of his trip through Unova seemed tame by comparison, as Okuz brought the heat. He wasn't trying to kill, that much Alex could tell, but he didn't intend to lose, either.

    Alex opted for defense, finding he could strike through Okuz's flames if he focused. As they clashed, he realized that, as a martial artist, they were on the same level, but as a bender, Okuz had a natural talent. The way the flames obeyed him was almost mesmerizing, but Alex kept his eyes attentive on how the nature energy passed through his body's network, and came out as fire. He learned more with every strike.

    As Alex opted to avoid and evade with his infuriatingly evasive movements, Okuz seemed to get more and more frustrated. His flames were hotter, and that, was when Alex realized that emotions were a good way of increasing the heat one could produce. His strikes were hard and fierce, but most of his energy was being wasted as he gave in to rage.

    Alex blocked a series of rapid punches, and a spinning kick, before Okuz spun back and up into the air, pointing one foot down at him as the other crossed under his outstretched leg, and sent him hurtling towards Alex like a rocket. It was as close to a Blaze Kick as Alex assumed a human could get, and he met it with his own emotion-fueled Dragon Palm. Fire erupted around them, but he sensed Pruina was on it, covering their team and Meelo as the two firebenders met.

    The resulting explosion of flame sent them both sliding back along the charred grass, and Alex held up a hand, panting as hard as Okuz as he seemed ready for more. "I...think that's enough...for now." One closed fist moved to his palm, and Alex bowed, deep. "That was...a very instructive...lesson. Thank you, mister Okuz."

    Okuz almost looked ready to continue regardless, but he exhaled, and his inner flame cooled. Alex continued watching, noting that the energy within his body also seemed heated. He looked at his own, and noticed the same thing. He did as Okuz had, and cooled it with an exhale, though he wondered if that might not affect how well he could draw on other elements if he used too much firebending. "You're pretty skilled, for a novice...martially, at least. Train hard, or Leader Kuzon will burn you to ash." Okuz said, as he adjusted his clothes, and wiped the sweat from his brow.

    They returned to the camp then, finding the ground somewhat damp, from Pruina's protective Surf attack. It wasn't long before they went to sleep, and Alex mentally informed Meelo that his overprotective aura hound had volunteered to keep an eye on their fire shooting counterpart. Okuz did little during the night, and Canis only glanced at him with suspicion when he noted a slight blue glow from the man's sleeping roll.

    Unbeknownst to Alex and Meelo, the Fire Nation's prince had, out of curiosity, removed the circular object capable of detecting the Light, and this close to Alex and his team, it gave off a faint glow. Not as bright as it had before, but Okuz now knew with certainty that these two were more than what they appeared. When he looked at them it didn't seem that way, but the glowing disk could not, according to his father, be fooled. Somehow, they were tied to Light energy, and he had every intention of finding out how. He figured they had, knowingly or not, been in the Avatar's proximity.

    When the sun rose, so too did the firebender. Seeing only Canis was awake that early, he scribbled a note, and handed it to the Lucario, before departing on his Charizard. It was shortly after that, that Meelo awoke, and tried waking Alex with a gust of air. As usual, the man was deeply drawn into his dreams, though when Meelo tried mentally prodding him, all he sensed was that his mind, or the conscious part of it at least, was far, far away. He let Alex sleep, and began making the morning's meal out of what berries they had, feeding both Alex's team, and Poki, the Korian Passimian, a flying type, that acted as his own partner, when Oogie had to hide.

    When Alex finally awoke, Meelo didn't press him on his dreams, and after a mid-morning sparring session with Cinder and Canis, and his newly acquired fire manipulation the two men headed north. Alex convinced Adamanteus to give them a ride, and the steel snake agreed. Alex wasn't worried about leaving a trail for Okuz and whatever firebending friends he might have, they were only heading exactly where he said they would be.

    Aside from a few changes in biome, none of which impeded his massive Steelix, they ran afoul of a nest of particularly bad tempered Mandibuzz, quite unlike those Alex was familiar with back in Unova. They were part bug type, and that bug, seemed to have been a Beedrill. According to Meelo, the foul tempered flying types had hunted the bugs to extinction, and then taken on their traits. Even the Fornian variants, who were typically four times larger than their Unovan counterparts, hadn't been so ill-tempered. Temere got in some decent experience when he leaped from his ball on his own accord and Thunderbolted them out of the sky, and Alex knew, the tiny electric Pokémon was almost ready to evolve. The spark on his head was occasionally flaring, something the Pokédex claimed was a sign of imminent evolution.

    Aside from crossing a rather large river, little else happened that day, and even Adamanteus was ready for a rest once the sun finally began to set. Thanks to the longer summer days, they were able to get within walking distance of Colonia Ignis with the speed Adamanteus traveled across the land. While he hadn't left the ground ruined in his wake, using his power to fix his trail as they went, the disturbed earth was still easily visible, say, from the back of a Charizard.

    Alex was keeping his egg warm again as the rest of the team lounged. Oogie only came out when they could find a forested clearing to hide his bulk, and tonight such a clearing was simply not around. He was watching Meelo and his Korian Passimian, Poki, spar against Temere, when two things happened at once. Poki had been charging up a particularly strong Razor Wind, but Temere had made no move to dodge it. He'd wanted to battle solo against a strong flying type, and Alex had let him. As the Razor Wind struck, Temere began glowing a bright white, the whirlwind of damage shifted in nature.

    In preparation for his evolution, Lux and Nox had been showing the tiny Toxel songs from the genre of music humans had labeled 'Classic Rock', but one song had, naturally, resonated more with the tiny sparking poison lizard more than the others, which he had still enjoyed. A song from an era lost to history, now revived from the middle of the electric hurricane his Toxtricity had decided to evolve inside of. The opening chords of 'Thunderstruck' by a band titled with only four letters of the Common alphabet rang across the plateau that sat above Colonia Ignis. Alex had little doubt the locals could hear the electric screech of his Amped Toxtricity's stomach shredding, and he bobbed his head in approval, as he also enjoyed this song. It was, undoubtedly, a jam.

    The terrain became electrified, and the clouds above multiplied, and darkened, but that didn't stop Meelo and Poki. "Acrobatics!"

    By the first chorus of 'Thunder!' that the electric salamander vocalized himself, Temere let out a Discharge that sent the physical attacking flying lemur backwards on a wave of Rock'n'Roll, and superffective energy. Meelo held off a follow up though, as both he and Alex watched.

    Temere was in his own little world, distracted from the battle as he skillfully belted out what was undoubtedly the first of many songs he would attempt to cover now that he had the skillz. Thunder boomed through the sky, followed by streaks of lightning, all without rain. Alex blinked, as he felt not only Lux's mental attention, but Shruikan's. His massive dragon had been silent and somewhat cut off over the past few weeks, doing his own thing as he took a well earned rest, but he watched with amusement through his Trainer's eyes as the newest electric typed battler of their family came into the summer of his youth. Then, Alex heard him speak. "You might want to look down."

    As quickly as he'd paid attention, Shruikan returned to his silent aloofness, but Alex was distracted, by the egg in his arms also glowing a shining bright white. Cracks formed in the egg, and by its pattern, Alex was now sure of what he'd been given. The top part of the shell popped free as the light broke out, and a happy 'briii' filled his ears, in the midst of Temere's playing. The Togepi in question was male, as Alex examined him, and while he held its gaze, the baby egg Pokémon turned in his hands towards the sounds coming out of Temere's chest. Instead of crying though, he seemed to cheer and bop along to the jam. It was then that Alex noted he seemed slightly different to what the Pokédex had shown of Togepi. He had a slightly reddish tinge, and after nudging Lux, found that the markings on his shell were reversed in color, as in usually blue triangles were instead red and viceversa. Lux determined they had an alternate colored specimen of the Toge line in their midst, though upon checking what that would manifest as in later forms, Alex wasn't too surprised. His Togekiss would be slightly gold it seemed, which was fitting for his team.

    Alex assumed his tiny hands waving back and forth to the beat were a sign of his enthusiasm, until they also started to glow. That was when he remembered what Metronome looked like, and while he knew Togepi weren't supposed to hatch with that move, his modest little spiky ball of fairy energy didn't seem to care. He winced, waiting for a move like Hyper Beam or Explosion, but instead found himself as surprised as Temere. A Thunder attack arced down from the clouds above Temere, leaving a crater right in front of him, and throwing off his rendition of Thunderstruck all at once.

    Temere was moody after that, while their newest team member seemed greatly amused. Alex kept him occupied with a Wiki berry, that was almost as big as he was, and the hungry baby Pokémon went to town on it. Meelo joined him then, teasing the easily amused baby with his fingers. "I see your egg finally hatched. Are you going to nickname this one too?"

    "Of course." Alex said, one eyebrow slowly arching as the baby Togepi looked from Meelo to him, with wide eyes, as if he understood the essence of what they were saying. Thanks to his past experience with Percy, he hadn't mentally connected with the newborn, but thankfully he didn't have to. He could sense its emotions, and understand its words, though being a baby, all he heard was gibberish. "How about...Lumen?"

    The Togepi thought for a moment, then stuck his tongue out, and continued to eat. Alex took that as a no. At about halfway through the melon-like Wiki berry, the youngster's appetite finally slowed, and he looked back up at his still pondering Trainer. "Hmmm. Astrum. How does that sound, little one?"

    To Alex's surprise, the Togepi repeated the word himself , though all Meelo heard was it's species name, and the newborn smiled, repeating it a few more times, before munching on the rest of the berry. "Astrum it is." He said, giving the rounded part of his soft, yet spiky head scritches. Somehow, he wasn't surprised the baby was only saying his own name, and in the hours that followed until he curled up into a ball for sleep, it was the only thing his ears translated. The rest of his team seemed to understand him to a degree, though.

    The next morning, Astrum was given a Luxury Ball to rest and play inside of, and with his team one final evolution closer to a full roster of adult battlers, he and Meelo set off for Colonia Ignis. They hadn't tried airbending yet, as both had agreed he should focus on fire manipulation for this next gym, and while in Fire Nation territory it was a big risk. None of the colony residents had come to see the source of the electric rock show, and Temere, who now went by 'Tem', had taken to practicing strumming in his ball, and Alex could feel it rocking out on his belt. Through their mental link, Tem was sharing his rockin' riffs with whoever wanted to listen, which was most of the team. Alex included.

    Their first stop was for more Fire Nation friendly clothes, which thankfully were not hard to find. After that, Meelo led Alex to the gym, and he entered, crushing the obligatory warm up Trainers with Pruina and Adamanteus. Unlike their leader, these Trainers battled regularly, with just their Pokémon.

    As Alex progressed to Leader Kuzon's room, he found himself within a giant opaque square of glass, and across the battlefield was his opponent. He was an old man, easily as old as his Gruncle had been, if not older, and his serious, thin face broke into a smirk as they locked eyes.

    "It has been a great while since a Challenger with fire like yours made their way to my humble Gym." The old man studied Alex, hands behind his back as he did. He had a thin pointed beard, white with age like his hair and his outfit was as red as every other Fire Nation citizen's. He seemed a bit frail to be a Gym Leader to Alex's eyes, but he'd absorbed enough Korean culture by now to understand that people typically avoided disrespecting their elders by telling them when to quit and retire. "You carry yourself like an Earthbender. You will find that element little use against me."

    Alex just smirked. "Actually, I'll be meeting your fire with my own." He made a quick jab in the air, and produced a flame that came out smaller than he intended. His brow furrowed then, as the fire typed energy in the gym felt...off. Sluggish. As if something else was drawing power from the natural heat already.

    "Fire? Really?" Leader Kuzon squinted at him. "I was sure you were...never mind. Fire it is, and Fire it shall be. You at least had a chance, with Earth." The old man closed his eyes then, and began breathing deeply, slow at first, and then faster. The air grew hotter, and Alex then realized why his own firebending was weaker. The old man was attuned to the majority of the sources of fire energy in his gym, by Alex's best guess, either a hot spring or lava pit hidden below the battlefield. While Kuzon's eyes stayed closed, Alex watched it react to his breath, and frowned. He was right. Bending like this, in a space so dominated by a master's control already, was seemingly futile.

    He wondered how anyone ever dethroned such masters if they could always control the most nature energy aspected to their type, when Kuzon brought out an Infernape. He was an old specimen of the species, and an impressive white beard hung down from his chin as he beat his chest and roared at Alex, who had been about to call out Pruina. Seeing the fire monkey was at least as strong as Naga had been, he reconsidered, and instead summoned Nox to the field.

    His Haunter didn't pop out of his ball, but rather his shadow, where he watched, learned, and kept his team safe from thieves. Kuzon eyed the ghost, but Alex didn't take notice, as his poisonous specter had a demand. "If I beat this one... I want your pile of Dusk Stones for myself. All of them."

    Alex blinked at Nox. "What would you even do with five Dusk Stones? I need those to evolve other Pokémon."

    The Haunter's face became ninety percent grin. "I will make their Darkness my own…"

    Alex sighed, and fell into a Dragon Style ready position. "You have to win, first."

    The Haunter faded from sight as he chuckled. "I will…"

    Alex frankly doubted their chances, but he intended to battle as hard as he could. A wispy thin Korian man with narrow eyes and black hair shouted, as Kuzon fell into a fighting crouch as well. "This match will be a standard three on three Battle. Only the Challenger may substitute Pokémon. Begin!"

    Kuzon's opening strike was, in a word, ferocious, for a fourth Gym Leader. His arms made circles as he inhaled an inhuman amount of air, and then expelled it as a torrent of unstoppable flame from his mouth. Alex looked at his available paths as the flame came towards him, and opted for the one he felt would work. He used his Voice under his breath, and inhaled. "Naak Yol!" Kuzon controlled most of the fire energy in the gym, but not Alex's own. The energy of just his breath could only burn so hot, but to his surprise, the Words of the dragon tongue drew the natural energy's power into his system as he inhaled Kuzon's flames. The Words excited the flames, which were naturally drawn to the power in his Voice.

    For his part, Nox had kept the Infernape busy, being all but immune to his fighting attacks, and being more than able to counter the fire monkey's Fire Punch with the same move. Assuming he could even hit through the Confuse Rays that Nox kept him bathed in. He was motivated enough to handle battling on his own, which was good, because Alex could barely handle everything Kuzon had breathed at him, but he managed it, and then smirked, wiping his chin as he did. "Now that...was some good fire." Some of the flame had singed his beard but otherwise, Alex had taken in enough fire power to counter, hard. Kuzon simply stared, somewhere between impressed and incredulous.

    Taking a page from Okuz, he launched himself forward with a burst of flame. Seeing him move, Nox let the confused Infernape flail wildly at nothing, and hid within his Trainer's shadow as he struck. He hadn't completely left it, and bonded as they now were, it was easy to glide back to. Alex brought a flurry of flaming dragon palms from above, and while Kuzon was able to handle those with ease, he did not expect to be uppercut by the Haunter with a Fire Punch to the chin, followed by a roundhouse kick from an oversized foot that sent the old man out of the field's arena.

    Alex and Nox turned on the Infernape then, and from the sidelines, the old man held his jaw, as age finally caught up with him, and his body was momentarily stunned from the pain of two hard hits. "Bul!" The man's voice snapped the fire ape out of its confusion, and the old man held up his hand. The sleeve of his red and slightly darker red garment fell, revealing an intricate golden bracelet, within which was a Key Stone. The flame atop Bul's head parted, revealing what had to be a shard of a Flame Plate within, and Kuzon shouted, "Now, is the time! Mega Evolve!"

    Alex swore, and fished in his pack, not for a potion, but for the items his Haunter needed. "Whatever you're going to do with these, Nox...do it now." His Haunter looked at the stones, and then the glowing Infernape, and reached the same conclusion Alex had. With the difference in level and power, even one hit through a Confuse Ray would knock Nox out, and winning was still part of the agreement. Alex had assumed his Haunter needed them for evolution, and without anyone to 'trade' him to, or a place to trade in, he'd been out of luck. At least until the poisonous ghost revealed that in Koria, Haunter didn't need such a thing for evolution.

    In the depths of the night during one of their camping sessions, before Alex's mind had gone elsewhere, his Haunter had explained the 'why' of this to him, as he was curious. Evidently, the spirit of Shadow and Raava's own counterpart, Vaatu, had once entered Koria by force from the Spirit World. The result of that action, made possible by the folly of a human who had separated the two entities, had left the region infested with a lingering darkness that had led the Nations to war with each other regularly, with the only exception being the Air Nation. Mistrust and hatred marred the history of Koria, and it had always come down to the Guardian's Avatar to keep the balance between them, and maintain some measure of peace.

    If Nox had enough power, he could use the lingering darkness of the land to propel himself down an alternate line to his final form, one he assured his Trainer would be worth having. Once Nox had told him Korian Gengar was a ghost and dark type, Alex had been more than okay with helping him to evolve, but the Haunter hadn't brought it up since. Until now.

    The Haunter tossed the Dusk Stones into his toothy maw and crunched on them, making their darkness his own. Nox doubled over once he swallowed, and he snarled, making all four participants of the battle pause, to watch. As the light of Infinity remade Bul, the power of Shadow, tempered by Nox and his Dusk Stones, became purified of its natural corruptive essence, before it remade the Haunter. It looked like a painful process, but mentally, the last mental thought Nox would ever share with them, he assured them all he was okay. His eyes bulged, turning red and cracked until the eyes of the Haunter became the eyes of a Gengar. Completely red and significantly darker, his body shifted from purple to primarily black, with hints of dark purple akin to a plum. The usually straight teeth of his Gengar grin were now jagged, but otherwise, Nox seemed almost identical to the more common form of Gengar that plagued many regions across the Earth.

    For his part, Bul had become everything Alex expected of a Mega Infernape. His fur was now white and shaggy like an Oranguru, and instead of a fan, he had a long red staff, and several pieces of golden body armor on his legs, shins, fists, and forearms. A gold face plate framing his ape features played home to the shard of the Flame Plate on his brow, and as the light of Infinity faded, Alex and Nox found him perched atop a ball of flame that seemed to be alive, to their eyes. His tail was now surprisingly similar to a Charizard's, if furrier, in that its tip was now home to an intense blue flame.

    They watched as the Mega Infernape stuck his tail flames into the ball of fire, turning it blue, and with an expert flip from the top of the fireball, he sent it sailing towards Nox. For his part, Nox responded with a Double Team, but his attempt to dodge was foiled as Bul controlled the fireball.

    Alex was distracted from helping him, as Kuzon was back on his feet, and furiously countering every move Alex made with speed the old man simply hadn't had before. He could barely bend in response, and what fire he could make now that between him and Bul most of the energy was already being heavily drawn upon was not enough to damage a firebending master.

    Thus, Alex fell back on a strategy that had always helped when he was pushed on the defensive back foot. Take a page from someone better. Okuz had managed to propel himself with his feet, and Alex had just enough control to manage that with his naturally high body temp, and oversized feet. He essentially fire-skated around the field, picking up Nox in his shadow as he passed by. With the giant blue fireball now chasing him, he skated away from it, and then backflipped over it with the aid of his 'rocket feet'.

    Kuzon was on him again as soon as he landed, and Bul disappeared with his enhanced speed, to the other side of the fireball's path. With his staff, he swung at the fireball like a Pokémon Base player, and sent it sailing back towards Kuzon. Seeing it coming, Alex dodged the gym leader's fists, and stayed in place as Kuzon struck at him. When he sensed the fire coming and tried to move, Kuzon suddenly found his feet stuck. The shadow from under the challenger had him locked in place, and a downright malicious grin appeared within it.

    Bul shrieked and pounded his chest, seeing Kuzon not able to dodge, but even with his speed, it was too late to redirect the fireball. Alex rocketed back at the moment of impact, and Nox held Kuzon in place as the intense Pyro Ball hit his back, causing him to fall. The Mega Form faded from Bul as this happened, and Kuzon was properly out of the fight.

    Bul didn't last long though, as Nox slowly rose from Alex's shadow, and his Trainer gave the order. "Psychic!" An ominous red aura appeared in a wave of psychic energy that raced towards the flaming ape, and sent him sailing into the glass wall.

    Then, the ref spoke again. "Leader Kuzon's Infernape is unable to Battle! The round goes to the Challenger. Leader Kuzon is unable to continue Battling. The rules will now shift to a standard League match in the interest of safety!" If the ref was mad at Alex, he didn't show it, and Alex was grateful for the impartiality. Sometimes, gym referees could be biased, but it was thankfully an uncommon thing to find, in any region with a League.

    Kuzon's next choice was a Camerupt, which he tried and failed to mega evolve. Alex swapped his Korian Gengar for his Lapras, and the two were almost even in strength. Koria's wilderness had many rock and ground types, and Pruina had grown strong shooting them down with Water Pulses. Fortune was with them, as her initial Water Pulse confused the volcano camel, and the following Surf attack, along with damage inflicted by confusion, caused him to faint.

    By that point, Leader Kuzon had been tended to with berry paste salves, and revitalized with what seemed to be soup of some kind. He stepped onto the field again, as he drew his last ball. "I'm ready to Firebend again, Challenger. Take your place, and substitute if you wish."

    Alex frowned, not convinced that the old man was truly ready after a STAB hit from a Mega Pokémon's strongest fire attack, but he stepped onto the field anyway. Surprisingly, he noted the referee had left, along with the other warm-up Trainers who'd been in Kuzon's gym, watching the match. It was, seemingly, just them now. Before the old man could control all the natural fire around them, Alex began breathing deeply, reaching out to the flames, and urging them to burn larger, hotter. The field around them became akin to a volcano's insides, and he recalled Pruina, not wanting her to be burned by the rapidly heating floor.

    Kuzon summoned a Typhlosion then, one that was, from his demeanor, downright nasty, and ready to battle. Seeing how strong the fire type was, Alex called out Eremus, who was unbothered by the intense heat, being both of the ground and a dragon. The song of his wings filled the air, as Kuzon eyed him. Undaunted by his type resistance, the old man shouted, "Tanuki…Eruption!" As he leapt towards Alex, once more barraging him with a flurry of blows.

    Without total control of the fire's natural energy, Kuzon's strikes were weakened, and Alex dodged away from them, as he countered. "Sandstorm! Counter with Earth Power!" He spun into the sand that erupted from Eremus, and the tornado of ground and dirt collided with the angry Typhlosion's Eruption. The powerful fire move turned to glass, surrounded as it was by so much sand. The boulders of roughly formed rock and flame worked as good cover within the storm of sand, and Eremus purposefully kept his Trainer's vision clear of it as he moved, not an easy task while battling.

    Seeing he was on his own, Tanuki spun into a Flame Wheel, only to hit one of his own move's boulders with the attack. Then, came the counter. The earth itself erupted from under the burning honey badger, but it wasn't enough to finish him. For his part, Alex chose to counter, and Eremus parted the storm around him and Kuzon so their flames weren't bogged down by the burning hot sand. Alex was not gentle, as he came hurtling out of the curtain of sand, propelled by all four limbs as he went for a headbutt to the old man's stomach. He disliked hurting him so, but it would stun him if he lost his breath.

    Luckily for Alex, fate was with him, and he hammered the old man a little too well, as he lost his breath, and began coughing on the ground. Seeing he was out, and knowing he was like to keep fighting if Alex let him, he turned to Eremus. "Finish it. Earthquake!"

    Tanuki had recovered from being blown off his feet, and he roared for his Trainer, seeking the power of Mega Evolution. Unfortunately, Kuzon was in no fit state to empower such a thing right then, and only the enemy Trainer's cry of the move was heard through the roar of the intense sandstorm. Tanuki was unbothered by it, giving not a single Muk for the slight damage it caused him, but it did impede his eyesight. He felt the Earthquake before he saw it, and though he Flame Wheeled away, it caught him, and sent him flying through the far wall and into the rock of the gym beyond it.

    Seeing he was victorious, Eremus willed the sand to cease storming, and Alex stood over Kuzon, one fist flaming against his throat, as he started to rise, and then paused. "It's over, old fellow. Your Typhlosion is unconscious…but your Ref is missing."

    "So…so he is…" Kuzon managed to say, as he nodded at Alex's words. The younger man offered him a hand up, and Kuzon took it. Quite to Alex's surprise then, he watched as the old man retook control of his accumulated fire energy, and used it to burn away his fairy glamour. He stood before him, blinking at the impossibility of what Kuzon had wrought, clad in Fire Nation garb, his pale skin revealing him as a foreigner. "That's what I thought…" Kuzon said, still recovering from the perfect Headbutt Alex had given to his solar plexus. "I spoke with Leader Boomi earlier, so-called Tamer of the Original Dragon. Lucky for me…he told me what Pokémon were on your belt. The Flygon confirmed it."

    Kuzon turned, and bowed to Eremus then. "You have been…trained well O master of the sands. You have earned for yourselves the Flame Badge." Alex gave the floating desert dragon a tail-five with his hand, and then took the badge, placing it beside his many others. "Now then…come with me, and summon your friend. I can guide you along the path."

    Alex reached out to Meelo only to find, to his immense surprise, that the man's mind was, for some reason, filled with lust. He left the mental equivalent of a note in the Air Nomad's mind telling him to come to the gym when he was free, and sensed he noticed it, then quickly withdrew. Some things were better off private, that being one of them. He knew Meelo likely sensed what he himself did every time they slept, and why he rose so late, but he hadn't pried out of respect. The least Alex could do was return the favor. He knew all too well how such bodily needs could impede the mental calm needed for meditation and impartiality.

    Kuzon led him underground, as he opened a secret tunnel in the earth with his firebending, placing his hand to a wall, and watching as he bent the fire typed energy with ease to shift the mechanisms that operated it. Truly, he had a long way to go. Beyond his own limbs, he had little to no control over nature energy, and he knew it would be an issue when he tried his hand at air and waterbending.

    Kuzon brought him to a well furnished room, a far cry from Bumi's, but like the shredded earthbender, the symbol of Kuzon's nation was proudly etched in the floor. It seemed different to the one the Fire Army used, though. Seeing his eyes, the old man sighed, as he sat on one of the lavish, and naturally red and gold, pillows surrounding the tea brewing stand atop the symbol. "This was our Nation's symbol…before the Imperium made us their leashed dogs. Before Ozai went completely mad. Few remember what the flames that form the flower-like shape represent. Fewer still, even care. Our victory over the Earth Nation has made our people arrogant. Our reliance on emotion for bending has made us weak. Your dragon's lessons are long forgotten, Redwood."

    Alex took a cup of tea once it was ready, and tried it. It tasted rather good, for hot leaf juice. "I see…it is my opinion, that should the Imperium be expelled, your people should return to their roots." He closed his eyes for a moment, and then smirked. "Tao agrees with me. The Original Dragon shall return to the Fire Nation, if you can but convince the people to listen to him."

    Kuzon's eyes widened. "You…he would do that for us? Even now? Even after what we…what we have done to his kin?"

    Alex's eyes narrowed. "Of what are you speaking, exactly?"

    Kuzon sighed, deeply. "Not surprising that no one told you. Long ago, when the Fire Nation began its descent into its current state, our Fire Lord was told that by subduing Dragon Types, masters of the elements in their own right, a Firebender could claim power from their essence, and take the title of Dragon for themselves. Our chain of islands used to be overflowing with dragon types…but over the years…they vanished. Hunted to extinction, most likely. Many of my kinsmen sought the power one supposedly attained from a dragon's corpse. None of these were more sought after than Charizard who evolved to attain the dragon typing. There were few in ancient times, and they were quickly hunted or tamed once this…'sport' became commonplace. Now only Royals and their guards train members of the Charizard line. The Fire Army utilizes them as mounts, but they lack the wings and honorable intelligence that makes Charizard so popular. Gene-enhanced by the Imperium, these ground bound Charizard have become brutish, and that is on purpose. Many Pokémon no longer visit or inhabit our islands…and since the Imperium gave us their technology, even the flying types avoid roosting there now."

    Alex frowned as he listened. "Your land may yet be redeemable…but that will not be my decision. We will speak again when the day of Koria's freedom finally arrives."

    Kuzon sighed into his cup. "Spoken with such confidence. Perhaps it would not be so if you had seen what my Nation has been turned into. A hell of black steel and smoke. Technology that pollutes all it touches. Nature, defiled for our advancement, the land raped and the waters turned to sludge. I do not see how it can be redeemed."

    At that, Alex chuckled, and Kuzon glared at him. "I have seen Tao's influence work on a similar land…though perhaps not as far gone as your island chain…there was much more of it. Do not give up on hope for your home just yet. Our planet is rather resilient."

    They talked for almost an hour more before Meelo arrived, to see Alex in the midst of learning to consistently manifest his flames away from and around his body. It was something starting with earthbending hadn't really taught him, but he was learning now, with great effort. For him, controlling the energy of the natural world beyond his body was much more of a strain, which meant earthbending and producing fire from his limbs would always be easier for him. But he couldn't rely on that as a crutch. He was determined to master these techniques, as Tao had told him to. The dragon always had a good reason for his sometimes ridiculous demands, and short of attempting to fell a mighty tree with naught but a Magikarp, he was willing to try what his teacher suggested.

    After an awkward sharing of nods between the travellers, Kuzon led them deeper into the tunnels, until they came out to a secluded beach, at the edge of a rather long river. "From here, it is a straight shot north to the Water Nation. Don't work that Lapras of yours too hard, and good luck finding the Avatar, Redwood." Kuzon left then, closing the tunnel's hidden door behind him as he did before muttering. "You're going to need it, if you want that boy's help." He snorted, shook his head, and then began the walk back to his gym.

    As they traveled, Meelo finally agreed to show Alex the basics of bending the air, which helped with his current problem of sustaining energy control away from his body. By watching the Air Nomad intently, he saw him diffuse his psychic power into the natural energy of the air itself, and guide it. He added a bit of his own aura to his flames as well after that, and found they shifted to blue, became much hotter, and had little issue sustaining themselves in the ever dropping temperatures of Koria's north. With the same trick, he found guiding the wind was easy, and compared to Meelo's aura infusion of the natural energy around them, it seemed to listen to him with much less resistance. They both agreed this was likely due to his dragon typing.

    Trouble struck, as it usually did, right as they were on the cusp of their goal. Tem had trained himself on the various water types from Pruina's back, mostly by keeping giant Korian Octillery and Sharpedo away from her while not electrocuting her from her back. The Toqusoq Tagiuk, so named by the Water Nation, was a massive inland sea that was mostly freshwater, which meant Tem could rock out hard, and not worry too much about aim, since the water wouldn't conduct his attacks very well, if at all.

    As they approached the iceberg in the center of this massive body of water, the snow and hail falling around them turned black. The already dark waters were made more so by what Meelo determined was soot, and when Alex asked him how he knew the cause of such a dramatic effect on the weather, the Air Nomad simply pointed north. Eventually, they arrived at their destination, or rather, as close as they could get without being spotted.

    What had to be almost two hundred fully armed and evidently coal-powered Fire Navy ships were surrounding the entrance to what was likely the Northern Water Tribe's port. A massive wall, bearing a slightly different water symbol to the southern tribe's at its center, was all that stood between the fleet, and the city built into the behemoth of an ice island. Or at least, that's how it appeared.

    As the ships began launching truly impressively large fireballs at the wall, the sea roared, and Alex stared, a tingle going down his spine as he recognized that call, having heard it only twice before. Once, atop the PNN building in New Tork city, distorted with pain as that cry had been, and again in Norstad, when he'd freed Percy. This roar, was one of rage, and the Lugia it belonged to was, by far, at least four to six times the size of the others he'd seen. If their species had a Guardian, this was it.

    It spun up from below the ice mass, and with a single wing flap, sent the fiery projectiles back from whence they'd come, hitting several of the ships as it did. Then, it began glowing with what Alex and Meelo saw and recognized as Light energy. The Lugia's eyes were alight with the familiar, to Alex at least, light blue glow that signified its source was Raava, and even from that great distance, Redwood spied the human responsible for it.

    Sitting atop the Legendary Sea Guardian's head, seemingly meditating, was a human figure, whose aura was burning with Light, far more than Alex had ever dared to wield at once. The Lugia formed an Aeroblast then, and the ominous Light energy suffused it, as it ran over the slowly retreating ships, for all the good it did them. Alex couldn't tell how many had sunk, but he knew it was enough to confirm who exactly was atop the Lugia's head. Raava's Avatar.
  9. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 41: The Siege of the North

    Senlin Village - Fire Nation Colony Territory, Koria


    "People of Senlin Village!" Came the commanding tones of the Fire Admiral, Zhao. He struck an imposing figure, atop the back of his massive Camerupt, which seemed perpetually enraged, and had eyes that burned with an ominous black and red energy. "My forces conducted an exercise today, to drive out Air Nation Rebels from Minjujuui City. We did not catch all of them." His massive fire Pokémon stomped down the line of arrayed villagers, what few were left. Many had left to fight the Fire Nation, and none had returned, once the Imperium became involved.

    Each villager had their head bowed under their kasa hats. Being as they were simple farmers and foragers, their classically Eousian styled hats hid their faces from their fire spewing overlords as they knelt and endured his monologue. "Who speaks for this…place?" There was about one second following his question before an elderly looking gentleman, judging by his hands, stood before the Admiral.

    "I do, honored Admiral. We have seen no Rebels here. We are of the Earth Nation…and we willingly pay the tithes of the victorious Fire Nation." The old man said, bowing as he spoke.

    Zhao arched an eyebrow. "Do you now…" He looked around at the town, most houses were abandoned, and several had marks of firebending. The fields were fertile though, and the grain house was open, and recently emptied. Just a bunch of farmers with barely enough to eat. "Lieutenant!"

    One of the Admirals closest soldiers stepped forward, beside a nasty looking Incineroar with artificially enhanced muscles. "Admiral."

    "See that these wretches acquire some Servitors. They may be peasants, but they're part of the Imperium now. Imagine how much more they could contribute to Mankind if they weren't weighed down by menial tasks." Zhao said, with a truly subtle smirk.

    "As you command, Admiral." The man said, stepping back alongside his partner. Such methods had been employed heavily throughout the Fire Nation, where villages of farmers were slowly replaced by, and often became, the lobotomised menial arm of the Imperium of Man. Only Firebenders typically avoided this cruel fate, but average citizens were encouraged to contribute all the same. If they failed to do so, they could be made into 'specialized' Servitors designed for mining. The process to make such an abomination of flesh and technology was far more painful, and involved.

    "Soldiers!" Zhao roared, and the primarily mounted soldiers answered him with an affirmative noise of their own, in practiced unison. "Fan out, and find the Air Rebels…they're definitely here." The smell of the sewer they'd been hiding in was in the air, and he knew the Fire Army's most common mount Pokémon would be able to sniff it out. Charizard was practically a revered species in the Fire Nation, but over time, and thanks to many generations of inbreeding, a different form of Charizard began appearing, once their Charmeleons evolved. They had four weak, thin legs, no wings, and large, often malformed fangs. Their tails had retained their fire, though, and they had the same eager-to-battle quick-to-anger mentality that most of the Flame Pokémon line did.

    It was the disturbing commonality of these evolutions and the desire to spread beyond their island chain, that had prompted Fire Lord Sozin to seek out the Imperium of Man's assistance, betray Eous, and give the Imperium their first foothold in historically Eousian territory. The Imperium had stabilized the malformed Charizard's DNA, and in the process created a muscled ground bound mount with a superb sense of smell, tracking ability, and battle prowess. They stomped off at Zhao's command, and the Admiral failed to notice the subtle finger twitches of the old man who claimed to speak for this place as they did.

    As his soldiers began to fan out past the gathered and still bowed villagers, Zhao turned, and admired his mobile fortress looming over all of them like a volcanic God. An Imperium Coalossal by the name of Incineratus. Genetically modified to be massive, and a useful source of combustible fuel the Imperium had dubbed Promethium, since Koria's subjugation, the genetically modified Galarian giants had become commonplace on the borders between the Imperium of Man, and everywhere they did not yet rule. This was the only one in Koria, and had been a gift to Zhao from one of the Imperator's own children, the Prime Archon Lorgar, leader of the Imperium Heralds, the 17th Legion of Thunder Warriors tasked with bringing Koria into the fold of the Imperium of Man.

    The massive Coalossal began moving northeast and reality shook with each mighty step. It was as the Admiral stomped off on his ride, that he noticed. Each of his mounted soldiers was roaming into the forest surrounding the village, aimlessly, like they were being led by a scent on the wind in a specific direction, away from the village. It was at the moment of this realization that the Admiral turned back towards the villagers, only to find a flying foot coming for his face. As he'd been making to follow his Coalossal, he'd still been in the village, and thus went sailing into a wall of a long-abandoned house. His Camerupt roared, enraged, at least until a slim figure in a shawl covering red and darker red clothing appeared before the enraged Pokémon.

    Fire formed around her hands, and began shining with a warm, golden light as it filled the Camerupt, and calmed its heart. It still wanted to defend its Trainer, but Minami already had it falling asleep once it calmed. Akos had followed up his initial kick with a waterbending barrage, but it was quickly being evaporated by his angrier opponent. Zhao was an Admiral for a reason. Just as he seemed to be overwhelming the waterbender, another foot came from Zhao's blindspot, hitting him on the other side of the chin, as Ara stepped in to help her brother, and took a 'Southern Octopus Stance'. This was a smart decision, as the circular wall of water and tentacles shielded her from the explosion of flame that Zhao let off as he recovered himself.

    "THE NEXT PERSON WHO KICKS MY FACE GETS INCINERATED!" He roared. Akos had not been so well shielded, and fell burned, beside his Piplup, who popped out as he landed, and spread its little arms wide before Zhao. The pissed off Fire Admiral took down both Ara and Minami, as they attacked simultaneously, from two sides, burning them as well. He was ready for them now, and he would start, with the first water rat that had dared to touch his noble personage. He loomed over the tiny water type, and laughed. "The hell are you supposed to be?"

    The tiny penguin puffed up its chest, and glared. Then, he started to glow. As he became a Prinplup, the Admiral sighed. "Enough of this. Move." The Prinplup lowered its head, and water surrounded it. It leapt forward then, with impressive speed, but it had given away its attack to a fighter as skilled as Zhao, and his Aqua Jet was not yet perfected, as he had literally just started learning it.

    "Pado!" Ara shouted, as the Admiral roundhoused the penguin Pokémon in the face, sending him flying her way as he advanced on her badly burned brother. She drew water from the air itself, rotated in place, and used the penguin's speed and momentum to restore his move, and send the water-wreathed penguin hurtling back towards Zhao, nailing him right in the armored stomach. Zhao had the air knocked from him, and fell to his knees as his flames went out. The newly evolved penguin waddled unsteadily as he landed, while Minami gathered Akos up, and Ara grabbed his Pokéball. She recalled the Prinplup, and Tenzin made his timely appearance from dispatching riders in stealth from the woods, by hitting the winded Admiral with several smoke bombs that did not help his need for air.

    Zhao cleared the smoke with angry firebending drawing on his emotional rage rather than his lungs, but when it dissipated completely, they were gone. Each of his assailants had been wearing long brimmed kasa hats like most farmers in this village, sufficiently hiding their faces. Furious, he made his way back to where the villagers had been rounded up, only to find a few of his soldiers stumbling out of the woods with black eyes or cradling broken limbs. Others, Tenzin had not been so gentle with, but the elder Air Nomad strongly disliked ending lives and had over his century plus of years learned to tell which soldiers were worth sparing at a glance. The psychic powers also helped. He had no moral qualms about reading the thoughts of the people who had relished in burning his Nation to the ground, but he was yet wise enough to understand not all Fire Army soldiers served willingly.

    Zhao found each of the villagers was gone as well, and with an enraged yell, he rocketed himself into the air with his bending, and made for the ceramite structure built into the body of Incineratus. As he took the helm of the massive Pokémon, he pointed at the village below. "Incineratus! Use Promethium Surge! Wipe this nest of Rebels off the map!" Zhao's mad orders thankfully, echoed loud enough for his soldiers to hear. Some, around two or three gaped, as they couldn't quite believe the Admiral had just ordered all of them burnt alive. Those who recognized the imminent threat of death, and ran, were the ones who survived. Incineratus had precision, and his owner had ordered this specific village, and not an inch more of it, burnt to nothing.

    Tenzin and the newly recruited villagers, what few had remained once they saw the smoke start rising from Mijujuui City, ran northwards towards Bul Fortress. There, they would rendezvous with the caravan that had fled underground with their earthbenders and newly acquired supplies from their new western ally. As they hurried onwards on foot, the world shook. Behind them, a tower of flame erupted, exactly where the village was. An air-shaking roar followed the explosion of orange liquid that was evidently so hot, they could see the air shimmering from the heat from roughly a mile away.

    "We need to go faster!" Tenzin said, whirling his robed arms around him as he summoned the air. The entire group picked up speed, and with a little effort, they all began to sprint rather rapidly northwards. Akos had mostly received burns on his arms and face, his legs were still fine, and the air boost from the Air Nation's last surviving leader helped him and the other wounded keep pace.

    They eventually arrived at the outskirts of Bul Fortress after crossing a river with the waterbender's aid. It was many miles to the Earth Nation province of Hu Xin. Officially, the province of primarily farmers in the breadbasket of the Earth Nation was controlled by the Fire Nation. Like many Earth Nation provinces however, the Fire Army had simply not mapped them very effectively, and Bul Fortress was more of a myth to them, than a fact. More than once had Thunderhawks from the Imperator's own air force scoured the area for the 'rebel fortress', and all scans and searches had turned up naught. Thanks to combined earthbending, lazy Imperium technicians, and a bit of luck, the Earth Nation's southernmost bastion of defiance had remained undetected.

    In the centuries since the Fire Nation had taken control, many underground tunnels had been created across the Earth Nation, and this far south of the Impenetrable City, Bul Fortress was a nexus point for them. Thus it was through these tunnels that most of the rebels in Minjujuui had escaped, and brought their Unovan supplies with them. Being unable to bend the earth, Zhao's soldiers hadn't even noticed which of the many rock-sealed pathways they'd taken out of the sewers, and the tunnel to Minjujuui was now mostly collapsed.

    As Tenzin's group came upon the fortress, they all stared in shock, stopping in their now several day long run, as the fortress sank into the earth itself, and vanished before them. A few minutes later, they understood why. From above them, a pair of flames in the sky were hurtling towards their group. Given express orders by Admiral Zhao, the banished Fire Nation royals had been tasked with the less important task of wiping out Senlin's remaining rebels. Zhao had proceeded northward, to the Water Nation's northern tribe, to end their centuries of defiance, once and for all.

    Tenzin stopped a few steps ahead of the others, sensing their progress had again stalled. He was weary after leading exhausted farmers and his rebels this far north, on foot, and even his bending hadn't kept them from tiring. Seeing the flames, and knowing them for what they were, the old Air Nomad sighed heavily. Then, he drew a communicator from his robe, one whose partner was in Bul Fortress. "This is General Tenzin. I have Senlin Village's civilians with my group. We've been found by a pair of Charizard riders. Commence pickup maneuver twenty two, over."

    The comm crackled for a second. He knew the voice on the other end, and its words made the old man smile faintly. "Twenty two!? Tenzin...are you sure about this?"

    "Quite sure, Hao. Get the civilians to safety." He spoke louder then, to his group. "Aratak, Akos, and Minami…you're with me. Lin, take Boto and the civilians northward. Pickup maneuver twenty two."

    The graying earthbender's eyes went wide. "That's suicide Tenzin! Those are flying Charizard riders! I'm not leaving you here to make Pemma a widow."

    The Air Nomad fixed her with a steely gray airbender stare. "I have no intention of dying. Now go! These people need you, Beifong." At hearing her surname, the villagers who'd thrown their lot in with the rebels started murmuring.

    "Yes, that Beifong!" Lin snapped at them, before sighing. "Fine, Tenzin…but you had better come out of this alive." She rounded on the group she was leading then, "Move it, Slowpokes! Unless you'd rather eat a fireball!" The group with Lin began running northward, and Tenzin spied one of their assailants, still thousands of feet above them in the air, arcing towards their group. The blue flame descended on Tenzin's position, unchanged.

    "Oh no you don't…" Tenzin muttered, and then spun in place, as air whirled around him in a building tornado.

    "Umm…General…" Akos said, concerned, as his airbending no doubt became visible from above. "What's a twenty two maneuver? Are you going to clue the rest of us in on the secret?"

    "Akos, I'm about to let everyone in on the secret…" Tenzin mumbled, as he spun faster, and then sent his arms skyward. A nearly invisible tornado of wind snagged the arcing Charizard, brought it slamming back into the burning blue dot, and then the pair of them started hurtling towards the ground at a speed that guaranteed the riders would die, if they didn't stop their momentum. They were trapped, in a downwards moving air corridor that neither Charizard could fight against, entangled as they were by the crash.

    As they neared the ground, the pair of firebenders atop their struggling mounts created a combined fireball of orange and blue that crashed into the ground, and Tenzin recognized the light of Mega Evolution as a pair of rainbow colored DNA spiraling helixes appeared above the flames. His frown deepened. Only Royal Guards and Fire Army elites flew on Charizard that still had wings. Only royals of the Phoenix King's own family knew how to bring them to their Mega Form.

    The air was filled with smoke as the two variations of Mega Charizard rose from their smoldering crater, and then, in an instant, it was blown away, along with Tenzin's hat, and shawl, which had hidden his iconically colored yellow and orange airbender attire. "Spawn of Sozin!" He said, with hate in his eyes, "Today you pay for your family's sins…inviting the Imperium into Eous, and Koria…murdering my father...and the attempted genocide of my people."

    The nastier fire lizard of the pair, the one with blue flames, answered the airbending human with a Flamethrower, only to have it blown back in her face, from an angry torrent of air. From the black Charizard's back came her rider, one half of her face seemingly melting, from the redirected Flamethrower. Aluza tossed the golden mask, and snarled at the Air Nomad. "I know you…the spawn of Aang…Tenzin of the Air Nation…the Last Airbender…" Beside her, came her brother, who fell into a fighting crouch. Both Druk and Caeruleus readied more Flamethrowers, while Ara and Akos took their own stances beside Tenzin. Pado was already out, and ready to provide them with water, from a safe distance behind them.

    Aluza pointed at Tenzin then. "Alright you two! Focus fire on the Airbender!" Druk looked briefly at Okuz first, but attacked alongside his sister anyways. A torrent of blue and orange flame came straight for Tenzin, and was wide enough to hit the waterbenders as well, but instead the attack was blocked with a technique Okuz recognized immediately, as one his uncle Iroh used. Taken from the style of northern waterbenders, the arms moved in a circle, dissipating the flames harmlessly before the kasa hat wearing firebender who blocked them. Aluza's burnt eye twitched as her scarred face contorted with rage. "Brother…take care of the Traitor…the Nomad is mine!"

    Ara and Tenzin immediately came under fire from Aluza and her partner. The Air Nomad easily blocked or redirected the angry firebender's wrath, which of course only made her angrier. Ara, for her part drew on the Water Gun Pado sent towards her, made it larger with what she pulled from the air, and formed a pair of water tentacles around her arms as she dodge rolled away from the Flamethrowers that Caeruleus sent her way, making the Mega Charizard pay for it with repeated, and super effective, slaps to her face, neck, and wing joints. They might as well have been Bug Bites, for all they did to a Mega Form.

    Minami, meanwhile, had Okuz following her off to their own part of the plains, which were rapidly becoming scorched. Akos watched the two groups, unsure of who to aid. He tracked Minami, in case she needed help with the male firebender and his own Mega Charizard, but her partner, a very feminine seeming crimson furred Infernape, was handling the fire lizard with moves like a firebender, something the line could learn to do, if they were trained in Koria. She used her open-palmed hands to ward away anything fire based, leaving Druk with few other options. Fire Punches clashed with Dragon Claws, and the force of it reverberated through the area, and Akos. "Go!" Minami said, from beneath her hat, "Help the others." She respected Meelo, mostly because the only battler stronger than him that fought for a free Koria was his father. If this blue burning rage princess was strong enough to take his son, Tenzin would need an edge.

    Pado glared at the Charizard, spat a well timed Water Gun at his face, and followed after his Trainer. The flame lizard glared, focusing in on the Prinplup, and leaving him wide open to the Fire Punch to the jaw that the Infernape gave him. He flapped backwards, and into the air, and launched another widespread Flamethrower, but this time, the Infernape gathered the fire into a sphere between its palms, and condensed it. "Fireball!" Minami shouted with a timely command, and the Infernape pointed at Druk. A small orange bead of light flew towards the Charizard from the flame monkey's palms, and then detonated in a circular explosion of fire damage, right in his face. Though he resisted fire typed moves, the damage of the move was adding up with all the others the Infernape had landed.

    Air slashes rained down on the fire monkey, and Akos watched as she dodged effortlessly, knowing that just one of those, from a Mega Form, would probably be enough to KO her, or leave her barely on her feet. As they entered in on Tenzin and Ara's battle, Aluza took one look at them, and flowed from a furious, but still deflected series of strikes on Tenzin, into a fast, electric based attack aimed right for Pado. The bolt of lightning that coalesced from around her body and then gathered in her fingers was meant to kill.

    Akos moved before he could think, as he desperately reached for water, any water, and recalled something he'd seen his father do, a technique the southern tribe had developed, which had then seen them captured and imprisoned for its use. To this very day, many southern waterbenders remained imprisoned by the Fire Nation. The tube of gathered floating water Akos sent to intercept the superheated plasma shooting from Aluza's fingers guided the energy along it harmlessly, and dissipated its charge as the levitating water tunnel dispersed the burning plasma, before promptly evaporating from the heat.

    Tenzin capitalized on her outstretched arm, grabbing it and twisting it behind her back. The firebender roared furiously, and blue flames spouted from her mouth, only to die out seconds later. A brief distraction was all Tenzin had needed, to start creating a pocket of vacuum around her head with his free hand within which was a distinct lack of oxygen. She gagged, coughed, and started to choke to death, but Tenzin had to stop his efforts and she only fell unconscious.

    Seeing her partner in trouble, the increasingly irritated Mega Charizard spewed blue flame at Ara. As expected, the waterbender used her dodge roll, but that was what Caeruleus had wanted the water rat to do. Ara caught the business end of her massive, mega evolved tail as Cae spun and hit her. She went skipping across the plains, and Tenzin tried to give her a soft landing, which ended his finishing move on Aluza. While he did, Caeruleus snatched up her rider, and roared for her brother, only to find him conquered by a shiny Infernape, and its Trainer. Now Okuz was on his own against both of them, and holding out well, for a lone human. Knowing he had other partners, Cae decided to leave them, and flew towards the nearest cover she could find, so Aluza could recuperate, and come back to consciousness.

    Seeing Aluza leave, was the moment Minami had been waiting for, and her Infernape came back to her, as their battle with Fire Prince Okuz hit a brief lull, while he recalled Druk, and drew another ball. As he went to throw it, Minami tossed her kasa hat into the air, revealing her features to him, which made him pause with visible shock. "Minami…? But you're…you're no Traitor…you're supposed to be at the Academy with Izumi!"

    Her eyes narrowed. "You don't even know, do you." The air around her became noticeably hotter, as her anger boiled over. "You don't even care!"

    "Know what…? Minami, what happened?" Okuz said, glancing behind him as Tenzin and Akos, who were supporting Ara, came up behind him, but made no threatening moves. Tenzin had one hand raised defensively, but didn't airbend. Okuz thumbed his ball, and summoned Ken, his Blaziken. Okuz held up a hand, as the flaming chicken prepared to strike, and readied his own defense.

    "You wouldn't believe me if I told you…" Minami said, looking at the scorched ground. Her Infernape made a sad noise, but stayed ready to leap into combat if Okuz resumed it.

    "Stand down, Ken." Okuz said, the authoritative and somewhat hoarse voice deflated the tension in the air as he spoke. He lowered his hands, and Tenzin did the same, with a slow nod to him, a mutual agreement; there would be no fighting, for now. Okuz stepped towards Minami, palms open, and unthreatening as he glanced at her Infernape, and then at her. One hand landed on her shoulder, and the crimson furred fire monkey growled, but quieted when the human did nothing else. "Tell me how you ended up with Rebels, Minami…tell me what happened to my daughter. You wouldn't be here without her…"

    Since Okuz had enrolled his one and only child in the Fire Nation Academy for Females, Izumi and Minami had become close friends for eight out of the ten years they were required to attend. This year was supposed to be their last, as both girls had been selected to graduate early. He'd kept as informed as possible, but between his banishment and Izumi's mother shutting him out, staying in his daughter's loop had been all but impossible. It was one of the many driving factors behind his desire to capture the new Avatar, and head home as quickly as possible.

    Minami looked up at his eyes then, and the Fire Prince's orbs widened, as he saw tears. Kuzon's daughter had never, as far as he knew, shed tears. For anything. "It…was our last class." Minami said, looking down again as she spoke. She couldn't bear looking at Okuz anymore, she saw too much of Izumi in him.

    "She decided to ask our Praeceptor about Shadow Infusion. She'd overheard your father, talking to himself, and heard stories from some of the Japanese students, of humans being controlled by the Shadow, who were invading their land. The Praeceptor brought her out of the room….and she didn't come back. Ever." Tears were falling now, to the scorched earth below her, but Minami continued. "They brought in…an Inquisitor. Apparently…just mentioning the Shadow warrants a visit from them. I don't know what happened to her after that…this was several years ago, now…I tried to find out where she went. To dig deeper, but you know how the Imperium is. All traces of her vanished, your father didn't even blink. Wouldn't even speak of her to me. He ordered me imprisoned for 'wasting his time', and it was at that point, I decided to escape the automated hell your family has turned our Nation into."

    Okuz just stared at her, still processing. If an Inquisitor had taken her, it was to Olympia, and once on Olympia, she would never leave. Not as she once was, at any rate. The news surprised him though. He had thought the Imperium disliked openly using the Shadow, though he wondered if they might not be setting themselves up as the only force on the planet able to use the fearsome power Shadow Infusion could bring. If that was the case, he reasoned, they would want to keep an eye on anyone asking about it, or seeking knowledge. In all likelihood, his daughter was now a Servitor. All for asking a single, and somewhat harmless question, of her teacher. The wrongness of it was finally too much for Okuz as his brain tried to process the idea of his little girl as a lobotomized servant to the High Lords of the Imperium. Years of denying what he and his family had helped turn Koria into began to finally register with massive amounts of guilt, shame, and the understanding that what his people had done would, forever, marr their history. Many talks with his uncle started taking on a new perspective, and he knew then his path forward.

    After about a minute of silent thinking, Okuz looked up at Minami, and tilted her head up at him. Their eyes locked. "Listen to me, daughter of Kuzon…I will find my daughter…or what's left of her. And I'll have to help your rebellion to do it. My uncle was right…as I'm sure you know. He tried to tell me. I just didn't hear him. I'm going to see him now…if your rebel friends let me…"

    Tenzin, while initially conflicted at allowing one of the family members of those directly responsible for the attempted genocide of his people to go free, read the young man's thoughts, and found in them the potential for redemption, some day, once the Fire Nation had thrown off the Imperium's yoke. They would need a leader, and compared to his sister's fraying and instinct driven mind, Okuz seemed the best choice. It would be hard work, undoing three centuries of hatred, but Tenzin surmised this man could give the effort towards finding unity for Koria again it's best start.

    "I won't impede you from leaving here…and as long as you intend to rebuild the Fire Nation into what it was, and not what your Grandfather wanted it to be, you will have the aid of myself, and my people. We can discuss the matter of…reparation, once Koria is free again."

    Okuz looked at the ground again, as he was forced to acknowledge the superiority of character from the Air Nomad. Had it been the Fire Nation on the receiving end of what they'd endured, the war would've never stopped. He was reminded of what one of his earliest firebending instructors had taught him; those who wield the power of the flame must walk a razor-thin edge between human decency, and savagery. Okuz thought then of the sparring match between himself, and a traveler of Koria that they'd stopped to interrogate, and who he'd lost track of once they entered Kuzon's gym, never to come out again. The stranger's flames hadn't burned with rage, but like his uncle's, came from breath control, focus, and a large source of heat. He resolved then to learn this alternate method of firebending. If he could use both without becoming an unstoppable ball of burning rage, he surmised he just might have enough power to take on his father. With some help.

    "Much will have to change before my Nation understands what it's done. …Be patient with us, Airbender." He called out his Arcanine then, and rode away, as Druk still needed to rest. Tenzin and the others watched him go, as did another. Caeruleus snarled as she watched her brother's Trainer ride away, and the noise woke her own Trainer. Furious, she leapt from the crater in an explosion of blue flame, and spied the battlefield a short distance away. She started running, and then leapt on Cae when she flew after her. The pair returned to the scorched area, only to find the Air Rebel and his water rat friends had gone. Of her brother, there was no sign.

    Caeruleus dropped her Mega Form, and then headed northwards, to regroup with the Admiral. She knew all the rebel's rats eventually floated up north into the Water Nation's inland sea. It was an entire biome that the benders of the area had total mastery over. The people, the Pokémon, all with an irritating edge over those who wielded flames as weapons. Even the Imperium had been resisted by them. The initial fleet of Thunderhawks under the Prime Archon had leveled the Nation's capital to nothing in the past, but the irritating water rats had rebuilt, often in the space of a day. She wanted to be there personally, to ensure all they had was reduced to ash.

    After connecting with Bul Fortress, Akos, Ara, Tenzin and the others continued north. Boto opted to stay and train with the earthbenders, and saw that half of the supplies the west had given them made their way across rebel cells in the Earth Nation. They'd traveled north then, through the Laghima Mountains, where Akos and Pado had begun filling out their team, and training hard as they recovered from their wounds. His encounter with Zhao had fired up the tiny penguin, and within a matter of days on their trek through the often hostile peaks full of very territorial Pokémon, the Prinplup evolved into an Empoleon. But the training didn't stop there. Akos had asked Alex how he'd managed to become Champion, and the 'secret' such as it was had been simple. Constant training, but not just by battling. On their previous treks, Alex had often had a partner out, ready to help wild Pokémon, or other humans, as needed. The act of expending their power to aid or defuse situations had helped them grow as fast as any battle, and it was this strategy Akos used to eventually dethrone a rather brutal alpha Nidoking.

    The local Pokémon would have to find a way to coexist on their own, but many let their group pass unhindered after that, making the trek easier for those hauling the supplies. The refugees who wished to live at the Air Temple had taken this role, while others from their now destroyed village had dispersed throughout the Earth Kingdom, mostly headed for Ba Sing Se. Given a chance to wander freely without Fire Nation soldiers spotting them, as they rarely came anywhere near these 'haunted' peaks full of Air Nomad ghosts, Akos went on a catching spree with the balls Alex had given him. Thirty ultra balls was more than most new Trainers got, and Akos put them to good use, snagging a Duraludon, a Swinub, an Elekid, and a Rockruff through the course of their travels.

    When they arrived at the Northern Air Temple, or what the Imperium had left of it, he found a lost, hungry Phantump, and added him to his growing team as well, while Ara, Minami, and Tenzin distributed their supplies to the rebels hiding in the burned out husk of the once magnificent mountain temple. Once they had recovered from their trek for several days and distributed the supplies they had left, it was Ara who noticed that, from the north, the clouds were becoming darker, not with the threat of a storm, but with ash. Seeing that, the group hurried off towards the Northern Water Tribe, to presumably rendezvous with Meelo and Alex.

    Agna Qel'a - Koria Region

    Faced with the problem of reaching the Water Nation's northern bastion, Meelo tried to send word ahead to their Chief, but his pocket radio was being jammed, and the wind was too intense for his words to reach anyone of import at the backmost edge of the city built into the massive chunk of ice. Alex suggested waterbending them beneath the ocean to reach it, but Meelo opted against that. While the northern waterbenders might not outright kill a fellow waterbender, they were typically hostile to strangers, and undoubtedly had far superior control to his own. So recently after an attack they might very likely just assume they were hostile and pop their air bubble beneath the water. Alex had progressed well with his brief but instructive lessons from Ara in Minjujuui City, but not enough that he could hold off an ambush by multiple waterbenders at once. Instead, they turned Pruina around, surfed to within sight of the mountainous coastline, and then burned their Fire Nation clothing.

    Once that was done, they took Pruina around to the right of the massive ice island, and began trekking on foot towards the city of Agna Qel'a in almost five feet of snow. When they were within a mile of the city, Alex bid Meelo to stop. The Lugia had since disappeared from the horizon, likely back under the waters, and the remnants of the Fire Navy had ceased their assault, for the moment. Alex wanted to psychically suss out any potential threats in the Water Nation's capital, and Meelo agreed to help him. Together, they combined their psychic prowess, one hiding their probe from detection, while the other scanned. Most of the city had the same latent psychic potential as any other large accumulation of modern Homo Sapiens, and as usual, the exception came when Alex scanned the most ornate building at the back of the city, likely home to its leader.

    What he sensed deeply disturbed him. One presence, while large in terms of power, was completely controlled by Shadow energy. Thankfully, there were exactly three other sources around it, one of which, he was quite certain, was Raava's Avatar. One was situated to the side of the Shadowed presence, and the Avatar, and presumably a friend of his, were standing before the presence. Given what Kashiji told him, Alex assumed the Guardian was asleep, to not notice the obvious Shadow corruption in front of her. It was as he took this mental sight in, that Meelo spoke. "I hid from the others…but that large presence…likely Chief Unulaq, noticed us."

    Alex sighed, and swore, invoking the name of the Grimer line. "Of course he did. Listen, Meelo. That Chief of theirs is infused with Shadow." The man's eyes widened, and Alex guessed that he grasped the seriousness of this issue. "He's very likely either willingly serving this Vaatu figure whose fused with the Phoenix King, or he's been made into a pawn…which explains why the Fire Nation has largely ignored the northern tribe. I have a plan, but we have precious little time to enact it. I can sense benders already heading for us. We won't outrun them." He handed the Air Nomad his Pixie Plate shard. "Use this to make me look older. White hair, wrinkled skin, make the tone of it a vague brown, but light enough to be foreign."

    As Meelo nodded, and quickly made the changes to the glamor they'd reapplied after Kuzon's dispelling of it, Alex focused on Lux, telling him what he needed. "You can't seriously believe that will work." The snarky spark ghost said. "You'll never get close enough."

    Alex gave him a mental smirk. "I don't have to get that close, if you channel the Light for me through your form. You need to look like very scorched bamboo. Can you pull that off?"

    The Rotom seemed to reassess his plan, and then nodded. "If they don't confiscate me and you get close enough, this might actually work."

    Meelo raised a bushy eyebrow as his travel companion's previously hidden plasma sword floated free, winked at him, and then became a very ancient looking, gnarled bamboo staff seemingly scorched black by fire, and turned white in small parts by age. Once their preparations were made, the northern waterbenders showed up not long after. Meelo took over speaking, then, as Alex bent his spine, presumably due to age, and leaned heavily on his staff. "Greetings, Waterbenders! I am General Meelo, of the Korian Rebellion. This is my travel companion, a fellow rebel, and a source of great knowledge and wisdom."

    The waterbenders were clad in blue tones, but unlike the southern style of clothing, theirs was less furry, and more modern. Insulated. Streamlined. They likely had a very skilled tailor. Sharp icicles had surrounded the pair when they appeared, but the leader raised a hand. "Meelo, you say? Master Tenzin's son? Can you prove this claim, stranger?"

    Meelo nodded, and at that moment, felt the urge to sneeze. He focused the expelled air on a nearby snow drift, and it exploded apart as the forceful air burst hit it. Seemingly impressed, the ice shards focused uncomfortably close to Alex, then. "And this one?" The lead guard asked.

    Alex spoke then, in his best hoarse old man voice. "My name is Alex. I am an ally to those who fight the Fire Nation, and the Imperium. Master Tenzin and I are old friends."

    The icicles lowered then, and the guards murmured amongst themselves. Tenzin was supposed to be en route to them, and Meelo was undoubtedly an airbender. It was also known that the older Air Nomad had many equally old allies, scattered throughout Koria. Finally, the leader dropped his ice, and beckoned to them. "Our Chief, Unalaq, has ordered you brought before him. Come with us."

    The benders brought them on moving pieces of hardened snow into the besieged city, and Alex took it in as they passed through. Meelo did the same, and Alex heard his voice in his head. "Something is wrong…dad told me the northern tribe was much more prosperous than this…even with the siege, this level of poverty and despair is…"

    "Man-made." Alex answered, solemnly. "The Shadow's influence reaches far…don't worry my friend, we will Purge it before the day is done."

    Alex sensed the airbender was skeptical, but he kept the faith, even if his ally and his staff doubted him. What he had in mind would work. Probably. Agna Qel'a's palace was impressive, to say the least. Massive totems depicting local Pokémon like a snow Liepard, Beartic, Braviary and other Pokémon local to the biome flanked the path to the pyramidal multi-tiered palace.

    As they were brought inside and into the Chieftain's audience chamber, Unalaq raised his head, as the voices, mercifully, parted and gave what was left of his mind a reprieve from their incessant mutterings. He was old, likely one of the oldest humans yet living, at well over two hundred and fifty years of age. His body, once maintained by his masterful bending for an unnatural amount of time, even by modern human standards, was old and withered. Black veins of ice radiated through his relatively recently added ice throne, and his eyes were tired, red, and surrounded by bags of exhaustion, except they went entirely around his eyes, bottom and top.

    He was a sunken, shriveled human, but what the Shadow possessing him showed his people and Raava's meat suit, was an older man, aged, but still capable of fighting. Alex immediately saw through the illusion, recognizing it for what it was. Pravus had worn such a thing as well, once.

    "Unalaq…" Came the dreaded whisper through the blessed silence. "The Original Dragon's Tamer approaches. He is a herald of doom, for your people. You must destroy him…and his friend."

    Leaning on Meelo's arm as they approached the throne, Alex stared the Chief down, and knew that in turn, the Shadow had recognized him. Or rather, its source had. What Vaatu knew, he assumed, the Phoenix King knew, and with that, his cover in Imperium territory was essentially blown. If they could entrap him. Having been shown the unnerving autocratic efficiency of the Imperium's oppressive mechanism, he assumed that, in these next few minutes, the Imperator himself would hear this news, and a response would be given in kind.

    Standing to the right of the Chief's uncomfortable looking straight-edged throne, was an older man with mostly gray hair, a thin mustache that came down in two straight lines on either side of his mouth, and a very bushy soul patch. He seemed to be a tribal elder of some description, and Alex could tell he was powerful in his own right. The man's eyes met his, and he smiled, before focusing back on the Chief. Of the Avatar and his powerful psychic ally, there was no sign.

    As they stopped before the throne, Unalaq raised a hand, and in one motion, all of his thirty or so guards lowered their spears into a stabbing stance, aiming them at the newcomers. "The hospitality of your village seems to have cooled of late, Chief Unalaq." Meelo said, eyeing the spearmen.

    "Why should I welcome you…son of the air?" Meelo's eyes went wide as Alex psychically broke the illusion for him, too. To his credit, the man kept his composure, and had dispelled his own glamor before they'd arrived. His arrow shaped tattoos on his bald head were on full display. "Your doomed rebellion…has dragged my people into war. If you wish to help us against the Fire Navy…your aid comes late. Our…newest ally and his Lugia…have sent them home, limping."

    The old man beside the Chief glanced at him, and then the foreigners. His eyes were narrowed, and Alex could sense him readying his body's energy for bending. "Come now, Chief Unalaq…are we not all fighting for Koria's freedom? The Nations must be one again, if we are to repel the Imperium. We will fail if we do not stay united. Though some in our region may fall to the Imperium's temptation, they've aided warmongers in the past, and always we have come through the occupations stronger for it."

    "Not…like this. They have never…been so involved." Unalaq wheezed. "It will take…more than we have…to repel this enemy. We are better off…staying isolated, and quiet, under Imperium rule."

    Meelo's eyes widened, and mentally, he spoke to Alex. "I know Unalaq. The Chief of the Northern Water Tribe would never give in so willingly."

    Alex nodded then, and stepped forward from his 'aid' with walking, leaning on his staff as he did. The old man's eyes focused on him, and through them, Alex saw red tinged Shadow staring back. The kind of infection that turned one's own essence dark. He briefly wondered if Unalaq would even survive a Purging. "Unalaq…son of Nurro." He said as he mentally asked Meelo the name of his predecessor, and approached the throne, "This Shadow has plagued your mind long enough…hear my Voice, Chief of the Water Nation!"

    The Storm Voice echoed in Unalaq's ears, and Alex smirked as he felt the battle, between the frankly furious mind that was Unalaq, and the shadowy grip Vaatu had on his essence. That sudden renewed conflict, gave Alex what he needed, and as the Chief's old waterbending guard struck at Alex, Meelo sliced through the watery tendril with a crescent of air. The old man arched a brow at him, and the Air Nomad simply held up a hand. A universal gesture for 'wait'.

    "Zu'u Stin Hi!" Alex said, and as the Hyper Voice washed over the Chief, his advisor recoiled in horror, as the veins of Shadow in the ice throne became visible, the illusion shattered. The vague outline of a seriously evil looking kite appeared in the ice behind the throne, its tendril 'arms' reaching out to, and binding the elderly Chief. Dark laughter filled the chamber.

    "Your petty Words will not unbind Me, pawn of the Light!"

    Alex's smirk faded, to a grimace. Blue aura shone around the old man guise he wore, and his back straightened, his heavy clothes flaring as he summoned the power. "I will Purge you, Shadow spawn. Greater Champions than you have dispersed before me." The blue aura shifted to gold, and with that, the fairy glamor burned away. His audience looked on, as the soldiers the Chief had positioned around them charged forward, some throwing their spears. Meelo acted again, covering the epic clash of Light and Shadow in a turbulent spheroid of wind.

    Alex raised Lux, and aimed him at the Chief. The Shadow in the ice recoiled in the face of such harsh Light. "I told you to disarm them!" Several of Vaatu's tendril arms burned away, snapping free of the Chief's frame. "If I go…Unalaq dies…" Light energy burned up the gnarled 'wooden' staff in a spiral of gold that, naturally, took up half of the black coloration, leaving it a perfect balance of black and gold.

    "You underestimate the strength of the Water Nation." Waves of Light radiated off of Lux as he channeled the power through his housing.

    Several tendrils regrew from Vaatu's form, wrapping Unalaq once more. "The Northern Water Tribe is Mine!"

    Alex raised the staff higher, holding it level at Unalaq thanks to his height, as he'd climbed up the stepped dais towards the throne. "Purge!"

    As he spoke the move, Lux activated the stored energy. If Alex hadn't had his psychic powers, Unalaq would've likely burned away as well, but he was able to guide the Light, purging the Shadow, and healing the human simultaneously as he forced Vaatu back. His new tendrils snapped, as did several others. Furious, the Shadow's strongest Champion on the planet lunged at him directly. Alex's other hand joined the first in gripping his staff as Vaatu exposed himself and gave in to rage. The Purge hit him full force, knocking him out of Unalaq, and back into Ozai. The Phoenix King's roar of rage echoed through the Regiis Caldera as the connection was cut.

    Unalaq began to fall forward off his throne, but Meelo redirected his air shield to catch him. With the clash blocked off and the illusion of Vaatu dispelled, the gathered members of the tribe had paused, and watched. More than a few had noted that, since the Fire Navy had renewed their assault several months ago, their Chief had been acting strange, and now they had all seen why.

    The old waterbender who'd stopped at Meelo's gesture caught the old man, as the airbending faded, and the guards gathered around them. Alex let the Light aura fade back to blue, and then to its usual state of invisibly shielding his frame. Despite his advanced age, Chief Unalaq looked quite a bit stronger, now he was free of Vaatu. His skin became less wrinkled, his hair less frayed but still snow white. As his advisor helped him stand, he began bending, and Alex watched, curiously. He drew water from the air itself into his body, suffusing it with fresh life, but the toll of the lengthy period without that nourishment would be taken on his ancient body in the days and weeks to come. For the moment though, he had the strength to lead. "Master…Pakku…and Meelo? Is Tenzin here? Did…he free me?"

    "That was me, actually." Alex said, and the Chief's eyes turned to him. He bowed in the Unovan style, and the old man recognized it. "I am a friend to your tribe, and Master Tenzin's rebel alliance. We should speak in private, if possible. Along with the Avatar."

    Aware of the number of eyes on them, and how rumors spread, Alex hoped the Chief would see the sense in this. After a long moment, he nodded, when the stranger hadn't offered his name. A quick glance at Meelo, who'd nodded at the foreigner's words, was all he needed. "Very well. To the War Chamber. Master Pakku will join us, once he has retrieved the Avatar."

    Pakku left to do that, and Unalaq thanked his warriors, assuring them his mind was his own again, before leading Alex and Meelo through the maze-like ice corridors of his palace. They entered a room then, with a standard setup that reminded Alex of business rooms for meetings in Unova. A long table, many chairs, all with the trappings of the northern tribe's iconography, but otherwise, a rather spartan chamber designed solely for speaking in private to others. Pakku arrived minutes later as Meelo and Unalaq chatted. Behind the old man, was presumably the Avatar, and Alex took him in as he got his first proper look at his quarry. It'd taken a few weeks more than he'd wanted, and they were well into early summer by now, but finally, he'd found the being Tao charged him with tracking down and aiding. He could almost feel the well-earned rest he was eager to take once his business in Koria finished.

    "Introductions are in order, I think." Pakku said, as the sandy toned young man who was presumably the Avatar sat. He gestured at Meelo and Alex. "This is General Meelo, of the Air Nation, and a leader of the Korian rebellion. His friend is…"

    Alex nodded, taking the conversation's lead from the old man as he stood, and Unalaq sat. "Alexander Redwood. Tamer of the Original Dragon of Unova, and leader of the newly reformed Dragon Empire." He bowed to the space between the Avatar and Unalaq. "The Original Dragon bid me to come to your region to find Raava's Avatar, and help them free Koria of Imperium control." He turned to the presumed Avatar, then. His eyes were sad, and in this moment, a bit incredulous. If he found it odd that a pale westerner was offering their region aid seemingly out of the blue, Alex found it equally odd that so much could rest on the admittedly shredded shoulders of one man.

    He was dressed in similarly modern looking clothes to the locals he'd seen, in the green and brown tones Earth Nation citizens seemed to favor. Bandages covered his hands and muscled forearms, his swampy green, durable looking pants seemed as roomy as Alex's preferred ones, and his shoes were brown, with plates of metal protecting his feet and shins.

    "I see…" Unalaq said, as Alex and the Avatar locked eyes. "Emperor Redwood, then…this is Avatar Jimen. Koria's last hope."

    Alex offered a hand, and the lightly bearded earthbending Avatar took it, as he finally spoke, and gripped Alex's hand with significant force. It was like shaking hands with a rock. "The Original Dragon huh? I've heard the legends…he taught the Fire Nation to wield their flames. Odd, that he'd be on our side."

    As Alex was about to explain that, apparently, they no longer followed what he'd taught, Tao spoke for himself, shocking everyone, as a pair of intense glowing golden eyes manifested in the room above the meeting table. "The Fire Nation has perverted my teachings, Avatar…and you are running out of time to stop them. Even now, the Imperium has sent additional Thunderhawks to level the Water Tribe. You must prepare." The eyes focused on Alex, who sensed the dragon was urgently trying to get them out of harm's way. "Take Jimen and his friend, and return to the Tower." The eyes turned to Unalaq then. "When next you see the Avatar, he will be as strong as Kora and Aang were. With that might, and mine, we will free your people…for now…hide, and shield yourselves as you have before."

    Unalaq simply nodded. He could sense the sheer power and presence of the eyes before him, and they matched what the oldest legends they had of the Fire Nation said when describing the Original Dragon, and how he taught the first firebenders to wield the flame with honor under that fierce golden gaze. For his part, Alex could sense how monumentally disappointed Tao was with how far the Fire Nation had fallen, and how much further they yet could go.

    Alex and Jimen left Pakku, Meelo, and Unalaq to deal with the imminent bombing. Alex took the chance to examine the Avatar's belt, only to find he had no Pokéballs. "So…uh, you're not a Pokémon Trainer?"

    The earthbender glanced at him, as they walked. "I used to be…but no longer. Kora didn't have many partners, and mine…"

    Jimen trailed off, and Alex didn't need to read his mind to recognize sadness. "I understand. Fire Nation?" Jimen nodded, and the two continued on in somewhat awkward silence. Then, suddenly, Jimen stopped at an icy door.

    "This is it. My friend is in here. What tower was your dragon talking about, anyways?"

    Alex spoke, as he opened the door. "Probably the Dragonspiral Tower. In Unova. It's his…headquarters…" He trailed off as he took in the only person inside the room Jimen stopped at, mostly, because of disbelief. The man within had spiky black hair, kind eyes that had a fire in them, a Pikachu on his shoulder, and primarily blue clothing. His red and white hat had a green swoosh on it, and the style of his clothes under his jacket reminded him of what Oranguru garbed his trainees in, these days.

    Jimen stepped into the room nonchalantly, and said, "Ash Ketchum, this is Alex Redwood. The leader of Unova in the west. His Legendary partner said we're supposed to go with him, since the Imperium is coming as we speak."

    Ash seemed to process this, his almost perpetual smile fading. "And leave Koria…? I…don't think I can, just yet." He stood then, and walked towards Alex, offering a gloved hand. "I'm Ash. This is my partner, Pikachu." "Hiya hooman!" The electric mouse said, sounding rather cheerful, given the circumstance of their meeting.

    "Uhh… Hello there…" Alex said, trailing off. He was still processing who was in front of him, how they were even there, the fact that they were even real. A thousand questions flooded his mind, and Ash seemed to have an inkling as to their source.

    "You said Unova right? Before you ask…the cartoon liked to embellish my early years…but honestly they did pretty good with recreating the important moments. It's a good thing most Gym Battles are recorded, huh? Very easy to animate, after that."

    Jimen, for his part, looked completely clueless. "Cartoon?"

    Alex just shook his head, and laughed, genuinely, for the first time in at least a week. "Yea…your friend here is…kind of famous. Famous enough to have a TV show. He's a Champion, one of the best Battlers in the world, and if even half the stories are true, he's met more Legendary Pokémon than most people on the planet." He stiffened, as he sensed Tao's urgency. "As much as I'd love to talk about your Battles, Ash, we need to go. Now. The Imperium has the power to block Teleports, and they're closing in."

    Ash shook his head. "I still need to recall Lugia…"

    "We don't have time!" Alex said, as Tao psychically urged him to hurry, again. "I'm sure a Lugia that large will be just fine on its own. It's a psychic type. It can find you again." He grabbed Jimen's wrist then, and offered a hand to Ash. "We need to go. Quickly."

    Ash's Pikachu look at his Trainer then, "Perhaps we should listen…" and though all Ash heard was "Pi-kachu, pi…" He understood about as well as Alex. "Alright." Ash said, taking the hand offered. "Bring us to Unova."

    Alex focused then, letting his mind focus on and remember an anchor half a world away. Once he had the lock, he used Teleport. A brief pulse of psychic energy emanated from him, but nothing happened. Twice more he tried, and twice he failed.

    "Erm…does that usually happen?" Jimen said, raising an eyebrow.

    "No. We ran out of time. They're already here. Looks like we're on to plan B." Alex said, grimacing.

    To his surprise then, he sensed a powerful surge of fear, and its source was Ash Ketchum. His partner poked him, as the man looked down at the icy floor. "It's the Imperium. Plan B is to surrender before they shoot us. They won't stop, now that they've been deployed."

    To Alex at least, it seemed like he had prior experience with the massive supercontinent-spanning empire. He spoke confidently, and Ash's eyes met his as he did. "They have to find us first, and we have Pokémon with us. We'll be fine." He gestured to Jimen then. "We also have the Avatar. We'll get out of here. The question, is where do we go?"

    The look of determination returned to Ash's eyes. Redwood was right, of course. He had Pikachu, and his partners. Lugia would follow in time. "East. To the Temple of the Mind Sage. I'd heard you also studied under a Sage, Alex. My teacher will likely be eager to have us spar."

    Alex nodded. "I look forward to meeting him." He looked at Jimen then. "I can help you bend us a way to the ocean. Once we reach it, we should walk on the bottom, rendezvous with this Lugia if possible, and start heading towards the mainland. Can you guide us?"

    The Avatar nodded. "I have friends in Ba Sing Se that can get us further east. We'll need a way to cross the ocean, though."

    Alex smirked. "Worry not. I have a Lapras. Lead on, Avatar."

    As the trio made their way, Meelo met up with them, and gave their feet a useful speed boost as they exited Agna Qel'a to the north, moving up the sheer icy cliff face that made up the back of the city with an air spout from Alex and Meelo's combined bending. If Jimen was surprised the Dragon Emperor could bend, neither he, nor Ash, mentioned it. Once at the top, they dropped into the deep snow as Jimen called out a warning. The first of the Imperium's Thunderhawks had arrived. Screaming out of the rising sun over the city, the first flying V of gunships passed over the city, and each one fired payloads of at least forty missiles. Thankfully, the ice did not run red anywhere, and all the Imperium destroyed, as usual, was the homes of ice emptied of material possessions.

    As the V turned around above them for another pass, Alex had seen enough. The group moved, trudging far too slowly down the northern slopes of the Water Nation's ice mass. Then, he heard it. A roar he was all too familiar with, but this one sounded female, and unlike Chari, was no runt. "Behind me!" He shouted, and as the blue Flamethrower burned a trail towards them, he dissipated it as Okuz and Kuzon had done to many of his own attacks by guiding the flames in opposing directions, and leaving naught but a fiery circle that faded to nothing. The Mega Charizard flew over them with an angry roar, and another torrent of blue flame, this time from her rider, came towards them, to no effect. Alex called out Pruina then. "Hop on! Pru! Take them to the water! Quickly!"

    She made a noise that suggested her worry for him, but he waved her on. "Now, Pruina!" As the Lapras took off through the downwards slope of snow, his mind stayed with her, and the battle, such as it was, became split. The Charizard rider leapt for him, only to be blindsided by a massive, snow covered chunk of earth that sent her into the five foot drifts in a fit of rage. The snowmelt kept putting her flames out however and soon she was drenched, and shivering. Alex turned and guided Pruina then, using their shared sight and mental link to aim her Dragon Pulse at the Charizard. After two misses, she narrowed her eyes, and guided the ball of dense dragon energy, curving it in the air, and hit the flying fire lizard right between the wings. Caeruleus crashed into a drift as well, and Pruina fired another three far more condensed Dragon Pulses at her as she reached the water. The fire lizard's Mega Form faded, and Pruina looked worriedly back up at her Trainer.

    Up above, Aluza was enraged, and melted her way out of the permafrost and bits of tundra buried deep under the snow that he'd pelted her with. "Fire…and Earth…" Alex's eyes widened, and for a moment, he wondered if it might not be better, and safer for Jimen, if the Fire Nation was after him, from their perspective, a random pale skinned foreigner who trained Pokémon. He could sense their intent in a crowd, and even if they did ambush him, he had Lux, who could only extend his blade a few inches, if necessary. Without the need to bisect elemental beams from Crusaders, there was no point to go full length all the time, and there was only one person on the planet who, thanks to media and propaganda from the Dragon Empire, owned and used a black and white plasma sword. It had become iconic, and the fame of the Pokémon Wars series was no small part of that. Aluza jumped at him, full of flames and deformed rage across her otherwise appealing features. Her armor didn't leave much to the imagination either, form fitting and soaked as it was.

    Alex confirmed her suspicions for her, and trapped her angry charge with snow, that became water as he shifted its form. Heating and freezing the water he controlled had been tricky, but it was something Akos had gone over until he understood how it worked. He re-froze the water then, completely. Aluza seemed to inhale within the ice, but Alex was ready for that. Firebending needed breath after all. He controlled a hard circle of ice, and sent it hard into her solar plexus as he rapidly raised a fist, and her breath went out, as the air was literally knocked from her lungs.

    "Somehow, I hoped you'd be harder to beat." He said, spinning in the snow and turning it to ice to help his momentum as he broke the bit containing the rage princess, formed it into a sphere, and then chucked it at a passing Thunderhawk, who by this point, were on their third pass, and thus, had finally noticed them. Her ice ball went right through the gunship, and then continued down towards the earth for a landing that would likely shatter it, and free its occupant.

    Shifting the circle of ice beneath him into a makeshift sled not at all unlike the disc-like ones he'd used as a child, he hurtled down towards Pruina, and had to fight down a smile. The situation was too serious for fun, but he had to admit he'd enjoyed fighting a firebender for real. Manipulating Nature Energy could compensate for whenever he faced a superior martial artist. The ice ball would shatter on impact, likely hurting her quite a bit, but, her people were nearby. She'd probably survive, and if she didn't, that was up to the harsh nature of this environment she was invading, and no longer his problem.

    It was Pruina who had ultimately shown both he and Akos how to control large waves of water in what was classically known as a Surf attack, among Trainers. He showed off for her, riding the circular ice sled on the wave he guided and grew, until he came down, and braked beside her. Her forehead met his, and he chuckled. "You're getting good at that, for a human." She said, and he enjoyed the praise from the water type. Who would know waterbending better?

    They descended beneath the waves then, and Jimen helped, as he and Alex kept them all breathing beneath the water in a dome of air, as Pruina propelled them rather quickly through the undersea. Unlike the seabed on his way into the region, Pokémon were all over the place here. Meelo sat quietly on the shell, meditating, and projecting his aura towards the wild Pokémon, including several Sharpedo. They were nudged into ignoring the humans atop the Lapras, and more then once Pruina had let her horn sparkle with the beginnings of a Thunderbolt for those alphas who wanted to test her anyway. There were none here capable of resisting an electric attack, and most species seemed content to ignore them.

    Ash's Pikachu shouted, and pointed in the distance, and Alex mentally guided Pruina into a stop. A massive shape was moving in the distance towards them. All Alex glimpsed was its eyes, glowing ominously in the dark inland ocean, though they resolved into the features of a truly massive Lugia as it came closer. Compared to Pravus's and Percy's, this one was clearly the oldest, and probably classifiable as an alpha of the Lugia line.

    His male mental voice was calming, and Alex extended the bubble as his head came closer. Pokémon around them watched, curious as to what the Beast of the Sea could want with humans and a Lapras. "Hello." He said, looking at each of them, before focusing on Ash. "You do not need my aid for the next leg of your journey. I must return to the isles."

    Ash nodded. "I understand. Thank you, Lugia. Before you go…could you drive off the Thunderhawks?"

    The Legendary Pokémon nodded slowly. "It will be my extreme pleasure…travel safely, Ash. If you need me, I shall come."

    Alex watched the psychic and flying type, and he smirked to himself. The emotions being given by Ash and his partner almost reminded him of himself and Rayquaza. The dragon tended to be more stern, but if one could get him to indulge in some Leaf, he was very companionable. He didn't open up his heart much, and Alex knew it was because he still grieved for his last human, but they'd reached a mutual level of respect, and Alex knew if he ever needed him, both he and Tao would be there. Only a few Rayquaza could move so fast they Teleported, and Tao had long ago mastered the skill of instantly transmitting his being to another point in space. Apparently it was slightly different to Teleport, and he'd learned it from a human, but the dragon had not elaborated on who, or where, or even when.

    The Lugia flapped away then, and the silt blinded them completely. Another thump of pressure signaled a second flap, and then, Lugia was above the water. He spun out of the ocean in a glorious spin, bringing no small amount of water with him. Almost immediately, the two wings of Thunderhawks dispatched to level Agna Qel'a reacted to its presence.

    By the time they turned though, it was already too late. The Aeroblast was accompanied by a furious shriek that the party below the water did hear, and the resulting explosions from 80% of the airships signaled his victory. The survivors scattered, and Lugia took the opportunity to fly away, east towards the sea, where he could travel in his favored terrain on his way home. There were other Lugia to see of course, and he looked forward to checking on them on his way back.

    The group soon discovered that waterbending didn't apply to silt, and Jimen left the bubble to Alex, as he focused on keeping the disturbed mud, miles of it upturned by Lugia's flaps, from coating them. Keeping Pruina's eyes clear was also a draw on his focus, and thus Alex kept their bubble intact, as he settled in, and became accustomed to the strain.

    "Try this." Meelo said, extending his aura shield to match their bubble. Alex reinforced his shield with his own, and found it drew far less energy than constantly bending.

    "What, you're psychic, too?" Jimen said, in disbelief.

    Alex smirked at him, as he took a similar meditative pose to Meelo. "I was a psychic long before I was bending Nature Energy." With the silt issue solved, the four men chatted in the quiet beneath quite a bit of pressure from the inland ocean around them. Ash explained that he'd been training with the Mind Sage, an Alakazam, alongside his friend Isamu. He was too excitedly recounting it to elaborate on who that was, but neither Alex nor either of the other two stopped him.

    Alex recounted his own training then, and he had to smirk when Ash seemed surprised to learn he was Unova's Champion. He asked what happened to Iris, and Alex simply said she'd retired. It was easy to miss, given how lively Ash was, but Alex realized he was quite a few years older than himself and Jimen. It was Meelo though who was by far the oldest. He briefly wondered if Iris had slowly faked how old she'd become, so that she could 'retire' and do as she pleased. It was no secret she had not been thrilled by being so easily dethroned by Rosa, who had then gone on to be trounced by Nate hours later, with his absurdly powerful team. Taking on the majority of Team Plasma had turned his team of six into beasts, and it was a matter of record that he hadn't stopped there. Nate had let Iris retain the title, while he beat her with four more teams from his box, before officially claiming the title and seat of Champion. His clash with N had been, in a word, Legendary, but the green haired son of Ghetsis had eventually emerged the winner, taking on Nate's entire team with only Zekrom, and winning. Alex was glad he hadn't been that on top of his game, when they'd battled.

    Chatting with the three men made the trip seem short, and before long they were on the shoreline just before the massive mountains of the Laghima range, where the Northern Air Temple once stood. As Meelo tried to contact his father, Alex, Jimen, and Ash had a quieter conversation. "Jimen. I met a…special Polteageist in the Spirit World on my way here…it claimed that Raava, Koria's Guardian, lost her connection to your past lives in Kora's last clash with Ozai. Have you been able to speak with her?"

    Jimen shook his head. "Raava…I know that name…but no, I…the Water Sages said the Guardian was sleeping, and that she may likely not awaken in my lifetime."

    Alex nodded. "I've been thinking about that." He looked at Ash then. "I think the Mind Sage may be able to help us with awakening Raava. Once we're out of range of the Teleport blocker, can you get us there?"

    Ash frowned. "Maybe…I've never Teleported myself before…" Pikachu leaped onto his shoulder then, and gave him a tiny thumbs up. "But I can certainly try!"

    At that point, Meelo came over to the triad of protagonists. "I just contacted my father. They're actually close…there's just one problem."

    Jimen arched a thin eyebrow and spoke up. "What is it, General?"

    Meelo sighed, and his gray eyes looked downward. "The Admiral leading this attack isn't…sane. He's brought a Coalossal from the Imperium."

    Alex spoke this time, "The giant kind?" Meelo nodded an affirmative. "Muk. They won't even know its coming…and something that large will snap that ice mass in half."

    The four men shared glances, and Ash spoke this time. "I'm not leaving a city's worth of people to die…or worse. I've seen what the Imperium does to prisoners." He turned to Jimen then. "We stopped them once. We can do it again."

    "Without your Lugia?" Meelo said, sighing, and pinching his brow. "We don't have the numbers to take down a Coalossal that large, and we can't mass Teleport the people out now."

    "Unless," Ash countered, "We find the Librarius." The other three men looked at him, and he gave his best attempt at a confident smile. Alex and Meelo could both tell he was fighting the fear within, though. "We take out the Librarius, the Teleport blockage goes down." He looked at Alex and Meelo then. "Can you two Teleport that many people at once?"

    Meelo pondered for a moment, and then glanced at Alex, who shrugged, and looked back to Ash. "With Tenzin's help? Maybe…but we'd need somewhere to send them. Somewhere that knows they're coming."

    "The Mind Sage took in the Air Nomads once." Ash said. "I can try to reach him, and tell him Agna Qel'a is coming as well."

    "Let's keep that as a backup plan…" Alex said, looking into the distance. There was a part of the horizon line more smokey than the rest of it. "I say we take down the Coalossal, and drive them back. Jimen, that Firebender I fought, thinks that I'm you…I say we convince this Admiral of the same thing. Let them think the new Avatar has pale skin like a westerner. They'll never find you. Right now, getting you to safety is our first priority. Ash, we need to move to the south east, out of Librarius range, at which point you can both go to the Mind Sage. Leave the Coalossal to us. Without it, the Northern Water Tribe can keep enduring."

    "You're suggesting open war with the Imperium, Alex." Meelo said. "Are you sure you want to risk that? They may have other ways of identifying you."

    "When I Purged Vaatu from Chief Unalaq, I have no doubt he informed the Imperator of who I was, and that I was here. We need to hit the Fire Nation before more reinforcements arrive. If we take out the Librarius and the Coalossal, we can retreat, and call it a victory." Alex said, crossing his arms. He was using his own General voice now, confident of the plan.

    Ash and Jimen shared a look as well. "We can't just leave-"

    But Alex held up a hand. "Jimen is more important to Koria's future than me or Meelo or anyone with Tenzin. I know he'll be safe with you, Ash. You need to leave this to us. Adamanteus!" He shouted, summoning his Steelix. "We need to head up those mountains, and put as many miles between us and Agna Qel'a as possible. Can you handle them?"

    The Steelix looked at the peaks of the Laghima range, and nodded. "There are powerful rivals here…but I can take them, now…"

    Alex nodded, confident he could. "Alright. Hop on, you two. Ash, try reaching the Sage."

    With reluctant sighs, the two men climbed onto Adamanteus, and Ash's aura flared a blue almost as deep as Alex's. Possibly even moreso. Alex could sense the sheer depths of his power, and in that moment, very much regretted that they probably wouldn't have a chance to battle. Yet. Then, as he reached out, an overwhelmingly powerful mental presence manifested among them, and Meelo turned, his own communication with Tenzin disrupted by the arrival of such a potent mental presence.

    "All three of you must come."

    The voice was loud even for Alex as it echoed in his head, not like thunder, but louder than his own Sage master was. It made some sense, for no species could boast the kind of psychic power an Alakazam could produce. Their brains were more advanced than humanity's, and a Sage of that species would probably be, arguably, the most powerful psychic presence in the world. It didn't mean Oranguru would necessarily lose, if they battled, but in terms of raw special attack power, this Alakazam would have a clear advantage.

    Meelo spoke then. "He's right, Alex…he…he showed me how to win this. Let my father and I handle the Coalossal and Agna Qel'a. Go. Help our Avatar, Dragon Emperor."

    Alex glanced at Adamanteus, who also sensed the massive mind, though he only had second-hand knowledge from Alex as to what the plan now was. "Fine." Alex said, giving Adamanetus a kick. "Be safe, Meelo. Keep everyone alive, if you can."

    Meelo watched them speed off into the Laghima mountains then, and Tenzin and his group arrived just in time to see their dust cloud, and their mount, vanish in a flash of Teleportation as they'd sped onto a second peak, and then a third with the Steelix's power.

    Temple of the Mind Sage - Koria Region


    Adamanteus crashed hard as the inertia carried through the Teleport. Ash and Pikachu went flying as they lost their grip, Jimen simply leapt and rolled away, but Alex stayed on, secure in his position behind his partner's large neck. He gave the slightly winded Steelix a rest in his ball, and looked around. Odd and long strands of golden yellow grass extended into the sea from either side of the pointed almost triangular jetty they'd appeared on. Before the trio, on a rising mound of what seemed to be dirt, was a structure he would classify as a temple. Large, many roomed, and made of stone, Ash began sprinting towards it. Jimen glanced at Alex, and Alex nodded, before starting after him. Luckily for them, Pikachu hopped off his Trainer's shoulder to guide the slower pair, and Alex tossed him an Oran Berry for his trouble.

    Ahead of them, Ash sprinted up the stairs to the topmost chamber of the temple, where the Mind Sage typically resided. Ash found him again in his Mega Form, meditating, and hovering in the air. His eyes opened, as he sensed the urgency of his student's return. "Interesting…someone has shown you how Teleport works, have they?"

    "Master…" Ash said, out of breath. He panted, from taking so many stairs so quickly. "It's Agna Qel'a…they're under attack from a Coalossal."

    "I am aware." The Mega Alakazam said, nonchalantly. "What of them?"

    "We need to help!" Ash said, regaining his breath. "If that thing reaches their iceberg, it'll break it in half!"

    "And then it will fall into the ocean, and presumably be attacked by the local Pokémon. I see no issue here, Ash Ketchum."

    Ash blinked at the callousness of the Sage. He'd genuinely thought the kind old Pokémon would eagerly lend a hand. "Look, the city's population is hiding right now, under the iceberg. If it breaks, they'll be crushed!"

    "They are Waterbenders. I severely doubt they will so easily die to something they can bend." Alakazam answered. "The Fire Nation cannot reach them, and the Imperium is not equipped for deep water combat. The people will survive. Probably. They can rebuild their icy home quite easily. They've done so before."

    "Maybe they can rebuild!" Ash said, growing frustrated, "But we need to move the civilians who can't bend out of danger until it's passed. I wanted to ask you to bring them here."

    The Mega Alakazam pondered, and closed his eyes. For an infuriatingly long time he said nothing, and Ash tried not to be impatient. The Mind Sage often got like this, when he tried to mentally foresee and predict all future outcomes. "Your idea has merit. Freeing the Waterbenders to aid the Rebellion will likely turn the conflict into a rout for the Fire Nation. The first loss in the turning tide of the war. Of course, none of this can come to pass until the Librarius is removed."

    "General Meelo is working on that as we speak, Great Sage." A new voice said, echoing through the chamber.

    The Mega Alakazam shifted his eyes to the newcomer and arched a brow. "I know thee, human…Oranguru's Rising Star. The Rain Sage speaks well of you also. You are welcome in my temple, Dragon Emperor."

    "I'm honored to be here, wise Sage. I brought the Avatar with me." Alex gestured to Jimen then, and the newest incarnation of the Avatar stepped forward.

    "Uh…hi. I'm Jimen." He said, awkwardly scratching the back of his head. He was still coming to terms with the fact that Pokémon could apparently 'speak human' when they wanted to, if they were psychic typed or Legendary. Or both.

    The Sage eyed him for some time. "Raava yet sleeps within you…it will take many lifetimes for her power to fully return to you…lifetimes we do not have the luxury of waiting through."

    "Then…how do I wake her up?" Jimen asked. "Ash and Alex said you might have a clue to that."

    The Sage nodded simply. "I do." He gestured for them to come sit, and before where he floated effortlessly in the air, three plush seating cushions appeared, and the three men sat, and listened. "To awaken Raava, you must enter the Spirit World, and find the lost remnants of your past lives. The battle between Avatar Kora and Fire Lord Ozai scattered much of your spiritual lineage…but enough may yet remain to awaken Raava, and elevate your combined powers to that of past Avatars. Your spirit will never be completely healed, but if you find Avatars of repute, who wielded great power on their own in their times, you will gain their wisdom and experience, and their power when you enter the Avatar State. Once you have reconnected with enough of your lives, Redwood here can show you how to master the Avatar State."

    Alex blinked. "Erm…I can?"

    The Sage nodded. "You have walked the Trial of Eight Paths and come through alive. Not something many humans can claim to have done. Even only a precious few Avatars ever managed it. You must guide Jimen through his path, as you were guided through yours. Are you up to the task, Redwood?"

    Alex briefly pondered. Obviously the goal would be to get Jimen to channel the energy of the universe itself at the finale of his chakra opening. Such energy might very well be what Raava would need to awaken, assuming they could find his past lives. "It would be easier to take him to Unova…the Seven Sages there can help him more than I could."

    The Sage shook his head. "Raava must awaken here, in Koria. She is tied to this land in a manner every Guardian is. You will be provided with whatever you need, to open his chakras."

    Alex nodded. "Then I'll do my best to train him, Mind Sage."

    "You will train Ash Ketchum as well." The Alakazam said, looking to Alex at least, deviously proud. "This is the price of my aid with Teleporting the majority of the Northern Water Tribe into my home."

    Alex glanced at Ash, and knew that if he helped someone with such obvious raw potential awaken it, he would be given a very strong rival as a result. "I accept. I'll do what I can to guide both of my new friends here on the path to enlightenment."

    "Good!" The Sage thundered. "I will send you into the Spirit World now, to find Jimen's past selves. You have been there before Redwood. Think of the best place to land, and you shall appear there."

    Deep purple aura flared around the floating Pokémon, and Alex thought for a moment, deciding between Kashiji's hut, and the Tree, before ultimately focusing on the hut. If anyone could help them, it was the Light touched Polteageist that Raava had inadvertently created.

    As he focused, Ash and Jimen closed their eyes as well, and then, in a flash of purple, they were gone.

    Fire Nation Controlled Shore Near Agna Qel'a - Koria Region

    After Cae had found Aluza lying unconscious and battered on the ruined ice of Agna Qel'a, the two had returned across the inland sea to report to the Admiral the identity of the new Avatar. She'd sent a Talonflame ahead with a message, but knew the Admiral would want a full account of her failures. She hadn't expected him to look like a foreigner from the west. They'd never considered that Koria's Guardian would reincarnate outside of Koria, it had never happened before, but then, the Fire Nation had never all but controlled Koria either. Would it not make sense to reincarnate in a non-hostile region, and then return to Koria once grown?

    As she pondered her latest excuse for failing her mission, she noticed a pair of rats, scurrying on the ground near Incineratus, as Cae alerted her with a growl. "Finally…" Aluza descended with practice born of years of training, and in the darkening sky, Caeruleus was all but impossible to see. What Akos and Ara did see as they went about their mission to take down Incinceratus from the inside, were faint half circles of sparks in the darkness, followed by an impossibly fast bolt, aimed right at Akos. All Ara had time to see of this perfect and critical strike from the shadows was where the bolt would hit, and she leapt, catching it herself before it hit her brother. As Ara went down in a smoking heap, Akos drew the water from their six total waterskins, and used it to shield himself and his sister from the follow-up blue Flamethrower delivered by their attacker's obsidian skinned mount.

    Unfortunately, the attack burned away his shield, and Aluza followed up by leaping down from Cae's back, and bringing an arcing fiery foot down at Akos. It became clear the grinning, deformed rage princess was playing with him, as they traded blows, and Akos knew he needed to level the playing field before the Charizard returned for another pass, or worse, mega evolved again. If it reached its dragon-typed Mega Form, he had no chance of stopping it solo.

    Desperate to slow her, Akos used the snow around them to freeze her, and in the seconds it took her to once more burn free of an icy prison, Akos called out his Rockruff. He wasn't particularly special in terms of looks, and Akos hadn't used him much since catching him. They'd camped together a few times, but he'd called on his other new additions for training, so far. Thus, the rock pupper was a bit confused as he was brought out to handle a fully grown and very pissed off Charizard. Akos then surprised him, by offering him what seemed to be some sort of small pink candy, in a blue wrapper. "Eat this!" He ordered. "Hurry!"

    Akos's Pokédex had listed his Rockruff's projected level, and he'd found it around the same as the other Pokémon he'd caught in the Laghima mountains. He'd also noticed it was more than was needed for evolution, apparently, and by quite a large margin. Thus, as the sun set around them and the night took over, the Rockruff was given a Rare Candy he'd picked up randomly from the ground, and as a result, the tiny rock puppy began glowing, growing, and then howled, as he reformed as a Midnight Form Lycanroc. "Get the Charizard!" Akos shouted, as he and Aluza once more engaged.

    He shifted his attacks from ones that tried hitting her, to tendrils, focused on slithering around out of her field of vision, and snaring her limbs before she could burn him. The newly evolved, but now much stronger Lycanroc fought a similar losing battle, against the superior Charizard, only staying alive and conscious thanks to his newly learned move: Stone Edge.

    Just as the Lycanroc was about to suffer a rather powerful tail smash, a feminine voice broke in on the conflict. "Now, Luna! Use Moonblast!" Akos hadn't expected help, as Minami, Meelo, and Tenzin were on their way to the Librarius. Thus, when the absurdly powerful beam of fairy magic came out of nowhere to smash into the Charizard, he knew the tables had begun to turn. The source of the attack was a blue eyed Lunatone, floating beside its Trainer, a similarly blue eyed and white haired woman of Akos's nation, garbed in the blues and light purple of the Northern Water Tribe. Around her, from the ocean, came other waterbenders, garbed for war, and they brought with them ice Liepards, Beartics, and even a truly massive Gyarados, that was just then arcing out of the water. The Gyarados, clearly an older one, and therefore far more powerful, aimed a Hyper Beam at Incineratus that the massive Coalossal raised its arms to tank through the beam. Though a mark had been left, all the attack really did was make the living furnace roar hard enough to vibrate the air with the force of it.

    The fight Aluza had started had alerted not just the Fire Army forces within Incineratus, but the northerners who had been watching and waiting for a sign that it was time to strike. Evidently seeing a member of their sister tribe from the south go down hard was enough to motivate them. Akos's Lycanroc capitalized on the fairy attack, following it with a harsh, quadruply effective Stone Edge that sent Caeruleus hurtling away from the newly made camp. Furious, Aluza beat down the water rat resisting her, finishing him by breaking his guard, and then hitting him in the chin with a roundhouse kick. She sprinted for Cae then, ready to burn the world around her if someone tried to further harm her partner.

    The white haired Trainer ran to Akos, but he pointed weakly at his sister instead as he fought to stay conscious. "My…sister…oof." As he blacked out, the woman laid him down, and then approached the still-smoking form of Aratak. She winced, as she noticed the body before her had, by that point, stopped breathing. Akos hadn't had a chance to tend her after she was struck, and by now, her spirit had left. The woman retrieved her necklace, a symbol that she was apparently engaged, and four Pokéballs from her bag.

    Her Lunatone then levitated Akos back into the water, and hid them beneath the waves just out of sight of the battle with a silvery shield of aura, as the woman tended to him. Akos regained consciousness quickly, and looked around agitated, before his eyes settled on the woman. She was beautiful, easily the most stunning Akos had seen in his young life, and as he realized he was sitting in damp sand underwater, with his head in her lap, he flushed slightly, and sat up. A roar echoed from above them. "The battle isn't over? My sister! Is she-" The words died in his throat as he saw the woman's face, and as his eyes fell, saw four Pokéballs in her palm, and their mother's necklace.

    That told him all he needed to know. "My name is Yue." She said, placing her free hand on his arm. "By the time I reached her…not even Heal Pulse could help. I'm sorry it took my people so long to aid brave warriors, like you and your sister."

    Akos was a roiling bag of emotion, as he tried to come to terms with the fact that a beautiful woman was touching him, and his sister had died for him. All he could do was stare at what he had left of her; his mom's necklace, and his sister's Pokémon. She had always been the better bender, the smarter one, though he'd never admit it. It was why she'd been tapped for the resistance, and he had not. Or so he thought. He took her Pokémon from Yue, and let them out beneath the shielded sea. A Horsea, a Primarina, a Dewgong, and to his surprise, what he recognized as a female Riolu appeared before him.

    Their faces broke his heart as he told them the fate of their Trainer, and though they didn't know Yue, they looked to her for confirmation all the same. Her Lunatone let out a sad tone that confirmed, in their tongue, what they asked, and the Primarina began crying as Akos finally spoke with a shaky voice. "I understand if you girls want to leave…there's plenty of wild Pokémon here that the Fire Nation hasn't disturbed. The Dewgong, and most recently caught addition to his sister's team, looked at the ocean around them, and then nodded with a sad intonation of her name. He released her, and with a sad farewell, she slipped beyond the psychic barrier. The Primarina did the same a moment later, jetting off at an upward angle, and heading north. He'd heard that, when sad, they created hauntingly beautiful melodies to express their feelings, and he knew that tonight, such a melody would fill the inland sea. He kept her ball just in case, though.

    The Horsea, for his part, as Akos realized it was a he, and not female like the others, just looked heartbroken, sagging into the sand, as he clearly didn't know what to do now that his friend had passed on. The Riolu however, was emanating an emotion Akos understood all too well, and as they locked eyes, he knew he'd gained a partner. "Rio. Lu." She barked at him, and he nodded, holding up her ball. "Revenge it is, then." The Horsea watched the Riolu be recalled, and then met Akos's gaze. The sad, tear-filled eyes of the relatively young Pokémon hit him hard, and then they mirrored his. Tear-filled, shiny, but determined. "I'll take you with me too, then." He said, recalling the little one.

    Yue let him have a moment, as he cleared his eyes, and stood up as he did. "Right." Akos said, sounding far more confident as he suddenly took her hands in his. He fixed her with a hard stare. "I know you don't really know me, but I need your help, Yue. I was tasked with bringing that Coalossal down from the inside…and I can't do it alone."

    She nodded, matching his determined look, as the faint blush from him suddenly grabbing her hands faded. "The Northern Water Tribe is no longer hiding. Even Chief Unalaq is fighting. I will help you." The pair emerged from the water then, and found the beach landing area alight with random fires, jutting ice sticking out of the snow, and numerous now dead Fire Nation soldiers. The waterbenders, as usual, had the advantage when it came to fights they weren't massively outnumbered in. More troops would be coming though, as word reached the ships anchored in the only waterway that led into the Water Nation's home learned their moving base was under attack. They scurried across the snowy beach, Akos pointedly avoiding looking at where his sister had fallen, as they entered a metal doorway carved into Incineratus' leg. The carved out insides of the living furnace Pokémon were as hot as one could expect it to be, and thanks to Minami's education, he knew where he needed to hit the massive Pokémon to set it off. In the bowels of each Coalossal mutation, their 'hearts' such as they were had been changed with technology, implants, and genetic therapy to produce more of everything the Pokémon needed to live, resulting in truly massive size.

    He had no idea if Meelo, Minami, and Tenzin were accomplishing their mission, or were already dead because of it, but he intended to blow the Coalossal either way. This mission had cost them far too much already, and all because they hadn't seen the Charizard rider in the sky. His sister's Riolu and Yue's Lunatone ran beside them, but all they encountered were a few normal engineers, that the Riolu took down with a brutal series of punches. She was brave with her attacks, but Akos knew that bravery was driven by grief. She tried to hide it, but he could sense how torn up the punchy puppy truly was. "We need a name for you, don't we." He said, trying to distract her as they ran down several cramped corridors unimpeded for the moment. "How about Tuhan?"

    Roughly translating to 'fighting spirit' the Riolu's eyes went wide. "What," Akos said, chuckling as they came around a corner, boomerang raised. "Is that what my sister called you?" He paused, as the Riolu put a paw on his leg, and nodded, and he blinked. "Great minds think alike." He growled, as a fresh wave of emotion threatened to overcome him. The Riolu looked at him differently after that, and actually listened to his orders when he gave them.

    Eventually, they reached what Akos guessed was the core of the Pokémon while encountering only about twenty people. It turned out that Tuhan also knew Rock Slide in addition to Force Palm and Quick Attack. This helped with the various fire and flying types the soldiers had used. Talonflame was a very common choice for a Fire Nation soldier's belt, and the swiftly moving rocks propelled by aura took them down rapidly. The core itself was surrounded by criss-crossing steel beams that provided structure for the device's advanced technology. It was very sturdy looking, and neither Tuahn nor Luna managed to make so much as a dent in it.

    Akos then called out his Duraludon, Alumin, and Pado. "I need you two to work together, on cutting through these beams." He said, only to notice his Duraludon, a very high level catch, and a new one, was uncomfortable in the heat, and disinclined to listen to the human who'd snatched him from his territory. Akos looked meaningfully at Pado, and gestured at the rapidly heating steel type. Water doused the steel dragon, and its initial reaction was anger, until Akos got in front of it. "Focus, Alumin. Help Pado cut through these beams. He'll keep you cool."

    The dragon eyed Akos properly, and paused, as he read the obvious turmoil he thought he was hiding and repressing. Pokémon were, luckily, much better at reading humans than humans assumed. Sensing his distress, the steel dragon nodded, and then glanced at Pado. He seemed more concerned with the human, which made sense, but as ordered, the two began using their steel moves to slowly cut through the strong, light, and durable alloy blend the Imperium used in pretty much all their processed metal structures.

    "Yue." Akos said, gaining her attention, "We can cut through the other beams with our Waterbending. Then Luna can deliver a powerful attack from above, maybe something rock typed, and it should, theoretically, all come crashing down." Luna chirped, evidently happy to help, and Akos looked at her. "We might need a shield once it falls. Can you cover us?"

    The blue-eyed psychic rock moon nodded confidently, and that was enough for Akos. They set to work then, with Tuhan covering the entrance to the core room. She kept herself hidden, and with her aura, sensed when anyone unfriendly approached. For a solid hour, they kept at it, slicing through steel alloyed beams one by one, until finally, Akos deemed it ready to fall. In that time, they'd heard consistent sounds of fighting, and he only hoped that the airbenders weren't having too rough of a time holding off the Admiral and his troops while they took down the Librarius.

    When Akos said it was ready, Luna looked at the beams, and her eyes began glowing with a pale white psychic aura. "She's using Future Sight…" Yue said, somewhat in awe. Seeing that the psychic bombardment from the future would be enough to detonate the Coalossal core, she gave a cry of "Tooooone!" And then hastily floated for the exit. Tuhan both cleared them a path and covered their rear with her Quick Attack getting her to the front and back of the group more than once. The few soldiers they encountered fell easily, and when they emerged, it was to the sight of a losing battle for the Water Nation. More Fire Nation soldiers had arrived, it seemed.

    Yue put a hand on Luna, and shouted, as her voice reverberated through the area. "The mission is accomplished! Everyone run!" What waterbenders yet lived began disengaging from the firebenders, usually by locking them in what little snow remained on the beach that had yet to be used for bending. As they began running into the ocean a pair of firebenders torched a retreating waterbender, and Akos realized they were slow targets for the firebenders remaining on the shore, so he called out his Lycanroc again. "Amaroq! Make us a wall with Stone Edge!"

    The midnight Lycanroc howled, and did as ordered, slamming his paws into the ground, and creating rocky cover for the fleeing waterbenders. There were less of them than before, but there were far more dead Fire Nation soldiers in their wake. Akos doused the man who'd been opportunistically torched as Amaroq made the pair of firebenders pay for overreaching, instead of retreating with the rest of their forces. Akos recalled his Lycanroc before it got further distracted by chasing fleeing opponents, and he and Yue ran to the ocean.

    Behind them, Incineratus let out a mournful sound, and Akos' arm went around Yue's waist as he pulled her down into the water and shouted, "Duck!" A pillar of white orange flame lit the sky for miles around, and flaming rocks, not unlike meteors, came falling down as the mutated Coalossal finally expired. After seeing how heavily modified it had been, Akos had no doubt the creature was glad it no longer had its innards playing home to Fire Nation soldiers. As the two waterbenders sat up in the relatively low surf, they watched the sky.

    Yue was in awe, but Akos was looking for the three who'd gone to take on the Librarius. Then, one of the fireballs descending from above stopped being on fire, and Akos spied Minami as the source, as she and Meelo held what appeared to be an unconscious Tenzin. Akos really hoped he was just unconscious. Meelo tried cushioning their landing, but the air puff he produced was lacking. Akos raised his arms, and seeing his target, Yue helped him. Together they raised a wave, thin at the top and large at the bottom, ideal for spreading out the water tension and impact force of three rapidly falling humans. "I can heal them." Yue said, once they landed, and Akos pulled the three towards them with the ocean's current.

    As a pair of very bruised and beaten rebels deposited their unconscious and rather old general, Yue frowned, but began doing her best to heal anyways. "Luna, I'll need your Heal Pulse." Luna began focusing her psychic power on the airbender, and then Akos felt her nudge his mind. Turning on nothing but instinct, he raised not one, but three ice walls, as yet another surprise, and critically effective, lightning strike came lancing towards Yue this time, her glowing healing power making her an obvious target in the night. Two of the ice barriers shattered, and Akos clenched a fist, drawing the third onto his form, like armor. "This bitch…" He growled as anger took over his vision.

    "Keep healing, Yue." Akos said, and as he angry walked towards Aluza, it seemed as if the inland ocean, or at least a very large part of it, moved with him. He called out three Pokémon then, not looking at them, or even stopping as he walked. "Amaroq. Protect them from any more damned lightning…Tuhan…Pado…this is the inbred Fire Royal that killed my sister." Tuhan snarled as she reacted to Akos's rage, and shared it, and Pado, who had genuinely liked Ara especially after their tag-team move on that angry guy with the sideburns, intended to avenge her. "Don't hold back."

    A healed and rejuvenated Caeruleus joined Aluza then, and she held up a hand towards the Fire Nation soldiers approaching from behind her. "This water rat is mine. Nobody interferes!" What was left of the beach had been turned black and into glass by the massive detonation of Incineratus. The ground was still hot, steaming in the cold air of the Water Tribe's home and littered with the charred and now empty armor of dead Fire Nation soldiers as the two faced each other down.

    "Back for round two, Royal?" Akos said. "I want your name, before I kill you."

    Aluza smirked. He was angry, which meant her strike earlier in their first round had done its work. She felt the thrill of the kill surge through her, and beside her Caeruleus felt it as well, her orange tail flame shifting to blue. "You have the honor of having your rat sister killed by the Fire Princess Aluza. I don't need your name, sea trash, but your penguin's corpse will please the Admiral." She moved then, like lightning, but Akos was expecting that now, and having none of it. For some reason, he felt more in tune with his bending than he ever had before. "Aqua Jet." He said, as Pado laid down, and he guided the water penguin into the air with his bending after hopping on his back and locking his feet there with ice, essentially making them fly. "Tuhan! Take the Charizard!"

    Aluza's first strike missed the pair as Akos began air surfing atop his Empoleon, and she looked at Caeruleus then. "Mega Evolve! Kill the runt, and then bring them out of the sky." The eager flame lizard nodded, and then began glowing. Aluza pressed her Key Stone, and it reacted to the X strand of Charizardite hidden within Cae's crimson body armor. The Mega Charizard moved for the Riolu, but Akos trusted in Tuhan. Despite the massive disadvantage, he knew she wouldn't let her Trainer's death go unanswered, and all she really needed to do, was distract the Charizard.

    Pado hurtled towards Aluza once Caeruleus left her side, but the mutilated princess dodged easily, and danced through another buildup for a lightning strike. The water that Akos had brought with him trailed behind him as they jetted through the air, and as Aluza struck again, Akos turned with Pado, and the pair barrel rolled safely through the air as the momentum of the penguin Pokémon kept his Trainer tightly bound to his back. Then, Akos retaliated. After seeing her attack several times now, he'd noted a weakness. After she fired, she lowered her guard from brief exhaustion. Either she was as tired as he was, or shooting hot plasma from one's limbs took a toll. In reality, her body was simply cold, after being drenched in her earlier battle, and essentially frozen. Akos raised his arms, and as he did, he spied Luna out of the corner of his eye.

    Tenzin and the other waterbender had been stabilized, and the Lunatone had then ignored Yue, to focus on the sky above the battle for some reason. Nothing she could do made the psychic moon rock budge, so Yue went back to healing with her own power, and let Luna do as she wished. There were really only two moves Luna wished to contribute to the kind waterbender with the hurting heart, and the first, was Moonlight. Though it only restored Luna's energy, something she also needed, it also made the moon appear in the sky, and shine brighter. It was a useful boon to waterbenders.

    As Akos brought his hands down, the spiral of water he and Pado left in their air surfing wake rained down hundreds of thin, needle like razor sharp pieces of ice from multiple directions. Aluza burned a swathe around her face free, but many more hit her sides, back, and legs, and the ice soon turned red, signaling a successful hit. What was worse, was that as her rage melted them, the wounds they left were free to flow, and there were simply too many to burn closed. She'd pass out from the pain of searing nerve endings long before she cauterized every cut Akos had given her.

    Akos gathered what water remained in front of him as Pado kept them levitating, and when Aluza lowered her guard to counter, she was greeted with another shower of ice needles. This time, several got through the flames billowing from her mouth, and brought her down with the force they hit her with. With hate in his eyes Akos surfed towards the soldiers then, and raised his arms. From the beach, and Aluza herself, came a flood of water and blood needles. He aimed them at the soldiers, only pausing long enough to give those with sense to run as the cloud of death formed over them. Those who moved to fight, were brought down in a rain of icy death. Each fallen soldier only added to what Akos could bend, and combine with the snow. He wasn't entirely merciless. Those who begged or those who limped away wounded he didn't target, and some, simply retreated after keeping a steady burn against the blood and water, before turning and fleeing. "Ice Beam." He said coldly, and Pado launched an icy ray of frosty energy along the bloody ground. He made a wall of seething ice then that gave off waves of frost in the relatively warmer air, the part on the land was blood red, and the part blocking the water of the Xiyan river was as cold as a glacier, and almost as thick, for he'd frozen all of it.

    The Pokémon in the river would be saved later, by other waterbenders, but for now, the message to the Fire Nation was clear. The beach was theirs, their Coalossal was gone, and sure enough as the sun would rise, so too would the Northern Water Tribe return, as they always had, after Imperium bombardment. While Akos had lost himself to rage, grief, and war, his new bond with his Riolu had been affected by his mindset.

    Tuhan had dodged the Mega Charizard with well directed Force Palms keeping her just out of Caeruleus's reach. She'd managed to dodge the furious dragon for just long enough for her Trainer to pelt Aluza with ice. The second hit sent Cae back to her normal form, and as she moved to defend her Trainer, Tuhan hit her hard with a Rock Slide, right on her neck. Drawing the Charizard's fury again, she moved to crush the annoying puppy with a Wing Attack, only to then feel the brunt of Luna's second contributing move; another Moonblast. Concentrated fairy energy again hammered the Charizard, just in time for the moment when Akos's emotions had shifted. Sensing the darker turn, the Riolu reacted. Under a bloody night sky, at the peak of rage and emotional turmoil, Tuhan found herself heading down an alternate and previously avoided path of the Riolu line. Luna kept up the Moonblast, as the punchy pupper evolved.

    She had two metal spikes on the knuckles of each of her paws, and in form looked like a slightly shaggier Lucario. Her fur was longer, all across her body. What was supposed to be blue was now more plum colored; the spike on her chest was also on her back, and her feet were larger, shaggier, and had longer claws. Her tail curled upwards into a tight spiral, like a Kecleon's, and her 'hair' had several lumps, almost reminiscent of braids which dangled down by her ears. The black fur around the end of each of her paws was a familiar crimson, and the fur coating her chest was black instead of the typical yellow. She still very much seemed like a Lucario, but what one might expect of a Riolu that evolved at night.

    Now a dark and fighting type, Tuhan manifested a purple Aura Bone and proceeded to use a combination of Bonemerang and Rock Slide to raise a pair of massive rocks limned with rock energy, and hammer them at Caeruleus with critical effectiveness, on the first rock. The second was enough to make her faint, and by that point, Akos and Pado were surfing back towards Tuhan. Akos recalled his Lucario into her ball as they headed for deeper water, and it was only from above that Akos finally noticed what was occurring deeper under the water. As he flew over where Yue and the others waited, she guided them under the waves towards Akos, and then realized why he'd altered course.

    It seemed that the Chief's Gyarados had given the Coalossal a rough battle, but in turn, the Coalossal had brought down the water dragon, and as it had still been standing, was technically the victor. Even if it had blown apart shortly after said victory. By the time Yue arrived, the other healers had done what they could for the Chief, but both he and his partner had been claimed by the counter attack from Incineratus, a volcano-like spray of massive burning rocks.

    The waterbenders headed home then, and in the dark night following that rather eventful and bloody day, set about rebuilding most of their capital, starting with the walls encasing the front. For his part, Akos had been refused when he offered his help to rebuild. The northerners had an entire corp that specialized in rapidly building homes and dwellings, sturdy ones, out of ice. Feeling useless, drained, and demoralized he trudged out to a western peak not far from the capital, but far enough that, he assumed, nobody would follow him.

    And then, on the wind, he heard it. A mournful aria that could only be from a Primarina. Other voices joined in with hers, for Unalaq's Gyarados had been a powerful alpha of the inland sea, and his presence would be sorely missed. He hadn't noticed he'd been crying, but at some point, tears had escaped his eyes as he took in the song, and then had frozen to his face. Thus, when Yue appeared 'stealthily' and surprised him out of his reverie, he fell in the snow around his perch, and rose with powder clinging to the tears on his face. He closed his eyes, and bended the water away, before rejoining Yue on his seat. "What are you doing up here?" She finally asked, once the giggling ended.

    Akos gestured to the wind, and Yue listened, closing her eyes. He heard her gasp softly when she heard the aria, and as the wind shifted again, it became louder. "It's Ara's Primarina. I think a pod of Lapras might've joined her…I…get the sense they're mourning the Chief's Gyarados as well as my sister, and all the others we lost today." He vaguely felt Yue wrap herself around his arm then, and realized with belated grogginess, that he was freezing cold. Too cold. Numbness in temperatures this cold, meant death.

    Akos exhaled, using the warmth of his breath to spread through his blood. He was more in tune with his body's fluids now, after having used other's lifeblood as a weapon, controlling his own wasn't too difficult. Yue seemed to notice what he did, for next she said, "There are a few in the tribe who want to exile you for blood bending…it's a forbidden technique, up here."

    "It's forbidden in the south too." He said.

    Yue nodded. "I understand why they're…disconcerted, but I also understand why you did what you did. You single handedly drove back most of an army, Akos. Are all southern waterbenders as strong as you?"

    He shook his head. "I had the right emotions to fuel me, and your Luna using Moonlight also helped. Thanks for that, by the way. Without her, Tuhan would've been hit while evolving…"

    That was something else that worried Yue, and thankfully few others had seen his unsettling Lucario. "I've never seen a Lucario like that, I must admit…we have stories about the Aura Pokémon. And the Aura Guardians who tended to use them. In ancient times, it's said they brought peace and stability, where they could."

    Akos nodded. "I thought about it. My friend, Alex, had a Riolu of his own. They're good friends, and his Riolu evolved in Battle, around noon time, by his account. In contrast, Tuhan had just lost her Trainer, was fighting desperately for her life, and could sense my own emotions. I think those circumstances, and the fact that it was night, propelled her down a different path. But I'm not a Pokémon Professor."

    "Aren't you worried she'll be…you know…violent?" Yue asked.

    Akos shook his head. "I can feel the same righteous anger that my friend's Lucario had. She may lose control…but that's why she has a Trainer. Watch. I'll use her to help free this region, like my sister wanted…and after that? I might just let her wander, if that's what she wants." They sat for several minutes then, in silence, taking in the aria for the departed. "How is the tribe doing? Did they decide on a leader, yet?"

    As Akos finally spoke, Yue pulled away from him. "That, is actually one thing I wanted to speak with you about…the traditionalists want me to be Chieftess. I convinced Chief Unalaq to aid you, I led the others to the beach, and even helped you take down a Royal of the Fire Nation. The others in the tribe…they want you to be our Chief." She said, watching his reaction.

    Akos's eyes went wide. "Me!? But…I'm a southerner. Isn't that-"

    Yue cut him off. "For some it's a problem…for others, it's just more proof that Unalaq's decisions against proactively fighting the Fire Nation, beyond aiding the rebellion, were a bad idea. We've forgotten how to fight on the offensive. At some point, our teachings shifted to defense…but the moves you used, they're very much offensive. 'Born in the fire of war' some say. That's why they want you. If you accept, I won't stand in your way." She smiled at him, and Akos's heart skipped several beats. "Frankly, I agree with them…we need fresh eyes closer to the conflict to lead us now."

    Akos closed his eyes, and did as Alex had instructed during their travels, when he posed a particularly hard problem for him to solve, claiming it was part of his 'psychic awakening'. Whatever that meant. Slowly, a solution came to his hormone-addled mind, one that, in reality, would actually serve to unite the tribe, and not just the north, but also the south. "The last thing the Water Nation needs to be right now is divided." He said flatly. "If I become Chief, even temporarily, those supporting you or other northern candidates will undermine me. If you become Chief, those who want to fight will probably leave on their own, and get blown apart by the Fire Navy." Yue nodded along, and seeing she followed his logic, he smiled at her this time. "So I'm thinking…why not both?"

    Yue blinked her large blue eyes at him. "What? How would we both…" She trailed off, and the two mutually flushed as she realized what he was asking. She stared at the ground, thinking. It was just crazy enough to work. It would get her father off her back about being eighteen and unmarried, and then there was Akos. A strong Trainer of Pokémon and a powerful bender to boot. There were certainly worse matches.

    As she seemed distracted, Akos gathered some snow in his palm along with a rock, and condensed it into an icy circle as he used the water to carve the stone. Tradition usually had the men carve these by hand, but, he reasoned that he was using his hands to bend, and no amount of whittling with a bone knife would ever come close to reproducing the piece of the necklace he was now crafting. He'd combined the northern tribe's crescent moon and wave lines with the southern tribe's similar wavy lines, and three crests from the ocean's waves into one symbol. One tribe.

    Once he was done, he moved his arm, and the sound of it brought Yue's head back up, as the handsome warrior held out his palm. Then, she saw what was in it, and his intentions, for her and their people, became very clear very quickly. She took the chunk of carved light blue rock then, and kissed him. Luckily for him, it was also her first, so neither could tell how bad they were doing, and in that moment under the starry night sky, neither really cared.
  10. Sahqoreyth

    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Mar 2, 2019
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 42: Coalescere Unus Spiritus

    Note: If you haven't finished Legends: Arceus and the events on top of Mt. Coronet yet, I strongly recommend doing so before reading. Spoilers are ahead. But since this is a beast of a chapter, I'll mark where they begin.

    Arborstone Castle - Albion Region

    It was another dark and stormy night in the Albion region. The overall technology of the region was low, especially compared to their southern neighbors in Galar, and the people, of both high and low caste, were miserable after recent events. All thanks to the efforts of two foreigners from Unova. The Scales of Balance known as Rick Astley and Drake had come to Albion to find out what they could about its Queen. What they discovered was a rebellion in progress, and after convincing the rebels they were friendly, the pair endeavored to help them, namely by getting the rebels Pokémon of their own, as well as a number of ships. Over the course of several months, as the rest of their fellow Scales battled in a bloody stalemate against Fornia and its lunatic Church, Rick and Drake managed to train up a small army of new Pokémon Trainers, and sailed them right to the pet project of the Queen.

    A massive black stone tower, just off the coast near Arborstone Castle, it had been designed in eons past by the last Archon of Albion, to channel the latent psychic energy of the planet into a single place, for a single purpose: the fulfillment of a wish, not unlike how Jirachi and its powers were known to work. The Archon of the past had been stopped, by a brotherhood of Gallade, the leader of whom became Albion's king, in the days that followed. The Spire, as it had been known, was dismantled, lost beneath the ocean, and the lore surrounding it faded into folktales, then myths, then legends, until it was thought forgotten entirely.

    Queen Morgana had revived the Spire, upon devoting herself to the Shadow, and absorbing its whispers in her bid for even more power. Many of the peons in Albion had given their lives to build it up to what she estimated was around half its height in ages past. This time, a wish had indeed been made, by Rick, who himself had burgeoning psychic abilities. At the height of the battle in the Spire's centermost chamber he wished for all the Shadow on the planet to vanish, and with the power Morgana had gathered, the end result was enough power to cleanse the Shadow in the room Rick and Drake had been battling the Queen and her Shadow Pokémon army within. This use of the Spire ultimately saw the rebels victorious, as it cleansed Morgana and her tools of the Shadow's influence and Rick and Drake left Morgana as Queen to work alongside the rebel's leader, Paige, before they returned to Unova to get Alex to bring his Gallade, who they'd learned was, in fact, the Lost Prince of Albion, back to his rightful throne.

    After leaving on a high note, their mission mandate fulfilled and exceeded, the two Scales rejoined their order in the bloody war against Fornia and its Arcean Crusaders, and while that conflict concluded, the Shadow that remained in Albion struck quickly, to once more infect the Queen. Her Purging by the Spire had left her memory with several holes that over time became filled in, and as her mind returned, she realized she had quite willingly embraced the Shadow. One night as she pondered whether to find the Bargainers again, a crew of pirates trapped between life and death and firmly under the Queen's, and the Shadow's, influence scaled Arborstone Castle's tower, stole into Morgana's bedchamber, and revived the dark Queen to her previous state of Shadow infusion. The next day, her retribution came swiftly. The rebels, every single one of them that were in the midst of partying and celebrating, were brutally murdered by the muskets of the Queensguard. Their leaders were publicly strung up, left to rot across the towns of Albion's claimed lands in cages of spiked iron that none could remove, under pain of death. From Bowerstone to Brightwall, and even in Aurora, the corpses of those who defied Queen Morgana rotted to this very night, a very grim and clear message to anyone else that entertained the idea of betraying her rule. The result of her actions saw a broken and dispirited populace returning to suffering under her rule, after their all too brief taste of freedom.

    Bandits again plagued the roads, the pure dark typed Lycanroc, nicknamed Balverines by Albion's locals, exploded in number, and a dark ever-present cloud now hung over the region, frequently covering it in rain that tasted downright foul. Several weeks later, a group of refugees of the Arcean efforts in the Sinnoh region arrived in Albion, and began whipping the remaining populace to work in producing food and energy with modern methods, previously foreign and unwanted by those in Albion. With their superior weapons, they made effective taskmasters and guards, who became very good at sniffing out talk of a new rebellion, and stamping it out with their multi-typed laser staves.

    It was as Morgana looked out over her dark kingdom, ultimately satisfied with how things had played out despite losing the Spire, that the Chatot which Captain Dread had left her, should she become Purged again, began to sing to itself, starting with a low hum. "Hmm hmm hm hmm hmm hm hmm hmmm hmm hm hmm…I tell you I tell you…the Dragonborn comes." Morgana turned slowly, and leveled her gnarled black staff at the chatty parrot. The pale stone atop it hummed with power making the very air in the chamber vibrate, and the bird yelped.

    "What did you say?"

    While hesitant to speak more after seeing her reaction, the dark and ghost typed Chatot continued in its hauntingly beautiful mimicry of human speech, "With a Voice wielding power of Norstad's ancient art…beware…beware, the Dragonborn comes."

    Morgana turned her back to the Chatot, which had colors similar to the shiny variation of the more common species. Its body and head were pure black, the ruffles around its neck were yellow, and the feathers under its neck and filling out its wings were a vibrant green. It would've looked beautiful if its form wasn't primarily see-through. "So…the Dragon's whelp survived…looks like it's time for another Scry…"

    Morgana descended into the bowels of Arborstone Castle then, and her new Arcean Crusader guards saluted as she passed through the darkened halls adorned with black and purple decor. The wait-staff drawn from the nobility, who throughout the rebellion had stayed loyal to her, bowed low and deferentially as she stormed past, her black and lengthy garments billowing behind her.

    She had sent out her own Mismagius, her first Pokémon, into the Ghost Realm when she'd divined that the Original Dragon's nuisance was there, and limited in his annoyingly strong psychic power. She'd even sent the Copperajah she'd stolen from Indius along with her beloved partner, to ensure that the combination of magic and brute force kept Unova's Champion, who was sporting an underleveled team now, from ever returning to the prime material plane. Upon entering her throne room, where she had once pretended to care about the local's concerns, she pressed a stone behind the throne, and two of her new guards in their Crusader armor accompanied her below, as was the protocol.

    They descended deep into the earth then, to the caverns below Arborstone Castle. Once, the Archons of Albion had constructed and secreted a Heroes Guild here, and from the hidden halls, the Will users, as Albion called those with psychic abilities, had strode forth across the land to accomplish deeds both moral…and morally abhorrent. With time, more and more so-called Heroes had begun to lose their Will abilities as their Heroic blood became diluted, and many had tended to take up morally gray or just downright evil 'quests' as they'd been termed. This had ultimately led to the locals rising up, and hunting down every last Hero following the invention of firearms and the discovery of large caches of gunpowder in Albion's many mountains. Not even the formidable power of Will had been able to stand before pogroms of angry, firearm carrying peasants. More than a few Pokémon, Gallade among them, had also strove to stop the Heroes Guild, and the result had been those who still had a moral compass going into hiding, and being banished from their homeland rather than fighting the people they had sworn to protect.

    Now, all that remained in the dusty, Noibat filled caverns was the ruins of the once great Guild Hall that had extended from Arborstone Castle to the lake under Millfields, where most of the nobility of the current era now lived in relative comfort and peace.

    The Arceans beside Morgana powered up their staves as they came, for the second time in their tenure in Albion, to the 'cage' of the powerful psychic entity Morgana kept here, in the deepest chamber of the old Guild Hall's ruins. The Chamber of Fate. Artificial lights strong enough for flora to grow by lit the formerly dour chamber, and plants, namely moss and flowers, covered the painted glass frescoes depicting the ancient Heroes of Albion and their deeds, now long forgotten by pretty much everybody. The only one intact was a golden armored stereotypical 'good' Hero, looking out over a long-vanished vista of ancient Albion. Albion's people weren't big on reading history. The chamber was an almost nauseatingly beautiful garden with a raised dais in its center, but the Arceans remained ready, on guard for the psychic and fairy type's shenanigans.

    "Gwenivere!" Morgana called out into the enchantingly beautiful scene. Her hoarse voice disrupted several Morelull who'd also taken up residence, but they wisely scurried away from the obvious Shadow aura once more radiating off of the staff-wielding Queen of Albion.

    From behind one of the larger berry-producing trees that had taken root in the deep chamber, came the white and green form of a Gardevoir. She was relatively young, and had finally hatched about a year before. Only recently had she grown strong enough to reach her adult form. Some time during the fomenting rebellion Morgana had been dealing with, the annoying Kirlia had grown, and again tried to gain her freedom. She knew better now, though. Morgana had demonstrated her superior powers to the Pokémon, and they had eventually come to an agreement, when the Queen realized she still needed the fairy type's power. Caleb Pravus' fall had been unexpected, as not even Gwenivere had foreseen the Original Dragon's Tamer acquiring a Burst Heart. Morgana had believed there were only three, perhaps four, that still remained intact. This had ultimately not been the truth.

    "My Queen." The Gardevoir said, projecting her lilting voice psychically as she curtsied like a woman of the court. "What do you require of me?"

    Morgana removed the pale lilac colored stone atop her gnarled black staff, and offered it to Gwenivere. "I need you to use Scry again, on the same human as last time. As only you can."

    The Gardevoir nodded solemnly. Her specific family line's signature move was also her curse. The reason she was trapped in this ruin of Heroes now long forgotten. The stone went from a pale lilac to a brilliant amethyst color in the hands of the Gardevoir. The stone Morgana had stolen from Eous refused to completely work for her, and always paled in her presence. Even Purged of the Shadow's influence, it had remained pale, but for Gwenivere it regained the beautiful coloring it had when first stolen by the witch. Gwenivere inhaled sharply as it touched her hands, and her pupils dilated. The Crusaders beside Morgana tensed, but the Gardevoir waited. Unknown to either of them, the Truth Stone of Eous's Mount Wudang had the ability to grant its user the ability to detect poison, and expand one's mind. Like each precious stone of Eous's seven kingdoms, it also had an effect on the region it had been bestowed upon, but Morgana had neither seen nor cared what her improper wielding of it had caused back in Eous.

    As Gwenivere gracefully floated up to the center of the room, the dais was the only part not covered in her plants, she levitated it before her, and focused her powers. In ages past her ancestors had used Nimue's lake to perform Scry to aid the King, but those brighter days were now long gone, as was Nimue.

    As Gwen focused her aura on the Truth Stone, it again showed her the face of a Gallade, a rather handsome one, but as always, she pushed past him, thinking it a fanciful dream and nothing more. A manifestation of her longing for a companion, perhaps. Morelull were kind, the Noibat also visited her, but there were few Pokémon down in this forgotten hole with her level of intellect, and most of them had become dark typed.

    Looking beyond the handsome visage she focused on Morgana's request. The curly dark haired human again appeared before her, and Gwen psychically projected what the Truth Stone showed her. Morgana gripped her staff tighter. As before, the curly haired and quite tall human appeared within the realm of ghosts, but this time, his companions were different. Gwen focused on them, knowing Morgana would wish to see their faces.

    For her part, the evil Queen was fuming. It was bad enough that Redwood was meddling in Koria, but now, it seemed he'd found what he and his dragon were after: the Guardian's Avatar. Gwenivere's psychic sight showed the auras of both Alex's companions, and the other man's face was one she recognized as well. One the Shadow desperately wanted to possess. No, she decided then, these three mucking about in the Spirit World would not do. They would also never be weaker, and so conveniently close to each other. If she acted fast, she could wipe out all three, and then find her Mismagius.

    "Their surroundings." Morgana said. "Show them to me."

    Gwen did as ordered, and zoomed her enhanced sight outwards. They were not so very far from the spot her last ambush had occurred in, when she'd lost her connection to her Mismagius. Having seen enough, Morgana moved quickly, leaving her guards to watch the stone as she retrieved the best tools for excising three annoying, and potentially Light wielding men.


    Meanwhile, in the Spirit World...

    One did not simply Teleport living humans to the Spirit World. Only Alex had the senses to figure out what the Mind Sage had done, though. Creating and empowering a Shadow Ball into more of a Shadow Gate far above them even as they'd spoken within his temple, he'd bamfed them through, relying on Alex's memory to send them relatively close to the destination he desired. In the end it was the dark and ghost type hiding in Alex's shadow that brought them to the shack, and as they tumbled out of a shadowy hole in the sky, Nox levitated them to the soft grassy ground with Psychic.

    Alex spied Kashiji still resting on the table, and walked towards it. Jimen and Ash followed, and then shared a look, as the apparent Emperor of a nation conversed with pottery. "Kashiji! I'm back. I've brought Raava, and her newest human. We're here to find their past lives." He paused, and Kashiji did not react, respond, or move in any way. "...Kashiji?"

    Though the teapot seemed empty, Jimen stepped closer as he got a better look at it, taking in the pattern on its side. "Something about this teapot…is very familiar…" As he and Redwood examined the teapot, Ash and his Pikachu looked around the area. The electric mouse said its name in a low tone, and Ash nodded.

    "I hear you, buddy…something is…off, here."

    The yellow electric rodent's nose twitched. His eyes widened in recognition then, and it was as he tried to tell his human just who it was that he smelled, that she descended in front of them, floating in the air and suffused with Shadow in her aura.

    Ash didn't need his partner to tell him who the woman floating before them was. Her hair hadn't been washed or maintained for an extended period of time. Her clothes were recognizable, if a bit more refined than her usual attire. They'd once been respectable, not out of place in Galar, but now, the lace and ruffles were in tatters. Her eyes were sunken, dark circles and the fire that had burned within the eyes of Sinnoh's former and world ranked Champion had seemingly gone out, now replaced with a mad shadowy glow. Ash knew better, though. His friend was in there, somewhere.


    Ash's voice caused Jimen to glance up, but Alex was seemingly stupefied by what he saw as he lifted Kashiji's lid, and looked into the teapot. The perplexed expression faded into one of complete, emotionless passivity. "Nox." He said quietly, as Jimen rushed towards Ash. The dark ghost rose from his shadow, his expression mirroring his Trainer's, with a toothy grimace, and growing rage. Alex retrieved and affixed his Spooky Plate to the Korian Gengar's chest, and it vanished into his void of a body. "Get ready." He said coldly, drawing a shard of a similar Plate into his hands, and turning and joining his companions.

    As Alex took in the sight of Sinnoh's former Champion, he recalled being aware that Shirona, or Cynthia as she was known in the west, had been missing since the Arceans had risen up in Japan, and taken Sinnoh. Not long before that, Kalos had reported that several of their famous Defenders had also been possessed, by someone the report had named Morgana. Tao had then confirmed for him that this was the name of Albion's Queen. Evidently, at some point Drake and Rick Astley had been sent to reconnoiter Albion to get the lay of the land, but Alex hadn't been the one to debrief them. Tao had been infuriatingly vague on their mission's details but they'd apparently reported to Tao that the Queen had been freed of the Shadow's influence by the time they left. Evidently, Morgana had duped the pair into thinking she'd only been a minion of the Shadow, not a willing servant, and she had, according to Tao, since been using the deaths of the revealed rebels in her region to consolidate her authority to all corners of it. Albion was darker than ever, and as he looked at Cynthia, he knew, Albion was likely where she'd been kept ever since her ensnarement.

    Even if he'd been able to touch the Light in this realm, Alex could tell just by looking at her that whoever had infused her with Shadow, presumably Morgana, had done so thoroughly. It would take time and expertise to restore her to what she'd been, assuming her almost a century old body even survived the Purging process. After his success with Unalaq, Alex was willing to try at least, which meant they needed to capture her.

    Cynthia had no intention of being captured, however. If anything, her puppet master was more determined than ever to strike down Alex, Koria's Avatar, and the irritation that was Ash Ketchum all in one blow, in a realm where their psychic abilities were severely weakened. To that end, her puppeteer had given her a Pokémon for each of her targets. Alex and Jimen came up beside Ash, and Alex drew two balls, as Ash picked one from his own belt. Alex tossed one to Jimen, just in time for Cynthia to reluctantly raise her arms with a jerking motion, and throw three Dark Balls of Fornian design. As the Shadow Infused Pokémon within manifested, Alex finally learned what exactly had happened to the Swords of Justice. Haley had done her digging, and had eventually sent a report to him, after airing it live of course, suggesting that someone, at the time she assumed the Arcean Church, had been seen chasing down and then catching the Swords by force within Dark Balls.

    The three men spread out, as Cobalion stared down Alex. Terrakion faced down Jimen, and Virizion took Ash. Alex glanced at the teapot in the distance, and reached out to Nox. Cobalion pawed the ground, but as he readied a Shadow move, Alex and his Gengar struck first. Ghost typed energy flared around him, reacting stronger than it ever had on their home plane. Nox's energy from the Spooky Plate within him arced through the air and met his Trainer's aura midway. The colliding ghost energy sent him down the path to the next stage of Korian Gengar's evolution.

    It seemed this form was one that more significantly branched from a typical Gengar. He was entirely black now, and like the more common line's Mega Form, his legs were gone, replaced instead by unsettling black flames with crimson on their edges. It was these flames that kept Nox afloat. Their source was his back, where his spikes formed a cradle of a sort, from which Nox could presumably draw more flames. Shadow met dark ghostly essence as Nox let Cobalion charge him with Shadow End, and surrounded him with dark and fire energy. Nox landed behind Cobalion only partially damaged by the powerful and automatically super effective move, and connected as they were, Alex knew what move to call that was evidently unique to this form. "Umbra Bomb!"

    A black and red fireball launched from the flames pouring from Nox's back, and nailed Cobalion with an explosion of darkness. The leader of the Swords of Justice roared in agony, and then turned on Nox with murder in his shadowed eyes. A massive, black and purple sword extended from his head horn, as Cobalion initiated his Shadow Sword attack. Spent as Nox was after that move, he couldn't dodge in time while he recharged, and in a blur of darkness, Cobalion sliced past Nox, ending him with a single hit. Mega evolution helped with the disparity in level of strength, but two super effective hits, one of them a critical hit infused with Shadow, was too much for Nox. The flames burnt out, and his form faded back to normal. Alex drew him into his ball for once, and thought about his next choice as Cobalion eyed the human, but did not immediately attack. Even Shadow infused, the noble Pokémon sought a fair fight, and would presumably only end Alex once his team was fainted completely. With how strong Shadow Sword was, he wondered if the mythical hero Pokémon could actually do it.

    Jimen had been given Canis to aid him, and against Terrakion, that had been the right choice. With naught but a nod between them, Jimen and Canis had skillfully dodged the raging Terrakion, who was actively trying to kill both of them. No trace of the noble brute capable of breaking a castle wall remained in his shadowed gaze. Unable to use his Mega Form just then, Canis took some of the advice he'd gleaned from Arthur over their mental talks while the B Team had traveled Koria, and focused on improving his base form. There was a certain point where training it wouldn't do much, but for Canis's level, it was still needed.

    The training within his ball had focused on speed and special attack power, and it was both Aura Spheres and Flash Cannons that hammered Terrakion after his blind Shadow Rush continued to miss them both thanks to Jimen's timely earthbending. As Canis continued to battle, Jimen noticed his paws were starting to burn with an intense blue aura that seemed almost fiery. Having actually seen this before from a Lucario in Ba Sing Se, he gave the command. "Max Aura!"

    Canis was above Terrakion, having just finished dodging him again by leaping upwards and away, and getting a mental idea of what Jimen wanted, he was willing to try. He focused his aura, aimed his paws at Terrakion, and rocked in the air from the deep blue beam of energy he hammered the Shadow Pokémon with. Being essentially a combination of Aura Sphere and Psychic, and despite their disparity in level, the gap between them was smaller than Cobalion and Nox's, and Canis's attack was enough to make the rock and fighting type finally faint after taking so many counter hits.

    Ash meanwhile, had called out his Charizard. He'd taken on Legend class Pokémon before, and had held his own. Ash was aware nothing made his friend burn quite as hot as a battle with a Pokémon that had enough myths surrounding it to be classified on another level. Like Alex, he employed a Mega Form, and this time, it was the Y strand variant. While fire would be useful, Virizion had a quadruple weakness to flying attacks, and Ash began with the Air Slash barrage almost immediately. He was able to keep the fast moving and defense heavy fighting type on her hooves throughout their bout, but eventually realized special attacks wouldn't do as much as a physical one. Thankfully, his partner had learned Fire Punch long ago, and it was with such a move that they took down the lonely natured Virizion.

    With how fast Ash finished compared to his new companions, he was ready to jump in against Cobalion as well. While all the Swords of Justice were formidable, their leader empowered by the Shadow would likely require all three of them to handle. He had questions about Alex's Gengar, and had felt his own shudder within his shadow at the thought of battling it. For his part, Alex brought out another ball that Ash recognized as having been produced in Galar, by how the center line glowed upon enlargening. Alex threw, and a Raboot came onto the field. Ash's brow furrowed, and the two foot tall rabbit looked up as the nearly seven foot Cobalion began charging it, with a Shadow Sword attack.

    "Focus, Cinder. You have this. Dodge with Flame Charge!" Training as they had been with firebending, the little fire rabbit had gotten very good, when it came to speed. He and Canis had often raced throughout their travels, but where the Lucario had focused on honing his special attacks, Cinder had focused on his physical ones. His burst of flame was just enough to dodge the keen edge of the Shadow Sword, but Cobalion did not let up. "Keep dodging!" Alex ordered, and the fire bunny acknowledged, by continuing. Slowly, over time, dodging the strikes became easier as Cinder read Cobalion's angry, and unfocused moves. His body was in a state of complete and constant rage, where by contrast, Cinder moved in rapid, spiraling patterns he'd copied from his Trainer and Canis.

    Canis had Terrakion levitating with Psychic, and Ash's Charizard had a single foot pinning Virizion, should the Shadow urge her to rise again. All of them watched though, thoroughly impressed. Canis saw his friend, burning as bright as he always did, and the Charizard saw a worthy opponent. With a bit more training, at least. As a fellow fire type though, he knew, the fire rabbit was on the verge of growth. He almost seemed like he'd put off evolving, though not by much. In this case, one level was more than enough.

    Enraged, Cobalion used Shadow End to give speed to his Shadow Sword, and Cinder reached the peak of what Flame Charge could do for his speed. That was what Alex had been waiting for. "Counter!"

    In slow motion to Cinder's perspective, he dodged the sword, circled under it, and then hopped atop the burning Shadow. It hurt, but the counter was worth it as his eyes narrowed, and he delivered a spinning roundhouse kick right to the face of the leader of the Swords of Justice. The hit seemed to surprise Cobalion, knocking him off balance, and with the damage from his other fiery wounds from Nox, he found himself stumbling. Naturally, this only made him angrier, but the pause gave Cinder what he needed. Intense white light burned up in a double helix spiral around the Raboot, as he ascended to his adult form. He hopped in place, and to Ash's eyes, well familiar with the species as he was, he could see just how fast the fire rabbit was at the moment. He turned, hearing his Charizard roar encouragement.

    Cobalion turned at the triumphant sound, saw both of his companions fainted and trapped, and this pushed his already burdened psyche to its limits. He roared, and the Shadow Sword grew larger as he dumped his remaining power for it into one single, perfect strike. Alex heard his strained and enraged voice shout "Dodge this!"

    "Agility!" Alex said, and the Cinderace nodded. The psychic speed with which he moved, and his already maxed speed boost from Flame Charge made him vanish from the path of the massive blade, and though Cobalion corrected his swing to arc and still aim toward the absurdly fast fire rabbit, the power he'd dumped into the attack made him just slow enough for Cinder to counter. "Now! Pyro Ball!"

    Kicking up a cinder from the grass below his burning feet, the fire rabbit readied the move as he charged the swinging Cobalion. He leapt again as the blade came horizontally for him, and it grazed his ears as he hung in the air, inverted, and hammered the fireball he'd summoned with a kick possessing the unerring accuracy that his species was known for. The Pyro Ball knocked Cobalion's Shadow Sword out of existence as he lost focus, and Alex continued with the momentum. "Double Kick!"

    As the flames petered out, all Cobalion had time to see was the spinning, and burning feet of the Cinderace as it landed, leapt into the air, and gave him a burning, spinning roundhouse kick, again to the face. The force of the critical hit sent Cobalion sliding towards Cynthia, fainted, as his eyes became spirals. She took in the fallen Swords, and then looked up. As her puppeteer made to remove her from the situation by levitating her higher, Ash acted. "Now, Gengar! Shadow Strangle!"

    The more common variant of the powerful ghost Pokémon line surged from his Trainer's shadow across the ground with a dark grin, before he leapt from it to ensnare Sinnoh's former Champion. He dragged her towards the three men, and Alex raised his Spooky Plate shard. "Link yourselves by touch with me, and hold on!"

    Without the Drifloon, or a way to contact the Mind Sage, there was only one way out of the Spirit World. He focused his mind on the Tree of Souls and the twin portals that supposedly connected to the poles of their planet. Looking at them, he asked the other two a simple but loaded question. "North pole or south pole?"

    When Jimen and Ash shared a confused look, Alex sighed, and made the choice, heading for the south pole. It was warmer than the northern pole of the recovering planet, albeit not by much, but would probably be abandoned at least, keeping them from another ambush while they regrouped. The Antarctic continental plate had also been sundered in humanity's fall. The western half of the broken landmass had become warmer, slightly, enough to match temperatures of the Dark Continent in some areas, while others remained an icy, lifeless tundra the further south one went. The eastern part, now called Arctica by the modern day humans, was completely barren, but had collided with the Australian continental plate as the impacts it had taken in humanity's fall were enough to shift it. Southern Stralia was blocked from this icy hell by a chain of imposing, and truly freezing mountains. It remained the coldest place on the planet, and naturally, many Pokémon had moved there to avoid humans as much as possible, with many adapting, as they had in places like Norstad, by gaining the ice typing.

    Canis was levitating all three Swords now, and straining to do so as the very realm wore down his power for the move quickly. He followed his Trainer, sensing his logic, and the other two men followed. Cinder and Charizard had been recalled after sharing a fist bump and a promise to battle eventually, and as they walked into the burning light of the portal to the south, reality twisted around them.

    South Pole Spirit Portal - Arctica Region

    The arctic blast of air was the first thing they felt, and each member of their party shivered in the cold. Alex called out Adamanteus then. "Coil around us for a while, and keep watch. I doubt this portal is completely unguarded." Shrugging off the cold, the Steelix did as asked, and provided a steely shelter for the group to hide within. First, Alex called out Nox, and gave him a Max Revive. Seeing burn marks on his plum shaded body, he gave him a Rawst berry to munch on as well. Next, Canis got an Ether for his Psychic move, which between being used as a massive beam and as a restraining device, was almost depleted. Renewed as he was, he easily kept the Swords down, and Shirona strangled, with the help of Ash's Gengar.

    Once his team was sorted, Alex tried to draw on the Light, and found that he couldn't. He sighed, irritated. "I need to calm my mind…Nox, help Ash's Gengar keep Cynthia in place. For now…" He snagged the Dark Balls from her belt, and noted her own team was missing. "We can keep them in these. It won't make them any worse." He recalled the Swords of Justice, placed them in front of him, and then sat in the snow, ignoring the growing wetness of his bottom as he focused on what was blocking his mind's connection to Arceus' realm. Very quickly, he found the source of his emotional blockage.

    Kashiji's teapot had not been empty. The strike that had killed the friendly ghost had left a thin line to mark it, undoubtedly from a Shadow Sword attack that had been stabbed through his pot, and what remained of Kashiji had been little more than bluish goo. Alex had liked the Polteageist, his vibe, his attitude. He hadn't deserved an end like that. Sighing heavily, Alex let himself grieve for his brief friend, and then let that grief flow through his chakras. Like a flood that had been slightly dammed for a while, the energy moved, and very swiftly, he found his third eye opening to a realm of golden light, and vague pillars of white stone. It seemed Arceus desired to speak.

    Spoilers begin here.

    As before, what appeared before him was a white clone of the true Alpha Pokémon. He could tell it was a different clone though, namely, by the way it spoke.

    Alexander Redwood. Oft have ye drawn from this realm's font of power.

    Alex moved his mental projection of himself up the steps to properly converse with the deity, as he had before. "Have I misused your power, Alpha Pokémon?"

    Nay. Ye would use it upon the one known as Shirona, of the…Sinnoh Region.

    Alex heard a tone of what almost seemed like fondness, sadness, and nostalgia when Arceus mentioned Sinnoh, but he had no earthly idea as to why. Perhaps this clone oversaw Japan. It would make sense then, that he spoke differently from the one who had spoken to him in Oranguru's swamp, Fornia, and Transylveticut, and to Rosa in her hour of need. "I would. She has proven to be a kind caretaker of Pokémon, and is regarded as one of the strongest Champions on the planet. She does not deserve Shadow Infusion, and I would not suffer it to continue to persist."

    The Alpha Pokémon's eye widened, and then shrank, for emphasis on its words. Ye must cleanse the Swords of Justice, before ye cleanse her. Know this, Tamer of the Original Dragon, her lineage is fraught with evil. It shall find her again.

    Alex's brow furrowed. "I don't understand."

    Arceus nodded, and floated closer to him. If ye seek knowledge, I shall impart it, if it be thy wish.

    Alex bowed, low. "I would be honored to be given divine wisdom from the Alpha Pokémon." He rose again, lowered his mental defenses, and vaguely sensed Tao's eye upon him as he did. The dragon did not interject however, and it seemed something else had his attention.

    Arceus lowered his head to Alex's and with the faintest touch of one mind's eye to another, he was shown a vision.

    A man in ancient white robes trimmed with gold and a hairstyle that obviously mirrored the Alpha Pokémon was standing atop a mountain. Luckily, it was one Alex recognized, and the wordless, instant communication Arceus employed told him this was indeed the Spear Pillar of the Sinnoh region, roughly a century and a half in the past.

    Alex came into the scene just in time to see the Arceus-haired man and his Garchomp lose to a Trainer, clad in deep blue clothes that were very indicative of feudal Japan. His face was familiar though. Unsettlingly familiar. He squinted, and tilted his head, assuming they couldn't hear him in this vision. "...Kohki!? Why is the Sinnoh Champion a hundred odd years in the past?"

    Arceus nodded at the blonde man. Behold the cause.

    The man was panting, as he recalled his last Pokémon. "Why…why do you have the blessing of Arceus? I worshiped it more devoutly than any other as the creator of our world! I bent all of my passion and interest to its study…all the time I spent poring over legends…everything that I've done! You outsider! It's almost as if you were spat out of the Space-Time Rift just to get in my way…"

    The Torterra responsible for Wood Hammering the Garchomp into unconsciousness stomped the ground, and Kohki shouted, "It's over Volo! Enough of this madness!"

    The blonde man, Volo, apparently, looked at the ground, and then back at the time-lost Champion of Sinnoh. "No…no, this isn't finished yet…" His eyes darkened, as did the area around them. "Can't you feel it? The chill creeping through your veins…the eldritch presence icing over your heart!?" A roar echoed around them, one that Alex actually recognized, and had fervently hoped he wouldn't hear again. He should've known better, really. He turned to look at Arceus, but the Alpha Pokémon was fixated on this moment of time.

    The Alpha's eyes seemed to soften as a pair of ominous wings appeared from the shadowy void manifesting behind Volo. That's when Alex saw it. The darkened eyes, the unnatural manic grin, Arceus's words, the Garchomp, and the tear-shaped pendant of silver hanging around his neck that Alex had completely missed until it all clicked together. "Cynthia…he's Cynthia's ancestor!"

    "GIRATINA! STRIKE HIM DOWN!" Volo commanded, as the dark entity manifested in reality.

    Reality swirled, the vision ended, and Alex found himself desperately wanting to see the rest. To have more context. To know how and why Sinnoh's Champion, who had been sorely missed in the present when his region was invaded and usurped by religious zealots, was a hundred and fifty years in the past, in feudal Japan. Only Unova, Galar, and Kalos, with maybe one or two other regions around them, had access to Pokéballs that far back. Even the Imperium hadn't reverse-engineered them yet. He resolved to dig a little deeper into Sinnoh region history, when he returned there on his journey back from Koria.

    Alex heard Volo's voice again as the vision ended, like an echo. "Someday I will unravel the mystery of Hisui's Legendary Pokémon! And on that day, I will stand before Arceus at last- No, I will conquer it! No matter how many years, how many decades, how many centuries it takes me!"

    As Alex's mental form stumbled upon reappearing at, now that he looked at it, what seemed to be a passable recreation of the Spear Pillar, he looked up at Arceus. Now ye know the truth of things. Volo's descendant will be drawn into darkness. It is the fate of her line. Would ye still spend this realm's power upon her?

    Alex thought it over for a moment, and then recalled what he knew of Sinnoh's former Champion. Though, with Kohki in the past, as he was still missing as far as Alex knew, she may well become the reigning Champion again in his absence. Given a Pokédex by Professor Rowan in her youth, she'd traveled Sinnoh with her Gible, exploring ruins, battling Trainers, and becoming one of the strongest Champions in the world. Multiple times had she made it to the Masters Eight of the World Tournament, no small feat, as they were the top battlers on the planet. Since the pool had widened to sixteen finalists, Shirona of Sinnoh had placed in every one of them for decades, only recently retiring from that contest to spend her twilight years focused on whatever she did in those old, forgotten ruins.

    Finally, he answered. "No one deserves to be puppeted by the Shadow. I would strip Morgana of all her puppets, and sentence another Champion of the Shadow to the void."

    Arceus nodded, as the mortal made his choice. As always, He would not interfere with mankind's decisions. Never again. Know you this then, Wielder of Light. The more Shadow you Purge, the stronger it will resurge. The universe will always seek Balance.

    Alex nodded. "It will. But the universe is a big place. The Shadow can infect somewhere else. I would see the Earth free of its taint."

    With his choice evidently made, the meeting with the Alpha Pokémon came to an end, and the power of the Light surged within him. To Ash and Jimen, he had only been sitting a few moments, before his form hummed with power, first with deep blue aura surrounding the Dragon Emperor's large frame, before it burned to a soothing, and yet wrathful gold. He opened his eyes, and fixed them on Cynthia. "You first, descendant of Volo…" He muttered, as the power added reverb to his voice. "You'll want to release her, Gengar, Nox."

    The ghost and poison type glanced at Ash, who nodded, and he let his stranglehold go as Nox did. Cynthia's eyes opened, but it was not her looking through them as she found herself held in place by a powerful, burning aura. "Hear me, Witch." Alex said, spitting the word like a curse. "I will not rest until Albion holds you to account for your crimes. Now release her!"

    "Never!" Came the snarled answer, followed by a scream, as Alex's large palm met the clammy forehead of the older woman. She was in better shape than Unalaq had been, and almost immediately, he sensed her mind, desperate to be free. He shared the Light with her, hoping it would help, though it seemed only to stun her with its radiance and calming effect. Taking that in stride, Alex directed the energy through her form, and frowned. "Muk. There's…some kind of crystal in each of her limbs.&quo