Episode 4: The Song of the Elements
[BGM: Stories These Halls Could Tell]
"So this is Amhran Hall..." Ash mused as he looked up at the large building past the steel gate. He followed Brock across the green and inside the majestic temple-like building with large windows and vine-like spires atop curved archways. The nature theme continued on the inside of the hall, with leaf and flower inlays filling the walls and furnishings, and even the wood floors. Normally, there would be music of all kinds filling the air, but it was mostly quiet, save for an apprentice practicing a piece to be graded or a group of apprentices in simple dull blue tunics and leggings swapping stories. Ash reached out and touched an inlay of a Pikachu in the wall as Brock led the way into a large open domed room with hallways in all four directions. A fountain of Articuno flying stood in the center of a multicolored compass design in the center of the room.
"What do you think?" Brock asked as he sat down one one of the benches surrounding the fountain.
"It's beautiful!" Ash replied as he admired the sunshine streaming through some stained glass windows nearby the domed ceiling, projecting scenes of Treeckos in the brush, Ninetales arguing with an Entei, a crowd of Pokemon dancing, and many other scenes from tales he had heard minstrels tell on the tile floor.
"This is Harmony Square--the center location of the hall." Brock explained. "Apprentices often like to gather here, especially when it rains. Some often practice their storytelling and dancing here."
"And there are plenty of sunny spots for me to relax in." Kissa agreed as she sprawled out onto the floor and dozed off, the sun projecting the stained glass image of a Taillow flying on her fur.
"Have the apprentices met a mage before?" Ash wondered as a group of apprentices crossed from the northern hallway to the east hallway, curiously eying him all the while.
"Mages have visited before, usually to help those with Song Magic hone their power." Brock explained. Ash nodded as he studied the various instruments hanging on one wall--having a mage to help control the fireballs and icebolts an apprentice played made perfect sense. "We have had a few that were quite the storyteller themselves--you do know a good story or two, right?"
"Well..." Ash took a few deep breaths to quell the Beautiflies in his stomach before continuing. "I know a few, but I'm not that good." He feared Brock was about to put him on the spot to perform--or worse, leave him to perform alone.
"Remember when I told you that depending on your acting ability, you might be playing a role in a tale? This is one of those occassions." Brock explained. "In addition to seeing the Lady Arina, I often return here to share new stories with the apprentices."
"He has grown quite close to many of them, but there is one that he looks foward to seeing every visit." Kissa added as she swiped at a passing Venonat with a paw.
"Her name is Ayra, and while she is no prodigy in the hall, she's got enthusiasm for learning or just playing tunes." Brock explained. "One of the very few I will get the lute out for."
"And one of the very few times I refuse to listen." Kissa muttered as she eyed the Venonat that was now crawling on the floor in front of her.
"Are you saying my lute playing's bad?" Brock snapped, appalled at the Persian's remark.
"No--you're likely out of practice." Kissa assured her embarrassed master before resuming her Venonat hunt. "Besides, I prefer to hear you play the harp or cadena..."
"He's here!" a female voice called in the distance. Ash whirled around and saw a girl about ten years old racing down the north hall to meet the two of them, her thick yellow brown curls bouncing in rhythm to the thuds of her shoes.
"Hi, Ayra..." Brock smiled as the girl set down an instrument case and gave him a hug. "Is Her Ladyship here at the moment?"
"Lady Arina is away in the Room of Lore right now." Ayra replied as she opened her case and took the fiddle inside. "She's wondering if it's time for someone to put the Necklace together based on the wild Pokemon attacks we've been having--maybe you're the someone the Beads are calling?"
"Kissa has heard the Beads singing, so I wouldn't be surprised if I were worthy to undertake the quest." Brock replied as Ayra began tuning her instrument.
"Are the instruments on the walls for playing?" Ash wondered as he fished the Dreamer's Flute from his bag.
"Of course--Lady Arina says they are welcome for anyone to play if they have the skill for it, Sir Mage." Ayra replied as she offered Brock a slightly curved box shaped instrument with many strings and a short ebony fingerboard. "In addition to harp and lute, Sir Brock is a master at the cadena."
"It's mainly used to provide a backing drone for melody instruments, but it can play melodies on its own if you have one finger free to play the melody in addition to a finger to play the chords." Brock explained as he slipped some small sleeves over three of his fingers.
"If you're only going to play a drone, you only wear three of the sleeves, so you have two fingers free--one to help hold it and one to finger the notes." Ayra added. "I don't play it too often because it's so heavy."
"Can't you lie it on something and strum it that way?" Ash asked--he had seen minstrels with zithers before, and figured the cadena could be played in a similar manner.
"It's possible, but some surfaces resonate better than others." Kissa replied as the Venonat she had been stalking flew away. "We've found that wood sounds the best, especially an old wood."
"Okay..." Brock waited for Ayra to finish tuning from one of the stone benches surrounding the fountain, the cadena cradled in his arms. "Let's see if I remember how to do this..." After finding the D minor position towards the center of the fingerboard, an idea came to him. He removed one of the protective sleeves and began a moderately paced jig-like melody, making a soft lute-like sound resonate through the room.
Ash instantly recognized the tune's introduction. "I know that song! That's 'The Luck of Fiani!'" After tapping his foot a few times to count himself off, he began singing along. "I once was in a prison cold, some games of chance my crime, I thought to tell those that were there of this misfortune of mine...
How I tried winning gold and lasses, only to be put in chains, and that my one hope of escape was the Lady of the Rains... Ayra joined in, her fiddle doubling Ash's voice an octave above. Pikachu sat close by, nodding his head along with the daring tale of how the hero Fiani offered to help the gambler go free in exchange for playing against her in a dice game, and how the gambler wins despite Fiani getting a good roll that was difficult to beat.
"Bravo!" Kissa smiled over Pikachu's applause when the song concluded.
[BGM: Stories These Halls Could Tell]
"You're not that bad a singer, Ash; if I say so myself." Brock noted as he and Ayra put the instruments back in order.
"It's not minstrel worthy, but it's okay." Kissa commented. "And oddly pleasent to listen to."
"Do you have any new stories to tell me?" Ayra asked, changing the subject.
"Why yes, I do...and Ash will be helping me tell this tale." Brock replied, motioning for Ash to stand by the east side of the fountain.
[BGM: I Sing of Confidence]
"Oh, Brock, still at it with your hokey stories of magic instruments and talking Pokemon?" a girl with deep red hair smirked as she entered the square. "Every minstrel knows that tales of heroes are in this year!"
"Brock can tell any sort of story he wants, Roni!" Ayra snapped. "Besides, you're not the boss of the hall!"
"I'd tell about any hero for you, my dear Roni..." Brock dreamily smiled, enamored in Roni's flowing hair that complimented her dull green tunic and leggings.
"Hello..." Ash waved a hand in front of Brock's face, but all his friend could focus on was the mischievous gleam in Roni's eyes. Finally, he reached for the Dreamer's Flute and blew the loudest and highest note he could muster, snapping Brock from his trance.
Some gentle laughter filled the air as a black haired woman in a rainbow colored robe-like outfit entered the room. "Oh, come now, Roni, looks aren't everything when performing..."
"Lady Arina!" Ayra gasped.
Roni stormed out of the room and down the south hallway. "I don't know why you wish to speak with Lady Arina, but if it's about the Beads of the Elements, know this--I will be the one to find the beads and unleash Rainbow Symphony! Just you wait!" With that, she disappeared down the hallway, muttering all the while.
"Who was that?" Ash wondered, unnerved by Roni's behavior.
"Roni and Brock have never gotten along--she would use her wiles to force him to do her bidding." Arina explained. "She doesn't understand that performance is not about impressing anyone--what matters is that you share our world's songs, stories, and culture with all your heart."
"She even uses her knowledge of Song Magic to impress people--if it works." Brock added.
"Now, what tale were you going to tell me before Roni butted in?" Ayra asked, changing the subject. "I'm sure Lady Arina would want to hear it too."
[BGM: A Tale of Wonder]
"Oh, yes--my tale." Brock motioned for Ash to get back into position. "One winter, it turned so cold, there was nothing for even the Pokemon to eat." Ash snapped to attention--this was how the story "Ninetales and the Well" began! "This included the lovely Ninetales..." he added as he retrieved his harp and began mimicing tiptoing. "She desprately searched the land for some sort of food. One day, she came to a village, and saw many Torchics milling about on the square." Inspired, Ash mimiced a Torchic's peep with the Dreamer's Flute, making Ayra giggle. "Ninetales quickly caught three and ate two of them right away." Ash delibrately overblows a high note to mimic a dying Torchic.
"The rivers were all froze over, so Ninetales came to the well in the center of the town square." Brock continued. "She looked down into the water below and saw seemingly another Ninetales staring back at her--not knowing this was her own reflection. She yelled and screamed and taunted to the other Ninetales, and the other Ninetales yelled and screamed and taunted right back. " Arina chuckled at Ash pantomiming screaming and yelling and taunting. "Just then, Ninetales saw the bucket at the surface, and thought..." He switches to a female voice. "I'll just come down there to speak with this lass." As himself, he continues. "So Ninetales climbed into the bucket and lowered herself down into the cold and dark well." Ash pantomimes pulling on a rope to illustrate this. "The bucket stopped just below the water's surface, and Ninetales had a dillema: How would she get out of the well as easily as she got in?" Ash shivers to illustrate Brock's point, as if he really is Ninetales in the well.
"Just then, Ninetales' rival, Mightyena, happened to pass that way, and like many other Pokemon, he was hungry." Brock narrates as Ash trudges past a nearby plant pot in time to the harp's tiptoing rhythm, now in character as Mightyena. "He too looked down into the well, and thought his reflection was another Mightyena. He screamed..."
"I'm the leader of the pack around here!" Ash yells in character.
"But the other Mightyena yelled the same thing back to him." Brock narrates. "He looked again and saw Ninetales in the well. Figuring Ninetales was plotting something with the other Mightyena, he called..."
"If I get my paws on you, you'll be sorry!" Ash fills in the dialogue.
"The other Mightyena yelled back the same thing." Brock narrates. "Ninetales heard her rival's screams up above and grinned--she had an idea for a prank. She called up to Mightyena... he switches to his "Ninetales" persona. "Now, Mightyena, don't panic--it's just your rival Ninetales down here...you may not know this, but I'm actually a spirit."
"Really?" Ash gasps as Mightyena. "I always saw you as my rival, but how long have you been dead?"
"Not too long, I was surprised too." Brock replies as Ninetales. The two of them play off of each other, making Ayra, Arina, Kissa, and a growing crowd of other apprentices laugh:
"By the way Mightyena, I hope you will forgive me for all those pranks I played on you in life..."
"Well...okay, you are forgiven."
"Oh joy! Oh great and glorious joy!"
"How can you be joyful when you have died?"
"I feel so sorry for all the creatures up here on the Mortal Realm...down here, there are fields filled with Mareeps, Torchics, and any other Pokemon you could want!"
"I thought the Holy Realm was up, not down...."
"Goes to show just how little we mortals know...if only you could join me in the holy fields down here!"
"I wish I could be down there..."
"After all that you've done to me?" You're quite the forgiving one, but Lady Anima won't let just anyone in--are you truly sorry for everything?"
"I'm so very sorry, Ninetales..."
"Then kneel and confess to Lady Anima all the naughty things you've done!"
"Abba ika noona Lady Anima furom zabinu baka baka...." The crowd roared with laughter at Ash's gibberish prayer.
"Can you see the fields and hear the spirits of light singing? All you have to do is climb in that bucket there."
The crowd applauds the interplay before Brock continues. "So Mightyena squeezed into the other bucket, but he was so heavy, he went plunging down into the well, bringing Ninetales up in the process."
"AUGGGGGHHHHH!!!" Ash screams as Mightyena, making the crowd laugh again.
"As if being stuck in the well wasn't bad enough for Mightyena...." Brock intones. "By this time, one of the townsfolk came to draw water from the well--she saw Mightyena in the bucket and screamed, calling for help all the while. Mightyena tried to run away, but was beaten and battered by the townsfolk." Ash runs out to the easter point of the compass design, feigning being injured all the while. "As for Ninetales, she was preparing the third Torchic she had caught for her family, and she recounted to them how she had outsmarted her rival yet again, proving that she was the smartest in the world...so ends the tale of 'Ninetales and the Well'."
"Bravo!" Kissa led the applause as Brock acknowledges Ash, who takes a bow.
"That was quite a show, you two..." Arina smiles as Ayra and the other apprentices depart. "Meet me in my chambers now, and we will discuss your letter. Brock nodded, and followed Arina down the north hallway.
[BGM: The Rainbow Symphony]
"Now..." Arina began as she settled behind her desk facing the boys and Kissa. "Brock, you know well that when it is time for the Beads of the Elements to be found, monsters appear, Pokemon go wild, and the Beads themselves sing for someone to find them..."
"That, and their song cannot be heard by mortal ears, unless you have an item that can hear it." Brock added as he admired the books of lore lining the shelves of Arina's chamber. Ash had pilfered some parchment pieces from Arina's desk and was watching Vardi sketch a portrait of Kissa lying beside Brock's chair.
"The tiara that grants Kissa the ability to speak the language of humans also allows her to hear things mortal ears cannot hear." Arina explained. "That includes even the Beads."
"So THAT's how she could sense them before..." Ash gasped.
"So far, the only reports of monsters I have received are from the north lands, where Voima Hill lies." Arina began. "However, I have heard of Pokemon going wild all across the world, including Hopea and the surrounding areas."
"That's how I met my companion, Ash." Brock explained. Ash waved as Vardi returned to his pack. "Kissa found him battered and beaten from a Scyther's claws, so we nursed him back to health."
"You've always had a heart for caring for the sick and wounded." Arina smiled before turning serious again. "When you sent word of your visit, you said that Kissa had heard the Beads--is this true?"
"She heard them singing last night, and we came hoping you would lead us to where they are hidden." Brock replied.
[BGM: A Promise to Unleash the Colors (theme of the heroes)]
"Are you sure you wish to undertake the quest?" Arina asked, concerned. "It will be a long journey filled with danger, across high mountains, deep forests, and dark caves..."
"If it means the world can be peaceful again, I will take the chance." Brock replied. "Every minstrel hopes to unleash Rainbow Symphony at some point in their life, and I feel it's my turn."
"I'm coming too!" Ash jumped up from his chair. "I've sworn to serve Brock and tend to his and Kissa's every need, and I will follow them to the ends of the world!"
"Very well...your first stop is the temple at Whitespell, where you will receive the thread to hold the Beads." Arina replied before embracing Brock one last time. "Good luck from all of us, and may Anima light your way..." With that, the group left the chamber and returned to the north end of Harmony Square and the hallway leading outside.
"Bye, Brock! Good luck on your adventure!" Ayra called as the group left the hall grounds. She climbed on a rock and waved goodbye until Brock, Ash, and Kissa were just specks against the horizon...
To Be Continued...