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Vash the Bullet and Tsulong
To the The Pinnacle
Tsulong looked up to the Metang and the Gardevoir that approached. They were almost alone in the Court of Winds, save for the heroes who were joining them.
“Tsulong! How nice to finally meet you in person,” the Gardevoir spoke to him.
"Ahh, and you must be Hender," Tsulong said, nodding slightly, his gaze falling onto the Metang, who seemed withdrawn. Roscoe's voice made him turn around, to face the Sceptile as he approached.
“Hey, Tsulong,” the Leech greeted, standing besides him. "Couple new friends?”
"Aye, friends of Grandfather, and therefore friends of ours." Grandfather was the nickname Tsulong had given Elder Durand, since it was he who had raised him.
Looking at the two of them, teacher and student, Tsulong busted a broad smile. "I trust you will aid us in our quest... we certainly lack a hero of the steel-type mastery."
"The others are late," Faolan said suddenly and curtly, as always. The Mienshao had his hands behind his back, his head raised high, watching the Pinnacle. "My punctuality is guaranteed at all times, why should theirs be not?"
The Arcanine shook his head, watching Vash the Bullet approaching them from the Pinnacle.
The Crobat decended from his steady glide, landing on his usual perch within the Court of Winds. His attention was immediately drawn to the two unfamiliar psychic types. "Preperations have been made for your arrival...though may I ask who these newcomers are?" He pointed directly at the Gardevoir and Metang.
"Hender and Telmund," Tsulong said, "they'll be coming with us. Shall we be off?"
The Bullet nodded, then looked to the Pinnacle. "I suggest we make haste. The path to the Pinnacle is narrow on foot. I will guide you there from the air." Vash's wings were stiff as he flew. It was the first time in years he would allow anyone to enter the giant castle.
Tsulong smirked, looked at the path that led to the mountain where the castle of the Pinnacle was built on. "The mountain, we need to scale, before we reach the Pinnacle," he announced to everyone, although some were lucky. Telmund could float.
Tsulong went in first, his head held high so he could keep Vash within his sight. There was nothing in the end of the path but rock - and a rocky, narrow and steep path that was going to take them up. The Arcanine disliked the prospect of scaling a slithery path with unstable footing that required immense attention from a four legged creature. It would be treacherous to tread on rock that was washed with rain the night before; the path could send any of them to their deaths. Tsulong only gritted his teeth, forcing his paws upon the rock and clinging to it with desperate power.
"Was it so hard to have an actual path made?" Faolan was heard from behind as they balanced their steps on the narrow path. "Not that it is too much of an inconvenience. Just a thought of mine."
"Nay. Why should they?" Tsulong shouted, so he could be heard. "The rock is simply another obstacle to hinder ambitious intruders."
He risked a glance down, noticing they were starting to put a good distance between them and the ground. After a while of scaling, he was panting from his effort to keep up with the narrow path that was circling around the Pinnacle. "I would seriously rather be in a battlefield right now," Tsulong muttered under his quickened breath, placing his paw carefully on the edge of the path. He almost slipped right there. In a battlefield, he could not merely slip. There, he had stable footing and the ability to roast black anything in front and in his wake. The rock was toying with his paws, and it was already black and moist from the rain.
The wind was getting fiercer the higher they went. Tsulong's mane was racing with it, and it almost seemed as if he was flying. For a moment, he wondered how it would be, to soar the skies... then he decided he'd rather not find out and clutched tighter on the rock.
"Tis a pity Reginard's not with us," the Mienshao almost groaned, "elsewise we would have a smooth teleport up the Pinnacle."
Hearing this, even through the wind, Vash lowered his altitude just enough to be auidible to the heroes. "That is not possible," the bat called to the grounded pokemon below. "The Pinnacle is enchanted with a spell that prevents such ease of access to its walls." Looking down, the Mienshao looked to be even more displeased.
At long last, they reached the top. The great white marble castle rose sky-high, its towers piercing the clouds. The massive arcs that surrounded it seemed to heave, move with the wind as it blew betwixt them. Are those really moving? Tsulong had the faintest clue that the stony arcs that formed a circle around the Pinnacle moved ever so slightly, with no hint of sound whatsoever. Were they indeed moving, if they ever collapsed upon Skyhaven, that would be the end of a great and ancient city.
Ahead of them was the castle's gates. Tsulong approached warily, watching Vash at the same time. "Go on, open them."
Vash remained silent but nonetheless complied. Lifting his four wings and releasing a powerful flap, all at once a gale formed that seemed to pry at the castle gates. Vash's body pulsating with energy flaps once more and the doors swing open at a speed that seemed impossible for a gate of such size. "I'll lead the way, per usual." Taking lead once more, he flapped down the dimly illuminated corridors. He remedied that by sweeping a Heat Wave down the passage, lighting countless candles in sequence.
The candles floated mid-dair, shedding a dim light across a long room. The floor was golden marble, the walls white. Thick columns with sculptures of Archeops were on either side of Tsulong as he walked and walked, towards what seemed to be a huge screen, at least twenty time his size. A screen? What is it used for? Tsulong thought in wonder. Then, he abstracted his eyes from the black, empty screen to his sides.
There were two doors, one on the left and one on the right.
The right door of the room was open, light coming from inside.
The group stopped abruptly, just as Vash had stopped moving forward. "That's...peculiar." His eyes narrowed and then squinted into door to his right. A dim light emanating from the center of its otherwise jet-black interior. "That door...has never been open before. It's always been locked from the very first day I've served in this castle." He looked to the others, then back towards the foreign passage. "Our path that takes us to the plate is to the left...However, I don't know what to make of this door suddenly open. Now even, of all times."
Tsulong stared at the door like a hound, his ears perked up for any sound that might catch his attention. Indeed, there was a strange, erratic yet distant sound coming from there. He could tell that it was coming from below, and the echo made the sound travel to his ears from a long way down. He looked at the other heroes. "Someone is down there," he said solidly.
"That is none of our concern," Faolan stated, headed for the left door. "We're here for the Plate. Let Vash deal with this."
"Gentlemen," another voice said suddenly, making Tsulong jump. It was Pierce, who had appeared out of nowhere, as per usual. On his great teeth, the candles' fires were reflected. "We will require Vash's help in retrieving the Plate. And since the Caretaker cannot possibly be in two places at once... some of us must investigate in his stead." He gestured towards the door, where the ominous sounds were coming from. Tsulong thought Pierce didn't sound happy at all.
"Let us be over and done with this farce," Tsulong muttered and headed for the right door, where the sounds were coming from. "Who's with me?"
Vash sighed and looked toward the left door. "There wouldn't be any point in me going to investigate if the other party could not access the Plate. The Mienshao and I will take the flight upward. The rest of you can take that path that you desire. Take heed in the fact that I don't know what's down there."
Zi-Zi's Journey - Lindsey Stirling
Januario walked inside his palace's quarters. There was Alysanne sitting gracefully on the huge feather bed. The courtesan was as beautiful as ever, having put on every jewel she had; red ruby earrings to match her eyes, a golden belt with emeralds and sapphires, golden braces on her thin wrists.
Now here is a beautiful Mienshao, if I have ever seen one, Januario thought, stopping on his tracks, transfixed, with a wan smile on his face. It wasn't in his character to be sad, but he was. It was a strange, alien feeling to him. Sadness he hadn't felt in years. This would most probably be their last meeting in perhaps a long time.
Alysanne hadn't noticed him standing there. She was looking into the mirror Pierce had given her, brushing her shiny, elegant fur of her head.
"My lady," the little Pikachu said suddenly. He jumped on the bed next to her, noticing her face as she looked in the mirror. She was sad, too.
"Am I beautiful, my Prince? Tell me I am beautiful."
"You are the most beautiful of all women I have ever seen," Januario said truthfully. He didn't like complimenting his courtesan, as his place was to just sit back and let her do her business, not comfort her. But throughout the years he had spent with her, the effort it had taken from him to find and hire her, Alysanne felt more than just a possession of his. She was a treasure.
The Mienshao's face twisted in fury and pain, her features changing from beautiful to menacing. She hurled the mirror against the wall. The frame cracked, but the mirror itself... not. "Break, you vile thing," she hissed at it, then raised her arms to cover her face. A soft sob shook her delicate shoulders.
Sigmund had warned Januario of the properties of that mirror. It wasn't just any mirror. It showed you what you wanted to see; and after Faolan's rejection of her, Januario could understand how the courtesan would think. She'd think she wasn't pretty enough. And that's exactly what the mirror showed her. Dammit, Pierce, he cursed at the ghost, the Gengar's cunning smile coming to mind, you REALLY had to mess with her, hadn't you? That was Pierce, alright. Those passive aggressive tricks and pranks of his could reduce one to tears. And it wasn't only Alysanne... it was him, as well.
I am losing her to Faolan, Januario realized, and he almost laughed grimly at his luck. It was to be expected. Faolan was a strong Pokemon, perhaps one of the most dangerous of the Realm, good looking and tall. And what was he? A stumpy little Pikachu who looked like a five year old; his only asset was his wit and ability to rub two golden coins and give birth to a third one. He was accomplished, having managed to bend every merchant in Altica under his rule as the Trade Prince, he was disgustingly rich, alright. That's what Alysanne was after thus far. His riches, and his title. And he was about to lose both. Who remained, then? Faolan... and her love for him.
He put his paw on her arm, rubbing it gently. This time, he wouldn't jump on her lap. He couldn't help her anyhow; nor did he think she wanted his help. "Sweetheart," he said mildly, "your vault is full of gold. Get someone to take it out tonight."
She peeked through her hands, looking so young and fragile. Her red eyes were mixed with confusion, frustration and sadness.
"You... might not get a second chance," Januario forced himself to say.
"Why is that?" she demanded to know. A tear dropped when she put down her arms.
Januario couldn't bring himself to tell her. He knew the day would come when he would regret bonding with a courtesan in such way. "Just take it away," the Trade Prince commanded, without looking at her. "And look for Faolan for protection. Don't count on Sigmund. You know how he hates you. When... I won't be around, he'll kill you without second thought."
"What talk is this, my Prince?" Alysanne said softly. She grabbed and lifted him up to her eyes... I love it when she does this, Januario thought to himself, shutting his eyes, almost better than the jingling sound of gold. I'll miss you so, Alysanne. Maybe fate will bring us together once more...
"Do as I say," he said, pushing away any thought of telling her everything. About the impending war, about his Plan B... about the terrible conspiracy and betrayal that was carefully plotted in the shadows. About that Charizard, Ser Raleigh, about the cloaked man, the Blackluster. About Zeal. The brewing storm was more threatening than that the clouds brought. He just wished he and Alysanne would meet again...
Telmund the Learned
Hender returned the nod the Arcanine gave him, nodding several more times at the others arriving. Tel, for the most part, continued to stare intently at his hands. It relieved him that they were being referred to as ‘friends’ – Arceus knows how he would have felt with a less welcome greeting. The broad smile was admittedly a little disconcerting, but that was his fault, he knew, not Tsulong’s. It was simply his nerves getting to him, and his logical side told him that the smile was genuine.
"I trust you will aid us in our quest...” Tsulong said, “we certainly lack a hero of the steel-type mastery."
“Oh! I’m a hero of the steel-type mastery.” Tel said excitedly, brightening up for a moment. Hender swiftly prodded Tel in the side with his quarterstaff.
“He knows,” He whispered, “That’s why he said it.”
“Ah,” Tel whispered back a little disappointedly, looking down, “that makes a lot of sense, now that I think about it…”
The Gardevoir cleared his throat, then spoke up, “We will assist you in any way we can.”
Shortly after Faolan’s arrival, the two recognised Vash the Bullet, caretaker of the Pinnacle, descending towards them. The Crobat seemed a little cautious with them, but considering the importance of the Sky Plate, it seemed reasonable enough to be. Tsulong introduced them, but Hender thought it best to be a little more formal and polite, giving a short bow, after which Telmund quickly followed up with his own.
“Hender the Seven Eyes, at your disposal. This is my student…” Hender motioned to Tel, giving him an encouraging smile.
“Uh- Telmund the Learned. Or, uh, just Tel… erm… also at your disposal…?”
The heroes seemed to be quite intent on scaling the mountain leading to the Pinnacle, which thankfully meant that there wasn’t as much time as there could otherwise have been to focus on Telmund’s pitiful social skills. It may seem at first that Tel would be well-fitted to the climb: lucky in that he could float using magnetism. Such… wasn’t exactly the case. He also had Hender.
“Don’t you think… this is a little tiring… Hender?” Tel panted at his mentor. The Gardevoir in question was perched comfortably, cross-legged, directly on top of Telmund’s head. He had formed a small psychic umbrella above himself at the end of his quarterstaff, currently enjoying the surrounding scenery of the climb. The Seven Eyes had reasoned that he was far too old and fragile to make the rocky climb himself, and he’d be damned if he missed out an opportunity to visit the Pinnacle after all these decades. He glanced down at his student with an amused smile, smugness almost radiating from him.
“Oh, don’t worry about me, Tel – I’m not tired at all. Carry on.”
The Metang let out a metallic groan, grumbling incoherently to himself.
“Just- move your legs, I can’t see.”
Hender chuckled, “Oh, no, I’m sure you can’t.”
Telmund sighed, resigned to his fate. There was occasional conversation, but mostly silence on the journey up the mountain. The Pinnacle was truly a masterpiece of architecture, both inside and out. Delicate sculptures, levitating candles and glistening marble made Tel’s eyes widen in amazement. And then… there was the open door.
Vash stopped, “That’s… peculiar.”
Telmund winced, “How reassuring.”
The open door seemed to be a dilemma – both Telmund and Hender found it very disconcerting. If the Pinnacle had indeed been breached, then that proved to be a very serious problem, considering the security of the place and the importance of the treasure it held. Tsulong confirmed the suspicions, seemingly quite confident that someone was down there, and yet, Faolan seemed a tad dismissive.
“That is none of our concern. We’re here for the plate. Let Vash deal with this.”
“Gentelmen,” said the voice of a Gengar, appearing out of nowhere. Tel cried out in surprise, psychically flinging a candle. The object sailed quite slowly through the air, landing rather pitifully with a splat a few feet in front of the ghost. Seeing no hostile reactions, Tel returned to staring at his claws.
“Erm, I thought you could, uh… make use of the, uh… candle…”
Hender shushed his student, listening intently to the plans of the others. He said nothing, but brought Telmund along to follow Tsulong – he was, after all, the one they had been told to meet. What awaited them through the door to the right, neither knew.
Turnips shall rise.
He could see all of the city, white marble flashing against the sun, as he was sitting on the branch of a tree on the highest hill. Next to him, on the fat tree's trunk, he had carved a word with his sharp claw, Euphoria, while eating the apple he had plucked. The warm, fuzzy touch of the sun, along with the moist ground's scent and the beautiful sight of the shimmering sea brought him a soothing feeling of euphoria. After the rush of adrenaline on duty, this was a feeling he cherished. But most importantly, it was the sense of satisfaction of a job well done. Everything had gone according to plan. In a snap of his fingers, at one time literally, lives - important lives - were removed from the chessboard of the Kingdom of Altica. Most accomplished businessmen of Skyhaven, possible matches for Lady Adelaide had been killed, either by his hand or by the results of his machinations. His Lady's secret marriage was secured from the prying vultures... though many were alive still.
Alex dropped from the branch to land softly on the ground, having had enough of the view. He dusted off the lapel of his cloak, then started making his way down the hill, towards the docks and the sea. The grass was wet under his paws, just how he liked it, and there was a slight, refreshing breeze that made his cloak billow behind him.
His eyes fell onto a patch of flowers by the fence of a lonely house. Curious, he thought, taking a better look as he approached. It had lush blue petals. He thought Adelaide might like such flowers... not these flowers. Upon closer inspection, he detected their spiky stem. That alone classified them as dangerous; he knew, though, they were no common flowers. They were mageroyals, which produced a poison with varying effects depending on the species of the victim. To some, it brought hallucinations, to others, it brought insomnia and shakes. It was used as a medicine, even, but it could bring death, too.
Alex kneeled on the ground next to the mageroyals, engaging the blades hidden in his sleeve. He cut a plentiful amount of the rare flowers and put them inside one of the multiple inner pockets of his cloak.
When he got to his feet, he came eye to eye with a vixen. Indeed, Cassiopeia froze in the middle of the road when he saw him. Her red eyes blazed, her face twisted with fury as she strode to him in big steps. He opened his arms wide, as if to hug her.
"Poison!" she shouted in his face, when she reached him. "That's a foul way of paying people!"
"Your lot is fouler tenfold, why should you care of my methods?" he questioned her, his voice calm, his arms still spread. When she tried to punch him, he caught her thin wrist in a solid grip. She kicked and punched against him, but he managed to tug her hands behind her back with one hand, the other resting next to her throat.
"I almost got killed," she cried angrily, squirming, then stopped to think. She continued in a softer tone that perhaps hinted she was hurt. "Part of the plan, wasn't it? Get rid of that Braixen, too. No witnesses."
Alex made a hissing sound to shut her up. "I know you are not just any Braixen. Could you ever blame me if I had confidence in your survival?" Cassiopeia seemed like the kind of person who was sick of being pushed around, so a little credit to her abilities would give him what he wanted... the trick was done. She lowered her eyes on the grass and stopped struggling against his grip, and the hint of a smile formed on her pretty snout. In her scent, he could smell a hundred things, from the stench of ships and the docks, to the perfumes of the rich merchants of the auction she had been into.
Then, she suddenly pushed him away, still hinting she was trying to hide a smile. "You knew, then. You'd make a swell first-mate, Alex. What do you say? Join my crew. Leave that lady of yours to mingle with her class." Now she was grinning.
Mingle with her class she has, and I with her, Alex almost said. "I was not made to be first-mate on a ship," he said with a solid, superior tone. He couldn't even begin to imagine himself on a ship, part of a pirate crew. They were nothing but a bunch of cutthroats, eager to spend their gold the same day they earned it in shallow fancies like drinking.
"Well, you can't be captain, for the captain of my ship is me. What would you be, if not first-mate."
"The storm that strikes your ship," Alex joked, getting past her as he walked off.
"Oi! What of my payment, you pompous gasbag?" she shouted.
Alex kept walking towards the docks, without turning back. "I have no gold, if that's what you're asking," he lied, "although you can try to rob me and find out if I'm lying."
"Rob you?" she repeated, astonished. He laughed briefly, deeply.
"Pirates tend to do that, yeah? And you're not afraid of me."
"You got that right. Scorpius fears none, not even the Lord of the Twelve Seas."
"Sounds like a thick fellow," Alex said softly, sneering slightly. Fear makes us wary... which, in turn, makes us strong.
Cassiopeia took a moment to realize what he'd just said. "To hell with you, Alex!" she yelled, running after him.
Roscoe the Leech
Skyhaven - Lovely Pinnacle hike, don't you think?
Waiting with Tsulong for the rest of the heroes to show up, Roscoe looked up at the mountain on which the Pinnacle sat and chuckled briefly. "Twice now we've had t' do such a hike," the Sceptile muttered. Faolan's words brought Roscoe's attention back to the group, and his mirth died. There was Tsulong, Faolan, himself, Telmund and Hender, and Gaius. And Vash, now that the Crobat had just joined them. Roscoe didn't see Pierce at first, but the ghost could be present without being visible. He shuddered slightly at the thought. Still no Reginard, though, or Vincent for that matter.
As they began heading for the path up the mountain, Roscoe lingered until he was one of the last few to leave the Court of Winds. Vincent couldn't have abandoned them...could he? The Sceptile blew a sigh and focused on the trail for the time being. Two things quickly became clear for him. The trail and walls were slick with the previous night's rain, making it more difficult for the Sceptile's grip to hold. Roscoe was sure he could have climbed the walls anyway, if it wasn't for the second thing: the weight of his pack wouldn't let him stick to the wet vertical walls.
Some way up the mountain, Roscoe looked up at the Metang and his passenger. Hearing Telmund's woes, Roscoe couldn't help letting out a laugh despite the wear of the hike. It reminded him of himself and his former mentor, Phillip. He also found it a bit amusing when Faolan virtually complained about the trail, twice.
At the top of the mountain, Roscoe's yellow eyes wandered over the masterpiece of architecture for only a few seconds before he sat down for a moment and blew a sigh of relief. "Trail's harder with a pack, y'know?" It was only a minute or so before the group had to move on.
Inside, when Vash stopped and commented on the open door to the right, Roscoe warily turned around to look back the way they'd come. Open gates...just like when they'd entered the Inner Sanctum. The Sceptile cracked his knuckles before making a slight chopping motion with one claw. In a moment, an after-image of Roscoe phased into existence to one side and became solid. The Substitute looked exactly like him, except it didn't carry a pack, belt, or weapons.
Before the group could split up, Roscoe asked, "Hey, Vash, mind closin' the gates behind ya? I wouldn't want anyone else comin' in behind us." Whether the Caretaker heard him or not, the real Roscoe headed for the left door while his Substitute made for the right alongside Tsulong.
On the left, Roscoe walked up until he was just a couple feet behind Vash. "So, what's with th' screen back there?"
In the group to the right, Sub-Roscoe* drifted toward Telmund's side. "So, Telmund the Learned, is it? Name's Roscoe."
*Roscoe's Substitute shall be referred to as Sub-Roscoe.
Gaius the Disciple
Gaius was mostly silent as the Heros ascended the mountain, keeping his eyes on the rocks ahead while his mind wandered. Heights had never really been something he had needed to think about before, but being hoisted through the air like a rag-doll had indicated to him just how dangerous gravity could be. This terrain was more comfortable that that at least - he knew from experience that if he needed to he was capable of piercing rock with his hand spikes to get a grip - but he still breathed a quiet sigh of relief when the group finished their climb and entered the castle.
The Pinnacle was almost as impressive from the inside as it was when seen looming overhead, filled with slick marble and statues. Gaius had just about started to calm down from the nerves the unpleasant climb had awoken when he noticed the door. Great, it seemed this was going to be much less simple than expected.
Gaius was still debating whether this was a good thing or not - excitement was good in small quantities after all - when the others started to move. He snorted scornfully when the Meinshao walked off to the left, ignoring the open door. "Leaving a potential enemy behind us would be unwise." he stated flatly, moving towards the right door even as Pierce appeared to convince the others.
He wouldn't be alone at least then. Most of the assembled Heros were moving towards the door except for Roscoe who had split himself in two and gone both directions. Taking cue from the Sceptile to prepare himself Gaius placed his hands together briefly and focused his energy until they glowed green. When he unlinked his fingers and spread his arms a line of green followed his hands, abruptly becoming solid when it was just shorter than Gaius was tall, leaving him with a glowing green staff. One end of the Bone Club ended in an exaggerated bone feature like the Cubone weapons the attack took it's name from, but the other had been formed into a sharp, jagged edge by a violent twist of Gaius' hand. Holding his weapon at the ready Gaius strode carefully towards the open door, alert for anything that may lay beyond.
The steps up the Pinnacle were endless, the polished steel corridors drawing on and on... it was easy to get lost in this castle, but the path the heroes that had taken the door to the left wasn't complicated. Following Vash the Bullet, they took an elevator up many floors, then took a left in a circular corridor with massive windows. Faolan could see all the extent of the grasslands around Skyhaven from there, basking under the sun. Soon, as they escalated further, the view was covered by the clouds - they were finally above them.
"What is this place?" Faolan muttered in wonder, looking around as they reached a circular chamber with a stage in the middle. It looked like an opera theater. "At first glance, it appears to be a castle... but what's with the screen and the stage? And the lift we took earlier?"
There was another lift to be taken. This one would take them to the top of the central tower of the Pinnacle - the highest tower. "We're in the peak," Pierce announced, his voice sounding meek. The cold air whipped Faolan's face hard, and he found it was difficult to breathe up there. All around them, the blue extent of the sky was overwhelmingly beautiful. It was soothing to Faolan, somehow, even though the wind was roaring in his ears; perhaps it would be a good spot for meditation.
But before he could think of doing that, his eyes fell on a massive golden sphere in the middle of the circular platform that was the peak of the Pinnacle. The sphere was about ten times Faolan's size, looming huge over them. It appeared to be turning round and round clockwise, and the wind was much stronger the closer they got. Faolan took a few steps forward, as if to inspect it, reaching his hand out to it. It didn't look dangerous, but he knew there was a catch. He could feel it in his bones. That was no normal wind.
"No touching," Pierce said from far away. Faolan noticed the Gengar was keeping his distance for some reason, and he detected a hint of nervousness in his flat smile.
"Is this where it is? The Sky Plate?" Faolan asked rhetorically, staring dubiously at the golden sphere. If the Plate was anywhere, it would be inside that sphere, but it didn't look like it had any ways of breaking open. Faolan had the faintest suspicion that his own strength would fail to crack it too, but he quickly pushed that thought away and looked at Vash. The Caretaker would know how to open it.
The inside of the sphere was empty, but for a circular, dark object placed on the bottom. The Plate, where is the Plate? Faolan tried to keep his calm. He leaped in the sphere, looking at the item on the golden bottom. It was a disk, made of stone, with one word engraved on it: Zeal. Faolan jerked his body around, in search for Vash. "Vash!" he roared, "where is the Plate?"
Vash was nowhere to be seen. Faolan grabbed the disk, but as he touched it, the world shifted around him. It fazed for a second. Faolan was midair, leaping out of the sphere, when a vision appeared before him. His feet touched the steel-like cold floor, but he couldn't see it. He was seeing something else, as were the other heroes.
***"What?" the psychic boomed, exasperated, confused. His dangerous green eyes were widened in fury and confusion, but he suddenly seemed to understand.
"Let the feast begin," Lady Tanda said, although her Ser Tevalis had not arrived just yet. She felt alone without him, surely.
Their tables were forming a circle around the fountain, the scent of delicious food (roasted Swanna!) emanating everywhere, drawing the birds. The Hussars were eating as well, a rare exception, but celebrations called for exceptions.
Supposedly, they were celebrating their victory. Soon, the heroes would be coming down the Pinnacle with the Sky Plate, and they would be killed, as soon as they exited the castle. Lady Tanda's sources had informed her that the newcomer in the Council, Pierce, had also been part of the group of heroes once, and that he was still, potentially, a dangerous ally of theirs. Chance had brought Lady Tanda and Pierce next to each other in the table; she was looking at him intently, a little sleepily from last night's nightmares. She had been sick, only for a day, just enough to be left out of the decision of whether the heroes would venture up the Pinnacle or not... she was content with the final decision, though, so she said nothing.
Pierce's red eyes met hers. She had the impression his smile was more cocksure than it was before, his eyes always having that cunning glow she did not like at all. "The meal is exquisite, my lady," the ghost said, yet he hadn't touched any of it, "give my regards to the cook."
"The Swanna is far too spicy," Lady Tanda complained, her throat burning. Pierce chuckled at that.
"Of course, my lady."
"Say, Pierce... you work with the heroes, don't you?"
His eyes went wide, but he quickly got over his surprise. "Yes," he stated with brute honesty. "As is the Trade Prince, as you are well aware of."
"Then you do realize... that we cannot simply allow you to step out by the end of this session?" she said, her voice dangerously low. Her smile was small and sadistic, a maniacal glow in her eyes. "Having you warn the heroes of our plan to confront them... that will not do, do you get me?"
Pierce sighed, looking down at his untouched meal in a pretended sad expression. The glasses were empty, there were no drinks to be brought. Lord Zygon was coughing and cried out for water, the Hussars said none had brought any to the tables.
"I know, my lady. My life is forfeit, it seems. Perhaps you have won this game... I understand you must be a good Lady for King Aion and hand him the Plate. You shall be the Lady of Skyhaven for the rest of your life."
The Gothitelle blinked, staring at him with her disgusting smile. Then, she called out. "Hussars. Seize this ghost. If he dares move, kill him."
Pierce was quickly surrounded by Hussars, Sigmund put a psychic cage on him just in case he escaped. The Pikachu, Januario, ignored the whole situation and continued to gobble down on his meal like a man who hadn't eaten in days.
The ghost had an impassive expression, almost lifeless, when Lord Zygon coughed again and Lady Lyra trembled a bit on her seat, looking at the imprisoned Pierce. It seemed as if he had gone stale all of a sudden, which made him look scary. A Gengar without his smile was scarier, oddly. Lady Tanda smirked her eyes, touching her neck lightly. "And bring me a glass of water. This Swanna has proven to be a pain instead of a pleasure."
"What a crime," Lady Lyra the Luxray said, "we are quite undeserving of such punishment... to ruin a good Swanna with so much pepper, who would eat a thing such as this!"
"I love it," the Pikachu said, "I love the Swanna, bring more..."
"Water," Lord Zygon cried out, still recovering from his wounds from last night's duel.
The Hussars saw the flowing fountain and headed there immediately, scooping up the crystal clear water into large glasses. But they wouldn't be enough, glasses... it was a vain attempt at relieving the heat. The heat in their throats drew them to the fountain, they threw their glasses aside and started drinking straight from it. Some returned to the tables to fill the Council's glasses.
"Gentlemen!" Pierce announced suddenly, his big grin having returned. "It is a time to be celebrating. Today, you will have captured the Sky Plate and my brave comrades. I admit I sought to help them. Now I also admit my defeat at this very moment, but I would also like to entertain you a bit."
Sigmund's prison broke to pieces and a massive shadow bloated to gargantuan size in the middle of the square, right before all of their eyes. It was the shadow of Pierce... a cunning shadow, grinning down at them with vicious satisfaction written on his scary, shady face. They were paralyzed by fear, trapped under this menace. None of them shouted at first. Their insides were burning, the whispering of the fountain got louder, it was speaking out loud. The head of the Rayquaza's statue turned to look down upon the Council, grinning along with the Gengar. It was like fireworks appeared in the sky in broad daylight; the Hussars started coughing and stumbling and shouting, the Council as well. Lady Tanda fell backwards from her chair. Januario's little body was going through violent spasms. Lord Zygon was gasping for air and Lady Lyra's body sparked with faint electricity. Lord Archelon the Carracosta had fallen on his back and flailing in vain. They were unable to get up, despite any effort - the fire inside them was eating them away quickly as if they were leaves.
"You have caught Zeal," Pierce said, his voice twisted and heavy, "and you will be made to regret it. Try stopping the heroes. They are the least of your worries now... welcome to your nightmare."
The Council was silent for a long while, after they had finished their meal. Traditionally, they would feast under the statue of Rayquaza in the middle of the fountain, where the 'holy' water of the mountains was flowing freely. Ser Tevalis had attended countless sessions, but never again had he witnessed this. The five members of the Council, including his Lady Tanda, were seated on the tables that the Hussars had brought, silent and still like the statue of Rayquaza that towered above them. The Winged Hussars were standing back, respectfully, keeping their vigil. The only sound was that of the water of the fountain.
Ser Tevalis looked past his spiked shoulderpads at Lord Archelon, who had never finished his plate. The menu of the day was exquisite, and the old Carracosta always had quite the appetite, despite his age. Yet, his plate was unfinished. He was looking forward to nothing in particular. Lady Tanda as well. And the ghost, that Gengar... Ser Tevalis stared at Pierce, who returned the stare. But the sinister red gaze of the ghost was a blank one, as if he saw past the massive Conkeldurr.
The lull was almost unbearable for the knight, who couldn't wait any longer. He took a step forward and talked without permission. "My lords, my ladies... I purchased a doll from this man," he pointed at Pierce, "a Gothitelle doll. It was stolen from me the next day; however, I found it again, the night of the fireworks."
That night, he had given his Lady Tanda the Gothitelle doll, and she had fallen sick. It was destined for her, he could tell, for Lady Tanda was a Gothitelle as well.
"I know nothing of sorcery, but I believe that doll was cursed by the Cunning Shadow," the Conkeldurr said.
They all slowly turned their heads to look at Tevalis. The ghost's expression worried him. He seemed not to react to his words, and he was quiet; Ser Tevalis expected Pierce to start to panic, yet the Gengar seemed calmer than ever. He would also expect his Lady Tanda to seize the man at once, but she was unmoving, her stare unyielding. A queer feeling struck him, seeing those blank stares, and his voice cracked a bit from hesitation when he continued.
"I was given to hold the notebook of the fiend that is haunting our city, Zeal, after it was left in the Court of Winds. This morning, I brought the notebook to my Lady Tanda, who was recovering from her sickness. When she attempted to... sense any possible magic bound with it, it vanished."
No response, only dead silence. He swallowed, sweating, wondering if what he was doing was wrong. Something was awry. His words should have provoked a reaction by now, by any of them. "I realized, the notebook was nothing but an illusion. A well made, powerful illusion made by the Zoroark I had caught, whom he freed," he said, looking threateningly at Pierce. "I had caught the right person," Ser Tevalis declared solidly, "who was defended in court so valiantly by Pierce... whose doll I found on the crime scene. Therefore, I can assume they are tied together, and therefore, I can assume they are in league--"
Suddenly, he was shot up in the air, his eyes rolling on the back of his head from the tremendous psychic force that crushed his head with pressure enough to make blood leak out of his ears and nose. His spiky shoulderpads crushed against his neck, impaling it fully. He tried to shout, his senses screaming as he gurgled in his own blood, unable to shake off of the psychic attack despite his massive size - its intensity was beyond natural, the pressure was unreal and the pain was blinding and unbearable. Any lesser Pokemon would have died instantly from this force, but the Conkeldurr was a big man, strong. Yet his body yielded so easily, as if it were a leaf.
They said nothing of him squirming to his death, drowning in his own blood. Not even the Hussars around him tried to help. They were all bewitched, that was one of his last thoughts. Fire engulfed his body, making a torch out of him. Through steel and blood, his vision was limited, but he managed to look at the silent, lulled Council one last time. Lady Tanda was staring at him, her eyes empty of emotion. The rest had fixed their dark gazes at him too, and in the panic and realization of the impending death, he thought madly that they were hateful gazes, many black eyes to stare down at him. There was only a pair of eyes that glowed a different color, with power - green, ominously, and with a sick satisfaction, but he couldn't quite comprehend to whom they belonged to.
An alien laugh cracked from somewhere ahead as he collapsed on the ground, broken.
"You were on the right track, I believe."
It was the inside of a building, a desk in an important looking office. A fat Tangrowth was seated behind it, and a Kirlia was standing next to him. Across the desk, the Trade Prince was seated on a silk red chair, his little arms crossed. Sigmund was standing just behind him, with eyes glowing faintly in the color of dark green.
"I truly am sorry," the Tangrowth was saying, somewhat sarcastically, "but the Plate shall not remain in the city. Lady Tanda has already decided it will be so."
Januario sighed. "That's true, I grant you that. It won't remain in the city. But if it's the King you want to give it to, I'm afraid you won't succeed. The heroes are coming, and it's them who'll be leaving with the Plate. I have already decided it is so."
With that, the Trade Prince left the office. The Kirlia turned to Franklin the Cyalan Ambassador. "Mister Franklin, do you really believe they have got a chance?"
"No, dear, even saying that is laughable," the Tangrowth shook his head, "it might be true that the Trade Prince is helping them, but he is their only footing in the Council. And Lady Tanda means to expel him immediately. After that is done, the heroes will be banished from the city - if they want to get into the Pinnacle, they will have to face the Hussars... no man, hero or not, may stand against dozens of thousands. And... I will be the one to personally carry the Sky Plate from Skyhaven to the King's hands."
As they were standing with their backs against the wall, neither seemed to notice the red eyes that were showing behind them. Red, cunning eyes, yet full of worry.
The images shifted again. The ghostly form of Pierce assembled in front of the eyes of the gathered heroes, but the ghost didn't seem to notice them - he was merely a vision, nothing else. He was in a narrow room that was no doubt a privy of a luxurious building. The Gengar was furiously pacing up and down, fingering his spiky chin and grinding his teeth together, often meeting head to head with the wall and almost slipping fully inside it. He was in deep thought, stumbling on his feet as he looked intently on the marble tiles of the floor. The voice of his thoughts seemed to reverberate in the vision: this is no good, this is no good at all. Frantically, he looked around as he paced, rubbing his hands nervouslywith eyes wide open. This path we're headed to, it has to change...
Suddenly, the door of the privy burst open and in levitates Sigmund. The bulky bodyguard's mean eyes fell down on Pierce. "Well, what do you know," Sigmund said sarcastically, "a ghost in the toilet. It almost sounds like a horror fiction story. Don't spend too much time in here, or else you'll smell like **** and Client will hate that. You're smelly enough as it is."
While he was talking, Pierce's face had been lit up with an expression of awe mixed with surprise, as if he'd just been hit with the wrecking ball of a brilliant idea. This is what I need. "I know what Januario hates," Pierce said cunningly, giving Sigmund a little smile, "it's disloyalty. Give me your hand."
Sigmund was way slower than Pierce, who grabbed his fat gel-hand with both of his own ghostly ones. The bodyguard screamed in agony, his hand engulfed in dark flames that burst out of nowhere. Immediately, the Gengar was trapped in green psychic bars and immobilized. "I knew you were up to no good. You're dead," Sigmund announced furiously, raising his hand, glowing brilliantly with green psychic power. He was about to channel a psychic blast of energy that would send Pierce face-first into the Purgatory.
"Not yet," Pierce said calmly behind the bars, "I suggest you put that down. Our lives are bound now."
Pierce grinned. "Don't do anything reckless. It's called Destiny Bond. You do like to live, Sigmund? Kill me, and I take you with me. You do know what that means: if I kill myself, you are dead too."
"You tricky bastard!" Sigmund boomed.
"Keep your voice down, and remove these bars, please. Let us talk like civilized Pokemon with a common purpose."
It was done, the bars were removed. "Now, listen closely. I know what Franklin intends. I can't simply let him do as he pleases. If he continues to exist, he will make sure Lady Tanda is successful in expelling Januario from the Council. Then, every chance we have of getting to the Sky Plate will be gone, and our well being will be in danger. Now, I'm not fond of murder, but I truly don't see any way around it. He is my enemy, after all."
That's how Tsulong deals with his enemies, right? Pierce's voice echoed, and a brief vision covered the already displaying one. It was Tsulong, charging at the Cyalan camp in Westfall with a deadly, roaring inferno of his flames following behind him and engulfing everything in his wake. Hundreds had died by their hands.
"Go, and remove him," Pierce ordered him, "quietly, and do not speak a word of this to Januario."
Sigmund was left without words for a few moments, calculating his options. It seemed the intelligent Reuniclus had been willing to hear him out, for an odd reason, as if he had been expecting to be tricked. Pierce locked his red eyes on the Reuniclus. I see now that he was aware I knew how to use Destiny Bond... he did expect me to use it. But he didn't know when. Just what kind of Pokemon is Sigmund? Do I know anything about him? Is he truly loyal to Januario? His loyalty sure changes fast... Pierce's voice sounded in the vision, just before Sigmund spoke up.
"I've no choice, do I?"
"I thought it over, and you did, too. You don't have any choice. Take this," Pierce revealed his suitcase and took out a disk. It wasn't made of stone; it was a steel, polished one, with a tag on it, Hidden Power. It flew over to the Reuniclus, who grasped and looked at it. "Whatever your Hidden Power is, use it to kill the Ambassador. We do not need Januario's attention on you - he does know of your usual moveset." Instead, we need to draw attention on another person... someone who is far more dangerous than the heroes...
"Leave a note nearby, 'Zeal'."
"Got it. Zeal. For the Ambassador's zeal, right."
"And remember, do it quietly," Pierce pleaded.
"Quietly, sure," the bodyguard laughed his alien laugh that echoed horribly in the vision. "I'll show you quiet."
Oh no. Pierce remained in the bathroom of the Embassy when the screaming started. He clutched his head and faced the wall. No, no, no... Sigmund was letting his rage on the innocents inside the building. And his Hidden Power had turned to be fire.
***"Splendid. I would hate it if Hussars interrupted my thinking."
"I am Ser Raleigh," the Charizard stated, and Pierce shook his hand. He needed to levitate mid-air above the fresh grass to achieve this.
"My pleasure," Pierce said with a mellow, yet cunning smile plastered on his dark face. "Although I doubt that's your real name."
"How acute of you," the Charizard responded with a muddy expression, frowning down upon him.
"Well then," Pierce said suddenly, interrupting the fearsome warrior, "we are settled. You will let us rest here," He looked to the inn amidst the forest. "Safest place in all of Skyhaven, you say?"
"Indeed. You need not worry of anyone looking for you here."
"Likewise, my stumpy friend."
Sigmund sneaked into the dark forest, meeting up with Pierce at the spot they had agreed.
"How is the spying going?" Pierce asked bluntly, his teeth purple from the poisonous drink that lady at the inn was serving.
The bodyguard shrugged. "I've some bad news for you and your lot. The previous plan to banish the heroes from the city has been cancelled. Instead, those bastards have cooked up something better for you. The moment you set foot in the city, you're to be arrested and brought to the Council, where you will suffer an 'accident' and die. All of you."
"Accident?" Pierce said, flustered and worried, "no, that can't happen..."
"Too bad, isn't it? You work so hard to get the Grass Plate and then you come here to die." Sigmund roared his laughter.
Pierce rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "That can be avoided. The Hussars aren't what they used to be. Gold is sure to grease some of their hinges... I'll go greet the heroes. Stay in touch."
"Faolan!" the Gengar exclaimed merrily, "I trust you had a good stroll around? Isn't Skyhaven lovely?"
"Yes, lovely," Faolan muttered, picking up the nest in front of him. Pierce dropped from the branch he was sitting on to snatch it off his hands and rose to sit on the branch again, placing the nest next to him. His delicate fingers brushed on the inside, his wide smile waning, tortured by the weight of thought. Turning to Faolan, he said, "this nest is like Skyhaven."
"Whatever do you mean?"
"It's a comfortable place to be... and occupied by sweethearts. However, a certain somebody arrives without notice..." he raised his eyebrows in a pretended suspense, "and scares them away, then knocks it over."
***As Toa was leaving the scene, Pierce saw Vincent stopping him. The two Pokemon talked briefly with each other. Pierce's eyes were fixed on the pair when Toa pointed at Pierce in a fearful expression, so unlikely of him, who was standing close to Januario.
"These letters you are writing, what are they?" Sigmund demanded to know, standing behind Pierce as he sat on the desk, writing furiously with his pencil.
"These letters," Pierce said, holding the inkpot with his tongue, "are the key to our salvation."
"Could you please deliver these to the Knights of the Iron Circle?" Pierce handed Ser Raleigh a bag that was full of letters. He grinned cunningly at him. "I believe you and the Dragonlords of Acanthus are all too... familiar with each other, yes? Especially with one of them, the leader... Chieftain Dragonlord of Acanthus."
"Ah, indeed," the Charizard grinned back, "Lordus Rivendare and I have enjoyed battle side by side in our younger days. You are a rather bright fellow, I suppose you would know already."
"By all means, my lord. I can see you enjoying battle once again, soon enough."
The Charizard looked at the bag with the letters. "So, these are an invitation to battle?"
"It's an invitation for an alliance," Pierce replied smugly, "if it's war and freedom the Dragonlords want... let us work together on granting them that." And thus create a most dangerous enemy for King Aion, while gaining a powerful ally of our own... well done, Pierce.
Ser Raleigh said, "that sounds quite beneficial... for all of us."
"I trust you will deliver the letters privately, then."
"By all means, I shall."
"Ah, Toa, good to see you," Pierce greeted his old ally in the dark, quiet road. There was something he didn't like about him, though. The Zoroark was looking around frantically, his red eyes widened as if in fear of encountering his worst nightmare around the corner. "Everything alright?"
"Don't raise your voice," Toa ordered him.
"Edward," Pierce whispered in a blank expression, making sure not to show any emotion, "it was you who killed him, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, it was me."
"I'm thankful for that, it helped us greatly in our cause. With Mantarys leading the Company, we were able to thwart them... excellent thinking from your part." But Pierce had a thoughtful, rather disturbed expression on. The gears of his mind were working like crazy, and he could hear his ears buzz with that sense of dread he felt when something did not go according to plan. Toa, you wandered on dangerous grounds... very dangerous, indeed. The Stranger could be nowhere else but in Westfall camp before the battle started. Given his obvious affinity for dark, he would have spotted you from miles away... this gives me a hunch that I can't simply ignore.
"Of course it was, you didn't expect any less, did you?" Toa snapped, but then jerked around to stare into a dark corner.
A little search of the mind won't hurt."Toa!" he gasped suddenly, flying in front of him to grasp his furry shoulders. The Zoroark stared straight in his red eyes with his own eyes widened in terror. He fell hard on the cobblestone after the Hypnosis, sleeping almost peacefully... Pierce dove right into his dream, directing it, but not touching it. That would cause pain, and he wanted to do his best to avoid that.
It was vague, but he could tell he was in Cyala's throne room, King Aion seated on his throne with the flames of his fiery beard licking the Dark Plate above him. The Stranger stood tall over Toa, who was thrown in front of both of them. The fiend had his hood removed. It was a Zoroark underneath...
"Father?" Toa cried out, but the dream shifted. Another figure from the back took a step forward; it was a huge Pangoro with a staff sheathed on his back of his chestguard.
"I bestow upon you, the Fire Plate. You shall be the new Ambassador in Skyhaven," King Aion declared in a powerful voice that seemed to ring in the dream, echoing between the walls of the throne room.
Master Zhao has the Fire Plate!
Then a whisper echoed, making the hackles behind the Gengar's neck rise. "You may all touch the Dark Plate. Forever be blessed by darkness."
It was Mantarys, Toa, Zhao and a Garchomp who reached for the Dark Plate, which had descended to the ground so that they could touch it. They all touched it at the same time under the Stranger's gaze, and all were shrouded in darkness, their eyes changing to black for a moment.
Toa was stirring in his sleep. The dream threw Pierce right into a forest. It was a dark swamp with running waters, black roots of corruption pulsing around him. This place... what could it be? Corruption, here? Is the Dark Plate to blame for this? Is this... the power of the Dark Plate?
"I am Zeal," Pierce told Toa. "You know why. I had no choice. I'm going to warn Reginard about Zhao... I'm not sure if he has the Fire Plate or not, but if our allies go looking for him, we'll find out, eventually." He said to Toa, who immediately gave him a notebook. The notebook had a word, 'Zeal' written on it.
Pierce was astonished for a moment, staring at the notebook.
"Take this. It contains a message that needs to be heard," Toa said.
"What kind of message, if I may ask?" Pierce opened the notebook. It was empty.
"You'll see. And read all of it."
"But, we can't have Zeal talking about you, else you'll be blamed--"
"Do as I say."
Reginard's mind... it is infected, same as Toa's. That area that resembles a swamp, that is corruption, I know it well... I now am sure this is no normal phenomenon. It is an unholy spell. And the worst part, this is no amateur's work - I cannot possibly find a cure. This cannot be good. Two heroes are already infected... and Toa already almost foiled my plans with that message he had me read from the notebook. The notebook appears to be a beacon for his powers to create illusions. Another creation of dark magic, no doubt. An ability he surely did not possess before. I wonder, on whose side is he now? He did touch the Dark Plate... the Stranger, if it really was his father, would Toa do as he commanded? I searched further and found nothing inside his dreams. Perhaps the time has come, I need to deal with this... else, I will have to kill him.
And Reginard... he acts strangely. Not as I had expected. As is Toa... that 'seed' that has been planted inside their minds is causing them to lose it. How long will they stay on our side, if they have not gone already?
"You didn't read all of my message," Toa snapped at him. Pierce was standing at a safe distance, lest the furious Zoroark attack him.
"The message claimed that you were Zeal," Pierce said, trying to maintain his calm. He barely managed to contain his anger for what had almost been said through the notebook. "That would compromise my plans. Toa, do you realize what it is you'd accomplish? You'd slip into the role of the enemy!"
I am Zeal, Pierce thought, no one else. The others were his tools.
"If that is what it takes to be recognized for my actions... Reginard completely ignored my orders. He will suffer for that."
He is mad. Pierce faded into the wall, only his eyes and voice remaining behind. "Toa, heed this warning, for your own good. This is enough fooling around, so let me state this clearly. I am Zeal. Not you, nor anybody else. Should you do anything reckless, I will crush you." The old friend was finally becoming an enemy.
Oh, what have I done? I should have predicted this... and now Guardian has died, because of me. Toa's mind has snapped, he's with the enemy now. Why else go after Guardian? He was the one we trusted with the Grass Plate! He wanted the Plate... the Stranger wants the Plates. It makes sense.
Pierce was in the Court of Winds, staring at nothing with a distraught expression. It was raining. They were about to prosecute the captured Toa. Pierce was conflicted. Would he let Toa die? He did cause all this, after all. But then, the black notebook on the ground appeared out of nowhere, along with the voice...
Ahh, what do we have here... a corrupt system and a victim deemed as the perpetrator, ready to be prosecuted. You have the wrong guy... as per usual. There was a laugh, a laugh that would sound charming in other circumstances. The silence hung heavy in the Court of Winds after the laugh died down; the Hussars were on guard, looking away, searching for the one who spoke. But there was no one. Only that notebook. None dared approach it. Pierce was staring at it, wide eyed, his instincts dulled with fear and his logic frozen in place. This is an illusion, he thought, only an illusion. But Toa would never speak like that, if it was him producing the illusion.
The voice came again. Forgive my misguided friend Reginard over here. He would lead you to false conclusions... of course, that is all you need to function as Council, false conclusions. You would take innocent men into prison in my name, blaming them for MY actions... why should they take the credit? What a hideous system you have. I intend to change it. Forever. Mark my words. And I am starting now. I will prove the innocence of Toa. Look to the south, my lords. And do send your Hussars. I will carve my seal upon their bodies. Au revoir.
Who is that speaking? Pierce licked his lips, his eyes open in terror, that's not Sigmund or Toa... who is that? Who pretends to be me?
I know what I will do with Toa. Enemy or not, I need him to stick around. I hate to do this, but it must be done, for the sake of the heroes. He looked at Toa, who had asked him to make them understand. Then Pierce did what was necessary to free him of any charges.
He was the one who had sent Sigmund to the docks immediately after seeing the fireworks forming the word Zeal, one of Toa's powerful illusions, no doubt. Sigmund had been given Zeal's notebook that Pierce carried and took it to the docks. Apparently, Toa could create as many notebooks as he wanted, and they all could communicate with each other. Strange, strange powers, Pierce was thinking, I must resist giving in to practicing such dark arts. The dark draws you... then swallows you, like it did with Toa and Reginard.
The moment he got the signal, Sigmund blew up everything in his path while in the docks, according to plan. The Council witnessed the explosions and could not prosecute Toa for being Zeal... Somehow, Pierce had predicted that Sigmund would be needed there, before Toa was captured. Call it a mastermind's intuition, he already had a plan in case Toa got captured after his follies.
But there was one thing that did not go as planned. Pierce had agreed that it would be Sigmund that would speak through the telepathetic link of the notebooks. It wasn't Sigmund. When Pierce confronted him about it, he only said, "it was an old friend of mine who is better at acting than I am."
Sigmund had also said Toa was the one who had sent the Trade Prince the threatening letter, and that he had let that thief, Elizabeth, deliver it safely - explaining that if he had seized her, Januario would start asking her questions about the man who gave her the letter, and they could not afford that.
Januario must stay in the dark... and then, he has to die.
Toa was staring in a mirror, his fur drenched in blood and the downpour. His red eyes were enlarging constantly, until he figured out something was up with the mirror. Before he could react, he fell hard on the floor, snoring heavily, as Pierce slipped out of the mirror. The ghost had a tricky, cheerful expression on his face as he descended on his former ally, grabbing his bloodied hand. Black, ghostly flames erupted for a second, only to vanish right after.
The Destiny Bond was set.
I'm not going to kill you. This corruption in your mind, I will turn it to my favor - this, the Stranger will not expect. You will be my trump card, Toa... you are not lost yet.
The last phase of the plan is set in motion. The pawns were in position.
***"Why so smug?" Sigmund asked him, the night before Zeal's nightmare begun.
Pierce was splashing on the fountain in the Court Square, the statue of Rayquaza towering high above them. It was a starless night, Pierce's favorite. He'd stuck his tongue out like a jester of some kind, widening his red eyes and cackling with laughter.
The Gengar was laughing uncontrollably still. "You say, Tanda intends to ambush the heroes after they retrieve the Sky Plate?"
"Kehehehe, fancy. You think I did not foresee this? You think I did not think ahead of all of you?" He started laughing again. He felt accomplished. All his work had paid off.
"The criminal mastermind's lost his mind," Sigmund said sarcastically.
"Look at me," Pierce said, nudging the Reuniclus as he flew mid-air. His long tongue dove right into the waters of the fountain to retrieve back into his mouth, only for the liquid to fall back out of his body. "Keheh."
"It's over, Sig. I've won."
"Sure... what have you won, exactly?"
"The Council, the war for the Plate. Dominion over Skyhaven. I've won in every single field there is to win."
"Is there something you're not telling me?"
"Keheh. I know what Januario intended. He does want the Plate out of the city... so he can steal it from us more easily. If it did fall to the hands of the King, it would be beyond salvation, but the matter is quite different if it would be our hands. You knew all along, but you didn't tell. It's alright, I forgive you. I've already won, because I thought one step ahead of him. The Trade Prince dies by sunrise... his estates will be transferred to, hmm, do you know who? Alysanne."
The bodyguard's expression was constantly darkening. A green flash of fury passed his eyes.
Pierce was almost left breathless, at the peak of his ecstatic planning. His grin was wider than ever.
"And do you know who it is Alysanne will marry? Oh, I made sure that would happen. You know very well who..."
Sigmund had his teeth clenched, but his psychic voice sounded alien as always, filled with hatred and jealousy. "Faolan the Wicked."
"Correctly. And with the Council gone... the richest man in Skyhaven will be Faolan. He will become the Trade Prince. It is him who will rule Skyhaven... it is us, through him."
Pierce looked upon his reflection on the waters of the fountains. What he saw was a big, shady, brilliant and perfect grin.