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This is the first time I'm previewing an entire chapter. This is the last you will hear from me regarding this fic until I post it.
This preview is rated [PG-13] for violence and blood.
The ice bridge Suicune created seemed to go on miles. Even with Midori running full speed ahead, it would still be a long trip. Each step the plant elemental took chilled her. Shalin was now so linked to her Beast that even she could feel how cold her partner was, even though she wasn't touching the ice.
When Shalin could see the peak of Stark Mountain in the distance, Midori slowed down and shivered on occasion. Shalin could feel it in more ways than one. "My feet are freezing!" the Beast complained.
"I can feel it, too," Shalin replied, calming Midori. She could make out various water Pokémon floating in the sea, including Tentacool, Goldeen, and Carvanha. When a Sharpedo leaped out of the water for a bite, Midori responded with a leap of her own. Shalin was worried they'd break through the ice, but they didn't. The ice bridge Suicune created was thick.
After what felt like hours of pain, the Flower Paradise was finally in sight. It looked like a large island from where they stood. The only way to get there normally would be by air. The entire island was surrounded by tall cliffs. There were no beaches. Midori made a huge jump up to the island from the ice, and barely made it. The grasses soothed Midori's feet like a campfire would on a winter night. Shalin expressed a smile of relief.
When Shalin looked up, she saw a dense forest. After warming up again with Midori, the two of them took off into the woods. As the two delved deeper and deeper, she couldn't believe her eyes. "The texture of these woods looks so familiar...it can't be," she said to herself outloud.
"These woods feel familiar to me as well, but I don't understand why," Midori replied. "I've never been here before. I know it." The Beast raced through the woods with tremendous agility, making sharp turn after sharp turn to avoid trees. Shalin could feel the vines holding her in stretch. When Midori jumped through a set of tree branches forming a circle, the forest cleared into a large field with mountains visible from the west. Neither Beast nor rider could believe their eyes.
"This can't be the same place," Shalin tried convincing herself. "But the texture, the arrangement of the wood, this clearing...it's exactly how I remembered it! What's going on?!"
Without even giving Shalin a chance to respond, Midori started running. The hardest part of the test wasn't riding at full speed; it was keeping calm while the swift Beast weaved around the many trees in the area. As she raced through the jungle, Shalin's heart was pounding in fear. What if Midori's grip on her rider became loose by mistake? What if Midori accidentally poisoned her rider? "I have to trust her," Shalin reasoned with herself. "So far, she has been trustworthy, and seems to like me. She'd never do those horrible things to me."
Every time Midori weaved around a tree, Shalin felt a strong push from the Beast's body. That push got stronger the faster her Beast ran. As time passed and Midori got faster, Shalin's heart beat harder and faster. When the Beast had reached 180 miles per hour, it stopped speeding up. The scenery was so blurred from the speed that Shalin shut her eyes and put her complete trust in Midori. The Beast jumped through a large circle created by two thin, tall trees. That was the end of the rainforest.
"It's fine now, Shalin," her Beast comforted her. "You can open your eyes now."
She slowly raised her eyelids, noticing they were in an open field with a mountain in the distance. However, that mountain was not their destination. "It was silly to think I wouldn't make it out for a second."
"I'm going to let you control me now. You probably already figured out how to make me run faster or slower from before we jumped into that portal. To change direction, lean your body in the direction you want to go. If you need me to do anything else, say so. Have fun with this while you can, because once we get out of here, it's not all fun and games."
"I remember now!" Shalin yelled impulsively. "Isn't this the place we met?"
"Brings back a lot of memories doesn't it?"
"Yes, it does. Could you Extreme Speed through this field?"
"Of course, Shalin! Hang on!" At that, Midori started glowing a bright green. Her legs moved so fast that they kicked grass and dirt off the ground at first. Then she really took off hard, looking like a green comet from the distance. 225 miles per hour was enough speed to make Shalin smile again.
When the forest on the other side of the clearing became visible, Midori slowed down, then started to jump and buck a bit while still moving forward, as if she were a Rapidash she'd seen at a rodeo. However, there was no risk of Shalin falling off since Midori had her strapped in; she was just playing a game with her rider. Shalin tried giggling while Midori bucked, but couldn't.
Midori slowed down more and gave Shalin a break when they entered the second wood, which was more of a deciduous texture. Most of the Midori cubs Shalin remembered had now reached adulthood. The brick road to the Temple Garden was just as she remembered it. When they arrived, one thing had changed: a large number of thin vines completely covered the temple entrance. Shalin pulled out her thorned whip, and lashed at the vines repeatedly until the barrier collapsed.
The inside of the stone structure was beautiful as ever; all sorts of flowers and foliage hung from the walls. Sunlight shone over the center of the room. The only thing different was there was another large flower bud in the center. It looked exactly like the Rose Whip's handle. "That's unusual. Another whip here?"
Shalin pulled on the bud as hard as she did before. After several pulls from the ground, she gave it one hard yank. Instead of her pulling the bud out of the ground as before, she merely moved it to the other side of the flower bed. A stone wall with hieroglyphs on it collapsed, revealing stairs leading up.
"There is more to this place besides the Rose Whip, Shalin. However, discovering exactly what more there is won't be easy. You'll have to fight your way through a labyrinth full of monsters, riddles, and traps. None of us can do it alone, but with the help of a human, it probably is possible. Keep your whip close by; you will need to use it frequently."
"You mean I have to fight for myself now?!" Shalin yelled instinctively.
"Yes, but it will be so rewarding in the end."
Midori carried Shalin up the stairs. Sunlight leaked in the room through holes in the brick patterns; apparently the holes were makeshift windows. "Shalin, we can't just waltz through here. We need to take it slow and be careful. There's no Aravan or Suicune here to heal our wounds if we get hurt."
"I know, I know!" she replied as the two entered the room to the west. When they passed through, a slab with hieroglyphs fell down, covering the path they just exited from. Shalin flinched. "That was close!"
"No time, Shalin!" Four Treecko hung from vines on the west and north walls, shooting large seeds at Shalin. She ducked down instinctively to avoid a seed that would have hit her in the forehead. Midori leaped ahead and Solarbeamed one to death. Shalin smacked a second with the Rose Whip, poisoning it. The third ran out the north exit.
The fourth Treecko faked Shalin out with a seed to her left, then shot a five-way spread. She dodged the wrong way, and one of the seeds made a sizable cut on her right arm. After she swung her whip around to defeat the last of the four Treecko, the slab covering the east exit collapsed. Thankfully, the wound was only minor. On the way to the north exit, Shalin noticed a brown, raggedy sheet of paper behind vines. After pulling it out from behind them, she had a look at it. "Looks like a map of sorts," Shalin observed.
"Yes," Midori replied, "This is a map of the place. Good thing you found it; this place is a maze." Shalin took the map with her to avoid getting lost. When they exited out the north side into the next room, she peered up. The main hall of the temple seemed to go up forever. "I can't jump high enough to just ascend all the way to the top. We'll have to find another way. This room is important. Remember that."
There were stairs on both sides of the room; the set on the west side headed up, and the set on the east side headed down. Shalin opted for the one on the east side. When she descended to the ground floor, the texture of the floor itself became different. This room's floor was made of red tile instead of grass. It contrasted sharply with the walls of the room, still green with life.
Suddenly, cutting, rending vines shot out of the floor on the west side. She lashed her whip at them to cut a path, but another wave came, this one moving toward her. She cut another path through. The vines shattered any tiles they touched, revealing the usual grasses beneath. Even after four and five waves, it wouldn't stop. When the sixth wave came, she cut a different path and moved to it. The tile she stood on shattered, and the vines receded. "So this is what you meant by traps," Shalin said to Midori.
"Good job for figuring it out on your own. But that trap was easy." In the room to the west, a small, silver key hung from the east wall. Shalin got off Midori and grabbed it. A second after the key left the wall, a slab not unlike the others in the maze fell over the east exit they just came out of. Shalin panicked.
"How do we get out?!"
"Think, Shalin. What caused the door to be blocked?"
"When I took the key, the door shut." She replaced the key on the wall. The slab lifted back up. "But how do we get the key out of here? I don't think I can get my whip around it."
"I'll help. Get on!" Shalin jumped back on Midori. She extended one of her vines to reach the key from the other side of where the slab would fall and clutched the key with the vine. Then she yanked the vine back as fast as she could, getting the key out of the room before the stone door closed.
Thankfully for Shalin, there were no tiles or rending vines to worry about. The two headed up the stairs to the main hub, then up one more flight of stairs to the third floor. Midori had to make a sudden stop to avoid running off the ledge--there was almost no floor past the staircase. It seemed to be an observation square, but parts of it had fallen off, making travel to the north staircase or east hallway impossible. Looking up, then down from her position made Shalin aware of how large the Temple Garden truly was.
The only other passage Shalin could enter was a narrow one to the south. Inside was a pressure-sensitive tile sticking up from the floor, a narrow passageway to the east, and another to the south, this one blocked by thick, intertwining roots. When Midori passed over the tile, it snapped into position with the rest of the floor, and the roots blocking the south passage receded. The moment she stepped off, though, the entrace was blocked again and the tile snapped back out of place.
"Shalin, get off my back," Midori asked as she drew her vines back, freeing Shalin. The rider jumped off.
"Okay, but why?" she asked. Midori stepped back on the oddball tile. It snapped into place again and the roots receded.
"That door is powered by a switch. See, I'm standing on a tile that's colored a slightly different shade of grey than the rest in the room. As long as something is on it, that door stays open." Midori stepped off the tile, and roots blocked the passage again. "But when pressure comes off it, it shuts. I'll hold it down. You'll have to continue without me from here. Don't worry about being locked in. I'll stay right where I am."
After Shalin passed by the roots that squirmed like a pile of worms, she turned around to make sure Midori was safe. When she did so, a slab like the ones from before fell over the room's entrance. She flinched. "Whoever designed this place also designed some pretty intricate--" Her sentence was cut off by her own scream as a Golbat ambushed her from above the entrance, sucking a copious amount of blood from her left arm. She leaped back and started swinging the Rose Whip at the bat. It took only one hit to knock it out of the air. The slab covering the exit shattered, and she could make out another key, this one of a silver hue, hidden in the vines. Blood slowly dripped out of one of the bite marks as she grabbed the key and somewhat limped back toward Midori in the other chamber, off balance due to her wounded arm.
When Shalin mounted her Beast again, her left arm felt a little lighter, but still very heavy. A trail of blood drops marked her path as they entered the east room. The moment Midori stepped on one of the rickety tiles in the room, it fell and shattered at ground impact--on a needle patch embedded in the floor. "It's too far to jump over," Midori said to her rider.
"There's only one way to do this. Midori, fast as you can!!" Shalin commanded as she leaned forward on her Beast. The grass-type legend wrapped her vines around her rider hard before racing across the collapsing floor. The Beast almost crashed into the wall on the other side after a swift jump to ensure they didn't fall. Shalin tried inserting the sliver key into the lock on the north door, and the lock clicked then fell from the door. Beast and rider proceeded into the north room, shaped like an octagonal arena.
A pair of Sceptile leaped out from behind stained-glass windows, scaring Shalin and causing Midori to rear up high as Razor Leaf blades arced around the two. The two large grass Pokémon brandished their Leaf Blades like twin swords and approached Shalin. Midori hopped back to dodge an incoming slice.
"So what's the game plan?" Shalin asked.
"How about I focus on dodging their attacks while you attack with your whip, like in training?"
"Sounds like a great idea to me!" Midori circled one of the Sceptile, leaping back when it slashed at her. Moments later, the two jumped simultaneously. Shalin smacked one of the Sceptile in the upper chest, the whip's thorns tearing through its skin and causing sugar water to leak out of the wound. The Sceptile that leaped from behind landed a powerful slice across Shalin's back and Midori's right side. Thankfully, the would was only a deep skin cut. It still stung like crazy, but it wasn't a very serious wound. Shalin slumped forward on Midori, the pain from the slice intense. The rest of the battle would be mostly in Midori's hands, given the state Shalin was in. At least her arm felt a little better, she thought. More cuts were the last thing she needed bothering her.
Midori retreated to the northwest end of the room and began to absorb the sunlight that was shining in through the window, being careful not to cut her legs on the broken glass. The fresh Sceptile threw its two Leaf Blades toward Shalin as if they were boomerangs. Midori leaped up to dodge them and landed in the center of the arena, then Shalin held on for dear life as her Beast circled the arena at top speed. The green blur of light ran too fast for the wounded Sceptile to track, quickly ramming it against the slab that was blocking the south exit since she entered the room. "One down, one to go," Shalin noted.
In her current state, there was a realistic chance that Shalin wouldn't make it out of the fight. Midori's gallop was more labored than before, making it all the more difficult for Shalin to concentrate. The two circled each other like preying Beasts, waiting for the other to strike. When Shalin cracked her whip, the Sceptile hopped back instinctively. It blocked a second strike, using both of its Leaf Blades as a shield. They blocked most--but not all--of the attack impact. Poison seeped into the grass-type's body, causing its movement to be more labored. Midori hopped back to dodge every strike, sometimes dodging sideways to avoid being pinned into a corner. They let the whip's poison do their work for them.
The longer the poison circulated in the Sceptile's system, the slower and more labored its movements got. The moment it let its guard down to catch its breath, Midori leaped up and pounced at the Pokémon. Shalin struck it several times with her whip to make sure it wouldn't get back up.
After the battle, a leaf-shaped insignia in the center of the room started glowing with a green light. Midori stepped into it and started shining the same color. The only thing that didn't shine was Shalin. The insignia rose up from the ground several feet, revealing a hollows accessible from the south end of the room. Shalin caught a glimpse of another slab rising up, uncovering a passageway leading north. She didn't get a good look at it before Midori hopped back down to see what was inside. "Oh my..." came out of the Beast's mouth.
Shalin dismounted, then grabbed the leaf-shaped jewel inside the hollows. It fit perfectly into a hole in the grip of her weapon. She could feel power coursing through her body when she inserted the gem.
"Shalin," Midori started to explain, "this is what we came here for. This gem makes your whip crack stronger and faster. Now you should be able to fight independent of me effectively enough to make it worth your while. Now we can leave...but it's too bad we can't go back the way we came. This place is designed so that only the chosen rider and myself can navigate it. Climb back on."
Shalin mounted again. Midori hopped back atop the structure that held the artifact, then made a second leap to the north end of the room. The next room looked like a mirror image of the room with the rickety bridge--except there was no bridge. "It's too far to jump," Shalin said.
Midori tightened her hold on Shalin. "That gem also grants the rider's Beast a secret art unknown to the rest of the world. Shalin, hold on for your life and everything else you've got. Even though I'm holding you as tight as I can without hurting you, you still have to put some effort in. This will be so fast that even with my grip, you can go flying off."
"Midori...are you sure I can handle this?"
"Honestly, I'm not sure. But if the Garden's temple was designed this way, I'm sure that your ancestors were able to. I would tell you exactly what I'm going to do, but it's so hard to describe exactly what goes on. Anyhow, we go on the count of three. One..."
Shalin gripped Midori as tight as her remaining strength allowed her. Her pulse shot through the roof out of fear.
No words could describe how frightened she was. Midori started running across the pierlike walkway overlooking the pit the rider couldn't see the bottom of.
On "three", the Beast's entire body turned a solid, dark green color. A split second afterward, she leaped into the air. Just before the apex of the jump, Midori coiled her body backward. Precisely at the top of the leap, the grass-type snapped her body back into position, shooting forward faster than the speed of sound. The whiplash from the technique almost sent Shalin flying from her mount, and at landing, the rider felt sick--sick enough to puke into the pit she gazed into before takeoff. The best comparison Shalin could think of was, as bizarre as it sounded, riding on a whip.
"You were out for quite a while," Midori said as Shalin finally came to in the main hub, all the way up on the fourth floor. "You okay?"
Shalin stood up again, whip in hand. "I'll be fine. I just wasn't expecting anything like that!"
"Basically, if I build up enough speed and leap into the air, I can become a living whip for a few seconds. It's an extremely powerful attack. Or in your case, I can use it to carry you at speeds far beyond what I'm normally capable of. How's that cut on your back feeling? Any better?"
"It doesn't sting as badly but it still hurts. I can ride and fight now. I'll be okay."
Shalin climbed back onboard her Beast. "Of course. Plus now that I know what you do, I think I can handle your whip technique better. Looks like we have to put it to use again here," she noted from the size of the gap between the north and south doors. At the apex of Midori's leap, she whipped forward again. The cracking sound was so loud that the resulting shock waves shattered a stained-glass window in the southwest corner of the room, many of the glass particles falling down to the third floor. Shalin was right about being okay with riding Midori as a whip. Rather than have to barf again, she was merely dizzy upon landing. Midori stopped to let her regain her senses.
In the next room to the south, Midori carried Shalin up the stairs to the west exit. The moment she entered the narrow hallway, Bullet Seeds from many Treecko and Grovyle ricocheted around the room, their paths crisscrossing like security lasers. "Will 'Run as fast as you can' work here?" Shalin asked her Beast.
"Probably, but there's a better way to do this. Study the patterns they shoot in and you'll make it without those seeds cutting through you." Each Pokémon's seed-shooting pattern was different, making it hard to discern when to go.
"Midori, just whip past them. We could be here for hours trying to figure this out!"
"Very well." Midori had just enough room to make the running start necessary to jump up and shoot herself past the crisscrossing seeds. The whipping vines hovering above the Beast deflected all of the seeds that would have hit either of them. On the other side of the seed gauntlet was a spiraling ramp that led to an overlook in the main hall again. Shalin grabbed two keys hidden in the ivy--a silver one like the one she used to get to the third floor, and a larger golden one with a jewel embedded in it; it was the same shape as the insignia in the room where she fought the two Sceptile.
Rather than go through the Bullet Seed gauntlet again, Midori leaped from the high overlook down to the south exit leading to the empty room. This time, they took the east room. This one could only be crossed with a set of carefully-executed jumps from Shalin's mount. She could see the bottom of the pit where the pillars rose up from this time, but it wasn't a fall she wanted to take, particularly since getting back up would be so difficult. Shalin closed her eyes and put her complete trust in Midori as the nimble Pokémon made graceful leaps from one pillar to another, not even stopping to change direction; all her movements flowed to make the ride smooth. The silver key from the alcove in the main hall was the one that fit in the keyhole that locked the gate blocking the stairway to the fifth floor.
Shalin could make out the pillars beneath them as well as a giant-sized lock on a silver gate blocking a vine-and-root-covered wall. The gap between the door and the staircase was larger than the one two floors down. "Can you whip-jump across here?" Shalin asked her Beast.
"It's farther than the last time, but shouldn't be a problem," Midori replied confidently. "Ready?"
There was plenty of room for Midori to get up to speed with the pierlike platform sticking out toward the southwest corner of the room, but this would also require the grass-type to jump at a slight angle--a difficult maneuver indeed. Shalin sighed as she felt Midori's vines secure her in tighter. When she made the leap, her trajectory was slightly off, and it looked like they weren't going to make it. Then, Midori demonstrated incredible agility and strength by coiling herself back more than normal. She whipped out of the coil at a different direction than her jump carried her, correctly compensating for the errant jump.
When Shalin opened the lock on the large gate, it swung open by itself, and the roots and vines receded, revealing a circular walkway. Beyond the walkway was a view of the entire temple--Shalin could see four levels down. After the two stepped through, more foliage quickly sealed off the room entrance. A loud crash echoed through the chamber as sunlight entered via a massive hole created by a large, mutant centipede creature with segments almost Shalin's size. It swung off the ceiling toward Beast and rider. Midori leaped out of its way, cutting across to the other side of the chamber. If they were to fall, Midori could survive the drop, but Shalin definitely would not.
The 32 legs of the creature were sharp enough to pierce the stone walls, letting it climb them and hang from the ceiling. Shalin's enemy had somewhat of a mobility advantage over her, but after coming this far, she had to overcome it. "Smack its face!" Midori advised Shalin.
The insect roamed the walls on the side of the room opposite Shalin, well out of range of her whip. When Midori leaped to the other side of the room, it almost instantly turned around. The young rider cracked her whip, and it smacked the creature right in the face--but not before one of her adversary's twin scythelike front claws pierced and injected poison straight into her right arm, almost to the bone. Shalin slumped lower on Midori as the strange creature retreated to the other side of the room, seemingly waiting for them again.
"I don't think direct attacks will work," Midori sighed.
"Hey, why don't you try using your whip attack on it? One, it's probably too fast for him to track; and two, I don't have to get so close to him."
"Alright, Shalin. Hold on!" Midori tightened her grip on Shalin and leaped into the air again. Mid-jump, her body turned the telltale solid green color from before, and she snapped at the monster. The vast amount of force from the biological whip cut the insect literally in two, blood spattering all over the wall and floor. Blood also leaked out of the rear section of what was left of the monster. Out of the 16 segments it started with, only five were still attached to its head. A trail of red droplets covered the south end of the room. "Now he should be manageable," the Beast said to Shalin.
Unfortunately, cutting off the centipede's rear segments didn't decrease its speed at all; if anything, it would make the creature a much more difficult target. The poison started to make Shalin feel dizzy. If Midori didn't strap her in, she'd have fallen by this time. The insect retreated up into the sunlight and started absorbing energy. The Beast leaped up at it and whipped its body straight at the lead segment of the creature, cutting its head off. The extra speed launched the grass-type legend out of the hole in the ceiling and onto the roof of the temple.
"Finally, fresh air!" Shalin smiled upon exiting the temple. The view from the rooftop was breathtaking. The entire forest was visible from atop the structure. "Can you jump down from here?"
"Shouldn't be too much of a problem. It's only 100 feet at the most," Shalin's Beast responded. The nimble Pokémon jumped off the top of the temple and landed on the brick walkway she took to enter the sacred structure in the first place. The other Midori in the forest whined a voice of farewell to the brave rider while she was still in sight. When the Beast reached the open field leading to the rainforest area of the Flower Paradise, Shalin asked Midori for more speed. The Beast turned the telltale solid green once more, and started whipping across the field wildly, faster than an Extreme Speeding Raikou.
Midori slowed down to her normal running speed before entering the rainforest. The trees still flew by as she gave Shalin the ride of her life, dodging trees at the last second until they could see the sea and Stark Mountain to the west. "Where's Aravan and Suicune?" Shalin wondered. "They're supposed to pick me up since I can't get back from this island alone!"
"There's nothing we really can do right now," Midori decided. "I think we should rest and recover our strength until they get here. Either Aravan or Eron will be here to pick us up. If we just rest, they'll be here."
A mere ten days after the Mending, a young knight of Valeron and a young ranger of Eos made a discovery that would change Alara forever.
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