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Old October 20th, 2018 (3:12 PM).
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Sahqoreyth Sahqoreyth is offline
Pokefan1337
     
    Join Date: May 2018
    Age: 25
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    Chapter 26: Into the Abyss

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    Three Days after Colville Burned – Unova Region

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    Word reached the dragon that the Governors of the thirteen 'states' that had come when he'd called, had finally arrived. Tao had expected the first plan to fail. They'd given Pravus too much time. Time to mobilize his cult. His army. Whatever he'd escaped Norstad with. He'd had half a summer to set things in motion, and he certainly had now. As soon as Alex entered Fornia, the Prophet had started mobilizing. The Rebel spies had been fed false information, and the 'holy army' formed undisturbed. Now, they'd made their way up Mount Battle, and had claimed it in the name of the Church. Evidently, it was now a part of Fornia.

    Almost immediately after hearing this news of aggressive action by the massive Fornian army, the other Governors not under Pravus' thumb had received the Unovan Dragon's summons to the ancient seat of his empire. The Dragonspiral Tower. It was now much as it had once been in ancient times.

    The followers of the dragon attended to their guests between martial and Pokémon sparring sessions. After a night of rest, for many had traveled far, they'd gathered at the top of the tower, which now acted as an open-air meditation area under a dragon-sized pagoda-esque structure, rather than a battle arena. Now that he had so many students, the battles were held outside the tower, within the natural forest. The trees always made things interesting.

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    "Thank you for coming. We've much to discuss." Tao was upright, resting on his coiled body much like a Rayquaza did whilst sleeping. "As you've no doubt heard, the Arcean Church is mobilizing. They're determined to spark a war with the east. They've raised a massive army to do so. Make no mistake, their ultimate goal is to conquer us, State by State, and reform the old empire under the Prophet."

    The leader of the Kanadians spoke then, an elderly man of tribal descent with the classic black hair, and darker skin tones. Kanadia had several tribes that sailed on its frosty oceans, and this man's garb marked him as one of them. "Is there no way for peace to be maintained?"

    The dragon shook his head. "They're marketing it as a 'holy war'. Their soldiers are devout, and fanatical, to the point of violence. Evidently, my powers and philosophy are the antithesis of everything the Alpha Pokémon stands for. So sayeth the Arcean Church."

    The room stayed awkwardly quiet before someone among the crowd of leaders spoke. "Is it?"

    The golden eyes of the massive dragon arced over the suddenly slightly terrified men who, in that moment, suddenly remembered they were very very small compared to this Pokémon straight from prehistory. His massive eye stopped beside the Governor of Transylveticut. A thin man in a nice suit, with a thin moustache, that curled up at the edges into little swirls.

    Of course. The man who lived in daily fear of the Swamp. Transylveticut was famous for its massive Swamp, which was too deadly to enter, and its superstitions, that most of the other States simply found silly. The dragon spoke once more. "I will forgive that, for it has been millennia since I was last whole, and you humans have a tendency to forget, what with your short life spans."

    ________________________________________

    The dragon rose slowly as he spoke, wings expanding, as he towered over all of them. His eyes flashed with psychic power. "See now, leaders of the States, and behold the history you have forgotten." He linked to each of their minds, and was pleased to see that among the many emotions the group of leaders were feeling, treachery was not one of them. These were hard-working men who wanted to see their people safe, and live through a time of peace. Unfortunately, nobody ever really wanted to be the target of a madman with an army. This was simply another stumbling block they needed to surpass. Tao had a feeling it would make them stronger.

    The scenes he displayed for the gathered leaders showed the details, at least some, of his own creation by Arceus himself. Tao was bid to guard this continent, and use his awesome power to promote peace, and balance. Of course, in those days, the people who lived upon the continent had other ideas as to who should rule it. The wars of the ancient past had been large, and brutal, but Tao had sought out those who did not want to fight, who did not give in to their anger, and taught them the secret of true power. They were his first students, and they were Legendary for being all but unstoppable in those ancient combination of divine wisdom, divine weapons, and divine power had made them superior to any foe.

    Tao spoke then, to each of them. "I have always been a peaceful minded being. I do not like violence. I do not like killing that which I've no intention of eating. I do not like wasting life. But mark me, if the balance is disturbed, I will do what I must. Every time, regardless of who my foe is."

    "What if Arceus broke the balance?" Someone asked.

    Tao gave a heavy sigh, and the smoke from his nostrils filled the pagoda, and covered the round wooden table they'd gathered at. Thankfully the windy benefits of being thousands of feet high meant that it didn't linger. He didn't bother looking for the speaker. "If the Alpha Pokémon ever willingly disrupts the balance, then weep, little human. For the end of existence will be nigh."

    ________________________________________

    What he showed next was a series of disturbing images. Humans, and Pokémon who could not be dissuaded, lay dead by the thousands as Tao hovered over their battlefield. His sparking claws were covered in blood, as was his maw, and he wept openly at what he'd been forced to do to quell the senseless bloodlust of those ancient days, and restore balance to his new land.

    From that senseless destruction though, came something truly impressive. The Dragon Empire. The golden age of the land known as Unova, which stretched from coast to coast, and flourished under the One Dragon's guidance. Each of the leaders was treated to a sped-up view of the Empire growing, flourishing, and many could not believe just how large it had truly been. The history books didn't do it justice.

    As the visions began to fade, the men were given an aerial view of three spires on a recognizable chunk of land. The Dragonspiral, to the west, the Imperial Palace on the easternmost coast, and finally, one massive tower that, to this day, stood over Castelia as a home to visiting foreigners of political importance. Unity Tower. There had even been a city around the one in the past, as well. In fact, as the men looked closer, they saw that all of what was generally referred to as Unova's capital had, at one point, been one single massive city. Seeing this, and knowing what the region currently looked like, was humbling. Nature had reclaimed their dying ruins of an empire in the chaos that had followed the dragon's split.

    ________________________________________

    "You asked if my power and philosophy went against the Alpha." The dragon spoke, "My power is of the Alpha, as are my teachings. None understands the importance of maintaining balance, and the price it takes to do so, better than Arceus."

    The Governors looked amongst themselves, as they spoke quietly, even though many assumed the dragon could hear them anyways, which of course, he could. He let them bicker though. They were politicians after all. Arguing was their forte. Finally, Unova's Governor stepped forward. He gave a bow in the old style, right fist to left open palm. The dragon returned it, and then, the man spoke. "What do suggest we do, Dragon of Unova?"

    The dragon, who had remained hovering over the group, now rearranged himself as he returned from stretching over them, and gave the man a grin that sent…not fear, but a chill of what could almost be excitement up his spine. It only grew as he processed what the ancient Pokémon said.

    "Reform the Empire."

    ________________________________________

    Thankfully, nobody seemed to outright reject it, though there were more than a few rumbles of discontent. It warranted discussion at least, and it wasn't like everyone in the room hadn't considered it before. There had always been one point of contention, though. The Unovan Governor repeated it to the One Dragon. "And who would be our Emperor?"

    The dragon's grin only grew. He found it amusing that humans, even after thousands of years, had changed so little. A taste of power, real power, and many would salivate at the thought of ruling it all. Several were right that very moment, their twisted egos mentally listing reasons they just knew the dragon would say their name, and catapult them into the position they deserved over their rivals. His response shattered their ambitions. "I've already chosen my Champion. And given that he's just spent the summer in enemy territory, and is quite frankly the strongest trainer we have available, he's the right commander to lead our forces."

    "What about N?" Someone asked. The Dragon's eyes softened.

    "He has returned to the wilds…defending Unova for so many years against the shadow of his father…it took a toll on him. He realized that his obsession with hunting Ghetsis down had caused him to ignore something as obvious as reforming the three dragons into One. Once Ghetsis finally passed, his drive to battle faded. Consider him unavailable, for this conflict." The dragon mused, silently as the men took in his words, and began to bicker. Ghetsis himself had almost accomplished it, albeit in a twisted manner. Yet it had avoided the former Champion's notice entirely.

    Every aspect of himself had liked N. He'd saved Unova, and several other regions, many times over the years. He'd said he was leaving to train, to find a new level of power the bond between humans and Pokémon could give, but Tao doubted he would have success. Not any time soon, at least. Only one other power rivaled Mega Evolution, but nobody had rediscovered that method. It had been effectively purged from history, for good reason. Some things were best left forgotten.

    ________________________________________

    The Governor's debate was far more intense this time. The majority were opposed to the dragon's suggestion. Unova, and a few other State leaders, remained neutral for the moment. There would need to be a vote, but it seemed obvious how that would go. The leader of the eastern half of Texico spoke up then. "We've always seen fit t'govern ourselves, pard. Why would we put a whelp in cherge of our people? Any ijit can battle Pokémon."

    The dragon's golden gaze fixed on the man with the classic Texican hat, which was white, and matched the rest of his fancy suit. Few of these men had issues with flaunting their material wealth. He resisted a sigh. "Because he is the one among you who proved himself worthy. Billions of humans on this continent. Thousands of years, and yet not one of you managed to do what he did. I lost count of how many times the balance of the world nearly fell because one of your kind found one of the Orbs and tried to use it to take over. Even when both parts of me were awake, you viewed me as two separate dragons, and that was how I remained. Even N did this, though he more than anyone understood my situation."

    The dragon stared at each of them as his commanding mental voice rang through their skulls. "Redwood is…different. He looked at me, and saw a being torn apart. He had the power, and the instinct, to reunite what was sundered, and ever since, he's done nothing but use his considerable strength to keep the peace. Only one other human has ever absorbed my lessons so…thoroughly. The First Dragon Emperor." The Governors who opposed, quieted then. All knew the legends of the last three Emperors, but the first had been a dragon of a different scale. Wise, powerful, and fair he had crossed the continent on foot, and slowly, convinced the warring people to unite. It had taken a lifetime, but when he'd finished, his offspring had inherited the largest empire the Earth had seen since the old civilizations fell so very long ago.

    Were it not for the curse of mortality, he could have gone on to unite the planet. Alas, his daughter did not possess his abilities, and despite Tao's best efforts, her...desires...had led the burgeoning superpower to the brink of civil war when the time came to name a successor. Thus, the Trials had been devised, first by humans, then by the dragon. Seven times they'd passed the rules between them, until it was finally done, but the results spoke for themselves. Peace and prosperity reigned for millennia until the Dragon was torn apart, but given that the last Emperor's sons had not faced the Trials, many Unovans still believed them to be infallible at picking a successor. They had never failed.

    The men huddled again, and while a few had changed their minds at the dragon's words, most remained unconvinced. Unova's Governor spoke again. "Wise dragon, we would like the opportunity to examine your choice, if we may, if only so that those with doubts may have them assuaged. I know how strong your Champion is, I've met him. I agree with your choice. With guidance from us, and yourself, he could be a fine Emperor, but the others are proud, independent leaders. They need more than a voucher for something this…monumental. With your blessing, we wish to test his capabilities. As we did in the old days."

    ________________________________________

    The dragon pretended to ponder for a moment, and hid his smirk. He did feel slightly guilty using the human leaders like this, cleverly baiting them down the path he wished this conversation to take. It was necessary though. Fornia was a legitimate threat, and the east needed a figure to rally around. "Very well. How will you test him?" He already knew, but he knew how humans got when they realized he could read their minds.

    After another huddle, though this one only lasted five minutes instead of twenty, they agreed, and told the dragon what they intended. He'd tried not to break into laughter, and as always, kept his composure. He told the group that he would summon the Champion, and that they were free to enjoy his tower as his guests.

    Once they'd all left, he began packing a bowl in his favored piece, the storm-forged glass he'd made but recently. Though it was new, it was growing on him. He'd almost decided on a nickname for it, even. He chuckled quietly to himself as he puffed the clouds of smoke into the cold autumn afternoon. "Humanssss…sssso very predictable." He shook his head, and then turned his golden gaze east across his barely recognizable lands. His divine gaze could just make out the murk of what the humans now called the Abyssal Ruins. Once, it had been a palace so lovely, even Arceus had enjoyed visiting it. Now…nothing remained but sand and ruin. The dragon grinned to himself. For now.

    ________________________________________

    Rebel Canyon Base - Fornia

    ________________________________________

    Alex stood from the shell of his Torterra, who many admired with long looks. He was rather pleasant to observe. The perfect melding of earth and life was…calming, almost. This was fortunate, for his Trainer's words would likely confirm their worst fears.

    "Fornians, Tribespeople, Rebels, I know I am new here, but bend your ears for a moment. It's important." He was in the main room of the base, a massive cave, really. It was full of tech, supplies, and equipment. A gleam of something bright and multicolored caught his eye. He did a double take. Were those Plates? What were elemental plates doing here? And how were there so many? So many questions. He buried them, for the moment, as the base gathered around. The Chief had told several of his underlings to run down the halls when the Unovan began speaking, and they had done so. Within minutes, the entirety of the Rebellion, or most of it, had gathered in the cave. There was almost not enough room.

    "Many of you have seen the clouds." He started, and the murmurs began immediately. The sun had just begun to set, but rumor was that the sky had been darkening unnaturally all day. Given the intense and oppressive heat outside the canyon, many did not leave the caves. "They are ash clouds, from the trees of Colville. That's where it started, anyway. The north burns, and the Prophet's own Hand lit the blaze." He'd kept his battle cam recorder on, as it had proven incredibly useful, and now was no exception. He expected footage of what was basically a zombie would go viral quite quickly. He'd let someone else put it on the PokéNet this time. Like the media. He had enough eyes on him already.

    ________________________________________

    The murmurs increased to panic, as the most common first thought was 'what if we're next?' A few former Arceans even started shaking where they stood. "This is what we get for defying the Prophet!" Someone shouted, but she quickly clamped her hands on her mouth as everyone glared in her general direction. "Sorry…old habits…" She was trying not to break down completely. Fear had that effect.

    "Rest easy, Rebels. I did not say he'd come here next, though he will eventually." The growing hysteria died down slightly as Alex used his Voice in a different manner. Tao had taught him the trick, and he had to admit, it was useful. A bit of power, the right tone, and humans were naturally, subtly influenced to focus harder on what he was saying. Naturally, the result was silence.

    "I have a way out of this place, a direct line to Unova. We can get there today. All of us, even those in the other bases." He gave them his best smirk, and tried not to shudder with anticipation himself. He'd been preparing for this for months, and now, the war scenario was actually happening.

    "How?" Someone asked.

    Alex gave the dragon the mental equivalent of a nudge, and in an instant, the One Dragon appeared within the massive cave. He floated above them in a long circle, and had just enough space between the crowd and the pointy, potentially deadly stalactites above him. His scales would protect him, but the humans below looked somewhat fragile. But then, they always did.

    ________________________________________

    The dragon smiled as, almost in unison, the people put their fists to their palms, and bowed in the old style. It was a style that was universal on this continent. Vestiges of his Empire were everywhere. If he could but unite them, they could rebuild rather quickly. His serpentine form arced gracefully over all of them, taking in their faces, and already noticing some hereditary features from his time. For whatever reason, even with Arceus' own blessing, the human race seemed unable to physically change their form much. Their minds had grown, but their bodies remained largely the same. All that really changed was how well the humans took care of them in this age. Though he supposed that millennia of eating nothing but berries and Pokémon, two things Arceus' gift had directly effected on an evolutionary level, might also be a factor in their longer, if still pitiful life spans.

    "Hello again, children of the land. It has been some time. Come, and I will once more take you to the safety of Unova, with the same promise that we will one day return. Though your homes may be burned…" He trailed off, hoping one among them would yet remember the ancient words.

    The Chief stepped forward, and smiled. "The land endures. We remember your lessons, great dragon. Our loyalty is, as it was in those golden years, yours. And your Champion's. We will follow your counsel, and the ancient agreements, when the conflict ends."

    The Dragon eyed the Chief. "If this conflict goes poorly, it may mean the enslavement of everyone that is not an 'Arcean'. That is how close we are to Unbalancing, my friends."

    The Chief's eyes were wide, as were all of the tribe's. "Are we so far gone already? How did we not see?"

    A massive talon, currently not on fire or sparking with electricity, rested upon the Chief's shoulder, and a golden light filled the cavern. "Have hope. Every night must have a dawn." With that, he lifted back into his circling in the air, and then spoke to them all. "Gather your possessions, little humans. We Teleport to safety in five minutes." He knew it would likely take them longer, but he could wait. His patience was infinite. He scanned for his Tamer, and sensed his thoughts.

    ________________________________________

    The dragon's voice echoed in his skull. "Where are these plates? Show me."

    Alex directed his gaze, and the dragon followed it. He floated over, and the people around watched, clearly interested, but also tried to pack at the same time. The dragon looked at each, and then glanced to his left. "These are from a cache. Evidently, one of those tasked with safeguarding these did not do their job well enough."

    "Do not be in a rush to judge, mighty dragon." Came Brad's voice, as he came around the left corner, and stepped next to the pile. "The Arceans dug these up, and I can guarantee you that if they had a guardian, it's either enslaved and corrupted with Dark Matter, or was killed off for resisting too much."

    The dragon's eyes went wide. "They would not dare kill mythical species. They are unique, precious, powerful. Pokémon born of the fusion of Arceus and the evolutionary spiral."

    Alex blinked. "The what now?"

    The dragon literally brushed him off, with his massive tail, the way a male Pyroar did to its cubs. He forgot how attentive his latest Tamer was. It was almost irritating, not being worshiped as a deity anymore. In the past, humans had simply smiled, nodded, and accepted that he sometimes used strange terms they could not dream of understanding. But then, he'd never asked to be deified in the first place. The humans had done that by themselves, and they'd outgrown most of those tendencies over the millennia. He had no intention of dragging them backwards. "Never mind. You, Fornian, are familiar with where these were dug up. Now tell me. Did you ever hear legends of who specifically guarded your mountain?"

    ________________________________________

    The once more tan and blonde trainer thought for a moment. Like Alex and Jess, he'd ditched the disguise once subtlety had been thrown out the window. "Azelf, I think. There was a crater-lake atop the mountain…but I guess the Arceans drained it. Before they burned everything."

    The dragon sighed. "If they have one of the Lake Guardians, we may be in serious trouble." The two trainers raised a brow as the dragon spoke to them, and them alone. "As you know, Mew was one of the first Pokémon Arceus created. As such, it's quite powerful, and you've seen how messing with the base genetics can increase its strength. The Lake Guardians appeared not long after interacting with humans, and they settled by lakes the world over. Typically, there are three on every continental landmass."

    Brad spoke then, also within his mind. "So they're strong. And? Pravus has plenty of Pokémon stronger than Azelf."

    The dragon sighed, as he shook his massive head. "You don't understand, and I do not have time to enlighten you. Just know that if Pravus has Azelf, and the other two, he could very well tame me, and force me to obey him. Like the Spear Pillar incident."

    ________________________________________

    The two trainers shared a look, as they both very much understood. Everyone had heard the rumors of the mysterious power that had literally bound Time and Space in one place, and summoned Giratina's epic wrath. Pravus could not be allowed to create another chain. This time Alex spoke. "I have an idea of where Uxie resides. Jess knows about Mesprit…but she refuses to talk about it."

    The dragon stared at him. "Have her go confirm whether Mesprit is still in her lake. You do the same for Uxie. Send Arthur to check."

    Alex nodded, and called the Gallade out. He mega evolved, and then Teleported to where they'd once come across the mythical psychic type, as they were traveling west. Alex picked up a crystal from the nearby pile, and raised a brow at the dragon. "I thought these felt weird…they're dead. Just rock. Fakes?"

    The dragon shook his head. "Merely dormant. It would take divine energy, like mine, to wake them up again."

    Alex nodded. "Then we should take what we need, and you can give the rest to the trainers you deem worthy of leading. I trust your judgment, oh wise dragon." He couldn't resist his smirk.

    The dragon sighed, and the pile of plates and crystals was illuminated by a golden circle of light on the rock surrounding them. The light flared, and then, Alex felt it. Any human within a hundred miles that had any kind of latent psychic senses, felt it. It was power. The power of the Alpha.

    ________________________________________

    As Alex and Brad took what crystals they needed, Brad eyed one of the plates. "What do these even do, anyways? I get how the crystals work, but these seem…different."

    Tao took the plates and crystals the two Champions did not require, and with a twist of his claw, hid them somewhere safe. A temporal pocket dimension that he alone could reach into from anywhere. "The plates are essentially just crystals, and the crystals are shards of one of Arceus' own Plates."

    Alex blinked. "What? What do you mean? How are there so many if they belonged to the Alpha?"

    The dragon's massive eye focused on him, as it usually did when the dragon grew irritated at his constant questions. "Arceus had to shrink his form to interact with this planet, and even then, he was still so large, his mass accidentally pulled in a planet-killer of a meteor towards the Earth. He shattered it with ease, and then noted how the remnants covered the planet, albeit briefly, before burning up. He then decided to give this fallen world a gift. He used his Judgement, and found the Earth worth saving. That, little human, is why there are so many shards over your planet."

    Alex opened his mouth to speak again, but Tao cut him off, reading his thoughts, and simply answering. As he did, when the questions of the secret history of their world could not cease from spewing from his Tamer's mouth. His hunger for knowledge was ravenous, but then, most of his student's shared that trait. The promising ones, anyways. "Your burned, frozen, and drowned husk of a world was so out of balance when the Alpha found it, his gift was necessary. It was the sorry state of your world that had even garnered his notice at all. This is why most of these plates have such little power left. Much was drained to help nature regain balance."

    Alex simply nodded then, as Tao continued. "Your ancestors, while not as advanced technologically, had a very good grasp of how to wield and manipulate the energy introduced to them by the Alpha. With this knowledge, they took the broken shards of Arceus' power, and made them into items that boost the power of a Pokémon's attacks just by holding them."

    The two Champions shared a look again, and Brad nodded, then spoke again. "I knew that much…but given what they are, I figured there was…more…to them."

    The dragon brought his massive golden eye down to the humans, and they remembered just how small they were. "There is more to them, but if you wish to draw out that power, you will have to figure out how by yourselves."

    ________________________________________

    The two simply nodded, and began attaching the plates to their partners. All save Arthur, Shruikan, who could not fit in this cavern anyways, and Gelauros, who was still a bit young for such power. As with Shruikan, each of the plates bonded to the Pokémon it touched, and infused them with power. They stayed where they'd been affixed, melding seamlessly, and apparently painlessly, to the Pokémon in question.

    Once everything was finally gathered, Tao Teleported.

    ________________________________________

    Icirrus City - Unova

    ________________________________________

    Moving objects and humans to a space thousands of miles away wasn't hard, persay, it simply took energy, depending on what was being Teleported. After several trips back and forth to each of the bases, Tao was genuinely tired. The results though, were impressive.

    The entirety of the Fornian Rebellion sat in the shadow of the Dragonspiral Tower. There was a wide, circular garden that enclosed the base of the massive structure now, and to the immediate north, a forest. One which had grown to immense size, despite the upheaval the raising of the tower had caused.

    Icirrus Town had changed quite a bit since Tao's return. In the space of a year, the population of the usually remote town had quadrupled, and the locals soon became a minority, forgotten in the flood of Unovans desperate for the dragon's wisdom. Now, the newly crowded town, and all its inhabitants, surrounded the new arrivals as word spread that the One Dragon arrived. His long snaking body was obvious, even from a distance.

    ________________________________________

    There were a few murmurs as the Unovans noticed their weapons and tech, which had been Teleported with them, when possible. There was a flash of green in front of the new arrivals, and then the very earth shook.

    Slowly, the unmistakable form of the Champion rose above them all on a rising pillar of earth. He was standing, arms crossed, on his Torterra's shell, newly adorned with a beautiful jade colored Plate. Once he was high enough, the turtle stopped lifting the ground. "Unova! Gather the media. There's…news."

    It didn't take long for those with such connections to be summoned, as Alex had tipped off several he'd come to trust, Haley included, to stay around Icirrus. As he saw the blonde amongst the varying trendy neon colored hair her cohorts were sporting, he smirked. They stopped at the edge of his 'pillar', and then they gasped in unison as their bodies were raised into the air by a strange blue power.

    ________________________________________

    Once they reached the top, a few looked disgruntled, but Haley cut off any words of anger with her eagerness. "Champion! You've…returned." The look of excitement faded into one of disbelief as she saw their mysterious Champion sitting on the shell of his Torterra, several cups of steaming tea floating by his head.

    He sipped his own nonchalantly, and smirked. "I did promise a story…"

    "You said you'd tell us about the Swamp." She remarked, crossing her arms as the others joined her, each taking their cup as it floated to them.

    "Wow! This is good…sorry…" Haley glared at the one who'd spoken, and sipped her own tea. She blinked. It was actually delicious, and her brain said, 'drink more of this immediately', but there was a story. That came before all else. She raised a brow at the Champion, expectantly.

    ________________________________________

    "And I will tell you of the Swamp, for it's a point of contention for those who would war with us. But right now I need all of you rolling. This is important. For those of you who haven't noticed yet, there's a reporter here from every State not currently under the sway of the Arcean Church." A few of them shifted uncomfortably at his words.

    "Look, Alex, we don't want to get in the mid-"

    "It's too late for that." Alex interrupted whoever had started speaking. "War has broken out, and the front lines are already being drawn. The east and the west are once more at war." He gave them a moment to process. "This isn't about me, or my feelings on the Church. Or their issues with me. This is about Caleb Pravus' ambition to become the next Emperor."

    Haley spoke this time, "What do you mean?"

    "Tao has informed me; the time has come. One way or another, this continent will once more be united. Either under the Dragon, and whoever he names Emperor, or under Pravus, who will force his doctrine on all of his subjects, one way or another."

    ________________________________________

    "Wait a minute," the man he'd invited from Kanadia spoke up now, "Are you saying there's a chance Tao would name you our Emperor? Politics and Pokémon are two very different things, Redwood. I will freely admit you're very good at battling, but what do you know of running an Empire? Our Emperors of old were trained from birth to rule fairly."

    "And look how that turned out." Alex retorted. "It doesn't matter if it's me, or N, or Hilbert, or any other worthy candidate in the eastern states at the moment. The point, is that we're on the brink of war. The Governors are in the Dragonspiral Tower at this very moment, waiting for word on who the Dragon will name."

    "Not quite."

    The two words thundered in the air as the massive serpentine form of Tao arced down from the fog of wonderful smelling clouds that had subtly sprung up around him as the humans dithered. "You have their eyes?" He spoke mentally, to his Tamer. Alex nodded.

    "Behold humans!" His telepathic baritone thundered for all to hear then, "Your leaders have an announcement." The massive dragon circled the entirety of Icirrus, his equivalent to hovering, and the fog he'd created faded under the beat of his enormous wings. The gathered leaders of the Free States had come onto the balcony right above the tower's entrance for their announcement.

    ________________________________________

    Unova's Governor stepped forward then, and bowed to the dragon above before addressing the Champion, and the gathered media representatives. By now, most eyes were upon them. Word of war traveled like wildfire. "After some advisement from the One Dragon, we have agreed. With this brazen move by Pravus and his Church, especially after the burning of Colville, we cannot ignore it any longer. War is inevitable."

    Kanadia's Governor spoke then, looking down at the new arrivals. "Fornians, brothers of the west, who would you follow in reclaiming your home?"

    Each of the Chiefs had been gathered, all save for Colville's, and it was the Canyon's Chief who spoke for them then. "We support the Dragon, my northern brother. We will support his Champion, the one you call Redwood."

    "We are all in agreement, then." Unova's Governor said again, "The Dragon has chosen, and as in ancient times, his candidate will be tested. Champion, do you accept this test? Understand that you may very well die if you even attempt it."

    ________________________________________

    Alex finished his tea, and placed it on Terra's shell. The grassy surface covering the shell swirled around the cup, holding it in place as his trainer launched into the air, surrounded by psychic energy. He floated up to the tower, and bowed in the air, fist to palm. "If you are all in agreement with Tao's choice, then I accept. What is my task?"

    The Governor nodded at the Champion. "Go to the Abyssal Ruins. Find the centermost chamber, and retrieve what lies within. You will know it when you see it. If you are worthy, we will know. If you are not…you will never leave that place. Good luck."

    If the Champion was concerned, he didn't show it. He instead nodded, and floated back down beside Terra. He motioned for the gathered representatives of the media to come down from the shell. Luckily, they'd finished their tea. The cups were rather tiny.

    ________________________________________

    Haley crossed her arms under the ever-impressive cleavage. "You promised a story."

    Alex smirked, and flashed a pair of UPBs, or Universal Poké Bus. "On these, you will find a firsthand account not only of hard evidence that Caleb Pravus' own hand lit the fire that burned Colville, the source of the darkness that now blankets Fornia, but also of several…let's call them 'indiscretions' committed by several of the Arcean Church's own higher ups." He offered them to the group. None of them moved. At the mention of the Prophet, all but Haley and Joey, who was still filming all of this, had gained expressions of reluctance.

    "Listen, Champion, I know I owe you and your Swampert for stopping that avalanche back in Ontarec, but I don't want to get involved with the Arceans. The rest of Unova has no interest in this ego war between you and their holy man." The man who spoke then looked little different from most other Unovans with his black hair, pale skin, medium build and brown eyes, but then, beyond incorporating elements of black and white in their outfits, they didn't really have 'cultural clothing'. Unova was huge, and humans came in many varieties.

    Alex sighed, and then walked forward to the only one of them who still had fire in her eyes, that instinctive need that would drive her to dig into this. He nodded once at Haley, and then looked at the man who'd spoken. "Watch the videos, Kaleb. You'll understand then what Tao and I already know. What our enemy really is. This is unedited, first-person viewing of the people Pravus knowingly puts in positions of power. You can't fake this level of realism." He looked down at the pair of devices in his comparatively oversized, gloved hand. "I wasn't able to stop any of it over the summer. Not without revealing myself neck deep in unfriendly lands. But I did leave my BR in the rooms they used to commit these acts. Triggered by the door opening. I had to shorten the recordings to thirty minutes, rather than just let them record indefinitely. The battery burnt out the first few times…but I soon discovered I didn't need thirty minutes. These…pathetic excuses for men didn't waste time. Ever."

    After a reluctant nod from Kaleb, Alex recalled Terra, packed his cups and pot away into his bag, and shot into the air on his own power, headed east. He hadn't noticed at first, but flying was ridiculously easy now. In fact, most of his abilities had seemed stronger, since he'd stopped hiding them.

    ________________________________________

    Picking up on his thoughts, he heard the dragon, who yet circled the city, speak to him as they passed in the air, with the speed of thought.

    "It's the build-up. You've expanded your reserves by not constantly draining them with training. Now, lifting even your large form is easy. You'll find your special attacks are stronger as well."

    The Champion smirked, and patted his unlit plasma sword. "I'm better in close range anyways. I always wondered why you taught me the sword and the staff. Did you foresee this or something?"

    He saw the dragon smirk, "No. I trained you in the sword because, if you recall, you were so bad with the staff, you accidentally knocked Arthur out while practicing basic moves. Twice. A practice sword is essentially half of a staff. If you could master that, you could grasp the other. Eventually."

    Alex rolled his eyes, and continued flying further away from Icirrus. The dragon coiled directly above the growing city, and shot an awe-inspiring spectacle of ice, fire, and lightning into the air with a single breath. "Go. I know you will overcome this. Dovahkiin."

    The Word reverberated in his head in a familiar, and not unpleasant way. He'd gone far too long without practicing his Shouting, too. Tao had stirred the urges he'd buried through the long summer, but now, he felt like one peep could crack open the sky. He decided to take a minute to balance the motivation with the calm he needed for battle. That, more than anything else, was the key to Tao's fighting style.

    ________________________________________

    The gathered crowd of people, which had only grown larger as word had spread like a Fornian wildfire across the region, gave wild cheers. Some even chanted, though they didn't seem to be able to agree on shouting 'champion', 'emperor', his name, or any of the other titles he'd evidently gained, but couldn't make out in the din. The people seemed to agree with the dragon's choice as well. He only hoped he was worthy of their admiration.

    The cheers of support audibly faded as he flew away from the town, and he hovered on the outskirts. After discovering a shared love of the Leaf, the Fornian trainers within the rebellion had introduced the Unovan to something they called a 'vape'. With this strange pen-like device, they inhaled the oils derived from the Leaf in a relatively harmless fashion. It had a stronger effect, a lack of smell, and was incredibly portable. He had to admit he liked the ease of access, but he'd always prefer a bong.

    Still, it was convenient to have on hand, for times like now, when he had to give Jess a minute or five to realize that they were leaving. He'd just finished packing the absurdly portable device back in its safety-container within his backpack when a familiar ball of red hurtled into him with the full speed of a psychic-powered tackle.

    By pure coincidence, he'd parked himself by a clearing within the forest that spread between Icirrus and the center of the region. They landed hard on soft grass, but since he'd manage to toss his pack somewhat safely out of harm's way, Alex didn't mind taking the hit on his back. Nor did he mind the beautiful, smirking redhead who shifted into a straddling position atop him.

    ________________________________________

    "Emperor!? Seriously?" She was trying to sound irritated, but she kept giggling. The good mood was infectious. Their surroundings also helped. Golden grass, leaves with fall colors all around. As spots went, it was not bad at all.

    "It was Tao's idea. He said the east needed someone to rally behind, or they'd end up fighting each other." Alex smirked up at her, though it faded slightly. "Even with me leading our forces, he thinks there's a strong chance Pravus could win this. Fornia is a fortress. The best the east has is Unova, and they've attacked directly several times now. The closest thing we have to Sacreus is the Dragonspiral, and that's surrounded by innocent bystanders these days."

    Jess shook her head, and suddenly, Alex found himself surrounded by hair. Not that he minded. She always managed to smell amazing. "You'll be fine. You have a plasma sword. That pretty much beats everything. Especially when combined with psychic powers."

    Alex rolled his eyes. "We don't even know what Pravus is. From what the Chief showed us, he seemed to devour the very life around Vega. What kind of…thing…can even do that?"

    "Whatever it is, I'm willing to bet it's susceptible to being sliced in half. By plasma. Have I mentioned how much I love your sword?" She sighed, and laid her head on his chest.

    ________________________________________

    "You know, some people could take that as innuendo." His words had a sarcastic tinge to them.

    "With you, everything is innuendo." The redhead tilted vertically to look at him. "Make me an Empress. Then you can have your 'innuendo'."

    He let the quiet grow for a moment, holding his tongue until he felt her gasp slightly. He smirked, and winked for good measure. "If that is what you wish." He reached for the power needed for Teleportation, but she stopped him, with the speed of thought.

    Her face was crimson after that. "On second thought…you should probably take care of that before you go wandering into underwater ruins…that you might not come back from…"

    He rolled his eyes, and their bodies as well, and smirked down at her. "Stop. You know my tendency to survive these things. Besides, every other Champion has already gone down there. I'm probably not going to be able to find anything."

    Mentally, they both doubted that, as he always found something, but it was having the same thought at the same time that made them pause in amusement. She smirked up at him. "Stop talking."

    ________________________________________

    Sacreus – Fornia Region

    ________________________________________

    "Turn it off."

    It was a brief command, but like all of his commands, it was obeyed with machine-like swiftness. Caleb Pravus, Arceus' own prophet, sat on the obsidian throne-like structure within his command center. Shrouded as he was in a spherical blob of darkness that was deeper than the rest of the red tinted command room, all that was visible to his obedient minions of their Prophet was his eyes, which flared a deep purple when he spoke.

    The glow faded, as it did when he went silent, and the room waited for his commands. His Hands, the important ones anyways, flanked him on either side. The room was octagonal, and filled with various screens showing different data. The one that was now silenced, had been broadcasting one of several eastern media networks.

    Redwood's message had reached the entirety of the east, which presented an opportunity. "Why didn't you interrupt it?" A female voice, belonging to the sister of his former Right Hand, a position she had now willingly filled, broke the silence. It was a long moment before the eyes flared again, and the prophet answered, his mental, ethereal sounding baritone echoed in their ears with sarcasm and hints of mirth.

    "Did you not hear? War is...inevitable. And their Champion is on his way to the ruins." The eyes shifted in the shadowy blob, and stared down the Hand of Death. "Make sure the ruins play home to yet another failed candidate. Understand that there will be no more 'mistakes'. Accomplish your mission, or die trying."

    ________________________________________

    The Hand in question was sporting a new scar on his neck, the edges of which peeked just enough over his uniform to be seen. His pale skin made the sutures holding his head on stand out rather obviously. His words were monotone, and low as they rumbled through the room. "What is dead, may never die." His eyes narrowed. "But…the Redwood whelp yet lives. I will correct this...oversight. They do tend to happen when I am not properly equipped. I need my team. For all the ridiculous rumors around him, I will grant that his tools are quite strong."

    After a long moment, the eyes blinked once in acceptance. "Granted. Use them well. I do not have time to waste replacing them." The Hand bowed, and left the chamber to begin the long trip to Sacreus' surface. The eyes turned to one of the minions working the tech that served as a direct line to the Arcean forces currently in Orre. The posturing had done exactly what he'd wanted. His enemies had gathered. Now all he needed on this fire was fuel.

    "Tell General Marius the time has come. I want the stone as soon as possible. Don't let the locals hide it." His words were followed by the usual 'yes sir', and those assembled watched as the blips representing their troops surged down Mount Battle. Taking it had been easy, and after cutting power to Phenac City, the residents of Orre were essentially blind to their presence, and even if they had noticed the army, they had no method of sending word of the attack to their allies.

    ________________________________________

    In one fell swoop, Fornia gained thousands of miles of land. Most of it was desert true, but the border was all the Arcean Prophet was focused on. For the first time in centuries, the western states had a hard border. They also could now easily defend Fornia from both sides. It had taken longer than he'd wanted, to solidify his western coast, but it had been done. Now, he didn't have to worry about an attack from two sides.

    It was about five hours before the 'mission accomplished' signal came from the General in charge of the southern lines. If the shadowy prophet was pleased, he didn't show it. "Good. Have them split in half between Texico Point and Utado's border. Any word from the Dakota region?"

    The response was quick. "Yes, my Prophet. The Dakotans have pledged fealty. All criteria have been met."

    The shadowy ball that had encased the Prophet since the burning of Colville swelled, and then faded away. Pravus sat comfortably on his throne, and the grin upon his unblemished face could cause nightmares. "Send word to our media, then. The time has come."

    ________________________________________

    The shadows faded as the tech crew set up the lighting the public would need to see their leader on screen. Finally, the lights turned green, and the Prophet stood. He was the picture of what every Arcean strived to be, and as his charismatic crowd-wooing tone began being echoed across the western states, it wasn't hard to see why his people loved him so much. While in public, he was quite charming.

    "My people! Faithful Arceans, trainees, converts, and new allies, I have an announcement. The Alpha spoke to me last night, by way of a vision. He showed me who was responsible for burning our forests, and blackening our skies." He paused for effect, and then focused his dark eyes on the camera directly. "Unova. More specifically, their Champion. My own Hand confirmed his presence in the area. His crimes are obvious, and he cares not. Now, I now many of you have heard rumors, of our 'aggressive actions' in Orre, but know this. The people of Orre have always claimed to be peaceful. Loving. Uninterested in politics between the east and west. This reputation is nothing but a farce. After sending my own Hands to figure out the true intentions of our neighboring region, we found hard evidence of correspondence with Unova, and those who would oppose our Alpha. They were the ones who let the psychic puppet into our lands so he could enact his nefarious deed for his deranged psychic type overlords."

    The Prophet's tone grew grim as he steepled his fingers, and leaned towards the main camera. "Though it pained me to do so, my only option was to take their lands quickly, before the Unovans entrenched themselves, and began spreading their nonsense about nature, and balance. I am proud to report that our forces were able to take the region without the loss of life. Now, we have a strong, united eastern border that will keep our enemies at bay."

    ________________________________________

    The Prophet stood then, raising both arms as he continued orating. "This is not the only news. With the blessing of the Alpha, the Church has decided to erase the borders separating our allies' lands. They are no longer necessary. Nor is any reading material, digital or otherwise, originating from Rebellious sources, like Unova. Stay tuned to your Church-approved channels, and you will know the Alpha's rewards." Pravus lowered his left arm, and the right's hand curled into a fist as he continued his tirade. "The Alpha has decreed it! With the removal of these restrictive, unnecessary borders and new policies, once more, our land will be whole. We will not roll over for the Unovans, we will take their lands, by force if necessary, and show them the true Path to the Alpha! One Fornia, under Arceus, now and forever!"

    The Prophet made a motion across his throat with his hand, and the recording lights switched off. "Send word to the Kipnuk and Arciana regions. The time has come. They know their objectives." The person he'd commanded fiddled with his device for a moment, before nodding to his Prophet. The word was given. Pravus grinned. "Now then…give me a report on our star player."

    A female minion, clad in the usual navy-blue suit that bore all sorts of medals, proving her years of dedication and loyalty to the Church, and the Prophet, came forward at his words. "The subject was extremely effective in combat, exceeding even our lowest parameters…however…he did hit…a snag."

    The Prophet's eyes flared red for a moment, before fading. "What kind of snag…"
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