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Old July 8th, 2018 (12:36 PM).
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Sahqoreyth Sahqoreyth is offline
Pokefan1337
     
    Join Date: May 2018
    Age: 25
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    Chapter 22: The Best Laid Plans

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    Norstad – Valaskjalf's Main Hall

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    Alex and Jess looked up at the sky, as the clouds had suddenly turned dark, not dissimilar from when he used the Strunzul. Then, the sounds of battle became clear. Heavy booms of thunder echoed from the gap in the newly formed door behind the village's main hall.

    Alex shouldered his way free of Lokra's grip, and met her gaze. "No offense to your…king, but Pravus is our quarry on this hunt."

    He glanced at the sky again, as the clouds arced with streaks of lightning. He remembered then something his granduncle had told him once about this particular weather formation, when he'd been younger. When the clouds boomed and lightning cracked the sky, it meant Thor was hammering away at something. Growing older, he'd learned his ancestors had also considered it a sign of rage sometimes, and a bad omen at sea.

    ________________________________________

    Jess picked up on his thoughts, and the same underlying excitement was shared by her as well. She'd heard the same legends, and the chance to see one literally smiting evil before their very eyes could not be passed up. She gently moved the Chief's hand as well. "We will try not to interfere with, or disrespect your king…but Alex is correct. Pravus is the sole reason we came here. We cannot let him gain what he seeks."

    Lokra sighed, and then shrugged. "Fine." Then, she jerked a thumb at the red haired, red bearded figure behind her, still grinning, and still encased in ice. "What do we do with this?"

    Alex opened his mouth to say something, but Arthur popped free of his ball instead, his voice echoed to all within earshot, but his mouth did not move. His arms extended into swords as he glared down at the figure. "I will handle this." His eyes narrowed, and Alex raised a brow as he sensed his partner's thoughts. "I am well acquainted with the trickery of Zoroark…the one thing they can never hide is their foul stench."

    The man hissed at Arthur's words, and then, changed form. As the form that had been entrapped was rather bulky and muscled, the lithe form it took then was easily able to slip free of the ice, but not before Arthur had mega evolved, and leapt after it, arms shining gold. Naturally, the Zoroark had not been the color most of its species shared, appearing instead with fur that was black and purple. It had also appeared infected with shadow, but of all of his team, Arthur was best prepared for that. His sword arm had, after all, stabbed Alduin's ball of dark matter, and dissipated it.

    ________________________________________

    "I…think he can handle it." Alex said, watching as the malleable form of his Gallade caught up to the creature easily, and delivered a spinning roundhouse kick to its jaw, sending it sailing into one of the many rock cliff faces that surrounded the village.

    The women nodded, and Lokra spoke then, "If you are intent on intruding upon the king's sport, I shall go with you. He is not aware that you are allies…and he sometimes sees treachery where there is none."

    Alex and Jess shared a glance. If the legends were true, the god in question had a 'brother' well known for mischief and redirection. The excitement only grew, and they had to struggle not to fly ahead, propelled by their power. Lokra could've kept up with them regardless, as she was quite fast, and ran in a manner similar to Connor, though where his form was perfected, hers was somewhat unsteady.

    ________________________________________

    Eventually, they came upon a sight that awed them, as it seemed straight out of an old legend. It was indeed Thor, or Shor, as the locals had named him, and he was going blow for blow with Pravus, whose form had…mutated, into an approximation of himself, and what looked like parts of a Darkrai.

    Massive fists of dark energy met the thunderous fury of what could only be Mjolnir, and as the three watched, smiles slowly came to their faces. The God of Thunder was toying with the man, laughing as he swung away at the energy hands. As they arrived, he glanced their way, eyes widening as he saw Lokra. The glance was exactly what Pravus had been waiting for.

    The wind picked up and howled with ominous fury, as Pravus' arms, which were purple and identical to a Darkrai's, spun in slow, circular motions as balls of pure black energy formed within them, and then merged together, growing larger. Alex's eyes widened, as he recognized the move. "Watch out! That attack will put you to sleep!"

    The ball of darkness shot forth, and Shor swung his hammer, sending it skyward, where it dissipated harmlessly.

    ________________________________________

    Snarling in irritation, Pravus glanced his way, noticing the intruders for the first time. His eyes were blue now, not unlike a Pokémon using Psychic, but the irises were still human, and still as dark as ever.

    The God of Thunder gave him what seemed like an appreciative nod, and Alex had to fight down the fanboyish excitement. It was just a nod. No reason to lose his cool. "If you start calling him 'Senpai', we're over." His love's mocking tone echoed in his head, and he fought down a chuckle.

    Instead of rushing forward with his hammer, Shor raised it above his head, and began spinning it by the leather bit attached to the handle. "You like to play with the wind…let us see if you truly know its' fury…" At his words, a tornado rapidly formed and surrounded the pair, almost obscuring them from sight. Thankfully, Leo was interested in watching as well, and he shared his sight freely. He was an electric Pokémon after all. This 'God of Thunder' could be a fantastic opponent.

    ________________________________________

    Pravus and his opponent glared at each other, and slowly, a black haze began to fill the swirling air, coming from Pravus' own body. Even to Leo's sight, it made things murky. It seemed that the Prophet had yet more up his sleeve.

    For his part, Pravus had deemed this whole venture a failure. He had not expected a god, or whatever this red haired being was, to be waiting at the threshold of his prize. He was so close, he could feel the Fairy Aura. It permeated everything in this place. Life bloomed all around him. He needed that power.

    At that moment, two things happened at exactly the same time. An airship, no doubt Percy's borrowed one, de-cloaked over the forest, further in, and dark figures began dropping from it. Pravus grinned. Perhaps his minions weren't as inherently useless as he'd thought…though he'd need to keep their task from being interfered with. The Unova Champion and that older woman with him were fierce fighters. He did not recognize the brunette beside the Champion, but assumed she would be capable of defeating his people as well. Why else would they bring her?

    As he took a moment to ponder his options, his Darkrai's instinct caused it to suddenly shrivel up, and fade back into his shadow. Pravus fell to the ground, powerless, and snarled at his shadow. Then, he noticed. The area around himself and Shor had turned pink and glowed with the power of the fairy typing. He recognized the move as one of Xerneas' own.

    ________________________________________

    Then, it appeared. The clattering of hooves echoed through the glade, and a kind, almost motherly voice echoed to all within earshot. "You come for that which your foul form cannot take in, human."

    Shor looked up as well, at the topmost roof of his hall, and he caught his hammer, causing the tornado to fade as well. The gold and red leaves of the glade swirled atop Shor's Hall in a miniature cyclone, and slowly, a form manifested within them. Within moments, Xerneas, she who gave life eternal, stood upon on the hall's roof, and gazed down at them with x-shaped irises.

    She was, in a word, lovely. White fur, light blue in some places, and deep blue horns that lacked the rainbow coloring at that moment. Xerneas' grace was unmatched as she leapt down to the pair of fighters, and trotted right up to Pravus.

    Nobody moved.

    ________________________________________

    "You have gained the dark typing. My power would drive you to utter, crippling madness. Forever. Take your forces, and leave. I will not have fighting in my own grove." The hind spoke, and as she did, Shor grimaced, but otherwise stayed silent.

    Pravus stared at Xerneas, his own expression unreadable, save for an eye twitch. Here she was, the one Pokémon capable of granting him what he'd sought for years, and now, it was beyond him because of his past choices. He was furious. His shadow formed a perfect circle around his feet, and the air grew colder. The stench of death filled the area, and the pure, undiluted rage that was of his very core, surfaced.

    "It…matters…not…" Pravus snarled, glaring at the Life Pokemon. "I will draw what I need from you by force…if necessary. Or, you could give me what I seek, and I shall leave…"

    Xerneas stared the human down, towering above him. "Your kind has not changed. You do not listen. You do not pay heed. You are as greedy and vile as every other human who has come here before you, seeking my power, all but drooling at the thought of living forever…" The hind lowered her head to Pravus' height, meeting his gaze directly. "You know not what you meddle with…" Her horns began to glow, and Shor stepped back several paces. "It is better for all, if you simply…cease."

    ________________________________________

    "You Legendaries are all the same…" Pravus said, looking down at the pink terrain surrounding him. "You think you have a choice in any of this…you think the decision is yours…" He looked up again, and Xerneas flinched, visibly. His eyes burned with red energy, radiating from them in wavy lines of power. "You are tools on my belt…nothing more…" He drew a Pokéball that was entirely black from his pocket. "Now, get into your ball…"

    The Life Pokémon brought her head up again, horns radiating with power. Being so close, Alex resisted the urge to fidget. Then, he remembered. Fairy types and dragons mixed poorly. What she said of Pravus was likely true of himself, as well.

    The sky, for once, cleared over the area above them, and Xerneas was no doubt responsible. From behind the clouds, the moon appeared, despite the ever-present light of the sun during this season. It was full, and seemed to glow as Xerneas drew more and more power.

    ________________________________________

    "Cease." An orb of light blue, similar in appearance to the moon in many ways, formed between Xerneas' horns, and at almost point-blank range, the Life Pokémon launched the Moonblast at Pravus. The man grinned, and opened his Dark Ball.

    Much like the Ultra Ball, the Dark Ball had undergone a series of advancements as well, despite being highly illegal. In the Fornia region, they had increased its ability to capture Pokémon beyond that of any other Pokéball, going as far as to include move-dampeners, and not even require it to touch the Pokémon it was aimed at. The first one it absorbed would be the one it caught, and Xerneas was directly in front of him.

    Pravus grinned as the ball began to drag the massive hind towards it. The fairy type attack had been completely swallowed, and it looked as though the Life Pokémon would be as well. The four onlookers leapt into action, as they'd been waiting for the man to either retreat, or try something.

    ________________________________________

    Alex and Jess, having expected Pravus to attempt a final, desperate act to catch Xerneas, launched a combined Psychic attack at Pravus' ball. It was the immediate threat, after all, but it was intercepted as his Darkrai rose from his shadow, and canceled the attack out with a Dark Pulse.

    Jess' eyes widened as she met the Darkrai's gaze. "Wait…that Darkrai is-" Her words were cut off by the sound of thunder, booming almost directly beside them. Both Shor and Lokra had leapt into action as well. Shor's hammer created a fissure in the ground, and Pravus' Darkrai retreated into his shadow once more, levitating him above the attack.

    Xerneas' hooves dug deep into the lush grass, but the ball's pull was incredibly strong. It had been made with the thought of capturing Legendary Pokémon, and Alex began to understand how the Arceans always seemed to have a Legendary up their sleeve. Even Tao would be susceptible to such a thing, if his defenses were down.

    ________________________________________

    Seeing his attack had failed, Shor spun the hammer quickly, and let it pull him through the air towards his target. Lokra, for her part, had kept her spear handy, but the dark limned man moved away from it easily as she cast it towards him. She pulled it back to her hand with a yank upon what looked like a rope of some kind, but was pure white. Fallen tail feathers from Iizlokraan no doubt.

    The ball pulled Xerneas ever closer, and the Life Pokémon became truly desperate as her capture became inevitable. Before anyone had time to do anything more, she turned into a swirl of red light, entered the ball, and after a violent series of shakes, was caught with a ding that sounded more like a tolling bell than anything else. Pravus grinned, eyeing his prize, only then remembering that an increasingly furious 'god' was hurtling towards him. The fun was over now, and it was time for this foul entity to feel his wrath.

    Shor's hammer smashed into the Dark Ball with unerring accuracy, causing it to smoke and spark in Pravus' equally smashed hand. It released its occupant as the man dropped the ball, and snarled in pain. The Life Pokémon appeared again, horns once more lacking their golden color. She was motionless, and her head was lowered, but she seemed unharmed.

    ________________________________________

    With a battle cry that echoed through the glade, Shor brought Mjolnir around in all its sparking glory once more, intent on finishing this, but Pravus dodged it gracefully in the air, and once he did, a familiar looking hand reached out from Pravus' knee, and grabbed the god's leg. Pravus spun, and the hand threw Shor towards his hall. The armored form of the Thunder God's body sailed through the air, and smashed through the wood of his hall easily, and he disappeared from sight.

    Pravus' triumph was short lived, however. Alex had called out the first ball he reached for, which meant Terra was now on the scene, and had mega evolved. An Energy Ball containing the power of the ground and grass typing slammed into Pravus, and with its sheer size, drove him into the air, and over the trees. He snarled and pushed, but could not free himself from the massive, spinning Taijitu sphere of condensed green and brown energy. Of all his team, Terra remained the best at condensing the layers of his Energy Ball.

    All eyes went to Xerneas, but she hadn't moved, and looked more like a statue than a living Pokémon. Her x-shaped irises didn't move either, her gaze was locked on the spot Pravus had been. In the distance, they heard a pained yell, and a loud boom. Then, from the trees, a pillar of swirling dark energy rose into the sky. They could all guess its source.

    ________________________________________

    Dark energy began to rise from Xerneas' form in small wisps, but before anyone could notice, Pravus once more appeared in the air, furious, and hurtling towards them. He was changed again. Alex began to wonder just how many transformations he had.

    Dark energy covered his body like a robe, flaring out behind him as he flew through the air towards them, eyes burning with rage. Literally. The sound of splintering wood and thunder boomed from behind them as once more Shor flew into the air, and met the man wrapped in darkness. Finally, Mjolnir met its' mark, and Pravus sailed towards the ground, impacting with a boom that shook the area.

    ________________________________________

    Shor followed, as did more thunderous crashes, the sound of truly titanic combat. It said much that Pravus was able to hold his own at all against a being that was called a god, and had, if the legends were to be believed, been alive for countless millennia. The sound of cracking branches filled the area near them, and seconds later, the two men came hurtling out of the nearby forest, and back to the front of the hall. Pravus' jaw was askew, and already bruising, no doubt from a hammer blow.

    Pravus bounced across the grass once Shor stopped, and groaned as he slowly rose again. "I don't know…what you are…but you will not…win this…" He raised both hands towards the red-haired figure, and a look of pure rage came across his frightening countenance, black and red lightning arced from each fingertip towards his quarry.

    At first, Shor laughed, loud and booming, until the first sparks touched his form. His visage grew grim then. "You meddle with power you do not comprehend…" He spoke through gritted teeth, and slowly raised Mjolnir to intercept the streams of burning plasma. Though it arced across his skin, it left almost no trace upon it, in fact, his skin appeared more like metal than anything else, in that moment.

    "I am Power!" The lightning grew larger, more uncontrolled as Pravus poured everything he had into it. It was striking Mjolnir now, and Shor was doing everything he could to not be blown away by the ferocity of the attack. It had definitely caught him off guard.

    Xerneas watched the display while remaining motionless.

    ________________________________________

    "Qo! Ner! Kaask!" The Storm Voice boomed through the glade, louder than anything so far, and the power of it warped Pravus' lightning back on himself. It formed a spherical cage of volatile plasma, and burned both the ground and the air as it entrapped Pravus. He turned, slowly, towards Alex.

    "You…are going to die…slowly…" His entire form was trembling, and small cracks had appeared by his burning red eyes, sundering his very skin. Blood had begun to drip from each of them. Finally, he was reaching a limit of some kind. Hopefully.

    "Not today…" Pravus' head turned suddenly to behold Shor, hammer in hand, smirking. With another mighty upwards swing, Mjolnir sent the spherical cage of lightning into the air, but this time, in the direction of Valaskjalf itself.

    ________________________________________

    Pravus gripped the electric 'bars' of his cage, searing his hands as he screamed at them in a manic frenzy, "You will all perish for this! Grrrraaagh!" He shook the bars with a rage that could only be described as manic, but the Storm Voice had effectively entrapped him. For now.

    "For the Prophet!" A new cry from a new voice came from their left, in the woods, and from the trees came Pravus' lackeys, surrounded by their Pokémon. By this point, anything resembling the 'rules of battle' had long since been discarded. Every Pokémon they had was out, and the sheer numbers looked to be ready to overwhelm them.

    That is, until an enormous beam of ice formed a massive wall in front of the newcomers, and around Shor and the three humans. Iizlokraan's telepathic voice echoed to all, "They are safe, begin the purge!"

    ________________________________________

    The four looked up as the sky filled with what seemed to be all of Valaskjalf's riders. Ice Beams and flying type attacks began to rain down upon the comparatively small group of Arceans. Hydrus and Leo joined Terra, as they were the ones with the most energy left, and soon the Arceans had once more been effectively corralled by the riders.

    More than a few openly and loudly complained about being frozen in the same manner twice, but before anyone could give orders for what to do with these new captives, a blur of black and purple zipped through them, freeing many of the trainers, but only some of the Pokémon. As before, many had been cleansed of the shadow's influence by the Articuno, but those who hadn't were now free, and were quickly recalled as cries of "Retreat!" echoed through their ranks.

    A green and white blur followed the black and purple one, and they began to clash atop the wall of ice. It was, of course, Arthur, still engaged in battle with Pravus' Zoroark. At first it had seemed at a disadvantage, but now, the cunning foxlike creature was taunting the Gallade, who despite his speed, could not land his sword strike on it.

    ________________________________________

    In seconds, Leo joined Arthur atop the ice wall, and with a combination of Iron Tail and Sacred Sword, kept the Zoroark from escaping. The tail of Leo's Mega Form, when using Iron Tail, became shaped like a scythe. He also gained saber-teeth, which made his Thunder Fang quite a bit stronger. He was even just as fast as the other two, a fact the Zoroark soon became aware of.

    Alex glanced at how the dark fox fought, and then noticed something. It was using Night Slash to cancel out Leo's Iron Tail, but the other claw was bright with white energy, which parried the Sacred Sword, and kept Arthur at bay. Of course it knew Aerial Ace.

    Iizlokraan landed before them, and Lokra hopped on her back, and then nodded at Shor. The god gave a nod as well, and then the Chief joined her fliers in the air. Various fire and rock attacks kept most of the Articuno at bay, but the dwindling group of Arceans soon found themselves between two walls of ice, as Iizlokraan created another, and prevented retreat into the forest.

    ________________________________________

    The few who had gotten away were dropped back amongst their fellows, and their hard landings caused havoc and broken bones as they slammed into their comrades. It was as close to attacking the trainers as the Articuno came. Seeing the tide turning, the battling Zoroark suddenly vanished as Sacred Sword and Iron Tail bisected the dark, grinning figure. It vanished in a wisp of darkness, little more than an illusion. One that had fooled even Leo's eyes. The sly fox appeared again atop the Thunder God's hall, and let out a chilling howl that echoed for miles.

    Arthur and Leo quickly leapt after their prey, only to find it recalled into a Dark Ball. They looked up, and beheld a very haggard, very burned Caleb Pravus. He called down to his minions, "Enough. We have what we need. Retreat." With that, the man, who was still clad in a robe of dark energy, flew further upwards, before vanishing entirely.

    Leo shared his sight with his trainer, and Alex grimaced. "Their ship is above us."

    "Not for long!" Lokra and Iizlokraan launched into the air beside Shor, at the same time the Arceans were ascending towards the ship as well. Some had what appeared to be jetpacks, but most rode their Pokémon up.

    ________________________________________

    "Sandstorm…" The air around the ship became filled with harsh sand, enough to make even the massive Articuno, and Shor, pause. "Power Gem." The voice was Pravus', and it echoed through the area, but the Pokémon launching these attacks was nowhere to be found. Thus, the rock type energy slammed into Iizlokraan from seemingly out of nowhere, and brought the massive bird down, hard. She was wounded, by the joint that connected her left wing to her body, but she managed to land relatively safe on the grass below.

    Shor, for his part, had smashed the beam meant for him away with Mjolnir, and continued upwards, towards the faint outline of the ship in the whirling sand. Suddenly, with no warning, a massive Gigalith appeared above Shor, and though he paused for a moment, he continued towards the dropping mass of rock Pokémon.

    "Explosion."

    The grin on the god's face faded as the Pokémon did the only thing it could do: obey. A massive explosion usually would not have harmed him so much, but at that point, it was too close to avoid. Shor took the hit full force. The sound of jet engines burning filled the air as the smoking form of Shor fell earthward, alongside the fainted form of the Gigalith, which slowly faded into nothingness as the shadow energy claimed another life. Pravus did not even bother trying to recall it. There were plenty, in the Fornia region. The ship powered through the fading vestiges of the Sandstorm, and then, was gone.

    ________________________________________

    Before Alex could spring into action to save the Thunder God, he felt a soft hand on his shoulder, and glanced at Jess, who pointed. In the ensuing battle and confusion, Xerneas had been momentarily forgotten. Now, it was evident that had been a mistake. The Life Pokémon was almost entirely dark purple, and shadow was radiating from her form. Her white fur was slowly turning purple, and still, she remained utterly motionless.

    Alex moved towards Iizlokraan, potion in hand. If anyone could cleanse the Life Pokémon, it surely would be this Articuno, but another of the Legendary Birds got to the massive hind before he even reached her, and her rider. Up above, a pair of riders caught the falling form of their king, and carried him to the ground. He too would need healing.

    Jess and Folokraan approached the Life Pokémon. She remembered the last time she'd faced down a Legendary Pokémon battling with the corruptive power of the shadow. The Life Pokémon's horns glowed with a dark power, and a ball of bluish-purple energy formed between them. Jess' eyes widened. She'd recalled reading about Xerneas being able to use Outrage, but nobody had ever survived seeing such a thing. She'd hesitated the last time, against Tao, when Alex hadn't. She would not make the same error twice.

    She nodded at Fo, and despite being young, the little Articuno flapped towards the Life Pokémon, and touched her beak to the hind's snout. The purifying light was all Xerneas needed. The orb of dragon energy faded back into her body, and the shadow burned away in the face of her multicolored power. With her horns once more golden, the giant deer shook her antlered head before regarding the ones who had saved her.

    ________________________________________

    "Thank you, little ones…I almost lost myself…" She looked between Jess and Fo and almost seemed to smile.

    "We should've acted sooner…we're sorry for not doing so." Jess bowed low, and her Articuno copied her as best it could.

    The Life Pokémon eyed them for a long moment, and then seemed to nod. "I understand, human…things often become confused in battle…now tell me…why do you and your mate wear a veil of Percival's power atop your clothing? What has the trickster done now?"

    Jess began explaining the events leading up to the most recent battle, while Alex tended Iizlokraan's wing with a Max Potion. Soon after, he rejoined Jess, patting the smaller Articuno once he did. She chirped, and pushed into his hand. It was nice to see even Legendary Pokémon enjoyed it when he patted them. Magic fingers indeed. "…and that's how we ended up here." Jess finished.

    "Percy asked us to try to convince you to end his imprisonment…" Alex said, picking up the conversation, "He wanted us to capture you, but I have a feeling doing so would be the wrong way to free him."

    ________________________________________

    The large Pokémon brought her gaze to him now, eyes widening slightly as she saw his typing. As with all Legendary Pokémon, she too had the sight psychic types used. "And do you believe the Fairy King has changed? Will letting him out benefit, or cause strife to the world? From what I heard, you have not known him long."

    Alex shrugged. "I can't claim to understand fairy types, but I do know this: His mind and mine touched, briefly, and in that moment, I saw true, honest regret. It's buried, but it's there, and he feels it daily. He's desperate to be free again…desperate enough to ally with a lunatic like Pravus, and convince him to bring you to the tower. The thought of freedom consumes him. If he was actually released, he'd probably be fine." Alex looked down for a moment, subconsciously stroking his beard as he thought. "How about a compromise? Free him, and if he returns to his darker persuasions, I will personally help you jail him again, in a much smaller tower."

    Xerneas took a moment to think as well. She had curled up on the grass as Jess had told the story, and then, finally, nodded. "Very well, Dovahkiin. If you speak true, I will release him from his imprisonment…in truth, I did not intend it to last so long…but I was…waylaid. If you speak true, and he has repented, I shall grant him his freedom. But I will need to see this for myself, before I believe it."

    Alex nodded, glad that they'd at least managed to fulfill one mission successfully. He had no idea why Pravus had suddenly retreated, but it couldn't be a good thing. He wasn't the type to leave empty handed. "Thank you…I'm sure he will do anything to avoid imprisonment again…now that's settled…can you make these outfits disappear?"

    ________________________________________

    The Life Pokémon seemed to chuckle, a light huffing sound, and then nodded. Her horns glowed for an instant, and Alex and Jess sighed in relief as the armor faded away. They made a show of stretching, and Alex shoved his now once more iron helmet into his bag, trading it for his hat. He avoided making eye contact with Jess though. Now that they were free of the armor, weeks of suppressed urges were rapidly bubbling to the surface. The danger was gone, but the adrenaline was still pumping.

    Xerneas stood and a small smirk appeared on her mouth. "I will grant another favor. To the both of you." She focused her x-shaped irises on Jess. "Your mate has acquired the immortality of the dragons. For saving me from that…pestilence, I grant you the same. You can still be wounded, maimed, or slain, but should you avoid such things, you will live a span of years akin to Percival's." The antlers upon her head began to shine. "Be warned, human. That which I give, I can also take. Do not squander this gift. And always remember…every living thing has an end…do not think you have avoided death. It comes for us all, eventually."

    Jess knelt, both knees resting on the grass. "I understand. You have my word…I will not waste my chance for longer life."

    ________________________________________

    The golden light flared, and from each of the seven multicolored orbs on Xerneas' antlers, a drop fell to the ground, halting before it hit. Slowly, each drop formed above Jess' head into a multicolored orb that radiated life energy. It was pleasant, warm, but inherently infused with fairy power. It descended into Jess' head, and then she began to glow as well, though it soon faded.

    "It is done." Xerneas said, looking slightly exhausted, "Now pardon me…I must see to Shor."

    Alex thanked her again, and then knelt beside his love. "How do you feel?"

    She shrugged. "Rejuvenated…but otherwise…the same."

    Alex nodded, smirking. "I felt the same way. Who knew immortality would be so easily found…"

    Jess raised a brow at him. "You call all of this easy?"

    He shrugged. "No…but think about it. Some people spend their entire lives seeking out what we've gained in the space of a few weeks…

    "The difference is obvious, love." She put a hand on his cheek, "We weren't looking for it. You gained yours to fight Alduin and save the world. I gained mine by keeping the balance in check. A shadow-infused Xerneas awake at the same time as Percy's Yveltal would bring even more death to this land…" She looked at the white and light blue hind. "The balance would've been disrupted, and the repercussions…worse than I can imagine, I'm sure."

    ________________________________________

    Percival's Airship – Somewhere Over Norstad's Western Edge

    ________________________________________

    "S-sir? Not that I'm not glad but…why did we run? Xerneas was righ-" The sentence was cut off as the haggard looking Prophet of the Arceans struck his lieutenant across the other side of his jaw. Now he'd have matching bruises.

    "Listen when I speak, Samson. I said we had what we needed." Pravus grinned. The cloak of shadow was gone, and the streaks under his eyes had scabbed over, the blood that had wept from them had also been washed away, yet he still knew he would need time to recover. His hands were a mess, but he had repaired them. Somewhat. Battling Shor had been more taxing than he'd anticipated, and the 'god' had very nearly killed him. The bruise on his jaw from that damnable hammer still throbbed with pain.

    Pravus held up an object then, and Samson managed a small smile as well. It was damaged, sparking, and utterly useless for its original purpose, but they'd done more with less. His favored Zoroark had, out of all of his tools, performed the best. Not only had he deceived the riders, and kept the Gallade with the irritating sword at bay, he'd retrieved the Dark Ball from where Shor's hammer had knocked it to the ground.

    This new generation of Dark Balls was tied directly to their lab back home, and sent a full genetic profile of whatever it captured to their lab in Sacreus. They didn't often try cloning Pokémon from said profiles, as it was a long, arduous process, but in this case, the replication of the Life Pokémon would be worth it. Though it was no longer bound to the ball, Xerneas had been within just long enough to be infected with shadow. The ball had finally run out of power once Xerneas cleansed itself, but that no longer mattered. They would make their own Xerneas, and from it, draw the secret of immortality.

    ________________________________________

    Northern Norstad - The Fairy King's Tower

    ________________________________________

    Several days had passed since the fall of the World Eater. Alex, Jess, and Connor had all been welcomed as heroes in the hall of Faarangar, and had earned the aid of Shor as well, should they one day require it. Naturally, Alex had been fascinated with the 'god', for upon getting a proper look at him, not distracted by a major battle, he'd discovered that he too had a dual typing. Fighting, and electric.

    Shor had soon realized that humans were no longer as…gullible as they had been in the past. They had grown up, fallen, and then rose again. Even the Earth was vastly different to how he remembered it. Eventually, after several mugs of mead, Shor hinted that his origins were in the stars, but beyond that, refused to reveal more. That night had been spent singing songs, drinking mead, smoking plants, and enjoying the hard-won victory against the dragon, and the Prophet. The fact that he'd retreated at all still nagged at Alex, but he was too comfortably numb to care at that moment.

    Then, when the dawn came, they'd met once more with Xerneas, who offered Alex and Connor a reward for their part in keeping herself and her home free of the shadow's taint. For Connor, she gave a Firium crystal, and though it wasn't immortality, he still appreciated it. He'd been given an Icium by the riders, and had two more for his allies as well. A gift from the village they'd helped defend. For Alex, Xerneas' gift was a bit different. For each of his team, she gave a gift of strength, a reward for their part in bringing down the World Eater.

    ________________________________________

    Shruikan received enough energy to forgo recuperating and adjusting to his new size entirely, while Blaze had been healed, and had grown several feet taller as well, reaching a new height of fifteen feet, such was the power of the Life Pokémon. Shruikan and Blaze had, naturally, begun to spar, eager to test their new strength. Despite it, Blaze remained more than a match for him, for he was a cunning flier, and by far the best battler on their team. In his opinion at least.

    Terra had received power as well, in his Mega Form, and the tree upon his shell had grown. He had grown bulkier, and was now easily one of the largest Torterra on record. He'd nicknamed the tree 'Yggdrasil', after Xerneas, which was what Shor called her. Much like Nidhogg, she had many names. Hydrus had been given a similar boost, and now the massive mudfish was large in his own right. He was now as tall as his trainer, who had gained three inches of height himself, from drawing power from Alduin. They were both 6,5 now, and Alex guessed correctly that his Mega Form would be even taller. His little Mudkip wasn't so little anymore.

    Leo had accepted a healing from the Life Pokémon and had filled out with muscle as well, but otherwise was content with his strength. Upon hearing Blaze's 'best battler' thought, he'd joined in the sparring match between the two fliers, and had brought both down rather easily, demonstrating that Shruikan had not mastered his electric power as well as he thought, and Blaze would always be weak to it. Though their pride had been bruised, the lesson appeared to stick.

    Arthur had been a different story altogether. He asked not for healing or power, but rather knowledge. Unfortunately, Xerneas had not been able to answer his questions, which were focused on his true identity, or his mother's, but with her latent psychic ability, she pointed him towards one who did know such things. The Foggy Swamp Sage. Needless to say, he was now even more determined to get back to the Swamp quickly. Out of all of them, the Sage had taught him the most, and after battling that Zoroark, he knew he needed to get stronger.

    ________________________________________

    Before they could all return home however, they had one last thing to take care of. Xerneas accompanied them to Percival's tower, and a trail of life stretched all the way from Valaskjalf to the circular northern wind wall. It would no doubt fade, in time, but wherever Xerneas walked, life followed. Once the three humans and the Legendary Pokémon reached the wall of wind, Xerneas took the lead. She summoned a wind of her own, and opened a path through the howling barrier. As she passed through, it faded entirely, and they continued north to the tower.

    That too was surrounded by wind, but this time, Xerneas approached the north-western side of it, and waited. Then, after several minutes, the wind rapidly increased. The circular tornado surrounding the tower moved, condensing, and reaching far into the clouds. A figure descended from them then, spinning rapidly in the wind.

    Down it came with blinding speed, rising again just above the group as it spread its wings. The red-finned Lugia responsible for keeping Percival and his descendants behind the wind walls appeared, and dispersed the last wall of wind with ease.

    ________________________________________

    "Yggdrasil. You come, at last. The king suffers. I did not think you would jail him for so long." The Lugia's telepathy reached all of them, and his baritone was soothing, and full of concern.

    Xerneas responded in the same manner. "I was…waylaid. Shortly after I left, my Kalos counterpart was awakened early, forcing me into slumber. While that region grew lush, ours all but died…the time has come for Norstad to be reborn…and I would have Percival's help…if he allows it."

    The Lugia descended as she spoke, and then landed, folding in his massive wing-arms. He briefly glanced at the humans, and then ignored them, focusing on the Life Pokémon. "He may not…long has his hatred of his jailors burned…he wants nothing more to do with me…" The Lugia looked down, but the expression of sadness was easy to read.

    "He may have spoken out of desperation, Sea Guardian. Do not lose hope so quickly." The white Pokémon seemed to perk up slightly at her words, but the look remained unchanged. The three humans watched quietly, but said nothing. Alex noticed Connor fidgeting, and guessed he was eager to finally capture a Lugia. This one, however, already seemed to have a trainer.

    ________________________________________

    "I will open the tower…but do not expect warmth from him…being imprisoned for so long has…changed our king." The Lugia turned then in a single graceful motion, and raised its arms. Alex held onto his hat, as he could guess what was coming next. The air moved rapidly as the Legendary Pokémon flapped its wings, and the resulting wind forced the tower's lower doors open in an instant with a loud boom.

    Then, they waited. Several minutes later, Percy appeared in the doorway, Kurama was behind him, tails extended. The fire fox snarled, but Percy patted him. He stayed put as his trainer walked out of the tower, or rather, stopped at the very edge. As he did, a faint barrier of pink energy appeared. It had been invisible before, and now began to glow in front of him as he approached. He was still trapped, for the moment.

    Xerneas started forward as she saw him. "Percival…" She stopped as she noticed a Pokéball in his hand. It was entirely black, and disturbingly similar to the one that had entrapped her.

    "Xerneas…you finally come…but what brings you, I wonder? You are not in a ball…nor do you appear forced…have you come to gloat, then? To mock your trainer as he rots in this Hel?" Alex and Jess shared a look as they noticed his body language. He was tense, like a coiled spring. Or a trapped animal. Connor reached for Gren's ball. He had no doubt they could strike before this 'fairy king' tried calling out whatever was inside that ball.

    Xerneas seemed to sigh, and then, her deep blue horns began to glow gold. The barrier of pink energy appeared in its entirety then, and it encased the whole building. Then, it began to shrink. The energy flowed into Xerneas' horns, and once it had faded entirely, the Life Pokémon looked renewed. To Alex's eyes, she'd seemed fine, but only now did he realize how strained she'd been. And she'd bore that strain for millennia. The power of Legendary Pokémon never ceased to amaze him.

    ________________________________________

    Percy stepped into the snow, and gave a short bark of laughter, his expression one of disbelief. He then looked up at Xerneas. "Why…why, Yggy…why set me free now? I could be just as evil as before for all you know…just as twisted…"

    Xerneas' horns glowed with psychic power then. A Heal Pulse. It washed over Percy, and he visibly relaxed. "I did not wish you entrapped for so long…there was a war, in Kalos…my counterpart was awakened, and thus, I was…"

    "Turned into a tree…" Percy finished, sighing. "Of course…nobody could reach you while comatose, and I would guess you only awakened recently…I took your silence as a sign that you were ignoring me, content to let me rot, but you had no say in any of it…"

    Xerneas nodded. "Several years ago, I awoke once more…but I was drained. It took a long time for my form to adjust to maintaining this barrier, and staying awake…I am sorry, Percy…you did not deserve to be trapped for so very long…"

    Percy looked down. "I didn't…but that's just how things happened…and nothing can change it now." He met the Life Pokémon's gaze again, and pocketed the Dark Ball. "It matters not, I suppose…I am immortal, after all…what's a few millennia to someone like me?" He managed a weak smile.

    "A very long time…" Xerneas said, and she brought her snout to his forehead. "Far too long…I knew you would snap out of it eventually…now, we can finally bring our family back together." She gave a meaningful look towards the Lugia, who still sat several yards away, and kept his gaze fixed on the ground.

    ________________________________________

    Percy walked over to the Lugia, and gave a sad smile. "You deserve an apology old friend…the things I said to you…I was not myself. Will you join me once more on our journey?"

    The Lugia regarded him for a long time, and then nodded. "That is all I have longed for over these long centuries…" Then, the Lugia brought one of its large hands forward, and with a blink of psychic power, three Pokéballs appeared in his hand. Percy took them, and put them on his belt, before finally regarding Alex and Jess. He didn't even glance Connor's way.

    "You two made good on your promise, and for that, you have gained an ally." He took his hat off, and bowed low. It was formal, perfect, the kind of bow one gives to a king. "I am at your service, whenever you require it."

    Alex nodded, and Jess thanked him. Alex spoke then, "You should know, Percy…there is a condition to your release…if you turn out to have not changed at all, if all of this is a trick of some sort…" He leaned in close to the man's face, eye to eye. "I will jail you again myself, in a much, much smaller prison. Do you hear me, Fairy King?"

    Percy grinned, despite the chills running down his spine from that glare. "Ooo. The little dragon has teeth now…very well. I've no desire to be imprisoned again, nor to make an enemy of a Dragonborn. I'll be on my best behavior…" He offered his hand, and Alex glanced at it for a moment, before grasping his wrist. They shook once. "One final token, Dragonborn." Percy said, reaching into his pockets. "A reward for setting me free." He pulled out a white crystal, with the symbol of flying types within it, alongside a pink one with the symbol of fairies. "Flying for you, and Fairy for your lady. Make good use of them."

    ________________________________________

    Alex eyed the pale crystal even as Jess eyed hers. "Oh…I intend to…" He could already feel Blaze's excitement. Being the only one not able to use a Taijitu move had been…irritating for the proud Charizard. Now, they could finally practice combining the two types.

    Percy brought out a blue and white Luxury Ball then, and offered it to Xerneas, who entered willingly after bidding the foreigners farewell. He hopped on his Lugia then, and called down to them. "I'm leaving, I've spent far too long in this frozen hell. You have my number. If you need me, I'll be in Alola!" By that point, Kurama had been recalled as well, and with his belt now five members heavier, Percy took off on his Lugia, and shot into the sky with a loud whooping shout, arms stretched wide as he breathed the free air again.

    The three Unovans decided to leave as well then, and they traveled aboard Shruikan's now much roomier metallic undercarriage. Once they'd made it halfway down the trail of life Xerneas left, Connor announced that he had a few more loose ends to tie up, and that he was leaving. He wished his sister good luck with school, gave Alex a nod with the promise of seeing him soon in the Swamp, and then leapt off of Shruikan, and into the air. His Garchomp appeared then, mega evolved, and carried him southwards, towards Valaskjalf.

    ________________________________________

    The flight back to Unova was a long one, but since they were no longer in a hurry, the massive Salamence took his time. His speed, when moving in a single direction at least, had increased as well, but the whole trip still took several hours. Several hours less than it previously had. Alex knew traveling the world would be much easier with such a fast flier.

    Once they were back in Unova, Alex did much the same as Connor did in Kalos. They'd had a chat in Faarangar after the battle, and had agreed that they needed to cement their reputations as Champions in their respective regions as soon as possible. Both Alain and N were still around, and they knew from past Champions that the passing of that torch would not be so easy. They were both legends and heroes in their own right. They agreed that Unova and Kalos should remain friendly rivals, but Connor made it clear that he had his own path to tread now, and he wouldn't be following Alex and his sister everywhere like a third wheel.

    Unova had, thankfully, been calm in the month or so that Alex had been gone. N had only remained for a few days after the New Year, before leaving to travel the world. With him gone, Tao had kept the region in balance, and the region had prospered as a result. Ancient ruins had been cleared out and raised, old buildings repaired, and expanded upon. Unova had always had a knack for building, but with the return of their dragon, the desire to regain their position as the head of a legitimate continent-spanning empire had returned.

    ________________________________________

    Since there was yet a month remaining before Alex had to return to the Swamp and the University's second half began, he spent the time resting. For about three days, he and his team recuperated from Norstad, mostly by sleeping. They were still recovering from the effects of Tao's world as well, and Jess did the same thing he did, as did her team. Folokraan was the only one who wanted to be awake, but she learned to be patient in those long days. With nothing pressing to deal with, they and their Pokémon enjoyed a well-earned break.

    Eventually, they'd started to get fidgety, it was back to training. The training weights returned, and once they were adjusted for size, Alex realized there was a limit to how effective their original method would be. At some point, the weights would simply be too heavy to transport, and even now, they were already incredibly hard to move. Still, they trained with them daily, both at the Redwood's ranch, and across Unova.

    Alex and Jess had gone to Castelia first, and spent three days there in a spare room that John Crimson offered them. It was there that Alex first got the news. His granduncle had finally passed on. It was a sour blow after all he'd accomplished in Norstad, and he realized just how distant he was from his relatives once he understood he had nobody to call home to. He returned home then, and his better half kept his family distracted as he went to have a chat with his brother.

    ________________________________________

    Eric was, as usual, at the local swimming center, riding around on his Blastoise. When he saw his brother, clad in strange white and black clothes, arms crossed by the edge of the pool, he'd guided Squirt over to him, and gave the water turtle a rest. The pool was only so big, but they often swam hundreds of laps, which tired out even the strongest of his swimmers.

    "Let me change. Then we can talk." His brother blew past, and headed to the locker room, while Alex was left to stand awkwardly beside his Blastoise. Several minutes passed in silence, and eventually, Squirt leapt back into the water with a content sigh.

    Once he'd changed, his brother returned, wearing their granduncle's lab coat over his usual blue attire. He'd gotten glasses as well, and almost looked like a Professor. He was still too young to pull it off though. Alex also spied a familiar diamond-shaped blue crystal pinned by the collar. It seemed the new method for mega evolution had reached even their backwater region.

    ________________________________________

    "Where the Hel have you been?" Eric said, arms crossed. Alex raised a brow. He could count the number of times Eric had actually been angry with him on one hand, but he still knew that look.

    "Norstad. There was…pressing business to deal with, after the New Year. Maybe you missed it, but the Arceans decided to give Ghetsis an airship, and throw him at us. Along with the forces of nature." Eric pinched his brow at his brother's word, and Alex only smirked. Even that looked grim, however.

    He'd been more depressed than usual of late, but had put off proper mourning. Castelia had been full of fans, friends, and trainers he'd battled on his first pass through the region, and Unova had required their Champion to keep his composure.

    "You missed the funeral, you know. You missed quite a bit, actually. Malina came back, and she wasn't the only one wondering where you were." Eric's tone wavered as he spoke, and Alex looked closer at his brother. His cool demeanor was gone, and then he realized, this was hitting him just as hard. He supposed it would. His Gruncle had taught many trainers, and had been hard not to like. He and Alex had been close, but so had the rest of their generation. The Professor had taught all of them.

    ________________________________________

    Alex sighed, and they stood in silence for a moment, before he gestured for his brother to follow him outside, behind the pool building. Their conversation had been attracting too many eyes for his liking. It was especially unnerving since he knew many of those who were staring. "How did it happen?"

    Alex knew he'd asked the right question as he saw his brother wince. "I…found him. He'd been missing for several days, nothing new, but he missed John Crimson's news report. Twice. When I went into his lab, I knew…I could…smell him."

    Two weeks. It had taken two weeks for someone to notice the Professor wasn't around. Alex fought down the sudden rage that had been mixing with his sorrow for the past three days at the thought of his favored relative literally rotting, alone and forgotten. He fought the emotions down as Eric continued, "He opened the old door to his room in the basement…I found him in the bed."

    Alex stayed silent for a long while. They were outside now, and he stared at the countryside of their hometown. The sky was gray, but the grass had remained gold, even under the harsh snow of winter, which was now almost entirely melted. "This is the price. He said being Champion would come with a cost. I'd even bet the old bastard knew this would happen. I'd be off on some epic journey, and he'd pass on while I was away." He swore silently.

    ________________________________________

    "Have you been home yet?" Eric asked, his eyes also on the countryside. Alex shook his head. "You should go home…Malina might still be around. She missed you."

    The thought of facing his favorite cousin after missing her father's funeral was too much right then. He shook his head again. "No…I'm going to leave again. Soon. There's nothing left for me here. I should've moved out years ago anyways."

    "So you're just going to leave your family behind?" Eric said, turning to him.

    Alex sighed. "No. Not entirely. I'll keep in touch, specifically with you. His lab is yours now. Go home, clean it up, use it. He left it for you, and knowing you, it's still a dusty mess covered in white sheets."

    Eric shifted in place uncomfortably. Once more his brother's words had been unerringly accurate. "I'm no Professor…" he mumbled, "And you should stick around."

    Alex let his eyes flare blue, and his voice came out changed. His brother flinched. "I have larger concerns to deal with now." He let the power fade just as quickly as it came. "He knew that. You should all know that too. N was always the one keeping the region safe, and not just ours. The entire eastern half of the continent has been saved by him, and the other Champions. More than once. That's my job now. Keeping the world in balance."

    ________________________________________

    Eric rolled his eyes. "And who gave you that job? Does it pay well? What do you earn in a year? Will it pay for the house? How about the ranch? The lab?" Alex raised a brow, but his brother continued his tirade. "You have responsibilities here that you haven't even begun to deal with, brother of mine. You need to take care of those, too."

    Alex shook his head. "No, I don't think I do." Eric opened his mouth again, but Alex cut him off, "You have always been the favored son. We both know you are first in line to inherit the house. Not me." Eric pinched his brow again, and turned back to the view. "And yes, it does pay rather well." Alex said, resisting a smirk. While his allies in Norstad didn't use traditional currency, they had given him several artifacts that were useless to them, but were priceless to the right collectors, or museums.

    He watched as his brother looked up again. His demeanor had changed. The cool façade was back. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that…the whole 'favorite son' thing." Alex stared him down now, arms crossed. He'd been expecting something like this for a while, now that he'd essentially proven his skill. "You're right, of course…in hindsight, you've been right quite a few times. You are the better trainer, Pokémon listen to you more than they do with me. You have a talent for this…and I should've helped you out a long time ago. I'm sorry."

    ________________________________________

    Alex let his eyes soften. Eric had turned to him as he spoke, and Alex waved his words away. "You had your own pressures to deal with. I understand the fear of dad's wrath quite well. Even if you had gotten me a Pokémon or something…we both know what he would've done with it." He offered a hand then, and Eric went to shake it, but Alex shook his head. "Not like that. Here…"

    He showed his little brother how men shared a sign of trust in Norstad, and then began regaling him with the tale of his adventure. He hadn't seemed too interested at first, shifting uncomfortably at his harsh words towards the Arceans, but after he mentioned a certain hammer-wielding 'god', Eric's attention was hooked.

    Once they'd finished talking, the two brothers went home, and set about cleaning up the lab. Eric agreed to take over maintaining the PC dimensions holding their other Pokémon, something he'd been doing anyways since the Professor passed. They both avoided the basement. Alex did so because he still couldn't stomach the thought of his Gruncle rotting down there, Eric did so because he hated the stink of Leaf and dead human. Eventually he'd brought in their cousin's Bellossom to fill the basement with a more tolerable odor, but without windows, it would likely hang around for a while.

    ________________________________________

    The rest of the family welcomed him home, as Jess had used her charms to cut through their anger, and explain why they'd needed to be away from Unova. What had started out as a trip that would take a few days had extended once Pravus had disappeared, and Nidhogg had woken up. His own parents were noticeably quiet, distant, and it took Alex a whole evening to realize they were avoiding him.

    He guessed correctly that they were somewhat ashamed for holding him back for so long, something he'd confirmed after briefly sensing their thoughts, but he made no effort to forgive them for it. He'd spent most of his life ostracized thanks to them, a guilty conscience was the least they deserved.

    He spent the next several days resting more, between bouts of training, alone in the lab's basement with Jess, and sometimes Eric. The door to his granduncle's room had been shut once more, and he had no desire to open it. He was more determined to fill the room with the stench of the Leaf, and after a few sessions with his Gruncle's old bong, the room returned to its usual odor. For him, at least.

    ________________________________________

    He and his team had been home for a week when Leo discovered something that would once more further their journey. He'd been prowling through the barn behind the house, enjoying the unease he caused in the Tauros, Miltank, and Bouffalant. It was only right that prey should fear him, after all. That was when he noticed a pair of sad yellow eyes watching him from the rafters.

    A quick sniff told him it was a Noctowl, and he briefly recalled hearing that his trainer's now deceased relative had owned one. He was by no means the most articulate member of their little family, but he felt he should at least try to say something. Reaching out with telepathy was Arthur's domain however, so instead, he settled for 'Pokéspeech', the universally understood tongue that only Pokémon could truly speak.

    ________________________________________

    "I heard of your loss, feathered one. You have my sympathy." The eyes blinked at his series of growls, and a voice echoed in his head as the Noctowl responded.

    "Thank you…my trainer had something for yours. Some…information. Papers. That sort of thing. He tasked me with passing it on before he…" The voice trailed off, and even Leo's usually cold hunter heart lurched for the sadness emanating from the bird.

    Before he could try to comfort the Noctowl, it fluttered down from the rafters, a wooden box in one taloned foot. "Here." Came the voice again. "It is his. Now…leave me to my grief."

    Leo moved towards the bird, and gave a low, rumbling purr as he nuzzled it. It was his kind's way of sharing affection, and the electrical current, while normally damaging to a flying type, only brought warmth then. The owl blinked again in thanks, and then flew out of the barn, and into the night. Leo then began the arduous task of trying to lift a large, square object with his fangs, but found his mouth too small.

    He mega evolved then, and picked the box up, lifting it easily. His actions did however, draw notice from his trainer. He brought the box outside the old man's lab then, and soon, his trainer appeared from within. The rest of his team were asleep in their balls, as only Leo ever prowled around at this hour. He dropped the box before Alex, and then let the power of the Electrium fade.

    ________________________________________

    Alex gave the large cat a thorough scratch as he wiped the slime from the box, and opened it. Once he saw what was within, he walked into the abandoned lab, and took a seat in one of the lounging chairs by the back window. Inside was what the Noctowl had promised. Documents, yellow with age, but atop them was a much newer device. A Holociever, the resulting combination of the cross-transceiver and Lysander's Holocaster technology. Alex had one of his own of course, everyone over the age of thirteen usually did, but this one was the familiar mahogany brown of his Gruncle's.

    His team had taken to lounging around outside their balls since coming home, and all of them focused as Alex got their attention. Terra and Hydrus woke from the naps they'd been taking in the puddle of mud they'd made just outside the lab. Shruikan opened one giant, yellow eye which was visible from the lab's window, and though he was otherwise occupied, Blaze paid as much attention as he could.

    Arthur and Leo usually stuck by their trainer. Arthur did so because he was fond of speaking with the other humans, especially the little ones, and Leo did so for much the same reason, though he was mainly after belly scratches and fond petting. Alex looked up at his Gallade, who had just taken a decent hit of the Leaf, and had put a sword-arm on his shoulder. The Holociever was, of course, capable of recording messages as well as sending them, and as Alex powered it on, his Gruncle's voice filled the room.

    ________________________________________

    He heard dainty footsteps rushing up the stairs from the basement, and he looked up to see Jess. He paused the message, and started it over for her. He hadn't really listened anyways. He wiped away the tears in his eyes he hadn't even noticed had formed, and then played the message again, for them.

    "Alex…by the time you hear this, I'll likely be gone. Cliché, I know, but it is the truth, and a sad one at that. I can only imagine what you've achieved in Norstad. Knowing you, it's something you're not ready for, but have already somewhat mastered." Alex fought down a laugh as the holo-image of the old man coughed and wheezed, then looked at the hand that had covered his mouth. He wiped the bloody smear on his coat absentmindedly, and continued on.

    "I can only hope that what the Dragon taught you has helped you survive that barbaric land. And yes, I was the one who asked him to train you up. He thought you needed more time to mature, but I know better. I've seen how you get when you have new knowledge to devour. Just remember that not everyone is used to seeing supernatural power. Humans have a history of persecuting those with psychic abilities, so keep them secret."

    ________________________________________

    The old man coughed again, and thumped his chest. He took a hit then, and Alex realized he'd recorded this in the very chair he now sat in. "Ah…I've so much to say…and not enough breath to say it. Good thing these silly devices don't have hard time limits." The bong in the image went away, and the Professor entwined his fingers. A serious look came over his old, haggard face, and Alex leaned in subconsciously. He knew that look. What came next was important.

    "I don't need psychic power to guess that Pravus wormed his way away from you. He's escaped professional Pokémon Rangers with ease, and Fornia is essentially a fortress. Try not to dwell on it. I can say that if he did retreat, it's because he found a way to get what he wanted. Eternal life. Don't look so surprised, he's been after that for years." Jess chuckled then, as they had both looked surprised by the Professor's knowledge. "Listen. If he gets what he wants, then our species is doomed. Pravus has mastered the art of indoctrination through his cult, and once he has this continent, he'll move on to another. He already has roots in Sinnoh, but that's Japan's problem. Let their Champions handle it. You have more important things to do."

    Alex raised a brow, but the Professor continued on, "In this box, and in my room, are several hundred hard documents that are essentially a record of what that bastard has done. You'd think anyone with a brain would burn that kind of information rather than record it, but that's just how the Arceans operate. They record everything so they can use it later. On their enemies, and their own. It's part of what keeps people in their cult. Blackmail and fear are powerful tools…but you know that."

    ________________________________________

    A Noctowl flew into the scene then, and landed on the chair. The Professor gave him a scratch, pondering his words before speaking again. "I tried exposing the Arceans for what they were, and was labeled a pedophile because of it. But this isn't about my name anymore. After this latest attack, Unova has a good idea of what the Arceans are about, and that means the end-game is coming. Unova was never meant to be indoctrinated, it was always a scapegoat. A focus for loyal Arceans to center their hatred on. Ghetsis was supposed to lay the foundations for future conversion of Unovans, but you stopped that plan cold when you united the dragons. Now that Tao is back, Unova will never follow Pravus. He learned that the hard way when he captured Tao by force, and started a war."

    The Noctowl hooted once, and the Professor nodded. "I'm getting to that, Soren." The old man shook his head. "I've already told Tao of this, and he assured me that Unova would be ready for a surprise invasion. He said he could rally the entire eastern coast if needed, but that remains to be seen. In any case, it's not where you're needed. You need to travel to Fornia, and expose this bastard for the slime he is. Without the support of his people, his empire will crumble. Pravus has always underestimated the value of his own supporters, and that is the weak point that you need to strike at."

    The Professor made an imitation of a building falling with his hands. "Expose Pravus beyond the shadow of doubt, and the entire thing comes crumbling down. The trick, as I'm sure you know, is getting Arceans to see, and believe, that their Prophet is a lunatic. I can only give you the tools lad. You'll have to figure out the rest. My advice? Start from the ground up. Most Arceans have never seen the PokéNet. They have no accurate idea of how the world sees their home. From their perspective, their cult is helping people all over the world, rooting out 'psychic warlords', and even curing addiction. You'll understand how deep the indoctrination goes once you get to Fornia, and meet them."

    ________________________________________

    The Professor let out a hacking cough again, and frowned into his hand. Blood trickled from either side of his mouth, and he wiped it on his sleeve. "It seems my mortality is catching up with me, so I'll end this, and hope you return from your journey alive. I've recorded other messages on here, for the rest of the family. This is the last. Pass them on once you're done with this." Soren hooted again, and it was a low, mournful sound.

    The Professor leaned back into the chair, and sighed. "I don't know what the future holds for you, lad. All I can do is help you with this enemy, but you need to understand something…there will always be another Pravus. Another madman, another power-hungry intelligent being bent on dominating the entirety of mankind. Knowing you, you're going to stop quite a few of them, but eventually, one of them will find a way to break you. This is a task too big for one trainer, even a Champion, to handle alone."

    Soren's eyes widened, but the Professor continued on, "The Pokémon League has a group of people within it, specifically, people who run things behind the scenes, and operate in the shadows against other, more…dark-minded people, in the same shadows. There's a reason only a limited number of Mewtwo clones were made. There's a reason there always happens to be a heroic Trainer at the right place, at the right time, to stop a disaster. Someday, this group is going to contact you, as they did me, and when they do, I'm going to ask you to do something I told you never to do. Trust them. They may not be perfect, they're as human as we are, but they're the best hope for our race's future. At least in this old man's opinion."

    ________________________________________

    The old man coughed again, and gave a weak smile to the camera. "I can't guide you on your future adventures…but they might be able to help. Good luck, lad…remember what I taught you…keep your greed in check…and don't spend too long mourning my wrinkled ass…I've lived long enough." He held up his right hand then, and split his pointer and middle fingers from his ring and pinky finger, making a V-shape as the thumb curled up against his hand. He winked. "Live long, and prosper." With that, the recording ended.

    Alex choked back a laugh. Tears had started flowing down his cheeks, and his repressed emotions were rapidly demanding a release. "I can't…did he really just…ugh…he would go out on a note like that…old bastard…" He wiped his face dry, only to look up and see that Jess and Arthur had done the same.

    "I…I do not understand his last sentence." Arthur said, tilting his head at his trainer. He'd tried mimicking the symbol the old man had made, but it was hard to do with three fingers.

    ________________________________________

    Alex laughed again. "Don't…don't worry about it." He shook his head, and met Jess' gaze. "Shall we have a look in the basement?"

    He could see the worry she was trying to hide. She more than anyone could feel the emotional turmoil within him, but as always, his practiced stone-faced façade stayed passive and unreadable. Only his eyes gave him away, as he had to blink back more tears. "Sure…" she said, after a long moment, "Let's…see what the old nerd left for us."

    Alex raised a brow towards her as the four of them headed into the basement. "Does that mean you're coming with me to Fornia?"

    He knew the slap was coming, but didn't dodge it. It was a good distraction from the pain everywhere else. The back of his head still hurt, though, and he adjusted his hat. "Like you even have to ask. That old nerd should've predicted I'd be going too. Besides, I know how golden coast girls act around trainers like you. I'm not letting you out of my sight."

    ________________________________________

    The four approached the door, and as they entered the old bedroom, Leo snarled in disgust. It was faint, but the smell of decay still lingered. To his keen senses though, it seemed almost fresh. Alex gave him a pat. "Wait upstairs…but lend your eyes. I'll need them." Leo did as he was bid, and soon, the night hunter's vision became Alex's.

    With a glance, he could now make out shuffling foot marks on the old brown carpet. The indentation on the bed where his granduncle had laid down. There were clues all around the room to his hiding spots. A hand on his shoulder brought his focus away from the bed, and to the closet instead. It had been opened recently, judging by the pattern on the floor, and he knew nobody but his favored relative had reason to go digging in there.

    Within, he found a much larger cache of papers, and after a bit more searching, found back-ups as well. He wouldn't have hidden them all in the same room, but it was good enough. He dug through the first box, and at the bottom, found a folder labeled 'Elaine'. Within, he discovered why his granduncle had been so hel-bent on bringing the Arceans into the light, if not bringing them down entirely.

    ________________________________________

    It was clearly a covert report, detailing the actions of one 'Doctor Ein' as he infiltrated a large soon-to-be-purchased hospital in New Tork City in an effort to collect more stem cells for shadow infusion into Pokémon. Apparently, something had gone wrong while he was collecting from an unnamed 'female subject', but Alex could guess who they were talking about. The fools had even listed her room number, if not her name. Given the number was manually highlighted, Alex guessed his granduncle had known it was his wife's.

    He shared what he'd found with Jess, and they both agreed then. These people needed to be stopped, or there would be more cases like Elaine's of collections gone wrong. For all they knew, there already had been. They hid the back-up caches away in different spots, and made digital copies as well. It was as they were finishing up that Alex decided to check his Gruncle's Holociever for other messages.

    There were indeed more as his Gruncle had promised, including a smaller text based one for him, apparently. It read "Send these to their intended recipients lad. No peeking." There was one for everyone in the family, even his father, and he had to resist the temptation to open that one. He could only imagine what the old man had to say to him. He did as the note instructed, and knew it was likely to cause a stir in the main house.

    ________________________________________

    Once everything was ready, Alex and Jess agreed that they'd need to leave at the start of the summer. That would give them time to finish school, study with the Sage a bit more, stock up on items, and prepare disguises to enter Fornia with. The last few days of their break went by swiftly, and though parting again was sad, it was made bearable by the fact that they could, if needed, reach out telepathically to each other, despite the distance.

    Alex had an idea to solve the issue of distance, and after he'd helped her move into her room for the latter half of the semester, he began traveling south along the coast once more, heading the for the Swamp.
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      #27    
    Old July 25th, 2018 (1:52 PM).
    Sahqoreyth's Avatar
    Sahqoreyth Sahqoreyth is offline
    Pokefan1337
       
      Join Date: May 2018
      Age: 25
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      Chapter 23: Taunts and Tales and Teleportation


      ________________________________________

      The State's Eastern Coast – Jinia Town

      ________________________________________

      The first thing Alex had done on his way south from his subtle return to his Alma mater was return home, to show Eric the cache of documents their granduncle had found on the Arceans. Once he'd read through several, including those detailing what had happened to Elaine, Eric understood his brother's disdain for the group, and admitted he'd been skeptical about what Alex had told him a few days earlier about Norstad. It seemed like something out of a story, a cult that powerful, led by a man so blatantly evil, but he couldn't deny hard evidence when it was right in front of him. He still didn't buy into that bit about Thor though.

      He'd offered to go to Fornia as well, but Alex had convinced him to stay in Unova, to study, and run the lab instead. He also gave him a method of contacting Tao, and once he'd announced that the Redwood Lab was open again, something strange had happened. Applications from potential aides, who were really just students roughly Eric's age, came flooding in. Apparently, working at the lab of a Champion was a big deal, even if said Champion wasn't really running it. In fact, many people had started moving to Derrion Town, and the surrounding areas.

      Curiosity about their newest defender brought them, but they stayed for the gorgeous views, and clean air. Alex headed south again once he'd said his farewells to his family after a last home-cooked meal, and before he left his home region, he found Tao, who was helping to repair New Tork City, resting atop the Empire building, it was the tallest in the city, and gave a decent view of most of the Unova region.

      From up there, the damage from the 'civil war' became easier to see. It had been extensive, and expensive. Saboteurs were also still an issue, as what few Arceans remained refused to give up on their Prophet's dream of bringing New Tork down.

      ________________________________________

      Aside from that however, Tao had things well under control. Rosa and Nate were busy hunting the cabal down, and the sly dragon had informed his trainer that he'd ordered them to do so together because, once upon a time, he had helped Unovans find love, as well as balance. He had sensed that hunting the remaining Arceans would bring those two closer together.

      Hearing that from Tao had caused Alex to laugh for a full minute. Not just because after extensive discussion, Alex knew he had no conception whatsoever of what instinctual drive sparked most relationships, but because many Unovans had been waiting for that exact development. It was obvious to anyone that saw them together, except them, apparently. Hilda, he'd been told, had remained at the Plateau, and had a winning streak that was getting to be as long as his own. He'd rolled his eyes at that. He did actually lose battles. Sometimes. But never a six on six.

      He asked the dragon what his infinite wisdom said about his own romantic entanglement, but the First Dragon refused to answer. That, was when Alex proposed a trade of information. He claimed to know why Tao was having such a hard time remembering the so-called 'dragon tongue', despite having access to Alex's knowledge of it, and also claimed he could solve said problem. In return for wisdom.

      The dragon could easily tell when Alex was lying, but he'd agreed after a long few moments regardless. In this case, Alex wasn't bluffing. There was a benefit to being part psychic type, and sometimes, even Legendary Dragons needed an extra pair of eyes to see what their own could not. Through their mental connection, Alex had sensed a block on what he assumed was Tao's speech center, buried deep in his brain, and locked by…something. He also sensed his new Voice could remove said block, and make the dragon even stronger. Had it been any other Legendary, he might've paused, but the last Pokémon he worried about having more power was Tao. He had always ruled fairly. There was a reason Arceus had placed him in charge of an entire continent.

      ________________________________________

      Instead of shouting, Alex whispered a series of dragon-words into the ear slit of his white scaled friend, words relating to memory, blockage, and the recovering of such things. For a moment, the dragon's eyes turned half white, and half black, before swirling into a familiar circular pattern, and regaining their pure golden color. The dragon thanked his trainer, as that particular memory block had been a result of being torn in three parts for thousands of years. It had been nagging at him subconsciously for ages, but he simply hadn't noticed the block.

      He also quickly demonstrated that, while Alex may have had the Voice of a dragon, the First Dragon's would always be superior. He did more with one word than Alex ever could, but then, that was par for the course with Legendary Pokémon. That word had been 'Yol', and the torrent of fire Tao shot into the air around them burned hotter than any Flamethrower.

      ________________________________________

      What exactly he remembered of the past, he did not say. Instead, he addressed the knowledge Alex had wanted in regard to his own relationship. His response was thus: "To understand how I guide lovers to each other, you must first dismiss the fanciful nonsense your species has created around the entire institution. There is no such thing as a 'soul-mate'. The concept of 'souls' is an ancient, outdated, and entirely human one. The body and mind are always connected, not separate, and what affects one will affect the other. This is how all of existence functions. In Balance. This is why maintaining it is so important. Death. Un-death. Immortality."

      He grinned knowingly at his trainer, who rolled his eyes. "They all affect the body and mind in different ways. The reality of my ability is simple. I use my Divine Sight to gaze into the…core…of a human, and then use my psychic abilities to divine something about their strongest, and closest, potential match. Then, I lead them to each other. The result is usually positive. But there are always exceptions. Sometimes, running across another strong match can tear the first apart."

      He leaned down to his trainer, his massive golden eye towering over him as his soothing psychic baritone thundered in his skull. "You will be hard pressed to find a better match than that of fire and dragon. Though she may not have the typing, yours is as fiery a human as I've ever seen. She burns brightest in your presence, and you in turn are fueled by hers. It is a rare match. Cherish it, for it will not come twice."

      Alex pondered the dragon's words, and then finally bowed, thanking him for his insight. Evidently his opinion of Jessica Gladstone had risen during their training in his home dimension. It's not that he wasn't glad, he was more curious as to how he hadn't noticed, and then, slowly, he recalled the long hours he'd spent focused on perfecting his martial arts forms while his love and Tao had been off in the rock garden behind the temple. He'd assumed they were meditating, but evidently, they'd talked as well. It hadn't seemed strange, as the dragon had often isolated them from each other when teaching.

      ________________________________________

      Once Alex departed from the building, he continued on his way south, riding on Shruikan, who had never seen their home continent from the air. Not with his own eyes, anyways. The eastern coast of the States was, in a word, gorgeous. New Tork was not the only metropolis on the way south, but Alex had no intention of going near a city. He got enough challenges from flying trainers as it was. Something as unique as a Black Salamence would be mobbed in a foreign city. In Unova, the locals had quickly learned to associate the massive dragon with the Champion who rode on his back, clad in white. While many still wanted battles, far more often he was asked for autographs, or given Holociever numbers so he could set up future battles.

      Jinia Town was the largest town on the eastern coast, and the last one of significance before the Swamp. Alex hadn't stopped there last time, as he'd been in a rush, but this time, he decided to pay a visit. He rode in atop Leo however, though that didn't really do much to stay subtle. His golden-furred Luxray attracted almost as much attention as his giant black dragon. They stayed at the Pokémon Center that night, before heading further south towards the grassy plains north of the Swamp in the morning.

      He soon discovered that he was not the only returning trainer who wanted to continue south the next day. There were tons of other trainers, some he knew from the last time he'd been down here. They had made it to the Sage. The vast majority however, had not, and were new trainers who had been invited due to their skill, and not their station as Champion. Evidently, Oranguru had lowered the standards one had to meet to attempt to cross into the Swamp.

      ________________________________________

      Not only that, but Alex soon discovered, over a bowl of Leaf with several other Champions, that these new trainers were all given guides of some sort to the Sage himself, rather than wandering the Swamp aimlessly until they had a vision, or went mad from having too many. Eventually, Alex had, at the behest of the other primarily grass type Champions, singled out a girl, clearly from Unova, and used his 'natural charisma' to find out why she was here. Said charisma consisted of 'Hey', and the question 'What brings you down here?' He was clearly a wordsmith.

      It was clear she recognized him, and she even claimed that they'd battled once, but after a few hundred road battles, the faces start to blur. She didn't seem to mind his lack of recognition, and answered his blunt question about her purpose for being here, claiming that she had come to learn from the Sage. He was half tempted to ask why she hadn't gone to Tao instead, but he had a feeling that was none of his business, and wisely avoided prying.

      The returning trainees shared a look once Alex explained what he'd heard, and a few were understandably irritated. Getting to the Sage in the first place had been difficult for all of them, many had experienced their own personal hell as they'd relived past traumatic events, and come through them, again, unscathed. But now these new trainers, not even Champions, were getting a free pass to an island that had been cramped with a few hundred humans. Now, there would likely be thousands.

      ________________________________________

      They decided to head out at midnight, while the newbies slept, and found they weren't the only Champions with that idea. The returning students had figured space would be limited, and Arceus only knew how many had already reached the Sage. By the time their mixed group of flying types reached the Swamp's edge, the first light of dawn was filling the sky. Then, they saw her.

      The purple-haired woman from their last exam was standing on the open plains before the Swamp, arms crossed, her Dragonite by her side. She waved down the group of twenty or so Champions, and once they landed, she began explaining what they'd evidently missed in the two months they'd been gone.

      "I know many of you may have mixed feelings about these newcomers," she began, eyeing those who nodded at her words. Alex remained impassive, stone-faced. This woman had acted like a sifter before, separating the skilled from the unworthy. He had no doubt she was doing the same thing now. "Understand that they are here because they wish to learn from the Sage, and nothing else. They will not be competing to become his top student, though they have that option, many have chosen to avoid potential death, and simply be guided to the Sage."

      ________________________________________

      She looked ready to say more, but a familiar sound cut her off as a helicopter, blades whirring away with obnoxiously loud noise and wind, set down beside the group of Champions. They collectively groaned as they saw the symbol on the side of the machine, and Alex looked down, embarrassed. There was only one news network global enough to be interested in a story in this place. Naturally, they had a HQ in one of the largest tech-savvy cities on the planet. New Tork.

      Thankfully, it wasn't John Crimson who stepped out of the chopper, but rather a woman, blonde hair, curves in all the right places. The men amongst the group eyed her openly. Some looked away quickly, fighting their instincts. Others did not. Alex just chuckled, as he recognized the woman who'd been summoned by Joey after his first attempt at an interview. He couldn't really blame the others for staring, her cleavage remained glorious, but he'd already developed an immunity. Praise Arceus.
      The purple haired woman crossed her arms, and glared at the blonde. "We've already had this discussion. No."

      The blonde frowned, and then turned her gaze to the crowd of trainers, several of whom looked ready and able to 'assist' her in whatever way they could. A familiar feeling of 'oh muk' tingled up Alex's spine as he saw her eyes catch his hat, and then his face. She smiled, and waved obviously. "Champion! Alex Redwood! Remember me?" The group slooowly turned to look at the white and black clad trainer as Alex moved up to the two women.

      ________________________________________

      The examiner eyed him with a severe look. "You know this…floozy?"

      Alex gave the blonde a nod, and then met the examiner's sharp gaze. He had no earthly idea what a 'floozy' was, but knew a derogatory term when he heard one. "I do. She's from Unova. In fact, if it wasn't for her and her cameraman, I might never have run into Ghetsis at the PNN, Reshiram and Kyurem wouldn't have been freed, and Tao would not have been reunited."

      The cameraman in question was, of course, Joey who had evidently stopped training at the Dragonspiral tower, and was now outfitted with a camera on his shoulder. His Raticate had a similar device strapped to its back. The symbol of balance remained on his t-shirt, and his shorts, as always, remained the same. He grinned, and waved over-excitedly at Alex as he saw him. Alex waved back, smirking. He knew how badly Joey was crushing on his coworker. Evidently Tao had guided him, as well.

      The purple-haired proctor looked between the three of them, and then settled on Alex. That same nervous feeling returned. He had no idea why this woman always put him on edge. "They want access to the Sage, so they can…'document' his training with their devices."

      ________________________________________

      At that, Alex frowned. The last thing they needed at the compound was the distraction of being on live TV. Especially with so many new, untrained recruits. He turned to the blonde then, and met her gaze evenly. "Go home, Haley. I'll give you a story when I come back, but this…this place isn't for the modern world. There's no PokéMart in there. It's literally just a Swamp. A girl like you wouldn't last five minutes in there. The Krokoroks here are human eaters."

      "And this clearly dangerous Swamp is taking in thousands of skilled trainers." Haley countered, "The world has a right to know where their loved ones are disappearing to."

      Alex nodded. "It does. I agree, but this is something to learn about after the training is done. Not during it. You have my word, exclusive interview. With you, not John Crimson. But only after we're done in here. It could take a while, though, so you should go home, and find a better story. Like where the Swords of Justice have run off to."

      She raised a manicured brow at him. "What, they've disappeared?"

      He raised a not-so-well-kept brow at her. "Nobody has seen them since that Beheeyem invasion fiasco. Anywhere. They're not around Unova. If you really want to give people a story, find out where they've gone. We could've used their aid this year, no?"

      The blonde nodded, sighed, and then snapped her fingers. "Joey, we're going home." She glanced back at Alex as she left, and he resisted watching anything but the back of her head. The view was, of course, glorious, but he had never been an 'ass man' as his fellow males so eloquently put it. "You'd better keep your word, Champion."

      "When have I ever not?" Alex said as the chopper began taking off again, and headed north. He sighed. "Bloody reporters…"

      ________________________________________

      "They're not the only ones to try to enter." The woman said, once they could hear themselves think. "But I do appreciate you getting rid of them. They've been pestering me for two weeks."

      "You were about to tell us something else…?" Alex prompted, grinning.

      The purple haired woman brought her plain wooden staff down towards his head. By pure instinct, he caught it, and she seemed genuinely impressed. "Not bad. You've improved."

      Alex smirked. "I try."

      The staff spun with a blur, and he grunted as it slammed into his stomach. He'd seen it coming, but he wasn't nearly fast enough to block it. He was however, fast enough to tighten his abdominals to take the hit. It had moved past his guard far too easily. "Do. Or do not." The woman said, smirking down at him.

      "There is no try…" The Champions groaned, in unison. It was a lesson Oranguru had drilled into all of them. Painfully.

      ________________________________________

      "Right, listen up!" She began again, pushing Alex back to the front of the crowd. "Things are a lot different this time around. For you veteran disciples, you have the chance to gain access to the air space over the Swamp." The trainers shared a look. More than a few had been shot down by absurdly powerful Hyper Beams because they'd tried flying. "Don't worry, our snipers know who to target, and who to let pass…of course, this gift does not come free." She grinned down at them, and Alex noticed it was similar in many ways to the way Leo grinned at his prey before pouncing. He felt the large cat's ball hum on his belt. Evidently that was a compliment.

      "To gain access to flight in the Swamp, your task is very simple." The woman gestured to her Dragonite. "Beat him, and you may fly with the best." The Champions murmured again. This woman had been absent during their first stay here, but the few times she had appeared, usually after shooting down a student breaking the 'no flying' rule, she'd let her Dragonite battle some of the more eager Champions with their own dragons.

      While the absurdly proportioned dragon looked silly, its power had been monstrous. On the level of the Sage, or at least very close to it. It had taken down renowned dragon types with a single blow, usually a Dragon Claw. Naturally, this had made everyone even more uneasy in her presence. Alex stepped forward, smirking. "Challenge accepted. One on one?"

      The purple haired woman grinned. "No substitutions. Will you be using your Charizard? Or perhaps that lumbering black beast you rode in on?" Blaze and Shruikan immediately began arguing, via their telepathic link, over who would fight the Dragonite. Blaze had seen it first, but Shruikan needed the battle experience. They were silenced and shared their surprise with the examiner as Leo sprang forth from his ball, and snarled at the Dragonite.

      ________________________________________

      The woman raised both eyebrows, and walked towards the Luxray, who was sparking with electricity already. "I didn't know you had such a…fierce warrior on your team…oooh…his eyes are…uncannily similar to yours, actually." She said, looking up at Alex, comparing the two.

      Alex smirked, and his normally blue eyes turned red and gold. "They are, aren't they? I like his colors, too. Black and gold just…it just works."

      The look of awe at his Luxray's coloring faded, but the smirk remained. It was his turn to unnerve her with his gaze, and though she'd never admit it, a chill went up her spine. Those eyes had fire in them. "Dragonite. Go." She gave the command once she returned to her side of the imaginary field they were using. There would be no 'ring outs' here.

      Leo's form had begun to glow as she'd walked back, and the two fliers on their team protested. Leo had fought Kurama after all, and this Dragonite deserved to face a dragon. Leo roared as his saber-toothed Mega Form crouched down into a battle stance. "He who strikes first gets the meal…" Leo's mental voice growled to the other two. Alex chuckled, and his two overeager battlers quieted. It was too late to change now.

      ________________________________________

      Seeing his opponent had mega evolved, the Dragonite glanced at his trainer. She shook her head. Alex fought down his disappointment. He hadn't seen a Dragonite's Mega Form, and Dragonium crystals were exceedingly rare. If anyone had one though, it would be a trainer like this. He smirked at her. "Not a wise choice. Leo's Mega Form is…deadly."

      The purple woman rolled her eyes. "You'll excuse me if I'm not intimidated. He may have a unique color, but I'll bet he's spent most of his life fighting flying and water types. He's never faced down a Dragonite." Alex just shook his head. A Black Salamence was, in his opinion at least, far deadlier than a Dragonite, and Leo often sparred with Shruikan.

      Leo snarled at the woman's words, and she raised a brow. His new form's mane was, unlike his normal one, sleeker, though it extended under his jaw as well, not unlike a Pyroar's. Electricity shot through it, and it flared out. There was, in truth, a reason Alex had let his proud cat take the lead again. None of his team were as good at night battling, and though the sun was coming, the night was still their ally.

      ________________________________________

      The Dragonite assumed the battle was on, and launched forward, its fists encased in fire and lightning, one claw for each. Alex frowned, as Leo dodged the fire one. The electric claw hit, and he snarled in surprise and pain. Usually such attacks didn't damage him much, but then his trainer realized, these weren't actually punches. Fire and electric type energy had covered the dragon's true attack, Dragon Claw.

      He saw the purple haired woman moving her mouth, but no sound came out. The electric claw turned to ice, and he swore as he and Leo reached the same conclusion. She knew the dragon tongue. Normally, he didn't use it in battles, as it put a target on his back, and was unfair against trainers who couldn't power their partners up with their Voice. He did much the same with telepathy, though he kept their battle strategy silent, only shouting moves verbally.

      He whispered his own words, and the sky darkened again, as dark, ominous clouds rolled in from seemingly nowhere. His Luxray grinned, and melted into the much heavier shadows as an Ice Claw sliced through an apparition of his form. Then, like the night hunter he was, Leo came out of the shadows from seemingly nowhere, his massive saber-teeth wreathed in lightning. They sank into the Dragonite's bulky leg, and then the cat disappeared just as quickly.

      ________________________________________

      The woman frowned, but said nothing about his tactics. As far as using the Voice went, augmenting one's Pokémon was more of a legitimate rule violation than changing the weather. Plenty of Pokémon did that anyways, just by appearing. Leo struck again, this time with his claws. He and Alex had discovered that his bones were actually quite good at conducting electricity, and since his claws had the same composition as his teeth, they'd figured out how to use an entirely new move. Thunder Claw, they called it. He was still getting the hang of it without mega evolving, but in this form, Leo had no issues controlling his elemental typing.

      Three red gashes appeared across the Dragonite's chest, and it roared in frustration, then glanced back suddenly at its trainer. It nodded once, and Alex knew they were shifting strategies. "Careful, Leo…use a distance attack this time."

      While Leo much preferred physical attacks, his special ones were just as strong. He agreed with his trainer, and did as ordered. He didn't take opponents this strong lightly. A bolt of Thunder arced down from the sky, and the Dragonite hissed as he dodged it. The searing plasma had struck his tail, but it was a minor wound.

      ________________________________________

      Suddenly, the woman shifted her head, right towards where Leo was hiding. Alex had enough time to swear, and his lithe cat was already moving in the shadows, but they might as well have been in slow motion.

      The Hyper Beam tore across the grassy plains they were battling upon, and hit Leo directly. He began panting, and winced. It had hit his bulky abdomen, namely the muscles, and while nothing was broken, he'd almost been taken out in a single hit.

      The Dragonite was panting as well, and Leo took the chance to hit him directly with a Thunder. That was the downside of Hyper Beam. Monstrous power, but it left a Pokémon unable to dodge, or attack for a moment. In a battle like this, that was a dangerous strategy. Evidently, the examiner had expected it to take Leo down.

      ________________________________________

      She reached the conclusion the same time he did. Alex could see it on her face. The next hit would decide this, and he knew what move she'd be using. "Hold your breath…" Alex said, watching her. "She found you somehow, last time. Shield your mind, and hold your breath. Don't move."

      Moments passed, as the Dragonite waited, a smirk that mirrored his trainer's on his face. Alex growled softly. They were waiting for him to strike, but, they didn't know where Leo was. He hoped. "Use it." He finally said to his partner. They might as well try. Their spherical Taijitu attacks had stopped Hyper Beams before, after all.

      Leo powered up the Electro Ball, and Alex's Electrium flared from within his pocket. Leo would provide the dark type energy, as in this form, it was a part of him. The examiner narrowed her eyes. She had once mentioned her distaste for 'Z-Moves', after thrashing a particularly cheeky trainee on one of the rare times she'd visited. He had a feeling she didn't consider his new variant any better.

      ________________________________________

      Darkness formed one half of the condensed ball, and the Electrium flared, powering the other half. Leo swirled the energy in his maw, condensing it. That, more than anything, was what made these moves so deadly. Unfortunately, they were also a bit flashy.

      The Dragonite leapt into the air and hovered there on his tiny wings as the Hyper Beam built in his own maw, and Alex suddenly had an idea. Leo growled, but affirmed that he could at least try to do it.

      The sky boomed, and had the clouds not been overhead, Leo likely would've had a much harder time calling electricity down from it. Especially while he was trying to use a complicated move. The Thunder attack slammed into the Dragonite, and it gave a pitiable whine as the electricity struck its wings.

      ________________________________________

      The Hyper Beam shot at Leo then, and seemed to make contact, but after the smoke cleared, only a crater remained. Leo appeared behind the Dragonite then, not dissimilar to the way a Greninja did. The dual-typed Electro Ball was smaller than he could make it if he had time to properly focus and prepare, but it was still quite powerful. Powerful enough to slam into the Dragonite, and send it spinning into the soft earth below them.

      When the dust cleared, a crater with horizontal swirling patterns surrounded the fainted Dragonite, who was lying on the bottom. Leo landed, and let his Mega Form fade as he trotted towards his trainer. Alex fed him one of his preferred treats, and the large cat purred, then rolled on his back, expecting a belly rub.

      Alex obliged him, grinning, even as he felt the static charge run up his arms, and make his hair flair out. It was curly, so often it was deceptive as to how much he actually had up there, but when he pet his electric lion, it became quite obvious. He needed a trim. "How did you keep dodging, anyways?" Alex said, speaking mentally to his large cat. "You looked like that Zoroark for a minute."

      ________________________________________

      Leo didn't respond for some time, during which the purple-haired examiner healed her partner, and made her way towards the two. "I did what the fox did. Used dark energy to make an approximation of my image that's so lifelike, it can fool the eyes of a Luxray. I call them Shadow Clones."

      He purred as Alex broke into a laugh. "No. Just…no. Call them Anything but that. Please." Leo rolled onto his stomach then, purred against his trainer, and tapped his ball's button with his nose. He rather enjoyed the inside of his Pokéball, and he'd earned a nap. And he was definitely still calling them Shadow Clones. Alex sighed.

      Looking up, Alex noticed the examiner waiting for his focus to return, and once he stood, she spoke. "Well done…I admit, I didn't think you had a chance. Not without your Charizard, and a type advantage. You've improved while you've been away."

      Alex nodded. "I got some training from Tao and my Rayquaza…who should be here by now…but yea. I went to Norstad, too. Saved the world. Met some Legendary Pokémon."

      She gave him a smirk, and that feeling of nervousness returned. "So basically, the same thing every other Trainer did."

      Alex grinned. "It really is the best job in the world."

      ________________________________________

      A smile cracked the usually stone-faced woman, and she gestured to the Swamp behind her. "Fly on in. The others know not to shoot you down."

      As he stood atop his massive dragon's head, holding onto a head-spike that was taller than him, he could see he needn't have worried about Shruikan being able to fit in the Swamp. The Swamp's trees were gargantuan. They might leave a dragon-sized hole in the canopy wherever they descended, but he should be fine battling.

      The air above the Swamp was, surprisingly, full of trainers. Evidently, he really wasn't the only one who'd improved. The examiner had demonstrated early in their training that they had no chance against her, something the usually proud Champions had not accepted until they'd actually lost to her. Alex had been no exception. Now, it seemed, many had passed the test to earn the right to fly. He sensed many more trainers below, however.

      There were likely some who assumed they could follow the guides to the Sage without attracting attention, but Alex knew better. He'd spent three months in this Swamp, and had learned early on that the Swamp did what the Swamp wanted. There were no shortcuts to the Sage, not for those who, like the other Champions, had come to try and become his honored student.

      ________________________________________

      Shruikan, as always, gathered looks wherever he flew, and thanks to his size, they created a swathe through the many flying types in the air. More than a few looked irritated enough to attack, but a glare from the massive dragon usually made them think otherwise. Deciding to check on his 'home' first, Alex had the large dragon descend on the western side of the Sage's Isle, only to find that his home away from home was occupied.

      Alex felt Arthur's irritation rising, and sighed. He also spotted Red, and figured he could let the second most well-known trainer in the world give a chance to explain why his Mewtwo was sitting atop his wrecked home. The cat-like psychic type was meditating in the midst of the ruins of their little 'house' that had been made of wood, bark, and no small number of vines. A psychic barrier encircled the meditating Pokémon, who had evidently landed on the roof, and then pushed it downwards, demolishing everything.

      It was repairable, but it would never be the same. Hydrus was just as irritated as Arthur, and as the rest of his team noticed, all except Terra were genuinely mad that their sleeping space had been crushed by the Pokémon arrogant enough to claim to be as strong as Arceus. Red's Mewtwo was something of a legend, and after Blaine had passed on and given his ball to Red, the only trainer he trusted with Mewtwo, the psychic type had grown…vocal. And disobedient. There was a reason Red usually kept him in his ball.

      ________________________________________

      As Shruikan landed, he snarled at the meditating Pokémon, who opened one eye, and then the other as he did a double take. "You're going to pay for crushing our home…" Shruikan's snarls only made the Mewtwo smirk, and Alex patted his horn, before leaping down.

      "Peace, Shruikan…" he said, speaking to the dragon's mind. "This is Arthur's fight…"

      The dragon grumbled, but spoke to their Gallade. "Make sure my words ring true, sword-hands."
      As if in response, Arthur popped free of his ball. He'd been quiet on the trip south, and Alex knew Xerneas' words still rang in his head. The Sage knew who he was. Why had he not told him? That thought had steadily grown more and more irritating. Thus, now that they were finally here, he was ready for some answers, and was in no mood to deal with Red's Mewtwo.

      Blue psychic power surrounded Arthur as he walked up to Mewtwo, who blinked in irritation as the Gallade marched through his barrier. Arthur stared him down, his face an inch from the genetic Pokémon's. "Get. Out. I won't ask nicely again." There was a low 'oooo' sound from the few trainers besides Red that had come to, evidently, see what the Mewtwo would do next.

      ________________________________________

      Red came up to Alex who was already moving towards the two psychic types. "I'm sorry, he just…he randomly popped free of his Pokéball a few minutes ago and vanished. Then I found him here. I have no idea why he's doing this…"

      The Mewtwo gave his trainer a brief, irritated glance. "This does not concern humans. Go away. This is between me, and the little prince. The Dragonslayer." Mewtwo smirked again, and before anyone could blink, he was suddenly sent flying to his right, and everyone else's left. Arthur's Night Slash was humming, and radiating dark type energy.

      He glared towards the hole in the foliage the Mewtwo's body had caused. "I told you to get out." His right arm, the arm which had struck first, was shaking, and Alex blinked as he sensed his Gallade was dangerously close to losing himself to rage. Where had that come from?

      ________________________________________

      Given that their telepathy was being broadcast audibly, everyone noticed how mad Arthur looked. Around the compound he'd been, by far, the most active of Alex's team. Sparring every day, with humans, Pokémon, anyone really. He'd trained relentlessly, as he had been convinced that he was their team's weak link at the time, due to his inability to mega evolve. That was no longer the case now, though.

      This Mewtwo in particular had often mocked the Gallade, 'sparring' with him in his Mega Form, which gained the fighting type. Arthur had withstood the verbal abuse though, and kept his cool, something everyone had admired. The Gallade's noble demeanor and nickname had only irritated Mewtwo, and Arthur had become the focus of his irritation on a daily basis. It had been good training, but the harsh words often struck a nerve he had, until now, ignored.

      The other Champions around the area, evidently brought by Red, or just curious to see what his Mewtwo was doing, all visibly flinched as the genetic Pokémon's voice rang through the area. "So…you've gotten proper training…" The two sides of the Mewtwo-sized hole in the foliage were wrenched apart with psychic power. His eyes were shining blue, and the Mewtwo approached Arthur slowly, levitating above the ground.

      ________________________________________

      The gathered trainers, Alex included, winced again as the Mewtwo turned his gaze towards Red, lifted the human into the air, and forcibly drew a Mega Stone from his bag. They all knew which one it was. Mewtwo raised a finger, and Red's keystone activated the Mewtwonite X. He sighed contently, as he finished mega evolving, and flexed his larger muscles as he landed before the Gallade. "Go on then, little prince. Hit me with everything you have. Make your dead mother proud."

      Arthur's eyes flared blue, and the area between the two psychic types began to break apart as each one called on their power. Sparks flared as their auras brushed against each other. Arthur did not mega evolve however, despite being given the chance to do so. Mewtwo's eyes narrowed, and he began to form a sphere between his palms. Arthur did the same, and his sword arms were glowing gold.

      The gold light formed a similar orb between his palms as he condensed the energy into a sphere he knew his opponent could not match, and though Mewtwo's grew darker as he poured more of his awesome power into it, Arthur's only grew brighter.

      "ENOUGH!"

      ________________________________________

      The force of the psychic shout disrupted Mewtwo's concentration, but Arthur's held fast. He gave his opponent a grim smirk as the Aura Sphere Mewtwo had been forming vanished without his focus. The Foggy Swamp Sage descended through the canopy above them, staring down each fighter, before focusing on Arthur, who had kept the shining ball of power between his hands. "I said that's enough, Arthur…"

      The Gallade seemed to growl, but then paused as a single, massive claw rested on his shoulder. Shruikan brought his head down to the Gallade's level, and met his gaze, nodding once. Arthur sighed, and let the energy go.

      The Sage sighed, and pointed at Red, specifically one of his Pokéballs. A red light shot at the Mewtwo, who seemed ready to attack the Sage, but was forcibly returned to his ball instead. It shook violently, but the Sage's deep pinkish aura of psychic power kept it shut. He turned his gaze to the Gallade, and his trainer.

      "You two. Come with me."

      ________________________________________

      Alex gave a nod, and bowed, but the Sage had vanished with what he assumed was Teleport. He let the rest of his team out of their balls, and then turned to Red. "They're going to start reconstructing my home. Help them out, if you can, hmm?" He gestured to his wrecked hovel. "This is partly your fault." Red simply nodded, keeping the brim of his hat covering his face.

      Arthur gave Red a pat on the shoulder before following Alex. "Know that I blame your Mewtwo for this. I know you wouldn't do something like this with no provocation. You're a good trainer. One of the best, in fact. Many have failed to tame a Mewtwo. Don't let this incident keep you from trying. You'll reach him…eventually." Red met the Gallade's gaze for a moment, and then nodded.

      The walk to the Sage's chamber would take several minutes, and Alex spoke quietly to his Gallade as they moved. "Are you okay? I've never seen you that angry…"

      The Gallade flinched, a frown on his usually happy face. "I…I just…I have no excuse. I lost control, for a moment…I let his words get to me…"

      ________________________________________

      Alex stopped, and faced his Gallade, putting a hand on each shoulder. "Anyone would have. I know how much you liked meditating in your room, and I know my own emotional turmoil hasn't helped with yours."

      Arthur looked up, at that. "That's no-"

      Alex cut him off. "We've had a rough week, my friend. Focus on the positive. Nobody got hurt, and you kept your head, in the end. Which is good because that attack, which was incredibly cool, would've seriously hurt an Oranguru."

      Arthur looked down again, and sighed. "I don't know what it was…I just used Sacred Sword and pooled the energy…"

      Alex grinned. He'd thought that's what had happened. "We'll work on it. Now let's go."

      ________________________________________

      The Sage's compound was, they realized, much larger now. Several dorm buildings had been added, and several more were being built, just to accommodate all the new people. There was even a second mess hall, built onto the side of the first.

      The Sage's chamber seemed unchanged, at least. They found him where he usually was, meditating in his wooden bowl-throne, perfectly balanced upon one of Swamp Tree's roots. Alex reached out to the tree, grinning. "Hey, Swamp Tree."

      "Redwood, my man. Welcome back."

      The tree's voice was as casually chill as it always was. "Thanks Swamp Tree. How've you been?"

      A hint of sarcasm entered the tree's voice as it responded. "Pretty good, you know, pretty good. I've just been sitting here for two months. Being a tree. Winters over, so that's good. I love spring. It makes me grow taller."

      "Yea?" Alex said, resisting a chuckle. "Do you ever, y'know, consider maybe not growing? You're already pretty large, Swamp Tree."

      "Asking a tree not to grow is like asking the sun not to shine, Redwood. Trees gotta do what a trees gotta do." Even the Sage was smirking now, though Alex could tell he was trying to hide it. "You're one to talk. Look at you. Last I saw you, you could barely lift a pebble. You were smaller, too. What happened?"

      ________________________________________

      "I'll tell you all about it." Alex said, as he walked up to the throne, and bowed. Arthur did the same.
      The Sage opened his eyes, examined his student, and raised a brow. "So. A dragon. Well, nobody saw that coming, I'm sure." He shifted his gaze to one of the rafters in the hall, and the lead Passimian guard dropped down, and reluctantly handed over a very large, very juicy looking Sitrus fruit.

      Alex had a feeling he'd just seen the conclusion of some sort of berry bet. The Sage split the fruit in half, and offered some to Alex, who broke his piece in half, and gave some to Arthur. They munched quietly, sitting together as Alex recounted their adventures in the land of ice and snow.

      "So. Tao trained you to use your psychic powers, did he." Alex nodded, and the Sage sighed. "Well, he didn't teach you anything too damaging, so that's something. Besides, you showed control in Norstad. You could have that region worshiping you as a dragon-god hero, but you didn't stay."

      Alex nodded again. "Norstad's better off being led by a hero of their own. And, Jess was better at using her powers. She surpassed me during our training. She also had help from her partner. Mine refused to teach me anything because you forbade him from doing so."

      "For good reason," the Sage mumbled, "You had yet to unlock the other half of your potential. Now, we can move forward. Arthur, consider my ban lifted. Teach him whatever he wants."

      ________________________________________

      Arthur smirked, as did his trainer. "With respect master," he said, "I think you already know what he wants. He's determined to learn it from you, and if I'm honest…it's been a while. I've kind of forgotten how…and I wouldn't have the first clue about teaching it to a human…"

      The Sage raised a brow, and looked between the two. "Why? What does he wish to learn now?"

      Alex grinned. He'd been shielding his thoughts, and it was nice to know the Sage hadn't pried, though he had no doubt his mental defenses would be no match for his power. "I want to Teleport, master. It seems like something that could be incredibly useful, to a trainer. Especially one with a power base to manage."

      The Sage tossed the last of the fruit into his mouth, and raised a brow. "How?" It was weird, seeing his mouth occupied, and yet hearing him speak, undeterred by it.

      Alex blinked. "Well, for one thing, I could continue my duties as Champion, and study here."

      The Sage nodded, and then a look of understanding came over his face. "I see what you're after…it also lets you visit your woman. And anywhere else you can remember. Hmmmm." The large Pokémon stroked his chin, which had a respectable white-furred beard on it. "Very well. I see no reason to keep you from such a skill. You have proven that you can handle power. I'll expect you to bring her here, for training. If what you say about Pravus is true, she will need it as well, before you venture to Fornia."

      ________________________________________

      Learning to Teleport wasn't exactly difficult, as he was, after all, a psychic type. It was an ability most of them had, and one Arthur was glad to remember. It would be incredibly useful in a battle. The trick, as the Sage showed them, was to tap into the global field of energy surrounding their planet, and use their psychic power to move along it. It was, in actuality, quite simple. All you needed was a clear image of your imprinted destination, though Alex soon realized, he could only go to places he'd already been, and remembered quite well.

      That was fine, as it gave him a reason to travel the world. He'd gone back to his room once he'd gotten the hang of it, and while there, grabbed extra clothes, and shoved them into his bag. His shirt, pants, and robe didn't really need washing since they were clothes from Tao's world, but having extra underwear was always a good thing. He appeared back in the Sage's hall, grinning. "This…is amazing. Thank you, master." He bowed low.

      The Sage seemed amused that the human was so glad to get underwear. Naturally, the Sage didn't need any. Teleportation was something most unevolved psychic types did with ease. Seeing a human use it was interesting, but his student had no issues picking it up. Once he'd done it successfully, he had the move down. "Remember there's a limit to how many times you can use it. Don't forget. Or you'll have to spend time resting wherever you end up."

      ________________________________________

      Arthur glanced at his trainer once he sat back down, and Alex nodded. "Master, there's something else…when Xerneas thanked us for saving her, and her home, she told Arthur about his origins…or rather, she told him that you knew of them."

      The Sage sighed, but shifted his gaze to the Gallade, who was looking down at his crossed legs. "She was correct. Since the moment you arrived, I had a feeling, but seeing you both now…it's clear my instinct was spot on. I did not tell you because…the situation is…complicated."

      Arthur looked up at the Sage. "Who am I?"

      Oranguru usually prided himself on being emotionally distant. Unattached. Wise. But seeing this Gallade, the sadness in his eyes, the lack of understanding…it moved him in ways he thought he'd been immune to. "Settle in, both of you." The Sage said, "This is going to be a long story…"

      ________________________________________

      "Arthur, you hail from the land known as Albion. I'm sure you've heard of it. It's a nice place, really. Rolling fields of green, kind people, the weather is terrible, but then, that's just a part of living there. In actual fact, Albion is where your species first originated from, though you've all spread out over the eons. Your ancestral roots are in Albion, and you, young Arthur, were likely born there." The Gallade looked ready to respond, but stayed quiet. He needed to hear this.

      "As I said…the situation in Albion is…complicated. Fragile. You see, the humans of that land have lived there for uncountable millennia, but, unlike any other society on the planet, they actually allowed Pokémon to rule over them, and hold positions of governmental power. Specifically, your line, Arthur. You are, in my best guess, the Lost Prince of Albion."

      Arthur blinked. "What…? I…hmm…tell me about my mother."

      The Sage nodded. "Your instinct serves you well. Several years ago, there was…a shift in the balance of Albion's power. A group of humans, for no discernible reason, rose up against you and your family. I know for a fact that your line always ruled with the inherent grace and kindness your species is so naturally imbued with. These humans though…they had a benefactor. A woman in the shadows, pulling their strings. She became Queen once your mother was forced to run, with a Houndoom on her heels."

      ________________________________________

      The Sage sighed, and sank into his throne. "I will be honest…when they drove your mother to flee her home after they'd killed your father, I did not allow her to stay in the Swamp. She came to me with an egg, I'm assuming it was yours, but I could not let her stay. You see, to this day, there is a…dedicated…group of humans and Pokémon alike under the new Queen whose sole purpose is to hunt you down, and end any chance of the old line returning to power. Anyone who helps refugees of the 'royal family', is severely punished. I wasn't willing to start a war." The Sage kept his gaze on the floor. "I know that her egg hatched, and that she fled to Unova, seeking the protection of four Pokémon, three of which had, in the past, served her family."

      Alex broke in then. There was only one quartet that could possibly fill that role. "The Swords of Justice…but they've-"

      "Disappeared." Oranguru said, nodding. "I am aware. I know this much, young Arthur. Your mother fell to the hands of this group that hunts you, even now. I also know that shortly after she died, the Swords went missing. When you return to Unova, go to their grove. That is where my Future Sight led my gaze when I meditated on this. If there are answers, you will find them there."

      The Gallade glanced at his trainer, and Alex nodded. There was no question. Arthur was going to the Grove immediately, to remember what he'd forgotten. He teleported away, and Alex sighed at his master. "He never stops."

      The Sage smirked. "I know. I wonder who he gets that from."

      ________________________________________

      Later that night, as Arthur handled his business, Alex returned to his 'home' to find that Terra had seriously outdone himself with reforging their hovel. The design was essentially the same, but the combined mastery of the earth and water that made up the Swamp from Terra and Hyrdrus allowed it to be molded in ways humans could never dream of achieving. Not without years of work. It was even big enough for Jess, and had passable shelter from the rain that would no doubt come as summer approached.

      He recalled his tired team amazed at their work. Blaze and Leo had also helped sculpt the stone, so everyone was thoroughly exhausted, which was perfect, because Alex had a feeling his belt wouldn't be on all night.

      He was finally free to Teleport wherever he wished. His possibilities were limitless. He went to Alola first, and bumped into Percy at a restaurant their family had visited on an earlier trip. Percy suggested he get something for his lover, and deciding to actually trust the fairy type, he let his random, wandering gaze, and the universe, guide him. It was a trick he'd picked up from Tao. Once his eyes read the familiar, and hilarious words on the random package they'd settled on, Alex knew what he'd be getting her.

      ________________________________________

      "Thanks for the Tapu Cocoa." Jess said, smirking. He'd returned to the lady's dorm, only to find that her new roommate had invited her boyfriend as well. Naturally, Alex had enough to share.

      Her roommate smirked. "Yes, thank you…it's seriously good." She pouted at her partner. "He never gets me anything."

      Jess buried her face in his chest suddenly, and she stifled a giggle fit as Alex nonchalantly sipped his drink, and said, "I know what the ladies like." The boyfriend, whose name he hadn't been told, nodded, as he got the joke. Alex chuckled as well.

      They'd Teleported away then, as upon hearing he could take her anywhere, his better half had demanded to see Lumiose again, namely because she needed to shop or something. He didn't mind. The great thing about Kalos, he discovered, was that everyone was ready to battle, and with mega evolution. Those fights were always interesting. Especially since he was down to Hydrus and Terra, whose stamina was quite impressive. Everyone else was still tired from constructing their home again.

      ________________________________________

      This was how Alex spent those three months before Fornia. Training in the Swamp by day, and adventuring at night. He was battling tons of trainers, and seeing many battle styles. More than once, a wandering blackbelt had even challenged him to a battle of martial arts, and not Pokémon.

      Arthur, after returning from his Grove adventure, informed his trainer that there were many Gallade who were considered great knights in the Pokémon Leagues throughout the States. For a reason he kept private, he wanted to travel to those Leagues, and battle those Gallade. Having read the same legends Arthur had, Alex could guess why.

      The Sage had been right, as always. His species had a thing for tournament battling. Shruikan and Blaze helped expand the number of places they could teleport to, by the day. Alex was making a trail essentially, slowly reaching ever closer to Fornia. It was impressive just how massive the continent was, and he knew once he got in range of Fornia that he'd be battling Leagues all the way back to the Swamp. He wasn't trying to become Champion, but he did have a series of 6 on 6 wins against the Champions he came across.

      Jess was with him, of course, and despite being trained by Alex, Arthur, and even Delphi, she just couldn't grasp how they used Teleport. She'd the hardest time grasping the universal energy web that she was supposed to reach out to, and move along. She hadn't realized just how connected she was to the planet at large, and Alex teased her for it all the time. Being a rancher, he'd always known he was a part of larger, interconnected web of life.

      ________________________________________

      One night, they'd visited Percy, who'd heard about Jess' inability to learn Teleport. He gave them Tapu Cocoa, and had then told Jess that the key to understanding teleportation was, "Life…needs life to live." After giggling for a full minute, she'd poofed home, and then back again.

      Once she learned how to Teleport, Alex brought her towards the Swamp, as instructed. She was eager to learn, of course, but with their new ability to be literally anywhere at any time, they'd been rather distracted on the way down.

      With sudden access to places the world over, Alex felt less guilty about catching multiple partners. Being able to teleport, and only needing four hours of sleep, meant he could finally train his other partners, or at least tell his cousins to let them out. It was summer, after all. He'd found the right evolutions for each of the Eevee he'd caught together, and once they were all trained up, he set them to guard the ranch from the nearby forest. With powerful moves learned by way of TM, and perfected with training.

      At first, the proud group of genetic variants claimed to have better things to do, then they'd realized just how many reporters, tourists, rabid fans, and even wild Pokémon came around the Redwood Ranch lately, and would, if ignored, trample the wild Pokémon's homes. More than once a Pokémon intelligent enough to pay attention to human media had sought him out, for training. Sometimes they wished to be caught, other times, they left after learning to incorporate elements of the Dragon Style into their battles.

      His eeveelutions grew stronger as they battled off more and more people, but the two that shone strongest were his Espeon and Umbreon. He wasn't all that surprised. One guarded the ranch during the day, and the other took the night. Always their patrols were in balance. He was glad at least two had picked up his lessons.

      ________________________________________

      Alex gave similar tasks to his other partners as he had with the Eevee, and slowly, his family noticed that certain chores were just randomly being taken care of by his Pokémon. His Muk and Garbodor cleared the garbage by splitting it between themselves fairly, before wandering away to find more. His Machamp helped with ranching. His Squirtle and Bulbasaur tended the plants. He also knew that his cousins could find uses for those he sent over. More than once now, they'd bonded with the Pokémon in question, and he'd simply traded them.

      Thus, it was well into summer by the time Alex and Jess finally arrived at the edge of the massive Swamp. She too battled the dragon woman, and earned the right to fly in on her Articuno. Fo was quite large now, and had proven herself by beating down a certain Dragonite with ease. Once they returned home, Arthur had popped out, just in case a certain Mewtwo decided to make an appearance again. It didn't.

      ________________________________________

      Connor did eventually make his way to the Sage, and then back through the Swamp again to earn the right to fly. There was a reason Garchomp was feared, however. He'd smirked at Alex and his sister, who were in the middle of sparring, as he sliced down through the canopy of the island. Evidently, he'd been victorious against the Dragonite as well, and had also acquired power he supposedly wasn't ready for.

      Once Alex, Jess, and Connor had all arrived, finally, it wasn't long until Hilbert showed up as well. N remained nowhere to be found. Since Alex could Teleport now, Hilda didn't have to battle quite so many trainers, which had given her time to finally visit this Swamp her brother constantly pestered her about. She was surprised to learn that the Champion could travel so far so fast, and hadn't expected him in the Swamp, but her brother was glad she'd finally made it down.

      Naturally, the other Champions were quite eager to 'get to know' the girl who'd beaten down the original Team Plasma. When they asked Alex for an introduction, he'd smirk, and send them to Hilbert. He knew how that would end. The elder twin was overprotective, and ruthlessly strong.

      ________________________________________

      Once everyone had finally returned, they were almost halfway through the summer. The Sage gathered his first generation of pupils, and told them, and other worthy disciples, why so many regular Trainers had been allowed to the Swamp. They weren't unskilled persay, they just hadn't all won a League yet.

      Part of proving one could be the honored student of a Sage was being able to teach, as well as learn. In fact, often the advanced lessons on inner peace were based solely on how well you could train a pupil.
      Alex had been doing this already, in a fashion, and once he had time, he'd organized the trainers who wanted to learn from the man who'd united the Unovan Dragon. A change happened in the training ground over the next few weeks.

      ________________________________________

      Some Champions had convinced others to learn from them, but the more Alex taught about balance and especially the martial arts of the Dragon Style, and how they were related, the more trainees he had who were both newcomers, and old Champions. Everyone was eager to learn 'Kung Fu', which was where Connor had chimed in.

      His meteoric rise to the rank of being able to fly had been impressive, and he too claimed that he could teach Kung Fu. Apparently, he'd also said the Tiger Style could easily beat the Dragon, but Alex hadn't much cared. His disciples spoke for themselves. It also helped having Jess around, for her skills were almost as good as his. When it came to using psychic power however, he was entirely outclassed.

      In truth, he'd essentially copied Tao's method, though it would take much, much longer on this plane. Some students didn't care however, and went weeks without rest, determined to master everything they could be taught.

      Those were the disciples who soon unlocked a second typing, like their mentor had. Dragon and psychic was rare enough that Alex was the only human around the Sage's compound who'd had that combination. He also soon noticed that the Sage didn't care if his honored disciple was a psychic type or not. He trained and groomed many trainers personally, and Alex gained a bad habit of beating them in battles of Pokémon, and fist.

      ________________________________________

      Eventually, Oranguru had Alex battle his longtime neighbor, and the scarlet headed Champion had grinned at the offer to battle. He opted for a battle of fists. Evidently, he knew how a six on six would go. The so-called 'masters' of the Tiger and Dragon styles met on the Pokémon field towards the back of the island. It was surrounded by bamboo dorm buildings now, and almost felt like a stadium.

      Connor summoned his Raikou, and Alex rolled his eyes. Evidently, he wanted his mentor to watch. That was fine by him. Tao appeared in a psychic Teleportation flash, towering over Alex. The massive white and black dragon grinned at the tiger-like Legendary. This was a bet long in the making.

      As the two humans clashed after sharing a nod, it soon became obvious who the more skilled fighter was. Alex hit Connor's balance points with every move, and the explosive strikes, which made the tiger so deadly, simply couldn't hit his opponent in return. The Champion of Unova was a black and white blur. He moved like water, and struck like thunder. He almost reached for his staff, but Connor hadn't allowed that.

      ________________________________________

      Seeing defeat looming, Connor had flared his second typing's power, and as fighting type energy claws formed around his fists, Alex smirked at him, and mouthed a word in the tongue of the Dragons.

      "Dovah."

      His eyes went from the bluish purple of the dragon typing, to the pure white of psychic. His power flared, and then condensed around his form, and the smirking dragon launched forward again, as he began to, finally, attack without pulling his punches. Everything thus far had been a warm up.

      Though Connor scratched his opponent many times, his claws never seemed to leave much more than a few marks, and each time Alex struck in return, Connor nearly doubled over. He glared at his rival, and wondered when he'd gotten this good.

      ________________________________________

      Connor flared his fighting type aura again, and as he did, it turned yellow, and began sparking with electricity. Alex's smirk grew as he recognized the trick Thor used in battle. "Really? Are we going there?"
      Connor grinned. "Come and find out." He dropped into his stance again, and Alex sighed. His opponent didn't seem to get it.

      Though the Kalos Champion's muscles had grown exponentially, he was simply not fast enough for the advantage Teleport gave to his opponent. Each strike from the 'dragon' slammed into his target, and given that he had limited uses of Teleport, he didn't pull his punches. There was a reason he preferred fighting with a staff.

      As his fighting type energy faded, revealing just how hurt his body was, Connor grinned at his rival, who remained seemingly immune to the bloodless slashes all over his face, chest, back, and legs. "Alright, I give. I know when I'm beaten."

      ________________________________________

      Alex let the power fade, and smirked at his rival. "You have much learning to do." The numerous slashes sparked as the skin sewed itself closed, and the tears in his robe sewed themselves shut. He stretched then, and glanced at Tao, who glanced at Raikou, who snarled in irritation.

      The large tiger stalked over, and placed something at Alex's feet. Ghost, Dark, Steel, and Fighting type crystals. Each flared as Alex connected to them, and lifted them up via telekinesis. "Thank you. We should battle again in the future. I still need more of these." The tiger glared at the human, and then blinked, as Tao snarled at him in return.

      He stalked back to Connor, and returned to his ball without a word. He'd had enough of draconic smugness for one day.

      ________________________________________

      The dragon had followed him back to his 'home' of course, and watched him pocket his new prizes. "You should have Arthur bond to them. And there is more to know, before you set off for Fornia."

      The retrieval of these particular plate crystals had been the final step in their plan to leave. The Swamp was unbearably hot, as it was the middle of the summer, but they knew Fornia would be hotter. Alex had mentioned that they planned to look at Albion, assuming they survived Fornia, and the Dragon hadn't missed a beat.

      Arthur had practiced forming 'energy balls' of many types now, but only ghost and psychic ever really worked. Once he had access to a fighting crystal, his 'Excalibur Sphere' as he called it, was easy to use. Especially in his Mega Form. He knew he needed to be stronger than Mordred. He'd read the legends, and, he remembered just how close their first encounter had been.

      ________________________________________

      Once he'd bonded to each, and formed spheres with each, he'd returned to his ball to continue practicing. It was safer in there, and it was designed to help his power grow. Perfect for training. Alex and Tao chuckled at his behavior. He really was always on the move.

      Jess had been busy gathering crystals as well, like Steel, Water, Electric, and Grass. They would need to find more before reaching Fornia, but they'd manage. It was no secret that the regions Fornia controlled were literally brimming with ancient stones and fossils. Archaeologists were more than willing to join the Church, if it meant discovering and reviving an extinct species of Pokémon.

      Scientists had hypothesized that the Stoney Mountains were some of the first places Mew began to copy DNA from. Life flourished in those regions, but the Arceans kept a lock on all of it. One thing Alex was looking forward to most, was finding all those new species nobody had yet been able to freely catalogue.

      ________________________________________

      Tao looked between the two trainers, and sighed. "You're ready to leave, and yet you aren't disguised." Jess smirked at the dragon, and summoned the fairy type energy from her crystal. Ever since being immortalized by Xerneas, she'd had a knack for using it to disguise things, which was good, for she had no Pokémon that could make use of it. Yet.

      With a wave, their appearance changed, and they gained the dark tanned skin, and golden hair so common in the Fornia region. At least among Arceans, which was who they were trying to infiltrate.

      ________________________________________

      The dragon nodded, seemingly satisfied by their attempt at disguise. "Very well. The first thing you'll want to do is gather the other plate crystals. If you do that, Pravus will never overpower you. Next, comes having Pokémon who can use those crystals."

      Alex nodded. He had a Pokémon in mind. Tao and Oranguru had told him to get another four Pokémon, to make his total ten. His original six would be used for full battles, and the other four would be useful in Fornia. He fully intended on training the new four just as hard, however. He needed battle-hardened partners who could use the other crystals in his possession. Jess was still trying to decide what she wanted for her team, but Alex already had his first pick. He needed an Aron. An Aron from the mountains around his home region, of course.

      He had no hesitation, for he'd heard rumors of the way the World Tournament was supposedly structured. It was rumored trainers were able to use ten partners, and any move they could learn, had learned, or would learn. There was no four-move limit in that tournament, mostly because everyone who qualified already had Pokémon that could use over four moves. Evidently, Alex's hadn't been the only team to be remembering more.

      ________________________________________

      It was as he began searching the mountain closest to the ranch, and caught the gaze of a particularly ravenous Aron, that he knew he'd found his partner. He needed an Aggron that was powerful, and hungry. It was literally the key to his plan working. He offered the Aron an Ultra Ball, once he'd convinced it that it wasn't food. The little Pokémon asked to see his team.

      They appeared behind him, grinning, and the little steel type's eyes widened as it saw just how outclassed he was by his new teammates. Hydrus terrified the little one, but the others he didn't mind. Blaze was only slightly impressed at how fearless the little Pokémon seemed around him. Steel types usually took one look at the Charizard and refused to battle. His flames often turned blue against real opponents.

      Alex knelt down to the still-chewing Aron, and smirked. "Come with me. The time is right. There's no better team." The Aron blinked, and then pushed the Ultra Ball button, which dinged shut. One down. Alex smirked at the ball. "I'll call you Cenomons."
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        #28    
      Old August 29th, 2018 (9:00 PM).
      Sahqoreyth's Avatar
      Sahqoreyth Sahqoreyth is offline
      Pokefan1337
         
        Join Date: May 2018
        Age: 25
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        Chapter 24: Rise With The Storm

        ________________________________________

        Northern Unova – Unova University

        ________________________________________

        Once Alex had his Aron, he'd visited his brother, who was in the middle of a summer-long experiment at the University's lab. He looked around as he entered the lab building, and he felt his team drawing his gaze towards one of the lab's habitats. Then, he saw why.

        It was an Amaura, clearly a hatchling, and it was as white as the snow within its habitat. It looked to have once produced berries, like the other Amaura and Aurorus habitats nearby, but evidently the little one had frozen all of it.

        Each of his team told him to go to the little one, and Alex approached the Pokémon, and reached out to it in a manner not unlike a Ralts, with emotion. Good feels flowed into the shivering Pokémon, and that was when Alex noticed. This Amaura was pure ice type.

        ________________________________________

        "He's the most recent hatchling in this line that we've been breeding specifically for Special Attack power. Moreover, like most 'fossil' Pokémon these days, the rock typing impurities have been lost. We have their entire genome, finally." Eric said, approaching as he noticed his brother, staring at the tiny Pokémon.

        Alex smirked. "My team insisted that I pet him. He doesn't seem to mind." Indeed, the habitat had started to look slightly greener since the trainer had started scratching the hatchling. The sounds of enjoyment the little male was making were adorable.

        He'd almost thought it was female, but had then noticed the tips of the frilly ridges along its neck. They were more of a deep blue, rather than pink. There was that, and the electronic sign on the door of the habitat that had listed his gender with true Pokédex accuracy. The ridges had been pure white a moment before, but the blue was actually working nicely with the pure white of the skin. He was adorable.

        ________________________________________

        He felt Terra give the mental equivalent of a nudge. "Can we keep him?"

        Alex smirked. His team was becoming clever. They knew he'd be reluctant to take an ice type because of Terra's dislike for it. Having him ask, was supposed to remove that hesitation, apparently.

        He spoke directly to his first partner then, and gave him the mental equivalent of a stare, with his third eye, for a long moment. "They freeze the air around them, and you heard Eric. He'll be strong. Are you sure you want an ice type like that around?"

        Terra seemed to chuckle. "If I did not, I would not have asked." He rolled his eyes. "Humans."

        ________________________________________

        Eric handed the Pokémon an Oran berry as Alex's focus snapped back to his surroundings, and the little long-neck stared at the lab-coated student, motionless. Alex scratched the spot under his chin again, and then gave him a Sitrus berry. It made adorable sounds of enjoyment as it devoured the fruit, and Alex smirked at his brother. "Is this the first time he hasn't frozen what you've given him to eat?"

        Eric rolled his eyes. "We get it. You're psychic."

        Alex smirked. "You don't need psychic power to know a hungry hatchling. Where's the mother?"

        Eric's expression grew dark for a moment. "Frozen. Passed on. The others abandoned him after that. He needs a social learning environment, or he's going to end up losing control of that power. He needs to learn his limits, and not fear it…"

        The Professor-in-training paused, as he saw his brother's smirk shift to a grin.

        ________________________________________

        "No."

        "Oh come on!" Alex said, chuckling as the tiny Pokémon rolled on its back, and demanded a belly rub. Leo had joined him, for that. They all enjoyed their trainer's hand scratches, but sadly, they all could not fit in the lab. "Look at him, he needs us. And, I need an ice type. As well as my crystal."

        He looked at Eric, and Eric sighed, pinching his brow. After a moment, he pushed his glasses up, and the lighting in the lab turned them white. Alex resisted laughing. "Fine. He's yours. But I expect regular reports on his health. I'll get your crystal." Since returning from Norstad, he'd had three whole months while Alex was off 'preparing' to study it. Evidently, it had come from a village of Articuno riders. He'd supposed if anyone would have shards of an Ice Plate, it would be such a village.

        Alex was painting a Luxury Ball in the white and blue colors of his new partner, who seemed eager to enter the ball for some reason. Finally, he booped his nose against the button, and it dinged shut immediately. It twitched in his hand then, and made sounds of enjoyment as the little Pokémon ran around within his new home. Alex smirked. Hatchlings. At least this one wouldn't eat his ball. Four times.

        Cenomons, or 'Ceno' for short, was now in a Heavy Ball, one that had stood up to his jaw strength. Evidently the Ultra Ball had been unacceptable, so the little Pokémon kept eating through them until his trainer got the message. Alex had brought him into the mental 'web' that made up his team, then and the little one learned to use words, rather than brute force. At least with them.

        ________________________________________

        As Eric finally returned, crystal in hand, he eyed the newly painted ball. It wasn't so much 'paint' as it was using a stylus to draw, color, and pattern Pokéballs to suit their trainer's preferences. Naturally, the woman who'd invented this tech had made a fortune when the Pokéball companies bought it from her. By this point, it was standard with most balls. Styluses were, of course, sold separately.

        Alex eyed the Icium crystal, and Eric sighed again as he handed it over. "Don't teach him anything ridiculously powerful right off. His affinity for special attacks is…off the charts." Alex rolled his eyes, and his brother glared at him. "Seriously. Don't teach him Ice Beam until he learns it on his own."

        Alex smirked, and gave Leo a scratch. The large cat had come for the belly rub, but had stayed, waiting for a moment like this. He gave Eric a feral grin, and the Professor-in-training shifted uncomfortably as he recalled how well Leo had handled such attacks.

        Alex smirked. "I think he can handle it. If he can't, I'll teach him." In reality, he was planning to let the little one mature a bit. Pokémon grew faster than humans, as a rule, so a few weeks wouldn't be too long of a wait.

        ________________________________________

        Eric raised a brow. "Teach him what? Those overpowered C-Moves?"

        Alex held up a finger. "No. Just no."

        Eric's brow rose higher. "But the 'c' is for cryst-"

        Alex's finger pushed against his brother's nose, booping it. "I said…No."

        The younger brother waved his sibling's finger away in disgust. It reeked of Leaf. Of course he'd had a bowl before coming. Typical Alex. "Fine. Tye-jee-too moves." He mumbled something about 'foreign moon languages', and then his gaze fell to the crystal. "Do you really need it so soon? We're learning so much. That thing literally gave us the perfected Aurorus genome. I touched it to mine, and it turned pure ice type. It literally rewrote strands of DNA. With a touch! It's incredible."

        Alex shrugged. "I'm sorry, I need it back. It's high time we got to Fornia. We've given Pravus far too much time with…whatever he managed to escape with."

        Though he'd gone over the events a hundred times, Alex still couldn't figure out why the Arcean Prophet had retreated. He'd gained the upper hand with his Gigalith, and then just vanished. It defied logic. Most likely because Pravus knew something he was as yet unaware of. Finding out what he'd learned or retrieved was their main objective. For now. And it required quite a bit of stealth.

        ________________________________________

        Eric pushed his glasses up by the center rim, and sighed. "Alex, those crystals are shooting pure Arceus-level creation energy into the Pokémon who use them. For attacks, and for evolution. It can't be healthy."

        "If it isn't, we'll soon find out." Alex said, eyeing his new Pokéball, as he teased it with his mind. It glowed blue, and was rocking slowly. The hatchling within was already sleepy. After going so long without food, or family, he needed a nap. "I've been monitoring those using the crystals for evolution for a while now. Where I can, anyways. There's rumors of problems with Mega Evolution in general, but I can never find anything solid on it. When and if there is a case, I'll deal with it. Personally. Then I'll stop it from repeating."

        Eric stared his brother down. "And what if your 'case' ends up being unfixable? What if every case results in a death? Will it be worth the risk then? What if it can't be fixed?"

        Alex smirked at his brother. "Can't? There is no can't. There is no try. If something needs to be fixed, I'll find a way to fix it. It's that simple."

        Eric sighed at his brother. "Tell your Sage that giving you Teleport was a bad idea." Alex smirked.

        ________________________________________

        Several Days Later – Victory Plateau, Unova

        ________________________________________

        Alex waited patiently at the top of the Victory Plateau. He'd Teleported in five minutes ago, and this Challenger was still walking up the stairs. The Unova League tournament had just ended, and this summer's newest hotshot had fast tracked his way to the Champion. Through the Four.

        Five minutes became ten, and though the wind howled across the barren battlefield, Alex didn't mind it. It was cold on the plateau, true, but Norstad was much colder, he could wait hours up here, despite the relatively hard wind. It was rather nice, when you had it to yourself. Finally, the Challenger came in, looking confident. They always did.

        Being the Champion of the hardest League in the world, Alex had the option to give his challengers a choice.

        ________________________________________

        Battle six on six against his team, and claim victory over the entire Victory Plateau, or, battle six on one…against the Unovan Dragon, and become the Champion. Given that they had enough Champions already, Tao had come up with this system early on in Alex's reign, and nobody in the League had objected. Tao knew what having too many Champions could do, and even Hilbert had agreed that there were enough, for their League at least. The Victory League was not the only League in Unova, but it was the strongest.

        All who fought the Dragon, lost. Alex refused to battle them again immediately after that, not that the six on six match would've helped. Alex's team was, supposedly, just as strong as Tao. Stronger even, if one believed such rumors. Most Challengers went for the dragon, however, always staring blankly in surprise as their Master Balls failed to capture the dragon that already had an 'owner'. It was depressing how many trainers with enough skill to beat the Four opted to try for an easy victory to claim the title of Champion. Those, did not get invites to the Dragonspiral Tower.

        What few Challengers that did decide to battle Alex, or whichever Champion was available, also usually lost. Both Hilbert and himself had perfect records in such battles, and often, trainers were sent home, or to the tower. Some came solely because they'd heard that was one way to receive training, and both Alex and Hilbert had told the others that those trainers especially should be sent to the tower. The desire to learn was usually a good thing, and they left it to Tao to sift the worthy from the unworthy.

        ________________________________________

        Others, simply wanted the prestige beating the Victory Plateau's Four would bring them. A record like that, especially with a win against a Champion, could open doors for a Trainer. Alex's own record had caught more than a few eyes over the past several months, as he had many wins. He'd stopped keeping track of them ages ago, but evidently one of his devices was just automatically recording the numbers.

        Hilda had all but ordered him to start 'marketing himself', and once he realized just how much demand there was for random Champ-themed merchandise, for some reason, he'd allowed her 'marketing guy' to start 'selling his image' or whatever. Evidently, that meant giving him shelf space next to the other Champions on the Join Avenue.

        He didn't understand half of the obscure business-like nature of selling these random products, so he'd left it to the strange man who seemed to gleefully enjoy and revel in it. As long as the impressively large paychecks kept coming in from the sales, he didn't mind doing the occasional cameo in Pokéstar Studios, either. Whenever the strange man called, it was usually with such an offer. Or to talk about how great his shorts were.

        ________________________________________

        Finally, the Challenger crested the top of the stairs, but before Alex had a chance to speak, the trainer on the opposite end of the field spoke first, as he stepped into the light, and pointed a finger at the Champion. "I want you Redwood. Not the Dragon."

        Alex glanced at the trainer harder. He seemed familiar…and then the Emboar on his undershirt, below the black leather biker jacket, reminded him. The kid from Aspertia, with the Tepig he'd passed over for Terra.

        He hadn't lost any of his protagonistic charm. The flame tips of his hair were now done all the way to the roots. He'd acquired black sunglasses, and Alex didn't need psychic power to know he had a motorcycle downstairs.

        ________________________________________

        Alex shrugged, still clad in the robes from Tao's otherworldly tower. "Fine. Single or double? I don't do triple battles up here, or any of that rotating nonsense…sometimes, less is more."

        The flame haired kid, who had to be fifteen going on sixteen, swiped his thumb across his nose, and smirked. "Double, then. Doesn't matter, I'll crush you in any battle!"

        Alex rolled his eyes. Then again, for all he knew, he was about to be blindsided by a plot armored protagonist. He kept his guard up, suspiciously. The kid was only normal typed…still, he had managed to beat the Four.

        Alex had recently begun to help each of them, including Nick, to embrace their inner power, and gain the ability to use plate crystals. Then, he'd taught them how to do one Taijitu move. The others, they would need to learn on their own, if indeed they could learn them at all. Most trainers seemed to be able to handle one or two.

        Down in the Swamp, it was another story. Everyone there was a professional, and almost all of them had every kind of plate crystal. Alex hadn't believed there were so many crystal users in one place, until he'd lost several matches to trainers who outmatched him because of their versatility with attacks and combinations, all fueled by crystal power.

        ________________________________________

        Alex had surmised that there were only a limited number of types, and thus, a limited combination of balanced energy attacks. Some, like fire and flying, he'd discovered, had simply been incompatible. Blaze could power up his Flamethrower with the flight crystal, but forming a balanced sphere of fire and air, was quite difficult. The result was usually an explosion.

        Many trainers had begun to spread word of what this supposedly super-strong Champion had on his team, and he knew there would be trainers designed to break him, but that was what his other four were for. Honestly, they needed the experience more than his original six.

        They were his best kept secret, though they were still quite young. His newly evolved Lairon had lived up to his name, and devoured everything he could in the obscure, un-mineable mountains Alex discovered via Teleport. He'd needed quite a bit of metal to evolve, but there was always metal being formed on this planet. The humans of this era did not want for resources.

        The Aron species was often where builders got their materials from. They literally shed metal, and were quite good at battling. It was just common sense to have them around work sites. There were more than a few decent trainers who also worked construction.

        ________________________________________

        Focusing on the Challenger again, Alex shrugged. He hadn't noticed that he'd been silent for a good minute. The intimidation factor was starting to wear off as the Challenger waited, impatiently.

        Hilda and Rosa always gave him crap for not being 'menacing enough' to scare off most challengers. Back when Kanto had held the title for 'hardest League in the world', Lance, their leader, had been shrouded in mystery, and dragon types. The Champions who beat him were likewise rumored to be strong. After battling against Red in the Swamp, he understood.

        He decided he could always attempt the 'edgy but cool' thing Lance and even Gary Oak had done, at one time, and this poor kid would help spread his reputation. He'd send him to Tao, as well. He'd be fierce, with a bit of training.

        ________________________________________

        "Very well. A double. That'll make it shorter." The flame kid's smirk faltered, as he saw Alex's. It was way too confident.

        A flash of green and black came from the belt of the Champion, and he spoke to his team, "Hold off. Let's see if this one is worth evolving for." He could hear the cameras whirring around them as they floated into the air, and began recording.

        The League ref's voice came over the intercom, hidden both out of sight, and away from anything the Champion could break. "This League match will be a Double Battle. The Champion may not substitute. The Challenger may do so as often as he desires. Begin!"

        "Verrignus! Leif! Go!" The same Emboar from last time appeared alongside a Leafeon now. They both looked strong, but Alex saw no reason to worry. Terra and Shruikan were quite tough, and made an excellent team.

        ________________________________________

        "Flamethrower."

        Shruikan flapped into the air, and as he bathed the plateau in flame, Terra looked unfazed. Ground types could handle fire easily, and this wasn't directed at him. The air became distorted by the heat. The Leafeon countered with a Razor Leaf, only to find that in the new heat of their battlefield, the leaves were all but useless, as they turned to ash halfway across.

        That applied to Terra as well, but that didn't matter much for this battle. He wasn't using Razor Leaf, or kid gloves. "Earthquake." Alex spoke again, and his starter reared up onto his hind legs, before coming down. The force of the slam shattered the ground. Massive, steaming boulders rocked both of their opponents.

        "Verr, punch the boulders!" The Emboar turned, smashing them apart with Brick Break as the attack rocked him. He managed to take less damage, but his Leafeon partner was down. "Bufo, you're up!"

        ________________________________________

        A Seismitoad appeared next to the Emboar now. "Hyper Voice!" Alex tried not to smirk, and failed.

        The large frog's seismic tones were rather impressive, as they shattered the rest of the boulders, flattening the field once more, and while his Voice was untrained, it was actually somewhat strong. The Emboar ignited his fists on the flaming beard around his chin, and charged as his trainer pointed at Terra and shouted, "Fire Punch!"

        "Aerial Ace."Alex kept his arms crossed as he gave the orders, and stayed completely unreadable. Both Terra and Shruikan knew many moves, so did his entire team, but usually he tried to limit himself to four. In League battles, at least.

        Thunder boomed through the clouds above the plateau as his enormous black dragon arced down, and slammed the fire pig, hard, with a type advantaged move. His punch never even came close to searing his scales, such was his speed, even with all his added size. The darkness of the night also helped. Shruikan was quite hard to see, when he didn't want to be seen.

        ________________________________________

        The Emboar smashed into what was left of the stairs Challengers ascended to reach the plateau, and Alex sighed. Aside from not being menacing, constantly breaking the plateau's marble foundations was another thing he received crap for. He could fix the earth of the field itself, but marble and stone were different. Apparently. He took Terra's word for it.

        "Energy Ball." Terra's attack shot towards the Seismitoad, who managed to catch it for a moment with the vibrations from his hands. It eventually overpowered him however, and he too went sailing backwards, unconscious.

        Alex glanced at the fainted pair of Pokémon. He knew one of them was the kid's starter, and when your first Pokémon went down, it usually meant the battle was as good as done. He'd been wrong before, though.

        ________________________________________

        "You can back out now, if you like. Your record will still have four victories on it. Nothing to sneeze at, since they're from this League." The Champion still had his arms crossed, as he waited for the trainer's response.

        "I still have three left-"

        Alex cut him off. "That's your first Pokémon lying by the stairs there. Do you really want to make your other three fight a battle your strongest couldn't win?"

        The spiky, flame haired kid called his three out then, and Alex eyed them. A Noivern, Weavile, and Aegislash, all fairly strong. He had to admit, the kid's team had most of the types covered for. It was balanced well.

        "What do you guys think?" The kid asked, as the three eyed their opponents.

        ________________________________________

        Alex gave the command, mentally, and had to resist a smirk. "Rise with storm, my 'Viking Gods'." It was the nickname Percival had given the pair when he'd wanted a double battle, thinking it would be any different from a single. Given that it had been practice, they had decided against mega evolving. Terra had actually fainted, as he usually did against ice trainers, when he didn't mega evolve, but Shruikan had won the day in fiery retaliation.

        The plate on his Salamence's chest flared, and his form became that of a Mega Salamence. The storm clouds around the Plateau increased in size and darkness. The heavens thundered at his arrival, and his roar was just as loud and intimidating as the fury of nature. Terra was similarly changed as the light from the Grassium shot into his form, and mega evolved him.

        One roared, and the heavens roared with him. The sky flashed, and the massive form of the Mega Shruikan glared down at the three remaining Pokémon. Terra, for his part, slammed the plateau with his clubbed tail, shaking the entire conical mountain their League was perched upon. The very earth felt ready to shatter under the power of that Torterra.

        ________________________________________

        Whatever enduring confidence the kid's team had, vanished in the face of these masters of the earth and sky. These battles were as much a head game as they were a contest of strength and skill. Too many people forgot that.

        He was being kind again, though, and he knew it. Lance would've crushed his opponent's entire team with the ferocity of his dragons, and sent them back to the Pokémon Center. Laughing.

        He decided then to be the Champion he'd always wanted to be. A kind one, a strong one, someone Unova could rely on, just like N. If everyone became too afraid to battle, he'd never get challenged. Still, there were times, like now, when a challenger's team simply had no chance, and needed more training, lest they get seriously hurt.

        "Go to the Dragonspiral Tower. Train there. The Unovan Dragon will make you strong enough to challenge me, team to team." The two trainers locked eyes. "After all, that's what made my team so strong." He left out the whole traveling dimensions and space-time differentials thing. Years of training had the same effect, no matter the plane you were on.

        ________________________________________

        The kid glanced at his Emboar again, then nodded. "Right…we'll be back for you. My Emboar will never stop until he proves that you should've chosen him."

        Alex raised a brow. "Your Emboar will never win until he accepts the trainer he has, not the trainer he wanted, a very long time ago. Good luck getting that through to him, though. There's a reason I didn't choose a stubborn Tepig."

        The kid chuckled, wearily. "A wise choice…but I can handle his stubbornness. I'll take your advice, Champion. Then we will return." The two bowed in the Unovan style, fist to palm, grinning. They shared a vegemite sandwich and a bowl of Leaf grown on Terra's shell before parting, in true Unovan trainer fashion. Alex had even given him a small bag of it. He called this strain 'Green Monster'. Terra didn't seem to mind.

        ________________________________________

        Alex watched them go, and let the power fade, and his partners returned to normal. He patted each of them. "Well done, you two. At this rate, we'll run out of challengers."

        "You've got to be bloody kidding me! Again!?" Alex shared a look with his partners as the enraged tones of Rosa climbed up the stairs to the mostly-smashed entrance. He sniffed, and the familiar scent of burned Leaf was still hanging around. That too was another thing Rosa had forbidden both him and Hilbert from doing up here. He glared at the cameras, which were still on. Bloody robots never turned off.

        He chuckled, "Time to go!" With that, he recalled his partners, and Teleported himself and his team back to Jess' room. It had become their unofficial preparation area for the impending cross-continent journey. She'd gotten the room to herself, as after a month of listening to the 'famous couple' going at it in the privacy of the bathroom (what little there was), her roommate had requested a transfer. Being ultra-rich, Jess hadn't seemed to mind that the price of renting her room doubled for the rest of the semester.

        They'd spent a lot of time in the room over the course of the semester, though it was mostly sans clothing. Being able to Teleport almost anywhere gave them a wide range of places to enjoy each other, but they both agreed her room was nicer. Cozier.

        Final exams were over by now, and the only students left on campus were either flunkies, or people who really needed to take a break. Eric was in the latter category, as were his lab buddies. Alex had taken to calling them the 'Braintrust', and the nickname had stuck. Even amongst their Professors.

        ________________________________________

        With him sleeping on campus, Alex's hovel in the Swamp had turned into the island's local recreational area, and had grown to include more beds. Battles were held, Leaf was smoked, naps were taken.

        After finding crumbs and what he sincerely hoped was jam in the hammock that passed as his bed, he'd decided to sleep in civilized quarters at night. Jess hadn't seemed to mind. They'd tried looking for a real house somewhere, but the prices were truly insane, and the upkeep was even more so. And, why should they pay for a view they could get just by visiting a memorable spot they could Teleport to?

        Eventually he'd offered to build her a house, something his instincts immediately regretted, as he saw the look in her eye. She'd kept her thoughts on the matter hidden as well, a hard thing to do given that they were but a thought away from each other all the time these days. She'd accepted his offer, which had led to research, some math, and the conclusion that Cenomons would need well over forty years of shedding, as an Aggron, just to get him some of the materials he'd need.

        Then there was everything else that went into buildings that he'd never considered, as he'd literally built a home out of mud and vines, and had been content with it. Now he had to account for plumbing, wiring, heating, power, air flow, location and thousands of other tiny yet important things.

        Needless to say, he put it on the back burner. They'd be camping for a while anyways, until they found lodging in Fornia, though he supposed they could always sleep elsewhere, and Teleport back in the morning. The only problem with that was risking not remembering where they'd stopped the day before, and losing yet more time playing catch-up.

        ________________________________________

        Thus, they'd decided to try to camp out as they crossed the Stoney Mountains, sneak into Fornia, and then find a hotel or something they could use as an anchor. The reason they didn't already have one had been yet another factor in what had kept them waiting well into June to depart. The only way to get into Fornia was by air, or sea.

        The sea routes were all thoroughly patrolled by the many battle-capable yachts that the Arceans used to advertise how well-off and prosperous being one of them was. Given how well their airships had been constructed, Alex didn't really consider their navy a threat. Not yet, anyways. Sacreus, Fornia's capital, was landlocked so it made little difference.

        With the sea cut off, and no desire for plane travel and the level of scrutiny it brought, that left traveling over the land, and after a test-incursion, they realized just how famous Blaze had become. He'd been recognized and chased for miles outside Fornian territory, and only a quick recall and Teleport had saved their bacon.

        The footage of him battling Lizardon was still one of the most popular things on the PokéNet, even though a year had almost passed. Evidently, they'd seen it in Fornia too. Alex hadn't even tried Shruikan, much to the dragon's dislike. He'd claimed the night could conceal him, and Alex had countered that his 'hundred-foot wingspan' blotting out the stars would give them away. As would literally any light, for the night was dark blue, not entirely black.

        ________________________________________

        Thus, they'd decided on going full tourist, and playing the role of conversion-friendly newlyweds. Two tan, blonde, blue eyed strangers on the precipice of breeding. The Arcean who'd approved them for travel in their territories had practically drooled when he realized the potential. Evidently, recruiting couples was a big deal.

        Now, everything was ready, packed, and as Alex bamfed into the dorm room again, he blinked, as he noticed his love, talking to a strange man. It took him longer than it should have to recognize the student in charge of dorm housing, but he was kind of proud that his paranoid, skeptical mind hadn't immediately leapt to worries of backstabbing.

        The man just stared at him, and Jess sighed. They'd tried keeping the ability to Teleport somewhat secret. Like most secrets, it had gotten out almost immediately that the Champion could get where he needed to instantaneously. Apparently, Unovans thought that was a good idea, and he supposed having a defender who could pop in literally whenever was a somewhat comforting thought. And probably a decent deterrent against crime.

        ________________________________________

        "Don't mind him. He's carrying the bags. Here's the key." Jess said, as she handed it over. The man nodded, and then promptly left.

        He was glad to be rid of them, honestly. They were quite loud, and had stayed well over a month past the end of the year. Since the girl was rich, the increasingly absurd room rent hadn't driven her off, and since her lover was the Champion, and an Alumni, they couldn't really just tell him to scram. Especially since he could just poof right back five seconds later, and nobody would be the wiser.

        There were four bags in all, their usual two, and two solely for sleeping bags. They hadn't bothered with a tent. Arthur popped free of his ball to grab the extra bags, and then they all Teleported once more, to the rendezvous spot.

        ________________________________________

        The Sage had informed them, after some deep meditation, that their journey would go as well as it needed to if there were three entering Fornia, not two. Tao had divined much the same, and even had a suggestion as to who else should come along. He'd grown up in Fornia after all, and though he'd needed a better disguise than tanned skin, Brad had still proven himself somewhat capable.

        He'd had only a Charmeleon when Alex first found him, and as the son sparred with his father, Blaze, the two humans had talked. Brad had been reluctant, at first, to go back to the region that had essentially controlled his entire life. After but a few months in Unova, he'd started to understand just how bad things were back home. Just how strong the delusion really was, and what kind of effort would be needed to remove it.

        Alex had reminded him that his family, though they likely claimed to be willing to serve, were still under that regime, and his disappearance had likely made life difficult for them. That, more than anything else, was what convinced the trainer to come along. If they'd been mistreated, there was a good chance some of them would defect as well. Alex had tasked his rival with securing aid from the north of the massive region, and while he was doing so, he could find his family as well, for that was where they'd lived. Once he had them, he'd send word to Alex and Jess, and they would help free them.

        Alex hadn't really wanted a third wheel, but he supposed it would keep himself and his woman from lusting after each other all day on the golden coast's famous beaches. They'd still be doing that, of course. They were 'honeymooning' after all, and he had no doubt the Arceans watched everybody they let in.

        ________________________________________

        Brad had promised to build up his team, in preparation for the journey west. With only three months, he'd actually managed to pull a decent one together. There were several species most Fornians had, like Lycanroc, Ursaring, Gogoat, and the regional variant of Marowak that was both fire, and ghost. Alola and Fornia were culturally similar, but Alolans always said their neighbors were a bit…weird. They too could see through the devout façade. This hadn't stopped the Fornians from acquiring, and then breeding, the rare variants of known species found on the islands, though.

        For her part in gaining four new members, Jess had found a Swablu, who she'd called Aria after they sang together, near the University's campus while Alex had been hunting for an Aron. The randomness of the universe had guided him to the little Amaura, who he'd nicknamed Gelauros. Eric had immediately shortened it further to 'lil G', and it had been Alex's turn to sigh as every other lab student had agreed it was better. This was the future of the scientific world.

        Brad was surprised when they showed up with belts carrying over six Pokémon. Then, he saw them unstrap their bags, and begin to pack their balls away.

        ________________________________________

        Alex put his main six balls in his bag, as Jess did the same, leaving them with their newer partners. The others hadn't particularly liked being shoved in darkness, as they wanted to see what was going on themselves, but until the plan came to fruition, they could wait. For now, their function was helping their newer, younger teammates, and Alex was glad that his team was mature enough to be okay with waiting a few weeks. Of course, if he needed them, they could pop free and help, but they had all agreed that should be a last resort.

        Once the balls were away, they donned their disguises. Brad's had gained pale skin, and blue hair, for some reason. He'd stick out in Fornia, but nobody would recognize him. No Arcean would associate with such a person, or so the former Champion had said. As long as nobody official took a harder look at him, he could blend in perfectly.

        He entered the region at the northern port where the Kanadia, Fornia, and Dakota regions all intersected. Being one of the larger ports of entry, Brad could slip in amongst the hordes of people unnoticed, and once in Arcean territory, he could once more act like a loyal Arcean. He was more worried about the 'newlyweds' blending in.

        ________________________________________

        The other pair had gone in the southern route, and had been forced to blend in to the mind-numbing obliviousness of the local population of the Sippi region, which was heavily influenced by the Arceans, and would likely join them soon. Some of the hardcore ideologies, and pure hate, towards Unova in particular, had given the pair pause as they started to subtly listen for rumors of rebellion.

        Evidently, the residents of the Sippi region believed that the Unovans had, somehow, caused the massive Swamp that now covered their ancestral homelands to grow out of control. Apparently, many of the people here had once lived in those southern areas near Floria, or what was left of it.

        Since they couldn't actually blame nature for stealing their homes, this 'theory' of why the Swamp had grown so large had gained massive popularity once the Prophet claimed, through 'Divine Insight' apparently, to know beyond the shadow of doubt that Unova and the Swamp were connected. From there, the people of Sippi had run with the theories, and hadn't stopped.

        As the two realized the extent of this kind of zealot-like thinking, they both agreed that, even though they had to gain allies, they were better off working ideological change from the inside out. The people here were angry over a 'crime' that had likely been 'committed' millennia past, and were speaking of war with Unova based on what essentially amounted to a rumor from a foreign government. If Fornia changed, it was likely that these support states would change as well. Eventually.

        Thus, they did not actually look for trouble on their way through the lush Arciana region's plains once they crossed the border. Despite this purposeful obliviousness, cracks in the Arcean façade were literally everywhere, as were posters of their faces, untanned, and unchanged, listing them as 'threats to the Prophet'. Those, more than anything, had forced them to silently, angrily, ignore the perversions they came across, even here.

        ________________________________________

        They could've gone through Utado, which had once owned the Arciana region, but anyone who entered Nevouri from Utado was closely watched by the Arceans. Being as yet 'unconverted', the further they went into Nevouri, the more looks they received.

        They would've gladly pretended to convert to blend in, the only problem was that doing so took months, and thousands of units of currency. They had an alternate plan.

        After a last look through his granduncle's room, Alex discovered a note, with a name, location, and Holociever number. The words 'Do not call until in Fornia' were underlined below it. As were the words 'trusted contact'.

        This, more than anything, was the riskiest part of their plan. They had no idea what this contact could do for them, and planning alternate routes of hiding in Fornia's wild, Stoney Mountains had taken time.

        ________________________________________

        Fading into the background of Nevouri had been simple, and as Cenomons dug them a tunnel towards the iron-rich mountains, he was all but drooling. Usually, he was hard to motivate, but the promise of these ore rich mountains had always gotten him going again, as he learned to battle. His patience was finally being rewarded.

        Once the voracious Lairon had found his way into an ore-rich cave within the massive mountain chain, the two humans had made camp. Cenomons continued munching away, until he discovered something that was rock, but unlike anything he'd seen before.

        He grunted for his human, as he'd learned to show things like this to him, and the human stared back at the Pokémon. "Holy…Ceno just found a fossil. A Pokémon fossil." He held up his Pokédex, and the device scanned it, then came up blank. It beeped loudly then, echoing through the cave, and the words: New Species appeared on the screen.

        ________________________________________

        Then, came a blank space, for a name. The two humans just stared, and shared a look. "Let's find out what it is before we start naming species…"

        "Redwoodsaurus." Alex said, smirking. He grunted, as an Iron Tail sent him flying towards the tunnel they'd entered through. He'd just laughed, as it had been kind of fun, smashing through various rock formations and feeling almost none of it. He hadn't realized how much tougher his body had become since Norstad, but evidently, the Storm Crown was doing its work.

        Once he returned, he found Jess scouring the Pokéweb, and then as he sat down, she showed him what she'd found. "I thought it looked familiar. See? The ancients have data on this. The horns are identical."

        Alex glanced at the name, and then at the creature. Three horns, located on the western part of the very same continent, herbivore, quadrupedal, and not actually unlike an Aggron, save that it apparently couldn't stand on two legs.

        ________________________________________

        While the two humans stared at the glowing noise maker, Ceno returned to eating, as he was ravenous. His trainer's regimen was exhausting, but the results showed, and he'd rather enjoyed winning what few road battles they'd come across.

        Even Fornians challenged each other, it seemed. None offered to share a bowl, however. The Leaf was strictly outlawed, but Alexander Redwood had long ago perfected hiding his stash. It was nice to see his spots held up to even government-level scrutiny.

        It was as Ceno returned to the fossil's spot, that he noticed something. Another one. Another horn shape, all but identical to the first. He was both curious, and ravenous, though mostly ravenous. With about a second of hesitation, he began loudly crunching the rock and bones, and as he did, he ingested the crystallized lifeforce of the Pokémon that had once been. Since the Pokémon had been a direct descendant of one of the first Mew, as were most fossil Pokémon, the latent gene-altering power had a peculiar reaction with the Lairon's own genetic make-up.

        He didn't notice any immediate changes, except that now some ores looked more appealing than others. Pure instinct guided him to a specific blend, but his trainer barely noticed as he and his counterpart smoked a bowl, and then fell into their usual grunting session. Ceno had also learned to not bug them during those. Humans could be gross.

        ________________________________________

        The next day was mostly spent waiting for Ceno, who hadn't slept, to stop eating, so he could tunnel them out again. Alex had asked for patience from his lover, as he'd seen the look in his young partner's eye, and his responses, and emotions, labeled the meticulous munching of specific ores as incredibly important. Something was up, but Alex didn't bug him.

        Jess was eager, because she'd found a Shield fossil. She'd never resurrected one before, but Alex had a feeling it wouldn't be so easy in Fornia. He didn't let that dampen her excitement though. A Bastiodon would fill out her team nicely.

        She'd also found a lone Nidoran, and while she hadn't been entirely newborn, she'd still been a bit young to be on her own. Jess had decided to copy Alex at that moment, and tried asking if she wanted to come along. While she was off winning a partner through trust, Alex had decided to ignore his methods for once, as he spotted something unique within the many cave tunnels.

        ________________________________________

        Typically, Drapion on the eastern side of the continent were more popular, as they were strong, versatile, and purple. Many good teams had Drapion, many villains also seemed to enjoy using them. Alex had spied a red Skorupi however, and realized that was simply the color they took here in Fornia, as he spotted a whole nest's worth.

        Now the trick would be isolating one that wasn't too young, or too weak. Seeing his trainer hesitate, Gelauros, or Gel, as he'd started being called, simply walked into the nest, all smiles. All of the Skorupi immediately began hissing at it, but backed down when they felt the young one's frost breath.

        Gel went from one to the other, his trainer in tow, until eventually he pointed at one Skorupi in particular. It had been near the back of the nest, silently working on perfecting its strikes. Alex noticed it was a male, though he guessed he couldn't have been too much older than Gel.

        ________________________________________

        The two had locked eyes, and it had taken Alex a moment to realize that his little long neck wanted to battle as badly as the Skorupi. The others watched, the hissing muted as they took in the strange white Pokémon, and the human it dragged with it.

        The Skorupi accepted the challenge, and the battle was fierce, but short. Thankfully, the pair had practiced turning the little dinosaur's Rock Throw into a Rock Slide, and thus, the advantage was his. The Skorupi was utterly blindsided by the rocks, buried even, and the little long neck essentially pounded him with Rock Throw, for fun, until he agreed to give up, and let the hatchling win.

        He crowed, triumphant, and before he could blink, there was a maroon-colored Net Ball freeing the Skorupi from the rocks by taking it inside. Surprisingly, the ball dinged shut with only a few shakes, and Alex quietly retrieved it as he suddenly noticed the thousands of eyes staring at him. Gel nudged him, and they left quickly, but unharmed. The battle had been fair, after all, and their brother had accepted the challenge against a Trainer. Trainers caught Pokémon. If he hadn't wanted a trainer, he could've refused easily.

        Despite all of that, Alex called him out anyways as they began the trek back to their camp, and explained exactly what he needed from the Skorupi, and if that was too much, he could easily return home. Much like Ceno, he'd asked to see his teammates, but was less impressed by the Lairon and Amaura. Gel's hatchling eyes had eventually convinced the scorpion, at which point, it returned to the ball. With only one member left, and since he really only needed a ghost type now, he decided to let the universe guide him to his last partner.

        ________________________________________

        Jess had been somewhat disappointed when she returned with Nidoran of both genders, only to find Alex already had a Skorupi. She'd named her Nidoran Maria, and had called her partner Tony, because it was adorable and nostalgic. Alex agreed to let the Nidoran male stay regardless. Neither of the humans wanted to split them up. There was more room in Jess' bag, so he typically stayed there as they moved through the mountains, but Alex trained him as well. He was a good sparring partner for his team of younger Pokémon, and he knew he would never mind having a Nidoking around, in the future. Tony didn't seem to mind, as his partner was clearly the better battler. He was just happy to stay with her, grow stronger, and be a part of a larger family.

        Once they'd packed up camp, Ceno had agreed to tunnel, and eat as they went. He was still picky about what he ate, so the going was slow, but Alex had a feeling it would be worth it. Eventually, he'd had to let the Lairon roam solo, just so progress could be made through the caves.

        Being what he was, he had no trouble finding the group for an occasional nap, but for most of those long days under millions of tons of rock, Cenomons was absent, eating away at the endless supply of ore. The other Lairon he encountered were more relaxed, and less willing to battle, given the abundance of food. Ceno ignored those too weak willed to fight for good ore, and thrashed those who tried to take it from him. In this way, he beat those Lairon worth beating, and earned his experience. His trainer had taught him useful moves, but he did notice that without him, battling was a lot harder. Despite that, he relished the challenge.

        ________________________________________

        Finally, after almost a week within the mountainous tunnels, which were largely quite far away from any kind of dig site, the two humans emerged from the darkness, and several minutes later, Ceno joined them. He was finally content, his voracious appetite sated…for now. It was good timing.

        Ceno used his mastery of the rock to make a platform for the humans to stand on, as they'd been clinging to a relatively steep cliff side, and as they took in their first look at Fornia, Alex burst out laughing. His hand, halfway to his Holociever, paused.

        Before him was a valley filled with trees, and not just any trees, of course. The tallest, the oldest, the biggest. The species from which his family was named. A stand of Sequoia sempervirens trailed through the valley below them, in a very obvious line, only visible from such a high perch, or from the air. As oblivious as he was, Alex knew a sign from the universe when he saw one. He pocketed the Holociever number, and then the pair began to follow the very obvious line of massive but also rather young trees.

        ________________________________________

        Several Hours Later…

        ________________________________________

        "There's no sign of them. Report back to HQ. The Rebels have them."

        The captain of the Arcean Task Force, or A.T.F. as it was sometimes called, spoke into his Holociever. He'd been perched up here for hours, alongside his Mega Lucario, keeping tabs on the strange 'married couple' that had gotten quite deep in Arcean lands, without joining the Church, before vanishing for almost a week.

        When they'd reappeared, he'd almost missed them, but their classic Fornian looks made them stick out against the gray stone of the mountain they'd perched on. Once they disappeared into the Redwoods, he knew it was only a matter of time. The only people who went to such places were those who wished to rebel against the Church.

        ________________________________________

        Once the new face of Fornia's so called 'enemy' had actually forced their Prophet out of Norstad, a strange thing had occurred in the Fornia region. Those who were tired of the blatant lies and mistreatment gathered in groves of ancient Redwood trees, where they met a people who shared their views on the rulers of their lands.

        Though it had been centuries since any of the Tribes had been recognized as a people, they still remained in what areas of the massive Fornia region the Arceans had not yet plundered in the name of resources. Together, those Fornians who wished to rebel made an alliance, a rebellion, of sorts, and small bases and outposts full of these so-called Rebels had been popping up all over the region, causing havoc to the Church.

        Tourists were especially dangerous, for the A.F.O was in charge of keeping them oblivious to the goings on of the government. Once the Arcean Fossil Organization had lost track of the couple, they'd called in the Task Force. They dealt with threats to security.

        A response came over his Holociever, "Stay where you are. This hunt is being given to the Hand of Death." The captain stared at his communication device, mouth agape. A Hand of the Prophet? For two random tourists who probably got lost in the caves? At most, they'd meet the native tribes and find a way to go home, he didn't understand why such a response was warranted, but then, this was a Hand who was coming, the Hand of Death, who was supposed to be a rumor. A bad nightmare.

        Despite the grisly nature his missions no doubt entailed, if he was being sent in, it meant the Prophet himself wanted these tourists. He nodded at his Lucario, and the loyal hound leapt down from their own perch to follow the tourist's scent. They needed to be useful to the Hand, or he would likely dispatch them as well, for incompetence. Given the strength of the couple's aura, something the Lucario found strange, but was unable to comment on, tracking them was easy. When the Hand appeared, he would have a strong trail to follow, and hopefully, his trainer would continue to live.

        ________________________________________

        Eastern Fornia Region – Yavano Tribe Lands

        ________________________________________

        Alex and Jess had all but stumbled into the local Yavano tribe's main camp, and after giving them a moment to cool their surprise and lower their strange metal spears, they'd used words to avoid a conflict, though, as he'd told them something of who they really were, and that they were Trainers, several of the 'red-skinned' men had grinned. Even here, there were people up for a battle.

        After hearing they were from Unova, the tribe's Chief, Long-Fang, had made an appearance, and invited them to enjoy some of their Leaf. It was quite a bit stronger than anything they usually smoked, but it went a long way to easing the tension of a first contact. The Chief himself had unusually large canine teeth, but given that Alex had a fair bit of strangeness himself, most notably the tips of his ears which became more pointed by the day, he didn't comment, or stare. Jess hadn't seemed to mind either, and found his ears amusing, claiming that now, he could follow his granduncle, and become a 'full Vulcan'. He considered that a noble goal.

        The tribesmen, over the flames of Chari's tail, explained the current state of Fornia, and their Alliance with other 'pale-skins', and after a night of rest and a proper wake-and-bake, the tribe gave them food, supplies, and then pointed them towards the nearest 'Rebel Base'.

        ________________________________________

        The base, as it turned out, was none other than the Majestic Canyon. Surrounded by the massive Great Mohave Desert, the canyon was a massive series of red rock walls, carved away by a river that was older than any tree, person, or Pokémon, and would likely outlast them all. It was at least a thousand miles long, or so the Yavano had said, and if you didn't have a guide, getting lost was easy. Many Pokémon also lived in the canyons and waters of the area, that had no qualms about killing humans. Usually, they were fine with subsisting on the enormous Wepear berries that grew in abundance amongst the rocky crags.

        Within one of the many smaller canyons that made up the massive one, the local Tribes and Fornians had created a base from which to operate. In an amusing twist of fate, they'd also given them a Holociever number to call, and it was identical to the one they'd been given by Alex's granduncle. They'd told him to use it near the canyon, so he'd waited to do so.

        Jess had found a Heracross on their way down to the Canyon, and the powerful female, who she'd called Hera, had been quite useful. Not being able to fly was rather irritating, especially for skilled Trainers. Having a partner that could carry you really was incredibly useful. Especially on stealth missions. She'd proven her strength to the skeptical Redwood by carrying both of them to the Canyon. Evidently, drinking the essence of Redwood trees had made these Heracross quite strong. Jess had remarked that she had done something similar, and had also grown stronger soon after. They'd had to land, as the ensuing laughing fit from the pair made flying hard. Thankfully, they had already arrived.

        ________________________________________

        Alex ignored the giggling females as he dialed the number. The conversation was as awkward and brief as any random phone call, but once he'd mentioned the Yavano, and his granduncle, he'd been told to stay put. Someone was coming out to meet them, apparently.

        That someone turned out to be the Dragon Type Expert, Professor Dracaena. She'd rode in on a female Charizard that truly highlighted just how much of a runt Chari was, despite her strength and almost crimson coloring.

        More than that, there was something familiar about her coloration. It took Alex longer than it should have to notice that it was identical to Blaze's, which had always been a bit more red-orange than most. Considering the amount of variation in scale patterns Charizard had these days, that hadn't been too noticeable. Pokémaniacs didn't exactly ooze excitement when facing a slightly-deeper-orange-than-normal Charizard.

        ________________________________________

        The Professor approached, leaving her own Charizard to laze in the hot sun. She was an older woman, who looked ready to raid a tomb, and had the gear to do it. The traditional white lab coat was shortened, just barely longer than her beige shorts, and a pair of what looked like a hybrid of goggles and glasses hung from the neck of her ordinary white undershirt.

        As she looked the pair of them over, she focused on Alex, and smirked. "Now that's a Redwood. I'd know those eyes anywhere. I'm Professor Dracaena, an expert on dragon types. I knew your granduncle. I heard he passed on."

        Alex nodded, his face as impassive as ever. He nodded at Jess. "This is Jessica Gladstone. She's helping me liberate this region." The two women shook hands, but otherwise didn't speak. He couldn't tell if they liked each other or not. They were as unreadable as cats, and he had long since given up trying to divine the many moods of the fairer sex.

        The Professor raised an eyebrow. "Liberation, hmm?" She glanced at Jess again, who kept her own face as impassive as Alex's, and then, the Professor shrugged. "If that really is your goal…you've come to the right base."

        They all flew in on their Charizard then, as the Professor had assured them that this was one place Arceans avoided. Jess left Alex to take the lead in asking questions this time, and after explaining why they'd come, the Professor agreed to help them. When asked why the Arceans avoided such a gorgeous canyon, she answered.

        ________________________________________

        "There was once a city out here, in the desert, around three centuries ago now. Vega. Or so the ruin experts call it. It was a hub of…entertainment. Music. Lights. Food. Water shortages. People from all over the world came to enjoy themselves in Vega City. Then, in the space of one night, or so the stories claim, the Prophet himself obliterated the city, claiming that it was the 'will of Arceus' that such a hive of scum and villainy be erased from the world."

        Alex raised a brow. "Was it?"

        The Professor shrugged. "Nobody knows how Vega became a ruin, but the local tribespeople, who live off of this canyon, have a much different story."

        Jess chimed in then, "How much different?"

        The Professor smirked. "If you really want to know, all you need to do is ask. Chief Sike has a powerful Noctowl. With his help, they've shared what they know of the 'Vega Event' with whoever wishes to see."

        ________________________________________

        Having learned several of the customs from the Yavano, such as how to properly greet a Chief, and interact with their fellow tribespeople, the couple had managed to surprise the local tribe here, as well, by showing genuine respect. They were led into one of the many caves the tribespeople used for smoking, and once they'd settled into a circle around Blaze's tail, as he'd offered it freely, the flames shifted to blue, and the napping fire lizard smirked. Alex rolled his eyes. At least he hadn't mega evolved in the middle of the Chief's toke on the pipe.

        The Chief was an elderly man, though whether he was actually feeling his age, or just had wrinkled, weathered skin from the sun and desert, was hard to say. His hair was entirely black, but then, Alex had yet to see a tribal elder with grays.

        A smirk appeared on the old man's weathered face as he eyed the Charizard supplying their fire. He looked harder, as he recognized something he hadn't seen for a long, long time, but then remembered he was in the presence of foreigners. He kept his composure as he spoke, "His fire is strong. Eastern trainers are as powerful as the legends say they are."

        Alex shrugged, and then looked around the circle. Jess glared at him, but he ignored her, for the moment, as he took in the people they were sitting with. A brief, cautious glance at their minds told him all he needed to know about these people.

        ________________________________________

        Their mental defenses were quite strong, as strong as their own at least, and actually reading their thoughts would be a challenge. He discovered a new dislike for crowds after acquiring and developing his psychic senses, for many of the huddled masses of Unova kept their minds completely unguarded. It was hard to ignore, and he'd begun to understand why the Sage lived in a Swamp.

        That was when he finally noticed, since actually going undercover, everything was so much quieter. It was strange, in a good way. "Thank you. I was wondering, Chief, if you wouldn't mind sharing the tale of Vega's destruction with us. We haven't heard of it in the east, and I have a feeling we should have already."

        The Chief eyed the stereotypical Fornian tan and blonde hair, but those eyes…those, looked genuine. The Chief nodded, and as he did, the was a low hoot above them. As his Noctowl used its power on the fire, images appeared in the flames, and they shifted as the Chief spoke. "To understand Vega, you must understand the history of Fornia. Long ago, there was peace between the entirety of the western continent. We had peace with the east as well, for the Dragon God ruled us fairly, and maintained the balance of nature, upon which all of us live. His Empire was vast, and his Tamer fair in judgement. Those were good days."

        ________________________________________

        Alex looked down then. He knew what came next, and resisted sighing as the Chief continued to speak, "Then, the Dragon was passed to his Tamer's two sons. Their rivalry split the dragon in three, and the balance was lost." He packed a long, wooden pipe as he spoke, but Alex couldn't get a clear look at it.

        "At first, we of 'western Unova' did not experience any noticeable difference. Indeed, after several centuries of peace and prosperity, the Dragon became a myth, and the fertility of the planet was attributed to the planet itself, and its connection with Nature, rather than a Pokémon that may or may not have existed, long ago. Protecting the wilderness became a top priority of the newly forming governments who, since the Unovan Empire had collapsed, began planning to govern themselves."

        "We were a naïve group of nations, young, enjoying the new freedom from heavy imperial taxes. No longer did we have to fund a war that did not concern us. Our wealthy grew great in number, but we had no idea what our wealth would attract. Eventually, these new, rich, former farmers gathered in a single place to enjoy their surplus of currency from selling their surplus of crops. Without an empire to give them to, they had seized the power from the dead empire's infrastructure, and set themselves up as large kingdoms."

        The Chief's eyes narrowed, slightly. "Basically…we were a region ripe for conquest. Nobody remembers exactly how long ago Pravus took power, but he's well past his normal span. Though, recently, it's been rumored that his 'immortality' is fading."

        The old man focused on the two foreigners then, "When he first arrived here, he was weak. He destroyed Vega, and all living things around it for thousands and thousands of miles. This desert exists because of him, and this Canyon is a pale shadow of what this land used to look like. I have a feeling he's going to try something more drastic, now. To make sure he doesn't have to deal with the consequences of destroying a city again. Immortality is his sole desire, and he would gladly disrupt the Balance of the world to gain it."

        Alex's eyes narrowed then. He'd had a feeling this might be the case. "He dangerous, and he has to go down. I understand."

        ________________________________________

        He looked around the circle again, and decided to trust these people, if only a little. He knew removing his disguise would be painful, for it was fairy type in nature, and Jess could always force him to keep it on, for she had no issues using the crystal. For him, it seared his skin, and ignored his attempts to connect with it. He'd had difficulty with the ice crystal as well, for it made him quite chilled, but in Fornia's heat, it was a perfect balance of temperature.

        "Thank you, for sharing that with us. There is something you should know, too. The One Dragon has returned, and I am the one who made him whole once more. Understand who you're allying with, because the only way a Cult like this comes down is with coordinated strikes at its' foundations." Jess gave him the mental equivalent of a hard pinch, but he resisted wincing as he took his own toke, and let those gathered absorb that information.

        That, was when his obedient partner and friend for life decided to tap into the power of Arceus, and mega evolve. Alex barely dodged the sudden increase of the blue flames, but the other tribe members just stared in awe. He still had eyebrows, but the pipe had been a bit scorched. He glared at Blaze, who continued to nap, and smirk.

        ________________________________________

        The Chief was silent for a long while, and as the silence grew, he felt the room's eyes upon him. Unova's Champion was, supposedly, as strong as the Dragon he'd reunited. A dragon in his own right, apparently, or so the newest rumors claimed. Those rumors had also come with a title. The Dragon of the West.

        A long look at the awakened form of the Charizard bonded to this Trainer finally convinced him of what was needed. "The Arceans have much hate for you, Champion… I don't know what you did to Pravus, but I have never seen him so…openly furious at a person. You are, quite literally, the face of the Unovan threat he's preparing his people to fight against. Normally, I would decline your aid, for it is costly, but you come to us with trust, titles, and a Charizard from this very region. Even your surname hails from here. I would be a fool to ignore these signs, but I would also be a fool to ally with you, for when the Arceans discover you, and it is a when, not an if, they will use everything they have to eradicate you. Their Prophet recently labeled you as the Spawn of Giratina, and commanded your death. You'll be hard pressed to find true allies among his cult."

        Alex passed the pipe on as the Chief spoke, and the Trainer beside him, a member of the tribe, took his own toke from the newer, stronger flames eagerly. The scent of their Leaf was similar to the Unovan variants, but stronger. He felt his psychic power eager to be set free, but thankfully, he'd learned a long time ago how to contain it. Still, his aura burned bright, and he saw Jess staring. "So…what will you do?"

        ________________________________________

        The Chief grinned as the Redwood spoke. "I'll test you, and your Charizard, and if you prove worthy, you will have our support, now, and should your mission succeed, forever."

        One of the female tribe members around their fire coughed hard, as she'd been in the middle of a toke of her own when she'd heard the Chief's idea. "But they're ignorant foreigners! They can't face that Trial. They'll be crushed."

        The Chief smirked at the woman. "Our Alolan cousins survived it."

        The young woman's brown eyes narrowed. "They had a full set of crystals. And Plates. You know well that these two do not.

        The Chief eyed the foreigners again, and Alex shuddered as he felt the man's gaze staring straight through his disguise. The Chief smiled slightly, and shrugged. "They have what they need."

        ________________________________________

        Fornia Region – The Majestic Canyon

        ________________________________________

        After some sleep and some breakfast, the Chief led the two foreigners to where the Trial was held. Deep within the Majestic Canyon, even deeper than the Rebel's base, was a series of large valleys that were home to Fornia's Charizard. They were known for being hard to control, as well as for their love of battling. The only other concentration of their species large enough to rival these canyons was the Charicific Valley, in Japan, who were known for exactly the same thing. This was a place for their species to grow stronger.

        The Dragon Mountain of Unova was considered a home for them as well, but in truth, Charizard were not as abundant there as they were in these valleys, given that the mountain was shared by many species. Here, only one predator reigned supreme, and the only other carnivorous species were ones who fed on the remains of what the fire lizards ate. When it wasn't entirely ash.

        It was a perfect environment for them, really. The sun burned brightly, and made the battles that much more intense. Alex stared down into one valley in particular. Most of them were lush and green on their narrow bottoms, save for the dots of orange and red that marked the younger members of their species. Caves marked the sides of these fertile areas, and flashes of orange could be seen within them, as well. Nests, then. Avoiding them would be a good idea.

        ________________________________________

        The tribespeople had a tradition of battling the strong Charizard, and instead of capturing them in Pokéballs, they were given an egg, if victorious, and judged worthy. It was what made this particular tribe able to live so close to Arcean territory. As long as nobody outright attacked them, their partner's flames wouldn't be a threat to 'civilized society'. That hadn't stopped Pravus from trying, but in recent years, he had focused on fossil hunting, rather than the potential tourism the Canyon could bring in.

        The threat of annihilation didn't stop the tribes from helping the rebels, for they knew well that there needed to be peace, trust, and above all unity between their people, and their pale-skinned neighbors. They could not ignore Pravus. He wasn't going away. Tales from eras so far past the modern world had forgotten them always kept the tribespeople wary, and while in the beginning there had been suffering, eventually, peace had been reached. The fall of the human race had ensured that. In the chaotic aftermath, they had been faced with a similar decision: ally with the pale-skins, or die.

        ________________________________________

        "Why do your people wish to help the rebellion?" Alex asked the Chief, as they hiked. Though it was easy to mistake from up above, these valleys were truly massive in scale, and traversing them on foot was sweaty work under the blazing sun. Still, this too, was a tradition. He had no intention of disrespecting the tribe's ways. From what he'd learned of them, there was likely a very good reason they needed to walk.

        "Caleb Pravus is a blight upon the land. His cult has mined the earth relentlessly for fossils, though, recently they've lessened…rumor is, they found what they were mining for. But they've ignored the cost. Homes, destroyed. Pokémon, captured…or worse. This land needs to heal, and it will not be able to until the Arceans are no longer spurred into destroying it in the name of their leader." The Chief's tone was even, calm, but Alex could feel the latent tension in his words, a simmering rage. The Arcean's Prophet had done…something to earn the tribe's fury.

        "If you'll pardon my rudeness, Chief…this seems to go beyond a simple desire for a change in leadership. Your people are as involved in the base's operations as the former cult members. The Yavano educated me, somewhat, on my way here. I know how much you're risking."

        The Chief paused in his walking, and then turned his head towards Alex. Given that they were at the back of their group, which included several other Trainers, the others kept going. "Mmmmm. Your words are brash…but honest. Your…insight…serves you well, Champion of Unova." He continued walking, and speaking, for their journey was long. "You are correct. My people have a personal stake in seeing Pravus brought down."

        ________________________________________

        Alex kept his words short, and direct. "Why?"

        The Chief did not answer for a long time, but eventually, he said, "When he first came here, Pravus convinced your fellow pale-skins to follow him with…disturbing ease. We suspected treachery, for even then the Arceans began slandering us, despite our long-standing friendship. Their attitudes changed…almost overnight. Then, Vega was destroyed. For well over a century, he had his minions persecute and belittle our people, making us out to be worse than savages. Any who associated with us, were shunned. Trade stopped, and tensions grew…then, one day, many years ago, we received a message. An offer for peace, an apology, and the promise of trade. The first in generations."

        He was silent for a long time again, but Alex let him think. He hadn't been lying when he said he'd understood just how much they risked by helping the rebels so much. His entire tribe, if things went poorly, would likely be wiped out. All their history, stories, practices unique to them, and their home, gone. He was, in short, risking everything to help stop a tyrant. They all were.

        "My…daughter offered to meet with Pravus when he sent word that he wished to establish more…concrete ties to our tribes, and to stop the slanderous lies his followers perpetrated about us. I told her not to go. I told her it was a trap. She did not listen. She went to the Oasis of Glory, and for a while…we had peace." He almost spat the word.

        ________________________________________

        Alex couldn't see his face, but he did notice the reddish skin on the Chief's knuckles turn white as he gripped the staff that marked his station, a long metal rod essentially, decorated and carved with runes he couldn't rightly place. It also served as his 'belt', for Pokéballs in the colors of his tribe, brownish red, yellow, green, and blue, filled each slot on the staff. Alex did a double take as he noticed there were ten, not six.

        His distracted gaze took in something else, a symbol of sorts on each ball. A circle split into four parts, depicting what looked like the waterfall that hid the entrance to the rebel's base, rocky outcroppings in the red of their home, an image of the food they grew, Cornn Berries, amongst other things, and an image of a Gogoat with a Charizard circling above it in the sky. Each image surrounded another circle, and he had to resist a smile. He'd know that symbol anywhere. Tao's influence still remained here, even after so very long.

        ________________________________________

        It was good that the Chief paused for long periods of time between speaking, but as he spoke again, Alex's attention refocused. "One day…we received a summons to the Oasis, the place where, supposedly, Arceans go to relax and enjoy the fruits of their toil, for a time. Pravus and my daughter had decided to wed, and he invited every member of every tribe in the region..." The Chief sighed, heavily. "With one hand, he offered peace, and all while his followers made us out to be monsters. I did not go, as I did not approve. I could not speak to my daughter either, for Pravus had his claws in her, and she refused to speak to someone who wasn't a part of 'Arceus' calling'."

        "Obviously, it was a trap. I warned my fellow Chieftains, but even our combined words of caution could not dissuade all of our people who were curious, angry, or a mix of both, from going. I…am told that my…my daughter addressed the crowd of her own people who came to see a ceremony our tribes simply do not practice, and with a word…betrayed them. The Arceans in this 'Oasis of Glory' are little more than soldiers, and underneath the pretty resort façade, lies a labor camp, full of prisoners…and anyone Pravus doesn't want causing trouble. To this day, he claims my people can leave whenever they wish, and yet they do not return. The bars and electric fences make that rather difficult, as do the armed humans, and their Pokémon. Only a few have managed to escape, and apparently, many do not survive their attempts."

        ________________________________________

        The Chief glanced at Alex again, as their group stopped before the edge of the flame-marked valley of rock that served as the arena for the fiercesome fire lizards that called this place home. "This is why every tribe has agreed to help this rebellion. We must free our people…and theirs. Fornia must be free, again. Then, perhaps, balance can return to our home."

        Alex pulled out Tao's Pokéball, and he resisted a smirk as he heard the other Trainers, mainly those of the tribe, inhale sharply at the symbol upon it. They had all listened quietly as they realized the Chief was telling a story, essentially. Now, this foreigner pulled out a ball that, to their eyes, was infused with the One Dragon's power. Or rather, a trace of it.

        This ball had held him at one time, evidently, but this Trainer had wisely kept him free of it. Alex offered the ball, and the Chief eyed it closer, and then handed it back. Alex held his hand on it, for a moment, as he spoke "I am the bringer of that balance. The Dragon's will works through me. You have my word, Chieftain, I will see your people free. We will set them all free."

        ________________________________________

        He took the ball back then, pocketing it. The Chief nodded, once, and then stopped walking, and raised his staff. "We shall see. Behold. We are here."

        The valley in the center of this area was a canyon in its own right. It was also where most of the contests of strength were held, and as a result, the once red rocks had turned black from centuries of fire duels. As they looked into the blackened valley of stone, they saw him. Every colony has a leader, and this one was no exception to the rule that such leaders were, usually, large, powerful, and stronger than normal.

        The Charizard that served as the king of these fierce Pokémon, for no other title fit his bearing, was massive, and napping. As the group approached the edge of the blackened canyon, the massive fire lizard opened one eye, and in an instant, a fiery Aura of red and white surrounded his form. Alex swore, loudly.

        The Charizard of the tribe's Trainers popped free of their balls as they watched the two foreigner's partners were called out, and approached the Totem Pokémon. Apparently, that was what they were called here, as well.

        ________________________________________

        As Blaze landed before his opponent, he glanced at his trainer, and nodded. Alex called on the crystal again, and empowered his partner, who took what he needed to mega evolve, and then cloak himself in a similar aura. The power faded, and the magma colored aura held perfectly. Alex grinned. He'd been trying to perfect that for months. Naturally, he understood it when he needed to. That was how he'd always learned, after all.

        As the older Charizard stood, Alex noticed that they weren't all that different in size. It was the shape that was different. His wings were smaller, but his claws were enormous. He could likely fly when he needed to, but this Charizard obviously preferred the ground. That meant he likely preferred physical moves as well.

        A torrent of Flamethrower burned over Blaze, and the fire lizard yawned, as he inhaled the intense flames, and grinned. His flames turned blue, and his claws became shrouded in deep red, and orange colored energy. The same as the magma from which he'd evolved.

        The younger Pokémon shot forward, and after a flash of red, Chari was behind him. The older Charizard glanced at the pair, and snarled. Technically, one's mate could join a duel. If it was to the death, or for leadership. He glanced at the humans, and then understood. They wanted his help for something, and they were fighting to prove they were worthy of it.

        ________________________________________

        The older Charizard smirked, and spun, as a tornado of flames shot into the air, then, a similarly red pair of Dragon Claws rose out of the flames, towards the two fighters. Though the claws were massive, they missed Blaze, or rather, skirled off his aura. Chari went down, however, landing hard, but relatively uninjured. Blaze eyed her, and then bid her to stay put as he rejoined the battle.

        The female did as she'd been asked, as she'd smashed a wing into the rock after being hit. There was no reason to go in now. In the air, Blaze would have to defend her and also attack, and on the ground…well, this Charizard could handle her there, too. She stayed back, as the two males smashed together repeatedly.

        For all the fire and claws, neither one seemed to be damaged much, and once it was clear they were drawing towards a stalemate, Alex gave his partner useful information, and a strategy. Battles were as much mind games as they were fights, in contests like this, anyways. A moment's distraction would tip it.

        ________________________________________

        Blaze smirked as he heard and agreed with the plan. His Trainer was convinced that this Charizard was his sire, or at least related by blood. They shared the same features, though Blaze's wings were nowhere near as small.

        Blaze's Dragon Tail canceled out another Dragon Claw, and the younger fire lizard snarled in the tongue of their species to the older one. "You…are related to me, aren't you…we are similar…"

        The elder paused, and the battle did as well, as he eyed his opponent properly, and then nodded. "I did not smell it, but now I see it. You are of my blood…a son I thought lost." He raised a claw and it burst to life with red draconic energy, "But that changes nothing. You started this battle…I will finish it!"

        Blaze then did his best imitation of a human shrug, which actually looked halfway decent. He dodged with the speed of the wind, as his own Dragon claw ran along the outer edge of his opponent's. "Very well. I just thought you should know, I have offspring as well."

        The older fire lizard's attack paused, eyes widening at the news, for it was always a wonderful thing to have more family. Blaze took the second he needed, and slid his Dragon claw up the older Charizard's burly arm, neck, and then face, in a powerful upwards slash.

        ________________________________________

        The two broke apart then, and the elder was panting. A critical hit, and one that had taken out an eye. Not permanently, but it would need to heal. The claws hadn't actually cut his skin, either. Only faint black marks showed where they'd passed, scraping against the elder's aura shield. Blaze had actually gotten through it around the neck area, and it had not re-formed. In fact, the aura had dissipated entirely now.

        Slightly irritated with this new injury, the elder snarled. "Enough, whelp. What do you and your humans want of me?"

        Blaze glanced up at his trainer as he mumbled softer growls. "Something about a Trial…"

        The older fire lizard grinned. "Ahh. The Trial…why didn't you say so?" He rose again, and though the aura didn't re-form, two other, smaller, Charizard stepped forward to join him. They were comparatively large, but against the King and his offspring, everyone was small. The two arrivals engaged Blaze immediately, but he had fought battles like this before. He could handle a pair of his kin, but he flew higher into the smoky air regardless, as their flames followed him. He didn't want his sire interfering as he dispatched these two.

        ________________________________________

        Occupied as he was, for the two the King had chosen were skilled aerial fighters, Blaze did not notice what went on below. Five other Charizard, each an elder in their own right, surrounded their King, and freely gave their power…so that he might attain the same level as one bonded to a human. Fire type energy poured into the massive Charizard, and like his offspring, he retained his typing and colors as he mega evolved. He was stronger now yes, but most importantly, his wings were now capable of lifting his massive form, which was mostly muscle.

        The air boomed as he lifted off, and the weakened elders below curled into circular piles of orange scale, their wings forming a tent above them as they meditated, and kept their own power supplying their King's.

        Luckily for Blaze, he had a pair of eyes with a cliff-side view, and saw his sire coming. There was a layer of thin cloud between them, though it was mostly just smoke, it obscured one's vision regardless. Blaze maneuvered his opponents into position, and then kept them there, as his father ascended.

        He burst through the clouds with a powerful Dragon Tail, unable to pause as he realized who he was swinging at. The two new opponents went down, and once more, the battle was even. Like Chari, they had smashed into the stone canyon walls, and would need time to recover in order to battle again.

        ________________________________________

        Father and son clashed again and again as the sun turned the sky red, and the sun began to set. Getting here had taken almost a full day, and the days had begun to grow shorter. The summer was halfway finished, and the days were once more shortening to reasonable length.

        Seeing another stalemate approaching, Blaze knew this would likely be it. Though he wouldn't admit it, those two had damaged him, almost as much as he'd damaged his sire. The next decisive blow would finish this contest, and he intended to win.

        "Wait for an opening…do not rush…" His trainer's words echoed in his skull, but this time, he listened. His partner had become a skilled fighter of his own kind, and what worked well in battle for him had often translated just as well into his team's battles. "Move with the wind, and let him strike the air. He is tired, though his stamina will likely outlast yours. Use your speed to deliver a blow, you can't match him physically."

        ________________________________________

        Blaze did as ordered, looping through the air as his sire's claws furiously slashed through it. He was picking up speed now, and could feel his wings starting to strain. Moving fast enough just to dodge was taking a lot of focus. He would need that focus for a useful attack. Then, he had an idea of his own. His trainer, smirked, and encouraged him to go for it. His battle instincts were great, after all.

        He flew high then, high into the smog-filled clouds over this part of the Canyon. Each wing beat cleared it away, and Blaze knew he couldn't use it a second time. He'd need a different trick.

        Finally, he flew straight up, and in a masterful display of aerial maneuvering, he came down at his still ascending opponent with a Dragon Tail propelled by gravity. Two large claws came towards him, and then his sire launched them at his progeny in an x-shaped cris-cross that flew through the air. Blaze smashed through them with his tail, and circled around into his own Dragon Claw.

        The elder had let his upwards momentum stop, but Blaze had far more after falling. Smashing through the dragon energy had slowed him only slightly, and once more the offspring scored a hit upon the King, who grunted, and fell back first towards the ground. He turned slowly in the air, and let his massive wings stop him, but he still slammed onto the ground quite hard, and did not rise to battle again. His mega form faded, and he lifted his tail up into the air, the sign amongst their species that told their enemy they were done battling. Charizard did not typically kill fellow Charizard, after all.

        ________________________________________

        Up on the cliff's edge, the Chief turned to Alex, and smiled. "You have trained that one well. If all of your partners are that strong, Pravus is doomed."

        Alex shrugged, scratching his blonde hair. "Well, six of them are. The other three are a work in progress…and I still need my last one."

        The Chief eyed him again, and then nodded. "A ghost type…I think I know one who will work well with you…if you can convince him to battle."

        Alex raised a brow, but the Chief spoke before he could. "But we will see to that in the morning. For now, let us feast among our fiery brethren!" The other fire lizards shot their flames into the air, and as they did, Blaze flew past them, spinning into the air, and then fanning his wings out as he came down again, and landed on the cliff. Chari followed soon after, favoring her wing, but still capable of flying straight up. It was, after all, one of the easier maneuvers fliers used.

        That night was spent around the King's tail flames, and as the entire group of humans gathered around, their own partners joined their tails with his. Blaze did as well, and together, they shared and recovered energy as the humans partook of their intense fire to burn and inhale their smelly plants.
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        Old 2 Weeks Ago (3:40 AM).
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        Sahqoreyth Sahqoreyth is offline
        Pokefan1337
           
          Join Date: May 2018
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          Chapter 25: The Long Night Begins

          ________________________________________

          Lab Ein – Fornia Region

          ________________________________________

          "Tell me the odds again, Ein." Caleb Pravus stared down at his prize, grinning.

          The lab coated doctor would've flipped his brown hair flick, if Pravus hadn't made him cut it off. Instead, he pushed his glasses up by the brim. "Given the species' popularity, incompetent archeological skills of our race at the time, and the tectonic upheaval of the Stoney Mountains, the odds of finding an intact specimen, let alone one a Mew fused with..."

          He was silent for a good thirty seconds as his brain mathed out the numbers. Finally, he sighed, his monotone voice sounded bored. "Astronomically small."

          Pravus gave him a look, but let it slide. They had other things to discuss. "Gender?"

          "He hasn't figured that out yet." Ein said, smirking.

          Pravus rolled his eyes. "Spare me the PC BS, and just say 'male', or 'plug' if we must use analogies."

          ________________________________________

          Ein sighed, looking down at his creation. "It doesn't really matter, though. He's the only one we can make. We used all the other samples to make this one. And he's still part rock type."

          Pravus grinned. "Oh, don't worry, we'll have a dragon crystal soon enough. It's on its way here as we speak." Ein rolled his eyes. One didn't need to be a genius to know how that encounter would go. Hundreds of team bosses, every bit as strong as Pravus, had fallen to younger trainers, with less experience. All of whom had also gone on to be Champions as well. Unova especially, had a habit of forging strong Champions. As did Kalos.

          Ein looked down at his creation again, and sighed. Pravus did have numbers though, and when it came to Pokémon, that was all one really needed. Empires like this cult were what made creating creations like his Veloraptar possible, and he would be perfect to lead their numbers... when he was finished.

          ________________________________________

          The Pokémon being admired by the two men high above his paddock smelled delicious to the creature within. He eyed them, still hungry after devouring the Gogoat they'd all but dangled in front of him. He knew they'd been testing his leaping height, and soon after that first meal, the metal bar had been built overhead.

          He hated how it loomed over him, but he especially hated the 'human' that eyed him like a meal. When he had been alive before, the humans had run from him in terror, but then, he'd been much faster, almost able to fly in those days. This new body, while physically stronger, was still flawed. He could run roughly the same, but he always felt slow. Imperfect.

          His eyes turned to thin vertical slits as he scented more prey. Evidently, this…circular…thing they'd trapped him in had prey within it. He trotted off through the foliage, wincing at how loud his steps were. How was he supposed to hunt like this?

          ________________________________________

          Colville - Northern Fornia Region

          ________________________________________

          Brad had, like his partners on this endeavor, made contact with friendly allies in Fornia's northern areas. The north was a natural forested buffer between the Takoma region and most of Fornia, and with the exception of the city of Pravia to the east, the Arceans didn't seem to mind the tribe's presence to the west.

          Brad had trained his Charmeleon against the Rebel trainers, and he had finally evolved the previous evening. They'd camped out that night, with the young Charizard folding his wings into a tent, as his father had shown him. Evidently, it was something Alex had him do often, though usually Shruikan was the better choice, as he was now enormous.

          It had been a jarring thing, being shoved back into Arcean society, falling into old habits, like praising the Prophet in every sentence he was mentioned. From his new perspective, he now saw how deviously ingenious Pravus' set-up was. It was designed for subtle, effective brainwashing. So subtle, the average person couldn't even tell they were being molded. Some resisted, of course…but they soon either fit in the mold, or vanished. This was why everyone wanted to stay out of trouble. Justice in Fornia had a tendency to be swift.

          ________________________________________

          Though he'd initially entertained thoughts of rejoining his people, the corruption in the world Pravus had built soon became obvious. Taking a cover job as a member of one of the Church's many 'media branches' had been tedious, but the monotony of doing seemingly meaningless tasks had been broken up one day when a group of Task Force members entered the writing room of their little studio, by force.

          They'd asked for a specific writer of a specific article that, evidently, Pravus himself had read, and not liked. The consequences for producing 'sub-par work' involved every member of the twenty-man squad taking their chance to beat on the writer in question, long after he'd lost consciousness.

          The job, which he had admittedly lingered at due to his feelings of nostalgia, was quickly abandoned soon after that incident. Indeed, Brad had simply vanished one day, and nobody, not even the security in charge of keeping the writers writing, could tell how he'd left. Nobody knew what Pokémon he had at home, as he was new, and Pokémon were not for the workplace. Not at their level, anyways.

          ________________________________________

          Brad had put the Sage's training to good use, and eventually, had discovered the northernmost tribe in Fornia after wandering blindly through the wilderness. The more he had thought during his trek, the more he'd noticed. The Arceans had seemingly no interest in this beautiful, fertile land. It was hard to find in southern Fornia, but the areas he'd hiked through were full of mountains, forests, and even rare Pokémon. It was entirely out of character for Pravus to ignore it.

          When he discovered Colville, a city among the massive trees that grew throughout the region, he began to understand. The tribespeople here were not only expert trainers, they could also move stealthily through the trees of their land with almost unnatural skill. Their guerrilla tactics were all but unstoppable, and every time the Arceans had tried setting up a site to dig for fossils or cut lumber, the tribe had stopped them. Given how far they had to transport everything, the losses in equipment, fuel, and even manpower were significant.

          Eventually, Pravus had given up on the area, though why, nobody quite knew. Some guessed he would deal with it later, after the Unova threat was taken care of. Most Arceans didn't seem to care either, for they only had cities on their borders, and were happy to leave the wilderness to the 'savages'.

          ________________________________________

          Colville was not unlike the base hidden within the Majestic Canyon. Though most of the people and supplies moved through the massive trees with a relatively complex pulley system, those who could, preferred having their partners use Vine Whip to swing through the trees. These were usually the stronger trainers, sent on guerilla strike missions at supply lines.

          Like Alex and Jess, Brad had acquired a fossil on his way to this city in the trees, and after some training, his new Archeops moved through them just as silently. Once his newly assembled team was ready, after he'd caught, trained, and evolved the partners he needed, Brad asked the tribe to help him with another mission that required stealth.

          Tracking down his family had taken days, and he'd already stayed in Colville longer than planned. Alex and Jess were likely on their way to Mewsia, the only city on Fornia's lovely coast that wasn't entirely under Pravus' thumb. It was through this port that foreigners were allowed to trade and converse with specially selected Arceans, who would give the best impression of the culture their leader envisioned. Their loyalty was, apparently, unbreakable.

          ________________________________________

          Alex had said to take as long as he needed, though. They were going to contact him when they made their move. Until then, he didn't have to rendezvous, so he stayed, and he searched. The Pineus family, to which Bradley belonged, had owned a simple estate in the mountainous area of north-eastern Fornia. An entire mountainside, which had been in their family for generations.

          Proud Arceans had been raised there, but none had risen like Bradley. He'd been the only Hand of the Prophet. He could only imagine what was left of his home after defecting, but he wasn't expecting what he found. Ash covered everything, and the entire mountain had been burned bare. Machinery belonging to the Arcean's fossil recovery branch was already boring into the mountain, and from the looks of the lights over where his home had stood, they had met with success.

          Brad smirked, as he mentally whispered to his Archeops. "What do you want to bet they've found elemental plates and crystals?" His smirk widened. He'd memorized what the three of them still needed, and aside from Dragon and probably psychic, the other crystals could be found.

          ________________________________________

          Brad had always known that his family's mountain contained power. The Pokémon raised on those once fertile slopes had always been powerful. He had not however, expected to find at least ten of every elemental plate, just lying around the camp. It made some sense, as in reality, nobody but Brad and his family lived out here, but it still seemed careless. Evidently, the leader of this operation was a 'fun boss', and rewarded hard work before safely storing assets. Brad's smirk grew grim as he eyed the plates. That was definitely against protocol.

          Taking them all but guaranteed ruining someone's life, career, even marriage potentially. Some worker here would talk, the overseer would be replaced…ruined, and the digging would continue. But then, if he did nothing, what had already been dug up would be exploited further. The Arcean Fossil Organization was famous for digging deeper than they should.

          A familiar voice echoed in his head. "Examine the man whose life you fear to ruin. He has no mental defenses. These people's minds are wide open. Go. Look."

          Brad tensed atop his mount as he replied in the same manner. "Yes, Master." He reached out, and examined the man's mind. Thankfully, the illegal alcoholic beverages, and other substances, were clouding what senses the man did possess. Brad's intrusion went unnoticed, as he examined each memory, each thought, feeling, emotion.

          ________________________________________

          What he found sickened him. This was a man who enjoyed his power, and while he could keep his workers happy, he enjoyed those who needed to be punished in truly disturbing ways. He reached for the plates, when he paused. "I'm not seeing every angle." He felt the sage's approval.

          The bad emotions were easy to notice because they stood out. Among the kinder memories were his children. But even here, Brad was disappointed. They were far too reminiscent of his own childhood. He'd never seen his parents enough, as he'd been off being educated, at their expense. It had all paid off when he'd become Champion, but that had almost been worse than being a strong trainer with a Rayquaza.

          He saw that this man's own offspring truly mattered little to him. Beyond making sure they were decent Arceans, he didn't seem to acknowledge their existence. The work he did, for the fate of the planet, was far more important. Finally, Brad left the man's head, his hope in humanity fading. He shoved the plates into his bag, but surprisingly, they were incredibly light. His eyes counted each of the types, three times over. No need to be greedy after all.

          ________________________________________

          As he looked at just how many there were though, he reconsidered. The Rebellion could use trainers with plates…and the knowledge of how to tap them. Between his Marowak and Scizor, the stealthy trio managed to grab many sets of plates, before he'd felt they'd pushed their luck. They left when someone shouted, drunkenly, that the pile of plates had shrunk.

          The overseer had laughed, and said they'd just dig up more, but nobody had cheered at that. They'd just finished working, dammit. They needed, earned, this reprieve. As the mood in the camp turned dark and mutiny-ish, Brad and his loyal flying, stealthy partner headed south.

          He'd found the remains of his home, of course, and had been able to access some of the tech that survived. They may have been isolated out here, but his family had never lacked for gadgets. The last record, from several months prior, said they'd been moved south. So south they went, following the trail.

          ________________________________________

          Though the area around the massive desert in the region was sparsely populated, what towns did exist, Brad searched through. There had indeed been a large truck with his family name on it that passed through. On their way to Sacreus, or so they said. Brad swore.

          Sacreus was a unique city, in that it had once existed in an age before Pokémon. Then, a meteor had struck it, leaving nothing but death and destruction. Some said it was that event that sparked the final fall for humanity, but nobody really remembered why their race had fallen anymore. The ancient past was the ancient past. They hadn't even had Pokémon, so why learn about them? The ancient's way of life had failed. To most modern people, they were irrelevant, save for the rebooted entertainment franchises resurrected from the remains of the Old Net.

          Sacreus had been rebuilt over time, as people came to live in the crater. It had once been fertile, but the city that grew within the crater soon drowned out what natural life had come from the ancient impact and destruction. Sacreus had natural defenses, hills for miles around it, and a plasma shield that could cover the city in times of need. Just in case of impending meteor strikes.

          The city had, over the years, also extended downwards. For hundreds of miles, it was said to be a steel under-city that people actually lived in, sometimes for their entire lives. Pravus' headquarters was at the bottom-most level, and reaching it any other way but through the cult required one to magically dig through tons of rock, and then several feet of metal. Thankfully, they'd brought a mountain-eater with them. But he was, if the plan was on track, still training.

          ________________________________________

          Alex had wanted to avoid Sacreus entirely, as being recognized in Pravus' home turf would be quite bad. The city was thoroughly checked for traitors, and people were switched out all the time if they became suspects of some usually imaginary crime.

          Ignoring the upper levels and going for the head of the snake via Cenomons was the best option while they had stealth on their side. Brad had agreed. Much of Arcean society depended on the Prophet. He was a 'holy' man, touched by Arceus, and blessed with apparent immortality. He was the will of the 'God Pokémon' as the locals called him, made manifest. He was also what everyone secretly feared.

          Anyone who went against Pravus tended to vanish. But the mere thought of betraying their leader was, to many Arceans, unimaginable. A concept they couldn't even consider…not while he yet lived, at least. Oddly enough though, a few of the latest generation had begun to outright leave because of the rampant abuse within the system. Brad hadn't seen many of them in Colville, but those Fornians were the ones who'd sparked this rebellion. He didn't wonder how they might react to seeing their cult leader fall, for from his point of view, anyone who'd suffered at his hands knew there could only be one fate for such a person.

          ________________________________________

          With his parents likely sequestered within the fortress crater-city, Brad resigned himself to waiting. His siblings though, he knew exactly where they'd be. He'd wanted more than his parent's aid to free them, as he was familiar with how heavy security was at the living quarters for children, but he could manage on his own.

          He had his stealthy Scizor zip around the camp, once he'd reached it. They called it a dig site, but it reality, it was a work camp, where children of loyal Arceans toiled away, mostly mining useless rocks. Occasionally some would find a fossil, but those were always taken away quickly. His Scizor returned several minutes later. It had been hard finding two specific blonde, blue-eyed tan children amongst so many others, but the intelligent bug had managed it.

          Brad eyed the building for a long time, and eventually recalled his Scizor. He would do this himself. He reached out with the psychic power he'd previously ignored. It was a part of him, and now one he embraced. He found the mind that he recognized as his youngest brother's, and made contact.

          ________________________________________

          "Sam. Wake up. It's your brother. Think your responses, and I'll hear them. Do you understand?" It took a few moments for the groggy preteen to come to consciousness, and realize he was not in fact dreaming.

          "Brad? How are you…"

          "Later. Listen to me, you need to get ready to leave. Bring our sister." He sensed their youngest sister lying near him, but of the elder there was no sign.

          The boy's mind lit up at the thought of not being in the living hell that was the labor camp, but fear kept him hesitant. It was, after all, the Church's strongest tool. "We can't just walk out. The guards will see us. The others will tell. We'll get beaten again..."

          "Don't worry about them, just pack your bags. I'm getting you both far away from here. Where's Lisa?"

          The younger brother paused for a moment, and then thought, "I don't know…she's…changed, Brad. She's on the fast track to becoming a Hand of the Prophet."

          Brad sighed. He knew what that meant. His defection had only served to inspire 'loyalty' to the cause, and Pravus was all too glad to keep a potential hostage nearby. The fact that she was also rather attractive certainly had nothing to do with her meteoric rise to the Prophet's side.

          ________________________________________

          That meant that over half of his family, his parents and sister, as well as any aunts or other relatives who hadn't cut ties already were likely to disconnect from them once it was discovered they'd escaped. Still, he'd decided early on that if he could only save a few, he'd want to get the young ones out first. He knew far too well what teenage years in the church were really like.

          His Lycanroc and Cloyster had taken out the guards around this particular building, and while those who were unconscious would recover, those frozen in ice would have a long wait to melt. Sunrise was far off. Brad had his Lycanroc guide the two children out, and once they were out of the building, he put them on the wolf's back, and had him carry them to Archeops.

          He covered their tracks, mended the barbed wire fence that surrounded the work camp, and left no trace of which direction they'd gone. The security here was competent enough to follow tracks, but if there were no tracks to follow, they'd be significantly slowed. Enough for them to get away.

          ________________________________________

          As his large, female Archeops carried them into the sky, his brother babbled away about fossil Pokémon, while his youngest sister, who was six and considered old enough to work, simply clung to her big brother. She would likely be pretty as well, though Brad also knew the camps were a home to many with darker perversions. Such people had an unfortunate tendency to rise to positions of power within the church. He sincerely hoped she'd avoided such men.

          As his Archeops flew north, towards the relative safety of Colville, she flew just high enough for Sam to reach up into a cloud, and discover they were rather wet, not fluffy. Then, the large Pokémon stopped, and squawked for her master's attention.

          They went into a steep, gliding dive and came out over the forests of the north-eastern part of Fornia. Brad swore, and quickly turned the ancient bird around. It would be a longer flight, but he could use his Charizard if necessary. The Canyon Base was the largest one the Rebellion had left.

          ________________________________________

          Deep Within the Majestic Canyon – Fornia Region

          ________________________________________

          Alex approached the strange orb at the end of the cave the Chief had led them to. Jess had remained at the base, and began the arduous task of learning who everyone was. She wasn't irritated though, as she knew he'd be joining her very soon.

          As he looked at the orb, he noticed that it was black on the edges, and white within. Alex glanced at the Chief, who watched him, silently, probably musing to himself with his inner monologue. He did that a lot, and never noticed his tendency to mutter aloud when he mused after toking his pipe.

          Alex put a hand on the orb, and smirked. The strange sphere shifted to a familiar swirling pattern of Eternal Balance, and the Pokémon within woke up.

          ________________________________________

          Electric and ghost. That was the first thing Alex saw, and then he realized what he was looking at. It was Rotom, of course, but its black and white form was tied to a similarly colored crystal at the bottom. As the ghost saw the human, it reflexively melded with its' crystal, and a pair of golden eyes stared at him from the object he currently possessed.

          Alex knelt down and lifted the crystal up. The ghost within eyed him the entire time. "Hello there." The crystal blinked its golden eyes once. "I'm Alex. The Champion of Unova. The one who reunited Tao." At the dragon's name, the eyes grew brighter.

          "The dragon is whole?" The voice was almost incoherent, and faint.

          "He is, Old One." The Chief said from the back of the cave, waiting patiently.

          The Rotom seemed to stare through him as it processed his words. Alex had no illusions about the intelligence of the Pokémon before him. He could sense the power the ghost had, and knew it was at least as intelligent as Tao, and probably almost as old. The ghost's mind felt ancient.

          ________________________________________

          The crystal suddenly flared with electricity, searing his skin, and he winced. He'd learned to hold in a reaction to pain early in his martial training with the dragon. He noticed the small crystal mirroring his smirk, and Alex arched a brow. "Is that it?"

          The Pokémon stared at him, and the voltage increased. He was ready now, though. His eyes flared as he guided the current harmlessly through the parts of his body that could handle such intense shock, and into the stone below him.

          The ground flared in a familiar Taijitu swirl, as the two bonded. Sparks began arcing through the air as the tiny Pokémon gave the human as much as he dared. The equivalent of a Thunder attack. Hopefully, it would only knock the human out, but he could never judge how much they could really take.

          ________________________________________

          Finally, it stopped. The crystal shivered in approval, and then glowed entirely white. Alex stared at the crystal for a long time before deciding it was too similar. He tossed the crystal into the air, on a hunch, and the Rotom within burst free with a satisfying, and sparky, yawn. "I really hate not being able to leave that thing! At least you figured out how to open it. The last guy took two weeks." His voice was higher now that he was free, and he sounded like his trainer when he spoke. It was, somehow, both familiar and strange at the same time.

          The small ghost type continued arcing his plasma body in ever more twisted shapes. Alex's eyes were on the crystal though. He'd heard of ancient devices that could contain Pokémon, and those that still existed always had unusual Pokémon within.

          Alex pocketed the strange crystal, and shrugged. A Pokéball was a Pokéball. It was common knowledge that ancient civilizations from the early years of the Dark Times had been able to capture and battle with Pokémon. Devices like the crystal had been common, and far more unique than Pokéballs could ever really be. Battling, as a sport, was ancient in their world. An honored tradition that went back to the rebirth of the human race. In a time of chaos, it had united the world.

          He found the small ghost eyeing him, and where his crystal went. He valued it, clearly. Alex reached out then, and brought the new member of their team into the mental web that connected his team. He could tell the ghost was impressed, and Alex smirked. The plasma being was already conversing with several of his partners, and giving them battle advice.

          ________________________________________

          The Chief approached the suddenly still pair of trainer and Pokémon, tapping Alex's shoulder. The two blinked, in unison. "He sounds like you..." the Chief remarked. Alex simply nodded, flexing his hand as he focused on healing the burns. Recover was, unfortunately, still a mystery to him, move wise. He could make it seem easy, as he had against Connor, but if he was honest, Tao had mainly healed those wounds. They'd been rather serious. "We should return to the base. Your partner apparently just checked in…with news."

          ________________________________________

          Alex raised a brow, momentarily blank on who was being referred to. "My partner…? Not Jess…then…oh. Ohhhh. Brad? What news does he bring?"

          The Chief stared at the Unovan for a long moment, then sighed. "Nothing good…" He pointed to the north then, as they'd reached the top of the footpath that led up the canyon wall.

          Alex's team joined them, staring in disbelief, and perhaps for the first time understanding just how depraved their foe was, and the lengths he would go to in order to crush rebellion.

          ________________________________________

          The entire sky was turning black, and not with electricity. That, he could've handled. These clouds had something dark drifting down from them, and, they were blowing in from the north. The Chief grimaced. "It has begun. Colville has fallen."

          Alex shared the Chief's grim look. He recalled everyone, Rotom included, as Shruikan leapt into the valley below, and circled around for rapid ascension. "I need a better look. Meet me back at the base." Before the Chief could respond, the Unovan Champion had grabbed his Salamence's tail, and was already in the air, climbing the massive back of his black dragon. The huge beast flapped into the sky, through the ashy clouds, and then above them.

          Shruikan picked up speed by the time Alex had grabbed onto one of his head horns. Dragon energy surrounded both of them as he mega evolved, and accelerated. A normal Salamence in this form could cross continents in mere hours. Flying a few hundred miles north was easy.

          ________________________________________

          It took an hour, but eventually they figured out where the smoke was coming from. Ash clouds blanketed the area for miles around them, and as Alex recalled his dragon, he fell through the foul clouds, and let gravity control him for a minute.

          He had time before he'd need to float, so he fell, and as he did, he saw. Normally, he imagined, the trees that had made up this base of tribespeople were likely invisible. Now though, there was a disturbingly perfect circle of charred trees, miles in diameter, that had encompassed the entire settlement. Nobody had run away unscathed.

          Just as he was wondering what sort of Pokémon could unleash this kind of flame in such a perfect circle, he felt eyes upon him from below, and reached for his power. His large form stopped, hovering in the air, and he rapidly ascended towards the clouds again.

          ________________________________________

          It was already too late, though. Blaze popped free of his ball, wings and body enveloping his trainer as the cone of flames shot up at them from the ground. Though they were intense, it would take far more than that to take his Charizard down. Alex slid onto his back, as his partner glowed with red energy from the crystal. They shot into the clouds, and waited above.

          They heard the wing flaps as whatever had struck at them rose into the clouds, and Alex felt a familiar sensation of 'oh muk' run up his spine as he spied his opponent, and what he was riding. It was a Noivern, but something about it was…off. It had traded the flying typing for dark, and shadow energy emanated from it. Its eyes only wanted to kill, and as it saw Blaze, it began to drool. Its mouth was covered in blood, and it took Alex a moment to realize where it was likely from. Picking off stragglers of a disaster. This was a special kind of depraved trainer then, and likely one of Pravus' hands. He fit the description.

          The man atop the monstrous dragon was clad in similar garb to what the examiners in the Swamp wore, though where theirs was 'camouflaged' this man's was entirely black. Though he wore a similarly colored beret, and Alex had always found them a bit silly, it did nothing to detract from the imposing presence he gave off. A familiar chill in the air. That sense of dread that so often accompanied death. It seemed Pravus wasn't the only one with tricks.

          ________________________________________

          The man wore a green monocle-type device over his left eye, and as he stared at Blaze, his smile grew. "That's the one." He said to the Noivern. He raised a gloved hand, and it flared with dark type energy. "Feast, Carporian."

          At the man's words, an almost invisible crystal, for it blended with the man's choice of attire, began to glow, and the Noivern began to change. A smaller pair of wings sprouted from its sides, and the tail gained fin-like appendages. Most notable however, were the pair of massive fangs the dragon now sported. It panted as the change finished, ready to run wild.

          Normally, Alex would've enjoyed seeing a new Mega Form, but he knew a bit about Noivern, and could only imagine what their mega state was like, let alone under such a dark trainer. It was very likely that he'd lose control of that dragon. Even Blaze could tell it was growing annoyed with its rider. It had grown larger, angrier, as his trainer formed a leash of dark energy from the crystal, and wrapped it about the dragon's neck.

          Shruikan, for his part, agreed with their assessment, and used it to his advantage. He'd been called out again once they'd come up in the clouds, and had been told to fly even higher. Now, the low thrumming sound of his wings slicing through the air was the only prelude to the Charge Beam that followed. The Noivern glared at where the sound came from, but did not expect what was streaking down from the sky to be a Salamence.

          ________________________________________

          The electric beam struck the Noivern with deadly precision as the massive dragon zipped past. Not only was the beast weakened, but his rider was struggling to stay on, and cursing at his mount for being so blind. Preoccupied with his trainer and his injuries, the Noivern did not see the Dragon Tail Shruikan aimed their way as an afterthought. The sheer size of it caused the bat-like dragon to slam into the ground below with a thunderous boom.

          "Time to leave." Alex said, as he recalled Blaze, and hopped once more on Shruikan. He headed south again, before the Noivern could recover. By the time it did eventually fly up again, they were long gone. The bat-like dragon was furious, and with a single flap, it cleared the ash clouds for miles. It hadn't had a chance to use its power at all. The other dragon had robbed it of a battle.

          The Hand of Death, now once more perched on the dragon, grimaced. He hadn't even had time for banter. He loved banter. Of course to him, banter was the screams of pain he drew from his targets. His dark expression shifted to one that could cause pure terror in even the manliest of men. The grin of a hunter who sees prey. By pure chance, the clouds obscuring the black Salamence had been within Carporian's range. Though the attack probably hadn't damaged the dragon from so far away, it had revealed him, and his rider. They had yet further to go until the undisturbed clouds of ash could cover them again.

          ________________________________________

          His hunter was already moving, for he'd spotted the prey as well. Though to him this would be more of a match between rivals, rather than a hunt. The Noivern had felt the thunder of that dragon first hand, and he would not underestimate him again. Each flap of his wings propelled him towards his target, and from below, the annoyingly fast hatchling followed.

          The Noivern ignored it, and instead unleashed the power of his Voice, now that they were in range. The boom had shocked Shruikan, making his entire system tense up from the sheer power of the vibrations behind the attack. The dragon had continued soaring, but was slowly descending, and couldn't dodge. Alex had been trying to find the pressure point by the back of his skull for several minutes, but his scales were too thick in his Mega Form.

          He'd had Shruikan drop it, and of course as soon as he let the power go, the damned Noivern cleared the sky. By the time Alex pressed the pressure point, causing Shruikan's wings to work again, they had fallen several hundred feet, and the fanged dragon had gained on them with speed. Then, they heard its Voice. It was untrained, but the sheer power of it was all that was really needed. Shruikan took the hit hard, and Alex knew they needed to turn this around quickly.

          ________________________________________

          Shruikan used his own Hyper Voice, and Alex smirked at his choice of words. So that's what he'd learned from Rayquaza. He'd been keeping it a secret for a while, from everyone. "Dovah Envok!" The black dragon's eyes flared, and an aura of bluish-purple energy formed around him as he rapidly moved towards the Noivern.

          A familiar cone of flame came for them, but Shruikan cut through it. His Dragon Ascent wasn't perfect like Rayquaza's, but it was still strong. Where the Legendary dragons could shift their power from dragon to flying, to mega evolve, other dragons used dragon energy, and used it as a powerful physical attack.

          The energy hit the Noivern hard, and this time, his trainer knew there would be no second wind. The Hand leapt off his mount, and let it crash below in the mountainous forests that made up much of this part of the region. The Hand himself floated, a dark aura surrounding him. Much like his servant, he simply hadn't had time to use it before. The black dragon had been too quick.

          ________________________________________

          He drew another ball from his belt, and Alex recalled his own partner, as he floated with his own power as well. Apparently, this battle was happening. The black clad man grinned at him. "There's no running from trainer battles."

          Alex rolled his eyes, and as he did, the man threw a Dark Ball. An Absol appeared, as dark and shadowy as the Noivern it was partnered with. This one's expression was entirely different. It took one look at Alex, and began trying to resist its trainer. To no avail. The power that controlled it now, and bonded it to the Hand, was too strong. It looked on helplessly as its trainer commanded a Razor Wind.

          Arthur appeared in a flash of purple then, from the ball Alex had drawn as well. A Psycho Cut canceled out the attack, but that didn't stop the Absol. It kept shooting the bursts of wind, but luckily, Arthur could use Psycho Cut just as much. It was one of his favored moves now, mostly because of its versatility.

          ________________________________________

          Eventually, the fight had devolved into a Night Slash tradeoff, between the Absol's horn, and Arthur's blades. When he tried a Shadow Ball to gain some distance, the Absol copied him, and the resulting explosion pushed both back. That, was when they mega evolved. Arthur's arms began glowing gold as soon as he finished, but the Absol looked downright miserable.

          Arthur reached out to it. "It's okay…I know you can't stop attacking. Don't stop fighting his control. I can free you of this curse, but you need to keep resisting!" The Absol blinked as it processed the words.

          "Aerial Ace." The Absol shot forward at the command, and Arthur met the attack with a Night Slash, cancelling it out. The stalemate resumed, and the usually smirking knight, this time, had a look of irritation on his face as the battle dragged one. Neither Pokemon could get an edge, and what kindness Arthur had shown at first had melted away in the ferocity of the pointless, yet epic clash. "I don't have time for this…" His irritation echoed in his telepathy.

          ________________________________________

          Each Night Slash counter punctuated his words as he grew furious. "I. Have. Better. Things. I. Could. Be-Doing!" He came down in a horizontal slash, finally scoring a hit on the Absol. Not that it did much. The Dark type energy shifted back to gold, and the Gallade narrowed his eyes. "This ends. Now."

          Alex watched his Gallade, one eyebrow raised. Where in the hells did he want to be? They'd been preparing for battles like this for weeks, but evidently Arthur didn't care at the moment. He did Teleport away often enough, but he always came back. That was the unspoken agreement. His trainer didn't care what he did, so long as he was there when battle called. He supposed everyone might get sick of that, though. Especially as strong a spirit as Arthur. He was royalty, after all.

          The Gallade glared at his trainer, and then focused on his Sacred Sword. The Absol, seeing an opening, powered up an Aerial Ace. Or rather, he tried. His horn simply didn't glow as he charged forward and struck. Arthur's strike caught the Absol as they passed in the air, and the Mega Form dissolved.

          ________________________________________

          The Gallade wasn't done, though. He landed and turned in one smooth movement, arms still ablaze with golden light. He was building the fighting type energy for something. Changing the fighting type into something else. His trainer nodded, as he understood what his eyes were showing him.

          The energy had a familiar symbol psychically associated with the attack, the symbol of Arceus. This could only be one kind of energy. Light energy. He supposed it made some sense… legendary fighters usually ascended to the heavens in the legends. He guessed it was fairly rare though, but if anything could counteract Dark Matter…that would be it. It'd worked before, after all.

          The Gallade touched a burning sword tip to the downed Absol's bluish-black oval on its forehead. The shadow faded, in the face of the light. The Pokémon sighed, then collapsed, fainted. It could've gone several more rounds, like Arthur, but the removal of the shadow had knocked it out cold.

          ________________________________________

          The smile Arthur had gained shifted to an expression of cold rage as a black light hit the Absol, and recalled it. "Pointless." The Hand said, smirking. "I admit…I did not expect this kind of strength. I should've brought my Legendaries. Pravus suggested as much. You're yet another monstrously strong trainer that's appeared from nowhere. I get it. But that doesn't mean we'll give up. Not even someone like you can take all of us down. We are relentless."

          He flung another ball. "Go! Tyrannus!" The Tyranitar had barely appeared, before its master forced it to the next level of power. It roared not in rage, but agony. Alex stared, trying not to wince. He'd wanted to see what mega evolving with these stones could cause, and now, it was obvious. He had no illusions that he'd started this. The Arceans were the kind of group to analyze and then copy their enemies. What didn't take them out, made them stronger.

          He'd battled other Tyranitar, though, who'd achieved this state the right way. Their power had been even greater, because the crystals could empower attacks. What had been learned in the Swamp was spreading, but it didn't have to result in harm. They just needed a way to keep this kind of power away from people like Pravus and his Hands.

          ________________________________________

          "Send as many as you want, I'll take them all!" Arthur rushed in again, swords blazing, and right as the Tyranitar loomed over him, he vanished, and reappeared behind the Hand himself. The swords crossed over his neck like a blazing guillotine. He stared up at the Tyranitar then. "You don't need to obey him anymore." His arms moved, the man's head fell, and then, it started to chuckle.

          "That's adorable. So righteous. Tyrannus, remove the princeling. Sweep his legs." As ordered, the giant Pokémon turned his sights on Arthur, who frowned. It was clearly obeying, not rampaging. "It's not out of control…it's loyal…" Arthur confirmed to his trainer, as his opponent formed charged forward, claws wreathed in ghost type energy.

          Where a normal Sacred Sword used fighting energy, light energy evidently had some effect on ghost. The attacks cancelled out, but the Tyranitar was relentless. Several got through Arthur's guard, hammering him onto his knees. Alex recalled him as the Tyranitar formed a Hyper Beam with one intent. It shot the energy anyway, not caring that its opponent had escaped, and set its sights on the trainer that had robbed him of his kill.

          ________________________________________

          His master's head, which had been retrieved by his body, now smirked from the palm of his hand. "End him."

          The Tyranitar paused, panting, which gave Alex the time he needed. "Hydrus. Finish this." He drew the ball, smirked, and then threw.

          The Swampert in question shifted almost as rapidly as the Tyranitar had. Their method was definitely slower, though. The dark shift had been almost instant. Tyrannus recovered, and charged once more. The dark claws returned, but Hydrus smashed them away with Hammer Arms, and followed that with a Water Pulse immediately after opening his guard.

          The Tyranitar went soaring back into the wilderness they were fighting in now. The flames from Colville and the dark clouds made the setting ominous. All it needed was lightning. An Ice Beam froze the Pokémon solid where it lay, and before the Hand could recall it, another Ice Beam froze him.

          ________________________________________

          Alex Teleported then, to the tent he'd been given at the Rebel's base. He'd recalled everyone and left quickly more times than he'd like to admit, but being able to be somewhere else instantly made terrifying situations a lot more interesting.

          He looked around the tent, and then grinned, as he spied his lover. It shifted to a frown of disapproval as he saw his newest partner was here as well, and not in his ball…crystal…thing. Apparently, he'd snuck away with the Chief, rather than join the others in danger.

          "You need a name, don't you… hmm." He eyed the ghost, who shook its head as it spoke.

          "If you rename me, I'll have to change crystals. It's an ancient tech thing. Just call me Rotom, human. It's easy, and you can pronounce it."

          Alex raised a brow. "Are you telling me I couldn't pronounce your name?"

          The ghost stared at him, deadpan. "I'm saying my name and your language aren't even compatible."

          Alex smirked. "You're not a Terran Pokémon are you…" The Rotom's eyes went wide. "Hah! I knew it. Your mind felt different to any other Pokémon I'd sensed, but after that battle we just had, I noticed. Your life energy, what's left of it, is from a different world."

          The Rotom sighed. "I mean…technically…not really…but if that's how you want to understand it, you can work with that." The Plasma ghost yawned then, and twirled something between his plasma appendages. Alex blinked.

          ________________________________________

          "You little…did you steal my staff!?" Jess giggled from across the room doing…whatever she was doing to her hair. Beauty products. Girl things. It was foreign to him. She usually didn't speak during these morning rituals, but now, she did. "He totally stole your staff. We've been toying with it all morning."

          He eyed it, but it didn't appear to be covered in liquids. So that was something. He stared at the Pokémon holding it, and then got an idea. An idea that just seemed right. He sent it to Tao, who approved, and chuckled as he did so.

          "Phaspiro." He said, smirking. "That's your name."

          "Phaspiro? Did you take 'phasma' and add 'iro' to it? Why? Because it sounded cool? If we're going for cool, why not call me Stormageddon, Destroyer of Worlds? Honestly, you trainers-"

          Alex shrugged, cutting him off. "I like it. Round Table?" He said to their partners. Arthur had been given a revive, but was still tired. He gave an 'aye', though. Everyone did. Alex smirked. "It is decided. I dub thee Stormageddon. Welcome to the team, Stormy…you can reside in this, now."

          ________________________________________

          He made a gesture with his hand, and wrenched the staff free of the ghost's grip easily. With a thought, it formed an opening just the size of the ghost's crystal. The Rotom's eyes went wide. "Waaaiiit wait wait, that crystal has untapped electrical power, to control it you'd need-"

          Alex cut him off again. "The essence of the Master of Fire, Ice, and Electricity." The Rotom tilted his head, then nodded, as he agreed that would probably work. Before he could say as much, the plasma ghost was recalled into the crystal, as Alex pushed it in, and the staff closed around it.

          It gained a pair of eyes, and grinned at the trainer. "Oh, I can work with this…" The staff began to change from within from something simple, to a container with much more…potential. It retained the colors, but shrunk. There was a hollow center, through which, Alex could see the shine of the crystal. Something was obscuring it though, that almost looked like…wiring? "Don't look directly into it, you idiot."

          Alex turned the strange device away from him, and then noticed a button on the small object. Stormy's eyes and smirk appeared above it. "Push it. Push the button, little human."

          ________________________________________

          Alex gave the ghost a look. "It's not going to fire some laser projectile, right?"

          The ghost grinned. "Not a projectile."

          Alex's eyes went wide as he realized what he was probably holding. "Oh…yes. So very much yes…" He looked around, realizing their tent was a bit cramped. "This needed a more dramatic reveal anyway. Outside we go!"

          He ran out, object in hand, grinning like a child. Jess was behind him, more curious than anything. Evidently, she'd fixed whatever needed fixing. "What exactly are you up to? I was only half paying attention in there."

          Alex simply smirked. "You'll see." He ran to the topmost cliff of the base, and then shot into the air, not caring about hiding his power at that moment. Once he found a suitably far, suitably high ledge to perch on, he pressed the button.

          ________________________________________

          The smaller former-staff blazed to life, as a dual colored beam of plasma extended from the hilt where the crystal now resided. Alex laughed in disbelief. It was a fairly long blade. Deadly looking. It hummed as he twirled it around, still not quite believing this was actually happening.

          The hilt of the sword-like weapon smirked at him. "The name, is Lux. Luxundus is the full version, but literally everybody calls me Lux. You probably should've asked my name, rather than assumed I needed one."

          Alex rolled his eyes. "You stole my staff."

          The hilt grinned. "And turned it into a plasma sword."

          "Fair point." Alex twirled it around again. "You know…I've heard some of these can extend from both ends…"

          The ghost laughed. "Find another super rare extraterrestrial crystal whose origins are a mystery to you, then. I'll make another blade."

          Alex smirked, and lifted his sleeve, revealing where he kept most of his crystals. Each fit into the edge of his gloves, around his wrists in an obvious homage to a certain first season of a certain old Earth anime involving cards, dueling, and monsters, but were less bulky. The gloves were, like the rest of Tao's clothing, super comfortable, and form fitting. "I have thirteen."

          The ghost eyed them, then nodded. "I can use all of those. With this container, anyways."

          Alex chuckled, "I just found our secret weapon." He turned to Jess, who'd followed him, and had thus far been staring with a knowing smirk. She'd been in his head. He'd always wanted a laser sword. They were iconic. And so useful.

          ________________________________________

          He pressed the button again, and let the hilt hang from his belt. Under his robe-like jacket. He smirked, trying not to laugh at the similarities to his childhood heroes of the ancient past. There were some differences, however. The nine miniaturized balls that hung alongside the hilt on his belt. He wasn't going to hide them anymore. Their surprise advantage had literally gone up in smoke. Had he been wearing regular pants, they would've surely fallen with all the weight. Maybe that was why the League had always set the limit at six.

          He turned his gaze northward, towards the clouds of ash. "I found one of Pravus' goons. He managed to take Arthur down. Hydrus cleaned up, though. Whatever chance we had at stealth is gone, now. We don't have time to wait in enemy territory while we train Ceno."

          Jess stood next to him, eyes wide as she saw the sheer scope of it. "That just came from Colville alone?"

          Alex shook his head. "It's spreading."

          She looked up at him, eyebrow raised. "So, what do we do now, wise leader?"

          He gave her a look. "Plan B, obviously. That one's more fun anyways."

          Jess rolled her lovely blue eyes. "You only think it's fun because you and the Council of Dorks like smoking together."

          He winked at her. "You could join us…but I know how you get around that much testosterone. And Leaf."

          She sighed. "Just tell your dragon. I'll go talk to the people I already know. You get the Chief."

          ________________________________________

          Alex nodded, and then reached out to Tao. While he was a part of their mental web, he was more…web-adjacent, if only so the stray thoughts of a Legendary and ancient mind, full of things best left forgotten, did not reach the ears of his impressionable hatchling of a trainer.

          "Plan A failed. Pravus burned the north." Alex gave the dragon a moment, either to process his words, or finish whatever business he was in the middle of.

          Finally, a response. "Plan B it is, then. Come home, young hero…there's something you need to face."

          Alex let the contact fall, and smirked. There was always something else to face. It had a habit of making him stronger. He opened his Pokédex, out of habit as he checked the time, then paused as he saw the date. They'd been in Fornia much longer than he'd realized. Almost half the summer, which was now ending. "Two years to the day…huh. It feels longer. Right Terra?"

          The giant turtle joined him with a flash of green, and inhaled the warmth of the late summer day. "It does…but I would not change a second of it."

          His trainer gave him a scratch under his mossy, dirty chin, and then hopped on his back. He began packing a bowl of the Leaf as the turtle brought him down towards the other humans the long way, so he could enjoy the sunlight while the sun yet shone. The clouds were clearly unnatural, and they were spreading. Alex knew this was likely the first step of whatever Pravus had lined up, and knowing him, it would be brutally effective.
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          Old 2 Days Ago (3:12 PM).
          Sahqoreyth's Avatar
          Sahqoreyth Sahqoreyth is offline
          Pokefan1337
             
            Join Date: May 2018
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            Chapter 26: Into the Abyss

            ________________________________________

            Three Days after Colville Burned – Unova Region

            ________________________________________

            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.

            ________________________________________

            "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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