Chapter Eighteen: Resonance
“Never stop pursuing your goals. Even if it takes a thousand years or more, never cease. Persistence overcomes all odds; this is good advice to live by.”
— Constantine Sceptile of Trinity Isle Research and Archives, speaking during the graduation ceremony of the Silver City Rescuer’s Guild.
The Lucario pressed his paw against the window. Just beyond its shelter, a storm pounded the palace with a deluge of rain. Nickolas sighed, his breath misting-up the window for an instance. The interior of the palace was warm and dry, yet the royal Pokémon shivered under his attire. He rubbed his paws over his arms, but to no avail. His impressive cloak did little to shield his soul from the coldness of his citizens’ hearts. Their hatred clouded his mind.
His paw slid down, wiping away the mist. From inside his ornate office, he could see through the gloom. The stone courtyard was barren except for the occasional pair of soldiers guarding the wrought-iron gates. Just beyond them, marched dozens of Pokémon. Ignoring the battering sheets of rain, they lashed out against the unfeeling guards. Nickolas could not read the faint writing on their crude signs, but he could feel the hatred emanating from their souls.
“They hate me...” he mumbled. Unable to see their discontent any longer, the Lucario turned away. His sunken eyes slowly gazed at his personal office. All the possessions that he and the kings and queens of the Kingdom accumulated there were worth more than every ghetto in Silver. As he looked at each gaudy trophy and extravagant, golden fixture in the chamber, he felt only emptiness.
Nickolas hung his head low, slipping off the colorful cloak and casting it onto the desk. Thunder and wind rattled the palace, knocking down a handful of books and a single glass frame onto the floor. Immediately, the king kneeled down and carefully picked up the cracked, palm-sized painting. His heart began to beat faster. A pair of smaller crimson eyes met his own. His son’s happy smile met his own, emotionless face. He placed a paw over the prince’s lost smile. Nickolas struggled to breathe.
He gently placed the picture down on the desk then clutched the sides of his head beneath his aura sensors. The advice he sought from Ruak had done nothing for him. The Bronzong commanded him to surrender his life and thoughts to Dialga, and he had done that. Now, Silver City was burning. Nickolas’s breaths grew labored. The air inside the palace grew heavier and heavier upon his chest.
“I... I can’t breathe... I can’t breathe...” his voice was hoarse and weak. He needed to get out of this room of horrid memories. Within three urgent strides, Nickolas was at the window once again. Doubling over from the pain in his chest, he struggled to undo the latch. A metallic click echoed through the office and he eased the glass pane open. Just when the hot, stale air threatened to overcome him, his face was struck by a flurry of rain and wind.
Opening his eyes wide, he pushed himself out of the richly furnished chamber. His unsteady feet nearly slid on the wet, marble edge. Nickolas blinked, his senses returning to him. The raw power of the storm embraced him, easing his conflicted head of the emotions racing through it for a few blissful seconds. He held a paw to his temple; the murderous ideas and desires slipping into his head did not stop. The Lucario gave a languished glare back at the warm comforts of his chamber and then walked further onto the ledge. Below him at the dizzying height was a myriad of watchtowers and the stone courtyard. The wave of pulsating emotions swam around his head, refusing to let him rest.
“Damn... Damn them all! DAMN THEM ALL!” Nickolas screamed, clawing at the black appendages on the sides of his skull. His mind swam and began to drown. Staggering on the marble ledge, he continued to walk. Rain and wind buffered against his fur and royal sashes, soaking him to his skin. The bursts of lightning striking his city blinded his eyes, yet he inched forward. The demons sent forth by the enraged populace clouded his vision, leaving only vestiges of loathing and worthlessness.
His chest grew heavy as the Lucario rounded the corner of the imperial palace. Marble statues of gods and kings of old mocked their shameful descendant. His feet continued to move, guided forth by a red haze of hatred and despair. With each flash of lightning and burst of thunder, he saw his life’s worst memories play again. Wind lashed at his billowing blue and purple sashes and Nickolas screamed out in anguish. His paws clutched at his head once again and his strained eyes gazed upon the raging sea and cliff beneath him.
In a span of two years, he had lost everything. The authority given to his ancestors by the great prophet was shackled by Darnéy and his Senate. His family, both queen and prince, dead to him. His Kingdom, split by civil war. His life now demanded by his own citizens. There was nothing left, but do what a responsible leader should. His will turned over to the populace.
The roar of their shouts and fevered curses overpowered the mighty storm. Nickolas leaned forward slightly, his feet inches away from plummeting to the churning waves and rocks. The blue and black jackal whimpered as he felt the wild fury of Lugia’s gale meet him. Sashes of royal worth were stripped away from his chest. His remaining garments were stolen by the wind as it purged him of his material sin.
“Di-Dialga!” Nickolas screamed forth amid the squeezing cloud of emotions around his head. He wanted to invoke the Dragon of Time Himself. To ask if he truly deserved to die, if his citizens were correct in their desires, if his life was no longer worth living. The Lucario wavered, falling back onto the palace wall. There was no sign from the legends, only the howling wind and freezing rain. Nickolas screamed, his claws clutching at the brickwork of the building. His feet dug into the wet marble, yet the wind only seemed to coax his body towards death.
N-no! I don’t want to die! Dialga! Please don’t let me die! The king felt the pull of the elements— the building blocks of the world that wanted him dead. Spasms shook his body, threatening to knock his legs out from under him. Nickolas lifted his head towards the sky. Tear-reddened eyes blinked in the savage wind and looked into the heart of the swirling, black clouds. Lightning arced across the sky, its cackles seemingly mocking him.
A sob caught in his throat and slipped through his jaws. He had utterly failed. He had let those who conspired against him win. With that thought, Nickolas opened his eyes; finally seeing through the storm. It had been them who had slaughtered his family, ignited the civil war, surrendered his power, burned the church, and sparked the riots. Not him.
“It wasn’t me! It’s not my fault! IT’S NOT MY FAULT!” Deliriously shouting into the wind, Nickolas teetered against the wall of the palace. All of the guilt and hatred he felt, it wasn’t entirely because of him. Lifting his head into the wind, he watched the faded ghosts of Alexandria and Alexei bid him farewell. He wanted to reach out to them, but his paws remained stuck to the wall, holding him fast. Throwing himself down would not avenge their spirits nor save the Kingdom. The screams and curses of the citizens echoed in the storming sky.
“... They don’t want me dead... They want the corruption stopped.... I can fix things... I can do it... I-I just need another chance!” The Lucario screamed as the demons slowly vanished from his mind. There’s a way for me to fix it all... There’s got to be...
The storm disagreed.
Wind and rain returned full-force. Nickolas dug his claws into the brick, desperately trying to hold onto a life he now had purpose for. Heart pounding, his mind raced for a solution, but none appeared. If he moved his feet, his body was a marionette for the wind.
“Dialga save me! Save me!” his worn voice screeched, begging salvation from an unseen god. Whips of rain pulled against his wrists, threatening death among the rocks and waves. The Lucario struggled to keep his footing, but the marble was quickly failing to hold his claws. Before he could restore his Kingdom, his enemies would rip it from him, and utterly destroy it.
“SAVE ME! I AM INNOCENT!” Once again, the storm refused to listen. A gale swirled behind his back and lurched him forwards. Claws that dug into the stone ripped free. Nickolas prepared to face Dialga’s golden throne for judgement as he toppled from the edge. In the corner of his distressed vision, he saw the reaper lunging for him, his malicious scythe stretched out to glean his soul. The Lucario squeezed his eyes shut just as the wind died.
The reaper’s scythe pressed against his falling chest, yet the slice for his soul never came. Velocity dropped instantly and inertia was overcome. A flat metal blade shoved him back onto the ledge. Black eyes bore into him from a green being. The reaper was not the reaper. As tears flushed from his eyes, a Scyther appeared next to him. The royal blue sash whipping about madly across its green armor identified him as Darnéy.
“Grab on, your Highness! Please!” The words distorted around the Lucario, blown away by the wind. The Chancellor’s face strained with effort; the scythe that held him aloft beginning to slip. “You have to grab on! Nickolas!” the mantis implored. The green carapace heaved in the battering wind and rain, struggling to hold its owner upright.
Suddenly, the impetus his body lacked resurged in a panic. Nickolas’s cold paws clutched the dull side of the scythe, digging into it while it sliced into his palms. Despite the stinging pain, the king held on. A spirited cry rose above the storm from Darnéy and slammed Nickolas backwards onto firmer footing. Blinking away the fear, the Lucario continued to clench the blade in between his claws. Darney’s mouth moved in what looked like curses and shouts, but he heard none of it over the pounding of his heart. The Scyther huffed irritably and tugged his lethal appendage forward, dragging Nickolas along. With painstaking slowness, the two leaders retraced their steps along the palace roof-top, weathering the ferocious gale with every forward movement.
“This will do.” Nickolas barely heard the Scyther’s mumble above the waves. The mantis raised his other blade, the edge shining with an unnatural light in the dark air, and swung it down. Nickolas blinked again, the fog around his mind fading as the Chancellor shattered the centuries-old ornate window— now it lay as a million colored shards on the thick carpet of the small study. “Come inside, Your Majesty. The storm worsens still.”
Numbly, the Lucario stepped through the window frame, his bloodied paws tightly gripping Darnéy’s other scythe. Even though the icy rain poured in through the shattered pane and wind whipped the silken curtains around wildly, the wood-paneled room was much warmer than the outside. Nickolas took two steps inside before his paws slipped off the blade and he collapsed onto the rug. Blood stained the thick carpet, spreading outwards from the Lucario’s sliced paws.
“Nickolas! Breathe, Your Majesty!” Darnéy screamed, his wings buzzing harshly. The green-armored mantis knelt down and the dull edge of his scythe pressed into the king’s back, supporting him. The toned body that had seen him through years of war and strife now failed him; the tremendous weight of the world on his shoulders finally forced him to his knees. Panting and convulsing against the warm floor, Nickolas slowly slipped out of reality, letting the delusions of his citizens overthrow his mind.
“Weaven! Bring blankets and find the nurse! After that, summon Ruak ... Yes, the Bronzong! Now! He and I must discuss things in private...” Darnéy’s voice echoed through his scattered mind, the Scyther cursing wildly just before Nickolas stumbled into unconsciousness.
A shuddering cough broke the uneasy silence over the three Pokémon. Noah held his paw tightly over the dirtied bandages around his midsection, breathing heavily all the while. He took turns leaning on Kelly and Jay as the cautious team trudged out of the Forlorn Capital mystery dungeon.
“... You can’t be serious, Noah. ... Y-You can’t expect us to believe that, can you? You sure it’s not the fever talking?” Jay whispered back after a long pause in the conversation.
“I’m not ... I’m not lying, Jay.” The Dewott coughed heavily, “I really was a hero...”
“Noah, then how come we’ve never heard of you?” Kelly inquired, looking back at the injured Dewott as he leaned against her flank. “You’d think if you saved the world then we’d hear about it, right? ... Just take it easy, Noah. This is likely some fever dream of yours...”
“NO!” He yelled suddenly, driving his feet into the dirt before hissing in pain. “... It was covered up... By the Kingdom!” Noah’s desperate, exhausted face tore into Kelly and the unseeing Riolu. “... I...I know it’s farfetched... B-But it’s the truth! I swear on Reshiram’s fire, it’s the whole truth!” Jay remained silent, seeming to contemplate Noah’s words during the lengthy pause.
“... Noah... I think I know exactly what’s going on... I can believe you.”
Noah’s hung head perked up, but before he could speak, Jay held up his paw, signaling them to stop. The Riolu shifted his blindfold and sniffed the air. He stood on top of the small ridge for a long moment, taking in the scents of the heavy, cool air of the overcast sky.
“... Something horrible has happened. Lots of smoke. It’s foul, whatever it is,” Jay reported, shouldering the satchel. “We’ve got to go back.”
Noah grunted in pain as Kelly quickened both their paces. The three jogged over small crests and troughs through the hilled land. Jay, at their front, utilized his senses as best he could to sense any potential ambush like last night. Shiloh was still a little ways off, but both Noah and Kelly could see what Jay smelled earlier.
A large, fading plume of smoke rose off into the sky. Jay stood upon the final hill before the town. He could not see, but he shuddered all the same— death reeked in its raw glory. It only took a minute longer for Noah and Kelly to feast their eyes upon the same sight. Kelly felt the Dewott’s grip on her fur tighten, his paws balling into fists. She heard him give the faintest of whimpers before he bit his tongue to quiet himself.
Shiloh was gone. Swept away by a pillar of fire. Where bright, humble houses once lined the tiny streets was now only charred remains that hissed smoke. There was no effort to save what remained, for there was nothing to salvage and no one to salvage it. Shiloh was erased.
Team Salient grouped together as they inched along the side road. Their feet disturbed the fine layer of ash that covered the street, leaving clear imprints of their paws behind them. Jay passed hollowed out houses, gutted by the fires that purged the city. Despite his aura and sight being gone, he could still feel the overbearing sense of utter dread and despair pouring out from the desolate town. For once, he was thankful he was not able to see earlier— he was spared from the horrible before and after images racing in front of Noah and Kelly. The bakeries and their bread, the forges and their steel, the general store and the Aegislash, they all laid dead under a sunless sky.
Voices rose above the stillness. They floated over the burned out husks of houses.
“Icarus! Get a hold of yourself, you worthless bird!” It was an icy tone that struck their hearts. Whoever the speaker was, she was insistent on berating the familiar Pidgeotto. Noah’s paws clenched Kelly’s fur harder and his breathing intensified.
“ ... Please... Please wake up...” Despair permeated Icarus’s voice, along with sobbing gasps for air.
A sudden smack resounded through the town and Icarus’s crying worsened. The female had slapped him hard.
“...Kinsliy... Please... W-Why won’t he wake up?! Why?! ...” There was a sudden ruffle of wings and feathers alongside another hard slap and cursing from the other.
“Stop! Please! ...” Icarus broke down into whimpers as the members of Team Salient drew closer, looking for a clear passage in between the collapsed buildings. Suddenly, the distraught bird burst into a heartbreaking fit of sobs. “No! W-What are you doing to him?! D-Don’t! H-He can’t breathe!”
“QUIET! ... He doesn’t need to breathe where he’s at, Icarus! He’s dead! He’s dead, dammit! Get that through your malformed skull, you stupid bird! D-E-A- D. Dead!” Kinsliy roared and Icarus’s sobbing only grew louder.
The trio of Pokémon looked to each other and pressed on. They sidestepped the charred bodies of a Kangaskhan and her joey, each of them muttering a prayer as they walked past. Before long, Noah pointed at a through street unoccupied by rubble and they took it. A minute later, they finally caught a clear view of the developing scene.
In front of the smoldering barracks, Icarus was whimpering next to a Sneasel with a crimson scarf. Kelly recognized her as an officer in Torrent’s company. Noah nodded for them to go towards the two before he grunted in pain. The black-furred weasel didn’t see them coming.
“..K-Kinsliy... He was my friend! W-We have to give him a proper burial! P-Please!” Icarus pleaded while humbly pressing his wings into the ashen ground. As they got closer, they could see what the Sneasel was doing to provoke such an emotional reaction from the messenger bird. She was piling rocks on top of a body. A body with cerulean scales and a massive jaw, now closed. General Torrent lay on his stomach, body halfway covered in Kinsliy’s mound of rocks.
Noah let out a pained yell and tore himself away from Kelly’s side. His injuries didn’t seem to matter as he dashed down the ruined street towards Torrent’s body. Kelly saw everything that unfolded. The two arguing Pokémon turned to face the Dewott right before barreling past them. Icarus squawked in surprise as Noah roughly shoved him out of the way before throwing himself on Torrent’s chest, his arms spread apart to embrace the General’s unmoving chest.
“T-Torrent! ... N-No! N-Not you! Anyone but you! No—please no! Oh, gods...” The Dewott gasped while his tears freely fell onto Torrent’s scales. No one moved for that moment. Jay and Kelly silently stared at Icarus and Kinsliy while Noah bawled his heart out. “O-Oh gods... I—I’m so sorry, sir...” he murmured softly to the corpse.
Kinsliy gave them a scrutinizing glance as Noah slowly pried himself away from Torrent’s cadaver. “... To be honest, I didn’t think anyone else survived. Haven’t seen another living face since he flew in earlier this morning,” she explained, jabbing a curved claw over at Icarus. Her tone immediately turned accusatory. “Where exactly were you lot? Based on Noah’s reaction, you guys haven’t been in town very long. Where has your team been, Riolu?”
Kelly turned her head towards their team leader. Jay stiffened at the officer’s address. He tightened his crimson blindfold once again even though he had done it just a few moments before. He coughed weakly before he lifted his head to speak.
“... What gives you the authority to ask? Quark was head of leave requests. You have no—”
“Torrent is dead, Quark is M.I.A, and everyone else is either one or the other, or both, Riolu. As far as I know, the highest ranking officer still here and alive is me,” Kinsliy interjected, jabbing her claw into Jay’s chest. “So tell me: Where in Erebus’s cold hell were you last night? Refusal to answer will count as treason for failure to come to Shiloh’s defense.” Her voice had a special quality of outdoing itself for how cold it could get. Right now, Kelly swore it was making frost on the surface of Jay’s band. For better or worse, Jay remained resolute and ignored the question altogether.
Jay was about to give a snide remark when Kelly noticed a glint of light flash in Kinsliy’s other claw. She had seen that same glint too many times from Leo’s chest to mistake it for anything else. The Jolteon stepped in front of Jay and stared up at the irate officer.
“What do you have in your paw, Kinsliy?” Kelly watched as the Sneasel’s distant expression lost its composure for half a second. Kelly smirked, she knew she had her off-guard. A special fire was burning inside her heart. And now, she’d force an answer. “Right there, your left paw. What do you have?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about! I don’t have anything!” Kinsliy snapped while she recoiled a step backwards. Icarus immediately stepped forward, fluttering his wings angrily.
“Lier! Y-You took it! Leo’s key!” Icarus squawked loudly. Kinsliy turned to face the bird, swearing colorfully all the while. Noah pulled himself away from Torrent’s chest, his face still wet with sweat and tears. He let out an angry huff and snatched the blue crystal from the Sneasel’s unguarded claw.
“E-Explain yourself... N-Now, Kinsliy...” Noah demanded, his voice cold and void of the gentle heart it usually held. His paw shook and his lips twitched with roiling emotion.
“... I saw it in the rubble and—”
“And what, Kinsley?! Where is Leo?! Tell us!” Noah shot forward, his bandages ripping and sliding off his torso, revealing the raw wounds. His paw pressed into the Sneasel’s chest and in turn, pinned her against a charred, clay wall. She squirmed under his grasp, but quickly stopped once she felt the razor edge of Noah’s shell press into her neck. “I swear to the Creator, I will get an answer, otherwise I slice, Kinsliy! What happened to him?!”
“D-Don’t know! ... C-Colonists attacked and ... we sustained casualties.” The Sneasel let out a shuddering gasp that shook her thin frame as Noah eased his grip. “... N-Not sure where the Charmeleon is... But they didn’t kill him... T-They wanted him alive...”
Noah’s glare darkened, yet his wounds from the Houndoom were fast catching up with him. The Dewott cringed and was forced to back off as Jay took his place and squared off with her with his arms crossed.
“Why did they want him alive? Leo wasn’t anyone special ... Torrent was a general, and they killed him outright. There were dozens of other Pokémon here ranked higher or more important than he was ... Why did they take him alive, Kinsliy?” Everyone drew close to the cornered, exhausted Sneasel. Icarus timidly stared at her next to a wheezing Noah while Kelly glared at the officer alongside Jay. After several moments of tense silence, Kinsliy let out a small huff.
“ ... You... You all don’t know, do you? ... That’s surprising. I figured he’d had spilled that news to you before... Guess he didn’t trust you lot.” This time it was Jay’s turn to apply the pressure. His paw lunged forward and slammed into her chest. The officer doubled over with a slew of curses and cries of treason. Ignoring her whining, Jay grasped her arm and twisted it, lifting her to her feet with an resisting yell.
“Why did they want him alive, Kinsliy?” Jay’s face was only a few inches away from hers. She blinked and huffed with each hot breath he blew at her. She grunted in pain before she looked over at the small crowd awaiting her answer. Jay didn’t relent as he leaned closer to her and whispered into her ear. “Please... He’s our friend... We need to know, Kinsliy.”
“... You all best not go spread this around anymore, okay? ... We don’t need another rumor going around, do you hear me?” She waited until all present Pokémon nodded in affirmation. Sighing, she gave them one last weary look before her resistance crumbled.
“They wanted him because, according to them ... He was human.”
Noah swore violently.
An ember—barely alive— burned. A voice groaned. Flickering to life, a pair of blue eyes was met with a dim light. They blinked, struggling to adjust to their new environment. Claws scraped against the rough floor, digging into the unfinished rock in order to push himself up. His claw clutched his chest, encountering raised lines of scar tissue and a vicious, throbbing pain. It was only a matter of time before the next strike.
“P-Plea... AGGRAHH!” Leo screamed out, his voice raw from use. The Charmeleon’s quivering arms collapsed from beneath him, slamming his chin against the stones. Blood leaked from his numerous abrasions—his scales were battered and beaten beyond belief. Fortunately, the gashes on his tender back were instantly cauterized by the blistering energy whip.
A slight ruffle danced through the air above him, followed by a haughty sigh and a fluttering of a dress.
“I..I-I ..Wait! W-Wai—GAAAHHH!” Leo’s voice broke. His mind spiraled in on itself, struggling to keep conscious. A bolt of energy cracked in the air. Before his battered body could even begin to brace itself, it hit him again. His agony was heard by even the aloof gods of Verus.
“. . . Take him. He doesn’t know anything—his head’s virtually empty.” The voice, even after all the pain its owner inflicted, still sounded like the voice of angels. Knowing who she was, however, only drove the cruel spike in deeper. Several muffled voices drifted through his muddied senses. Only hers remained clear.
“He is only a threat if he is free. And even then only by dumb luck. Put him in solitary and place a guard over him. . . I do not care if it is feasible or not, place a guard.” The voice carried an unreal note to it. Something that was just beyond the edge of his hearing, yet it was that something that was able to pluck the strings to his heart. He watched her brutalize his body, yet whenever she spoke, he temporarily forgave any ill-will towards her.
Leo pulled his head up and immediately let it drop again, retching onto the floor. Bile stung his tongue and burned his throat before joining the small puddle on the ground. His vision clouded, breath wavered, and body trembled under the residual psychic shocks.
“Get him out of my sight.” He hated her voice, yet he couldn’t help but be enamored.
“Ma’am? You’re done with him? ... Can I?” It was the voice of an enemy. The voice of the traitor. Blade. Leo’s thoughts boiled inside his head at the mere idea of the Grovyle being alive when so many others were dead.
“No. You are not to kill him. That will be decided after this war is over. We cannot risk any retaliation resulting from his demise... Until then, it’s best if he is kept where he can do no harm and no harm can come to him... Do you understand, Blade? Take him away.” He hated her. Everything about her made his internal flare burn brighter. However, her voice still paralyzed him; his body was addicted to her soothing tone.
“Yes, general. I understand.” With that final phrase from the traitor, Leo felt his arms lifted and thrust behind his back. A coarse vine wrapped about his wrists before he could even cry out in pain. He was certain his scales were bruised purple from the beating. Leo opened his eyes to see the green reptilian over him. They both exchanged the most vile glances they could; each loaded with toxic loathing.
There was no exchange between the two beyond that. Blade grunted as he pulled the limp, bleeding Charmeleon to his feet. The moment Leo’s feet could support him, Blade deftly hopped around to his front and tied his muzzle shut with another dried vine. His eyes could barely make out the darkened room he was in, but in the distance, he could make out the white and green figure of the female general egressing down the lit hall.
Blade dug his knee into Leo’s side, making him stumble in his bonds. The hewn stone might as well have been knives on his injured feet. Still, the Grovyle made him walk; guiding him via a rope tied to his snout. Leo hung his head as best he could. In the few hours he had been imprisoned here, Leo quickly found out that he was little more than a dog in the eyes of his captors.
“... I should have murdered you. You’re the reason our plan was botched.” Blade cast a glare of pure malice at the Charmeleon; the torchlight illuminating his face turning his expression into something out of hell itself. “Even if you are... human... It changes nothing. If it weren’t for Valin, I’d slice you open right now. And I wouldn’t feel a thing...”
Leo wouldn’t have spoke even if he could. He knew he was walking a thin line between tortured life and swift, bloody death. For the moment, he prefered life. Wishing to preserve that status, he kept moving. He never once stopped, despite the agonizing spikes of pain that shot through his feet, back, and arms with every movement he made.
They walked in utter silence after that. Leo was unable to even whimper through his clamped mouth and Blade kept a hate-filled peripheral glare aimed at him always. To pass the agonizing silence and keep from passing out, Leo took to what he did best: observing.
He had been thoroughly unconscious by the time he awoke in the previous chamber with Valin, the mysterious general, and Blade. There had been no time after that before she began whipping his back raw and interrogating him about the whereabouts of others in Torrent’s company. They were barely names he recognized, but he knew two: Icarus, and Kinsliy. He didn’t know anything about them and so eventually, Valin stopped her torture.
He and Blade rounded a corner and a sudden stream of light blinded him. His steps faltered slightly, but Blade grunted and dragged him upright. Leo sent up a virulent curse through his muffled mouth, but the Grovyle paid him no heed and continued to pull him. Blinking in the bright, grey light, Leo was led out into a wide, gravel courtyard.
The entire world seemed to fall into a somber mood; the skies were overcast, filtering out the sun’s gentle warmth. Several dozen Pokémon seemed to mill about the grey yard, acting just as dull and lifeless as the stones they walked on. Thinking on how he was captured, Leo reasoned that they were also prisoners of war. Beyond them was a barracks building not unlike the one he left back in Shiloh. Wooden, rickety, and not nearly structurally sound enough to be called safe, it and the two other barracks of its type seemed to be the only buildings accessed by the prisoners. All the other buildings were dominated by a single, three-story structure erected in the very center.
Thick walls made of uncut logs ringed the small prison. Leo couldn’t see the entire scope of the camp, but it couldn’t have been larger than Loyalty Sqaure’s marketplace. The scenery changed when Blade directed him down a small tunnel. The passage beyond was marked with stone and darkness.
“Move it!” Leo was shaken out of his observational trance by a forceful shove from Blade. Leo stumbled forwards. Since his wrists were tied, he could do nothing to stop the ground from slamming into his face. Jagged pieces of gravel peppered his face, cutting into his bruised snout and cheek while he let out a pitiful groan.
Blade allowed no room for mercy. His claws grabbed his tied arms and lifted him off the ground. Leo barely saw the room in front of him before the Grovyle sliced the vines binding his wrists and snout. Not a moment after the vines fell, Blade planted a kick square on his back. Leo fell forwards onto the stone, crying out now that the vines were gone. A rough grating of metal assaulted his ears before culminating in a loud clanging noise.
“You know? Your actions caused the deaths of my team. Well, it seems fair warning that your teammates weren’t so lucky either...” Blade hissed down at the quivering Charmeleon. “They were killed in the dungeon outside of town, our scouts said it was a flawless set of kills. Just thought you’d like to know that, Leo...”
Leo raised his head off the stone while the world spun wildly around him. Only the dim, flickering light of his tail was there to fight off the encroaching darkness of the dungeon. From what he could see past the thick, steel bars, Blade had left him alone in the darkness.
“No... No... Not them... K-Kelly...” Leo croaked, tears welling up in his eyes as his voice failed. At once, his heart broke and he pressed his head into the stone. The burning flame on his tail dimmed to barely nothing. He had truly lost everything.
From the darkness across the hall from his cell, a single of gleaming, crystal eye watched the Charmeleon succumb to exhaustion. A voice, quiet and still as the darkness, whispered while its claws scraped the stone.
“... The prophet spoke true... The gods have given me a second chance.”
A set of claws scratched against a stone floor. Outside of a locked steel door, a tall figure stalked the hall. The leaves on his body ruffled in impatience, but he quickly quieted them. He needed the silence to spy on the traitors within the laboratory.
It mattered not that their hushed voices were behind thick stone and steel when he controlled the entire facility. Their room was bugged many, many times over in intricate, undetectable ways, blind to the ingenious Umbreon and Espeon duo. He heard the dungeon researchers’ voices quite clearly as they pondered the fate of the Breloom they recently rescued.
“ ... How in the world is it that he ends up popping up in our lab, huh? A Pokémon the administration said died along with their team last year suddenly showing up alive right under our feet? ... What’s going on here, dear? Something’s not right with this.”
The figure chuckled. This would surely be fun. The Espeon was definitely the more intelligent of the duo when it came to rationalizing things. Even with harboring a traitor, she and her Umbreon mate were worth the gold it took to hire them. He was never going to find such a pair again with such an in-depth knowledge of mystery dungeons and the strange intradimensional doors they wielded: the curious Magnagate.
“I don’t know, but we need to keep helping him. Who knows what’s happened to him since we last saw Team Frontier? Same with the fates of Chuck and Sophie... We can’t just leave this—something big is about to erupt, Espeon. And we’re right in the thick of it.”
There. They knew. They knew what they were doing was illegal under his rules. They now knew too much. And Pokémon who knew too much in his facility had a funny way of being assigned to the incredibly lethal Zero Isle exploration effort.
With a wave of his arm, the metal cuff on his wrist glowed and the lock on the door shuddered and disengaged. His reptilian lips curled menacingly. He knew this was going to end in one of two ways—and blood was going to spill. It was an inconvenient fact, but he would get through this one as he had done away with all the others. With fear.
He ripped open the thick steel panel, nearly tearing it off its hinges. Instantly, the voices stopped in favor of terrified gasps. Without noise, he strode inside, his gait confidant and with an air of haughtiness about him despite the fact he was out for blood. One look about the disorderly chamber confirmed every one of his suspicions.
To his right, Employee 286 lay sprawled unconscious over a metal table, several Luminous Orbs shing about his dessicated body. To his left, both the researchers cowered in fear amid the sea of papers and small Magnagate tiles. They did not display their fear, no, they were too professional to let their body betray them. It was their eyes that displayed their inner terror, and it was that terror that he’d use to bring them to their knees.
“... Tell me, valued employees, why is it I see a traitor in your midst?” His clawed feet dug deep grooves into the solid stone and his leaves shivered along his tail and wrists. His anger, much like their fear, was never pronounced, but the signs were always evident to those at his mercy. Several seconds passed while the two Pokémon internally withered under his cold glare. It didn’t take long for their will to snap like the spine of a laborer.
“A-Administrator! ... W-We did not know of ... Ia— this Employee’s treachery! We were not informed and so therefore cannot be blamed for caring for an injured being!” Umbreon shouted out, his bravado draining with each syllable he uttered under the figure’s scorn. Unfortunately, where the male was weak, his mate was stronger.
“Administrator, surely there is something we can do to right our wrong. It was a minor transgression, sir. We did not give out any company information, nor offer any aid beyond what treatment you see. Surely you—”
“Silence... You know the punishment for treason. There cannot be any reprieve.” His mouth curled into a smile and the leaves on his wrists glowed, extending into long, murderous blades.
Oh yes. This was going to be fun.
Throughout the dismal day, they buried all the dead they could and burned the rest in impromptu pyres set up to and fro over Shiloh’s ruins. It was a sight to see, however the five Pokémon knew they were the only ones left alive for miles around. Despite it being a time consuming task, they finished the heartless task of finding and disposing of the dead respectfully. It was one of the duties of Kingdom soldiers.
Noah let out a low growl of disdain as he tossed the cracked body of a Heracross soldier into the burning pile. He had trained with her a few times, but didn’t even know her name. Of the many faces he recognized from the citizenship and Torrent’s company, the bulky, blue-shelled beetle’s was not one of them. What was it? Hellen? Gira? ... Yelta? He sighed and gave her a small salute and a moment of silence.
“... I should have known her name...” The Dewott whispered, paw clutching the tooth necklace he wore.
After the moment, he turned away from the crackling fire before the Heracross’s armor began popping from the heat. His nose wrinkled, eager to be away from the horrid smell of death. Now, he pointed himself down the north road out of Shiloh.
That was the last one. They had done all they could for the death and now it was time they make a decision for the living. Huffing as he cupped his bandages, Noah limped through the desolate streets past the destroyed town. For the past several hours, alongside dragging bodies for disposal and finishing the cairn for Torrent’s body. It was painful, but now they all needed to be strong if anything was to change for the better.
Shops not entirely burned by the Colonists were raided for their supplies. Thankfully, the rebels didn’t seem to have been interested in looting, just murdering and taking specific hostages— the Houndoom hunting pack in the Forlorn Capital proved that somehow; he and Leo were targets for their humanity. How in Erebus’s icy depths they knew that was beyond Noah, but he knew someone was going down for spilling it.
“Greetings, my old friend. How are you, Noah?” He sighed. Now was not the best time, far from it. Without missing a beat, Noah turned his head toward the Mismagius and nodded in greeting.
The witch-like ghost glided through the stale, war-torn air, a smug etched on his thin mouth. Noah stopped his walk and folded his arms. “Alright... Where were you? There’s been several instances in the last day where your help would have been appreciated!”
The Mismagius remained stoic. “The same place I always am, Noah. Always and everywhere.” A tendril reached down and picked up a small piece of cloth from the rubble. “You know the answer to that question. You know it too well. You know very well I don’t get involved at first. Your own rescue from that besieged Post Town should have told you that,” The ghost huffed, dropping the rag and adjusting his wide brim.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t ask...” Noah mumbled, kicking a stone down the pockmarked road. “You’ve interceded before... Why not now?”
The specter let out a lengthy sigh. “There are many, many things needing my attention... This trial is not one that should need me. Besides, all who are vital to the success of my plan are alive. That is what matters.” Noah felt the latent rage inside him raise its ugly head.
“Torrent wasn’t important?!” His feet planted firmly in the dirt, staring up against the Mismagius. After a tense moment, the ghost looked away.
“You know I did not mean him, Noah. You know that. But everyone has their purpose, and when that purpose is complete... Well, it is then time for them to go,” He whispered back, his cold voice, through low, was clearly heard in the desolate town. Noah let out a fierce yell, clutching a scalchop in his paw and holding it out.
“Then why am I still here?! I saved the damn world already! Why not kill me off?! Huh? Answer me that, T—”
“Because you’re still important!”
The air was still. Silent, and cold, despite it being the peak of summer. The two Pokémon held their stiff gazes, neither one wanting to be the first to break. But this time, it was Noah who looked down. His fists were clenched, one around his glowing shell. His chest still hurt, but he’d live long enough to see this through to the end.
“... Noah... I know you did your part... But you are the only one I trust enough to help here! Everyone else is a fool or too hot-blooded to be counted on...”
“... I don’t want to save the world again... I’ve already lost everyone... My partner, my teammates, Post Town...” Noah sighed and looked at the ghost, his gaze pleading with him. “I’m begging you... Don’t make me do it again!”
The Mismagius only shook his head. “Some among us are slated to be heroes... Be it a blessing or curse, Noah... I cannot change your Fates, but I can tell you that the burden will not be yours entirely... That is why I request you take the others and ... Rescue Leo.”
Noah ceased his begging at the last piece of the ancient prophet’s dialogue. After all the gruesome news that had come to light in the last few hours, it was surprising to hear something that didn’t deal with death. “Leo’s alive? You’re certain?”
“Noah, would I ever lie to you? ... No, I would not. Now, please. Go forth, young one. Find the others.” The Dewott nodded as the ghost vanished into thin air just as he had come. He shook his head slightly. He would never know how the erratic ghost worked. But, as per his request, he walked on alone out of Shiloh.
Several moments passed, and their motley group was hiding in a unsullied berry field outside of Shiloh’s borders. All five were crouched among the Leppa plants, heatedly debating their options in hushed tones. Noah ducked down under the leafy branches and sat crosslegged in the dirt, watching as Kinsliy and Kelly yelled at each other over topics such as the supplies they salvaged and what should happen next.
“For the last time, we’re going south! You all don’t seem to get it! Going north is death! The Colonists will capture and kill us before we get a mile inside!” Kinsliy hissed, slashing her claw into the dirt through Kelly’s diagram. The Jolteon’s fur sparked.
“Why don’t you just leave then? We’re going north and you’re not going to change our minds. Unlike you, we’re not heartless.” Kelly drew another arrow in the dirt, pointing to the north. Kinsliy let out an exasperated sigh, crossing her arms.
“I don’t believe this! T-This is insubordination! I outrank you! I order you to abandon your stupid north route! ... Besides... You really want to risk your life for a human?” The Sneasel hissed, pointing to her crimson scarf and badge before incredulously adding the final bit.
Noah flinched at the remark. By now, they knew. He made sure they all knew. Judging by the way they all looked at him, sans Jay’s sight, he could tell that they each reacted to the dual sides of himself and Leo. The stoic Riolu just seemed to nod and accept the facts like they were another piece of trivia. Considering everything that happened today, Noah understood how lackluster the revelation sounded.
Icarus and Kelly, however, both took it to extremes. The bird suddenly found Noah to be a lot more interesting than he did previously. Noah studied the fast-talking Pidgeotto back. Icarus had always been Torrent’s private messenger and had been in the company far longer than he— yet he always thought him untrustworthy. So even as the two females of the group tried to wrestle for control, Icarus kept an observant gaze on him.
If he was a marvel to Icarus, Kelly found him to be slightly more appealing than a Silver City tramp. For some reason, she seemed to snub him ever since the truth had came out. But Noah didn’t think too much of it. He had seen much worse in his journeys— being given the cold shoulder was nothing compared to being hunted down and ambushed because of it.
“Kinsliy.” She shot a vicious glare at the Sneasel. “We’re going north. The Colonies may be dangerous, but our friend is there. ... And, admittedly we owe it to him to get him back...” She snarled, jerking her head towards the Colonial border. Leo’s key swung erratically from her neck— her own memento of him.
Kinsliy shot to her feet, fuming. The claws in her hands extended and clenched into fists. She let out a growl and barked at Icarus to follow her back to the Kingdom’s reach. However, she barely got five steps away from, the group when Noah felt a familiar chill run over his spine. The Dewott cracked a smile. It was time.
The winds quickly changed directions. A quiet zephyr became a swift bluster of air from the south, turning the young Sneasel around mid-step. Noah merely sat back against the thick Oran bush and watched the apparition unfold.
In a tumult of biting wind, soil, and leaves that forced all five of them to look away. Spectral bolts of energy shot around and sparked the air to ignition. At once, a burst of purple fire consumed the berry patch, them, and the world. Noah couldn’t help but flinch as the harmless flames licked over him, but chuckled as he focused himself. The others were silent and shaking in terror. Icarus cowered behind Kelly’s side while Jay’s paws dug into her fur. Kinsliy, the no-nonsense officer he had come to hate these past months, was stunned, mouth agape in the middle of the row at the smiling Mismagius now floating in the midst of them..
“Greetings. Allow me to introduce myself: I am the reason you all are still alive. Consider yourselves highly unfortunate.”
Like clockwork, both Jay and Kelly responded to the voice they knew from their pasts and dreams. However, they could not express their outrage in time before the ghost silenced them with a glance. He twisted over in the air, taking a long look at Icarus and Kinsliy. Both Kingdom soldiers were unable to speak. Noah got up from his crosslegged position and chuckled.
“About damn time you stopped hiding. Now, tell them you’re real and they’re not crazed, okay?”
End Chapter 18