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Pokémon The Legendarian Chronicles

Chapter 33: Family Reunion

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
~Chapter 33: Family Reunion~


“Breloom, use Drain Punch!” Rudy yelled.

The bouncy, mushroom-capped Pokémon fired his back legs to leap forward, driving an arm into his target’s thorax. The opposing Scizor tumbled backward and slumped over, still passed out from the earlier Spore attack. Beads of orange light clung to Breloom’s fist from the impact point, slowly settling into his body. Rudy smirked and threw a hand forward, ready to order another move.

And then Scizor’s eyes snapped open. The armored bug shot to its feet in one sharp motion, shaking its head to clear the haze of sleep before its eyes focused on the opponent now standing right in front of it.

“Yes! Use Aerial Ace!” its trainer called out.

Breloom sprang backward, but Scizor pursued, blades of white light forming around its pincers. It swung once; Breloom slipped under it with a smooth dodge, but the follow-up came impossibly fast, tearing into him first with a downward strike before smashing him back with the upward one.

“And a brutal Aerial Ace attack sends Breloom flying! Rudy’s in a tight spot—Connor might just be able to turn this match around!” the commentator’s booming voice called out over the speakers, whipping the audience into a frenzy. I clenched the armrests of my seat. Rudy was probably wishing he’d brought Ebony to this match—would’ve been nice to just make short work of Scizor with a Flamethrower or two. Then again, his opponent’s team was stacked with rock-types so he’d opted not to (though part of me had still half expected him to bring her anyway.) Now he had a way tougher fight ahead of him.

It was down to the final one-on-one in Rudy’s fourth preliminary and he couldn’t afford to lose. He’d already lost one match. Same as Darren. Not the end of the world, but it did mean that neither of them could take a second loss without seriously hurting their chances at making it to the top cut.

The past week had blazed by in a nonstop whirlwind of activity with the preliminary rounds of the tournament in full swing. Each of the five stadiums held ten matches a day with a strict time limit of thirty minutes to a match. When combined with the plethora of side events and activities going on in the city outside the tournament site, every single hour of the day had something to do. The result was me, Ajia and Starr crashing at our hotel room each night feeling utterly drained. (Or at least, Starr and I were drained, Ajia seemed to have infinite energy as usual.) I’d basically just alternated between watching matches with Rudy and Darren or Ajia and Starr—it always just felt too weird mixing friend groups, especially with the former being several years younger than me and the latter several years older.

From hearing the talk of the town, Rudy was quickly becoming one of the favorites to win this year, and footage from his matches was spreading like wildfire. It was honestly kind of cool to be able to say that I knew one of the fan-favorite competitors. Knowing how many people in the audience all around us were cheering for him… I couldn’t help glowing a bit with pride.

Breloom picked himself up from the ground, wincing from the large gash running through the mushroom cap on his head. The Aerial Ace had knocked him clear across the battlefield, but that meant he had a moment to regain himself before having to deal with a follow-up attack.

“Go for another Substitute!” Rudy ordered.

Connor pointed forward. “Aerial—” He paused sharply, then shook his head and yelled, “No, Bullet Punch, before it finishes the sub!”

I barely caught a glimpse of Scizor’s pincers flashing metallic right before the bug shot forward, a red blur too fast to see. But Breloom had already put his foreclaws together in concentration, pushing his aura out from his body. The sheer speed advantage from Bullet Punch didn’t mean much when Scizor had to clear half the battlefield just to reach Breloom and he’d already started the move. Within seconds, the aura had condensed into an identical copy of Breloom. Scizor smashed its pincers into the substitute in a rapid-fire frenzy, and the copy recoiled backward, wisps of lights breaking off from the main mass. But it was still standing, with the real Breloom unharmed behind it.

No way—it didn’t shatter? The first one had! Had that earlier Bulk Up really made that much of a difference?

“Alright, another Bulk Up!” Rudy called out.

Scizor hammered away at the aural Breloom, but each blow didn’t have near as much force as the first one without the momentum from the dash. Meanwhile, the tangling vines growing between the steel-type’s armor plates constantly sapped tiny bits of its energy, sending beads of green light flying back to Breloom.

Darren nudged my shoulder, and I leaned over so I could hear him over the crowd. “With Scizor packing a move that hits Breloom that hard, you can tell that Connor didn’t think he’d need anything else to bring it down. He’s scrambling now.”

I had to admit, even I had almost counted Rudy out too soon. But it was hard to blame his opponent for sticking with all-out offense. After all, his initial attempt to setup had backfired completely when Breloom opened with Spore, ironically giving Rudy the free setup instead. And Scizor had already wasted its fourth move on Knock Off earlier, so he didn’t have that many options.

With a flash of light, the substitute finally burst wide open, torn to shreds by the relentless barrage of punches. And without the sub, Breloom was wide open.

“Now Drain Punch!”

“Another Aerial Ace!”

Breloom was faster. It nimbly ducked under Scizor’s claws and fired a springy forepaw forward, driving a punch clean into the bug’s thorax. But Scizor took the hit and kept going, tearing at the grass-type with a jagged pincer. Yellowish liquid leaked from his mushroom cap. He recoiled backward, and for a second, I thought he was going to retreat and try a different approach. But Rudy just pointed forward again, and Breloom took that as a sign to push the attack. Strange… it didn’t seem like the best idea. But then I noticed what he must have already seen: this Aerial Ace had done far less damage than the previous one. Each punch was met with more and more of that orange glow leaking out from the impact and flowing into Breloom. More beads of green light shot from the vines ensnaring his opponent. The gashes on his mushroom cap were slowly closing up…

He was healing almost as fast as Scizor was dishing out damage.

“You can do it Breloom!” I yelled, adding to the incomprehensible mass of cheers and shouts from the audience.

Breloom dropped to the floor, compressing his back legs like a spring, drawing a fist back. He then launched himself upward and caught Scizor with a vicious uppercut right to the chin. The steel-type’s head snapped backward. The white light around its pincers flickered and died. Breloom paused for a moment, realized that he didn’t need to brace for the counterattack, and then sprung forward, driving another punch straight into his opponent’s face.

And that did it. Scizor stumbled backward, eyes screwed shut, pincers flailing as it struggled to gain its bearings. It sank to one knee, then fell flat on its face and didn’t move. I held my breath until the referee raised the red flag.

“Scizor is unable to battle! The winner is Rudy Fierro!”

And with that I jumped to my feet, cheering at the top of my lungs as the stadium burst into applause. Breloom staggered over to grab the equipment pouch that Scizor had knocked off at the start of the battle, swinging it over his shoulder before stretching a clawed forearm into the air. On the far end of the battlefield, in the trainer’s box, Rudy mirrored his Pokémon, throwing a fist upward repeatedly.

That was it—that was the third win Rudy needed. He actually had a shot at making the top cut now. Of course, it wasn’t a guarantee. The actual score came down to how many matches his opponents had won, and how many matches their opponents had won, and a lot of math that I only pretended to understand. But he had a shot, and that alone was exciting enough that I found myself cheering my throat raw even after the results faded from the scoreboard.

Next week was apparently when the tournament site would really explode with activity, seeing as the majority of the spectators who weren’t accompanying a competitor would usually opt to save their trip for watching the top cut. The idea that the tourney site in its current state was comparatively less packed compared to how it would look next week—that was mind-boggling.

“Well, he’ll be happy,” Darren said, leaning back in his seat with a grin. “I know he’s been real stressed about making it to the top cut.”

I tilted my head. “He has?” He’d been the picture of overconfidence all week. Bragging nonstop about how he was a shoe-in for the finals and that none of the other competitors could possibly measure up.

“Yeah. I mean, not that he’d show it, but you know how he is,” Darren replied. Upon seeing my confused face, he added, “Can’t let anyone know, least of all his team. Doesn’t want them to stress out too.”

I… actually hadn’t realized that until now. And in a way, that kind of bothered me. I mean, it did make sense—Darren had been traveling with Rudy for the past nine months, so of course he had a better read on him by now. But still… I should’ve been able to spot things like that.

By now, scattered members of the crowd were starting to get up from their seats and make their way to the stairs. There were still plenty of preliminary matches left after this, though, so a lot of them were electing to just sit and watch the next match. At least the exits wouldn’t be totally clogged.

I motioned to Darren. “Wanna go meet up with him?”

“Can’t. I’ve got a match in half an hour,” he replied simply.

I almost fell out of my seat. “What?! I didn’t know your next match was so soon!”

Darren just shrugged. “I practiced a bit this morning, and my team’s already been checked in.” He motioned to his belt, conspicuously devoid of Pokéballs. If it had been Rudy with a match so soon, it would’ve been the only thing out of his mouth for the past hour.

“Are you gonna be late?” I asked.

“I’ll be fine. Tell Rudy I said congrats, yeah?” Darren said, standing to his feet and stretching. He then waved and said, “See you later,” before making his way to the end of the seating row.

“See you. And best of luck with the match!” I added.

“Same to you,” he replied automatically. And then he paused, gears slowly turning in his head. “I don’t know why I just said that.”

“Force of habit maybe?” I said with a laugh.

“Yeah? Probably. Anyway, later.”

After Darren left, I waited for a minute or two for more people to leave the stands, then got up and started making my way down to the hallway that led to the competitors’ entry and exit. It seemed like the best thing to do would be to catch up with Rudy real quick, then find Ajia and Starr and grab seats for Darren’s next match. Granted, I probably should have asked which stadium it was going to be in, but I could probably check the match listings online once I got a free moment.

Despite my waiting, however, I wound up getting stuck behind a huge group of people all exiting the stands at once. So I stood a couple yards back, leaning against the railing as I waited for an opening. And then, rather unexpectedly, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Hey, your name wouldn’t happen to be Jade, would it?” a voice asked.

I spun around to see a boy around a year or two older than me, with gray eyes and reddish-brown hair (dyed lighter in the front) looking at me with a rather curious expression.

“Er… do I know you?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

He chuckled, reclining back against the same railing as me. “Probably not. I don’t think we ever saw each other much way back in Viridian, and I mostly hung out with Ajia anyway. My name’s Lexx. I’m Starr’s brother.”

I blinked. If I’d been expecting anything, it hadn’t been that. But now that I thought back, he did look vaguely familiar. In my mind, I could imagine a six-years-younger version of him alongside Ajia and Starr at our old school.

Seeing the blank look on my face, Lexx went on, “Sorry, I know it’s been ages. I really didn’t expect you to recognize me. I was wondering if you knew whether Ajia or Starr was around here. I haven’t been able to find either of them.”

“I can try calling Ajia,” I offered.

“That’d be great,” he said brightly.

I grabbed my Pokégear and tapped Ajia’s number, throwing a side glance at the newcomer every so often. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about this whole situation felt strange. Why couldn’t he just call her himself, if he knew her? In any case, Ajia soon answered the phone.

“Hey, Ajia? Your, uh… your old friend Lexx is here?” I said, unable to keep the confusion out of my voice.

“Lexx? What’s he doing there?” Okay, so she was more surprised that he was here than the fact that he wanted to speak to her at all. They’d clearly kept in contact at some point within the past six years.

“I don’t know, I was hoping you could tell me.”

I heard the muffled sounds of talking in the background as Ajia had apparently covered the microphone with her hand.

“He didn’t say?” she asked.

“No, he just said he was looking for you and Starr.”

“Oh, figures,” she said, slightly exasperated. “Alright, where are you two?”

“Uh, we’re…”—I glanced around to locate some sort of identifier—“We’re by stairway D. In stadium 4.”

“Kay, we’ll be right over,” Ajia said before hanging up.

I replaced my phone in my pocket and then just sort of shuffled a foot against the concrete while I waited for her to show up. Now that I thought about it, it was kind of weird that I’d been traveling with Starr for nine months and she hadn’t mentioned her brother once that entire time. I mean, sure, I hadn’t thought to ask, but… He hadn’t come up once in any of the countless stories she’d told about her training journey. Not even a single side mention?

We were just standing there in silence with the chatter of the crowd all around us. I glanced around aimlessly to avoid eye contact, feeling like it’d be too awkward if I stared. Lexx tapped his heels against the railing, humming to himself while he browsed something on his phone.

…I should probably say something to him.

“So have you… seen Starr lately?” I asked with an awkward half-smile.

He chuckled. “Well, I’ve tried to. She kind of avoids me.”

I raised an eyebrow. “...Why?”

“I’ll let her do the honors of explaining,” he said with a wink.

Well, now I was really confused. But I was spared having to think too hard about it because right then I spotted Ajia entering the stands from the nearest entryway. I waved to grab her attention… and then spotted Starr following close behind her, looking like she’d rather have been anywhere else.

“Seriously, I don’t get why you’re making me come along, I do not want to talk to him,” I heard her say rather loudly as they approached. Ajia said something quietly in reply, and then Starr shot back with, “No, I don’t care that it’s been over a year since we last spoke, what does that matter?”

And then she froze as if she’d suddenly realized that she now had the misfortune of actually being in her brother’s presence, and hadn’t yet figured out how to handle it.

“Hi Starr,” Lexx said brightly.

For several seconds, she didn’t respond. Then her gaze hardened, and she stormed over, grabbing him by the collar and pressing him against the railing.

“What do you want?” she demanded, staring him dead in the eyes with a murderous glare.

“Ah, come on,” Lexx replied, hardly looking fazed. As if this was a perfectly normal greeting from her. “I’ve been trying to contact you for a while now. You can’t ignore me forever.”

“Watch me,” she muttered, letting go of his collar and turning away, refusing to look at him.

I glanced back and forth between the two of them, thoroughly lost. “I don’t get it. What’s going on with you two?”

Starr gave me the expression she reserved for when she thought I was being especially dense. “Well, for starters, he’s the traitorous scum who sold me out during the revolt. Not to mention he’s friends with Sebastian.”

It took me several seconds to process the implication of what she had said. If he was involved in the revolt and knew Stalker, then…

“You’re on Team Rocket?!” I blurted out, spinning towards Lexx.

Starr burst out laughing. “Of course he is! I got caught up in that damn team because the boss is my dad—why would it be any different for Lexx?”

I shot a glance at Ajia, but it was obvious from her lack of reaction that she was already aware of all this. I couldn’t get a read on how she felt about it though.

“And hey! I just realized something!” Starr exclaimed suddenly, all amusement gone from her voice. “Ajia, you’ve known for ages that he’s on Team Rocket, but you never tried to screw him over because of it! What, was I just special?”

Ajia gave Starr a sympathetic look. “I’ve talked it over with him in the past. We can’t really work together because our aims are so different. But we’re not being actively pitted against each other either.”

“It’s because Sebastian doesn’t care if we were friends,” Lexx added dismissively. “He’s fighting the Kanto force. If you guys get involved, that just helps us. It’s not like what happened with you being loyal to the boss and all.”

Starr folded her arms and glanced away, muttering various obscenities under her breath.

“Congrats on your betrayal by the way,” Lexx added. “I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“You better not try to compare my treachery to yours,” she snarled, whirling around to face him. “I didn’t get a choice. They betrayed me first.”

“Don’t tell me you wish you were still on the Kanto force?” Lexx asked tauntingly.

“Of course not,” Starr muttered. “I just… I… it’s complicated.”

Lexx smirked. But then he made eye contact with me, and it was obvious he could tell that I was still confused. “Alright, look. You already know that we need to use the power of the Legendaries. And yeah, that means catching them. So if you try to stop us, just know we won’t hold back. But you already knew that, so outside of the battlefield, there’s no reason for bad blood. We’re both trying to stop the Kanto force, right?”

Starr gave an exaggerated sound of disgust. “Why are you even here anyway? What, did you come here just to piss me off or something?”

“Ha, that’d be fun. But no, I’m here on business.” He turned to face Ajia. “Sebastian wanted me to give you a message.”

She blinked. “He what?”

“Great,” Starr said with an eye roll. “Couldn’t even be assed to come tell us himself, so he sends his gopher boy to do it.”

“He didn’t want me to text it, either. Had to be in-person.” He paused to make sure all three of us were paying attention. And from the tiniest trace of a grin on his face, I suspected that part of it was for dramatic effect as well.

“Team Rocket is going to attack the League.”

It was like everything around us had stopped existing. I gaped incredulously, jaw hanging open. He couldn’t possibly be serious. It took several seconds for any of us to find the words to respond, but when we did, all three of us spoke at once:

“What?”

“You’re kidding.”

“Are they insane?!”

“It’s not going to be a serious attack or anything,” Lexx quickly added, raising both palms. “More to get people’s attention, really.”

“But why?” I asked, thoroughly lost. “Are they trying to, like… draw the Legendaries out of hiding?”

“Doubt it. Seems more like they’re trying to stir up some anti-Legendary sentiment. What better place to do that than the League?”

What? Anti-Legendary sentiment? The hell was that supposed to mean?

Ajia took a deep breath. “When are they going to attack?” she asked, her tone darkly serious.

“‘Fraid we don’t have word of that,” Lexx said, giving an exaggerated shrug. “Soon enough that Sebastian’s got his hands tied. He was hoping you three could do something about it.”

“Why don’t you do something about it, huh?” Starr asked heatedly.

Lexx folded his arms behind his head. “Sorry, but I’ve got a prior engagement.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? And what’s that?”

He winked. “Sorry, can’t tell you. Don’t wanna spoil the surprise.”

Starr clenched her hands like she wanted to strangle him.

“Okay, wait, wait,” I said, sweeping my hands to the side while trying to clear my thoughts. “If Sta—if Sebastian really cares about this, why doesn’t he warn the League? What makes him think we’re the best defense here.”

“Ah, I’m sure the League already knows,” Lexx answered with a casual tone. “That’s probably what the Rockets are banking on.”

I gaped at him. “What the hell?” Nothing about this made any sort of sense. And something else kept nagging at me in the back of my head. His vague, backhanded responses… they all pointed to one thing.

“Why are you talking about this like you’re in the dark?” I asked, the realization slowly dawning on me. “You know exactly why they’re doing this, you’re just not saying anything.”

Lexx’s grin widened for just an instant, and in that moment, it was obvious that he’d been waiting for someone to point that out. But he still didn’t answer the question.

Ajia sighed exasperatedly. “Lexx… come on…”

He held up his arms. “I’m not trying to toy with you guys, honest. There’s just certain things I can and can’t say, that’s all. Besides, now that you guys know what’s coming, you’ll be less likely to get hurt, right? I’m still doing you a favor.”

Ajia opened her mouth to speak, but then she paused before any words could come out. “You said they wanted to stir up anti-Legendary sentiment,” she said, furrowing her brow in that way she did when she was putting the puzzle pieces together on something. “In other words, they’re going to attack the League and pin the blame on the Legendaries. They don’t plan on anyone knowing it’s them.”

For several seconds, there was no response. Then a slow, satisfied grin made its way across his face. “That’s my favorite thing about you,” he said. “I don’t even have to say the things I’m not allowed to say; you just figure it out anyway.” He clapped his hands together with a look of finality. “Welp, that pretty much covers everything I needed to say. I should probably get back to Mahogany now.”

Starr snatched his collar again, yanking him towards her. “What makes you think you can drop a bombshell like that and just leave, huh?” she growled.

“Oh, do enlighten me as to what you’re going to do to me,” he said, his voice lilting with amusement.

Several seconds passed, during which it felt like nothing else around us even existed. Not the crowds, not the stadium, nothing. Starr’s hand hovered over a Pokéball, and she muttered, “if we weren’t in public…” but then she shook her head and clenched her fist before shoving him away roughly.

Lexx smoothed out his collar with a smug grin. Then he gave a small wave and said, “Nice seeing you all,” before walking off.

I stared blankly at the concrete floor after he left, my mind swirling with a million different things. Ajia was still pondering his words while Starr was muttering incoherent half-sentences laced with profanity. While I couldn’t say that my first impression of Lexx was a positive one, I also couldn’t say that I felt the same… vitriol as she did. There was definitely more to it than that.

“So… you really can’t stand him, huh,” I said, desperate to have one comment that didn’t relate to the revelation he’d just given us.

Starr snapped her head in my direction. “That little weasel got out of the revolt scot-free, while the boss never let me forget what happened,” she spat, gripping the handrail so hard her knuckles turned white. “Then he had the nerve to mock me for following the boss, as if I had a choice in it.”

I tapped my fingers together awkwardly. “…Maybe you guys could put that in the past now that you’re not a Rocket anymore?” After all, I’d done a lot of stuff that had outraged her as a Rocket.

Starr scoffed but didn’t say anything.

“Look, this whole thing has got us on edge, so I think we should go do something to take our minds off it,” Ajia suggested, gesturing for us to follow her outside. I exhaled slowly, only just then realizing how much tension I could feel in my shoulders. Yeah, finding a distraction sounded like a good idea.

I grabbed Starr’s hand and tugged lightly on her arm.

“Yeah, alright fine,” she muttered, clasping her hand around mine. “Let’s go find a side event or whatever.”



~~~~~~~~~~​



Team Rocket was going to attack the League.

That single thought wouldn’t leave my mind for the rest of the day. And while entering a couple of one-on-one pickups with Ajia and Starr had helped (Ajia ended up winning a couple of rare berries), I was soon back to obsessively dwelling on it.

Was what Lexx said true? What reason would there be to tell a lie like that? He was friends with Stalker… So was I, at one point. Well… had I ever really been his friend? Or was everyone on the Rebellion just his pawn? How many times had I asked myself that same question?

I wound up missing Darren’s match. I’d have to explain myself later. He probably wouldn’t mind that much, but it still bothered me. That was a few hours ago; now I was using the battle equipment section of the vendor’s alley as a distraction. I was in the middle of trying to wrap my head around why anyone would give their Pokémon equipment that poisons the holder when my Pokégear started buzzing. I answered it.

“Hey!” Rudy’s voice blared in my ear, way louder than it needed to be. “Darren was looking for you earlier.” That was usually code for ‘Rudy was looking for me.’

“Yeah, I was busy,” I just said.

“Well I just stopped by one of the food carts. Why don’tcha head over, I’ve got loads to tell you.”

I closed my eyes. I couldn’t really think of any excuse not to, so I said, “Sure, I’ll be over in a few,” before hanging up.

I went and found Starr debating whether or not to buy a Choice Band, and told her I was heading off. Of course, Rudy hadn’t bothered to tell me which food cart he’d stopped at, and I knew by now that texting him for more info was pointless. It was probably within the tourney site grounds at least. So I just wandered down the alley that had the most enticing smells, now painfully aware of the fact that I’d missed lunch. Rocket business sure had a way of killing my appetite.

It didn’t take long for me to find Rudy. He was seated at one of the many outdoor picnic tables in the adjacent park. I wandered over to him and couldn’t help staring at the ridiculously large tray of fried snacks sitting on the table in front of him.

“Geez, did you order that for your entire team or what,” I said as I sat down across from him.

“Oh, shut up, I didn’t know how many came with it,” he grumbled.

“Yeah, well, I’m stealing a few,” I said, grabbing a toothpick and spearing a ball of fried seafood before popping it into my mouth. Having something to chew on helped fill an otherwise awkward silence at least. Wasn’t long before I got the itch to say something though.

“I missed Darren’s match,” I said, my voice weirdly monotone.

“Aw really? Lame,” Rudy said through a mouthful of food. He chewed for a bit and then said, “You, uh… you saw mine though, right?”

I chuckled weakly. “Yeah, I did.”

“Ah, okay.” He nodded, looking pleased. “So you saw how long Pupitar lasted in that match. I managed to find someone selling an eviolite and she’s been loving it. Or at least, I think she has. It’s hard to tell, y’know?”

He rambled on for a bit about his team. About how Nidoking had beat some kid’s Dragonair in a practice match and how he could totally take on a Dragonite if anyone here actually had one (no one did). About how Fearow had been helping Breloom get over his fear of flying-types, and how he’d actually managed to stall her out recently. About how Raichu had managed to use Substitute four times in a single match. I felt bad about zoning out for most of it, but it was hard not to with how distracted I felt.

“And I think Fearow actually wanted to be on the tournament roster? Even though she volunteered to sit out ‘cause you can only bring six. But now she’s complaining about how I used Pupitar even though she doesn’t care, and now they’re not talking to each other, and I’m just like ‘I don’t know what’s going on anymore.’ I dunno how to make them both happy. It’s dumb!” He folded his arms with an overly sulky expression. Then, for whatever reason, he must have finally noticed my face. “So what happened to you? You look like you just got your ass handed to you or something.”

Darren’s words from this morning echoed in my head. Couldn’t stress Rudy out with Rocket BS. Not when he’d come so far.

I forced a laugh. “Yeah, I did.”

He held back a snicker. “Again? Seriously, I know your team’s better than that. You just giving bad orders again, or what?”

I snorted. “Yeah, that’s probably it.” Well, it was a handy excuse, at least.

Rudy gave an exaggerated sigh. “Well, only one thing to do. Come on.” He stood up and motioned for me to follow him. “Let’s run through some strategies or something.”

“I already did a bunch of battles this morning.” I did two. That counted as a bunch.

“Nah, we wouldn’t be battling,” he said dismissively. I raised an eyebrow. “I mean, like, tactics and crap. The kinda stuff we used to do back on Midnight. I can show you some of the stuff my team’s been working on. Maybe it’ll help yours, I dunno.”

Rudy, the strategist. What bizarro universe had I stepped into.

“Oh, and you’re not allowed to tell Darren any of this, got it?” he added, jabbing a finger at me. “I know he’s acting like he doesn’t give a crap about the tournament but he mostly… sort of… always won when we used to spar.” The words looked physically painful. “So I gotta hold onto any advantage I got, you hear?”

“I got it, I got it,” I said, waving a hand. More distractions couldn’t hurt. And it wasn’t like I could do anything about the impending attack right now. So what point was there in making myself miserable? As usual, none. I was here to enjoy myself, dammit.

So I stood up and prepared to follow him out to the public battlegrounds. And then a distant rumble reverberated through the air, sending a small tremor through the ground. All around us, the chatter of the crowds slowly trailed off as everyone’s attention was caught by the unexpected quake.

“What the hell was that?” Rudy asked, glancing around in confusion.

I froze, pulse quickening, a pit of dread slowly building in my stomach. That couldn’t be it. That had to be some random training accident or something. Some overpowered attack had gone wild and hit a building. Get enough trainers in one place and it was bound to happen.

And then I felt another tremor radiate through the ground. The distant call of an alarm split the air.

It couldn’t be. Now? Why now? So soon?!

This was it. The Rockets’ attack was now.






~End Chapter 33~
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
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weavile
Chapter 10

The Houndour was completely bowled over from being struck by a bird so much larger than her.
Huh, I actually never realized that Pidgeotto are larger than Houndour until I looked it up. Seems like you learn something new day every day.

Crap. Not Pursuit again. No matter how many times we tried running from it, fleeing only made Pursuit stronger. What were we supposed to do? Running away wasn’t an option. That only left… standing our ground?

I locked eyes with Swift, and it was obvious we were thinking the same thing. The Pidgeotto banked hard in order to land facing our opponent, wings outstretched. He stood there, tensing up as the orange-furred rat shot forward, cloaked in dark energy. And then at the last second, he leaped aside and smacked Raticate with his wings, sending the rat face-planting straight into the ground.
Hey, looks like someone else is learning stuff as well!

“Scary Face,” Ray ordered. His Charmeleon responded by flashing a terrifying grimace at Firestorm; the latter recoiled backwards, his movements growing sluggish.

“Firestorm use your own Scary Face
Jade ordering this reminds me of that episode in the anime where Totodile and Charizard keep using Scary Face at each other and it’s just the silliest things ever.

I whipped out Swift’s Pokéball and recalled him before immediately re-releasing him next to me and giving him a cheri berry. He gulped it down and then bolted back into the fray, already whipping up a Gust around the other combatants.
That’s actually a pretty smart way to quickly heal your Pokémon mid-battle.

Stalker turned to face the rest of us. “By the way, this was the last exercise limiting the Rocket players to double your team number. Next time they can use their full team—even if they’re tag-teaming you. Be ready for it.”
Seems like Stalker isn’t making this training easy for then. Though given who they’re up against, I suppose it only makes sense.

That said, looking at this scene I think the rules are a bit unclear to me. Do Jade’s opponents all have to back off after getting hit once? And are there any penalties to Jade’s Pokémon getting hit? Also are the trainers targets as well given that Ebony tried chasing Jade? If so, why did Jade merely run? Finally, did Jade do this as training for the entire month or did she get to ambush others as well sometimes?

I’m thinking at least 150 percent.”

I rolled my eyes. “I don’t think it’s that high—more like only 110 percent.”

“You’re on!”

I stared. “How… how do we even tell who wins that bet?”
Lol

“In my absence, the members of Group 1 are in charge,” Stalker said.
I see someone has favorites.

Born: 6 September 2983; Registered: 11 July 2998
Wonder if there is any significance to these years being so far ahead of the 21st century.

“Within the next two weeks, Team Rocket will attempt to capture a Legendary Pokémon. Your job is to find out which one and do whatever it takes to stop them.”
It’s obviously Articuno, just look at the cover art.

Jokes aside, I see they’re not starting off small. This is a pretty big operation to begin with!

“Stalker did say that Team Rocket’s not exactly a secret, just the Legendary-catching regional takeover stuff is,” I said, shrugging.
So in LC’s universe they’re a legitimate organization that conducts illegal activities then? As opposed to being a straight up criminal organization like in canon? I know that’s what the games did with Team Galactic, but didn’t expect to see the same being done with Team Rocket here.

“Alright, good. It looks like all three of you already have Pokémon, so we won’t need to loan you any. And before you ask, grunts are not issued firearms. Agents who reach officer rank on the combat unit can apply to receive one, but it’s no guarantee.”
Whelp, I guess Gunslinger Jade isn’t gonna be a thing anytime soon.

“So, as a member of Team Rocket, you’ll be expected to serve the team’s best interests in whatever you do, whether it’s carrying out missions or performing base duties. The team is divided into several divisions all working to further the team in different ways. Of course, the majority of Rockets are assigned to acquisitions—obtaining and selling goods and Pokémon. But the others are equally important. The business division keeps large corporations in check and allows us to fund our projects. The tech division breaks new ground in science and technology, strengthening our forces with new equipment and enhanced Pokémon. And the combat unit enforces our will against those who would threaten us, as well as handling the acquisition of particularly rare and powerful Pokémon.”
Hearing about the inner workings of Team Rocket like this is really cool! Props to thinking it through in such detail, since canon has always been a bit ambiguous regarding this.

“I don’t have time for kids who can’t battle. Lucky for you, it looks like you already know a thing or two about fighting. That’ll make things easier for both of us. Good type coverage going on here too. You’ll be a decent unit… once you’re cleared for actual missions that is. You’ve got a long way to go until then.” She stopped in front of us and paused, looking contemplative. None of us dared say anything unless she addressed us first. Finally, she crossed her arms and gave an affirmative nod.

“Alright, I think I can work with this. Get used to the way things work around here today. Watch and learn. You’re Rockets now. We’ll start your training tomorrow.”
They sure managed to get quite the trainer, huh? At least she’s not completely unimpressed by them.

And alright, they’re now finally inside Team Rocket! I think this final scene was definitely my favorite out of the three since it gave us a glimpse of how Team Rocket operates exactly. The training was alright too, but it was certainly not my favorite. Though that’s moreso because training scenes tend to not interest me all that much in general and not because of anything on your end. The training scene was definitely needed here and I thought it was overall handled well.

That said, I’m excited to see how things will continue now that they’re undercover. If I had to guess they’ll probably run into someone they previously fought at some point, which is where things will go wrong. But I’ll wait and see. Until next time ~
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Huh, I actually never realized that Pidgeotto are larger than Houndour until I looked it up. Seems like you learn something new day every day.
Pidgeotto are large and I love reminding people of this. :D
That said, looking at this scene I think the rules are a bit unclear to me. Do Jade’s opponents all have to back off after getting hit once? And are there any penalties to Jade’s Pokémon getting hit? Also are the trainers targets as well given that Ebony tried chasing Jade? If so, why did Jade merely run? Finally, did Jade do this as training for the entire month or did she get to ambush others as well sometimes?
Ah, yeah, the rules weren't totally explained, but basically Jade's opponents weren't running the gauntlet, they were waiting at specific points to act as obstacles. Gauntlet runners would have to land a hit on each obstacle Pokemon before being allowed to resume running. Trainers were valid targets, but only for non-elemental moves (and not required for the gauntlet runners). And the kids all rotated roles throughout the month.
Wonder if there is any significance to these years being so far ahead of the 21st century.
Ah, it actually took me some time to decide on a year, but I went with that number because of all the major things that happened in canon 3000 years ago. Also to better establish that this is Not Earth.
So in LC’s universe they’re a legitimate organization that conducts illegal activities then? As opposed to being a straight up criminal organization like in canon? I know that’s what the games did with Team Galactic, but didn’t expect to see the same being done with Team Rocket here.
I took a lot of inspiration from real life yakuza, so LC-verse TR is well known for their smuggling, trafficking, extortion, protection rackets, and all that good stuff. But the heavily-militarized stuff under the table is all from Mewtwo Returns.
Hearing about the inner workings of Team Rocket like this is really cool! Props to thinking it through in such detail, since canon has always been a bit ambiguous regarding this.
One of the things I was most looking forward to with this arc was exploring how TR functions, so I'm glad you found it interesting!

Thanks for the review! It was a lot of fun to read. ^^
 
April Fool's Special: Triple Threat

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
This chapter is pretty short but it has a lot of cool action. I hope you all enjoy! Happy April 1st! ;D



~Chapter 34: Triple Threat~


My body had gone rigid, every panic instinct flaring up at once. We were supposed to have more time. It wasn’t supposed to be this soon. We were supposed to have more time. Lexx’s warning from earlier flashed through my mind on an infinite repeat. It wasn’t supposed to be this soon. But... he hadn’t said one way or another, had he? Some warning.

“C’mon, let’s go check it out,” Rudy said, gesturing in the direction that we’d heard the explosions. His words reached my ears, but my body didn’t want to respond.

“Wait,” my voice finally said.

Rudy turned, giving me a confused look.

I clenched my fists, swallowing hard, struggling to force the words out. “This… is probably Team Rocket’s doing.”

He froze, staring at me with an expression I couldn’t place. Surprise? Fear? No, it was more like a dozen thoughts and memories flashing through his mind at once. He turned back in the direction of the commotion. The noises were growing louder, building in intensity. More explosions. Now we could actually hear screaming.

Rudy bit his lip. “I mean… we’ve still got to go see, don’t we?”

I didn’t have an answer for that. Mostly because he was right. I nodded slowly, and then the two of us took off running. Most of the other trainers were running away from the direction we were heading. I didn’t like the look of that, but we pressed on until we’d reached the entrance to Stadium 3. Now that we were here, I could see a plume of smoke rising up above it. I glanced around hurriedly, trying to make out the source of the chaos, but nothing stood out.

But then when I saw it, all I could do was wonder how on Earth it had managed to not stand out.

“What the bloody hell is that thing?” Rudy blurted out, saying pretty much the same thing that I had wanted to say.

Three Hyper Beams split the air, instantly vaporizing a large chunk of the stadium above us. I stared brokenly as chunks of concrete rained down from the impact, only finally managing to piece together that they were falling right at us.

Instinct took over, and I dove headlong through the stadium entrance, landing roughly on the tile floor, tremors shooting through the ground behind me. I lay there breathing hard, eyes screwed shut and arms clasped over my head until the movement finally ceased. I cracked one eye open. Then I shook my head to clear the dust from my face and lifted myself from the floor before throwing a glance back the way I came.

The hallway was filled with rubble. I couldn’t see Rudy but he was probably ok. I turned around and ran in the opposite direction. I passed the main lobby, then ran down the hallway that circled the stadium until I reached one of the offshoots that led into the audience stands.

A horrifying screech of a roar reverberated through the air. I shot a glance skyward, squinting at a figure silhouetted against the harsh sunlight. And there it was. It was a Lugia, but… wrong. Huge, draconic wings beat the air. Sunlight glimmered off nightmarishly long, pitch-black blade claws. Three heads—one normal, one bladed and demonic, and one eye-searingly bright—roared and snapped their jaws, firing off non stop energy beams and blowing giant holes in the stadium walls.

Suddenly Chibi burst out of his Pokéball in a flash of light, appearing on my shoulder.

“*I should have known,*” he said darkly.

I snapped my attention to him. “What? How?”

“*It was just rumors for the longest time. Experiment Number Thirty-Seven. But no one thought they’d actually go through with it after they had such success with Thirty-Six. I guess with Mewtwo being freed, they didn’t have much of a choice.*”

What? This thing was a hybrid made by Team Rocket? But then… if it was here, then Team Rocket had to be nearby, right?

“Come on, we’ve got to find the Rockets,” I said. I opened a Pokéball and let out Swift and jumped onto the Pidgeot’s back and the three of us flew upward. I tried to give the three-headed nightmare of a Lugia a wide berth, but then it saw us.

“Swift, use Agility!” I cried.

The Pidgeot put on a burst of speed, and he only barely managed to dodge the ensing triple Hyper Beam. But the shock waves of the attack’s sheer awesomeness knocked our flight path totally askew. I held tight to Swift as the three of us plummeted downward, the ground rushing up at us. And yeah, okay, maybe it was one of the coolest ways to die, but I still didn’t want to die!

And then suddenly a psychic glow surrounded us, slowly lowering us safely to the ground. My feet reached the concrete. I took a wild look around, trying to locate our savior. A flash of white wings caught my eye, I whirled around and—there it was. Lugia. Half of my brain wanted to freeze up with panic at the memory of how it had tortured me last year, but the other half was to enraptured by just how damn cool Lugia was.

“You saved me?” I asked breathlessly. The dragon-bird nodded expressionlessly.

“What the heck is that thing?” I asked, gesturing to the three-headed monstrosity.

<Why should I know?> Lugia said. Its psychic voice was a lot saltier and less-majestic than I’d been expecting.

“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s a three-headed Lugia!” I shouted, gesturing to it.

Lugia rolled its eyes. <Whatever. Come with me. We’re figuring this out now.>

Wait. It wanted me to fly up there with that thing in the air? It had almost killed me!

“Why me?” I whined.

<Because you’re a foolish little kid who confronts Legendaries when you know you shouldn’t,> Lugia said tiredly. <Now get on my back>

I obeyed, recalling both Swift and Chibi and climbing onto the Legendary’s back. Lugia spread its wings and the two of us were skyward again.

<Hey, ugly!> Lugia yelled, firing off an aeroblast at the hybrid. A trio of Hyper Beams—one yellow, one bluish white, and one black—shot toward us in reply, but Lugia put on a burst of speed and looped out of the way, putting us far enough away for the shock waves to miss.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a small pink cat levitating someone up to us.

“Ajia!” I cried.

Mew was lifting her psychically. I thought it was kind of weird for her to do that out here in the open where anyone could see, but I didn’t say anything.

“Do you have any idea what that thing is?” I asked.

Ajia shook her head. “We’re just as much in the dark as you are.”

<Come on, we’ve got to strike back,> Lugia snapped.

Mew stared at it. <But it would take at least three Legendaries to match that one’s strength.>

“Hello, yes, I’m here now,” a voice announced, and I turned around to see Ho-oh flying up to us, its rainbow wings beating the air. When it noticed all of us staring at it, it blushed. “Well, what are we waiting for?”

<Eh, right.> Lugia turned back towards its three-headed counterpart, which had been conveniently distracted while we were talking. <All together now!> it cried.

Mew, Lugia and Ho-oh all focuses their power into their strongest attacks, Psystrike, Aeroblast, and Sacred Fire. The three attacks swirled around each other and formed a single beam of power, striking the three-headed abomination dead-on.

Yes! Direct hit!

But it just smirked and dusted itself off with its claws. No way… our attacks hadn’t even made a dent!

“You didn’t honestly expect that to work, did you?” a condescending voice shouted.

I glanced over to see a Charizard rapidly flying toward us with a trainer on its back.

Ajia’s eyes went wide. “Sebastian?!”

Stalker tilted his head. “Who? Nevermind, I need your help.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Why?”

He gestured to the destruction with a wild look in his eyes. “Because this wasn’t supposed to happen!”

“What do you know about that thing?” I demanded.

“Well for starters, I created it,” he said, with a tone that suggested that he was annoyed I didn’t already know that.

“What?!” I exclaimed. “How? Why??”

Stalker scowled. “Don’t tell me you forgot how I cloned Lugia and turned it Dark?”

“Uh. First of all: no, I don’t remember that. I think I’d remember that. Second of all: what??

“No matter,” he said, turning around dramatically. “I created TriLugia by fusing three clones together—one normal, one Dark, and one Light. It was supposed to be my ultimate weapon. But its power has run wild and I can’t control it anymore. Much as it pains me to say it, I need your help.”

I decided to ignore the eighty billion questions his story brought up and instead focus on the matter at hand. “We attacked it with all three of our powers combined, but it wasn’t enough.”

“Well yeah,” Stalker said matter-of-factly. “TriLugia doesn’t have the power of three Lugias. Each of its components is already three times cooler than normal—you’d need the power of nine Lugias. And that’s just not going to happen,” he said, scoffing at such a notion.

“Then why didn’t you make nine Lugias?!” I yelled.

Stalker stared. “I don’t have that kind of time on my hands.”

“Apparently you do!” I yelled, throwing both arms toward the rampaging monster. “Why the hell did you make it in the first place?!”

“Why wouldn’t I? It was the only way to fulfill the prophecy…” he replied simply as though nothing were more true.

I stopped, staring. “The Midnight Island prophecy?”

“What? No, the Lavender Town prophecy…” Then he narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Which prophecy are you talking about and why don’t I know about it?”

“What do you mean you don’t know about it, I asked you about it, back on the Rebellion! And why are there so many prophecies?!”

“Never mind that,” he said dismissively. “We’re going to need a power even greater than the Legendaries if I’m going to take control of that thing…”

“A power greater than the Legendaries?” I breathed. “Does such a thing exist?”

“It does…” Stalker said meaningfully, “and it’s sitting in your bag.”

What? It was what? I grabbed my bag from my shoulder and slid it into my lap. I could feel an aura of great importance radiating out from it. I reached my arm in and felt my fingers brush against the cool metallic orb that I’d found in the basement of the Midnight Island ruins.

“How did you know I had it?” I asked.

“I have my ways…” he said mysteriously.

I slowly lifted the orb out of the bag, holding it in front of my face.

“It might look like an orb,” Stalker said, “But it’s actually a shard of TriLugia’s power.”

“But it doesn’t look like an orb!” I shot back. “And everyone thought it had to do with Giratina!”

Stalker looked at me like I was an idiot. “What the hell is Giratina.”

<Never heard of it,> Lugia added dismissively.

Oh come on! Just when I thought I knew what the heck was going on with all of this.

Mew held up a paw, muttering something ancient-sounding as a magical glow started to encircle the orb magically. All of a sudden, its shape rippled and distorted like a hologram being deactivated and then there was a glassy jet-black crystal in my hand.

“What,” I said.

“That’s it, that’s the Dark Crystal…” Stalker said darkly, with a dark grin.

I could feel an evil power radiating out from it. Stalker reached out his hand as if to take it, and I instinctively clutched it to my chest.

“Hmph. Fine, keep it then. So long as we use them together, it makes no difference.”

“‘Them’?”I asked, raising an eyebrow.

He reached into his coat and pulled out a second crystal, this one radiating a purplish light that distorted the air around it. “This is the Psychic Crystal. I stole it from its true owner and now it’s mine.”

“Then what’s the third…?” I began. But then all of a sudden, Mew had a look of recognition on her face and she turned to face her chosen with an awestruck look.

<It’s you,> Mew said, awestruck.

“Me?” Ajia asked. But before anyone could say anything, suddenly she started to glow. I stared in shock as, before our eyes, a brilliant white stone materialized in her hands.

“Where did this come from?” Ajia asked in amazement.

“The Light Crystal was originally hidden away, just like the others. It came to you because you were meant to have it…” Stalker muttered mysteriously. That made sense.

<That’s how destiny works, after all,> Mew added. Lugia gave a small harumph but didn’t say anything.

Stalker turned to face the mindless, rampaging, three-headed Lugia, holding the Dark Crystal out in front of him.

“By the combined power of all three crystals, we should be able to destroy TriLugia.”

“Why are you alright with us destroying it?” I asked. “You made it for a reason, didn’t you?”

Stalker turned away. “Hmph. I don’t need it alive, I just need its blood for the ritual…”

I decided to place that bit of information in the “let’s not think about this” section of my brain.

The three of us closed our eyes and all concentrated at once. I felt a wave of darkness radiating out from the Dark Crystal, which melted together with a wave of pure light and a wave of pure psychic-ness. My eyes opened, and I saw a huge vortex of power forming between the three crystals, swirling different shades of black, white, and purple. Suddenly and without warning, it shot forward into a piercing beam that tore through the air. TriLugia snapped all three heads in our direction. The beam struck it in the belly, and the beast roared, flailing its heads, limbs, wings, and tail. I held my breath, hoping that we’d done it.

But then its eyes snapped open, and it flashed a murderous glare at all of us.

“No way…” I muttered.

<It wasn’t strong enough…> Mew said hopelessly.

“That’s impossible,” Stalker said.

All three heads opened their mouths, and for an instant, I was sure that it was going to attack us. But instead, it fired three, blindingly bright, mile-wide beams at the ground below.

“No! This one shouldn’t be capable of that attack!” Stalker yelled. This one? Was he implying there was another one??

The energy bored a hole deep into the earth. The ground split open, cracks radiating across the tournament site like a spider web. Small at first, they rapidly grew outward, buildings falling into the gaping chasms.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen this early! It’s too soon! The portal isn’t open yet!”

Plumes of magma shot up through the cracks. A feeling of dread slowly started to come over me. This attack. Just how deep could it go? Just how much damage would it cause? And why was Stalker so terrified?

“I was supposed to reach the sacred realm! I was supposed the gain the power of the Pokégods!”

<Lugia, what’s he talking about?> I asked.

<I don’t know!> the dragon-bird yelled, its voice saturated with panic. I felt its panic in my mind as well. Stalker had flown off in a hurry. Shock waves started to radiate through the air. The chasms had traveled so far they’d reached the horizon. A horrible, unearthly glow had started to build from deep within.

Then an earth-shattering explosion and everything faded to white.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“What in the name of all existence is happening here?!” a voice thundered across the void between worlds.

The spatial one perked up, its attention dragged from the spectacle unfolding on the physical plane. “Ah, you’re right on time, this world just nuked itself, come have a look.”

The temporal one drifted over, its movements as slow as possible to indicate just how much it didn’t want to.

“What are you doing?” it asked, its voice a low, cold rumble that reverberated through the ages.

Palkia glanced back at its handiwork. “Is, uh… is that a rhetorical question?” The temporal one didn’t dignify that with a response, so it continued, “Well, I noticed this universe had eleven…”—it paused, counting on its claws—“no wait, twelve versions of itself. And I thought that was kind of weird, so I went and combined them. Most of them just kind of fizzled out, but numbers three and twelve ended up fighting for dominance here. You can’t tell me that’s not cool.”

Dialga squinted at the abomination before it, recognition flashing through its eyes.

“Did you not think this world was bad enough as it was?”

“I mean… I’d answer that, but that’d be getting into things I’m not supposed to talk about,”
Palkia said, giving the diamond dragon a you’re-not-supposed-to-talk-about-it-either kind of look.

The temporal one groaned heavily and turned to leave.

“Look, it’s fine, I’ll erase all of it, okay?” Palkia offered.

Dialga turned sharply, eyes flashing. “Is that supposed to be the ideal scenario here?”

“Well I can’t just leave it, it’ll bleed into the others.”

“And you didn’t think of that before starting this?”

“Sorry, foresight’s not my specialty,”
Palkia said with a tusked grin as its counterpart glared murderously.

Fix it, the temporal one snarled before shifting its existence to another plane.

“I just said I was going to,” the spatial one muttered, turning back to look upon its creation. It sighed. Then it spread its arms wide, streaks of red light tracing a path from its pearls to its clawtips.

Ah well, it was just one timeline out of infinity. No one would miss it.






~End Chapter 34~

Alright, so this special is probably somewhat more incomprehensible to the folks here on TR than it was on Serebii. :P It's a ridiculous, multi-layered inside joke based on the previous revisions of LC. Or rather, what would happen if you took Revision 3 of LC and unceremoniously shoved it into the current version. Stalker creating TriLugia. A trio of crystals with great destiny. The world being destroyed. All of that actually happened, once upon a time.

Happy April Fool's. Real chapter coming this weekend.
 
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Persephone

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
her/hers
HENLO IS PIXIE

THREE HEADS THAT EACH HAVE THREE LEGENDS EACH IS NINE. NINE IS BEST NUMBER. TRILUGIA IS THE TRUE GOD. WHY DID HUMANS FITE IT. ALSO WHY HUMANS. WHY NO NINETALES. FITE A GOD AND SEND HUMANS INSTEAD OF ICE DEMIGODS. BAD IDEA. WHY THEY LOST. ALSO SHOULD HAVE MADE ICE LUGIA. NOT DARK AND LIGHT. VERY BORING.

IN CONCLUSION

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
 
Chapter 34: Flames of War

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
MANY THANKS TO PIXIE FOR SCREMS. For anyone who didn't see it, there's an April Fool's special here.



~Chapter 34: Flames of War~


My body had gone rigid, every panic instinct flaring up at once. We were supposed to have more time. It wasn’t supposed to be this soon. We were supposed to have more time. Lexx’s warning from earlier flashed through my mind on an infinite repeat. It wasn’t supposed to be this soon. But… he hadn’t said one way or another, had he? Some warning.

“C’mon, let’s go check it out,” Rudy said, gesturing in the direction that we’d heard the explosions. His words reached my ears, but my body didn’t want to respond.

“Wait,” my voice finally said.

Rudy turned, giving me a confused look.

I clenched my fists, swallowing hard, struggling to force the words out. “This… is probably Team Rocket’s doing.”

He froze, staring at me with an expression I couldn’t place. Surprise? Fear? No, it was more like a dozen thoughts and memories flashing through his mind at once. He turned back in the direction of the commotion. The noises were growing louder, building in intensity. More explosions. Now we could actually hear screaming.

Rudy bit his lip. “I mean… we’ve still gotta go see, don’t we?”

I didn’t have an answer for that. Mostly because he was right. I nodded slowly, and then the two of us took off running. Most of the other trainers were running away from the direction we were heading. I didn’t like the look of that, but we pressed on until we’d reached the entrance to Stadium 3. Now that we were here, I could see the plume of smoke rising above it. I glanced around hurriedly, trying to make out the source of the chaos, but nothing stood out.

And then an overwhelming burst of flames tore through the sky, and a massive shadow loomed overhead, circling like a vulture. My blood ran cold. Every muscle in my body seized up instantly. I knew that shadow. Slowly, my eyes slid upward to stare helplessly at the fiery spectre soaring over us. Just like when it attacked Midnight Stadium that night, the night that our lives had been torn apart.

Moltres. The Legendary guardian of fire, now permanently colored in my mind as an omen of death.

The firebird drew itself back, flames licking the edge of its beak. The image of it incinerating the fleeing rebels flashed through my mind, and I forced myself to look at anything else. Rudy was frozen, staring at the legend with a disturbed fascination. My eyes slid back to it just in time to see it exhale an explosive blast of flames that tore through the side of the stadium with a deafening crash. I stared brokenly as chunks of concrete rained down from the impact, only finally managing to piece together that they were falling right at us. We had to move.

Instinct took over, and I dove headlong through the stadium entrance, landing roughly on the tile floor, tremors shooting through the ground behind me. I lay there breathing hard, eyes screwed shut and arms clasped over my head until the movement finally ceased. I cracked one eye open. Then I shook my head to clear the dust from my face and lifted myself from the floor with slow, shaking steps before throwing a glance back the way I came.

I was alone. I blinked stupidly at the huge pile of broken tile and concrete now filling the entryway, icy horror shooting through my veins as I processed that fact. I was alone. Rudy hadn’t made it through.

“Rudy!” I screamed. Oh god, he’d been crushed, oh god.

And then his voice called out, “I’m over here!” and I almost collapsed with relief. His words were muffled by all the rubble in the way, but I could just barely make out him saying, “Want me to bust through some of this concrete?”

I clenched my teeth. “Don’t waste your time, I’ll go around!” The last thing I wanted was for him to be stuck in one spot while Moltres was attacking.

“Gotcha!” he yelled, and then I didn’t hear anything more from him.

I spun around on the spot, a million things flashing through my mind. But when I lifted my foot to take off in the opposite direction… it didn’t move. My body was completely paralyzed. I had to do something. Had to… fight Moltres? No way. Out of the question. I couldn’t do that. But if Moltres was here, that meant there had to be Rockets here as well. I could handle fighting them, right?

I sank to the ground, both hands clutching my head. The flames. The bright fluorescent lighting suddenly melted into a pitch-black night. The stadium interior twisted and distorted into the familiar hallways of Midnight. I saw rebels taking to the sky, desperately trying to escape the carnage. Saw Moltres draw itself back, an infernal glow building in its throat before unleashing a column of fire that incinerated everyone instantly.

No. No, no, no! I wasn’t on Midnight Island, the Rebellion ended a long time ago, that time in my life was over!

…And why was it over? Because of something just like this. I’d thought I was safe. I’d thought I was free. But it was never going to be over, was it? Never, never, never.

No. None of that. I’d survived, hadn’t I? I’d endured all of that and worse! I couldn’t fall apart now, not after all of that. But I was used to it then. Used to being on edge with my life on the line, and the past nine months had dulled those instincts. I didn’t want to return to that life, dammit! I was happy ignoring it.

And then a burst of white light appeared out of nowhere right in front of my face, taking the form of a Pikachu.

“Chibi!” I gasped, jerking backward.

Yellow ears stood bolt upright as he glanced around hurriedly, his entire body tense.

“*What’s going on?*” he asked.

I forced back a shaking breath, struggling to find my voice. “Moltres is attacking the League.”

The hybrid paused, blinking incredulously. Then he glanced up and down at my sorry state, no doubt trying to hold back his disdain.

“*And what are you doing here?*” he asked.

I swallowed hard. “Trying to pull myself together,” I admitted.

His gaze softened. “*Well, come on then.*” He grabbed my hand, tugging at it lightly. Slowly, I closed my fingers around his paw, then dragged one foot forward until I could put my weight on it. Then another. Until I was finally able to force myself upward, bracing my arm against the side of the building. My pulse still pounded, but it no longer hurt. My head still spun, but it was growing clearer.

“I don’t know if I can do all of this again,” I whispered.

“*You’re not alone,*” Chibi said, leaping up onto my shoulder.

I wasn’t alone. I knew that.

“You’re sure eager to jump back into this,” I muttered.

“*Only because I knew it wasn’t really over. The threat you can see is a much easier threat to face,*” he said. I couldn’t really argue with him.

I started running. Slowly at first, building in speed as my feet struck the tile floor over and over. I passed the main lobby, then ran down the hallway that circled the stadium until I reached one of the offshoots that led into the audience stands. We emerged into the stadium, its seating and stairways now strikingly empty. High above the battlefield, Moltres circled like a fiery spectre, poised to rain destruction upon us. The airspace within the stadium was filled with trainers flying on Pokémon, evacuating. I sucked in a breath, frozen in horror as Moltres neared them. That same image flashed through my mind yet again, and I dug my nails into my palm to force it out.

And then the firebird banked a wing to swing a full U-turn. It breathed out a torrent of flame, but the blast tore through an empty block of seating.

I stared blankly, feeling as though my brain had to restart from sheer confusion. Moltres wasn’t going out of its way to attack anyone? This wasn’t like the attack on Midnight at all. What was going on? Why was it even here, then?

“It’s… not actually attacking anyone directly,” I muttered under my breath, hardly daring to believe it.

“*I noticed,*” Chibi replied. “*This is an attention-grab.*”

I clenched my teeth. Of course. Hadn’t Lexx basically already confirmed that? How could I have forgotten?

“Starr’s brother told us something like this was gonna happen. I still don’t entirely get why.”

If he was surprised that we’d spoken with Starr’s brother, he didn’t let it show. “*We still can’t let them get away with it.*”

I swallowed. “Right.” I grabbed a Pokéball and let out Aros. The Flygon materialized in front of us, and his antennae immediately twitched into overdrive as he surveyed his surroundings.

“*Oh geez what,*” he blurted out, craning his neck up to get a good look at Moltres.

“*It’s exactly what you think,*” Chibi replied.

“*Well, shit. Guess we gotta do something about it, huh?*”Aros said, leaning down for me to hop on. I swung a leg over his back, holding tightly to his neck, and with the buzzing of wings, the three of us were airborne.

I forced my eyes away from Moltres as we quickly ascended. Soon we’d cleared the height of the stadium walls, and then we could see the whole tournament site. Crowds of people and Pokémon filled the streets below, all heading away from the stadiums. Some of them making their way to the city, others aiming for the forests on the western edge of the plateau. Hundreds of flying Pokémon took to the sky all over. And in the midst of them all were the Pokémon rangers leading the evacuation. Everywhere, squads of flying Pokémon wearing brightly colored scarves directed the aerial traffic, struggling to bring some sense of order to the chaotic frenzy of escaping Pokémon.

Had anyone else noticed that Moltres wasn’t attacking them? Did that seem weird to them? Then again, the damage it had done to the stadiums was putting people in danger regardless—the distinction didn’t matter. Even if it wasn’t the Rockets’ goal, they’d no doubt gotten a few people killed from this, and there was no way they cared.

Suddenly, a handful of beam attacks shot through the air, flying past Moltres. One of the firebird’s wide loops over the tournament site had taken it too close to a handful of the escaping Pokémon. Their trainers had panicked and ordered attacks. When seemingly threatened by a Legendary, their instinct was to try striking back. I held my breath, mentally willing them to stay away from it as hard as I could. They didn’t need to be involved in this. No one else needed to get hurt. Just stay back. Please.

It didn’t work. A beam struck Moltres in the back of the head. For several seconds, the firebird didn’t react. But then it slowly turned its blank, soulless eyes in the direction of its attackers. It hadn’t been ordered to attack people. But striking back at an enemy was just instinct. My breath froze. The Legendary began flapping its wings, unleashing a wave of superheated air that forced back the attacking Pokémon, sending them tumbling limply through the air.

“Stay back! Do not engage, I repeat, do not engage!” a commanding voice blared through a megaphone. I snapped my head in its direction to see a man on a Dragonite shouting to the crowds. “All trainers and Pokémon are to evacuate the tournament site. Do not attempt to engage with the Legendary Pokémon.”

So the rangers were handling the evacuation and preventing anyone from being stupid and fighting Moltres head-on. Which… might have included us, if they hadn’t just issued that order. Was there really nothing for us to do here?

Something else was nagging at me. There was no actual sign of Team Rocket here. Moltres had obviously just been given a general order to attack the tournament site, because there was no one nearby who appeared to be giving orders. It was alone. But there had to be Rockets somewhere, right? They’d hardly just let loose one of their most powerful weapons without having someone keep an eye on it.

“Well well well, look at what we have here,” a voice drawled.

I tensed up. Who was that—was he talking to me? I spun around to see a man in his thirties approaching us from below on the back of an Altaria. The bird’s fluffy, cloudlike wings beat the air softly and rhythmically. Its overall gentle and nonthreatening appearance didn’t quite match its trainer’s sharp features and condescending aura.

“Who are you?” I asked.

He put a hand to his chest. “You don’t recognize me? I’m wounded. Then again, it would be hard for me not to recognize you, what with the company you keep.”

I bristled. He was referring to Aros and Chibi. He knew they were experiments. He was on Team Rocket.

“*Careful,*” Chibi muttered. He’d clearly realized the same thing.

“Should I recognize you?” I asked. Had to keep him talking. Any moment he was wasting with us was one he wasn’t spending doing… whatever it was the Rockets came here to do.

A subtle grin crossed his face. “Don’t play coy, you’ve got number nine right there, haven’t you? My greatest success was managing to recover it after you so thoughtlessly stole it from us. I’d have thought that would have left more of an impression.”

The gears slowly turned in my head. “You were head of the S.S. Anne mission?”

He nodded, looking pleased. “Mmhm. Course, I’m head of a bit more than that these days. But that’s neither here nor there. Technically we’re not supposed to engage, but, well… this is too perfect an opportunity to ignore.”

I tensed up. What did he mean by that?

And then, without warning, he drew a gun from his belt and pointed it at us.

“Aros!”

A gunshot split the air and the white aura of Protect flared up around us, and for a second, I was sure that we’d been hit. But Aros’s flight hadn’t faltered, and I couldn’t feel any pain. When the light faded, Aros launched into an erratic, zigzagging flight path, just to make sure we couldn’t be caught off guard again.

Holy crap that was too close. I hugged Aros’s neck tighter.

The corners of the man’s mouth turned up. “You’re sharp. That’s good. It’s no fun if you’re not.” He motioned to his Altaria. At once it blasted out a plume of dragonfire way bigger than Aros’s, right in our flight path. The Flygon looped over it before countering with his own dragonfire, but Altaria veered out of the way so effortlessly it felt like we were standing still by comparison.

The skies above us were open. We could escape easily, if we wanted to. There was no reason for us to fight him. But wasn’t he pretty much our only lead right now? Without him, we didn’t have the slightest clue what Moltres was doing here.

“Your best success was the S.S. Anne?” I said, injecting way more confidence into my voice than I actually felt. “The mission that was supposed to stop the Rebellion before it started? How’d that go for you?”

The man’s smile faltered. His hand hovered over another Pokéball, but he pulled it back, managing to regain some of his composure.

“You’re wasting time, Ender,” a woman’s voice said crossly.

I bristled. Who was that?

Aros whirled around just in time for a blur of green to slam into him, sending us reeling backward, our flight path completely askew. I threw a hurried glance around, unable to locate our attacker. Aros gasped. My attention snapped back to the front just as the green blur rushed us again. It was… another Flygon? Claws tore into Aros’s side and he roared with pain, thrashing about wildly but failing to dislodge his attacker. I clutched his shoulders, struggling to hold on as the two of them grappled back and forth, wings straining. The other Flygon was winning. It pulled its claws out and dug them back in, just under the wing joint, making Aros’s left wing falter for just a second. He pitched sideways; I lost my grip, and for a single, heart-stopping moment I was weightless, and then I was falling.

“Aros!” I screamed.

Falling. The battlefield rushing up at me. Aros dove, but the other Flygon clutched his tail, holding him back. He wouldn’t make it. He wouldn’t make it. Had to do something, anything, and fast, or else I was dead. I fumbled with the Pokéballs on my belt, struggling to grab the right one as my distance from the ground rapidly shrank. Finally, a burst of white light flashed in my face as broad, feathered wings materialized. Swift fluttered a bit, having to get his bearings from being released in a freefall. But then he spotted me, realized what was up, and pointed his wings back so he could swoop down under me. I landed on his back, clutching at the first feathers I could grab, and the air flattened me against his back as he pulled out of the dive, rapidly beating his wings to regain altitude.

I buried my face in his feathers, screwing my eyes shut and holding on for dear life, heart pounding so fast it hurt. That was way, way too close. Claws still clung to my shoulder. I turned to see Chibi still holding on out of the corner of my eye.

“Go with Aros!” I yelled, holding out my arm. The Pikachu dashed along it and took a flying leap, catching hold of Aros’s tail before climbing the rest of the way up his back. He’d be able to freely let loose as much lightning as he wanted without me in the way. Meanwhile, Swift continued our ascent until we reached the same altitude as our opponents. He beat his wings to steady our flight, then began circling the two Rockets and their dragon-types.

“Don’t take away all my fun, Raven,” the man—Ender—said. “Have you forgotten what sort of mission this is?”

Raven didn’t respond. She just glanced back at Moltres, who was currently terrorizing the next stadium over.

“But I suppose you’re right,” Ender went on, sighing in mock defeat. “Such a prime target as this one really ought to be eliminated.”

I bristled. Didn’t like the sound of that at all.

Swift was keeping us moving, harder to hit from both attacks and gunfire. Then, again, after that first shot, Ender hadn’t fired again. Maybe to avoid advertising the fact that Rockets were behind all this? It was my only guess, anyway.

Chibi made the first move. He fired a burst of lightning at the enemy Flygon (he must’ve been aiming for its trainer) but the bug-dragon darted out of the way so fast it practically vanished. The moment it slowed down, Aros shot forward. Chibi whirled around, forced to generate a Protect barrier to guard them from behind after the clone left them wide open. Altaria’s dragonfire rebounded off the barrier in a burst of flares, dissipating into the air. But then its trainer glanced over in our direction.

“Air Slash!” I hissed.

Swift circled the dragon-bird, firing blades of wind from his wingtips, one after the other. But all it had to do was dive downward, letting the blades clash together in the center of the circle. Swift flapped hard, readying a whirlwind in case the Rocket made a move against us. But he didn’t. He pointed back toward the dueling Flygon pair, and Altaria took off after them.

Wait. I was an idiot. They were going to tag team Aros, then gang up on me. Had I seriously forgotten my double battle training?

“Aros, use Protect!” I yelled.

But he must not have heard me, seeing as his claws flared up with dragonfire and he slashed, finally catching the enemy Flygon with a wicked slash across its side. It lunged with its jaws, attempting to bite his neck, but Chibi swung an ironclad tail at its head, cutting a long gash across its cheek. It let out a cry of alarm, but it didn’t retreat or move out of the way or anything.

And in that instant, I realized that Raven hadn’t even ordered a dodge. They’d been acting as a stationary target to keep Aros in one spot.

Altaria drew itself back, something glittering in its mouth.

“Swift—!” I began.

Too late. Altaria fired a jagged beam of bright blue ice crystals straight at Aros. The bug-dragon snapped his head in that direction but not quickly enough to react before it crashed into him, covering his entire body with frost (as the enemy Flygon conveniently chose that moment to put some distance between them.)

Dammit. Why did everything have Ice Beam whenever Aros was out?

Aros vibrated his wings frantically, struggling to shake off the ice crystals. He got his bearings, flashed a snarl at the bird-dragon… and then forced himself back toward the enemy Flygon once more.

“Hey, leave the Flygon, we’ve gotta deal with Altaria!” I shouted. We could try to double-team it, use the same tactic they were using.

But he didn’t listen. He tore through the air, focusing on the Flygon with a murderous glare in his eyes.

No, dammit! What the hell was he doing?!

Swift fired off more blades of wind, catching Altaria with a couple slices that managed to keep it in one spot for at least a couple of seconds. Chibi turned around and tried firing a couple bolts back at the dragon-bird, but without any help from his ride, the lightning flew wild, missing its mark. Aros’s claws flared up again. He lunged, slashing wildly. But he was flustered, his aim was off; the other Flygon swooped out of the way effortlessly. It swung its tail, hitting him upside the head. Chibi’s lightning missed again. Come on, this was ridiculous!

Another Ice Beam split the air. While we’d been focused on the Flygon, Altaria had a clean shot, and this time Aros’s wings iced over with so much frost that he couldn’t shake it off. He was falling, Chibi still clinging to his back for dear life. I whipped out their Pokéballs, recalling them both.

I swallowed hard. The two Rockets had just completely effortlessly tag-teamed Aros, and now Swift and I were the only target left. Sure, I could let out Firestorm for reinforcements, but…

“Get ready to use Agility,” I whispered to Swift. Lead or no lead, this wasn’t worth sticking around. Had to get out of here before they got bored with knocking us around and went for the kill.

Ender asked something of his partner, but I couldn’t hear what. Raven shook her head, muttering something. Ender gave a short reply with a shrug. And then Raven retrieved a whistle from her belt pouch and blew into it, letting out a shrill, high-pitched note. I tilted my head, confused. What was that for?

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. Moltres, suddenly gunning right for this stadium, fiery wings beating the air with way more drive and purpose than when it had just been idly attacking the tournament site. A wave of icy dread shot through my veins. No. It wasn’t going to—

Raven pointed at me. “Kill her.”

The firebird’s mindless eyes settled on me, and my stomach melted. Oh god. It was coming right for us. A Legendary was coming for us and it intended to kill us and there was nothing we could do to stop it.

“Swift!” I cried.

He dove. The wind rushed past us as his speed rapidly increased. I flattened myself against his back, willing us to go faster, all the while screaming at myself to not look back. It was too close. Even with the boost from Agility pushing us forward, there was no way we’d outpace the legendary. I couldn’t help it. I threw a hurried glance over my shoulder and it was right there. The firebird’s blank, soulless eyes were fixed dead on us. It drew its head back, flames gathering in its throat.

Chibi. Chibi was the only one who could so much as put a scratch on the legend, but he couldn’t do it while riding my shoulder. Not without catching me and Swift in the blast.

Time slowed. I opened his Pokéball. The burst of light took ages to materialize.

“Mega bolt!” I cried.

Draining his entire power supply into a single move. That was our only shot.

Any surprise the hybrid might have felt from being let out in midair flew right out the window the moment he saw why. He curled himself inward, sparks leaping off his fur, lightning dancing between his ears. Then the Pikachu spread his arms and fired off a giant lightning bolt right at the firebird. Moltres didn’t react; it couldn’t. But the lightning stopped it dead in its flight path, flames spilling out from its beak as it let out an agonized wail.

Holy crap, that was too close. I jerked my attention away from Moltres to see Chibi falling limply through the air. Swift looped around just long enough for me to recall the Pikachu, and then we were off again. Flying faster than I’d ever flown before. Diving down towards one of the exits in the audience stands, a doorway far too small for it to follow us through. We could duck out of sight before the firebird regained itself.

But then I heard the sound of giant wingbeats churning the air. I dared to shoot another glance back only to see the glint of flames not far behind us.

No. No, no no! He’d bought us a few seconds. But Moltres had already regained itself and was closing in once more. Swift strained his wings, flying faster than he’d ever flown, faster than either Firestorm or Aros could fly, but it wasn’t enough.

No! We couldn’t die here!

And then a high-pitched screech tore the air. I glanced back right as a searing orange and yellow beam shot from nowhere, striking the firebird right in its heart. It snapped its head in the direction of the blast. And then another beam lanced through the air, hitting it in the face. And then another. I turned as far as I could and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a small handful of trainers perched on the topmost platform of the audience stands, surrounded by Pokémon that I couldn’t make out from this far.

Maybe they hadn’t gotten the rangers’ message. Maybe they didn’t care. It didn’t matter. All that did matter was that whatever small distraction they could provide was exactly the opportunity that Swift and I needed. But what if Moltres ended up killing them instead? I couldn’t just let that happen, could I? But what the hell could I do to stop it?

Swift suddenly banked hard to the right, jerking my attention back to in front of us, and the Rockets that I’d somehow forgotten about during the panic with Moltres. They’d cut off our exit when we weren’t looking. Altaria’s attack missed, but that Flygon was way faster. A raging cloud of dragonfire exploded right into our flight path. No time to dodge. Swift raised a Protect, the flames dancing across the barrier. But the barrage kept coming without pause, a relentless bombardment of sparkling blue and green fire.

The Protect flickered, and then it was gone. Swift spread his wings, angling himself back so that I wouldn’t be hit. The attacks struck once, twice, three times, and the Pidgeot recoiled backward, each impact sending shock waves reverberating through my body. My hands hurt from clenching his feathers. I felt my grip slipping with each blow he had to endure, but I held tight for dear life. Then an Ice Beam crashed against his face, sending a wave of cold rushing over my skin, and there was that awful, stomach-melting moment of weightlessness again.

Falling. The pair of us spiraling toward the ground, my hands holding tight with a death grip as the air rushed past. Struggling to reach for my Pokéball belt. Had to recall him, had to let out Firestorm, had to do something. But my hands trembled, missing their mark, and my vision had gone blurry, and my sense of space had dissolved into a dizzying spiral, and the last thing I saw was the flashing of wings in my peripheral vision, rapidly closing in on us. And in that moment, the only thing my brain managed to process was that they weren’t Altaria’s or Flygon’s—they were a Dragonite’s.






~End Chapter 34~

Next Chapter: Mew has something to tell Jade.
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Pronouns
He/Him
Partner
mew
It took a while, but I sat down and read both Chapter 33 and Chapter 34 (not)! I must say, I wasn't expecting Starr to have any siblings and it was interesting to see Lexx show up like that out of nowhere. He overall seems cool, if a bit suspicious. Then again, anyone belonging to Team Rocket and related to Giogio is probably going to super suspicious in nature.

I found it funny how Lexx just drops a message for them like that and less than a day later, the legendary mons are already attacking. I hope they have a plan to deal with that.

Chapter 34 (not) showed us that they in fact had a plan to deal with the threat. And the threat was none other than Tri-Lugia! I must say, Sébastien returning in person like that was a welcome surprise and we finally got an explanation on what the darkness within darkness orb Jade had was.

It is a bit sad that Tri-Lugia ended up being so powerful that it ended up destroying their entire reality. This was not how I was expecting this story to reach its definitive end, but I'll take a moment to commend how much of a thrilling ride it was. It was full of emotion, excitement, and many more joys!

I look forward to your next installment.
 
Chapter 35: The Indigo Rangers

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Everything finally starts to come together. We're so close--



~Chapter 35: The Indigo Rangers~


The next few minutes passed by in a hazy whirlwind of light and sound and motion. First weightless free-falling, then the tingling prickle of a psychic hold against my skin. Then wings flapping and the feeling of being airborne again, this time in a smooth, straight flight rather than the frenzied zigzagging of trying to throw off pursuers. Finally, I found myself blinking slowly as my senses returned, feeling the wind in my hair and my arms still clasped around a warm, fluffy neck. A crown of red and gold feathers danced in my vision.

“Swift?” I said, blinking. “Are you alright? I thought—” The last thing I remembered was him struggling to protect me from the Rockets, but then they double teamed us and knocked him out, and—

The Pidgeot turned his head slightly to glance back at me. “*After Mew rescued us, your friends gave me a revive,*” he explained.

Mew? And my friends…?” I lifted my head to see a pair of flying Pokémon soaring ahead of us. Ajia riding her Aerodactyl—Pichu on her shoulder—and Starr riding… a Dragonite? What? Where did the Dragonite come fro— But then my brain clicked into place. The Dragonite… it had to be Mew. Starr was riding Mew. What a bizarre thought.

I shook my head to get my bearings and then glanced around to see that we were flying low over a series of forested hills, no buildings in sight. The Tohjo mountains were visible in the distance ahead of us, so we had to be flying west, with Indigo at our backs. But why…?

“What’s going on? Why are we just leaving?” I asked, loud enough to be heard over the wind rushing past us.

Ajia looked back at me, then gestured for Aerodactyl to slow up until he was flying right alongside me and Swift. “The Elite Four is handling the situation back there,” she said.

I stared incredulously. The Elite Four were the ones who had confronted Moltres? I guess it made sense. They were the strongest trainers in all of Kanto. With their position, of course they’d be willing to put their lives on the line to protect the League. But still…

“Look, I know they’re tough, but there’s no way they can beat Moltres,” I said flatly.

“No, but they’re good enough to keep it busy without getting themselves killed,” she answered in a matter-of-fact voice.

“Which is more than you can say,” Starr cut in.

I bristled. Her tone had something of an accusatory edge to it.

“Really, Jade, what the hell were you thinking?” she went on. “Fighting Raven and Ender by yourself? Are you insane?”

I blinked cluelessly. “Was I supposed to know them?”

“They’re only the new heads of the Kanto combat unit,” she said flatly,

I jolted. I’d been fighting the combat unit heads without even knowing it? “How do you know that?”

Starr froze, looking like she’d rather not answer. “I… might have asked Ajia. But it was obvious; they were second in command under me, so it’s no wonder they got the position after I left.”

So I wasn’t the only one who had been curious about the goings-on within Team Rocket after we left. “Okay, well… anything I should know about them?” The following stream of obscenities told me I probably shouldn’t have asked. I glanced back at Ajia on my other side, still feeling rather lost about this whole situation.

“So, we’re just leaving it up to the Elite Four then?” I asked, hardly daring to believe it. I’d never known her to back down from anything. Especially after becoming Mew’s chosen.

“We’re not leaving it all to them, alright?” she answered. “We just need to take a moment to regroup somewhere safe and come up with a plan.” I blinked. That was an oddly terse response, coming from her, but… okay.

The three flying Pokémon soared low above the treeline, continuing their flight west of the city. After a minute or two, something caught my eye on the horizon: a large, red-roofed building situated atop a rocky outcropping, with scattered Pokémon flying above it.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s the Indigo Plateau ranger station,” Ajia replied.

I wanted to ask why she’d brought us here, but the words somehow didn’t reach my throat. Fortunately, Starr was more than willing to.

“Why did you bring us here?” she asked, not bothering to hide her suspicion.

“Look we needed to get out of the city, and we’ll have an easier time planning if we—”

“Whoa, hang on, what’s this ‘we’?” Starr cut in. “Jade and I aren’t a part of your rebel nonsense, remember?”

Ajia groaned. “I’m not saying you are! Just trust me, okay?”

Starr grumbled a bit but didn’t protest any more as the trio of Pokémon threw out their wings and prepared to land. We touched down in a large, gravel clearing in front of the building near a flagpole flying a stylized blue globe—the emblem of the Ranger Union. The building itself had a wide, stone base with a wooden, cabin-style upper level topped with red eaves. A squad of rangers was hurriedly assembling on one of the training grounds north of the base, mounting an assortment of flying-types—lots of Pidgeot and Fearow, but also Skarmory, Noctowl, and even Gliscor—all taking off for Indigo.

I recalled Swift, Ajia recalled Aerodactyl, and Dragonite-Mew flew off into the forest. Ajia immediately began striding toward the building with an obvious sense of purpose.

“So, I’m assuming you’ve been here before?” I asked, jogging to catch up. “If this was your go-to?”

“Yeah, my dad works here,” she replied.

I stopped, blinking with surprise for a second before continuing after her. I guess I did have the vague inkling that at one point I’d probably known that her dad worked for the Ranger Union… maybe? I’d just… managed to completely forget about it.

I followed Ajia up a small set of wooden steps to the building’s front entrance, Starr dragging her heels behind us with a very deliberate air. Ajia was just about to open the door when it suddenly burst open, forcing us all to jump aside as a ranger bolted down the steps and took off for the training ground. Ajia gave an embarrassed half-smile before holding the door open for us. I stepped cautiously inside, immediately shuffling off to the side so I wouldn’t be in anyone else’s way.

The main lobby was full of people, almost all of them wearing the iconic red jacket of the Ranger Union. The overall air was one of anxiety as the rangers rushed about their business, some of them giving orders to subordinates, others talking into handheld radios. I jammed my hands into my pockets, doing my best to merge with the wall, when suddenly, in the midst of all the noise, my ears caught the sound of someone calling out, “Ajia?!”

I turned to see a ranger not much older than Ajia striding toward us with a look of recognition on her face. “What are you doing here?” the girl asked.

“We had to get away from Indigo,” Ajia replied, folding her arms behind her back with a sheepish look. “Is it alright if my friends and I crash here for a bit?”

The ranger glanced at us dismissively. “Long as they stay outta the way, I doubt anyone’ll mind.”

“Great,” Ajia said brightly, turning around to face us. “Guys, this is my friend Kari. We met during that ranger internship I did two years ago.”

Starr gave a curt nod that passed for a greeting, and I just sort of waved. Kari didn’t seem too concerned with the introduction and was now giving Ajia a glare that was half suspicious and half exasperated.

“So you came here from Indigo, huh?” she said, tapping a finger against her belt. “Please don’t tell me you were fighting Moltres.”

“Heck no, I’m not that crazy,” Ajia replied. I fought back a sudden desire to melt into the floor.

Kari raised an eyebrow. “How ‘bout not mucking around in an emergency zone when we’re trying to clear out civilians?”

Ajia gave a crooked grin. “Can’t promise that, I’m afraid.”

“Oh my god,” Kari said, putting a hand to her forehead. “Glad to see you’re alright, at least. I’m sure your dad’ll be glad too—oh, speaking of—”

I glanced over in the direction she had turned to see a short, balding, dark-haired man who had just exited one of the main offices, talking with a couple of other rangers at his side. The man’s eyes lit up, and Ajia didn’t hesitate to run over and throw her arms around him, oblivious to the rangers who had to jump out of her way.

Man, it had been ages since I had seen Ajia’s dad. Not since the last time I’d stayed at her house back when we were both in grade school. That felt like an eternity ago with two completely different people, neither of whom were us.

Ajia and her dad were talking animatedly about something, though I couldn’t hear them with how many other people were in the lobby right now. I tapped my foot against the wall, feeling somewhat out of place. Kari gave me and Starr the occasional sideways glance, like she wasn’t sure if she should wait here with us or leave and get back to whatever she was doing before we showed up. So I just avoided making eye contact and let my gaze wander over the rest of the lobby, settling on a healing station off to the left.

…Aros was still injured and Chibi was out of power. And Swift could probably use some attention as well.

“Is… is it okay if I heal my team?” I asked Kari.

“We look like a Pokécenter to you?” she asked dryly.

My face fell. I was just about to stammer out some kind of apology, but then she snorted. “Just messing with ya. Help yourself.”

I blinked, but then didn’t waste any time excusing myself and weaving around the rangers in my path. I handed Swift, Chibi, and Aros’s Pokéballs to the ranger closest to the machine before rejoining Starr right around the same time as Ajia did.

“Alright, my dad’s cool with us staying here. Come on, there’s a lounge this way,” Ajia said, gesturing for us to follow her. But then she paused, glancing at Pichu, who was still riding her shoulder.

“You wanna go keep Dad company while we’re here?” she asked. Pichu, who had been looking a bit bored and anxious, immediately perked up and jumped down from her trainer’s shoulder, zigzagging around feet as she ran back to the office. Ajia smiled faintly as she watched her starter leave, then motioned for us to follow her again. I glanced back at Starr. She just shrugged, and the two of us followed Ajia down a relatively empty hallway off to the left.

“So, your dad, is he…” I struggled to think of the right way to put it. “Is he gonna be flying into danger with the rest of them?”

“No, no, he’s not a field ranger,” Ajia said quickly. “He’s an admin, he’s mostly in charge of organizing stuff here at HQ, assigning squads to the field, keeping track of who’s doing what, that sort of thing.”

That was a relief. It just went without saying, at this point, that the two of us were bound to get dragged into Rocket business. But the idea of anyone else getting caught up in it unnecessarily just felt… wrong. Even adults whose literal job was helping out with emergency situations.

“Does your dad know about…?” My voice trailed off as I failed to come up with the right words.

Ajia gave a puzzled half-smile. “About what?”

“I dunno…”—I gestured vaguely to all of her—“everything?” She laughed slightly, and I added, “You know… all the mortal danger and such.” I couldn’t have imagined my mom would have been remotely okay with anything I’d done on the Rebellion. And of course, I’d conveniently glossed over all of it during my phone calls.

Ajia gave an awkward shrug. “Soooort of? He knows a couple of things I’ve been involved with. The time I helped you out at the plane crash, the attack on Viridian, where I got my Eevee pair from… Stuff like that. I’ve made it sound like unrelated incidents and not, like… some kind of Rocket-fighting agenda.” Even though it was, in fact, a Rocket-fighting agenda, in every sense.

My attention was caught by my Pokégear buzzing from inside my pocket. I took one look at who was calling and was instantly hit with a bizarre mix of relief and guilt. Rudy. He was alright. But I’d completely forgotten about how we’d been split up, what with the panic of facing the executives.

“Where the hell did you go?” his voice immediately demanded the instant I answered the call.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re both fine, but never mind that, where are you?”

I put a hand to my temple. “I’m at the ranger station west of Indigo. It’s a long story, can you meet me here?”

Technically I wasn’t sure if it was alright to just invite other people here, but it was too late to take it back. And I really didn’t want to explain it over the phone. Fortunately, Rudy was the sort to jump first and ask questions later. “Kay, we’ll head over,” he said before hanging up.

Well, at least that confirmed that Darren was alright too. But I was a little annoyed that, once again, running for my life had shoved everything and everyone else out of my head.

Ajia stopped once we’d reached our destination, opening a door and leading me and Starr inside the lounge, which was currently unoccupied. It was a spacious room with several well-worn couches, a couple of snack machines, and tables covered in various books and magazines. Starr didn’t waste a second zeroing in on the closest couch and flopping onto it dramatically.

“God. Can’t we have a minute of peace,” she muttered.

I walked over, leaning against the arm of the same couch. “We had nine months of peace,” I said slowly, more to myself than to her.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, waving a hand like she didn’t want to hear it.

Ajia had shut the door behind us and began pacing back and forth, lost in thought. I rubbed my arms, still feeling overwhelmed by everything that had happened today. And now that we were finally in a calm, quiet environment, the questions were starting to flood my mind once more.

“I just… I don’t get it. Nothing about this makes any sense. Why are the Rockets doing this? And yes, I remember what Lexx said, but…” I trailed off, hoping one of them would say something to make me feel less lost. But neither of them did.

Starr narrowed her eyes at me, and I suddenly became aware of the fact that I’d been staring at her. “What’re you looking at me for?” she asked.

I fidgeted, unsure of how to put it. “Lexx said they were trying to stir up anti-Legendary sentiment. What did he mean by that?”

Starr let out a deep sigh. “Look… he’s right about one thing: the Rockets want the League to fear the Legendaries. That way they can look like the good guys for catching them.”

I gaped incredulously. “But they caused all of this by catching them in the first place!”

Starr shrugged. “No one knows that. You see a bunch of crazy Legendaries trashing cities on the news, is some kinda brainwashing plot gonna be your first guess?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but then froze. A strange and unexpected thought had suddenly taken hold in my mind. “Should we tell the League what’s going on? Like, all of it?”

Starr snorted. “Yeah, like they’ll believe us.”

“I’m serious. We could have Mew back up our story, and—”

“Leeeet’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Ajia said, holding both palms out. “The Legendaries have good reason to want to play it safe right now. And Mew trusted me to keep her secrets.”

Right. It wasn’t fair to make that decision for them. But still… if we could at least ask them about it someday…?

Ajia glanced back and forth between me and Starr. “I’m going to talk with the rangers and figure out a plan. It is alright if I leave you two here?”

I tilted my head, mildly puzzled by how abrupt that was, but I nodded all the same. Ajia turned her attention to Starr, but didn’t get a response. She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. Then she just went ahead and exited the room, shutting the door behind her.

Starr and I were alone. And for some reason, I couldn’t help but get the feeling like there was a thick air of tension hanging over the two of us. I couldn’t quite put it into words, but it was definitely there.

Starr let out a long, exasperated sigh, tilting her head so she could glance at me out of the corner of one eye. “So. You wanna explain?”

I swallowed. Why did I already feel like I wasn’t going to enjoy what was coming. “Explain what?”

She turned so she was now staring straight at me. “Oh, I dunno, why you were off fighting Rockets by yourself?”

I felt my cheeks go red. Right. That.

“I thought we were both done with that,” she said, eyes digging into me.

“Look, I wasn’t looking for Rockets, okay? They found me,” I shot back.

From the look on her face, Starr wasn’t convinced. And in the back of my mind, I knew that was a lie. My first instinct had been to figure out what the Rockets were doing and try to put a stop to it. Even if I’d gotten… momentarily paralyzed.

Starr’s expression softened. “Jade. How many times have I told you I don’t want to fight Team Rocket?”

I closed my eyes, gripping the edge of the couch. “I know. I know, I know.”

She stared at me, her face deathly serious. “Do you know? Cause from the way I see it, the moment the Rockets show their face again, you’re immediately looking for ways to get yourself killed.” She clenched her fists, glancing away. “And… I know I should be there to make sure that you don’t. But I don’t want anything to do with this mess.” She screwed her eyes shut. A heavy pause followed. “But I can’t just let you get yourself killed either. Do you see the problem?”

I swallowed. “Yeah.”

It wasn’t like I wanted to throw myself into danger. I wanted so badly to ignore it. To pretend it didn’t exist. And yet I’d defaulted to the instinct that told me it was my job to do something about it. Of course, it hadn’t just been me. Chibi had been gearing towards it as well. But at the same time, I couldn’t pin this on him. Even if I didn’t think I’d ever understand how he still had that much determination, after what had happened that night.

That night. I shuddered. My mind flashed back to it. Back to the night when Moltres had appeared over Midnight Island. I’d thought that I’d moved on. I’d thought that the things that happened last year were done and over with. In the past. I was starting to think that would never be the case.

“Back there,” I said slowly. “There was a moment when… it was like I was back on Midnight Island, on the night of the attack.” I wasn’t sure why I was saying it; the words just came out of my mouth without my thinking about them.

Starr sucked in a breath. I hadn’t meant to bring up something that had happened while she was still a Rocket. I knew she hated being reminded of it, and I was sure she was going to say so. But she didn’t. Instead, she stood up and walked over to me. I flinched. And then she grabbed my hand pulled me into a hug. I blinked for a moment, caught off guard, but then found myself slowly relaxing.

“That’s… that’s in the past, okay?” Starr said. “We both said we’d help each other get past all that, yeah?”

I exhaled slowly, holding tight. “Yeah.”

For several seconds, neither of us said anything. I forced my eyes shut, willing my brain to block out everything else—the Rockets, Moltres, everything—and just exist here in this moment.

After some time, Starr let go, glancing away. “I’m glad you’re okay,” she said quietly.

I shuffled a foot against the floorboards, struggling to think of what to say. But I couldn’t help suspecting that the longer we stayed here with Ajia, the higher the odds we’d get dragged into something we didn’t want any part in. And I just… I didn’t want my recklessness to hurt Starr.

“I’m… I’m gonna go talk to Ajia. Gonna try to explain to her.” Explain what, I wasn’t quite sure. Just something. There had to be a way through this that wouldn’t leave me disappointing one of them.

I left the room and glanced back and forth down the hallway. It was just dawning on me that Ajia hadn’t specified where she was leaving off to. I’d pretty much just have to explore the base until I found her. So I tried my best to stay glued to the wall and out of the rangers’ way as I wandered the halls. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to find my way back to the lobby, where I spotted Ajia pacing back and forth in a tight circle in the corner. Her expression brightened when she saw me approaching.

“Ah, good timing, I was just coming to get you,” she said, giving a small wave. “Let’s talk outside, I don’t wanna get in anyone’s way.” She gestured to the door. I shrugged and followed her outside, down the wooden steps and around the cobblestone path that surrounded the building. Her movements were quick. Anxious, but controlled. Like her brain was moving at a million miles a minute, and she was struggling to keep up. Part of me couldn’t help suspecting that she’d led me outside in case she needed to say something that no one else should hear.

“Alright, I’ve been talking with everyone else, trying to get an idea of the situation.” Her hands moved animatedly as she talked. “Sounds like Moltres is still raging, so we haven’t missed our opportunity or anything.”

I blinked. “Huh?” I had the distinct feeling that I’d walked into a half-finished conversation without even knowing what the subject was.

“The rangers are still busy with the evacuation, so that means we don’t have to worry about that. So we can just focus on the Rockets.” She tapped a fist to her palm like she’d just realized something. “You fought the combat unit head, right? Were you able to get any info?”

From Ender? No, I’d been too busy trying not to get killed. Although… he had mentioned a few things. “He… did say that it was the kind of mission where he could have some fun, whatever that means.”

Ajia paused, putting a hand to her chin. “Well, that does seem to confirm that this is just an attention-grab.” Her eyes darted to the wall that way they did when she was deep in thought. “That’s good because they probably won’t confront us when we head back to the tourney site. Though it might make it harder to draw them out. I’m working on a couple of plans, but it’s a lot to juggle. The rangers aren’t gonna like this…”

I stared at her, a familiar feeling creeping up the back of my neck. One that I hadn’t felt since the night of the Viridian attack. Ajia was still pacing, still muttering various things under her breath, but I wasn’t paying attention to any of it now that I’d realized what was going on.

I’d… I’d have to say something. But the idea of doing so was just so intensely uncomfortable that part of me was tempted to just go along with everything she said, without question.

“You’re… you’re doing it again.”

Ajia paused, giving me a confused look. “Huh?”

I swallowed hard. I didn’t want to say this, I really didn’t. But it had to be said. “You’re just assuming that I’m gonna be a part of this. I haven’t agreed to it yet, so… it shouldn’t be a given.”

Ajia’s face fell. She bit her lip, clasping her hands behind her back. “Right. I’m sorry.”

That was it? That was all it took to get her to drop it? Something was up.

Ajia took a deep breath, her eyes sliding to the ground to avoid making contact with mine. “Can I ask you something? Have you ever considered rejoining the fight?”

I gaped at her. “What?” Why on earth would she ask something like that? “I spent five minutes in the fight just now and I almost died, what kind of question is that,” I said, feeling the blood rush to my face.

Ajia looked mortified. “I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean it like that, I just…”

“You just what?” I asked, my voice heating slightly.

Her eyes darted to the side. “I just… this conflict has a way of dragging people in whether they like it or not. I’d… really prefer if we were ready for it, you know?”

It was a hasty excuse. Not nearly as polished as her previous ones.

“Alright, spill it, what’s going on,” I said flatly.

Her brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“You’re hiding something. Again.” The last word had deliberate emphasis.

“I’m not trying to, I just…”

I clenched my fists. “You just what? Why can’t you just be upfront, ever?

“It’s because of Mew!” she exclaimed suddenly.

I froze. Mew? Why on earth did Mew care if I was going to keep fighting the Rockets? The idea of a Legendary caring about human affairs still felt… really weird.

“Mew… wanted me to ask you,” she said slowly, struggling through every word. “I didn’t want to, but… she insisted.”

“Mew.” I repeated blankly. This was all happening because of Mew. In a way, it was a small comfort that Ajia wasn’t trying to drag me back into this of her own volition. It at least managed to clear the fog of hurt and betrayal from my head. But in its place, a wave of confusion swept in.

“Mew wants me to help you,” I said, more to myself than to her. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why can’t you just get help from the other chosen?”

Ajia paused, heavily considering her words, almost like she was grappling with them in her head. Finally she took a deep breath and quickly said, “None of the other patron legends have picked a chosen yet. I was the first.”

I blinked at her, stunned. “What? Is that… okay? Aren’t they short on time? Aren’t things supposed to get worse soon?”

“Yeah, they are. And that’s probably why Mew’s—” Her words cut off sharply mid-sentence. “I probably wasn’t supposed to—” Again, her words cut off. She stomped a foot to the ground and yelled, “I’m sorry, I know!”

I paused, the gears slowly turning in my head. “You’re talking with Mew right now, aren’t you?”

She massaged her temple. “Yeah.”

I honestly had no idea what to say to that. It was slightly discomforting to know that she was privately talking about me with someone else while I was right here.

“I’m sorry. It wasn’t right to lay all this on you,” she said heavily, staring downward.

I frowned. It was obvious by now that she hadn’t wanted to, so… I wasn’t mad at her anymore. Now I was just lost and unsure of what I should be feeling.

Ajia shook her head, letting out a deep sigh. Then she turned to leave.

I grabbed her arm. “Wait.”

“No, I need to go,” she said, still facing away from me.

“Ajia…”

But she had already run off, her footsteps echoing off the stone pathway. For several seconds, all I could do was stare after her, still processing what the heck had just happened. It felt like I was being torn in two different directions. On the one hand, Starr, who wanted nothing to do with this fight, and who would only be hurt by seeing me throw myself into it. And on the other hand, Ajia, someone who couldn’t walk away from it even if she wanted, who was now being pressured to drag me back in for unknown reasons.

But now… I guess I had just made my choice. The best thing I could do now was let Starr know that I’d successfully managed to stay out of this mess. She’d be happy to hear that, at least. And it was what I supposedly wanted as well. So why didn’t I feel happy about it?

My shoes dragged against the wooden steps as I slowly trudged back inside the ranger station. Starr wasn’t in the lounge anymore. She must’ve gotten bored and wandered off. Or maybe she’d gone looking for me and Ajia. Who knows. Well, I was already sick of this room, and the entire base was full of ambient anxiety from all the rangers mobilizing. Maybe I could go back outside and wait for Rudy and Darren to show up. At least then I’d have the fresh mountain breeze and the sounds of the forest to lose myself in. Anything other than being inside my head right now.

I turned to leave, but the door shut by itself. What the hell? I was just about to reach out and grab the handle when I felt a small prickle on the back of my neck, the hairs standing on end.

And then suddenly Mew was there, right in front of my face. I jumped back, stifling a yelp.

“Mew?! Don’t scare me like that!” I blurted out, clutching a hand to my chest.

The psychic cat folded her ears back, locking eyes with me. <I’m sorry. I just needed to speak with you.>

It took me several seconds to process that. “Me, as in, just me. Not Ajia?”

Mew nodded. <Just you.>

I relaxed slightly but still felt tense, with swirls of confusion clouding my head. Why was a Legendary Pokémon taking the time to speak with a random human, especially at a time like this? I took a few slow steps over to the nearest couch and sat down, gesturing for her to follow me. The psychic cat drifted over lightly, her tail twisting and turning behind her.

<So. How are you doing?> Mew asked.

Why did she care? “I’m… doing alright,” I said warily, gripping the fabric of my jeans.

<That’s good. Ajia was worried about you. She didn’t mean to cause you distress.>

I paused, struggling to sort through the dozens of things I could say. “Ajia told me you’ve been asking her to talk to me about joining the fight again. I just… don’t get why.”

Mew closed her eyes and turned away, clutching her tail with her paws and shaking her head ever so slightly. I wasn’t sure if I should be upset with her. Of course, I had to assume she had a good reason for pushing Ajia to say those things, but…

Finally, the cat lifted her head and stared long and hard at me with her large, sapphire eyes. Her gaze was concerned, with a shadow of guilt mixed into it.

<It’s important,> she just said.

I frowned. What was I supposed to take from that? I’d been hoping for a better answer.

“Look, if you want the truth, I don’t know if I can,” I said, unable to keep the heated tone from leaking into my voice. “After everything that happened, I don’t think I have what it takes to fight Team Rocket anymore.” Was I so sure of that? Was that just an excuse? I was disappointing Ajia by hiding from the fight, but I was disappointing Starr by throwing myself into danger anyway. And even if I ignored both of them, I still had no idea what the right path was.

<It may not be possible for you to stay out of it for much longer,> Mew pointed out.

I swallowed. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

<Certain events that transpired last year may have altered your fate,> the legend said earnestly.

I raised an eyebrow. “My ‘fate’? What are you talking about?”

Mew paused, heavily considering her words. I couldn’t help noticing her eyes making the same tiny, darting motion that Ajia’s did when she was deep in thought. Were they… communicating right now?

I felt a prickle of anger welling up, and I stood to my feet so that I was at eye level with her. “Why does it matter so much whether I’m involved in this fight or not? Why does everyone seem so invested in that? You can’t expect me to believe I’m that important. That my involvement is that necessary.”

Mew fixed her eyes on me once again. <It’s not important for the sake of the fight, no. It’s important for your sake,> she said, her words strained.

What? What was she talking about…? Important for my sake? So she wasn’t concerned about what would happen in the fight, but… what would happen to me? Why?

Mew shook her head, glancing away. <I’ve said too much.>

My pulse quickened. “No, Mew, hang on, what are you saying?”

<I can’t…>

“Are you saying that something bad’s gonna happen to me if I don’t join the fight?”

<No, that’s not—>

“What do you know?!”

<Listen to me,> she snapped, staring me dead in the eyes with a desperate look. <I cannot say anything to influence your decision. This is up to you. Whatever happens, I have to trust that you will know what is right for you.>

What on earth was Mew talking about? Know what was right for what?

“Okay…?” I said slowly, still completely lost.

And then Mew took my hand and began to glow.

I flinched. “Mew?”

In a flash, our surroundings melted away, instantly replaced with darkness. I jumped back from Mew like my hand was on fire, throwing a hurried glance at my surroundings. But I couldn’t make anything out. Slowly, my eyes slid back to Mew, a feeling of incredulous dread rising in my throat. She gave me one last desperately sad look and then vanished.

“Mew!!”

My voice echoed off the walls. But she was gone. I was alone.

I took a few slow, shaking steps. The floor was made of rough, uneven stone, I could tell that much. And then my eyes slowly began adjusting to the semidarkness. I was in a small, wet cavern, the rocks glistening with water and glinting with the light of… something, though I couldn’t really see any light source. I could hear the sound of water crashing down behind me, and I turned around to see a large, crystal-clear pool filling half the cavern, fed by a wide, curving waterfall that covered most of the far wall. Then the rest of my senses returned; I shivered and rubbed my arms, overtaken by a sudden chill.

“She teleported me…” I whispered to myself, “…but why?”

My eyes slowly traced the walls. Wet stone surrounding all sides, with no openings. The waterfall had to flow in here from somewhere, but I had no way of climbing it.

“I’m trapped,” I muttered in disbelief. “She’s trapped me here alone with no way out…?”

And then a voice—a chillingly bitter telepathic voice—resounded in reply, <I wouldn’t say that you’re alone.>

An overwhelming pressure gripped me from all sides, and my body instantly went numb. Not that voice. Anything but that voice. It cut through me like a knife, sending my mind reeling back to that fateful day when I made the biggest mistake of my life. It was the voice that had haunted all my nightmares since then—one that I’d desperately hoped to never hear again.

From deep within the pool of water, two eyes, radiating blue, pierced the darkness with an icy stare that seemed to bore right through me. The glow illuminated the creature’s face, revealing a sleek avian head with a mouth curled into a smirk.

<Welcome, human. Are you ready to face the consequences of the day we last met?>






~End Chapter 35~

Next Chapter: It's all been leading to this.
 
Chapter 36: The Guardian of the Waters

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
This is it. The chapter it's all been leading to. I never made it this far in the old version. I've been waiting so long. But now it's finally time.



~CHAPTER 36: THE GUARDIAN OF THE WATERS~


My breathing was shallow and my heart was pounding. I couldn’t move; I was frozen on the spot, barely able to think.

Lugia called me here to kill me. That was the only thought my brain felt like generating, and it repeated it over and over again until I felt like I was going to be sick. The Legendary dragon-bird slowly emerged from the pool in front of me, trails of water streaming down silver feathers, eyes glowing blue with psychic energy. I’d seen it countless times in my nightmares, but here it was, in front of me, for real.

I clenched my fists, swallowing hard. This was just like last time. Not like the Rocket conflicts, not a struggle for survival. There was nothing I could do. Nowhere to run, no way to fight back. Helpless. I might as well have already been dead.

But somewhere deep within the spiraling vortex of fear and panic, there was a tiny voice arguing that this didn’t make any sense. Why now? Why after so long? Why had Lugia let me live in the first place? Why was Mew in on this? Too many questions, my head was going to burst.

Lugia raised a brow. <No response? Are you content to allow fear to control you? How pitiful.>

I bristled. Had to do something, anything. I clutched at a Pokéball and held it up, my arm shaking. I’d battle. Yeah, that was it. We’d battle, and we’d… well we wouldn’t win, but we’d find some kind of opening that would let us escape. Any way out. We had to. The vaguest notion of how unrealistic this plan was prodded at the back of my mind, but I didn’t care.

Lugia’s eyes narrowed. <A battle. You want to battle. That’s… amusing.>

My fingers gripped the ball so tightly I could feel my pulse through them.

The dragon-bird tilted its head ever so slightly. <But then… perhaps it’s a good sign that your first instinct is to fight.>

I paused. Confusion drifted to the front of mind. But it felt more… puzzling than the barrage of panicked, unrelenting questions from before. Had… had Lugia been trying to get a rise out of me?

But then… then the sights and sounds of what happened last year hit me in the face like a truck. I was standing in a grassy field, lit by moonlight and the glow of Viridian City on fire. I saw Lugia, but it was no longer standing in front of me, but rather, looming high above me, mouth curled into a smirk, eyes flashing hatefully as the psychic energy tore through my body. A sudden jolt of nausea overtook me, and I was sure that I’d been hit with the attack for a second time. But no… Lugia hadn’t done anything. Yet again, I’d been dragged back to what happened last year. Why did this keep happening. Why. Why. Why—

<Are you quite done with your meltdown? I haven’t got all day.>

The words snapped me back into reality. I was here, right now, standing in front of the Legendary in a water-filled cavern. The attack in Viridian was last year. I had to focus on the now.

“What do you want with me?” I croaked.

<For starters, I’d like you to pull yourself together.> It almost sounded annoyed.

A surge of anger shot through me, shoving the terror aside. “Stop toying with me! You called me down here in order to get revenge, right? Are you gonna taunt me some more or just kill me outright since it didn’t work last time?”

For some time, the Legendary gave no sign that it had heard me. I stood there, fists clenched, breathing hard, waiting for its response. It was like nothing existed here but us—we might as well have been in total, crushing silence.

<Are you under the impression,> Lugia began slowly and menacingly, <that I tried and yet failed to kill you on that day?>

I froze, lost for words. It had sounded almost offended by what I’d said. For so long I’d wondered how I survived, and the only one I could talk about it with, the only one who even knew what had happened, was Chibi. But he hadn’t seen how it ended. I’d replayed it in my mind, over and over, unwilling to accept that the Legendary had just decided to let me live of its own volition. It didn’t make any sense. Not after I’d seen the unbridled fury in its eyes.

“I… I didn’t think—” I started.

<That much is evident,> Lugia cut me off. <But had you given it a second thought, it would seem obvious—even to you—that had I really wanted to, it would have been all too easy.>

“I know that!” I exclaimed, a wave of heated frustration washing over me. “And after today, what does it matter?!” It was like talking to someone who had a knife to my throat. I was trembling, muscles shaking no matter how hard I told them to stop. No matter how badly I wanted to appear unmoved by my total lack of control over the situation.

With a reserved tone of voice, the dragon-bird replied, <If you must know, I had Mew call you here today because I wished to speak with you in private.>

I took a step backward, muscles relaxing ever so slightly. It just wanted to talk? I couldn’t remotely expect it to be a pleasant conversation, but… alright. I could handle that. But still… why had Mew looked so anxious about sending me here? And why couldn’t I shake the feeling that I was still in danger?

<Now is not the time to dwell on past events,> Lugia went on, waving a wing dismissively. <My concern is the here and now. Mew tells me that you think you can stay out of this war, even after all that has happened.>

I blinked. That wasn’t what I’d been expecting at all. “Why do you care if I’m involved with the war against Team Rocket? Why the hell would it matter to you?”

<As a matter of fact…>—Lugia’s words were quiet and meticulous—<it matters a great deal. The actions and attitudes of all the humans who have opposed the so-called Team Rocket are very relevant to the Order’s interests. I was told you had read the words inscribed upon the ruins of Midnight Island. Or did they slip your mind?>

I stared, still trying to work through the conversation taking such a bizarre turn. “What, the thing about seven Legendaries making an alliance with humanity? Don’t tell me you’re one of them?”

Eyes narrowed, Lugia replied, <And what if I am? Is that so hard to believe?>

I paused. My mind pulled up the image of the silver bird soaring high over Viridian City, firing off brilliant orange beams that tore through whole city blocks at once. That wasn’t the image of a guardian who’d been tasked with keeping balance in the world. But I didn’t exactly feel comfortable saying that.

“No… I guess not.”

At my words, Lugia gave a sort of self-satisfied nod. <Good. Now pay attention. The conflict between human and Legendary has been steadily worsening the past few years, and it is likely to reach all-out war by summer’s end. There are those on either side who have dedicated themselves to preserving the balance. But that alone is not enough. Two sides working separately toward the same goal are unlikely to succeed. But together… they might have a chance.>

My eyes widened, and I dared to let a glimmer of hope rise within me. “You’re talking about the alliance, right? Are the Legendaries going to help form a new resistance against the Rockets?”

<No. I do not trust human organizations.> My face fell immediately. Lugia continued, <The potential for conflicts and schisms and betrayal is too high. It was already disastrous for one of our number who rushed in too soon after several humans betrayed the Rockets two years ago. Some of our order—like Mew—are willing to take that risk. I am not.>

What was it talking about? One of the Legendaries had tried to ally with a human before Mew? And it had backfired?

“So… if you don’t want to join us, then how are you supposed to form the alliance anyway?”

Lugia paused, shifting its wings while it considered its words. <The alliance between human and Legendary is intended to be between individuals, not just the two sides overall. It was believed that this would allow a more unified core when that alliance is put to the test.>

I nodded. “You mean like Ajia and Mew, right? I heard her referred to as being ‘chosen.’ But… I thought that meant, I don’t know… that she had some kind of destiny in all of this? And it seemed to fit in with the prophecy, so—”

With a scoff, Lugia said, <I’ve never put much stock in ‘destiny.’ Fate is nothing; action is everything. Your friend took action toward protecting the balance, and Mew selected her as a result. It’s as simple as that.>

I sighed, running a hand down my face. Alright, it clearly didn’t intend to explain anything more than the bare minimum. And I had to stop thinking about the legend like a prophecy, because it obviously wasn’t. So… seven individual humans would get chosen because they had protected the Legendaries. And none of them were predestined. And it was based solely on their actions.

But why was Lugia telling me all of this?

Unless…

I stared at the silver Legendary in wide-eyed horror, unwilling to believe it. It couldn’t be possible. It couldn’t be…

“So… so you’re saying…” I swallowed hard and continued, “that I’m chosen? Even after what I did?”

<Perhaps moreso because of what you did, among other things. You have connected yourself with the legends as few others of that rebellion have,> the dragon-bird answered.

Because of it? Why in the… how—” I struggled, the full effect of what I’d just been told hitting me in the chest like a truck. This didn’t make any sense. Lugia was supposed to hate my guts—why else would it have done… that? But now it wanted me to be its chosen and this didn’t make any sense.

Lugia closed its eyes in frustration and said, <Let me explain this as simply as I can. You are an interloper. You have no inherent significance in the legends, but your interference in the conflict between human and Legendary has forced you to become a part of them. The seven patrons of the Order are obligated to seek out those interlopers deemed to have the strongest connection to both the conflict, to the other interlopers, and to themselves.”

My stomach had melted away to nothingness. “And I’m one of them. I’ve helped save Legendaries. I’m friends with a bunch of others who are also involved. There really is no way I can escape from that mess, is there?”

<I doubt it. Unless you are willing to allow your allies to risk their lives while you save yourself,> Lugia said, giving me a rather disgusted scowl.

“Of course I don’t want to do that! I just… I don’t know if I’ll be able to. Ever since the rebellion ended, I feel like I kind of… broke something. Like I couldn’t fight them anymore, even if I wanted to.” I stared at the floor miserably, my face burning. There, I’d said it. I couldn’t tell Ajia, but I’d told a freaking Legendary that had tortured me.

Lugia’s expression softened. <In the end, it is your choice. I cannot force you. You’re connected to the conflict whether you like it or not, but your role in the legend is up to you.>

I glanced up at the dragon-bird incredulously. That was a weirdly… understanding response it had given me. “I don’t get it. How do I have a choice?”

<Simple. I cannot be your patron if you refuse. I would then select another.>

“And you really have to pick a human to side with?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

Lugia let out what almost sounded like a growl. <I do not wish to go against the instructions given to the Order so long ago. Neither of our sides can prevail without the other. That much is obvious, from what we’ve seen of the conflict thus far.> It winced slightly, as though the admission was painful. <In particular, Mew seems to believe we will fail if we do not embrace our human allies. And of course, the humans will fail without our strength.>

It was such a weird thing to consider—that Legendaries could actually benefit from having humans on their side. But then… in this sort of fight, there were a lot of advantages to being human, weren’t there? We didn’t have a humongous target on our back just from being spotted anywhere. We could sneak into Rocket bases, gather information, avoid traps, figure out the Rockets’ weaknesses… Not even Mew could get into a Rocket base undetected—not without help.

<So. What will you do?>

I froze. This had all happened so suddenly—I wanted more time just to process all of it. But then… I’d already spent all day agonizing over whether or not I should help fight the Rockets. And even throughout the past nine months… I’d always felt like I was hiding from it all.

“This agreement… it’s not something that can ever be taken back, can it?” I asked slowly, my voice shaking. “I’d basically be saying that I’ll fight with you until we put things right for good, wouldn’t I?”

<The alliance requires patron and chosen to have their spirits physically bound together. So yes, I would say this is kind of a long-term commitment,> Lugia said dryly.

Right… I should have figured as much. Part of me always knew that I’d be drawn back into the fight whether I liked it or not. But then… if it really was inevitable, wouldn’t it be better to have a Legendary Pokémon on my side? Wasn’t that the best possible way to survive the war and protect everyone else?

I took a deep breath. “Alright. I’ll do it.”

Lugia’s piercing gaze seemed to bore a hole right through me. It motioned for me to step forward, and I did. My legs no longer dragged like lead as I moved them—already it felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from me.

The avian dragon craned its long neck down until it was eye level with me, and for the first time I was struck by just how huge the Legendary was. Its head was small in comparison to its body, yet even that filled my entire field of vision as Lugia stared at me intently.

<This decision cannot be made lightly, and it absolutely must be your choice. Do you swear to fight alongside the Order of Legends to protect the balance of the world?>

The words echoed within me, sending my mind back to that day. The day that Stalker asked for my agreement to join the Rebellion. This was the same as that, wasn’t it? I had been uncertain at first, but then knew that it was something I had to do, for myself. This was no different.

I nodded forcefully. No turning back.

Lugia pressed its forehead against mine, and then the world came apart.

A blindingly bright flash of light shattered my field of view as a wave of psychic energy shot through my entire being. I was ripped apart, flipped inside-out, put back together, and then shredded once more, over and over into infinity. What felt like white-hot metal coursed through my veins, dissolving any and all sensations in a spiraling vortex of pain. And then my brain split open, unleashing a torrent of images from the past year. All of my panic, all of my uncertainty, every hesitation I’d ever felt from the moment the fight began suddenly bombarded my mind simultaneously, fighting for dominance.

It was too much. Too much failure and misery and despair at once. Impossible to sort though. And with each memory, the agony only twisted into me more and more like a burning spear. The ambush on Midnight Island, countless rebels brutally murdered. Trapped in the Rocket base with no way out, staring down death in the form of Mewtwo. The horrible mistake of using the Master Ball. Lugia flying high above me, glaring murderously, ready to end me.

No. No, I’d already had to endure all of that. I had already survived all of that! Not again! I wasn’t going to run away anymore!

I reached out blindly, but I couldn’t feel my body anymore and my limbs didn’t exist. Still desperately trying to claw my way out of the whirlwind, still feeling the tendrils of despair licking at the edge of my consciousness, I suddenly realized that I had actually grabbed hold of something. And that’s when I felt it. A vision of Lugia’s eyes radiating an aura of sheer calm that didn’t seem possible. It swept over me, engulfed me, and let my resolution bubble to the surface, unhindered.

I was going to fight alongside the Legendary Pokémon, and we were going to prevent the conflict between human and legend from escalating to all-out war. This was actually happening, and all of my uncertainty was meaningless now. I had made my decision!

And then my senses snapped back into focus in an instant. I was standing in the cave once more—no, kneeling—Lugia’s face still directly in front of me, still wearing that expression of pure calm that had dragged me free of the nightmare. I was holding tightly to its eye crests, almost hanging from them at this point. The legend didn’t seem to mind.

<It is done,> Lugia said. <You are marked. The two of us, legend and human, are one.>

I let go, allowing myself to slump to the floor, utterly drained. I sat there for several seconds as a light, airy tingling started building in my fingertips. Weird. I was pretty sure my legs weren’t going to obey when I tried to stand up, but then… it suddenly felt as though my entire body had become weightless. Was it an actual feeling, or just the contrast from the crushing weight of despair being lifted? I couldn’t tell.

“What… what actually happened there?”

Lugia hesitated. <It’s been described as our fates being intertwined. Obviously it’s something more real than that, but I don’t know what the actual process physically entails.> The last bit sounded uncomfortable to admit.

I nodded distantly, not really keen on relaying what I’d just experienced. It stared at me for a few seconds, but then seemed to realize that I wasn’t going to share the details, because it drew itself back up to full height and went on, <Right. So… about being chosen. I should tell you what some of the unique effects are. All chosen and patrons have a psychic link that allows them to communicate mind-to-mind, regardless of distance. We’ll also be able to feel each other’s presence—since I’m already a psychic, I can feel yours through the link, but it might take you a while to do the same.>

“Presence?” I asked. “What do you mean?”

<Condition. Energy. The state of your mind. For example, if you die, I’d be able to sense it from not feeling your presence.>

Great. Just what I needed.

Lugia’s expression sharpened as it pondered what to say next, tail swishing back and forth. <Be extremely careful who you tell of this—you cannot know who to trust unless they themselves have sworn a pact as well. Even your fellow rebels could be targeted by the enemy in the hopes of getting to you.>

I paused, shuffling a foot against the rock. “But I can tell Ajia, right?”

<Correct. You already know she is chosen anyway.>

That was a relief. I couldn’t imagine going through something like this and not being allowed to tell anyone. It must have been maddening for Ajia to endure that last year—constructing that whole elaborate plot to free Starr and Mewtwo, and not even allowed to explain how it was going to work. Having to trust that I would just go along without question.

“She tried to keep it a secret from me,” I said slowly, rubbing one arm with the other. “Did the fact that I knew about her being chosen have anything to do with why you picked me?”

<Yes, that was… a factor. Remember that I said the strongest candidates for chosenhood would be connected to other interlopers.>

There was that hesitation again. And there were still a few more details that didn’t quite add up. I squinted at the legendary and asked, “Why did Mew look so… down about sending me here?”

Lugia turned away, as though it had been hoping I wouldn’t ask. <Mew was… concerned for you. You had far too much knowledge of the legends and the patrons for someone who I didn’t think could be chosen, not to mention you were closely acquainted with Rockets who have captured some of our kin. I was certain I’d have to kill you for these things, as well as for that capture last year, but Mew was the one who suggested that I might reasonably be able to choose you instead.>

I didn’t know how to respond to that. Lugia had looked genuinely upset about it too.

<Also… there is the choosing itself,> the dragon-bird continued, pawing at the stone floor. <It has to be of your own choice. So of course, if you knew you might die otherwise, your consent would have been forced, and the pact would not have worked. And with how conflicted you were about joining the fight… the pact might have failed anyway if your resolve wasn’t strong enough. It might have torn your soul apart. There were a lot of risks. Again, you have Mew to thank for convincing me to go through with it.>

I shivered. Well that wasn’t a pleasant thought. But it was over and done with now. No point dwelling on what could have been. Although… there was still one last thing that had been bothering me all this time, and this was as good a time as any to learn the truth.

“Was Mew the reason that you didn’t… that night in Viridian… you didn’t…”

<Mew convinced me to spare your life, yes.>

And there it was. The answer to the maddening question that had hung over my shoulder for nine months. In the end, it was as simple as that.

<I am glad they did,> Lugia went on. <It would have been difficult to find another candidate with as strong a connection as yours.>

That was a weird sentiment to hear from it. I mean, yes, it was purely a practical concern. But before that, it had sounded genuinely glad that it hadn’t needed to kill me, which was still so surreal after… after what it had done that night in Viridian. My mind had basically split the Lugia from that night and the Lugia standing before me into two different people just to have any semblance of being okay in its presence.

<I will inform Mew,> Lugia announced suddenly. It craned its long neck upward and opened its beak, letting out a shrill cry that echoed throughout the cavern. “*Mew! It is done!*”

Mere seconds later, Mew appeared in a flash of light, glancing around frantically until her eyes landed on me.

<She has agreed?> Mew asked, throwing an anxious look at Lugia.

<The pact is complete… we are linked,> Lugia answered with a reserved tone. But then the slightest trace of a grin crossed its face.

And then in an instant, Mew’s eyes lit up and she swooped down right in front of my face, looking absolutely overjoyed.

<That’s wonderful!> she cried, grasping my hand with both paws and squeezing it tightly. The psychic cat made eye contact with me, and her expression softened. <I know I shouldn’t sound so pleased that you’ll be following such a dangerous path. Or that anyone should, but… I’m just so glad it worked.>

“Why?” I found myself asking. Why did a Legendary Pokémon care about the wellbeing of a single human? This was still so weird.

<Why?> Mew repeated blankly. <You are one of my chosen’s closest friends. I couldn’t bear to hurt her.>

Oh. Right. Yes, that made sense. Why was I reading more into it than that?

<I imagine you must still have many questions,> Mew said with a sympathetic smile.

I laughed slightly. “You can say that again.” Although one in particular had decided to surface in my mind, now seeing two of the patrons side-by-side…

“Who are all the patron Legendaries, anyway?” I asked.

Lugia blinked in surprise, then gave Mew an imploring look. She glanced back at it, nodding. The dragon-bird then said, <You already know Mew and myself. There is also Ho-oh, Raikou, Suicune, Zapdos, and Moltres.>

I tilted my head. “So you’re all guardians of Tohjo? Is that… important?”

<We’re not sure why,> Mew said simply. Lugia narrowed its eyes slightly, but didn’t comment. I wasn’t really sure how it was possible for them to not know. After all, weren’t they all pretty open with each other about this stuff? At least, it had seemed like it.

“So… which of them have already chosen a human?” I asked.

Lugia made a slight huff that I took as a sign of disapproval. <Out of respect to them, I will refrain from answering.>

I frowned. Okay, I hadn’t realized that was an invasive question. Except… the moment I gave it even a second thought, the answer became obvious: Ajia had already told me she was the only one.

Mew had clearly pieced that together. <She already knows.>

Lugia glanced away, looking mildly annoyed. <Alright, fine. Mew and I are the only ones, yes.>

In other words, I was the second chosen. What a strange thought. For so long I’d assumed that there were a bunch of other people out there allied with Legendaries, and that Ajia had been doing secret chosen missions with them. But no. It was just us.

And then the glaring red flag jumped out at me. “Wait… Raikou and Moltres. Both of them have been captured. How is that going to affect us?”

<Yes, that is going to be… a problem,> Lugia said, nodding slowly. <That is the reason that I didn’t wait to choose you. With the Rockets stepping out of the shadows in such a big way, we decided to accelerate our plans.>

I stared at it, perplexed. What did it mean by that? What plans?

Mew’s gaze turned steely. <We want to use this opportunity to free Moltres.>

My mouth fell open. “What? How?”

<We still have yet to work out all the details, but the input from our human allies will be critical,> she explained. <I’ll be speaking with Ajia at length after I return you to the ranger station.> Oh right. I had somehow forgotten that she had teleported me here to begin with.

“Where are we, anyway?” I asked, glancing around the cavern.

<Underneath the Whirl Islands, in Johto,> Lugia said, gazing upward with an odd sort of fondness in its eyes. <It’s one of many places that I call home.>

Those rumors that we’d all heard as kids… that Lugia had been spotted by the Whirl Islands. They were actually true. There was something weirdly comforting about that. It made interacting with the Legendaries feel less otherworldly, knowing that ordinary people saw them from time to time.

Mew glanced back at Lugia. <I believe that’s everything for now?>

The dragon-bird nodded. <Everything else can be handled long-distance.>

Mew turned back to face me, fixing her clear blue eyes on me. <I can take you back now,> she said, holding out her tail.

That… sounded nice. With all the fear and adrenaline having worn off, the cold, wet atmosphere was becoming more noticeably unpleasant. Mew offered her tail to me, and I held onto its tip. Our surroundings melted into shimmering light, then just as suddenly, we were back in the ranger station, like nothing had ever happened. It was wild to think that for the past half hour or so, I’d been clear across Johto, and now I was suddenly back in Kanto, back in the middle of the crisis hanging over Indigo. I never, ever would have expected half of the things that had already happened today. And the day wasn’t over yet. Not even close.

The weight of it all was starting to press down on me from all sides. A pressure building in my head suddenly flared up, and I couldn’t help rubbing my eyes in an attempt to relieve it.

<We’re glad to have you. And that includes Lugia, even if they won’t show it,> Mew said earnestly.

I paused, swallowing hard. “It’s a lot to take in,” I admitted. “What do I do now? Am I supposed to just go back to what I was doing before?”

Mew fidgeted with her tail. <I can’t really know how this must feel. Do you want to talk to Ajia?>

I inhaled deeply. “Yeah. That’d be great.”

Mew’s expression relaxed. <All right. I’ll tell her to come here.>

And then Mew vanished, leaving me alone with nothing but my thoughts and the overwhelming feeling that my life was never going to be the same again.






~End Chapter 36~

And with that, we're finally, finally into the real meat of this fic.

Next Chapter: The power of friendship or something.
 

Cresselia92

Junior Trainer
Pronouns
She/Her/Hers
Yoh, there! I'm here to give you your healthy dose of catnip tea: useful to sleep and lose weight.

... Except that it's virtual, so I'm not sure if that'll help. Ha! :p

Anyway, onto the review we go! *wears review glasses*

Prologue

This story began with the human who rejected infinity.
It will end with the human who accepted it.
... Is that human Buzz Lightyear? :o

Well, well! This is an interesting line, albeit a bit confusing. I literally have no idea what to expect from this line alone. But hey, it hooks!

take gulps of sweet air that burned its unused lungs yet felt so good
Hmm... wait! Does that mean that Lugia doesn't breathe while underwater? Then... How does it even survive while hiding in the depths of the ocean? Through osmosis by extracting oxygen from the water, or...? 🤔

I don't see it taking a deep breath and surviving for years, maybe even centuries, with just one gulp of breath. Or it can do that?

It's nothing really important, but this bit made me raise an eyebrow.

That cataclysmic era had left its mark on the world—one that had lain dormant for nearly 3000 years.
3.000 years... with the thousands of things that happened in the Pokémon world 3.000 years ago, this could be literally anything. The Kalos war? The conflict of the Unovan twin kings? Maybe even Eternatus?

I suppose that this is left vague on purpose, which is good. Readers would be intrigued to follow and see what's going to happen. :)

The next seven years would be interesting, that much was certain.
Seven years in-universe or out-of-universe? Surely it's the former, but it would be really amusing if it was both. It would be so meta. :p

I quickly stuffed my books into my backpack, following after my classmates and pretending I hadn’t heard the last-minute assignment that we’d been given.
Oh, first-person perspective? Well, that's interesting.

“Meh… failed a Pokéspeech quiz—you know, as always,” I replied with a smirk.
Now that makes me curious: people can learn how to understand Pokémon language? I suppose progress has taken a lot of steps. Or... N could be giving Pokéspeech lessons. It would be glorious if that's what happened and we got Professor N!

“I don’t know… it’s all my mom’s idea, and she didn’t tell me anything. But my dad’s staying here in Viridian.”

I slowly uncovered my face, turning toward her. “You never really see your dad much anymore… do you?”

She shook her head.

“Still… it’s dumb that your mom won’t tell you why all of this is happening,” I added.

“Yeah… she keeps saying that she wants me and my brother to have a better life that we couldn’t have gotten here. Or something like that… she never really explains,” Starr mumbled.
"I" is right. What the heck is going on? Though, I have my guess of what and why this is happening. As someone who has dealt with my parents separating and living in different houses, I can relate to this event.

“Pfft, see what I mean? You’re such a little kid,” Starr said, smirking.
Anime!Iris: "I, don't be such a kid!"

She paused, blinking in surprise. “I… hadn’t thought of that,” she said slowly. “It’ll have to wait until I get strong Pokémon to protect me while traveling so far. But… yeah. I’ll do that.”

My face fell. Why wasn’t she more excited about it? Starr was just kind of… staring into the distance, like she was thinking about something. She looked like she wanted to tell me something else, but didn’t say anything.
I bet she has now realized that she will be able to go almost anywhere and is thinking about a location in particular. Or maybe she is actually... worried or scared about something?

I guess only time can tell.

---

Chapter 1: "Burn, Baby!"

Summer days were made for this—made for the blast of wind in my face and the rush of exhilaration as my bike flew down the street. The slightest twinge of fear pricked at the back of my head, but it was easy to shove aside. My eyes focused straight ahead, blocking out everything else. Teeth clenched. Fists tightened on the handlebars as I closed in on my target. Just a few more seconds and I’d pull back on the handlebars at just the right moment and—

“Aw yeah!” I yelled, throwing a fist towards the sky as my bike flew through the air. No matter how many times I jumped that same ramp, those precious few seconds of being airborne were the greatest thing in the world. I landed several feet away with a thud and immediately veered my handlebars to double back in a wide arc, waving toward the top of the hill.
Okay, this was a delightful scene! A very nice show of freedom and a bit of adrenaline. A must for any teenager.

“Big deal, I can beat that!” Rudy called out to me while speeding downward on his bike. The usual determined grin covered his tan face; his dark eyes were wide and full of confidence as he raced downward. Neither of us were really experts at this whole biking thing, but who cared? It was by far the best way to spend the after-school hours, and summer offered the promise of biking every day.
Exactly, who cares? Because, after all...



Out of nowhere, a black blur shot into the street, skidding to a halt right in front of me. I swerved instantly to avoid hitting it, but then—crap, I was heading for a parked car—had to turn! I spun way too far, my front wheel hit the curb sideways, and then I found myself toppling over into a sprawled heap on the grass.

Well, that was random. But there was really only one thing that could have done that. Sure enough, only a few seconds passed before I felt heavy paws on my chest. Black fur covered my entire field of vision, and the air was filled with musty, hot breath and uneven panting.

“Ow… get off, Ebony!” I yelled, shoving the Houndour away. She lumbered off, but sat down less than two feet from me, apparently fighting the urge to jump on me again.

I sighed exasperatedly. “You’re never gonna get tired of this game, are you?” Sure, she knew me, but still felt determined as ever to ‘protect’ her home and her owner—who was now standing next to his bike, cracking up.
I wouldn't really laugh if I were you, Rudy. You wouldn't laugh as much if "I" got a broken jaw, a concussion or worse because your Houndour is untrained, nor if your Houndour got a "Gear Grind" from a bike. :v

“Huh?” I said, not really sure what he was getting at. And then my brain clicked into place. “Wait, wait… You’re leaving on a training journey?”

“Yeah, didn’t I tell you?” he asked.

“No. You didn’t,” I said flatly, a sinking feeling growing in my stomach. Really, he waited until now to tell me something like this?

“Yeah? Er, sorry… but you can’t be surprised. I mean, school just got out, I passed the exam—why would I wait? It’s like the most perfect time to start training.”
Gee, "I", how lucky you are! Makes you almost wish you could just travel the world, huh?

“Getting your license at thirteen isn’t that late. My not having a license at fourteen? That’s late,” I grumbled.
Age confirmed!

I stared at him. “I’m not gonna train Pokémon illegally. I’m not that stupid.”
Then how about another profession? You don't need to travel, do you? Join the Rangers! Maybe their exams aren't as tough. :p

“I’ll see ya, Jade,” Rudy said, running to the backyard.
Name confirmed!!

Starr had been the first to leave, five years ago. Then Ajia three years ago, then all the aspiring trainers in my year, and then everyone I knew in the year below me. I didn’t even want to be a professional trainer; I just wanted to go with them. First I screwed up by failing Pokéspeech so many times that I didn’t have enough credits the summer after I turned twelve. Then failing the test the summer after I turned thirteen. And now this year. The crushing feeling of seeing that failing score… for the second time.
Whoa, whoa, whoa! It's been five years already. Then the whole thing about the Order will happen in two years now? Hmmm... intriguing.

And ouch, failing the exam once more must sting hard. *looks at own character* Well, join the club of perpetual failures with Peter. There is room for ya, too! :p

I stopped dead. For whatever reason, I realized that the odor saturating the air was burning flesh. These woods had been filled with Pokémon, all of them now dead. My brain really had no idea how to process any of it. Who on earth expected to see something like this on an ordinary day?
No, no, no! You've got it wrong! That's... just the smell of hamburgers on a barbecue. Yes. A very biiig barbecue!

...A barbecue that went out of control. Where are the firemons (not the fire-type mons!) when you need them?

I stared, unable to believe it. The lizard’s orange scales were burnt black, and with each breath its body shuddered, almost as if it were cold. The flame that should have burned bright yellow on its tail was little more than a tiny scarlet ember that flickered constantly.
Gosh! What kind of fire was so strong to burn a Charmander of all things? Nuclear fire?

“I wouldn’t stay here much longer if I were you.”

I jolted at the sudden voice. Someone else was here? I threw a glance over my shoulder and sure enough, a figure was approaching me. The smoke obscured him at first, but eventually he came into view. He was several years older than me—at least eighteen or so—and quite a bit taller than me, with wavy brown hair and icy blue eyes. He was dressed in a black shirt with a long gray coat, navy blue cargo pants, and thick, gray boots. And he was currently examining me with a reserved expression that made me feel like I was being x-rayed. Somehow, his overall air was that of someone much older.
Maybe you should listen to your own advice, Cape Boy! ...Speaking of that, who are you?

Now gazing at the ravaged landscape, he muttered, “Amazing how much damage humans can cause. The fire’s spread too far, though… how do they plan to keep it unnoticed?” I wasn’t entirely sure whether he was talking to me or just commenting to himself.

“Who did this, do you know—?”

“There’s no point trying to explain it,” he interrupted, walking further in the direction I had originally been going. “Just follow me.”
No time to explain. Time to watch.

So, it was humans who did that, huh? Still holding onto the theory of a barbecue gone wrong.

Entei. The Beast of the Volcano. A Legendary Pokémon of Johto. Right here, right in front of us, for real.

Suddenly, I heard a roar of engines to the right. A huge group of jeeps and trucks burst into the clearing, filled with countless armed adults. Entei recoiled backward, pelted by bullets—they were shooting it? The auburn beast slammed its shackled paws to the ground and let loose a wave of fire, incinerating everything within the valley. But then the flames cleared, revealing the vehicles’ protective energy shields. Around two dozen Pokémon charged forward from behind the jeeps, unleashing torrents of water at their target. Entei stood its ground with a determined glare, but I could still see it wincing in pain as steam poured off its body. I could still hear the fury in its roar as it tried to flee, gripped by the glow of something preventing its escape.

“What… how can they…? Why…?” I stammered.

There was a pause. Then came the reply, “Have you heard of Team Rocket?”
Dun-dun-duuun! Team Rocket, and not the kind of jokey child version. No, these are in full "Kill All Cubone!" mode, willing to shoot a legendary Pokémon! Though, hmmm... I have to wonder what kind of bullets they are using. I could see something close to the ones used to stun elephants and hippos, by judging the size of Entei.

I could be wrong, though.

I was frozen, unable to process all of this. “…What do we do about that? Why are you telling me this?”

He gave me a very serious look. “Are you interested in helping stop Team Rocket’s Legendary project? Would you be willing to fight them?”

(...)

He considered me for a while before reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a small card. “This is your formal invitation to join a team against the Rockets,” he said, handing it to me. “I’ve been handing these out to people just starting their journey. Once you become a trainer, I want you to meet me at the location specified on the card, and I’ll tell you more.”
But of course! Rally a fourteen-years-old person to help you take down a whole criminal organization! Like, what could possibly go wrong? It's such a foolproof plan. Someone gotta tell him that Red is so yesterday.

“I’ll see you,” the trainer said before soaring out of sight.
What a jerk! You could have at least taken this kiddo to the nearest town, no? I mean, weren't you the one who said that it would have been better if there weren't witnesses? Didn't you think that maybe, just maybe, it would have been a good idea to take them away from that wildfire and conflict? Who is that kid, chopped liver?

I turned back to the battle that was still continuing. Everything about it was completely mind-boggling. The ridiculously powerful fire beast was still struggling to ward off its attackers, but its strength was waning. I still wanted to help it somehow, even though I knew I couldn’t do anything. It was frustrating, and I felt stupid about it. With a sigh, I sat down and continued to watch.
Hmmm... Honestly, I feel like this whole conflict is a little "too tell, little show". Like, it would have been good if there were more snippets of the battle ongoing, showing that Team Rocket means business and they are so strong that they are giving to Entei a run for its money. I mean, we are talking about a legendary Pokémon here, and I feel it should have received some focus as well rather than being relevated as an "usual unusual event". It's almost like that is an everyday thing if even the protagonist themselves isn't at least partially focused on the battle.

So yeah, I feel you could expand on the confrontation between Entei and Team Rocket a bit more.

One of the jeeps near the front of the formation suddenly broke from the group and began speeding up the hill in my direction. I stared stupidly at the vehicle racing towards me, unable to work though what it meant.
Typo: *through

“Don’t… don’t tell me they…” My eyes widened as the realization hit me like a brick.

I’d been spotted. And they were coming for me.
And then, a sudden eruption of fire exploded from under the jeep, sending it spiraling in the air like a fiery ball!

Will this happen? Find out about that in the next chapter!

End of Chapter 1

---

So, time for some general observations.

Overall, I'd say that the general prose of this story is really nice. You can really get into the mind of the protagonist and see things from their own point of view. However, there is something very glaring about the protagonist themselves: the lack of a defined description. Basically, all we are doing it's following a shadow: no info of their physical aspect or their unique quirks or nothing. We've got the name, the age and something about them failing the Pokéspeech many times, but I still find that very little and it makes me really hard to understand just who I'm following.

I'm not saying to give a description like "I am Anon, I am X age and I have X hair, and all that blah blah!", but still to have some hints sprinkled here and there. Like, for example, "I felt my brown hair blowing on my face, forcing me to readjust them with my hand", or "the sky was clear blue, almost mirroring the shade of my eyes". Basically, little things to give a more definite shape to this character and personality. I mean, I basically know more about their friends than Jade.

Other than that, I like the portrayal of Team Rocket: vicious, powerful, and who doesn't joke. A much welcome portrayal.

I'm not really sure what else to say about these parts. They did their job at introducing the reader to the general plot and give an initial idea of things to come, so that's something that would surely make people stick around. That cliffhanger, though!

All in all, it was a really fine read. I was genuinely intrigued.

I wish you good luck with the rest of your story! :3
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Slowly making progress on LC again for the first time in a while! Sorry it's been so long.


watch the sky slowly melt into red as the day drew to a close.
Nice.

Ajia replied with a playful smirk.
You can cut playful--I think the content of the dialogue + smirk conveys it.

“Scary organization that tried to kill us now has an ultra-powerful fire-breathing weapon. I hope I’m not the only one bothered by this,” Spencer commented.
Haha, Spencer's keeping it real.

“Jade, be glad that what happened today didn’t pull you in too deep,” she said,
This line felt a little stilted to me.

“Hey, if you’re set on trying to help stop them, I’ll stop trying to talk you out of it. I’d be lying if I said I regretted my decision to get involved way back when. It’s been hard… but it’s worth it.”
It was weird to me that, even after her friend commits to getting involved more deeply, Ajia is refusing to share any of what she knows. Seems like Jade could use all the information she can get.

“Rudy, tell my mom I’m leaving on a training journey.”
I was surprised not to see any indication of regret or fear of not seeing her mom again. She was kidnapped and attacked--fear of death seems pretty real, so she might not see her mom ever again! I imagine leaving home is already hard, but especially when you're doing it under dangerous circumstances. This felt both like an unkindness to the mom and a hard-to-believe moment of stoicism from Jade.

“Leaving now, huh?” Spencer asked. “Take care! Nice fighting with you, or… alongside you, I guess.”

It wasn’t like I had done much, but his words still made me smile. “Thanks for everything. I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t shown up.”
Seems like they should've exchanged contact information too!

And then it hit me. I had made this decision without even thinking about the fact that I still had a confused Charmander that didn’t even really belong to me.
Yeah, it does seem like she should've asked him sooner, considering her plan banks on him listening to her commands and helping her.

An illegal one off on a mission to join a secret rebel team, sure… but a trainer nonetheless.
I wanted more of a sense of what doing this illegally means. Can she buy potions to heal her team? Can she heal her pokemon at the center for a cost or not at all? The cut conversation with her mom touches on a it a little, but I question whether "probation" is a big enough punishment. After all, it seems like training without a license could result in both her and her pokemon being hurt. Aaaand you cut that scene, so it's technically not even in here, hahaha.

Those things were for licensed trainers—without being able to receive the trainer’s discount,
This was a little hard to parse. I still can't tell if non-trainers can use the facilities, just at a cost, or not at all.

“What’s with the mask?” I blurted out without thinking.
I have to wonder how this looks to passers-by too.

Overall, I agree with Namo that this quieter moment was a much needed break. I'd also advocate for including the conversation with the mom, because it was an absence that really jumped out at me. I also feel like the camping scene and the dock scene could be a little more integrated, because they felt really divorced from each other. Might be nice to mentioned her scoping out the docks during her shopping excursion or something.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Hmm... wait! Does that mean that Lugia doesn't breathe while underwater? Then... How does it even survive while hiding in the depths of the ocean? Through osmosis by extracting oxygen from the water, or...?
I've always headcanoned Lugia as being able to breathe underwater!
3.000 years... with the thousands of things that happened in the Pokémon world 3.000 years ago, this could be literally anything. The Kalos war? The conflict of the Unovan twin kings? Maybe even Eternatus?
Heh, I actually chose 3000 years precisely because so dang many srs business things happened around that time in canon, so it was a pretty fitting time to insert my own plot happenings.
Seven years in-universe or out-of-universe? Surely it's the former, but it would be really amusing if it was both. It would be so meta. :p
Oh my god. If we consider that I rebooted the fic in 2011, and then hit Book 2 (when all the Stuff Goes Down) in 2018... it really was seven years ahjfgdfjkgfs.
Name confirmed!!
Her name was confirmed in the Prologue! ;P
And ouch, failing the exam once more must sting hard. *looks at own character* Well, join the club of perpetual failures with Peter. There is room for ya, too! :p
High-five for the club of characters failing! :D
What a jerk! You could have at least taken this kiddo to the nearest town, no? I mean, weren't you the one who said that it would have been better if there weren't witnesses? Didn't you think that maybe, just maybe, it would have been a good idea to take them away from that wildfire and conflict? Who is that kid, chopped liver?
I just want you to know that I live for people calling out the rebel team guy like this. xD
Hmmm... Honestly, I feel like this whole conflict is a little "too tell, little show". Like, it would have been good if there were more snippets of the battle ongoing, showing that Team Rocket means business and they are so strong that they are giving to Entei a run for its money. I mean, we are talking about a legendary Pokémon here, and I feel it should have received some focus as well rather than being relevated as an "usual unusual event". It's almost like that is an everyday thing if even the protagonist themselves isn't at least partially focused on the battle.
Ahh, I see what you mean. I basically didn't want to just repeat the previous scene with her describing the Legendary battle (which did get a huge amount of focus), but I could afford to spruce up the narration in the second bit without getting too repetitive.
Overall, I'd say that the general prose of this story is really nice. You can really get into the mind of the protagonist and see things from their own point of view. However, there is something very glaring about the protagonist themselves: the lack of a defined description. Basically, all we are doing it's following a shadow: no info of their physical aspect or their unique quirks or nothing. We've got the name, the age and something about them failing the Pokéspeech many times, but I still find that very little and it makes me really hard to understand just who I'm following.
Ahh, I think that's a stylistic preference thing, as I can't stand dropping physical descriptors into 1st person, and I edited a bunch of them out for this revision. ^^; (Granted, I do have one of the dreaded "mirror scenes" later, but that was only to highlight some... concerning details in her appearance at that time.) I just mostly prefer to focus on internal details.
It was weird to me that, even after her friend commits to getting involved more deeply, Ajia is refusing to share any of what she knows. Seems like Jade could use all the information she can get.
Considering that Ajia gets called out on her secret-keeping later in the fic, I'm highly amused that you're zeroing in on that this early. xD
I was surprised not to see any indication of regret or fear of not seeing her mom again. She was kidnapped and attacked--fear of death seems pretty real, so she might not see her mom ever again! I imagine leaving home is already hard, but especially when you're doing it under dangerous circumstances. This felt both like an unkindness to the mom and a hard-to-believe moment of stoicism from Jade.
Ah, yeah, about that... it's a sentiment that I want to include, but I've struggled for a long time to figure out how to write something like that. (Which... probably sounds silly given that I'll happily write torture and trauma and all sorts of other things I've never experienced, but for some reason this particular topic just breaks my brain.) At this point I'm mostly just proud that I finally managed to claw through the discomfort and write the phone call. :x
Seems like they should've exchanged contact information too!
This is probably one of those things that gives away the fact that I didn't have a cell phone as a kid. xD I go on to have everyone else poke fun at her for this later.
I wanted more of a sense of what doing this illegally means. Can she buy potions to heal her team? Can she heal her pokemon at the center for a cost or not at all? The cut conversation with her mom touches on a it a little, but I question whether "probation" is a big enough punishment. After all, it seems like training without a license could result in both her and her pokemon being hurt. Aaaand you cut that scene, so it's technically not even in here, hahaha.
Yes to buying potions, no to using the Pokecenter because they scan your ID for the latter. I didn't dwell on it too much because I didn't want to set it up like this was going to be a major stumbling point, when the leader of the rebel team will go on to set up accommodations for both of those things. And I will say that this version of the Pokemon world is set up to making training accessible, so training isn't supposed to be seen as any more dangerous than, say, going to summer camp. Granted... Jade is obviously not going to be having a safe time of things, but she's a bit of an outlier. ;P

Also, the conversation with her mom wasn't... "cut"? I went back and wrote it fourteen years after this chapter was first published, so if anything, it's something that was missing originally, but got added later. And I added it specifically because someone wanted to see it, so I very much consider it to be canon!
I also feel like the camping scene and the dock scene could be a little more integrated, because they felt really divorced from each other. Might be nice to mentioned her scoping out the docks during her shopping excursion or something.
Ah, now that's something I'd like to do! I've always felt like it was unclear exactly how long and how often she was checking (and what she was doing in the meantime??), and I don't want it to feel like random happenstance that she ran into Stalker there.

Thanks a lot for the reviews, both of you! They were a lot of fun to read. ^^
 
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Chapter 37: Combined Strength

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
~Chapter 37: Combined Strength~


I didn’t have to wait long. I had just flopped onto the couch, feeling an unbelievable wave of tension leaking from my muscles, when the lounge door flew open and Ajia rushed in. She paused when she reached me, clasping her hands behind her back.

“Mew told me that you were talking with Lugia.” She paused. “How did it go?”

There were a dozen things I could have said. A dozen ways to explain the ridiculous rollercoaster of emotions I’d just gone through. But all I did was open my mouth and say the two words that summed it up best: “I’m chosen.”

At once, her entire face lit up. “I knew it! Yes! That’s amazing!” she said, flopping down on the couch next to me. But then a look of realization came over her, and she added, “At least… I think it is. I know you wanted to stay out of this mess, but…” She gave a bit of a confused laugh.

I smiled weakly. “Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it too. It’s… a huge responsibility.”

Ajia nodded slowly. “But… it also helps having someone at your back through it all.”

Someone at your back… It was easy to forget that through everything that happened last year… all those times she’d shown such impossible willpower… she wasn’t alone. How many difficult times had she needed to rely on Mew’s support?

“When were you chosen?” I asked.

She rested her chin on her palm. “It wasn’t long after the revolt, so… two years ago.” Her voice held an air of disbelief, like she was amazed that it had already been so long. “The resistance had broken apart after our falling-out with the commander, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any more connections within Team Rocket, Sebastian had just flat-out told me I was a tool, and I didn’t have any power to make a difference in the fight anymore.”

I hesitated, unsure of how to word my next question. “Was… was it painful for you too? Being chosen?”

Ajia nodded slowly. “It’s a test of resolve. All of the negative emotions connected to the fight, all at once. You’re either consumed by them, or push through and join your spirit with the patron’s.”

Part of me couldn’t help suspecting that she hadn’t had quite as much uncertainty or trauma to fight through. But… no, that wasn’t fair. Ajia had endured more than her fair share of pain. Making it into some kind of suffering competition wouldn’t do any good.

“Anyway,” Ajia went on, shaking her head as if to clear that topic. “It’s been such an incredible experience, getting to know Mew. I’ve learned so many things I’d never dreamed of. And I’m sure it’ll be the same for you and Lugia.”

“Your Legendary didn’t try to kill you.” I had no idea why I said that, but the words were out of my mouth before I knew it.

Ajia’s face fell immediately. “I… I’d forgotten about that,” she said quietly. “Did… did you ask Lugia about it?”

I bit my tongue and shook my head slightly. Ajia and Starr were still under the impression that Lugia had made a mistake in attacking me. I wasn’t too keen on correcting that assumption just yet.

“Well… I’m sure you’ll have plenty of chances to talk about it,” Ajia said, tapping her fingers together. “Though… I can understand if you don’t want to until you get to know Lugia better.”

She could say that again. Right now, I wanted nothing more than to pretend that the whole thing never happened. Even though part of me already knew that I wouldn’t be able to forget it. Just like I hadn’t managed to forget… various other things. Why would this be any different?

The conflicted and hesitant look on my face must have been pretty obvious, because Ajia smiled reassuringly and said, “Hey, so… I know this all feels overwhelming and such. Like you’re lost and don’t know where you’re going. It was the same way for me. Back when I first got mixed up with Team Rocket, I never could have imagined it would ever lead to something like… fighting alongside the Legendaries.”

My mind drifted back to the day that I saw Entei in the blazing forest. Of course I’d never expected anything like this at the time, but… looking back… In a way, it almost felt like I’d been heading down this path ever since that day.

“You know, it’s kind of weird that the two of us both got mixed up with Team Rocket, completely separate from each other,” I said distantly. “I mean, what are the odds, right?”

Ajia smiled. “Maybe it was fate.”

I chuckled a bit. Lugia wouldn’t like that way of describing it.

“Who knows.”

We both fell silent after that. There were a million more things I could have asked her. We were both chosen. There finally weren’t any secrets left. But I had no idea where to even begin. This was all so new and strange, and there were so many unknowns that it was impossible to focus on any one of them.

Ajia was the one who broke the silence. “I’m still really sorry that I dragged you deeper into all of this,” she said, folding her hands in her lap.

I snapped my head toward her. “Hey. We went over that. I decided to join the Rebellion, okay?”

She gripped one hand tightly with the other, her brow furrowing. “I should have been more suspicious of it from the start. I should have known that Sebastian was involved.”

Hearing that name was like a stab through the heart. It’d been so long since I’d had to think about how he’d used all of us.

“I would have done it anyway,” I said quietly, a slight bitterness on the tip of my tongue. “I was already angry about not being able to help Entei.” It wasn’t as though I regretted joining the Rebellion. And yet…

“I should have warned you better,” Ajia said, looking up at me.

What would I have done if she had? Would I have still gone through with it if my friend—someone I looked up to and practically idolized—had told me in no uncertain terms that it was a bad idea? Where would we all be now? Me, still at home, bored and driveless. The experiments, still imprisoned. Starr, still on Team Rocket. That wasn’t a world I wanted to think about.

“I think… I think part of me wanted someone else to go through this with me,” she went on.

I stared at her, lost for words.

“I mean, I know I’m not alone in this,” she added quickly. “I’ve got Mew, I’ve got my team, but…”

It seemed like a weird sentiment… at first. But on second thought, I kind of knew what she meant. If I’d been going through something like that, without being able to talk to my friends… it would have felt crushingly lonely, even with Mew’s support.

Ajia sighed deeply, her eyes sliding to the floor. “I shouldn’t want that. I shouldn’t be glad that your life will be in danger too. I didn’t want to be the reason you got dragged back into this, after you asked me to knock it off.”

“I was glad too.”

She looked up at me in surprise.

“When I first started to realize that you were more involved in all this than I’d thought…”—I paused, taking a deep breath—“I was glad. Sure, it sounds bad to put it like that, but… we’re both the same. And I’m not gonna lie, there’s a part of me that’s terrified of all this, but…” My voice trailed off. “Well, we have Legendaries by our side, so that helps.”

Ajia nudged my arm. “We’ve got each other too.”

…Yeah. We did.

I found myself taking her hand in mine, holding it tight. Now, more than ever, I was glad to have her by my side.

“So… now that we’re both on the same page, Mew wants to talk to us,” Ajia said.

My face fell slightly. Right. Couldn’t just enjoy the moment. We had work to do. Work that I’d agreed to when I became chosen.

With a flash of light, Mew appeared before us.

<How are you feeling?> she asked.

“I…” I glanced at Ajia. “Pretty okay.”

The psychic cat nodded, her eyes relaxing. <I’m glad. I do hope that it helps knowing that you’re not alone in all this.>

I took a deep breath. “It does.”

Ajia looked back and forth between me and Mew. “So… how have things been going back at Indigo?”

Mew paused. <It’s been almost two hours and Moltres is still attacking the League,> she said, staring at the ceiling with a contemplative look.

I raised an eyebrow. “Still?” I would have figured their point had been made by now. Even if Ajia’s deduction was correct, and the Rockets were only doing it to make the Legendaries look dangerous. “What’s the point of dragging things out this long? It’s almost like they’re… waiting for something…” I muttered, my words trailing off.

Mew drifted back and forth in midair, fidgeting with her tail as she spoke. <I’ve been watching carefully, during the times that I haven’t been with either of you. Moltres has gotten into a few skirmishes with the humans, but nothing too serious.> She paused, looking pensive. <We don’t know how much longer they’ll be there. We must make our move to free them soon.>

Ajia turned to face me. “We’ve been talking about it. Our biggest advantage is the fact that the Rockets are trying to make this look like a Legendary attack, like the one on Viridian last year. That means they can’t openly use the full strength of their forces to back it up.”

Well, that did explain why I’d only seen two Rockets and they’d generally avoided associating with Moltres throughout most of the attack.

“So are we gonna try stealing the Master Ball, just like we did with Mewtwo?” I asked.

Ajia shook her head. “Close, but I’m betting they’re not carrying the Master Ball on their person. Not after we freed Mewtwo like that.”

Right. Of course it wouldn’t be that simple. The Rockets weren’t just going to repeat their past mistakes, but… “They’d have to have the ball nearby somewhere, right?” I asked, sitting up straight. “Just in case Moltres got knocked out?”

She nodded. “Bingo. We need to force them to recall it.”

A feeling of unease started to creep up on me. “How are we supposed to knock out Moltres?”

We might not be able to, but we’re not gonna be alone.” She gestured to Mew. Oh… right. And I had Lugia, as bizarre of a thought that was.

<Also. There’s someone I should introduce you to,> Mew added, gesturing to her side. The air next to her rippled and shimmered. Then a sleek crimson dragon suddenly appeared out of thin air. I jolted back, staring wide-eyed as it hovered right in front of my face without needing to flap its narrow, pointed wings.

<This is Latias. She’s agreed to help us,> Mew said.

“Latias,” I said blankly. Faint recognition stirred in the back of my head. “One of the guardians of Hoenn, right?”

The dragon raised a clawed foreleg. “*That’s me!*” she said, her voice high pitched and melodious, like the chiming of bells.

There was something bizarrely mundane about meeting a new Legendary Pokémon while seated on a couch indoors. I was so used to it always happening during missions or in deadly, tense situations that this was so… calm by comparison.

<She has an ability that will be useful for this mission,> Mew said, gesturing a paw in her direction. Latias bowed her head. Then then surface of her feathers rippled, distorting, and suddenly she was just gone.

I blinked. “Did she teleport?”

“*I’m invisible!*” the dragon exclaimed, and the words were coming from right in front of my face.

“Whoa,” I said, reaching out my hand and waving it in the air where she’d just been. I felt her claws touch my palm in return. When I stared very, very hard, I could just barely make out the slightest distortion in the air around my fingers, but other than that, nothing. Then the air rippled into her jet-like shape, and the dragon was back just as suddenly as she’d gone.

“*So you’re the newest chosen?*” Latias asked, fixing her large, amber eyes on me.

I smiled weakly. “Yeah.” But then my mind flashed back to what Lugia had just told me. “Wait, but… you’re not one of the patron legends?”

She shook her head.

I frowned. “Why not?”

Latias tilted her head, bemused. “*Why would I be?*”

I paused, feeling a bit silly for asking. “Huh. I guess I still don’t really know what makes the seven… like that,” I said, rubbing the back of my head.

“*Ah, yes,*” she said, a look of recognition crossing her face. “*None of us is really sure why those seven were selected to be patrons. It happened so long ago.*”

I’d have to ask Lugia about it at some point. Maybe it knew more, since it was a patron itself. Although if Mew didn’t even know, then…

“*Even though I’m not a patron, I want to do my part,*” Latias said, tapping her claws together. “*I know this place isn’t my home, but Mew’s helped me so much, and I want to return the favor.*”

“Your home region is Hoenn, right?” I asked.

Her feathery ears drooped. “*Yes, but… I’ve not been able to fulfill my duties as a guardian of Hoenn for some time now. Ever since my brother was taken…*” Her voice trailed off.

I frowned. “Your brother?”

She nodded softly, still looking down. “*His name is Latios.*”

A chill fell over me. I’d heard that name before. That was… that was one of the Legendaries that Sebastian had captured.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly, hands clasped. “I can’t pretend to know how you feel but… I was devastated when I heard he’d been captured.”

Latias drew herself back in surprise. “*Did you know my brother?*”

My chest tightened and I glanced away. “No. But I knew the one who captured him. I… trusted him. And he betrayed everything we were fighting for.”

For several seconds, Latias said nothing. Then she held out her arm and said, “*Then he has wronged both of us.*”

I blinked. Then I slowly held out my hand, and she placed her claws against my palm.

A knock sounded from the door. Latias instantly went invisible. Mew dropped to the floor, fur shifting from pink to lavender, ears growing, tail splitting, until she stood there in her usual Espeon guise.

Ajia stood up and went to answer the door, opening it a crack and glancing through. I craned my neck to see through it and caught a glimpse of Ajia’s ranger friend Kari standing on the other side.

“We’ve got two kids out front asking for Jade. Friends of yours, I assume?” Kari asked. Ajia glanced back at me for confirmation.

I nodded. “Probably my friends, yeah. I’ll be right out.” I waited until Kari left before adding, “Rudy and Darren. They were both on the rebel team with me; they should know what’s going on.”

“Alright, go ahead and tell them,” Ajia said, holding the door open for me.

I exited the lounge and made my way back to the front entrance, which was now a lot more open than earlier, what with most of the rangers having taken off for Indigo by now. Out front was where I saw them: Darren sitting at the bottom of the entry steps, picking at chipped paint on the handrail while Rudy stormed about the parking lot, kicking at loose gravel.

Darren perked up when he saw me coming and gave a small wave. “Hey, good to see you’re alright. I know bad stuff always tends to happen when you get separated from us.”

I rubbed the back of my head as I sat down next to him. “I wouldn’t say always…” But no, he was right. This really did keep happening. I found my gaze sliding over to Rudy, unsure if I should say something or just leave him to his own devices.

“This is such BS,” he muttered. He was pacing, fists swinging at his side, eyes staring at the ground with such intensity that it looked like he was trying to set it on fire. “They’re gonna have to put the League on hold. Who knows when it’ll be back up? If ever!” He gave a particularly hard kick that scattered a wave of gravel through the air.

I tapped my fingers together, glancing away. I had no idea whether or not he wanted me to comment, but saying anything felt too awkward, so I stayed silent.

“I was gonna make the top cut, I know it,” he said, clenching his hands in front of his face. “Only eight trainers went 4-0, and the girl I lost to was one of ‘em, so losing to her didn’t hurt my score much.” He glanced back and forth between me and Darren, clearly upset that neither of us had said anything. Then he pointed a finger at Darren and yelled, “You were probably gonna make it too! Doesn’t that bother you?”

Darren looked awkwardly at me. “Well yeah, but I’m a little more bothered by the brainwashed Legendary terrorizing everyone. Just saying.”

Rudy took a step back, clenching his teeth. “That’s not... I mean yeah, of course I care about that, it’s just…”

I couldn’t really blame him for not focusing on Moltres. It was obvious he was stressed out by everything, and focusing on the tournament was just the easiest outlet.

My ears caught Starr’s voice behind me, and I turned to see that she was in the entryway. Ajia was there too. And from the sounds of it, the two of them were arguing about something.

Darren glanced back and forth between me and Starr a few times, furrowing his brow like he was trying to figure something out. Then he gestured for me to lean closer and held a hand to the side of his mouth, whispering, “Yeahhh sooo… when were you gonna tell us that you’ve been hanging out with a Rocket executive?”

My stomach dropped through the ground. “She’s not on Team Rocket anymore.”

He gave me a look like I’d just said something totally obvious. “Well yeah, I figured it had to be something like that, but… still would’ve liked an update.”

“Hey, come on, it wasn’t really my place to go giving out her secret to everyone,” I said.

He chuckled. “Alright, that’s fair,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Is it alright if I ask what the situation is?”

I threw a glance back at Ajia and Starr. “We’re still working on a plan.”

Darren paused, mulling something over in his mind. “Well, I guess let us know once you’ve got it figured out.”

I opened my mouth to reply, but then paused, squinting at him. He’d already pieced together that I was going to be heading back to Indigo, hadn’t he?

“I wasn’t implying that you had to come with me,” I said, slightly unnerved by his tone.

Darren gave me a look. “You do realize we got the same training as you, right?”

“I know that, but there’s nothing forcing you to be a part of it.”

“Who’s forcing you?” he said with a bit of a smirk.

I put a hand to my forehead. “No one, I just…”

“What are you guys talking about?” Rudy piped up all of a sudden, as if he’d only just noticed we were talking without him.

Darren stood up. “Jade’s going back to Indigo,” he said matter-of-factly, before I could give him the motion to shush.

Rudy gave me an incredulous glare. I sighed heavily before standing up as well. “We’re gonna try to free Moltres.”

In an instant, his annoyed and frustrated air just vanished. He stared wordlessly for several seconds before turning away sharply, fists clenched. A wave of guilt crashed over me. Before today, the last time he’d seen Moltres was the night that everything went bad. The last thing I wanted was to reopen those old wounds.

“I want to help.”

I jolted. His words were cold and quiet in a way that was very unlike him.

“What?” I said blankly.

Rudy spun around suddenly, fixing me with a serious look. “I don’t want any crap like this happening again, got it?” he said, jabbing a finger toward me. “If we free Moltres, that’ll put a stop to it, right?”

That was… a bit of a simplified view of the situation. The Rockets had other Legendaries. They were still a threat, even without Moltres. But still… dull images of that night kept drifting to the surface of my thoughts. If we could put a stop to that, even in one small way… it was worthwhile. But I already knew why it was important. That didn’t change that they didn’t need to be involved.

Darren seemed to notice my hesitation. “We know what it’s like to fight Rockets. In a way that other people don’t. They shouldn’t have to go through that,” he said distantly, a strange sadness in his eyes.

“And if it’ll get the tournament back on faster, then all the better,” Rudy added quickly. From the look in his eyes, it was obvious he knew that the tournament was toast. But it was an easy excuse.

I gave a weak smile. “Yeah. That’s also true.”

He folded his arms, looking satisfied. “Besides, you were gonna go back there anyway, yeah?”

“Well… yes.” But that was only because I was working with the Legendaries. They didn’t have that luxury.

“Then it’s safer if we stick together,” he said, like nothing was more obvious. “We gotta watch each other’s backs.” I couldn’t really argue with that.

Without warning, Rudy stomped over with the same intensity that he’d been storming about earlier. And then he threw an arm around Darren’s and my shoulders, which was a little awkward since he was the shortest out of us (what with Darren rapidly approaching my height).

“The three of us, we’re partners, got it?” Rudy said forcefully.

“Where’s this coming from?” Darren asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Got it??”

“I got it, I got it!” I said, pulling myself free before I could lose my balance.

Rudy stepped back, nodding sharply with a stern expression, like he’d sure showed us.

Darren massaged his shoulder and said, “Let us know when you’re heading out, mkay?”

It took me a second to realize that line was directed at me. “Right,” I said with a nod. Then I turned and walked back up the wooden stairs behind us.

Inside the ranger station entryway, Ajia and Starr were still discussing something, and it didn’t seem like a particularly pleasant conversation. Ajia glanced up as I neared, looking grateful that I had arrived right at that moment.

“Hey, so I’ve got a couple more things to figure out before we leave,” she said, her tone falsely cheerful. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

It was pretty obvious that she was admitting defeat as far as Starr was concerned, and was hoping that I’d be able to talk her down. But of course, I didn’t point that out. I just said, “Sure, see you in a bit,” as she took that opportunity to conveniently go find someone else to talk to. Which just left me and Starr again. And now I had to explain that my plans had taken a total 180 from what I’d been implying earlier. Great. Somehow I hadn’t realized until now that this was likely going to be the most painful part of being chosen.

“So Starr, uh…”

I didn’t want to drag her into it against her will—after all, I’d been angry when I thought Ajia was trying to do that. But I couldn’t just leave her in the dark either. How on earth was I supposed to bring it up?

“It… sounds like Ajia’s gonna be helping out back at Indigo soon.” Because that wasn’t a hopelessly vague statement or anything.

“I heard,” Starr said dryly, leaning against the wall without looking in my direction.

“I don’t… I don’t know how I feel about her going alone,” I said slowly, fidgeting a bit. “She could probably use our help.”

Starr folded her arms, brow furrowing. “I don’t want anything to do with any of this bullshit.”

I bit my tongue. Couldn’t tell her I’d been chosen. Had to find some way around it. “Yeah, but… it’s gonna be our problem whether we like it or not, isn’t it?”

I was starting to understand what Ajia had gone through. Even though she hadn’t been banking on Sebastian revealing her role to us back then… there was probably a part of her that had been secretly glad that he did. Because this was agonizing.

Starr squinted at me disapprovingly. “Why are you suddenly so determined to be a part of this? What changed in the last hour?”

Oh crap. She was more perceptive than I gave her credit for.

“I… nothing changed.” Augh, this was torture.

“Is this Ajia’s fault?”

“No!” I exclaimed. “She didn’t try to drag me into anything.”

“Oh good, so you’re just willingly throwing yourself into traffic. That’s great.”

I didn’t want to dignify that with a response. But at the same time, I couldn’t help noticing the pain hiding behind the anger in her voice. Not even an hour ago, I’d tried to reassure her that I wasn’t going to put myself in danger, and now I was completely turning my back on that. Ajia, Starr, the Legendaries, my team… there wasn’t any way to make them all happy.

Starr wasn’t looking at me. She was still leaning against the wall, staring out the window at the trees. She let out a frustrated sigh. “I need a moment. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone, got it?”

“I…” I started, but she had already walked past me and gone out the door.

‘Don’t do anything stupid’? I couldn’t remotely guarantee that. And it wasn’t like I could just tell Mew and Lugia, ‘sorry I can’t help, my friend told me not to.’

I let out a groan and sank back against the wall, sliding down it until I was sitting on the floor with my arms clasped around my knees. At this rate, our best option would just be to leave for Indigo without telling Starr and hope that everything went well enough that there wouldn’t be any cause for alarm when we got back. Or something. That idea felt kind of dishonest, but I couldn’t think of anything better at this point.

I sat there for a few minutes, chin resting on my knees, trying to force my brain to think about anything else. Was my team was healed yet? I kind of wanted to talk to them—Swift in particular. And I’d have to let them all know what was up before we went back to Indigo anyway.

I sat up straighter, glancing around the lobby. There weren’t any rangers near the healing station, but there had to be someone still onsite who knew how to use it. After all, the Pokémon returning from the emergency site would need healing, right?

I had just gotten up to go check (maybe my Pokéballs had been removed from the machine and were just sitting behind the counter or something) when—

“Hey Jade!”

I turned to see Ajia peeking out from around the corner of a door that opened into the hallway. I tilted my head at her, nonplussed, but she just gestured for me to come over. So I shrugged and walked over, rounding the corner to see her standing with Kari inside a meeting room of some sort, featuring a dozen or so empty office chairs around a circular table. Kari shut the door behind us and Ajia kneeled in one of the office chairs, folding her arms across its back.

“Sorry about earlier,” Ajia said, rotating the chair so its back was facing me. “I tried to break the news easy, but… you know Starr.”

I nodded in response as I sat down, not really too keen to think about it. “So, uh, what’s this meeting about?” I said, gesturing to the room.

“Just finalizing our plan,” Ajia said to me. She then rotated her chair around to face Kari, who was currently leaning back against the door, reading something on her phone. “What’s the status back at Indigo?”

Kari glanced up from the phone. “City’s been mostly evacuated; the Elite Four and the rangers are helping defend people ‘round the outer edge of the tourney site. If there was ever an opportunity for you guys to make your move, this is it,” she said in a strangely matter-of-fact tone. Like this was business as usual.

“Wait, wait,” I said, putting a hand to my temple, trying to gather my thoughts. “How much does the Ranger Union know about the situation? Do they know that Moltres is being controlled?” I asked.

Kari folded her arms. “We’d had our suspicions. But we didn’t have any proof until Ajia told us about the Rockets. She also said you guys are looking to free Moltres.”

I shot an incredulous glance at Ajia. She’d been willing to just say that upfront?

“If you ask me,” Kari went on, “I find it pretty hard to believe that the other guardians are gonna take this lying down. From what I saw of the Viridian attack, there were at least four of ‘em there. Shouldn’t this be left to them?”

The Viridian attack. It was so surreal remembering that everyone knew about that. It wasn’t just some secret known only to the people who’d gotten mixed up with Team Rocket. It wasn’t like Raikou being targeted alone in the middle of the forest in the dead of night—everyone had seen it happen.

“If any other Legendaries show up, they’ll just be targets,” Ajia pointed out. “There’s no way the Rockets would pass up that opportunity. Especially not with the tourney site deserted and no witnesses around.”

Kari put her hands on her hips, giving Ajia an impatient look. “So what exactly are you lookin’ to do?”

The slightest trace of a devious grin crossed her face. “We’re going to distract the Rockets when the other Legendaries confront Moltres.”

And there it was. Now it was starting to make sense. Ajia had revealed just enough about the Rockets to get the support of the rangers while keeping our alliance with the Legendaries under wraps.

“So now you’re banking on them showing up,” Kari said with a bit of a smirk.

“Hey, you just said you didn’t expect them to take it lying down,” Ajia countered.

Kari paused, looking reluctantly impressed. “Fair enough. You do your thing, the rest of us will do our part to protect everyone from the collateral damage. Cuz’ judging from the attack on Viridian… there’s gonna be a lot of it.”

A chill fell over me. My mind drifted back to the rangers’ attempts to keep everyone safe while the Legendary battle raged on in the skies over Viridian.

“Is… is everyone gonna be okay?” I found myself asking.

Kari gave me a deadpan stare, and I couldn’t help feeling like I’d just said something unbelievably naïve. “It’s the Ranger Union,” she said flatly. “We’re not afraid to step up to protect people from raging Pokémon. Legendary or not.”

I winced. Right. Had to remind myself, it wasn’t like they weren’t used to dealing with disasters. Still, I liked it better when it was just us against Team Rocket and no one else.

“So you passed on the message, right?” Ajia asked.

Kari had gone back to tapping on her phone. “Yeh. Just got the reply from my squad leader. She’s gonna let the cops and the Elite Four know to keep an eye out for suspicious folks ‘round the tourney site.” So we’d have their support as well. Granted, this also meant we’d have to stay out of their way.

“Speaking of the squad leader, I need to get out on the field before she kills me,” Kari said dryly, stepping back from the door before opening it. Ajia stood up quickly and followed her out, and did the same.

“Nothing we said leaves that room, okay?” Ajia said as the three of us walked down the hallway. “I know the Ranger Union won’t approve of us getting involved.”

Kari gave an exaggerated sigh, tilting her head back to give Ajia a sideways glance. “Look, don’t blame us, we’re supposed to protect everyone alright? Letting a buncha random trainers into an emergency zone is a little counterproductive. And yes, I know you’ve got history with the Rockets, I know you’ve all fought them before, yada yada. That don’t make it any better.” She pocketed her phone and gave Ajia a serious look. “So I’m not gonna tell the higher-ups about what you’re up to, but please just keep whatever you’re doing under control, alright?”

Under control. Somehow I already doubted that we could promise that.

Ajia just winked. “Trust me.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We had our plan, we had the Legendaries on our side, there was no sense wasting any time. Moltres wouldn’t be hanging around Indigo forever. It was time to make our move.

I retrieved Chibi, Aros, and Swift from the heal station. I was going to let the three out to talk to them. But then on second thought, it would probably be best to let my whole team know about the plan at the same time. So I found a good spot alone near the trees surrounding the ranger station and let all six of my Pokémon out of their Pokéballs at once.

Aros was still a little bit mangled—his wounds had hastily closed up with raw skin, which was the best that could be done with such a short heal. It would take an overnight treatment for him to fully recover. His energy levels seemed normal at least—antennae twitching with the usual alertness.

“You guys doing okay?” I asked.

Swift nodded with relief, while Aros gave a dismissive huff that generally meant he was upset about something, but that it could wait until he was ready to talk about it.

Chibi glanced around warily. “*We had to retreat?*” I couldn’t help noticing his use of ‘retreat’ as opposed to ‘escape.’ An obvious implication that he expected us to go back. Still, I nodded.

Jet tilted her head. “*Why? What happened?*” That’s right—she hadn’t been out at all since before the attack. Then again, neither had Firestorm or Stygian. The Charizard frowned, his brow creasing with concern as he realized that something had happened, and that he’d missed it. But the Absol was glancing back and forth between me and Aros, eyes narrowed suspiciously.

Without much of an alternative, I launched into an abridged retelling of everything that had happened this afternoon. From the attack on Indigo, to the fight with the Rockets. From our escape to the ranger base to our upcoming plan to return and free Moltres. Swift and Chibi already knew most of it, although the latter nodded approvingly when I got to the part where he’d managed to knock Moltres down. Firestorm’s face fell progressively as the story went on. And through it all, Jet looked… worryingly unconcerned.

“*I don’t really see the problem,*” Aros spoke up loudly. “*Doesn’t this just mean we’re gonna get the chance to fight those two Rockets again?*”

Well, I was glad to see that he wasn’t shaken up by being utterly thrashed two hours ago, but still. “I mean… yes, but this isn’t exactly the sort of thing we should be happy about, and I don’t get why you’re so pleased.”

Aros turned away with a look of indifference that was obviously fake. Stygian squinted at him suspiciously before giving me a sideways glance. Then her gaze slid back to Aros and she said, “*You, me. In private. Now.*”

Aros groaned, but then she thwacked his leg with her paw before taking a few steps in that direction, roughly gesturing for him to follow her. I watched them wander off toward the trees, confused, but knowing well enough not to get involved.

Instead, I opted to focus my attention on Jet. “So, what about you?”

The otter tilted her head. “*What about me?*”

I shoved my hands in my pockets. “This Rocket business is new to you. I want to know how you feel about it.”

“*It’s great,*” she said brightly, and my heart sank through the ground.

“It’s… really not,” I said, a little more flatly than I intended.

Her face fell. Confused, the Floatzel glanced around at her teammates. “*I just wanna be a hero like you guys.*”

Swift gave her a sympathetic half-smile, like he wasn’t sure how to tell her that there was nothing heroic about it at all. Firestorm stared downward, looking troubled.

“I… that’s not…” I put a hand to my face, struggling to find the right words. “Look, I know the rebel stories sound, well… cool. But it’s not cool living them. I hope I haven’t made it sound like that, cause it’s really, really not.”

“*You saved legendaries. And you weren’t even that strong when you did,*” Jet pointed out like she was stating the obvious. “*I’m strong. I could help.*” The hopeful look on her face was heartbreaking.

“We could die,” I said, my voice dead serious.

But the Floatzel just stuck her nose in the air and said, “*We’ve gotten outta tough scrapes before.*”

“That’s—that’s not the same.”

She folded her arms, giving me an incredulous glare. “*Well, you were already gonna help Moltres, yeah? So what difference does it make?*”

I opened my mouth to speak, and then froze. “Right, I guess it doesn’t change anything.” Either way we’d be fighting Rockets. What difference did it make whether we all had the right mindset or not.

“*If you’re not going to tell her, then I am,*” Stygian’s voice suddenly rang out, loud enough for me to hear her. I turned to see the Absol trotting back to us, looking rather disgruntled.

“*Don’t,*” Aros called after her, but she ignored him.

Stygian came to a stop once she reached us, fixing her gaze square on me. “*That Rocket you fought. Her Flygon is his original.*”

I tilted my head. “What?”

“*His original,*” the Absol repeated with deliberate emphasis, like I’d somehow misheard her as opposed to just not knowing what that was supposed to mean.

I stared blankly at her. His original what? She still wasn’t saying what—hang on. ‘Original’ wasn’t marked as a descriptor in her words—it was an object. His original.

“That’s the Flygon he was cloned from?” I asked, gaping at her.

“*Yes. That’s what I said,*” Stygian said in the tone of someone explaining something obvious to a child. Aros had begun plodding back over to the rest of us, looking equally disgruntled.

That’s why you blew us off in that last fight?” I asked incredulously, snapping my head in his direction. “Settling some kind of grudge match?”

The Flygon turned his back to me. “*I wouldn’t expect you to understand,*” he muttered, sounding genuinely hurt by my dismissive tone.

I stared blankly. “Do you want to explain?”

No reply. Of course not.

I ran a hand down the back of my head. “I guess… it’s obvious that it’s important to you, so I won’t say anything bad about it,” I said, trying to keep the frustration out of my voice. “But seriously though, you can’t just bail on the rest of us in the middle of a fight.” Ignoring orders from me was one thing, but he’d put Chibi in harm’s way and completely screwed up our ability to strategize versus the Rockets.

“*What’s it to you?*” Aros asked, still not facing any of us.

“*If we’re fighting side-by-side, that means we’re relying on you to support the team,*” Chibi pointed out sharply, glaring at the Flygon.

Aros’s antenna twitched impatiently. “*Alright, I got it,*” he said, smacking the ground with his tail fan. “*Is that everything?*”

No, I still had plenty more I wanted to say. But none of it was necessarily helpful. Especially not heading into a dangerous mission where we couldn’t afford to be too angry at each other. I could only hope that Chibi would rein him in if he went off the rails again.

“*Why is this fight your problem?*” Stygian asked all of a sudden.

I tilted my head at her. “Huh?”

The Absol’s ruby-red eyes bored into me. “*You’ve been talking about this mission like you don’t have a choice in it. Why?*”

Ugh, was I just that bad at keep secrets? Then again... I couldn’t really think of any reason not to tell my team. Sure, Lugia hadn’t specified whether “not telling anyone” meant human, Pokémon, or both, but given the options, it clearly trusted humans the least. And wouldn’t I need my team’s support if I was going to protect Lugia anyway?

…Ah, screw it.

“Because I was chosen by a Legendary Pokémon.”

Now that got a heavy silence out of everyone. All six of them stared at me, varying degrees shock, awe, and disturbed fascination crossing their faces.

“*What,*” Stygian said, her voice a total deadpan.

“*What does that mean?*” Chibi asked, fixing me with a serious look.

I took a deep breath, searching for the right words. “You know how Ajia’s partnered up with Mew? Well… it’s like that, but with me and Lugia.”

A sudden look of recognition crossed Swift’s features. Chibi blinked, staring off into the distance with intense contemplation. Firestorm, Aros, and Stygian still looked a bit skeptical.

“Look. All this stuff happening with Team Rocket and the Legendaries. It’s big. A lot bigger than any of us could have imagined. And if it isn’t stopped, it’ll turn into all-out war. That’s why they’re recruiting humans to help them.”

None of them really knew what to say to that.

Swift was staring downward, considering something carefully. Finally, he looked up and said, “*You’re referring to the writings on Midnight Island?*”

Aros turned to face him. “*Eh? You knew about this?*”

Swift ruffled his feathers, embarrassed. “*We didn’t know how much truth there was to it. It could have been a myth and nothing more.*” He paused for a moment, and then looked up at me. “*But I suppose this proves it, does it not?*”

I swallowed hard, nodding. “Yeah.”

Next it was Chibi’s turn to pause heavily before making eye contact. “*You’re in this fight for the long haul now, aren’t you?*” The hybrid’s gaze had softened; he knew how conflicted I had been about rejoining the fight.

I nodded again, and his ears raised slightly. “*Then you’ll have my support.*”

“*Mine as well,*” Swift said, fixing me with a soft, reassuring look.

“*Hell yeah,*” Jet said with an affirmative nod as I tried to ignore the sting in my heart.

“*You already know my answer,*” Aros said in a low voice. Stygian gave the Flygon a sideways glance but then looked back at me and nodded curtly.

Firestorm’s gaze darted between his teammates. “*I dunno what to make of this Legendary stuff, but…*” His eyes held a strange hesitation. “*It sounds important, so I’m with you.*”

I glanced back and forth at all of them, overwhelmed. Even if half of them had their own agendas in mind, that was fine. We’d still be sticking together through this.

I had my friends. I had Lugia. And I had my team. I wasn’t alone.

I couldn’t help smiling. “Thanks everyone.”

With that settled, it was probably time to get going. I grabbed my Pokéballs and recalled my team… all of them except one. I couldn’t explain why, just something told me to keep Firestorm out. The Charizard glanced around upon realizing that he was the only one still out, then tilted his head at me.

I took a deep breath. “Hey, so… is everything alright?”

“*I’m fine,*” he said, confused.

I shoved my hands in my pockets, struggling to make eye contact. “You sure? Cause you looked like you had something to say. And I thought maybe it would be easier if it was just the two of us.”

Firestorm glanced away, chuckling ironically under his breath.

“Hey, come on. What’s up?” I asked him.

The Charizard looked back at me, then let out a deep sigh. “*This is just like old times, isn’t it?*”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He was silent for a while, mulling over what to say. “*I thought it had been long enough that we’d never have to go back to that life. Maybe that was naïve.*”

Oh. That’s what was troubling him.

I folded my arms behind my head, staring upward. “Maybe it was, but I believed it too.”

“*I don’t want things to go back to the way they used to be,*” Firestorm said, tail curling around himself. He paused and then added, “*I don’t want to go back to the way that I used to be.*”

I blinked, taken aback. “Hey, hey. That wasn’t who you are, alright? You’d just evolved, it was a crazy stressful situation, and you lost control.”

“*That doesn’t make it less real,*” he said, closing his eyes.

I sighed. “No. But it doesn’t have to define who you are. And the fact that it’s affecting you like this… I don’t know, doesn’t that prove that you won’t turn into that so easily?”

Firestorm rested his claws on his belly, nodding softly with a contemplative look.

I shuffled a foot against the dirt. “If you’re scared, I don’t have to send you out when we—”

“*No, that won’t help,*” he cut in, shaking his head vigorously. “*I don’t want to feel like I’m hiding from it. And… this is important. We’re all on the same team, yeah?*”

All of us were a team. And that meant doing anything we could to support each other. I took a few slow steps forward and rested a hand on the Charizard’s shoulder.

“Hey. It’s gonna be okay. I’ll help you through this.”

The corners of his mouth turned up slightly. “*I’m supposed to be the one to help you.*”

I smirked. “Hey. None of that.”

Firestorm chuckled. “*Hah… sorry…*” He shook his head and then straightened himself upright,

“Ready to go?” I asked, holding out a fist.

His gaze sharpened, some of the fire back in his eyes. “*Yeah.*” he said, tapping his own fist against mine.

I grinned. “Alright.” And with that, I recalled Firestorm and took a moment to let it all sink in, alone. My first mission as Lugia’s chosen, right before me. No looking back. Only moving forward.

And then, without warning, I felt an uncomfortable prodding at the back of my mind. Trying to ignore it, or focus on anything else only made it flare up twice as much. It was something related to Lugia. Something I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten to say something to it? No, that wasn’t quite right. More like… I was supposed to be paying attention to it. Yes, that was it.

But how? It wasn’t exactly here. Or was it? I threw a hurried glance upward, halfway expecting to see the dragon-bird soaring overhead.

No, not like that. Like this.

Like what? This.

I grabbed my head. What on earth was going on? It was like my mind kept flitting back and forth at random, and I couldn’t control its focus at all. One moment I’d be thinking one thing, and then out of nowhere it would fly off to something completely different.

Here. Lugia was here. And I still wasn’t paying attention.

What the heck did that mean?

Pay attention dammit!


I froze, blinking. “Lugia? Is that you?” I whispered.

Yes. Obviously. The idea was laced with a thick air of irritation.

“What… the heck is going on?” I muttered under my breath as I slumped against a nearby tree, struggling to process this weirdness.

<I told you we’d have a psychic link, didn’t I?> the Legendary said, and finally, finally I was ready for it, able to distinguish its words from my own thoughts at last.

“I… guess so,” I said distantly, still weirded out by the idea of its thoughts acting like my own. “But… I’ve heard telepathy plenty of times and it was never anything like this.” Telepathy felt like a psychic was broadcasting its thoughts. Like a signal, just one that was picked up by the mind instead of the ears. But this? This literally just felt like having Lugia’s thoughts come from inside my head. It was weird and alien and I didn’t like it one bit.

A strange hesitation drifted from Lugia’s thoughts. <Well, you’re right that this isn’t strictly telepathy, but there shouldn’t be any functional difference.>

I blinked. “Wait, it’s not? Then what is it?”

<I don’t know, but—>

“How can you not know?”

<You think I know everything?> came the Legendary’s irritated reply.

I wanted to say that it sure acted like it did, but that didn’t seem smart. Thankfully, Lugia either didn’t notice that thought or didn’t comment on it.

<Also, you really shouldn’t say things out loud when we’re communicating like this,> Lugia went on. <Just direct your thoughts toward me.>

I furrowed my brow. “I don’t really know how to do that. Saying words makes it easier to focus.”

<Try it now.>

I sighed. Alright. I didn’t want to, but this was kind of important, especially if I needed to communicate privately without giving away our connection. So I willed my thoughts to focus on the idea of Lugia as hard as I could.

Can you… hear me?

<Close,> it said. <I can feel a sort of… intent from you, but it’s not specific enough to get words. Focus on my presence. Feel it. Direct your thoughts toward it.>

I closed my eyes and plugged my ears, trying to block out all other senses. I could feel my heart beating—faster than usual, but gradually slowing. But I shoved that feeling to the side, retreating into my own head, ignoring everything else. Just my thoughts. Not the forest, not the mission, nothing. Just my thoughts.

And then… then there was something there. Like a thought that was just out of reach, hovering on the tip of my tongue but stuck in my subconscious. My mind kept slipping past it, but I willed it in that direction, grabbing at it like a faded memory.

<Lugia?>

<There we go. Loud and clear.>

I opened my eyes, blinking. There it was. That inaccessible chunk of thought suddenly felt alive, distinct and separate from my own, but somehow just as familiar, like it had always been there. Its thoughts were still different somehow, but when I let my focus slip, it was like there was no longer any line between my mind and the legend’s. I could feel it there, this overwhelming, overbearing presence.

<Not bad, the connection feels stable. You’ll still need to direct your conscious thoughts toward me if you want me to hear them—everything else will just feel kind of fuzzy and subconscious—but it shouldn’t take too much effort.>

<Really? So… you can’t just hear all my thoughts?> I asked, a bit more overly hopeful than I intended.

<By focusing on my presence, you’re opening a specific thought to me. Otherwise your mind will just be in the way. I suppose if I really wanted to I could force it aside, but…> It paused, dancing around the idea awkwardly. <Well, that wouldn’t do us any good.>

I bristled. That wasn’t too comforting a thought. Sure, it was nice that I had the option of opening specific thoughts to Lugia, rather than just giving it access to the entire jumbled up internal monologue all the time. But if it really wanted to…? On the positive side, surely I’d be able to feel if the Legendary were prying into other parts of my mind than normal?

<You feel skeptical,> the legend stated. <I understand that we have a long way to go before we’ll be perfectly in sync.> It could say that again. It felt uncomfortable enough having someone else in my head without it being that particular someone. Lugia had said we’d feel each other’s presence. Would it… notice the flood of anxiety that I got just from looking at it? Would it be able to feel the way my pulse shot up? God, I hoped not.

<Anyway…> Lugia went on, <the reason I wanted to speak with you is this: Mew has informed me that you’ll be making the move to free Moltres soon.>

I nodded instinctively before realizing that Lugia couldn’t see it. <Right.>

<We won’t be able to fight side-by-side this time. Not if we don’t want to give away our position to the Rockets.>

My chest tightened. <I know.>

Lugia paused, its mind dancing around the subject. <So… what I’m saying is good luck. I would hate to have to select a new chosen so soon after finding one.>

My stomach curled in on itself. That wasn’t exactly something I wanted to think about.

Lugia’s mind flushed with awkwardness. <That was… a joke. I will see you when this is done.>






~End Chapter 37~

Next Chapter: Lugia and Jade learn to work together, probably.
 
Chapter 38: Counterattack

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
~Chapter 38: Counterattack~


A thick air of tension hung in the air as the four of us—me, Ajia, Rudy, and Darren—flew toward Indigo. I was riding Swift, Rudy had Fearow, and Darren had Skarmory. Mew had transformed into an Aerodactyl, flying alongside Ajia’s own Aerodactyl, no doubt intending to take advantage of that form’s incredible speed.

The idea of four of us going in alone to fight Rockets was completely insane. But I kept having to remind myself that it wasn’t just us. The Legendaries would be joining us, and the Rockets would be way more inclined to pay attention to them. And the rangers already knew to watch out for anyone suspicious at the tournament site and they had the Elite Four backing them up. This was nothing like the old Rebellion missions. Just had to keep telling myself that.

After a while, the trees thinned, and I could see the buildings of Indigo on the horizon. Smoke still billowed upward from the scattered fires Moltres had started around the tournament site. As for Moltres itself, the firebird seemed to be soaring in a wide arc over the whole city. Our group landed on the roof of a building on the western edge of the city, far from its current location.

“So how many Legendaries are going to be helping us?” I asked Ajia.

Ajia folded her arms behind her head. “Well we’ve got Mew, Lugia, and Ho-oh for sure. Mew was working on recruiting a few others, but hasn’t had much luck so far—they’re too concerned that this is a trap.”

“I mean. It pretty much is.”

Ajia chuckled. “Maybe so. But we’ve got a trap of our own. Oh, and Latias isn’t going to fight, she’ll be staying invisible and defending the others.”

That was good. At least, it helped ease the fear that all this mission would accomplish was getting our allies captured. The biggest problem was that we didn’t know how many Rockets were scattered throughout the city. While Lugia and Ho-oh could easily take down Moltres, we had no idea how much danger they’d be in. Which was why we had no choice but to split up, to cover as much ground as possible. We wouldn’t be able to watch each other’s backs like I thought. I really wasn’t too happy about that.

I turned to face Rudy and Darren, giving them both a serious look. “If anything goes wrong, get the hell out and regroup back here, alright?”

“Don’t gotta tell me twice,” Rudy said, face full of determination.

“No worries,” Darren said calmly. “Alakazam can make sure of that.”

I wished I had some of that confidence. But then, Alakazam was the reason Darren had made it off Midnight Island with no casualties. There was no reason not to trust him.

“Good luck,” I said.

Rudy held out a fist, “We got this.” He gave me and Darren a stern look until we returned the fist bump. Then he flashed a thumbs up to Fearow, and the bird spread her wings and took off, swooping down into an alley and out of sight. Darren gave a small wave, and soon he and Skarmory were gone as well.

I turned back toward Ajia and Mew, struggling to think of what to say. Ajia was the one who broke the silence. “See you when we’re done,” she said with a reassuring smile.

I forced a grin. “Yeah.”

Swift took off, and the two of us soared low over the tournament site. Had to keep our eyes out. While Swift focused ahead of us, I constantly turned my head in all directions, scanning for any enemies sneaking up on us. I was not going to let us get caught off guard again. Occasionally Moltres crossed into the airspace overhead, and I held my breath until it passed. We weren’t the target here—had to remember that.

It was now easy to see the squads of rangers taking formation north of the city. And from what Kari had said, the Elite Four had to be among them, ready to strike back if Moltres got too close. There were probably enough Pokémon there that they could take down the legend in an all-out fight. But the idea of actually fighting a Legendary wasn’t exactly high on anyone’s priority list. The fact that we even had a mental idea of how many regular Pokémon it took to bring down a legend… It was something I took for granted, but would register as totally foreign to anyone else.

In any case, couldn’t get distracted. If Moltres was mainly sticking to the northside, then that was where we’d find the Rockets. I pointed this out to Swift, and he took us in that direction. I knew we had to find them, but the back of my mind, I was desperately hoping that we wouldn’t. Each empty street and bare rooftop gave me a small relief, but it could only delay the inevitable.

Suddenly, Swift jerked his head to the left. I followed his gaze and caught a flash of blue between buildings. What was that? The Pidgeot swerved back around to take a closer look. And there he was. The executive who had confronted us during the initial attack—Ender. He was sitting on the back of his Altaria, perched on a low balcony that gave him a good view of the air without putting him in full view. I wordlessly motioned for Swift to land on the roof of the closest building. His flight was softer than Aros or Firestorm’s. Faster than them too. That was why I’d picked him for this mission. But our opponent had the power advantage, so we couldn’t afford to give ourselves away.

Slowly, one talon at a time, Swift stepped closer to the edge of the roof. He craned his neck to look over the edge. Ender hadn’t noticed us. Any second I expected him to snap his eyes in our direction. But no. He was just sitting there. Waiting. Eyes trained on Moltres the entire time. And he was wearing a Master Ball cannon on his arm that hadn’t been there last time.

<Well if we weren’t sure before, we sure are now. Moltres is definitely bait,> I told Lugia.

<Feels rather foolish to swoop right into a known trap like this,> the legend replied.

<Yeah, well… it also feels pretty stupid to pick fights with an executive.>

<We will both follow our foolish courses of action, then.>

Was that a joke? I decided not to think about it.

Our goal wasn’t to fight Ender outright. I knew that much. But my heart still pounded as we waited. The signal would be obvious, I knew that much. Just had to be patient. Couldn’t give away our position yet. Just a little longer…

A bright yellow beam of energy shot out of nowhere, striking Moltres right in its heart. The firebird recoiled backward, screeching in pain. Up from the forest, Lugia burst into the air, spreading its wings to loom high above the plateau. It was a bit weird seeing the dragon-bird out in broad daylight, feathers gleaming stark white as opposed to their silvery sheen under the moonlight.

From the opposite side of the sky, Ho-oh soared into view, wings shimmering with a rainbow sheen, blue flames licking its wings. The two zeroed in on Moltres, circling the smaller bird intently. But Moltres didn’t retaliate. Instead, it folded its wings back and shot toward the ground, soaring low over the buildings. What was it doing? None of the Rockets had approached it, so it must have been acting on orders that it got previously. Orders to avoid any other Legendaries? Why?

Lugia and Ho-oh paused, glancing at each other. I could only guess that they were confused as well. But then it finally hit me. By sticking low to the city, Moltres was forcing Lugia and Ho-oh to fly low to engage. If they stayed too high, the firebird would have more than enough time to dodge their attacks. And the Rockets themselves were all sticking low to the city as well, so it would be easy for them to fire Master Balls from out of sight. Which meant that for any of the free Legendaries to strike back, they’d either have to put themselves in harm’s way, or attack the city. Of all the dirty tactics.

Lugia must have noticed the same thing, because it asked, <Is there any reason we can’t simply destroy them?>

Any reason other than the fact that it was implying callously murdering our enemies? Sure. The resulting destruction was exactly the thing we were trying to avoid. We were not turning this into another Viridian incident.

<Let us fight the Rockets, alright?> I said. <We’ll be more maneuverable closer to the ground, and that way the rest of you can deal with Moltres. You shouldn’t have any trouble with that, right?>

<Fine.>

Had to trust that everything would go according to plan. Couldn’t afford to think about the Legendary fight when I had my own mission to focus on.

Ender hadn’t taken his eyes off the Legendaries the entire time. His arm was trained upward, left hand hovering over the handle, ready to pull back the moment one of the free legends drew too close. He hadn’t so much as glanced in our direction the entire time. It was now or never.

“Open with Tailwind, then go into a Feather Dance,” I whispered.

In one smooth motion, Swift leaped from the rooftop and swooped down between the buildings, flapping his wings so fast that a powerful wind current filled the entire alley. The moment that was done, he switched to a light, fluttering motion, scattering countless downy feathers into the air around our opponents. Tailwind would give us the speed edge while also throwing off Ender’s cannon fire. Feather Dance would dull Altaria’s attacks, at least some of them.

Ender stared back at us with an amused look on his face. “Interesting timing,” he said, glancing between me and the Legendary battle raging overhead. “Alright, I daresay it’s time to escalate things.” He tapped something into a wrist communicator. I held my breath. But he didn’t move from that spot. He just went back to aiming at the Legendaries while Altaria kept a single eye trained on us.

I felt a prickle of anger well up inside me. Did he seriously think we were afraid to attack him? Or was he just that unconcerned with our presence?

“Air Slash!” I yelled.

Swift snapped his wings forward, glowing blades of wind already trailing from the tips, shooting toward our opponents. Altaria waited until the last second to raise a Protect, deflecting the blades away harmlessly.

Ender slowly turned toward us, raising an eyebrow. “Playing hardball this time. Alright.”

And then way the hell faster than it had any right to be, Altaria dove from the balcony and shot toward us. I pointed down, and Swift didn’t waste a second swooping under it and taking off in the opposite direction. We shot down the street, the wind following us and pushing us forward, most likely the only thing keeping us ahead of him. Swift kept his eyes firmly on the road ahead of us. Mine were free to wander. Just how close was he…?

A window ahead of us suddenly exploded with dragonfire, raining shards of glass down from above. I buried my face in Swift’s feathers and tried my hardest to ignore the slivers of pain crossing my arms. I’d felt worse. Had to stay one step ahead of him. If he was chasing us, he wasn’t firing at the Legendaries. Just had to stay one step ahead. This was what we’d trained for. I could handle this.

A shadow passed by overhead. I glanced up, expecting one of the Legendaries, but it was a Rocket I didn’t recognize, riding on the back of a Charizard, currently aiming a Master Ball cannon at a target I couldn’t see. Could I stop her? But Ender was right behind us, we’d be sitting ducks. I could let out Firestorm, have him target the other—no. No, staying on the run was safer than starting a head-to-head melee, I’d learned that much. It would probably be fine.

Wait. Through a gap between buildings, I suddenly got a much better view of the Legendaries, and they were a lot closer than I’d realized. Moltres was pinned to the ground, thrashing about wildly in the middle of what looked like a battle park. Ho-oh was perched on its back, talons digging into the smaller firebird’s wings while Lugia fired concussive pulses of psychic energy.

Dammit, they weren’t paying attention and the Rockets were closing in!

Time slowed. A crack split the air, my eyes caught the flash of movement, the Master Ball, its target unaware. In my mind I saw it hit, saw that flash of red from the time I’d fired a ball just like it, heard Lugia’s horrified scream and then—

A brightly glowing ball of mist deflected it at the last second, shot from thin air. I gaped at it in disbelief. And then a huge wave of relief crashed over me so hard that I almost lost my grip on Swift. Latias—Latias had saved them from certain capture.

And then out of nowhere, Lugia’s voice stormed to the front of my thoughts and yelled, <Warn me next time!>

<Sorry, I’m still getting used to this!> I replied. I’d seen it happen, I could have said something, I should have said something. I’d just completely forgotten that was even an option. But that was the entire reason we had Latias playing defense, right?

A spear of irritation pierced my thoughts like a burning hot iron, and I only barely stopped myself from grabbing my head. Geez, Lugia’s emotions were stronger than I thought. I’d known that I’d be able to feel them, but man this was distracting.

“*Are you alright?*” Swift asked, tilting his head to look back at me.

“I’m fine, just keep moving,” I managed breathlessly. We couldn’t afford to stop. Not while we were still being followed by—

I whirled around. Ender was gone. He was gone. The whole point of this was to keep him distracted. Of course he’d known that. Why the hell had I taken my eyes off him?

“Hold up,” I said, pulling back slightly. Swift flared his wings out to slow our flight before making a U-turn back down the street.

Dammit. I’d let Lugia distract me, and then I’d lost Ender. We had to find him, and fast. Letting an executive get free shots at the Legendaries was not an option here.

Movement. Something glinting in my peripheral vision. Flames.

“Look out!” I screamed.

Swift turned his head and raised a barrier just in time for a raging ball of pink fire to crash into it, scattering a wave of sparkling flares. What the hell was that? The fireball kept struggling against the barrier without dissipating, almost as if it were alive. Wait… it was. Altaria was inside the fireball, face contorted with vicious fury. Ender wasn’t on its back. I glanced around hurriedly, but he was nowhere to be seen.

The Protect flickered. Another second and we’d be toast. Had to do something, and fast.

“Through that doorway!” I yelled, voice cracking. Swift dropped the barrier and pointed his wings back, plunging toward the ground like a bullet and pulling up at the last second to shoot clean through the opening, immediately braking to avoid hitting the opposite wall. We turned around just as the doorway exploded into splinters. I shielded my face with my arms, squinting at the frenzied ball of magenta dragonfire currently shredding the entrance. Swift took a few hesitant steps backward before darting behind the nearest support column. Altaria charged, tearing through the column like butter, and then the ceiling gave way.

Swift jumped back, turning away from the falling debris, flaring his wings to keep me shielded. I flattened myself against his back, burying my face in his feathers yet again, dull pain assaulting my back with each chunk that hit me. Finally, it seemed to have settled. I cautiously opened one eye to take in the surrounding. The two of us had landed in a crumpled heap, covered by snapped boards and chunks of plaster, a fine mist of dust saturating the air. I coughed hard and breathed in too deep, which only succeeded in filling my lungs with more dust. Ugh. Had to get out of here.

A violent screech jerked my attention back to our opponent. In the doorway, Altaria stood twitching, body still raging with pink flames. We couldn’t use Protect. Not enough time had passed. Couldn’t make it out of the room in one piece. No other exits. Only a second to act.

“Sand Attack!” I blurted out.

Swift swept his wings forward, and a wave of plaster splattered into the dragon-bird’s face. Altaria staggered back with a cough, squinting at us through the dust. And in that split second, Swift flattened himself to the ground right before the dragonfire flared up and Altaria launched itself clear into the opposite wall, tearing right through and landing in another room.

Rubble was still raining down from the second floor over the entrance, and the hole was now mostly blocked. Had to make our own exit, then.

I whirled around and ordered, “Air Slash!”

Swift shook himself free from the rubble, then swung a glowing wingtip forward, unleashing a flurry of blades at a nearby window. Glass shattered, then a gust of wind swept the shards away. The Pidgeot leaped through the opening and launched into the air, beating his wings to take us away from there as fast as possible.

Except… we weren’t trying to escape. We needed to stay close by. Even if my every instinct was screaming to just ignore Ender and his Altaria and go find the others.

“Hold up, we don’t want to lose them,” I said. Swift responded by pivoting around in midair and landing on the roof of the building nearest the one we had just escaped from. This would give us a decent view of both exits, and then we’d be able to follow Altaria, hopefully to its trainer.

Except nothing happened. I furrowed my brow, staring even harder. It had been at least a minute by now. Where was Altaria? It wasn’t trying to find us? And where was Ender, for that matter? If he wasn’t on its back when it raged out, then where the hell had he gone?

I pointed downward wordlessly, and Swift glided down from the rooftop, landing in the middle of the street. I kept a tight grip as he cautiously stepped forward to peek through the crumbled doorway. But there was no sign of Altaria anywhere inside.

“Where did they…?”

Out of nowhere, a sudden needle of anxiety pierced my head. Every muscle in my body clenched tightly as I was hit with the overwhelming feeling that this was very not okay, despite having no idea why or how or what was—

Wait. Wait wait wait, this feeling wasn’t mine.

<What happened?!> I asked Lugia.

<Ho-oh was hit. Latias was able to destroy the ball before they could recover it, though,> it replied, a slight tremble to its voice.

I let out a deep sigh of relief. The last thing we needed was to have to rescue another Legendary on this mission. Part of me wanted to tell Lugia just how distracting its emotions were, although I already knew that the response would be less than pleasant. It was my problem. I had to get used to it.

“C’mon, let’s keep moving,” I said to Swift. With a few flaps, the two of us were airborne once again.

Maybe it would be better to stick closer to the Legendaries. After all, that was where the Rockets were most likely to be. Just being in the general vicinity would hardly give away the fact that we were straight-up working with the legends.

I pointed down a street that I was pretty sure led back to the park where the Legendaries were fighting. If the violent screeching and explosive blasts coming from that direction were anything to go off. That was when I spotted her. The female executive from before. Raven, was her name? She was riding the same Flygon as last time—the one that had soundly defeated Aros, this time wearing a blue and white scarf. Why did I have to keep running into all the Executives? Why couldn’t Ajia? Or Mew? Anyone who would stand a better chance than me.

I could try to locate Ender once again. Or I could deal with the executive in front of me who currently didn’t have any opponents. I didn’t get a chance to make that decision before she spotted us though.

“Back for more?” she just said. Then in a flash, she opened an array of Pokéballs. I caught sight of a large, black bird, then some kind of brown blur ducking behind an abandoned vendor stall, then a violet shadow tracing a path down the walls of the nearest building.

Oh hell, she wasn’t playing around. No way was I going through the same crap as last time. I let out both Firestorm and Aros, then let Chibi out onto Aros’s back so he could freely abuse his lightning. The hybrid didn’t waste any time charging up a Thunderbolt to fire at Raven, but her Flygon avoided it so quickly I could have sworn he’d teleported. Swift put on a burst of speed just as a pulsing wave of darkness shot right at us, fired by the Honchkrow.

“Another Tailwind!” I hissed. The Pidgeot looped back, flapping his wings faster and faster, and the resulting wind current swept through the alley, pushing at our backs and against the executive’s side. Honchkrow narrowed its eyes at us, struggling against the wind.

A shadowy orb shot from nowhere, smacking into one of Aros’s wings. He shook off the blow and glanced around hurriedly, but couldn’t locate his attacker. Chibi muttered something to the bug-dragon, and the latter responded by slamming his tail into the wall, unleashing a shockwave that shook the entire building. A dark shadow fell out of the wall, forming into an implike body with a huge, toothy grin. A Gengar. Its eyes flashed red, and a spear of ghostly energy suddenly pierced its own body, trails of red mist leaking out from the hole. Aros tilted his head in confusion, but then more of the same red mist materialized around him… and zeroed in on Chibi, seeping into his fur. The Pikachu shook his head to clear it before retaliating with a lightning bolt, but Gengar had already phased back inside the wall. Chibi winced, teeth clenched like he was in pain. Wisps of ghostly aura danced around his head.

All this time, Firestorm had been circling Honchkrow, breathing out scorching jets of fire to keep the bird off our tail. Raven and her Flygon were mostly hanging back, a good distance from the rest of the combatants. I wasn’t sure why, but I wasn’t about to question it. The moment they entered the fray, things would get a lot worse.

We couldn’t keep this up for too long. I knew that. Sooner or later, we’d be overpowered. But we just had to keep it up long enough to hold Raven’s attention away from the Legendary battle. Just had to hold out until then. Lugia would give us the all clear and then we could get the hell out of here.

And then a brown blur leaped up from a nearby rooftop, aiming right for us. Swift flared his wings to stall our flight. Too late. Blood splattered through the air. I stared stupidly, feeling my brain short-circuit trying to process it, my breath frozen, my stomach melting. Kabutops. It had slashed him clean across the neck, staining his feathers bright red.

No. No no no! At once, I found my hand flying to my belt, fumbling with his Pokéball. Had to recall him before it was too late. Had to recall him before it was too late. Each second felt like an agonizing eternity as my shaking fingers found the button and pressed it and then recalled Swift in a beam of red.

I’d recalled him in time, right? He’d live, right? He had to. He had to.

Falling. I was falling. I’d just recalled the Pokémon I was riding on. But I had to recall him. I had to, it was the only way he’d make it. He was in stasis now. He had to make it. Still falling, had to do something. But he had to make it. Still falling. But Swift—still falling, had to do something.

“Firestorm!” I yelled.

Barely seconds later, I saw a flash of orange as the Charizard swooped under me and caught me on his back. Immediately afterward, I clung to his neck as he barreled to the right to avoid blades of wind launched by Honchkrow.

“*What happened? Where’s Swift?*”

I buried my face against his neck, clenching my teeth and trying my hardest to banish that image from my mind.

“*Are you okay?*” Firestorm asked.

“I’m fine, just keep flying!”

His neck muscles tensed. It was obvious he wanted answers, but he was holding back from asking them. My every instinct was screaming that we had to flee, or else risk having what happened to Swift happen to more of us, and—

“*Watch out!*” Aros called out. I looked up to see his diving in front of us, the white light of Protect flaring up just seconds before a massive waterspout crashed against it, scattering a cold mist all around us. Holy crap, that was too close. That Hydro Pump would have knocked us out of the air for sure. Then Chibi had to fire a lightning bolt over my shoulder at Gengar, who’d been sneaking up behind us. Then more movement, out of the corner of my eye. A blurry brown shape. Blades flashing. Not again—

“Metal Claw!” I yelled.

Firestorm swung both arms in front of his neck just in time for the blades to bounce against them with a metallic clang. Kabutops sprang back, crouching on a nearby windowsill before leaping at us once more. But this time Firestorm was ready. He tilted a wing, changing our angle so the blades flew right past us. Then he reached out and grabbed the fossil by the leg, swinging it in a wide arc before hurling it straight into the pavement with a crack.

I let out a deep sigh of relief. Then an agonized cry snapped my attention back to Aros, but… but it hadn’t come from him. I stared in horror. Chibi was lying flat on his back, thrashing wildly, purplish flames clinging to his body, eating away at his skin in places.

“What the hell? What’s going on? What is that?!

The red mist. From when Gengar stabbed itself. It didn’t seem to do anything at the time, but it had been stuck to him ever since, hadn’t it? Firestorm flapped his wings hard, attempting to blow out the flames, but they didn’t waver or react at all. Chibi clutched his head, lightning pouring from his body, but it didn’t help.

“*What do we do?!*” Aros cried in between breathing out scattered plumes of dragonfire to keep our attackers at bay.

“I don’t know!” I didn’t know how to help him, I didn’t know what this even was, and there was too much to focus on for me to think of what to do, not when we still had to fight off the executive’s Pokémon and—

Chibi let out one last feeble cry before slipping from Aros’s neck and falling limply through the air. I automatically reached for his Pokéball and recalled him, staring numbly as he dissolved into red energy. Chibi, the most powerful member of the team, out of commission just like that, and I didn’t have the slightest clue how.

And then, without warning, Flygon shot toward us like a bullet. I jerked backward in surprise. Dammit, of course she’d needed to wait until Chibi went down before she could really press the attack. It was too dangerous to get close to us otherwise. That was Raven’s plan all along.

Aros zipped over to hover alongside Firestorm and me, facing outward so neither of us could be attacked from behind. The opposing Flygon circled us so quickly it was hard to follow it with my eyes. Aros lunged, slashing wildly, but hitting nothing but open air. It was too fast. How the hell was it this fast? What the hell was going on?

“Feint Attack!” I yelled, desperate for something to land a hit on them.

Aros glanced back at me with an uncertain look, but then the dark aura flared up around him and he slipped out of view. Seconds later, he reappeared in the other Flygon’s path, swinging his tail straight into its head. It tumbled over in midair, its momentum taking it way off-balance, and Aros didn’t waste a second darting in, his claws lit with dragonfire. He tore several wicked gashes across his original’s tail before it regained itself. The Flygon shot past him once, raking its fiery claws across his back, and before he could pivot around to brace himself for the second hit, it had already swooped underneath.

I flinched the moment it hit. Aros howled in pain, and I cracked one eye open to a gaping wound running the length of his belly, bleeding freely. My hand flew to a Pokéball and I recalled him in a beam of red.

Ugh, maybe that was too hasty. I’d get an earful for it later. It was a nasty wound, but not near as bad as… as what had happened to… No, I couldn’t let it get that bad with any of the others. But now it was just me and Firestorm against her, and somehow I didn’t think we had a shot against just her Flygon, let alone the rest of her team. If we took the fight to the ground, I could let out Jet and Stygian for backup. But then—

<Moltres is down!> Lugia’s voice rang out in my head.

I jolted. It was down? Already? Then again, that shouldn’t have been surprising—having to fight Lugia and Ho-oh at once, there was no way the firebird would be able to keep up.

<We’ll still be nearby in case we’re needed, but we’re backing off just to be safe,> Lugia explained.

<Gotcha,> I replied. No sense risking the Rockets capturing them when we didn’t need to. That also meant that we had absolutely no reason to keep fighting a losing battle against an executive. Time to get the hell out of here. But that Flygon… it would be on us in a second, unless—

“Scary Face!” I called out.

In one smooth motion, Firestorm banked a wing to spin around on the spot, flashing a grotesque snarl at the bug-dragon right behind us. Flygon wasn’t ready for that move and jerked backward with alarm the moment it made eye contact. Its wingbeats slowed, muscles losing their tension, and for a moment it was almost frozen in place, so Firestorm took that opportunity to whirl around and bolt in the opposite direction.

“Give ‘em a Smokescreen too,” I added, and Firestorm breathed out a billowing cloud of thick black smoke in our path. I covered my nose and mouth until it was well behind us. Then the road ended and we emerged into the same battle park where the legends had been fighting previously. I glanced around hurriedly until I spotted it—there, about fifty yards from us, was Moltres, lying prone, wings splayed across the dirt. There was something almost sad about the sight.

Wingbeats caught my ear and my heart stopped, but then my brain caught up—they didn’t sound anything at all like the buzzing of Flygon wings. I turned in all directions to see Aerodactyl approaching us from the right, which meant Ajia—no wait, he didn’t have a rider. It was actually Mew!

“*Stay close by, this is nearly over,*” she said.

Mew folded her wings back and swooped down to land on all fours right next to Moltres. And then she just stood there. Waiting. She could just teleport Moltres away right now, if she wanted to. But that wouldn’t break the mind control, at least not for good. We still needed the Master Ball. She’d be ready the moment anyone tried to recall it; we just had to—

A bright blue jagged beam shot out of nowhere, knocking Mew flying limply backward, frost coating her wings. I turned in the direction it had come from, and—

My stomach plummeted. “What?! Articuno?!”

The ice bird had just soared into view from practically nowhere, its long cobalt wings scattering a fine powder snow throughout the air. Mew shook herself off before launching back into the air, circling Articuno at high speed, breathing out explosive bursts of flame at it nonstop.

<Articuno’s here! We need you!> I exclaimed. <But watch out, the Rockets are still nearby.>

<On it!> Lugia replied.

A red beam glinted in my peripheral vision. I turned to look in its direction and… wait. Moltres was gone! They’d recalled it?!

Dammit! Articuno was just a distraction! Where were the Rockets? Who had recalled it? Where was the Master Ball?! I spun wildly in every direction, eyes struggling to find a focus in a sea of details, from the scarred park, to the roads, to Lugia and Ho-oh reappearing overhead, to—

Suddenly, my eyes snapped to it. A Xatu, down by the ground, clutching a Master Ball in its talons. A white glow formed around it, and my stomach jumped into my throat. It was preparing to teleport.

<It’s going to escape!> I cried.

<Mew’s on it!> Lugia replied.

A psychic glow encircled the bird just as it was flickering out of view. Mew swooped down, her eyes glowing the same shade of blue, and Xatu snapped back into clear view, right before it could vanish. She clenched her wing-hands, and the Master Ball flew out of the Xatu’s talons, shooting toward her. And then a second Ice Beam struck Mew dead on, knocking the Aerodactyl spiraling into the side of a building, crashing through a window. The Master Ball dropped to the ground with a clatter, landing in the road on the edge of the park.

Articuno wouldn’t have the thought to grab the ball itself. Not without an order from the Rockets. And they were busy right now. I only had a moment.

“Dive!” I yelled.

Firestorm folded his wings back and shot downward. I flattened myself against his back, forcing my brain to shut out everything else. Not the battle raging overhead, not the attacks flying past me, nothing. Just the tiny purple ball sitting alone on the pavement below. Closer, closer—

Blades of wind shot from nowhere and I felt the sting of pain as one tore across my arm. I clenched my teeth, gripping Firestorm even tighter. The Charizard whirled around to locate our attacked, but no one was there. What the hell? I glanced back at the ground to see a shadow materializing next to the Master Ball—a round body with broad wings and an eye-catching crest… Honchkrow! Of course! A dark-type. No way to use psychic abilities to wrestle the ball from it. Mew, where was Mew?!

Hy heart sank. The Aerodactyl had just pulled herself free from the building she’d been knocked through. Ice crystals covered her body; her wings twitched. She’d taken two Ice Beams from Articuno back-to-back, while in a flying-type body no less.

Firestorm launched a stream of fire downward. If he missed and melted the Master Ball, that’d help us either way. But Honchkrow snatched the ball and melted into shadow almost immediately. The shadow darted out of sight, past a row of cars on the side of the road, and I could no longer follow it with my eyes. It could disappear into the city, rendezvous with any of the Rockets inside, and then we’d never see the Master Ball again.

<It’s getting away!> I yelled to Lugia.

The legend didn’t reply, but I felt its heart rate spike and actually had to clutch a hand to my chest. And then without warning, a brilliant yellow beam shot through the air. I froze openmouthed as it cleaved through several buildings like a hot knife through butter. Glass shattered, concrete gave way, the upper floors slowly collapsed inward. I gaped at the destruction in horrified disbelief. We were only a few blocks away from the evacuees! Lugia couldn’t just let wild like that!

<What the hell was that?!> I demanded.

<You said it was getting away,> Lugia replied defensively.

I stifled the urge to scream. <How is blasting the city supposed to help?! You could’ve hit someone.>

<Well if you’ve got it under control, I’ll just go back to what I was doing,> the legend said, its thoughts tinged with irritation.

Ugh. Some help. We’d just have to do it ourselves.

Firestorm’s wings strained; he was beating them as hard as he could but we weren’t gaining. Was Honchkrow even still heading this way? I couldn’t tell. Just had to keep my eyes peeled for where it emerged from the shadow. Where was Ajia? Why couldn’t she have been the one to deal with this. Why’d it have to be me, the one least likely to—

Dammit, no, couldn’t let myself think like that. I could do this, with or without help. I could do thi—

“Forgetting someone?” a voice said icily.

Stones erupted from the ground in front of us. Firestorm swerved to the right, one of them clipping his wing. Then another stone shot up from that direction, and Firestorm had to throw his wings out to stop in time, then the third wave found its mark, bursting up right from under us. Stones dug into Firestorm’s belly, the shockwave from the impact shot through my body, and then we were down, skidding along the pavement before finally coming to a stop. I slowly stumbled off Firestorm’s back, dazed and in pain, limbs shaking. The Charizard pulled himself to his feet and clutched at his stomach with a grimace, blood streaming between his claws.

That was all three of my flying mons out of commission. I grabbed Firestorm’s Pokéball, ready to recall him when he pushed my arm down.

“*Either we both get out of here, or neither of us do,*” he said, spreading his good wing as wide as he could, keeping me out of view.

Couldn’t let him face Raven alone. In a flash, I let out Jet and Stygian. Three Pokémon, one nearly incapacitated, going up against an executive. Her Pokémon were advancing on us now. Gengar, Flygon, Kabutops… the same Kabutops that… that had… (My mind suddenly generated the image of it doing the same thing to Firestorm, and I tried shoving aside but it didn’t want to leave, and—)

In an instant, Gengar melted into shadow, Flygon’s claws flared up, and Kabutops dashed forward, blades outstretched. Jet and Stygian rushed forward to meet them, the former launching into a waterspout and the latter lighting her blade with dark energy. Firestorm tensed up, taking a half-step forward like he was about to jump into the fray. But then his eyes darted back to me and he didn’t move.

A spray of water hit my arm. Gengar’s shadow had tried to slip behind us, but Jet had just cut the ghost-type off with a well-aimed Water Gun. The ghost paused for just a moment, shaking itself off irritably, and the Floatzel took that opportunity to lunge forward, dark aura cloaking her fangs. Across the street, Kabutops leaped back and forth, forcing Stygian to turn in all directions just to follow it with her eyes. The rock-type found an opening and darted forward, blades aimed at her neck, but the Absol parried with her own blade. Flygon approached her from behind, ready to tear into her with flaming claws. But then out of nowhere, Jet tackled it to the ground, locking her frost-covered fangs around its arm. That left Gengar free to target us—the ghost flashed a devious smile before letting its fingertips crackle with electricity.

I didn’t have to say it. Firestorm raised a shimmering white Protect the instant Gengar let the lightning fly. A shower of sparks hit the asphalt as the bolt crashed into the barrier with a resounding crack. Gengar paused, frowning with disappointment. Without warning, Firestorm dropped the barrier and leaped forward, slashing wildly, his claws shrouded in a ghostly aura. Gengar let out a cry of alarm before dissolving back into shadow and regrouping with its teammates.

I let out a huge sigh of relief. But it was short-lived. My eyes darted back to Jet, wrestling with Flygon, biting it repeatedly with icy fangs. Stygian, staggering backward from the force of a massive blue orb that Gengar had just fired at her. A chill ran down my spine. One of the executive’s Pokémon was unaccounted for.

I spotted it a second later, leering at us from between two cars. Upon realizing that we’d noticed it, Kabutops broke into a run, blades flashing through the air with each step. Firestorm took a deep breath. He couldn’t use Protect again, so his claws went metallic. A scythe swung for his neck and he blocked it with a clang. Another one, from the other side; his other arm snapped up just in time. The Charizard kept his eyes trained closely on his opponent, watching, waiting… A third swing and this time he lunged forward, locking his claws around both blades at once. Kabutops’s eyes went wide, and it jerked its arms back, but the fire lizard refused to let go.

And then my eyes caught movement, over by Raven. At her side, a wisp of dark aura had just faded into view, revealing a large black bird clutching a purple Pokéball. My jaw fell open. Honchkrow? It was right here?! And it still had the Master Ball?!

“Thought we hadn’t figured out how you stole Mewtwo from us?” Raven asked, her words tinged with ice.

A bolt of lightning fired from Gengar’s fingertips, catching the tail end of a waterjet. The Floatzel inside let out a scream as the electricity coursed through her.

“Thought we didn’t know Mew would be here?”

With a vicious snarl, Flygon smashed Stygian’s head into the side of a car repeatedly. Fiery claws tore red gashes across her snow-white fur.

“The only question is how you’re working together with those monsters.”

One after the other, the Absol and Floatzel collapsed onto the road, out cold. All of them down but Firestorm, who continued to grapple with Kabutops, claws locked firmly around its scythes.

“I’m curious to know. But not curious enough.”

Kabutops slammed a clawed foot against the ground, and pointed stones burst through the pavement, right under Firestorm. The Charizard’s eyes went wide; he coughed hard, blood dripping from his mouth. Then he staggered backward, sinking to one knee before finally collapsing.

There was a moment where Kabutops’s eyes flickered between Firestorm and me. Like it was debating going over and just ending him right there. But then it opted to go for me instead. I took a step backward, feeling my blood turn to ice from the fossil’s cold, merciless gaze. It wasn’t even bothering with the speed anymore—it was just casually walking toward me. What the hell could I do to stop it anyway? Couldn’t outrun it, couldn’t fight back, no Pokémon left, no other options.

<Lugia!!> I screamed mentally.

<Hang on, I’m dealing with Articuno!>

<Hang on?! I don’t have time!> I’d be dead before it got here! What the hell good was being chosen if I was going to die alone with my patron nowhere near me?!

And then out of nowhere, Kabutops was knocked flying into the side of a parked car by absolutely nothing. I stared stupidly at the sight, unable to process it. What the hell had just happened? I didn’t see anything hit…

Without warning, Honchkrow let out a squawk as something slammed into it, knocking the bird clear down the street. Raven’s mouth hung open with a mixture of shock and rage. The Master Ball clattered to the pavement, then lifted into the air just as fast. But there was no psychic glow—it had been grabbed by something invisible.

Then, as if on cue, I felt a rush of wind next to me, and the air distorted into the jetlike shape of a crimson dragon.

“*Get on!*” Latias cried.

She didn’t have to tell me twice. I recalled all three of my Pokémon and jumped onto her back. She was small. I didn’t fit on her back all the way, and she was obviously having a hard time lifting me. But she didn’t complain.

“You can’t do that! Who the hell do you think you are?!” Raven screamed after us.

Latias whimpered slightly as a Shadow Ball struck her belly, but she didn’t let her flight path waver. My breathing was shallow and my heart was pounding at a million beats a minute. We’d done it. We’d gotten the Master Ball, and we’d escaped, and I wasn’t dead. I would have collapsed with relief if not for the fact that we still had yet to make it to safety. There was also the fact that Articuno was still circling the skies ahead of us, filling the air with a vicious Blizzard. Latias shivered, slowing her flight so we didn’t get too close. Lugia was forced to hang back while Ho-oh pushed through the storm, blue flames burning across its body.

And then a loud whistle split the air. Articuno broke from the fight immediately, diving below us to land in the center of the battle park. I spotted Ender closing in on it, his Altaria looking worse for the wear, covered in burns and missing plumes on its wings. In hot pursuit was Aerodactyl—the actual Aerodactyl—with Ajia on his back. So after I lost track of Ender, he’d run into her instead. I couldn’t help feeling a bit satisfied from seeing how much trouble she’d given him.

I braced myself in case he decided to try anything on us. But he knew better than to pick a fight with Latias. He also knew better than to attempt firing a Master Ball at her. Not with so many opponents close by. Instead, his Altaria took him right above Articuno, where he jumped down to land on the ice bird’s back before recalling the dragon-type.

“That wasn’t dumb luck… that was planned,” Ender called out, loud enough for us to hear him. “You were working together with them the entire time, weren’t you?” He laughed. “I think we’ll be taking that into consideration next time.”

His attention snapped to the other Legendaries. To Lugia and Ho-oh, soaring high overhead, to Mew, still in her Aerodactyl guise, now flying over to meet us.

He tapped a button on his watch and said, “We’re leaving.”

Suddenly, the same Xatu from earlier materialized right above him. He reached out to grab its talon, and in a flash, they were gone.






~End Chapter 38~

Next Chapter: Sometimes you just gotta prove a Legendary wrong.
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
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Chapter 11

“How could you miss a sleeping target?! What the hell is wrong with you?”
Heh, I like it when fics make fun of silly game mechanics.

“Better get started if you wanna eat anytime soon.”
Somehow I have the feeling that being a Team Rocket Grunt means you’re working for more than 40 hours per week.

I was pretty sure the cost of meals here just went on a tab that would eventually get taken from payments for successful missions… that is, if we were normal Rockets intent on doing any missions. Apparently it was pretty common for new recruits to rack up a sizable debt during their training, and we were told not to worry about it.
Damn, all that hard work and they don’t even get free snacks? D:

Zoe, a tall, pale girl with short brown hair and amber eyes, had volunteered to take notes, and was already scribbling furiously despite the fact that the meeting hadn’t even started yet
How come they don’t just record these meetings? Has as much risk of being discovered as paper notes, but means someone doesn’t have to keep writing during the whole meeting.

“We should focus on figuring out which of us have officers assigned to the mission,” Zoe added. “Then we know who to target for info. If you find out your officer isn’t on the mission, then just ask around. Play the noob card, like you just wanna know what’s going on with the higher-ups.”
Sounds like a solid plan. Will be interesting to see how it plays out though.

“No. Even though I’m more than qualified, some people don’t seem to think I should go anywhere on this team.”
Someone is bitter.

“Well… I was, but then I thought about it.”

“That’s gotta be a first.”

I winced from a sudden punch to the arm. Yep, couldn’t say I was surprised; I kind of deserved that one.
Lmao

I actually got to rough up a few guys on my last job, that was fun.
Evil sadistic grunt is evil.

“Buncha crap went down last year—Johto force came out of it way better off, and they never let us forget it.”
I think this will probably be important later on, so will be sure to remember it.

“…The Indigo League?” he said, staring at me like I was super dense.

I barely had time to react before being shoved aside by Rudy rushing over and yelling, “That’s going on now?!”

The Rocket laughed. “Second week of August—when else would it be?”
Of course this would get Rudy’s attention :P

But hey, at least he’s (sort of) bonding with other Team Rocket members, which can definitely help with gathering info. Especially if they wanna do this for multiple missions. Can’t really do that if you and your group of friends are a bunch of outcasts within Team Rocket.

One of the Viridian rebels spoke up. “Our officer talked to another Rocket about their electric Pokémon being borrowed for testing their attacks against some new tech that had to be ready before a big mission.”

Sasha’s eyes widened. “Whoa, really? That’s huge. That narrows it down a ton, right?”
I think it’s good that it’s not Jade’s group who discovered this, since it makes the other groups more useful. Besides, what are the odds that the officer assigned to the group with the main protagonist just happens to be the one also assigned to this mission, am I right?

“It’s a Legendary. Pokéballs don’t… shouldn’t work on them.”
I wonder if this is really the case or just something they believe.

That said, I like how the stuff with the Silph Co. was worked in. I’m guessing that in this universe either Team Rocket’s takeover of the Silph Co. was successful, or they just acquired ownership in a different fashion. This was fun a chapter though. It showed of more of what being a Team Rocket Grunt is like, which is both interesting and fun to read. Good thing this chapter was added during revisions, since the people who read the old version of LC were really missing out by not having this! Now, let’s see what the next chapter has to offer…

Chapter 12

The mission was on. Right now? What time was it? 3 in the morning. No wonder there was a faint voice in the back of my head saying I shouldn’t be awake.
Well they’re definitely not gonna do these missions in broad daylight after you spotted them the last time, Jade.

But the Rocket walked right past me, his eyes glued to his tablet, not even giving a side glance in my direction. I blinked. That was it? He didn’t even care?
Lol, I kinda expected something like this.

it had gone with the Group 5 rebels to memorize the mission location before coming back to get the rest of us
I like this little detail.

“He’s not coming,” Ray said flatly. If he was frustrated or content with that fact, I couldn’t tell. “It’s way riskier for him to get caught than any of us.”
Still feels odd to train a bunch of kids and put them in harm’s way, only to stay safely away yourself. Here’s hoping that Stalker isn’t just using them as cannon fodder and Jade is gonna get betrayed in the near future.

“My Pokémon all know Dig,” the same rebel replied proudly. “And I think a few ‘accidental misses’ aren’t exactly gonna be obvious in that kind of melee.”
This seems like one of those ideas that sound good on paper, but can go wrong very easily in practice.

“*The humans are the ones responsible for this. Stand down, and you will be spared.*”
You trying to start a human vs Pokémon conflict there, Raikou?

before seven-inch fangs tore open its neck. The bear’s eyes widened with shock as blood gushed from the wound, soaking the ground before it collapsed in a heap.
Cartoon Physics Mode: ON [OFF]

The chaos and commotion of the fight was easily loud enough to mask the sound of a Pokéball being opened.
Wouldn’t a Pokéball opening still produce light though? Given that everything behind the machines is pitch black, wouldn’t this flash of light draw a lot of attention? Especially since it happens a second time when Jade releases Swift.

“What, nothing? That’s stupid!” Rudy stomped a foot against the truck bed
Rudy, you ain’t fighting Jessie and James here, son. It ain't gonna be that easy.

It rushed forward and tore into the armored beast’s vulnerable underbelly, giant claws shredding through flesh and splattering blood onto its face until it was wrenched off by the rock-type’s teammate.
Holy shit, Raikou does not mess around.

But if we could somehow destroy one from a distance and never be seen doing it, they’d have no idea it was an inside job.
This seems like a smart idea. I like how they’re thinking.

The shaggy bird stood nearly as tall as he did
Wait, but Fearow’s barely taller than a meter. I get that Ray isn’t an adult, but still.

Finally, it spoke. “So. It seems the interlopers have arrived.”
Did… Raikou just speak in human tongue? 👀

Anyway, the rebels did a good job. Looks like they managed to save Raikou without being discovered, and they didn’t even need Stalker! Seeing them execute their mission made for a pretty entertaining chapter.

If I had to give any criticism it would be that it felt like Raikou was taking more damage than he should have been capable of. I get that Raikou is supposed to be very strong since he’s a Legendary, but it seemed more like he was holding on long enough for the plot so the rebels could successfully complete their mission. Since if Raikou had lost consciousness before the rebels had sabotaged the Rockets, their mission would have failed. While different headcanons are of course a thing, how long Raikou held out felt odd to me since whenever he attacked one of Team Rocket’s Pokémon, he was damaging them like it was real life. Yet Team Rocket’s (highly trained!) Pokémon were merely doing chip damage, as if they were fighting in an anime. While Raikou was described having wounds at the end, I at least would have expected him to be limping or having some trouble running away as opposed to sprinting away at full strength like everything was fine.

Didn’t prevent me from enjoying the chapter though. I had a good time reading it and chapter 11 and will look forward to the next one!
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
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Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
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pikachu-chibi
Somehow I have the feeling that being a Team Rocket Grunt means you’re working for more than 40 hours per week.
Yeaaahhh grunts don't exactly have a fun time of things. xD;
How come they don’t just record these meetings? Has as much risk of being discovered as paper notes, but means someone doesn’t have to keep writing during the whole meeting.
Wow, this definitely reveals that I'm not used to that being an option, by virtue of my phone being eternally low on storage. xD Though I will say there is at least some merit to note-taking--it's easier to skim written notes at a glance, as opposed to sitting through a half hour audio file. And I think I mostly just wanted to characterize Zoe as the sort who would take notes even if she didn't need to. :P
I wonder if this is really the case or just something they believe.
Yeahhh, that is very much just wishful thinking on their part.
That said, I like how the stuff with the Silph Co. was worked in. I’m guessing that in this universe either Team Rocket’s takeover of the Silph Co. was successful, or they just acquired ownership in a different fashion.
Yep, they already own it in this universe, although here it was less a conspicuous city takeover and more... sending agents to shareholder meetings for "negotiations."
You trying to start a human vs Pokémon conflict there, Raikou?
Heh, some of the Legendaries really wouldn't mind causing something like that.
Cartoon Physics Mode: ON [OFF]
I frickin love this. xD
Wouldn’t a Pokéball opening still produce light though? Given that everything behind the machines is pitch black, wouldn’t this flash of light draw a lot of attention? Especially since it happens a second time when Jade releases Swift.
Ah, that's a good point, I might need to make sure the part with Swift in particular is behind cover.
Wait, but Fearow’s barely taller than a meter. I get that Ray isn’t an adult, but still.
Yeah, I'm kinda going off the sizes portrayed in the anime for a lot of the bird Pokemon, and Fearow's been shown carrying trainers before. (I definitely don't think it could carry an adult, though. Ray's only twelve.)
Did… Raikou just speak in human tongue?
I like that you noticed that. ;3
If I had to give any criticism it would be that it felt like Raikou was taking more damage than he should have been capable of. I get that Raikou is supposed to be very strong since he’s a Legendary, but it seemed more like he was holding on long enough for the plot so the rebels could successfully complete their mission. Since if Raikou had lost consciousness before the rebels had sabotaged the Rockets, their mission would have failed. While different headcanons are of course a thing, how long Raikou held out felt odd to me since whenever he attacked one of Team Rocket’s Pokémon, he was damaging them like it was real life. Yet Team Rocket’s (highly trained!) Pokémon were merely doing chip damage, as if they were fighting in an anime. While Raikou was described having wounds at the end, I at least would have expected him to be limping or having some trouble running away as opposed to sprinting away at full strength like everything was fine.
Ah, I see what you mean. Basically, the way I portray the Legendaries takes a lot of inspiration from Princess Mononoke, in which the gods can be wounded and killed... but are still extremely sturdy. At one point the wolf god Moro falls several hundred feet from a cliff and manages to walk it off, although she's pretty weak afterward. So the Legendaries in LC are obviously susceptible to bodily harm (Raikou was bleeding pretty badly and having trouble standing near the end of the fight) but can still push themselves well beyond what any normal creature could endure, and are very hard to outright kill.

As always, thanks for the review! I always enjoy reading your comments. ^^
 
Chapter 39: Burning Spirit

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
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Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
And now, Chapter 39. The instant you see the title card, you'll know exactly what's about to happen. But I kinda like that. Enjoy~



~Chapter 39: Burning Spirit~


A bright quarter moon pierced the sky overhead, which was now red with twilight. Our group—me, Ajia, Starr, Rudy, and Darren—had just arrived at a large cabin deeper in the woods west of the Ranger Union HQ. I was riding with Ajia on Aerodactyl since all three of my fliers were out of commission. I’d basically felt numb ever since we left Indigo, and was looking forward to not doing anything for the rest of the night. The day had been far, far too long. Watching Rudy’s last preliminary match this morning felt like it had happened a lifetime ago. In a way, it had. I was chosen now. That life was in the past.

“This watch station isn’t currently in active use, so we should have some privacy,” Ajia explained as we all dismounted the fliers and made our way inside. “Dad said we could crash here since the tournament site is still an emergency zone, and probably won’t be cleared for a while.”

The cabin was two stories tall with an array of antennas and platforms on the roof. Inside was a cozy interior with a common room to the right, a kitchen to the left, and a wall covered in belts, tools, and other gear just ahead of us.

“Just don’t touch any equipment or anything,” Ajia added with a wink.

Darren elbowed Rudy, who had just picked up some kind of colorful, remote-like device from a shelf. It looked a lot like the ones that rangers used to calm raging Pokémon on TV. (Granted, it probably didn’t work anything like it did on TV, but the device itself was real.) Rudy hastily set it down, then opted to go raid the kitchen cupboards for whatever nonperishable foods had been left here. I considered following him—I was pretty ravenous after all—but exhaustion ended up winning out. I shuffled over to one of the common room chairs and sank into it, feeling vaguely lightheaded. Absentmindedly, I reached for my Pokéballs, only to remember that they weren’t there.

I’d dropped my team off at the main Ranger HQ healing station. My memory of the encounter was a bit fuzzy. After the adrenaline from the mission had worn off, it’d been replaced by a wave of sheer panic as I’d rushed straight there and made them swear that they absolutely would not open Swift’s Pokéball until they were ready to stabilize him. And they’d reassured me, over and over, that yes, they’d be able to handle it, and yes, from my description of the injury and the speed he’d been recalled, he was almost certainly going to recover. And now, an hour later, their words were starting to stick, and I could feel myself relaxing slightly. But the mental image of what had happened still burned, leaving a sickly anxiety worming through my insides.

<You really shouldn’t work yourself up so much about it,> Lugia had said. <Didn’t they say he was going to be fine?> And I knew that it was right, but my brain didn’t want to listen to that right now. Especially since it was coming from Lugia.

I could have died. My whole team could have died, and having contact with Lugia hadn’t helped one bit. I wanted to say something, but what was there to say? We’d all known, going into that mission, that the Legendaries wouldn’t be able to fight by our side. Obviously, that meant that they couldn’t step in to save us without putting themselves at risk. But we were the ones risking our lives to save them. It wasn’t fair.

But that was what I’d signed up for when I agreed to be chosen.

Looking for something to busy myself with, I found myself idly reaching for my bag, which was currently sitting on the coffee table. At least Mew had managed to recover our stuff from the hotel in Indigo. Something told me that returning to the emergency zone a second time for such a stupid reason would be slightly frowned upon.

I dragged the bag closer to my chair and started digging through it, like I was looking for something. I wasn’t really sure what, but I continued to shove the bag’s contents to the side until I reached the bottom. And there it was. Like I’d been looking for it all along. The strange metallic orb that I’d recovered from the basement of the Midnight Island ruins. I’d been carrying this thing around for nearly a year now, and I still had no idea what it was. I slowly clasped my fingers around it, feeling its cool, airy surface, a metallic tingle running through my fingertips.

When I’d first gotten it, there wasn’t anyone I could ask about it other than Stalker. And I’d never gotten the chance to ask him. But now? I was acquainted with multiple Legendary Pokémon, all of whom were familiar with the chosen pact. They’d definitely know something about the orb, right?

Something else prodded at the back of my mind. What had that pedestal said? That the alliance between human and legend… would fail? I hadn’t paid it much thought at the time. But now I’d seen the proof that the alliance itself was more than just a myth. Now the idea was a lot more unpleasant. Lugia and Mew didn’t seem to be under the impression that our efforts would fail. And we’d just had a major success too…

Something bumped my chair, and I glanced over my shoulder to see that Starr was leaning against it with her arms crossed over the headrest.

As expected, Starr’s mood had bounced between outrage and worry ever since we’d gotten back from Indigo. It wasn’t as if I could pretend we hadn’t just hurled ourselves into another deadly situation when she wasn’t looking—the evidence was written all over my arms. In between her ranting over the way we’d just up and left the moment her back was turned, she’d dragged me off to the medical office so I could get my arms bandaged up. None of the cuts were too deep—not like the bullet wound from last year. Still, it was probably good that she made me do something about it, because I sure as hell wasn’t in the mood for it after what my team had gone through.

“I still can’t believe you guys just went and did that,” Starr said with a rather unimpressed tone. “Could have at least told me.”

I rubbed the back of my head. “I thought Ajia tried to.”

Starr opened her mouth to speak but then froze. “Yeah. She did.” Something in her voice told me that fact didn’t really make a difference.

I exhaled slowly through my nose, unsure what I was supposed to be feeling right now. I hadn’t meant to just turn my back on everything I’d said to her when we were back at the Ranger HQ. But… becoming chosen kind of changed things a bit.

“I’m guessing it went alright?” Starr asked, trying too hard to make it sound casual.

I blinked. “Well yeah—like Ajia said, we did it. We freed Moltres.” We freed Moltres. Saying it out loud made the reality of it sink into my mind a bit deeper. In spite of everything, we’d succeeded.

“I know that,” she said with a slight huff. “But you’re okay, right?”

“I mean…”—I gestured to myself—“I’m here, aren’t I?”

Starr groaned exasperatedly and rubbed her knuckles against my scalp. “Alive and alright are two different things. Quit being dense.”

Okay, she had a point there. I’d made it back from all the Rebellion missions alive too, but… not entirely alright. And the various injuries I’d received were nothing compared to the anxious nausea from what my team had gone through.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” I said, my mouth dry.

She seemed to realize how I’d said it. “But someone else isn’t?”

I wrapped my arms around my knees, pulling them close to my chest. “Swift was… injured.” Everyone was injured, but… not like that.

Starr paused. “Is he gonna be alright?”

“The rangers said he would be, but…”

“But you’re worrying yourself about it ‘cause that’s what you do,” she finished.

I tilted my head back to look at her directly. “Kinda like what you’ve been doing.”

To my immense surprise, she let out a snort. “Got me there.” She sank against the back of the chair so that her chin was resting on the top of my head. “Just tell me we’re done for the day, alright? No more surprises.”

Given the fact that I had absolutely no desire to do anything else for the rest of the day—heck, the rest of the week—I said, “I’m okay with that, yeah.”

Eventually we’d have to deal with the fallout from all this. Eventually, Mew and Lugia would come up with the next plan of action, and I’d have to help them with it. But for now, I was content to just stay here like this.

There was a knock against the wooden doorframe. I glanced around the side of the armchair to see a ranger now standing in the entryway. My heart leaped for a moment upon seeing a Pidgeot behind her. But no, it wasn’t Swift—darker belly, longer markings, shorter crest. The moment I gave it a second thought, I felt like an idiot for getting my hopes up. Obviously, he wouldn’t have recovered yet. I don’t know what I was expecting.

“You really are something else, you know that, Ajia?” Kari said. Her voice was half accusatory, half reluctantly impressed.

Ajia spun around to face her. “Oh yeah?” she asked, in a tone suggesting that she knew exactly what was coming.

Kari leaned against the doorframe, arms folded. “It’s pretty obvious you guys are working together with the guardians. No idea how, but it’s the only way you could have pulled that last mission off.”

Ajia grinned sheepishly. “Saw through that, huh?”

The Rockets had seen through it too. What was it that Ender had said? ‘We’ll have to take that into consideration next time.’ I didn’t like the sound of that.

Something else was bothering me. From what the others had said, Raven and Ender were the only executives at that mission. Only two. Two top-class, legendary-handing executives, sure. But only two? Where were the rest of them? Did the Rockets really care so little about that mission? They’d taken a huge gamble by putting Moltres in such a vulnerable position… there had to be a good reason.

Kari’s expression turned darkly serious. “How long have you all had contact with the guardians? Was it since before the Viridian attack?”

Starr stood bolt upright. “Yeah, hold up. That’s Ajia’s deal, alright? The rest of us aren’t insane.” I found myself sinking lower into my chair.

Kari’s gaze slid back to Ajia, looking weary. “Please don’t tell me you had contact with them during the attack.”

What? She didn’t seriously think that we’d just stood by and let that happen, did she?

I threw myself around the side of the chair so that I was staring straight at her. “We tried to stop the Viridian incident! If all it took was just talking to the Legendaries, don’t you think we would have tried that?”

Kari paused, considering me closely. “…Fair. Sorry for jumping to conclusions.”

I sank back into the chair, still feeling a bit on-edge. The Legendary I had just made an alliance with… was one of the ones responsible for the attack on Viridian. And I didn’t feel remotely comfortable talking to it about that. Besides, Mew had been 100% against the attack. Mew had confronted Lugia about it, right?

I was chosen now. I was supposed to protect the Legendaries. Even if...

“So, looks like the big secret is out… again,” Ajia said, looking more relieved than anything. She’d been holding onto Legendary secrets a lot longer than I had. It had to be getting tiring, especially having to hide things from friends or allies.

At the point I finally noticed Rudy standing at the entrance to the kitchen, staring at Ajia with his mouth hanging open. And from the looks of things, he’d been like that for the past minute or so.

He blinked a few times to regain himself before saying, “You’ve been working with the Legendaries?”

Ajia gave him an amused smile. “What’s with that look? You’ve helped save them yourself, haven’t you?”

He shook his head. “That’s not the same. It’s not like I’ve ever talked to them.”

“Guess this explains why you guys were so sure we could pull off freeing Moltres, huh?” Darren asked me with a sideways grin. “Seemed like a crazy plan otherwise.”

“You went along with the plan,” I pointed out.

He shrugged. “Never said I was smart.”

“Okay, hang on,” Kari said, putting a hand to her forehead like she was still trying to work something out. “The guardians. If you’re working with them, they’re still nearby, aren’t they? What about Moltres? Are you actually keeping it here? Where is it?”

Whoa. Okay, this was a lot of questions, how were we supposed to explain any of this? We couldn’t just tell everyone about the chosen pact. But now Rudy, Darren, and Kari were staring at Ajia expectantly. And heck, even Starr of all people was giving Ajia a curious glance, waiting to see what her response would be.

Kari walked over to Ajia, staring her straight in the eyes. “Where. Is. Moltres?”

Ajia let out a defeated sigh. “Alright, alright. I’ll show you.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The five of us trudged through the darkening woods on our way to a nearby clearing, where Latias had apparently released Moltres from its Master Ball. Mew led the way, trotting in front of us as an Espeon. I kept expecting someone to question why Espeon of all people knew where the Legendaries were, but no one did. As for me, I was just conveniently going along with the fact that Starr had pinned the blame on Ajia to avoid bringing up the fact that I was chosen as well. Not that it did much to stave off the avalanche of questions from Rudy.

“This is nuts. I can’t believe your friend knows Legendaries. Which ones? How did she meet them? Have you met them?

“Look, one thing at a time, alright?” I said, though I wasn’t exactly sure which one to start with.

“Yeah, give Jade time to make something up,” Darren added with a chuckle. I glared at him and he just gave me a wry grin.

It also didn’t help that I was having a hard time thinking on account of Lugia complaining in my head the entire time.

<It’s not like we have a choice,> I reminded the legend. <They’re not going to leave us alone until we give them answers.>

<Of course you have a choice,> Lugia snapped. <You can refuse to tell them anything. Simple.>

I rubbed my eyes in frustration. <How are we supposed to explain why?>

<They do not require an explanation.>

<Um, yes, they do. If you want someone to help you then they have to be able to trust you,> I said flatly.

Lugia paused, unwilling to agree with what I’d said, but also struggling to think of a shutdown. It finally settled on, <Well… those two interlopers are one thing, but what about the others? What about her?>

I raised an eyebrow. <You’re gonna need to be a little more specific.>

<I’m not good with human names,> Lugia mumbled. <The one that you and Mew’s chosen are close to.>

I tensed up, feeling uneasy. <Starr? What about her. She already knows about the chosen pact, remember?>

<I’m aware,> Lugia said sharply. <That doesn’t give her the right to be privy to our plans. Particularly considering her… colorful past.>

I bristled. So Lugia knew about that. <Look, I don’t want to have this conversation. Starr betrayed Team Rocket. I trust her with my life.>

Lugia was silent for some time. Scattered bubbles of frustration drifted through its thoughts, but it didn’t put any of them into words. <…Fine,> it said grudgingly, and then its presence retreated into the corner of my mind where I had a harder time feeling it.

I let out a deep sigh of relief, already feeling a lot better. Dealing with my own emotions was one thing, but getting a double dose of anxiety was too much to handle.

“Oh crap, is that it?” Rudy said, suddenly breaking into a run.

I squinted. Some fifty yards ahead of us, an orange glow was visible through the trees. We emerged into a warm, brightly-lit clearing, and there it was. The gigantic firebird lay on its side, flames flickering gently on its head, wings, and tail. There was something oddly peaceful about it. I was so used to seeing it flying overhead, raining down death and destruction. I’d seen it used to kill escaping rebels. Earlier today, I’d barely escaped from it with my life. And even though I knew none of that was its own doing… it was still hard not to feel uncomfortable being so close to it.

The ground had been swept free of any leaves, needles, or other forest debris, which made it all the easier to spot the purple shards that lay next to Moltres. So Latias had destroyed the Master Ball. Well, of course she had, that was the only way to deactivate the mind control. She also must have healed Moltres, as most of its battle injuries were gone. Was she still nearby, guarding the firebird invisibly? I couldn’t help letting my eyes scan the air above the clearing, hunting for the telltale distortion.

Rudy was slowly inching closer to Moltres with a look of disturbed fascination. Meanwhile, Starr was glancing around the scene with a disapproving look on her face.

“So we’ve just got the Legendary bird of fire unconscious right here, huh?” she said. “No big deal, right?”

I gave her a look. “You’re acting like this is the first time you’ve seen Moltres.”

“Yeah, well, I am not letting myself get desensitized to this crap,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “This is not normal, okay?”

Kari and her Pidgeot hadn’t moved since we got here. The former was staring at Moltres with a somber look. Pidgeot’s head was lowered, eyes trained on the ground. It was easy to forget that those two—and most people, for that matter—weren’t used to being in the presence of Legendaries. Starr was right. We really had gotten desensitized to it.

After a minute of silence, Kari straightened suddenly, turning toward Ajia. “So what’s your plan?” she asked. “Moltres gonna be staying here or what?”

Ajia laughed. “No way. The other Legendaries are gonna explain the situation to Moltres when it wakes up. And… I guess it’ll go with them.”

Kari gave her a sideways glance. “So what, does everything go back to normal now? Moltres is free, the day is saved, no more Legendary attacks?” From the look on her face, it was obvious she didn’t trust that for a second.

Ajia rubbed the back of her head. “Not… exactly. But Indigo should be safe now.”

Kari nodded distantly, not taking her eyes off Moltres. “Don’t suppose you know where the next attack is gonna be?”

“The next one?” Ajia said, looking confused. “I mean… the goal is to prevent this from happening again.”

“Hm,” Kari just said, absentmindedly running a hand through Pidgeot’s crest. “Well. I guess I’ll let everyone know that there shouldn’t be any more trouble from Moltres. I should be getting back to base anyway.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “God, this is gonna be hard to explain. And you haven’t even given me half of it, I can tell.”

The ranger motioned to Pidgeot, who leaned forward for her to climb onto its back. She paused, glancing over the five of us in turn. “You know there were news crews at Indigo, right? I dunno if they saw you, but… whatever you’re hiding, word’s gonna get out eventually.”

“We’ll deal with that when the time comes,” Ajia said simply.

Kari was silent for several seconds. Finally, she threw one last glance at Moltres before nodding. “Alright. Good luck,” she said with a small wave. “And try not to cause any more trouble.”

With a few powerful flaps, Pidgeot took off from the forest floor and the two of them flew off into the twilight skies.

“You two seem like real great friends,” Starr said dryly.

Ajia waved a hand dismissively. “Ah, don’t worry about her, I’m always getting into trouble and making things hard for her, and she’s always giving me crap about it. It’s kind of our thing.”

Starr just shrugged. Still, despite Ajia’s casual tone, I couldn’t help feeling bad. It was another reminder of just how badly this whole Rocket mess was stressing the rangers out. We could fight the Rockets, but they were the ones that had to deal with the fallout.

I was jolted from my thoughts by Rudy’s voice: “Oh crap, it’s waking up.”

What? Moltres was—?! I threw a hurried look back at the firebird, whose eyelids were twitching. Its head shifted slightly. Flames burned a bit brighter. Ajia glanced sharply at Mew, and the two of them nodded to each other for a bit while they talked mind-to-mind.

Starr took a few steps back, raising both arms. “Allllright, I’m good. I’ve seen enough. Heading back to the cabin now. I do not need to be near that thing when it wakes up.”

She turned and walked off into the forest, making it abound thirty feet before pausing like she’d just realized something. Then she turned to look back at me expectantly, waiting. She was expecting me to follow her. But if the Legendaries were going to be explaining the situation to Moltres soon, wouldn’t it be best if the chosen were present for it? Not that I could say I was chosen, but…

I gave Starr a helpless shrug that hopefully conveyed the fact that I wanted to follow her but couldn’t. She scowled and turned away, walking further away until she was out of sight.

I sighed, turning to face Rudy and Darren. “You two should probably head back too.”

Rudy gaped at me like he’d never been more insulted in his life. “What? Why are you allowed to stay here, then?”

I was spared the trouble of having to invent a reason when Ajia jumped in with, “At least hide, we don’t want to freak it out, alright?”

Rudy paused, still looking dissatisfied, but struggling to think of a counterargument.

“Come on, let’s listen to her,” Darren said, grabbing the back of his shirt and dragging him off toward the trees, ignoring his protests.

Ajia and I were the last ones to step back, leaving Moltres alone in the center of the clearing. Well, alone except for Mew. She threw a glance back at us to make sure we were all out of the way, then vanished. Several seconds passed. And then in a flash, she reappeared—in her normal body—with Lugia and Ho-oh. Even though I’d been expecting them, it was still jarring to see two gigantic birds suddenly appear out of thin air, making the clearing feel that much smaller. I couldn’t help letting my eyes slide over to Rudy who was now gaping at the trio of Legendaries in stunned disbelief.

Ho-oh nodded toward us, then took a slow, cautious step towards Moltres, leaning down to tap its beak against the smaller firebird’s shoulder.

“Can you hear me?” it asked.

Moltres stirred slightly. “*What’s going on…?*” it mumbled. “*Everything hurts…*”

“Easy,” Ho-oh said in a calm, measured voice. “You’re safe now.”

Moltres took several slow, shuddering breaths, struggling to fold its wings and pull its talons under its body. Then its eyes shot open. “*Wait, what?*” It glanced down at itself frantically, flames intensifying with a crackle. Then it threw an incredulous look back at Ho-oh, eyes wide with shock. “*I’m… how?*”

“The humans no longer control you. You are free now.”

The flames slowly lowered to a calm smolder. Moltres blinked a few times, lost for words.

“How are you feeling?” Ho-oh asked.

Moltres opened its beak to answer, but then it tilted its head at Ho-oh, squinting at the larger phoenix like it had only just realized something. “*Why are you speaking as though—?*” And then the firebird paused sharply, its eyes tracing the clearing and the humans standing nearby. It tensed, letting the flames on its body flare up once again. I felt a sudden desire to melt into the ground.

“Ah. That would be why,” Moltres said dryly, and it took me a second to realize that it had switched from Pokéspeech to common. “Seems we have humans in our midst.” It turned back to face Ho-oh. “Why is this acceptable?”

“These humans freed you from your capture,” the larger phoenix replied simply.

Moltres glanced back at us once more, narrowing its eyes. “I see. I would like to leave now.”

“You can if you must, but I would quite prefer if you’d remain,” Ho-oh said, closing its eyes matter-of-factly.

Moltres didn’t respond to that. But it also didn’t move. It just sat there, eyeing us suspiciously. I kept my eyes on the ground to avoid making eye contact.

Ho-oh turned to face the rest of us, the four humans standing at the edge of the trees. “I must thank you all for your assistance.” Its gaze fell on me, and I couldn’t help shrinking back a bit. “I don’t believe I’ve made your acquaintance,” the phoenix said, bowing its head. “You are aligned with my sibling, are you not?”

I blinked in surprise. It took me a second to realize it was talking about my chosen pact with Lugia. “Oh, uh, that’s right.” Unsure of what else to do, I bowed back and said, “It’s nice to meet you?”

Ho-oh nodded. “Likewise.”

“Where are my siblings?” Moltres spoke up suddenly, its expression somewhat conflicted.

Ho-oh shifted its wings uncomfortably. “Articuno is still within their grasp. We weren’t given an opportunity to free them like we were with you.”

Moltres was silent for several seconds. “I see…” it said, the emotion in its voice hard to place. It then glanced at each of the Legendaries in turn. “And what of Zapdos? Were they not a part of this effort?”

Ho-oh’s face fell. It glanced back at Mew imploringly.

<Zapdos has… not been speaking with me,> she said softly, curling her tail around herself.

Moltres blinked, and this time it was easier to see the heaviness that had taken hold in its eyes. But then its gaze hardened, and it said, “Never mind them. What happens next?”

<Well… now that we’ve freed you, we’ll be setting our sights on freeing the others,> Mew said. She gestured for Ajia to step forward, who did so with all the confidence of someone who wasn’t surrounded by Legendaries.

“The Rockets still have four Legendaries in their possession,” Ajia explained. “We’re not going to stop until we’ve freed them all. If we can pull it off, that will definitely prevent the war, won’t it?”

<That’s optimistic,> Lugia said with a snort.

<We need the optimism,> Mew replied, giving the dragon-bird a hard look.

“Well, that’s one way of looking at it,” Ho-oh said, considering her carefully. “But we must also prepare for the worst—if we are unable to prevent the war, we must ensure that the pact is completed. It may become difficult to locate more suitable candidates. We will have to take that into consideration.”

Moltres glanced between the other legends, mulling something over in its mind. “Still aiming to fulfill the chosen pact, are you?”

<Of course,> Mew said, as though nothing were more obvious. <Why would we stray from that path now?>

“Hm,” Moltres just said, disapproval crossing its face. “And how do any of you know that your… selected humans will remain by your side when this conflict escalates and their small lives are threatened?” I couldn’t help but notice its eyes briefly slide toward me.

Mew shook her head. <Moltres. You are like the rest of us. You’ll have to select an interloper eventually.>

The firebird narrowed its eyes. “So you say. I still am not convinced that humans possess the resolve necessary for something like this.”

<The humans freed you,> Mew pointed out.

Moltres tossed its head indignantly. “Your point? It’s one thing to naïvely charge forward into danger with no grasp of what it means. It’s another thing to see the reality of it, and to continue putting one’s life on the line.”

I… hated to admit it, but Moltres’s words did strike a chord inside me. It had been easy to agree to joining the Rebellion, knowing that it was dangerous, but not truly grasping the reality of risking my life for this cause. It had been a lot harder to keep pressing on after seeing that reality firsthand. But… I’d done it anyway. And I wasn’t exactly the strongest-willed person around. That had to count for something, right?

But no one had said anything to the contrary, so Moltres gave a smug grin and went on, “Humans don’t have the resolve necessary for something like this. They lack passion.”

“You’re wrong.”

Just those two words brought the world crashing to a halt. Everyone’s eyes widened in shock, even Moltres’s. I whirled around to locate the source… and saw the one person whose expression was one of anger rather than shock.

It was Rudy. Rudy was the one who had said it.

Moltres blinked, clearly not used to having a human talk back to it. “Excuse me?” it said, slowly striding across the clearing. A chill ran through me as the great firebird towered over Rudy, bearing down on him.

Rudy took a deep breath to steel himself and then said, “You’re wrong about humans. We’re not gonna run away just because it’s dangerous. We already know what’s at stake. We’ve been a part of this for too long.” There was pain in his words. That heaviness that I knew all too well.

“There is no true reason for you to be involved in this war,” Moltres said, waving a wing dismissively. “I cannot expect you to risk your life for this cause when you could leave at any time with no personal cost.”

Rudy clenched his fists. “What’ll it take for me to prove it?”

Moltres tilted its head at him, bemused. “Is… is that a challenge?”

“I guess it is,” Rudy said with a forced laugh. Like he wasn’t really planning on it, but wasn’t about to back down now.

The firebird stared blankly, almost like it was having a hard time processing his reaction. “Do you… honestly believe you can defeat me?”

He scoffed. “Like that matters to me.”

Moltres paused, and for once, it didn’t have an immediate comeback. Several seconds passed. Then, the firebird began to laugh. “I like that. Alright. Come at me, then.”

Rudy was going to fight Moltres. What even was any of this. My brain refused to accept it, even though I’d seen the entire conversation leading up to it.

<Is this really necessary?> Lugia asked, taking a step forward.

“You’re invited to keep quiet,” Moltres snapped. Lugia rolled its eyes, but said nothing.

Rudy spun around and let out his team. Six Pokéballs opened with a flash and materialized into Fearow, Raichu, Tauros, Nidoking, Ebony, and Pupitar. All six of them immediately snapped their attention to the huge fiery Legendary standing right in front of them, varying degrees of fear and awe crossing their features.

“In case some of you didn’t know, we freed Moltres from the Rockets,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder unnecessarily. “Except now it apparently doesn’t think we’re good enough to help it.” (Moltres raised a brow at that, but didn’t interject.) “Who wants to show it that we know what we’re getting into?”

Ebony’s mouth hung open, stars in her eyes. Raichu gave a devilish smirk, sparks leaping from her cheeks. Nidoking cocked an eyebrow but put up his fists just the same. Pupitar didn’t complain, which was about as close to a yes as she ever gave. Tauros glanced uncertainly at Moltres. He hadn’t been on the team during the Rebellion days; seeing Legendaries in person was totally new to him. And the idea of fighting them had to be equally weird. But after several seconds’ hesitation, the bull’s eyes sharpened. He pawed the ground and let out a snort, leveling his horns at the Legendary.

And in the midst of them all, Fearow glanced back and forth at her teammates incredulously. She drew herself back, ruffling her feathers. “*I’m out. This is crazy.*”

Rudy closed his eyes. “That’s fine. I’m the crazy one here,” he said, taking her Pokéball in his hand. He gave her a soft look. “But I don’t want you to have any regrets.”

Fearow scoffed, turning away dismissively. But then she glanced back at him out of the corner of her eye with just the slightest bit of uncertainty. Rudy held out the ball, and she snapped her gaze to him.

“*Stop,*” Fearow said sharply. “*You’re right.*” She took a deep breath, throwing a sideways glance at Pupitar. “*No regrets this time.*”

Rudy nodded forcefully, replacing her Pokéball on his belt. Then he spun around to face Moltres and said, “We’re ready.”

Such conviction,” the firebird said mockingly. But then it crouched low and spread its wings, flames intensifying with a crackle.

Rudy pointed forward and the team leaped into action—Nidoking and Raichu firing off bolts of lightning, Fearow letting blades of wind fly from her wingtips, Ebony barking out a pulsing wave of dark energy, Tauros charging powerfully, sparks coursing through his mane. Moltres lazily waved a wing to raise a wall of flame in front of its face, blocking the attacks. It then swept both wings forward, unleashing a hail of fireballs from its blazing feathers.

“Fearow, Nidoking, shield the others with Protect!” Rudy yelled.

The two of them banded together in the center with practiced coordination, and everyone else didn’t waste a second ducking behind the duo. Flames spilled out around the pair of shields, the entire group of Pokémon flinching from the waves of heat that scorched the air. I stepped back instinctively, but the fireballs rebounded off a psychic barrier that Mew had raised to keep the forest around us from catching fire.

“What sort of conviction does it take to risk your companions in a pointless battle?” Moltres called out. “What does this say of you?”

Rudy clenched his teeth, glaring at the Legendary. “They’ve got the same conviction as me. We’ve all got each other’s back; we all make each other stronger.”

“Such statements are meaningless,” Moltres said with a scoff. “Any risk you would take is borne by them, not you!”

The hail of fireballs lessened. But before any of them could prepare for another attack, Moltres swept its wings together, and another wall of flames burst up from the ground, right in front of Rudy’s team. The firebird stared down at them with a smirk as though daring them to break past the wall.

“Fearow, carry Raichu over the flames!” Rudy yelled.

Fearow paused just long enough to let Raichu leap onto her back before flapping harder to gain altitude. The electric-type leaped down from above, landing on Moltres’s back and discharging a flood of lightning. The firebird squinted for a moment as the electricity surged through its body. It began to glow. Then a beam of red shot forward, dissolving Raichu just seconds before flames erupted from the spot where she’d been standing.

Rudy re-released Raichu next to himself. Moltres snapped its attention to the two, starting slightly upon seeing that its target was standing right next to him. Then its eyes narrowed.

“You think I’ll hold back simply because you’re in the way?” it demanded.

Rudy smirked. “It made you pause, didn’t it?” Did he seriously just say that?

Moltres’s eyes went wide for a second. And in that moment’s hesitation, Nidoking burst up from the dirt, horn already crackling with electricity. A bolt of lightning shot through the Legendary. Moltres kicked the ground-type away, annoyed, but then Tauros slammed into it at full force, sparks leaping from his mane.

“I’ve made that mistake before,” Rudy muttered, staring downward, fists clenched. “I put my Pokémon at risk when I wasn’t willing to do the same for him. I’m not letting anything like that happen ever again.”

Moltres tilted its head incredulously, but then the corners of its beak turned up. “Oh? Then how will you protect them? How will you protect anyone? What strength can the legends possibly derive from you?”

“I…”—he grit his teeth—“I can’t answer that.”

Moltres smirked. “Better find an answer, then.” It unleashed another torrent of fire. “Before my patience is through!”

This time Ebony leaped in front, struggling to shield her teammates. Her pelt glowed red, absorbing the flames, but it was too much for her. Fearow flapped her wings, trying in vain to blow away the wall of fire. Raichu retaliated with bursts of lightning. It wasn’t enough. Ebony let out a whimper and sank to the ground. Nidoking struggled to raise a Protect, but it hadn’t been long enough since the last time he’d used it. The barrier flickered with the heat of the flames, then sputtered and died. The lineup broke, Nidoking retreating underground and Raichu hopping on Tauros’s back to escape the Flamethrower.

“I suppose you think that teaching this lot a few amusing tricks makes you worth something, is that it?” Moltres asked, its eyes lit with anticipation. Like it couldn’t wait to see how he’d respond.

But Rudy didn’t give an answer. He just kept his eyes on his team and called out, “Tauros, power up Raichu; Fearow, cover them with Mirror Move!”

Sparks coursed through Tauros’s mane, this time flowing into Raichu. She used the boost to fire off another lightning bolt, twice as thick as the last one. Moltres’s eyes twitched from the hit, and it swept another wing forward, sending more fireballs raining down from above. Fearow copied its motions exactly—a shimmering, reflective surface trailed from her wings, spawning an identical barrage to intercept Moltres’s attack. Nidoking used that opportunity to emerge from underground and fire off yet another Thunderbolt at the Legendary.

“Enough!” Moltres snapped, stamping the ground with a talon. The dirt began to glow.

“Get back!” Rudy yelled.

Fearow shot toward him with a Quick Attack while Tauros and Nidoking dashed after her. Seconds later, flames erupted from the ground where they’d been standing. Rudy staggered backward, shielding his face from the waves of hot air rushing outward. Even from where I was standing, the heat was stifling.

Finally, the flames cleared. I could see Tauros panting hard, Raichu clinging to his mane. Nidoking holding a tuckered-out Ebony under one arm. Fearow landing next to them, feathers scorched. They were still standing. But only because Moltres wasn’t remotely using its full power. How long until it got bored with this game? What would it do then? It wouldn’t… actually attack Rudy, would it? Mew would put a stop to things if it came to that… right?

Moltres chuckled lowly. “Such passion you instill in your comrades. Truly a sight to behold.” Its eyes scanned Rudy’s battered and tired lineup… and settled on Pupitar, who hadn’t moved this entire time.

“What of this one?” Moltres asked, cocking its head. “Has your stirring inspiration failed to move them?” It would’ve been easy to miss the way Pupitar’s eyes twitched slightly at the Legendary’s words.

Rudy scowled. “Leave her alone, she can do what she wants.”

“Oh? What happened to your talk of shared conviction?” Moltres asked eagerly. “Clearly you are not the great motivator you believe yourself to be.”

Rudy opened his mouth like he was about to say something, but then clenched his teeth and remained silent. His team glared daggers at the firebird, but none of them had the strength to do anything about it.

At least, not until Pupitar hopped in front of all of them, facing down Moltres alone.

Rudy stared. “You don’t…” he struggled to find the words. “You don’t have to if you don’t wanna.” But Pupitar didn’t acknowledge that he’d said anything.

“Am I wrong?” Moltres asked her. “Why don’t you show me?”

Without warning, Pupitar fired a burst of gas and shot forward, plowing into the firebird’s belly. Moltres stopped laughing. The Legendary opened its beak and retaliated with a vicious Flamethrower, completely enveloping the rock-type in an overwhelming blaze.

“Use Protect!” Rudy yelled.

A shimmering white barrier formed around the pupa’s body, but the swirling torrent of fire completely surrounded her on all sides, immobilizing her. It was only a matter of time before the Protect shattered from sheer force of it, and then what? Moltres grinned wildly, adding more and more fire to the vortex. Flames spilled out around the barrier relentlessly. Pupitar’s armor glowed white-hot from the heat.

Wait. That glow. It wasn’t the heat—Pupitar’s body was glowing by itself. With a resounding crack, her armor split open. Arms and legs shot out, claws digging into the dirt. Rows upon rows of spikes erupted though the shell. Moltres paused its fire breath, staring down at its opponent with intrigue. Where there had once been a limbless pupa, a rock-armored beast slowly raised herself from the dirt, shaking bits of broken armor to the ground. Her eyes snapped open. She looked down at herself, flexing her claws experimentally.

She’d evolved. She’d evolved!! I didn’t think she’d have the strength to pull that off for several more months. Maybe it was the sheer pressure of fighting a Legendary. Maybe it was the force of taking Moltres’s attack. Maybe it was determination alone. But however it happened, she’d evolved.

All five of her teammates suddenly broke into wild cheering—Ebony practically jumping for joy in spite of her burns and Nidoking pounding his chest wildly and Raichu firing sparks into the air. Rudy stared at the dinosaur, eyes wide with awe and pride. Finally he jumped several feet into the air, throwing both arms up. “I told you you could do it! I told you! You did it!”

And then Pupitar, or rather Tyranitar—who had always looked perpetually bored with everything, even battling—flashed a toothy grin back at them all and said, “*I like this.*”

And then she charged forward. Every footfall sent jagged blades of stone ripping up from the earth, and for the first time, I saw a flicker of alarm in Moltres’s eyes before the Stone Edge dug into its body. The firebird recoiled backwards, screeching in pain and rage before unleashing an explosive burst of flame, shattering the stones to bits and consuming Tyranitar in a whirlwind of fire. The rock-type stood her ground, pushing on through the raging inferno. Raising both arms straight up, she pulled a hail of boulders from the dirt and sent them crashing into Moltres.

But the tips of Tyranitar’s spikes had started to melt away. The rock-type sank to her knees. She glanced back at Rudy, and his hand hovered over his Pokéball belt.

Tyranitar shook her head. “*Not yet. Took this long to get this body. Might as well see what it can do.*” She stomped the ground again and more rocks exploded up from under Moltres. The Legendary easily could have avoided the rocks. But it didn’t. Almost like it was making a point by sitting there and taking them. Stones dug into it over and over, but it kept up the relentless stream of fire, waiting until Tyranitar was doubled over, panting hard. The dinosaur screwed her eyes shut, digging her claws into the dirt. One last rock ripped itself from the ground, smacking Moltres in the side of the face. Then another fireball and she was down. Sprawled out on the dirt, the faintest trace of a grin still visible on her face.

“You were badass, Tyranitar,” Rudy whispered before recalling her in a beam of red light.

They’d lost. Well, there was never any question that they would. But Rudy didn’t seem bothered by that fact. He’d known full well there was zero chance of him coming out ahead, and he’d done it anyway, and he obviously wanted it to mean something, though I wasn’t sure what.

Moltres took several slow, menacing steps forward, eyes glued to Rudy the entire time. Part of me wanted to run over to him, but the other part was glued to the spot, unable to do anything but watch.

“I should kill you for such a foolish move,” it said poisonously, looming over him.

Rudy craned his neck upward to glare at the phoenix, defiance written all over his face. “I thought you wanted to see some passion. Now you’re saying it’s foolish?”

Moltres laughed, and the sound echoed around us with an eerie reverberating quality.

Rudy wasn’t fazed. “I want to make a difference. So if you won’t believe me, then let me prove that humans aren’t weak.”

The firebird tilted its head back, looking genuinely surprised. “Such conviction… but I wonder… will it be able to endure the flames of war?”

Rudy grinned. “We’ll find out, won’t we?”

Moltres opened its eyes wide as though it had been slapped, but then immediately broke into reverberating laughter once more. “Speaking as though I have already decided?! Ha! Very well! Let us see how you handle it!”

And in a flash, Rudy was completely engulfed in flames.

“Rudy!!” I screamed, eyes wide, but then Ajia held me back with a knowing look.

“Just watch,” she said quietly.

Just watch?! Just watch as Rudy was—wait. The flames swirled around in a vortex, sending waves of heat radiating around the clearing. Every few seconds, a gap appeared, and I caught a glimpse of him in the center. Face scrunched up in pain, but still standing, not charred to ash. And then I saw myself in his shoes, that moment when I felt myself torn apart as Lugia and I were joined together.

Mew had to stop Rudy’s team from rushing in to pull him from the flames. They all stared at her wide-eyed as she explained. Rudy was on his knees now, fists clenched at his side. Moltres’s eyes were closed in deep concentration. A faint red glow emanated from the firebird, visible even through all the firelight.

And then, in a flash, the flames cleared. Moltres’s eyes snapped open. Rudy fell forward onto all fours, breathing hard. At once, his team crowded around him, Nidoking helping him stand while Ebony nuzzled his side.

“What… what the hell just happened?” Rudy asked, sounding dazed.

Moltres folded its wings, peering down at him. “You wanted the chance to prove yourself. You have gotten it. You are now my chosen. You will fight by my side until the end of the war.”

He grinned weakly. “Sounds good.”

“Do not take this commitment lightly,” Moltres snapped, its voice heating up.

Rudy’s expression sharpened. “That’s not it. I know it’s a big deal.” His eyes slid to the ground. “I just… I know I’ll be able to help out a lot more if I combine my strength with yours. This is my chance to do something right. I wanna feel good about it.”

Moltres considered his response carefully. Finally it nodded and straightened itself, glancing around at the rest of us for the first time in a while. All of us were frozen, staring at the two of them with varying degrees of shock.

“So. I’ve sealed my pact, as you wished,” Moltres announced, throwing a sideways glance at Mew. “Does this satisfy you?”

Mew chuckled slightly. <There’s no need to put it like that,> she said with a smile. <But yes… I’m glad.>

Lugia gave an unimpressed snort. <So I suppose we are completely throwing secrecy to the winds, then?>

Mew curled her tail around herself. <For our missions to work from now on, we might have to. It was a great advantage in rescuing Moltres, but now the Rockets know that their enemies are getting help from the legends, one way or another.>

Lugia squinted at her. <Need I remind you that you were the one so insistent on keeping the secrecy in the first place?>

<I know…> she said, closing her eyes. <Times have changed.> She refused to look at Lugia.

<Why are you so worried about secrecy, anyway?> I asked Lugia privately. <I understand that it’s dangerous to let too many people too close, but everyone in our group has already proved they’re trying to help, haven’t they?>

Lugia was silent for some time, its mind flitting between two different things. It felt conflicted. <With humans, you can never know when they will turn on you. The Order has already learned that lesson the hard way.>

I blinked. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to take that. <So what you’re saying is, you don’t trust us.>

A prickle of annoyance. <You have had more dealings with humans than I. Can you honestly say that they have never betrayed you?>

I paused. Memories from last year surfaced in my mind. I’d trusted that Stalker wanted to help the Legendaries, and that had turned out to be a lie. Lugia must have sensed my doubts, because I felt a wisp of self-satisfaction from it.

<No. I can’t. But…> But I didn’t have a good argument. There wasn’t much point in continuing this conversation, so I decided to drop it for now.

“Today has brought us not one, but two great victories,” Ho-oh said, nodding toward Rudy and Moltres. “I wish you both nothing but the best.”

Moltres tossed its head indifferently. “So what next?”

Next? After everything we’d been through today, the idea of there even being a ‘next’ was too exhausting to think about.

Fortunately, Ajia was on the same page. She jumped in with, “We’ve all had a long day. We should call it a night; worry about tomorrow when it comes, alright?” She looked up at the Legendaries imploringly.

Mew nodded. <I agree. You all deserve rest.>

Thank god. Even if we’d be sleeping in tiny cabin bunks as opposed to the plush beds in the hotel room back at Indigo, it still sounded like heaven after all this. And… some of us had gone through more than others.

I glanced back at Rudy. He was giving his team a reassuring smile as he talked with them, having to hold Ebony down from licking his face repeatedly.

“You guys were awesome, you know that?” I said as I walked over. Ebony beamed up at me while Fearow closed her eyes with just the slightest bit of a self-satisfied grin. Rudy smiled faintly, holding a hand against his temple. I couldn’t help noticing him swaying a bit, like he might lose his balance at any moment.

“Hey, so… congrats,” I added, unsure if that was an appropriate thing to say in this situation. “How you feeling?”

“It’s wild,” Rudy said distantly. “I saw… things.” He closed his eyes and shuddered. All the negative emotions associated with the fight, all at once—that’s what he’d just had to endure. Having gone through that myself, I couldn’t blame him for feeling out of it.

Rudy finally opened his eyes, forcing a smile. “I made a lot of stupid mistakes, huh?”

“We all did,” I said slowly. “You could say that joining the Rebellion was the stupidest mistake of all.”

Rudy shook his head. “That’s the one thing I don’t regret. I mean… I know what it led to. But that was my fault. Just joining the team in the first place? I don’t regret that.”

I paused, meeting his eye. “Me neither.”

As we walked toward the edge of the clearing, I happened to glance over and see Darren leaning against a tree, hands buried in his pockets and an awkward look plastered on his face.

“Right, so… this is a thing, I guess,” he said with a forced laugh, his eyes tracing the various Legendaries still standing around the clearing, discussing things amongst each other. “Should I really be here?”

“Why the hell not?” Rudy asked heatedly. “You’re on our team, aren’t you?”

Darren chuckled. “The Rebellion ended a long time ago.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Rudy said, waving a hand like he didn’t want to hear it. “The Rebellion’s over but that Rocket mess is still happening, yeah? That didn’t magically go away.”

Darren gave a noncommittal shrug. Then his eyes fell on me, and he gave me a curious look. “So Jade… you’re obviously one of the ones who’s allowed to be here, I guess. Did you… make a deal with one of them?”

I swallowed. No point in hiding it. “Yeah.” Rudy snapped his head toward me in surprise—he must not have pieced that together yet.

“Which one?” Darren asked.

“Huh?” I hadn’t been expecting that question to sound so casual. “Oh, uh… Lugia.”

He folded his arms behind his head and gave a crooked smile. “You know, that’s pretty sweet.”

I had a hard time framing it like that, but... yeah. It kind of was.

“Wait, seriously? You’re partnered with Lugia?!” Rudy exclaimed, and his tone ripped me back to a distant time. Back when he’d gush about meeting Legendaries and proving himself to them. Back before the weight of the world had crashed down on us.

Unsure of how else to respond, I just said, “Yeah.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Rudy demanded.

I almost laughed out loud. “Why do you think? I wasn’t allowed to, that’s why.”

He scowled. “That’s dumb, why not?”

I opened my mouth to speak… and then realized that Moltres really hadn’t explained much of anything about the chosen pact to Rudy. Maybe it planned on doing so privately later. Either way, silly as it was, Rudy had a point. While it made sense that we couldn’t go blabbing Legendary secrets to the world, I was absolutely fed up with keeping secrets from friends and allies. No more.

“You’re right. I guess it was dumb.”

Rudy nodded sharply like he’d sure showed me. Like I hadn’t just agreed with him.

“C’mon, let’s head back now. You look like you’re about to pass out,” Darren said.

“I’m just fine,” Rudy snapped. Nidoking rolled his eyes at that, as he was probably the only thing keeping his trainer standing.

It had been a very, very long day. But in the end, I couldn’t help feeling pretty okay about how it had all turned out.






~End Chapter 39~

Next Chapter: Sebastian's here. And he has news for everyone.
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat that writes stories.
Location
UK
Pronouns
they/she
Partner
purrloin-salem
Hi, Chibi! It's been a while I know, but it's time to finally give this a review at last.

You may recall I read the prologue a couple years ago and gave a fairly positive review composed mostly of close-reading nitpicks. I wasn't sure what my experience reading further on would be like, given I knew the prologue wasn't that representative of the following chapters, but I had no idea how true that would turn out to be! I ended up reading the first three post-prologue chapters for this round of Catnip Circle, and I found them interesting, fun, and a breezy read. I described the content on Discord today as being what I want instead of the anime we got, and I meant it. Meanwhile the prose is solid, and it puts me firmly in Jade's headspace and delivers sense of place, urgency, threat, and so on.

My reading of these chapters is coloured enormously by discussion of LC on Discord, and I'll try to be conscious of when that's happening. For example, Chibi's appearance was less badass and more goofy in my head because I'm used to thinking of the guy making dumb expressions and also I know he's gonna get named Chibi, and I am delighted. Also, I'm shipping Jade/Starr literally from the moment they appear because I've been hardcoded to look for fuel. Still, I feel like the characters are compelling enough so far just from the prose regardless of my exposure to your thoughts elsewhere. The plot so far isn't the sort of thing I look for in fic and is extremely 2004-core as we've discussed, but it still has me hyped for what comes all the same, mostly due to just being genuinely exciting. It helps that you have some solid characterisation of a well rounded protagonist with room for growth, and some lovely worldbuilding details that make it feel grounded and expansive despite a tight focus and a high concept plot.

Also, frankly, the chapter art is fantastic. Your proficiency as an artist is impressive on its own, but the "vibe" of each piece really helps sell each chapter. I particularly love the cover art with the 'strings of fate' because the vibe is hugely appealling. Really works to get me to buy in.

Great work, and I'm keen to read on!
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Pronouns
He/Him
Partner
mew
Chapter 36 Review

This chapter was pretty nice in that we finally got around to Jade getting chosen by Lugia, an event we've arguably always known was going to happen from chapter one.

The chapter also gave us to answer to why Lugia let Jade live back when she really ticked them off, and of course it was because Mew convinced them not to. Though to me it sort of feels like Jade was quick to accept the deal even though she's been torn between wanting freedom and stopping TR for a long time. I guess it's because she's basically making a life long contract here, but it's not much of a gripe honestly.

I loved the subversion of the chosen one trope here in that the chosen aren't picked because of destiny, but because they fit a certain number of criteria. One doesn't necessarily have to be the best choice for the legendary to be chosen, but based on how well they can contribute to their alliance with one another.

It was a solid chapter all things considered and answered some long held questions. Now with their objective to free Moltres from Team Rocket, I look forward to seeing how things are going to pan out.
 
Chapter 40: Crisis in Hoenn

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Thanks for the reviews, uA and Adam! I really enjoyed reading your comments. :D

With this chapter, we've hit an important milestone. LC is officially halfway done. It's wild to finally be at this point. Is everyone ready? Let's dive in~



~Chapter 40: Crisis in Hoenn~



By the end of the night, Mew had teleported the other Legendaries back to their respective homes. It was kind of strange to feel Lugia’s restless, distracted mind slowly settle into a calm, gentle flow, almost like a river slowing down. The feeling was… relaxing in a way. If Lugia could sleep soundly, then so could I.

Ajia showed us the barn behind the cabin, which was set up as a Pokémon sleeping quarters, and everyone let their teams out for the night (with a few exceptions like Pichu, who preferred to stay with their trainers). Then we were finally free to head inside and get ready to crash. My head hit the pillow and I was out almost immediately.

Then, what felt like seconds later, a high-pitched cry jerked me awake.

“What the heck…” I muttered to myself, burying my head under the pillow. The noise didn’t stop. And then, for whatever reason, my brain finally processed that it was Latias’s voice.

“Latias?” I blurted out, sitting up straight and blinking in the darkness. Then the light switch flipped on and I had to shield my face from the sudden brightness assaulting my eyes. Squinting through nearly-closed eyelids, I could just barely make out the crimson dragon flying circles near the ceiling.

“*There’s an intruder!*” she cried.

An intruder? What? Who? The Rockets? How did they find us here? Did they follow us? Were we under attack?

“Who is it?” I asked her.

“*It’s him! The one who stole my brother!*” the dragon cried.

My heart skipped a beat. Stalker? Stalker was here? No way. I hadn’t seen him in over nine months. I was hoping I could just forget about him. What on earth was he doing here? Why now?

I rubbed my eyes aggressively until I was finally able to see, then threw a glance at Ajia and Starr. Ajia already had a look of deep concentration as she spoke mind-to-mind with Mew. Starr’s eyes were screwed shut, and she looked tired enough to murder someone for more sleep.

“Someone gonna tell me what the hell is—”

“Sebastian,” Ajia cut in.

Starr’s eyes snapped open. “What the hell is he doing here?” she said.

“Guess we’re about to find out,” Ajia said, jumping to her feet. She paused long enough for Pichu to leap onto her shoulder before bolting out the door. With a heavy groan, Starr followed.

I leapt out of bed and glanced around for Chibi… and then remembered that he and the rest of my team were back at the main ranger station. Dammit. I mean, I’d had to, they were injured, but still, dammit. Then again, it wasn’t like we had any reason to expect a fight… right?

I rushed down the stairs, my head a confused, distorted mess of conflicting emotions. Stalker was here, and I had absolutely no idea how I was supposed to feel about that. Wary? Anxious? Scared? Angry? This wasn’t how I’d imagined things would be the next time I saw him. But what had I imagined? That we’d somehow get the chance to talk things out and come to an understanding? Of course that was unrealistic. But had I wanted that?

Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I registered the fact that we were running downstairs to confront a Rocket commander while wearing pajamas. So now embarrassment could get added to that pile of conflicting emotions.

My footsteps slowed as I reached the ground floor. The front door was open, light spilling out into the front walkway; Ajia and Starr were out on the steps. And there he was, right in front of us. Former leader of the Rebellion. Current head of the Johto combat unit. The one who’d used us for months, playing with our lives, all just to serve his power play with the Kanto force. Standing out there in a long, white executive’s coat, arms folded behind his back, Charizard sitting calmly at his side. He raised his hands disarmingly, casting an amused glance around at the lineup of both human and Pokémon that had rushed out to confront him.

“I believe congratulations are in order,” he said. “You all did quite the masterful job stealing Moltres from the Kanto force.”

Part of me wanted to say something. It had been over nine months since I’d last seen him. Nine months since he’d abruptly gone from trusted ally to cold manipulator in the span of a single night. But the words wouldn’t come.

“What do you want, Sebastian?” Ajia asked, her voice tired and exasperated. Pichu punctuated her words with a jolt of sparks.

“Wait… Stalker? He’s the one you’re all so worked up about?” a voice called out.

I spun around to see the two faces that weren’t scowling at him: Rudy gaping incredulously and Darren squinting like he was trying to put together what was going on.

“What are you doing here, man?” Rudy asked, taking a few steps forward.

“More like what the hell are you doing here,” Starr snapped.

Rudy froze, staring at her in bewilderment. He glanced back and forth between Stalker and me, waiting for answers.

Oh geez, he didn’t know. I’d never told him. He had no idea that Stalker wasn’t on our side after all. On top of that, I could now see a couple of Rudy and Darren’s Pokémon inching into view from around the side of the cabin, looking equally confused. Ebony and Weavile in particular were frozen mid-step, like they’d been about to run over and say hi until everyone started acting so hostile.

I made eye contact with Rudy and frantically shook my head back and forth while swiping a hand from side to side. But he just stared back, completely oblivious. Darren seemed to realize what I was getting at though. He grabbed Rudy’s shoulder, and when the latter turned toward him in confusion, he just shook his head and put a finger over his mouth.

“There’s no need for hostility. I’ve just come to talk,” Stalker said.

“You’ve got some nerve showing up here like this and expecting a warm welcome,” Ajia said coolly. Starr distinctly looked like she was holding back from saying much harsher things.

And then out of nowhere, Latias shot forward, stopping right in front of him and staring him straight in the eyes. “*Let my brother go!*”

Stalker stared back, unflinching. “I’m afraid that I can’t do that. I still need to utilize his strength for my plans.”

“*How is what you’re doing any different from what they’re doing?!*” she cried, voice breaking slightly.

Stalker closed his eyes in frustration. “I am not going to explain this again. I need Latios. Now do you want to hear what I have to say or not?”

Latias drew herself back, eyes wide and shining. And for a second, I was half-convinced that she was about to attack him. But then she screwed her eyes shut and bolted away from him, ducking behind Mew, who was hovering over Ajia’s head, watching him carefully.

“I believe your other Legendary allies will want to hear this. Why don’t you bring them here?” Stalker offered.

“You really think we’ll fall for that?” Ajia asked, raising an eyebrow.

“They have nothing to fear from me,” he said simply. “I’m the one who’s outmatched here.”

It didn’t… seem like he was lying. After all, what could he possibly do to us when he was so ridiculously outnumbered? Heck, even without the Legendaries, all Starr had to do was snap her fingers and her team would be on him in an instant. And from the look on her face, she was about five seconds away from doing just that.

Ajia let out a sigh, then glanced over at Mew and nodded. The psychic cat considered her carefully, then nodded back and vanished. Several seconds passed. I felt a sudden spike of irritation in the back of my mind as Mew no doubt had just invaded Lugia’s sanctum. Another minute passed, and Mew suddenly reappeared, this time joined by three gigantic birds—Lugia looking cross, Ho-oh concerned, and Moltres intrigued.

“Who is this human?” Moltres asked once it had gotten a good look at the standoff. “If he has stolen the power of a legend, why do we not simply kill him?”

Stalker stared unflinchingly up at the firebird. “Killing me won’t free Latios. It would only ensure that you never find him. And I have information that you require.”

“Bold of you to assume I would not kill you anyway,” Moltres said coolly.

“I would not have come here if I hadn’t prepared for that possibility.” The unspoken implication was clear—he knew for a fact that his life was not in danger.

Moltres considered him for some time before drawing itself back, looking satisfied. “Very well. Say what you have to say.”

Stalker turned to face the rest of us, surveying the faces on our group. “I’m sure by now you’ve all realized the purpose of the Rockets’ attack on Indigo.”

I hesitated. I thought we knew, but hearing him say it like that, I was suddenly unsure.

“They were… using it as bait to capture the other Legendaries,” I said, eyeing him closely.

Stalker folded his arms behind his back. “That’s one reason, certainly. Far from the main one, however.”

“So quit playing your dumbass games and tell us already,” Starr spat.

He made eye contact with Starr briefly, looking vaguely amused by her wording, before turning his gaze back to Ajia. “It’s more that they wished to draw attention away from something else.”

“So it was a distraction,” Ajia said flatly. Stalker nodded.

Nothing but a distraction. God, that explained everything. No wonder the mission didn’t make any sense. Trying to lure the others into a trap and capture them? And sending only a single squad of Rockets with two executives to do it? What a joke. Of course the Rockets didn’t really have an agenda at Indigo. No wonder it felt like the attack just kept going for hours with no end goal, more about putting on a spectacle than actually accomplishing anything. We were idiots.

“What are they really planning?” I asked, a sinking feeling building in my stomach.

Even after all this time, I had no trouble spotting that subtle gleam in his eye when I asked that. Like he was already relishing the chance to explain. I hated it—all it did was remind me of how I thought I knew him.

“The attack on Viridian last year put the Rockets in a dangerous position,” Stalker began slowly, carefully watching for our reactions, “and without Mewtwo, it would be too difficult for them to proceed with their plans, unless they manage to obtain a weapon on par with Mewtwo.”

A Legendary Pokémon… on par with Mewtwo? Did such a Pokémon exist?

“What, so like Mew?” I asked with a glance back at the psychic cat.

“Mewtwo was engineered to be stronger than Mew,” Starr cut in, folding her arms. “And Mew is too difficult to hunt down. Trust me, it’s not Mew.”

<Some Legendary Pokémon are more powerful than others,> Mew explained, gesturing to Lugia and Ho-oh. <They are the higher legends. It’s likely that Mewtwo matches even them in strength.>

That some Legendaries were even stronger than the rest… the idea had honestly never even occurred to me. Then again, it made sense, thinking back to when Lugia had attacked Viridian—Articuno and Moltres had barely been able to put a scratch on it. But somehow it was comforting that, as powerful as Mewtwo was, he wasn’t stronger than the higher legends. His power wasn’t unprecedented.

<Let them try for me. I dare them,> Lugia said coldly.

Ho-oh gave the silver bird a tired look. “It’s not wise to tempt fate.”

Stalker shook his head. “Fortunately, neither of you is the target,” he said matter-of-factly. “The Rockets have set their sights on Hoenn.”

A heavy silence fell over the surrounding. Slowly, each of us turned toward Latias, whose eyes had gone wide with dread.

“*What do you mean?*” she asked, her voice quivering slightly.

Stalker paused for several seconds, waiting until all eyes were back on him. Satisfied that he had everyone’s attention, he went on, “They’re going to reawaken Groudon and Kyogre.”

Groudon… and… Kyogre? I’d… vaguely heard of them. Ancient gods of Hoenn, or something like that? Not exactly the kind of Legendaries that anyone ever saw.

Latias was still staring. “*But… how? They’d need the red and blue orbs, but... those are…*”

“Currently held inside the Magma and Aqua bases, yes,” Stalker finished. “The Rockets aim to steal them.”

“Wait, wait wait wait,” I said, grabbing my forehead while I tried to make sense of this sudden revelation. “What the heck are you guys talking about? Orbs? Reawaken?”

Latias paused, realizing that the rest of us had no idea. She tapped her claws together and said, “*Two years ago, there was a terrible event in my home region. You might have heard of it—the humans called it the Hoenn weather crisis.*”

Okay, that definitely sounded familiar. Memories of seeing footage of a crazy weather catastrophe on the news suddenly drifted back to me. Supposedly caused by a gang of environmental extremists, although how exactly they’d been able to cause such a thing had always been conveniently danced around.

“*Two rival organizations sought to shape the Hoenn region in their own image,*” she went on. “*One sought to expand the land; the other, the sea. So they set their sights on awakening the ancient gods Groudon and Kyogre, to realize their dream.*” She paused, shivering. “*But… that dream would have been nothing but an unending hell for the world.*”

I stared at her, a chill running down my spine. “Are you saying that Team Rocket’s trying to recreate that disaster?”

“Only as long as it takes to capture them,” Stalker said simply.

I gaped at him, still struggling to process the weight of it all. “And these Magma and Aqua guys… we’ve gotta deal with them now?”

Latias frowned. “*I… don’t believe so. When the Hoenn region was in crisis, both teams’ leaders saw the error of their ways, and lent their efforts toward sealing Groudon and Kyogre once more. After the crisis was resolved, they announced that they wished to make amends, and pushed their organizations in a more respectable direction. Latios and I kept a close eye on them—the Hoenn region has not seen any trouble from them since.*”

“Well they’re gonna be in for a nasty surprise when the Rockets show up on their doorstep,” Ajia said grimly.

“The Rockets have been sending agents to Hoenn, gathering information for months,” Stalker went on, pacing slowly in front of us. “The Indigo attack was only to hide the fact that their entire combat unit began mobilizing yesterday. The mission is already underway. They’ve sent squads to both teams’ headquarters, as well as to the mountain where the two Legendaries now sleep, so I’d recommend splitting up.”

I jolted. “Hang on, what? Right now?! Why didn’t you tell us sooner?!”

“You sent Lexx to warn us but you couldn’t tell us that it was all just a goddamn distraction?” Starr snarled. “You wanted us to fall for it!”

Stalker stared at her, his gaze cold and unyielding. “I need you all to make things more difficult for them. But it wouldn’t do me any good if you stopped them outright before they even started.”

“The hell?!”

Ajia shook her head. “Just like the good old days, huh?” Her tone was disappointed, but unsurprised. “Getting everyone else to do your dirty work. Is that ever going to change?”

“I still need to appear loyal to the boss,” he replied, holding both palms up. “It would be a complete waste if I gave myself away now.”

I was speechless. I wanted to say something. Hell, I almost wanted to lash out like Starr. But all I could do was stare at him in stunned disbelief. It shouldn’t have been surprising. It shouldn’t have. But part of me had still been hoping that Ajia and Starr’s perception of Stalker had been… had been wrong. That the person I’d known on the Rebellion had been real. But no. Stalker was fake. It had only ever been Sebastian.

“You know, I’m surprised to see all of you here together,” Stalker said offhandedly. “Or rather, I’m surprised to see the Legendaries willingly accepting help from humans. Of course, I’m sure at least some of you are here by contract. I wonder which ones.” His eyes lingered on me a little longer than they should have. I kept my expression perfectly neutral.

“Anyway. I have business I need to attend to,” he said, turning to walk away, Charizard following close behind. “I expect I’ll be seeing you all in Hoenn soon. After all,”—he turned to face us one last time—“the clock is ticking.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“What the hell was any of that?”

Rudy’s voice echoed throughout the yard, the only words anyone had spoken since Stalker had left.

“Like, I don’t even know where to start,” he went on, bracing himself against the side of the cabin. “Why was everyone treating Stalker like a bad guy? Why was he talking like that? What the hell is going on?”

“Your precious rebel team leader is head of the Johto combat unit,” Starr muttered, rubbing her eyes. The anger from Stalker’s arrival had largely worn off, and she mostly just looked exhausted.

Rudy gaped at her. “But… that doesn’t make any sense!”

I felt a nudge at my side; Darren had sidled over to me when I wasn’t looking. “Hey, quick question: when did you find out about that?” he whispered.

I jerked my head toward him. “Eh?”

“Well, you obviously already knew,” he said with a knowing look.

Oh. I guess it was obvious, yeah. I swallowed hard and said, “Last year.”

Darren clicked his tongue. “You could’ve mentioned it.”

I put a hand to my forehead. “I didn’t want to think about it, alright? I was hoping I’d never have to deal with him again, but then all this stuff happened and… yeah.” God, I’d turned into Ajia. When had that happened?

Rudy was pacing back and forth in the driveway, arms swinging at his side. Finally, he snapped his head toward the rest of us and asked, “So what are we gonna do about what he said?”

“Excuse me?” Starr said, staring at him incredulously.

He glanced back and forth between us like we were all insane. “We’re not just gonna let them catch Groudon and Kyogre, are we?”

“Yeah, why don’t you just charge right into an obvious trap. Sure,” Starr said, throwing her arms in the air.

“Starr, I’m not saying we should trust Sebastian or anything—” Ajia began carefully.

“But you’re all just gonna play into his hands like usual,” Starr finished, not bothering to hide the disgusted tone in her voice.

“Look, I was just chosen, alright!” Rudy shot back, giving her a fierce glare. “And I don’t really get what that means yet, but I know I can’t ignore this.”

I was in the same boat as him. I’d only been chosen for… geez, only about four hours longer than him. God, it felt weird putting that in perspective.

“Guess this means we’re getting the rebel team back together then,” Darren said, crossing his arms behind his head. “Unless you don’t need my help? I dunno if I can really measure up now that you’ve got Moltres.” He gave Rudy a sideways glance.

“You’re not getting out of it that easy,” Rudy snapped, grabbing the back of Darren’s shirt before he could walk back inside.

Starr stared at us, shaking her head. “So what am I supposed to do?”

Ajia gave her a soft look. “I’m not gonna pressure you to help us,” she said. “It’s up to you.”

“If I may interject,” a booming voice suddenly said. I looked up to see Ho-oh focusing its large, amber eyes on us. “If you wish to help your companions, you should say so.”

Starr stared up at the legend incredulously. “I don’t want to. I want nothing to do with this stupid war.”

“If that were true, you would not be here,” it said, with a rather matter-of-fact tone.

“The hell do you know?” she snapped.

Ho-oh’s expression was calm, unyielding. “My apologies,” it said, stepping back from us.

Starr’s eyes flickered back and forth between the various Legendaries, eyes narrowing suspiciously. Then she spun around to grab me by the shoulders, and I flinched.

Please tell me you’re not going to do this,” she said, her voice breaking.

I stared back, feeling my heart crumple inward. I didn’t want to do this to her. I really didn’t. But I didn’t have a choice.

“I have to,” I said weakly.

“It’s this stupid chosen thing again, isn’t it?” she asked, her voice low and cold, but with blades of anger digging into it. “Tell me the truth. You were chosen too, weren’t you?”

There it was. She’d already guessed, so there was no use denying it.

I swallowed hard. “Yeah.”

Starr clenched her fists, muttering various obscenities about the Legendaries. She glanced over at Ho-oh. Then to Ajia. Then screwed her eyes shut with a pained expression. “Then. I’m going with you.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but she cut me off with, “Don’t say anything before I change my mind.”

Unsure of what else to do, I just nodded. There wasn’t anything I could say that would make things better anyway.

“Where are we going, exactly?” I asked, throwing a glance over at the Legendaries. Lugia tilted its head sort of like a shrug and then gave Mew an expectant look.

Mew put a paw to her chin. <Latias, do you know?>

At those words, Latias slowly drifted out through the cabin’s front door, eyes glued to the floor. Several times, she opened her mouth to speak, only for the words to fail. Finally, she managed to say, “*The Magma building is on the slopes of the great volcano, and the Aqua building is off the northeastern shore. I can show them to you, but…*” Her words trailed off. She stared downward, trembling slightly. “*I should have known about this. My home region is under attack and I didn’t even know. What kind of guardian am I?*”

I blinked. “Hey, hey this isn’t your fault,” I said, gently touching her shoulder.

“*This is all so much… I don’t know what to do,*” the dragon cried, burying her face in her claws.

I flashed a helpless expression at Mew. She flew down and embraced Latias, wrapping her arms around the dragon’s neck, and I took a few steps back to give the two some space.

For some time, no one said anything. We just stood there, awkwardly avoiding each other’s eye. It was a weird feeling—the first time an imminent Legendary mission had seemed so… personal.

Ajia watched the two with a solemn look on her face, then turned to the rest of us. “We don’t have much time. Let’s get ready.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After we got dressed, Mew teleported us over to the main Ranger HQ. It was 4 in the morning, so Ajia first had to get someone on night shift to wake her dad up, then he woke up all the other senior rangers onsite. I wasn’t entirely sure, but it looked like she was having him break the news to the others so that she wouldn’t have to explain to everyone why we even knew about this in the first place. Being on a first-name basis with the Johto commander was hardly something to be proud of.

My half-asleep brain was still having a hard time processing the fact that we suddenly had to travel to a region clear on the southern end of the archipelago. It was nuts. The sun wasn’t even up yet, and we hadn’t gotten to fully recover from yesterday, and now this? Why the hell did we have to deal with this now? A voice in the back of my head said that was exactly the reason the Rockets had chosen to execute this mission in the dead of night after mobilizing all their troops while the entire region had its eyes on a Legendary attack. It made perfect sense, but I wasn’t exactly in the mood to admit that.

While struggling just to keep my eyes open, I spotted Starr making a break for the coffee pot, pouring herself a large cup and downing it almost instantly, without even adding any sugar or anything. I wandered over to her, and she must have mistaken that as me wanting to get coffee too, because she poured a second cup and held it out to me.

“I’ll pass,” I said, sticking out my tongue.

“I’ll take it,” Rudy said, suddenly appearing from behind me.

Starr raised an eyebrow, but handed it to him anyway. “Aren’t you like twelve?”

“I’m fourteen,” he snapped, shooting a glare at her.

Starr rolled her eyes—it was clear that she didn’t really see the difference.

“You like that stuff?” I asked, gaping at him as he started chugging it.

He grimaced. “No. But I think I’m gonna need it.” He did proceed to drown it in sugar, though.

Ajia broke off from the gathering of rangers and jogged over to us, moving far more quickly than anyone should at this hour. Her eyes held an obvious tiredness though, like she was forcing herself to be more energetic than she really felt.

“Okay, they’re gonna contact the Sootopolis rangers, have them start evacuating the city. So that’s all good there, I’m gonna see if I can snag some healing supplies for us,” she said, gesturing to a nearby closet. “Something tells me this is gonna be a long fight.”

Good. The last thing I needed was to be stuck with my entire team incapacitated like yesterday. I didn’t exactly have a stash of revive crystals lying around, given how expensive they were. Not that it would have done much to heal the massive wounds that my team had sustained… although it probably would have helped Chibi.

Speaking of my team… I glanced over at the healing station and… yes! A ranger had just walked behind the counter. I practically flew over to it, slamming both hands on the countertop and loudly asking, “Is my team healed?” It had been ten hours or so—that was enough time, right?

The ranger blinked at me in tired confusion. (I guess it was kind of weird for a trainer to be using this facility.) “...Your name?” he asked.

“Jade Arens.”

He shuffled through the Pokéball trays behind the counter before finding a tray with six balls, one of them the telltale black experiment ball.

“Looks like their wounds are closed up, for the most part. They were due for a few more hours on the machine to be back at 100%, but it’s safe to let them out, at least.”

No sooner had he set the tray down had I grabbed all six balls—three in each hand—and ran outside. All six of my Pokémon appeared in flashes of light, and I found myself immediately inspecting them for signs of damage. Jet, Chibi, and Stygian were okay—they’d gotten off easy. Firestorm and Aros had some raw skin where their wounds had closed up but not fully recovered yet. Swift… looked completely fine. Feathers clean, eyes alert, no sign of what had happened.

“Are you guys alright?” I asked.

Swift gave me a curious look while Firestorm stretched widely and yawned.

“*Still sore,*” the Charizard said, inspecting the wingtip that had been torn yesterday. “*At least we all made it out okay.*”

Chibi fixed me with a serious look. “*What about the mission?*” Right, it wasn’t like he could ask the rangers how it went.

“It went fine, Moltres is free, everyone else made it out okay,” I said quickly.

The hybrid eyed me closely. “*Something’s wrong. What is it?*” Of course he’d noticed right away. I don’t know why I expected anything less.

“I’m going on another mission,” I said flatly.

“*Another one?*” Stygian asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Stalker showed up, turns out that the entire Moltres situation was some kind of BS distraction,” I said quickly, trying not to think about it too much because it only made me feel even more frustrated about the way he’d played us for fools. “Two more Legendaries in the Hoenn region are in danger. I need to know who’s not feeling up to it so I know who’s okay to send out.”

“*Which ones?*” Firestorm asked, frowning.

“Groudon and Kyogre.”

Most of them showed no reaction to the names—stories of the two weren’t very common in our region, and that must have gone for both humans and Pokémon. At least… aside from the Floatzel now staring up at me with starry eyes.

“*We’re gonna rescue gods now?*” she said, mouth hanging open.

Ughh, I didn’t want to encourage that line of thinking, but I didn’t have the time or energy to shut it down.

“Yep, we’re rescuing gods. Big important stuff. Is everyone in fighting shape?” My eyes lingered over Swift. He tilted his head quizzically, and I quickly broke eye contact.

“*Well I’m fine,*” Jet said, sticking her nose in the air. “*That Gengar’s Thunderbolt wasn’t that bad.*”

Stygian closed her eyes. “*I’ve had worse.*”

“*You got off easy,*” Aros muttered, flicking her with his tail fan.

I stared at the Flygon, unsure of how I was supposed to take that. “So were you wanting to sit out or…?”

“*Who the hell do you take me for?*” Okay, never mind, I’d just failed at reading him again, that was fine.

“*I guess we don’t have a choice,*” Firestorm said, tapping his claws together. “*We can’t just let those two get caught.*” He paused for a bit, flame crackling. “*But we didn’t exactly stand a chance in that last fight,*” he went on, grimacing. “*This isn’t just gonna be a repeat of that, is it?*”

At his words, all six of them looked back at me, waiting for my answer. The answer I wasn’t sure I could give. Of course I didn’t want it to be a repeat of last time, but…

I swallowed. “We won’t be alone this time, we’ll have the others for support,” I said firmly. “And the Legendaries. They’ll actually be able to help us this time.”

The Charizard considered me carefully. “*Alright.*”

So that was everyone. I grabbed their Pokéballs and recalled each of them… and then found my hand frozen when Swift was the last one out.

“You’re… sure you’re alright?” I asked. It was hard to look at him without imagining that gaping wound across his neck. Even if it had only been for a few seconds… they were some of the most terrifying seconds in my life.

“*I’m fine,*” Swift insisted. “*You recalled me so quickly that I didn’t lose much blood. And it was a clean slice—easy to mend.*”

“Okay.” I took a deep breath. “I really don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.” Wait. That almost sounded like—“Not that I’d be fine with losing any of the others, that’s not it at all!” I added quickly. “I just…”

“*I know what you mean,*” the Pidgeot said, pressing his forehead against my arm.

I exhaled slowly, wrapping my arms around his neck.

“*But… I do worry,*” he said, shuffling a talon against the dirt. “*The possibility of losing any of us is a very real one. We can’t pretend otherwise.*”

I let go of him, glancing away. “I know that. I’ve always known that, I’ve just… shoved it aside. Rudy had to learn that truth the hard way, and here I’ve been hiding from it.” God, it hadn’t even been a full day yet, and here we were marching into mortal danger again. And I’d already accepted it as an inevitability. How screwed up was that?

“Do you… think maybe we shouldn’t be doing this?”

Swift paused, mulling the question over. “*It’s like you said. You were chosen. It’s a commitment you cannot back down from.*”

I rubbed my arms, eyes sliding to the ground. “Yeah, but… the rest of you aren’t bound to that or anything.”

He gave a patient sigh. “*Each of us has our own reasons for being here. And we’re not going to abandon you in your time of need. This is too important.*”

I knew that. I’d always known that. And yet there was still that small part of me that doubted it. That worried they were just going along with it because I was their trainer. Even if half of them were the sort to immediately call me out on that sort of thing.

“*Also, you really shouldn’t have recalled me while you were on my back,*” Swift added, giving me a look like he didn’t know what to do with me.

I smiled weakly. “I knew one of the others could catch me.” It was still a pretty stupid move, yeah. Just waiting the few extra seconds for Swift to glide down so I could recall him on the ground wouldn’t have resulted in that much more blood loss. But in the moment, it had just been the obvious thing to do.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“We’re gonna have to split up. Have half of us tackle the Magma base and the other half do the Aqua base,” Ajia announced once we’d all regrouped back at the cabin, where we could talk with the Legendaries without catching the eye of every ranger in the union.

“So, what, me and Jade take one base, you and the twerps take the other base?” Starr asked, with a tone that was trying too hard to be casual.

Rudy gave her an incredulous glare. “What? No way, the three of us are mission partners, you’re not splitting us.”

“That supposed to mean anything to me?” she said flatly, giving him an unimpressed look.

“It means,” Darren cut in, before Rudy could say anything hasty, “that we trained together and our teams already know how to support each other.”

“Yeah, well, if both of you come with me and Jade, then Ajia’s stuck by herself, and—”

“Look, our teams are gonna be uneven no matter what since there’s five of us,” Ajia said carefully, giving Starr a meaningful look. “Since those three have trained together and the two of us are more experienced, why don’t we just split it like that?”

Starr was silent for some time. “Fine,” she said grudgingly, folding her arms and glancing away. Though she hadn’t said so, it was pretty obvious that she was only coming along because she didn’t want me to get myself killed. But Rudy, Darren, and I had faced the combat unit together before. Our teams were a whole lot stronger now, plus we’d have Legendaries backing us up—actually backing us up, not like that crap from yesterday. I’d be fine without her.

…Somehow, I already didn’t believe that.

<Now it’s just a matter of which of us should go where,> Mew said turning to face her fellow legends. <Obviously, patrons and chosen will want to stick together, but—>

“Forgive my interruption, but what of the island where Groudon and Kyogre rest?” Ho-oh asked. “It seems reasonable to assume that the most powerful enemy forces will be the ones preparing to confront the legends directly.”

Ajia paused to consider it. “Actually, wouldn’t it work best if you and Lugia take that one? You wouldn’t be able to come with us inside the bases,” she pointed out.

<My abilities will be best utilized at sea anyway,> Lugia said simply. <And separating from my chosen will allow our groups a line of communication.>

Ajia tapped a fist against her open palm. “Alright so me, Mew, and Starr will hit the Aqua base. Lugia and Ho-oh will guard Sootopolis and make sure no one comes close.”

Rudy nodded sharply. “Then me, Jade, and Darren will hit the Magma base, and Moltres can be our backup.”

Moltres gave Rudy a sideways glance. “Time to prove that you’re not all talk, eh?”

“That’s the plan,” he replied shortly.

“*What about me?*” a small, high-pitched voice asked. I glanced over to see Latias hovering off by the bushes, her posture small and restrained.

“Are you… feeling up to it?” I asked cautiously.

The dragon’s eyes sharpened. “*I want to help. My home is in danger. This is my responsibility.*”

Mew gave her a soft smile. <Of course. We’ll be glad to—>

“Go with these three,” Starr cut in, gesturing toward me, Rudy, and Darren.

I blinked. “Eh?”

She fixed me with a hard stare. “You’re not gonna have your… ‘patron’ or whatever. And his will be stuck outside,” she added, jerking a thumb toward Rudy and Moltres. “So you three could use more firepower.”

Latias glanced at Mew, unsure, but the psychic cat gave her an encouraging smile. “*Alright. I’ll do it.*”

<Very well. Are you ready?> Mew asked, holding out her tail.

It took me a few seconds to realize that was directed at our entire group, and that this was it—she was seriously about to teleport us to Hoenn. I barely had time to process that reality before me, Rudy, Darren, Moltres, and Latias were all crowded around the tiny psychic cat. I grabbed hold of her tail tip.

And with that, our surrounding melted into distorted light before immediately reforming into a rocky, sloping terrain. If the sudden lack of trees didn’t give away how far we’d travelled, the stiflingly warm, humid air would have done it. Not to mention the volcano peak towering over the horizon. Smoke gently drifted up into the sky, blotting out the stars, and the moon had long since set.

And then I saw it. Not too far from us, built into the side of a sheer rock face, was a large, black and red building. A bright red light flashed angrily over the front entrance. From inside, I could hear the muffled sound of an alarm blaring. My stomach curled in on itself. The Rockets were already here.

Mew stared at the building, concern etched all over her face.

I took a deep breath. “Go on. The others will need you,” I told her.

<But…>

“The situation with the Aquas has gotta be just as bad. Go!”

She paused for several seconds before nodding. <Good luck.> Then she vanished.






~End Chapter 40~

Next Chapter: The race for the Red Orb is on.
 
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