~~~ *** ~~~
Fifteen hectic minutes later, Kenjiro, Katrina, and Travis were closing the trapdoor in the Romero Mansion. Standing up, they heard the clanking of armor and a woman’s voice saying, “Don’t you ever knock?”
Travis, a bit surprised, looked over toward the wall nearest the door. Leaning against it was a woman. She wore a chest plate and round shoulder pads that were a silver color over what appeared to be an emerald-green body suit. Her pants were also an emerald green color, so there was probably no question about for whom she was working. At her waist was a sword, in a black-colored scabbard. The woman had blonde hair tied in a ponytail and fringe that fell symmetrically over her brown eyes.
“What are you doing here, Ivanna?” Kenjiro groaned.
Her arms folded, she walked toward Kenjiro and said, “Where have you been? Why’d you just run off like that?”
“I’m not a kid, Ivanna,” Kenjiro sighed. “I don’t need a chaperone.”
“Apparently, you do,” Ivanna commented. “Captain Fergus is dead.”
“Really?” Kenjiro uttered, sounding rather innocent. “That’s good news. Now, tell me something I don’t know.”
“Who are these two children?” Ivanna asked. Travis frowned. This woman couldn’t have been any older than twenty-five, perhaps even twenty.
“Witnesses,” Kenjiro said simply. Ivanna groaned, gesturing with her arms.
“I thought so,” she said. “You’re always stirring up trouble for us, Kenjiro! Seems like you’re even more reckless than you used to be! First, the killing spree in Petalburg, then that girl –“
“Hey!” Kenjiro shouted. Apparently, the comment about the ‘girl’ had touched a nerve. “I’m helpin’ you guys out here. These two are actually people I’m interested in recruiting for the Dragonfall Project.”
“Dragonfall Project?” Travis repeated.
“Don’t we already have two?” Ivanna asked. “Why’d you pick up two more?”
“These two are special,” Kenjiro replied. “Travis here, he’s – well...I guess it’d be better to show her.”
He cast a glance at Travis, who sighed, shook his head, and drew his sword.
“That’s – what are you doing with that?” Ivanna asked, seemingly recognizing the weapon. As a response to the question, Travis, using his power, caused the sword to glow. Ivanna took a step back and had a surprised expression on her face. “You weren’t lying after all...Rashid said you’d brought a Swordbearer here, but I didn’t believe him!”
“Well, there you have it,” Kenjiro replied, smirking. “I think His Majesty needs to see them personally.”
“The Prince is here?” Travis asked.
“Very well hidden,” Kenjiro said. “Now, before we take you to see him, you must promise two things.”
“The first one’s that I don’t run my mouth about where he is, obviously,” Travis said before Kenjiro had a chance to open his mouth. “Don’t worry – I won’t.”
“The second one is that you don’t walk out on the Prince like you did to me,” Kenjiro said. “Some of our members might not take very kindly to that.”
“I won’t,” Travis said. Right as he said that, he felt Katrina grab his hand.
“I want to talk to you,” she whispered in his ear.
“Can you give me a second?” Travis asked. Kenjiro and Ivanna looked at each other.
“Alright – meet us out in the lobby when you’re ready,” Kenjiro replied. Ivanna sighed and turned around toward the door. She opened it and looked back at Kenjiro, who followed her out. The door slammed behind them and Travis let out a sigh, slumping down onto the nearby bed.
“Are you sure about this?” Katrina asked. “I’m a little bit worried about you.”
“You’re not the only one,” Travis muttered. “I think I’ve lost my sanity. It’s like...when I fight, all I think about is how much I hate war and how I can’t stand people that try to start wars. But...I can’t ignore people in need. I didn’t know that things were that bad around here.”
“There’s one side of you that wants to move on,” Katrina sighed. “But there’s another side that knows that you don’t retire from being a hero. Is that it?”
Travis stood up, looking a bit like he was on the verge of tears. There was indeed a huge lump in his throat as he pulled Katrina into a tight embrace. She leaned her head against his chest and felt it move as he heaved a loud sigh.
“You’re probably the only one in this world that really understands me,” he said. “I really wish I didn’t end up putting you through this all the time...”
He let go of her and walked toward the door a few steps. Stopping, he pulled out his sword and looked at it.
“You’re going to go through with it, aren’t you?” Katrina asked.
“Sorry...” Travis sighed. “It’s who I am.”
He heard a clanking sound and felt a weight on his sword. He saw the length of a rod crossing over his sword and looked to his left. She was there, a slight smile on her face.
“Don’t apologize,” Katrina said. “It’s who we are.”
Accompanied by Kenjiro, Ivanna, and two guardsmen clad in green-and-silver armor, Travis and Katrina entered a hall with scarlet carpeting, at the end of which was a table. At this table were three men seated in a row of three chairs. The men to the left and right of the hooded one in the center looked a lot like each other. They had the same brown skin and the same, extremely straight haircut that surrounded three sides of their heads. The only difference was that one was obviously younger, clean-shaven, and had jet black hair. The other, though, had hair that was graying and a short, straight beard that traversed the entire lower outline of his face. This one was obviously older. Travis wondered for a moment, though, if these two men were son and father, respectively.
“Your Majesty!” the older man on the right side of the table exclaimed. “Lady Ivanna is here – she’s brought our spy and two children.”
“You’re a spy?” Travis muttered in Kenjiro’s direction.
“Hell, no,” Kenjiro responded, also in a mutter. “They just say that because no one in this entire mansion likes me enough around her to refer to me by name exc–never mind. Look sharp.”
Travis and Katrina both turned in the direction of the hooded man, who had removed his hood and stood, along with the younger and elder knights that flanked him. He had long, brown hair that appeared to be very straight and seemed to be pulled back into a ponytail for convenience. He had a golden circlet that went about his forehead, and very distinguishing, lavender eyes. They were gentle, but at the same time displayed the obvious battle scars that his soul had been forced to endure. He looked rather like someone who had just been stripped of the naivety that says that all can be trusted. Travis wondered for a moment. What had the eyes of this man, who looked hardly older than twenty, seen over the years?
“Your Majesty,” Ivanna had her head bowed to the ground as she greeted the young man. Travis, Katrina, the two guards, and Kenjiro (the last of these rather reluctantly) followed suit.
“Ivanna,” the young, brown-haired man stepped around the table and walked toward her. With her head bowed to the ground, however, she didn’t see him and was surprised indeed when she felt two hands on her shoulders, looked up, and saw that she was looking into the smiling face of the Prince himself. “I’m glad to see that you’re safe. I worried about you when I heard that you had gone out to look for our spy and found out that Captain Fergus had been killed. Are you alright? You’re not hurt, are you?”
“I’m fine, Your Majesty,” Ivanna replied very formally.
“Those two, apparently, were good friends growing up,” Kenjiro muttered into Travis’ ear. “I sort of think that, if Ivanna wasn’t such a stiff...”
“Yeah, I kind of got that vibe,” Travis replied.
“With all due respect, Your Majesty, you should not worry so about me. A king should not be seen showing favoritism to one of his knights...” Ivanna said.
“Ivanna,” the Prince said. “I am not a king – at least, not at the moment. And, besides that...do I not have the right to be concerned for a friend?”
Ivanna would not meet the prince’s eyes.
“I am relieving you for the day,” the Prince said.
“Your Majesty –“ Ivanna started, but the Prince shook his head.
“It’s alright,” he said. “Sir Rashid and Sir Roald will be able to handle anything that needs to be done. Get some rest. You look tired.”
Ivanna frowned and heaved a sigh. Reluctantly, she replied, “Yes, Your Majesty. Thank you.”
She took a step backward, turned on her heel and walked toward the door, opening it just wide enough for her to slip through and allow it to close again. The Prince turned toward Travis and Katrina and sighed as well.
“Please pardon her,” he said. “She becomes a bit...uptight at times and I have to remind her that she’s pushing herself too hard.”
“It’s all right...Your Majesty,” Travis added at the last moment.
“So then...what are your names?” the Prince questioned.
“Travis DePaul, sir,” Travis replied.
“Katrina Sasano,” Katrina echoed.
“Travis and Katrina...I see. I am the Prince of Hoenn, but my friends – I wish Ivanna would as well – call me Elrik,” The Prince responded.
“I’ve heard many things about you,” Travis replied. “Good, of course.”
“I can say the same,” Elrik replied. “But you are quite younger than I had envisioned you to be.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, sir,” Travis said, bowing and hiding a smile. It seemed like he was receiving that reaction from just about everyone nowadays.
“It’s no problem at all,” Elrik answered with a smile of his own.
“Actually, that might be quite helpful – Your Majesty,” Kenjiro piped in. “He might be the Swordbearer, but he is a Pokémon Trainer by career. He will be the main catalyst for the Dragonfall Project.”
“That DePaul family?” Elrik repeated. His face broke into a smile. “Arceus smiles down on us.”
“You’ve heard of my grandfather, then?” Travis asked.
“He was the Johto Champion in my father’s youth. They met on one occasion, actually. He was a good man.” Prince Elrik replied. “My father was saddened to hear of his death two years ago. While we are on that subject – were you not also the one involved in a series of battles around Blackthorn City about that same time?”
“Yes,” Travis sighed. Smiling, he added, “So you might say that I have experience in bringing justice to evil tyrants.”
“I very much wish that I could defend my brother from insults like that,” the Prince sighed. Travis realized he had made a mistake.
“Your Majesty, I didn’t mean –“ Travis started, but Elrik shook his head again.
“Alas, I cannot,” Elrik sighed. “I now think the same thing of him. I realize that I made a horrible mistake last year. If I’d had the confidence then to do what I’m doing now, things would be so much easier on everyone. Especially someone that I care about...”
“We’re a lot alike, then,” Travis stated. “If I’d had the chance to do it all over again...”
“But...those that dwell too much on the past find themselves vagabonds in the face of the future,” the Prince replied. “One of my father’s proverbs. He was a wise man. I try to be as much like him as I can. No doubt you have the same respect for your grandfather.”
Travis nodded. “But...I realize that I can only follow in his footsteps so much. At some point...”
“You’ll have to establish a legacy of your own,” Elrik finished for him. It was a bit surreal, almost as if he were watching the conversation from the perspective of a third person. Here he was, a mere boy of fourteen aspiring to be a Pokémon Trainer and make something of his life, and he was speaking to the Prince of one of the Four Great Nations of the World – almost as if they were...friends. “I believe Kenjiro filled you in on the details?”
“You want me to go to Sootopolis and assassinate the King, is that right?” Travis asked.
“No,” Elrik said. “If it is all possible, we want to avoid that approach. It is too obvious and appears very senseless.”
“Enter the ‘Dragonfall Project’,” Kenjiro muttered. To his and Elrik’s surprise (Roald raised an eyebrow and Rashid smirked), Travis turned and pulled his sword on Kenjiro.
“What, then?” Travis asked, annoyed at another piece of information that Kenjiro had seemingly withheld from him. “It’s someplace out of the way, isn’t it? You’d better not interrupt my journey, or there’ll be a problem.”
“Out of the way? I guess it depends on how good you are,” Kenjiro said.
“Where, then?” Travis asked. Kenjiro opened his mouth.
“Evergrande City,” he said.
“Evergrande?” Travis repeated incredulously. “That’s where the Emerald League Championships are held in August! I can’t get in. I’d need the eight badges to –“
“Bingo,” Kenjiro replied with a smirk. “You really should do something about your anger problem. Causes you to miss things. It turns out that the one thing you’re worried about us stopping you from doing...is the one thing that we need you to do.”
“You want me to get into the tournament – am I hearing this right?” Travis asked, the thought of this sounding almost too good to be true.
“Not just enter the tournament – we need you to get all the way in. In fact, it might be better if you go in seeded, because we need you to get to a certain arena, and if you lose in the prelims, you won’t be able to,” Kenjiro replied. “It would help everyone involved if you were ranked. Someone did explain the ranking system to you, right?”
“Yeah,” Travis replied. He sheathed his sword.
“So...we want to you get into Evergrande, Top Sixty,” Kenjiro said. “Is that too difficult for you?”
“Probably not,” Travis answered. “Unless there’s some sort of catch.”
“No catch,” Kenjiro said. “But maybe it’s better that I go with you.”
“Why is that?” Travis asked.
“I mean, nobody knows – except for the people here, obviously – that I was the one that finished Fergus off. Half the city probably saw your antics, though. You’ll likely have Imperial Guards after you,” Kenjiro replied. Travis winced and swore under his breath.
“Forgot about that,” he muttered.
“Besides...” Kenjiro replied. “With the port the way it is, it’ll be...well, a regular ***** trying to get to Dewford. That’s your next stop, right?”
“Yeah...” Travis said after looking at Katrina for confirmation and seeing her nod.
“Trust me. The more bodies and brains you have, the better,” Kenjiro said.
“I suppose, then...” Prince Elrik replied, “...that we can consider the two of you members of the Emerald Knights?”
“Yes,” Travis said.
“Well...can you do us another favor? Don’t worry, it won’t be very strenuous,” Roald spoke up for the first time. “As a resistance movement, we’d like to add more people to our cause...but, since everyone from the Prince down to Kenjiro is pretty high on Edgar’s ‘most wanted list’...we’re not feeling quite reckless enough to show our faces in public to do that. Do you think you could seek more support for us? Our operations are sort of confined to northwestern Hoenn, and that really limits us in what we can do actively.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Travis said. “Sure – I’ll do that.”
“Thank you very much,” Roald replied gratefully. “Good luck, and be careful.”
“Erm...Your Majesty?” Kenjiro piped up again.
“Yes?” Prince Elrik looked at Kenjiro a bit distrustfully.
“I think that it would be a better idea for us to bring Reivyn – that’s the other girl that came here with me originally – with us,” Kenjiro said.
“You think she’d be in better hands with you?” Rashid asked, smirking knowingly.
“This is for the safety of the Emerald Knights,” Kenjiro replied, shooting Rashid a cold, warning gaze. “The Shoryuu Temple has ways of finding its escapees. If she remains here, she could at the very best endanger the secrecy of our mission – and, at the very worst, endanger the very lives of the people that work with us. Obviously, we don’t want anyone’s lives in danger unless it’s completely and totally necessary.”
“You’ve got a good point,” Rashid sighed. “I still think that there’s some other motive, but...”
“Or you can keep her – but that’s at your own risk,” Kenjiro cut him off coolly. “But don’t come crying to me if somebody ends up getting killed.”
“Alright, I get the point,” Rashid groaned.
“Don’t be so argumentative,” Roald scolded.
“Father...” Rashid groaned. “He can’t be trusted.”
“Well, I’m glad you think so highly of me, Rashid,” Kenjiro said.
“Kenjiro – although his methods are...questionable...” the Prince said clearly. “...has not as of yet given us a reason to think that he would betray our cause. In other words...innocent until proven guilty, Rashid. With the fact that Captain Fergus is gone, the people in Rustboro and Petalburg can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for a while.”
“But...Prince!” Rashid moaned.
“I don’t condone his brutality – make no mistake about it,” Prince Elrik said, “but one thing that I’ve learned over the last year is that true freedom is won at a price of a life or two. Sir Izaak fought so that we could have this chance. He suffered torture and died. I won’t let that sacrifice be in vain.”
“For Ivanna?” Roald asked.
“For all of Hoenn,” Prince Elrik replied, not meeting Roald’s eye. Turning to Travis, he smiled.
May 28, 2013 – Outskirts of Rustboro
“The future of this kingdom is in your hands. I wish you all good luck.”
Travis turned back and took one last look at the city of Rustboro as the last words that Prince Elrik said to him rang in his mind. To think that he could possibly save a kingdom from a reign of terror...just by doing what he wanted to do all along. The very concept put a smile on his face. He saw in the distance, a set of bridges between pillars that zigzagged their way across the Rustlake, which was essentially a large crater that had filled with water, which seemed to be much more plentiful inland here in Hoenn than it was in Johto. This water was clear and crisp, and the sun shone brightly on it, illuminating its waves and undulations here and there. Standing still for a moment, he heaved a sigh. Everything seemed brighter now that he knew for sure that this journey would not be a repeat of the last one. He looked to his right. Kenjiro was standing there wearing his gi and traveling coat. Outside of him was Reivyn, who seemed to have overcome her fear of Kenjiro and the others, and now at least talked on her own.
“Hoenn’s countrysides are very beautiful,” Reivyn said.
“You’re right,” Katrina, on the left side of Travis, echoed. “This is the most you’ve seen of it, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Reivyn replied.
“Well, you’ll be seeing a lot more,” Katrina said. “We’re going on a grand tour, aren’t we, Travis?”
“I guess you could call it that,” Travis answered. “We have to visit just about every city in Hoenn at least once, right?”
“Just don’t neglect your training,” Kenjiro said. “We need you to get into that tournament.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” Travis said coolly. “This isn’t my first rodeo. This place might be new to me, but there’s a lot of stuff that stays the same about Pokémon Training, no matter where you go.”
“The Emerald Knights are counting on you,” Kenjiro commented. “You’ve got a lot to live up to.”
“Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy I can help Hoenn by doing this,” Travis replied. “But, this journey is for me, too. If nothing else, I’ll do my best not to screw it up for myself.”
“That works,” Kenjiro sighed. After all, it was Kenjiro’s style to do everything he did for himself – and use his actions to help others, when it was convenient.
“It’d better,” Katrina said. “You’re working on our terms now, and if you misbehave, we’re fully within our rights to...well, dump you like yesterday’s garbage.”
“That’s a friendly way of putting it. Don’t worry – I’ll be a good boy,” Kenjiro said, frowning. Reivyn let out a laugh. Kenjiro was taken aback by this, as he’d never heard Reivyn laugh before. “What’s with you?”
“This feels like...” Reivyn said cryptically. “...like happiness. Is that what this is?”
Kenjiro shrugged his shoulders and begin to walk off.
“The hell am I supposed to know?” he muttered. “You’re the one that’s laughing. You tell me.”
Reivyn walked down after him (perhaps, because of what happened on their first trek through the forest, she was a tiny bit closer to Kenjiro than she was to anyone else), leaving Travis and Katrina to look at each other and smile. Angel and Crescent ran back up the hill (Travis and Katrina had sent them to see if there were any Imperial Guards on the bridge) to Travis and Katrina.
“<A couple of bored-looking Trainers on the bridge, but that’s about it,>” Crescent said. Angel nuzzled up to him.
“<I’m so excited!>” she exclaimed.
“<I guess I am, too,>” Crescent said. Angel sighed.
“<You’re being dull, Crescent,>” she groaned.
“<I just don’t wear my heart on my sleeve like you do,>” Crescent replied. “<To each his own, right? I’m the voice of reason.>”
“<Then, what does that make me?>” Angel asked, sounding as if she’d been insulted.
“<The voice of personality, I guess,>” Crescent replied, smiling.
“<I’ll take it,>” Angel said with a smile. “<C’mon, let’s go!>”
“<I just ran up here,>” Crescent sighed. “<Lemme rest.>”
Angel didn’t. She began nuzzling him again – this time, less mercifully.
“<I love you,>” she sang.
“<Alright, you win,>” Crescent sighed. He turned and ran after Angel, who ran toward the bridge again. Watching their two Pokémon frolic on the small hill, along with Reivyn, who was waving at a Taillow that she’d scared into flight by her presence, and Kenjiro, who was walking toward the bridge slowly and shaking his head, Travis and Katrina grasped hands.
“This isn’t exactly gonna be the most conventional way to do a Pokémon Journey,” Travis commented. “It’s better than nothing, though.”
“I think it’ll be pretty fun, actually,” Katrina said. “Just don’t you act so depressed during the entire thing.”
She let go of his hand, walked around to stand in front of him, faced him, grabbed his hand again, and placed it over his heart, placing her other hand over her own chest at the same time.
“Even though your body’s healed,” she said. “Most of our hurts are right here...and those don’t go away so easily. You know what they say, though – laughter is the best medicine.”
Travis’ face broke into a smile again as he lowered his lips onto hers. She laid her head on his shoulder and, guided by his point, watched a lone Taillow ascend into the firmament.
“How are you feeling?” Katrina asked. Travis smiled.
“If I had wings...” Travis replied with a sigh. “I’d be right up there with him.”