Kelly smiled as she carefully placed the last touches to the letter she was composing. She lay on the ground in the shade of one of the gnarled and wide everlasting oaks that surrounded Shiloh. The Jolteon used a thin stream of electricity from one of the extended claws in her forepaw to burn a small black line into the paper, finishing off the final sentence and closing passage. She decided to give the piece of paper a final look over before she sealed it in the envelope she had bought with it.
The stationery crinkled in her paws as she smoothed it out and read over the burned lines of text. As she mouthed the words she had written, her eyes ran along each line looking for imperfections. This letter was one that she spent the last two days thinking up in her head. She had painstakingly gone over each sentence and revised it and revised it some more in her mind before she got the courage to finally put them to paper. It had to be perfect, especially considering its intended recipients.
As soon as she finished, she grabbed ahold of the nondescript, beige envelope and slid the paper inside. She folded over the top flap and pressed her paw into the solid circle of wax on the front. Energy flowed from her body down into the pads on her paws as the wax was suddenly hit with the high voltage of power. The seal began to melt under the heat of the electricity, and it oozed over the top flap of the letter. Seeing this, Kelly removed her sparking paw and watched as the amorphous material began to harden once again. The message was finished and the letter ready at last.
The Jolteon’s expression turned into a scowl as her fur began to bristle with increasingly large bolts of electricity. She let out a short scream as the energy twisted upon itself and shot away from her body in a single current of lethal amperage. The letter on the ground was instantly burned into a black circle of ash with a ring of flaming grass on the fringe of the area of impact. Kelly’s breaths came in short, quick huffs as she smelled the charred remnants of the correspondence. Her body tensed as she tried to control her constricting lungs.
“I can’t do it. I can’t,” she muttered as she focused on forcing herself to take a series of deep, calming breaths. Kelly tore her gaze away from the crisp paper and smoldering plants, not wanting to remind herself of the subject that had caused her so much grief. The thick tree branches swayed in the morning breeze as sunlight danced with the shade, producing an ever-changing pattern on the earth. Kelly tried to lose her racing thoughts in the carefree actions of nature but found that it was as impossible as moving the mountain range north of Shiloh.
As much as she tried, her night terrors only grew worse with the passing of days. The Mismagius’s advice for her to rest went unheeded, but not through her lack of trying. Over the past two nights she had woken up panting hard, as if she had just run the length of the Royal Highway forwards and backwards. Or, during the long hours of the night, she would begin to scream until she woke from the vague nightmare that had decided to plague her mind that night. After that, she had simply decided to forgo sleep entirely.
It had taken rather desperate measures to ensure that she didn’t accidentally nod off during her boycott of the pile of hay and blankets she had been provided to sleep on in the barracks. She had at first tried shocking herself with increasingly large voltages each time she felt her eyelids droop, but this quickly left her feeling more drained than before. The others in the room never seemed to be affected by the terrible process that afflicted her during the dark hours. She had silently crossed the room, passing the still forms of Jay, Leo, and Noah in their hammocks and similar piles of hay. Both Jay and Noah’s exploration bags had been recovered with them from the canyon, but only the Dewott’s had held the item she wanted.
As she closed her eyes in the dazzling shade, she continued to relive the events of that long night in her mind. Her past self from two days prior slipped into Noah’s bag and stole a bell-shaped, purple and yellow berry from inside. By some grace of Raikou the Chesto Berry had survived intact from their fight in the dungeon. She took it as a positive sign and held the berry with her mouth as she stealthily walked over to her bed. Kelly wasted no time as she chomped down into the hard skin. The berry put up a fight, but her sharpened teeth would have none of that as she bit through the exterior into the dry flesh of the fruit.
Almost instantly, the barely present juice shot through her faster than any shock she had inflicted upon herself. It seemed to give each of her nerves an aura of pure energy that made her entire body vibrate. Kelly was now finally content in knowing that she would be physically incapable of closing her eyes for more than a few seconds at a time for the next several hours. The berry made her forget about the pain and the fear. And so, seeing how it was still the middle of the night, she had decided to spend her time wisely. Thus, the desire to write the letters was born.
The letter she most recently burned was only one of ten she had previously written out in a different format. She didn’t know who she wanted to send them to, but she knew that she had to write them until she got it right. It was an unconscious process that judged the paragraphs she wrote because while it always seemed to be perfect to her waking mind, something deep inside her would rise up to destroy it. Every single time it had happened, and she had driven herself to the breaking point trying to find the perfect solution in her text.
Kelly didn’t understand any of it and severely doubted that her sleep deprived brain would be able to help her anytime soon. That night had passed, and the day similarly as she found herself trying to avoid interaction with her teammates or anyone else for that matter. She spent that second day wandering aimlessly through the streets of Shiloh until she could no longer withstand staying awake. The Jolteon had found herself stumbling into an alley behind one of the shops of the main lane and curling up underneath a hollow crate. The horrifying visions still came to her, but her mind no longer had the energy to wake her until it was restored. As per usual, the duo of her parents entered to break down her spirit as she screamed at them in reply. This time, the dreams shifted, bringing in new figures from her childhood and recent past to either stare down at her in disappointment or berate her with scathing words.
In the final set of night terrors, she had even resorted to tackling and clawing the unfeeling phantoms of Leo, Jay, and Noah until they resembled nothing more than grotesque piles than Pokémon. And even then, they still did not stop in their verbal abuse, even after she had ripped their lips from their faces and sliced their throats until speaking should have been physically impossible. Her claws had been drenched crimson in their flowing blood, and her stomach felt like twisting inside out. But she didn’t relent. She had to stop the voices.
That had been yesterday. And fortunately for her, the nightmare eventually did stop but not before what felt like hours of reducing their bodies to ribbons. Kelly opened her eyes and started away from the tree. Words buzzed around her head, trying to form sentences and paragraphs for yet another letter to her nightmares, but she resisted the thoughts. She had no money left for even the cheap scraps of stationary and envelopes anymore. Her paws padded the earthy road beneath as she entered the humble farming town once more.
It’s so much like Solace Town, even down to the market. It’s like a perfect copy, her thoughts idly observed, taking a much needed break from the issues that plagued come dusk. She wondered if this was what the gods had planned for her, if she would never be able to truly escape the life she abandoned. She had changed everything she had ever done. She had left her home, traveled the roads, created a team with a stranger in a foreign city, been falsely accused of treason, and now firmly caught up in something far beyond herself. Still, she was constantly reminded of the life she previously lived.
A voice from her side greeted her. One of the citizens, a Floatzel, had said good morning. She quickly hid her disconcerting thoughts behind a gentle smile and returned the friendly greeting as she passed him by. Once he and all other Pokémon in the immediate vicinity had left, she returned to her troubled expression. Her thoughts were still confused, as if someone had rearranged the puzzle pieces inside her head. The way she currently pieced together information didn’t always make sense to her and this only made her worry more. She had always had the nightmares, ever since she left her parents’ home, but why they were increasing now and altering her brain, she didn’t know.
She briefly fancied the idea of going to Quark, but she quickly put it down as she knew he wouldn’t find anything different than he had the last two times she had visited. Even when she had relayed all her symptoms to him, he was unable to detect any mishap in her mind. In theory, she should be perfect. But that was only in theory; in reality, she was flawed. Imperfect. Damaged. And she had no idea how to fix herself.
She wanted something to think clearly. It was more than a mere want; she needed something, anything to purge the darkness from her brain if only for a few glorious, blissful minutes. Kelly hardly realized that she had walked into the middle of the market. Just before her confused and battered mind began contemplating getting her paws on another Chesto Berry to dull the pain and evil clouds of ideas, a familiar voice called out to her from in the dim fog of her despair.
“Hey! Kelly! There you are! Jay and I have been looking all over for you and Leo.” Kelly turned her head to see Noah excitedly running to meet her from the opposite side of the square. The Dewott gave her a genuine smile and a mock salute as he skidded to a stop in front of her. From farther behind, she saw Jay walking at a slower pace across the square. She couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt as she caught sight of the crimson band tied around the Riolu’s eyes. It had been because of her that he had gotten injured. He was her oldest friend, and she couldn’t help but feel that she failed him.
“Jay and I wanted to go explore a dungeon today, so we spent most of the morning preparing our supplies. We just finished looking through the job listings, and we found one that looks pretty doable and offers a decent reward if it’s done right. However, we kinda need your help with this one, and it’d do Leo good to go on a normal job, I think,” Noah stated in one giddy breath as he eagerly took out a folded piece of brown parchment from his bag. Using his paws, he spread out the job notice so that she could see the description. Like everything else in the town, it was in footprint runes, the traditional text of the Borderlands. Fortunately, she had been educated in interpreting the various patterns and arrangements of the prints and so could easily read it.
Request: “I would appreciate it if a team would find a series of specific plants and herbs that grow in the mountains, specifically in the Forlorn Stronghold mystery dungeon, to make into medicine. The plants in question are described in greater detail on the attached list.”
Reward: 100 Silver Poké*
Client: Titinius Aegislash, Owner of the Slash and Burn General Store, Shiloh
*Reward may increase or decrease based on amount of plants recovered..
Kelly examined the request twice, getting Noah to flip to the second piece of parchment to see which plants were among the ones the shop owner wished to procure. True to his word, the mission did seem simple. Collecting plants, as tedious as it posed, didn’t seem to hide important facts as her last two attempts at completing jobs did.
“Forlorn Stronghold, one of the dungeons in the mountains, right? Why do you need me to go with you, exactly?” Kelly asked as she signaled that she was finished reading over the mission. Part of her heart started beating faster at the prospect of dungeoneering once again. She had always admired the skill and power of the rescue teams that worked for the Federation ever since she had visited their headquarters in Silver City as a child. While her troubled mind doubted that the stress of a mystery dungeon exploration would do her good, Kelly knew that she wanted to go.
“The very same. And, Jay’s been telling me that you handle yourself well inside them. I know a few of the Pokémon inside the Stronghold are a bit tough, so better safe than sorry, am I right?” Noah explained as he returned the slip of browning paper inside his satchel. “Also, have you seen Leo? We haven’t seen him anywhere in town, and we figured he’d be with you somewhere,” Noah asked distractedly while he concentrated on shifting around the various items in his bag.
“I agree. I’d love to join you both. It’s been a while since we had a well-paying job,” she said as she contemplated the second part of the Dewott’s question. After a moment, she shook her head. “I haven’t seen him since last night. He might still be sleeping. I think he wants to enjoy the last hours of not having to work,” she reasoned with a shrug. While she and Leo did spend some time talking over the last few days, she hadn’t kept track of how he spent his days. She made it a point to ask him the next time she saw him.
“Awesome! We’ll be like the legendary musketeers! Charging through the dungeon making all fear our mighty names!” Noah shouted as he struck a triumphant pose on the nearby crate of oddly shaped, blue Kelpsy Berries. The action brought a smile to her face and temporarily distracted her from the nightmares that prowled the edges of her mind.
“Are we going? I know we haven’t found Leo, but if we don’t leave now, we’re going to be ending the mission in complete darkness,” Jay calmly pointed out as his paw smoothed out some of the creases in the red Healing Band over his eyes.
“Yeah, we probably should hit the road. We’ll take Leo on the next one. He’s probably relaxing or sleeping anyways. We’ll bring him back a nice souvenir or buy him something with the reward,” Noah suggested before they went through a final inspection of their bags and badges. Kelly had long ago lost her exploration satchel she bought from Aleck the Sableye in Loyalty, but she still had her badge pinned to the worn Pecha Scarf tied around her neck.
Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw Leo walking past the market being lead by a black Pokémon she’d never seen before. But by the time she turned away from Noah and Jay, he was gone, as if he had never even been there in the first place. Kelly shook her head and tried to focus her thoughts on the mission ahead. If she was going to be of any use, she needed to be alert and not distracted by wayward thoughts every second.
She only needed to clear her head. She prayed to Raikou that the mountain air would refresh her. If it didn’t work, she thought as a shudder passed through her skin, Then I’ll have to find some way to make these nightly terrors cease.
Dust of discarded knowledge blurred the air and dulled the meaningless sun. The soft wind lifted a thousand years’ worth of knowledge and culture into the smog-ridden clouds to tarnish the silver spires of the insolent. A strangled gust of air kicked up a flurry of ashen remains into the empty streets. No souls were present to witness the aftermath of the chaos.
The grey light drifted solemnly down from its position in the heavens, unwilling to bathe the corrupt world in the blessings of Elysium. The gods turned their heads away from the city of pagans in disgust, content to let it fall victim to the eventual calamity of a molten deluge. Only the soldiers, armed with royal insignia and equipment bag, remained to patrol the abandoned streets. The capital had died in the fire, and there was little hope that a phoenix would rise from this desolate pyre.
It may have been three days after the first spark, but the fires still smoldered in the depths of the city and in the oppressed souls under the crown. Smoke mixed with the putrid air to produce an all-consuming fog that only reinforced the martial lockdown by being potent enough to reduce the strongest citizen to a vomiting shell of their former self. Through the poison, the police, and the scrambling efforts of the under-equipped fire teams as they struggled to suffocate the blazes, two Pokémon remained in the ruined sanctuary where the malicious flame was birthed.
One was wrapped about in a filthy brown robe. The tattered edges brushed against the smooth river stones of the floor, attracting more ash into them as they turned a dark grey color. He was kneeling on the ground, his unhooded head giving his identity away to any Pokémon who risked their life on the streets. From his rightful position on the ash-covered stone, the robed figure muttered prayer after meaningless prayer to the charred altar of Dialga. His words, strained with raw emotion, fell on the ears of a deaf god, a god who had abandoned the city to the fate of fire.
His paws were covered in ash from his vain attempts at piecing together the broken altar from the debris of the church. He had stooped lower than the lowest of peasants, yet his immense remorse forced him down even further. His cracked lips continued to faithfully pull out prayer and verse, as if searching for the correct combination that would restore his city to favor in the eyes of the Lord of Time. He lifted a small bronze statue from the ash with his trembling paws, and he beheld the dented and scorched figurine of the Dragon of Time, the Dragon that his family had dedicated the city to --the city bathing in its own ashes, the Dragon his father had bound him to, the same Dragon whom he had sworn his own son to.
Behind a singed slab of hewn stone, the second Pokémon heard the first let out a choked cry and break down into a sobbing wreck on the blackened stone steps. His insect head darted out from his cover for an instant to be certain of what his ears perceived. As usual, his senses had proved him right. The king -- the mighty ruler of the Kingdom -- was reduced to a crying mess in the middle of a torched church.
Despite the fact that he knew the development was a good sign for the plans of his superiors, he was not smiling. Rather, he slumped against the stone and crossed his scythes across his carapace. He tried to will himself to focus on positive thoughts, but the incessant tears of the tyrant refused him the pleasure of a clear consciousness. Thoughts flew in his head like the swirling flakes of burnt paper that fell on the whole city: chaotically and stirred up with the slightest agitation. He wanted nothing more than to be content with the jobs he had completed for his cause, but the sinking feeling of doubt remained.
The organic metal in his blades scraped on the stone wall as he shifted to a more comfortable position. There was nothing rational about these thoughts, that he was certain. He had seen the evils of this government and knew he was right in working against it. He was working not only for the benefit of his home but also for these wretched souls, aching to be free from the chains.
But even with those convictions, it did not explain why he still felt the pangs of guilt when he had persuaded the Sableye to take the forged kill list to Gear. The rushes of emotion only got worse when he heard the Magnezone had been killed or when he been forced to take the merchant hostage. He had caused the captures and exodus of at least nine Pokémon on that same night, and his mind refused to let him forget. The Kingdom had fallen from justice, and the divine mandate its foundation acclaimed had long been retracted. So then why was he feeling this guilt for betraying it?
He took another look from his hidden position in the ruin. Nickolas, the once-absolute monarch of all the lands from the Silver Coast to the mountains of the Far Reach, had yet to gain the strength to lift his feeble form from the ashes. The thought occurred to Darney to simply dart forward and swing his blades down. The madness would be over, and the head of this corrupt demon would be severed, with the body falling soon after. All it would take was three strides --one if he used the pair of transparent wings on his back-- and it would be over. He could clean his scythe of royal blood knowing that he had done it for democracy.
But why do I hesitate? his mind pondered as it tried to comprehend why Azelf failed to bless him with the willpower to complete his directive. He could be done. He could be finished. He could be playing a part in founding a new republic from the fires of freedom, but instead, he was here. Pondering his lack of conviction in the ruins of a church among the ghettos of Silver City.
What am I doing? Why do I suddenly now challenge the status quo? Why does it choose now, when we are so close to the end?
“Because, dear Chancellor, you are choosing to think for yourself.” The bug’s eyes widened as his body instinctively snapped into action. His bladed arm shot out from its crossed position as his feet spun him around to inflict a brutal blow on the intruder.
The dust in the air was sliced cleanly in two before whipping away to the right. Darney refused to be taken by surprise at the lack of a Pokémon where he heard the voice, and he instead narrowed his eyes as he spun in a tight circle.
“While I originally intended on lesioning the brainstem of the insect who incinerated my church, I, like you, hesitated. There is more to you than a mindless servant, is there not, young Scyther?” The ashen mist and the fog of sin parted as if commanded by an unearthly force. Darney shielded his eyes as the particles blew against his face to reveal a floating structure of blue steel. A pair of eyes near the bottom of the giant bell glowed faintly red as if to show they weren’t just for decoration. Darney felt himself grow heavy as he was subjected to the immense, tired aura of the Pokémon.
“...You. Who are you?” Darney’s whispered question was drowned out by sounds of a scuffle in the street. Gazing down from his hiding place, Darney picked out a small Pokémon being dragged away by one of the rock-based guards stationed here. An unbreathing false tree held the wayward citizen tightly in its branch-like hands until it went completely limp in its grip.
“I am one who is supposed to care for those currently lost in this fog of deceit,” the creature said inside his head as they both watched the soldier disappear under the dark grey curtain of falling ash with his prisoner.
“I have nothing against you, Father. I had to do it. It had to be here,” Darney muttered, casting his gaze away from the unwavering glare of the Dialgan priest.
“Was it really you? Did you want this? Because if you do, I will not stop you. Go ahead. End me. End the weeping king. End us both and continue on with your day. If that is what you want.” Darney’s breath caught in his throat. His scythes were held at the ready, inches away from the priest’s floating form, but they never moved any closer.
“Do you not see the suffering on the streets? Are you content to let the masses burn in this hell that tyrant inflicted upon them?” he hissed vehemently, nearly spitting as he shook a blade in the direction of the unaware, kneeling Lucario. The Bronzong did not answer right away, but he merely turned away to look at the empty cobblestone road and the forlorn buildings across the street. Darney swore he heard a defeated sigh emanate from the metal Pokémon.
“Tell me, Montag, can you burn your problems away?”
“T-that’s not my name,” Darney stammered as cold words struck at his mind. Their infused sadness sought to cripple his resolve.
“Can you burn them away? Like pages of a book? Like evidence of a crime?”
“Shut up. I-I’m not listening to you anymore. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. I know,” he stated, not even caring that the Lucario he had been observing suddenly got up from the floor and exited the ruins, cloak drawn high over his head.
“It’s so rare to see a someone think for themselves, even if it is for a single moment. Too often they are so caught up in seeing that they grow blind...” The Scyther squeezed his eyes shut as he leaned back against the weakened wall. A momentary flash of clarity shot before his vision. What this devilry was, Darney did not know. He only knew that something huge --a fierce storm, perhaps-- had descended upon his mind and heart. All because he had hesitated. Because he waited a moment too long to act and let a seed of doubt take root in his head.
What happened? What changed? Why do I now feel as if there’s a choice to be made? There isn’t! There’s only one path! A singular path... His thoughts buzzed around in his skull like a swarm of Beedrill, yet no matter how loud they yelled, nothing was able to give him a definable answer.
“The decision you make, Montag, is yours alone. Just remember that Pokémon like you, who dare to question, who dare to reason, who dare to challenge, are feared and hated throughout our world. Throughout Verus.” And with that, Darney was alone. The odd priest had vanished before his eyes, dematerializing in a flash of psychic energy. The Scyther drew in a breath of polluted air as he let his tensed muscles relax and the words of the Bronzong attack his conscience.
“Can there be? A real choice? ... No. There is only one path --a singular path... Ahead of me... A singular path,” Darney whispered as the heavy ash rained on his carapace. The remaining curls of smoke wrapping themselves about his body before taking his conflicted emotions to the clouded skies. He let his scythes hang by his sides, both hitting the floor with a sharp, metallic clangs as he closed his eyes to the choking cries of the smoldering, silver-lined city.
“Your orders were clear, were they not? At the first trace, they are to be destroyed. Be silent, be swift, and be secretive. We don’t want a mess on our hands here. Not like last time.”
Leo felt as if his muscles were trying to pull themselves from his skin. Each movement he made caused a bolt of pain to shoot from every section of his body. The sun was nearly gone from the horizon, and the streets of Shiloh were only occupied by a few Pokémon returning from their daily missions or the lush fields outside of town. He barely managed to give a nod or wave to each team and citizen as they passed. Despite being in as much pain as he was, Leo found that he didn’t care as he kept a tight hold of his key.
The dam was fully functional once again. It had taken an impossible effort by all involved, but under Kinsliy’s near-tyrannical oversight, water now flowed smoothly through the stone spillways underneath the bridge. After every inch of the structure was brought up to her expectations, she reluctantly returned his artifact to him. Immediately afterwards, she proceeded to go to the rest of the Pokémon crew and returned their various pilfered belongings, ranging from exploration bags to random accessories.
Leo hoped that he never met her again. He began contemplating if he would fare better under Nexus’s treatment when his thoughts were interrupted by a sharp whizzing noise in the air. The weary Charmeleon looked up into the dusk sky over the northern edge of Shiloh’s commercial district. A single, small sphere of bright, orange light shot into the sky from the dark mass of the mountain range. His eyes narrowed as he tried to get a better look at the strange projectile. Its fiery arc began to descend closer and closer until it landed with a small burst of flame somewhere behind the clay buildings of the square.
As much as this development startled him, it was nothing compared to the sight that drew his eyes back up into the darkening skies. The solid shadowed silhouette of the mountains suddenly lit up like a blazing dawn as what appeared to be dozens of spheres of mystical fire flared up in the sky. The atmosphere began to shriek a wretched scream as Leo watched the orbs of light obeyed the law of gravity and followed their trajectories down to the ground.
Leo simply closed his eyes as the street was engulfed in a sea of fire.
End Chapter Sixteen
Author’s Notes: I regret nothing. I am pleased with this chapter.
I partly blame NaNoWriMo for the incredible word count of this thing (roughly 22,300 words), but I feel that most of it is meaningful. I wanted this chapter to feel calm and take a break from the action to let my characters and the story itself rest and develop.
This chapter is the last one before the end of Part One of this story. I want the next chapter to live up to the expectations I have for it, so I’m honestly not sure when it will be posted. All I know is that I wish for it to be up before the end of 2013. Prepare for plot, prepare for enemies, prepare for everything that has a chance of going wrong. Murphy’s Law is in full effect.
Kinsliy the Sneasel is owned by ChaosCaptain, who was kind enough to let me use her to push Leo around this chapter.
Once again, I have to give a sincere thanks to everyone who helped me out with this chapter. (You all know perfectly well who you are, you awesome people)
Knightfall signing off...