Hello all. Those of you who have been around for more than three years may recognize me as the author of Opal's Shadow: Vessels of the Legends, an Advance/Ikari fic that was posted in August of 2009 and was discontinued in mid-2010. As beloved as it was by this section and on FF.net (it got recommended for several shipping awards), I really hated it. There were so many problems, not the least of which being the lack of proper characterization and the complete mangling of several plot points I wanted to use, as well as having and trying to focus on way too many characters. I toyed off and on with rewriting it, posting a tentative prologue of one called "Tainted Redemption" in July of 2011, which was quickly discontinued. I left fanfiction for a while (though the occasional oneshot came out) to focus on my original writing. After penning my way through most of my first fantasy novel, I feel comfortable enough with this to retool the concepts and create a "new" Opal's Shadow. And thus, Burning Deadfall was born.
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Rated For: Violence, Language, gore, psychological problems, drug and alcohol use/abuse, dark themes, and character death.
In death, I recede, alone and friendless,
Attempting a task that often seems endless.
I gave up my friends, my life, and my name,
All as a buy-in for this treacherous game.
People’s lives as the stakes, with bets paid in blood,
Gambling and losing brings a sick crimson flood.
In trying to protect them; my one and only desire,
I find the body count growing; higher and higher.
No more will I run; I can no longer hide.
The guilt will just drive me right back to their side.
Now, hardened by loss and scarred by pain,
I return from the ashes, a phoenix in flame.
‘Returned from the ashes is right,’ the man thought, closing the leather-bound journal before returning it to the laptop bag under his seat. ‘Nearly everyone I knew thinks that I’m dead.’
He tugged at his shirt collar, trying to get it to loosen up around his neck. After a few tugs to no avail, the man sighed and gave it up as a bad job. He leaned back into the first-class seat of the aircraft, wondering how close they were to his destination.
“All passengers, this is your captain speaking. We are approaching Rustboro International Airport. Please fasten your seatbelts and turn off all electronic devices. Thank you for your cooperation.”
He chuckled quietly. ‘Well, that answers that.’
He leaned against the window, catching a flash of his face in the reflection. “This time…” he whispered. “This time, I’ll protect you all. I promise.”
She really couldn’t stand contests anymore. Not since that day.
When she’d first heard about his death, she’d been in the middle of a contest in Lillycove City, just having won her semifinal match. She’d been disbelieving at first, but upon hearing the evidence, knowing that nobody could have (or had) survived the explosion and sinking of the ship he’d been on, she’d broken down.
Her next memories were of waking up in the bedroom of her house, sobbing in her mother’s arms with her brother and father hovering nearby. It took many days, and many visits from friends across the world, but she’d slowly worked her way back up to living out her life.
Still, she’d never gone back to contests. The flair and the drama that had drawn her in, the fame and fortune that held her to it, the lessons she’d learned and the experiences she'd had… all of it turned to ashes and dust, a burnt maple leaf shed of its beauty and life. Everything she touched turned to ash. She snorted at the irony. Of course. Everything came back to Ash.
Ash Ketchum was five years dead. And May Maple was left broken.
“Are you certain of his loyalty, Commander?”
“Quite. He’s passed every test we’ve sent at him flawlessly. Even the ones that required a bit of… bloodletting. He is ruthless, efficient, and willing to use deadly force if necessary. His obedience conditioning is also complete. He is, without question, our soldier.”
“And the augmentations?”
“Complete. He adapted to his new abilities faster than any other ‘trainee’ we’ve had.”
“Excellent. Proceed to the next phase with our other recruits.”
“Yes sir. And… our other objective?”
“The retrieval of the girl will be left to our other agents. Reports indicate that her skills have deteriorated in the past few years. She will be an easy target.”
“As you were, Commander… I expect even more great things from you in the future.”
“Of course sir. I aim to please.”
Max Maple honestly couldn’t help but sigh as he conducted his rounds of his Pokémon at the Petalburg gym. He brushed Tauros’ thick, matted coat, patted Snorlax’s massive arm as he snoozed and set out an extra-large dish of food, and made sure that Swellow’s red, white, and blue feathers were well-groomed before moving on to the Pokémon that he’d caught himself.
Those three had been his only keepsakes. The only Pokemon he’d taken over raising from Professor Samuel Oak; three of Ash’s normal-type powerhouses. He’d also been offered ownership of Staraptor, Unfezant, and Noctowl once he became a gym leader, but he’d had next to zero connection with them, and they would have been better off being trained by others.
“Kiiing?” his Slaking grunted questioningly, wondering why Max was being so absentminded and quiet.
“Just memories, Slaking,” he murmured. His powerhouse Pokémon grunted, closing his eyes and leaving Max to his work. He knew better than most the shadow that hung over him every day.
Max moved on, selecting six Pokémon, including Ash’s Tauros, for his battle repertoire today; as he walked, he continued musing on what had been known of Ash’s Pokémon. Several of his Pokémon had either left of their own volition or disappeared in the dead of night shortly after his death, never to be seen again. He wondered where they’d gone. Had they not believed that their trainer was truly dead, and gone to search for him? Or had they gone off on their own, trying to avoid being given to another trainer, one who could most likely never match their first? Both options seemed plausible enough; though Pikachu showing up on the doorstep of Oak’s Lab about a month later tended to disprove the former theory.
The Petalburg Gym Leader opened the back door to his gym and walked into the main battlefield, brushing off his green vest, blue t-shirt, and darkwash jeans as he went. His eyes, no longer clad in his old wire-frame glasses, strayed to the bench nearby where his sister and referee, May, sat gazing off into space. Her once brilliant sapphire eyes were clouded over, and her brunette locks fell to her shoulders in her old pseudo-winged style. Her clothes were mostly red, but with slight black accents, and her trademark bandanna lay untied in her lap. She had a soft, sad smile on her face, one that never seemed to reach her eyes. In fact, even the expression itself didn’t seem to be real. It just… existed, like the painted-on features of a manikin.
Ever since that day, she’d never worn a true smile. Always brittle, always fake, pretending to be okay, but in reality anything but. His sister was a crumpled leaf, broken and battered and left to drift across the earth. And there was nothing, nothing he could do to change that.
Everyone had tried so hard, and they’d still failed. Only Ash could heal her wounds, and he was gone for good.
“May?” he queried softly, getting her to blink and turn towards him. “Are you ready to start the day?” Even after all these years, he knew better to ask ‘are you okay?’, because not only was it possible that it would hurt her if he was insensitive, he knew he’d only receive a lie for her answer.
“Oh, sure,” she replied, smiling phonily. She stood, tying her bandanna into place and taking a deep breath before pushing all the pain and heartbreak behind closed doors in her heart. When she looked up again, her expression was as blank and inscrutable as a porcelain mask. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Max nodded, padding over to the front door of the Gym and stepping outside. Once the sunlight cleared from his eyes, he was met with an unusual sight before him.
A young man who looked to be about twenty-five leaned against the fire hydrant outside of the main building. He was of slightly above-average height and sturdy frame, though he was very lean; built like a runner. He wore an immaculately tailored black suit and matching pants, while a dark crimson necktie rested over the white dress shirt he wore underneath. His jet-black hair fell to the base of his shoulder blades in a mass of unruly, matted spikes, and as he turned an odd pair of small gold hoop earrings glinted by his ears. However, when Max’s eyes met his, he drew in an involuntary breath at the color: bright, gleaming ruby red, almost a perfect match for his tie.
“Max Maple?” the man asked in a deep voice, just slightly too high in pitch to qualify as a baritone.
“Yes?” Max replied, regaining his composure. He’d seen weirder eyes before, though rarely on another person.
“Cool,” the guy replied, standing up straight and walking over, extending his hand for a handshake. “I’m Vincent Ardens. I want to battle you.”
“A gym battle?” Max took his hand and shook, noticing that the man barely tensed his grip, and yet still gave a very firm handshake.
Vincent looked uncomfortable for a second after he let go of Max’s hand, then he shrugged. “Sure. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Max turned, ushering him to follow, all the while fighting off the curious sense of familiarity he got from the man…
Well, that's it for the prologue. Please review!
Any questions? Concerns? Comments? Fire away.
A few notes:
- Right now, the characters ages are changed quite a bit. In my headcanon, by the end of AG Ash is fifteen or sixteen, May is thirteen, and Max is eleven. This fic takes place ten years after that. So that would make May twenty-three and Max twenty-one. As mentioned in-story, Vincent is currently twenty-five.
- There are several metaphors in this prologue, a couple relating to the title and overall theme. See if you can find them all, and let me know if you think you have. Think of it as a challenge from your English Major of an author.
- Vincent's name is significant, but I won't reveal how, or why. If you think you've figured it out, you can PM me and I'll either say yes or no. If you can do that, you could figure out why it's important. Just a teaser.
- I was originally planning on Ikarishipping, but when I looked back at my outline, I saw that I had only included it because I wanted the awesomeness that is Paul and the hilarity and flexible character that is Dawn in my fic. But really, there's no place for them; they wouldn't fit. So that idea is likely scrapped. The most any Ikarishipper will get is a mention or two. I'm sorry if you'd rather I have it, but I don't think I can fit it in.
- This fic is somewhat slow on the romance, like its predecessor. It's a Action/Adventure/Mystery/Drama/Romance blockbuster of a fic. Don't expect anything to happen quickly.
- I will likely be able to get up the next chapter within then next two weeks. After that, I have no idea. I go to college full time, do an student-teacher internship with the local school system, and work part-time as well. So don't hound me for updates; it'll likely just make me update even slower. Once you pay my salary, you can dictate my deadlines. Not one second earlier.
All of that said, I hope you review, and that you like it.