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MATURE: Salvation (Conquest AU)

Death of Innocence: Nightmare


Feb 17, 2022
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Welcome to Salvation! This is a work that has been a labour of love since my teenage years. What you see here is the latest iteration of the story. It's a Conquest AU, something that seems like it should be amazing. Please drop a review and let me know what you think of this! Anything is appreciated, from little blurbs to page long deconstructions!

I was initially interested in the idea of this fic after playing Pokemon Conquest. However, I don't really think that the game did the idea justice. Pokemon fits very well into a fantasy story and this is the result of that idea. They just work perfectly because they are fantasy creatures.

This is a story set in the medieval era. It is very much a fantasy epic. There will be death, and violence, and probably sex. Please be warned before you begin. There probably won't be any lemons, but that ain't my cup of tea anyways.

So without further ado, enjoy Salvation!

Arc 1: Death of Innocence


The chains are broken. An empire falls.

The sun hung lazily over the peaks, casting jagged shadows across the ruined and shattered plateau. The ancient city that lay nestled into the mountainside burned in agony, smouldering fires spewing acrid black smoke into the pristine mountain air. A ball of flame launched from one of the siege engines surrounding the city. It slammed into a watchtower, reducing it to a pile of burning rubble. Azure flames ripped through the cobblestone streets, torching homes and storefronts with impunity. The few men who still dared defy their fate manned the walls of the citadel, determined to defend their queen until the last.

A lone dragon soared above the city, her rider peering down at the chaos unfolding below. A dark cape flapped out behind him, billowing in the gale that whipped over the peaks. He shivered slightly, the cold biting down to his core. He shrugged off the discomfort, ignoring the shudder that ran through his body. He bore the blood of the dragon, and dragons did not show weakness.

Lance couldn't help but grin as the pride of Johto's oppressor burned at his hand. Dragons ran rampant through the ancient streets of the Indigo Plateau, savaging the few men that hadn't managed to retreat to the citadel. A grim smile crossed his face as the column of men marching through the city ground to a halt at the iron-wrought gates of the citadel. A pair of ballistae bolts sailed from the battlements, skewering the shield wall and shattering the formation. Now the battle would truly begin, and Lance was going to enjoy it.

A cloaked spectre emerged from his shadows, wreathed in darkness. It tipped its head in a polite nod and opened its cloak as it chanted in an arcane language. Darkness streamed out of the open cloak, taking the form of a man's head. A dirty mop of blond hair emerged, tendrils of smoky shadows streaming off the man's pale white skin. "My King, I have failed you, " he said. "Agatha has summoned her wraiths. She has broken my seal on the city."

"You have not failed, Morty, " Lance replied, his powerful voice carrying above the din of battle. "She is a powerful medium with centuries of experience. She will not give up her crown without a fight."

The sky seemed to darken as he spoke, clouds turning black as they gathered over the city. The peaceful sunset disappeared, swallowed up by the menacing clouds that formed at unnatural speeds. A savage grin loomed large above the city, malevolent intent radiating from the ancient gengar's formless smile as it appeared in the shadows cast by the clouds.

"Protect the army, " Lance ordered, not even sparing a glance for Morty. He knew that the medium would follow his orders without question. The man had never questioned him before and Lance doubted that he would start now. "I will handle her."

He felt Morty's presence disappear and spared a glance at his dissolving form. The mismagius winked at him knowingly as it dissolved into the void. He turned his attention back towards Agatha's prized gengar, an inhuman fire burning behind his eyes. He leaned in towards his dragonite's ears, his voice rippling with draconic power. "Come now, Betherian. Let us end this war."

His dragon tossed back her head, roaring a challenge to the wraith that waited above them. She flapped her powerful wings twice, drawing even with the wispy shadow as she soared past it. She roared again, azure flames streaming from her maw as she banked hard and swooped around the gengar.

Agatha hung in the air behind her ghost, her body wrapped in a layer of smoky darkness. Her long grey hair blew wildly in the spectral winds that whipped angrily around the Ghost Queen. The dragonfire flew back at the dragon and her tamer, repelled by the ghostly winds that tore through the atmosphere.

Lance raised his cape, shielding himself with the material as a storm of dragonfire washed over him. He lowered the smoking cape, glaring at the Ghost Queen. She hung in the same place as before, a grin crossing her face. She crossed her arms, looking at him with an unimpressed stare.

"I had expected more, " she said coldly, her voice carrying on the wind. It was cold and quiet, barely more than a whisper that seemed to come from just behind Lance's head. "Attempting to separate me from my pets was clever. However, it was ultimately futile. You will die just the same."

The orange dragon swooped in, abandoning her ranged attacks. She raked an outstretched claw through the gengar's immaterial form. Betherian roared as she tore through the gaseous ghost, purple mist slipping through her claws unharmed.

The gengar cackled madly, reforming behind the dragon and her tamer. It dove into Lance from behind, driving its ghostly claws into his back. It sank into his body, a quick attempt to possess the would-be usurper. Lance drew in a sharp breath, steeling his mind for a mental assault. Waves of nightmares crashed into his mental barriers, nearly overwhelming him. Violent images of rotting corpses and broken dragons dragged their shattered forms towards the tamer.

The nightmares faded for a moment, and Lance struck back with all the force his battered mind could muster. The gengar screeched in pain as he expelled it from his body, forcing it to manifest in front of Betherian. The dragonite's waiting maw slammed shut on the gengar's midsection, bisecting the ghost with ease. Inky black blood poured out over Betherian's jaws, staining her brilliant orange scales a dark purple. She shook her head viciously, tearing the wraith to pieces as Lance again pulled his cape up over his face. The acidic blood splashed against his cape, burning his skin where it seeped through the fabric.

His victory was short lived. Agatha leapt into action, grabbing him by his cape with a pale and bony arm. She tore him from the back of his dragon, throwing him into the clouds above with unnatural ease. A horde of wraiths streamed off of Agatha's shadows, haunter and ghastly launching themselves at Betherian and swarming over her scaly hide. She cried out in pain, dozens of infernal claws tearing at every inch of her body. Agatha rocketed after Lance, leaving the dragon for her ghosts as they dragged her down to the surface.

Lance tumbled head over heels, desperately flailing about in the hopes that Betherian could find and catch him. His throat and lungs burned viciously from the cloud, making clear that it was no natural formation. He emerged from the cloud for a moment, falling towards the city below as he sucked down a breath of clean air. Agatha slammed into him as he fell, grabbing him by the throat and carrying him back into the cloud of smog. The acrid smell invaded his nose as he choked for air, kicking wildly at Agatha's chest.

She held him at an arm's length, unbothered by the poisonous air slowly killing Lance. "You're strong, boy. But stronger than you have tried to take this throne from me." She pulled him in closer to her, wisps of darkness wrapping around the both of them. "I'm going to enjoy watching you scream, " she whispered. Tendrils of black smoke streamed off her body, billowing around the two of them and pulling Lance into a cold embrace. "Show me what it is that you fear, " she said, demonic undertones straining to break through the façade. "Show me your worst nightmares, and watch them come true."

A pair of cackling shadows appeared over Agatha's shoulders. Mad grins spread across the gengars' mouths, black shadows streaming from their maw and enveloping Lance. The darkness swallowed them whole, and Lance lost all sense of perspective. He fell back, plummeting through the darkness to what was surely his death. He closed his eyes, preparing himself for the end.

The gates groaned, wrought iron bars bending under the immense pressure. The great steel serpent straining against the gate roared and forced its armoured head further into the minuscule opening. The gates groaned as they yielded to the steelix's determined assault.

Another pair of ballistae launched their bolts into the Johtan formation, punching a hole in their shield wall. A hail of arrows slammed into the opening, felling another half dozen men as they found their mark. The mass of men shifted, adjusting to the opening in their line seamlessly. A second volley of arrows arced from the walls of the citadel, hammering into the hastily reformed shield wall.

A man in leather armour pushed through the crowd of men behind the gates, forcing himself closer to the charizard looming above the crowd. Purple accents hung from his wrists, the kind only worn by fuchsian ninjas. "Lord Marshal Oak, " he shouted hurriedly. "The gates will never hold!"

The charizard's rider turned his head, finding the man in the crowd. "Then we shall hold them ourselves, " he declared. He turned his head towards the gate, eying the groaning metal warily. "Master Li, " he called, searching the crowd for the master fighter.

"Lord Marshal, " the master replied, bowing deeply as he stepped into the circle of men around Oak. His usually white robes were stained a mottled brown, splashes of bright red marring the fabric.

Oak grimaced, knowing that he was trading lives for time. "Hold the gates, " he ordered. "When that steelix breaks through, you turn it to scrap."

The steelix let out a triumphant roar as it forced the gates open. The fighting master leapt from the Kantoan ranks, charging towards the massive serpent with his pokemon at his sides. He ducked under the steelix's tail, sliding under the massive blade. He rolled to his feet and drove a heel into one of the serpent's joints, denting the thick steel. The steelix growled and turned its head to crush the little human.

A fist wrapped in flames slammed into the side of the serpent's head, knocking it against the side of the gatehouse. The hitmonchan leapt into another punch, hammering its flaming fists into the steelix's sagging skull and superheating the beast's steel carapace as its master flipped away from the thrashing pokemon.

The steel serpent whined in pain, lashing out violently at the little hitmonchan pummeling the side of its skull. It slammed the lithe fighter into a wall, its bulk unavoidable in the close quarters. With a satisfied grunt it smeared the hitmonchan across the walls of the gatehouse, leaving a bloody stain on the stone.

"Rusty, return!" shouted a woman's voice. She raised a pokeball, intent on returning her pokemon before the Kantoans could do any more permanent damage.

The steelix perked up its head, glancing back at its trainer momentarily. A flying kick knocked it into unconsciousness. It collapsed into the ground, eyes rolling into the back of its head. A beam of light flashed from the woman's hand, dissolving the unconscious serpent and recalling it to its ball. The hitmonlee leapt backwards over the advancing line of Kantoan soldiers, allowing the men to plug the gap that Rusty had created.

The line of Kantoans locked their shields, forming an impenetrable wall in the ruined gatehouse. The looming shadow of a charizard stood behind the line, growling at the upstart Johtans that dared attempt to overthrow the queen. Lord Marshal Oak sat on the charizard's back, clad in a simple set of leather armour. A mighty oak tree was emblazoned on his chest. The charizard's rider drew a blade, holding it towards the sky.

"Turn back!" he shouted, voice booming over the field of battle. "You will find no glory here." His charizard tossed back its head and roared as if to punctuate his point.

A cacophony of challenges erupted from the body of the Johtan army. Dozens of flashes of light grew into the hulking forms of angry pokemon, their cries mixing with the Johtan war chant.

The Lord Marshal turned his head to the side and raised his arm. "Men of the East!" he shouted. "Today we hold back the dragon! Give no quarter, for your enemy will do the same." He thrust his blade into the sky, shouting a war cry that echoed across the Kantoan line.

The Johtan line broke as they charged towards the open gatehouse. The ballistae fired again, deflecting harmlessly into the dirt as a psychic barrier sprung into place. A hail of arrows launched from the archers on the walls, piercing the barrier and felling dozens of the charging Johtans. Hundreds more poured into the gatehouse, slamming into the Kantoan line.

Lord Marshal Oak urged his firedrake into the sky. She soared over the gatehouse and bellowed a challenge to the army at the gates. "Down, Flare, " he ordered. "Bathe them in fire."

She tucked her wings back against her torso, diving towards the ground. Her wings snapped out to catch the air and carry them just above the ground. A stream of flames washed over the Johtans, cooking a line of men within their armour. Pained screams reached Oak's ears as he passed over, the smell of burning flesh filling the air.

Flare flapped her wings twice, rising into the sky once again. Oak glanced down over his shoulder, watching in grim horror as the Kantoan line started to crumble under a barrage of elemental attacks. "Flare, down."

Flare tucked in her wings again, plummeting towards the earth. Even as she dropped, the Kantoan line broke under sustained pressure. Johtan soldiers forced themselves into the gaps created by their pokemon, splintering the Kantoan line in dozens of places.

Flare's wings snapped out, slowing her descent. She slammed into the ground, crushing a trio of Johtans with her clawed feet. She roared, urging the flame on her tail higher as she flapped her wings. A storm of flames whipped off of her tail, spinning around her as she added to the fire spin.

Lord Marshal Oak leapt off Flare's back as the firestorm engulfed the Johtans surrounding her, tossing a ball into the air. It burst open as he landed, two hundred pounds of blastoise spilling out onto the field. "Swiftstream, rapid spin!" he shouted as he rolled to his feet.

The blastoise leapt into the air with more grace than its bulk would have suggested. It tucked back into its shell, spinning like a top as it crashed through the mob of Johtans swarming the gatehouse. It carved a path through the Johtan formation, leaving a bloody trail of crushed bodies in its wake.

Oak turned away from his blastoise, driving his blade through a Johtan's chest as the man hacked away at a fallen soldier. His blade punched through the simple leather easily, impaling him through the chest. The Johtan collapsed as Oak tore his blade free and Oak swore, realizing that the man on the ground was already dead. Oak spun, bringing his shield up as a Johtan soldier leapt at him. He deflected the man's blade to the side, driving his own blade into a gap in the man's armour. He dropped, clutching at his shoulder as Oak tore his blade free in a spray of blood.

"Lord Marshal!" shouted a familiar voice. Master Li leapt from the Kantoan ranks, delivering a punishing kick to the chest of an onrushing Johtan. He grabbed the elbow of another Johtan as the melee crushed closer towards the Kantoan general, disarming the man with quick twist. He deftly grabbed the blade as it fell, driving it into the Johtan's stomach as the man stumbled. "We must go!" he shouted over the din of battle. "This battle is lost. We can ill afford to lose the war." His hitmonlee landed beside him, driving the pair of Johtans that rushed to avenge their fallen comrades back.

"No, " replied Oak calmly. "Hold them back! Have faith in your queen!" He pointed to the sky, watching the flashes of ominous light burst through the unnatural cloud cover. "What is dead cannot die!"

The fighting master nodded, his chest heaving with exhaustion. "What is dead cannot die!" he shouted back.

The chant echoed through the melee, Kantoan soldiers taking heart and repeating the chant even as scores of them fell to Johtan swords and spears. Slowly but surely, the Kantoan forces were being pushed further into the courtyard.

Flare roared, unleashing a torrent of flames that staunched the tide of men streaming through the gatehouse. The Johtan formation crumbled as men screamed in pain, flames cooking them alive inside their armour. The flamethrower ended as swiftstream spun back through the gatehouse, coated in a layer of crimson liquid. He popped back out of his shell, looking around at the carnage left by Flare's attack.


A bolt of lightning dropped from the sky, slamming into Swiftstream from above. Oak screamed a wordless cry as his blastoise convulsed in silence, electricity coursing through every fibre of his being. The moment seemed to last an eternity as the bolt split and arced into a half dozen Johtans that Flare had missed. Finally, mercifully, the bolt of lightning vanished. Swiftstream stood unnaturally still, muscles paralyzed by the untold amounts of electricity coursing through his system.

A ball of crackling energy barrelled through the gatehouse, ramming Swiftstream in the chest. The ball of energy exploded into a brilliant display of electricity, sending the blastoise sailing through the air. It landed among the ranks of Kantoans, crushing a pair of soldiers that hadn't noticed the flying pokemon.

Oak grimaced as he stared down the Johtan that had just finished off his blastoise. A part of him screamed in rage and grief, but he forced it down before his stoic façade could break. "Lord Gold, " he spat, glaring at the Johtan general as he waltzed through the remains of the gatehouse. A proud ampharos followed him, electricity crackling along its powerful tail. "I had expected you sooner, considering that your tricks held the dead at bay."

Lord Gold smiled under his helm. He reached up and lifted the helm from his head. A jagged cut marred his face, blood leaking from the hastily stitched wound. "You knew that they stood no chance against the might of the dragon!" he shouted. "So why spend their lives on a useless endeavour?"

Oak's expression faltered for a moment, mourning his friends. Flint and Kasumi had known the risks of their strategy, but insisted on it nonetheless. "Kanto will thank them for their sacrifice, " he replied. "They knew what the risks were." He looked up at the sky, desperately hoping for a miracle. Streams of shadows ripped through the sky, descending on the ancient city like scavengers drawn to carrion. Oak looked back down at his opponent, readying his weapon. "As do I, " he said calmly.

He heard footsteps at his side and spared a glance. Master Li nodded to him, his hitmonlee limping along behind him. "As does all of Kanto," said the master fighter. "We are prepared to do what is necessary."

Lord Gold shook his head. "I do not wish for more bloodshed. We were friends once, " he replied. "Kanto has suffered under the rule of the dead. Join us! We can welcome a new era of peace and cooperation, without the cold grip of a dead hand on our throats."

Lord Oak glanced up, desperately hoping that his Queen's aid would arrive. "The time for that is long passed, " he said, a tinge of regret seeping into his gruff voice. "Too much blood has been spilled in the name of your blasted dragon." He raised his blade, one eye on the plummeting horde of ghosts. "What is dead cannot die!"

The air above the citadel seemed to bend in protest, thousands of ghosts snuffing the fading sunlight out with their numbers.

Lord Gold's eyes widened, staring in horror at the hordes of the dead that swarmed over the city. His head snapped to the side, searching the ranks of men. "Will! Morty!" he shouted. "Hold them back!"

He saw Morty nod, his eyes wide at the prospect of holding back the ghosts. He held out a hand, pulsating purple energy swirling in his palm. A slender man in pale purple robes pushed himself towards Morty and locked eyes with Gold. He turned back to look at the sky as a stream of the ghosts screamed towards them.

A translucent barrier crackled and flashed to life, forming a dome over the citadel. The barrier groaned and bulged as thousands of ghosts threw themselves against it with reckless abandon.

The sky screamed in agony as the souls of the dead shrieked forth from the shadows. The poor souls outside the barrier didn't stand a chance, thousands of ghosts abandoning their mad assault on the citadel. Screams of pain and horror pierced the air, joined by the mad cackling of the dead.

"So be it," stated the Johtan general. "You will join your beloved Queen in death." He pulled his helm over his head and drew a blade from the scabbard on his hip. "For Johto," he said calmly.

Oak grimaced and gripped his sword a little tighter. He glanced up at Flare, and shot her a look of grim determination. "For Viridian," he said calmly. Flare nodded, her eyes locked with the typhlosion's. Oak roared a wordless cry as he charged, pain for the loss of his friends and pokemon fuelling his rage. He had traded countless lives, stalling until the Queen could summon the ghostly army she commanded. Now, cut off from that army, there was only one way out. The Kantoan ranks erupted towards the Johtan army, making one final desperate push

Master Li leapt over him, driving his foot into the chest of a shirtless mass of muscles that dwarfed him in size. The massive man barely flinched, shrugging off a blow that could fell castle walls. He retaliated with a brutal punch that drove the wind from Master Li's chest. The lithe fighter staggered backwards, wobbling on his feet. The mountain of muscle leapt forward, delivering a powerful right hook that dropped Master Li to the ground. The mountain of a man descended on the prone master, raining vicious blows with meaty fists.

Oak's blade met Lord Gold's with a resounding crash. The younger Johtan danced away, deftly avoiding the Lord Marshal's furious attack. The remains of the two armies slammed together, throwing men through the air with the force of their clash. Blasts of fire and lightning erupted from the ranks of each army, cutting swaths of men down with each attack.

Lord Gold stepped in closer to Oak, locking their blades together. "Look around you!" he shouted over the chaos. "This war is over!"

"Never!" retorted Oak. He stepped back, driving Lord Gold back with a vicious cross-swing. The two men stared at each other, grudging respect clear between them. Oak raised his blade, readying himself for the fight of his life. Flare growled at the Johtan's pokemon, eager to enact revenge for the blastoise she had considered a brother. Oak released another pokemon, a mighty venasaur that bellowed a challenge at the ampharos.

With a wordless cry, the two men charged each other. Their pokemon mirrored them, slamming together in a mortal tangle of flashing claws and snapping fangs. Whipping vines and blasts of electricity tore through the air, tearing down any men close by indiscriminately. For better or worse, the battle was going to end soon. Oak just prayed that he would come out of it alive.

Lance forged his way through the blackness, formless claws tearing and scratching at any exposed skin. He pulled his cape up to shield his face as a giggling haunter lunged for his throat, grimacing as the ghost reduced his favourite garment to tatters. He grunted and pushed through the horde of ghosts, stumbling into a thick fog as the ghosts vanished with a fading cackle.

"Show yourself, witch!" Lance shouted into the fog. He reached for the sheath at his side but found it empty. He cautiously waded into the spectral mist, eyes searching for any movement. A figure stumbled out of the mist, clutching at her side and holding the stump of her arm against her belly. Her silver-blue hair fell to her waist, matted to her bloodstained armour.

Lance rushed forwards, catching his cousin as she collapsed. "Clair, " he started, his voice wavering at the sight of her. Blood ran freely from the terrible gash on her side, streaming down her armour and over Lance's hands. Her left arm was a bloody stump, amputated just above her elbow. A latticework of burns had chewed away at her face, leaving a nearly unrecognizable wreck behind. "Who did this to you?" He could feel the life leaving her body while he watched. For the first time in ages, Lance was helpless.

Clair's mouth twisted into a sadistic grin despite the sickly black blood that leaked down her face. Clair grabbed Lance by the back of his head, the sudden outburst of strength holding him in place. She dug the stump of her arm into his stomach, eliciting a pained grunt. "You did, dear cousin, " she coughed out, blood and spittle splattering against Lance's face. "You and your blasted feral,"

"No, " Lance stated flatly. He pulled back, wrenching himself free of Clair's deathly cold grip. "Betherian would never…" His voice trailed off as Clair struggled to her feet.

Clair's back snapped in half, an unseen force crumpling the proud warrior as if she were a sheet of paper. A wet gurgle escaped her lips as she stared up at Lance in pure horror, her body contorted in impossible angles.

"Clair, " Lance whispered, his courage fading with his cousin's life. "I am sorry."

Clair spoke again, her voice bubbling with demonic undertones. "Your sorrow is worthless, " she hissed as her body collapsed. She giggled, and Lance felt a shiver run down his spine.

"You are not real, " he said, a blatant attempt to calm himself. He stepped back, grasping again at his empty sheath. "None of this is real, " he said.

Clair unfolded, her spine wrenching back into place with a sickening crack. "Of course it is real, " she spat, Agatha's voice straining underneath Clair's. "It just hasn't happened yet. After all, this is your nightmare."

Lance roared in anger, feeling the blood of the dragons quicken in his veins. "Get out of my head, witch." He took a step towards the illusion of his cousin and swung a fist.

A gengar burst from Clair's chest pinning Lance to the floor. The illusion faded into the spectral mist, leaving Agatha towering over the dragon tamer. "Not real enough?" she asked. She grinned savagely. "Perhaps we should dig deeper?"

The mist swirled around Agatha's form, obscuring her from Lance's view. It dove towards him, forcing itself into every orifice as Lance screamed in pain and terror.

He shuddered awake, coughing violently on the bitter taste in his mouth. He rolled to his side, retching on the taste of death and decay. He sucked in a breath, breathing in the smoky scent of a wood burning fire. The sweet tang of nostalgia invaded his nose, bringing back a horrific memory.

He sat up, searching for the mirror that he knew sat in the corner of the cramped room. A younger version of himself stared back, head wrapped in bandages.

The dragon at the foot of the bed lifted her head, fearful of the sudden movement. It cooed and slithered closer to Lance, curling around his arm happily.

All seemed right with the world, and Lance forgot he was dreaming for a moment. He ran his hands down the dratini's scaly hide, fingers tracing the innumerable scars that marred the dragon's hide. The wound on her side had yet to heal and Lance wondered if the poison had faded yet.

The door burst open, and the aroma of cooking pecha berries wafting into the cramped bedroom. The shadow of a man stood in the door, blood dripping off his trembling hands. "What have you done?" the man asked, voice dripping with draconic power. The room seemed to reverberate with energy, echoes of power striking a chord within Lance himself. "You bring a feral into this home? Disrespect me?"

"No, you don't understand. She's not feral!" Lance said as the figure stepped into the room. He stepped in front of the trembling dratini, defiant before the monster in front of him. "Father, what have you done?" He peered past the shadow of a man blocking his doorway, finding the mangled corpse of his mother laying on the stone floors. "What have you done?!"

He knew what came next. Years had passed, and he would never forget the horror of that day. His father moved towards him, reaching out with one of his impossibly large hands. Lance struck fast and true, crushing the man's windpipe with a lightning-fast blow. The shadow of his father collapsed, clutching at his throat. The look of fear on his face seared into Lance's mind, pulling memories that he had long forgotten back to the surface.

The floor dropped out from beneath him, plunging him back into darkness. He slammed against the bars of a steel cage, the cold metal burning his skin with its very touch.

The air swirled with black currents of energy, an ominous chill running down Lance's spine. A dim blue flame illuminated the room, casting flickering shadows across the walls of the ancient chamber. The elders of Blackthorn sat in a circle around him, coldly watching his struggle from afar.

Lance strained against the cold steel, his hands screaming in pain as he pulled at the metal cage. He locked his eyes on one of the elders, an ember of draconic fire flickering to life in his chest. "Release me, " he demanded in a voice that rippled with power.

The elder's eyes opened and Lance's heart skipped a beat. The balding man's eyes were soulless black pits, devouring Lance's attention and sanity the longer he watched. His tongue lolled out of his mouth, swollen and black with rot. He drew in a slow, rattling breath that chilled Lance down to his core. "You are an abomination, like your father before you. The blood does not lie." The elder cocked his head to the side, viscous black tar falling from his putrid mouth. "Your recklessness has cost this council dearly, in reputation and resources."

The cage flung open, dropping Lance onto the ice-cold floor. He struggled to his feet, gravity dragging him down even as he attempted to rise. The cold seeped into his bones, and Lance could feel his strength fading as the blood of the dragon ran cold in his veins.

The elders spoke again, their voices joining together in an unholy chorus of decay. "You will no longer sully the name of the Wataru Clan." A rush of wind and a pained groan above him drew his attention. "You and your feral beast shall pay the price."

Betherian screeched in pain as her cage lowered from the blackness, a sound that Lance had never heard the dragon make. She slammed into the bars of the cage, thrashing about madly at the cold touch of the steel. Every thrash tore through armoured scales as of they were paper, showering Lance with thick globs of blood.

Lance fell to his knees, staring up at his caged dragon in dismay. "This is not real, " he said, a vain attempt to calm his own racing heart. "None of this is." He reached for his blade again, finding an empty sheath in its place. "And that includes me." He closed his eyes, calming his breathing until the sound of his heartbeat was the only sound he could hear. He closed his hand on the hilt of his blade, tearing it free of its sheath with a flourish.

"Impossible," droned the elders. The inky black ceiling swelled and undulated, ancient forces furious with Lance's defiance. "None can break free of the nightmare."

Lance raised his blade, the dragonblood quickening in his veins despite the cold. Johto had chosen him to be their champion, and he would not fall to some petty illusion. "Perhaps your nightmares work on lesser men, but I am no lesser man." He gripped his blade tighter, whipping his blood into a frenzy. He looked up at the caged dragon above him and grimaced, knowing what he had to do.

The cage opened, and Betherian landed in front of him. Her scales were decayed and rotten, turned a pale and sickly green instead of their usual vibrant orange. Her jaws hung open, the stench of decay wafting out over her swollen black tongue. The dragon's eyes were glazed over as it lazily looked down at the defiant tamer.

Lance reached out with his very soul, looking for the familiar sensation of Betherian's essence. He recoiled at the touch of a cold, dead void. Betherian growled a low gurgling noise that took him by surprise. Lance steeled himself for what was to come and planted his feet. "And that is no dragon."

The undead abomination before him roared as if to dispute that. It took a step towards him, its armoured claws thudding on the rough-hewn stone. It swiped at him, swinging wildly at the tamer.

Lance ducked under the attack, burying his own blade up to the hilt in the abomination's gut. Betherian shrieked in pain, mad cackling interspersed with the dying dragon's cries. The undead dragon's scales split open at the touch of Lance's blade, spewing a geyser of acidic blood onto the dragon tamer.

He leapt back, tearing his blade free and stepping back to look at the dragon's convulsing form. The illusion shattered, scales fading into a shadowy purple form. The gengar groaned, clawed arms clutching the gash in its belly.

"So they can be hurt in the dream, " Lance muttered. He jumped forward, driving his blade into the centre of the ghost. It wailed a mournful cry and dissolved into a steaming puddle of ectoplasm. Lance turned up his nose at the goo, turning away from the sickly smell.

The chamber shook violently, the darkness above Lance swirling madly. Clawed arms reached for him from the blackness, thick, smoking tar dripping from the points of each claw. Lance closed his eyes, ignoring the nightmares reaching for him from the shadows.

His throat and lungs burned, the poisonous smog ripping and tearing at his esophagus as he sucked down another breath. Lance opened his eyes, the flickers of dragonfire in his chest growing larger.

Agatha stared back at him as one of the gengar over her shoulders faded from existence. She scowled, looking down at the dragon tamer held in her grasp. "That's two of my wraiths that you've banished now, " she said coldly. She pulled him in closer, her hand still clamped down on his throat with an iron grip. "You will not have the chance to do so again."

Despite the fact that he was held by his throat hundreds of feet in the air, in a cloud of smog, with no sign of his dragon, Lance grinned. "Just watch me, " he choked, forcing the words out through Agatha's grasp.

Agatha sneered and released him, bringing a cackle of glee from her remaining ghost. He hung there for a moment, a tendril of shadowy energy holding him in place. Agatha smirked as she released him, content to let gravity do her work for her.

Lance felt the draconic power fade and fear take over as he plummeted away from Agatha. "Betherian!" he shouted, desperate for the dragon to hear him. He shouted again, his voice lost in the rush of wind.

An orange blur whizzed by, snagging his tattered cape in her jaws. Lance grunted in pain as he was violently jerked out of his fall. He grabbed tightly to his dragon's torso, clinging on for dear life as she flared her wings desperately.

Betherian spun in the air, slamming through the translucent barrier over the citadel and shattering it to pieces. She hit the dirt with force, roaring in pain as she skidded along the cobblestone. Dozens of men scrambled for cover as the dragon crashed through their formation and ground to a halt in the middle of the melee.

Lance stumbled to his feet, tearing his blade free of its sheath. Betherian stirred weakly, slowly lumbering back to her feet. She tested her wings and grunted in pain, one of her wings limply laying broken at her side.

"We'll get that looked after once this is over, " Lance said. He patted Betherian's side, grinning up at her despite the carnage surrounding them. "Thank you for catching me."

The dragonite looked down at him and snorted as if to ask what else she was supposed to do. Her head snapped up, eyes narrowing as she glared at the lone man who dared challenge them.

A bolt of lightning erupted from her horns, frying the man where he stood. Lance shook his head as the man collapsed, still convulsing madly as electricity coursed through him. All around them, the few remaining Kantoans fled on flying mounts as their morale finally broke. None dared to stay and fight in the presence of the dragonlord.

A chill ran down Lance's spine and he looked up. The sky ran black with rivers of shadows as the hordes of ghosts raced across the sky.

"Your Grace, " shouted a voice from the crowd of soldiers. Morty emerged from the bafflefield, his gengar hovering malevolently over his shoulder. Lance shuddered momentarily at the sight of the ghost, stopping himself before one of his men noticed the fear in their King. Morty looked up at the skies in dismay. "Is the Queen dead?"

"No, " he replied. "merely angry." He looked up at the sky, picking Agatha's floating form out of the shadows easily. "How goes the battle?"

"Their Lord Marshal has fallen, your turncoat did his job well," Morty said. "The rest of the remaining Kantoans fled the moment that you broke that barrier. The citadel has fallen and the battle is won." He looked up at the swarms of ghosts streaming through the sky and grimaced. "Although, those ghosts have devastated our armies. We can ill afford to continue our campaign into Kanto without returning home to gather more men."

Lance stared up at the sky, eyes locked onto Agatha as she approached. "The battle is not over, " he stated coldly. "The queen still lives."

Morty looked up, following Lance's gaze. He stepped back in horror as the sky blackened completely, plunging the ancient castle into darkness. Only the eerie glow of the fires burning throughout the city lent any light to the scene. "The King is here!" he shouted. "Defend the King!"

Lord Gold emerged from the ranks of men, his armour dented and leaking blood in several places. His pokemon stood at his sides, wounded and weary from their own battles with the Lord Marshal's pokemon. "Hold fast!" he shouted over the crowd. "Form up on me! The battle is nearly won." He turned to Lance, bowing his head with respect.

"Well done, " Lance said. "It seems my trust was well placed." He looked up at Agatha, and then back at Lord Gold. "Her army is scattered to the wind. She fights for survival, not her throne."

"Wrong, " Agatha boomed over the field. Faint cackling echoed under her voice, ringing in Lance's ears. "I fight for vengeance." She floated to the ground, gently borne on wisps of smoky black shadows. Her lone gengar glared at Betherian from above Agatha's shoulder with glowing red eyes. "You have taken everything from me."

"Then you will fall, " Lance replied. He stepped forward, the draconic embers in his chest roaring into an inferno. Betherian roared in response, challenging the ghost that dared stand before her. Lance spoke again, pure draconic power radiating off him in waves. "Your reign of terror is over."

Morty chanted in a forgotten tongue behind him, his mismagius mimicking every word in a demonic tone. A rotten yellow eye appeared, conjured by the medium and his ghost. The rotten eye opened, fixating on the Ghost Queen. Morty opened his eyes as the life drained from his face. "She is trapped, " he rasped. "The mean look will hold her here, though I can't say how long."

He raised his blade, staring down the Ghost Queen with the inferno of dragonfire smouldering in his chest. "This ends now, " he stated evenly. "I challenge you for the ri-"

Agatha shrieked and leapt forward, propelled by a jet of shadowy energy. A blade of stygian blackness formed in Agatha's hands, trailing a stream of black smoke behind her. Lance leapt from the Johtan line, determined to defend his countrymen. He shot through the air, propelled at superhuman speeds towards the medium. Their blades clashed together with a resounding crash, supernatural strength meeting with something not completely human.

Her gengar surged forward, a ball of shadows forming in its claws. It threw the ball of energy at the dragon where it splashed off armoured orange scales harmlessly. Betherian looked down at the ghost and snorted derisively. She lowered her head, blasting a bolt of lightning that carved a charred path towards the gengar. Agatha's ghost seemed to merge with the shadows, slinking away from the violent arcs of electricity.

Betherian roared again, incensed at her target's sudden disappearance. She reared her head back, azure flames spilling out of he maw. The dragonbreath washed over the darkness, bathing the battle in an eerie blue glow. The gengar's death screech tore through the courtyard, grating at the eardrums of everyone present as the flames ripped through its form. A horde of haunter and ghastly dove from the nightmare above, pinning the dragon to the ground and cutting off the blue flames.

Agatha slipped away again, melting back into the shadows where Lance could not follow. She appeared again, diving towards him on a current of black smoke. She scored a glancing blow on the inside of his left leg. Her momentum carried her past him, out of the reach of Lance's blade. She sank back into a shadow, disappearing from sight again.

"Stand and fight!" Lance commanded, swiping at Agatha's shadow as she faded into the darkness. His blade passed through nothing, striking the cobblestone streets as he carried through with his swing.

She leapt out of another shadow, feinting towards Lance's head. He bit on the feint and swung his blade up to intercept hers. She slipped under his guard, scoring a direct blow that bit through his armour and sliced a shallow cut on his stomach. He doubled over, clutching at the gash in his belly.

Agatha stepped out of the darkness in front of Lance, visibly gloating as he nursed his wound. "This is Johto's great champion?" she asked. "Afraid of the dark?" She tossed her head back, maniacal laughter ringing out over the silenced Johtan army.

Lance grunted, dropping to one knee. He could feel his hold on the dragonfires inside him slipping as he strained to control himself. The embers roared higher, and Lance let himself be lost in their inferno.

Betherian thrashed madly as her temper flared. A dull red glow emanated from the dragonite's orange scales, giving the dragon her own demonic appearance. Ghosts peeled away from her in waves, desperately fleeing from the enraged dragon's wrath.

"Betherian, outrage!" Lance ordered. He forced himself back to his feet, the same dull red glow burning off of him. Draconic power radiated off of him, giving him strength as his rage burned hotter.

His dragonite bellowed madly as she tore into the fleeing ghosts with reckless abandon. Every snap of her jaws and swipe of her claws showered her surroundings with another spray of dark purple blood. Ghosts fell to her like wheat before a scythe, drenching her claws in gooey ectoplasm.

Agatha shrieked, turning her back on Lance. She reached out to the fleeing ghosts, bringing them back under her thrall with practised ease. She pointed at Betherian with a blood-curdling shriek, all her anger and attention aimed at the dragon.

The fleeing ghosts turned on a dime, hurtling back towards the dragon with self-preservation forgotten. She cut through the swarm even as their shadow claws tore through her hide, her rage blocking out the pain as she continued her rampage.

Lance's blade sprouted from Agatha's chest with a spray of blood. Her body slumped back onto his blade as she desperately attempted to suck down a breath. Betherian looked up from the slaughter, bloodlust clouding her eyes.

Lance forced his blade deeper, burying it up to the hilt in Agatha's back. The ghosts mauling his dragon stopped their assault, turning and regarding the scene curiously. He cradled her body against his, his lips inches from her ear as the ghosts started to approach. "Never turn your back on an opponent. Not until he lays dead at your feet."

She gurgled a response, words lost in the bubble of blood that spurted from her mouth. Lance stepped back, tearing his blade free with a violent flourish. Agatha dropped to her knees, eyes fearfully locked on the ghosts converging on her. She raised an arm, a stream of shadows lazily snaking out of the palm of her hand.

A particularly brave haunter darted forward, knocking aside Agatha's fading resistance with ease. She raised her arm fearfully, a final vain attempt to defend herself. The ghost pounced, ripping and tearing at her flesh with its claws. The swarm of ghosts descended on their former master, ripping her to pieces as she shrieked in pain.

Lance averted his eyes, unable to watch as the ghosts dragged their master back to whatever demonic plane of existence they came from. He didn't dare look until the mad cackling of a thousand ghosts faded and the chill left his spine.

The sun poked through the clouds, still labouring above one of the peaks surrounding the plateau. Lance looked at the place Agatha had fallen, noticing only the inky black stain left behind.

"Your Grace, " Morty started, hope filling his voice with warmth. "It is done."

Lance looked to the sky, the images of Agatha's nightmares still burning in his mind. "No, " he replied. "This city still writhes in pain. Agatha killed many by summoning her army."

Lord Gold stepped forward, favouring his wounded leg and limping slightly. "Much of our army was outside the barrier when the ghosts attacked. I recommend that we rest here, at least until we know the extent of the carnage."

Lance nodded, a tired smile worn on his face. "Very well then, " he said. "We rest here. At least for now." He looked up at Betherian, allowing himself to savour the victory.

His dragon lowered her head, sniffing at the rent in the King's gilded armour. She growled softly, sniffing at the blood leaking from his belly cautiously. She growled pointedly, as if to chide Lance for his sloppiness.

"I know, " he said, exhaustion creeping into his voice. "Seems as if I've gone soft, " he said. He closed his eyes and toppled to the side, his legs buckling from blood loss. He felt hands grabbing at him, tearing his armour off in a hurry. Frantic shouts and angry voices faded into nothingness, and then he felt nothing at all.

Torchic W. Pip

Here and Queer
Feb 15, 2021
Reaction score
  1. She/Her
  2. He/Him
  3. They/Them
Woah, a Conquest fanfiction? Sign me up! Side game rep for the win!

…Okay, so maybe it’s a Conquest fic in inspiration only, but still, cool to see characters we know and love. I got so excited when I saw Morty as a ghost mage guy! We also have mentions of feral Pokémon. Interested in why so many people hate them. Lance’s nightmare sequences were a bit confusing, but they added a great insight into his insecurities and fears.

It might be good (and required in the rules) to add a prefix saying what rating your fic is. From what I’ve read so far, this fic seems like a Teen, maybe Mature, but read the Ratings Giidelines and come to your own conclusions.

This fic begins in media res. A very good way to draw the reader’s attention, but in my opinion, the battle kind of gets… boring? That could just be me, because battles in general usually bore me unless there are solid, relatable stakes (ex. A character fighting their parent to prove their strength and worth, a fight reflecting a character’s inner turmoil, or, more relevant to this fic, characters fighting to protect or save a place they and we have an emotional attachment to). One could argue that we have a connection to Kanto and Johto, and there were (albeit brief) mentions of innocent villagers, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
Badass name, though it’s not mentioned that Betherian is a Dragonite until much later.

Lance drew in a sharp breath, steeling his mind for a mental assault. Waves of nightmares crashed into his mental barriers, nearly overwhelming him.
I notice that many, maybe most, of your description sentences go along the lines of “they did X, Y-ing with Z.” It’s fine to use this sentence structure, but variety is key. It got a bit monotonous reading the same kind of sentence over and over again.

I also noticed a typo pattern where there will sometimes be a space before the ending quotation:
"Then we shall hold them ourselves, "

(This isn’t a case of the quote thing, though “eying” should be “eyeing”)
"Hold the gates, "

"Down, Flare, "

sacrifice, "

"As do I, "

We were friends once, "

passed, "

"Clair, "

"Your sorrow is worthless, "

"You are not real, "

"None of this is real, "

"Of course it is real, "

"Release me, "

"This is not real, "

"Just watch me, "

"Your Grace, "

"The battle is not over, "

"Wrong, "

"Then you will fall, "

"She is trapped, "

"This ends now, "

"Your Grace, "

"I know, "

And lastly on the typos:
"You and your blasted feral,"
Comma should be a period.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting read. As for some recs on what to read in the Writer’s Workshop:

Stray by Orion is a story similar in tone and mystery to yours, albeit taking place in a PMD-esque world. The work building is great, and the later slice of life moments serve as a nice breather between angst and bloodshed.

Here That Which I Desire by Beth Pavell is a great Legend of Zelda one shot focusing on an NPC soldier. A very heartbreaking story, in my opinion.

And hey, welcome to the forums and to the Writer’s Workshop! Hope you enjoy your stay.
Last edited:


Feb 17, 2022
Reaction score
Woah, a Conquest fanfiction? Sign me up! Side game rep for the win!

…Okay, so maybe it’s a Conquest fic in inspiration only, but still, cool to see characters we know and love. I got so excited when I saw Morty as a ghost mage guy! We also have mentions of feral Pokémon. Interested in why so many people hate them. Lance’s nightmare sequences were a bit confusing, but they added a great insight into his insecurities and fears.

It might be good (and required in the rules) to add a prefix saying what rating your fic is. From what I’ve read so far, this fic seems like a Teen, maybe Mature, but read the Ratings Giidelines and come to your own conclusions.

This fic begins in media res. A very good way to draw the reader’s attention, but in my opinion, the battle kind of gets… boring? That could just be me, because battles in general usually bore me unless there are solid, relatable stakes (ex. A character fighting their parent to prove their strength and worth, a fight reflecting a character’s inner turmoil, or, more relevant to this fic, characters fighting to protect or save a place they and we have an emotional attachment to). One could argue that we have a connection to Kanto and Johto, and there were (albeit brief) mentions of innocent villagers, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
And hey, welcome to the forums and to the Writer’s Workshop! Hope you enjoy your stay.
One of the most fun parts of this story is porting characters from canon into this world.

Must have missed that rule in the stickied thread, but I was only skimming so that’s on me. It’s definitely M rated on the violence alone, so I’ll edit that into the post title.

I know about the sentence structure issues. It’d require more work at the moment than I’m willing to put in, but I am aware of the problem. I think it might have been a product of the style I was attempting with this fic, but who knows.

Thanks for grabbing the typos! I think I was having some formatting problems with Word when I finished this off. I remember it wanting spaces before every end quote and me being very confused by that lol. I’ll have to edit those out.

I’ve heard the “no attachment” criticism before. Part of my fault for starting in the middle of a climactic battle. Lance is the only true POV character we introduce here and it’s intended for the reader to be on his side. Perhaps I can improve on this, god knows I’ve tried. We do solve this a little once I introduce Red/Blue/Gold (the other main POVs), but I tried to have Lance carry this chapter alone as it’s the triumphant finale to his origins.

Thanks for your thoughts!

I’ve started Stray actually, over on FFN. Reminds me, I should really leave a review on that lol.

Thanks for the rec of the other story! I’ll check it out, but I’m not a huge Zelda fan.
Death of Innocence: Dawn


Feb 17, 2022
Reaction score
Arc 1: Death of Innocence


A new day dawns on a changed Kanto. The champion wakes.

"By all accounts, Lance suffered a grievous blow." Fuji looked up across the oversized table, his cold gaze falling on Blue. The old man's stare ran a chill down his spine, and he fought the sudden urge to look away. "He hasn't woken since the battle, and his army is a fraction of what it once was. Lance poses no more threat than a landlocked magikarp."

Blue sighed heavily, glaring back at the bald man seated at the head of the table as the room seemed to echo in agreement. "No threat to Lavender, maybe. But he is not camped a week's march away from Lavender, is he?"

Fuji shook his head slowly, remaining silent. The crackling fire behind him cast an ever-changing shadow on the table in the centre of the room.

"The Johtans are still camped within our borders, and the lot of you would rather bicker over the scraps that the Queen left behind than fight the real enemy." He looked up at Fuji, eyes flickering between the pair of immaterial ghosts that hovered over the elderly medium's shoulders. "I have Johtan scouts probing Viridian's defences on a weekly basis. Thousands of men are still pushing into my territory, all while I lack the numbers to attack them directly. Now is not the time to bicker over a throne that our enemy now holds."

Fuji rose to his feet, leaning over the table. The shadows seemed to darken, growing in length and reaching out towards Blue as the ghosts forced themselves into reality. "You forget your place, Little Oak." The temperature seemed to drop as Fuji's haunter appeared in earnest. "You would all do well to remember your place."

Static electricity filled the stuffy wooden room, radiating off the man seated at the table's head. The shadows seemed to recede as the powerfully built man stared down the ghosts creeping into reality. "That's enough, Fuji." He stood up, glaring at the medium. "I will not stand by and watch you impose your will on a child."

Fuji turned his head to look at his ghosts, a bemused look on his face. "Do you mean to threaten me, Lord Surge?" He turned to face the man, his expression unreadable.

Lord Surge stiffened his posture, staring down his crooked nose at the medium. "I mean to remind you that I swore my service to Agatha." He looked down at Fuji's body, an amused grin on his face. "You are not Agatha."

Fuji raised his eyebrow at him. "And you think yourself stronger than me?" He shook his head with a soft grin spreading across his face. "What is dead canno-"

Surge slammed his first into the table, silencing the elder immediately. His voice hardened, growing colder and more harsh. "Spare me the empty threats, " he spat. "I knelt to Agatha because she was stronger than all of us. You, however, are barely even a pale imitation of her power." He turned his head, regarding the rest of the Lords and Ladies around the table with a cold and calculating stare. "I say enough with the rule of the dead, " he said calmly. "Let the living have their turn running this Empire."

"Agatha died with no clear heir, " Blue interjected, silencing Fuji with a withering glare. "Traditionally, the throne would pass to the next male relative in line, " he said. He motioned to Fuji with one hand, keeping the other one clenched in a tight fist on the table. "That would leave Fuji as the rightful heir to the throne. "

Surge bit back a laugh, eyes never leaving Fuji's frail form. "That is something that I cannot accept, " he said. "Vermillion will not bow to the dead any longer."

Fuji snorted in derision. "And who would you have take the throne in my place?" he asked with a knowing smile. "You?"

"Why wouldn't it be me?" Surge retorted with a snarl. "I've been Lord of Vermillion for twenty years, since Agatha put down the last Dragon King himself." He pointed a finger at Fuji accusingly. "You were barely even-"

"Why would it be you?" asked a quiet voice. All eyes turned, finding the quiet woman in the corner finally on her feet. She straightened her kimono, flattening out the creases that had formed on the fabric. "Celadon is larger, richer, and isn't ruled by a relic."

Surge scowled in her direction as a hushed silence descended on the impromptu council chambers. "What did you just say?" he asked curtly.

"I said that you're a relic, " she replied. "A remnant of a dying breed, holding onto power with an iron grip. Why would it be you who leads the rest of us?"

Surge crossed his arms, still scowling at her. "Who's going to stop me?" he asked, his mouth curled into a cold grin. "You? Erika, we both know how that ends."

"I say we put it to a vote, " Blue said, cutting Erika's retort off before it began. "Just like when Agatha was crowned."

Surge cocked his head to the side, his murderous glare locked on Blue. "Way I see it, everyone here's just gonna vote for themselves." He shrugged nonchalantly. "An eight-way tie is just gonna end up with a whole lotta blood spilt over this. Blood that would be better spent retaking Indigo."

"You're agreeing with me?" Blue asked incredulously. "Why the change of heart?"

Surge shrugged. "Basic military strategy, " he replied. "Lance and the Johtans are a far larger threat than any of you. I'd be risking more by ignoring them to take advantage of the chaos."

Erika nodded slowly. "The relic is correct, " she said. "Kanto needs unity during this time. We can ill afford to spend what few soldiers we have left on petty squabbles."

Blue breathed a sigh of relief, his shoulders visibly relaxing. He turned his head, whispering to the towering man at his side. "Thank the gods, " he said quietly. He straightened his spine and looked around the room. "Then it is settled. Brock and I will hold Viridian until the rest of you can gather more troops." He raised an eyebrow, scanning the gathered Lords and Ladies for any sign of dissent. "Unless there are any objections, this Kingsmeet is at an end."

Brock cleared his throat, his arms crossed. "I expect to see the lot of you in Viridian three months from now. The Johtans will make their move soon enough." He turned to the door and flung it open, flooding the room with sunlight. "I would hate for the rest of you to miss out of the action."

Lord Surge was the first to file out, his perpetual scowl seemingly burned onto his face. His aides followed him out, similar expressions worn on their faces.

The procession from Saffron City filed out after, as silent as they had been during the meeting. Blue frowned, watching them go. He locked eyes with the young woman at Lord Natsume's side and her eyes flashed purple for half a moment. She closed her eyes and looked away, following the rest of the Saffron contingent out.

Blue blinked in surprise, watching her go. He leaned towards Brock as the Fuchsian and Lavender representatives headed for the door. "Was that Lady Sabrina?" he asked.

Brock raised an eyebrow at him. "Aye," he replied. "Careful with psychics, old friend. They'll as soon cook your mind as they would share theirs with you."

He shook his head. "She was staring at me throughout the meeting. Felt like she was watching me."

Brock smiled and shook his head. "All the more reason to be careful, " he replied. "Psychics are dangerous at the best of times."

Blue nodded as he gathered the various reports he had brought to convince the rest of Kanto's nobility. In the end, they'd done nothing but give Fuji and Surge reason to bicker over minute details that barely mattered. Only Brock's calm patience had carried him through to the end of the meeting with his wits still intact. "At least we managed to convince them to help us. They seem to understand that the war isn't over."

Brock furrowed his brow as he followed Blue out the door. "But what Surge said does worry me." He turned and shut the doors to the impromptu council chambers before turning back to face Blue. "He may not want to spill Kanto's blood over Agatha's throne at the moment, but what of the others?"

Blue stopped in his tracks, turning to face Brock. "We have no guarantee that they'll abide by any agreement we made here."

Brock nodded solemnly. "Aye, and who's to say what they might do after we retake Indigo. Surge did not seem like the type to pledge his loyalty to anyone he thinks himself stronger than."

"It'd do well to keep an eye on them, " Blue said quietly. He turned towards the window overlooking Vermillion's harbour. Brock sidled up beside him, leaning on the window sill. "Do you have anyone who can stay here?"

Brock shook his head. "None that I can spare at time like this. All my best scouts are still stationed at Viridian."

Blue sighed. "Then it can't be helped." He turned away from the window and motioned for Brock to follow. "We'll just have to hope for the best."

The campfire crackled loudly as one of the burning logs split and popped. The men around the fire roared and laughed, their jeers and calls marring the otherwise peaceful night. Dozens more men danced and cheered, their mugs slopping mead around the clearing as they celebrated their hard-earned victory.

A silent shade crept closer to the party, unnoticed by the inebriated soldiers. It slipped into the shadows cast by the campfire, moving through the forest around the clearing with practised ease. A pair of malevolent purple eyes peered out of the shadows, watching the party with clear disdain.

The woman looked up at the gengar, warily eying the spiky shadow leering out at the celebration. "Be good, " she commanded. "Wait for the signal."

The gengar melted back into the shadows, glaring out at the unsuspecting enemy. She shivered as a chill went down her spine, her connection with the ghost letting her feel its pent up energy. Her bond with the ghost was strange and she never liked to dwell on it for long, lest she go mad with despair. Only fully trained mediums dared to contemplate that bond, and only after years of experience with their partner.

She unsheathed her blade, the rasp of the steel barely audible even to her over the party. A quick check over her shoulder told her that Saur was ready and waiting for the signal as well. The beast blended into the foliage surprisingly well, his leafy bulb bristling slightly in the crisp mountain breeze.

"C' mon Red. Where are you?" Her soft green eyes scanned the foliage on the opposite side of the clearing, searching for any sign of movement.

A butterfree fluttered through a gap in the trees, lazily meandering up above the treeline for a moment. She turned her head to the side, nodding at the ivysaur hidden among the trees.

Saur grunted quietly as the bulb on his back quivered. A geyser of spores erupted into the air, creating far more noise than she had hoped for.

She pulled the cloth up over her face, shielding her nose and mouth from the cloud of highly paralytic spores. A gentle wind pushed the cloud out towards the party and she felt the tingling sensation of a few stray spores landing on exposed skin.

The butterfree seemed to raise her antennae, and the woman felt the hairs on the back of her neck raise. She felt the current of psychic energy running through the air and shuddered slightly as the cloud of spores slowly arced down towards the party.

"Saur, " she said, glancing back at the ivysaur. "Bring the forest to life."

The creature roared in response, a deep-throated bellow that drowned out the party for a long, haunting moment. He extended a pair of vines from underneath the bulb on his back, whipping them through the air at the nearest soldier even as the inebriated soldiers scrambled for cover.

Saur's vines wrapped around the man's legs and hoisted him into the air. She heard an audible crack as her ivysaur snapped the man's legs as if they were twigs. He screamed in pain, a shrill high noise that betrayed his youth.

She leaned out from behind the tree, watching as half a dozen men retrieved their weapons. "Saur, watch your vines! Razor leaf!"

The ivysaur shook his leafy bulb violently, flinging a hail of razor-edged leaves towards the party. Scores of men dropped to the dirt, clutching at the plant matter embedded in their bodies.

"Nox, immobilize them!"

Her gengar cackled madly, his malevolent purple eyes glaring out of the treeline. Purple smog billowed from between the trees, blanketing the clearing in a thick acrid layer. A shapeless mass of spiky shadows swelled in size, looming over the celebration and flashing a mischievous grin.

Panicked shouts broke out as the men realised that they were under attack. The party ground to a screeching halt as the soldiers rallied to face their horrific new threat.

The formation collapsed as quickly as it had formed. Men fell to the ground, hacking and coughing as they clutched at their throats. She watched in morbid fascination as the shimmering cloud of spores descended on the clearing.

A flash of blinding light lit up the clearing, growing into a mass of hulking muscles. The four armed beast grunted as it took form, breathing in a face full of spores before it could even take a step. Its muscles twitched erratically as they fought against the spores' influence. It toppled forward, crashing heavily into the dirt where it lay motionless.

Nox laughed heartily as he shrunk down to his normal size. The gengar's chilling laugh rang out over the field, maniacally growing in volume as the last few men collapsed. He danced out over the field, emerging from the shadows of the trees like a vengeful wraith.

The woman stepped out from the cover of the treeline, striding towards the lone man still fighting against the spores. The butterfree appeared over the treeline again, madly flapping its wings. A gust of wind kicked up, clearing the spores away just as she walked out into the field.

The man struggled heavily, his chest heaving with laboured breathing. He had dropped his warhammer and had fallen to his knees. His massive, bare chest heaved with every painful breath. He looked up at the woman, realization and hatred dawning in his eyes. "You…" he choked out.

"Yes, me, " she replied. "Should have killed me when you had the chance." She stopped, looking down at the mountain of muscles who had been brought down without even lifting her blade. "Consider this payback for butchering the garrison at Tohjo Falls."

He choked hard, hacking and coughing madly. A spray of blood erupted from his mouth, painting the ground with a bright red splatter. He glared up at her in defiance and spat a glob of blood at her. "It's war, " he spat. He opened his mouth, choking on his words as the paralytic spores finally took effect.

She nodded and sheathed her blade. "Aye, " she agreed, "it is war." She looked around at the field of fallen men, many still twitching as the spores shut down their bodies. "My men surrendered. Yet you still butchered them." She turned away as the mountain of a man collapsed. "So I didn't give yours the choice. You made that choice for them."

He collapsed into the dirt, shaking and twitching as the spores did their work. She closed her eyes, listening to the slow, unmistakable sound of footsteps picking their way through the field of bodies. She turned and looked at the man approaching from the treeline, content to watch him approach in solemn silence.

"Leaf, " he started, his voice calm and soft. His charmeleon followed closely behind him, growling at the twitching corpses as it prowled past. A pikachu leapt off his shoulder, darting into the field. He looked at the fallen mountain and grimaced. "All the corpses in his wake and the great Bruno dies without even having lifted his weapon." He shifted his gaze to her, his expression softening. "You ok?" he asked.

She shrugged and turned away from him. "I've watched too many friends die, Red. This war hasn't even lasted a year and the trainer corps has maybe half the strength it started with." She hung her head, coming to a halt. "Is it even worth it?" she asked, turning to look at Red. Tears were starting to form in the corners of her eyes. She blinked them away, refusing to let her emotions boil over. "I don't care who sits on the damned throne. I just want to go home and stop watching people die for a war that they have no stake in."

Red lifted his helmet off his head, letting his messy mop of black hair fall past his shoulders. "We don't get that choice, Leaf. We are bound to Viridian, for better or worse. That is our lot in life."

"Is it wrong to want something else?" she asked quietly.

He shook his head. "No. It's not." He held out his hand to her, a sad smile worn on his round face. "Come on, let's get back to camp. We should move before we get added to the feast ."

She nodded, taking his hand with her own. She closed her eyes and slowed her breathing to a crawl. She opened her eyes a half second later, looking at Red with watery green eyes. "Let's leave, " she said suddenly. "Right now. Nobody would ever know."

He shook his head. "We can't do that. We'd be abandoning Pallet. It's our home, Leaf."

"Yours, maybe." She hung her head, fists clenched tightly. "But not mine."

Red shook his head. "I'll hear no more of this, " he said. He broke into a small grin. "Can you imagine the look on Mum's face if you'd said that to her?"

Leaf smiled despite herself. "Your mother couldn't be happier to remind me that I'm always welcome in your home."

"Exactly, " he replied. "So do me a favour and lighten up. You're a lot more fun to be around when you aren't wallowing in misery."

Leaf remained silent, looking around at the devastation with a solemn look on her face. Sensing that he wouldn't get any further by pressing her, Red turned around to find his pokemon.

Pikachu jumped up onto his shoulder, a leather sack held between his teeth. Red smiled, taking the sack and ruffling the fur on the little mouse's head.

"Whatcha got here, bud?" he asked softly. He dumped the pouch out into his hand, gasping at the contents. Twelve balls tumbled out, falling out over his outstretched hand and tumbling to the dirt.

"Are those real?" Leaf asked. "They'd be worth a fortune."

Red lifted one of the pokeballs, studying it closely. "I think so, " he said. "Definitely feels real." He stuffed the balls back into the pouch and tied it to his belt. "C'mon, " he said, looking up at the sky. "Looks like this feast has been spotted."

A trio of winged shadows passed over them, the carrion birds that cast them lazily descending on the clearing. Even from the ground, Leaf could make out their razor-sharp beaks and talons just waiting to dig into their next meal.

Red turned to recall his charmeleon and trudged back towards the edge of the clearing. He whistled a sharp short tone once, his eyes trained on the fearow above. Pikachu leapt onto his shoulder, happily chittering away.

Leaf raised her ball, recalling Saur. Nox bounded across the field with a chilling laugh and settled into place above her shoulder. She didn't look back as the fearow descended on their feast.

The sun peeked out from above the trees, bathing the camp in the morning glow. A chorus of chirping pidgey serenaded the morning, shattering the peaceful quiet of morning.

Red stirred from his seat at the fireside. "Leaf, " he started. "Sun's up. We have to move." Pikachu yawned on his lap, stretching and nuzzling into Red's hand.

She groaned heavily and rolled away from him, pulling her bedroll over her head. "No, " she protested groggily.

He stood up, stretching his legs for the first time in hours. He yawned loudly and smiled as Pikachu burrowed his way into Leaf's bedroll.

"We have to get back to Viridian, " he said. "With Tohjo falls gone, the Johtans could march their entire army into the foothills and we wouldn't even know."

Leaf threw the bedroll off her head, knocking Pikachu off of her. The little mouse had nuzzled up beside her, his static electricity forcing her auburn hair to stand on end. "Red, don't talk to me about military problems before I'm out of bed." She groggily rubbed her eyes and looked over at him. "Unless we're under attack, it can wait."

He smirked at her, happily letting Pikachu climb up onto his shoulder. "Sorry, " he said. "But we've got a lot of ground to cover. Lord Oak was due back from Vermillion in less than a week." He turned back towards the fire, kicking dirt onto the few embers that were still smouldering. "I'd prefer that we reach the city before he does."

She nodded, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She attempted to flatten her hair, failing miserably. "Alright," she said flatly. She extricated herself from her bedroll and yawned loudly.

Nox burst from the dirt, laughing maniacally in Leaf's face. She frowned and planted her hands on her hips, unfazed by the ghost's attempted prank. "Cut it out, Nox. I'm not in the mood."

The ghost stuck out its tongue at her and dove into her shadow. It disappeared, the only clue to its presence the pair of malevolent purple eyes peering out from behind Leaf.

She pulled one of the balls off her belt, tapping the button and releasing the great beast inside.

The pidgeot cooed at the sight of her trainer, nuzzling her beak into Leaf's palm. "Seraph," she said happily. She scratched the bird's back, eliciting a happy coo from her pokemon. "We must return to Viridian. Can you carry both of us?"

The pidgeot's eyes narrowed as she looked between the two trainers. Slowly, she nodded and spread her wings. The seven-foot-tall bird slowly lowered herself to allow the trainers room to climb onto her back. Leaf patted Seraph nervously, glancing back at Red as he pulled himself closer to her. "Hold on tight, " she said, a soft grin tugging at her lips. "I always forget that you don't like flying."

"Just get us home, " he replied. "I can mope about flying later." His Pikachu squeaked from inside his travel cloak and he tucked the warm fabric around the pokemon.

She nodded and wrapped her arms around Seraph. "Alright girl, take us home."

The pidgeot screeched loudly as she launched herself into the air. She flapped madly, fighting to gain altitude. For a moment, Red feared that the bird wouldn't be able to clear the treeline. With a massive screech, Seraph urged herself higher. She soared into the sky, leaving the makeshift camp far behind.

The warm crackle of a fire filled the room, bathing the small chamber in a warm glow. The sweet scent of pecha berries filled Lance's nose as he groggily opened his eyes. The fire had burnt itself down to a small flame, illuminating the pair of women slumped in their chairs.

"Mira, " he said, his voice hoarse. The words seemed to scrape along his throat as he croaked at the figures in the chairs. "Water."

One of the figures stirred, yawning and stretching her legs. She pulled her hair back and into a right bun atop her head. "Clair, let's-"

"Mira, " Lance repeated, struggling to push himself up into a sitting position. He clutched at his stomach, gingerly feeling the bandages wrapped around his midsection. His mind wandered to Betherian and the memories of the battle came back to him.

His wife threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around the top half of his torso in a crushing hug. "You're awake!" she said in a breathless whisper. "Thank the gods. I thought I lost you."

He smiled despite the pain, his piercing eyes trained on Mira's. "It'll take more than that to get rid of me."

A sharp cough interrupted their embrace. "Touching, " Clair said. Her hard expression softened and a smile spread across her face. "Good to have you back, cousin."

Lance nodded at her. "What have I missed?" he asked. He looked down at the bandages wrapped around him and sighed. "How long has it been?"

"Thirty-four days, " Clair replied. "Morty feared you might never wake. The Queen's blade was not of this reality. It would have killed you if not for Morty's work to purify the wounds."

He winced as he swung his legs off the bed. "Mira, " he said quietly. "Help me stand."

The slender woman braced his weight against her shoulder, lifting him as he tested his strength. They took a wobbly step forward, and Lance grunted with the effort.

"And what of the battle?" he asked. "Agatha called her ghosts…"

Clair's grim look gave him all the information he needed. "It's bad. We lost at least half our men when that damned horde dropped from the sky." She sighed and turned away, looking into the dying flames intently. "That's not even mentioning the death toll among the smallfolk."

"How bad?" Lance asked.

"Thousands upon thousands, " she replied. "We're still pulling bodies out of every nook and cranny of this city. It appears as if Agatha's ghost army was extremely thorough." She wrung her hands together, nervously glancing down at the fire.

"The city is a dying husk, " Lance said mournfully. "Its people will need a home."

Clair raised an eyebrow. "Your Grace, these people were still subjects of the Ghost Queen. Is it wise to-"

"We were subjects of the Ghost Queen, " Lance replied. "I would be no better than our enemy if I simply ground the smallfolk underfoot."

"As you wish, Your Grace, " Clair replied. "I'll make arrangements for any who are willing to swear themselves to you." She paused for a moment, lost in thought. "Any who are willing could be escorted back down the mountains."

"How so?" Lance asked. "Tohjo Falls blocks the way, and the garrison-"

"Fell last week, " Clair answered. "Bruno and his men took it with less than half-a-hundred casualties."

Lance's stony expression softened. "Impressive. Perhaps the war can be at an end."

"Your Grace?" Clair asked, taken aback. "I was under the impression that we were meant to bring Kanto under our banner. That task is not complete."

He shook his head slowly. "What desire do I have to rule Kanto, " he said. "Let them find their own King." He winced, clutching at his stomach.

Mira nearly buckled as Lance's knees gave out. He dropped to one knee, his jaws clenched. A groan of pain escaped his lips. "Water, " he said.

Clair dashed from the room without a second thought, shouting down the stone hallways for any servant who would listen. Her voice disappeared from earshot in moments, leaving only echoes behind.

Mira hauled her husband back to his feet. She carried him to the chair she had been sitting in and slowly lowered him into it. She breathed a sigh of relief as he slumped back and sank into the chair.

"Where is Betherian?" he asked. He looked up at her, his eyes sunken into his skull. He looked haggard and thin, the skin seeming to hang loose off of his bones. It was as if the life had been sucked out of his body. His piercing yellow eyes bored into her as he repeated his question. "Where is my dragon?"

Mira swallowed the lump in her throat. Her husband was in no shape to face his raging dragon. "She is in mourning. She believes you to be lost."

Lance nodded slowly. "Her wing?" he asked. "It was broken in the fall."

Mira placed a hand on her husband's shoulder, attempting to be a reassuring presence. "Clair set it to heal, " she started. "But Betherian has refused to allow anyone near her. She tore apart one of the men that Clair had brought with her, and there are whispers that she's become little more than a mindless beast."

"Whispers have a source, " he stated flatly. "Who dares to say such things?"

"Your men, " she replied. "The Elder Council have sent an envoy. He is likely the source."

Lance shook his head, exhaustion plain on his face. "The stubborn old fools have been a thorn in my side since I defied them to train Betherian. They would not be above spreading rumours to further their goals."

She nodded slowly and sat in the chair beside Lance. "Then we are still surrounded by enemies, " she said.

Lance smiled sadly. "Just like home, " he said. "Stay close to me, my love. I have a feeling that the worst is yet to come."

"They expect this war to continue, don't they?"

Lance frowned, remaining silent. His furrowed brow and clenched jaw were all the answers that Mira needed. Her husband was dour and serious, but never overly paranoid. If he was cautious, then he had reason to be.

Mira leaned forward in her chair, taking Lance's hand with his own. "Don't let anyone change the way you are, " she said. "Johto chose you as her champion. Stand by what made you the man they chose to lead them."

He met her gaze, looking up at her with exhausted eyes. With a groan of effort, he forced himself to his feet. He stood tall and proud, the pain and exhaustion gone from his posture. Mira could feel waves of draconic power radiating off of him as he turned towards the door. "Where is Betherian?" he asked.

Mira smiled as she stood up. "Let me take you to her."

Lance looked up the steps, gazing into the yawning doors to Indigo's great hall. The massive iron-wrought doors had been smashed off their hinges and left discarded on the steps. Scorch marks marred the marble steps, and great rents had been clawed into the pristine stone.

Mira stopped, leaving her husband to climb the steps alone. "I love you, " she said quietly. "Please come back."

He turned and smiled softly. The usual hardness in his face melted away as he looked down at her. "I always come back, my love." He turned and took another step, reaching out to the flickering embers of dragonfire that burned in depths the throne room.

A deafening roar met his ears, nearly knocking him back down the steps with the force. He continued up the stairs undeterred, only pausing to glance back over his shoulder. He made out the shape of half a dozen people approaching Mira and turned back to face his dragon.

He stepped into the shadows of the throne room, blinking rapidly as his eyes adjusted to the dark. The throne room had been torn to shreds. Burnt tapestries hung in tatters off the wall, and puddles of molten slag lay scattered around the room. His dragon was curled around the half-melted throne, eying him warily.

"Beth, " he said softly. His footsteps were soft and quiet, muted by the layer of ash that had settled on the floor. " It's me."

The dragonite raised her head, looking down at him and gauging whether he was a threat. For half a moment, the dragon recognized him. Then rage took control of her features. She raised her head and tossed it back into a terrible roar that shook the foundations of the citadel.

Lance took another step, unafraid of his most loyal and powerful friend. He felt the embers of flame flicker in his chest, responding unconsciously to the dragon before him. "Betherian, " he started, his voice dripping with draconic power. "Come back."

He reached out, feeling the strength of her essence touch his own. Fear and nausea overwhelmed him as his dragon's emotions mixed with his own. His eyes shot open and he dropped to his knees.

The dragon shifted from her place by the throne, drawn towards him. Her scales sparkled brilliantly in the light of the dragonfires burning in the throne room.

Realisation dawned on Lance as she sniffed at him cautiously. He reached up, gently touching her snout as she leaned down towards him. "You are not dreaming my friend, " he said. He smiled and nodded. "This is real."

She pulled back, sniffing at his hand cautiously. She wrinkled her nose and a warning growl escaped her maw.

Lance pulled his hand back as Betherian snapped her jaws closed where his hand had been. He grabbed the side of her head fearlessly, the dragonfires roaring inside of him. "No!" he shouted, voice rippling with power. "This is real!"

She blinked once, the rage clearing from her eyes. Recognition dawned on her features and she lowered herself towards him.

Lance patted her snout, a smile spreading across his face. "Now let's go be the champion."
Death of Innocence: Days to Come


Feb 17, 2022
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Arc 1: Death of Innocence

Days to Come

A champion is crowned. His path is paved with death.

He descended from the steps of the citadel like the champion he was. His dragon lumbered through the smashed-apart doors, growling at the men that had gathered to greet their King.

Lance came to a halt several steps above the crowd, glowering at them menacingly. A faint breeze blew in from the mountains, fluttering his cape slightly. "Friends, allies, countrymen," he paused after each word, his piercing gaze seeming to find each individual. "We have won a great victory here. Songs will be sung for years about this battle." He took a step down, a pained grimace breaking his grim bearing for a fleeting moment. "Yet I have heard that this victory is not enough for some." He folded his arms across his chest as Betherian roared and took flight. "Some of you would have me forge a new kingdom of blood and fire."

A squat, bald man piped up as Lance took another menacing step towards them. "It is your right to do so, " he said calmly. "Johto and Kanto have forever been locked together in an eternal struggle for dominance." He pointed up at the ruined citadel in awe, mouth gaping open as Betherian landed lithely on one of the spires. "We now have that opportunity-"

"Silence, Lord envoy, " Lance spat. He looked down at the portly noble, a frown of disapproval clear on his face. "The Elders' voice holds no power here."

The noble stepped forwards, defiant towards the dragon tamer that stood before him. "You would flout centuries of tradition to continue a petty feud?" he asked. "The Elders shall hear-"

Lance took another step towards him, his eyes blazing with internal fire. "The Elders are not here, " he said. "They shall hear only what I decide to tell them." He unfolded his arms and looked out among the gathered nobles. "And we will not mindlessly throw away lives to sate the bloodlust of a few senile old men."

The noble bowed deeply, prostrating before the King. "As you wish, Your Grace." He straightened out and stood as tall and proud as his stature would allow. "What is your command?"

Lance grimaced slightly, hand reflexively clutching at his injured stomach. "My command will have to wait, " he said softly. He looked through the crowd, searching for Mira's face. "I must rest."

Mira appeared from the crowd, shoving her way through the gathered nobles with practised ease. "My husband is tired, " she said as she pushed her way forward. "We will decide on a course of action in the morning. Until then, we will continue with our rescue efforts as before."

The crowd murmured assent, slowly dispersing as Mira helped Lance climb down the last few steps. Every step brought a groan and wince of pain. Lance glanced up, eyes boring into the few men who dared to stare as he struggled. "They are watching, " he said quietly, whispering in Mira's ear.

"Let them, " she replied. "Let them see a Queen supporting their King."

Mira lowered her shoulder, allowing Lance to slip off of her and onto the bed. "You're heavy, "she complained.

He looked up at her, eyes heavy. "Not too heavy, I hope?"

She shook her head with a smile. "Not for Betherian, maybe. However, I am not a dragon."

"You are as fierce and protective as one, " he replied. His eyes lazily threatened to shut as he leaned back on the bed. "I would have no other to be my wife."

She unwrapped the bandage around his stomach, peeling the bloodied fabric off his torso. Blackened blood oozed slowly from the gash on his stomach. Mira wrinkled her nose at the rancid stench, eyes nervously glancing up at Lance.

"Is it bad?" he asked cautiously. He caught her nervous gaze and grimaced. "Guess there's my answer, " he said. "How long will it take to heal?" he asked.

Mira shrugged. "I'm not sure. Morty wasn't even certain that you would ever wake." She looked back towards the door. "I can fetch him if you'd like?"

He shook his head. "No, stay with me. I'd rather not be alone."

She sat beside him, unravelling another length of bandage. "Then stay still, " she ordered as she set to work wrapping the clean bandages around him.

"What am I to do?" he asked suddenly. "I was crowned King of Johto. I am expected to be a conqueror. To lay the sword to Kanto and usher in a new Age." He hung his head, deep in thought. "But I do not wish for more bloodshed." He looked up at her, eyes bleary and bloodshot. "When I close my eyes I see the defenders of Indigo's walls looking up at me in fear as Betherian laid waste to the city. I see the terror on a man's face as I drive my blade through his chest." He was silent for a moment as Mira continued wrapping him. "I see the children running for their lives as the dragon inside me wakes."

Mira finished wrapping him in silence, sweat beading on her forehead. She looked up at him and smiled. "You are a dragon, Lance. They will always fear you. People fear what they do not understand. And they will never understand you."

"Then is it better to do as the Elders see fit? Lay waste to Kanto and grind them into submission?"

Mira's expression hardened. "I would not deign to advise you on strategy, Your Grace. While I have a warrior's instincts, I am not much for strategy."

He frowned. "Mira, I do not know what to do. Kanto will fight us to the end, and-"

"So use their fear against them, " she interrupted. "They bowed to Agatha because of fear, we all did. Make them fear the dragon and they'll trip over themselves to swear fealty to you."

"And how am I to do that?" he asked. "I am in no condition for battle, and…" he trailed off, a far off look in his eyes. "I know what I must do, " he said solemnly. He forced himself to his feet, ignoring Mira's offer of support. The embers of dragonfire inside him stirred, and strength returned to his limbs.

"Your Grace?" she asked.

"With Tohjo Falls taken, the Kantoans will rally at Viridian. Viridian must fall before the Kantoans can gather their strength, else this war will be a long and bloody slog."

Realisation dawned on Mira's face. "Bring them to heel with a show of force?" she pondered. "It could work. But it could also backfire spectacularly." She placed a hand on his ribs, gingerly touching the bandages wrapped around his torso. "And you will pay the price if it does…"

Lance took her hand with his own. "Then I gladly pay it for my people, " he said. "Now take me to the armoury. I can rest when Viridian is a smoking ruin."

The sun's rays shone through the cracks of the citadel wall, painting a vibrant web of light on the rocky plateau. The siege camp surrounding the city had begun to stir in the early morning light, preparations for the long march down the mountains beginning already.

Betherian lay sprawled on the broken ramparts, bathing in the morning sunlight. Her scales reflected brilliant orange light down on the camp painting it in soft orange glow. She yawned and lazily looked up at the flock of spearow winging their way past. The lead fearow screeched and urged its flock onwards, away from the hungry dragon.

Lance stood at the mouth of the command tent, his blade sheathed across his back. His cape flapped softly in the breeze as he slung a pack over his shoulder.

"Your Grace, I must protest this course of action, " Clair said. "It is far too dangerous for you to go alone, " she continued.

"I will not be alone, " he replied. "I will have Betherian with me."

Clair furrowed her brow, clearly annoyed by her cousin's stubborn insistence. "At least take the Dragon Knights. They will-"

"Only slow me down, " he finished. He turned his head towards Clair with an impatient glare. "As are you right now, " he finished. "Time is of the essence, dear cousin. Is there anyone who can keep pace with Betherian? I would gladly take them, but unfortunately for us there are very few pokemon who can match a dragonite in flight."

Clair turned her head, glancing at Mira. "Can you not make him see the folly in this?"

Mira sighed. "Has he ever listened to us when his mind has been decided?" She looked back at her husband and frowned. "He is as stubborn as the dragons he commands."

Clair massaged her temples furiously. "If you are so insistent on this planned suicide, then I will accompany you."

Lance couldn't help but snort with laughter. "And how do you plan on doing that?" he asked. "What dragon do you command?" he asked. "None that can fly."

Clair's eyes flashed with anger. "Stay your tongue, cousin. I am of the blood, same as you."

"My question remains, " Lance stated. "How do you plan on getting to Viridian with me?"

"Is Betherian too weak to carry two?" she asked. "She would be a poor excuse for a dragon if she could not-"

Lance sighed heavily. "Enough, " he said. "You may accompany me." He looked up at Betherian and grimaced. "Now, we ride for war." He brought his hand up to his mouth and whistled three short blasts.

Betherian's head perked up from her makeshift bed atop the castle's ramparts. She yawned and spread her wings, stretching from her night of lazy rest.

Red stumbled off the back of Seraph, his legs and torso aching from the flight. He sat down unceremoniously on the cobblestone courtyard, savouring the solid ground after hours in the air.

Leaf slipped off Seraph's back, giving her pidgeot a happy pat on her neck. "Thank you, Seraph. Go get some rest." She turned towards Red as her bird flapped off towards the castle's rookery. " Let's get up to the castle. The Elder will be waiting for us."

"Or he's already on his way to speak with you, " said a warm voice. An elderly man hobbled towards them, bent over a gnarled old cane for support. A half dozen armoured spearmen flanked him, the afternoon sun shining off their polished armour.

Red scrambled to his feet, standing at the ready for the Lord Elder of Viridian. "Elder Oak, " he said respectfully. "We bring news from Tohjo Falls."

The Elder frowned. "I take it from your appearance that it is not good news?" he asked.

Leaf answered for them both, looking calm and composed compared to Red's scruffy and dishevelled appearance. "The garrison has fallen. They were slaughtered to the last man."

"However, we did manage to eliminate the force that took the garrison, " Red continued. "Bruno and his men will no longer trouble us."

The Elder furrowed his brow. "While I commend the both of you for your efforts, Tohjo Falls was our best hope at keeping the Johtans on their side of the Argent mountains. Without that fortress-"

"They'll be able to march on Viridian unimpeded, " finished Red. He looked around, glancing at a group of smallfolk that hurried down an alleyway and out of sight. "We don't have the strength to hold Viridian against any substantial force. Most of our forces were lost when the Johtans took Indigo."

The old man nodded to himself, mumbling under his breath. He looked up at the pair and drew in a breath. "Rally the trainers, " he started. "Gather the smallfolk in the main square. We must evacuate this city. We cannot hope to hold it against the might of Johto, not even with Brock's forces bolstering our own."

Red nodded solemnly. "So we are to abandon our homes?" he asked. "Flee to Pewter and pray that the Johtans are satisfied with just Viridian?" He shook his head. "What guarantee do we have that they would stop there?"

"We don't have one, " Leaf interjected. "But we don't have any hope of survival if we hole up here." She turned to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Red, it's our best chance." She looked around at the abandoned square and sighed. "Viridian is just a place. It can be rebuilt. The people are what's important."

He nodded slowly in response. "I understand, " he murmured. He turned to face the Lord Elder, his calm expression masking the turmoil underneath. "I will take a detachment of trainers and gather as many of the southern farmers as I can. If Viridian falls, then they will be trapped between the Johtans and the sea."

The Elder nodded. "See to it then, " he replied. He spun deftly, despite his frail appearance. "Make haste, my friends. I fear we will not have much time." He marched off towards the keep, his guards close behind.

Leaf turned to Red, her brow furrowed in frustration. "Be careful, " she started. "I don't want to end up leaving Viridian without you."

He smiled weakly. "You won't. I'll be back before nightfall tomorrow."

"You better be, " she replied. "Or I'm coming after you."

He offered a reassuring smile and rolled his eyes dismissively. "I'm just gathering up the smallfolk, " he said. "What's the worst that could happen?"

Blue stared at the ceiling, brow furrowed and mind racing. He closed his eyes again, trying to let the ship rock him to sleep. Still, sleep eluded him. He sat up suddenly, sighing. He swung his legs off the bed and reached for the balls laying on the table at his bedside.

The little eevee appeared on the floor with a flash, cooing sleepily and nuzzling into his waiting hand. He smiled and scooped the little pokemon up in his arms.

"Can't sleep?" asked Brock. He stepped through the door to Blue's room, a half-empty bottle of dark liquid tucked under his arm. He lifted the bottle towards the ceiling and shook it at Blue. "Got something to help that if you're interested."

Blue shook his head as he sleepily got to his feet. "Not for me, " he yawned. "My mind is muddled enough without drowning my sorrows in a bottle." He held out an arm and allowed his little eevee to clamber up onto his shoulder. "I will get some air with you, if you'll have me?"

Brock cracked a grin and nodded ecstatically. "I'd be honoured if you'd grace me with your lordly presence."

Blue rolled his eyes and shook his head with a grin. "Always the joker, " he remarked.

Brock uncorked the bottle with a flourish. "I've been told that it's a coping mechanism, " he replied. He raised the bottle and shook it. "Just like this is." He tipped back the bottle and downed several mouthfuls of the dark brown liquid. He lowered the bottle and glanced at Blue with a sour look on his face.

"No good?" Blue asked as Brock spun to walk out onto the deck.

Brock shrugged noncommittally and turned to face him as he walked. "I don't usually drink Vermillion Dark Rum, " he said. "I prefer a proper Pewter brewed ale."

Blue looked up at the moon, enjoying the salty spray of seawater against his face. He closed his eyes, savouring the fresh ocean air as the ship gently rocked on the waves. His eevee broke the peaceful moment as she nuzzled affectionately into his neck. He smiled and scratched under her chin.

"Still haven't picked a name for her?" Brock asked.

"No, " Blue replied. A melancholic smile crossed his face and he scratched behind her ears. "It's something that dad told me when she hatched…" His voice trailed off as the lump formed in his throat. "He said that the rest of my life is decided for me. I should have one thing in my life that wasn't set. One thing that I could change on a whim." A lone tear ran down his face, dripping off his cheek before he wiped away the trail it left behind. "That's why she hasn't evolved yet, " he said quietly. "If I could choose, she'd already be a jolteon or a flareon…" He trailed off again, absentmindedly lavishing attention on the little pokemon.

Brock sat down abruptly beside him, leaning against the wall of the ship. "I get it, " he said. "Everything else in your life is already controlled and chosen for you. You just want to be not in control. To not have to choose." He tipped back the bottle and downed another gulp of the rum. "And it'd be a poor choice to name her Pyro and then have her evolve into an umbreon or something."

Blue smirked and chuckled softly. "So you see why I haven't named her now?"

"I do, " Brock said. He held out the bottle, offering it to Blue. "Take it, " he demanded. "Its no fun alone and you sound like you need a drink."

Blue silently took the bottle from him, tipping it back and downing a mouthful of the rum. It burned its way down his throat, leaving a rancid aftertaste behind. "They willingly drink this stuff?" he asked. He passed the bottle back to Brock and coughed.

"We're drinking it too, " Brock said with a laugh. "So it can't be all that bad."

Blue shook his head, a smile spreading across his face. He looked up at the moon, watching dark and fluffy clouds drift across the starlit sky. His smile faded slowly as his mind drifted towards darker thoughts.

Brock held the bottle out for him again, noticing the dour look that had replaced Blue's smile. "What're you thinking about that's got you into such a foul mood?" he asked.

Blue swiped the bottle out of Brock's hand. "Dad, " he said quietly. He looked up at Brock and cleared his throat. "I miss him."

Brock's seemingly permanent smile faded. "I can't close my eyes without seeing him storming away from me." He hung his head, looking down at his hands. "We didn't part well, " he said.

Blue handed the bottle back and sat down next to Brock. "To be fair, " he started. "You never were the best with him either."

Brock shrugged and tipped the bottle back, draining the rest of the bottle in two long gulps. "Should that matter?" he asked. "He was my dad and now he's gone."

Blue swallowed the lump that formed in his throat. "They're both gone, Brock. It's up to us to carry on in their names." He lifted the empty bottle out of Brock's hands and dropped it to the ship's deck.

"Its funny, " Brock started. "In a way, he prepared me for this my whole life. He was always off hunting down some outlaws, or fighting in one of his ridiculous tournaments." He turned his head to face Blue and frowned. "He would leave me in charge of Pewter and the rest of his kids and disappear without so much as a backwards glance." He sighed and shook his head. "Half the time he'd bring back yet another bastard for me to take care of."

Blue smirked. "Remember when he went off to Pummello and started calling himself Island King?"

Brock couldn't help but smile at the memory. "Your dad dragged him back to Pewter with that damned driftwood crown still on his head." He looked up, the ghost of a happy memory still on his face. "Kept calling him King Flynt of the sinking steelix."

Blue chuckled softly. "They definitely were a pair, " he said. "There wasn't any trouble that they got into without one of them bailing the other out."

Brock stared off at the moon, watching the clouds drift past and obscure it from sight. "Is that gonna be us?" he asked in a sombre tone. "Bailing each other out every few months?"

"There's nobody else I'd trust to bail me out the next time I wander into a beedrill nest, " Blue said.

"You do that often?" Brock asked.

Blue smirked. "Only when you're around to save my ass, " he said. "Now go get some sleep, " he ordered. "We'll reach Viridian in the morning. I'm sure you'd rather not appear before your men as a drunken sot."

Brock smiled and shook his head. "Aye, that may not be the best for morale." He clambered to his feet, his footing unsteady on the rocking ship. "Blue, which way is it?" he asked.

Blue smiled and got to his feet behind him. "Come on, M'Lord. Let's get you to bed. We've got a big day tomorrow."

The sun peeked out above the horizon, nearly blinding the dragon tamers with the sudden brilliance. Betherian barely flinched, her eyes far less sensitive than her human riders'. Tohjo Valley slowly came into the light below them as the sun slowly rose off the horizon.

"You're bleeding again, " Clair said. "Hold still."

He looked down at his torso, vaguely aware of the dull ache that refused to abate. He closed his eyes, forcing the embers of draconic fire inside him higher to dull the pain. "Do it now, " he said.

She peeled the bandage off his torso, grimacing at the sticky black bandage. "You aren't invincible, " she said. "Even you have limits."

"I can't afford to have limits, " he replied. "There is too much on the line."

She dropped the soiled bandage, letting the blackened fabric fly away in the wind rushing past. "Lance, do you truly think yourself invincible?"

He pondered the question for a moment. "I suppose not, " he replied. "But since I have never reached the limit of my powers, I would regard myself as near-invincible."

"I'm being serious, Cousin, " she said. "I don't want to tell Mira that you pushed yourself too far and got yourself killed."

He shook his head with a smile. "That would be a difficult conversation indeed."

She whacked him in the shoulder and shot him a scolding look. "I'm being serious here, " she said. "You are not a God. You have limits, no matter how powerful you might think yourself to be." She pulled the new bandage tight against him and tied it against his back. "So do me a favour and tell me if you need help."

"I don't need-"

"Shut it, " she spat. "I'm not one of the Elders. I'm not some coddled lady to be gawked at." Her expression softened. "We grew up together. If anybody knows you, it's me. So just shut up and let me in. "

He sighed. "I will make an effort, " he said softly. "But no promises."

She folded her arms across her body. "Stubborn fool, " she said.

Lance peered down off the side of Betherian, one hand still firmly grasping the saddle. The cloud of circling carrion birds immediately drew his gaze. He pointed, glancing over his shoulder at Clair. "Another slaughter, " he remarked.

"More of Bruno's handiwork?" she asked. "That's the second site of a slaughter since the garrison at Tohjo Falls."

"Only one way to know, " he replied. He dug his heel into Betherian's armoured side and leaned up towards her head. "Take us down, " he ordered.

She roared and tucked her wings back against her sides. The orange dragon dropped like a rock, plunging towards the ground at near-terminal velocity. She flared her wings just above the treetops, pulling out of her dive with a deafening roar to announce her presence.

Rattata and spearow scattered in all directions, disappearing into the trees moments after Betherian's arrival. The lone raticate spared a glance back at them before bounding into the underbrush.

An especially brave fearow squawked angrily and hopped towards the dragon. It screeched and stretched its wings out in a vain attempt to intimidate the newcomers.

Lance slipped off Betherian's back with Clair at his side, eying the fearow. He looked up at his dragon and nodded curtly.

Betherian lowered her head and growled. Electricity sparked between her horns and tore through the air with a flash of lightning. The smell of ozone and burnt feathers filled the air as the bird jerked and shook violently. It crashed lifelessly to the ground as Betherian cut off the flow of the lightning.

"Feast, " he ordered.

He turned away as Betherian lumbered over to the bird. She opened her maw, bathing the carcass in azure flames. The stench of burning flesh and feathers filled the clearing as Betherian cooked her meal. Without a backward glance, the massive dragon began to tear into the fearow.

"Lance, " Clair started. "Its Bruno."

He turned, and his heart sank. Even half-devoured by scavengers, there was no mistaking the mountain of a man. His warhammer lay discarded at his side, caked in dried dust. "Spores, " he said. "They were ambushed."

She knelt down, touching the dust with a finger. "Paralytic spores, " she said as she wiped the dust away on her pant leg. "That's why we haven't seen any signs of camps in the area."

"Likely was a small force of trainers, " Lance said. "There were far too many corpses at Tohjo Falls for this to have been more than a few men."

Clair looked around the clearing, warily eying the corpses. "Does the plan change?" she asked.

"No, " he replied. "Viridian is still the target." He looked up at Betherian and grimaced at the viscera painted across her maw. "Come, Betherian."

His dragon looked up from her meal, sated by the fresh meat. She shook her head, managing to shake off a fraction of the blood covering her scales. She roared to the sky, a deafening sound that shook the clearing.

Lance grinned despite the gnawing pain in his gut. "Time to go, " he ordered. "We have a city to raze."
Death of Innocence: Dragonfire


Feb 17, 2022
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Arc 1: Death of Innocence


And the city burned by his hand.

The sun shone high above the coastal plains, beating down on the fields of abandoned crops. A trio of wagons slowly laboured north in the searing heat, packed to the brim with supplies. A procession of farmers followed along behind them, the few livestock deemed important enough to bring along in tow.

Red jogged up alongside the lead wagon and clambered up beside the driver. His pikachu leapt up from the ground, landing in his lap and nuzzling into his stomach. He laughed and scratched the little mouse behind the ears. "Told you we'd make good progress," he started. "We'll be in Viridian before the sun even starts to set."

His mother turned her head, a slight smile tugging at the edges of her mouth. "I guess you're right about that," she said. She peered back over her shoulder, her eyes scanning the crowd. "I still can't believe that this is all that decided to come with us," she said. "It's less than even half of Pallet."

Red shrugged. "Can you blame them?" he asked. "Most of the farmers this far south haven't even been to Viridian. They have no concept of a threat from Johto or even life outside of Pallet." He looked back at the procession and grimaced. "Though it is far less than I had hoped for."

She tipped back her waterskin and then passed it to Red. "I will say that you've handled yourself admirably. It's not easy to abandon your home."

Red turned to face her and raised an eyebrow. "It wasn't your home too?" he asked. "You've lived there since before I was even born. Didn't you and Dad build it together?"

She frowned and brushed her auburn hair out if her face. "Darling, as much as I miss that house…" She swallowed the lump in her throat and sighed. "It isn't the first home that I've had to abandon." Her soft smile crossed her face and the warmth returned to her voice. "Your father and I were no stranger to abandoning our homes."

Red looked down at his hands, mulling over the thoughts running through his head. "I wish that I knew more about him," he said. "All I ever get are stories about how brave he was, or how much he sacrificed for us…" He lifted his head and somberly met her eyes with his own. "I don't know anything about him, mum"

She pulled him closer despite the heat. "I can't replace the years without him with my memories," she said softly, her warm voice tugging at the strings of nostalgia in Red's heart. She sighed and he could hear the comforting smile in her voice. "But I can try. What do you want to know?"

He pulled away from her, looking down at his hands again. He steeled his nerves, trying to calm his madly beating heart before he spoke. "What really happened to him?" he asked. "I don't want the fake story that you always told me. I want the truth. How did he die?"

Her soft smile faded in an instant. "That's not a happy story, Red."

"I know," he replied. "But I'm practically an adult. I've pledged my service to the Viridian Trainer Corps. I've fought through and survived this gods-forsaken war." He looked off at the horizon, eyes threatening to well up with tears. "And then there was what Blue said to me..." his voice trailed off and his eyes dropped to the dirt road in front of the wagon.

"Pompous prick," she said.

Red looked up at her, surprise clearly worn on his face. "Mother?!" he exclaimed.

"What?" she replied. "He always has been. The highborn fool has only ever cared for himself." She shook her head and rolled her eyes. "What did he say then?"

He turned his head away from her, the memory of Blue's latest outburst still raw in his mind. "I tried to tell him that I knew how he felt," he said quietly. "He told me that I didn't know how he felt. Said that I could never know what it was like to lose my father, that I never had one to begin with."

She closed her eyes and clenched her fists. "I swear, I'll give that pompous fool some proper discipline once we see him." She sighed and pulled Red into a crushing hug. "Red, he got to experience sixteen years of life with a loving father. That is far more than anything you ever got to experience." She let go of the hug, still holding her son at an arm's length. "Despite that, you've grown up into a kind and just person, which is more than I could have ever asked for."

He looked at her, suppressing the tears as best he could. "Thanks, mum," he mumbled quickly as he hugged her furiously. "I love you."

She smiled and hugged back softly. "And I love you too, dear."

He pulled back, watching the horizon as the outline of Viridian's keep came into view. He gasped, and his jaw dropped. "Gods…" he uttered.

Thick clouds of black smoke billowed into the sky, spewing from the raging inferno engulfing the city. Her west walls were nothing but burning rubble. Even as they watched, plumes of dust rose into the sky as buildings crumbled before the might of the dragon.

Then they saw it. Her orange scales shone brilliantly in the light of the flames. The dragonite erupted with electricity, cutting down a trio of flyers from the flock in pursuit.

His mother turned, her eyes widening in fear. "Go," she ordered. "You must help them."

He stood up, lifting one of the three balls off his belt. "Take the rest of Pallet to safety. Don't stop until you reach somewhere safe."

"Be careful," she cautioned. She stood up, eyes drawn across the coastal plain that stretched to the south and west of Viridian. "I'll be safe. We'll go to Cinnabar or Fucshia. There should be a few schooners left in the harbour."

He tossed the ball into the air, releasing the pokemon within. A pair of wicked talons dug into the ground, carving furrows into the dirt road. The dodrio squawked twice, its middle and left heads screeching at each other in annoyance.

Red stepped off the wagon, his pikachu perched on his shoulder. He approached his flightless bird, his fists clenched as Viridian burned in the distance. He swung himself up onto the dodrio and grimaced as what remained of the western watchtower toppled over into the burning city. "Leaf…"

He pushed the thoughts from his mind, banishing any weakness. He squeezed his ankles into the massive bird's haunches. They shot off in a cloud of dust, leaving the caravan far behind.

Lance glanced back over his shoulder, checking on Clair. "Less than a minute out," he said. "They'll have noticed us by now."

She nodded and looked up at him, shielding her face from the rushing wind. "That was the plan, wasn't it?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied brusquely. He turned back to look at the city and Betherian rapidly closed the distance. "Don't stop pushing forward. They'll try to hold you in one place and concentrate their strength on you." He gripped the pommel of his blade nervously and fidgeted in the saddle. "I'll try to keep their attention focused on me, but I doubt that I'll be able to draw all of them off you."

She pulled her helm over her head and grimaced. "You won't have to. Just keep the big ones focused on you and open the damn gates on your way in."

He nodded and placed his palm on Betherian's side. He immersed himself in their bond, letting his dragon's internal fire kindle his own. The dull ache in his gut faded and he felt the blood quicken in his veins. He opened his eyes and saw the world through Betherian's eyes. He saw the flurry of movement atop the walls as Viridian's defenders desperately hauled their ballistae into firing position. Dozens of mounted warriors flew forth from the walls, meeting his suicidal charge with one of their own.

He leaned forward and grinned with vicious anticipation. "Extremespeed into Dragon Rush," he ordered.

Betherian flapped her wings once, rocketing forward with unnatural speed. The ballistae fired, sending their bolts sailing towards where the dragon had been mere moments ago. She slammed into the gatehouse, cloaked in an aura of draconic power.

Viridian's walls exploded inwards as Betherian drove into the gatehouse and reduced it to rubble. Chunks of stone sailed through the air, crashing down onto the city and carving paths of destruction before they came to a crashing halt among the crumbling buildings.

Betherian roared a challenge to the sky, azure flames spilling out of her maw and torching the few men who dared to stir in the destruction she had wrought. The flames eagerly caught on the wooden shanties that stretched alongside the walls. Within moments an inferno of raging dragonfire sprung up, the city's outer slums only serving to fuel the blaze.

Clair slipped off her back, releasing a pair of dragonair that coiled themselves around her protectively. She pointed up at the dozens of winged beasts as she drew a pair of smooth curved blades. "Go!" she ordered as she dashed off into the burning city with her dragons in tow.

Lance barely waited for her to finish before he urged Betherian skyward. She bellowed and flung herself back into the sky, twisting to fire a blast of lightning at the closest trainer.

The trainer and his pidgeot screeched in unison, their bodies illuminated by the electricity coursing through them. Betherian cut off the flow of lightning as they plummeted to the earth, landing with a sickening crunch among the rubble. She opened her maw, loosing a stream of flames that seared the feathers of a diving fearow. The bird's rider screamed in pain as he was flung from the saddle. He plummeted to the ground and lay silent.

Lance grinned as his dragon's bloodlust overtook them both. He thrust a fist into the air and shouted a savage war cry that Betherian eagerly repeated. They roared in unison, dragon and tamer united in terrible purpose.

The first pidgeot slammed into Betherien, talons rending a bloody gash in her left flank. She loosed another bolt of lightning that soared past the pidgeot and struck one of the fearow that ventured too close. The bird dropped from the sky, crashing lifelessly through the roof of a building. The pidgeot veered off, flapping away from another bolt of lightning that tore another trio of trainers from the sky.

Lance gritted his teeth and held fast to his dragon. "Dragon Rush!" he shouted, his voice rippling with power. Betherien bellowed and dove towards the gates of Viridian Keep as an aura of draconic power enveloped her.

The dragonite slammed into the gatehouse with all the force she could muster. The stone structure exploded into the courtyard, crushing a bloody path through the defenders' formation. The stones rose into the air and sailed over the rest of the defense harmlessly.

The remaining flyers landed along the wall, looking down over Viridian's remaining strength. Dozens of men so frail that their weapons trembled in their grasp. Only the old and sickly still remained, gathered here in a final act of defiance.

Towering over them all, stood the elder Oak. His charizard stood tall, flames on his tail burning a vibrant orange. He looked to his sides, glancing at the team of pokemon that he had trained his whole life.

The blastoise and scyther to his right stared forward, steel gaze eying the cloud of dust where the gatehouse had exploded. He looked to his left and nodded at the venasaur and alakazam that stood in resolute silence.

Dozens of war cries rang out as the dust cleared on the ruins of the gatehouse. Lance stood astride his dragon, purple fire burning behind his eyes. His cape flapped out behind him, streaming in the salty breeze blowing in from the harbour.

He slipped off Betherian and landed deftly at the edge of the courtyard. He slowly drew the bastard sword sheathed on his back. Pure power radiated off him in waves as Betherian tossed back her head and roared.

"Where is the little Lord Oak!" he started, his voice rippling with draconic power. He took a step towards the defenders with his blade held lazily at his side. "I've come to congratulate him on his new station."

The charizard growled as if to silence Lance. The elder slipped off his back, staring down the dragon tamer who stood before him. "You've got nerve showing up here after what you've done. Viridian aches for your blood, tamer."

Lance grinned mercilessly. "I had hoped that you would see reason, elder, and swear yourselves to me." The grin faded and Lance felt the bloodlust echo across his bond with Betherian. "However, it seems as though I've been naive. You would rather hold onto your pride than see to the survival of your people." He planted his feet and raised his blade into a fighting stance. "I did not come here for another massacre, but I have the strength to do what must be done."

"You will leave this place or die, tamer," the elder said. He drew his own blade and took his shield from an attendant. "I will see to that myself. Your blasted war has already cost me my son. I will not allow you to continue it any further."

"Then submit!" Lance shouted, his voice booming over the courtyard. "Pledge your fealty or face the true might of the dragon!"

Elder Oak's expression hardened as he took up a fighting stance beside his pokemon. "Kanto will never submit to you," he said, calm fury building in his voice. "Do your worst, foul beast!"

Lance looked up at the charizard towering over them all and met its sharp gaze. Blue steely eyes glared back at him, piercing him with the intensity of their gaze. Lance breathed in sharply, marvelling at the pseudo-dragon that stood before him. He could almost feel the same draconic energy that emanated from Betherian and himself stirring deep inside the charizard.

"Legend has it that the charizard line used to be true dragons. But they grew arrogant in their power and acted with wanton aggression. The other dragons cast them out and culled their numbers down to a few scattered clans on the edges of the world." He looked up at the charizard in awe, bathing in the draconic energy surging around the two of them. "Over the ages, they lost the abilities that made them so feared and worshipped by humanity." Betherian roared again, a sound that shook the foundations of the castle.

Lance reached upwards, extending every ounce of his energy into lighting the embers of draconic power inside the charizard. They stirred at his urging, flickering deep inside the belly of the beast. The massive charizard blinked, its eyes shifting from a pale blue to a bloody red hue. Lance's eyes widened as the Elder's charizard lowered his snout into Lance's face.

"I may not believe everything the Elders said," he started. "but every legend is born in truth." He sliced a thin cut on the palm of his hand and squeezed his hand into a fist. Blood ran freely into the dirt, its intoxicating scent drawing the charizard in closer. Lance could feel the charizard's fire straining to break free after centuries of dormancy. He opened his bloody palm and pressed it on the charizard's snout.

Draconic energy flowed through Lance in an exhilarating rush. The dragon inside him roared with power as it ignited a fire that lay dormant for an eon. Lance threw his head back as an explosion of violet energy erupted from his palm and enveloped the charizard.

The charizard roared in agony as his internal flame morphed into an inferno of dragonfire. Azure flames spilled from his maw, washing over his body and charring his orange scales pitch black. His roared as his limbs rippled and thickened before Lance's eyes. The charizard tossed his head back and roared as the flame on his tail erupted into a raging blue flame.

"Fang!" shouted the elder, looking up at his oldest pokemon in fear. His voice wavered as the dragon turned his gaze on him and growled in a deep and feral tone. His eyes widened as the dragon's hungry glare devoured every inch of his body. "Impossible…" he said, a defeated tone seeping into his voice.

"You should have submitted," Lance boomed again. Betherian landed at his side, her growl growing to match the charizard's. "It would have been easier."

Clair dashed down the burning hallway, the edge of her travel cloak clamped tightly over her mouth. Betherian's deafening roar shook the castle and threatened to bring the burning remains of the keep down on her head. A deeper, unrestrained roar answered Betherian, forcing Clair to steady herself on the wall.

She recoiled from the searing hot stone, hissing through the pain. Dragonfire burned fast and the fires that she and Lance had started were spreading. Even the keep itself would soon be engulfed by the blaze. She pushed the burning pain from her mind as she forced herself to continue her mad dash deeper into the keep.

She rounded a corner and pointed at the heavy oaken doors at the end of the hallway. "Aqua Tail!" she shouted, her voice muffled by her cloak. The dragonair at her left shoulder surged forward, her tail wreathed in a layer of shimmering water. The door burst open and Clair's jaw practically hit the floor.

Viridian's treasure vault stood unprotected, the mountains of gold beckoning her deeper into the vault. Dozens of statues glittered at her from every angle, jewelled Mew figures and golden Ho-Oh busts leering down at her. Her eyes fell to the empty altar laying in the centre of Viridian's treasury. A single solitary sheet of parchment lay on the altar, beckoning her forward.

She glanced down at the sheet, silently fuming.

Dear Tamers,

Too late!

Sincerely, Elder Samuel Oak

She looked up at the leering bust of a Zapdos. Kanto's God of Lightning seemed to grin down at her, its razor-sharp beak seemingly curved into a mocking smile. She frowned and sneered in the face of a mocking god.

Another ravenous bellow shook the castle to its bones. Clair cried out in shock as chunks of hewn stone dropped from the ceiling and crashed among the treasure. The wall crumbled in towards her, a battered and charred blastoise shell landing in the treasure. One of her dragonair leapt to her defense, coiling around her mere moments before an avalanche of gold crashed against them both.

She emerged from the coils of her dragonair, her twin blades bared in anticipation of a new threat.

The blastoise emerged from his shell as barely a shadow of the fearsome creature he had once been. His normally blue and leathery skin was charred black in patches. The right side of his face was a bloody mess of gouge marks. Try as she might, Clair could see no eye socket where the beast's eye should have been. Its left leg was a bloody stump, cleanly torn off at the knee.

Movement behind Clair drew her attention. Scales as black as night and stained red with blood shone through the rubble. She gasped as the midnight form of a true dragon rose from the pile of treasure.

"By the gods…" she started. She dropped to her knees and bowed her head in reverence. The pair of dragonair at her shoulders bowed their own heads, paying their respects to the creature that stood before them. "A true charizard…"

The charizard tossed back his head and roared in triumph, bringing more of the keep down around them with the sheer force of his cry. He lowered his head, eyes murderously locked on the struggling blastoise.

Clair averted her eyes as the dragon descended on his foe. Slowly, the blastoise's pained struggles slowed, until it lay silent at the feet of the charizard. Only then did Clair dare to look at the dragon.

It lay crouched over the eviscerated blastoise, growling protectively at her dragonair. His midnight scales were stained a slick red with steaming blood. Azure flames erupted from his maw, melting a mountain of treasure into a golden slag heap.

Clair couldn't help but snort in laughter. The beast was protecting his kill. She reached out for the dragon's essence and recoiled in shock.

An unmistakably familiar wave of power rolled over her. She leapt to her feet, her blades at the ready. Lance's aura roared inside the charizard, cowing her into submission.

Tears rolled freely down her face as she beheld the charizard. It was as though Lance had imprinted a part of himself on the beast, changing the charizard into something ripped straight from Blackthorn's legends.

"You are beautiful, " she crooned. "A true dragon if I've ever seen one."

He dissolved in a flash of red light. Then she felt his presence and couldn't help but gasp in awe.

Lance stepped into the treasure room, his cape draped over his shoulders ominously. He walked with strength and purpose, his bastard sword sheathed on his back. A thin cut traced a line down his cheekbone, the only remnant of the battle outside. Raw draconic power radiated from his form.

"Clair." He shifted, and she caught a glimpse of his arm clamped over his stomach. "It is done, " he stated flatly.

"What did you do?"

His expression hardened and the fire faded from his eyes. "What had to be done." He cast his gaze around the ruined vault. "The artefact?" he asked.

"Gone, " she replied. She held out the parchment she had found, a bitter tone in her voice. "It seems that they anticipated your arrival."

"They evacuated most of the city, " he said. "The elder likely sent it off to Pewter along with the little Lord."

"Then we should make haste. We could catch them unawares and take the artefact."

Lance shook his head. "And slaughter the rest of the smallfolk?" he asked. "They did not ask for this war, and they have already paid with their home. Let them flee."

She frowned. "But the artefact-"

"I have no desire for another massacre, Clair. Let it be for now. The gods care little for our petty squabbles. They will wait."

She nodded and sheathed her blades in a fluid movement. "Then our work here is done."

He turned and strode from the ruins of the treasure vault, his cape billowing about in the salty sea breeze. "And yet there is still so much more to be done." Smoke and ash spewed into the sky as Viridian burned. Lance looked up at the burning sky and sighed. "We should return to Indigo. They will be awaiting our return."

Clair sidled up beside him, looking out beside her cousin. Only bones and ashes greeted them. "They will sing songs of this day for ages to come. Both sides of the Argents will remember your deeds today."

Lance's gaze dropped to the smouldering husk of the dying city. "Of that there is no doubt, " he replied curtly. "Whether they will be songs of fear or joy remains to be seen."
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